40 weeks & 2 days:
Prodromal labor began and would last all the way until true labor began a week and a day later. I would contract consistently for many hours at a time before they would stop, only to start again a few hours later. These contractions didn't always hurt but were strong enough they weren't easy to ignore. It's important to me to include this time as part of this story because start-and-stop labor is hard. It's very difficult mentally and emotionally. This wasn't a new experience for me, as I had experienced this with my previous pregnancies. But my experience and knowledge doesn't make me immune to the emotional ups and downs of "maybe this is it...no, it's not" or the mental fortitude it takes to remain positive through it. There were many days I texted my doula (and dear friend!) to just tell someone how I felt during this time. I needed to hear "yes, this is hard" or "you're doing great" just as much as any laboring woman does, doula or not.
41 weeks & 2 days (Thanksgiving Day):
About 3:00pm, the feasts of the day had been devoured and I'd retreated to rest in a quiet space. It was much more difficult for me to pass the 41 week mark than it was the 40. My previous two children where late term babies, and I fully expected this one to be as well. So, right or wrong, in my mind that 41 week day is my "due date" and when I really beginning to get restless. So, I retreated from company when the mood struck me. This is when I noticed the contractions had changed. I can't tell you exactly how, they simply felt different. After an hour of these new contractions, I texted my doula to tell her they felt different and vent about my anxiety that they would soon stop. I wanted to continue laying down and pretend I knew for certain these where going to stay for a little while longer. So, I did. I remained where I was until it was time for a dinner of Thanksgiving food left overs and pie. I rejoined my family and even played games for the next few hours, back to trying to ignore the consistent, different contractions. Before heading to bed, I told my husband and my mother that I was pretty sure these were the real deal and that labor would most likely pick up that evening. I was nervous to tell them this because I didn't want to be wrong. Yet, I was more certain than I'd ever been that this was it. I'd only told them "maybe these will turn into labor contractions" earlier in the week so when I said "I'm pretty sure this is it" they trusted me better than I did myself and began to prepare themselves. Off to bed we all went.
41 weeks & 3 days:
1:00am - I woke up for one of my many bathroom trips and noticed these "new" contractions where closer together. I resisted the urge to time them because I was pretty sure I could sleep through them and didn't want to get too excited to sleep. Sure enough, I was able to get back to sleep easily.
2:30am - I woke again, but this time when I returned from the bathroom I knew I wouldn't be sleeping anymore that night. They were stronger and closer together. I timed four contractions, noting they were about 30-55 seconds long and about 5 minutes apart. They were notably uncomfortable and quickly became painful, with the pain being mostly in my back and hips. I remained in bed and didn't intentionally wake anyone. My husband woke on his own shortly, however, probably from my shifting positions as the pain in my back quickly became enough that I needed to move during the contraction. All times from here on out are approximate as I did not pay as much attention to the time.
4:00am - I had labored in the bed in the dark for the next several hours. I felt excited that this was finally labor and my baby would be here soon! But, I had some worries in the back of my mind about knowing when to call my doula and midwife as timing the contractions showed them to be 45-60 seconds long and roughly 5 minutes apart still yet. I have longer labors and wanted to make it until later in the morning before calling. At this point, I needed to get up on my hands and knees and rock back and forth during contractions. Between, I would lay down or sit down but was unable to sleep. I cried fairly often simply because I was tired and, as much as I wanted to meet my baby, I also wanted to sleep. I would cry often during the labor, something I didn't do as much of during my previous labors. My husband was my constant support during this time. He talked with me between contractions to distract me, rubbed my back when it felt right to me, or waited quietly for it to be finished when touching didn't help me.
5:30am - It was getting harder to deal with the contractions and my doula had to make a 2 hour trip to me so I felt it was time to call her. We did and shortly after, my husband told me it was time to call the midwife. For some background, if it was up to me during any of my labors, I would never have gone to the hospital or called the midwife because to me, it was just never time. So, I sat and cried while my husband made the calls to my midwife and my parents because in my own words, it was "too early and it will be forever until this baby is born."
6:30am - My chosen birth team had arrived and my midwife had begun checking on my baby's heart tones and tracking my progress from "the outside" (I did not have any cervical checks). At some point around this time my husband began preparing the birth pool which turned into an ordeal. We were unable to fill it as planned, so my dad began boiling water in large pots. I missed a lot of his comments, but my mom informs me he was chuckling at his own 'dad jokes' during this time, such as "looks like you really do have to boil water at a homebirth."
