On January 29th, 2009 at 1am, my partner, Ryan, & I were watching silly videos on the internet and I was laughing so hard at one of them that I started to feel myself having some Braxton Hicks contractions as well as some abdominal pain. I had to go to the bathroom after laughing so much and when I sat on the toilet I felt my water break right before I started to go pee. It was a strange sensation, not quite like peeing, but pretty close. Some people said I’d feel a ‘popping sensation’ but to me it was more like a strange gush. I was SO excited & shaking with anticipation when I went back into the office to tell Ryan that I was pretty sure my water had broken.
The only thing either of us could think at that point was “oh boy -- today is going to be quite the day.” I called my best friend Elena first (since she was going to be at the birth) followed by my midwife. After being assured that what happened was definitely my water breaking I decided to try & get some sleep before the contractions started – though I had no idea when that would be. I slept until about 4am when the contractions were starting to become painful enough to wake me up. Poor Ryan was terribly ill with bronchitis the entire week before I went into labour & since the meds were making him so nauseas he had taken some Gravol the night before to try & get some sleep. Unfourtunately, the Gravol/antibiotic combination made him a bit of a zombie. Poor boy was so sleepy that when I got up and went to sit in the kitchen to start dealing with the contractions he came and slept on the floor beside where I was sitting. I actually have a little photo on my cell phone of him sleeping on the floor – fabulous man. He was so wonderfully supportive all day, even though at times he wasn’t sure what to do. It was so good to have him there.
Elena came over a few hours into my labour and I have to say this: without that woman I would have been lost. She has two children & I knew that if I was going to have any of my friends there while I was in labour/giving birth it would be her. As much as I was able to get through the beginnings of labour she absolutely guided me through the hardest parts later in the day. She taught me how to breathe through the contractions in a way that I never would have done without her there. She forced me to drink Gatorade when I was getting dehydrated & she made me do all kinds of really uncomfortable things to speed up labour which were painful but oh so necessary (eg. Walking a lot and squatting). She is probably the reason I was able to cope so well. I originally only wanted my midwives & Ryan at the birth, but about a week before I was due I was thinking about the fact that Ryan would most likely be upset at the fact that I would be in so much pain and I realized that I really needed a good friend in the room who had been though it – the youngest of her two children was born in September 2008 so much of the laboring process was rather fresh in her mind. I will never regret having her there as well as Ryan. It was incredible.
I labored in my kitchen with Ryan & Elena for several hours until the contractions were strong enough & spaced close enough together to call the midwives to come. I was trying to eat a little & stay hydrated, but I remember not having much of an appetite & the smells of food were making me a little woozy. Once again, Elena & Ryan were both great for trying to keep me hydrated while I was focusing on my contractions.
When the midwives arrived one of them checked my cervix to see how much I was dilated and at that time I was sitting around 2cm dilated or so (though I don’t remember how effaced). They took my vitals and made sure everything was alright with me & the baby. They stayed a little while and then decided to leave for a few hours to let me progress a little more & said to call if things seemed like they were speeding up a lot. Things get a little fuzzy around this point since I was starting to feel a little tired, but I know that I continued to labour walking around my house, taking showers & doing some yoga to ease the pain (cat pose, downward dog). I’m not sure how much time went by, but a little while later I believe Elena called the midwives to come back because I was in quite a lot of pain. The contractions were getting very strong at this point. When my midwives came and checked my cervix again I was sure I had to be at least 5 or 6cm dilated and was absolutely devastated when I was told I was between 2-3cm. I felt at that point like I had done SO much work without being rewarded for it. I remember swearing and finally letting some tears go when I found out that I’d barely made any progress at all. Ryan held me & comforted me. I didn’t want to feel hopeless and tried to get my head straight and deal with the situation in a strong, confident way.
