About lunchtime on Saturday, the 21st of August, I noticed mild contractions. They got more and more regular and were more noticeable by early evening. Frank and I were both so excited. At 41+ weeks, we were ready to meet the baby.
Isabelle went to bed, I knew I should try to rest. The contractions were stronger, but still varying in frequency from 8-12 minutes apart. I lay down for a while, and Frank got the “nest” ready. Being in the bed, even on my side in a pile of pillows made the contractions much more uncomfortable. After a while, I couldn’t stand lying down any more and got up. Gravity really is your friend in labor.
Around 11pm, we tried again to sleep. There was a big thunderstorm, and my contractions got much stronger. I really had to concentrate and breathe through them. Frank slept, and I got up to walk around, stopping to lean over or get on hands and knees with each contraction. By 2am, I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep and woke up my daddy-doula for some support.
We went outside and walked up and down the street in the post-storm coolness. They were still very manageable and coming every 6 minutes. Around 3am, I finally had some show, and Frank encouraged me to set a time for the midwives to come. I didn’t think things were moving quickly, but he was more tuned in. For a while all I wanted was to be in our small downstairs bathroom by myself, lights out and door shut. He recognized that seeking that dark, safe place was a big emotional cue. We decided they would come around 5 and planned for my mom to come about the same time. That taken care of, I got in the tub and relaxed.
Everybody arrived as planned, and Frank got in the tub with me. I got in and out a few times, and the contractions got stronger. The relief of getting back into the water helped me relax and get into a rhythm. I leaned over the side of the tub rocking, swaying, and moaning through contractions. It started to feel like my body was pushing at the peaks, and that sensation got more intense. All that felt good was having Frank pushing on either side of my hips. I started to think that I couldn’t handle many more like that. Soon, I felt my water break. That relieved a lot of pressure, and I felt myself really bearing down with the next contraction. I made 3 pushes with each contraction, and his head went back up a little after each one. Finally, his head stayed put. I guided it out little by little until I felt him pick his chin up—out popped his head. Everything else followed quickly, and Frank was waiting to catch him. Frank was the first to see that he was a boy and announce it to everyone.
From first contraction to birth, it wasn’t short, but the “hard” labor was only 3 hours. There is so little that I would call painful—intense, sometimes uncomfortable, “ring of fire” burning, but very little pain. It is easy to forget the minutes between contractions (well, usually) when you just feel like yourself. I am still amazed that he came so quickly. When the midwives arrived, I really thought we might have a baby by lunchtime. Little did I know that all 9 pounds, 4 ounces of him would be born just after 7am. Isabelle met him about 5 minutes after he was born. How easy that we didn’t have to go anywhere overnight and be away from her. It was amazing to have him at home surrounded by people who were so calm and confident in me. I am so glad to have given him such a peaceful start to life. I had no vaginal exams in pregnancy or labor, and Frank and I were the first two people to touch him. The experience absolutely confirmed my feeling that birth is usually more simple than we think—at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people.
Read about my daughter's birth: http://thebirthingsite.com/birth-stories/item/482-isabelles-unmedicated-childbirth.html
Early Halloween morning, I realized that I was leaking amniotic fluid. I spoke with my midwife, Sara, around lunchtime. Although I felt no contractions, she recommended that I come in to be sure it was fluid that afternoon. We arrived at the hospital late in the afternoon on the 31st. I felt strongly about receiving prophylactic antibiotics for Group B strep. This was mostly because I was born six weeks prematurely with an infection that kept me in the NICU for two weeks. My mother has always been very honest with me about how frightening it was to give birth and not know if that baby would come home. This profoundly affected my own decision making process. Had I more thoroughly researched the risks and benefits and been more proactive, Isabelle’s birth story would be quite different.
I saw Sara that evening, and she agreed that to watch and wait was the best plan. She left orders for the attending doctors that I be allowed to eat anything I wanted, that I could leave the hospital (not the base, though we should have gone home and slept) between bags of antibiotics, and not to do any vaginal exams. That night, as unmistakable contractions tugged steadily, we were excited that labor was progressing. My husband and I walked the grounds of the naval base. It was surreal to walk the hiking trails and golf course in darkness, knowing that I was on the cusp of biggest change of my life. Around 6:00 the next morning, I was 80% effaced and 1 cm dilated. I was angry and disappointed, and cried as the nurse started Pitocin. Sara felt that induction was the best course of action given my GBS status and prolonged ROM. Frank and I both wish that we had refused this and continued to allow things to progress on their own.
Once my doula arrived, I relaxed and began to work with my body. Thus began the constant tension between the calm confidence that I felt in my ability to give birth and the hospital “on the clock” feeling. I walked, rocked, moaned, and swayed through the contractions. I remember leaning into Frank’s chest and dancing as the contractions got stronger and closer. It also felt great when he and Stacey, my doula, rubbed my back and feet. Contractions went from nothing to tough stuff within an hour—thanks, Pitocin. Yuck! They were at least 90 seconds and about 3 minutes apart. I hate to think what Isabelle was feeling without the protective bag of waters around her.
By 11:30 I was hiccupping, restless, shaking, and wanted to be alone in the dark bathroom. Sara said she would be back around noon, but didn’t get there until much later. At 2:30, I was completely effaced and 3 cm. I absolutely believe that my body was in transition, regardless of being so little dilated. After two nights of not sleeping and laboring hard all day, I was exhausted. I felt like the only chance I had for a vaginal delivery was to rest and let my body open. That exam was the most upsetting part of the whole process. No one had told me so plainly how much more painful Pitocin makes things for most women. To experience contractions like what I expected in transition before even 5 cm dilation was disappointing to say the least. I realized later that I was waiting for Sara—she was the person I trusted to take care of me. Her not coming back on time was very upsetting.
