Well! It’s been almost a month since I’ve had Asa, so I figured I should probably get his birth story written out before I forget details. So settle in, grab a cup of coffee (or tea, or hot chocolate), and have yourself a good read. If you like reading birth stories, that is. Side note, in case you weren’t sure: I chose to have a completely natural and drug-free labor and delivery, using a midwife and her birthing center (basically, it’s like a home birth but at a home that is set up specifically for birthing). If you live in the Seattle/Tacoma area of Washington and are looking for a good midwife, Nancy Spencer is amazing and you can read up on her and her birthing center here.
It was 2:30am on Saturday, January 18th, three days past Asa’s due date, and I woke up feeling a contraction that somehow seemed different from the few sporadic cramps I’d felt throughout the two weeks past. It was not a harsh contraction, but it lingered longer than usual, and I lay there wondering if perhaps things were finally getting started. Taking a deep breath as the contraction subsided and I lay waiting to see if another one would come, I prayed “Please, God, let it be time.”
Ten or twenty minutes later, I had another contraction. I lay in bed for quite some time wondering if I should try to sleep, or get up, or wake up my husband. I felt a few more contractions in that time, and I decided perhaps I should at least get up and use the bathroom and check to see if I had passed my mucus plug yet. I had been checking all week, but nothing had happened. So when I used the toilet and saw blood, I felt a pump of excitement. I’d read that some women didn’t pass their plug until they have entered active labor. Still, it felt a little too good to be true. So I went back to bed, and tried to decide whether I should start timing these contractions, or sleep.
Because labor didn’t come on quickly. That, I knew. But the longer I rested, the more continuous the contractions seemed to be. So at 3:50am, I started to time them. In an hour, I had 9 contractions at a pretty even pace, so by 5 o’clock I decided I could wake my husband up and tell him the good news. I was in labor!
He reacted much less excitedly than I did, due to lack of sleep — we had stayed up until 11pm the night before, or later — but after a while he woke up properly and asked whether I had called the midwife. She had told me previously that once my contractions were 4 minutes apart and lasting at least a minute long, to call her. I told him no, but got up to start putting my bag together and get coffee. At his urging, I called her. She told me the same thing; when they were 3-4 minutes apart and lasting a minute long, I could come in to the birthing center.
To my surprise, as I timed them throughout the next hour, the time between shortened and the duration more or less was between a minute and a minute and a half. They were endurable, though, so I felt as though it was just too good to be true. Still, I called her, let her know, and we set off.
The entire car ride there, I had the sneaking feeling that it was too good to be true and that these weren’t real contractions. They seemed to slow down a little bit as I sat in the car, but still maintained a four minute gap and a minute long contraction, so I kept my hopes up. At least I was getting started, if nothing else!
But we got to the midwife, and she checked me; I was barely 1cm dilated, and when she measured my contractions on her machine, I only had two in the space of twenty minutes that were barely strong enough to be doing anything, and were 15 minutes apart. What I was experiencing, she told me, was prodromal labor. It was completely understandable for us to think I was in real labor, since I was having discharge and my contractions seemed to be consistent, but this was nothing more than a ramp-up of my body getting ready for actual labor.
I’d heard of prodromal labor– also called pre-labor, or false labor — before, but since my pregnancy had been so good I’d never really expected it to happen to me. Still, I wasn’t too disappointed. I’d had a good pregnancy, so something eventually had to be not so fun. Sending us home, my midwife told us that later on that day she’d be in the area of my in-laws’ house, so she would check me again. I asked how I would know when it was active labor, and she gave us the example of two pictures of the same woman– one with prodromal labor, where she was social and happy, and one in active labor, where she was completely and utterly focused on one thing: having the baby. I’d know, said the midwife, when the time came.
The day wore on, and so did the prodromal labor. I napped, I tried walking, mostly I just sat and hoped that it would turn into actual labor soon. We thought for sure by the end of the day, when I tried walking and could only hang onto my husband and cry between contractions, that it had turned into the real thing. I was exhausted, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I was in pain, and nothing was really helping.
