The story of Naomi’s birth is a long one, and not just because it took a large number of hours. It’s one of the most complicated things I’ve ever been through, and this post is as much (or more) a record for the three of us as it is a story to share. But I have a hard time keeping good stories to myself, so I’m posting it here.
You’ll notice that the previous post is password protected. That post is exactly the same as this one, but it includes some more graphic pictures. We’ve elected to just share that version with a few people in that cross section between “friends and family” and “birth junkies.” If you know me personally, and you’d like to see it (and you aren’t disturbed by naked boobies and bottoms and more) shoot me an email; I’m happy to share, but you know what they say, “the Internet is forever,” so we’re keeping access controlled. I am still pretty graphic verbally in this version, just to warn those of you who don’t even like to think about parts and goo and what not.
The Pre-game Show
The story really starts on Friday, when we went to the Midwife Center for a routine “non-stress test.” When you are past your due date, care providers like to make sure baby is still “doing better inside than out,” and to check this they just hook you up to a baby monitor for 20 minutes. They’re looking for a steady heart rate with a couple of periodic increases.
While in there, since that day we were 41 weeks, we knew we’d also be having a conversation with the on-call midwife, Emily, about our options for induction. There are some natural things they can do there, and if we went to 42 weeks we’d have to be induced in hospital. Anyway, after that conversation the midwife checked my cervix. I had been 1 cm on Wednesday, and she now declared me “1 and a smidge.” While she was in there, she said “Do you want me to go ahead and sweep your membranes?” Almost on impulse, we said yes. So sweep she did, and was thus able to get me to 2 cm. She described the procedure as giving us a 50/50 chance, I assume of inducing labor post-haste. I was already having kinda-regular but uncompelling contractions, and after the procedure these continued and strengthened a little. We were encouraged.
After our appointment, we went to my new favorite restaurant, Square Cafe. (Breakfast food plus veggies plus creativeness?! They have me both stomach and heart. They aren’t giving me any money to praise them publicly, but they should. I would spend it there on food.) I had the brussels sprout hash, which I cannot praise enough. The only reason I mention it here is that, after my fabulous brussel sprout hash, I had my first pre-labor dump in their bathroom. You know, the sort of dump that takes so long that your husband (who’s no bathroom speed demon) thinks about calling your phone to make sure you’re ok.
When we got home, we took the rest of the day to take advantage of the edge the membrane sweeping might have given us. I took a nap, then we went on a 45-minute walk, then ate dinner (breakfast casserole, brought by the first family on our food-bringing calendar – I do love breakfast food), then did about 1/2 hour of nipple stimulation.
After the nipple stim my wimpy contractions were a little less wimpy, and they were frequent, if short. The next test was to see if they stuck around. I had laundry to fold, so as a treat, we rented Tron Legacy on Amazon and I folded laundry while bouncing on a birth ball and having a wee glass of wine. (Why Tron? The soundtrack and its remixed derivatives are one of my favorite thing to listen to right now, and listening to it all the time makes me want to watch it all the time. If the end of the movie had maintained the energy of the first 2/3, it would probably be in my personal top 5 movies for straight-up unreflective fun.)
Early labor Part 1: The First Time Mom Doesn’t Quite Get it
I count my 29 hours of labor as starting with Tron. The contractions regularized and strengthened during the movie, and I called them painful. On the flip side, I would now call that “feeling them at all,” because although I was inclined to breathe through them, I wasn’t forced to. They were coming an average of 3-4 minutes apart and lasting for a minute, so we called Emily after the movie. She said we did the right thing, this sounded great, but as I was still very calm, I should take a bath and get some sleep and see what happens.
But of course, we were a little too excited to be very tired. I tried to stay calm, but the contractions were strong enough that I could not easily sleep through them. I managed to sleep between 3:30 and 4:30, and then we called Emily again. She was at the end of her shift, but said to give it another hour, call in my doula to start helping out, and call again to talk to Annie, who was on call next.
