When we last checked in on our hero, labor was at its very earliest stage. It was 5am, and Crazy Mama decided to do the obvious thing…go to bed.
5am became 6am, 6 turned to 7, the sun rose – but not shining brightly as it was overcast with a drizzle of rain that day. A cold, rainy, November day in Memphis. It even *sounds* like the blues.
I laid in bed on my left side, snuggled with my body pillow, legs arranged as per the research I had been doing just prior to going to bed to best encourage baby to flip around from posterior to anterior. I don’t recall what I was reading lying there in bed, but I do remember how hard it was to pay attention. I kept reading the same paragraph over and over. Every time I’d feel another cramp, I’d look at the clock. 40ish minutes apart (6am)…then 30ish minutes apart (7:30)…then 20ish minutes (8:20)…and I thought maybe I should call the folks who would have the longest drive to let them know to start heading our way. Rebecca, my best friend and the person who had introduced me to homebirth, lived at the time on a farm in Western Kentucky and was planning to make the 5 or so hour trip down, so I called her first. I didn’t want to go through my first birth without her. My mom was in Louisville visiting my grandmother and would also be driving down so I called her. By then it was getting close to 9am and the contractions were getting stronger and closer together – about 12 to 15 minutes apart. I decided to wake Amy (my midwife) and give her the heads up.
She was…less than thrilled…to learn I’d had no sleep at all. In fact, she wanted me to take a warm bath, drink a glass of wine if I could, and try to slow things down enough to get some rest. I had told her at a prenatal appointment about my maternal family history of pretty fast births, so we both knew it was likely that things were really happening – but she wanted me to try to get some rest nonetheless.
So with my bestie on the way and my mom excited and likely running in circles in Louisville, I hopped in the shower. Well, probably not hopped. More like waddled. You get the picture.My husband (Jason) was still sleeping peacefully and I decided to let him be. To be honest, I didn’t want to tell anyone there at the house. My mother in law (Leann) lived downstairs and was probably awake and reading, but I wanted to be alone.
That was a good shower. I was so excited and having been awake so long, it felt really good to get hot and steamy and clean. I even managed (somehow) to shave my legs. The contractions were still coming on though. By the time I was out of the shower, they were closer to 8 or 10 minutes apart. I bundled up in my favorite blue robe, dried my hair, and tried to lie back down.
Yeah…no. I couldn’t. The next contraction that hit after I laid down was strong enough to bring me right back to my feet. I grabbed hold of the co-sleeper we’d set up next to our bed and heard myself lowing like a cow, deep and open and low in my chest. I held onto the sleeper and swayed back and forth, rocking my hips, until the contraction passed.
I had read – I think in Spiritual Midwifery – that the cervix is a sphincter like the rectum, the larynx, etc – and that if you concentrate on relaxing one sphincter, you’ll relax them all. So I took myself back to my old Acting and Voice classes from college. I imagined my throat as a big, open tunnel, my center as a big yellow ball of light, and singing that low, low note would draw the yellow light up and out from center, warming and softening my throat as it came. I threw my head back and sang low to the ceiling, letting my mouth hang open. Loose and open and wide. I even sang, “Oooooohhh-pen,” on as low a note as I could comfortably sustain.
I’m really, really glad that I had decided to stay alone, and that my husband is an incredibly deep sleeper. I probably looked like a mental patient. I probably *sounded* like a mental patient. But it felt right, and that’s all that mattered.
After that first really strong contraction, I discovered that I needed to walk. I couldn’t sit down, couldn’t lie down, couldn’t even really hold still. I wanted to walk. I’d had a big yoga ball, but one of the seven cats (yes, seven freaking cats) had popped it a couple of weeks before. I don’t think I could have held still enough to use it, mind you. I felt like a tiger in a cage – pacing in a big loop around the upstairs sitting room and bedroom. When a contraction would start up, I’d make my way back to that sleeper and hold onto it, swaying and rocking, lowing at the ceiling and picturing my ball of light moving up and through my body. “OOOoooohhhhpen…AAAAaaaahhhhh,” I’d sing. I checked the clock again. It was around 10:30am.
5 hours in – and still no sleep. I realized at this point there wouldn’t be sleep. There wouldn’t be rest. Contractions were anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes apart and were starting to be strong enough that I had to hold on “for dear life” during them. I called Amy again. She kept me on the line until one hit – then said she’d pack up her bag and come on over.
