Below is the story of my first birth. It was fairly long (23 hours from start to finish) but only about 12 hours of active labor. The feeling of empowerment I had after this birth planted the seed that later started my doula journey!
My first-born could not have had better timing. It was the last day of winter break and I was a day shy of 38 weeks. My husband and I are both teachers and we were not looking forward to going back to work the next day. I had planned to work up until my due date and I groaned as I acknowledged the reality of going back to work the next day. I got up to go to the bathroom. It was 8:30 AM. As I stood up from the toilet and pulled up my pajama bottoms I heard a loud splat as my waters hit the tile floor. As the fluid seeped out of me it took a second or two for me to fully acknowledge what was happening. Then in a voice shaking with excitement I called out to my husband, “Honey, I guess we’re not going back to work tomorrow after all!” I remember just trembling with excitement as Peter rushed in and began the frantic husband dance. He called Group Health and they asked us to come in so they could make sure it was indeed amniotic fluid. There was no doubt, but we dutifully headed in anyway. I chuckle now to think of how I put a panty liner in my underwear to catch the drips, not realizing just how much fluid would continue to leak out of me until the baby was born. On the way to the hospital I called family members to let them know that Finn was on his way today!
At the hospital they checked and verified that it was indeed amniotic fluid and assessed that baby was fine, they sent us back home, as we had expected they would. We spent the day trying to distract ourselves from the excitement of what was to come and my friend Jennifer came over to help us pass the time. I experienced very mild contractions throughout the day, as we baked cookies, went for a short walk, and cleaned the house (I was insistent that I wanted to return from the hospital to a pristine house). About halfway through watching the Sex and the City movie (so bad!), I decided I wanted to rest and just spend some quiet time with Peter. Jennifer left, and Peter and I lay on the bed, trying to nap and relishing our last few calm moments together before baby’s arrival. Peter was able to get some much needed rest, but I was too excited to nap, and the contractions were just uncomfortable enough to keep me from sleeping.
Before we knew it, dinner time had arrived and Peter cooked a nice meal as the contractions began to pick up a bit and I did some slow breathing and cat-cow poses. A light snow had fallen during the day but it didn’t seem like much until about this time, when suddenly we noticed it was sticking and starting to accumulate. For those of you who don’t live in Seattle, you might scoff at an inch or two of snow, but trust me, in our city it’s a big deal. We have tons of hills and maybe two snowplows for the whole city. With our old Volvo being rear-wheel drive and notoriously bad in the snow, we started to get a little nervous about getting to the hospital. I called and talked to the nurses and we decided to wait a few hours before coming in, as I was still handling the contractions pretty well. So we waited, and the snow continued to fall.
Around 9 PM I decided it was time to head in. We needed to drive from our neighborhood in north Seattle to the Capitol Hill neighborhood (yes, you guessed it, up a big hill). We gathered our hospital bag, got into the car and started heading down the street. Greenwood Ave is a completely flat street but our car was careening sideways as my husband drove. I said to him, “how can we possibly get up to Capitol Hill if our car is swerving on a flat road?” so we turned around and drove back to the condo. At this point we called Peter’s father, who has an SUV with four-wheel drive, and asked him to come and drive us to the hospital. I waited in the lobby of our condo, and began to experience “the shakes” while on the phone talking to my mom, who assured me that it was completely normal and just hormones at work.
Finally, Peter’s dad arrived along with his brother, Chris, and the three of them pushed our car up the driveway and back into our garage. Then we all got into the SUV and drove south towards the hospital. By this time, contractions had amped up and I needed to lean forward and really breathe through them. We got to the base of the hill and the main road up the hill, Denny Way, had a ROAD CLOSED sign. The car ahead of us just drove right around the sign and up the hill, and so that’s what my father-in-law did as well!
We arrived at the hospital safely and were admitted right away. We met our nurse, Megan, who was a calming and reassuring presence. I instantly liked her. She looked over our birth plan, saw that I wanted no pain medication, and asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, how bad do you want your pain to be before I suggest pain medication?” I guess I was feeling pretty confident at that moment, because I responded, “11!” Shortly thereafter, labor began to pick up in intensity. Megan acted just as a doula would and was a calm and reassuring presence throughout. I distinctly remember her saying “come back to us, Erica” when she saw that I was losing control of my rhythm and breathing. Finally they checked my cervix (uncomfortable!) and it was 2.5-3 cm. Wow, that was disappointing.
Things got harder. Megan asked me if I wanted to try the tub and I said no, I wanted to save that for when things got really bad. I tried swaying, slow dancing, sitting on the birth ball and leaning on the bed. We walked the halls, stopping for contractions. Finally I decided to try the tub. At this point I really had the shakes and the contractions were really difficult to get through. I was riding on a wave of pain. The jets in the tub weren’t working and I remember several people standing over me trying to get them to work while I was shaking through a contraction. I was thinking, “I don’t give a *%#^ about the damn jets, just let me be!” At some point (it didn’t feel like I was in there very long) it was decided that I should get out of the tub and get checked. 6 cm. So disappointing for me, as it seemed so far away from 10. (typical first-time mom, I was so hung up on the number, I didn’t realize the end was in sight!) The nurse left the room to go notify our doctor, who had just arrived. Meanwhile I was on my hands and knees leaning on the birth ball and the contractions starting coming right on top of each other. I had what I apparently dubbed “the mother of all contractions” and barely had time to speak this to Peter when another one came. My doctor (she’s our family practice doctor, and I LOVE her) came in to say hi and I could barely speak to acknowledge her. Minutes after she left the room I suddenly felt the urge to push and it was a scary feeling. It felt like the baby was going to fall out of my bottom. I shouted at Peter “push, push, push!” He called the nurse and doctor back in. They checked me, which was supremely uncomfortable, and I was at 10! I had gone from 6-10cm in about 20 minutes.
I had heard that pushing was the easy part, so I was so excited to get this baby out and be done. I remember giving it my all on that first push and some crazy sound coming out of my mouth. And then something about the noise that one of the nurses made and the expression on her face told me, oh no, you have no idea what you are doing. I found out that pushing was not necessarily “easy.” I tried hands-and knees. Nope, that didn’t feel good. I tried squatting with the squat bar. Are you kidding me? You mean I have to hold myself up using my own arms? I tried side-lying. Nope that didn’t feel good. Who wants to lie on their side when there’s a giant watermelon stuck between your thighs? My arms and legs were like jello at this point. I had no strength left. I wanted to sleep between contractions. I ended up on my back with the bed a bit upright because I was so tired. I didn’t feel the urge to push with every contraction and the nurses told me only to push when I felt like it. I pushed for close to 3 hours. I remember at one point thinking, “when are they going to suggest a c-section since I can’t get this baby out?” They brought in “the lady who gets the babies out,” who was a nurse with a Russian accent. In the end I think I was holding back a bit from fear and also it took me a long time to figure out that yes, you really do have to push like you’re pooping. When he finally came out he came out fast. They laid him right on my chest and it was simply the best feeling in the world. He looked up at me and all in the world was right. I had done it! It was exhilarating. Finn Christopher was born at 7:32 AM, weighing 6lbs 8 oz.
My amazing nurse had stayed an extra hour into her shift just to see Finn being born and I was so grateful to her and to everyone in the room. I was up and moving around soon after delivery and breastfeeding went well. I remained on this natural high for weeks. It was the best feeling in the whole world, knowing I had done this amazing feat. There is simply nothing to compare it to, and it is profoundly life-changing. I did it!