Early labor Part 2: The Practice Trip In
After an hour things were about the same. When we called in, Annie asked if I felt more comfortable laboring at home, or if I would rather come to the Midwife Center. I said I thought we could “meander in.” I was thinking that things were probably progressing well, and that I could get there whenever and get to work. We agreed that we’d try to arrive around 7, and we called in our helpers: Megan, friend and trained doula, and Carrie, pastor/la leche league leader/all-around-birth-and-baby-encourager.
I thought my contractions were pretty painful. They had been in my back a fair amount on Friday evening, but since sleeping a little, baby felt quite anterior and I wasn’t having as much back pain. For all I knew I could be pretty far along. But a couple of things I said to Megan – being a little too aware of and concerned for her comfort, and asking whether I could wear my bathrobe to the center – told her I wasn’t really in active labor yet. Carrie took one look at me and said I looked exhausted; I think now I was confusing exhaustion with being focused on labor.
The drive in, arriving around 7:30, wasn’t very fun; it took a little over half an hour and I had somewhere between half a dozen and a dozen contractions. But between all the excitement of getting to the birth center, and of feeling well enough to be a socially aware human being (also not an active labor thing, I have since realized), contractions slowed down a bit. They weren’t as severe, and there were more long breaks. When they checked me, I was 3 cm – progress, but not much, and definitely not active labor.
Everyone agreed – including me – that I was in reality exhausted, and needed to go home and get some sleep. I wasn’t even disappointed about needing to be sent home; I could accept that I was just too tired to progress at that point. The midwives recommended I take something to help me sleep, and what followed was a long, bleary conversation about Ambien vs. Benadryl. I have so many weird reactions to drugs generally that I was hesitant to try Ambien, but they wrote me a prescription anyway in case I changed my mind. Carrie had Benadryl in her purse, so I took one as we were getting in the car to go home. It worked almost immediately; I slept between contractions until we got home, but it didn’t last very long. Jared and I drove home and sent Carrie and Megan to their homes – we knew now that we had a long way to go yet. We probably got home around 9:15.
Early labor Part 3: The Longest, Hardest Saturday
When I got back home, the contractions intensified back to what they had been before we left, but did not become longer or more regular. They were bad enough, though, that I had become completely dependent on counterpressure on my back to relax into them at all. I didn’t want Jared to be out of the room for a single contraction, so when he needed to make us food around 11, I asked him to call Megan over. Alternating between lying in bed and sitting on the ball, I breathed through the discomfort, but couldn’t sleep. I don’t remember much about this phase except that it seemed to last forever. I don’t remember if we talked, or what we talked about, or even how I felt except tired. It’s very difficult for me to write about this portion, because I was in such a haze of confusion, pain, and exhaustion, so I’ll give you more of Jared’s perspective.
After a couple more hours of this, and another phone conversation with Annie, we decided to go for the Ambien. Megan stayed with me, taking me through contractions while Jared went to CVS. He had lost all sense of time, having gotten barely an hour of sleep the previous night, and so was wandering about the store when they called that the prescription was ready. He’d left his phone with us so that Megan could keep using the contraction timer app, so he didn’t get their call. After some time he went back to the prescription desk to check, and they said they’d filled it awhile ago. He paid, came home, and we sent Megan home, and he had a bit of a breakdown. We both felt like we hadn’t progressed in these last sixteen or so hours, and we didn’t know what that meant. There was a feeling of being on the clock, because the longer things went on, the more I was just wearing myself out, and nothing we were doing seemed to be helping. Jared felt that we had handicapped ourselves by not sleeping the previous night for excitement, though I was sure I couldn’t have slept more through the contractions I was having then, excited or not. He felt out of control. As for me, I know my expectations of labor had been thoroughly confused, and I didn’t know what to think. But by that time, thinking clearly had become very difficult anyway.
I took one Ambien around 2:45 and entered a sleep-like state for around 2.5 hours. I remember sleeping between contractions, and Jared says that I slept for as long as half an hour. I had to moan through most of them at this point. Megan had shown Jared how to lie down with his knees tucked up behind me, so that when I contracted he could give me counterpressure with his knees.
