My midwife had said previously that when your water breaks, you tend to soak about a pad an hour. She was not wrong.
I threw on a diaper. That's right, ladies, have a pack of Depends on hand for your pre- and post- birth "experience". You'll be thankful if you need it.
We whipped out all of our early labour prep notes which guided our groggy selves in setting up the home for labour: pull the chili out of the freezer, lay out the candles, set up the twinkle lights, pin the positive self-talk cue cards to the walls, take a gravol, go back to bed...
I'll be honest, I used entirely too much energy in early labour. i was shaking like a leaf as it hit me more and more that there was kind of no turning back now. A baby was coming, and it was going to come out of me, probably within the next 24 hours. John did his best to calm me down but I could tell from how intensely he was hustling to set up the house that he wasn't doing much better inside.
Calls and texts were made: to my doula (it's happening!), to my mom (you're not going to work today!), to my friends (I'm practically peeing my pants right now!). By 4 AM John and I had the good enough sense to settle back in bed to the sweet relaxing sounds of our spa music CD (which I will never be able to hear the same again). Then the contractions made a swift change from "sweetheart, I think this is one!" to "I swear to God don't touch me right now". I was getting concerned because I had always read and been told that labour comes on slow and steady... And lying down during a contraction wasn't a real possibility only two hours after my water broke? I was leaning over my pillows and using the slow breathing techniques we practiced in Lamaze, already! Why so soon?!
By 5 AM I called my midwife bacause I had a question about my waters breaking (that's right, they were still going at it 3 hours later). The call went something like, "hi there... My water broke at 2 and my contractions are only 7 or 8 minutes apart, but that's not why I'm calling..." - I was cheery and could carry on conversation through a contraction if necessary and the situation seemed normal to her, so she told me to go back to bed, she'd see me later that day.
It was a frustrating moment. I couldn't go back to bed. It was too uncomfortable. How could I rest? Thankfully my doula showed up shortly afterwards, got me settled on a rug on the floor and showed me some rest-and-contraction friendly positions which helped me doze. I was so reluctant to lie down (slows labour), but I'd been upwards most of the morning, I deserved a rest. Good thing, too... A long day was ahead.
Sometime in the next hour, my mom showed up. And then the real fun began. The tightening became longer, stronger, and closer together very quickly. John and I pulled out every breathing technique we knew (except for "transition breathing"; we saved that). My body worked with me to stay relaxed and calm... somehow.
At around 7 AM, John and I took what was supposed to be a relaxing shower, but in the span of ten minutes I had about four more contractions. Very strong, very intense ones. John could barely believe it - I remember him saying "really? Another one? Already?" and that it made me feel a little annoyed ("no, I'm just FAKING IT") and a little scared ("what does he mean, 'already'?").
I changed into my labour attire (I really looked like a hippie mom in those birthing videos): bright green tube top, 3/4 length gray track pants, belly hanging out, hair clipped back, swaying to Bob Marley, telling myself "everything gon' be alright". I kept thinking I was such a baby - there was no way these could be as strong as I was feeling them! My pattern of thinking "this can't be it, it's going to get worse so save your energy" is probably what kept me at such peace (if you can believe it, which I still can't). Everything seemed to be moving quicker than all the books and classes said it would for a first baby. So it must've been in my head.
The "rule" for calling the midwife is when contractions are four minutes apart. Theoretically this gives her enough time to drive to the office, get your file, come to your house, assess you, labour with you, take you to the hospital if required, and then coach you through birthing. Well, my contractions jumped from six minutes to three and I could see the panic in the exchanged glances from my mom to my doula to John. Someone (this is where things really get blurry) put in the call and she was set to arrive with her partner in 30 minutes.
Thus began the longest 30 minutes of my life up to that point. We entered transition. My dad showed up. He, John and my brother prepared the pool (which was supposed to be for the majority of active labour but that was clearly moving on without the pool). The contractions got progressively worse. John and I did our ha-ha-hoo breathing pyramid (these are the big guns in terms of breathing to relax). I moved from the floor to the ball to John's arms and back again.
And then it happened: I felt like I had to poop. This late in labour, that poopy feeling can only mean one thing, and my midwife still hadn't arrived. The pool still wasn't finished being filled. Although I had maintained a very relaxed state up to this point (I earned the title "Birthing Goddess"), I was getting frantic and definitely wanted her there. NOW. (To be fair, 30 minutes hadn't passed yet.) Another call was made to her to let her know things were going down and stat. I remember wondering why midwives don't get cool car sirens like volunteer firefighters. The answer is because normally THINGS DON'T MOVE THIS FAST.
Somewhere in a blur of intense contractions, positive self-talk (my catch phrase became "I got this"), touch relaxation response and yelling "oh my God it hurts, it hurts, okay Sam, relax, breathe, breathe, you got this", the pool became ready (getting in and riding through contractions made a hugely marked difference, by the way - I recommend water labour to everyone, hospital or home birth), the midwives showed up, and I announced that I was ready to push.
