The minute I saw the two pink lines on the pregnancy test just before Christmas of 2008, I started worrying about labor and delivery. I was terrified of pain, and just the thought of childbirth almost gave me a panic attack. I have several friends who are very passionate about natural birth, and I felt torn between that (which I saw as the ideal) and the desire to avoid the pain (not thinking my body could handle it). I took Baby Steps’ Intuitive Birth class in preparation, and made the decision that I would try to labor naturally as long as possible, and get the epidural when I couldn’t take it anymore. I switched to a midwife who I felt would encourage me the best in my desire to labor naturally, and I chose a hospital – North Fulton Regional Hospital – because of their offer of waterbirths (the only hospital in Atlanta at that time). I wanted to be able to labor in the water if possible, though I knew if I got an epidural I would have to get out.
I went into labor a week before my due date, on August 21, 2009. I had contractions on and off all day Friday, and by the evening they were getting regular and intense. I attempted to sleep that night, but kept waking up every 15-20 minutes for another contraction, so I didn’t get much rest. I called my midwife on Friday, and she said to call back when the contractions were less than 5 minutes apart. I woke up early on Saturday morning, and the contractions were closer and closer together. My husband Paul came to my side dutifully timing each one so we’d know when we hit the 5 minute mark.
At noon, I called the midwife again to let her know they were 6 to 7 minutes apart. She told me to keep going, try to get rest and save my energy because I still had a long way to go. The day is hazy to me – I remember laying on the couch, waking up with each contraction which Paul would squeeze my hand and time. They were getting very intense, and I kept asking him if it was time yet. I had known that the baby was sunny-side up, so all the labor was in my back.
We were getting close – they were under 6 minutes. At one point, I thought I wet my pants – I heard stories of women unable to control their bladder (etc) while in labor, but I still felt guilty. Paul helped me up and to the bathroom, where I took off my pants. My body started feeling like it wanted to push, and I thought I was getting ready to have a bowel movement. I was so confused! I clutched Paul’s hand and he told me getting up and walking had made my contractions jump much closer together. I sat on the toilet and put my hand between my legs.
I remember this moment clearly. My heart stopped and I screamed, “I can feel her head!” Up until then, in my hazy mental state I thought I was still in the beginning stages of active labor. I suddenly realized that I was having this baby, right here, right then. Right in the bathroom of my apartment. I also realized that I could feel the skin tight around the top of her head, and I knew it couldn’t stretch any further. I whimpered to Paul that I couldn’t do it. I don’t remember his response, but I’m sure he was as scared as I was. He tried to distract me by pointing out that my cats had come into the bathroom, curious about the commotion, and I remember thinking, “I could care less about the cats!”
My body was telling me to push, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I didn’t even try – I just gave in to instinct and two pushes later a tiny baby slid from between my legs, into the toilet underneath. We were so shocked, we didn’t even think to catch her, but Paul immediately recovered and retrieved her. He said that he wiped her off, but I have no memory of that. I remember her gasping for breath and crying. I was so confused and scared – what do I need to do? I remembered that offhand comment that was briefly made in the birth class – if the baby is born at home, check to make sure she is breathing and if her skin coloring is pink. Her skin at first was so white, but it was quickly changing to pink. I perched on the toilet, gingerly holding her trying not to break the umbilical cord, which was still attached to me.
I remember Paul trying to get me to tell him where the midwife’s number was, but I couldn’t find the words. We didn’t get cell service in the bathroom, so he had to go out to the living room to call. She told him to wrap me up and bring us to the hospital, where she’d be waiting. The time was 1:30pm on August 22.
I was in such a state of shock – I only have a few memories from this point on. I remember looking at the bathroom as we were leaving, wanting to stop and clean it up. I remember Paul helping me into the car, and my neighbor standing there staring at me. I remember getting to the hospital and them putting me in the wheelchair and taking me back to labor and delivery where my midwife was waiting. I remember them putting me in the room where they took the baby and had me lay on the table.
I was right – my skin couldn’t stretch any further, and so it had torn. My midwife pulled out the placenta – 50 minutes after my baby had been born. She then stitched me up, which I found the most painful part of the entire day. They checked the baby, and she was healthy and perfect. They told me I needed to go use the restroom, so they helped me up and over to the toilet. At that point, I passed out – next thing I knew I was on the floor with a million nurses huddled around. I kept hearing “redhead… redhead…” They later told me that redheads are at a greater risk for hemorrhaging, which is one reason they were so concerned. They took me to the postpartum room, and I tried my best not to pass out on the way there.
After getting settled into the room, we finally got a chance to think and make phone calls that the baby had been born. We announced her name for the first time – Savannah River, weighing in at 7lb 0.2oz and 19″ long. It was then I realized that I had done what I thought was impossible – delivered a baby completely unmedicated. That thought empowered me and made me soar to the top of the moon. I had SUCH a peace about the whole experience, and am so grateful that everything worked out for the best!
In retrospect, I realize that my body knew I was close to delivering – hence the noon phone call to my midwife, asking to come to the hospital. She of course had no way of knowing that I was so close. I hadn’t wet my pants, but in actuality my water broke – 1:20pm. Savannah was born only 10 minutes later. Since we knew the baby was sunny-side up according to an ultrasound earlier that week, we think she flipped in the birth canal which is why everything sped up at the end.
Before my daughter was born, I was convinced that it wasn’t possible for my body to deliver a baby without pain relief. I was so very scared about the unknown. After my daughter was born, I realized how much I was able to trust my own body. I didn’t have any coaching about how I “should” be delivering the baby, and yet my body knew what to do. She was born, tiny and perfect. I have been told I had an easy labor, and really I have no memory of the pain. Hormones and love completely took over and all that mattered was my little baby. My outlook about childbirth really changed after my experience, and now I seek to encourage other women to trust their bodies and not to be convinced before it even starts that they can’t deliver without pain relief. I am passionate that by opening a birth center here in Atlanta, we’ll be taking the first steps to bringing birth back!
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