Our story starts at 37 weeks pregnant, which was the first time I went into labor.
I woke up at 4am with contractions, mainly in my back. They were strong enough to keep me out of bed. I thought this was it, and called Debbie (my midwife) at 6am. My mom came over and stayed with me that day, but in the afternoon the contractions went away. Still, we thought the real thing would be at any moment.
This same thing happened again a couple more times, so when I hit 40 weeks I was quite surprised to still be pregnant. I didn’t even reach my due date in either of my other pregnancies. At my 40 week appointment I was so over being pregnant. I had Debbie check my cervix and wanted her to strip my membranes. To my dismay she could barely even reach my cervix, and it was still thick and about 1-2cm dilated. This is unusual for me too, as I had dilated to 4cm by no later than 39 weeks in previous pregnancies. I went home crying, sure I would never go into labor.
The next day I wrote out a pep-talk to myself: you WILL go into labor… your body grew this baby, your body can birth this baby… It helped. Over the next two weeks I had a few more bouts of prodromal labor, but it always fizzled out, even after lasting a whole day. I was desperate to have this baby, and trying everything to get her out.
Christmas came, still pregnant.
42 weeks, Oy! The next day (42+1) I called Debbie to talk options. I was DONE. I was pretty sure that if she broke my water I’d go quick, but neither of us really wanted to do that cold. We also discussed doing a biophysical profile with the OB on Monday, but I didn’t like that much either. We finally decided to try stripping my membranes again, and if that triggered labor Debbie would come break my water. We were committing–no fizzling out this time. At the appointment I measured 37 weeks and wondered if the baby was losing weight. Ha!
Anyway, the stripping worked and on the way home I started having some decent contractions, about two minutes apart. They remained consistent throughout the car ride and during a brisk walk with my mom at home. After about an hour of consistent contractions I called Debbie to tell her I was in labor, and she said she’d come over. I also called my sister Jenny and friend (and doula) Pam.
We packed the girls off with my dad, and Jamie, my mom, and I waited, me laboring on the birth ball. Jenny arrived, followed by Rachael, Corrinna (the apprentices), and Pam. I felt strange that all these people were here to watch me, and a little self-conscious. Were there too many people? Later I’d be grateful for all those hands… Debbie was the last to arrive, having been detained by a flat tire! Thankfully it was fixed quickly and she arrived around 3pm. We went into the bedroom where she checked my cervix, and found me to be about 3-4cm but very thin and stretchy. We decided to go ahead with breaking my water.
I could tell with the next contraction that things had changed.
Ow! Now THAT was more like it! I asked Jamie to fill the birth pool. The contractions were rapidly gaining strength. I went into the hallway to breathe through one and saw Debbie come toward me beaming. She said “I’m sorry, but I’m just so happy to see you in pain!” Me too, Debbie. Me too.
It was getting intense, quickly. I wanted to get in the pool but it wasn’t ready. I used the 30 seconds I had between each contraction to get ready for the tub–take off clothes (breathe, sway), put on sports bra (move, moan), put hair in pigtails (pant, breathe, lean on Pam). I think Debbie was a little shocked at just how quickly this had worked–I was vocalizing not even 15 minutes after breaking my water.
I got in the pool before it was full. We had run out of hot water. I was pissed. I snapped at Jamie for not divining that the hot water would run out and planning accordingly. This marked the beginning of transition. I was shaking badly. The tub wasn’t hot enough so they were boiling water with every pot we had, plus our electric kettle (handy little thing). I was also beginning to complain that my uterus wasn’t completely relaxing between contractions. This feeling intensified until the contractions were just rolling on top of each other with no break in between.
What I would’ve given for a 30 second break!
My back killed, I HAD to have pressure, massage, hot water on my lower back. All at once. Harder. Not there, over there. Harder! I had four pairs of hands pressing on my back, and it wasn’t enough. I had to move my body. Bounce. Sway. I wanted to get up and run away, but I knew I couldn’t walk even if I tried.
This all lasted about an hour and a half. It felt crazy, chaotic, intense. Out of control. But I managed. I had no choice. I tried to let it roll over me. I did whatever I needed to at each moment just to survive. There was no such thing as comfort, just “ok, this will work for a minute”. The next minute it might not, but we’ll deal with that later. I went from silent to growling to crying to laughing. Yes! I laughed again, just like in Juliet’s birth! I LOVE that. I laughed hysterically at nothing in particular. It was the easiest moment of my labor, even though I roared through the next contraction.
Throughout this time I steadily began feeling more pressure until I was bearing down a little with the contractions. Debbie checked me at one point and I was 8-9, although I didn’t really care how far along I was. If the baby was still in me it wasn’t far enough. I never got the overwhelming urge to push like my last birth, just really intense pressure. When I would push in earnest I’d get a bad cramp in my butt, so I had to take it easier.
I’d push through some contractions, then breathe through some.
I had a lip, then it was gone. Debbie told me the baby was right there, feel her! Push her out! (easy for you to say). Push! Ow! Cramp! Stop pushing! Push again! Ow! Finally the pushing felt different and I could feel her coming down. Ring of fire. High pitched scream. Crowning…this is it…maybe…no? Still crowning. Half of head out. Why is this taking so long? Head out. Yay! Now this is really it…maybe…no…
At this point things get a little hazy for me. I remember what happened but not really how it felt. It seemed quick and so slow at the same time. I was semi-sitting as I pushed the head out. When Debbie told me to flip onto my hands and knees, the doula in my head immediately turned to that page in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth about the Gaskin Maneuver. Shoulder Dystocia.
Don’t think, just do what she tells me. Stand up. No, this isn’t working. Walk (waddle) to the bed. I end up on my hands and knees, gripping the headboard, pushing with all my might while Debbie pulls desperately on the baby’s head. Please, baby, please come out! I had no urge to push, but was trying as hard as I could. Still not working. Flip over, Melanie. Knees to your ears. PUSH!
“Debbie, just cut me if you need to!”
“Trust me, that wouldn’t help.”
I don’t remember the pain, but I remember how hard it was. How ineffective it felt. Everyone around me encouraging me, begging me to push, and feeling like it wasn’t doing a damn thing. How much time has gone by?
Debbie finally reaches her arm inside me, behind the head, and releases the shoulder that is stubbornly caught on my pubic bone. I feel the baby come out of me. Finally! I cry. I can’t look down, not yet. I’m waiting. Debbie is rubbing the baby with a towel. Then I hear it, the sound I’m waiting for. A sweet baby cry. Oh my God! The sweetest sound in the whole world. I cry harder and look down at my baby. My relief in this moment is as powerful as the contractions that were gripping my body minutes ago. Debbie places Virginia on my belly and I meet my baby girl. She is beautiful and perfect. And HUGE. Its like those movie birth scenes where they hold up the obviously 3-month-old baby and pretend its a newborn. Yeah right, nice try guys.
An initial check reveals a brachial plexus palsy in her right arm, a tender neck, and some bruising, but otherwise Virginia has come away unscathed. We try nursing but she’d rather just rest awhile (can you blame her?). I just stare out her, overwhelmed by everything.
We all slowly start breathing normally again, and then even begin smiling, laughing, joking. Crisis over! A child is born! Joy! About 90 minutes later Debbie does the newborn exam. The moment of truth: Debbie weighs Virginia. “Mind if I snicker?”, she says after reading the scale to herself. She turns it around and we all shriek. 10 pounds!! What?! I just gave birth to a 10 pound baby. In my bed. At home. Surrounded by people I love and trust. More Joy. My heart swells. What an experience!
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