Margaret's birth was really life changing for me. Her entrance into this world really changed my perspective and attitude on birth. Simply put, I didn't know labor could even BE this way! It was amazing.
Often people ask me how it went (as you do) and expectant mums often ask, "Was it painful?" And I hesitate to answer because I don't want to sound... you know, crazy, but my answer is "No." I wouldn't feel honest if I said it was downright painful. It was intense, oh yes. There was a lot of pressure, definitely. Labor is a bizarre sensation. But it wasn't painful per se*. It was beautiful.
I'll start from the beginning.
Actually, I'll start with Audrey's birth.
...It was terrifying! I was scared right from the word go. I had that awful unbearable feeling that there was NO going back. It was too late to change my mind about going through labor and I was only at the beginning of a potentially long and horrible labor experience. I had no way of knowing "how bad" it was going to get and if I was going to be able to cope through it. That sort of thinking left me feeling really powerless in a situation that felt really scary to me. To be honest, Audrey's birth went fine. It was really straightforward, but it was also long. And painful. I literally fought every contraction with my body and I tensed up. I COULDN'T HELP IT. It was kind of awful. When it came time to push, it was fast and quick (10 minutes and she was out!) and I tore REALLY badly. I had about a zillion stitches and now joke that I was a patchwork quilt. But in reality, I couldn't even TALK about Audrey's birth for a long time without bursting into tears. It left me emotionally and physically scarred.
As soon as we found out we were pregnant again I knew that I had to deal with my fear. My fear had become all consuming and I KNEW that it had affected my labor to some degree. It must have. Stress takes a major toll on our bodies when we're not in labor, so surely it affects us in labor as well? I did a lot of praying. I found a lot of comfort in the Word. But I also realized that, maybe, fear was wrong. It didn't have a place in my life and I needed to deal with it. I needed to trust God regardless of the outcome, positive or negative.
So I did.
I came up with an action plan for me and Phil for during labor. I wanted to be MENTALLY present. I didn't want to mentally check-out like I did while I was in labor with Audrey (there are large portions of the labor that I don't remember). I wanted to play an active role in my labor. And above all I wanted to stay calm, relaxed, and fear-free.
Then my due-date came and went.
6 days overdue I decided to go on a long walk. It was a beautiful, clear winter morning and the sun was shining. I took Audrey with me and we walked around for the better part of an hour and spent some time together at the local park. We swung on the swings (yes, she made me swing too) and ran around (I hobbled). I'll always remember that morning together. We came back for lunch and soon after I started having some contractions. I didn't want to get everyone riled up in case it was a false alarm, but I was secretly VERY excited. We started packing a bag, just in case.
I relaxed my way through the contractions and felt a beautiful sense of calm and determination. I was going to get through this as calmly as I could. The contractions started at 10 minutes apart and I started to be convinced that the baby was definitely on her way. Within another hour the contractions were consistently 5 minutes apart. Woo hoo! I sent word to my midwife that the baby was finally on her way. The labor was definitely progressing more quickly that Audrey's labor had... but I felt bewildered, for a lack of a better word, at how relaxed I was able to remain. I was losing my mind at this point last time around. Every time a contraction hit, I immediately relaxed my whole body. Head, neck, jaw, arms, shoulders, fingers... by the time I relaxed every part of my body the contraction was over. This felt EASY! I felt exhilarated! I was able to talk and laugh and carry on with my day in between each contraction, another one would hit, and I would relax into the contraction and focus on my body and my mind staying calm. I settled into a beautiful rhythm and began to let myself think, "I can do this! I WILL do this." It was hard to not feel giddy about the whole thing!
