Lately I have been reading a lot of birth stories, as fellow bloggers have been giving birth to their babies. Congratulations, everyone! So exciting! Reading your stories has taken me back time and time again to the birth of my own daughter. Yes, it was only three weeks ago, but in some ways it feels like a lifetime ago! So I thought I would share some of my thoughts. Specifically, how the birth of my daughter compared to my expectations.
1) Early Labor
I had been having Braxton hicks contractions for months, but when I got to 36 and 37 weeks they seemed to pick up in frequency and intensity. Some days I had BH contractions off and on for hours, while others they would be nearly non-existent. I expected that my BH contractions would slowly intensify and sort of turn into real contractions. I would know they were real because they would begin to hurt more, and timing them would reveal that they were coming longer and closer together. In reality, the day I went into labor I had no BH contractions at all. I was disappointed, because for several days before this I had been having a LOT of them, and I assumed (or strongly hoped) that they would turn into the real deal that week. Instead, contractions started at about 9pm right after my husband and I finished the fourth item in my list of old wives tales. Ha. When they started they were immediately different than the BH contractions. They were more intense and kind of wrapped around from my back/sides to the front of my belly. I had been lying down on my back, but after only a few contractions I felt the need to get up and change positions. I lightly suggested to my husband that “maybe these are the real thing”, and then we went to bed.
2) The 5-1-1 Rule
If you do research online, talk to a midwife or physician, or read the experiences of others, you will learn about the 5-1-1 rule. This “rule” of labor says that you’ll know it is real labor (and/or time to go in to the hospital/birth center) when your contractions are 5 minutes apart and 1 minute long for at least 1 hour. This is why we time contractions, after all. When mine began that night I started attempting to time them. They were anywhere from 30 seconds to 80 seconds long– on average about 45 or 5o seconds. They were irregular, though, and coming about every 2 to 4 minutes. Hmmm… I was able to sleep for a few hours. At 2am I awoke, unable to sleep through the discomfort of contractions. I whipped out my handy dandy timing app and began timing again. 45-50 seconds long, 2-4 minutes apart. But much more uncomfortable. This was not what I was expecting. I called my doula. And this is when I learned that the the 5-1-1 “rule” is just one labor pattern. And apparently mine was not following that pattern at all. How frustrating! The one thing that was supposed to inform us about when to head to the birth center, and it didn’t apply to me, after all!
3) Heading Out of Town
The birth center we had planned to birth in is the only free-standing birth center in our state. It is also about an hour (or longer, in traffic) away from where we live. Our plan had been that once I was clearly in labor we would pack up the car and drive to the town. We would get a hotel room and I would labor in the hotel until I was far enough along to be checked in to the birth center. At 4am we were in the car, on our way out of town. I think I forgot to put down a towel or anything in case my water broke on the way, but everything else went according to plan. We ever stopped through a drive-through to get a little caffeine for my husband. The contractions were becoming painful, and when one would come on I would stop talking and breathe through it. As soon as it passed I would be fine, and able to talk and joke with my husband again. By the time we reached the hotel, though, I needed– NEEDED– to not be sitting in that damn car anymore. My husband parked the car and went in to register us and get a key, and I got out and stood there in the parking lot in the dim light of morning, rocking back and forth on my feet and humming through each contraction.
I’m going to admit something to you. I didn’t really “get it” before. I had watched births in documentaries and on youTube. I had heard people’s stories. I had heard contractions described by others. And I didn’t get it until I was experiencing them for myself. I expected them to come on in waves that built slowly, peaked, and dropped off again. Like waves in the ocean. Haven’t we all heard them described that way? I expected them to be painful but, again, I didn’t really understood what that meant. Contractions hurt. A LOT. They demand all of your attention. I was unable to sit through them. Sitting made them worse. Lying down was unthinkable. The only things I could do was to stand and kind of sway/rock my body through the pain. It’s hard to describe. I also expected that they would build gradually over time. Again, my contractions followed a different pattern. They started out 2-4 minutes apart and increased in intensity up to a point, and then kind of stayed the same. Then I would get a break for a while. Maybe 6-8 minutes without a single contractions. And THEN when the next one hit it would be MORE intense. It was like stairs. This happened right up until my water broke, right at 6am. Once my water broke the contractions did continue to build in intensity like I expected.
I expected to want to eat during labor. I can’t tell you how many labor stories I have heard where it comes up that the woman was starving and nobody would let her eat (in hospital). We took a big cooler with us, full of snack foods and drinks. I ate a muffin around 5am. After that I wanted nothing to do with food. Especially once I vomited (around 7am). Twice. I am glad I had the option, but in the end I can’t imagine wanting anything but drinks during labor.
