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My Birth Story

I went to bed Sunday night just like every other Sunday before. I slept well.

Then it happened. I felt a contraction.

It was 5:08 am.

The Build Up

Two days before, I had been woken up by a contraction. I’d felt a few throughout the night, hours apart, and just let them pass and went back to sleep. Up until that day, I hadn’t really felt any contractions. Maybe a hint of a cramp here and there but nothing worth mentioning.

My official due date was April 1, but for some reason I’d felt from the beginning that Baby Girl would come later than that. I also had decided long before the due date that I would not be induced. I wanted my body – and my baby – to be ready for labor, so I knew I needed to let it start on its own.

I got up around 7:00 am on Saturday, April 8, and told my husband, Nate, what I’d felt.

For the next hour or so, contractions kept coming. They were about 10 minutes apart consistently and I was starting to really think today might be the day. Nate and I were excited and nervous but we tried to stay calm, knowing that it could be “false” labor.

I texted my midwife, Amy, to let her know about the contractions, then I got to work. 

Amy had taught us that when labor starts you should ignore it as long as possible. Labor, especially for first-time moms, can be long so you don’t want to wear yourself out worrying about it or focusing on the contractions before your body is ready to really make it happen.

I swept and mopped the floors, tidied the apartment, and got ready for the day. And the contractions started to taper off.

I was a little disappointed, but not surprised. (I have this quirk where I love new things, I love change. If I’ve never experienced something before, even if it’s not particularly desirable in the eyes of many, I look forward to it. That’s how I felt about getting my wisdom teeth out. That’s how I felt about labor.)

Amy reminded me that it’s very common for labor to stop when the sun comes up and assured me that things might very well start back up again that evening.

Even though I tried not to, I was counting on it. All day I had in the back of my mind, “Tonight is (probably) the night! When is it going to start again?!”

Because Nate and I are both planners and preparers, we had the birth pool all set up, I laid out clothes I figured I’d want to change into, and we went to bed a little early so that if we were woken up and I labored through the night, at least we would have gotten a few hours of good rest.

But Saturday night came and Saturday night went.

So off to church we went Sunday morning. I had a few contractions but not at consistent intervals.

Though I was struggling a little emotionally, I tried to go about my day like normal. I knew it was coming soon, but I had no way of knowing when. Uncertainty has always been hard for me.

Sunday evening before bed, I wrote in my journal, “I guess we just proceed as normal tomorrow and welcome the surprise when labor starts.” 

Little did I know that the surprise was only 7 short hours away.

The Day My Life Changed Forever

April 10, 2023 ~ 5:08 am

Startled awake by the sensation I now know was a contraction, I got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Instead of going back to bed, I sat on the couch and opened the journal app on my phone. Sometimes I process thoughts and emotions best by writing them down. 

“It made me nervous,” I wrote. “It was powerful and intense and I questioned if I’m actually going to be able to cope with labor.”

My wonderful husband came out to check on me and encouraged me saying, “I KNOW you can do this. God designed your body and the strength of each contraction so it won’t be more than you can bear.”

Because this was my first baby, I knew logically what to expect – I’d learned everything I could about the process – but I had no idea how I, personally, would experience and cope with it. But it was happening; it was finally time to see what childbirth was like for me.

The contractions kept coming. For an hour or two, I went about my day as normally as I could, showering and eating and wandering around the apartment and just paused when I felt a contraction coming on.

I tracked each one on an app I had downloaded and noticed they were consistently 8 minutes apart. I texted Amy. Nate texted his team at work and took the day off.

We were both a little wired at this point, knowing today was almost surely the day we’d meet our baby girl. So we turned on a movie and I grabbed my yarn to crochet. (Double the distractions is better than one alone, right?)

When I was focused on the movie, contractions weren’t too bad. I was even able to laugh mid-contraction once.

Then it got hard.

Amy wanted me to do the Miles Circuit just to make sure Baby Girl was in a good position. It was incredibly uncomfortable for me. Not only was I holding a yoga position while nearly 10 months pregnant for 30 minutes at a time, but for me, contractions were way harder to handle while lying down.

That brought on the first tears.

It had already been 5 hours without contractions letting up and I was tired. With the added discomfort of not being upright, I felt like I couldn’t keep going.

I sobbed and Nate tried to comfort me. I knew I was edging into the danger zone of dreading the next contraction, which would only create more tension in me, but I felt unable to relax and let the fear go. 

Gratefully, after finishing the Circuit, I felt a little better. I don’t know if contractions were less intense or if I just preferred being upright so they didn’t seem as bad. It was probably the latter, since gravity was working with me now instead of against me.