I labored for 6 hours at home with Phil and Mom at my side. Mom and Phil put pressure on my back when each contraction hit and held a hot water bottle on my lower back when I asked for it. They were AMAZING support throughout the labor. We were talking and waiting for the contractions to move closer together. I guessed that the baby would come around 8 o'clock that night, but really, I was getting ready for the long haul (Audrey's labor was 17 hours). I let my midwife know what was happening. She said that she had another woman in pre-term labor at the hospital and asked if I would be able to come birth there. I felt gutted over what she was asking me. I did NOT want to birth at the hospital if I didn't have to. I decided quickly that, unless I could help it, I would birth at the birthing center with the backup midwife (whom I had never met). At this point, my contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and we started talking about when we should head over to the birthing center. I was convinced that it wasn't time yet because I hadn't reached the point where I "lost my mind". I felt really good! I had a decent amount of energy yet and I was convinced that the birth was still really far away. Another strong contraction hit and I leaned into the back of the couch so I could focus through the contraction and suddenly my waters burst! It struck me as hilarious and I scream/laughed at Phil for help! He ran over with a towel and sumo-diapered me with the towel as we made our way to the bathroom. I could not. stop. laughing at my waters breaking. I was literally in tears over how hilarious and bizarre it was. It felt like I was peeing my pants! But it kept GOING and GOING! SO. MUCH. FLUID. Phil thinks it wasn't that funny. But it was. ;)
I hopped into the shower and my contractions quickly sped up to 2 minutes apart. Mom was getting a bit nervous and strongly advised that we head over to the birthing center soon. I still felt fine but since my contractions were only 2 minutes apart, it seemed like a good idea.
We hopped in the car and made our way to the birthing center. As soon as we got there my contractions increasingly got stronger and stronger. We quickly met the backup midwife** and made our way inside. At home, I had felt great with the hot water on my back so the midwife suggested I hop in the shower for some relief. I didn't want to come out because the water felt great but we felt like we should do an internal check to see how far I had progressed. I was checked and the midwife informed us that we were already at 8cms! *fist pump* I WAS THRILLED to have made such great progress on my own at home! I felt like doing a backflip! I felt so relieved and excited. SO different to my previous birth experience. WE WERE DOING IT!
Transition hit, and it was certainly harder, but I was still able to carry on conversation in between contractions. I was still mentally PRESENT and it felt really good. I opted to hop in the bath for the rest of the labor. Phil hopped in with me and applied some much needed pressure on my lower back and massaged my shoulders when I started to tense up. He's good, that man.
8 o'clock hit and I felt a huge wave of pressure descend into my bottom. It was time to start pushing, she was making her way out. She crowned quickly and effortlessly and that's when I started to stretch and burn. As soon as I felt the burn I was struck with fear. Pure terror. I knew that the burning was normal but I immediately associated that stretching and burning with tearing! I was reminded of how badly I tore with Audrey and it felt like I was ripping all over again. It was a really scary feeling! I was afraid of losing all that blood and the threat of a blood transfusion.
My contractions completely disappeared in that moment of fear. My body seized up and I suddenly couldn't continue. I leaned against Phil and fought against her head that was already halfway out. My midwife urged me to carry on but I simply had no contractions to work with and I started to panic and lose my cool. I felt like my control was slipping away. I knew that I needed help and that I needed to focus, so I opted to stand for the rest of the pushing to let gravity assist me. Phil pulled me to my feet and my contractions immediately returned. That decisive action was enough to snap me out of my fear and return some of the control to me. Two more pushes and she was in my arms.
You never forget that feeling of holding your baby for the first time. It's true love and pure bliss.
She went straight into my arms and we cuddled and while she suckled for almost 2 hours. Can I get a hollah for NO STITCHES?! I feel so blessed to have had such a lovely and gorgeous birth experience. I couldn't have hoped for anything better. I feel SO pleased with how it went. I feel really proud of myself and I feel really EXCITED for next time. Whenever that is. I no longer fear birth. I look forward to it. And I look forward to conquering my fear of 'the burn' next time. I'm confident that next time will be even better.
*Except for the pushing part at the end and then it BURNED! Least favorite part... followed by the BEST PART! The baby!
**She was SO so lovely!!! She was so gentle and calm. She was very low profile until I needed her. Me and Phil both agree that she was JUST what we needed.