By the time we were set to see the midwife again, this is how I felt:
I was running on maybe three hours of sleep, feeling contractions every five minutes, couldn’t walk or they got worse, and everyone was telling me to walk and move around to speed things up. But for me, when walking made things worse and I had to stop every few steps to let a contraction pass by, running on this little sleep and having been feeling these things for hours… why would I want to walk more? I still had the sinking feeling that they weren’t real by the time everyone around me was convinced I was in labor by the signs they could see, but I clung to that tiny bit of hope that all of this pain was not for nothing.
Late that afternoon, we went back to the midwife’s as she had a hiccup getting to my in-laws’ house, and she checked me again. This time, I needed to pause every so often walking in, because the contractions were getting stronger, and that had me hoping they were turning into real contractions.
Disappointingly, she measured me again. I hadn’t dilated any further, and my real contractions again were only two in twenty minutes time, barely strong enough to do much, and not consistent. When she sent us home this time, I cried. She told me that if things didn’t get moving by the next day, she wanted me to come in at 6:30pm and she would get things started. I felt a huge relief then, having that safety net to look forward to, knowing that if I was going to go through this for another day I would at least have someone to get my body into real labor at the end of it.
I sympathized then with any mother angry that people would call this “false” labor, because it felt real — intense, starting from the front, tightening around to the back, lasting for as long as real labor pains last, spacing themselves more or less consistently — but in my mind it was false labor. It wasn’t doing anything. Impostor pains, gearing me up into thinking I was going to be having a baby that day, but letting me down in the end. To me, “false” was a much easier term to deal with than “pre”. Calling it pre-labor was too hopeful. Calling it false labor kept me from expecting too much.
All that evening and on into the night, I had false contractions. I took Unisom to sleep, but still woke up every few hours when the pain got bad enough, or to pee. My midwife had told me to rest as much as possible, despite the advice of everyone telling me to walk and exercise and get things moving, and I was thankful for her advice. There was no way I could walk through this. I was too tired, it was too painful, and it was too frustrating trying to live up to everyone else’s experience that when they walked, they sped up their labor and had the baby. Those people hadn’t felt this kind of labor. Those people had real labor pains that dilated them and effaced their cervix. Real pains that were actually doing something.
When I woke up that morning, I was still feeling contractions, but they were further apart. Still as intense, but more bearable because they weren’t as close together. We spent the day at my in-laws, and I decided to take a bath and relax as much as possible. I wasn’t going to take anyone’s walk/move/eat spicy food/induce yourself advice. I was going to rest, and let my body decide for itself what it wanted to do. The midwife could work her magic that evening, but until then I was just going to lay low.
But then she called me late in the day and asked how things were going, and when I said “better than yesterday, but I’m still feeling the pain,” she told me that she’d like to wait one more day, and have me come in the next evening instead. That meant I had a whole 24 hours more to either start active labor, or suffer through false labor. By then, I had rested enough to feel like I could do it, so I agreed.
The only thing I didn’t think about was that my husband would be gone at work all day, and I wouldn’t have him there to support me. He has always been my safe place, and he wouldn’t be there throughout the day. However, my mom came over and stayed with me all day for some consolation.
When I woke up on Monday, after having had prodromal labor for over 48 hours, I still felt disappointingly as though nothing was happening. The day dragged on and on, and I was slowly feeling more and more exhausted and uncomfortable. My contractions got to the point where I had to start labor-breathing through them, but they still mimicked prodromal labor in their times apart, and since they were ranging from a minute to two minutes — or sometimes, even 2-1/2 minutes — long, I hesitated to call it real labor. It didn’t feel real, even though by 2pm that day I could do nothing but lay in bed with a heating pad on my back (I wasn’t having back labor, it just felt good) and breathe slowly as each new contraction hit me.
By 4pm, I was ready to text my husband and ask him to come home a little early, but I waited. There was nothing I dreaded more now than going to the midwife’s and having her send me home yet again. My mom was convinced I had hit active labor, since I now had to breathe through contractions, but I wasn’t so sure. The contractions didn’t feel any different from those I’d been having the two previous days, and by then I wasn’t going to hope for anything. I was just focused on living through each new pain as it came.
