I found that listening to other people's birth stories was so helpful in preparing me for what to expect when my time came. For me, the more detail there was the better. So here is mine. I hope it provides some insights to those of you preparing for your own birth experience or who simply wish to get a glimpse of what a birth without interventions can really be like. Just a reminder that this is my story and that every birth is unique with its own set of challenges. Birth is amazing however it happens.
On Monday, 11 December 2017 I had suspected that I was experiencing “prelabor”. The previous night I had been experiencing what felt like mild menstrual cramps throughout the evening and night, but woke up feeling just fine. Being 11 days past my original due date (and 5 days past my more accurate due date, based on time of ovulation), I knew Idin would be making his entrance very soon. My body was feeling more and more ready each day: I could feel him sitting lower in my pelvis and was experiencing more sacral laxity after long walks, though I was generally still very comfortable and energetic.
Excited about another positive sign that we were getting closer, I made day-of acupuncture and chiropractic appointments in preparation for the big day. I already had a visit scheduled with the midwife to discuss options for continuing to plan a home birth should my pregnancy extend beyond 42 weeks. At this visit, she found that my cervix was 1 cm dilated and 20% effaced and Idin’s head was at +1 station (at the level of the pubic bone), which is low and a good sign.
As the sun made its way down the horizon, I slowly felt the return of a constant uterine cramping with a little higher intensity than the previous night, though again with no apparent pattern. I headed to bed around 22:00 knowing I may be having a long night. To help myself fall asleep, I began saying hypnobirthing affirmations to myself in a loop and in minutes I was fast asleep.
“I trust my body to know what to do, and I follow its lead”
“My body and my baby work together in harmony”
“ I set all fear aside and look forward to the birth of my baby with joy and happiness”
At midnight on 12 December 2017, I woke to a sudden intensity in my body and knew that this was going to be the night. At 00:04, I began timing the contractions, calmly observing how they would rise and fall. After 30 minutes of timing, I thought to myself that I must be timing the contractions incorrectly because they seemed to be too close together for early labor: 2 to 3 minutes apart and about 1 minute long, the typical frequency and duration one would see in active labor. I quickly noticed that remaining still increased the intensity so I got out of bed.
At 00:46, I called the Midwife, Dr. Alisha Wilkes. She told me to give her a call back if: my water breaks, I have a bloody show, or the intensity of the contractions increase significantly. Immediately after, I called the Birth Doula, Lisa Shire, to inform her that my labor has begun and that I may need her soon. After ending my calls, I woke Mark up to let him know it was game time. He remained present with me through each contraction. In the initial hours of labor, with each contraction came a much needed trip to the bathroom to evacuate my bowels. Though it was relieving, it was quite uncomfortable to experience contractions on the toilet. As each contraction came and went, I would slowly rock, sway and breathe calmly, usually either on my hands and knees or leaning against the bed, birth ball or the wall.
After about another hour, I asked Mark to call the doula because contractions were increasing in intensity quite quickly. As the doula was on her way, Mark called the midwife and she agreed it was time to come. Thinking that it might be a good idea to eat something, Mark heated up some bone broth for me. In minutes, I became nauseous and threw it back up. The doula arrived at 03:00. and immediately began supporting me and helping Mark to support me. She used a “double-hip squeeze” through several contractions and guided Mark to use touch relaxation to help me calm the muscles in my forehead and shoulders. Around the time the midwife had arrived, The doula hooked up a T.E.N.S. unit to my low-back to help relieve some of the low back tension and distract my muscle sensations.
Throughout the whole night I was hydrating with a ginger lemon labor-ade that I had made earlier, it was my main source of fuel and hydration as keeping food down was a challenge. This stage of labor passed so quickly and smoothly as I just felt in the zone, moving through each contraction. Instead of using techniques to distract myself from the pain, I just put my focus and attention right with it; breathing and moving was enough.
As 5:00 approached, I felt I was probably progressed enough to transition to the tub. The midwife performed my first vaginal exam of the night and found that my cervix was 7-8 cm dilated and 90% effaced and Idin’s head was still at +1 station. Throughout labor, the midwife would check my vitals (blood pressure, heart rate and temperature) and Idin's heart rate to make sure both mama and baby are stable. For about the next 3 hours, Mark and I were in the tub for what I perceived as my “rest period”. Though I was still experiencing contractions about 3 minutes apart and about 2 minutes long, I found it much more relaxing to slowly breathe through them in the tub while Mark was pouring warm water over my contracting belly.
