My labor started at 10:00 a.m. on February 22, 2007, very slowly. I felt some mild crampiness in my lower abdomen that felt like menstrual cramps. This was exactly how my labor had started with my son Eli. The cramps came irregularly, sometimes every half hour, sometimes with longer intervals. They did not cause me to stop my regular activities. I decided to rest quietly in bed for awhile and to listen to a CD on optimal fetal positioning that my doula had given me. I took this opportunity to talk to my baby, to tell her that I love her and that I would like to work together as a team to make her birth as safe and gentle as possible. I told her that I looked forward to meeting her, and I tried to visualize her in an optimal position for passage through my pelvis and the birth canal. I felt very relaxed after listening to the CD.
I told Jonathan about the cramps, and he kept asking me if I was in labor and when the baby was going to come. I told him that I did not know, but that the contractions were not very regular. I kept thinking about what Cathi, my midwife, had told me about some women who have these kinds of irregular contractions for days or more before going into active labor, and I hoped that this would not be the case for me. I started to feel excited that this would be the day that my baby would be born.
I started to do some yoga, but was distracted by Jonathan, who suggested that I should get outside to walk around. So we went out to do some errands. My contractions were still mild, irregular, and spaced about 15-30 minutes apart. It had been a mild day outside for February. Just as we left our house, however, the wind started to pick up. The forecast was for plunging temperatures (from around 60 degrees to the mid 30s) and very windy conditions with gusts up to 60 mph. The noise and the feeling of the wind caused me to feel like I had butterflies in my stomach and I did not feel like getting out the car.
While we were out, it was very difficult to concentrate because I kept thinking that maybe the contractions were getting closer together and that maybe we should go home to start preparing for a birth. Then, all of a sudden I felt a trickle of fluid, and I excused myself to use the bathroom. With my first baby, my water broke before I went into labor. This felt much the same, and I told Jonathan that I thought my water had just broken. We quickly returned home around 3:00 p.m. I called my midwife to inform her of the status. She told me to just relax and to let her know if anything changed, and she would check with me in an hour. I decided to do some yoga to center myself and prepare for birth. The contractions were getting a little bit closer together, about 10 minutes apart, but were still tolerable and did not cause me to stop doing yoga.
I called our friend Susan and asked her to come over to pick up our son. We had arranged for her and her husband to take Eli to their house to play with their son Oliver and to stay the night, if necessary, during the birth. She came over a little after 5:00 p.m.. My contractions were becoming more painful. It was difficult getting Eli out of the house, and once he realized that he was going in their car and that Jonathan and I were not going with him, he became hysterical. I felt terrible sending him away, but I knew that it would be impossible for me to birth with him in the house. What is really amazing is that, as soon as Susan left with Eli, my contractions made a dramatic shift from pretty tolerable and spaced fairly comfortably apart, to extremely intense and less than 5 minutes apart. Jonathan asked me a question about where to find something in the house, but I was bowled over on my hands and knees in the living room and told him that I could not talk. The contractions intensified so quickly, just like the wind had increased suddenly earlier in the day. Afterwards, Cathi accurately described my labor as precipitous. I became a little bit frightened because the contractions were so overwhelming and painful, and I wondered if this was normal. Jonathan was not really able to support me because he was busy filling up the birth pool. I started to worry that maybe something was wrong. I tried to reach my doula, but she did not answer her phone. In retrospect, I would have had her come over earlier to help with getting Eli out of the house and to help when my labor ramped up so strongly.
I told Jonathan to call Cathi right away. I did not know her cell phone number, so he had to call her husband to get it. She had been out doing a prenatal visit with another client. When he finally reached her, he told her to come over immediately. Luckily she was already on her way to my house, and she arrived only 10 minutes later. Cathi later told me that something told her she should come to check on me, especially because it was rush hour. Luckily she did not go to another prenatal visit she had scheduled first! Cathi told me that I was probably already in transition when Jonathan spoke to her at around 6:00, because only 15 minutes after she arrived I was spontaneously bearing down.
Cathi and Kelly, the birth assistant, came in and immediately moved into action to prepare for the birth. They performed like a well-choreographed ballet. I was on my hands and knees in our bedroom. Every contraction took my breath away and my whole stomach was undulating forcefully. I was grunting and making noises that I never thought would come out of me. I kept trying to do the ujaii breathing that I practice in yoga, which is like diaphragmatic or abdominal breathing. I remember saying "Oh, man, this is so painful," and I kept wishing desperately that the birth was over. I asked Kelly if this was normal and if I was pushing yet, and she told me that I was doing beautifully. I decided to get into the birth pool. The water felt nice and warm, but I was already bearing down, so it did not do much to help with the pain. I was on my knees leaning over the edge of the pool, but my legs were becoming very tired. The contractions were lasting only 45 seconds and were 2 to 3 minutes apart, but they felt like they lasted forever and like there was almost no time to rest between contractions. I also felt incredible pressure in my rectum, as if it was going to explode. I had absolutely no control over what my body was doing. All of my planning to move into different positions and to rest between contractions went out the window.
Kelly was having a hard time getting fetal heart tones with the doppler. I later learned that Cathi was becoming concerned because the fetal heart tones were decelerating to the 70s, 80s and 90s during the contractions, although they were returning to a baseline of 130. Cathi told me that she thought I should get out of the tub to lay down on my back and that I should probably push the baby out sooner rather than later. She told me after the birth, however, that because the baby's heart rate kept rebounding to a normal baseline and there was no indication of stress, it was safe to stay at home. Once Maya got her head under my pubic bone, her heart rate resolved completely.
I moved to our bed, flat on my back with my knees up. It was not a very comfortable position to be in, but I definitely felt more progress. Although I thought I was pushing as hard as I could during the contractions, Cathi told me that I needed to work harder to move the baby down. Fortunately, within 15 minutes, Maya's head was crowning, and I could see with a mirror that she had tons of dark hair. I was so relieved that Maya was almost here and that there was an end in sight. Cathi told me not to push as forcefully so that I could birth Maya's head gently. Her head was causing such burning, and I could not wait to push it out, so it was difficult to push more slowly. But I heard such encouraging words from everyone about how I was doing so well and pushing perfectly. I had been so worried that I would not know how to push. With Eli, I ended up with a c-section because he was posterior, and I pushed for 3 hours with absolutely no progress. I remember the nurse midwife at the hospital saying to me, "don't you know how to push?" But now, I felt like my body knew exactly what to do to push out Maya gently and safely. I touched Maya's head as it came out, and I was in such awe that I was successfully pushing her out myself. I was so excited that I would soon see her face and be able to hold her. After her head was out, everything moved so quickly, and suddenly, there Maya was on my chest and crying loudly. She was born at 7:15, less than 2 hours after my active labor began and with only 40 minutes of pushing. She was absolutely beautiful, and pink, and so alert. Her birth was exactly the gentle, quiet birth, free from unnecessary interventions, that I had wanted and always knew that I would have. I am grateful for all of the support that I have received from ICAN over the last 2 years. I know that I could not have had the healthy and beautiful birth experience that I had without the knowledge, wisdom and trust in the birth process that the women of ICAN have.