This story in the Delmarva Community Birth Stories series is coming from a past client of Thrive doula, Elisha, and owner of Soul Yoga Studio, Eva Whipple. Eva sent me the story of her daughter Lois' birth on her first birthday! Enjoy this beautiful storytelling of the birthing center birth of Baby Lois.
Perception is a really incredible concept to consider. The facts of Lois's birth have never changed. She was just about 8lbs, 19 inches, and was born at 6:52AM on May 7, 2016 at Special Beginnings Birth Center. The midwife's documentation chronicles my dilation, my intake (and output- if you really want to know), Lois's heartbeat throughout, and other objective data. Those facts are there, and they will never change. But with time, our perception of an experience evolves. That is why I wanted to revisit the story of Lois's birth after some time had passed. I wrote and re-wrote the incredible story of Lois's birth in the days and weeks after she was born. But now time has granted me a new vantage point.
From this perspective, I recall things in a less linear way... I feel less attached to the small details (like what time we arrived to the birth center, what time I began pushing, etc). And I feel like I now have a story, not just an account... So here goes.
Lois was born on her due date, right around the time that we typically wake-up now, actually. When she finally made her appearance, I had been looking forward to meeting my baby for 2 days of labor, 40 weeks of pregnancy, and 2 years of planning to begin a family.
In the weeks leading up to my due date, I had reached 2 or 3cm dilation and had been experiencing some light, infrequent contractions. On Thursday, May 5th, I went for a swim after work. I was swimming a lot during my pregnancy, especially the third trimester. During my swim, I began to notice that my light and infrequent contractions were becoming slightly more regular. When Bryan got home, he suggested that I ride my bike with his Mom while he ran. During the bike ride, my contractions were still present, and becoming a bit more noticeable, but not painful. In the hours after the bike ride my contractions occurred while resting, showering, or walking- so I had a good feeling this was the start of labor, but they were still about 7-10 minutes apart. I called my parents and my doula (and now very dear friend), Elisha. We decided to go ahead over the bridge. I was worried the whole time that it would be too early and that we would be sent home. When we arrived, at 12:30AM, I was right. It was early labor, but still quite early. I was something like 4cm dilated and 100% effaced, but contractions had not intensified or sped up. I will say here that it was hard to know how intense I should expect things to become. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and pain itself is such a subjective experience. Looking back at 12:30AM on Friday May 6th... Sitting in the bed and talking to my midwife about how I could "definitely feel the contractions now...." That was about a 1 on the intensity scale, with a 10 being the moment her giant head emerged from within me.
So it wasn't quite time to hang our hats there, but it was good that I had come for that early labor check... I got to claim the room that I wanted at the birth center and my favorite midwife, Ashley, was able to get a heads up that I was in labor. Plus, we didn't have to make the drive later in the day when things were a bit more intense.
We checked in at a nearby motel. Elisha stayed in a room with my parents, Bryan and I had our own room. Contractions were definitely still manageable, but I wasn't able to really sleep very much. Throughout that night I slept off and on, spent quiet time with Bryan, got in and out of the shower... And the intensity and frequency did increase.
When everyone got up and moving in the morning we went to a nearby diner. I did have a nice breakfast- I can't remember how much I ate, but I remember the pineapple was good, I took my vitamins and my Mom kept reminding me to drink plenty of water. I also remember going into the bathroom to pee and talking with a stranger who asked when I was due. This made me chuckle- because she didn't realize I was in labor. I think I said something like "hopefully any time now..."
After breakfast we went to the Annapolis mall to walk around. I had hoped to go to a lovely park, but it was raining. It had been raining for weeks, practically. The mall had local art from high school kids on display, and we enjoyed walking around looking at all of it. My mom bought Lois a nice little green outfit (we still didn't know the gender at that point- we opted for no ultrasounds or other prenatal testing). Eventually at the mall, I became unable to walk during my contractions. I could walk as soon as they passed, but during I would stop and hold onto Bryan- leaning onto him for support as Elisha or my Dad rubbed my neck. It was time to call the birth center. I still doubted that this was "the" time... I worried they would send us home. But Elisha insisted this was real labor... She was right. When we arrived that afternoon, around 1PM or so, I was 6cm dilated and 100% effaced. My contractions were every 3 minutes apart, I think. But still, looking back, I would have to give this time about a 3/10 on the intensity scale. Bryan and I walked all around the birth center, up and down the stairs, I showered, I got in the tub while they filled the bath, then I got in the bath... I laughed, I drank water, I ate, I joked... I bounced on the exercise ball.
