Monday, July 25, we had our 38 week appointment where we met the Birth Center's newest midwife, Katie. She was a student midwife early in our pregnancy but our paths had never crossed as I wasn't going frequently at that point. I found Katie to be friendly, kind, and patient... She spent a solid 40-minutes with John and I, and when we left the appointment I thought to myself, "Yeah, she could attend our birth and I'd be comfortable. At this point I was a big fan of 3 of the 4 midwives, and quietly prayed that my "4th favorite" as I called her wouldn't be on-call whenever BG McD decided to make her grand entrance.
I had been having braxton-hicks contractions since 34 weeks when I spent a day in the hospital for too many contractions too early. I spent weeks 34-37 out of work and ate all my accrued time and taking some unpaid time to avoid eating my FMLA. My HR director was kind enough to let me delay my short-term disability so I could keep my 16 weeks for after her arrival-on the condition I was able to return to work.
I only returned to work 6 [exhausting!] days before 3:27am on Tuesday, July 26th, when I was awakened by a contraction bigger than I have ever felt--it wasn't painful, but definitely caught my attention. I went to the bathroom, refilled my water bottle and just lay down and relaxed... I didn't want to wake my husband if nothing exciting was going to happen, but after an hour and a half of these new contractions almost perfectly 8 minutes apart, I poked him awake. John was scheduled for a field training and wouldn't be available by phone during the day-much to his supervisor's dismay, he wasn't going to be able to attend the training (ironically, he was making up for the day I was in the hospital and he missed the training!). I contemplated going to work for at least a half-day, however by the time I would need to get ready, I was having contractions 6 minutes apart... probably not a great idea to drive 15 miles to work.
I started my labor to-do list... eat protein and carbs, breathe, move a little. I listened to my HypnoBirthing relaxation CD, and quickly figured out I was most comfortable on my big exercise ball. After eating an omelette made by my husband with love, away I bounced [and bounced and bounced]. My contractions slowed a bit, so we went for a walk around the neighborhood. We chatted briefly with our doula, Deby, and she suggested I get some rest... Around mid-morning, my mother and sister arrived at our house. My mom made me pasta and after a small lunch, my body obliged my need for a break and I was able to nap around lunchtime with another 30-minute relaxation exercise.
I woke around 1:30 and felt unsure for a short time if my contractions would resume, they had quieted down so much for me to sleep! Within an hour they were again at 6 minutes apart, then 5 minutes apart, then 6 minutes apart. The afternoon went on this way and John filled our [seemingly small] bathtub with warm water. I brought my iPod player in there and John and my mother took turns sitting with me through contractions as I kept breathing through each wave.
For those of you who don't know, the week prior to this excitement, our smallest/youngest dog, Molly, was hospitalized and almost died from a crazy allergic reaction to a sting of some sort (we think wasp)... SHE had a follow-up vet appointment scheduled for 5:30pm. If this baby was coming tonight, we weren't going to want to reschedule for later in the week, and she really needed to see the veterinarian. My contractions were maintaining their 6-minute distance and I urged John to take Molly to her appointment. The vet is less than 2-miles away and they don't usually keep us waiting too long. He couldn't have been at the end of the driveway when all of the sudden my contractions were 4 minutes apart... my mother was sitting with me and after a few strong ones I interrupted her conversation to say, "Hey... time these, will you?!" In the 90 minutes that John and Molly were out, my mom had to call the doula, update the midwives, and the doula arrived. She sat with me and encouraged my mom to get our cooler ready. Deby was amazing, she kept me breathing through each contraction as they got bigger and stronger, observing where I was holding tension and easing my anxiety. I felt as though I was making progress with her encouragement. When John returned home, Deby calmly and quietly prompted him to pack the car, (quickly!) and give the midwife a call. To my excitement, Katie and Cathy P were on call! In less than 2 hours I went from 6 to 4 to 3 minutes apart and we had an hour-long drive! Our doula helped me get dressed and John called our friend and birth photographer, Christine. A few minutes later, we were on our way! I felt nauseous and could not focus on anything but the strength of the contractions- there was no doubt in my mind, this baby was coming... soon! John reclined the passenger seat for me and held my hand as he drove (in torrential rain, mind you) to Danbury.
When we arrived at the birth center, my contractions were so strong they were literally stopping me in my tracks, as John rang the doorbell I had to sit on the stair to breathe through a contraction. One birth center contraction down! We went inside and I had to breathe through another one before Katie could check me... 5-6 cm, almost fully effaced... I was far enough along to admit and excited that I was at least halfway dilated! I begged Katie to fill the jacuzzi tub and breathed through contractions while the bath was drawn. John climbed in and helped me in, I felt a sense of relief as I was able to lean against him under the warm water. Submerging my belly in the warmth of the tub made the contractions much less uncomfortable, and I felt a sense of calm as John held my hands and had his arms around me... this is crazy, this is intense, but I'm not alone. Our doula went to get an iPod player as our photographer arrived. Christine did an amazing job of quietly capturing our experience without being noticeable. I saw her a few times but for the most part had no idea where she was in the room. Katie set up a stool next to the tub and Deby had a chair near John's head... every so often Katie checked BG McD's heartrate on the doppler, and through each contraction Deby encouraged me to exhale lower and deeper in my sighs and eventually moans.