Early Labor Part 4: Catharsis
After those couple of hours, I was still sleepy from the drugs, but I just didn’t want to go through any more contractions lying down. I got up and sat on the ball, with Jared giving me counterpressure. The contractions were definitely in my back by this time, so the pain was worse, though I couldn’t tell if the contractions themselves had intensified in strength. They were still at the same frustratingly irregular pace and unconvincing duration.
It occurred to one of us that while we were just laboring, me on the ball and Jared behind me, that we could put on the birth playlist that I had made on my iPhod (it’s a hand-me-down iPhone with no cellular, more or less a glorified iPod. I mostly just call it the Phod). Now, that birth playlist was confessedly a little melancholic. All my favorite calm music is melancholic; the music closest to my soul isn’t depressing exactly, but it’s the sort of music that tells the truth about the world I have experienced. But even so, the songs that came on out of the fifty-plus I had picked were almost uncanny in the way they touched us. We ended up spending that whole time just singing along, crying in each others arms, and during contractions Jared applied pressure and I moaned in key. We don’t remember all the songs that played, but here are links to the ones we remember playing, with the lyrics that most applied.
“Stars” by David Crowder Band: “You should see the moon in flight / Cutting cross the misty night / Softly dancing in sunshine / Reflections of its light / Reach me now / You reach me now. / And how could such a thing / Shine its light on me / And make everything / Beautiful again?”
“When the Rain Comes” by Third Day: “When the rain comes it seems that everyone has gone away / When the night falls you wonder if you shouldn’t find someplace / To run and hide / Escape the pain / But hiding’s such a lonely thing to do. / I can’t stop the rain / From falling down on you again / I can’t stop the rain / But I can hold you ’till it goes away.”
“Silence” by Jars of Clay: (I won’t quote the whole thing, but this is a song that has meant a lot to me for a long time.) “Take / Take ’till there’s nothing / Nothing to turn to / Nothing when you get through / Won’t you break / Scattered pieces of all I’ve been bowing to / All I’ve been running to / Where are you? … Scream / Deeper I want to scream / I want you to hear me / I want you to find me. / ‘Cause I, I want to believe / But all I pray is wrong / And all I claim is gone. / ‘Cause I, I got a question / I got a question / Where are you?”
“Let it All Out” by Relient K: “Let it all out (get it all out) / Rip it out, remove it. / Don’t be alarmed when the wound begins to bleed. / ‘Cause we’re so scared to find out (what this life’s all about) / So scared we’re gonna lose it / Not knowing all along that’s exactly what what we need. / And today I will trust you with the confidence of a man who’s never known defeat / But tomorrow, upon hearing what I did, I will stare at you in disbelief / Oh inconsistent me. / Crying out for consistency. / And you said, I know that this will hurt / But if I don’t break your heart then things will just get worse. / If the burden seems too much to bear, / Remember: / The end will justify the pain it took to get us there.”
Heavens, I’m crying again just typing up these lyrics. They were what we were going through.
After a while, I decided to try to take advantage of what Ambien was still in my system and sleep again. I slept between some contractions, but not much.
Early Labor Part 5: One Last Rally
Around 7 p.m., I got up. I realized it had been about 24 hours of early labor, and I had a sense that I had done my duty to this part of the process, and I owed it to no one to continue this way interminably. I believe my exact words were, “It’s time to stop f***ing around and get this baby out.” We called the midwife center at 7:30, confirming again that I was still not having long enough or consistant enough contractions to be called active labor. I didn’t care; it was time to do something about it. I knew there were some things we could do – namely, more nipple stimulation and walking stairs – but I wanted to do that at the Midwife Center, because it’s business time. If that didn’t work, then I was done: we were going to the hospital, and I would get an epidural and what pitocin I needed to finish this. This baby was coming out that night, and I didn’t care how anymore.
The trip to the Center was another tough one, but this time was different. No social skills, no talking, just contractions. When they declared me 5 cm. dialated and pretty much effaced, that was good news – the bad news, a second midwife confirmed, was that she was direct OP. Meaning completely posterior, and probably nothing to be done about it.
