Labor and delivery. It was pretty bad. I had built up all these ideas of what it should feel like and how I would handle it and how “painless birth” could be a thing. I was prepared to silently suffer, to condition my mind to think of it as pressure instead of pain, to utilize breathing and meditation to calm myself and have a peaceful birth experience.
It was none of those things. Not only were both my sister and boyfriend absent, but we didn’t even make it to the birthing center as planned since I was already eight centimeters dilated by the time the midwives arrived at my apartment at 2:40 AM. I gave birth in the bathtub in my own tiny studio apartment, with only my two midwives there to coach and assist me. And honestly, I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t think a change in location or the presence of more people would have helped the situation at all.
What I had a problem with is the rare form of contractions I ended up having that were nothing at all like I could have possibly imagined. There was no way to turn my mind to the word “pressure” with these. It wasn’t pressure. It was like being repeatedly stabbed with a knife right above my pelvic bone. My uterus never hurt at all. I never felt the muscles tightening in any painful or pressured way. I didn’t even have a touch of back labor pains. It was just the intensely sharp pelvic pain, again and again, often with no full release in between.
And there was no warning. No time to mentally or physically prepare. One instant, we just thought the baby was sitting oddly on my cervix and causing nerve pain, and the next instant, I was in full, active labor and had to start pushing. But where were the 4-10 nice deep pushes that expel a baby in most stories I read? I pushed for almost two hours. Two hours is a pretty short labor, but to be actively pushing that whole time? I was exhausted. My arms burned, my legs were cramping, I wanted to throw up and pass out and go to sleep and just quit. I wanted to quit before we had even really gotten started. She took so long to move down the birth canal, to get under my pubic bone, even to crown. The constant desire to keep pushing and pushing and pushing and not stop so that she would just get the f*** out of me was combated by a desperation to collapse into the water and regain my breath and never push again. I made noises and hit high notes I never thought I could. My apologies to all my neighbors. If it hadn’t been me making those sounds, I probably would be traumatized from hearing them.
It’s an odd concept though. You know that this pain is temporary. You know the baby has to come out eventually, and it will all be over, and you will forget the horror of the moment. But when it’s taking so long and no progress seems to be happening, it’s exceptionally easy to lose hope. The desire to give up is overwhelming. Yet at the same time, you know that giving up is not an option. Literally. You can’t just stop. The only way out of the pain is through it. Which sucks. So badly.
In the end, I’m glad it happened the way it did. Imagine if I had been planning a normal hospital birth. Alone in my apartment at two in the morning, no one answering their phones because they were all asleep… my only option would have been to call 911, which probably would have resulted in a very unpleasant ambulance ride to the hospital, a harried and rushed entry to the delivery room, a complete lack of information or support offered to me, an unknown medical staff… Instead, my midwives were on the phone with me to guide me through pain management and calm me even as they drove to my apartment. I was given the option to attempt transport or to stay where I was, we were able to discuss changes in the birth plan between contractions, they took over the attempts to contact those who wanted or needed to be present, and I was able to focus just on me and what was happening in my body. It was never odd to me to choose to give birth in my bathtub. My only two thoughts about that change were 1) shame to have paid for the beautiful and convenient birthing center and never use it, and 2) sucks for all my neighbors that we have pretty thin walls. Otherwise, I was pretty comfy right where I was. Ha. Comfy. As much as possible, I guess.
In retrospect, I was glad that it was only me and my two midwives present for the entire process as well. There were no inhibitions about being so exposed, about how I expressed my pain, or about what was going on in the rest of the apartment because it was just me and the two people I trusted to get me through this birth. I can see how it would be nice to have support from loved ones during the hours of labor women often go through, but in those last two hours of torture, it was far better to have absolutely no distractions.
Though it might have been nice to have the dim lighting and soft music I had anticipated in the birthing center, I ended up having the natural, non-invasive water birth that I wanted. There were no needles or IVs, only one vaginal exam, no forced water-breaking (my water didn’t break until about half an hour before delivery ended), no antibiotics or pain meds. Laboring and giving birth in the water was so incredibly natural, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. I was able to move from my back to my side to a standing squat to all-fours with ease, quickly learning that right as a contraction was coming on was the best time to attempt movement. Relaxing into the water between contractions released all the weight of my own body and provided much more pain management then being on a bed would have. And probably best of all for me (who hates a gross mess), the water could easily be drained and refilled as we went so that anything nasty just disappeared! Afterward, I was already in position to take a nice, warm shower so I could feel thoroughly clean before curling up in bed. Water birth – I cannot sing the praises enough.
As I reached the final stages of labor and my baby was finally crowning, I remember noticing a difference in the pain. There was no longer the intense pelvic stabbing that had made me so miserable before. Now, it was more like the pressured, stretching pain I had expected all along, and I began to handle it with more ease. Exhaustion was overwhelming, but when the midwives said her head was almost completely out, I stopped resting and just pushed endlessly.
The release is incredible. To go from so much pain and pressure and straining to it all being over so quickly is a remarkable, odd, and relieving feeling. The midwife swooped my daughter up and immediately placed her on my chest for skin-to-skin bonding while the umbilical cord continued to pulse with blood. As I lay there just breathing and holding her, I could hear the adoptive parents and my agent arriving. I wanted them to hold their new daughter as quickly as possible, so as soon as the umbilical cord had drained, we clamped and cut it and handed her off to her eagerly awaiting parents. I birthed the placenta with comparative ease, took a shower, put on my comfiest sweatpants, and shuffled to bed, utterly drained but delightfully at peace.
Within minutes of my baby’s birth, she was in the loving arms of her family, and my nine-month challenge was at last complete. Yet that was only the beginning of the amazing journey of being a birth mom that I’ll be on for the rest of my life.