6) Laboring in the Water
This is one way in which my expectations of labor were completely on target. I knew I wanted the option to labor in water, and I assumed this would be an effective method of pain relief for me. I was right. As soon as my water broke and my contractions intensified I stripped down and climbed into a steaming, hot shower. Oh. My. Goodness. Relief. Thankfully there was a metal bar in there and I basically leaned on that bar facing the water and let it stream over my belly during a contractions, and sometimes my back in between contractions. When I got tired this was the one place I was able to sit for a while, because the hot water helped my pain enough to let me sit through contractions.
I had only gotten about 2.5 hours of sleep when I woke up to painful contractions, so I started out tired. Since I was completely unable to sit through contractions (except for briefly when I was in the shower) I was SO TIRED by the time we headed to the birth center. I was NOT expecting this, and the impact it had on my daughter’s birth. More on this later.
8) Location, Location, Location
A week before I went into labor I ended up in the hospital for a day with high blood pressure. Here is that story. As a result, when we called the midwives to let them know I was in labor and that my water had broken, the head midwife called back asking that we come in to have my blood pressure taken. They wanted to make sure everything was okay before I got much further along. We drove the 7 minutes to the birth center. It was AWFUL. What is worse than sitting through a contractions? Sitting through THREE contractions in a moving vehicle. When we got there I had to wait for an exam room to become available. Finally (admission: it was probably not very long, but it FELT like FOREVER to me) they took me back to the exam room. They took my blood pressure. It was high. They made me lie back on an exam table for a non-stress test. Baby was fine, I was informed, but because of my blood pressure I was going to have to give birth across the street in the hospital. Whatever. At this point I just wanted to get the baby OUT. Still, looking back, I wonder what my birth might have been like in the birth center, if things had gone as planned.
9) Go Time
At this point the head midwife asked the student midwife to check me and see how far along I was so they could decide whether to send me across the street to the hospital or let me wait it out a bit. Nobody thought I was very far along, because my contractions, while fairly close together at this point, didn’t seem that intense to them. That is what my husband informs me, after the fact. Through each contraction I was hanging on to my husband and moaning in a low voice. I guess that was all a bit subdued for them. When she checked me, her eyes got wide and she said, “The head is right there!” She ran out to get the midwife who came in and verified. Apparently I was 8 cm dilated and the head was in fact right there. It was almost time to push! I had labored through most of my active labor stage in the hotel room, of all places! I had expected to be admitted to the birth center, and then have several hours of laboring ahead of me. I had expected calm music, low lights, and hushed voices. I had expected to labor on the birth ball, labor in the big jacuzzi tub, be given suggestions on different positions and pain management techniques. Instead I labored in a hotel room, in the hotel shower, hanging on to my husband, in an exam room at the birth center… and now I was being rushed across the street to the hospital and up to Labor and Delivery on the third floor.
I’ll be honest. In addition to my holistic birth-center laboring, I expected to be moving through the second stage of labor. I expected to be in positions such as squatting, maybe in the tub, or possibly lying on my side on the bed. Instead I found myself flat on my back in a hospital bed. The midwife did encourage me to push when I felt the need, which was good. There were lots of people in the room. I had my eyes closed. I was exhausted. I kept thinking I was going to pass out, but I never did. I expected pushing to be a relief– that is what so many people said. But to me it was just very concentrated pain! I didn’t want to push, but I also knew that I HAD to push or be in pain forever.
As I was crowning they asked me if I wanted to touch her head. I said no. Maybe I should have said yes. I was just too tired, too physically exhausted to do anything other than try to push this baby out. My eyes were closed when she slipped into this world. My husband caught her. I wish I could remember better. I think he told me she was beautiful. I do remember him telling me she had hair (I was convinced she would be born totally bald). I was barely able to open my eyes when he place her in my arms. I didn’t feel the rush of emotion I expected to feel. That came later. At this point I was stunned and exhausted, relieved to have her out. In all of those first pictures I am just staring down at her. I don’t look happy or emotional. I just look kind of like I just finished doing the hardest thing I have ever done. Which is true. But I wish I looked a little happier to see her. I was able to have skin to skin and to breastfeed immediately. They did take her away to be cleaned up, weighed, and to allow the midwives to stitch up a couple of minor tears to my labia. (TMI? Sorry, I’m not sorry). I did insist they not bathe her. So a few things did go according to my wishes, and the things that didn’t were mostly because everything was happening so fast.
12) No Regrets
I always though that I had to have this specific birth in order to be content. I made the choices I did because I truly believe they make the best possible birth. But when things went slightly off-track, I am glad to live in a world that has options. I don’t even regret the things that went “wrong”, because they make her birth story unique. It was a super-fast labor, and maybe that is why it was so intense. but I did it. We did it together, she and I.