My midwives suggested lying in bed & making the room relaxed and comfortable and to try and sleep around my contractions if I was able to pass out between them. Ryan made the lights dim, turned on some music (Death Cab, to be exact) and snuggled next to me. We both slept on and off for a while, though I’m not sure how long… a few hours? I awoke for my contractions and he held my hand and comforted me. He reminded me to breathe in the way that Elena had taught me earlier in the day – breathe deep, hold it & exhale slowly. This saved me. During the painful contractions it was so easy to get caught up and panicked into breathing much too quickly – this type of slow breathing was the only thing that helped me get through the pain. For most of my labour I also really liked having a cold facecloth on my sacrum – this helped me deal with my back labour, which I’ll explain now.
In most cases when a woman has back labour it’s because the baby is posterior, however, Gretchen wasn’t, but I was still having terrible pains in my lower back which were sticking around even when I wasn’t having a contraction. This might have been the hardest thing to deal with – not having much of a break between contractions for a few hours. Taking a hot shower and leaning into the shower wall was helpful – for most of my contractions I braced myself on something, a wall, the floor, the toilet, my kitchen counter. By the end of the day my whole body was so sore just from exerting so much energy and strength into bracing my body to conquer the contractions. The midwives were trying to help me get rid of the back pain and offered me water injections. If you don’t know what these are they are four little injections of sterile water into your lower back which create a counter pressure and relieve pain. I was a little skeptical (since I’m not a huge fan of needles anyhow) but I was getting to the point where I needed a little relief. My two midwives put the first two needles in and I don’t think I’ve ever screamed so adamantly in my entire life. I remember screaming “NO NO NO NO NO!” as loud as I could because the stinging pain was so great. Elena told me later that it upset her so much she left the room for a moment. I couldn’t bring myself to let them do the other two needles. I would deal with the back pain on my own. Note: I was later told that most people don’t let them do the 2nd set of needles, but when they do they offer a ton of relief. I just couldn’t do it, so I dealt with the rest of the back labour as it came. Later on you’ll learn the reason for this mysterious back labour.
Eventually I was checked and found to be around 7cm (you’ll have to excuse my lack of knowledge of the time frame – I certainly wasn’t checking the time). I remember being on my bed, but in too much pain to stay there and I knew I wanted to be on all fours (once again, back pain relief). I got on all fours on the floor beside my bed and this is when things started happening fast, or at least I thought so. I remember feeling the contractions coming faster and faster. They were so fast that it was hard for my midwives to check me or to talk to me because when one ended the other was getting started. Once again I have to say thank you to Elena for helping me breathe through these intense moments. At this point I know that Ryan was feeling upset about not being able to lessen my pain, and the smell of blood in the bedroom was getting to him. He kept trying to come back into the room to comfort me and I remember sending him out into the living room, saying that it was alright and to sit down and relax. I knew how badly he wanted to help, but I also knew that he needed to calm himself a little – I do love him for trying. At one point he was seeming a little lost and upset so Elena sent him on an errand to make tea and when the water boiled I was the only one who noticed – picture the 9cm dilated woman telling a room of four other people that the kettle is boiling – they thought I was hilarious.
So there I was, on the floor on all fours, getting so close to pushing time and I could feel it all. There was a lot of fluid happening at this point. I had long given up clothing – another perk to having a homebirth is that only the people you are comfortable around will see you in such a vulnerable state. I had kept on a sports bra and track pants for part of my labour, but by the evening I just wanted to be naked. Things were getting incredibly intense at this point. I could feel a tremendous amount of pressure and I knew I would get to push soon. I knew that I wasn’t quite at 10cm yet so I did everything in my power not to push. Eventually it got to the point where my body was pushing whether I liked it or not & through the pain I felt SO excited knowing that my little girl would be in my arms in a matter of hours.
Now, I mentioned that there was a ton of pressure, so I’ll go ahead and answer the question that some of you are sheepishly wondering: Yes, I pooped. Yes, I peed. Several times in fact and I have no shame in admitting it. I actually remember laughing between contractions at the idea of all these people seeing me poop on my own floor. Oh yes, labour can be hilarious.
At some point one of my midwives checked my cervix again and found that I was about 9 ½ cm dilated and she asked if I wanted her to help the last bit along. Oh yes. During my next contraction she used her fingers to push the last lip of the cervix over the baby’s head so that I wouldn’t have to wait any longer. I remember overhearing someone say that since it was my first baby she should be here within a couple hours. I couldn’t wait to hold her. It’s as though the pain didn’t matter.
