I started having frequent contractions right at 37 weeks. They gradually progressed from frequent Braxton Hicks to contractions that sometimes fit the characteristics of pre-labor and early labor. Several times over the next three weeks things picked up enough that I thought he might come early, but they always fizzled out. By my 39th week I was physically tired and emotionally discouraged from waiting on the "real thing." The end of pregnancy was very much a learning experience for me in trusting God's timing instead of my own, and I constantly had to fight against discouragement when loving and well-meaning friends asked "you haven't had that baby yet?!"
On Sunday, March 25, Jeremy and I decided to take the morning for ourselves for a little date and attend the 5pm service at church. We went to the square in Denton after lunch to get ice cream at Beth Marie's and walked around the square for a while. I started having contractions while we walked - around 3:00 pm. However, they were much like those I'd been having so I didn't think much about them. We went home and rested on the couch for a bit, but decided not to go to church when I realized that the contractions had increased in both frequency and intensity despite resting. I started timing them while we ate dinner, and then we decided to walk around the neighborhood to "spur them on" on the chance that this might be the real thing. We only walked for 30 minutes as I quickly realized I couldn't talk through the contractions anymore.
At home I showered, which only increased the contractions, and decided to call the on-call midwife, Betty, at about 9pm. Betty was already up at the birth center so we went in to get checked. I was only dilated to 1 cm, but Betty guessed I was in labor. She figured it would still be quite a while and gave me a shot to help me get some sleep to prepare for active labor. I was practically asleep before we even got home, but only slept in between contractions for the next few hours. I would be vaguely awake and aware that I was in pain during each contraction, but would promptly pass out for 4-5 minutes between each.
By 2am I could no longer sleep, and I laid in bed for the next 2 hours breathing quietly through each contraction to let Jeremy sleep a bit longer. By 4am I couldn't lay still anymore, so I paced the living room while my labor playlist played and Jeremy finished packing for the birth center. I was determined not to be sent home again, so I waited until 5:00 to call Betty. We met her up at the birth center shortly after, but I was discouraged to find I was only a 2. Jeremy and I were eager to move things along, so we walked the paths at TWU for two hours. I'm sure we freaked a few students out as Jeremy supported me squatting through every contraction. After the campus started to get a bit busier with students we headed to Starbucks for breakfast. We sat at a back table for about an hour as I tried to be discrete during contractions. Despite my best efforts, I still heard a few people whisper, "I think that woman's in labor." When we went back to Inanna at 8:45, Jean was on call. She checked me and I was still only a 3. The birth center was busy with daytime appointments and another couple already in labor, so we decided to go back home to labor for a few hours so it would be quieter and more comfortable.
At 10:00, my friend Jen came over with her little boy, and Jen massaged my shoulders, back, and legs while Jeremy played with her son. This was a fantastic help in letting me relax and a good distraction for Jeremy, who had already been helping me through contractions for six hours. Jean had instructed us to come back to Inanna by 12 at the latest - earlier if my water broke or my contractions sped up. At 11:30 I texted Jean to ask if I could labor a bit longer at home. I had gotten somewhat comfortable and didn't want to disrupt that. I moved to the yoga ball to lean against the bed so Jen could work on my back, and pretty quickly my contractions increased to about 2.5 minutes apart. We went back to Inanna at 12:30 pm, and I had progressed to a 5. There was still another couple laboring in the large birth room so Jeremy and I set up in the small birth room.
I think Jeremy was unsure how to help me at that point, as he was sitting on the bed reading and journaling. After several contractions of this I told him, "I don't know what I need you to do, but I need you to try something because I feel like I'm doing this alone!" From that point on he was completely hands-on, massaging my shoulders, back, hands, feet - figuring out what worked and what didn't - and verbally helping me through every contraction. I have no doubt that I only made it through labor as calmly as I did (and calm is relative) because of his help.
I labored on the yoga ball in the small birth room for several hours. My friend Heidi, who is a doula and was coming to take photos of my birth, came a little after 2 pm and was incredibly encouraging for both me and Jeremy. Jean checked me again around 3:30 or 4 (at that point I wasn't really coherent of time), and I had only progressed to a 6. It took me another couple of hours to get to a 7.
