Eloise's {Almost} Home Birth Story (Part 2/3: Labor)

If you haven't read Part I of Eloise's {Almost} Home Birth Story, click here.

On a Tuesday evening, about three weeks from my due date, the prodromal labor began.  It was mostly menstrual-like cramps and lower back pain, with some sporadic contractions scattered here and there, sometimes forming a pattern but then dying off after four or five.  I'd been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for several months at this point, and often times it was difficult for me to determine what exactly I was feeling when the cramps, back pain and BH would overlap, mingled in with the contractions here and there.  I'd never been in labor before, but still I knew this was not the real thing.  Every morning Jake would ask me, "Is today the day?" and I would confidently respond, "Nope!"

My due date came and went.  Chloe had told me that the average pregnancy for a first-time mom lasted forty-one weeks and three days, so I was not too concerned.  We were getting jittery and impatient and of course anxious to meet our girl, but confident that we were doing the right thing by waiting for Eloise to come when she was ready.  In the evening on Monday, April 3rd, at forty-one weeks and two days pregnant, I finally lost my mucus plug.  I'd been having horrible indigestion pains all day long and had a subtle feeling that things were starting to change and would be picking up soon.  The painful abdominal cramps were almost nonstop at this point and I did not get much sleep Monday night. 

Tuesday morning, April 4th, Chloe and Susan came to my house for my weekly prenatal checkup.  I told them about losing my mucus plug and we had a little celebration.  While we were talking, I had a minor contraction - just enough to make me wince and pause a moment.  About ten minutes later, I had another.  Chloe sang, "Mandy's in early labor!" I denied it, not wanting to get my hopes up, but ten minutes later I had another contraction, then another, and started preparing myself for the idea that this might really be happening soon! Despite having slept so poorly the night before, I was hit with a huge wave of energy and began cooking lots of food for my birth team and cleaning every corner of my home.  The easy contractions continued all day, ranging anywhere from five to ten minutes apart but only increasing in intensity very slightly.  I texted my mom, my new doula Elisha, and my friend Tessa who had agreed to photograph the birth and let them know that tomorrow might be the day!

After another night of poor sleep, I got up early on Wednesday with contractions still slow and steady, about eight minutes apart but a bit more painful than the day before.  I had less energy and instead of cooking and cleaning, I focused on resting as much as I could in between contractions and eating good food to nourish me for the journey ahead.  It became impossible to really sleep as the contractions were becoming more intense but I took it easy, bouncing on my birthing ball, taking gentle walks around the block and praying for things to pick up.  By Wednesday evening, the contractions were strong enough that I had to stop and really concentrate when they hit (all I could think of was Amy Poehler in the movie Baby Mama - "It feels like I'm shitting a knife!"), and even though they were still six or seven minutes apart, we determined that labor really was underway and decided to call Tessa and my mom to go ahead and come spend the night, anticipating that I would give birth by the next morning.  It was a fun evening - we had dinner together, watched comedy and laughed a lot, and I bounced on the birth ball and knelt and hugged it when contractions hit.  I was grateful for all the relaxation techniques I'd been practicing and breathed deeply through each wave. Around midnight I became frustrated that things were progressing so slowly and started walking the block again and again, laughing and joking, pausing to lean on a lamp post, a tree, or sometimes Jake when contractions hit.  Walking seemed to do the trick and each wave was stronger than the one before. We called Elisha, Chloe and Susan to come on over! 

I took my ball, went upstairs to my room for a while and disappeared into "labor land."  As a generally private person, I wasn't really sure what kind of support I would want during my labor but it was hugely comforting know that Elisha was downstairs, available when needed.  I bounced on my ball, squatted, and crawled around the second floor on my hands and knees.  I was grateful for the privacy of the darkness to do whatever my body instructed me to do, but after an hour or two or three of solitude my mind began to take me to a dark place as well.  I started thinking: do I even want to have a baby? I like my life.  I like the way things are.  I'm not ready to be a mother.  Shame filled me up and spilled over.  Of course I wanted my baby - but I could not drive out the voices.  I needed an escape. 

