Five days ago, my due date came and went. Three days ago was Mother’s Day, which would have been a wonderful day to have a baby. I got flowers instead. I was starting to get annoyed at the phone calls asking if I’d had my baby yet.
Curious strangers asked, “When are you due?” and looked horrified when I told them, “four days ago.” The women in my prenatal water aerobics class looked up, incredulous, and said, “You’re here?” when I arrived at the pool for class. Somehow, being “overdue” made me feel like a failure.
But, last night at 11 pm, contractions started, coming regularly 3-4 minutes apart. I timed them for an hour, got sleepy, and went to bed. At around 3 am, the contractions woke me up, still coming 3-4 minutes apart. This morning, though, when I awoke at 7:30 am, the contractions had stopped. I ate some breakfast and, still sleepy from the interrupted night of sleep, went back to bed. At 9:30 am, I woke up and started having contractions 3-4 minutes apart. By 11:30 am, the contractions were consistently 3 minutes apart.
I phoned the Birth Center and spoke with one of the midwives. She told me that since this was my first baby, she thought I was probably looking at another 9-14 hours of labor. She asked me to call back in two hours with a progress report. In the meantime, I decided to go to my parents’ house to labor in their lukewarm hot tub. My husband decided to leave work and join me at my parents’ house. I put my suitcase full of labor and birth supplies into the car “just in case.”
At my parents’ home, I rolled my large belly into the not-hot tub. The water felt great, lifting some of the weight and easing the bruised feeling in my lower back. I didn’t want to get out, so my mother brought small snacks for me to eat in the tub. When two hours passed, I phoned the midwife. My contractions were 2-3 minutes apart, with some occasionally surprising me at 1-minute intervals. The midwife told me to call back in another two hours.
After a half an hour, I started to get chilly, so I reluctantly got out of the hot tub. My lower back was aching considerably, so it felt best to breathe through my contractions on my knees, leaned over a couch. The contractions weren’t very painful yet, but they required my full concentration, breathing through each one as it rose to a peak and then subsided. I took deep, abdominal breaths and focused on staying relaxed. The phone rang. It was the midwife, telling me she had changed her mind, and that she wanted me to drive to the Birth Center to be checked.
My husband and I started on the half-hour drive to the Birth Center, with my contractions now coming 2 minutes apart or less. Sitting upright in the passenger seat of the car was miserable. Each time a contraction hit, I grabbed the handle on the roof on the car, lifted myself up, and deeply breathed through it. The pain was definitely becoming more intense, and I was really feeling desperate to get to the Birth Center.
When we finally arrived at the Birth Center, the midwife checked me and said that I was 6-7 cm dilated. I was shocked to be that far along - pleased, but also frightened that I was so close to giving birth. The bad news was that all the rooms at the Birth Center were occupied - no room at the inn! The women in the three birth rooms had already given birth to their babies, but only one was ready to go home.
The midwives sent me to the family waiting room to labor until a room became available. I immediately dropped to my knees and threw my upper body over the couch, since it seemed to be the only position in which I could handle my contractions. It was somewhat awkward to be laboring in that room, as strangers walked in, out and through it, but I didn’t have a sufficient break between contractions to really care about my modesty. Labor was getting more intense by the minute, and I was alone in it, both literally and figuratively. My husband was unloading the car and making phone calls, and I had asked my mother to wait at home until we called her, just to be certain it was the “real thing.”
After some length of time, unknowable to me in the twilight zone of labor, I was moved to a birth room. It just happened to be my favorite of the three rooms, called the “ivy room” because of its ivy patterned wall paper border. It was also the one with a cherry four-poster bed and rocking chair, and the one in which I felt the most at home.
Almost immediately, I threw off all of my clothes. I felt really hot, so nude felt like the right state of clothing to be. The nurse ran a bath in the garden-style tub, and I eased my way into it. It felt so good to be back in water, and I really hoped to be able to birth in the tub.
After another half hour or so in the tub, the midwife checked me and said I was 8-9 cm dilated. Shortly after, my membranes ruptured. The midwife said there was meconium (baby’s first bowel movement) in the fluid, a contraindication to giving birth in the tub, and that I needed to get out. That was definitely not what I wanted to hear, but I wasn’t in any condition to protest.