I expressed my desires: let’s get to work! But the pee test that they did when I walked in the door indicated ketones in my urine. In other words, I hadn’t been eating or drinking enough, and I was probably too weak and dehydrated to try anything as vigorous as nipple stim and walking. They came up with an alternative plan: they would give me IV fluids to strengthen me, and see if breaking my water put me over the edge into active labor. That sounded fine to me – any suggestion that involved moving forward sounded more than fine – and I asked if I could get in the tub. I thought they might say no, since I knew getting in the tub can slow things down if you get in too soon, but they thought this was a fine idea. Weirdly, they were unable to break my water; I didn’t know that was even possible. Maybe the bag wasn’t bulging, or the membrane was just too thick? Either way, after three tries they decided I should just get in the tub. I don’t remember disappointment or worry; I was in a haze of pain and survival.
- Jared helps me through a contraction in between failed attempts to break my water.
Active Labor: In the Tub
I always thought that laboring in a tub would be an experience of glorious relief, of peace and oneness with nature or something. But when I was in the tub, I was at the end of my rope. The contractions didn’t seem to be relieved by the water, and there were no comfortable positions. My support team (I could barely tell them apart at this point) couldn’t very easily reach around me to apply counterpressure.
After a small number of contractions, Annie came in to check on me. I told her, straight up, no reservations, I’m done. I can’t do this anymore; the tub isn’t helping; I need something to happen.
Now, if you know anything about labor, you know this sounds like transition talk. It certainly occurred to everyone else there that I might be going into transition. But here’s what was in my head: the contractions didn’t seem any longer or more regular or more intense; I thought I was still in early labor, but that my pain tolerance was just gone. I thought, well, here I am still in early labor, and I can’t handle it. If I can’t handle this, there’s no way I can get through active labor and transition; that might actually kill me. I was thinking of the posters from childbirth class that said active labor lasts 5-6 hours, transition up to an hour, and pushing up to two hours, and I knew straight up I did not have 6-9 hours left in me.
We discussed going to Mercy, but they said they would check me first. So I hauled out of the shower, got back on the bed, and they checked and said I was at 8 cm.
8?! From 5 to 8 centimeters? I was in that tub for half an hour. They asked me what I wanted to do, but I stared blankly in between rushes of pain – what does this even mean? I think it was Carrie who said, “That means you’re almost there! You’re about to go into transition!” This was a complete game change, and I just submitted to it. That means I can keep trying right here. This means this might actually happen. This means this might happen soon.
(In retrospect, I have been told that sometimes active labor contraction patterns are different with a posterior baby. So I may have been in active labor for longer, but it just didn’t fit the pattern expected. From my perspective, the extra pain from back labor was so bad that I think my dehydrated body knew I couldn’t handle 5-6 hours of it without a little extra space.)
Transition: Half Hour in the Shower
I asked if the tub had a shower, and they said yes. I wanted more water on my person, but I wasn’t lying down anymore – I was aware of almost nothing but my body’s demands, and my body said to stand. Jared had gotten his swim trunks on somewhere in there, and was in beside me, applying pressure to my back. But I think I only had three or four contractions when something different was happening. At the end of each contraction, I felt an urge to push that ripped a gutteral yell from my throat. I said what was happening, and they had me get back out of the shower and onto the bed. When I was on the bed they checked me again, and I vaguely heard them say something about 10 cm with a lip. I was slow to notice the wetness spreading everywhere, and slow to realize that was my bag of waters finally breaking.
The urge to push was so weird because I found I had to yell. And not just any yell, but a loud, gutteral, fricative sound from my throat. The only comparison – and it may even have occurred to me at the time – was from Star Wars V: the terrible yell Luke let out while falling down the reactor shaft, having just found out Darth Vader was his father. (I don’t know if the yell is just a special edition thing; I grew up on the special editions so I wouldn’t know. Yes, that also means I never heard the “yub yub song” until last year.) In the movie, I’ve always thought that yell was a terrible mood spoiler, as Luke sounds like Fozzie Bear going on his first roller coaster. But – and I hope you think this is as hilarious as I do – it’s the closest comparison I have to the sounds I was making while on hands and knees, and they were completely involuntary. I felt like they were being ripped out of my esophagus. My throat was quite sore the next day, and for a couple of days after that felt a bit numb!
