Before I went into labor, I can honestly say I didn’t have any fears. Of course, I am human, and the occasional thoughts would cross my mind momentarily…”what if my labor is really long and I won’t have the endurance?”, “what if I cant ‘handle’ the sensations?”. But these were only fleeting thoughts, quickly followed by my mind and heart reminding me of body’s and my baby’s wisdom. I had an idealistic view of how things would unfold. I did not want any vaginal exams, thank you very much. I definitely didn’t want the bag of waters opened artificially. I wanted nature to take its course. I wanted our baby to have a gentle transition into this world. Today, I have an entirely new perspective.
I was prepared for our baby’s arrival by week 37 - we had our homebirth supplies ready, I was finished with work, and mentally and emotionally, I was ready to meet our baby. Well, the weeks came and went. I spent the time nesting, going to prenatal yoga, walking, resting…all the “things” you’re supposed to do to prepare for your baby. I was diligent about optimal fetal positioning - I did not sleep on my back, I did pelvic rocks every day, and I did not recline one bit after 36 weeks. When our due “date” came and went, I was genuinely surprised. I never dreamed I would go post-dates. I was just so ready to hold this baby in my arms that I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for waiting even longer. At 41 weeks, the pressure was on! I can’t count the number of calls, emails and text messages I received from friends and family wondering where the baby is, what was going on, when was it “no longer safe” to have the baby at home. After a couple of days of feeling annoyed, I gave myself an attitude adjustment. These people were calling because they LOVE us, and were excited about the birth of our baby. So, I started welcoming the love and explained that everything was fine. Under the advice of our Home Birth Midwives, we began going to St Luke’s Hospital for non-stress tests. The baby was doing fantastic. Her heart tones were perfect, the amniotic fluid was plentiful, my blood pressure was normal, no glucose or protein in my urine. Apparently, this baby knew more than we did!
Now at 41 weeks, I had to start doing some serious soul-searching. Was I ready to try to “move things along” with non-pharmalogical methods or let nature take its course? I inherently believed that the baby knew when the right time was, but the building pressure of giving birth by 42 weeks was ever present. Felix and I walked the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. We hiked to the top of Buena Vista Park with our Doula, Amy. On Friday (41.2 weeks), we had a lengthy discussion with our Midwives about all of our options and decided to start herbs and/or homeopathy on Saturday if I wasn’t in labor yet. I also decided to let Michelle try to strip my membranes (also something I never thought I would be ok with). I was not dilated enough for her to do it – I was 2 cm and 50% effaced on the external opening of the cervix, but only about 1 cm dilated at the internal opening.
On Friday, February 27th, I went to my acupuncturist for yet another treatment – this one more aggressive.
On Saturday, February 28th, I took the herbal tinctures (cottonwood and black cohosh). You take a dropper full of each every 15 minutes for 2-3 hours. They tasted horrible and gave me a huge headache.
On Sunday, March 1st, I did the homeopathic remedies (caulophyllum & cimicifuga) and Michelle came over to see if she could strip my membranes. Fortunately, I had dilated a bit more and she was able to.
On Monday, March 2nd, Michelle came over and stripped my membranes again. I was 2-3 cm dilated and 60% effaced. Felix and I went to Swan Oyster Point on Polk for their clam chowder, which had a reputation for inducing labor. Later that evening, I started to lose my mucus plug! Hurrah! (I don’t credit this to the clam chowder…everyone has a “trick” that worked for them. Maybe it’s just the baby’s time.) That evening, Amy came over and we talked things through and cried together because she was leaving on vacation. When I had asked her to be at the birth months earlier, she had told me that she would be on vacation after March 3rd. Of course, I never once thought she wouldn’t be at the birth. She gave Felix and I cards to open when labor got started.
On Tues, March 3rd, I woke up at 4:20am and ate strawberry ice cream mixed with 2 oz of castor oil and went back to bed. Unfortunately, I never fell back asleep and the castor oil took effect by 5:20am. I lost more of my mucus plug at 7:30am and by 9:30am, I was having regular surges, about 4-6 minutes apart that lasted 45 seconds to 1 minute. They were very manageable and continued through out the day. After 6 or 7 hours, they became more intense and then suddenly started to space out. Felix read me the rainbow relaxation and I fell asleep for 30 minutes. The surges were gone. I was so disappointed. We went for a long walk – up hills and stairs. I had a couple of very mild surges on our walk, but it seemed like they were not coming back. Michelle assured me that this is a common early labor pattern. We decided to try some homeopathy and go to bed.
