Written by: Ash
The night before hard labour began, I experienced waves of mild lower uterine cramping & back pain; manageable, but pronounced enough to wake me up from time to time. By late morning the next day, slight cramping continued. I noticed discharge; the mucus plug coming out, perhaps? I texted Kaz; she confirmed that’s what it sounded like. She cautioned that this could last for days, adding, “your body sounds like it is setting itself up for a great birth”.
Wonderful words of encouragement!! Keeping in mind that I could be anticipating this for days, I embarked on a hike that afternoon, hoping to clear my head and distract myself from overthinking. There were definitely some moments where I had to stop to get through a cramp, but again, the intensity was not unlike menstrual cramps; I was happy to be “walking it off” so to speak. When I came home, I noticed the discharge was now dark red blood; what a flashback! It really did feel like I was getting my period.
The day continued with business as usual; at 5pm my husband and I took the cat to the Vet for a scheduled check-up. The vet asked how far along I was in pregnancy, to which I responded “uhhhh I think I may be in early labour…NOW.” I was excited by the prospect of being in labour, but still thought that this would all go away, or continue in varying degrees for days on end. I updated Kaz on the bleeding & cramping status; she instructed me to rest, eat well, drink lots of fluids, get to bed early, and have a nice soak before bedtime. With no signs of the cramps stopping (strong, frequent, but not long-lasting), I had a phone call with her later that evening to clarify when I should call her if things got more intense. Her reply? “You’ll know; call me when you need somebody there to tell you that these sensations are normal and alright”. Following her bedtime directions, I drew the curtains on that big, full moon shining through the window, and crawled into bed early.
Around midnight, it got real. I still thought of these sensations I was having as “cramps”. Who knows when cramps become contractions? It’s all just language, anyway. My husband got kicked out of bed, as I needed all of the space for my body to accommodate the waves; I was moving at unusual angles in an attempt to do this. My mind created a mantra, it was “Trust The Process”. I would whisper it to myself just prior to the most intense part of these sensations. Accompanied with it would be some loud, wounded-animal noises; my hands grasped firmly to our solid headboard and I tried to keep my jaw relaxed. All the while, a fan was kept on in the hopes that I wouldn’t wake my husband, now on the living room couch. We had been told so many times how it was important for him to get as much sleep as possible.
At some point, around 2:30am, a new noise was added to my wails: the sound of pushing. It was involuntary. I was in bed, on my side, legs together, and yet my body insisted on pushing. I guess my new pitch and/or volume finally broke through the white noise of the fan, because my husband woke up to survey this new and dramatically different landscape. Somehow I was still able to figure out that these waves were not yet three minutes apart, so I didn’t think it was time to call the midwives, based on their ”3-2-1” rule. However, I had been schooled enough in birth over the last nine months to know that involuntary pushing meant that the phases of labour were moving along, and maybe I was further into the process than I had thought (later, Kaz would say “you were push-Y, but not quite push-ING”). Still, I wanted to ride it out, alone, in bed, for as long as I could. At about 5am, it got to a level of intensity (vomit included!) where my husband finally got my permission to phone Kaz.
She arrived quickly thereafter, all smiles, positive and pleased with the progress already made. Her presence was extremely calming in the face of my contractions; I felt soothed and centered. With my blessing, Kaz lifted my leg by the ankle to see what was going on during a contraction (I was still in bed, lying on my side). Residual water from an earlier shower had made me think that maybe my waters had already broken, but, mid-lift, my waters broke with a huge horizontal spray that shot across the room, narrowly missing her head. It was a great moment of comic relief. Getting the birthing tub set up, and calling the midwives were the next orders of business.
After the water broke, push-Y became push-ING. I realize now, that at some point while I was in the tub, that labour was so intense that I was rendered pretty much unable to speak. If there was a question that I had HAD to answer, I may have been able to huff out some words, but really, all my energy was going to the task at hand. I remember being annoyed by the low voices of those chatting in the corner, but unable to shush them; I wanted at some point to admonish my husband for using harsh words when addressing the cat’s meowing for his breakfast, but saying the words “don’t be mean to our cat!” felt like a monumental task.
Once in the birthing pool, contractions slowed down. I had noted in my birth plan that I take well to acupuncture, so the midwives started pushing down on pressure points (ankle and shoulder). It worked like a charm, and let my body produce oxytocin gently, without any shock to its natural process. A cold, wet towel on the forehead and nipple stimulation helped as well. I don’t think it was just the water surrounding me that made me think that labour is like surfing. Like waiting for a wave to ride, there I was, away from shore. The longer my labour went, the more proficient I became at anticipating a contraction. If I could catch it in time then i could make the most of it. If I missed it, if I didn’t get into position in time, it would be an inefficient use of energy (and missing it is pretty easy when you are literally awoken from sleep by a contraction). I fell into a pattern where I could reliably get three pushes out of a contraction, and then it would cease; the ocean would go calm.
