It was approximately 6:30 am when we left the hospital parking lot. The contractions were coming so hard and fast now. We were only a couple minutes out of the parking lot when Mama said, “these are coming every minute and a half, not every three minutes. Tommy, you need to call the midwife.” So he did.
Our midwife had been at a birth the night before. Since this was my first vaginal birth, we all expected early labor to last much longer than it actually did. Tommy said she sounded a little annoyed that we were asking her to come right now, but she heard me yelling in the background and said that she would shower and then be on her way.
The drive home was pretty quick, but when we arrived we realized that we’d left Tommy’s keys with my Papa, and that he was back at their house with two of my sisters and Grace. I waited in the front seat of the van for my father to arrive.
Oh this hurts so freaking bad. I just don’t know how much more I can take it. Papa arrives. He is ecstatic to see us, and comes to give me a hug. I accept, but pull away quickly. Oh my GOD this hurts. Papa makes a joke about how I now get to know what real labor feels like.
“Shut the fuck up.”
He does a big belly laugh. I hate him now….and I feel bad for cussing at him at the same time. He and Tommy get to work putting together my birth tub and filling it with water. I can only think of one thing. The peaceful faces of the women in the Bradley Method book. According to that method, one should try and relax as much as possible to reduce the pain. I go and lay on my left side on my bed. I try to relax through contractions. Oh my GOD. No I can’t. I have to go to the bathroom.
I slowly make my way to the toilet. I sit there and it feels a little better. Mama says I should only let my body push, but not to bear down myself. Bearing down feels so good. I try not to. I cannot not bear down on the toilet. I decide to go back to the bed.
Tommy brings me juice. The birth supply list had said to have some juice every so often. I’m drinking the juice between contractions and bracing myself for every contraction.
I’m not at all relaxed. I need my midwife. I don’t know what’s happening…is the baby coming this minute? What do I do? I feel lost and confused…Why is this happening so fast?
I can’t do this anymore. Oh shit, I’m going to puke.
I start puking and Tommy brings me a bowl (this was another of our birth supplies). I throw up all the juice and say I’m not drinking any more of that. I ask Tommy to rub my back…and then as soon as a contraction comes I snap at him to STOP! I cannot think of a single thing that will feel good. Mama suggests walking around or trying the pool. NO. I go through contraction after contraction. I am unwilling to have this baby without my midwife. It’s unacceptable to me.
I start uncontrollably shaking.
I decide I need to go back to the toilet. I need to pee. As I’m sitting on the toilet again, the front door squeaks telling me that our midwife has arrived. Relief washes over me. Thank God. She checks my dilation and I’m at 4 centimeters.
I sort of want to say “What the fuck?!” This hurts so so bad and I’m not even half way there yet. Our midwife says that I feel like I do because our baby is very very low. With the next contraction I involuntarily start to grunt and push.
My midwife looks me straight in the face and tells me that if I push now that I will tear my cervix, and we will end up back in the hospital to sew it up. I don’t know how not to push. The instinct is coming from within, and I don’t know how to stop it. I’m not even voluntarily doing it, I just know I am because of the involuntary sound that continues to come out of my throat with each contraction.
“Fill your vase, and let it out.” The midwife coaches me.
I feel like a cornered animal. I want to do this right. I don’t want to mess this up, but I just can’t. I can’t take it. I want it to be over.
With the next contraction I remember something from my prenatal yoga DVD. “During your labor, you may reach a moment when you need to slow things down. If that happens, you will want to breath through your mouth. Breathing through your nose is your power breath, breathing through your mouth will help slow things down.
I try some slow deep breaths through my mouth to fill my vase and let it out. Half way through the inhale I lose control and start pushing again. I can’t I just can’t.
Next contraction same thing.
Next one. I take a sharp fast intake of breath through my nose to fill my vase. Then I slowly start to let it out through my mouth. When it gets hard I let the breath out fast. I can barely hold on like this.
A few more contractions and I start to lose control again. My midwife asks if I would like to be checked again. I would. She tells me I’m at an 8. Thank God. I’m making fast progress now. Our midwife asks if she can keep her hand there to help me. “Yes”.
“Bring your breath down to my hand.”
Normally, I would have had no earthly idea what someone was talking about if they said this to me, but somehow it’s like we’re almost communicating telepathically. I know exactly what I need to do. I get into a perfect rhythm with my breathing, and 5-8 contractions in I hear my Mama and our midwife talking to each other as I work.
