At 42 weeks and 5 days into my second pregnancy, at 12:30am on Thursday, April 15th, 2010, I awoke once again needing to pee. For weeks, I had been having strong Braxton Hicks contractions that burned like a menstrual cramp, especially when my bladder was full. So I got up quietly to the bathroom and relieved myself, noticing a little bit more of my mucous plug had left me. I still had the achy feeling returning to bed and made a few more bathroom trips between 12:30 and 1:30am. I was unsure if this could be early labor because there was no pattern to the sensations.
My husband Matt woke up, hearing my discomfort and back-and-forth-ness to the bathroom. For some reason, he awoke quite confused and said “Pepto Bismol?” Say what? That had me a little confused but it was funny. He had definitely just woken up in a daze! I told him that it was possible I was in early labor and he asked me to let him know when I was sure.
I made yet another trip to the bathroom, this time to check my cervix. As soon as I reached in, I could feel a bulging bag of waters in between my cervix, which may have been around 6+ centimeters. No wonder I was a little achy! I was in labor and things were moving along almost without my notice!
I came back to the bedroom and told Matt “This is definitely it. We need to fill the pool!” He got up quickly, put his sneakers on, and went outside to fire up the turkey fryer my friend Olivia had loaned us for this special occasion. (The fryer’s purpose was to heat water quickly because our 40 gallon water heater would not have heated the 170 gallon birth tub on it’s own and in a timely manner. So the turkey fryer was there to pick up the slack. So hillbilly, right? After all, we were in Texas.) I scurried in to the living room to spread the shower curtain and plastic sheet out on the floor as a protector to the floor in case any water splashed out of the tub and to create an out-of-tub labor/birth area. I laid old sheets down on top of the plastic and began to arrange the birth space. I had been nesting quite a bit over the past month or two, aiming to make the living room a very homey nest, by adding plants, a fountain, and decorative touches to the room. I had lived in this house for over a year and had just decorated. The nesting urge had taken over for sure.
Anyways, back to the birth story.
Matt decided to wake up my parents who were visiting (and waiting for this day). My dad began helping Matt fill the birth tub while my mom began following me around with the video camera (which I did not realize just how much until after I saw the video for myself a couple days later!). I walked outside in the cool Texas night, listening to some nocturnal birds and feeling the breeze. After a few powerful contractions, I decided to call my weekly knitting mentor and midwife, Jennifer Bennett. I told her my contractions were sporadic but powerful and I was sure this was it. I think it was around 2:30am by now. I continued to walk around the house preparing the little things like getting the essential oil diffuser going with lavender and peppermint oils and lighting candles, all the while having sporadic but stronger sensations in my body. After a while, it was time to lean over the birth ball. The sensations were making my belly feel heavy, which pulled on my back, so I opted for the birth ball for comfort. I leaned over it, on my hands and knees and had a couple contractions. Meanwhile, the birth tub was almost ready but Matt and my dad weren’t quite sure what the temperature should be and with my uterus taking up my thoughts, I had forgotten, so I called Jennifer back to ask her. Ninety-eight to one-hundred degrees! Okay!
I planted myself on the floor for a little while, trying to get comfortable. I stayed near the birth ball, which provided some comfort, especially when my dad and Matt would lift the weight off my back by using the rebozo. After that, sitting on the floor either on hands and knees or just sitting became the preferable position. My black Labrador/pit bull mix Raja would come sit by me and provide some cuddle comfort. She sat unmoving and solid while I leaned on her to support my weight. (Doula doggie? I think so!)
With the contractions, I was beginning to feel a heaviness in my pelvis. My body told me it was time to get in the tub, so I promptly went from the ball to the tub side, undressed and climbed over the side and on in to the warm water. My midwife then arrived and began setting up her supplies on the couches nearby. Almost instantly, I had another rush and my body spontaneously gave a quick and powerful push! My bag of waters instantly broke into the water, nearly without my notice because it happened so quickly. I immediately felt the need to put my hand on my opening to feel for the baby’s head. I was able to feel the head with only barely putting my fingers in. The feeling of that push overwhelmed me, and I exclaimed to my midwife “I just pushed!” to which she replied “Good!”, very nonchalantly. You see, I didn’t want to push. My plan ever since the beginning of this pregnancy was to not push because I had a traumatic pushing experience with my firstborn. This time, I had planned to breathe this little baby out. But with that unexpected push, I quickly realized I hadn’t planned how to realistically not push. I just figured all I had to do was breathe, which came very naturally! Ha! Was I wrong! So I devised a plan with the next contraction. Growl! Push that energy out my mouth, rather than out my bottom. And it worked!
