Violet's Birth Story
I write this as my daughter sleeps soundly in her father’s arms. I find it hard to believe that less than three weeks ago, I was laboring to bring my child into the world. Emotions I have never experienced before consume me; I am a new woman.
Wednesday, July 12th, I was homebound as one of our cars was in the shop. The day was long, I felt tired and uncomfortable. Not unusual feelings, I decided to lay low and take the day easy. I had contractions throughout the day but had been having them frequently during the preceding week, so I didn’t think much of them. Towards the end of the evening though, they became stronger and “different” from contractions I had experienced. Mike got home around 7:00 pm and prepared to go running. I told him about the contractions and we had a mellow evening; they were not overwhelming, just held my attention. As the night progressed, they became somewhat regular, coming every four to six minutes. We went to bed but I couldn’t sleep so I got up and tried to occupy myself online. I took a bath and tried to make them stop (to see if they were “real”) but they kept coming. I woke Mike up around 11:00 and we spent the night walking outside around our driveway, in the yard, and around the house. Since they seemed so different and were so regular, we called Suellen, the midwife, around 1:00 am and put her on “stand-by.”
We kept in communication with her every hour until around 5:00 am; they were still there but not changing in intensity or frequency. Around 7:00 am on Thursday morning they had stopped and I was devastated. This was my fifth night up that month with contractions; I was so strung out with pre-labor contractions and wondering if labor would stop or be the real thing. I felt as if I couldn’t trust my body or my emotions. I had an appointment scheduled with Suellen for 12:30 that day to have her strip my membranes and I decided to keep it to have her check my progress. Frustrated and tired, we arrived at the appointment. At this point I was ready for intervention of some sort. I wanted options. I didn’t think I could take another bout of pre-labor contractions and we certainly couldn’t afford to have Mike stay home another day for labor that didn’t produce a baby. Once I started to talk about my frustrations to Suellen and Heather (Suellen’s student) I burst into tears. She told me that what I was experiencing was normal, my body was just doing things in it’s own time. Although true, I didn’t want to hear that. I listened as she tried to console me but I was pretty inconsolable. “Well, let’s check you and see where you are” she offered. She proceeded to do an internal exam and then said words I will always remember, “Oh Jesse, you are at a six! This is the real thing! You are in labor!” I burst into tears of joy and relief. I couldn’t stop crying. It felt so good to know that my body was working, that I was going to have the baby soon. Suellen advised us to go home and sleep if we could, that labor would most likely re-start when I was more rested.
We drove home elated and a little shell-shocked. Once home, I tried to sleep but was having contractions enough to not be able to. By 5:00 they were in full swing, but not any more painful than the night before. Around 6:00 Suellen, Heather and Susan (the Doula) arrived and I was dilated to an 8. We called Jenny and Aaron and told them what was going on and arranged to have them pick up my sister, Rudy.
For the next several hours we listened to music (Swamp Ophelia by the Indigo Girls was my favorite choice of the evening), Heather made scones; I sat on the birth ball and breathed though the contractions with ease. I kept thinking, “This is too easy!” Around 8 or 9 Suellen offered to break my bag of waters since I was nearly at a 10 except for a small lip of cervix that was still at an 8. I agreed before she could finish her sentence. We went into the back bedroom and she broke my water. It was so much warmer than I thought it would be. I remember being a little scared of the event; I knew that things were going to change in intensity. Things had been so easy up until that point, I still had no concept of the type of pain I had always imagined labor to be.
Things must have gotten worse because the next phase of labor is a bit cloudy for me. Suellen got called to another woman who was having a very quick labor and since I was going to be awhile, she left to attend to her until her backup midwife arrived. Heather made sure I didn’t feel abandoned by talking with me while Suellen was gone; that was really good of her. It seems like all of the sudden, the contractions got really bad and came really close together. I just remember slipping into a horrible uncontrolled state of consciousness. I know that transisition is supposed to be the hardest part of labor, and I guess I expected the labor to get as intense as it did. I was not prepared for that phase to last as long as it did. It seems like I was in an altered state, barely coherent. Fatigue was beginning to weaken both my spirit and my body. Suellen came back from the other labor and I had made no progress, there was still a lip of the cervix that hadn’t dilated past an 8. Frustrated and exhausted I couldn’t deal with the contractions as before and was sobbing from the pain. Suellen helped me to breath and to re-regulate the contractions. When the tub was doing nothing for me, she had me get out and change positions. We went upstairs and I sat in the rocker for what must have been an hour. I wasn’t getting any break between the pains, I was nauseated and I was so tired. It was truly awful. It was also very scary to be in that place, I was so out of control. Shortly thereafter, it got much worse (!) and I was out of my mind. I couldn’t help but to scream with each pulse of the contractions, I completely lost control. I have never been in that place before and fear going back there again. It was so primal, so raw. I couldn’t do anything but cower in the shadow of the monster of labor, consuming my body. More than once I felt like I needed to go to the hospital to get drugs but knew that it would take a half hour just to get there and the ride would be awful. I drifted in and out of my body. At one point, I remember looking out into the black night and within the agonies of the never-ending contractions, naming the parts of pain. They had faces; the pain became aspects of myself in some other-worldly way. I’m sure that I was hallucinating. As the pain changed, I confronted each aspect of it and named it.
