Case was such an active baby in the womb that I was certain that he would be born prior to 40 weeks. I figured that he would get too cramped in there to throw the punches and do the squats he had been doing so much in the 2nd and 3rd trimesters, that he would make a break for it in search of more space to stretch. Rob and I -- planning for a natural birth -- had taken a private Hypnobirthing course with Tricia Fitzgerald, taken a crash course in the Bradley method, regularly practiced all the exercises and meditations recommended by both methods, and felt pretty confident that we were prepared and ready.
To my surprise, we passed the 40th week mark with nothing more than Braxton Hicks contractions. My midwives assured me that most first time mothers go into labor around 41 weeks so not to worry. I continued to spin class that week, and visited Debra Christiansen (our fabulous massage therapist, also trained in prenatal massage) of Inner Advantage Massage twice that week in an attempt to stay as relaxed as possible. At Wednesday’s appointment, I told her to go ahead and hit all the labor trigger points that she’d been so carefully avoiding throughout my pregnancy. She reminded me that the baby would come when he and my body were ready so that there was no need to massage the trigger points, but with a little more encouragement, she complied, though very carefully. While I completely agreed with her, I also didn’t want to find myself still pregnant at 42 weeks at which point there would be some pressure to induce.
That evening I joined a group of girl friends for dinner, and towards the end of dinner, I felt a little light headed. I came home shortly thereafter and still feeling odd, and found myself doing about 40 minutes of yoga in our living room before going to bed. I’d missed my prenatal yoga class earlier that day and wanted to get it in before the day was over. I went to bed and was asleep by 10pm.
I woke up at midnight, 1am and again at 2am each time having a mild contraction. I didn’t think much of it and went back to sleep each time. Then at 3am I awoke to a somewhat stronger contraction, and had another at 3:20. I continued having contractions every 15-20 minutes and by 4am had also had a little bloody show. By then I knew I was in early labor. Rob woke up a little after 4am. I shared the news and, with an excited smile, he now couldn’t sleep either. By sunrise, the contractions were coming on stronger and more frequently.
It was a beautiful fiery sunrise that morning over Lake Michigan. We watched it from the living room windows as the sun lit up the clouds, the lake and the sky. We labored around the house changing positions frequently. I used a lot of my prenatal yoga poses, modified child’s pose on the ball and against the counter were particularly helpful. Lela Beem (my fabulous yoga instructor) will be pleased to hear that I used my ujjayi breath lots and lots during this phase of labor. It was extremely calming and helped me stay relaxed and centered through the contractions. An early morning shower was also really helpful in terms of managing the contractions and maintaining a peaceful mind.
At 7am, we called our midwife to give her a heads up that we’d likely see her later that day. We wanted to labor at home as long as absolutely possible and continued through the morning alternating between walking, various yoga poses, and lying down – Rob was great at suggesting we try something new as soon as he could tell I’d had enough of whatever we were doing. Around 11am the contractions were coming on stronger, so Rob ran a bath for me and I spent the next 2 hours laboring in the tub. All the while, Rob made sure I kept hydrated and brought me regular small meals and snacks to keep my energy up for later when I’d really need it.
We updated our midwife on our progress around noon, and she suggested that once my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart that we start making our way to the hospital and check in before they were really strong. By 1:30, they were 3-4 minutes apart and increasing in intensity so we began gathering up our things and headed out. Our midwife met us at Evanston Hospital at 2:30, and confirmed I was at 6.5 cm. I spent the next 4 hours laboring in a big oversized bath tub – very helpful. Rob was an amazing coach and partner. He stayed right with me, breathing deeply and slowly through every contraction I had in order to help me relax my breath, reassuring me that we were doing great, and making sure I stayed hydrated and fed.
Around 7:30, the midwife checked again and I had progressed to 9.5 cm., and there I stayed for quite some time. So we began labor Olympics, moving and rotating from one position after another hoping the contractions and the movement would get me to 10 cm. Finally, our midwife suggested breaking the bag of waters so that the baby’s head could also help by applying pressure to my cervix. Between my pushing with the contractions and my midwife applying pressure to the cervix, over time it eventually reached 10 cm, and I was given the “all clear” to push Case out.
Somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours of pushing later, over the course of 7-10 contractions, I pushed little Case’s big noggin out one centimeter at a time. Apparently he decided to make his exit in a posterior position (facing up instead of down) and presented with the flat top of his head instead of the smaller crown. Luckily he turned from posterior to facing down at the last minute – helping mom out at least a little at the very end.
Reflections on getting through those last few hours:
1) My husband: I couldn’t have done it without Rob. He was awesome. Not only did he somehow manage to not hyperventilate even after taking one huge breath after another with me for hours on end (my nice calm ojjai-ocean-sounding-breath had by now progressed to a much more forceful-prehurricane-ocean-surge), but he was so calming and reassuring. And when a less than considerate labor nurse made some seriously unhelpful comments about natural childbirth during the height of the pushing phase, Rob put a cork in her and ended her negative comments immediately. I was so grateful.
2) Meditation class: I attended a meditation session at the Heartwood Center in Evanston for the months prior to Case’s birth, and I found the practice was unbelievably helpful to me during labor. In one of our meditations, we focus on breathing in white light, filling our body with it one part at a time and then visualize releasing the exhalation out the top of our heads. I used this exercise throughout second stage labor, but instead visualized the exhalation out the birth canal and focused on relaxing those muscles at the same time. It was exactly what I needed to focus on relaxing through each contraction. While relaxing and pushing at the same time, seem at odds with each other, this visualization and breathing technique harmonized the two for me beautifully and was particularly helpful as I pushed out Case’s gargantuan noggin.
3) Vocalization: Always pictured myself as the silent, focused birthing mother, but thank goodness for Lela Beem at Grateful Yoga in Evanston for all the vocalization practice during prenatal yoga - or perhaps because of her – I found that using their techniques really did help me relax through contractions. Hopefully all my variations of aum didn’t carry down the hall too far and annoy the other birthing mothers.
4) Hypnobirthing: I think the single most important tool I took away from this method was the simple conviction that birth is a normal, natural process and that by relaxing instead of panicking and fighting it, a woman’s body will do exactly what it is supposed to do without the need for any drugs and interventions. While labor isn’t easy, it certainly is not the fearful, painful experience regularly portrayed on TV. I used most all of the relaxation techniques that I learned in this class throughout labor, and we alternated listening to the Hypnobirthing affirmations CD and quiet music during most all of labor, which I used to refocus myself when I occasionally lost my concentration.
5) Lastly, I remember towards the end just as Case’s head was close to crowning, I remember deciding I was done and ready to go home. It felt like the wall I always hit in mile 20 of a marathon. We’d tried all the pushing positions and oddly, I seemed to be able to push most effectively on my back. As I lay there between contractions, I remember very vividly having a mental conversation with myself about the pros and cons of going home. I reasoned that this baby had to come out of me one way or another, and I suspected that if I didn’t get it out somewhat soon, ultimately the hospital was going to want to C-section him out of me. I remember thinking that there was no way I was going to let that happen, so that I’d better just suck it up and get fierce about getting him out. And with that I went into my “final 6 mile marathon zone”, bitched out someone for turning on a light and a nurse for talking while I was pushing, and then focused everything I had in me and got it done.
I remember opening my eyes after the final push just as Case was born, and looking in awe at what a huge baby he was. He was so red and wiggly – and looked so very healthy and strong. Rob cut his umbilical cord, and Case quickly came to lie on my chest where we marveled at what a perfect, beautiful, wonderful little boy had come to join our family.
Case was born completely naturally at 11:25 PM on November 4th, at 22 inches long and weighing 9 pounds and 7 ounces. He had sandy blond/brown hair and deep blue eyes, unbelievably defined shoulders and biceps, and the most muscular quads you ever saw! He is an absolute joy – a strong eater and sleeper, curious and active, and has big smiles to share with everyone.