My husband got home, and I vaguely remember my mom telling him she was pretty sure I was in active labor, and in my mind I just shook my head. I was past letting myself hope for anything but that the midwife would be able to get me out of this and into real labor fast. We set off, and the car ride was much different from Saturday morning’s. I held Nehemiah’s hand the entire way, squeezed it through contractions, and tested whether making noise helped or not. Eventually he told me he really didn’t need to know how much pain I was in, because it made him feel worse — not in a selfish way, but in a “I can’t help you and it’s killing me” way. I decided against the noise, and just focused on my breath.
By the time we arrived at the midwife’s at 6:30pm — the third time in three days — I was quiet, had to stop at her door while a contraction worked its way over me, and was feeling ready. If this wasn’t it, I was going to break down and I knew it. I had been in prodromal labor for 64 hours, and I was just done.
When she checked my dilation, however, I was still prepared for the worst, and her news wasn’t too hopeful. I was just barely 2cm dilated. She wanted me to stay and rest for three hours, and then she would check me again to see if I had any progress. I felt a little bit of relief at being able to stay this time, but a lot of dread at only having dilated barely 1cm in three days of feeling this labor — and I had been dilated to barely 1cm since nearly a week before my prodromal labor started. What if I was going to be having prodromal labor for another week? What if I didn’t dilate, if she decided to send me home again, if this labor just never ended?
As I rested, I couldn’t bear to have my husband away from my side. I remember feeling bad for him, because as the contractions went on and on, I squeezed his hand so hard at times I popped knuckles, and sometimes I just had to make a sound to see if it would help the pain feel less intense, which I knew upset him. But when you’ve been feeling contractions for that long, you’ll do anything to try and make it feel better. By the time I’d been resting for two hours, I started to have thoughts of “when I do this again, do I really want to do it sans painkillers? Really? I don’t think so.”
When the midwife checked me again at 9:30pm, after having rested for three hours, it was the same. I was still only 2cm dilated, and going nowhere. With her usual calmness, Nancy offered two roads to take. The first was that I could go home, and we could see where this went. Whether it sped up in the following hours, or went nowhere. At the mere mention of going home, I felt like crying. The second option, she said, was that she could break my water, which would cause me to dilate faster. And if she did that, it was almost certain I’d have this baby within 24 hours.
The rare risk, though, was that she could break my water and nothing would happen, and we’d have to go to the hospital. That scared me, more because I so wished to get through this naturally, without any drugs, without any procedures than because I have any fear of hospitals. In fact, I have always liked hospitals.
After telling us the two options, she left us to talk about it. I felt a little bit lost; I knew I didn’t want to go home. I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t bear more of this useless — it felt, anyway — labor. I couldn’t sit and have nothing happening for hours upon hours more. But it felt scary to go with the other option, where I didn’t know exactly what would happen, and might have to go to the hospital for an emergency procedure if things didn’t go as they should. And given I’d been in labor for so long already with nothing happening, I was afraid that it’d be just my luck that nothing would happen even after she broke my water.
But I couldn’t just sit there, and my husband agreed that we should have her break my water. After all, he reassured me, even if we had to go to the hospital, it would be something happening and we’d have the baby no matter what.
So at 10:00pm Monday night, after 68 hours of prodromal labor, the midwife set me up on an IV to keep my fluids up and prevent dehydration, and broke my water. Before she did, she told me that she’d break my water and then she wanted me to walk for 20-30 minutes to be sure that the baby’s head was properly seated in my cervix. After that, I could get into the tub as I’d been hoping to do for hours. I felt a little bit of despair at this; with the amount of pain I was already feeling, walking seemed impossible. But I agreed; I’d gotten through 68 hours of this, and I’d do whatever I had to do to get this baby born. I had to.
I expected the water breaking to feel like something. A gush, a release of pressure perhaps, an intensifying of the pain of contractions. But it didn’t feel like anything. A lot of water came out, or so she said, but I really didn’t care at that point. After breaking the water sac, Nancy assisted a little in stretching my cervix, and she had me push a few times to help me dilate more and to get Asa’s head properly seated on my cervix. It was incredibly painful to push through those few contractions, but very fruitful: in a matter of five minutes or less, I had dilated to 4cm.
