Reading other birth stories online recently made me realize that I’ve never shared my own birth stories online. This story was originally written in my journal the day my baby was born and then went through a little bit of tuning to become the “official” birth story. Hindsight has altered my perception and interpretation of several of the events of his birth a bit, but I leave this account as it was originally written, because it is true to my experience and thoughts of the time:
Lann’s Birth Story
By his mama, Molly M. Remer
On Sept. 20th I woke up from a nap at 4:30 p.m. with a, “whoa! This is different” contraction. I had heaps of Braxton-Hicks contractions through much of my pregnancy and so I was anticipating that eventually they would just get somehow stronger and switch over into being real labor. It was different from the beginning though–there was a sharper feel to the contractions and they would start in my back and build around into the lower part of my belly. At 5:00, I mentioned to Mark that I thought something might be going on. We made cookies, I watered my plants, and we watched Catch Me if You Can while eating dinner. We decided that if something was still going on at 7:00, we would start calling people.
During the movie, it seemed like my contractions were less intense and I got a little bit depressed thinking that it probably wasn’t really IT after all. I got up and walked around for a few minutes and they immediately became more intense again. 7:00 came and went and I kept trying to convince myself that it probably wasn’t really labor. I went upstairs and was looking up false labor on the internet–ironically, during each contraction I would think, “I need to call people now” but as soon as the contraction went away, I would talk myself out of it–when Mom called to see how things were going (this was at 7:45). She had been out of town all day and was checking to see how my “pot” was doing (we had a running joke about my belly being the “watched pot”). I told her that I thought it was going to boil. We decided that I would check in with our doula before we made the call about whether Mom should come over or not. I called my doula and she said she thought it sounded like I was probably in early labor, but it might just be practice. The contractions were about 7 minutes apart at this point. I called Mom back and told her to go ahead and come, even though it might not be real. By the time she arrived at 10:00, the contractions were about 3 minutes apart and some were very back-to-back feeling–like another would start before the one before it ended. I wasn’t sure how to time those—did they count as one long one, or were they two, no minutes apart?
I called the birth center to talk to my doctor around this time (had to leave a message first and she called me back. Bit of a “crisis moment” about the call, because I wasn’t anticipating just leaving a message and it really threw my equilibrium off a bit). She talked to me through several contractions to kind of gauge where I was in labor. She said that since they weren’t lasting a full minute, that I was still probably in early labor and to pay more attention to the long-seeming contractions (the double ones), but not so much to the shorter ones. She also said that first time moms often have 2-3 “trial runs” and to try to go to sleep and to check back with her in the morning. I took a shower and had seven contractions fairly close together while in the shower, but was still telling myself that it might not really be it! Mom, Mark, & I all put on our pajamas and decided to go to bed–I was even thinking I might read for a bit. Ha! As soon as I lay down with the lights off, I felt incredibly awful. I had a long, immobilizing feeling contraction and felt very trapped just lying there. I also had a funny pressure feeling deep inside. I got up after it was over and felt some wetness in my underwear. I put my hand there as I went down the dark hall into the bathroom. As soon as I turned on the light, I saw that the wetness was blood and I had unfortunately left bloody fingerprints on the bathroom door, the wall, and the light switch. Oops! I told Mark & Mom that I couldn’t sleep and we checked in with my doula. She was still fairly convinced that it was early labor and said to check back again later when things were picking up.
Mark & Mom were wonderfully supportive of me as I labored. I tried various positions and they stacked up pillows for me on the bed so that I could be on my hands and knees on a soft surface (they put the Boppy onto some other pillows to make a “well” for my belly) and then Mom read some of my birth affirmations to me. That worked for a while. I also tried the birth ball for a while and ended up spending a lot of time on my knees on the floor with my head and arms resting on a pillow on the bed.
I had read in Birthing From Within about how women develop their “labor ritual”” and mine ended up to be humming a chant that was used during my Blessing Way in August (Woman Am I, Spirit Am I, I Am the Infinite Within My Soul, I Have No Beginning & I Have No End, All This I Am). I hummed that like my life depended on it and it was immensely helpful–volume of humming increased with intensity of contractions. I also found it helpful to hold a fused glass touchstone that a friend had given me. I had put it into an amulet bag and ended up wearing it until after the baby was born!
