As I write this, I'm 2 days postpartum, riding high on the baby hormones. In a separate post, I'll share my VBAC journey. In a really cool co-blog, I'll be joining my incredible Hypnobirthing doula to talk about prodromal labor and give you the real story, including the awesomeness of prodromal labor. Spoiler alert: It's nothing like what you've read about!
This is a super long read, mainly for my own happiness and pleasure, but I would love to hear your birth stories. Please share them, no matter what. It's how we all heal and live a good life.
2 Weeks Before Birth
So, my labor story begins here because I would experience a lot of timeable tightenings. I wondered why I was having these Braxton-Hicks waves with a degree of regularity. At my 39 week appointment, I found out I was 2cm dilated and was pumped! The waves were working with very little effort on my part! I was pretty defeated up until this point because at 39 weeks pregnant, that's just what you do, I think.
The next day, I saw my acupuncturist for an induction session. Something worked because I lost my mucus plug the next night!
2 days later, I was experiencing another early morning of painless, but uncomfortable waves.
2 days later, I decided to get out of my funk. Truly, labor is easier than worrying. Truly.
The next night, the fun REALLY started. I was having waves that really required my focus to work through. This continued on for 4 more mentally grueling days. Every night, my waves would cause pain that I could easily work through thanks to Hypnobirthing. They were timeable for hours on end and then each morning, everything would fizzle out until the early evening again. I felt that I was doing something wrong to cause this activity to not intensify. I knew this was prodromal labor, yet everything I read used terms like "false labor" or "early labor" giving me the idea this was all for naught.
Monday morning (the morning of my sweet, sweet birth), I was to see my midwife, but I couldn't drive through these waves so I asked my doula to take me. I actually thought about taking an Uber. Imagine that poor driver dealing with me as I ride the waves while saying "Don't worry! The internet tells me this is false labor! It's nothing!"
I was so anxious and underslept that I started crying uncontrollably during my cervical exam, only to find out I was at 4cm!! I was begging my midwife to do a membrane sweep, but in her loving words that I appreciated so dearly, she told me "Carol, I'm your labor coach. I'm not here to inflict this kind of pain or anxiety on you. I don't recommend a sweep." I was so disheartened at losing (what I thought was) my only shot at progressing towards labor, but her love astounded me.
My doula and the midwife's birth assistant took me on a very long walk where we grabbed lunch (a delicious lamb gyro) and a very fitting dessert named Triumph. My doula bought this dessert for me. Triumph.
Throughout the walk and lunch, I was having waves and I was in the best hands. I was right there with my birth team, my tribe. I was safe. I didn't have to do this alone anymore (my husband was THE best birth partner, but that's very different from having your tribe).
My doula took me home and it all started happening so quickly. I was having intense waves less than every minute. I got in the shower because water is AMAZING for pain. I expected to experience the same pain I felt with my first birth, but since that was excruciating back labor, I never actually felt that, even at the end. Truly, Hallelujah and praise Jesus because I worked through every wave knowing "Ok, I haven't felt THAT, so I'm still ok."
I have no idea how I had the wherewithall to text my midwife, but it was a moment of desperation. At 3:30pm, my text to her read: "Please. I need pills. Too much too frequent. Not ending. Need something." Looking back, I'm impressed. I didn't think I could even communicate at this level during this phase of labor.
I got out of the shower and started shouting, "MY BUTT! MY BUTT!" It sounded like "My baaaahd!! My baaaaahd!" My doula put me on the toilet and told me "Carol, you don't have to poop; you're getting ready to meet your baby!"
I appreciated her kindness in the moment, but I thought she was full of it. I was only 4cm a few hours ago and still thought I was in prodromal labor. I didn't even know I was way past active labor (fully dilated) and in transition!
The doula called the midwife who showed up, seeing me complete and ready to start the baby meeting process. I got in the tub but couldn't find a comfortable position. By this point, the pain was over but the intense pressure was insane. It felt like I was constipated with a flat log trying to come out of a small hole, the very wrong way. Imagine trying to fit a plank of wood laying down through a random hole in the ground. You'd have to round house ankle kick it with your feet to even break it in half. That's the sensation I was experiencing. So, it wasn't painful (or pleasant), but it was a very intense pressure. I just was glad to not be feeling pain anymore.
