This birth story is shared with permission from childbirth educator Mary Ester Malloy, featuring JJB clients Mandy and Tim. It first appeared on her website mindfulbirthny.com.
Whenever I think about my birth story, the song, “All This and Heaven Too” by Florence and the Machine, plays in my mind. The lyrics encompass the massiveness of this experience: “Words were never so useful/ So I was screaming out a language that I never knew existed before…”
The language of birth is different – separate from the everyday world, and the love I feel is larger than any I have ever known and words somehow always fall short of expressing the depth of my emotion. This new love is overflowing in me and has spread to other parts of my life. I am now more in love with my partner, myself, and the world, in addition to being more in love with this amazing little human than I ever thought was possible.
Labor began for me at 11:30 pm on Saturday May 19, 2013. Tim and I were getting ready for bed when I began having strong period-like cramps. They were strong enough that I could not lay down with him and sleep. I did want him to get sleep however, so I cryptically said “I am going to lay on the couch and will get you if I need you.”
During this time I looked on the Internet for “signs labor is starting” to see what other women’s experiences were (even though I knew very well what the signs were!). I got out all of our birthing supplies, made a shopping list for Tim so we could have snacks for our birth team and tried to rest. By 1:00 am I had to really breath through contractions and they seemed to be very close together, but I was not timing them.
At 4:00 am I got into the shower because I knew I was really in labor and I wanted to be clean for my birth (an ironic thought, when I consider how much time Tim and I spent in the shower later). When I left the shower, I decided that I could not handle the labor on my own any longer, and I woke up Tim. I opened our bedroom door and the only thing I could manage to say before another contraction caused me to squat on the ground was “Tim, I need you”.
This particular Sunday morning was a special one at my Unitarian Universalist congregation. It was the day of our Coming Of Age Service, where my mentee, Charlotte, was to present her beliefs to the congregation. When Tim came out of the bathroom he asked me if it was “time to go” thinking we had to leave for service. I answered, “If we were going to the hospital, yes!”
The time from 4:30 am until about 9:00 am is a bit of a blur. The contractions were too intense for Tim to leave to get the items on the shopping list, and I found I could only handle them when on hands and knees. Tim kept telling me they were close together, and we noticed a pattern of one small contraction and one big contraction. We decided to time them – and they were 3 minutes apart and 45 seconds long. I sent an e-mail at 7:30 am to let my mentee and others know that I would not be at the service, and we e-mailed our Doula, Karen to let her know we were in labor and would need her soon. We then called our midwife, whose name is also Karen, to let her know I had started labor. She wanted to speak with me so she could get a sense of my contractions. She said that since the contractions were close together and that I could only labor on my hands and knees that it sounded like the baby was posterior and that you do not get much of a break with posterior presenting babies.
The posterior position was something I had been worrying about and I had been doing exercises from spinningbabies.com to try to turn the baby before birth, but it seemed like it had not worked! The whole time in my womb, he was side lying, with his hand up by his chin, so we were not sure if the birth position would be posterior or anterior.
Karen advised me to take a bath and submerge my belly for 20 minutes. She also advised that I eat protein. Tim ran me a bath and put lavender oil in the tub for me. The tub felt like absolute heaven and my contractions slowed a bit. I knew Tim needed to blow up our birth pool and that he had to get a part from the hardware store and tools from his truck. I told him that I felt like he could leave me while I was in the bath and he quickly went to pick up the connector for the hose and tools. When he came back he made me scrambled eggs, which I ate in the tub, and he blew up and started to fill our birth pool.
When it was time to get out of the tub, we called our midwife back who said that Karen the Doula should join us. We called her and she said she was on her way. Shortly after placing that call, my water broke. I called out to Tim “I am leaking!” Then a huge gush came out of me. He called Karen the Midwife to let her know my water broke and she said that she was on her way. I went into the bathroom to clean myself off, and I felt another gush of water coming out of me. I looked down at the floor and a pee soup-like substance was on the ground and I knew immediately that it was meconium and that this was a warning sign. I told Tim that there was meconium and to “get Karen the Midwife on the phone right away” He called Karen and she said that her assistant lived close and was on the way to check on the baby.
Since there was meconium in the water, and I had been laboring for some, time I thought that the rest of labor would go quickly. I sent an e-mail to a list we had made of people who wanted to know when I went into labor letting them know labor had begun, and Tim called my mom and told her it was time to come (we did not let anyone know who long I had been laboring already!).