I forget when I told them to tell my doula to come, but she came at 2:00 a.m. Mark & I were working so well together and he was so there for me and was so what I needed, that we didn’t need a whole lot from the doula really. She tried a few things with me and made some position suggestions. She also brought some nice, soft night-lights to turn on. I had an interesting quirk going on in that whatever anyone would suggest to me, I would say “no” to, but then a lot of times I would try it anyway. I even recognized that myself and said, “I keep saying no to everything.” At this point the contractions were a maximum of 3 minutes apart and most of them were “double peaking.” I kept saying, “I don’t feel like I’m getting a break.” During each of these, similar to my earlier decision to call my support people in or not, I would think to myself “I need to go to the birth center NOW,” but I was too worried to say it because I was convinced I’d go and be wrong and only be 2 centimeters dilated or something, so between contractions I would talk myself out of saying it. I felt very internally focused and yet still aware of the people around me, though I wasn’t talking to them much and spent a lot of time with my eyes closed. They kept commenting to me and to each other about how calm and focused I was being and how “in control” I appeared. I don’t think I was really showing how intense and back-to-back these contractions were for me. I also started to have lots of internal pressure feelings during contractions when I was on my hands and knees.
My doula wanted to me to take a shower to see if that would help with the intensity of the contractions. I went into the bathroom and then came out again and finally had the courage to say the magic words, “I need to go to the birth center now.” It was 3:00 then. The doula called the doctor to tell her we were coming. They were thinking maybe it was a little early though, because I could still talk through the contractions. Also, right before we left, I used the bathroom and still washed my hands afterward–the doula said during our prenatal visits that one of her cues that a woman is in serious labor and approaching transition is that when she goes to the bathroom she often doesn’t even wipe, let alone wash her hands! I kept saying that I was worried that I would be “too early,” but I still wanted to leave. I took my little amulet and my favorite pillow and Mark and Mom collected my other supplies, like chapstick and my basket with my birth necklace and some birth art that I had made (needle felted birth goddesses).
We decided to go in Mom’s car because it is an SUV with more room in the backseat than my little Toyota. The doula said that it could be helpful to lean on the birth ball while in the car, but that it would mean not wearing a seatbelt. I said “I didn’t keep the baby safe for this long, only to be unsafe during labor” and strapped on the seat belt (I may not have actually said that during the labor—I had said it to her earlier—but I remember at least thinking it again). The car ride to the birth center felt extremely long. I felt more and more inward during the trip and barely made any noise at all, unless we went over a bump in the road at the same time a contraction was peaking. Mark held me very tightly against him to try to help with the bumping and jostling and I felt very supported and secure. I had to sit rather uncomfortably with my legs off to the side and kept feeling that pressure feeling during contractions. I weirdly still had the presence of mind to ask in the middle of our trip though, “did you remember to blow out the candles?” (I had thought those little soft lights from the doula were candles). What helped me cope was the ongoing refrain in my head, “this is normal. My body is meant to do this.”
We got to the birth center at 4:00 a.m. and pulled in before the midwife who was to be assisting the doctor arrived. The place was so dark and I remember saying, “there is nobody here!” Ivy got there as we were still getting out of the car though and got us into the birth center. We did get the “good” birth room with its own bathroom and everything. Mark called my friend to come to the birth center and she arrived at 4:30. After checking the baby’s heart rate and my blood pressure, the midwife asked if I wanted an internal exam. I said that I did. She checked and said, “the baby is at +2 and I can’t find a cervix.” This was highly confusing to all of us and so we asked what she meant and she said, “your cervix has disappeared” and then said, “you can start pushing when you feel the urge.” I was in complete disbelief and stared at her and said in total seriousness, “are you telling me the truth?” Everyone laughed about that (and still do).
Later, the midwife told me (when I was asking her, “are you sure I didn’t tear?” to which she said, “don’t you believe anything I tell you?”) that she was a surprised as I was to find I was fully dilated. She said she can usually tell when a woman comes in where she is in labor and she did not think I was that far along.
After finding out that I was fully dilated, I started to feel very odd and I really think I had to go through a sort of emotional/psychological transition to adjust myself to the fact that I had “missed” the physical transition point (which we hypothesize was happening in the car on the way to the birth center). I sat in the rocking chair for a while and kept saying things like, “am I dreaming? Is this real?” I also made a joke about feeling “trippy” like in Spiritual Midwifery. We also joked about what an A+ + + laboring woman I was (a family joke–I was a 4.0 student throughout college and grad school and so we always say that I like to get an A+ + + on everything I do). Those pressure feelings I had been having for a while, got a little more intense and I started pushing kind of experimentally. I was on my knees with my head on the bed on my pillow again and during one of the little pushes my water broke with a giant, startling POP and sprayed across the room including all over my friend. At this point, the midwife left saying, “I think I should call the doctor.”