And, to my relief, after breaking my water and having me push, the midwife looked at me and immediately said “Would you like to just get in the tub?”
I answered with a resounding “Yes!”
The rushing of water into the huge jacuzzi tub was the sound of heaven. The only drawback to getting into the tub was that I couldn’t put my left arm in the water due to the IV, but I didn’t really care at that point. That was the hand I used to hold my husband’s hand, anyway. Once I sank into the hot, soothing water, I lost all sense of time. There was only the warmth of the water, the intensity of the contractions, and occasional awareness of my husband. I don’t actually know what he was doing those hours while I labored away, but I was pretty sure he was playing a game on his phone. I remember asking at one point how he was feeling, and asking if he was going to drink the energy drink he’d gotten himself to stay awake.
He answered that he was tired, and that he was waiting to down the energy drink until 3 or 4am, when things should really get going. And I remember thinking “There is no way I can do this that long. God, I have to have this baby soon, I can’t make it another five or six hours.”
I remember feeling slightly bad for him on occasion, when I squeezed his knuckles so hard that they popped, or when I was testing whether making noise helped the pain — it didn’t– and got so loud that even the midwife came in to check on me. At one point, when I moaned louder than I expected myself to, I remember thinking he must feel like laughing at how dramatic it sounded (he didn’t.). But mostly, I just remember waiting each contraction out with steady and determined breathing, reminding myself that the only thing helping was to squeeze my husband’s hand and stay in control of my breath, and surprising myself by thinking that when the time came and I went through birthing again, I could do it without pain medication.
It must have been somewhere around 11:30pm or so that I started noticing the contractions feeling stronger, and once or twice I felt the slight urge to push. I got out of the tub to use the toilet, felt a few uncontrollable spasms of my muscles pushing, and wondered if it was time. But I was afraid to have the midwife check me and tell me I was only at a 6, so I got back in the tub and relaxed myself into the intensity of the contractions. I repeated to myself over and over “He’s moving down. I can feel him moving down. This pain is moving him down.”
I remember hearing my parents arrive, and feeling tense. I don’t know why, I just didn’t want to hear them in the next room waiting for me to give birth. Perhaps because I felt as though they might be expecting things to happen faster than I expected them too, or perhaps because we’d already all been up to the midwife’s twice before, and it felt like a repeat of the previous days.
But around 20-30 minutes later, I felt the urge to push again. I wasn’t sure if perhaps I just had to go to the bathroom, so I got out of the tub again, sat on the toilet, and knew right then and there: I had to push. There was no stopping my muscles this time, and while I attempted to pant as I’d heard them say you should do when you don’t want to push, I told my husband to get Nancy, because I needed to push.
I felt absolutely helpless sitting there, feeling my body uncontrollably pushing while I wasn’t sure whether I should even be at this stage yet, waiting those long seconds for the midwife to return. I was so afraid she would check me and tell me it wasn’t time yet, that I’d have to somehow deal with these urges in who knew what way, and it was the first time throughout the entire process of labor that I felt panicked. Because I knew that no matter what she told me, I couldn’t stop myself.
When I told her that, she calmly reassured me that we would just wait through this contraction and check, and to let my body do whatever it was doing. I started to shake uncontrollably, my teeth chattering. After a few hours in the warmth of the tub, I was wet and cold and afraid, and on top of the spasms of contractions I was shivering unstoppably. But the midwife was prepared; she had started the dryer as soon as Nehemiah had gone to get her, and she soon returned with some warm towels to dry me off as they assisted me to the bed in the next room so she could check me.
I didn’t want her to check. After three days of false labor and no progress, and those hours in the tub with my husband telling me she expected I wouldn’t have the baby until sometime later in the morning, I felt like she was going to check me and tell me I had hours to go. And I couldn’t last hours. I was done.
To my surprise, I heard her say “Well, darlin’, you can start pushing!”
Relief. No one but a woman who has gone through labor can know how much relief there is in hearing those words. The end was in sight!
