May 11, 2014 was Mother’s Day and my contractions began to come and go. I thought they might be Braxton Hicks contractions but this was the first time I experienced a contraction so I began to wonder if this was the real deal. After all Phoenix’s due date was May 12. I texted the midwife on call and she said there were three other women in labor so we began to hope it would be the next day. These contractions were noticeable, but that was the extent, other than a bunch of excited nerves.
The next day I was still having contractions, a little stronger now, but because a day passed and the contractions were a little inconsistent I was not convinced I was in labor. I contacted my doula, Lisa, and she told me it sounded like I was in the early stages of labor, to keep a close eye, and contact her with updates. By the evening my contractions were steady and getting stronger and my doula came over to begin her marathon of support. I would like to note that my doula was undoubtedly one of the best investments we made, way better than an epidural, and probably cheaper.
Lisa gave me herbs to help get the contractions more consistent and steady. I liked the help but I didn’t like constantly having to lift up my tongue for the small dissolvable pill for the next 20 hours. Contractions during this time were getting a little rough, as you would expect having never felt this sensation before. Mostly because it is all you can concentrate on and the little worries about birth peek their head in, not to mention a storm was approaching. And by storm I mean a literal thunderstorm with torrential downpour lasting through the night with a cold front moving into the area. My husband, Daniel, and Lisa kept an eye on the radar looking for a break in the rain to head to the birth center, where Melanie, the owner and head midwife, was preparing my room.
Around 2 a.m. on May 13, we headed to the birth center on an empty road with heavy rain and hydroplaning tires. Melanie greeted us in socks and scrubs at the front door. The rain and relief from the heat felt wonderful as we walked into the cozy, inviting house. The porch light was on and Melanie was so laid back I felt as though I was visiting an old friend after a long journey.
I had the place to myself and the midwife-in-training, Reena, was on hand to assist in the birthing process. After walking in my room and getting comfortable the next 12 hours bled into a blur of escalating emotion and exhaustion. The night previous my mother came over when the doula arrived to bring us dinner, but her presence was stalling my progress and I didn’t understand why. My doula said this was normal so we decided no family should come to the birth center until Phoenix was born. What I didn’t know was that my mother and my husband’s parents were outside the door starting at 8 a.m. and my doula kept it a secret the whole time, with one save when someone mentioned a mother was at the center.
As the labor progressed, everything went out the window and I just tried to do what everyone was telling me. My husband was so stressed he kept leaving the room which made me worry about him for not having anyone to support him, (found out later about the parents), while simultaneously mad at him for leaving me. Moving to a different birthing position every thirty minutes was very hard and at a certain point all I wanted was sleep but the contractions just kept getting stronger. Phoenix’s head was tilted and she was stuck on my cervix for a long time. I honestly thought we were going to have to go to the hospital and everyone was just telling me everything was okay and progressing normally. They always say your worst fears will resurface during the birth and my fear of a transfer kept popping into my mind. But her heartbeat was steady and strong the whole time which was a relief to hear given the sensitivity of the of my lower abdomen every time they checked.
Right when I started saying I couldn’t do it anymore, my midwife said that was a good sign and it wouldn’t be long. My cervix was swelling, so ice in a glove was the next step. Apparently I was the first mom to actually like the feel of the ice, for me it was the hand that hurt. Eventually we tried a series of techniques to get her loose and moving downward. We tried Robozo, which my husband said looked painful but it felt wonderful to me. We tried laboring on the toilet, a favorite of many mothers. Finally, we hooked a contraption to the ceiling that worked as a harness to help me completely relax and squat to push during a contraction. The hardest part was trying to relax and let my body do its thing instead of tensing up.
Before I knew it they checked Phoenix’s progress and she was within an inch of coming out to everyone’s surprise. She had brought my cervix down the birth canal with her and it was time to push. We thought the best position to get her out would be if two people could pushed each of my legs back over my head so when the time came to get in the tub, I opted to just get her out instead of moving again. Pushing was a whole new ballgame and I found myself completely lost. It hurt but I concentrated more on listening to the tips I was being given on how to breathe through the pushes, (thanks goodness for Yoga and Pilates). In the back of my mind I remembered our birth class instructor, Abby, telling us to take our time pushing to avoid tearing as she had with both her daughters.
Pushing was very short for me compared to first time moms, only 30 minutes. In fact, it was not even enough time for the nurse to drive to the center. Melanie forgot to contact her until after the pushing started. At the center there is one midwife while you are still one with your baby and the addition of the nurse when you and your baby become two. It was amazing knowing there was a foreseeable end and I had an active role in this phase. In between coaching and words of encouragement, Melanie used coconut oil to help lubricate. I did end up tearing in a few spots, but Melanie was so laid back about the severity that I knew I was in good hands. She is such a good seamstress that she teaches at the local hospitals and is legendary.
Phoenix’s head was like a board game where you can’t catch a break, one space forward, two back, until finally her head was out. The rest of her body was a cake walk, out in a push or two, and I remember focusing on the feeling of a little human body emerging. Melanie told Daniel if he wanted to catch his baby, ‘now’ was the time. The look on his face was priceless and as he caught her and placed her on my chest he began to shake and cry. For me, the pain disappeared instantaneously and all I could say was “Oh my God” over and over again. I was in shock and Dan was worried his shaking would affect his grip while cutting the umbilical cord. Phoenix was a healthy 6 pound 10 ounce baby, 19 and a half inches long, born at 13:08 crying loud and proud.
As Phoenix lay on my chest I felt a warm sensation and noticed that it was a little too high to be me. She was peeing on me and I admit it felt like a warm bath after a long day’s work. At this point Phoenix began her breast crawl, a process that normally takes about an hour and a half. After a quick weigh on the scale so I could move into a comfortable position on the bed, she resumed her quest to acclimate to her new environment. She eventually found the breast (after nuzzling, kneading, and moving around) and we nudged her into a rudimentary latch. The moms came in to visit along with my father-in-law. My dad was stuck in Michigan in an airport with severe weather including random tornadoes. After taking a warm herb bath together, Phoenix and I got up and dressed and so began a game of pass the baby. My sister-in-law, her daughter and husband, and my best friend and her husband came to visit at the center. With warm food and family we overstayed our welcome a bit leaving at 8 p.m. A cold front had moved in with the storm and we took Phoenix home in cool comfortable weather.
The storm started moving into the area slowly, raged for hours, and eventually turned into a beautiful and unusually cool May day. My labor came on slowly, raged for hours, lol, and eventually resulted in a unique baby girl.