My pregnancy with Eloise was a bit unusual. Since 20 weeks, I had been having an excessive amount of Braxton Hicks due to a large uterine fibroid. At six months, I ended up in the hospital because my uterus wouldn’t stop contracting. Thankfully, even though the contractions were really painful, they were non-progressive, and baby Eloise was doing great! The midwife who examined me commented that my uterus didn’t feel like that of a first-time mom. I started wondering (worrying) how that would affect my labor. I had read on mommy forums that Braxton Hicks could become quite painful in the last few weeks of pregnancy, and I didn’t know how much more pain I could handle! Thankfully, by my seventh month, my uterus was so used to contracting that I could no longer feel even the strongest Braxton Hicks.
Then, a month before I was due, my husband got a new job, and we moved two hours away from our birthing center. Now, my biggest fear was that I would end up delivering a baby on the side of the road! But my midwives reassured me that since I was a FTM, my labor would be long, and I would have plenty of time to get to the center. I started eating dates and drinking pregnancy tea in the hopes of having the baby near my due date.
A week before my due date, I woke up in the middle of the night because baby decided to drastically change positions. Her head moved from one hip to the other, her feet jabbed me in the ribs, and with each Braxton Hicks, my poor uterus complained about being stretched out in unexpected places. I couldn’t sleep and neither could my husband.
By the next morning, I started to get regular contractions. Just like with my Braxton Hicks, I couldn’t feel my uterus contracting. In order to time my contractions, I had to keep my hand on my stomach so I would feel it tighten. The only pain I felt was baby’s feet and bum jamming into my side at the peak of each contraction, but an ice pack helped me deal with the pain. They were lasting for 45 – 60 seconds, and coming about every 4 minutes. I called both my mother and mother-in-law, and they urged me to head for the birthing center. I called the center to let them know we were coming, but the midwife I spoke with told me not to rush and reminded me that FTMs usually take a long time to progress in labor. James and I decided to head to Greenville anyway, where we could spend the night with family if I wasn’t admitted.
For the first part of the ride, we were laughing and listening to music. But gradually, my contractions took up most of my attention. Sounds irritated me. I closed my eyes and focused on deep breathing. I remembered from my birthing class that a switch in focus meant that active stage of labor had begun. “This is it!” I thought. “If I can just get through this car ride, there’s a nice tub of hot water waiting for me at the birthing center.”
As we neared Greenville, James asked if I wanted to go to his brother’s house first, but I was so convinced the baby was coming that I told him to drive straight to the birth center. I didn’t want to have to ride in the car again during labor. At 7 pm, we pulled into the parking lot of the birth center, and I called the midwife again. “Based on your voice, I don’t think you’re ready to come in,” she said. “Wait until the contractions are 5 minutes apart and more intense for at least an hour.” I was crushed–and very confused. My contractions had been coming steadily every 3-4 minutes for 4 hours. I tried to explain that because of my fibroid I’d been having contractions for months and could no longer feel my uterus contracting, but I knew I was coming across as a clueless first time mom. I quickly got off the phone and started to cry.
We headed over to my brother-in-law’s house. Being with family cheered me up a bit, but the focus I had in the car was gone. I felt like I had been running a race when the finish line had been abruptly moved–and no one knew where it was. I had no clue when I was supposed to head in to the birth center, and I was dreading calling the midwife again. I took several hot showers, which made the contractions start coming quicker, but the intensity didn’t seem to change. I went to bed . . . well, actually I slept sitting upright on the couch, trying to get the baby to move out of my rib cage. In the middle of the night, I awoke and finally felt my uterus contracting for the first and only time. It was oddly soothing, the rhythmic, pulling sensation. I remember thinking that if I made myself stand up, I could speed up my labor, but I was so tired, and I didn’t want to wake my husband. Besides, I figured, I could just speed things back up in the morning with a hot shower.
