On the morning of Tuesday August 25th I started having contractions. They were mild enough that I was able to just go about my day. By around 4 p.m. they started coming closer together, and by around 6 p.m. they got strong enough where at one point I had to stop eating my dinner and get on hands and knees to work through a contraction! I’d had “warm up” contractions before and I could tell these were different. It was the real deal!
I knew from experience with her that I needed to get some rest early on this time. (3 years ago when I went in to labor with my first daughter London, it was also at night. I never got any sleep but the next day I wished that I had!) So I took a bath, some Tylenol PM, and listened to my Hypnobirthing relaxation CD. My sweet husband Michael gave me a massage once I was curled up in bed with my beloved pregnancy pillow (a source of teasing between Michael and I during the course of my pregnancy) I drifted off to sleep around 10 p.m. The next thing I knew I was waking up to a strong contraction and the sound of London crying in the next room and Michael leaving the bed to go check on her (she was sick with a virus during all this. What timing! Luckily my mother was already staying with us and could take care of her) I was surprised to see that it was only 1 a.m. because I felt rested like I’d had a full night’s sleep. I guess I was pumped on adrenaline. I asked Michael if he’d slept and he told me that he’d been up every hour with London. Poor guy hadn’t even slept yet. He didn’t mind though. He was just as excited as me that we’d get to meet our new little girl soon! We were both really hungry too at this point and knew it might be a while before we got another good meal in us, so he heroically went out in search of breakfast for us. After he returned with some food we ate our “last meal” as the parents of just one child. We loaded up our vehicle and got on the road to make our hour long journey to the birth center.
Ok, a birth center may be a concept you’re not familiar with. Sometimes these can be within a hospital, but the one that I went to is a freestanding facility, completely separate from the hospital. The 3 midwives that practice there have rights to also deliver babies in the hospital, if for some reason their patient needed to be transferred for a complication. But the birth center only accepts patients who are at a low risk for complications, so that doesn’t happen often. I went there for all my prenatal care, and then when it came time I gave birth in one of their two birth suites. I really enjoyed getting my care from the midwives versus my previous experience with an OB’s office because at the birth center it was way more “hands off.” No extra tests, ultrasounds, or cervix checks. I’m not a fan of stirrups and speculums so I was fine skipping those! But I digress…
So around 3:30 a.m the midwife on call, Nicole, met us at the birth center along with her nurse. Not long after that my best friend/sister in law Jessica arrived to be my doula. Now let me also explain that word for some of you…A doula offers non-medical support to mom & dad during labor and birth (also before and afterwards) Ok, so my whole birth team was there now- Michael, my midwife, her nurse, Jessica, and my sweet baby nephew Gideon wrapped onto her back (cool, right?)
Well, I stopped in the kitchen to put a drink in the fridge. Real quick stop, I thought. Nope! I had three contractions before I could even get out of the kitchen. I felt like I was NEVER going to make it out of there! With me leaning over onto the kitchen table, Michael applied counter pressure to my back with some clary sage essential oil. Once I got a break from the steady contractions I got my belly wrapped up in one of Jessica’s babywearing wraps. This was supposed to get the baby in a good position and keep labor moving along. We walked a few rooms over to what would be my birth room. If you can imagine the most relaxing and welcoming room to labor in, that was this room! The walls were painted a pale lavender and were decorated with cute, modern touches. The bed was a full size, with lavender sheets and a dark wooden head board. Even the essential oil diffuser on the night stand was disguised decoratively. If you didn’t know any better you’d think you were in someone’s bedroom and not a birth center. Jessica got the diffuser going with frankincense and lavender oils. Nicole turned on some relaxing music on Pandora (Instrumental! Lyrics were getting on my nerves during contractions in the car!) And just like that I had the chill atmosphere I was going to have my baby in, with my husband and my awesome little birth team by my side.
Nicole and her nurse had already poured hot water in the inflatable birth pool for me by the time we got to the room. But I didn’t want getting in the water to slow down my labor so I waited just a little bit before getting in. I sat on the birth ball for a while (a big exercise ball) and then decided to take off the belly wrap because my labor was definitely progressing right along course and I felt a little too restricted. Michael applied some Pan Away oil and more counter pressure to my back. Not only did it feel good but I loved how he was being so much a part of what I was going through. I was the one having the baby but we were in this together.