At noon the contractions had spaced out to 16 minutes, at the longest, which is normal after doing the Miles Circuit. It didn’t take long for them to get back to about 6 minutes apart, though.

By 3:00 I was having contractions 4 to 5 minutes apart.

But then they didn’t keep getting closer. That surprised me. In the “textbook birth” contractions continue to get closer until they’re basically coming one on top of another, and when they do, you know you’ve reached transition.

I tried not to worry about it – I had plenty to focus on now with such short breaks in between contractions.

Because I couldn’t comfortably lie down, I switched between sitting on the floor, sitting on my birthing ball, and standing, either leaning over the couch or leaning over Nate during contractions so I could go as limp as possible to conserve every ounce of energy I could and to avoid any unnecessary tension or discomfort.

Having Nate close helped. Actually it made all the difference. Without Nate’s support, I couldn’t have done an unmedicated home birth.

He was an angel through all of it. He brought me (and fed me) food so I could keep my energy up, gave me massages, and encouraged me to relax. He reminded me that I could do it and that each contraction was bringing us closer to meeting Baby Girl. 

Throughout the entire pregnancy and up to this point in labor, I hadn’t had much nausea and hadn’t thrown up at all. At last, that streak came to an end.

I felt a contraction coming on so I knelt and draped myself over the seat of the couch and tried to go limp. As the contraction ended, I felt another wave – this time of nausea. “I’m going to throw up,” I said to Nate, and he quickly grabbed the little bucket we had nearby just in case. 

And I proceeded to vomit. The positive? The extra pressure broke my water. It wasn’t a lot of water, just a few drops, but it was definitely water. That was encouraging because it meant progress.

At this point I was exhausted. It had been over 12 hours of active labor and I was out of energy. I didn’t have the mental capacity to do much but grunt in response to Nate’s questions or give a short “yes” or “no.”

I needed to know how much progress I’d made. I needed to know how much longer I had to go.

I don’t know what I would have done if Amy had said anything but what she did when she arrived around 7:00 – that I was done, I was fully dilated. But, gratefully, that is what she said and I knew the end was in sight. The first stage was over. Now I just had to push Baby Girl out. 

Amy told me the hard part was over. I hoped she was right.

The Final Push

A few minutes later, I got in the pool. Nate had filled it a few hours earlier so it would be ready for me when I wanted to get in. (The warm water can slow contractions down, so it’s recommended that a woman waits to get in the pool until transition or right after.) 

I think I expected the water to be almost magic – to take away sensation and make it all easy.

The idea is that the buoyancy of the water relieves some pressure and the warmth soothes and relaxes the muscles. Because I haven’t experienced giving birth in any other way, I don’t have anything to compare it to. It probably did help. But I still felt every sensation. It was still hard work. 

Even if I still felt everything, I liked the pool because it gave me a place to be. It designated this time as different – I had made it to the final push. 

The amount of time a woman pushes can vary greatly, but first-time moms can reasonably be expected to push longer than a second-time (or more) mom. I pushed for 3 hours.

The first few contractions in the pool didn’t feel much different than they had before. I asked if I should be pushing. Amy said I should if I feel the urge. I didn’t know what that was supposed to feel like.

After I tried to relax through a few contractions, Amy suggested I try pushing a little to see how it felt. I didn’t know exactly what to do.

I had read about how to push, though, so I knew the idea was to breathe in and out a few times as the contraction started, then take a breath and hold it while pushing down and out, sort of like pooping.

After a few tries, I found that, like I’d learned, pushing contractions were much worse if I tried to relax through them rather than push and work with my body.

As I continued to push, what ended up helping me the most was what Amy’s midwife partner, Shanlee, taught me.

While on my knees in the pool, I put my hands around the back of her neck (she was sitting next to the pool) and she braced me with her arms. As a contraction came, I’d breathe in and out, then, as I took a breath in and held it, I simultaneously pulled my elbows in toward my body, keeping my hands on her neck, and pushed.

Somehow, it helped me feel where I was supposed to be pushing from and hold that downward pressure for longer. She encouraged me to “let it be big, let it go all the way down” – an important tip because I realized I was holding back and not relaxing my body enough to sink all the way down into the push.

It’s something I can’t really explain. It’s hard to understand before you’ve experienced it.

It was slow going. I had hoped that I wouldn’t have to push for that long since I was already so tired. But I just kept going.

