When we got to the hospital, they sent me up to the maternity ward and hooked me up to the external fetal monitor for a routine 30 minute test strip. Karen, my nurse, checked my dilation and pronounced me to be fully effaced and 3 cm dilated. After my 30 minutes were up, we slowly walked up and down the hallways of the hospital. Then I got in the tub and labored there for quite a while. I had pictured being able to lie back and float in the water, but I was getting overheated, and every time a contraction started I wanted to lean forward and sort of double over. Eventually Doula insisted that I get out of the tub and walk around again.
At 11:30, Karen checked my dilation again and I had made it to 5 cm. This was really encouraging, because I knew I was making progress. By this time contractions were quite intense and happening every couple of minutes. I sat on the birthing ball and closed my eyes through each contraction – trying to do slow, deep breathing and making low-voiced helpful sounds, but I also had trouble not just wanting to whimper or scream with the pain. I remember thinking, “so this is why women get pain relief,” but I knew my basic choice was an epidural or nothing, and I wasn’t ready to give everything up and lie on my back not being able to move. The pain of the contractions was never so intense that I thought I just couldn’t continue to handle it, and I always wanted to keep handling my current level of pain because I kept thinking it would just get worse. I couldn’t quit now. I never asked for medication, and true to my birth plan, no one ever offered me any. I’m so glad, because now I know that I can handle it just fine.
At this point my sense of time starts to get a bit fuzzy. I know I sat on the ball for at least an hour, because the CD I was listening to got to the tracks where it skips. It seemed appropriate to hear the music stuttering, because I felt like I was lost in this never-ending labor. Fish fed me some red Jell-o, and I remember being annoyed because he was trying to be cutesy and do the airplane thing before sticking the spoon in my mouth. During the most intense contractions throughout the labor, my whole body would get the shivers. When I was sitting or lying down, my legs would twitch uncontrollably. Even at the time it seemed kind of funny.
Eventually, Doula wanted me to walk around again, but I really just wanted to get back in the tub. Doula had gotten some lunch while I was on the birthing ball, and as I got back in the tub, Fish went to grab a sandwich and give my mom an update. I had been in the tub just a few minutes, when I suddenly felt this tremendous pressure on my anus and an urge to push. Doula called the nurse, who managed to check my dilation while I was still in the tub. Imagine my surprise and delight to be 8-9 cm dilated. This was probably about 1:30, so things had progressed very quickly in the past few hours. We needed to get me out of the tub, but where was Fish? He wasn’t back from lunch, and his cell phone went straight to voice mail. Finally, after what seemed like ages, but was probably another 15 minutes, he came back. He’d gotten trapped in a conversation with my mom and still hadn’t managed to get a bite of his sandwich. As I got out of the tub, I noticed that I had lost the rest of my mucous plug. It was floating in the water, and I thought “so that’s what the mucous plug looks like.” It’s all so obvious in retrospect.
I got on the hospital bed and the nurse didn’t want me to push because I wasn’t fully dilated. Plus, my obstetrician was attending a C-section, so they didn’t want things to progress so fast that there was no doctor present. So I spent some time on my hands and knees. It seemed like the most comfortable position – sort of a modified child’s pose. I was waggling my hips around in circles, which seemed to help with the pain of the contractions. It felt very animalistic, and I still had to pant through the contractions. Eventually my water broke in a gush and after that the nurse said “just let your body do what it wants.” In other words, I finally had permission to push if I felt like it. It felt really good to be able to give in to what my body wanted to do. I was still on my hands and knees on the bed, and behind me I could hear Fish getting worried about the color of my legs. Apparently they were turning a deep purple (I couldn’t feel them), so Fish and Doula were trying to massage some blood back into them between contractions. But it still felt like the position my body wanted to be in.
After a while the doctor came in and checked on me. Well, actually Karen checked me and pronounced me 9+ with just a lip of cervix. The doctor promised to come back when the baby was crowning. About this time, we (somehow) moved me to semi-reclining position. I didn’t really want to move, but the concern in Fish’s voice over the color of my legs made me think that I should move. We tried having Fish or Doula sitting behind me on the bed, but for some reason that didn’t work. My memories here are vague.