But that lip meant that I couldn’t quite push yet, so they had me “trying not to push.” This is among the worst forms of torture, not because it’s that painful, but because you’re having to fight something completely overpowering. They told me to “blow through them,” which meant I was also fighting with my own yells. This went on for at least half an hour, maybe longer; somewhere in there they put me on my side to check me again and I didn’t terribly want to get back on hands and knees. So I didn’t.
Finally Theresa, the other midwife present (Annie is new, so she always has company, though she’s quite capable), checked me and decided the “lip” was just tissue. This meant – Glory be and hallelujah! – that I could push.
Pushing meant all hands on deck; I was at the center of the most incredible group effort that I have ever experienced. Jared was at my head (I was lying across the bed this whole time); at some point he grabbed my hands and I started pulling back with all my might. We’d learned in our childbirth class that, when side lying, it can really help strengthen your pushes to have something to pull on with your arms and push against with your upper leg, and this was certainly true. Jared was solid and I didn’t hold back. Carrie, Megan, and a nurse (I think it was Ashley, but don’t ask me to be sure) swapped out three other stations: someone was behind me, putting pressure on my back; someone else was holding my leg up during contractions; someone else had a knee at the bottom of the back for me to rest my leg on between contractions because I couldn’t put it all the way down (someone was in the way of my pelvis bending back!). Add to that two midwives at my southern end, doing who knows what, and there were six people jumping into action with every contraction. (All of them had the extremely good sense to pick up the camera when they had a spare second.) Jared said that this meant some incredible moments in between contractions, with six people standing around me, silent and attentive, waiting for the next one to start. Then when it started, six people would take their positions to take me through the next one.
As for me, my attention was completely on telling my body to comply with the directions I was receiving. They had me curl my back around as much as possible with every contraction, and tuck my chin down as far as I could. I assume this was because baby was posterior, and I had to work hard to curve her back so her head would come down when its natural inclination is to push back into my spine. At some point, they had me start holding my breath instead of yelling, and then things got very effective (and much quieter). At the beginning of pushing someone was counting for me, telling me to push for a count of 8 or 10 repeatedly until the contraction was over. Whoever initiated this stopped after a while and Jared took this up; his voice was my measure of my effort for the rest of the process.
Actually birthing a baby was one of the weirdest sensations ever. When I really got into pushing, with breath held and chin tucked, it actually took the pain of the contraction away, so I was motivated to be efficient. With nearly every push, and definitely every contraction, I could feel her slide down a little further past the base of my spine and my tailbone. (No wonder my tailbone was sore for days.)
Eventually a head was parting my labia, but not staying between contractions; then they said it was staying. Jared had asked to catch her, so he went down to the foot of the bed and someone else got the job of holding my hands while I pulled. Between contractions I reached down and felt for her head; I was shocked at how squishy it was! It was squishier than one of those gel stress balls. I said something like, “It’s so squishy and weird!” Jared reached out and felt it, and said “It’s kinda like a mushroom.” Somehow, the next words out of my mouth were “The most beautiful mushroom in the world!” Who knew that in the midst of all that I could find a random capacity for hilarity. Or what passes for hilarity when you have so few brain cells left for extraneous activity.
- It seemed to take a long time to go from crowning to out, perhaps because we were so close but I still couldn’t believe this was actually happening. When it did happen, the “out” happened all in one contraction. The burning sensation around my perineum had slowly increased with every push, and suddenly it peaked and I had a yell that went up a few steps. “That’s the ring of fire,” I heard Carrie say. There was the wild, bumpy sensation of her face, cheeks and nose and mouth, pushing past the front of my vagina. The contraction was still over, but I was told to keep pushing. I wasn’t sure it was working, but after a few pushes they got a shoulder out, and the rest of her slithered out in an instant.
And a Baby!
Out she came and she was right there. I found out later that Annie got her head and shoulders and Jared got her body and behind, and together they guided her onto me. She was laying on a towel, kind of on and next to me, and someone was rubbing her all over. She took a few seconds to cry, so they suctioned her a bit. The first cry was a little weak, but quickly it was all wet, mucus-y newborn screams. In the series of pictures some saint caught, you can see her pink up before her first minute of earthside life. Her one and five minute APGAR scores were 8 and 9!
