My first labor with my son, Shay, was an epic 42 hrs. That is 42 hrs from first recognizing there was a pattern to the contractions to my baby being born. I was completely taken back and slightly traumatized both physically and mentally by the experience. Upon finding out I was pregnant again with our second child, I was terrified of repeating that arduous journey.
I was determined to do things differently this time. I changed my whole exercise routine, no more psoas tightening spin classes for me! And my yoga classes at PYC for the past 2 1/2 years have focused on creating proper alignment and stability of the pelvis. This became a mission of mine both professionally and personally, since part of the reason my first labor was so long because my son was mispositioned in my pelvis and my pelvis itself was misaligned. I also was crazy aware of the way I sat and rested, trying never to recline too much on my back, which hurt anyway when I did, instead flipping from side to side to encourage the baby to stay in the anterior (front) position. My “prep work” also included weekly trips to a prenatal chiropractor to make sure the pelvis was well aligned and my ligaments were not torqued, overly tight or twisted.
So…I was ready!! Kind of…..
For a few days before I actually went into labor, I had been feeling some contractions. Nothing that required much attention, more of a forewarning that things were stirring up inside. On Thursday morning, I awoke after an unprecedented good night’s sleep. As I sat for breakfast with my son Shay and my husband Joey, I was aware that the contractions were slightly more uncomfortable than they had been in days past. Still, this was nothing I was going to put too much focus on. Second time moms are more prone to little bouts of contractions before things really start to get rolling. I went about my normal morning and dropped Shay off at preschool. I rested when I got home and the contractions seemed to subside. Around noon, I went to pick Shay up from school and the small contractions started up again, but like before, there was no pattern. I got Shay fed and down for a nap in record time and then made sure I sat down for lunch, knowing that if labor was to get going, I was going to need all the energy and nourishment I could get!
As my labor started to reveal itself, it was not lost on me that there were certain physical/emotional milestones. The first one was the arrival of our nanny, Shelly at 1:30p. Up to that point, I was aware of the contractions, but they did not require me to stop and deal with them. About 15 minutes after Shelly arrived, I excused myself and went into my room to focus on breathing and relaxing into my contractions. I called my husband, doula and midwife just to give them the heads up that things had shifted and the contractions had now taken on a different quality. I actually wanted a little time by myself to gather my thoughts and start to focus. I learned from my first labor that I don’t like a lot of people around me, fussing over me and talking to me too much. Knowing that Shelly had arrived gave me the freedom to let my labor progress and to know my son was going to be taken care of for the time being.
My husband got home by 2:30p when my contractions were about 6 minutes apart. The intensity of each contraction was starting to build but I found my way through them by leaning forward, swaying and moaning. (For years I have been touting the benefits of “open throat, open vagina”. I was certainly exercising this practice.) Our doula was actually at another birth. She offered that her back up could come, but I really didn’t want a stranger around. I just wanted to be in my own space without much disruption. So I told our doula just to come when she could. Within an hour, the contractions were 4 minutes apart. My son was still napping- an uncharacteristic marathon nap! My doula, Terry, had just arrived and the midwife, Stacey, was on her way. By 4p my son woke up and came into my bedroom. I had been concerned with how he would react to seeing me in labor. When he came in, I told him, “this is how mommy is getting baby sister out.” To my surprise (and relief) he was far more interested in the pump Joey was using to blow up the birth ball. Shelly soon ushered Shay out and then things really changed.
Shay now being out of the house opened up another sense of space that I really needed. My contractions now began to be about 2 minutes apart and I was feeling extreme pressure in my pelvis. I managed my contractions in three different positions. I was leaning forward on my bed, sitting on the birth ball while leaning forward and on all fours, hanging over the birth ball. During my first labor, I used mantras a lot! I talked myself through many contractions and became my own cheerleader. I also relied heavily on counting my contractions, knowing when I hit a certain number the contraction would peak and start to subside. This time was vastly different. I didn’t even have time to think. As the contraction started to build, I got lost in movement and sound. My body just reacted – I swayed, moaned, vocalized and breathed through every peak and valley. I went into the opposite place of thinking and mantras. My mind felt blank and I went into a very primal space of sound and movement.
