The day before, my husband Craig and I had gone to our birthing class (just in the nick of time!) and afterward I wanted to go on a date. Craig was tired and wanted to go home and I got super emotional, saying that it might be “the last date we get to go on before Fern is born”, so we compromised and he took me out for a milkshake later that evening. When we got home we watched some TV and went to bed.
Around 2:00 a.m. my contractions started. I’d been feeling a little bit “crampy” the day before, but didn’t really think anything of it, since it wasn’t painful. I had wondered before how I’d know if I was actually having contractions, but when they actually started I just knew. I laid in bed for about an hour timing my contractions on the iPhone app I’d downloaded for the occasion. The contractions were 3-5 minutes apart, lasting for one minute, which is when my midwife had told me was the time to head down to the birthing center. Could this be the real thing? I had fully prepared myself to be laboring for a long while – days even, since everyone says that first babies tend to take awhile (20 hours on average), but this seemed so fast! I sent a text to my midwife to let her know what was going on and she texted me back saying that I should go back to sleep and call her in the morning to see how things were progressing. Was she serious?? I tried to sleep for another half an hour, but by that time the contractions has intensified, so Craig got up with me and we started watching a basketball game he’d DVR’d. After about a half hour of that, I decided that this must be the real thing and called my midwife. She heard me have a contraction while we were on the phone and decided that I probably was in active labor and to wait an hour so they could get my room set up and then head down to the birthing center.
During this time we ran around the house collecting all of the things we’d need to take with us. The ironic thing is that I actually ended up forgetting the diaper bag with all of Fern’s clothes/diapers/blankets, but did remember to put in pearl earrings. Craig laughed at me for this, since I did it right in the middle of a contraction, but hey – a girl wants to feel pretty while she’s giving birth!
I was starting to get a little bit frantic during my contractions and had a hard time staying calm, but once we got to the birthing center I felt much more relaxed. It was like a breath of fresh air, a realization that I was ok now because this is where you have a baby….not on your couch while watching a Blazer game. We arrived at the birthing center around 6:00 a.m. and I labored in various positions for the next six hours – in the birthing tub, on the birthing stool, standing up while leaning on Craig and even on the toilet (I know it sounds weird, but it was actually kind of perfect). I tried getting in the bed once, but that was short lived. It was pretty much the most uncomfortable thing ever and I said that there was no way I was ever getting back in that bed again…and I didn’t. Whatever position I was in though, I quickly learned that I liked to labor in complete silence (so much for that birth mix I agonized over)…eyes closed with focused breathing. I didn’t want anyone talking, but I did want Craig to be right there by my side, which he was very diligent about.
Around noon, I started feeling a little defeated. My contractions didn’t seem to be getting any closer together – they were still 3-5 minutes apart. (*Side note – and this is something I didn’t realize before: the time in between contractions is amazing. I had read before that I would get “rests” in between contractions, but I figured that it would be kind of like when you stub your toe…after a bit, the immediate pain goes away, but there’s still the slight throbbing of where the pain occurred, but no. The resting time in between contractions is AMAZING. In between contractions I felt totally fine…like…as in…the “I can’t possibly be in labor, I’m falling asleep right now” kind of fine). At the birthing center they don’t do cervical checks unless you specifically ask for them, because the way they see it – it doesn’t really matter how far dilated you are – you’ll have a baby at some point regardless. But at this point I felt like I needed to have at least a ballpark guess of how much progress I was making, so I asked my midwife to check me, but told her not to tell me a number, just let me know whether I was making progress. A quick check confirmed that I was almost completely dilated!
Yay! Now, comes the easy part right? Everyone always talks about how great the pushing part of labor is, so this should be awesome! Ummmm…not so much. The pushing was by far the hardest part for me. I pushed for about three long, hard hours. After the first hour, since I wasn’t making much progress, my midwife suggested a bit of directed pushing, which while uncomfortable was incredibly helpful. Sometime around hour #2 of pushing I started to feel a bit defeated and started questioning my ability to have this baby naturally. This came out in my laboring. Before this there was some low (but definitely loud) moaning happening, but by this point there were most assuredly some tears and yelling…screaming even. I kept saying “I don’t think I can do this!”, to which my midwife replied, “Yes. You can. You’re doing it right now.” Touche. At one point the tears were flowing and she looked at me and sternly said, “You need to look at me. Stop crying and focus all of this energy on pushing your baby out. Crying isn’t going to help you have a baby.” True story.
So I kept pushing. Pretty soon, I was close and my midwife said she could see the baby’s head. She asked if I wanted to see it in the mirror. ”NO!!!” I shouted emphatically. At this point (around 3:00 pm) my water broke. I was so thankful it didn’t happen earlier since it can help to make labor more comfortable. Thank you wonderful cushion of amniotic sac! I was laboring on the birthing stool at this point and they told me that that baby was coming soon and I couldn’t give birth on the stool, so I needed to get into the tub. At this point I was sort of freaking out and I kept saying I couldn’t make it to the tub (ummm…hello…I have a baby coming out of my vagina and you want me to lift my leg over the side of a giant tub?). They said it was either the tub or hands and knees on the floor. Craig had to give me a pep talk and then he and my midwives helped me into the tub. One of my midwives was telling Craig he had time to go change and get into the tub with me, but he declined and it was a good thing too, because literally moments later (at 3:32 p.m.), during my next contraction, Fern was born. Craig said she “shot out like a torpedo”, which is probably pretty accurate.
As soon as Fern shot out I got that awesome flood of endorphins that I’d read about. Craig said he’s never seen anyone’s face change so suddenly or dramatically. He said I looked like I was being tortured one minute and the next minute I looked like I was going to Disneyland – all smiles and bright eyes. I picked Fern up out of the tub and looked her over and the first thing I said was:
“Wow! I did that! That’s bad ass!”
Not the most sentimental first statement after having a baby, but oh-so-true. I have never in my life felt more empowered than I did at that moment. I had just birthed a human and I did it without so much as an asprin. If that’s not bad ass, I don’t know what is.
Fern Winter Hartmann
Born January 15, 2012 @ 3:32 PM
in Portland, OR
…During the first snowfall of the year (*Craig and I got married four years ago during the first snowfall of that year…kind of romantic, no?)…we thought this made her middle name kind of perfect.
After my first reactions, my midwives informed me that the reason I was having such a difficult time with pushing was because Fern came out brow first. Her head was down, but instead of having her chin tucked down toward her chest and coming out with the back part of her head first (i.e. the smaller part with more malleable plates) she came out with her chin lifted up and her forehead first (i.e. the bigger part with less malleable plates). I just googled “brow presentation” and this is what I found:
“Most babies who are presenting brow first will need to be born by Caesarean. This is because the diameter (or width) of the baby’s head in this position is much larger than the baby’s crown (i.e. about 13.5 cm compared to 9.5cm). On rare occasions, if the baby is small, and the mother has a ‘roomy’ pelvis with strong contractions, it is possible for the baby to be born vaginally.”
My baby was NOT small (8 lbs 7 oz) and I still did it. Thank goodness I didn’t know! The plus side is that my midwives said that the next time I have a baby it should go really quickly and be much easier. Phew!
Was it hard work? Yes. But, was it worth it? Absolutely. I would without hesitation do it exactly the same way the next time around.
Also…the birthing center was awesome. It was like being at a bed & breakfast. We got to order takeout from a big book of local restaurants, I got a massage, they drew me candlelit baths, did our laundry, cleaned up after us….the list goes on and on. It was amazing.
This was my post-labor meal of choice: a giant piece of chocolate cake.