Finally Suellen had me lay on my side and she checked me. No progress. I know she knew the next step would be awful and hated to do it, but she pushed the lip of the cervix that wasn’t dilating up past the baby’s head as I pushed. At that moment I thought I would die-literally. It was my darkest moment.
I got into the tub and felt some relief. Eventually the contractions spaced out; the pushing phase had begun. Pushing was not what I had anticipated, it felt horrible to push but I knew I had to. More than anything it was scary to push. I knew what was coming, I feared it. So instead of a mad dash to have the baby, I used the time of regular contractions to rest and regroup. I found that within each contraction I could do three to four pushes. The first was the scariest and most painful; with each additional one I found more strength and courage. The going was slow, but I was doing it on my own time. Finally, I could feel her head when I stuck my fingers into myself and I pushed against that. As she began to crown, I experienced the “ring of fire” sensation, which felt like I was being ripped apart. Suellen promised me that I wasn’t ripping and I trusted her as I pushed the head out. It was a little scary but it felt really good once the head was born. Suellen told me to breath her out, so I gave little pushes as I blew short breaths of air out. Then the best part, I felt her slid right out of me, quick as a flash. It was such a neat feeling. They brought her up to my chest, and as I held my daughter for the first time. I felt my senses heighten, becoming aware of sounds and smells again, seeing the people in the room for the first time in hours. The baby was looking up at me, taking her time to take the first breath, which I was told was normal. “Blow on your baby’s face,” Suellen instructed and she began to take small breaths. They gave her some whiffs of oxygen and she pinked up right away. Everyone was crying tears of joy and relief but honestly I was so glad it was over that all I could do was rest my head against the tub and breathe without pain. It was wonderful. We checked to make sure she was “still a girl.” (She was).
I gave the baby to her father and got out of the tub, shaking uncontrollably. Suellen said it was the adrenaline in my body—I wasn’t cold. I went to the living room and laid on the futon to deliver the placenta while Jenny and Mike made phone calls. When Mike called his mom, he said, “Hi mom. Guess what? I’m holding my daughter”…What a phone call.
She weighed in at eight pounds, six ounces and was nineteen and a half inches long. We can’t really tell who she looks like, she looks like herself. Her little head was like a coke can from being in the birth canal so long and her nose was sort of smushed but she truly was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. Her hair was red and her fingers and toes perfect. We couldn’t stop looking at her.
Suellen, Heather and Susan cleaned the tub and birth room while I nursed. She latched on like an old pro. Everyone seemed to leave at the same time that morning…we were left alone with our daughter for the first time. I welcomed the sleep that followed. When I awoke, I was able to enjoy my daughter. Mike and I spent those first few days in bliss, spending hours just gazing at our wonderful creation.
Dealing with the intensity of the birth experience has been difficult; I’ve done it poco a poco, little by little. My birth team has told me that I was amazing, I was powerful. It’s hard to believe that all of my screaming and cries of fear were powerful, but I am beginning to realize that women do what they have to do to deliver their babies. I never knew that I could tolerate such feelings for so long. I fear going through it again, but I know that each birth is different and no one can predict what happened to me will happen again. We know now that the position of Violet’s head was the reason my cervix wouldn’t dilate fully, her head was pressing on that part throughout the early labor and for some reason it caused the lip never to get past an 8. Even now, I know that I would birth at home again. It truly was a beautiful experience, albeit difficult. I feel as if I was doing more than the physical laboring of having a child, I was emotionally laboring to become a mother. And what a journey it has been.
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