With our first, our daughter Makenzie, I was blissfully ignorant to the entire labor and birth process. Of course I read the standard “What To Expect…” books and took a Lamaze class but in terms of actual mental, emotional and physical preparation: I was the epitome of a woman who really wasn’t all that knowledgeable. We endured a run to the hospital for “false labor,” as well as an induction after my water broke without productive contractions after 14 hours. While I had dreams of a natural birth, I was ill-prepared for actually achieving my goals. I swore that next time would be different.
And it was.
While pregnant with our first son Kyle, I read as many books on natural birth as I could get my hands on. I researched on the Internet for countless hours… searching for any and all information that would enable me to achieve my goal. However, when Kyle decided to arrive a little bit earlier than I had anticipated, my “perfect plans” were abandoned as my sense of security was lowered. My own self-doubts seemed to compound as my four year daughter watched me writhe in pain. I hadn’t prepared her to be there; she wasn’t supposed to be there. Nothing was going as I had scripted, and the detours left me uncomfortable. Ultimately I chose to have pain medication in order to comfort those around me. However, at the end of the experience when I was again disappointed with my failure to reach my goal. I swore next time would be different.
And, again, it was.
From the moment of conception, my pregnancy with our third child was quite the experience. We battled through normal first trimester jitters, a worrisome ultrasound in the second trimester and extreme pain and exhaustion in the third. However, the most important change was that since I was determined to get my natural birth this time, I took steps to ensure that it would happen. Books, research and education were only half the battle. This time I would arm myself with the “team” to back it up! Venturing from mainstream OB care, I turned to the wonderful care of a group of local midwives who specialized in out of hospital births. Fortunately for me, other than that- my plan was to have no plan. If I had my mind truly set on anything, it surely would be lost in the intense yet exciting adventure that was yet to come!
I’d love to say that I gently went into labor, but in actuality, it all began in a fury. My husband had some friends over for the night, and being nine months pregnant woman- I was quite upset when the get-together ran a lot longer than I thought acceptable. When he finally came to bed shortly after3:30am, I was quite emotional. Somewhere between the sobbing, yelling, and frustration- I noticed that I started contracting. In all honesty, it was nothing new for me to experience contractions; I had been having prodromal labor for the last week. But there was something different about sensation surrounding contractions. I firmly believe a woman always knows for sure when it really *is* time.
At around 4am I was certain that we were going to have a baby. I will admit I didn’t bother to time the contractions at all, and instead actively tried to relax. I sat on my birthing ball watching The Firm in the darkness of my bedroom with my husband silently slept behind me. When a contraction would come, I would attempt to match my own breathing to his and having him near me was a support even if he wasn’t exactly hands-on. Time passed, and the contractions steadily seemed to get stronger, last longer, and come more often.
At 5:30am I decided it was time to call the midwife on duty at the birth center. DC’s rush hour traffic begins at about 6:00am, lasts for about 3 hour, and my birth center was about an hour away. I didn’t want to be driving through that if it all possible!! After chatting with the midwife, we decided that it was not quite time to jump in the car, but that I should call back in an hour with an update. At that point, we would decide whether or not to come in, or if we felt comfortable with an attempt at remaining at home until traffic ceased. Shortly after I hung up the phone, I woke my husband. I paced the room. I rocked in place. I forced myself to go to the bathroom, and it was then that I discovered some bloody show. The definite sign that things were progressing made me happy; I smiled through the pain as I put on some underwear and a pad (I would later regret this move). Once my husband was awake, he listened to me as I labored, determined we had to call back the midwife now. There was no debating as to what we needed to do- we were coming in.
I vaguely remember seeing the clock read 6:33am as we drove out of the neighborhood. From the moment we decided to deliver in the birth center, I knew that the car ride would be very difficult. I had often envisioned going into labor during our infamous rush hour and had tried to anticipate/prepare for how bad it could be. However, nothing imagined could compare to this drive. When we entered the car, the contractions were coming about every three minutes. With the two kids and grandmother in the seats behind me, I focused extra hard on remaining calm and centered. As the world seemed to whirl past me outside my window, I concentrated on keeping everything within me very still. It was a constant battle.Soon enough and without fail, the traffic hit and we were barely inching along. As the contractions came on on top of another, I was having a difficult time remaining centered. I was starting to doubt myself, and doubt my ability to have a natural birth. I had only been in labor for just a couple hours and the pain was nearing intolerable. The contractions were often coming with double peaks and were never more than a minute apart. Looking back on it, I should have known that this was transition, but I was in a deep denial. My husband kept telling me that the end of was near and was as supportive as he could be while driving, but I didn’t believe him. I fully envisioned showing up at the birth center and hearing “Well, you area good 3 or 4 cms”. After all, being in labor for such a short time, could I actually be any further along?
We were about twenty minutes from the birth center when I started to feel a lot of pressure. It was not overwhelming, but when a contraction would hit, I definitely felt the urge to push gently to get through the pain. However, not being sure of how far I had progressed, I resisted the urge. I remember telling my husband over and over again that “I think I feel like pushing”. At the time, he was very calm, reassuring and just kept telling me that we would be there soon. Later in the day he would reveal to me that he was mentally preparing to deliver this baby in the car and was constantly scoping out places to pull over. He knew I was close, even when I denied it, so when I told him to please start driving along on the shoulder because I needed to get out of the car- he eagerly obliged and hit the accelerator hard.