Out of the tub, I felt like I had lost my safety net. The pain was almost unbearable, and I was unable to find a position that didn’t make me feel crazy with pain and discomfort. When I looked at my husband’s face for comfort, he looked scared. When I looked at my mother’s face for resolve, she looked worried. My breathing sped up, and I started to cry and yell.
The midwife sensed that I was losing control, and she asked me to come into the bathroom with her. She told me to sit on the toilet, and she sat on the floor in front of me, slowly breathing in and out. It took every ounce of strength I had just to look at her face and to follow her breathing through those contractions. The pain was excruciating. The midwife checked me again, and said she felt a “lip” on my cervix, a swollen area where the cervix hadn’t thinned evenly. She told me that the cervical lip was causing me additional pain, since it was being pinched between my pelvis and the baby’s head during each contraction. The remedy, she said, was to hold my cervix out of the way for a few contractions, so that it would hopefully thin enough to allow the baby’s head to pass. The procedure was unpleasant, to say the least, but it did help to soften the sharpness of the pain during contractions. And, in turn, it allowed me to regain a little bit of my composure and to return to a somewhat more controlled, relaxed state during the contractions.
We returned to the birthing room, and my mother and husband looked relieved to see me less panic-stricken, frantic, and out of control. The midwife told me I was ready to push, although I had no urge to do so. Instead, I simply followed the midwife’s lead, pushing at her direction. I held my breath, pulled my knees up, curled around my belly and bore down. After several tries, I changed position. Lying on my left side, pulling my top leg toward me, seemed to be most productive. “Push through the pain,” the midwife told me.
After about 15 minutes of pushing, the midwife told me that the baby’s heart rate was decelerating more than she felt comfortable seeing. So, they brought in oxygen for me and put a mask on my face. Then, they wheeled in a full length mirror so that I could see the progress I was making with each push, and actually see the baby’s head coming down. What an incredible sight! I reached down my hand and touched the little head and felt the hair covering it.
The midwife coached me through another 15 minutes of pushing. The baby’s head popped out and, with the next contraction, the shoulders and body were quickly out. It was an incredible sensation - relief, adrenaline, ecstasy. The nurse brought an oxygen bag to the midwife, which they used very briefly on the baby. It happened quickly, but without panic, so that I never felt frightened. The baby started breathing, and the midwife picked the baby up and handed him to me.
“It’s a boy,” I said, as I pulled him to my chest. I was overwhelmed and full of love as I held my baby boy to my breast. It was truly an indescribably wonderful feeling, like being transported to another realm. My husband cut the baby’s cord and, shortly after, I delivered the placenta. The nurse helped me to get my baby latched onto my breast. I nursed him for a while and held him to me. His eyes were wide open and alert, looking all around. What an amazing little guy, I thought. My husband sat on the bed next to me and we stared down in wonder at our beautiful baby boy.
After the grandparents had a chance to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over their new grandson - the first in the family - it was time for our bath. I got into the tub and the nurse handed my baby to me. I held him on my bent knees and washed his perfect, pink little body. I talked to him and told him how much I loved him and how beautiful he was. My baby was completely calm and wide-eyed, looking at me, responding to my voice, taking in his new world. It was a moment that I will always remember vividly and with great tenderness.
After our bath, my mother brought in the “birthday” meal she had prepared for me. I was beyond tired and incredibly hungry, and I think I ate a full plate of food without taking a breath. My husband brought in a birthday cake with a number “0” candle on it. We sang to our new baby, and blew out the candle together, to celebrate the birth of our precious baby boy. Just after midnight, the three of us left the Birth Center and headed home.
The day of my son’s birth was life altering for me. I was taken to another plane of being. I experienced extreme pain, a desire to give up, a resolve to persevere and, most of all, love, all in their most heightened states. My birth transported me to a place where I was required to confront my fears and to work with a level of pain that I never believed I could bear. I wouldn’t trade a thing about my labor and birth; I am, by far, a stronger woman for it. My labor and birth was miraculous. My baby boy is miraculous.