On the morning of May 4, 2011, I woke up feeling a sensation that I had not previously experienced during my pregnancy. It felt like the cramps before a period. Othniel and I discussed whether I should go to work—we decided that it did not make sense to stay at home and wait.
That afternoon, I had an appointment with my midwife Joan. By then I realized the “cramps” were contractions that were now approximately five minutes apart and about thirty seconds long. Most medical practitioners would have said I was already in labor, but Joan had a calm and cool approach—she simply said that my cervix was ripening and after listening to the baby’s heartbeat, told me to go about my normal routine. Joan mentioned that it was not useful to gear my energy towards the sensations I was feeling, since if it were early labor, I could still have hours or even days to go.
After relaying Joan’s advice to Othniel, who was still at work, I decided to go to Trader Joe’s. I figured labor could happen any day now, and there was a list of “labor foods” that I knew I wanted on hand. However, once I was inside Trader Joe’s, the contractions seemed to progress. They were definitely “breath-taking” by this point, and I recalled what I had learned in childbirth class—if you had to stop what you were doing to manage a contraction, then it was a likely sign that labor was underway. This thought occurred to me as I willed my body to still itself through the contractions as I focused on the tomatoes, then the strawberries, and so on throughout the store. I was not going to be the pregnant woman who goes into labor in the middle of the grocery store aisle. (Although that is exactly what was happening!)
Once I got home from Trader Joe’s, I called Othniel and he rushed home. By the time he arrived, the contractions were consistently five minutes apart and one minute long. The sensation had now moved to my lower back, and Othniel and I tried to work through these waves together. He tried massaging my lower back, holding me during a contraction, breathing with me, and reassuring me, all the while making sure I was hydrating with coconut water. We tried the shower at one point, which felt good, as did laboring on the toilet and grabbing onto Othniel or the towel bar during a contraction. I labored like this for some time. As the clock approached midnight, I told him how incredibly tired I was, but of course I was unable to sleep since the contractions were so close together.
At about 1AM Othniel called our doula Rina and our midwives to apprise them of my progress. Both said they were on their way. Rina arrived first and helped me labor by coaching me into some new positions.
After Rina’s arrival, I only recall the next stage of labor through sensations and moments:
- Sleeping in an all-fours position—feeling like I slept for a long time although it was only for a minute or two at a time. Rina told me later that I slept like this for 20-30 minutes.
- Drinking a lot of coconut water and the special tea that Rina made for me.
- Eating some soup, but only able to take a bite or two of it.
- Knowing that my one of my midwives, Ellen had arrived and that at a few points, she checked the baby’s heart rate. Recognizing that the baby had descended further as the heartbeat was heard further down in my pelvic area. Feeling reassured that the baby was okay.
- Getting into the bathtub to labor and being aware that Othniel was setting up the birthing pool. Hearing something about “duct tape.” Part of me wanting to tell them where duct tape was.
- Telling Rina that my water broke after I stepped out of the tub.
- Trying to not hold my breath but to breathe through contractions.
- Feeling tailbone pain.
- Laboring on the birth ball.
- At one point, Ellen telling me the birth pool was ready.
- Making it to the birth pool and feeling that it was very, very warm.
It felt good initially to step into the birth pool. I recall Ellen telling me to not push yet. She had checked at one point and told me that there was still part of the cervical lip that had not yet receded. When I was finally able to push, I recall screaming and grunting very, very loudly. What I remember most about laboring in the pool is that each time I pushed, I thought I was pushing hard enough to birth the baby. I kept thinking there was no way I could push harder. What surprised me was that it was not enough and so with the next contraction, I would bear down even harder. The accompanying guttural and primal screams that came from me really shocked me, even as I was making them.
I know my other midwife, Joan showed up around dawn. Somehow, her arrival and the creeping light of dawn indicated to me that the birth of my baby was imminent and this thought was reassuring. I continued to labor in the pool, although the contractions were so intense that I began to doubt whether I could birth the baby. As I shared aloud with my birth team, that “I don’t think I can push hard enough to do this,” I realized subconsciously that I had reached the point of self-doubt we had discussed in class. We had learned that the birth of the baby often follows the “I can’t do this” moment, and I was buoyed by this knowledge. When the next contraction came, I bore down and screamed/grunted. Not enough. I did this again and I recall someone saying that they could see the head and to feel the hair on top of baby’s head. I made an attempt at feeling the head, but then the next wave of contraction took over. I bore down, and with a scream that surpassed the volume of all my other screams, I felt the swoosh of the baby’s body slide out. I knew at that point that I had birthed the baby, but it still seemed very surreal.
I was told later that Joan said “Reach out and grab your baby” twice before I looked down and saw a little blue body swimming toward me from under my legs. I reached down and grabbed my baby. I will always remember the sensation of lifting my newborn from the pool—the weight of the little body felt very solid to me, the feel of the waxy covering on her body, the light pink coloring of the body tinged with blue, the big, almond-shaped eyes staring at me, the shock of thick black wavy curls atop her head, the blueness of the hands and feet, the redness of the lips, and the moment when I realized it was a little girl who had been kicking me all along! I remember how alert her eyes were and I will always remember how we looked at each other. I remember feeling incredible amounts of awe and wonder. My baby was born!! Othniel was right by my side, with the tears of a proud new dad in his eyes. He later told me that my face registered awe and wonder for a long time after.