That was stupid.
The only thing I knew going into labor was that I wanted an epidural because, frankly, I was terrified of the pain. What I got was a long labor in which I contracted for hours on Pitocin before getting an extremely painful epidural which took an hour just to get in. Thankfully, the O.B. on call was incredible and he coached me through delivering my sunny-side up baby with only one tiny tear. But the epidural left me feeling groggy and my body took awhile to recover from the intense contractions brought on by the Pitocin. It was all worth it, of course, a million times over. But when I became pregnant again, I knew there had to be a better way. So I did my homework.
I read book after book on childbirth, hired a doula, watched documentaries, picked the brains of my doctors and researched hospitals, birth centers and midwives all over the state. I empowered myself with knowledge.
I decided that a natural, intervention- and medication-free birth in a hospital was the best choice for me and my baby. I wrote a detailed birth plan, listened to Hypnobabies recordings, and found an O.B. who was supportive of my desires. When I started having contractions at 37 weeks, I was actually excited! This was going to be a beautiful, awesome experience.
My contractions started at 8 a.m. on Monday and continued 2-5 minutes apart all day long, but they stayed at a steady pain level five. That evening, we decided to go into Labor and Delivery to get things checked out. After all, based on my reading, contractions were supposed to start weak and about 20 minutes apart, then get closer and stronger. This did not fit the textbook description of a normal labor.
At the hospital, they determined I was four centimeters dilated and indeed in active labor and asked me to walk for an hour around the hospital. I asked instead to be allowed to go home and labor there for awhile. My doctor reluctantly agreed, saying that we’d likely be turning around and coming right back. When we got home, my contractions slowed, I took a nap, they slowed some more, and I went to bed expecting to wake up in the middle of the night for go-time. But that didn’t happen. By morning, contractions were gone.
At my doctor’s visit the following day I was 4.5 cm dilated and 90% effaced. He suspected my water would break any minute and I would need to rush to the hospital because labor would fly from there. So we went home again, I walked, we waited, contractions came and went, pressure came and went, but still no baby.
After four days of start and stop labor, I was fed up. I was exhausted—body, mind, spirit, all drained. In all of my planning and preparation, I hadn’t prepared myself for this. Baby malposition? Fine. Pressure from medical staff? Prepared. But this contingency—days upon days on high alert, contractions building for hours and then stopping, over and over again, this I wasn’t ready for.
The most frustrating part was being told again and again by doctors and nurses that I was close—so close that it should be happening any minute—enough to get me excited and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, only for labor to stop again. By day five, my doctor wouldn’t even let the nurse check my cervix for fear it would send me over the edge (he wasn’t available to do the delivery at the time.) I was over it.
So, ten days in, I “gave up.” I decided that baby Evi was coming when she darn well pleased and I was done trying to make it happen. I relaxed, ate what I wanted, spent time with my firstborn and ignored the contractions as they came and went (as much as one can be expected to ignore contractions.)
On day eleven at 4:30 p.m., my water broke. Contractions grew stronger. I kissed my little girl and we headed for the hospital.
I was admitted right away, but everyone expected baby to arrive the following day based on the dilation of my cervix and length of my previous labor. Around 7 p.m. as I leaned over to grab something from the bathroom floor, I heard a “pop” and felt another rush of water. My “second bag” had broken. Before I could leave the bathroom, I had three debilitating contractions. It took all my focus to make my way back into the hospital room.
My doula and labor nurse both knew immediately that it was game time. I vaguely remember the nurse—a talkative, helpful gal—reminding me to breathe. My doula offered me a labor ball, warm compresses, and massaged my back and legs. Hamilton recited the one pregnancy affirmation he had memorized: “Your body was designed to do this.” It didn’t help. I wanted to punch him.
The contractions came so hard and fast that I couldn’t seem to make it to a new position between them to ease the pain. It hit me then that all of my reading about orgasmic birth by Ina May Gaskin and reciting of peaceful, pain-free labor affirmations to Hypnobabies soundtracks were useless now. This was not orgasmic, this was what dying felt like. It wasn’t peaceful, it was more chaos than I’d ever faced as I tried to wrap my brain around the amount of pain that I was feeling. More than once, I felt certain I wouldn’t survive it, or if I did, very sure that my body would be ripped in half in the process.
At some point, I think at the suggestion of my incredible doula, I leaned on Hamilton for support. We found a rhythm of swaying back and forth, almost like dancing, and for awhile I felt relief. It was a beautiful moment of peace before the intensity that followed; a sort-of “calm before the storm.”
Transition was the most primal experience my body has ever gone through. Because I had an epidural with my first labor, I had never felt the urge to bear down that so many women talk about in rehashing their labors. I had been coached through every single push, needing precise instruction on when and how hard to squeeze. This time, there was no controlling it. My brain turned off and my body took over. My core instinctively knew exactly what to do to get that baby into the birth canal and out into the world. If the hospital staff tried coaching me during this time, I had no idea. I was cocooned in the space that was me and my labor.
I’m told that the timeline of my labor was something like this: admitted at 6:30, second water broke around 7:30, 7.5 cm dilated at 9:15, 10 cm dilated at 9:30, Evi was born at 9:50 p.m. on October 2, 2013 to a room of almost-didn’t-make-it-in-time hospital staff. The single tear I suffered was too small for even a stitch. After all the waiting, it did, indeed happen “like lightning.”
Violet Everleigh weighed 8 pounds, 11.5 ounces and measured 20 inches long. Her blonde hair, long toes and healthy yell told me she was all mine :).
I look back on the nearly two weeks of prodromal labor I endured before Evi’s arrival with gratitude now. God indeed had a plan in preparing my body and mind for the birth in the way that He did. And, to be honest, had it not all happened so fast, I may well have opted for another epidural. As much as I cursed Him for the slow buildup to labor, it all worked together in the end to give me exactly the birth experience I had yearned for. Okay, maybe not the divine, painless experience I was hoping for, but it was every bit as transcendent as I could have imagined, and then some.
It’s amazing what the human body, especially the female body, is capable of when left to its own devices. No drugs, no interventions–just pure, organic nature. Facing the pain, accepting it, and using it to bring my baby into the world was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. I wish this birth experience for everyone, if only so that every woman can know the innate and incredible strength that lies within her.
*Side note: By medical standards, Evi was barely 38 weeks gestation at birth. Now, the modern methods for determining due dates are inaccurate in my opinion, but had I gone “to term”, she would have been about ten pounds. Thank God she didn’t decide to extend her stay in my womb for two more weeks!