It was about 3am on the morning of December 10th, when I woke up to some “uncomfortable” cramping. Mind you, I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions regularly since about the 15th week of my pregnancy, so by this point I really didn’t think anything of them. I got up and went to the bathroom (as per usual at around this time) and when I got back to bed I decided to time my cramps “just for fun.” I really didn’t believe I was in any sort of labor, but since I couldn’t fall back asleep I wanted to pass the time this way. Sure enough, they were coming at exactly ten minutes apart. I let this go on for an hour before I woke DJ up to tell him, just to be sure this was really it before disrupting his sleep, too. I texted my mom just to keep her in the loop, and then we both went back to sleep. Anyone who’s anyone in the pregnancy world knows that if you are woken up by minor contractions, you MUST go back to sleep. “Sleep until you can’t sleep anymore.” So, I did just that.
At around 9:30 that morning, we woke up to the same contractions at exactly ten minutes apart, still. Nothing had changed. I called my (incredible) midwife, Colleen Forbes, when I woke up, to give her a quick update. She advised me to go about my day as normally as possible, varying in rest and activity. I didn’t need to sit on the couch and rest all day, but I also shouldn’t be spending my energy “walking the baby out,” as some people like to do. DJ stayed home from work for obvious reasons, and we spent most of the day unpacking into our new condo and trying to get the room as ready for delivery as possible. I had decided to have a home birth about halfway through my pregnancy, while we were living at DJ’s parent’s house, waiting for our condo to be finished being remodeled. This was an extremely stressful time. We ended up getting the keys to the place only three days before I went into labor. Talk about anxiety! At any rate, I needed the house to be somewhat comfortable for laboring, and clearly the clock was ticking.
Twelve hours came and went and before I knew it, it was time for bed again. I was still having the same contractions, ten minutes apart on the dot. I called my midwife to check in before bed and she advised me to “sleep until you can’t sleep anymore.” She didn’t think I would make it to the morning without being woken up by stronger contractions, and I believed that too. So with that, Deej and I tried our best to sleep, and as you can imagine he was much more successful than I was. I slept until about 10:30 when I was woken up by contractions that I needed to breath through. The back discomfort during the cramping was a little less comfortable and I definitely couldn’t sleep through them anymore. I woke DJ up, called my mom, and went out into the living room to start what I now know as, the longest journey of my life.
I began by just lounging on the couch. The contractions were still coming and going about every ten minutes and felt very manageable. At some point in this early phase of my labor, both of my older sisters showed up for support.
I had decided very early on that I wanted DJ, my mom, both of my sisters, DJ’s mom, the midwives, and my friend and photographer, Amanda, to be there for my birth. I know that sounds like a lot, but they came in layers and were only ALL there at once at the very end, and it was perfect.
After my sisters showed up, it was as if we were all getting ready for a fun sleepover. Everyone was in their sweats or pajamas, we were watching my favorite show (FRIENDS) on Netflix, and I was still able to talk and laugh with everyone. Over the course of the next few hours, my small and easy contractions turned into bigger and (what I thought) more painful ones. I was slipping into what I like to call “laborland” and I was no longer able to “be present” in between contractions. I was breathing through them, very focused, and I was feeling some pretty serious discomfort. By about 1 AM my contractions had progressed from 10 minutes apart to about 2-4 minutes apart. I knew it was time to call Colleen. At this point I remember things being very quiet, peaceful even. My family watched TV (and me), DJ and my mom sat by my side, and the midwives sat in the background taking notes and preparing the house for the birth. There was so little intervention at this point it felt like I was just alone.
By listening to my laboring and how close together my contractions were we decided to move into the bedroom to “have the baby”. This was at about 7 AM. I’m pretty sure at this point everyone was under the impression that I was in transition labor. Transition labor is a widely famous phase of labor, in that it is, for a lot of women, the most painful. It’s when the contractions are the longest, and there is no time in between them. Transition comes right before you start pushing, so for most women, it is the shortest lasting phase of labor.
I felt the pressure of baby’s head from very early on, and as we knew from Colleen checking me at a previous appointment, his head dropped really low really early. I felt the urge to push and it felt pretty much out of my control. So I vocalized that to Colleen and that’s when I laid on my back in the bed for her to check my cervix. She then uttered words that made me feel the most defeated I have possibly ever felt. “Well, this doesn’t happen often but I have good news and bad news. Good news is that baby is so low that you could push him out right now. Bad news is that you are only three centimeters dilated.” She explained that baby’s head had dropped so early, that now my cervix was left trying to dilate around him, and clearly getting stuck. This meant that most of the hard work I had done to this point, had been negated as my cervix retracted right back behind the head after each contraction. I think you can sort of imagine the utter defeat and discouragement this made me feel. After laboring for the last 8 hours and doing, what I thought, was the hardest work of all, I was exhausted both mentally and physically and BEYOND ready to meet my son. The next few contractions following this news, felt out of my control. I was letting myself get taken over by the emotion, which led to the waves sweeping me up and dragging me down.
I use this wave metaphor when describing labor, because that is almost exactly what it was like. I was riding a series of waves that came and went, each one harder and longer than the last. If I stayed on top, I could recuperate and prepare in between them. But if I didn’t, they could carry me down. My goal from the first moment was to always stay in control. I knew that I realistically had most of my labor before me, and that was so fucking daunting. I felt exhausted, drained, angry, annoyed and done. With the help of my team, I regained my focus and got back on top.