In the end, for most of the pushing, Doula was on my left side and Fish was on my right side, and my feet were in the stirrups. This wasn’t how I’d envisioned myself pushing the baby out, but I was incredibly tired and supporting my body weight in a squatting or more upright position didn’t seem possible. For me, pushing was by far the hardest part of the labor. I was so tired and it was such hard work. I really struggled to use the contractions to push and not just to scream. And then to have to push 2 or 3 or more times with each contraction rather than giving just one push and sort of collapsing for the rest of the contraction – that required fighting with every fiber in my body. After a while I couldn’t even tell when a contraction was starting – my body was just so tired and sore. Fortunately, Fish could tell me when contractions were about to start – he could tell by the tensing of some bundle of muscle fibers in my knee. My left leg twitched uncontrollably during and between contractions – I felt detached from it and someone (Doula? The nurse?) told me not waste energy trying to stop the twitching.
It seemed like I pushed forever, even though it couldn’t have been much more than an hour. After a while, people would say that they could see the top of the head, but then the instant I stopped pushing it would be sucked back into the birth canal. This was very discouraging – no one had told me that pushing was two steps forward and one step back and that it felt like one step forward, two steps back. The doctor came back into the room around this time and said to a nurse, “I thought you said she was crowning” and the nurse replied “I thought she was” (or something of the sort). Everyone was being very encouraging, but I could tell that they were disappointed at how slowly it was going. The nurse was checking the baby’s heartbeat with the Doppler much more frequently now, and a couple of times, Doula whispered in my ear that I had been pushing long enough and it was time to get the baby out. I’m sure now that she meant those words to be encouraging, but at the time, exhausted, in pain, with the doctor and nurses there and everything else, I interpreted her words to mean that the baby wasn’t doing well any more and if I didn’t get the baby out soon that something was going to go wrong. That really made me want to push, and I know I even tried to do it a few times between contractions. If I could have managed to string together a sentence, I might have said “cut me open and get the baby out. I can’t do this anymore.” But I couldn’t muster the energy to form the words and there’s nothing they could have done to help me anyways.
And eventually the pushing did its thing. Even though I had my eyes tightly squeezed shut (I hate blood), I did manage to reach down and feel the top of the head – slimy and hairy and real. A few minutes later, the baby did crown, then the head was born, and one easy push later, the rest of the body came slipping out. Fish made the announcement, “It’s a girl!” and then she was on my chest, just like I wanted, slippery and bloody and so incredibly alive. I’m tearing up just thinking about it. It was such an amazing moment – to have my little girl in my arms.
Minnow was born on January 26, 2007 at 3:20 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. She weighed 7 lbs 3 oz, was 20 inches long, with a head 13 inches in circumference. She was, and is, perfect in every way.
Much of the next hour is a blur, but Minnow spent most of it on my chest. Fish cut the cord, the nurses wiped Minnow off quickly, and the placenta was out in a minute or two. I tore when she was born, and it seemed like the doctor put in a trillion stitches, some in places that the lidocaine hadn’t reached. And the nurse was pushing hard on my uterus, helping it to contract. Now that my work was done, I complained loudly and cried about the pain of the nurse’s kneading and the doctor’s stitches, even though they were nothing compared to what I’d been through for the past day. And I tried to get Minnow to nurse, but neither she nor I knew what we were doing. Doula and the nurses tried to help – all these people trying to position her and my breasts, but I don’t think we ever succeeded.
After a while, I asked Fish to hold her for me. She needed skin-to-skin contact to stay warm, so he unbuttoned his shirt and tucked her in against his chest. It was adorable – though I was jealous of his time with her – but too exhausted to hold her myself. And I was less jealous after a while, when she let go her first big meconium poop inside his shirt and all over his chest. That’s a story that her daddy will torture her with for years.
I got exactly the birth I wanted – no IV, no drugs, just me and the baby doing all the work the way it’s been done for eons. Fish was amazingly helpful and supportive the whole time. He never expressed doubt in my ability or my choices and I couldn’t have done it without his reassuring presence. Our doula, Doula, too made the whole process so much easier. She kept Fish and I from freaking out and going to the hospital way to early. She was great about making me keep moving during labor and she provided Fish some relief. Just by happenstance, the
People have asked me whether I would choose a natural childbirth again, and I’ve answered with a whole-hearted affirmative. It helps that my labor was relatively speedy and trouble-free, and that subsequent labors are usually even shorter. But fundamentally, I did something amazing and I did it all on my own. It wasn’t ever more than I could handle. Being aware of what my body was doing the whole time and giving birth to a healthy, alert child that I could in my arms seconds later are the best testimonials I can offer for a natural childbirth.
I am so blessed.