Basking in the Comfort of Home
Cristel de Rourvray
When I found out that second time labors are, on average, easier than first, I began to visualize an “ideal” labor. It would be short, progress steadily with enough time for me to warm-up and get in the zone, and I’d have enough energy to be on my feet when it came time to push. I even visualized the “ideal” time of day and the activities I’d perform during the warm-up phase. I hoped for daylight and clement weather, so that my husband Jonathan and I could go for a walk before the rushes became too intense for neighborhood strolling.
With the exception of the time of day (contractions started at 11 pm, so no walk for me!), Madeleine’s birth was the ideal experience I had imagined. She was late, and as with my first child, the days leading up and past the due date were a bit nerve wracking. I had been good about telling people that the baby was coming at the end of December, or early January, to ward off due-date obsession, but I’d also convinced myself that she would be born on the full moon, as her older brother. Yet, the blue moon came and went on Dec 31st, and I found myself ushering in the New Year with friends who all stared at me expectantly, wondering if the baby would pop out during the main course, or with desert.
On January 10th I was five days late. A few days earlier, my midwife, Maria Iorillo had given me a consent form about “post-term” homebirths and I’d deliberately stored it away without reading it, figuring that I’d deal with those issues when necessary. In general, that’s how I feel about most medical issues concerning pregnancy and labor: best to save alarming conversations for the time they are needed, rather than get caught up in a spiral of “what ifs”.
On the morning of Madeleine’s birth, I visited a dear friend and acupuncturist to help labor start. She had been instrumental in triggering labor three years earlier, and had turned this baby at 34 weeks. After treating me, the acupuncturist said that she felt the baby was starting to disengage. The previous day, she’d thought the baby was still attached and not ready to go. I felt drowsy and emotionally drained for most of the day, and tried best to follow my mom and husband, who were struggling to keep up with our 2.5 year-old running on the beach at Crissy Field! At dinnertime, I ate well and watched a silly movie (The Invention of Lying, with Ricky Gervaise). And at 11:00 pm, just as we were falling asleep, I felt the first contraction.
Though I knew this was the start of labor, I also did not want to make any announcements before I had a little more evidence. I’d been having occasional practice contractions for over a month, usually at night, while I lay in bed. So I decided to wait till I felt ten distinct rushes before waking my husband. Sometime after midnight I let him know the baby was coming. I didn’t think we should call Maria, but I suggested he get the kitchen and birthing tub ready. When he came back into the bedroom, he told me he had tidied the kitchen but not yet set up the tub, and that he had called Maria. He said it was shortly after 1:30AM, and I got out of bed to help him set up the tub. Then, I went back to the bedroom, lay down, and started timing the rushes in my head: “1, one hundred, 2 one hundred, 3 one hundred”. According to my system, they were a few minutes apart (max 5 mn), but rather short (less than 40 seconds).
Now I lose track of time (2 Am?). Jon has Maria on the phone and she asks me how I am feeling. I tell her the contractions aren’t serious yet, and that they are still “intellectually interesting” – by which I meant that I could visualize their impact on my uterine muscles as I tried to make sense of their horizontal and vertical pull on the ligaments. I then ask Jon to time them, as I’m unsure of my system. Turns out I was completely off base: the contractions are longer (60 second and more), and considerably further apart (6 to 10 minutes). Jonathan comes in and out of the bedroom, as he continues to set up the birthing apparatus in the kitchen and filling the tub with water. He also keeps track of my contractions and I’m starting to fall into the zone, with little extra energy to talk to him – just enough to ask him not to touch me. I’m still lying down, and the pain isn’t what I know it will be. So I’m trying to ride these rushes as far as possible, willing my cervix open. With each contraction the work gets increasingly serious. Out of curiosity I get up and the contractions speed up. I lie back down.
Sometime around 4:00 (I know this because Jonathan told me), he tells me that I am probably at the start of active labor and that if I want this to go faster I should get on my feet. I know he is right, so I get up. Immediately the contractions transform from pretty distinct rushes (an upward phase, a plateau and a downward phase) to near constant plateauing: the uterus doesn’t stop working. The pain is easier for me this way, once I discover that I can crouch, hunch my shoulders and move my hips. Occasionally I add a groan (“like a lion”, thinking of my son’s favorite animal), but I can also use the restroom and talk through some of this. I ask Jonathan to wake my mom and our son, Harold, and get them out of the house. I know viscerally that I can’t birth this baby with my other child around. I’m not sure I want him to see this. Also, I want to be able to focus on my experience, and as a mother I know that my son’s needs and questions always take precedence over my own. When I find myself losing a bit of courage I take stock of the situation, remind myself that this may be the last time I give birth, and commit to making the best of this experience. It helps a lot when Jonathan asks me: “are you enjoying yourself yet?”. For an instant, I thought of slapping him, but I knew he was right.
At 5:00 Maria arrives, just as Harold and Mom leave the house. I tell Maria that things have just started and I’m exhausted, and will I have enough energy to stay on my feet for hours? As I speak, mucus and blood drips down my legs – first tangible evidence that the cervix is opening. Shortly thereafter she checks my dilation: I’m eight centimeters. When I hear the magic number eight, I know this will be short. Maria asks me to come to the kitchen so that she can start the I.V. (I was Group B Strep positive, so we had decided to administer antibiotics during labor, provided we anticipated it would last 4 or more hours, time enough for the antibiotic to work its magic) – I tell her to forget it, as this baby is coming before four hours go by. I’m completely in the zone, and I start singing my mantra, in French: “Maman t’aime, Maman est forte, elle va sortir ce bebe (Mom loves you, Mom is strong, she’s going to get this baby out)”, willing my baby into this world. I ask to go into the shower, but now the rushes are down in my pelvis, and I have visions of a baby born on our tile floor- worse, dropped on the tile floor. So we move to the birthing tub in the kitchen. I can’t bear any other position than standing and leaning over my legs, supporting the weight of my upper body with my hands on knees, so I continue this way, taking breaks by sitting in the warm water. It’s hard. I ask Jonathan: “why can’t you do part of this?”, I think I cry a little. To switch to a more productive mood, I try a little humor: “ I love this contraction” is my next mantra, though I say this tongue in cheek. Later, Maria tells me she was so happy to hear this.
Regularly, Maria asks if I feel the need to push. I’ve been feeling pressure in my pelvis since the shower, so I know it’s coming soon, but no urge to push. Until…. I feel the baby in the birth canal, and I look over to her and say: “baby’s coming, get ready”. I get a longer than usual break from the contractions, and I sit in the warm water, gathering strength. My water has not broken yet, so Maria tells me that she will have to rupture the bag before the birth. Sue, the back-up midwife is taking pictures and video. I don’t notice then, but I’m so happy I have these pictures now. I start pushing, I’m crying with joy, telling Jonathan, “we are about to have another baby”. Seven minutes later Madeleine is born, and Jonathan has the pleasure of announcing: “it’s a girl…I think”. It’s amazing how the pain just vanishes and gives way to perfect bliss, as the three of us lay in the warm water.
I’ve now given birth to two children without pain medication. It’s a cliché, but nothing I have done in my life comes remotely close to the beauty of these experiences, and every day I draw strength and inspiration from the pride of having done this. Harold was born in a hospital, as planned; for Madeleine’s birth, I chose to stay at home as I knew that the hospital staff would just be a distraction. Harold’s birth was hard: twelve hours of active labor, almost an hour of pushing. I cried afterwards. Madeleine’s birth was easy: less than four hours of active labor and seven minutes of pushing. Afterwards, I basked in the comfort of my home – a warm bed, delicious meals and my husband, son and mother nearby.