As background, from 36.5 to 40 weeks (3.5 weeks) I’d been having hours of contractions each day. Sometimes light and Braxton Hicks, sometimes strong enough to make me have to pause and breathe through them. But never closer than 10 minutes apart and no lasting pattern.
At 5:30 am on September 2nd (my due date, which was also Labor Day) I wake up out of a sound sleep to a contraction. This has happened before in the last few weeks, though this one was particularly strong. So I assume it will be more of the same and get up, start making a list of things to do during this session of contractions (iron curtains, file some paperwork, shower, return a few emails), idly writing down the times when the contractions start.
And realize by the third contraction that these are a very different beast. By 5:45 the contractions were 3-5 minutes apart and strong. My husband, Jai, was downstairs, and when I called for him (which I debated not doing, thinking “this can’t be happening this fast!) I think he broke some kind of land speed record racing up the stairs.
By the time 6 am rolled around I couldn’t walk during the contractions and they were 3 minutes apart. Jai insisted we call our midwife, Emmy but I resisted because for some reason I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how fast this is going. Jai, of course, wins this discussion in 30 seconds and we call. A contraction hits in the middle of the phone call and I had to lean over and hang on to the bed to be able to talk through it. Emmy suggests we call our doula, Amanda, to come check on me (which I heard as check me which caused some confusion later on) because it sounded like I was in active labor.
Hello, my name is Brandi and I’m the woman who woke up in active labor but kept trying to pretend she wasn’t.
While we wait for Amanda’s arrival I decide I want a shower. It would be nice to say it was because I thought the water would help (it didn’t) but really it was because I had just enough presence of mind left at that point to want to look nice when all these people (Amanda, Emmy, and two assistants Kisha and Nikki) arrive. Yeah, by the end of my ~10-15 minute shower I was cursing this idea and holding onto the shower curtain rod just to get through each contraction. The last contraction had me kneeling on the floor of the tub, where Jai found me. He helped me up, I finished rinsing, then stepped out. Jai handed me a towel and was offering me clothes to choose from (I had set aside 2-3 tops and 2 skirts for labor). It was nice to feel clean and fresh during labor, but this shower definitely wasn’t my best idea.
From here I remember bits and pieces. At this point I was already turning inward between some contractions, so what was happening around me wasn’t registering at times. For me, a huge reason I could labor this way (I realized later) was because I felt completely safe and comfortable with my surroundings and the people supporting me. There were no strangers, no surprises in my external environment. Just rooms I was familiar with, equipment I had practiced on, and people I knew not only wouldn’t judge me or fight me but rather supported my needs and decisions. I could relax, ignore the outside world, and focus on laboring because I knew everything else was taken care of.
After the shower I went to the nursery, where we had set up some places for me to labor—a birth ball, chair, and yoga mat. Amanda arrived around then, about 6:30 am, while I was swaying on the birth ball and Jai was rubbing my shoulders. I think I tried to offer her something to drink or eat—as if I was going to get up off the yoga ball, go downstairs, fix her a drink and walk back up the stairs while in active labor (ha!). I think she chuckled at me and politely declined, telling me not to worry about her. That marks the last time I was concerned/aware enough of the outside world to be a polite hostess for the rest of my labor.
Funny side note—Jai put on an episode of the NPR radio show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” during this part of the labor to help distract me. Several days later we listened to it again with Hypatia and there are whole chunks of it I, and to a lesser extent Jai, had absolutely no memory of.
For a while, this was the status quo—me on the birth ball, swaying, Jai rubbing my shoulders, us listening to “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.” When contractions hit I would moan through them, low and deep, sometimes leaning back into Jai. Eventually that position didn’t feel “right” anymore. By this point Jai had figured out that our plan for early labor (mainly distraction in the form of funny stories he had stored up, tv shows, radio segments, etc.) wasn’t what I needed. Instead of distraction, during active labor I needed to focus. I wasn’t conscious enough to articulate that, but he picked up on it without me saying a word and switched gears. Looking back, that was pretty amazing of him.
Amanda picked up on the fact the birth ball wasn’t right for me any more and suggested I move to the yoga mat. I ended up on my left side, with Jai in front of me and Amanda behind applying counter pressure. Jai was stroking and massaging me, talking to me, reminding me that each contraction was one less contraction. (Earlier in my pregnancy the thought of thinking of contractions like X-1, X-2, X-3… really resonated with me.)
This was where I just fully turned inward between contractions. I wasn’t worried about the contraction that had just passed or the pain coming with the next contraction. Instead, my mind and body were fully a peace and I was able to just …relax. I knew Jai would be there to talk me through the next contraction, that he would be massaging my shoulders or hands, stroking my belly. That Amanda was experienced and would offer suggestions to make things easier. That my midwives were watching out for my baby. I could trust them, rely on them, and just let go between contractions.
I swear I fell asleep for the brief minutes between some of the contractions!
Eventually I felt the urge to push, around 8:30 am, but it felt too soon. That scared me out of my relaxed state, especially because I thought the midwives weren’t there yet. Amanda reassured me it was okay to push, so I did. A few contractions with pushes later, just as the midwives are coming into the room, my water breaks with a loud POP. It gushes out, getting on my legs and skirt, and a pillow I had between my knees. I have a momentary thought about needing to clean up the mess I’d just made, but quickly forget about that when someone suggests I move to the bathtub.