I was a very vocal birthing mama. You truly can’t predict what sounds you will make, what positions you will find yourself in. But what I can tell you from experience is that it just happens. Your body just goes to what feels best, and it lets out the primal sounds that support you the most. For me, this was a low (often loud) “ohhhh” sound. For whatever reason, every time my body would start contracting, I would instantly start moaning and it wouldn’t stop until the very second the contraction ended. My mom was always reminding my to keep my “ohs” low and use them to help open my cervix and push out baby. That visualization through each contraction made a big difference.
After my first check, Colleen proceeded to hold back my cervix for a whole contraction, in an effort to train it to contract around baby’s head. This felt like a form of torture.
More hours of heavy duty laboring dragged on, as I worked my ass off. I was in the bed on my side, squatting on the birth stool trying to break my own water, sitting rear facing on the toilet, you name the random position and I was in it. After three hours of this, and a lot of begging, Colleen checked my cervix again. I was obviously desperate to hear a really high number, like nine or ten. Please, give me a ten. “Six,” she said. Shit. I was, yet again, defeated beyond comprehension. Though everyone else in the room had heard a bigger number or progress, I had heard that I had only dilated THREE FUCKING CENTIMETERS. I could only think about the fact that I had to do at least three more hours of this hell, considering how long the last three centimeters took. At this point, Colleen waited for another contraction to come so she could torture me again by holding my cervix back through contractions. This time, she did it not once, not twice, but three times. Wonderful. I have described this sensation as the worst I felt in all my hours of labor, worse than the ring of fire, worse than ANYTHING. It was pure torture.
Once I got through the torture, I was ready, determined and dead set on breaking my water. I knew that after the bag of waters broke, things would progress more quickly. I was squatting through each excruciating contraction, with my finger pressed firmly against the amniotic sack, with no success at all. Everyone waited with bated breath through each grueling contraction, wanting desperately for my water to break. This is about where I got to a point of complete exhaustion, both physically and mentally. I had been going for about 12 hours actively (33 total), and I was ready to be done. In my head I kept thinking “I can’t do this anymore. After this contraction I’m going to tell them to take me to the hospital for an epidural.” I wanted so badly to be numb. But at this point, I was exhausted and the contractions were so close together, that it took too much of my energy to even talk in between them. So I didn’t ask to leave, not once.
Let’s just talk about my amazing team for a minute. For each contraction, once they got to this extreme, I had one person (usually one of my sisters) pushing on my lower back to provide counter pressure. I had my trooper of a partner holding me, reminding me of my strength, massaging me, I named it and he did it. I had my powerhouse of a mother. My mom was. My. Rock. I don’t know if it’s because she knows me the best, or if it’s because she had done this three times in her life, or maybe a combo of the two, but she knew exactly what to tell me. During each contraction, as the pain would climb quickly she would remind me that I could do “this one contraction.” As the contraction would peak in intensity, and I was being tested the most, she would tell me that I was “halfway done” or that “it would only get easier after this.” As it would decrease in intensity she would rejoice with me by telling me “I never have to do that contraction again,” or that I was “one contraction closer to meeting my baby.” Her words, her reminders, and her confidence in me and my strength is truly what got me through my long and difficult labor. I will remember her words forever, and I cherish the way we grew together in my most vulnerable time.
In addition to my mama, I had a whole room of cheerleaders. Who, when I would say I couldn’t do it, would reply in unison “you’re DOING it.” How lucky am I?
After a while longer of intense laboring, Colleen decided to check me again. Thank God. I got on my back, anxiously awaiting the single best number in the entire world, ten. Much to my disappointment, she told me I was at about an eight, almost nine. My water had STILL not broken; so she then offered to break my water. It took no hesitation at all for me to consent. Next thing I knew, she had broken my water and the relief I felt, along with the cheering in the room brought a wave of joy and determination over me. I could do this. I was so fucking close.
After that, from what I remember, I almost instantly felt the most overwhelming urge and pressure to push. It was as if there was nothing I could do to keep from pushing, he was coming.
I was finally at the homestretch; pushing through each contraction, and little by little getting to see the top of my sweet boy’s head. I put all my focus into bearing down instead of wasting my precious energy screaming (like I wanted to). Once I got the hang of it, pushing was one of the most satisfying sensations I have ever felt. With each push I could literally see the progress, and knew that I was one less contraction and one less push away from meeting my angel. I spent about 45 minutes pushing until baby’s head emerged fully, and then the contraction ended. I was so blown away by his head being out but his body being in. He was out in seconds. I pulled him right up to my chest immediately, and almost immediately he was wailing like the little vocal boy he still is today.
I can’t possibly explain the euphoria that this moment brought, or the relief that I instantly felt. It was as if all of the pain and exhaustion was completely washed away, the moment I saw his beautiful face.
I have always heard the cliché about meeting your child; that it’s like a blind date with a person you already love. I can’t think of anything more true. I was nervous to meet him, but the moment he was in my arms I felt as if I had never lived a moment without him. I felt complete, I felt in love, and I felt a calm that I had never known and unfortunately haven’t felt since that day.
I have been in a living hell since that day. The day my son came into the world, was the last day I truly knew myself. I sit here writing this with tears pouring. I miss Hannah, I miss my sanity, and I miss just being truly happy. But there isn’t one single part of me that would trade any of it for my sweet Oliver. Somehow, he outweighs the mental illness that his arrival brought. That just goes to show how incredible and powerful being a mother really is. You can be enduring life’s worst storms, and your child will always be bigger than it all. My love for him will always be greater.
Thank you for letting me be vulnerable.