Those last several minutes were torture. The seat belt was strangling me. The sun was too bright. The kids were too close. We hit every single red light after we exited the highway. Kyle was calling my name. Contractions were pounding my body in such a fast and furious fashion that I seriously doubted my ability to continue. I had to lift myself off the chair when a contraction hit, allowing my body to float through the waves of pain. In the brief seconds between contractions, I felt my body go limp, and my mind completely fade to black. It was almost like an out of body experience. I felt distant from my body, and separate from the scene.
Luckily, that wouldn’t last long for at about 7:40am, we pulled into the driveway of the birth center. My husband told the children, and my grandmother that he was going to bring me inside and then come back to escort them inside. As he raced around the car, I screamed at him to not open the door. We were finally there, but I was just in too much pain to actually move. As soon as the peak passed, I swung the door open and told him we had to move as fast as possible before the next one hit. The cool March air felt awesome on my skin, and I remember feeling a bit of energy surge through my body just as my water broke on the driveway. I remember glancing over at the people walking their dog on the other side of the road, wondering what was going through their mind! As I walked over to the door on my tip toes (for some reason, I almost was dancing my way to the door in order to move through the pain) I held my arms above my head just reaching for the sun and sky.
We rang the doorbell and beat on the door as loudly as possible. Only two seconds must have past before I was screaming for my husband to beat the door down, cause we HAD to get in there! When the midwife who had come to deliver our baby, opened the door- I was relieved, shocked, excited, and almost angry all at the same time. She instantly pulled me into her arms and held me as I rode out a contraction. She stroked my hair and told me I was doing good, and as she led me up the stairs, I started to feel like I might actually “make it”.
That is, until we made it about 5 stairs up the staircase and I screamed “The baby is coming now! I feel a head!” The midwife whipped her head around and the birth assistant started running down the stairs. She asked, “Do you feel like bearing down?” and I answered “OOH My God, THE BABY IS COMING!!” That was as close to a yes as I could get out as I threw my body down into a squatting position right there on the landing of the staircase. Lucky for me, my husband was right behind me, a few stairs down, and he held my weight as I semi reclined under the force of the baby’s head emerging from my body. My midwife just dropped to the floor and was in position to catch. Grunting, and moaning, I announced it burned and mentally thought to myself how stupid that comment was; of course it burned!! I had always thought I would reach down and hold the baby as s/he was born, just like I had with our second, but this time everything was just so fast, and intense, that I cannot even remember where my arms were. It was then I realized that the underwear I had slipped on earlier were still on and they were cupping the baby’s head. Providing just enough resistance to virtually send me over the edge, I ordered my midwife to “Just cut them off!”. I remember her laughing, just taking my screaming in stride. “I don’t carry scissors in my back pocket! I am catching your baby bare handed as is,” she had said. Somehow the underwear were removed and as I squatted on the stairs, I felt the baby half inside of me and half outside. I tried to tattoo this feeling in my memory, fully remembering that this may very well be my last child. Within seconds, my body was involuntarily pushing once more and I felt the shoulders pop through my pubic bones and a baby placed against my body. My midwife kept telling “reach down, hold your baby” but I was in complete and utter shock. My birth assistant later told me that the first words from my mouth were “Holy ****!”.
I grabbed the baby, and was rubbing the little body as I was still in a state of shock. I cannot tell you all that happened in those first few moments, because it is all still a blur. At some point, I lifted the blanket to see if we had a new son or daughter, fully anticipating announcing the birth of Mia. However, once again, I was completely shocked by the sight of a little boy under the blanket!! We had another son… Garrett. I do recall thinking that the looked a little blue and fear started to take hold of me. Our midwife quickly clamped the cord, and asked my husband if he would like to cut it. Since he was still holding me up on the stairs (thank God the guy is strong!) he answered “no”. I leapt at the chance to cut the cord, and quickly did it before the birth assistant rushed my son up the stairs to administer some oxygen. Once things seemed to calm for a minute, the midwife asked me if I felt up to climbing the rest of the stairs so I could deliver the placenta comfortably in bed. As I was answering that we could try, we were greeted with another contraction and a beautiful, healthy placenta right there on the landing of the stairs. We both laughed at this point, and gave in to the moment.
It wasn’t long before I was able to go up the stairs and to climb into bed with my baby. As I held him close to my skin, I still couldn’t grasp all that happened. I kept repeating “I did it!! He is here!! I did it!! That was so quick!” Everything was so surreal!! As Makenzie and Kyle hopped into bed with me, I felt as if nothing in the world could make any more sense all at the same time as making absolutely no sense at all. Amazed, stunned, shocked… these words really do no justice for how I was feeling. I have never experienced something so incredible in all my life. As we left the birth center just a few hours later, I looked over at my husband, and just whispered to him, “Good thing we didn’t have a plan”.