Fentanyl and Nubain were horrible. We hoped the first would take the edge off and allow me to rest, but it made me feel out of control without lessening the intensity of contractions. The second was no better. I was sleeping between contractions, and then waking up at the peaks. It was humiliating to be completely out of control and too stoned to get out of an uncomfortable hospital bed and move around. All of the powerful sensations of birth were still there, I just couldn’t move around and mentally prepare for them.
At 4:30, I received an epidural. It was a small and non-narcotic dose. It took the head of anesthesia three attempts before the catheter was in the correct spot and numbing both sides of my body. I was disappointed but relieved to escape effects of the narcotics. My midwife said she would probably see us again in the wee hours of the morning. I was asleep almost before she left the room, and woke up three hours later feeling lots of pressure. It took 2 hours for the anesthesiologist to arrive after I decided that I wanted the epidural as she was in with a cesarean. She asked if I was a runner after briefly feeling my spine. Apparently, my spine is compressed from years of running. Special. After it was placed, I begged Sara to get me something to eat. When I woke up, I rolled over to find a tray of crackers, jello, and chicken soup. I ate a few crackers and wolfed down peach jello before calling the nurse. Frank was passed out in the chair and wouldn’t wake up.
What a relief it was to know the baby was coming and to be able to actively participate in her birth. By the time my midwife arrived, I was changing positions and moving as though I never received an epidural. All that felt right was squatting, so I slid to the end of the bed and squatted unassisted. Then with the squat bar, I finally started to really make progress. It was a positive outlet for all of the earlier anger and frustration as I lifted myself completely off of the bed, pushing my feet against it and pulling the top towards me. Isabelle was born at 8:53 on November 1st with her right fist pressed to her cheek. She was very, very alert and nursed within her first 20 minutes of life. The middle-aged attending doc was a family practice guy and didn’t seem to know his ass from his elbows about labor. He had me flat on my back and in the stirrups before I knew what was going on. He told me not to push if I wanted Sara there to “deliver” my baby. My doula was over his shoulder mouthing, “Push as hard as you need to.” I told him that I needed to get up and squat, because it would take me all night to get her out in that position. He said that he hadn’t been taught how to deliver a baby in that position.
Since then I've analyzed every bit of what happened, questioned every choice we made. Thank God I got up, or I am not sure I would have been able to move her down with that nuchal arm. I am so grateful to my midwife for treating me with respect and kindness. My birth team was amazing in their patience and support. I am still unsatisfied with some choices that I made, but it is a blessing that they were my own.
This experience helped me to see how unnecessary interventions are in normal birth. They turn birth into an excruciating ordeal. I realize that there is an enormous difference between unmedicated birth and natural birth—I may have labored with no medicine for a long time, but what I felt was far from natural. So many people said, “As long as the baby is healthy,” but I matter, too. There was nothing wrong or dysfunctional about labor because it was long. My baby was more at risk of being negatively affected by the interventions (the first being getting to the hospital too early) we chose than a long labor. GBS is a concern, but I did not know at the time that a dose of antibiotics within even 30 minutes (ideally within 4 hours) of birth will do. Military hospitals are typically able to provide more evidence-based care than a civilian, particularly private, hospital may. I saw this present in the standard of care that I received both in labor and postpartum. Had I been in a civilian hospital, I probably would have had a cesarean no later than lunchtime that day for “failure to progress,” or in my case failure to wait.
It took me a few months to begin sorting through the disappointment and figure out how I felt about things. I decided that I would do my best to give our 2nd child a more peaceful, less hectic and medicated, start. A big part of that was avoiding the GBS/antibiotics debate and better understanding prelabor ROM.
Long before we were even thinking about adding another baby, I started reading and researching online. I knew before Will was on the way that I wanted to have the baby at home. The hospitals around Memphis are not friendly to natural birth, and that’s putting it mildly. So, pregnant again, I figured out how to get Tricare to cover the homebirth and began seeing the midwives of Trillium Womancare. They were amazing. I had information and guidance on prenatal testing, which we chose to avoid except for basic bloodwork and the mid-pregnancy anatomy scan.
Throughout my pregnancy with Will, I was well-cared for and well-supported. They liked the homeopathic protocol for avoiding GBS colonization that I had saved from our Bradley instructor. I started the regimen at 36 weeks. At 38 weeks, I did the swab myself at an office visit, and it came back negative.
So, with not a single vaginal exam in pregnancy or labor, Will was born. His birth is what truly helped me make peace with the experience of having Isabelle. Her birth wasn’t a bad one, but it was not at all what I wanted. I experienced far, far less pain with him than with Isabelle. Part of that was because the pump was primed, so to speak, but also because of my comfort level and the calm atmosphere we created in our birth “nest.” The urge to push with Will came on slowly, over a few contractions. It felt like trying not to throw up, just from the opposite end. Instead of someone telling me not to push for whatever reason, my midwives calmly suggested that I get back in the pool for the next contraction. They could tell just from the sounds I made and my body language that he was coming soon. It took a few contractions for my head to catch up with where my body was. In that time, I told them that I didn’t feel ready to push. All they did was smile and tell me to trust my body and the sensation.