Actually, there was a special party at the birth center so people were painting bellys and eating food. I even walked out to the party! One lady offered to paint my belly, and initially I said yes, but then my kind and funny nurse, Laurel, informed the woman that I was in active labor and getting in and out of a tub. I guess I hadn't thought of that...
The next hours are a bit of a blur... I know that the intensity gradually increased... I know that I remained at 6cm dilation for hours... Lois was "sunny side-up..." Meaning that her face was up. Additionally, her little chin was lifted, making it a very slow journey down the birth canal. Because her head didn't reach my cervix, I was not reaching 10cm dilation quickly. I labored in the pool a lot, also straddling the toilet. Once I reached 8cm, I felt the urge to push. I tried not to. They told me not to. I knew it might wear me out. I knew that intellectually, but actually fighting that strong urge to push was very difficult. During that time, trying not to push, but still pushing- trying to coerce her out, I stopped talking. I stopped thinking, really. I can say that I wasn't thinking real words, anyway.
With each contraction, I threw up. My midwife and my family (Bryan, my parents, and Bryan's mom) were worried that I would have to be transferred to the hospital, but I wasn't worried. Lois's heart beat was strong. And the one thought that I did formulate was a sort of mantra that I repeated to myself and my baby, "there is only one way out..." I knew that eventually, I would have my baby and she would be perfect. That carried me through.
I never questioned my body's ability to deliver my baby. I never doubted that I would be able to have Lois at the birth center. I never thought that I needed pain medication, or any other intervention. I don't even remember if Pitocin or any pain relief was offered. I know that I had asked everyone not to offer me intervention, that was specified in my birth plan. But even if they had, I know I wouldn't have wanted it. I didn't realize that anyone was doubting whether or not we should stay at the birth center. At one point, Ashley (my midwife) did say that she saw a small amount of meconium. But, still, I wasn't worried... tired, yes, but not worried. Due to the very slow descent that Lois was making, Ashley suggested that we try a few different positions to get her moving down the canal. She wanted me to labor on one side for a few contractions, then on hands and knees for a few contractions, and then on the other side. For quite some time, I had been laboring on my hands and knees, or over the toilet, or in a squatting position. The ability to bear down on something gave me some relief. So, when I had to labor on my sides- that was the most pain I felt. I had nothing to push or pull on... Nothing to feel other than the contractions. And ultimately that was the place that I had to return to in order to give birth.
Each time I got back in the pool, or even on hands and knees, the contractions became much more manageable but also much slower. What I learned was that I had to move directly towards that very intense experience, directly towards the most uncomfortable sensations because that is where the most progress was made. Frequently, I tell my yoga students that they have to move towards discomfort in order to challenge their preconceived notions and in order to experience transformation. The same was true during labor.
After the intense contractions on my side, which were intended to turn Lois and get her moving, she flipped right back into her sunny side up position. We tried that same process again a little later. And at one point Ashley did attempt to manually turn her (yes, reaching in and turning her), but she only turned a quarter turn. Instead she continued slowly making her way into the world with her bright eyes wide and face-up.
Eventually, I did reach close to 10 cm and my midwife coached me through pushing. I had imagined that I would deliver in the pool and that I would know intuitively exactly when I should be pushing. But, when left to my intuition alone I think that I was protecting myself (subconsciously) from the discomfort that I needed to feel. Ashley had me get out of the pool and back onto my side where (after four hours of crowning) Lois's head finally began to emerge. When she was born, I had one leg over Ashley's shoulder and was sort of half on my side.
During the four hours of really actively pushing, I would see Lois's head and then it would retreat. I would push and then push again, and then breathe... And the little bit of her head that I could see would slip right back inside me. My midwife would tell me that this is good, because it was allowing me to stretch around her head. But that didn't make it any easier or less frustrating. I hadn't spoken in hours and then finally I told Ashely, "Next time you see her head can you just grab it? Just don't let it go back again…" I'm not sure if I had the ability to physically laugh at this point, but I did amuse myself...
Of course, she didn't actually grab her head, and ultimately it was very helpful that I was allowed to stretch around her 99th-percentile-giant head. Amazingly, I didn't tear at all. I think what surprised me the most about the whole experience, other than just the sheer intensity of the whole thing, was my body's ability to open up and expand right at the very end. It was so shocking that I hollered out... Less in pain and more in just total shock. I was watching this whole process in a mirror, thinking that her head was this little peanut because that's what I had seen coming through. I had been pushing twice consecutively with each breath, but then I knew that it was time and that if I just pushed a couple more times I could get her out. So I did. I pushed, and pushed, and then pushed, and then one more big push and there was her head. And that was the shocking part, the little peanut that I had seen crowning for four hours was only the very top of her head which had formed into a cone as it pressed against my cervix. But in reality after those four big pushes my body opened up and gave birth to this giant head. I had no idea my body could do that. Once her head was born, it may have been one or two more (comparatively easy) pushes before her body slid free.