Settling me properly on the edge of the bed, the midwife told me the secret to pushing — “hold your breath, don’t let any sound out at all, and push as long as you can. Because if you’re making noise, you lose the strength of your push and wear yourself out sooner.” (and after the hours of labor where I had discovered making noise only made me more aware of my pain and made it harder to bear, I believed her) — and told me that I could push as soon as I felt ready.
I was so impatient that for a few moments I didn’t know when to start. I had to wait for the next contraction, but I almost didn’t know how to deal with being able to finally do something to counteract the pain.
I had always been terrified of the pushing; I always thought that must be the most painful part of labor. I mean, the thought of pushing a baby out of me just sounded excruciating. But now that I was finally there, I found that pushing was the best part of labor. Pushing made the pain of contractions go away, brought on a sense of control, and drilled in the knowledge that it was going to be over very, very soon. Every push meant that labor was that much closer to be over and done with.
I was so intensely focused and in the zone that every time the midwife offered me something, I didn’t really care. Did I want ice chips? No. Another warm towel? Definitely not — I was already hot at that point, and warm towels weren’t helping. Did I want a fan to blow some cool air on me? No. I don’t like fans. I remember vaguely wishing she would stop asking me if I wanted things so I could just focus on pushing, and briefly watching her move around the room readying things for the baby to pop out.
I remember panicking when my husband left my side for a few seconds to grab his camera, because he was my focus point and if he wasn’t there, I had nothing to ground me and get me through this. I remember the pushes getting more and more intense, and all of the odd little things I didn’t expect: an odd rubbery squeak as the midwife aided in my cervix stretching over the baby’s head (in retrospect, this was probably her gloves, but at the time I thought it was my skin), my husband’s sympathetic face as I rested between contractions, the intense need for more and more water from my water bottle.
Nancy narrated to me every time things progressed; his head was visible, did I want a mirror to see? No– I was far too focused, not to mention I really didn’t want to watch a baby come out of me. The next push brought a burning sensation, and I remember praying I wouldn’t tear, and that the next push would be the last. It wasn’t, but I knew I was close. I could feel him moving out of me, and it was the weirdest feeling. I could tell that his head was slowly coming out. It burned slightly, but it wasn’t as painful as I had expected.
With each push, I strove harder and harder to push for longer. I wanted to be done. I knew I was close. I prayed over and over, “Let this be the last push. Let this be the last one.” And suddenly, Nancy exclaimed “Kristi, look!” and I glanced down to see her holding his head up for me. The next push was the last one! Suddenly, I had a squirming, grunting baby on my chest, and it was over. He was finally there, at 12:40am on a dark and quiet Tuesday morning. Finally, after 70 total hours of labor, it was over.
My first thought after he was born was relief that there was no more labor or pushing to deal with. My second thought, as she laid him on my chest, was “he’s so sticky!” My third thought was the realization that the umbilical cord was still attached to him and to me, and that was weird. And then, I wondered what the placenta looked like. I knew none of these thoughts were things that any new mother would admit to having first — shouldn’t a mother’s first thought at her child’s birth be love? A rush of overwhelming adoration for this new little being she’d carried for nine months? And here I was thinking he was sticky and covered in weird gunk, wondering what a placenta looked like.
I didn’t cry, as I had expected, and even after my initial relief and curiosity was over, I still didn’t feel that rush of love a new mother supposedly has. It was more a feeling that I’d loved him this entire time, in the whole nine months of waiting, or perhaps I’d loved him my entire life, even before I was married and ever had hopes of having a child. He was there, and he was mine, and he was just… right. He fit into my arms and my life as if he’d always been there.
Nancy told me how proud she was of me, how impressed she had been with my pushing, my intense focus, my lack of complaining. I had just birthed a baby with a 15cm head, and I hadn’t torn or screamed or fallen apart. At the time, I didn’t really think much of it other than thankfulness that I hadn’t torn at all. But later, it dawned on me: I’d pushed a 15cm head through a 10cm hole, and not one single tear. And the only thing I’d felt was a slight burn (basically, rug burn, ha!). No wonder she had made such a big deal out of it!