Labor for me at this point felt very intense physically and emotionally. I don't have cervical checks or a solid time frame to fall back on so, most of this story for me is measured in the emotional intensity that this birth was for me. I was expecting an experience closer to the "zen" feeling that was the birth of my second child. However, what I got was something that felt more to me like having an intense internal battle between my mind and body. Instead of being able to look inside myself as I did during my second, and even somewhat during my first, labors I was constantly looking for an outward focus and seeking reassurance from my husband, my mom and my doula. There wasn't just one point when I felt I lost focus that can be called my "transition stage," instead there were many moments of tears and lots of times I claimed I could not and would not do it anymore. Each time, I had lost my momentum and felt like I couldn't get ahead of the contraction. I would feel it coming from what seemed like a long time away and still felt barreled over when it came. They were like that point when the surf breaks and the ocean waves hit you so hard that if you're not braced they'll knock you over. Once you're down under the waves, the force of them keeps you under. So, there you are, just under the surface holding your breath for a long, uncomfortable moment before you can stand up again. Here are some of those hard moments that stood out to me over the next couple of hours:
I finally get in the birth pool just to discover it doesn't help with the very intense hip pain I'm experiencing. The hip pain is a different experience than my previous labors. I struggle with how to handle it my whole labor as massage or counter pressure really doesn't help in my case. In the moment. I'm devastated the pool isn't helping either. I look up to see my doula sitting there. "Oh, Renee, I can't do it," I feel the contraction and nausea build. I lock eyes with her because I need the connection and she doesn't shy away but instead holds it, braving this contraction with me. "You can do it," she says, "You are doing it," for every 'I can't' I mutter. Soon, I am also announcing I'm going to throw-up. She doesn't shy away, just holds the puke bowl while I contract and vomit and cry.
I've settled into a position on my knees with my head resting on the side of the birth pool. My mom very gently strokes my hair. During each contraction, I shift my weight onto my hands and rock back and forth. My mom remains sitting in front of me and again I seek out that eye contact. "Mommy, mommy, mommy I don't want to do it anymore," I cry as I feel another wave coming and I'm afraid it'll knock me over. "I know, baby, but you're doing great," she smooths my hair back. She's looks me in the eye and shows no fear and somehow that makes me less afraid of the contraction that feels like it's taking hold of me instead of the other way around. I hold her eyes until I have to close mine and let go.
I cry out that I need to know what's happening, that I wish someone could tell me how much longer. My midwife steps quietly into my line of sight. She calmly offers to check me. She explains that she can see that my baby is moving down and that the end is coming. She offers to check my cervix, if I wish it. I nod but can't fathom trying to move into a position to be checked. A short time later, I cry out that I'm pushing and I hear her quiet, sure voice, "if that's what you need to do." I push gently with each contraction, but I can't tell you for how long. Inside, I'm growing frustrated and disappointed because I can feel something move down but once the contraction ends, it all shifts right back up. I cry out again and again she moves from behind me to in front. Offering to check me if I wish, but explaining that we are waiting for the water to break, giving me hope that once it does my baby will be in my arms very soon. I close my eyes and reluctantly give in to this process for now.
I begin to pray. No pious, "God is great, give me peace, give me strength" prayers from me. These are harsh, pleading, demanding prayers, "God break this water. Please, break this water." I turn my focus from enduring to finishing this labor because as I continue gently pushing and there's finally this great pressure and explosive sensation. I announce that "something is happening" and the real pushing begins. As my children and family gather around me, I am focused only on what's happening internally. I am aware of my children's voices but have to be told of what they said later because I'm completely consumed by my work at this point. I can really feel my baby's head moving down now and I can feel it staying lower and lower with each push; No one tells me when to push, or how to push, or to hold my breath, or not to make noise. I push several times each contraction. My baby's head is born to the tops of his ears. My husband is primed to catch and my midwife is right there every step of the way. But, our baby's head doesn't completely emerge after a few pushes and my midwife helps me shift one of my legs up into a lunge. I push again but while the head is almost out, it's not going as smoothly as it should. She instructs me to stand and get out of the tub to squat on the floor. I knew something wasn't exactly right at this point, but I wasn't afraid because I knew I was in good hands. With a lot of help, I stand and then squat.
The most enjoyable part of being at home to birth is that postpartum period. My son and I get amazing care from our midwife. But, after that, when everyone goes home and my husband and I are settling ourselves and our children...we sit there and marvel at what we've done and the peaceful, tired bliss we're left with. By far, this was our favorite part.
I would like to say I ended this birth feeling as empowered as my first and second. But, I ended this birth in doubt. Why was this one so difficult for me? I made the comment several times that "I didn't handle that well." It has taken a couple weeks for me to process and come to terms with this birth. It was not traumatic and I had fantastic support. I simply had to let go of the idea that I needed to be a superhuman; that because I am a doula, birth should have been easy for me. This birth was just as it was meant to be. It was harder because the sensations were different and it was harder to find relief. It was harder because it was more physically intense than my previous labors. I handled it the way I needed to in the moment (with a lot of tears and "I can't's"). I wasn't always calm or sure. I wasn't quiet or composed. I was just a woman in labor, like each client I serve, and I needed the space to be just a woman. My birth team gifted me that beautifully. I just needed time to gift myself with that peace. I now feel proud of myself and my whole birth team. I feel loved and whole. I am at peace and now experiencing all the joys and challenges of life postpartum without the unneeded pressure to be more than just a woman.
My doula/photographer: Renee Basham CD(BAI), Hope's Embrace
My midwife: Audrey Stewart, CPM - Cumberland Mountain Midwifery
I'm the owner of Sage Roots. Woman, wife, mother, doula, writer, bookworm, hiker, gamer, and Christian.