I pushed in various positions and finally ended up semi-squatting on the bed. Pushing was very intense for me and I needed a lot of support and encouragement from Mark (who was by my side throughout and was so very there for me, both emotionally and physically). They brought over a mirror to help me see the baby’s head as it started to be visible during pushes. I got a little freaked out at this point about tearing. The sensations were so intense and I felt so much burning that it was kind of scary. I kind of liked having the mirror to see my baby, but on the other hand, I almost wish they hadn’t gotten it out because being able to watch what was going on merely intensified my feelings that I was going to be shredded to bits–i.e. not only did I feel the burning, I also could see that, yes, there is major stretching going on! I felt a certain sense of unreality and kept saying things like, “is this really me? Am I really doing this?” Anyway, I finally managed to kind of get over the burning and pushed out his head, which started crying while his body was still inside of me! I also could feel him moving both inside and outside, which was a very strange sensation. His body followed easily and he was in my arms at 6:15 on September 21st! (I pushed for about an hour and 15 minutes). It was glorious. He didn’t do as much of the “active alert” phase as I anticipated, but latched on and nursed for 30 minutes on each side instead.
The doctor had to apply a little bit of traction to get the placenta to come out (after 30 or so minutes of waiting for it) and Mark cut the cord. I was bleeding quite a bit and the doctor thought I should maybe have a pitocin shot (she had told me earlier that they rarely give them, so I took her very seriously). She said I was having lots of clots that were keeping the uterus from clamping down properly. I used the bathroom and was still bleeding quite a bit and so she said that she needed to get the clots out manually. That was absolutely horrible and very painful (Mark was holding the baby in the rocking chair at this point). I had to hum my Woman Am I chant very loudly in order to make it through. I didn’t see what was happening, but it felt and sounded like there were handfuls of clots being scooped out (I could hear them hit the chux pad). I also had a small labial tear that did not need to be stitched. Things seemed okay and the doctor went home after weighing, measuring, footprinting, and checking over new baby Lann Carlyle–8lbs 4oz and 21 inches! I kept bleeding some though and the midwife did end up giving me the pitocin shot (needed to hum again for that, since I hate needles!).
My friend went out and bought us breakfast from Perkins and we ate (I had French toast and bacon) and Lann nursed again. The midwife left and said the doctor would be back at 10:00 to check on us. She did come back at 10:00 and then left at 12:00 telling us to, “lock up when you decide to leave” (it was strange to be left in the birth center with the run of the place!). We left at about 12:30 and drove home. Lann slept in the car seat all the way home.
I guess I expected that at some point during the birth that I would kind of “lose myself” or something, but that never happened–for example, the doula offered me a Dum-Dum shortly after we got to the birth center and I looked through the bag to pick out my favorite flavor (butterscotch—which immediately tasted extremely cloying and horrible and I ended up throwing it away). I also anticipated becoming irritable or mean at some point and that did not happen either (I’m more irritable in everyday life, then I was in labor!). I almost felt like I had a mental observer part of myself that remained present, even though my body was so much in charge of the experience.
There are so many details that I’ve left out and I feel like I haven’t been able to adequately capture here the power of his birth and what it meant to me. I mostly just shared chronological details, but there was a lot of empowering stuff that was going on for me too that I can’t quite express in writing. Lann’s birth made me feel good about myself in a way that nothing else ever has. I feel so proud and pleased with how everything went 🙂
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I always wondered if I would even want a mirror — it seems just weird to me to think of looking at your own vagina while giving birth. I know some women say it helps them concentrate or push better or something, but I think it would just freak me out.
The mirror is definitely something I would not repeat! I’ve since read that they’re a bad idea because they take you out of your body basically–remove your focus from what is going on inside, to what is happening outside. Plus, they have the potential to freak you out. I was really scared during the pushing part of this birth and I feel like the mirror contributed to that. I never suggest it to anyone.
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Thanks for posting your birth story. I really enjoyed reading it. I’ve been a childbirth educator and a doula for about 10 years. I have a 4 year old daughter, but unlike most women in my profession, I’ve never given birth. My daughter was my 11th foster child but the only one I’ve adopted so far. Six of my kids were placed with me as newborns, including Bethany (my daughter). When I was reading your story and you were talking about so much pressure I was saying to myself, “She’s in 2nd stage – GO TO THE BIRTH CENTER!!!” Anytime I’ve ever talked to a woman in labor over the phone and she says there’s a lot of pressure that’s really intense I tell her to go to the hospital or birth center and 100% of the time she’s been either in transition or already 2nd stage. Anyway, I love how calm you were. As a doula and an educator I stress trying to remain calm and to understand it’s all natural and you’re safe, etc. I love to see babies come into the world. Thanks for your blog. I enjoy reading it.
Thanks for your comments, Nora. It took me a while to realize it, but after I became even more informed about birth than I was before this birth (and I was pretty informed!), it became obvious to me that I was in second stage. It is pretty ingrained in many care providers (including doulas), I think, that women are going to be “freaking out” in transition and if they haven’t done that yet, they can’t be very far along. I think because my amniotic sac was intact, it prevented me from feeling a full-scale pushing urge for some time, just that *pressure* feeling instead–but nothing uncontrollable or intense.
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