With that next contraction, I began to make a deep, guttural growling, roaring sound. I focused on letting my contracting uterus bring the baby down rather than pushing the baby down.
Somewhere around this time, my midwife’s assistant Amissa arrived. I remember saying “Hi, Amissa” after an intense contraction. Everyone was now here: Matt (the husband), my mom (the “birth photographer”), my dad (the “birth videographer”), Jennifer (the midwife), Amissa (the student midwife), and Raja (the “doula doggie”). Isabelle, our German shepherd, was safely locked in the laundry room so as not to attack my midwife or jump in the birth pool. She’s rather fond of water. Lael, our 5-year-old daughter, stayed fast asleep in our bed. We had done home birth preparations with her, but I decided it was best to keep her asleep. I knew that the sight of seeing me in labor was too much for her and would cause a distraction for me. I didn’t want to have to comfort my daughter and labor at the same time.
With my contractions, I did my routine of growling. Some contractions were so powerful and strong that it was difficult, so I’d growl and roar a little harder to try not to push. I’d begin to pray out loud and ask the Lord for strength. I’d talk to my descending baby, saying a long and drawn out “easy”. Sometimes I couldn’t stop the freight train called contraction and my body would spontaneously and without my consent give a quick, hard push! This was painful, and I’d begin praying again, to gather my calm again. It was amazing the courage the Lord gave me to keep going. I never felt as if I could no longer do this thing called labor.
These sensations, this labor, made me totally unaware of what was going on around me. It’s often called “Laborland”, because of the trance-like state it puts women in. I’ve seen it so many times being a doula, but I had forgotten exactly what it feels like. I was definitely in Laborland. All I knew was that my body was this powerful, unstoppable birthing machine, capable of giving life and bringing my baby into my arms. I was created and designed for this. This body did not evolve; I was Divinely crafted like so many other women to have my baby this way. This gave me the courage to keep going fearlessly.
This went on for about an hour, all the while I had kept my hand on the baby’s head, slowly feeling the descent. This had become a grounding factor to me, reminding me what was going on with my body; it kept me calm.
I was desperate for a break and remember praying out loud “Father, a break, please!” A few minutes later, a contraction so powerful overwhelmed me and caused me to spontaneously bear down and out came the baby’s head, which put an instant smile on my face! All I could do was stare at this little head and say euphorically, “Hi!”, over and over to my baby who was nearly out of my body. This was it! This out-of-the-world experience of “Laborland” was nearly over and I was moments away from holding this little un-named, mystery baby I’ve nurtured inside for so long, who I’ve wondered about for all these months!
After a few minutes waiting for the next contraction, at 4:20am, this little body slid out of me and in to my anxious hands. I turned this little person in the water, getting some of the birthy-ness off, and after a few moments brought this baby to the surface and to my chest. I was so overwhelmed with joy that I completely forgot to look down to see just what gendered baby I was embracing! I heard Matt say, “It’s a boy!” before I checked for myself! Sure enough! A boy! I had a son!
At this point, Matt brought Lael (who had conveniently just woken up) out to see her baby brother. He stood holding her, and the two of them looked on at our cute new addition.
I stayed in the tub, continuing to hold and coo about my new baby who was looking around with a serious expression on his scrunchy, just-born face. Minutes passed and I heard my midwife say, “Ali, tell your baby to breathe”. I started rubbing him, trying to stimulate him to breathe.
His body went limper and limper, whiter and whiter, but I wasn’t afraid. I knew my baby was okay and that God didn’t just give me the desires of my heart (a perfect home birth and a son!) just to let my baby die.
After realizing that wasn’t working, Jennifer got out her oxygen mask, leaned over the tub, and placed it over my son’s face. He was still attached to me via the umbilical cord, which had long since stopped pulsating. I prayed while she kept his mask on, and he promptly pinked up and started breathing and crying. I later realized this is why I didn’t have peace about having an unassisted birth, which I had in mind to do from the beginning of the pregnancy.
I held my now-pink baby, who was everything I hoped he would be: adorable, healthy and boy!
After a long while of spending time in the warm tub, Daddy got to cut the cord and we all headed off to our bed to snuggle and get some well-deserved rest.
Our boy finally got a strong, manly name at around 1 week old…
Welcome to the world,
8 pounds; 20.5 inches
(Sawyer: “one who saws wood”, Isaiah: “the one whom the Lord helps”)
All photos by Debbie Roley, Picture This Photography of Waynesville, North Carolina
And for the birth junkies out there, more details:
Labor start to finish: 3 hours, 50 minutes
“Push” time: 1 hour
1st degree tear, no stitches
Side-lying-ish, water birth
Self cervix checks (ha! Get it? Self cervix?)