Jai helps me get up and while it is only a few steps to the bathroom, I have to pause while another contraction hits to lean on him. I end up laboring on the toilet for a few contractions, then people help me get into the large tub. Jai climbs right in after me.
The water is very soothing and it doesn’t take me long, once I find a comfortable position, to sink back to my relaxed state between contractions. Especially because Jai brought my eye mask with to block out the light (great idea! Highly recommend a mask to help focus and stay relaxed). I even managed to retain some of the mental relaxation during single contractions (definitely not the physical!). The times where two came right on top of each other were extremely difficult and painful in the moment, but once they were done and my last moan had died away I would sink right back into being relaxed. That relaxed state seemed endless, it felt like I spent most of my labor in it, but the reality (apparently, I wasn’t aware of it at the time) was there was less than a minute between contractions and they lasted at least that long.
This relaxed state means that what I remember of my birth is bits and pieces, fragments of what actually happened. Thankfully, Amanda picked up our camera and photographed throughout my labor, birth, and delivery. Previously I had been pretty firmly against graphic photos during birth. I am so glad I’d never mentioned that fact to Amanda, because those photos chronicled my journey—both what I remember and everything I wasn’t aware of. It was like a wonderful gift of this special moment in time.
At times Nikki or Kisha would have me shift to listen to the baby’s heart rate. Internally I would get so upset they were making me move and pulling me out of the nice relaxed state. I wanted to yell at them to “Leave me alone!” in those brief moments when they came after me with a fetalscope, even though they were quick and gentle and soft-spoken.
During the next few hours I ate a honey stick (delicious!) and was given Echinacea (vile!). Shifted positions in the tub several times, from back to side to hands and knees. Now, afterwards, I’m amazed Jai’s hands didn’t cramp up from all the massage he did. Amanda pushed on my forehead (it really does help!) so much it was sore the next day.
At one point I thought I couldn’t do this any more (probably transition, but not being checked means I don’t know). It hurt too much, I was tired, and she just wouldn’t come out! But that was when Nikki told me to reach down and see if I could feel my daughter’s head. At first I didn’t want to, the idea scared me a little. Plus that would require not going into my relaxed state between contractions and I really liked it there. Finally, though, I reached down and realized…my daughter had hair! She was right there and she had hair I could feel!
In the end I pushed for about two hours. If you had asked me right after the birth I would have said it felt like I had been pushing forever but would have guessed perhaps just an hour. At the very end I got out of the tub, toweled off and slowly made my way to the bed, where I ended up on my side.
I could feel her head coming out and was pushing, pushing, pushing but the rest of her didn’t want to come out. I heard something about the cord being wrapped around her shoulder and Emmy suggesting I flip to all fours, that the position change would help her come out. What I didn’t realize then, because everyone was so calm, was that this was a fairly serious issue. For me, what I experienced was a simple “just flip over so the baby can come out easier”—no panic, no fear. So I stayed relaxed and focused.
Flipping did the trick. The first push after flipping onto all fours, my little girl’s head popped out and Nikki shifted the cord. Her shoulders came out with the next push, then the rest of her in one or two more pushes. Jai caught her, holding her for a moment, then placed our daughter on my back. We hadn’t discussed that, he just felt it was the right thing to do, to give me a birth pause but still connect to my daughter and it was perfect.
At 12:10 pm on September 2nd, 2013 (her due date) Hypatia Rose entered the world, born into her Daddy’s loving hands. Less than 5% of babies are born on their due date, let alone almost exactly at noon on Labor Day, so she is our amazing little statistical anomaly.
A few moments later, Hypatia was passed under me, I turned over and she was placed in my arms. Propped up against our head board, I held my daughter for the first time. She was sticky and squishy and beautiful. Because of the cord issue she was purple/pale at first but quickly started pinking up, let out a few cries, but mainly snuggled against me, skin-to-skin.
We laid like that, letting the cord finish pulsing, for some time. Jai joined us and we just relaxed as a family together. After about 20 or 30 minutes I felt the urge to push again, so I (reluctantly!) handed Hypatia off. The placenta slid right out and at the end of everything I had only a slight abrasion, no stitches needed, that healed very quickly. I actually got up and out of bed and walked to the bathroom on my own soon afterwards, surprising everyone with how good I felt.
When it came time to weigh Hypatia, Jai was the one to hold her up in the sling. She came in at 8 lbs 10 oz. and 21.5 inches long. We snuggled some more, then the midwives prepared a bath for me. After that Jai and I bathed Hypatia together, dressed her, and came back to a clean, freshly made bed (Amanda even threw the old sheets in the laundry!). Jai made sure he had on a t-shirt with a picture of a tie “so she would recognize her Daddy” because dress shirts and ties are all he ever wears. At some point in all this Hypatia latched on like an expert and our breastfeeding journey started. But that is a story for another time.
Never having given birth before, I went into this with very high hopes but realistic expectations. This birth, my husband, and my birth team surpassed all of those hopes, transforming a very painful, stressful event into a moment in my life I treasure and remember with joy. Not just the birth, but the labor itself. My birth into motherhood and my daughter’s birth were a beautiful family experience.