After that contraction passed, I found myself picking up piles of clothes, trying to make the upstairs as neat as possible. I cleaned the bathroom as quickly as I could. I think there was another contraction in the bathroom – then I realized there just wouldn’t be time to clean (and what the hell was I thinking, trying to clean house while in active labor?) It also occurred to me that maybe I should wake Jason before Amy and Rebecca arrived.
He got up, helped me put the two sets of sheets with the vinyl fleece-backed picnic tablecloths between them on the mattress, then got in the shower. I had one good contraction before he got in the shower, and I think that was probably when things got real for him. With Jason awake, I found it was far, far more comfortable to wrap my arms around his neck and dangle from his shoulders while I swayed and moaned – and let him support my weight. More comfortable for *me* of course. He was a trooper though – it had to be pretty scary, but he held me up – and continued to do so for the rest of the day whenever I needed him, which was a lot. I don’t want to downplay this part – he literally held my entire weight from his neck/shoulders for what wound up being hours – with me yelling and groaning in his ear all the while. It takes a special kind of person to be able to do that, much less willing.
While he was in the shower, I called down to let Leann know to expect Amy. She was beside herself. She had heard me up and moving around, but figured I wanted my privacy (good on her.) I could hear her begin making her rounds of phone calls from the downstairs living room. I kept up my tiger-in-a-cage pacing, only stopping to sing through the contractions.
Amy arrived, arranged her things, made note of where all of my boxes of supplies were stored, then said she wanted to check me after the next contraction. When she did, she looked up at me and said, “Girl, you’re already at 8cm – the hard work is just about over and you’re still smiling!”
I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure what I expected labor to be like, but I thought the contractions-part was supposed to be super painful and difficult. Granted, things weren’t exactly a walk in the park at this point, but I wasn’t in what I’d call pain (yet…) I remembered Rebecca’s first labor and thought she was dealing with way more pain than I seemed to be. She had a lot more back labor than I did, which was likely the main difference there. I started to be worried she wouldn’t make it in time.
Sometime after noon, I remembered the jacuzzi bathtub downstairs and decided to give it a whirl. Amy said it was fine, but if she told me I needed to get out, I’d have to comply. Getting downstairs was a bit of a trip – I had to lean pretty heavily on my husband as my legs were super tired from all the pacing and swaying (not to mention the total lack of sleep.)
That tub felt SO good. I laid back and turned on the jets. It was almost deep enough to cover my whole belly. Husband stayed in the bathroom with me and Amy went back upstairs to work on her charts.
Pretty sure the bath lasted all of half an hour. The first contraction was manageable, but it was the first time I’d tried sitting or lying down through one all morning, and it wasn’t very comfortable. Rebecca arrived while I was in the tub, and I remember looking up at one point and seeing her, my husband, and my mother in law all kind of crammed in around the door of the bathroom right as another contraction hit. That did it. “Get me out of here,” I said to my husband.
Once he got me back upstairs, Amy wanted to check me again. She had checked one other time before I got in the tub and I hadn’t progressed beyond that original 8cm. The contractions had slowed down, too. When I got back upstairs, the story was the same. No progress, but a contraction hit while she was checking. That…sucked. It was good for her to see how things were going, but it totally made my skin crawl. Jason had to pretty much support all of my weight on that one to keep me from collapsing on top of poor Amy, who was sitting in the floor to check me.
The good news about that was she felt things open up a bit more during that one (it was a really strong, really uncomfortable contraction.) “I think you were waiting for Becca to get here. All that’s left now is one little lip of your cervix to open up and you’ll be ready to start pushing.”
I was feeling really tired – but now that my whole birth team was in place, I felt good about things.
Pretty much once I got out of the tub, everything starts to run together. I have no more concept of time. I don’t know when things happened. Part of that is writing this 4+ years later, but even my initial try at writing the story right after the birth got blurry at this point. Over the next couple of hours, contractions got much, much more powerful. Force of nature powerful. I still wanted to stand through them, but had to lay down between. The lack of sleep took a major toll. Amy had Jason bring me something to eat, some water, and a Popsicle. The snack was a tortilla with cheese I think – but I couldn’t really eat much of it. The Popsicle tasted really, really good – for as long as it lasted. Not long after eating, I threw it all back up anyway.