The midwives and Elena helped position me on my bed to start pushing and as soon as I was there I knew what I needed to do. I was in a different place. I started to bear down and push with every ounce of power I could muster. Considering at this point I’d been awake for about 18 hours and every muscle felt complete spent, this was quite a challenge – I think it’s like you hear about in the news, how someone’s child is in trouble and they find the strength to lift a car or something – my body found strength from its very core and I pushed. Elena was holding my left leg and I also grabbed both of my legs myself to help push. I remember Elena and my midwives telling me she was crowning, they could see her head and eventually it was out completely. Once her head was out I felt so empowered. Just shoulders now, I told myself, and the rest will come out easy. A few pushes later I felt the rush of her body leaving mine. It was exhilarating.
I pushed for a total of 19 minutes before Gretchen was out and up on my stomach, belting out a lusty cry & turning January 29th, 2009 into the greatest day of my life. I heard someone tell me that it was 9.29pm and I remember thinking it was neat how many 9s were in her birth date. I found out a few hours later that she also weighed 9lbs 6oz – I think 9 might be her lucky number. I held this gorgeous little girl on my stomach and I know I said something about how beautiful she was. Elena said she looked like Ryan & I agreed. There we were, mother & daughter, face to face. I could finally kiss her little cheeks & head. I was so excited about all of the hair she had.
While I was pushing I know that Ryan came into the room at some point, but I sent him away, knowing that he probably would be upset by the sounds that I was making and the things that were happening to my body. He came into the room as soon as he heard her cry. I will never forget how happy he looked. He came over to look at her and gave me a high five – no joke. He also gave me a high five when I told him I was pregnant – you’ve got to hand it to the boy for continuity.
I was holding her on my stomach for a while and eventually the midwives told me that the cord had stopped pulsing. Elena cut the cord and I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so excited. I loved having her there. I asked if I could push out the placenta and they said to go ahead if I felt ready. I pushed it out in one push & then my stomach felt like a waterbed (and remained that way for a few days). Elena held her first, I believe, and then handed her to Ryan since her eyes were wide, wide open and she wanted Ryan to have that special moment with his daughter. Ryan & I also both gave the nod and named her Gretchen Fawn.
A little while after I pushed out the placenta I asked if I had torn and they examined me to see if I needed stitches. I had a nice clean tear, straight down my perineum and two little tears in my labia. The tear in my perineum needed seven stitches to fix it up, but the other two were small enough to heal on their own. I held Gretchen while I was being stitched – I didn’t feel the needles for the freezing and all I felt when I was being sewn back up was the pressure of the needle, but no actual pain.
I remember asking at some point if I tore because I only pushed for 19 minutes, but the answer was no – the reason I tore was because Gretchen crowned with both of her firsts up beside her face. She quite literally came out swinging. He little balled up firsts were practically glued up tight beside her cheeks and THIS was the reason for my back labour. Her fists were pushing on me from the inside in all sorts of unpleasant ways and this was why nothing we did would relieve the pain. My little one practically dove out.
When I was all put back together I got into a nice warm bath with Gretchen and breastfed her for the first time. It was so nice to sit in the water with her and relax after doing so much work. Her little eyes were wide open & I felt such a connection. I loved her from the very first moment I saw her.
The midwives stayed til about 1am -- the entire ordeal lasted 24 hours, though they count my active labour as about six hours.
After they left, Ryan & I were on our own with our brand new baby girl.
Our little family.
She is the best thing that has ever happened to us.
Childbirth was the most intense & most rewarding experience of my entire life. I knew going into it that it would be, but the experience that I had wasn’t something that I ever could have been ready or prepared for. I am honored that my midwives and friend have told me that I was amazing. There were times when I could understand why people would choose to have an epidural, but I am so incredibly proud of myself for going through it all without drugs & in the comfort of my own home. I would recommend a homebirth with the support of loved ones to EVERYONE considering having a child. It was an experience that I will never forget.
Completely life changing & completely wonderful.
Thank you for reading.