I decided to write about my labor and delivery experience in a place where I can always find it with the hopes that it helps other women who want to try a natural birth.
At almost a week overdue, I’d been feeling tightness in my abdomen off and on for days, so the fact that I was feeling it again didn’t surprise me. I prepped a roast that day and snacked a lot, feeling even more hungry and thirsty than usual. The day had been warm and bright, so that evening my friend and I drove to the tennis courts to watch my husband and brother play. Throughout the game, I was having sharper more focused pain, and even sitting down became uncomfortable. I turned to my friend and said, “this can’t be labor, can it?” Around dusk, I called out to my husband, E , and said it was time to go. On the drive home, I nonchalantly mentioned that I might be having contractions– and they seemed to be coming about 10 minutes apart. He was calm, knowing I’d had these pains before and they hadn’t lasted.
Back at the home front, my doubts about being in labor grew smaller as the pain grew sharper, wrapping me in a way I’d never felt before. I encouraged my husband to eat, get showered and get ready to go. I grabbed the birth ball and mat. E lit a candle, put on calming music, and we began to time the contractions. As the contractions came closer together, I took out a encouraging notes from friends and began to read them. I found myself going back to the birth ball again and again, leaning over it to sway through the gripping pain and letting out low sounds as I visualized my body opening up. E was with me on the floor, rubbing my back and timing the length and space between the pains. Finally, around one a.m., with contractions only 3 minutes apart, we left for the hospital.
Immediately upon arriving, the nursing staff put us in a labor room, and the nurse and midwife began to assess how I was progressing. Soon enough, we discovered that though my contractions were only 3-4 minutes apart, and I seemed to be actively laboring, I was dilated only a very slight amount. My options were to take a strong drug for the pain and another drug to help me sleep (with the hopes my body would keep working while I slept) or to go home. Striving for a drug-free birth, but confused at what my body was doing, I didn’t know which path to take. E and I took a moment to chat alone, and he helped me remember our goals. We decided to go home. Walking back out those hospital doors, stopping in the hall as my body continued to contract was beyond physically painful. I felt both frustration and fear, the tears I’d saved for when the pain was worst starting to finally escape. But the beautiful thing about tears is that they are another kind of birth, a release of anger, frustration and fear. I let myself cry and then resolved to continue the journey.
That night was a restless one; sleep came only between contractions which kept coming at 5, 6, and 7 minutes apart for some time. A dose of antihistamine was a big help giving me those much-needed minutes of rest in between. However, as my body relaxed, contractions slowed down to around 10-15 minutes apart, leaving me confused at why labor would not progress.
The next morning, contractions were still pulsating through me, and as I labored, I clung to E and to the hope that my body was moving in the right direction. We made an appointment to get my cervix checked rather than going to the birth center right away. Though I’d hoped for better news, I again had to fight discouragement when I heard I was dilated only 3 cm. The midwife assured me that my body had done some major work over the past 12 hours and she was confident the baby would be born that night.
Going home again inspired another bout of tears, and the resolve to have this baby tonight. With each new contraction, I fought fear, battled the temptation to panic. A quote that had been an encouragement to me throughout pregnancy now became an anchor:
Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers–strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their inner strength.
I felt anything but strong, yet something deep within me rose up, and in my weaknessGod gave me strength; I kept going and kept going–swaying out the pain with E right by my side. At around 7:30 that evening, we left for the hospital again, deciding that this time, we were coming back with our baby.
We were both excited when we heard our favorite midwife was on the birthing floor that night, and then further blessed to have a nurse we’d gone to college with. But shortly after, we had to fight discouragement yet again. I was still only dilated around 3 cm. Again, the options for drugs were presented. Again, E and I consulted alone and I decided to try a more natural intervention. I was exhausted from laboring for the past 24 hours, but still did not have peace about disrupting my body’s natural process. I requested to have my waters broke, and Sarah, our midwife, looked at me and said, “Okay, but then you’re having this baby tonight.”
“Bummer,” was my sarcastic response.
Feeling my waters break was the most euphoric part of labor–the wild rush of warmth against my skin, the knowledge that there was nothing but a few centimeter between me and my baby girl. Afterwards, I got in the tub and labored– feeling the loving hands of my husband and the nurse on my back each time a contraction came, hearing their prayers over me and our baby. Before long, I started to feel the urge to push and suddenly wanted to get out of the water.
When they checked me this time, I was dilated to 6cm! We were having this baby!
E was excited, and though my hopes had finally come to fruition, the next batch of contractions felt like my entire body was being wrung out of energy and stamina. I could feel myself involuntarily pushing, could hear myself asking for something for the pain. Then, only moments later, I was on the bed, and Sarah was telling me “Okay, Megan, it’s time. Grab your legs and get ready to push.”
Grabbing my legs I bore down, trying to place my energy where I felt unbelievable pressure. I reached down and felt the soft slope of my baby’s head. She was so close! Sarah coached me through each push, E at my right and constantly encouraging. I heard myself screaming, but not the high-pitched, I-just-saw-a-spider scream. It was a war-call, a cry of aggressive determination that I’d never heard myself make before. Around 40 minutes in, it became apparent that my perineum wasn’t going to budge enough for her head. Trusting Sarah and my husband’s opinion, I asked for an episiotomy. And into the pain and the stinging, I pushed, Sarah helping me use each contraction to the fullest. A few more pushes– all my physical and spiritual and mental self into those moments, all my resolve and hope. And suddenly release. Suddenly she was there, on my belly, all red and teary and whole.
“She’s here? She’s really here?” I just kept saying. Because through it all I could’ve never imagined the amazement I’d feel, how quickly everything–the pain, the fear, the struggle–felt like a dream when I ran my fingertips over her feather-soft skin.
Our baby girl.