So Ready For Her.
I had been having "practice labor" for about a week before she came. Painful contractions would start up in the middle of the night, coming sporadically, then die out after a couple hours. Combine this frustration with the anxiety of waiting for my baby to come and the physical demands of being full-term and you have a very impatient woman! I was doing everything I could to prepare myself for the task at hand. My birth bag was packed (got my olive oil, heh) and I had my calendar with the midwives' on-call schedule. I was drinking my red raspberry leaf tea, taking Evening Primrose Oil to soften my cervix, and doing lots of squats to move her down. I was sitting on my exercise ball whenever I watched TV to keep baby positioned right. I guess something was working because when Betty checked me at 38 weeks, my cervix was 2 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced. I thought, this is it. I'm going to have this baby VERY SOON. When I reached 38 weeks, every day felt like "the day" and when they ended without labor, it got pretty frustrating. Another long week passed by.
My practice labor had completely stopped, which was bittersweet for me. I found myself wishing for the pain to start. (Masochistic much?) But it was good for my body to get a break and I actually got a lot of rest before the baby came, which I would need every ounce of on Wednesday, June the 8th. 3 days before my due date, I went in for my morning appointment with Betty. After I told her about all the rest I had gotten and how ready I felt, she offered to "sweep my membranes" to possibly stir things up a bit. This is when your doctor or midwife inserts their finger into your cervix and loosens the membrane, which can stimulate labor. Note: this does not mean they break your water. It was painful, nonetheless. Before I left the birth center, Lynne suggested I set up my next appointments just in case. I agreed, saying I needed all the good juju I could get!
Could It Be?!
The contractions started up around 2:30pm on June 7th. I was keeping myself busy playing video games. I thought to myself, this is probably just more false labor. So, I got in the tub for a while, expecting them to go away shortly. They kept coming. I laid in bed for a while, but they kept coming. I decided to start timing them to see if they were coming in regular intervals, a good sign of real labor. Guy was smart enough not to suggest they were real, though…didn't want to jinx it. I'm not a superstitious person, but when I want something bad enough, I will take every precaution. So, I sat on my exercise ball and watched Guy play video games while I timed my contractions. Finally, after watching several Doctor Who episodes, they were 4 minutes apart and 1 minute long for an hour. I decided to call Betty. I remember putting on my Depends and my sneakers like I was suiting up for battle. I was determined and focused.
We drove to Inanna, and there was another woman there giving birth. I could hear her grunts and finally the sweet sound of a baby's first cry. I was pumped. Then Betty checked me and said I was still only 2 centimeters dilated. I was crushed! I thought, don't send me home, don't send me home. She told us to take a walk. So we walked up and down University Drive, stopping every 2 minutes to breathe through a contraction. Of course, we also stopped at McDonald's for some ice cream. One hour later, Betty checked me again. I was a "loose" 2 centimeters. It was getting late, so Betty suggested that I take a sleep aid to rest through the early labor and go home to get some rest. My choices were Unisom, Ambien, or a shot of something stronger (can't recall the name). I knew the Unisom wouldn't be strong enough, so I went with Ambien. The next couple hours were a nightmarish blur. I was in this dream state where I drifted in between a horrible nightmare and a reality of intense contractions. I remember reaching for Guy in bed, trying to stay lucid enough to ask him to call Betty and tell her I was ready to come back. Next thing I knew, we were there and I was in the tub! Let me take a moment to say I will make an effort to never ever take Ambien again. Yikes.
Welcome to Labor Land.
When I got back to the center around 12:30am, I was 6 centimeters. We were in business! I jumped in that tub as fast as I could. There I was, laboring away in the tub which felt SO much better. Guy was holding a cool washcloth on my neck, since I was in there for several hours. By this time, I was in transition. I could try to describe it, but it probably wouldn't suffice. Was it painful? Yes…but it was a purposeful pain, and when you know why it feels a certain way, it somehow makes it tolerable. This is not the kind of pain you experience in any other time of your life, so for me to experience it was kind of fulfilling, in a way. Plus, I knew it would not last forever, so that really helped. Pretty sure my water broke while I was in there, too. Guy stepped out to make the call to our mothers, my sister, and my best friend Nikki. He also put on some music at some point, and I guess he never had a chance to change the album on my iPod, because The Best of Sade was playing on repeat THE WHOLE TIME. I didn't care much, though. In fact, it probably helped me zone out into "labor land."
