You know how everyone says that when real contractions hit, you will know you’re in labor without the shadow of a doubt? Well, I’m here to tell you that, like most absolutes given about pregnancy, that’s not true for everyone.
It was probably around four in the morning or so on the day my ultrasound had labeled as my due date when I halfway awoke to an aching in my pelvis. By this time, I was pretty used to discomfort accompanying my very pregnant state, so I shifted, maybe went pee, and fell back asleep. For the first time in over two weeks, I didn’t have to go to work that day, so I had no interest in rising with my typical 4 AM alarm. Instead, I slept late, getting up only in time to get ready for my mid-morning appointment with the chiropractor.
He offered to attempt to induce labor by rubbing certain trigger points since it was my due date, but I refused. I was still holding out for the next weekend, when my boyfriend would be ending his ship contract and flying over to join me. Although I had accepted the fact that my time could come before he did, and I would survive, I still hoped for his reassuring presence and support through the ordeal of labor and birth.
Adjusted and loose, I returned home for a brief period before heading out again, this time for an appointment with my midwives. We went through our normal routine of questions, and I mentioned the pelvic pain which had continued on and off throughout the morning. It was sharper now and very uncomfortable, but also highly sporadic, sometimes coming ten or fifteen minutes apart and other times being unnoticeable for a few hours. They suggested that it could be nerve pain, resulting from the baby’s head hitting a bad spot, and recommended a series of poses intended to lift the baby towards the ribs, shift the position, and lower her back down. They also gave me a bottle of cramp bark tincture that could ease the pain and help hold off any possibility of labor for a bit. I took the tincture upon returning home and didn’t feel too bothered by the pelvic pain for the rest of the day.
That evening was my typical laundry day, when I would visit my sister to use her washer and dryer and watch So You Think You Can Dance together. I gathered all my dirty clothes, stripped the bed, and drove the half hour to her house, where we made dinner while I did the washing. It was pretty late by the time I got home, but I still had to fold my clothes, make the bed, and shower.
By 11:30, I had climbed into bed. By midnight, I was back up. The pelvic pain had returned in full force, making it impossible for me to get comfortable or fall asleep. After fading in and out several times, I had a round of pain that lasted over eight minutes and just got worse. With no other idea of what to do, I tried using the bathroom for a bit of relief and finally decided I should text my midwives for advice.
Let me note that, at this point, I was completely unaware that this was labor. I fully expected to get some advice on how to manage the pain, go to sleep, and get up in four hours for an opening shift at Starbucks. It also had never occurred to me at any point throughout the day nor in that moment to take a painkiller like ibuprofen. Just like always, medication was the last thing on my mind when experiencing pain.
Likewise, my midwives didn’t seem to think I was in labor from the information I was giving them. When I explained that I was having stabbing pains in my pelvis, they asked if the pain was extending into my back. No, it was staying perfectly central and in the front. I had only ever heard of labor pains being in the abdomen and uterus area or in the back, so I agreed with them that this seemed like nerve pain just as we had discussed at the appointment earlier. I decided to go through the pose series they had suggested, laying in each of the positions for half an hour. The pains continued to ebb and flow, but they were a little more subdued, and as I lay on my side surrounded by pillows, I began to doze slightly.
Right at the end of the thirty minutes, it hit me again with no warning: sharp pains like someone was repeatedly stabbing me with a knife in my pelvis. I immediately returned to the bathroom, but this time no relief came. Still thinking the baby needed to be shifted, I then tried standing on my head as long as I could. Yeah, here I was, a forty-weeks pregnant woman alone in a small apartment upside-down against a wall. Even in my unpleasant state, I found it amusing.
Handstands didn’t help. I texted my midwives again, thinking how I hated to bother them at two in the morning, and one of them immediately called me. When she heard me Lamaze breathing through each bout of pain, she gathered her equipment and got in the car. We still weren’t sure that this was labor, so I opted for her to come to my apartment rather than us meeting at the birthing center. However, I could barely get down and back up the stairs to unlock the door so she could come right in when she arrived. She suggested I get in the tub, using the water for pain management, and stayed on the phone with me through her forty-minute drive.
By now, the pain was intense and consistent, and the lack of relief from it was bringing me to tears. As soon as I lowered myself into the tub with the shower head turned on full blast over me, the constant pain slacked off into recognizable contractions – pain and then rest, pain and then rest. The location and style of the pain was still odd and horrible, but now that it wasn’t just solid, unending discomfort, my midwife was able to confirm that I was experiencing a more rare form of labor.
She arrived to find me submerged in my tub and unsure of what came next. Although I had opted in my birth plan to have as few vaginal exams as possible, we had decided that it would be a good idea to do one at the beginning to give us an idea of where I was starting. She gently checked me and then gave me the report: I was 8 centimeters dilated. Immediately, my entire birth plan was tossed out the window.
Now I understand how doctors and nurses can force C-sections or episiotomies or any other previously undesired plan on a woman while she is in the middle of labor. It’s hard to make decisions when you are in that much pain! Things I had cared about before, like playing calm music, having dim lights, wearing a top vs. going nude… all that dropped so low on my priority list that it was no longer visible. The first decision had to be location – were we moving to the birthing center or staying put? I was naked, wet, and beyond the capability of walking, so that was an easy one for me. Giving birth in my apartment tub may have sounded crazy to others, but for me, it was only a slight difference from giving birth in the birthing center tub. I was as comfortable as I could possibly be, and there was no moving me.
Next, we had to go through who needed to be contacted. I tried my sister, but got no response, and in that state of mind, it didn’t occur to me to call her husband, who was more likely to wake up and see the messages. We had to get my adoption agent there, so she got an early wake-up call. I had also intended for the adoptive parents to be present at the birthing center (though not in the room with me) so that they could immediately bond with their new daughter upon her arrival. Now, we had to figure out how that would work in my small studio apartment. I wasn’t about to deny them the chance to hold their newborn, so I told my agent to call them. After all, I was in the bathroom, and they could be in the living room; privacy could totally be maintained!
The happiest moment throughout this beginning ordeal was when I realized that it was too late to begin the antibiotics typically utilized to lessen any chance of the baby contracting GBS. I had tested positive for GBS earlier in my term and had discussed options for birth with both my midwives and the adoptive parents. In a hospital, I would have automatically been hooked up to an IV and administered a heavy dose of antibiotics every four hours of labor. However, I had qualms about passing antibiotics to the baby and had also heard stories of women contracting raging yeast infections during labor due to this treatment of GBS. In the end, we had decided to do injections of antibiotics every six hours of labor – each one by itself instead of through a constantly inserted IV (which I am terrified of ever having).
With active labor started though, there was no time to worry about antibiotics, and since my water still had not broken, there was very little concern about passing any bacteria to the baby anyway. I was thrilled to be avoiding the needle – one small victory in the midst of the suffering.
By the time we got everything taken care of, it was three in the morning, my second midwife had arrived, and I was feeling ready to push. Well, let’s say my body was telling me to push. I was not at all ready for the next hour and a half of intense birthing.