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I was in pre-labor for several weeks prior to the actual day Lily was born. I had several days of intermittent contractions, cramping, and pain in the last 3 weeks, resulting in my walking around at about 100% effaced and 3-4 cm dilated for about 12 days. The off and on nature of the preparatory contracting and cramping left me hopeful sometimes and very discouraged other times. A (my midwife) and S (her assistant/doula) did their best to keep my spirits up and encourage me to go about my day to day activities as usual. I kept myself busy running errands, doing laundry, cooking, and washing dishes, last minute nesting activities like organizing the pantry. One never knows when labor will finally set in, but I was prepared for it to be fairly quick, since my body had already done a lot of work. Good thing, because I was blindsided!
Active labor began as I was leaving the grocery store with mom, Grace, and the Thanksgiving turkey, among other things. Iï¿½d had about a half dozen Braxton Hicks contractions while we were shopping, over the course of about 35 minutes. They never made me stop and breathe through them, I just noticed they were happening more often than usual. I had also begun to leak fluid that morning, but didnï¿½t think it was my water. I mentioned it to A and she said it was probably the outer membrane of the amniotic sac leaking. After we checked out with the groceries, and I sat in the van, I had a small gush of fluid. Before we left the parking lot, I got my first contraction. They started right off the bat at 3 minutes apart and peaking after about 35-45 seconds.
I got in the door to the house and called my midwife, and she and S came over about 45 minutes later. She checked me, the amniotic sac was still intact, and I was dilated to 6 cm or so. I labored on my hands and knees for a while, finding that holding my abdominal muscles tight and arching my back to keep my rear tucked helped alleviate the pain somewhat. Lily had dropped very low already into my pelvis, and my tailbone hurt almost as much as my belly! I was excited about the day finally arriving, and that excitement helped me through a lot of the early contractions. I spent a little bit of time chatting in my bedroom with A and S while I labored, and I enjoyed the camraderie of women, knowing they knew how I was feeling and I was excited that we were going to share this experience of bringing my baby into the world.
I labored on the birthing ball awhile, while S was applied counter-pressure to my knees. This helped my tailbone area feel better, and mom was applying a hotpack to my lower back. I could feel the contractions becoming stronger at this point, and I think I started moaning through them while on the ball. I began to get a little frightened even as I let my body labor freely while I vocalized, I suppose because I was really surrendering to the contractions and not holding back. While the act itself seems relaxing and good, the surrendering of the control seemed unnatural to my personality. But I wanted to flow with it, and moaning and swaying seemed to be what came naturally.
I finally decided I needed to get brave, and stood through a few contractions, hoping that gravity would help bring baby down more. I know that gravity does a lot of work, but I knew the contractions would be more painful then. I stood hanging onto the fridge a while, I was rocking and swaying my hips and moaning through these contractions as well. It was interesting to me that I did not want any physical support, I just wanted pressure and heat on my back, and some gentle encouragement and guidance. I suppose it relates to where I was in labor, that I really wanted to be left alone, since I was listening so intently to what my body wanted at various times.
Rob, A, S, and my mom finished setting up and filling the birth tub in my kitchen, and I decided to get in. Audrey never checked my dilation again, but said later that she suspected I went from 6 to 10 in about a half hour after she got there. She thinks I was probably complete soon after I got in the tub.
I hadn't been in more than about 5 minutes when I started feeling the urge to push, but I tried to hold out for a while... not stopping what my body was doing, but also not pushing. I was on my hands and knees for a while, leaning over the sides of the tub, moaning. Sonya was nearby and would hold my hands as I clenched them through the contraction. Then I got on my bottom in the tub, and sort of lifted my hips up and swayed through the contractions as I moaned. My body started pushing during contractions, and I just went with it, letting my body push sometimes, and helping it by bearing down other times.
I started feeling very out of control at that point, even though following my bodyï¿½s cues was what I wanted. I began to feel like the contractions were overpowering me, and realized that I needed to begin bearing down during the contractions that made my body push. I don't think I was holding myself back very much from beginning to push, but I do think psychologically I was not ready for the pushing stage. I really didnï¿½t think it was going to come as quickly as it did. A and S knew better, they told me afterward.. simply by the quality of my moaning and the denial I was in about how soon baby would come. The tub, although supportive, does not really give anywhere to bear down, so I asked Rob to get in with me. As soon as he was behind me in the tub, the pushing really started.
On the birth video, I can see that I really quieted down and went deep inside. I was expecting to see more tears and more deep primal screaming, because that is how I felt that the pushing stage went. But all my fear and uncertainty during pushing was not apparent on the video. I knew that I could push the baby out, I just kept wishing for a break in the constant pain as the baby came down my birth canal. The ring of fire that women talk about as the baby crowns was something I felt for the whole 20 minutes of pushing. I was aware when my amniotic sac finally exploded, and announced that to the room, and soon after, Lilyï¿½s head was out. I have never felt such relief in my life as when her head emerged! I even leaned my head back on Rob's chest and said Oh THANK you! when her head came out.
I knew her body was still inside, but I could not imagine that it was going to be more difficult than pushing out the head. Interestingly, all pushing sensation left for a minute or more. I know her head was out and in the water, but without a contraction to tell me to push, I was afraid to just barrel ahead. So I caught my breath and waited for the next surge. It did come, and she was out! From the sound of A's voice on the video, and her words "The baby's trying to come out, Jen!", I think A wanted to let me know I had not pushed the entire baby out in that one push. At the time, all I could do was let her know that I didn't want to force it. I don't think A touched me during the entire pushing stage, until she saw Lily crowning, I have a vague memory of her supporting my perineum during that stage, and then keeping her hand on Lily's head as I was preparing to push her body out. She lifted her from the water and handed her to me as soon as she was out. S was quiet in the background, watching and preparing, moving the video camera around, and I have some vague memories of her voice with A's offering encouragement, praise for my effort, and validation of what I was feeling.
When Lily emerged, they were busy gathering the needed items for cord cutting, juice for me, towels for us, etc. They waited patiently as we had several minutes in the tub together as a family, and gently helped us out afterward.
Lily has been a great joy ever since her arrival. She came into the world in a peaceful way, surrounded by people who love her. I can't help but believe that it will affect her personality in a positive way. She is very instinctive at nursing, and makes me feel more centered than I ever have as a person.
I can honestly say that I enjoyed every aspect of Lily's birth. There's not one thing I would change about it. The long pre-labor was emotionally draining, but encouraged me that I could look forward to a shorter labor than last time. The beginning of labor was what I had expected and emotionally prepared myself for, so I was not terrified of the intensity or the spacing of the contractions from the outset. I was able to labor on my own, at my house, in whatever position I felt most comfortable. I needed only to ask for physical or emotional support, and it was offered without hesitation. I have become so familiar with A's voice over the last few months. The familiarity and the soothing, gentle way she speaks made a big difference in how I was processing things. I know A is honest and genuine, and I knew I could trust her completely to care for me and for the baby during the final stages of this journey.