Pushing a baby out is balls. It really is. It's not even the pain that gets you, it's just so darn exhausting. First of all, I didn't know where to push from until after maybe 5 good pushes my midwife placed her finger at the right spot and said "try pushing here". (Thanks, good advice, 5 pushes later). The work involved is nuts. A lot of women say they like pushing better than they like contractions because through contractions your job is to ignore the pain whereas through pushing your job is more or less to control it. I have to agree. When you're not pushing (at least for me) nothing hurts. Your body can truly relax. Everything is gone. You can laugh and smile even. But when you're pushing, it takes every square inch of your whole being - all your emotions, all your physical willpower, all your spiritual zeal - focused and working together to get the baby into your arms. It is a very spiritual, albeit downright exhausting, experience.
It's this stage that I remember the most: my husband behind me, holding my head and giving me kisses, my mom to my left holding my hand, my doula beside me coaching me through, my midwife meeting my eyes and saying "just hold that, just a little longer, keep holding, keep holding...". I remember my frustration when I felt the baby come down that much more during a push and right as I let go, sliding back up ("paving the way", my midwife called it). I remember John's eyes when he said he could see some of her head. I remember reaching down and feeling her head when my midwife said I could and the sheer power that gave me to get her OUT OF THERE, and the feeling of realizing my body can push limits I never dreamed of. (Never again will I have any good excuse not to exercize!)
And then, at 10:39 AM, they pulled her out. Her shoulder got a little stuck so that part definitely hurt the worst, but then she was in my arms. This tiny purple babything with legs and hair and a nose, in my arms. I asked about three times if she was alive. I just couldn't believe it. And then she cried her sweet The Caterpillar cry and we were wrapped in a towel and John was kissing us and we were laughing and our family began.
The hours after a birth are challenging and joyful for every family. The same was true for us. Despite our near-perfect birth experience, my body does have its limits, and somewhere between an internal tear not getting sutured as it should have been and a series of clots in my uterus, my body hemmoraged and over the next 12 hours I slowly (never alarmingly quickly) lost 40% of my blood. Even though the day was met with birthday cake in bed and visits from family, I was bleeding out and it took a long time for my midwife to realize (and I don't entirely fault her for this, hindsight IS 20/20) that I needed to go to emergency. I was in surgery within the hour, received a D&C, the tear was repaired and I got a blood transfusion (and a lot of fluid) and my life no longer was on the line. (Confusingly / frustratingly, my surgeon strongly emphasized to my family that I was at death's door but my midwives say I wasn't THAT close - I'm going to go with the surgeon on this one). The following days saw me pale, puffy, exhausted and waited on hand and foot by my extremely caring family and friends, none of whom could we have successfully gotten through this without.
But now I'm okay. The Caterpillar is a healthy, happy baby who has surpassed her birth weight. And I'm trying to celebrate and take joy in the fact that I had a better birth experience than I could have dreamed of. Of course the week-long recovery from the blood loss, combined with learning to breastfeed and lose sleep and have more patience and love than ever, has made me iffy about doing this again... But when I look at my beautiful daughter and gorgeous husband I know it's all worth everything we've faced. (And I'll probably make a few revisions next time, like knowing what to expect in the postpartum.)
On the whole...
1. I wholeheartedly recommend home birth if you have the massive support system to back it up (it's a big job.)
2. Water birth is not for everyone, but water labour is really an amazing thing that I'd recommend to everyone. If you're at home, a good pool (we got the La Bassine) runs about $200 but hospitals often offer delivery rooms with a tub.
3. I would listen more strongly to my body's cues next time. Midwives, doctors and nurses can do their best but only I know my body.
4. I am frustrated that a mistake was made (the tear was missed) and I am mad it took so long to get me to the hospital. It's okay to feel this way. I've been feeling guilty for being angry, but it's not unreasonable. At the same time, I need to have the grace enough to know that my care providers did their best and I am still allowed to trust their care, even though a mistake was made. Much of my family thinks I should go into attack mode, but this isn't who I am or want to be. So yes, she made a mistake, but no, the mistake is not going to define my view of midwifery or home birth.
5. It's ok to cry. The Caterpillar was born on March 28 and in all the events I wanted to cry but forced myself not to because I needed the energy. On March 30 at 2:30 AM, I melted down. Pardon me but what the HELL just happened? After a good cry inmy hubby's arms with my baby in mine, I felt better. And even better after a couple more good cries. So, for me, it's ok to cry.
6. I have a baaaabbbyyyyyy :) My Lovely Caterpillar, already forging her own personality, already Daddy's little girl, already Mama's snugglebug, receiver of more kisses than many people know in a lifetime.
So there's the birth story I waited 40 weeks and 1 day to tell.