I awoke the next morning in tears. No labor, no baby, I was 42 weeks pregnant. I did a second dose of the castor oil at 10:45am. We met with our Midwives that afternoon to discuss a game plan. How far were we willing to go before going into the hospital for an induction? We discussed the statistics and potential outcomes of going past 42 weeks gestation. I was comfortable giving the baby a few more days, but my husband wasn’t. We compromised and set an appointment for an induction on Friday, March 6th. Coming to this decision was extremely difficult for me. It took a lot of letting go and a lot of tears to accept that our baby wouldn’t be born at home as we planned and that she was going to be exposed to Pitocin and the hospital environment. Later that afternoon, I was at St Luke’s Hospital doing a non-stress test. The baby looked great. At the end of the testing, my stomach started cramping and I barely made it home in time! After about an hour of upset stomach, the surges started. And this time, they were no joke. Nothing like the “early” labor of the day before. These came on strong and hard and there was no build-up. After one or two breaths into it, I would be at the peak. Immediately, they were 2 to 5 minutes apart and lasting over a minute. I was already using all my focus on my breathing and starting to vocalize. I showered. What a joke. I wanted to get into the tub. I remember saying “how does anyone do this without water?” Felix called our Doula, Kara, who came over at 9pm. They began filling the birth tub. Michelle arrived shortly after.
I remembered me saying about labor “bring it on”. Now, I was thinking “be careful what you wish for”. It was here and it was HARD. I had to moan, and breathe, and groan, and clench, and I didn’t care at all that I looked totally uncool. This was the least “cool” I had felt in my whole life. I could tell by the looks on everyone’s faces that they knew I was working hard. AND I WAS IN PAIN. The surges were in the front of my belly, wrapped around my back and down my thighs to my knees. Somehow, hours and hours went by. I complained (“I can’t do this.”). My birth team reassured me (“You ARE doing it.”). Their encouragement was unwavering.
Off and on, I labored in the tub. Kara had lit all the candles in the dining room, where the tub was set up. The lighting was so peaceful, yet I couldn’t sink into that peace. The mind chatter, along with the surges, was relentless. “How was I going to do this? I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to hold my baby. How I am going to justify getting an epidural to everyone? There is no way I can make it down those stairs and ride in a car. Maybe I should go to UCSF to get nitrous oxide? Maybe I can get someone to bring me nitrous oxide? Maybe I should smoke some weed?“ All I wanted was to be pushing my baby out!
By morning, I was doing the “labor math”. 12 hours and nothing had changed. The surges were so painful and I was exhausted. I would start to nod off between surges only to be met by a really really hard one. The surges right after the long breaks were impossible. I felt totally out of control. I remember saying “so much for the short homebirth” (anecdotally, many Homebirth Midwives claim most homebirths are shorter than hospital births). I told everyone I wanted something to be different. I needed a change. They asked me what I wanted to change. I told them I just wanted to be pushing!
After debating with myself for hours, I decided I wanted to know where we were at. This was not an easy decision, but I needed some information. At 9:15am, Michelle did a vaginal exam. She told me my cervix was very thin (80% effaced – couldn’t tell station-bulging bag). I looked at her and said “and I’m 5”. And she said “yes”. I couldn’t believe it! 15 hours of labor and I had only opened 2 more centimeters! We discussed opening my bag of waters. Michelle and Kara were reluctant, since we were uncertain of the baby’s position and they were concerned that the baby was posterior. We had scheduled an acupuncture appointment with Christine in our home the day prior – whether I was in labor or not. So, we decided to wait until after the acupuncture to make any decisions.
At 11:50am, Christine arrived with her daughter. The three of us spent an hour in my bedroom while Christine treated me with needles. Another difficult hour, but it was great to have some new energy around me. Christine’s daughter cuddled with the pillows in my bed and watched me during my surges. I worried that I was scaring her, but after each one she would let out a little giggle and smile at me. Her sweet face was so refreshing. I told the baby that we were ready for the bag to open, to be please be ready, too. I sat backwards on a chair, and Christine put pressure on my mid-back as I rocked through the surges. It felt so comforting, yet it was nothing I could have asked her to do. She just did it instinctually and I can still remember how it made the surges slightly more manageable.
Nancy, who had gone to another birth and finished with that client (grrrrr) arrived as Christine left. We discussed doing another vaginal exam, which we did at 1:35pm. Again, Michelle was very positive as she explained that this exam felt “very different” than the one before, that she was very encouraged. I was thinner (90% effaced) and the baby’s head was now lower (0 to -1 station) and putting pressure on my cervix. I looked at her and said “And I’m still 5”. “Yes, you’re still 5”. UN-FUCKING-BELIEVEABLE. I don’t’ remember if I cried, but I feel like crying now just thinking about it. I complained about only being 5 cm dilated after 19 ½ hours of labor. Michelle said “you know it’s forbidden to do the labor math”. I said something to the effect of “fuck the labor math! It’s me and I get to do the labor math!”. What was I going to do??? I felt so stuck. There was no way out of this. I asked about opening my bag. Michelle was still hesitant because she couldn’t confirm the baby’s position. We decided to have Nancy do an exam to see if she could tell the position. As soon as her finger went through my cervix, I felt a ‘pop’ and then huge gushes of warm water came pouring and pouring out. Nancy said “I am so sorry. I am so sorry. I didn’t do anything”. I assured her that it was alright. I was glad that it happened that way – it changed things and I didn’t have to make the decision myself! (Accidental AROM 1:50pm)
Nancy left to go to an appointment. I labored around the house, on the toilet and in the birth tub. Nothing was different. The surges were still incredibly overwhelming and were coming every 3-4 minutes and sometimes peaking 2 or 3 times.