By early evening I was begging to get in the bathtub, but there was still another couple in the big birth room. Patty, our birth assistant, got the shower in the bathroom ready, and I spent around an hour letting the hot water hit my belly and back, changing between the seat in the shower and sitting on the yoga ball. Not long after, I was able to transfer to the large birth room and Jean checked me again while the tub filled - I was at an 8. The bathtub made a world of difference - the contractions seemed much less intense, and the warm water helped me relax more between them.
At 8:30 pm Jean broke my water as she was worried I was getting too tired to push, so we needed to speed things up. That intensified my contractions exponentially. Jean offered a small shot of medication to take the edge off, explaining that it would have an effect equivalent to about one beer. I readily accepted! I had learned early on that vocalizing during contractions helped me distract myself and relax, but up until then that had just been humming or moaning. This progressed to nearly screaming after breaking my water. I moved back to the tub, and not long after Jen arrived at Inanna. It was so encouraging for me to have a new face and a fresh encourager, and relieving for Jeremy to have someone to help him take a break. During each contraction I felt like I just couldn't make it through one more. I spent much of the last few hours of labor just pleading with God to give me His strength because I couldn't do it on my own. I tried not to express my doubt out loud - I was afraid they would send me to the hospital if I did. I didn't know what was normal, but I knew Jean and Patty did and was confident they would let us know if there was any reason to be concerned.
One of the most memorable points in labor was when the playlist I had compiled previously (which had been playing on shuffle for hours) played a few worship songs back to back. During this time Jen read me some scripture verses I had written on cards and brought in my birth bag. Jeremy later described that point as a time when he clearly felt the presence of the Lord as he and Jen prayed over me, and that it was the encouragement he needed to help me get through the last bit.
I finally felt the urge to push, but there was still a small lip of my cervix over Micah's head, which had begun to swell as he descended. To clear the way for him, Jean had me push while she manually moved the rest of my cervix over Micah's head. While pushing was a new kind of pain, it was actually relieving to be doing something productive with the pain of the contraction rather than just trying to relax.
Patty asked if I would like to have a water birth, as I was still in the tub. I nodded, thinking, "If that means I don't have to move, then YES!" I pushed through a few contractions in the tub, but ended up having to move to the bed when Patty saw what looked like meconium (but ended up being dried blood). While I pushed on the bed, Jeremy stayed on my left and Jen on my right, each holding a hand and a leg. While it was exhausting, I was surprised when Jeremy told me later that I pushed for about an hour and a half, because it didn't feel that long. I could feel the burn of Micah's head, and Jean told me that if I couldn't get him out in the next few pushes she would have to cut an episiotomy, as his heart rate was dropping. I tried my hardest to get him out without intervention and even felt him crown first, but I was just too tired to do it quickly. Jean cut about 1/2", and I immediately felt his head come out. In the next push his body was out, and Jean placed Micah on a towel on my chest and rubbed his back until he cried.
The feeling of seeing him for the first time was incredible and overwhelming. I felt relief that I had made it through and the pain had subsided, relief that Micah was healthy, and immense joy at finally looking at the face of this little person God had been forming inside me for 9 months. He grasped by finger as I reached for him, and Jeremy and I just sat and stared at him. A few weeks before birth I had expressed to Jen that I couldn't wait to see what he looked like. She said, "When you see him you won't be surprised - you'll just think 'of course that's what he looks like,' like you'd known all along." This was completely true for me. Of course he looked like that - perfect - like our son. That first minute of seeing and holding him made all 20.5 hours of labor (nearly 30 hours including early labor) completely worth it.
After the cord stopped pulsing, Jeremy cut it. The midwives left Micah on my chest while they stitched me up, then they did his newborn exam right next to me. As I was able, we slowly moved to the small birth room so another mom in labor could have the large room, and Patty helped me nurse Micah - about an hour after he was born. Since I didn't have medical intervention of heavy narcotics or an epidural, both Micah and I were awake and alert for about 2.5 hours after birth, which made breastfeeding for the first time much easier. He fell asleep around 1:15 am, and Jeremy and I sat in the bed with Micah swaddled between us, ate some dinner and toasted our brand new son with a beer. We rested some at Inanna and were home in our own bed by 4:00 am - the end of both the hardest and most rewarding day of my life.
We are very fortunate to have some priceless photos of Micah's birth.
Photos by Heidi Pierce - http://betterbirthdoula.org/photos/