Next I got on the bed on all fours (this relieved pressure in my back by taking away the weight of the baby off mybody). Still on the bed I leaned onto a neat looking peanut shaped ball for a while, which was a nice back stretch. Then I just walked around the room. The birth center didn’t require any monitors or IV’s for me, so I was able to move freely without restriction. During contraction I took big steps and swayed my hips a little, and could feel my baby moving lower and lower. After one last bathroom visit (very important!) I got down to my bathing suit top and slipped into the water. Michael stood just outside the pool, where I could still reach him to hold his hands and be close to him. Laboring in the water felt so good. The warm water was really helpful for pain relief. In between contractions I was able to just relax and let myself float in the water. I’d go completely limp and lean on the side of the pool. It was great. Right after contractions I would take a sip of cold water to keep me hydrated and sometimes a spoonful of honey keep my energy up. One thing I was excited about the birth center was how they gave me the option to eat and drink whatever I wanted during labor. This ended up being kind of ironic because even though I packed some light labor-friendly snacks, I ended up not wanting them! Not long after I got in the water, I went through what they call “transition”. This is when you typically get queasy. When I would get flashes of queasiness, cold rags on my chest were heaven. Or a rag with peppermint oil on it to just inhale also helped a ton to relieve my nausea. But I did throw up the breakfast I’d eaten at home earlier that morning. My nurse was on it with a bowl though and caught it all. The pool water stayed clean! Winning. After I got sick I yelled, “I’m mad at our neighbor!”as an inside joke with Michael (our neighbor was working at the restaurant when Michael bought our breakfast) Even during labor I love a good inside joke with him.
In the water I kept moving. I started out on hands and knees and then moved to a squatting position. Squatting felt really great because I could feel my baby get a lot lower when I did that. I held Michael’s hands, partially for physical support and partially for emotional support. When the contractions started to build I would lock eyes with him and he would reassure me that I could do it. He was my rock! Eventually I switched to a crab-like position, kind of a reverse crawl. The minute I got in that crab position, it all clicked for me. I thought how that was the position I would push in. Eventually my legs started to cramp up though and I yelled out, “I can’t wait for my post-natal massage!” Everyone laughed and I knew that if I was still joking around then I had a just little bit longer to go. Michael lifted my legs out of the water and massaged them with Pan Away oil to relieve the cramping. My arms got tired too. So I leaned back into the wall of the pool and with Michael standing behind me, he held me up under my arms. It was around this time that I confessed to my birth team that I had a fear that I wouldn’t know how to push. During my hospital birth with London I had nurses and my OB telling me when to start, when to stop, how long to push for, all of that. How would I be able to know all that on my own? I’d already been pushing in the water for a few minutes and wasn’t feeling like I was getting anywhere. But they told me to listen to my body and I WOULD know what to do. I COULD do it. The next thing to happen was my water breaking. I felt the water bag come out in the water and it was actually kind of painful, like I had to push it out. But once that was gone things felt way different. The next contraction came and it was so much easier for me to push! That boosted my confidence in my ability to push and it was then I knew in my gut my birth team was right. I could do this.
After my water broke I pushed for just 8 more minutes. At 5:58 a.m., with a low moan and with all my weight held in Michael’s arms, I pushed my baby girl out into the world. Nicole told me, “Pick up your baby” and I lifted Clara out of the water and onto my chest. Her wet skin was soft like velvet. It was the most amazing feeling being the very first person to touch and hold her. The minutes immediately following the birth were very different from my hospital experience. At the hospital right away the nurses took London to the other side of the room to clean her up, measure and weigh her, all the routine protocols. But at the birth center I kept Clara on my chest, cozy under a blanket, and was not rushed at all to part with her until I was ready. Having had one natural birth at a hospital and one at a birth center, I can say they were both beautiful experiences. But they were also very different. I feel very blessed to have had the chance see midwives for my prenatal care and have a water birth the second time around. My husband was an amazing support during labor and the birth. It was such a special bonding time for us. My birth team was the best I could have asked for. The whole water birth experience was pretty incredible and I would recommend it to anyone looking into doing it!