It was funny – I expected this amazing, euphoric bonding experience right afterwards, but mostly I just felt confused and really crappy. My legs were shaking; I had to push out the placenta (mercifully quickly and in one piece); they started messing with my perineum pretty quickly, and I couldn’t see. That was the weirdest thing – I had pushed so hard with my eyes clamped shut that I’d misshapen my eyeballs or something, and everything was blurry. I wanted to see her, to cuddle her and be comfy with her, but failing that, I just touched her all over. She’d been repositioned right on my chest, and I felt her little head and hands and arms and back and tried to memorize that moment.
Finally all the horrible stitching and other messing with my parts was finished, and I got to be repositioned on the bed normally. We tried to breastfeed a bit, but something went awkward about her positioning, and she started turning blue. “Why is she blue?” I asked through my slowly-lifting haze. Carrie and/or Megan ran out of the room to get the midwives from next door, and she was fine after they gave her a bit of oxygen. They went ahead and did her newborn exam then, tested her blood sugar (it was a little low, not surprising considering my state in labor), and gave her the vitamin K shot. Jared won the daddy award for asking to hold her during the shot so it was a little less traumatic. Soon she was back with me, and we had some successful feeding in the football hold – which remained the only reliable position for us for a couple of days.
I felt odd, like I was supposed to be more emotional and wasn’t. I knew that little person being checked out by the midwives was my daughter, but I was confused that I didn’t feel attached yet. Jared seemed more attached, thinking to hold her during the shot, and I felt bad that I hadn’t thought of it. (He says we were just physically drained from a very long day and emotionally drained from our musical crying time earlier.)
But a little later, when I could see again, and everyone else but Jared had left, she was exhibiting hungry signs and fussing a bit but I couldn’t get her to latch. So I tried just holding and comforting her. She settled into a quiet alert state and just stared into my eyes. These beautiful, inexplicably dark grey eyes, in this face that looked so much like my own baby picture had. And I just cried and cried. She was here. My little girl was here. And that was that; I was her mother.
Let me confess first, I think I was a little smug about labor going into this. The fact is, nothing on the planet could actually have prepared me to experience a level of pain that was so much higher than anything I had experienced before. Never will I ever look down on a woman who choses an epidural, especially without the benefit of an incredible, pro-natural support team like I had. One of my first thoughts after she came out was “Why would anyone do this more than once?!” I’m pretty much over that now, but it took a couple days.
My main reaction to the entire experience was a mixture of shock and gratefulness. I don’t think I really understood that my heart’s desire, a natural, non-interventive birth at the Midwife Center, was actually going to happen until I felt that first urge to push in the shower. In so many ways, this was happening to me, and all I could do was react with as much good sense as I had in the moment. And I couldn’t get through any given moment without at least three or four people around to support me through it.
During pushing, everyone around me was encouraging me, telling me how strong I was and how great I was doing. And afterwards they kept telling me that I had been so strong. I didn’t know how to react to this; I kept thinking “but I had so much help!” Around day 2 I realized that I had been thinking that strength is contingent on independence. I can see now that I was strong – I was incredibly strong. And I had a lot of help. I was strong through others. There were so many points, both during pregnancy and in labor, when it seemed like things were about to go off the rails into intervention-land or hospital-land. And we had to fight hard to keep our vision in sight. But at the same time, there were so many pieces we didn’t orchestrate: a birth instructor (who we only ended up with because the midwife center’s classes were full) who directed us to the doctor who got her to turn head-down. Having the idea to try turning with an epidural, which no one had offered us before. The fact that I’m friends with a trained doula and that our pastor is a la leche league leader, and that they both live less than a mile away. The fact that my husband is so supportive, and got himself thoroughly educated. The fact that the IV fluids and tub actually worked, and quickly enough to enable my body to do what I had failed to fuel it for. So I am proud of what we did, and what I did, but mostly I am overwhelmed with thankfulness and relief. The Lord answered my prayers, and he did it in such a way that I knew the magnificence of what I was receiving. And for that too, I am thankful.
If the burden seems too much to bear
The end will justify the pain it took to get us there.