The labor and delivery of our daughter is the single most intense and powerful experience of my entire life.
Layne’s guess-date was 5/29/18 but I had a feeling she was going to come sooner. I had no logical reason to believe she would come “early” other than my mama instinct.
It all started when I noticed some light brown spotting around 4pm on Thursday, 5/24. I was super excited as I knew it meant something was happening from a cervical standpoint – either I was starting to dilate, thin out or both. I wondered if it was the start of my mucus plug. Still, I knew labor could be weeks away but feeling optimistic, I called my husband and told him we should expect baby’s arrival within the week but possibly even the weekend.
When Tim came home from work we shared a nice dinner together and followed it up with some bedtime snuggles. I had the nagging feeling that this could be our last night alone together in a while. Within an hour, I started feeling some slight cramping but nothing out of the ordinary from what I’d been feeling over the last week with my Braxton Hicks contractions. When the cramping started coming/going in doses around 9pm, I realized they may be different from what I’d felt before. I didn’t mention this to Tim as I was sure they were a variation of BH contractions brought on by sex and would soon be gone. Thinking we might have a baby that weekend, Tim left for his shop to finish up some work. I went on to bed thinking I’d sleep off the cramps. While in bed, I noticed the cramping “doses” had a more of a wave-like feeling and were accompanied with lower back ache. I took note of the feelings and decided to try and track via a contraction timer app. The pressure sensations were very irregular with no predictable pattern; however, they were growing increasingly uncomfortable and I could no longer ignore their presence. I got up and started bouncing on my yoga ball.
Around 10:30pm, after hum-hawing for a solid hour about the decision, I called my doula to let her know what was going on. I was anxious about “crying wolf” but I figured I better give her a heads up before bedtime – just in case. She suggested I try to rest and keep her posted if things progressed. After that call, I phoned Tim to let him know what I was feeling. At this point I was still thinking I might be able to sleep and labor would pick-up the next day. Oh, how wrong I was!
I tried to sleep but the contractions were becoming regular and preventing me from getting comfortable. Tim arrived home just before 1am at which point he ran me a warm bath with Epsom salt and lavender essential oil. He poured me a glass of hard cider, dimmed the lights, put on some soothing music and sat in the bathroom with me as I let the pressure waves come. At first, the warm bath diminished the pain to a point where I couldn’t really tell I was having a contraction…but that was short-lived. The waves came back with a greater intensity and at closer intervals than before. We decided to start timing them to better understand the pattern. This was around 1:30am. By 2:30am it was apparent I was in active labor. My pressure waves had been coming every 2 minutes and we’re lasting 1 minute each for the past hour. I knew this was fast, but yet I didn’t feel “ready” for the birth center. I didn’t feel like the pain was bad enough or that my contractions had been going on long enough. At around 3am, as I began becoming more vocal with each contraction, Tim told me he thought we should call Julie (my doula). Julie talked to Tim and then talked with me and listened as I went through a couple contractions. We decided together that she should come over.
Julie arrived at the house a little after 4am. I felt like I had to go to the bathroom every few minutes and contractions were accompanied with waves of nausea. I kept shutting myself in the bathroom. During a few of the contractions, I would have thoughts of “this is it, I need to get to the birth center”…but then the break would come and in those moments I felt “normal”. I had the feeling I wasn’t far enough along yet but also felt I was progressing fast given the intensity of my pressure waves and how close together they were. I asked Julie if I could speak my fears out loud. I had the fear I was being overdramatic and when we arrived at the birth center, I would only be dilated 2cm. I also had a fear of the cervical exam and the discomfort it would cause (looking back, this fear is comical considering the intensity of the contractions and what was ahead). My final fear was pushing – I was fearful it would take 3 hours and I wouldn’t feel like I was making progress.
At around 5:30am, Julie suggested we migrate to the birth center. I dreaded the thought getting into the car and had no idea how I could possibly cope with a contraction sitting down; however, I think my body recognized this and the intensity lessened during that 20-30 minute drive.
Walking into the birth center felt surreal. It was 6am so the sun hadn’t risen yet and the energy was calm. The midwife already had the tub filling and greeted us with a wide smile as we entered the birthing suite. It was my favorite midwife – the one I had seen the most throughout my pregnancy. A new level of peacefulness spread over me. There was no harsh lighting, no beeping machines, no sick people, no strangers…just my dream birth team.
I knew it was time to overcome my first two fears with the cervical exam. Janelle (the midwife) waited patiently as I rolled through several more contractions before checking me. The exam did not hurt, it was not even uncomfortable. I stayed focused on the next pressure wave coming. As she finished, Janelle quietly told me we would talk after my next contraction. I knew then I wasn’t as dilated as I had hoped (I was hoping for a 6-7). But I went through my next contraction focused on the baby moving down and mentally preparing myself for the news ahead.
As I suspected, Janelle informed me I was only 3-4cm dilated. She quickly caveated with the fact my cervix was completely thin and baby’s head was low so overall progress was great. She said based on how I was laboring, she was comfortable keeping me at the birth center but I also had the option to go back home to keep working on progress. Without hesitation I told her I was staying. The thought of going back home didn’t seem right to me. I knew despite my cervix needing to open a considerable amount that little babe was coming sooner than later. Still, I couldn’t help picturing my labor dragging into the day and late afternoon. The thought scared me but I quickly pushed it out of my head to stay focused on the task at hand – relaxing and opening my cervix.
