In honor of upcoming Mother’s Day (May 14) and last week’s International Day of a Midwife (May 5), I feel compelled to share my birth story. Not only does this story shine light on the beauty and power of natural birth, but it also allows me to reflect on the day my son was born and how my body performed what can only be described as a miracle…
To women everywhere about to enter the birthing room for the first time: You’ve truly got this.
No amount of studying and packing/repacking your birth room bags will ever prepare you for what your body is about to go through. It is terrifying as much as it is beautiful; it’s exhausting as much as it’s energizing… and just when you’ve reached your breaking point and you feel like you absolutely cannot do it anymore (and you will), THAT is when it happens.
My birth story began in October. I had reached my due date and wasn’t too concerned about exceeding that 40-week mark since that is typical of most first-time moms. I had yet to experience any
Braxton Hicks contractions or exhibit anything remotely labor-like, plus baby (unknown gender at the time) was still sitting high and I was at ZERO dilation… so I figured I had some time. I was trying to kick-start the process using natural labor induction methods – acupressure, cardio (including the intimate variety…), yoga, spicy foods, labor ball, more yoga, cutting trees and hauling around brush on our property…. (no? just me?) Pictured below is me lumberjacking-it-up at 40 weeks…
Luckily for me, labor began three days past my due date. I recall waking up at 2 am feeling some cramping and discomfort. It was nothing I could identify (maybe I ate something that didn’t agree with me?), so I decided to get up and walk around the house for a bit. I ended up taking a shower after roughly 30-45 minutes of pacing mixed with yoga in my living room. While in the shower, the cramping intensified and started coming in waves every 4-5 minutes. Suddenly, I felt a ‘surge’. Maybe it was just the endorphins kicking in, or maybe it was divine empowerment… but it flooded my body with the promise that day would be extraordinary.
I got out of the shower and spent more time pacing around my living room, coming to terms with the state of things… my contractions were intensifying at 3-5 minutes apart and lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. At that point, I decided to wake my husband with a simple question, “Are you ready to become a dad today?”
It wasn’t until those words left my lips that I truly realized the gravity of the situation. I explained my progress to my husband. Our understanding was that we would only alert the midwife once I had at least 2 hours of consistent contractions, a bloody show, or my water broke. So, we waited…
Around 8 am I was feeling pretty miserable. Each contraction was intensifying and lasting at least 45 seconds to 1 minute every 3-4 minutes. I felt it was time to give my midwife a call, at which point we all decided I should head to the birth center to check progress. She warned me that if I wasn’t 6 cm dilated I would be sent back home, but I was SURE that wouldn’t be a problem…
Upon arrival at the birth center, I was still able to talk (barely) through my contractions. Our midwife went about her usual routine and checked my vitals before proceeding with an internal ‘groping’ of my cervix. Unfortunately, my cervix was unavailable… baby’s head had moved down enough to pull my cervix back away from prying fingers of the midwife, leaving us guessing on how far I might be dilated. At that point, there was no need for me to stay at the birth center and carry out my labor (for all they knew, it could last days).
So, we were sent home and told to give her a call after I made some more progress.
I labored around the house for hours. I discovered the best position during contractions was bent over the couch or on the floor on my hands and knees. My husband tried to comfort me as best he could, while managing to slip in some last-minute remodeling on our home (we had been at it for months preparing for baby’s arrival). We hesitated to call any family through the first few hours, simply to avoid inevitable texts and phone calls asking for updates. Eventually we gave in and let our parents know that baby was on the way, requesting that they only tell immediate family to keep this moment somewhat private.
Our dog knew something was up and stayed right by my side through every contraction (pictured below during the peak of one of my more intense moments).
By 2 pm I was thoroughly exhausted. Contractions were lasting 45 seconds to 1 ½ minutes every 3-4 minutes. There seemed to be no breaks. Despite the lack of other tell-tale labor signs (still missing that mucous plug…?), we called the midwife and begged to come in for another progress report.
I could no longer talk through contractions, nor could I stand through them unassisted. Nothing could soothe me anymore. Nothing. We drove to the birth center with me riding rear-facing in the passenger seat, hugging the headrest and crying out for relief. Upon arrival at the center, I tried to act calm as we breezed by curious patients in the waiting room, but I was keeling over in tears of pain as my midwife greeted us behind closed doors. A few other familiar birth center staff welcomed me, including the OB-GYN, who so confidently declared “Yup! She’s definitely in labor!”… you THINK?!
Luckily my cervix had decided to make an appearance this time, but I was only “4 cm dilated” (I would come to find out our midwife had ‘stretched’ the truth a bit to encourage me, for which I was later thankful). Nonetheless, it was clear I was in labor and they offered to set me up in the birthing room. Phew! We were finally in the place our baby would be born. It was really happening!