I had heard of "breathing the baby down" and "sounding through labor," I had even wondered what my birth sounds might be like... the answer is simple: LOUD. The bigger they got, the louder I got. By nature I do not have a higher-pitched voice, sounding my labor in low tones was a conscious challenge. In each contraction Deby talked me through bringing my moan or grunt lower and I felt my body relax and the discomfort (and some pain!) go down a notch. I thought many times during our three hours in the tub of Ina May's sayings... one that stood out for me during my time in the tub was "the contraction can never be bigger than you, because it is you." I hadn't been induced, there were no drugs in my body- these sensations I was feeling were all created by my body and my baby so she could make her way into the world- they were certainly unlike anything I have ever felt before, but they couldn't possibly be bigger than me! I also turned to my HypnoBirthing imagery, imagining my cervix opening wider with each contraction, my baby pushing down and out and on each exhale I envisioned her inching closer to us.
About 2 1/2 hours into our time in the tub, Katie suggested I move around a bit, try to change positions-I had been laying on John for a while now. As I sat up and attempted to lean forward, I quickly realized that my body was *busy!* and I had interrupted. I suddenly felt as though I would be ill and as quickly as I attempted to warn my birth team, it wasn't quick enough. I threw up on John, on a towel, in a garbage can, in another towel, and flopped back on John all in a matter of seconds! I had managed to change to a sideways position but not before my poor husband got more than he bargained for.
I spent another hour-ish on my side, moaning louder with each contraction and relaxing deeper during each break... Katie suggested I get out of the tub and try another position, I had NO desire to get out of the water but was getting fairly tired at this point and could be coaxed into trying anything. I wrapped a towel around my bottom and made my way to the birthing ball. I was still having intense sensations in my back with each contraction and my doula provided counter pressure as John held my hands.
We spent a short time in this position... Katie had spent almost the entire time with us and had been watching my progress as well as monitoring the baby's consistently strong heartrate. She said she wanted to check me, we had been at the birth center about 4 hours at this point... I was fully dilated! Katie told me I could get comfortable wherever and push when I felt the urge. I had a few urges to push in the tub, but hadn't been sure what the sensation was at the time and was breathing through them... now, it was game time!
I was exhausted and wondering about that restful period I had heard about that many women experience between 10 cm and pushing time... evidently my body skipped that because within moments of laying on the bed I felt as though my uterus was in charge- I was pushing whether I thought I was ready or not! My contractions were very close together and my body was giving me just enough downtime between them to get in 2-3 deep breaths, which I religiously took... remembering my hypnobirth counts... in 4-out 8. in 4-out 8, breathing the 8 count from my chest down through my toes.
This is the point where I truly experienced sounding my labor. I nearly lost my voice I was grunting and moaning so loudly, and John recalls (I insist not) that I almost bit his arm at one point, attempting to stifle my carnal, womanly sounds. I kept hearing Deby remind me to keep my voice low and was amazed at how much my tone affected the tension in my body. At this point, my water finally broke! I felt a sense of accomplishment and relaxation for a quick moment... I was also thankful because I have read that contractions are more intense once your waters break, and intact waters help keep the baby comfortable through labor... we made it pretty far!
I focused on keeping my groans as low as possible and each one passed... not going to lie, birth was definitely painful at this place. I was having a quick HypnoBirth but I was not having a painless one. Another Ina May favorite of mine... she reminds us that Natural birth is honest pain. once it's over, it's over. I just had to power through this pain and it would be over. If I went across the street to the hospital and got medications or interventions now, I'd probably be in pain tomorrow, or even longer... my baby could experience pain or other ill effects of interventions- this was the safest and least painful place for us to be. I didn't truly want to go across the street to the hospital per se, I just wanted to run away from the overwhelmingly intense sensations of the moment... then my thoughts went to our HypnoBirth instructor- she told us that at the point where you think you might want medication or that you can't do it anymore or that you're ready to give in, that's your body telling you it's about to happen... you're about to have a baby, right then. Sure enough, seconds later the midwives both exclaimed, "Look at all that hair!" BG McD was crowning! I had been on my side as these pictures show, and wanted to move to shimmy her down a little bit if I could. My thighs were exhausted, my back was exhausted, but somehow I managed to get on my elbows and knees... bottom in the air. For what felt like an eternity (and John said was about 6 minutes) I felt our little girl inch down and slide back up with each crazy ridiculous intense contraction. I pushed with each big wave and attempted to suck in a quick breath and give it an extra Oomph at the end of each one, I kept hearing my midwives and doula telling me she was getting closer... the RN on-call was waiting with a warm blanket. Warm blankets mean we're almost done, right? :-)
At 12:34am, Addison Grace McDonald made her Earthside entrance.