It wasn’t over yet, though. I delivered the placenta — which yes, I did see, and it was much bigger than I had expected (nearly as big as the baby, it seemed) and looked like a big hunk of raw steak — and then we were settled into the bed while Nancy let the grandparents in. My parents cried, which I had expected. It was incredibly fun to have both sets of grandparents there to greet the baby five minutes after he was born. And then, to our surprise, Nancy had to go to the other room because another woman had just arrived ready to deliver her baby.
We got to stay longer than usual because of that other woman — and I listened hard for sounds of her baby being born (we heard his first cry, and his parents exclamations over him) — and it was such a peaceful time after our parents left and we were alone with the baby. Nancy briefly came in to have me start nursing him — he latched on immediately and nursed just fine — and then after a long while, she came to have me stand up and use the bathroom.
I didn’t quite feel the “my guts are going to fall out!” feeling that a lot of women have said they felt after having to stand up for the first time. It was more that I felt like I couldn’t quite draw in a full breath, because I couldn’t use my stomach muscles to help me breathe at all. As I was assisted into the bathroom and onto the toilet to let more water and blood drain out, I didn’t feel as exhausted as I would have expected, having just had a baby.
But then suddenly, Nancy was looking intensely into my face, and urgently saying my name,. “We have to get you back to bed, right now. Stand up–” she pulled me up, and I noticed suddenly that I couldn’t hear her very well. I could see her just fine, and I didn’t feel lightheaded at all, but her voice sounded so very far away. My husband helped grab me and walk me to the bed, and both of them looked very, very concerned. It was the weirdest thing I’ve ever felt, nearly fainting.
I expected fainting to be more dramatic. I expected spots before my eyes, tunnel vision, lightheadedness, weak knees. But the only thing I noticed was my hearing; the rushing of blood in my ears, the far-away sound of the voices, as if I was at the end of a long tunnel and my ears were stuffed with cotton. It was normal, Nancy said, because I had been laying down for so long, that all the blood just rushed to my feet. So we stayed a while longer, and rested.
It was around 4:30am that she came in and had me sit up again. This time, I didn’t faint. She offered to let us stay overnight, but at that point I just wanted to go home. I wanted home and bed and familiar surroundings, and I wanted to relax with my new baby and my husband, so we dressed Asa in his warm little onesie, packed him into his carseat, settled me into a wheelchair just in case I felt lightheaded again, and out to the car we went. Four hours after having a baby, I was on my way home.
I didn’t really sleep on the way home, but I wasn’t quite awake, either. I just remember being amused at how over-careful my husband was driving, and feeling ready to eat some food. I’d had a few apple slices and some root-vegetable chips an hour or so after Asa was born, but I needed real food. It was 5 o’clock in the morning, though, and nothing was open. And more than anything, the closer we got to home, the more I just wanted to sleep.
I vaguely remember getting home, being walked in by my husband, using the toilet, and somehow making it up the stairs to bed. Going up those stairs seemed like the most difficult thing I’d ever done, even after birthing a baby with no pain medication and going through 70 hours of labor. Walking up stairs with no stomach muscle whatsoever is really, really hard. Ha!
After about three hours of sporadic sleep, we woke up to stare at our new baby. It didn’t ever really hit me, that rush of love for Asa. I wondered if it would, but it never came. It was just a love that had always been there, no rush, no awe, just firm and solid. He was meant to be in our lives, and everything felt just as it should.
No, the rush of love I was expecting to feel for my newborn baby came instead for my husband. I remember it exactly. I saw this:
… and my heart could have exploded.
Nobody told me I would feel such an overpowering, overwhelming rush of even-more-in-love love for my husband. Nobody told me I would fall madly, deeply, fiercely more in love with my husband as I watch him care for and love our firstborn son. As I watch him make faces at our baby, soothe him when he cries, revel in his little fingers, take millions of pictures of him.
But there it is. The best part of this birth story was not giving birth to my son. The best part of this has been falling more in love with my husband, every day. That’s the unexpected and wonderful part of motherhood. Not the love you feel for your child; that’s normal. You know you’re going to love your kid, no matter what.
But the love that grows for the man you’ve married… it’s better than anything in the world.