I have heard that when a baby is born it's like angels rush into the room. I don't know if that is how I would describe it, but I can understand that idea... It was profound. After such a long, strenuous night- to see her perfect face, was the greatest moment of my entire life. Through tears, Bryan looked at me and said "it's a girl..."
Bryan, Elisha, my mom and Dad, and Bryan's Mom- all had tears in their eyes. There were sighs, laughter, smiles and a palpable feeling of relief and joy.
I had been pushing hard, really hard for four hours. I was pushing for hours (when I wasn't supposed to be) before that. I had been at the birth center laboring for 18 hours. And prior to that I labored in the mall, the diner, the motel. I have done a 70.3 mile triathlon, and multiple other endurance events- and I can assure you that nothing compared to the exhaustion I felt after labor. My arms were shaking from having pressed down so hard on Bryan, and on the bed, and the ground... And from pulling on Bryan, and rails... I wanted to pull my baby up to me, but I literally couldn't move my arms. Ashley placed her on my bare chest and I said "hi, Lois, I love you."
She latched soon after and nursing her was magical. It's still magical. I'll nurse her as long as she wants... For years, I hope. She was so sweet, so small, and so new. But throughout the whole labor, and during pregnancy and even still today- she is so strong. She never seemed weak; she is hardy. She is strong but still she has such a loving and light-hearted presence.
I learned a lot from the experience. It was certainly more intense than I could have ever imagined. I don't know that the intensity can be relayed through stories of other people's experiences, I think it has to be felt.
I didn't end up delivering in the pool as I had imagined, but that was okay. Things were so slow, and slowed down more each time I was in the pool. I had to get really, really uncomfortable to make progress.
I was able to deliver completely unmedicated, without any medical intervention, at the Birth Center- despite a slow labor, a face up baby (and a little tiny bit of poop... Her's I mean, not mine)...
A few things that helped me were resting (as much as possible) in early labor, laughing throughout all of it (when I could), and continuing to eat and drink. Also, being in good physical condition throughout my pregnancy and beforehand definitely helped. I would also say that I have had my mental endurance tested through athletic endeavors and with health challenges (like having cancer) in the past.
But here is the biggest thing I learned... If you want to have a natural birth, or accomplish anything for that matter, you have to commit. When I was pregnant, or even during the years when I was just dreaming of being pregnant and reading a lot of birth books... People would tell me that it's good to plan a natural birth, but not to be upset if that didn't happen... To try to keep an open mind in case I did need pitocin or an epidural.
I understand why people say this. It comes from a good place. It comes from a desire to make sure that, if things don't go as planned, the expectant mama's feelings are not hurt. They don't want people to feel disappointed or down on themselves. I get it, I really do. And I don't think anyone should feel bad about their birthing experience. I doubt that any birth ever goes 100% according to plan, and I too want for all mamas to feel content and at peace with however things transpired. But if you want a natural birth, I would not recommend going into labor with "an open mind..." Go into labor with your mind set. If you really feel strongly that you don't want pain medication, don't even consider it an option. As soon as that option is on the table, your resolve is compromised. If you don't feel really strongly about it one way or another, than by all means- keep an open mind! Or if you feel strongly that you do want medication- that's fine too! But if you really don't want intervention, then don't be afraid to commit to that as a goal.
I have read a lot (and heard several TED talks) about the way that our society views women vs men when it comes to success, failure, and achievement. We (as a society) try to protect women, by encouraging them to play it safe... To avoid risking failure, or risking anything at all... We tell our girls to "be careful" and our boys to "be brave..." Well, women- if you want a natural birth, be brave! Of course any time that you commit to a goal, there is a chance that you won't achieve it... But I trust our ability to handle that. I have talked to many mamas who planned an unmedicated birth and ended up delivering in a hospital with pitocin and epidural... Or a c-section. And they are strong enough to handle that, too! They still have a beautiful, healthy baby.
I know that is the reason that most people will tell you not to be too attached to the plan- because in the end you have your baby and it doesn't matter how they got there... But the experience does matter. It is transformative. So, plan for it to be what YOU want it to be. And then when your experience doesn't turn out exactly as you planned, let that be okay. Surrender to the process is essential, but so is strength, resolve and commitment. If you want to, borrow my mantra... Tell that little baby "there is only one way out..."
I am so grateful for the experience. I think it has made me more easy going. I have realized that things will happen on their own- without my interference or intervention... And often my job is just to be fully present...
Remember when I said it had been raining for weeks? Well, when Lois came out, so did the sun... And my life has been brighter ever since.