These pushes were LOUD (I still can’t believe the neighbours didn’t hear it in our little apartment building; they claim that they were none the wiser). I tried my hardest to keep sounds deep and guttural, so as to correspond with the lower, deeper part of my body. Admittedly there were some where I ended on a high-pitched note of exasperation, which I knew wasn’t going to serve me well at all; high pitches correspond to the top of your body; you’re too much in your head. Labour is well-named; it’s the body’s WORK that needs to be respected, not second guessed by the intellect. I had let my intellect take over, and became frustrated because it felt like this labour was taking “too long”; I got myself back on track, and am thankful that there were only words of support from those attending; nobody started to question if I needed any pain relief, or whether I was getting tired. How unproductive that would have been! Instead, I was told was that I was doing great and was very close. The midwives checked the baby’s heartbeat after every contraction, and even though a little doppler gently placed on my belly felt invasive at the time, I got over my annoyance and accepted it as supportive feedback; 110 bpm was the lowest my daughter’s heart dropped to on her big journey.
Looking out the window, I could see Mount Garibaldi, in its snow-capped brilliance, getting ever brighter as the sun rose higher in the sky; it was the only thing that gave me a sense of time. I was tired and vexed from the hours of pushing, so Kaz and the midwives encouraged me to check myself to see how far down the baby was; it was the only vaginal check conducted, and it was done by me. I felt the baby’s hair about two inches up. Yes, hair! It was so weird, but very encouraging. It’s amazing to think how much work it is for mother and baby to move such a short distance.
I had changed positions several times, each move taking an astonishing amount of energy. I finally ended up in a squat position, and I would rest (i.e. sleep) on my knees, slumped over the pool. With each contraction, and the pushes that came with them, I hoped I was getting closer. Everyone exclaimed “you’re SO close!”, but it felt like they had been saying that forever! Eventually, with the help of a mirror at the bottom of the tub, everyone could see the baby’s head showing with my pushes, but then popping back in. For how much longer would this last?! I re-focused, determined that this labour would be OVER soon. I gave everything I had, I turned three pushes per contraction into five, even six pushes. When the head went back in I nearly wept, but this was the worst time ever to feel sorry for myself, so I gave everything I had, and more, pushing as hard as I could, keeping the voice low.
Kaz repeated a mantra of ”you’re safe, you’re stretchinggggg…” there was so much friction, A vision took over my mind; a immense red flower, revealing new petals in order to expand. Then came a huge relief of pressure. Between my physical position, and my trance-state, it makes sense that I was the last person to realize that I had successfully birthed the head. My husband, at the behest of Kaz and the midwives, stripped down and jumped in the pool. I was dazed, asking “sooooo…what do I do now?” With the next contraction, I pushed out the body with ease. Our daughter was born at 11:30am, twelve unforgettable hours after the onset of hard labour.
With the moment of birth came the answer to why I had pushed for so long: she was a unicorn! The bump that usually moulds at the top of the head was on her forehead; she had come out in brow presentation. Also, the “horn” was off to the right side of her forehead, making it an asynclitic birth. This moulding had caused her right eye to be shut completely, and it was fascinating to see that bump disappear and the eye open over a period of mere minutes.
The hours after her birth were a mix of business and (mostly) pleasure. The mood was amazing; so much joy and good humour! After about half an hour in the tub as a family, I pushed out the placenta at the behest of the midwives. With no contractions, it took quite a bit of focus to do this!
At that point, I was, finally, physically detached from our baby, and left her and her father to swim around together, the placenta left attached to the baby, floating around in a pot. I went over to my couch and got inspected. The midwives pushed down on my belly (which hurt quite a bit!) and I ended up getting a few “aesthetic” stitches to a tiny tear on my perineum; neither the freezing, nor the procedure itself, was at all painful. I finally ate – which hurt more than anything else; my throat was raw for days from all of the unusual sounds I had made.
With a sense of leisure, we eventually addressed the severing of our daughter from her placenta. The cord had stopped pulsing; it was a bright, beautiful pearl white. We opened a window for ventilation, and my husband burned the cord with a candle as the baby fed from my breast, which in many ways is her new placenta; her source of nourishment and comfort.! !
In retrospect, the hardest part if labour is not pain endurance (I don’t know if I’d even classify contractions as pain; they should be in a unique category of human experience), but mental and emotional endurance. Trusting your body, trusting yourself and those around you. Focusing on the task, not giving into stress. To me, it was essential that I knew as much as possible about all of the “what ifs” so I felt that I would be able to make an informed decision, no matter what complication arose. With that need for information sated, I felt prepared; able to just let go and labour. However, without Kaz’s guidance, throughout pregnancy AND birth, I think I would have been ill-prepared in both medical knowledge and emotional self-knowledge. Certainly, myself AND my husband would have had less emotional support to get me through the labour. It’s that consistent support and sense of trust and advocacy that, in our opinion, makes a doula an indispensable member of a birthing team. We couldn’t be happier with Kaz’s warmth, wisdom, and guidance, which made it possible for our daughter to be transitioned into this world in the gentle and joyous way that she was.