Betty was so incredibly helpful, without being bossy or controlling. With each contraction, she would tell me I was doing a great job, and that if I felt the urge to bear down, that I should go with it. At some point, Betty said to someone, "she went from 2 centimeters, to 6, and now she's 9 and a half!" Music to my ears! I jumped out of the tub when I was just about ready to push.
Meanwhile, my poor family had to listen to a strange chorus of "Smooth Operator" and my labor noises. It was time to push, and I honestly didn't know they were even out there. I think this really worked in my favor because I didn't hold back. I remember watching videos of women making noises like mooing, singing, and even something reminiscent of an airplane taking off. It seems funny to someone who is not in labor, but once you are in that moment, you just let your body make whatever noise it needs to get through.
Birthing My Baby Girl...
I thought pushing would be the easier part of my labor, but it turned out to be the hardest. Apparently, Olive's head was caught on the last little bit of my cervix that refused to dilate. I was pushing on the bed. Then I was squatting by the bed. Guy was holding me up over a mirror as I squatted for what seemed like hours. Finally, Guy and the midwives had to push against my belly while one reached in and turned her head. I don't remember this at all, but I am so thankful I had midwives who knew to do this, because apparently it worked. Not sure how that would have played out in a hospital. Anyway, there I was on the bed pushing effectively at last. Guy holding one leg, Lynne on the other, and Betty in front of me to guide me through it. Guy tells me I was smiling through the whole thing. I believe him, because I look back at that time and it is shimmery and lovely. I hear Betty and Lynne's gentle encouragement, Guy offering me refreshment in between contractions, and my inner voice telling me this was really happening and I am about to see my baby. I just had to push her out. Contraction, push, push, push, relax for a moment. Repeat. I really don't know how long this lasted, but I do remember that ring of fire. The moment when her head was emerging. Yes, I felt it. And it was awesome.
It was 5 am when they told me to reach down and pull her out. I thought they were crazy! But then the idea of pulling my baby out myself took hold of me and I couldn't waste a single moment. I found her and pulled her out, and placed her on my chest. I thought, this is where you belong, little one. There is something incredibly satisfying about knowing I was the one who carried her for nine months, labored her down, and pulled her out of the confines of my womb to the safety of my arms. I looked at Guy, my best friend, the person with whom I shared love and life, and he glowed. I felt the joy in myself when I saw him. I looked at the daughter we created together, and I saw that same glow. I thought I knew what happiness felt like, but I had no idea. This is happiness.
A New Life Starts!
Olivia Carol Johnson was 8 pounds, 11 ounces of perfection. Happily, I had only a tiny laceration, and required zero stitches. I swear, you guys, it was the olive oil. After a quick exam and a visit from the family, Olive and I passed out on the bed while Guy slept on the couch in the room. Many hours later, I woke up to that pretty little face sleeping so peacefully. I just wanted to stay there forever! But, I really wanted to get home to my own bed and cozy up with my husband and baby. Luckily, having her at the birth center meant I could take her home as soon as I felt ready (as long as we were healthy).
Shout-Out:I just want to take a moment to give props to my midwives. I will always be grateful to Inanna Birth Center for what they did for us. They gave us a happy, encouraging, and most importantly, safe environment in which I could birth my baby the way I felt I needed to. I can't imagine going anywhere else to get the level of service and care they provide. Betty was so calming and ready to answer all of my questions (seriously, I had millions). Jean's expertise and experience was especially reassuring. Lynne made me feel like a part of her family, always very personable. Patty so kind and gentle, as a fellow mother, I knew she was a great source of information and advice. They all were very busy and yet they took the time to get to know me and my husband. Combine that with their many years of medical training and expertise, why wouldn't I choose them? I recommend them to every woman who knows they want a positive, safe, and natural childbirth.