Katie helped ease her out and the midwives and nurse finagled some ninja moves to flip me over onto my back while simultaneously changing the chux pads under my bum and swinging my leg around the cord. As you may have read in our birth plan, we wanted to leave the umbilical cord pulsing as long as it decided to, ideally until the delivery of the placenta. The midwives happily obliged, although I had to rest Addison on my belly for a few minutes as the cord was somewhat short... I couldn't pull her all the way up right away. She was here! She was close enough to stare at in amazement, and a few minutes later the cord had stopped pulsing so Cathy clamped and John cut the cord (which he described as snot-covered rope, yum.). I brought Addison a bit closer to my chest and we just lay there... John, Addison, and I were all under warm blankets in the bed where I just birthed her... THIS is what natural birth is about, people! This is where it's at!
Our alert, healthy little baby stared up at us, studying our faces and recognizing our voices. She let out a few cries and snuggled against my chest.
As we requested, there were no newborn tasks done before her first feed (aside from taking her temperature, while she was on my chest). The three of us snuggled for a bit, and by the time Addison was half an hour old, she latched onto me for her first meal!
Once Addison was resting comfortably, John took her to the foot of the bed where she was weighed and measured. Everything at the Birth Center was done in our room, she was never separated from us... I think that's the way it should be with all births! John helped measure Addison and placed her on the scale, and he snuggled her as she received her Vitamin K shot--she didn't make a peep!
One look at him and you knew... he was already in love, and I was in love with both of them. After Addison's few little check-ins, the nurse brought us more pillows and checked my belly, helped me to get dressed into some pajamas, and we pulled up the covers. Addison slept between John and I in the bed where she was born. We were welcome to sleep in as late as we wanted, neither John nor I got much sleep after such an eventful and exciting night, but Addison slept well, in between her mommy & daddy... safe, warm, and secure. In the morning, we each took a long hot shower, made breakfast in the kitchen and enjoyed some relaxation time in the family room. Jessica, the admin assistant, and Cathy G, another midwife came upstairs from the medical office to visit us before we went home around lunchtime on Addison's birthday.
I couldn't have asked for a better birth experience. I was tired and sore, but just hours after giving birth, I showered myself, dressed my baby, prepared breakfast, and went home to my own house, in my own clothes. My daughter wasn't subject to any tests or treatments we did not want, and had the most peaceful, gentle birth we could give her. She never once saw cold, metal instruments, heard loud voices, or was taken to a strange place without her parents. The first bright lights she saw were those of the sun rising in our room, and the first thing she smelled when she woke up on her birthday were her parents-while she can't speak yet, I think a baby couldn't ask for more! I couldn't have asked for a more loving and supportive husband, a better birth team, or a better place to welcome our baby into the world. I am so very thankful for our midwives, our doula, our birth photographer, and my little Addison for all her hard work, too!
*The photos in this blog are some preview-quality photos from our birth photographer, Christine Paluf, she's AMAZING! Please visit her site, here's the link: Christine Paluf Photography
*This is a great blog I came across yesterday about Sounding Your Labor... it made me feel a little less silly about how loud I was :-) Sounding Your Labor: Are You In or Out of Control?
There are a few people who I must thank for making this amazing natural birth possible!
My husband, for trusting me, trusting my body, trusting our baby. For not hesitating once when I said I wanted a natural hypnobirth, when I said I wasn't going near a hospital, when I said we were going to drive an hour for all our prenatal care and that he would drive me in active labor (in the pouring rain at rush hour of course!), for his strong arms holding me in the tub, for not batting an eye when I threw up all over him, and for loving our daughter with all he has :)
My mother for not judging or criticizing my decisions, regardless of how unconventional they were compared to when she birthed. Thank you for your open mind, your support, and love.
My natural birth cheerleaders, near and far! Jen, Kelly, Becky, Kate, Jennifer, thank you all for filtering horror stories, blocking those who wanted to tell me I couldn't or wouldn't achieve this birth, thank you!
Our hypnobirth instructor, Kate, and our doula, Deby- Thank you for helping me breathe!
Last but not least, some VIB's! Very Important Bloggers! Birth Without Fear, Birth Faith, and The NonConformist Mom... you inspired me to pursue the best possible welcoming for my baby. You helped me establish faith in my own body and faith in my baby and that made a world of difference. You touch so many lives and I can't thank you enough.