From that point on I used visualization techniques to concentrate on opening wide enough for baby’s head to come through. I knew from other birth stories I had read that embracing contractions was key in making progress so I incorporated deep vocalizations to keep my body relaxed as each wave crashed through me. The shower was where I felt most comfortable. The water on my back was a welcome distraction. I also had periods of pressure that made me feel like I needed to go to the bathroom. This pressure was followed by involuntary pushing. During one of these pressure bubbles, I pushed in the shower thinking I was likely going to go to the bathroom on the floor but instead, my bag of waters broke. I went temporarily silent as relief spread through my body. I told Julie “that felt amazing” and then silently wished my water would break with every contraction. Although I knew that wasn’t possible, it gave me a glimpse of the relief I’d feel once I got the baby out. That, along with my newfound confidence that progress was happening, propelled me forward. It was at this point that Janelle told me I was likely 6-7cm dilated and things would be ramping up even more.
The block of time between my water breaking and focused pushing was only an hour or so but I had lost all sense of time. I remember a few negative thoughts creeping into my head – the thought of laboring all day, not progressing, being transferred to the hospital and needing an epidural – but deep inside, I knew that wasn’t going to happen. She was coming soon. During this hour, the pressure started to peak, and I was feeling weak. I started to whine in between a couple contractions and even spoke the words “I don’t want to do this anymore, I want it to be over”. But even as I said the words, I knew I would keep going because I needed to. I had to.
When the urge to push took over every contraction, I instinctively moved to the tub. Tim climbed to the corner, so I could use his legs as leverage. I started out floating on my back, supported by Tim. As I bore down, Tim would move his hands down into the water to support my lower back and I would shift more vertical. When the wave passed, he would move his hands up to support my neck/head as I floated horizontally in the water.
A little way into this routine, Janelle asked if I’d like to try flipping over to gain more leverage. Janelle and Julie both reiterated this was just a suggestion and there was no right answer. I decided to give it a try and rolled over in the water to more of a kneeling position where I grasped Tim’s ankles and rested my forehead on his knees. With each wave of involuntary pushing I was thankful for my own physical strength which seemed to be exceeding my mental strength. I was also especially thankful for the love and support of Tim as well as the 3 women who surrounded me. I kept thinking “this is my dream team, I’m exactly where I need to be doing exactly what I need to do.”
As her head descended, all 3 women encouraged me along. Janelle told me when crowning began and reminded me the continuous pressure I felt and burning would be short-lived. I could feel her head stretch me with each push. This part was difficult, but I knew I only needed to push forward a little further. I centered my attention on slow, efficient pushes. I anticipated Janelle telling me to pause so I could ease her head out slowly, but she never did. I soon realized I was doing it on my own. I didn’t want to tear and knew controlling my pushes would help me stretch to where I needed to be, but I’m still amazed at how instinctual it was. I believe this along with my trust of the involuntary pushing and the soothing water are the reasons I did not tear during her birth.
When her head came through, relief swept over me. Janelle told me to wait for the next contraction to push her shoulders out. I felt unexpectedly calm as her head rested outside of my body under the water. I knew the experience and pain was about to be over and I wanted to cherish the final moments of labor. When the pushing wave came, I gathered all my strength and went for the final push. It was harder than the head, which surprised me, but also much faster. Within a matter of seconds, the contractions and pain were gone, and I felt Layne leave my body. A voice (I’m unsure who it was at this point) told me to sit back and as I looked between my legs, our baby was handed up to me. My mind went blank. In that moment I was only aware of her and Tim. I held her to my chest with my mouth gaping wide. Tim said he will never forget the look on my face. My eyes went back and forth between hers and Tim’s.
The thought came to me to ask for the time…Manya (the nurse) said it was 9:06am. I was shocked. I thought surely it had to be approaching midday. I don’t know why I thought this – my labor didn’t seem to drag out but perhaps the knowledge of my dilation as we arrived at the birth center made me believe I’d been there longer than I was.
At 9:06am on Friday, 5/25, my life changed forever. Layne Hyatt Cutter was born, sharing a birthday with the midwife who caught her, weighing 8lbs 11.8oz and measuring 21” long. She came into the world calm and alert (though soon made her presence known with her powerful lungs).
Reflecting on the birth of Layne brings memories of tranquility. I never felt stressed or anxious. My favorite part about the experience is no one told me what to do – there was no “coaching”. No one instructed me how or when to push. No one asked me to move. Suggestions – which were rarely made – were offered in the form of a question. All other words were that of encouragement – positive reinforcement that I was doing exactly what I needed to do. That my body knew what it needed to do. This made it powerful. Through the pain I found peace in the intensity of my body’s involuntary movements and relaxation in vocalizations. I trusted my body and was accepting of the birthing train I was on.
Birthing Layne was a deep and magical experience. My life was wonderful before, but those labor and delivery hours mark a turning point. The point when I learned to trust and respect my body like never before. The point when I connected with nature, and my husband, on a deeper level. The point when I went from living life to bringing life into this world. I am more alive than I have ever been – forever changed by the birth of our daughter.