…little did I know, it would be roughly 10 more hours before we got to meet our little nugget.
Family trickled into the birth center throughout the afternoon and gathered in the waiting area as our baby SO GRACIOUSLY took his/her sweet time descending the birth canal. I labored naked, unphased by any interaction with midwives or family. My mother eventually joined us in the birth room, which was not part of our original birth plan, but it turned out to be incredibly rewarding. My mother-in-law also made the occasional appearance, though my only greetings were moans or several sailor-variety curse words as I chanted through the initial stages of each contraction. Later that evening, she brought me some chicken and wild rice soup, which my husband spoon fed me between contractions to give my body some much-needed protein… Those 1 ½-minute-long contractions kept hitting me roughly every 3 minutes; there was no relief.
My midwife and assistant midwife gave us our privacy, though regularly checked my vitals and suggested laboring positions to help me through the process. Only two positions worked for me: on all fours or seated rear-facing on the toilet with pillows on the tank to rest my head. I modified that toilet position so that I could lean back during contractions with my arms wrapped up behind my husband’s neck as he bent over me for support.
Eventually, I lost my mucous plug and we were making progress as I learned to breathe (and moan) through my contractions. I got into a rhythm that made the whole ordeal seem like an out-of-body experience; I was VERY much aware of the pain, but each contraction put me into a trance. After a while, I was able to get into a warm bath to help my body relax a bit more between contractions. I may have even fallen asleep for 20-second intervals… Though, believe me, NOTHING was restful about those ‘naps’!
Pictured below is me sometime late afternoon, around hour 16 of labor…
Baby was making progress all evening, but it was SLOW. At one point, my midwife had trouble identifying the position of baby’s head, so as a precaution I had to hold a couple ‘special’ laboring positions to get kiddo locked and loaded for his/her debut. One of these positions involved the lovely task of standing upright in the shower with one leg lifted as I lean into my husband through a few contractions (three on each leg, to be exact… and it felt like eternity). I immediately opted for some tub time following that torture…
Needless to say, I was irrevocably exhausted by 9 pm. I had also been stuck at 9 cm for nearly 3 hours, and the midwife suggested it might be time to manually break my water. I was already so beaten down and felt like they all needed to drive me to a hospital and cut the little nugget out of me, so the thought of intensifying my contractions by breaking the amniotic sac gave me a bit of anxiety! However, it really was my only hope to encourage baby to move before I would have to resort to further intervention due to my incredibly exhausted state.
SO, we broke my water.
I felt the gush of warm fluid leave my body as I lay restless on the bed (laying on my back was my least favorite position that day). Immediately I was up and moving again, headed for the toilet to continue my only tolerable laboring position, and I was directed to start pushing through contractions to encourage baby to move down. It took unmeasurable strength to even attempt pushing through contractions, and my husband was my only encouragement as I pushed through the pain.
After an hour or so of toilet time, the midwives set up a birthing stool for me to try. It wasn’t long on that stool before I transitioned from ‘trying to push’ with each contraction to feeling a deep, instinctive urge to push. I was actively pushing by 11 p.m, and I could feel the baby moving down with each push. I could feel everything, including that ‘ring of fire’ sensation during crowning. I recall exclaiming loudly, “You’ve GOT TO BE KIDDING ME that head isn’t out yet?!” after feeling the head emerge and retreat several times.
It took everything I had to push. Absolutely everything. I was holding my husband’s hand firmly (turning his bones to powder) as my mother laid behind me, pushing me upright through contractions (I tended to arch my body back). The midwives were at my front, ready and eager. There was nothing but encouragement and excitement in the room. I even reluctantly took the opportunity to feel our baby’s head as it slowly emerged, which just motivated me further because the poor thing was being squeezed so much!
I kept checking the clock after every push and contraction, as I was determined to get that baby out before midnight…
Sure enough, our baby was born just shy of midnight, at 11:50 pm. As planned, my husband had the honor or announcing the baby’s gender to me as the midwives helped him bring our son to my chest. It was a beautiful moment for our family that words will never do justice.
With our son in my arms, I was escorted to the bed to rest and wait for delivery of the placenta, followed by a series of postpartum fundal massages (which still haunt my memories of that day) and that final sobering moment when my midwife pulled out the stitching supplies…
My body had essentially been through trauma, yet the beauty of natural birth is that I could turn to my husband after 22 hours of labor, not even ten minutes after our son had entered our world, and confidently say, “I could do that again!”
Do you have a natural birth story to share? Questions about my story? Comment below!