Our daughter Lauren was born at home on her due date, a Friday morning late in May.
In the week leading up to our due date, I could feel my body getting ready for the birth.  I knew the baby had dropped because I could feel the pressure of her weight come off my pelvic bone and shift more towards the back of my body.  Early Wednesday morning the mucus plug slithered down my leg.

I went to see my midwife on Thursday, the day before our due date, and she told me that if I didn’t deliver in the next 10 days she would have to turn me over to a doctor to be induced in the hospital, which was the last thing we wanted.  She suggested there were some natural methods of induction we could try and since I felt my body was ready, I agreed to let her stretch my cervix. This was somewhat painful, but the pain faded within about 30 minutes.  She told me that she could feel the baby’s hair, which made me realize the baby inside me was not the tiny fetus from the ultrasound pictures, but a full term baby.  At the end of the appointment, she asked me if I felt I was ready to have the baby.  I replied casually that I was.

I did give her question a lot of thought after leaving her office.  That afternoon, I walked to a park near our house and sat on a bench in the sun. I had to admit that every night before going to bed, I would secretly hope that my labour wouldn’t begin that night. I wouldn’t say I was fearful, but I was definitely apprehensive, both about the birth and about becoming a mother. That afternoon, I told my baby that I loved her and that I was ready for her to be born.  My contractions began two hours later.

Earlier in the day, I had told my husband that we could go out for Indian food, and even though I was sure my labour had started, we went anyway.  My contractions were 5-7 minutes apart, and were about a 5 out of 10 on the pain scale.  They felt like menstrual cramps, but they were much more bearable because of the long break in between them.  After dinner we went for a walk around the park, and by 11:30, my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, so we called the midwife. She arrived at midnight, and confirmed that I was 3-4 centimetres dilated.

I spent the night walking up and down the hall, which I found made the pain easiest to bear, and in the shower. I laid down in bed with my husband for awhile, but I found the pain to be too hard to manage laying down, even with my husband’s hands on me. My contractions at this point were 7s and 8s out of 10, which were intense, but bearable.  What really helped me was to take it one contraction at a time, and remember that each contraction would only last for a minute and then it would be over.

We took hypnobirthing classes (I loved Marie Mongan’s book) and I visualized the way my muscles were working.  As much as possible, I tried to relax and welcome the pain, knowing that the more I relaxed, the more effective the contractions would be in bringing forth our baby.  I also had a hot water bottle, which was much more useful than I would have thought.

By 4:00am I was 6-7 cm dilated, which my midwife said was good progress.  My water still hadn’t broken, and she told me that if she broke my water, it would move the labour along more quickly.  Weeks ago, in her office, I had told her that I didn’t want any interventions, but during the labour I quickly agreed.  It was very anti-climactic, the baby’s head was well engaged at this point so very little amniotic fluid came out.  She told me that since the labour was well on its way, I could get into the bathtub (apparently getting into the water too soon can slow things down).

I had 30 contractions in the tub.  My husband went to take a nap (unlike me, he had been working hard up to the birth) and my midwife relaxed on the sofa in the other room, checking on me occasionally, but for the most part, everyone left me alone, which was exactly what I needed. I counted the contractions as a way of distracting myself.

As sun came up, my contractions started to change – I now felt the urge to push – the contractions took over my whole body and reached up and gripped my throat and I started making involuntary guttural noises.  My midwife checked me again, and said I was fully dilated at the back, but I still had some of the edge of my cervix at the front as laying on my back in the tub had put pressure on the back of my cervix, but not the front.  She suggested I lean over the bathroom sink to position the baby’s head right on the front of my cervix.  My husband was up at this point and he rubbed my back as the contractions came, and I was glad then to have him with me.

My midwife started calling the others from her clinic to try to get a second midwife to attend the birth, and she told me to breathe through the contractions as much as possible to avoid pushing.  After about 20 minutes of leaning over the sink, I laid down on the bed on my back and continued to breathe through the contractions.  She told me afterwards that I was able to breathe the baby all the way down to the perineum, which is a hypnobirthing technique, which she said she had not seen anyone do before.

When the other midwives arrived, she asked me to push on the contractions, which I found overwhelmingly painful. I could feel myself tearing at the top, and to be honest, I was afraid to push. With the encouragement of my midwife, I did push my hardest for two contractions.  During one, I reached down and felt the opening, and also felt the baby’s head beneath my skin.  At that moment, I realized how much bigger her head was than my opening.  My midwife watched me do this, and told me that I had the option of an episiotomy, and that it would be her recommendation to do so.  I quickly and gratefully agreed. Our baby was born with the next contraction. Once her head emerged, the rest of her body came out easily.  I wish I could say that she and I bonded in that first hour, but I was still in a lot of pain and I felt overwhelmed by the experience. The midwives helped me breastfeed her, and a few hours later left my husband and I to rest with our new baby.

Some thoughts I’ve had since the birth:

I think it was the stretching of my cervix that caused my labour to begin, but I credit the state of mind that I came to that afternoon with the steady progression of the labour and my ability to focus.

The episiotomy did upset me initially.  I made the mistake of getting out the hand mirror a few days after the birth and between my deep tears and the episiotomy, which cut one of my lips into two pieces, it was really a horror show.  I felt it was a personal failing, that perhaps it had happened because I didn’t have the courage to push hard enough. But time heals all wounds, both physical and psychological, and five months later my tears are light grey lines and the cut is not as pronounced.  Through parenting we discover our tremendous capacity for selflessness, and I realize now how completely inconsequential the episiotomy was.

Although the second stage of labour was very painful, it was actually very, very short – I only pushed for about eight contractions, so I really only experienced about eight minutes of really intense pain.

Looking back, I feel that Lauren’s birth was a really great experience.

Jennifer