I came downstairs in the early hours of the morning and joined the little party in my living room - my mother, husband, doula, photographer and two midwives.  Instantly my spirits lifted.  All these people had gathered to help me bring my precious baby into the world.  I had a snack and watched funny videos with my team, bouncing on my ball and turning to hands and knees for each wave.  Who knew that contractions would hurt my back so much?  Breathe in, breathe out.  Elisha said, "You're doing beautifully!" I finally felt safe from my shame.  Maybe too safe.  This was the first moment where my labor clearly became quite mental - after two full days, my contractions began to slow down and lessen in intensity.  They never stopped altogether, but they stalled, with eight or nine minute stretches again in between each one.  It was time to get things back into gear.  I began to climb stairs, fighting through conflicting emotions - wanting labor to pick back up, but overwhelmed by the voice whispering that I was not ready to be a mother. 

"Try taking the stairs two at a time."

Do you want to take a turn?!

I snapped.  Then I stomped up the stairs, went into my bathroom and cried.  I hated knowing everyone could hear me but I couldn't stop.  After a few minutes Jake came up and held me while I sobbed against his chest.  He held me while I cried through a contraction or two and then felt the beautiful relief that tears bring.  I was okay.  Chloe and Elisha came in to talk. 

"How are you feeling?"

I'm feeling like I just got out of my deep, dark, hole...and now I have to go back. 

"The only way out of the pain is through the pain.  And you don't have to do this alone."

I knelt down and hugged my ball through a contraction and Elisha came over and applied counter-pressure to my back like I'd seen in birthing class.  Whoa! I did not expect it to help so much.  The radiating, almost vibrating pain from my tailbone to my toes instantly lessened.  She taught Jake how to press on my back and hips in just the right way.  I think he was grateful to have some way of helping - although his presence was help enough.  I was emotionally as well as physically spent by this point, and with contractions still seven or eight minutes apart, I climbed into bed for some rest.  Jake snuggled under the covers with me and wrapped his arms around me, and for the next two hours until sunrise, we clung to each other.  Every eight minutes I would, half-asleep,  roll onto my hands and knees for a wave, and Jake would rub my back.  I told him, I understand why women choose to get epidurals. 

Thursday morning came and the house was quiet and peaceful.  I bounced on my ball, walked in circles around my house and climbed stairs.  The shooting, stabbing, radiating pain in my back was so great that it brought me to my knees and lingered in a dull ache between contractions.  My mother brought me some of the breakfast casserole I had made on Tuesday for the birth team and I ate.  Susan gave me a few doses of cotton root bark tincture to encourage labor.  I threw up the last dose so we stopped.  It began to storm outside.  We had had no progress since the night before.  The team decided to leave the house for a little while to give me some privacy and help me get back into "labor land."  Jake took a nap.  I took a bath and contractions increased to every six minutes, but were still weaker than they were Wednesday night before my "break."  Again and again I prayed and asked God, What do you want me to learn from this?  What are you trying to teach me? Around noon Chloe texted and suggested I try and see my chiropractor.  We didn't know why exactly my labor had stalled but I figured it was worth a shot and made the call.  She could see me in forty-five minutes! Jake, Tessa and I climbed into my mom's mini-van and we made the forty minute drive to the chiropractor through a cleansing downpour. 

I arrived at Dr. Iman's office in labor and went straight back to be seen.  She asked me, "Are you having any pain in your back?"  Um, yes!  I'd say I am mostly feeling the contractions in my back.  It hurts in the front but my back is way worse...isn't that normal?

"No, that's not normal.  We can try something called dry needling? It can be helpful for back labor."

Back labor!  I'd read about it.  But back labor was supposed to be something that happened when the baby was in a posterior position.  My baby was anterior.  She was ROA.  She'd always been ROA. Still, the pain I was having in my back did sound like what I'd read about now that I thought about it. It was supposedly way more painful than typical contractions...had I really been suffering through two full days of back labor? 

