Twenty seven years ago today, I was delivered by my mom as her firstborn, and one week ago today I delivered my own firstborn. Last Sunday morning was an exhausting whirlwind; this Sunday morning has been lazy for me, since Josh left early to help at church until noon. The week in between has seemed like an eternity.
(The following is a birth story. Grandpa, coworkers, and anyone reading who is made uncomfortable the discussion of 'mucus plug', 'placenta' and bodily fluids, here's a short version: While visiting with family Christmas day, I had a feeling labor was imminent, and was timing contractions throughout the day. When we went home in the evening, things picked up. We went to the birth center at 3am, and Elliott was born at 7:28 after a half-hour of pushing- 8 lbs, 22 inches, and very healthy. Mom & baby were doing great, so we were sent home at noon. We've spent the last week just getting used to each other and becoming a family. It's been great.
This story is very long, and it's for me more than anyone, to recall the day. Feel free just to skim it, since I know this has to be boring...)
So, the story of the birth last Sunday didn't start last Sunday, the day after Christmas. Signs that labor was approaching began two weeks before, when I was hit with the most uncomfortable week of the entire pregnancy. It was the first time in 9 months when I thought to myself, 'OK, I could be done with this now'. My hip hurt anytime I tried to walk after I had been sitting for more than a few minutes. Because I have a desk job, I was doing plenty of sitting, so walking was almost impossible! Thankfully, at the end of the week, the problem totally cleared up. Diagnosis: the baby dropped, and on his way down, was sitting awkwardly on my hip. I was excited there was some progress, and even more excited I was feeling great again.
The week before Christmas had more signs. On Tuesday, after my midwife appointment, we went to dinner, and, for the first time in the entire pregnancy, I threw it up- before we even had left the restaurant! Very weird. Josh wondered if that was part of my body 'cleaning itself out' before labor- which was something I hadn't considered at that point. The 'cleaning out' (from the other end) continued throughout the week, and made me on alert for other labor signs.
I started to lose my mucous plug Christmas Eve. Again, I knew this wasn't a definitive labor sign- I could still have weeks to go. We told no one of our suspicions, and went along with our Christmas Eve and Christmas day plans. After opening our gifts to each other, we went to my parents house for brunch and gifts there. After my sister and brother-in-law left for his parent's house, Josh & my parents & I watched the classic Charlie Brown Christmas cartoons. I was half watching the show, half timing contractions by the mantle clock- about 7 minutes apart, and not all that uncomfortable, but definitely different than the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having for months. Finally, early afternoon, we left for home to let Casey out and head for stop #2 of the day, Josh's parents' house.
We had a nice time visiting, playing games, and opening gifts with Josh's parents, brothers, and brother's family. Contractions started to be more noticable, but not so much so that I couldn't totally beat everyone at our new game Funglish. I was trying to be discreet as I timed contractions using the Contraction Timer app on the Droid2 phone Verizon was letting me borrow. Josh leaned over during one point in the game & saw my phone and whispered "Is this accurate?!" "Pretty much." ... Contractions had been under 6 minutes apart for a while, but I was handling them fine. By the end of the night, though, after everyone arrived and all the presents had been opened, contractions were under 5 minutes apart and I was ready to head home.
On the way home, I called the midwife, wondering which part of the 2-part instructions were more important- "5 minutes apart" or "can't talk through contractions". Apparently the latter was more important, and she instructed me to go home, get a bath, and see if the contractions spread out after all the excitement of the day. Call again when they're 4 minutes apart & you can't talk through them, I was told.
I labored at home- in the bath, on the bed, on hands & knees- for the next few hours, with Josh timing contractions. They got increasingly close together, but I was able talk through them, so we didn't call the midwife again. Around 2am, contractions were two and a half or three minutes apart, and I could talk through them if I needed to, but really preferred not to. Josh really didn't want to have this baby at home, so he finally called the midwife and we got the green light to head to the birth center. We were met there by the midwife assistant at 3am, who filled the big tub for me. This was a welcome relief, since I didn't really fit comfortably in our tub at home, and being in the water definitely took some of the pressure away. When the midwife arrived, she checked me (My first vaginal exam of the entire pregnancy!)- 7 centimeters, fully effaced, -1 station, bag of waters still intact & bulging. I was happy with the news- I'm almost there! All this wasn't for nothing! And so it continued.
Josh continued to time contractions, and the midwife & midwife assistant largely left us alone, except to check my blood pressure & pulse & the baby's heartbeat every half hour. This wasn't too disruptive. At some point, I got out of the tub, since contractions started spacing out, and I really wanted to meet this little person sooner rather than later (and avoid any hurry-it-up interventions). I labored on my knees on the bed, bent over a yoga ball, swaying or circling my hips. Most of the pressure was in my hips, so lying down on my side (on my hips) was really uncomfortable, although it's the labor position we 'practiced'. I had signs of transition- sweaty and clammy, and Josh noticed me shaking and said there didn't seem to be a break between contractions. Another vaginal exam- "9 centimeters and stretchy" and bag of waters still intact- I could start pushing when I felt like it.
With that news, and the knowledge that I was through transition, so things weren't likely to slow down, I wanted back in the tub. It wasn't long before I was feeling pushy, and gently went with the contractions- which felt good. Then, all of a sudden, Pop! My water broke. The contractions changed rapidly to a much more urgent pushiness, and I was shocked that I grunted and made noise with the contractions, when up until now I was laboring quietly.
When I reached down and said "I can feel a head!" the midwives went into a flurry of activity, and stayed by my side. About a half-hour of pushing after my water broke, and Elliott was born. (I didn't mean to have a water birth- I wasn't sold on it either way. I just said that wherever I was when I was pushing, there he would be born, since I wasn't going to feel like moving anywhere else. I happened to be in the tub.) Elliott was crying heartily, and had very little vernix left on him. As an objection to being thrust into the world, he immediately peed on me.
The cord was cut after it stopped pulsing, The midwife helped me deliver the placenta and Josh took Elliott to cuddle while I was helped out of the tub and checked for tears. I had two small tears, neither requiring stitches. I was relieved. For the next hour, Elliott nursed, and Josh and I marveled at him. We were at the birth center for another three hours or so, I showered, we ate, Elliott was finally weighed and measured, mostly we just cuddled this new little person. We were exhausted from lack of sleep, and, well, labor, but running on adrenaline.
A picture as we were leaving the birth center- we look so tired! Elliott was 4 hours old:
What surprised me most about labor was not the pain- honestly, it's already forgotten- but the sheer physicality of the experience. Hands down, it was the most physically taxing thing I've ever done. The fact that I labored after a busy Christmas day, and overnight without sleep added to the exhaustion. Truly, preparing for natural labor is preparing for a marathon. And, as those who run a marathon would agree, it is beyond worth it. Josh and I agree, we couldn't have planned a better birth.
A big thanks to our midwives and to Amy Ferris, our Bradley class instructor. Thanks to these ladies helping us prepare and learn what to expect (and, probably, a lot of luck), everything went off without a hitch!