At 3:45pm, Nancy came back and privately asked Michelle if she could start getting tough with me. She instructed me to stay low on my hands and knees through the surges while moaning low and deep “ooooooppeeeennnnnn”. She repeated “open pelvis” and “loooowwww” over and over, which helped me visualize my body opening. Staying down in that position in the tub was the hardest thing I have EVER done. My body was telling me to stand up and tighten every muscle and lean back, away from the sensations. Being in this position felt like my legs were being cut off.
After awhile, we got out of the tub and she wanted me to stand with my legs bent and rock during the surges. IMPOSSIBLE. During each surge, I would crush my legs together, tighten my butt, and lean backwards, as I reached around my back and shook my lower back muscles as I pushed in. I was barely able to hold the stance between surges. Nancy got in front of me and put her knees inside of mine and hugged me and rocked during the surges. I hugged her so hard I thought I’d break her spine, literally. We walked from the living room to the kitchen and back.
During the ‘walk’ Felix had taken her place. The pain in the lower front of my belly had become excruciating – it felt like the baby was breaking through the skin below my belly button. I cried out after a surge “WHAT WAS THAT?!” No one answered me. I started holding my belly during the surges. They wanted me to hug Felix. Someone had to hold my belly as we did this. It was the longest walk of my life.
As we arrived back at the living room, he started to get angry with me, telling me that I needed to keep my legs open. I told him I was doing my best. He told me “you are not doing your best. I am disappointed with the quality of your efforts”. He was frustrated and I told him to stop talking to me. He walked away and I looked at the women and said “why is he saying that?”. Nancy told me that it doesn’t sound like it now, but he’s telling you he loves you and he wants to help you. It definitely didn’t sound like that!
Next, Felix got on his hands and knees and I leaned over him. Michelle gave Kara the rebozo to use around my lower abdomen during the surges as she kneeled into my lower back. This ingenious set up made the surges somewhat livable. They were coming right on top of each other with very little break in between. After the birth, Nancy joked that I must have read a script for women in transition “I’m not getting any breaks. It feels like my pelvis is breaking. This is fucking insane. I can’t do this.” Michelle asked me what I was feeling. The entire time I had been waiting for “rectal pressure” or the feeling of needing to poop, which is what most women feel when the baby is low in the pelvis. (Not me! I never felt those sensations!). I told her it felt like something was in my vagina (hmmm, now what could that be!). She said “why don’t you check to see”. In my head, I politely asked her to do it for me but what I said was “YOU DO IT!”. She checked me and then said “Tracy, I think you should check.” I reached down and felt inside of me and the baby ‘s head was RIGHT there! About a knuckle and half in! Michelle said we should make our way to the tub. I should have felt some sort of relief, but instead I was thinking “how in the world am I going to make it all the way to the tub?” (which was about 6 feet away). Somehow, I had the where-with-all to tell Felix to put on shorts. It took several surges, but I made it in. And started pushing.
As Kara pulled on the rebozo and Felix leaned into my lower back with all his weight, I pushed in a kneeling position. My pelvis felt like it was breaking open. I pushed through the pain. Every other surge was stronger, so I used that power to push. During the weaker ones, I beared down, but I could tell I wasn’t making a lot of progress during those. Slowly, I could feel the baby’s head swelling into my vagina – a feeling I cannot describe and will never forget. Incredible. I checked myself during a surge and felt the head moving down, slowly. After awhile, it felt like the baby was right there so I told Michelle I needed her help. She checked and said we had a little ways to go. She suggested I stand up and lift my knees and move my hips to create more room for the baby. I did and I pushed once or twice and the baby’s head began to crown! With Michelle’s guidance, I slowly pushed her head out while I supported my perineum. Michelle checked for a cord. We were good to go. She told me to blow out and told Felix to get ready to help catch from behind. I reached down and caught the baby with Michelle’s help.
I give birth at 7:46pm while standing up in the birth tub.
As I gazed into your face, my words come: “ We waited so long for you. Omigod, you are so beautiful.” Felix starts to look between the baby’s legs but I tell him to wait, that I am not ready yet. I want to take you in as a person before you become a boy or a girl to me. After a few minutes, Felix said “I think it’s a boy” and Nancy replied “are you sure?”. We looked – and you are a girl! I say “You are so beautiful. You are so pretty” over and over again.
Your cord was too short for me to hold you much higher than my belly, so I sat crouched over on the birth stool as we waited for the placenta to come. I nursed you for the first time like that – as the midwives gave me an herbal tincture to help the placenta along. I barely bled, but it took 45 minutes for it to be born. It didn’t hurt and I was relieved that we could move so I could hold you closer and be more comfortable. We moved to the couch in the living room. Not much longer, I cut the umbilical cord so your Daddy could hold you to his bare chest for the first time.
You are finally here. I am in awe. I am in love. I am complete.
Michelle Welborn, CPM, LM