I started muttering my husband's name. Thank goodness my doula thought to call him. I was way past the point of thinking straight. He came right home and started zipping around the house, prepping it for birth. He blew up the birthing pool and I got in. I struggled to get into a comfortable position, but was still so grateful for the water and its effect. While in the tub, I started yelling to my midwife "Is this the real deal or is it the $#!+???" That was the only time I cursed during the entire birth and I was intending to ask "Am I really in labor or is this still prodromal labor?" With all that I was experiencing, I STILL didn't even know I was where I was in the process. My level of disbelief was so high and my level of strength, thinking prodromal labor is useless, felt so low.
Again, my doula and midwife assured me that it's time to prepare to meet my sweet baby. I didn't really believe it but I was SO excited!! My tribe was going to help me accomplish the greatest experience and feat of my life!
While in the birthing pool, I was bearing down during a wave and this crazy explosion happened in the water. My water broke on its own and I got to feel that! I was so amazed that I was getting to experience all of this!
That amazement didn't last long because at this point in labor, I was so focused on each moment. Moment by moment. My communication was primitive and my thoughts were literally only moment by moment. It was truly the most present I've ever been in my life. Moment by moment.
Positions Used While Working Through Transition
Even though I was fully dilated and the pushing reflex came over me, baby was trying to burrow past a tiny bit of cervix that had not fully effaced (thinned out). My midwife, birthing assistant and my doula took me on a walk through my house. I was horrified at the suggestion to walk at the time, and I basically hung onto their shoulders while the midwife stood behind me and swayed my hips during each step.
We got into so many other positions. We sat on the toilet, backwards, facing the tank while I rested my head and arched my back.
I got on the bed and rested against my husband, in between his legs. At one point, the birthing assistant told me to roll over into a side lying position. Nope, wasn't up for that so she took my legs and just moved me into that position. I had the strangest emotional sensation. I was furious, thinking this was vicious, and that moment was so fleeting because again, I was 100% present so each moment was literally fleeting thoughts that never came back. Looking back, I have a newfound aim in life to live this way: Experience what I experience and be done with it!
We came back to the original position of resting against my husband's chest. I was so safe. I felt his arms around me and his head above my head. He told me "You're doing this. I'm so proud of you." He kept telling me loving, encouraging and incredible things. I was so safe. My tribe of women were coaching me. I didn't have to think about how to do this. I was so safe.
Almost Time to Meet My Sweet Boy
After what felt like hours but was only about 45 minutes of true ejecting, I got to meet my sweet boy. It was getting later into the evening. My husband lit the candles I made and placed them around the room while other beautiful dim lighting was present. My birth tribe told me the time is so near.
The Fun Begins
While bearing down, I also felt the need to urinate, but I couldn't actually do it since my body was so focused on birth. I felt an entire system shutdown as my body and my baby worked together. My digestive system took a complete break for hours as I slowly over the course of time vomited that delicious lamb gyro from lunch. After birth, my midwife told me there were chunks of lamb needing to be fished out of so many spaces. I can't stop laughing like a child when I hear this and I'm sorry to subject you to this, but it's a birth story. There will be chunks of something. I never felt nauseous. It was just an automatic stomach eject button, like a burp.
Back to not urinating - I was surprised to learn there was an option to catheterize if the bladder was impeding baby's descent. I've been catheterized before, with anesthesia, and it was very undesirable. I was NOT into the idea of being cathed without drugs. I don't actually know if the catheter was successfully inserted (I know the attempt was made) and that speaks volumes to the level to which the body just plain focuses on the task at hand. Update: I've learned the catheterization was successful. I'm adding that notch in my "I'm a fierce warrior" belt.
I was exhausted. I slept for seconds at a time between the bearing down waves. It was the only rest I could achieve and I took it. I dreaded each wave and I believe that really hindered my progress.
I asked my midwife "How many pushes left?"
In my growling voice "HOW MANY?! GIVE ME A NUMBER!!!!!"