I had a little reprieve when the water broke, and I felt OK for a few minutes. Tim and I continued to labor together until Jill the Midwife Assistant came and checked the baby’s heartbeat – which was strong and stable. By this time I was getting really tired. I labored until Karen the Midwife came and she let us know that since there was meconium in the water, that we would labor at home as long as the baby’s heart rate was strong, but that we would have to transfer to the hospital if the baby’s heart rate dropped. Tim and I agreed. We were both concerned about the meconium, but we also both had complete trust in the knowledge and experience of our midwife and knew that she would make the best decisions about our care.
After some time, Karen told me it would be ok to get in the pool. I did and again the water felt like sweet heaven! I actually had a bit of a break in the tub and was able to fall asleep for 2 -3 minutes between contractions. While I was in the tub Doula Karen came, as well as a surprise visit from Tim and my sister and my Mom arrived. We have some beautiful pictures of Tim, my Mom, my Sister and Doula Karen helping me labor in the tub.
After some time in the pool, Karen the midwife wanted me to get out of the tub so my contractions could speed back up. Tim and I labored on all fours until Karen suggested that we use the rebozo to try to spin the baby. Karen and Jill wrapped the rebozo around my belly and first Karen alone, and then Karen and Jill took turns pulling on each side of the rebozo during contractions to try to spin the baby to an mandy karen rebozoanterior position. We then went to the bed to try a side lying maneuver to spin the baby; where I would lay on the edge of the bed on my side, supported by Tim and my Doula and I would hang my top leg off the bed while keeping everything else straight. This was extremely painful – and after two contractions I asked to stop to move to the other side, which we did not need to do. I took a breath and held the position for one more contraction. The baby did not change position.
Karen decided to check my dilation to make sure I was progressing since the presence of meconium is a warning sign. After all these hours of labor I was “only” 5 centimeters dilated. I knew from my birth class that this was just one sign of how far along you were in labor, and that I could be 5 centimeters going on 9 easily. I also knew that I needed to trust the process. However, it was very frustrating to hear and took me a few minutes and some coaching from my doula, midwife, and Tim to move on from the exam. Since there was meconium in the water, Karen the Midwife said we would need to check again in two hours to make sure I was progressing – I made a note to myself that we would need to check my dilation at 8:00pm.
Since this had been hard news, Karen the midwife suggested to Tim and I that we brush our teeth – I think so that we could have a new start to the labor. I then got back in the pool where I again had some breaks, and was able to identify that one of the reasons I was also having a hard time was a pain in my uterus that began after the contractions ended – almost like a bruise on the inside. This spot hurt for days after labor, and I decided it was from the baby’s elbow pushing against me as my uterus was trying to turn him (this however, has not been confirmed!). While I was in the tub I noted that it was 8:00 pm and I told the Karen that it was time to check my dilation! She told me it was too early to check and I replied “but you said two hours!” She again told me we should wait some more and I agreed. My doula, at our follow up appointment, said she was amazed that no matter how deep I got into labor, somehow my analytical mind did not turn off –I was aware of things they were sure I would never be aware of. For instance, my sister decided to leave while I was in the tub the first time because she did not want to witness me in pain. I heard her keys jingling and asked, “Are keys jingling because we are going to the hospital?”
After laboring in the tub, Karen the midwife told me that we needed to get out and I did. We decided that I should get IV antibiotics in case I did need to go to the hospital, since I also had a positive Step B test. I had taken vaginal antibiotics for the Strep B, but we did not have enough time to get a negative result back from my labs. I labored on the futon while they gave me the antibiotics, and after the antibiotics Karen gave me some IV fluids. The IV fluids really helped a great deal.
During this whole time I was in what Tim calls “a zombie-like state” however, something changed with the fluid. I asked Karen the Midwife if we could get in the shower, and she thought that would be great. The ironic thing was that every time I had to go to the bathroom I would tell my birth team that I hated the bathroom, when really I just hated sitting on the toilet because it hurt. Tim and I got in the shower and the hot water on my back was very helpful. He sat on the tub ledge and I labored leaning against him alternating between standing up and sitting on the birth ball. The beginning time in the shower was really magical for Tim and I. It was the first time during the labor that I actually connected to the fact that we were having a baby. I kept saying, “Tim, we are having a baby!” Tim and I spent time looking in each other’s eyes, telling each other we loved each other and kissing. Aside from the actual moment of birth — this was my favorite part of the labor. We were so alive and connected.
mandy mom and tim
I continued to labor in the shower where I vomited and more of my mucus plug fell away.
