If you’re squeamish about medical stuff and women’s bodies, stop reading now.
Some friends have recently asked me about natural birth because they’re considering it for their own labor. So I thought it might be helpful to share my story here in case there are other curious mothers-to-be who want the nitty gritty details.
During my pregnancy, I saw a group of midwives. I rotated which midwife I saw so that I would get to know each one who could potentially be on call when I would go into labor. I liked all of the women, but did have a favorite. She was the most earth mama hippie-ish of them all, and really made me feel like my pregnancy and labor was in my hands and that I could have a lead role in the care of myself and my baby.
When I was past my due date, I had a scheduled checkup at the midwifes’ office. I had been leaking and thought maybe my water broke a few days prior, but when I went to the hospital they checked and said it was just regular vaginal fluids or maybe I had accidentally peed myself. I was a little embarrassed and went home. Anyway, at my appointment a few days later, my midwife Esther said she’d check the liquid again. She came back from using the microscope, calmly looked me in the eye, and sweetly said, “Summer, you’re going to have this baby today.” My heart stopped. Since I was past my due date, I knew I’d be going into labor sometime that week. But I was still shocked that it was time. I didn’t feel any contractions at all. I said, “Okay, so I guess we will go home and get our overnight bags packed and bring the dog to daycare.” But she said, “No, we don’t have time for that. You need to be induced right away. Everything is great, though.”
That didn’t sound great to me. My eyes started tearing up. It didn’t cross my mind that something might be wrong because she was so calm. But being induced, in what I had read and watched in my many hours of labor research, was more likely to lead to an epidural and c-section. That wasn’t how I had envisioned things. My heart had been so set in keeping everything natural.
But Bobby held my hand and Esther reassured me some more and we headed to Labor and Delivery.
I had planned on having an unmedicated water birth using hypnotherapy birthing techniques that Bobby and I learned about in childbirth classes. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the class that seriously. We were the ones giggling and writing notes to each other in the back of the classroom like naughty school children. It was hard for us to get serious about the visualization exercises, and I always ended up going home, taking a bath, and fulfilling my need to read cold hard facts about what really goes down during childbirth.
The good news was that Esther decided to start me with a half of a pill’s worth of Cytotec, which ripens the cervix to get you ready for labor. The plan had been to wait 4 hours, then take the other half of the pill, then wait another amount of hours, then take Pitocin. After only half an hour to an hour after taking the pill, my contractions began. And they ramped up quickly. My parents had already arrived in town from South Carolina to be there for the big event, so they helped out with the dog and brought our hospital bag. We had loaded up our iPad with movies, and we were just getting ready to watch one together when my contractions suddenly got really painful and only about 3 minutes apart. So we didn’t get to do any of the fun stuff I had planned. Ha! How naive.
I asked Esther if I could get into the tub now. She said my cervix had to be dilated at least 5 inches before I was allowed to be submerged in the water. So all we could do was have the hubster hose me down while I sat in the jacuzzi tub in our hospital room. Yes, hose me down like a big elephant. How glamorous. But the hot water hitting my back felt amazing. As the contractions became more and more painful, it was the only relief from the pain. I am a water person and baths heal all of my aches and pains, physical and emotional, which is why I yearned for a water birth. As the afternoon turned into evening, the pain was more and more intense. I kept throwing up, and the only position I could stand to be in was with my legs folded under my chest, fetal position style without being on my side, with my chest and arms propped up on a squatty potty looking plastic step stool.
My midwife left Bobby and I to do our thing most of the time. During the daytime hours, she had meetings and appointments that took her away from our section of the hospital. At times I wondered where the heck she was and why she wasn’t doing something to help. But in retrospect, I really liked that I had privacy and the empowerment to get through this on my own with Bobby’s help. Of course, she and nurses were on hand if anything were to go wrong, but I enjoyed the darkness and quiet of our room without people in and out the whole time. Esther did check my and the baby’s heart rate every once in a while, and brought me popsicles. They were the red, white, and blue kind that people eat on the 4th of July. I had never tasted anything more glorious. In one of her visits, Esther persuaded me to try a different position, saying that a lot of women find relief sitting backwards over the toilet. I slowly, carefully, painfully got out of the tub, dripping water down my back, and tried the toilet position, Rocket Pop in hand. As soon as I squatted over the toilet, any minor relief I had felt in the water fled and I was in agony. I went to lick my popsicle, and the whole thing slid off the stick and landed on the bathroom floor. I cried for my loss, and then puked. Thankfully, she led me right back to my tub and hose-down.
Bobby was an incredible coach. It was really cool to experience this with him. He hosed me down like a champion. However, at one point, I looked up and he was scrolling through his phone. I grimaced and said to him through bared teeth, “If you are looking through Facebook right now, so help me…” He turned his phone around to show me he was looking up calming classical music to play. Divorce averted. The music was helpful to keep my mind off how much longer I had to do this.