But apparently, while I was sleeping, my uterus, hormones, and cervix had a meeting without me and decided it was time to switch to Plan B. My labor slowed way down. Even a hot shower didn’t help. Finally, after a few walks, my contractions started to get regular again around 3 pm, but this time, it was all back labor. By 8 pm, my contractions were so painful that James had to dig his knuckles into my back at the peak of each contraction. As a bonus, I also started to get an uncomfortable pressure in my bum, which after a quick Google search, I decide could be called “butt” labor. At first, I could manage the butt labor by switching positions, but as my back labor intensified, so did the butt labor. If I sat perfectly still, my contractions were 6 minutes apart, but as soon as I started moving, my contractions sped up to 3 or 4 minutes. Finally, at 11 pm, faced with the prospect of a third painful night, I gritted my teeth and called the birth center again. I was relieved to hear a different voice. This midwife offered to meet me at the birth center and check me out.
The ten-minute car ride to the birth center was rough, but my body came up with a way of dealing with the now excruciatingly painful butt contractions. My stomach did what felt like puking motions. I was convinced I was doing something wrong, something that would hurt my body, but it was the only thing that helped. In the back of my mind the words “bearing down” tried to surface, but I pushed them aside.
At the birth center, we found out that I was 3 cm dilated but 90% effaced, and baby’s head was in the -2 station. The midwife told me she thought Eloise would be born in the next 24 hours. She couldn’t admit me yet, since I wasn’t at 5 cm, but she had the good instincts to spend the night at the birthing center, just in case . . .
We went back home, and the back labor really kicked up a notch. Now with every contraction, my stomach was doing four or five puking motions. On one of these “puking motions,” my water broke rather explosively in a huge gush. I was on the verge of freaking out. This didn’t feel right! I was probably going to have to be admitted to the hospital for some unknown, horrible condition! James managed to calm me down–but barely. He told me later that he was so calm because he remembered from Julie’s birthing class that when a woman starts freaking out and saying she can’t do it, she is actually at the very end of labor.
So, at 2:30 am, we went back to the birthing center, half expecting to be turned away yet again. (This was now our third trip to the center!) But, nope, I was 8 cm dilated, Eloise had descended into the birthing canal, and those puking motions were me actively pushing!
The next hour was a blur. I labored leaning against the wall of our room for awhile, waiting for the tub to fill with water. I was supposed to get an IV, but the baby was coming fast, and there wasn’t time. In the tub, I was in my own world. I focused on breathing and the current contraction, refusing to think ahead. The lights were dim, the room was quiet–no music, and just a few hushed whispers. The warm water from the tub didn’t really ease the pain like I had hoped, but it did make it easier to change positions.
Towards the end, as Eloise’s head was emerging, the pain intensified. I would find out later that she had come out with her hand by her head, tearing me pretty badly. I screamed several times. The midwife told me I needed to push her out now. I tried once, but it wasn’t enough, so I grabbed both my midwife’s hand and my husband’s hand and pushed as hard as I could. And like a slippery baby seal, out she came, 90 minutes after we arrived at the birth center! The midwife placed her on my chest. I was still in birthing mode. All I could think was, “What the crap just happened?” and “I”m never doing that again!” The midwife and my husband laughed gently at my dazed expression and told me what a great job I had done. Eloise screamed. I think I patted her awkwardly on the back and tried to say something motherly, like those other mothers had done in the birthing videos I watched, but I didn’t feel motherly.
I was surprised when the midwife hurried me to the bed and quickly got the placenta out, but was thankful that part was easy. I had finally reached the finish line! Now, all I wanted to do was lie down and sleep. But apparently, my marathon wasn’t quite finished. “I’m sorry, but you’re going to need stitches,” the midwife said firmly. So, James got to hold Eloise skin-to-skin for her first hour, while I got to scream a few more times. Finally, FINALLY, I got to lie down and snuggle with Eloise, and for the first time, I could focus on her. She was beautiful, with a full head of dark hair and dark, expressive eyes. I was shocked by the strength of her presence. She was already her own person, with a strong will and emotions. I couldn’t believe this was who had been inside of me for nine months! And I thought, “Well, maybe I could do this whole birthing thing again after all. But maybe next time at home with a midwife and a doula . . .”