I had my adjustment done and agreed to try the dry needling.  Tessa sat with me while I waited and we talked.  I told her what Chloe had said - "the only way out of the pain is through the pain" - and realized these words of wisdom had the potential to shape so more than just my labor, but my entire life and ministry.  Maybe this was what God would have me learn from the experience after all.  During the brief time in between my chiropractic adjustment and the dry needling, I had several very strong contractions.  Tessa timed them and told me they were only three and a half minutes apart!  It was working!  We left the office and drove back to Seaford.  The rain had stopped and the sun was shining gloriously through the clouds.  What a day to finally have a baby!  It was nearly dinnertime at this point and all three of us were famished, so we drove through Chick-fil-a on our way out of Salisbury.  I was in a good mood and excited that my labor was finally back in full force again, but with contractions only three or four minutes apart, the forty minute drive home was very difficult. With each wave I would unbuckle, turn around in my seat and rock back and forth, attempting to breathe deeply and relax but finding it to be more and more of a challenge.  Jake or Tessa would rub my back and somehow we joked and laughed our way home. 

At home, I disappeared once again into "labor land," focusing intently and working to keep labor progressing.  My team returned, ready for action.  I climbed stairs, bounced on my ball and paced.  At one point I walked into the kitchen and then straight out the back door without warning and began to make laps around the house.  Inside, my team watched me from the windows to make sure I was still okay.  Each lap I paused and leaned against on the same tree in my front yard through a contraction, and in the back I leaned against Tessa's car.  I could tell my contractions were becoming closer together when I didn't make it to the tree, and headed back inside.  The sun set and hours passed.  The pain in my back was no longer easing up at all in between waves and I could hardly tell when one was ending and the next starting.  I'd read about the phases of dilation and that during transition, contractions were back-to-back, and figured that had to be what was happening.  The Bradley book said that at this point, a lot of women start saying, "I can't do this!" and that's how you know they are almost ready to push.  Maybe it was ego, but I didn't want to say, "I can't do this."  I knew I could do it.  I bit my tongue to keep the words from coming out of their own accord.  I told myself, Don't say it.  I CAN do this. I CAN do this.  My team was becoming busy, moving around, setting things up for the birth, but I was hardly aware of them. 

Don't say it.

I CAN do this. 

Around midnight, I got a very short rest between contractions and Chloe came over to the couch where I was kneeling for a talk.  "You're getting very close to transition.  Pretty soon the contractions will be one right on top of the other without a break.  It usually lasts around an hour.  Then you probably will get to rest for a few minutes, maybe longer, then push!"

Getting close? That wasn't it?!

She had hardly finished speaking when the next wave hit.  It peaked and started to fall down, then intensified again.  It went on and on like this, peaking and falling then rising and peaking again.  If a single contraction is like standing near the shore and letting a wave rise and crash over you, transition is like being out at sea in the middle of a storm, waves crashing one after the other, overlapping, tossing you around.  My water broke.  I started to cry.  My mom had been hanging back, giving me space, throughout my entire labor but at this point she planted herself next to me and held my hands for the next hour, giving me sips of juice and holding a wet cloth to my forehead.  Jake came behind me and rubbed my back.  Finally it ended and I got to rest.  I flopped over on the couch and fell asleep for maybe twenty minutes.  A contraction woke me up.  Compared to what I had just endured, it was more of a nuisance than anything.  Somehow I still had my sense of humor with me and even caught myself joking with and teasing my birth team.  We all had a good, unexpected laugh. 

"Are you feeling the urge to push at all?"

Nope.  Not whatsoever.  I mean, I feel loads of pressure.  But I don't think I could push. 

We waited.  We figured I was just getting an extra long "rest" period before the urge to push kicked in.  It didn't.  I had a small snack.  Around two in the morning, Susan did a cervical exam and discovered I was only eight centimeters dilated.  Eight! But I thought the whole point of the transition period was to get me from eight to ten centimeters!  Why didn't it work?  Why doesn't my body know how to have a baby?

I started walking again.  The rest of the house slept and I paced in circles in the dark around my kitchen table. With each contraction I leaned on the table or simply dropped to all fours, breathing in and out.  Two hours later, Susan checked me again.  Nine centimeters.  I cried a few angry, disappointed tears and then kept walking.  I took the stairs two at a time.  I bounced on my ball.  I went into my bathroom and sat on the toilet for ages, the "dilation station" as I'd heard it called, in hopes that relaxing my pelvic muscles would help me to get that final extra centimeter of cervix out of the way.  The sun came up.  Finally, around nine on Friday morning, I started feeling the need to push!  Susan checked me and, at last, I was complete! I could finally start pushing!


If you're living on the Eastern Shore and would like to share your birth story with our community, please email me at maria@thrivebirth.org.