Later in the night, probably around 11pm, though I can’t be sure as I had no concept of time during all this, Esther came in and the pain was almost unbearable. It felt like there were no breaks between the contractions anymore. She still hadn’t checked my cervix to see if I could submerge in the tub. This made me think that we were nowhere near even halfway to the end point and meeting our baby. I sobbed and cried out, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this!” Later, I would remind Bobby of this and ask why they didn’t listen to me and get me drugs. He said that I never said I wanted drugs, so he thought I was just letting out my pain verbally. In the moment, I truly didn’t think I could go on. As much as I wanted to do a natural labor for a multitude of reasons, I felt like I did not have the strength to go on like this for hours and hours more. Esther was by my side for part of this time, and she said in her pleasant, calm voice, “But Summer, look at you. You are doing it.” That quieted me down. I went inside myself and found strength to keep going. But when she left the room again, I told Bobby that I really wanted her to check my cervix because I had to go into the water for some relief.
Esther said she was afraid I’d be disappointed if she checked me and I wasn’t ready yet. But I told her that I could handle it. As she gripped my elbow to help me out of the tub, Sploosh! my water fully broke and a puddle of green-yellow liquid was all over the ground. Once I was on the bed and she inspected me, she called in some nurses and told me that it was about time to push. She told Bobby he could definitely start filling up the tub. He plugged the drain and turned the hot water on full blast.
Esther asked me how much time there was between my painful contractions. I told her the truth – there was zero time between contractions, it was just wave after wave of pain and seizing up of my uterus. Tears were streaming down my face. She hooked me up to the stationary machines to monitor me and the baby and told me it was time to start pushing. I immediately went to work. I pushed so hard and put everything I had in me and more to push and be done with this pain. She actually told me that I was pushing too hard and to hold on a second. Then, she called in a team of NICU doctors and nurses and suddenly an oxygen mask was on my face and I heard all sorts of beeping noises and pitter pattering of extra people’s feet rushing into the room. I looked up at Bobby, who was holding my hand at the side of the bed. He looked really scared as he stared at the heartbeat monitoring machine. For some reason I thought maybe I was dying and that just drove me to push harder because I wanted my baby to be born so I could look at him or her before I passed. For some reason it didn’t cross my mind that the baby was not okay. I think because I just could not bear for that to be reality. I just had to get my baby born and then the doctors could take care of the baby and they could figure out what was wrong with me later.
Then, our baby was born. The tub was just about full and a nurse ran over to stop it from overflowing. Suffice it to say, I did not get my water birth. But I got the most amazing gift in the world. Our baby had arrived. For a moment, I didn’t hear anything. Then, after a beat, we heard the miraculous first cry. I started to cry tears of joy that my baby was okay. I actually kept shouting, “My baby! My baby!” The NICU doctors took the baby away, but only to the other side of our room, where they had a table and all the tools they needed. Bobby went over to look at this new little life. He came back smiling and said that everything was okay. I asked the important question – “So is it a boy or a girl?”
“Oh. I don’t know.”
“Oh my gosh go check!”
“It’s a boy!”
We both were so happy. Our little baby boy. We hadn’t decided between our top two boy names, but he was here and he was beautiful and healthy. Thank you Lord, the NICU staff gave the baby the okay and handed him back to Esther. She placed the baby, wiped down but not washed off yet, on my stomach and I watched him wriggle, eyes closed, instinct leading him, up to my bare chest and find my breast and begin to eat for the first time. It was the most amazing thing. All of the pain from the hours leading up to this was well worth it to have feeling in my body and clarity in my head to be present for this moment with my son. It was the happiest moment of my life and one I will never, ever forget.
Our baby was born at 12:59 am the day after I went in for my normal midwife checkup. It turns out, Esther had seen meconium – a baby’s first poop – in my water leakage. She couldn’t be sure how long I had been leaking amniotic fluid, and a baby pooping inside can be very dangerous because it can get into his lungs and cause big problems. That’s why she knew I needed to have the baby that day. I’m grateful that she didn’t give me all these details, knowing I would be in a panic. During my transition period and the time that I was pushing, the baby’s heart rate slowed to a dangerous level. That is why they put an oxygen mask on me, to try to get more air to the baby. I am glad I pushed him out so quickly, too, because the cord was wrapped around his neck. Esther skillfully unlooped it with her fingertips as he came out of me, which allowed him to breathe perfectly once he was out in the world.
Thank you to the midwives and nurses at Ochsner Baptist, to my parents, to my amazing supportive husband, and to God for our most precious blessing and biggest joy being born a year ago.
If you’re considering a natural birth with a midwife, I suggest you begin your journey by watching The Business of Being Born.