The contractions began at 4 am, June 15th – Jude’s due date. They started so small that I second-guessed myself for a little bit, but it is true when they say that you will KNOW when you’re starting to have contractions, and they do feel similar to menstrual cramps. I laid in bed trying to rest since the day would likely be eventful and require a great deal of energy. Around 7:30am I wrote a quick e-mail to some folks at my office to let them know that I was going to be starting my maternity leave.
The thing that’s frustrating about starting labor is that you don’t know how it’s going to progress – labor is so different for each person and circumstance. When I sent that e-mail to work, I wasn’t sure if I was going to go into active labor that day, or two days from then. I almost felt guilty about not going in to work that day, but it turned out to be the right decision.
Early labor was very easy to manage – the pains were light and irregular. We went for a walk, out to lunch, watched TV, played on the computer, read books, sat and talked – all without having to pay too much attention to the pain management of the contractions. It was just a waiting game to enter into active labor. We would know this stage by contractions that were “longer, stronger, closer together” (the phrasing our doula had us commit to memory).
The contractions started getting longer and stronger later on in the evening, but not closer together. They still were not difficult to manage. I made dinner, then talked with our doula who recommended I take a hot bath and try to slow the contractions to the point where we could get some rest for a couple of hours – or for the whole night. Baths are very good for slowing down labor that isn’t active and relieving pain in labors that are active. Turns out I WAS in active labor and the bath and laying down to sleep just intensified the contractions. We left the bed, got dressed, made sure our bags were packed and loaded in the car, then went downstairs.
I walked our house to help deal with the pain as the contractions continued getting longer and stronger and closer together. At this point, we decided to start timing the contractions to see if they were developing a rhythm. They certainly were rhythmic so we alerted our doula so she could start making her way to our house. While waiting for Laura to arrive, Jason started playing worship songs and I joined in as much as I could as it helped me bare through the contractions. Our doula arrived around 12:30am and we called the doctor to let her know that we were thinking about heading to the hospital. The contractions were around 3 minutes apart and anywhere from 60 to 90 seconds long – this shocked the doctor (I think most women call their doctors really early) and she told us to get to the hospital!
We checked into the hospital around 1am and I was already dilated to 6 ½ centimeters and 100% effaced. They admitted us to a room and we got set up and ready to deal with the worst of the pain. From here on out, I don’t know if I really have the words to adequately explain the rest of the labor. It was intense and exhausting. You feel like you enter a time warp, where you are always going to be in labor because the end never felt near until it was the end. The worst part for me was being so tired and trying to manage the pain – there were several moments where I just wanted to give up and curl up in a ball and go to sleep. In particular, there was one contraction that took me completely off guard: I had briefly fallen asleep and didn’t prepare myself to manage the pain of the upcoming contraction. Talk about panic. Thankfully Jason and our doula, Laura, were there to talk me through it and help me get back on track. We utilized a birthing ball to help me rock through contractions, deep breathing techniques, baths, standing up and swaying (almost like slow dancing).
I really don’t know how I would have done a natural labor if I hadn’t had the encouragement and support of Jason and our doula. They helped talk me through the contractions, told me I was doing well, gave me tools to manage the pain, and prayed over me regularly. The phrase I remember most clearly is ‘this is big, but Christ is bigger’ and that particular phase helped carry me through some of the worst contractions.
The final phase of the labor, pushing, started out by finding out that I was 9 ¾ centimeters dilated around 4:45 am. One small part of my cervix still had a slight lip, so the labor and delivery nurse (who was 36 weeks pregnant!) suggested that she try to push that back while I tried to push to see if the baby’s head would slip past it so we could really begin pushing. It worked! And my water broke at this point. I was so grateful that my water lasted that long as I had heard that labors where the water breaks early can be more painful . . . (and only 15% of women have their water break before contractions begin . . . just to dispel the myth that women just have their water randomly break at any given moment). It was at this point that ‘Hey Jude’ started to play on our music playlist. 🙂
There was about 30 minutes of pushing before Jude was born (appropriately enough to the song Umbrellas by Sleeping at Last). It is a sensation unlike any other. Some people compare it to pooping, and in some ways it is, but it is dissimilar to it as well. Once I felt how my body pushed and honed in on that sensation, it went very quickly. It was this point that I was very glad we had decided to go natural; even though I could feel all of the pain, I also felt the sensations that I needed to feel to push effectively. On the last push, Jude was completely born at 5:16 am. Jason said that his quick exit surprised the doctor! Once the baby crowns, it sometimes can take one or two more contractions to push through to completely birth the baby but Jude just popped right out. The doctor placed Jude on my chest and the labor and delivery team cleaned him up right there while I sat looking at him and crying with all the emotion of the moment.
Post-birth, as I held Jude, the doctor assessed my physical state and waited for the umbilical cord to stop pulsating, allowed Jason to cut the cord once it had, delivered the placenta, stitched me up as I had a small tear to the perineum and then the team did everything they could to make us all comfortable and help educate us on how to feed Jude and comfort him.
The team at the hospital was amazing. They were so respectful of our birth plan and our wishes; I was so thankful that we had delivered there even though my initial preference had been for the birthing center. Labor and birth with no drugs was certainly a crazy ride but I think it was the right decision for us and we ended up in the right place.
We are so incredible blessed to have this healthy little boy in our lives now!