"12. Don't make me a liar. Work with your baby."
I doubled the number and told God, "God, I'm going to count till 24. Give me 7, or 12, but not 24" I blew past 7. Blew past 12 and started again from 1. I don't know why any of these thoughts existed, but again, moment by moment. I can tell you I didn't make it to 24 or anywhere near it.
Finally, my sweet boy was crowning. I was encouraged to reach down and feel his head. It was so small. I didn't believe I was feeling the right thing. A human was literally emerging from my body! Once I felt this, I'm told I actively helped and assisted rather than resisted each wave. I remember thinking "You're finally here. THIS is it! Let's DO this!!!"
With one particularly intense urge, I felt like someone was taking their fingers and stretching my poor entire undercarriage. I SCREAMED for them to stop. I actually thought someone was doing this to me. With sweet love, I heard "Carol, none of us are doing that to you. That's your baby. Let him come out."
With the next urge, his head was out. My sweet boy's head was out!!! I felt him! I heard the tribe talk about his chubby cheeks. I knew enough in the moment to know I made it past the peak of the mountain. I knew that chubby, fat, little body would just plop on out after the head. I rubbed his head while I so so so so so happily (for the first time) awaited the next urge. I spoke to him and told him we were going to see each other's face soon. The next wave came and I felt like I was running through a field. I curled down and grabbed him up and into my arms. He and I and Dada just looked into each other's eyes. He looked at me and with his face asked me "What happened?" He looked at Dada and asked "Are you Dada?" We saw him and found his name in his eyes - Michael Robert. I asked him if he liked that name and he told me he did, sweetly.
I sat with him in my arms for over an hour. He spoke and made noises, not once crying. I couldn't believe this was my baby! This was the baby I worked so hard for! This was him! I told him all about his life - who I am, introduced him to Dada, told him he has an awesome big brother. He chatted back with me and it was amazing.
We delivered the placenta. That was just a tiny little push of a blob. We waited for the cord to stop pulsating and Dada cut the cord. We did the newborn measurements and assessment. All of this happened while I held my sweet boy, on my bed, at home, where we live. It has been 2 days and the only time he has left my vision is when I close my eyes to sleep. This has been the truest form of Heaven I could experience on Earth.
Back on Earth, the tribe zipped around to clean up the biohazard zone I had created by blowing lamb chunks, spewing amniotic fluid and shooting blood at sneeze rates onto the tribe's outfits. Yikes. Birth workers deal with a lot of crappy things. These people are part of the sainthood.
The midwife and birth assistant kept "massaging" my uterus to get it to shrink and remove some clots. There was one clot larger than an egg that needed to come out. This can only happen by someone grabbing and squeezing your sore, sore uterus. There was still a bit of extra bleeding so I was given a shot of pitocin along with this "massage." I keep quoting this because this word is nonsense. That's not a massage at all. Massages feel good and are gentle.
The tribe drew a bath made with healing herbs. It smelled like healing and it truly was. I can tell you that my entire body is sore, but nothing stings, despite all that activity. I bathed with my baby just 2 hours after we worked together to birth. He kicked his free legs in the water and was acclimating to life in gravity. His vernix had dissolved into his skin by this point as no one did that weird and man-handling vernix rub down. His skin was amazing, in both smell and sensation. The bath was to help heal my undercarriage and his cord stump, along with bonding us and creating a life of beauty. Success. On all points.
As I sit here, 42 hours postpartum, I have only experienced calm, peace and serenity. My hormones aren't wild, one way or another. I am not overly euphoric nor am I worried or anxious. I am purely peaceful and serene. It's the emotional equivalent of being in the bath. Just serene.
Side note: An hour after birth, my husband sent out the notification text to family. It read "It's done and everyone is ok." This is why I married him and this is what made him the best birthing partner. He just got it done.
Also, I think we formed a tradition. With my first son, I was pushing and turned to my husband and said in a very dramatic tone, "Don't let this be my last baby." He responded with "Let's just get through this one."
For some reason, in the middle of one of the pushing urges, I said the same thing again, and he responded with the same words. It only clicked in that moment that we had the same conversation before.