Amy checked again and told me it was time to push whenever I felt the urge. Once the pushing started, I got really whiny really fast. I tried standing and pushing, crouching and pushing, pushing on my hands and knees…I know baby was moving down, but it felt like nothing was happening. My legs were so weak and shaky, I couldn’t hold myself up. On one attempt at standing and pushing, Rebecca and Jason were basically supporting all my weight. Nothing doing – I had to lie down. After all my good walking and swaying and rocking, here I was at the big moment, and all I could manage was lying flat on my back – the LAST position I wanted to be in to give birth. I tried resting between contractions, but they were so close together that I just couldn’t. Amy had to (as gently as possible) tell me to stop the weepy stuff and conserve my energy for pushing. I got in a bad habit of just yelling while I pushed, as if I could somehow shout my baby out. Amy and Rebecca both tried to help me turn the shouting energy into pushing energy. At some point, baby started crowning. I remember reaching down and feeling her hair and being so excited. I worked so hard to get her to crown and “stick” but she kept retreating. I felt so hopeless – the weepiness started back up. Jason was holding up one leg for me, Rebecca was holding the other, and I’d sit up in a crunch to push, looking Amy right in the eyes.
I guess she saw me losing hope. She saw how tired I was. She heard how whiny I was. She did exactly what I needed her to do in that moment.
She made my birth partners step away. They were just to the sides of the bed, but she didn’t let them help me. “Put a hand behind each knee and pull your legs to your chest while you push on this next contraction. Try not to make a sound. Use everything you’ve got for pushing. Don’t whine about it, just do it.”
“Tracy, push your baby out. Do it now.”
On the next contraction, I pushed til baby crowned and I held her there. Once she was there and staying, Amy let Rebecca and Jason help again. I pushed and pushed and delivered her head. Anterior. She had turned after all. Then I pushed shoulders and body free and there she was…6 lbs 4 oz of sweet and silent Anna Marie.
She started breathing on her own, but she was so quiet. I don’t remember her crying at all. The next little bit is even blurrier than the previous stage, because in my third stage, the complications no one could foresee started.
It began with the cord. Anna’s cord was so very fragile and short. It was only weakly pulsing. Amy gave it a gentle tug to pull some more free and give us a bit more “play” to move Anna about, and it came apart in her hands.
So much for delayed clamping.
Amy asked whether I felt any crampiness that would signal the placenta’s delivery and I did not. I didn’t know at the time, but there was a fair bit of bleeding going on. She had me try to breastfeed Anna for the first time to stimulate contractions. It was hard to sit up straight. I felt super weak. Anna latched on and nursed a bit, but no contractions, no cramps, nothing.
Amy gave me a tincture and a shot of pitocin in my upper thigh. No contractions. No cramps. Nothing. Then she said what I heard in my head for the next several years.
“Tracy, your placenta isn’t coming. There’s a fair bit of blood. I’m going to have to go get it. It’s not going to be fun.”
I remember asking if there was any other way…anything she could do…I was thinking transport in my head and she saw that.
“There’s just no time. I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
“Do what you have to do. It’ll be okay.”
So yeah, sparing you the worst of the details, I watched my midwife get a new glove, then watched as she bathed most of her lower arm in betadine. Jason stripped the upper half of his body down and laid down next to me on the bed so Anna could continue having skin-to-skin warmth with her family.
I tried to keep my cool. I tried to bite down on the screams that wanted to come. I looked over at Anna lying calmly on Jason’s chest. I tried to be strong for her. After a few minutes, I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I lost every bit of cool or calm or composure I may have had.
Anna’s placenta had not detached. Amy got it out in five pieces. We didn’t try to keep it for burial or encapsulation or any of those things natural birthers tend to do. It got bundled and disposed of. As Amy put it, it was a “bad placenta,” extremely calcified. Anna decided to come on this particular day because she had to – it was time.
I spent the next couple of days in my baby moon, just like any new mom will do. The experience that capped our first birth gradually dimmed, but it didn’t entirely leave me. The hemorrhage wasn’t severe, and my body handled it – I was still up within a couple of hours, taking a shower, using the toilet, all things a midwife will want her client to do before she leaves the home. I had no lasting physical effects, and my joy with Anna quickly eclipsed the pain of her birth.