By 6p Terry and Stacey felt I needed a change of scenery and tactic and suggested I take a shower. I said I didn’t think I could move to get to the shower, but reluctantly I followed their advice. Once submerging myself in the warm down pouring of water, I was so thankful I listened to them. The contractions still gripped my whole being, but the calming, warm water helped me melt into my labor. I found I really needed to have the private space and enclosure of the shower. Even though there were people around me, with the shower curtain shut, I was in my own cocoon. I started to feel even more pelvic pressure and could even feel my pelvic bones spreading as my baby continued to descend. I stayed in there for about a half and hour. Every few minutes my midwife’s hand would poke through the shower curtain and listen to my baby’s heart rate with her doppler. I did find it reassuring to hear the strong, steady thump thump thump of my baby’s heart rate as I worked to release her from my body.
At this point, I was very tempted to ask Stacey to break my water in hopes it would give me the final push to the end. Of course, my “doula” mind knew it was best not to do this since the water was helping my baby continue to find a good position and there was less of a chance of cord compression with the water still intact. Stacy also never once checked my dilation. It was obvious that labor was functional and progressing, so what good would it do to just put a number to it. I had also expressed very firmly that I wanted as little “hands in” as possible. After my first labor where I needed a lot of guidance on pushing since my son was not in a good position, I suffered from some pelvic floor issues. Stacey and I agreed, hand off and out as much as possible. I credit my very functional pelvic floor to making this approach possible this time around.
Around 6:30p I stepped out of my shower oasis in a fog and slowly made it back to my room. My midwife asked me to lay on my left side. As soon as the first contraction hit in this new position, I screeched, “I need to change positions!” But as that contraction ended, I started to feel the strangest sensation. I yelled, “I feel something coming out!” All of a sudden I thought, is that the head coming out? It can’t be, it was too easy. It was my bag of water, which still was intact. (My midwife later told me that the bag of water “hour glassed” out, there was a huge bubble of the bag out of my body and part of it still intact with the baby inside) Suddenly my water broke and I felt this huge, warm surge of fluid. At the same time I instinctively started to push, my baby’s head was already coming out. The pressure and stretching was so intense, I was lost in what I was feeling, I didn’t even feel the build of contractions or know when to push. I was told, “try to push!” So I did. Before I even knew what was happening, my baby’s head was born and she let out a cry- with her body still inside me! During all this, I heard my midwife say to her assistant that she couldn’t get the cord over her the baby’s head so she was going to “somersault” her out. With one more push, my baby was born and brought right into my arms. All of this unfolded in about 10 minutes! I was totally exhilarated, surprised and relieved at how everything unwound. Most of all, I was thrilled to finally have my baby girl.
As I look back on this experience I see a significant lesson – no labor is alike. If the same person can have two vastly different experiences, then shouldn’t all women and their labors be approached with fresh eyes and without presumptions of what a “normal” labor should look like, free from routine interventions and protocols? My first labor in no way resembled my second labor. They were two totally different beasts that required two totally different approaches, pain management and medical attention.
My childbearing days are now over, as Joey and I are in complete agreement that we only want two children. With this part of my life behind me, I feel so satisfied and fortunate to have had two births essentially on my own terms, in my own space. I am a healthy low risk woman which allowed me to have my babies at home under the watchful eye of a trained midwife who respected my space and process. I know that this is not the path for all people and am in no way proclaiming all women should choose this option. But for me and my family, it gave me a sense of confidence, freedom and seclusion that I needed to let me body open without time constraints, protocols, superfluous people and disruptions. For all this, I feel very blessed.
Please help us welcome the newest member of our family, Sage Katherine.