My first born turned five not that long ago, so this is a bit of an odd/late time to share his birth story, but I have been re-reading Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth as mental prep for the impending labour and delivery of my third babe (due any day!) and these inspirational birth stories are what have moved me to put pen to paper (errr, fingers to keyboard).
These end-of-pregnancy, waiting days, are when focusing on a positive birth experience is really important. Like an athlete mentally preparing for the event, the focus should be on nothing but an ideal performance and a positive outcome. Fear and anxiety can negatively impact the physical and mental feat ahead. And since I like to prep for birth like an athlete preparing for the event, this all ties into my mental game. Positive. Positive. Positive.
"Birth stories told by women who were active participants in giving birth often express a good deal of practical wisdom, inspiration, and information for other women. Positive stories shared by women who have had wonderful childbirth experiences are an irreplaceable way to transmit knowledge of a woman's true capacities in pregnancy and birth."
― Ina May Gaskin, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
And so, here is B's birth story in the name of positivity, inspiration and plain old information.
Before I jump into his actual birth day, I should give you a little background on my pregnancy and birth plans.
I knew pretty early on in my pregnancy that I wanted an unmedicated delivery. Thankfully, in this modern world women have choices (so many choices!) on how and where they want to birth. My decision to have an intervention-free, unmedicated birth was mostly due to my fascination with the human body. There was no way I was going to miss out on feeling and experiencing this event that is so rare. Despite birth happening thousands of times every day around this planet, it is a truly rare physiological event. And I felt like it was a privilege, as a woman and as a human being, to be able to experience that event. I didn't want drugs masking the sensations and possibly hindering my body's ability to do what it was designed to do.
And, after hearing so many different birth stories throughout my pregnancy, I really wanted to know how my body would birth a baby. To say I was curious was a total understatement. I had zero fear going into my first L&D, only curiosity. And obviously an insane amount of excitement to finally meet this little person that was kicking up a storm.
Birth is a team event so I picked my team wisely. We chose a midwife as our primary care provider knowing that she would respect our birth plan to have minimal intervention. We also signed up for a ten week prenatal birth class that focused on empowering the birthing coach. We weren't sure initially if we wanted a doula, but after our first prenatal class, my husband felt confident that HE could be my birth coach. He's a former competitive rower, and I remember him saying as we were leaving that first prenatal class, that he would be my COXSWAIN (which at 6'5" is a completely unrealistic and comical size to be a coxswain). In case you are not familiar with the role of the coxswain, they are the eyes, ears and voice of the (row) boat - it is their job to guide and motivate the rowers to their ultimate goal of winning the regatta. And as my husband has told me countless times, rowing is not for the faint of heart - a race can be one of the most painful tests of physical strength and endurance.
And so we both prepared for the impending birth day - him as my coxswain/birth partner, and me as the athlete preparing for the physical test of endurance (and suffering?!) that lay ahead.
On January 22nd 2013 things got going. I was two days over my due date.
I went for a massage in the afternoon and as I was getting up from the massage table I thought my water might have broken - the small, slow leak I'd been warned might indicate the start of things. I called my midwife when I got home around 4pm, but after asking me a bunch of questions she didn't think it was necessary to check me, and was certain it wasn't amniotic fluid. I had no other signs of labour, but she reassured me by telling me to call her before bed if I wanted her to come to the house to check me.
Towards bedtime I could tell that labour was indeed starting. I had low abdominal cramps, like what you might get with a heavy period. We chalked it up to early labour signs and figured that it would last for hours or even days as we'd been told was pretty normal, especially with a first baby.
I called my midwife to let her know that it was definitely labour, but that we'd likely touch base again in the morning. She told me to run a bath, have a glass of wine and take Gravol and/or Tylenol if I had trouble sleeping.
By 11pm, the cramps had turned to light contractions. I tried a bath, but I felt best on all fours even though the contractions were pretty light so I didn't last long in the tub. I think I tried to sleep, but again, I was more comfortable on all fours during a contraction, and was just too darn excited to sleep! I sent my husband to bed at this point, but by 2 or 3am the contractions were getting more intense and I needed his assurance, timing and pelvic squeezes (this helped SO much) through each one. I was definitely in active labour at this point. Contractions were intense at this point, but rhythmical and tolerable. In between contractions I was fine and my energy was decent - I think I was still riding high on the excitement of knowing that we'd finally be holding our babe.
The hours between 3 to 5am are a blurr. I remember thinking back at this time (and really the whole night) and feeling like the hands on the clock were spinning in an animated, high-velocity, movie kinda way. It was weird how quickly time passed.
By 5am or so we hit the 4-1-1 mark (contractions every 4 minutes, lasting for one minute, for an hour), and so we called our midwife. My contractions were intense, but still rhythmical and similar from one to the next. Pelvic pressure from my husband with me on all fours continued to be my position of comfort (tolerance?!). And his verbal guidance through each one was so helpful.
Our midwife arrived just before 6am and checked me - I was 6cm dilated. We decided to head to the hospital as contractions were really intense.
Let me just tell you that despite everything going as planned and seemingly lovely thus far, the trip to the hospital was THE WORST. It was January and -10,000 degrees outside (re. extremely bumpy roads) and I was crammed in the back of our tiny car (trying to get into my position of "comfort" on all fours), and my labour hit TRANSITION. Which, if you are not familiar with the transition stage of labour, you should know that it is typically THE WORST part. Like, worse than the pushing the baby out of your vagina stage. It sucked.
We arrived just before 7am and rushed into a delivery room. My water broke (okay, so it was a pee leak earlier after the massage) on the toilet and I felt an immediately need to push. This part is also a bit blurry, but I tried pushing in a few different positions (according to my husband), before settling on my side. I remember feeling so much relief with pushing. I can't say how many contractions I pushed through, but it wasn' t many.
At 7:30am our first born (a boy!) came into this world. He was 8lbs5oz and had a full mop of dark brown hair. The sun was just coming up on a beautiful, clear sky, winter day. Our hearts were so full.
We opted for delayed cord clamping, which thankfully seems to be the norm these days with so much evidence supporting the positive health benefits. My placenta came easily, we got cleaned up, checked up, snuggled our new son, and had family visit before heading home around noon.
B's birth was the birth I was dreaming of. My contractions throughout the five hours of active labour were intense, but they were like clockwork and for the most part they were just that, intense. My husband kept asking me what they felt like, and that's all I'd say to him " they are INNNNNNTENSE". I attribute much of the pain tolerance to 1. finding a position that was most comfortable (on all fours for me), 2. my husband's ability to guide me through each contraction, even if he'd lie a little and tell me I was half way through when really I wasn't, 3. his ability to squeeze HARD on my pelvic bones, and 4. my ability to breathe properly through each one.
I believe that this last point, the breathing, is really important to helping the pelvic floor muscles relax efficiently. I didn't have any tearing, and my postpartum pelvic floor recovery was pretty quick and without issues. Lamaze are a thing of the past as most of us know, but what has replaced this? There is a right way to breathe during L&D, it's maybe just not talked about as much as our mothers were with regards to Lamaze breathing. A post for another day perhaps!
I know it's not often that things go as planned when it comes to birth, but I hope this birth story inspires, normalizes or informs. Every birth is different, every choice is your own. This was my story and I'm grateful not only for the healthy baby at the end, but also for the journey that was in every way my ideal - other than that transition phase in the car.
Happy birthing days, mummas.