Amy and Shanlee continually monitored the baby’s heart rate, both between contractions and during, and Baby Girl was doing just fine. I was discouraged though. I just wanted to be done. I asked how much longer it would be but, of course, they couldn’t tell me. 

I tried several different positions, at Amy’s prompting – first squatting, then on my knees, then lunging. Finally, they could see the baby’s head and asked if I wanted to feel it. I could feel it! And she had hair! I don’t think I consciously realized I felt hair until later but I do remember feeling it.

Once I felt her head I figured we were close. Again, I wasn’t as close as I hoped. It still took several more contractions to get to crowning and then to get her out. But I kept going!

Crowning is often described as “the ring of fire” and I definitely felt that. Because it took a few contractions to push her all the way out, I was stuck with that crowning feeling for a good couple minutes. I could feel the burning pressure and tried to ease it with some pressure from my hands.

As I continued to push – and continued to get better at it – I was able to push several times during one contraction (meaning I’d take a breath in, hold and push, take another breath, etc. before feeling the wave subside). I don’t know if that helped push her down faster, but that was what I felt like my body wanted to do, so that’s what I did. 

Finally, I pushed and felt her head slide out. I took another breath, held it, and pushed one more time. I felt her shoulders rotate 90 degrees and the rest of her was born. She was here! I did it! It was over.

Nate had planned to catch the baby, but, because of the lunging position I was in, I caught her! Amy helped me bring her up to my chest and Nate and I started to talk to her and rub the vernix in.

Our midwives gave us a few minutes to soak it in and be in the moment before asking us to move to the bed and before doing anything with the baby.

My placenta was already ready to be delivered so Amy asked me to cough a few times and she gently guided it out by the cord.

After a few minutes, they helped me to the bed. They propped me up with pillows and as soon as I laid down, they placed Baby Girl back on my chest and covered us with a blanket.

I had torn (second-degree) when Baby Girl made her entrance into the world, so the first order of business was to stitch me back up. Amy did the stitching while Nate and I continued to touch and talk to Baby Girl.

We had had a name in mind but didn’t feel like it was the right one when we saw her, so we just called her “Baby Girl” for one more day. 

Some people have a strong emotional or spiritual feeling as soon as their baby is born. For me, it took a little while, probably because of the length of labor and the need for stitches.

After about an hour, when I was stitched up and in a moment when everyone had left the room for one thing or another and it was just me and my baby, I felt that spiritual feeling. This was real. I was holding my daughter. I had just brought a new life into the world. What a miracle.

Reflections

Baby Girl was born at 10:46 pm which meant I was in labor for 17.5 hours. Amy had told us that first-time moms laboring without medication should expect to labor for 24 hours, so I was grateful mine was shorter.

Labor was long and hard. I don’t know that I can say it was what I expected but the experience wasn’t totally unexpected either.

It was such a unique experience that there’s just nothing to compare it to or to really describe it. I had moments in the middle when I felt like giving up and didn’t know how I could ever do it again after it was over. And I had moments when I felt I was handling it well and it wasn’t so bad. 

Though I wondered at points how I was going to make it through, I honestly never really wanted to do anything differently.

I knew I could go to the hospital and I could ask for an epidural, but it really wasn’t ever much of a temptation, even when I was struggling the most. It wasn’t something I had to fight – the knowledge that I could do something differently – it was just a fact that I knew but that held no sway on how I was going to handle things. I truly didn’t want that.

In thinking about those thoughts and feelings in the following days, I realized that even if I had planned to go to the hospital for an epidural, my labor experience wouldn’t have been entirely that different.

I still would have labored at home for a long while. I still would have been encouraged by Amy to do the Miles Circuit. It still would have been long and hard. And I would have given up the chance to be at home, where I’m most comfortable, and traded a bit of relief in the final stages for the wonder of being fully present, physically and emotionally, through it all.

And of course there’s the big question: was it painful? You can read my thoughts on that here

And if you’re thinking I’m crazy for not going to the hospital, check out Are Home Births Safe?.

A few days after the birth, Nate was talking to a friend on the phone. The friend asked if I would do it again just the way I’d done it. A little to my surprise, my response was immediate: “Absolutely!”

In a way I don’t quite understand, I can honestly say that I loved my birth experience.

It wasn’t easy; in fact, it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It wasn’t fast. I wouldn’t call it fun. But it was miraculous and beautiful and sacred and joyful and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Well, maybe several heartbeats, after I have time to recover and adjust to being a mom to my precious little girl.

Allison

P.S. You can visit my midwife’s website here: Amy Ihrig – Joyful Birth Midwifery Services