“Look at her, isn’t she beautiful.”
“She’s an angel.”
I realize I’m smiling. I let out a laugh.
“I’m doing this!”
The room cheers me on. I’m going to make it. I can do this. My confidence is back. A few more contractions and our midwife says that I can try out some pushing if I’d like to.
I start pushing little by little. Oh it feels so good to be able to let loose. A few contractions in though, and I don’t feel I’m making progress. During this entire time I was continuing to try out laying on my side in bed, and now I was trying to push against gravity. Our midwife suggested I try getting up on my knees. So I do, I kneel on the bed and hold Tommy’s shoulders. However, it doesn’t feel sturdy enough on the squishy bed. I’m afraid of falling. The fear of falling keeps me from putting all my energy into pushing.
I let go of Tommy with one arm and hold myself up on the bed with that arm while I pushed again. I can’t. This is too hard.
“You ARE doing it.”
The grunting sounds don’t seem to be helping me push the baby out. With the next contraction I bear down and scream. Our midwife asks what that sound is all about?
“Nothing, I was just trying it out.” I reply.
I can tell she is in tune with everything I’m doing. Another contraction. Another hard push. My midwife has me reach down, I can now feel the top of the baby’s head protruding a small amount. This should be comforting, I think. But my only thought is that I thought more of the head would be out by now.
Mama comes in front of me and let’s me hold her shoulders as it’s time to bear down again. I push with all my might. Maybe my eyes will come out. I’m not sure. I push and push, and then my contraction goes and I try and relax on my hands and knees for a few moments. The midwife takes out the doppler and listens to baby’s heartbeat. The heartbeat is strong and fast.
As the next contraction comes I start to bear down again, and as I listen to the heartrate it starts to slow. It slows a lot. I know I need to get the baby out before my midwife even says it.
“I want you to get the baby’s head out in the next contraction.”
I gather all my strength and push as hard as I can on all fours. The contraction goes before the head comes all the way out. I wait for the next contraction. The midwife begins to count with the next contraction. It’s the counting that they show in all the hospital scenes of birth slowly up to ten, and mom is supposed to sustain pushing the entire time. I lose my strength somewhere in the middle.
I am either going to do it this next contraction or I’m going to die trying I tell myself.
And so when the next contraction comes I push, harder than I believed possible. Harder than I think I can handle. Change is occurring, and I’m not quite sure if it’s life, death or both.
Finally, I feel the gigantic head slip free. Our midwife quickly and artfully clears baby’s airway as I stay still on all fours. As soon as she is ready, I give one more great push, and I feel baby’s body slip free.
I pivot and sit down on the bed. I pick up our baby asking at the same time if it’s a boy or girl?
“I’m working here Bibi, I can’t look.” Is the midwife’s reply.
I take our baby in our arms and see that she’s a little girl…well actually a big girl. A very big girl. She is a little gray and gurgly, but she’s perfect. Our midwife is working on stimulating her to get a good cry from her. The cord was wrapped around her chest, and her arms compressed it as she came through the birth canal. She starts to pink up, and cry a bit. Our midwife rubs eucalyptus oil on our baby’s heels, and she starts breathing better almost immediately. I bring her to the breast, and she breaths perfectly. She is still receiving oxygen from her umbilical cord, but it stops pulsing now, and she is gorgeous and red, with thick black hair on her head.
“We did it.” I sigh in contentment as I lay back on the pillows on my bed.
“You did it.” Our midwife corrects me.
“I did it.” I accept the credit.
It’s hard to describe the amount of healing that took place with Ava’s birth. I don’t think before she was born that I would have described myself as feeling broken as a woman, but the feeling of utter relief and healing upon her birth demonstrates that on so many levels that there’s no other way to describe it.
That’s not to say that all was perfect after the birth. I still worried intensely about Ava, and finally had to recognize that I was hanging onto the intense feelings of worry that I had after Gracie’s birth, and I slowly let that tension melt away. I didn’t need that heightened fight or flight feeling this time.
I could just ease into this motherhood. I could just nurse my baby and never have her forcibly kept from me. I think the first days of fall with forever remind me of that time. Of the 40 day babymoon, and the easing into the knowing that I was not broken, that I had grown and naturally birthed my baby, and that now I was nursing her.