At this time, I was able to keep down a piece of gluten-free toast with honey and half of a mint chocolate RX bar. While in the tub, I reflected with Mark how our birth experience was going so far and was surprised that labor wasn’t feeling more challenging than it was. I felt that I was able to cope with the contractions very easily and didn’t end up using most of the pain coping techniques we had practiced. In retrospect, we think my contractions were so long because of all the raspberry leaf tea I drank throughout my pregnancy. God knows!
After a while in the tub, I realized that I was probably fully dilated and should be ready to push anytime soon. The doula suggested getting out of the tub. As soon as I stood up, I felt an instant urge to have a bowel movement. She reminded me that I probably had no stool left to eliminate and that the urge I was feeling was likely the urge to push Idin out. I proceeded to move through a variety of positions, all the while developing a better understanding of what it meant “to push”. The biggest challenge was trying to push with the intensity of the contractions. Everyone on the birth team seemed continuously surprised that my contractions were lasting for so long. When Alisha would suggest that I rest when the contractions are over, I would often tell her that I was still having a contraction, so we would keep pushing.
One position that was helpful during the pushing phase was a squat position where I supported my body weight by hanging between Mark’s legs. We stayed in this position for an hour or so. There’s no way I would’ve been able to handle it had I not done so much weightlifting during my pregnancy. After about 3 hours of pushing I had the “bloody show” and soon was dripping blood all over the chucks pads. Soon after, my water broke as I was pushing on hands and knees.
The final position I entered into to push Idin out took place on the bed. Because Idin’s head was so big, it had remained at +1 station stuck behind my pubic bone for the duration of labor. Lying on my back with my knees pulled all the way up and my neck flexed (thanks to Mark’s assistance), I worked to push him out for about 30 minutes.
After a time check, the midwife informed me that because I had been pushing for 4 hours, that is usually the time where they determine the baby’s head is too big to be pushed out vaginally. However, because both Idin’s and my vitals looked good, that we could safely push for another 30 minutes then reassess the situation. The possibility of needing to transfer to the hospital because his head was potentially too big was just the motivation that I needed to get him out.
Within about 5 minutes, I harnessed all of the strength that I had and pushed his head passed my pubic bone and out of my body. Just like a weightlifter yells when lifting a PR, I yelled, the loudest I’ve ever yelled, because this was the most force that has ever passed through my body. This most miraculous event resulted in the most beautiful boy coming out of my body. The midwife assisted with his delivery and I instantly grabbed Idin and pulled him to my chest, relieved to finally have him in my arms. All of us were surprised to have such a clean, well-developed baby. Everyone pointed out his strong-looking shoulders and his full head of hair. After almost 14 hours of labor, my dream had finally come true.
He soon crawled toward my breast with his slippery body, struggling to bring his head with him. Slowly, he found his own way and began suckling, with a bit of a lazy latch but I can’t blame him, he just worked hard to make it into this world. The boy just wants his food!
After about 10 minutes, the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, nourishing Idin with all of his blood. Mark cut the cord and soon after the placenta followed. We saved the placenta to dehydrate and consume later.
For 3 hours after the birth, the birth team cared for us. The doula heated up some thanksgiving leftovers I had stored in the freezer and I ate such a delicious meal to refuel from the workout of a lifetime. The midwife had sutured a tear on my perineum and completed Idin’s physical exam, after we had some time to connect.
I stood up to take a shower and I was shocked by how I felt. It was as if I had just returned from a trip to the moon, relearning where my body is in space and how to walk again. I was 18 lb lighter in an instant. The most surprising part about the immediate afterbirth was the difficulty I had breathing. It felt like my diaphragm was being tugged downward and like I had just been punched in the abdomen. It was quite a challenge to breathe!
After we were all cleaned, fed, and had our physical exams done, our little family of three slept together in our bed for the next 5 hours in a state of euphoria. Though I'm publishing this at 8 weeks postpartum, I still don't feel like any of that euphoria has worn off, I hope it doesn't!
Though in my mental approach to birth I tried to remain as detached from any outcome as possible, I'm so grateful that everything went as smoothly as it could have and exactly how I would have wanted it. We had the best possible birth team and I can never thank my husband Mark enough for his unwavering support throughout pregnancy, birth and postpartum.