Throughout the whole birth I used moans to help me get through the contractions. The hard part was that in birth class we often counted to ten on our out breaths to simulate a contraction. My contractions were not regular – there would be a long contraction that would be up to a minute and 45 seconds, and then short ones. When I got to ten on the long contractions I would panic internally and start telling everyone that I could not do it! I told my team often that I could not handle the labor and one time I looked at everyone and said, “We need to go to the hospital” Tim calmly looked at me and said “Why?” I did not have an answer so I just put my head down and kept laboring. In my mind I wanted to go to the hospital so I could nap and keep laboring, but this is not what would have happened in a hospital setting. My team was wonderful at reminding me that I could handle the contractions, just like I had handled the previous contraction.
Throughout the birth I kept feeling like I was doing something wrong because I honestly thought I would be able to handle the pain better. I kept asking, “Am I doing something wrong?” Everyone assured me I was not. In retrospect, this really highlights how judgmental I am of myself. The whole team kept telling me that I was doing great and that there was no right way to labor.
I then decided to get out of the shower because it was very hot and we labored standing up for some time and then on the futon again. A saving grace throughout the birth was the cold compresses on my head. Everything was soaked after the birth – the futon, the pillows, because I needed them on my head constantly whether I was in the tub, the shower, or out on the futon.
Since the pain was intense, I decided to use some tricks from the Ina May Gaskin books. I used horse lips, and when I started doing this, my Doula said “loose lips, loose vagina” which Tim thought was hysterical. I also remembered the books saying to let your monkey do the labor. Well, I did not feel like a monkey, since they are so agile. I thought to myself, what animal do I feel like? The answer that came to me was a cow, so I started mooing through contractions. I didn’t tell anyone my thought process, so they were surprised to hear me mooing on the futon!
I also used the mantra ‘pain is good, good pain’ to try to welcome the contractions and not push against them so my body would open. After laboring in the living room, I wanted the comfort of the shower. Tim and I went into the shower, which was again a big release.
During labor, the person I most wanted was Tim. So much so that when were in the shower he had to pee – I told him to just pee! He said he would rather not pee in his shorts and I let him get out of the shower but told him he had to hurry up.
Two internal exams later, I was 9 centimeters dilated and Karen asked me if I wanted her to pull back the rest of the cervix. I was scared so I said no. Karen let me labor for 1 – 2 more hours, and then she said, “Let’s have this baby.” I asked her “Where?” she answered, “Right here!” I rolled over, and she gave me an internal exam. She explained that I did not have the urge to push because of the position of the baby – he was not pressing on my perineum. She explained that there was still some cervix left, so she would pull it back while I pushed during a contraction.
She also explained that the best position to push out a posterior baby was actually while I was on my back, even though this went against everything that is written in the birth literature. I agreed to push on my back and she said she would apply pressure to my perineum so I could feel the urge to push.
At first, I could not figure out how to push and it took me a few contractions to get the hang of pushing. Once I figured it out though we were full steam ahead! Karen was able to pull back the rest of the cervical lip, and I felt like I did not need her fingers anymore to help me push. I told my team to really put pressure on my legs and to push up my back so I could form a C. I pushed with all of my might each time. There were two people holding each leg, and Tim was pushing my back up for me. After my first hard push I could tell from my midwife’s face that she was impressed with how much I was able to move the baby. She told me that my perineum was stretching beautifully and asked if I was feeling any pain and I honestly was not! There was a few times that I told my team to “push my legs harder” and “really push on my back!” I did feel the ring of fire as his head crowned, but it was over quickly and Gabriel came out with his little hand right next to his head! His head came and then his hand came out like a diver! I then watched the rest of his body come out – and it seemed like he was so long. I felt like the baby was just going to come out forever. Karen had explained to us that she might need to work on the baby after the birth so as he came out we all anxiously awaited his cry, which came quickly. I knew she did not need to work on him so I put my hands out and she passed me my beautiful baby boy! My Mom, Tim, and I were crying and my mom asked, “What is it?” Tim told her it was a boy. I pushed him out in only 45 minutes, at 1:12 am on May 20, 2013. He was absolutely the most perfect thing I have every seen in my entire life and I was so glad that we were able to give birth to him safely at home.
The fact that we were able to labor at home even with some warning signs speaks to the knowledge, skill, and expertise of my birth team. I am so thankful for the team. I could not imagine giving birth any other way – even with the long, hard labor. I am also thankful for the amazing reproductive justice advocates who are part of the Reproductive Justice Committee of the Unitarian Society I attend. They introduced me to home birth about 4 years ago and the work we have done together gave me strength and knowledge to draw from during this experience. I am thankful that my Mom, although I am sure scared, stuck it out and was there to help my birth team by supplying coffee and food (what a Mom!) as well as taking an active part in her first Grandchild’s birth. My partner, Tim was absolutely amazing, never leaving my side and believing in me and the process. He did not let me give up and I am so thankful. I could not have asked for more love and support. My gratitude, like my love, is also beyond words.