If you’d asked me what I envisioned my birth story to be like two years ago, I would have said heavily medicated and terrifying! But one literal mountain top experience started a transformation, which led to a natural water birth at Mountain Midwifery that was even better than I could have imagined. Here’s the story:
I once had a panic attack on top of a mountain. The water inside my Camelbak was frozen, we were above tree line and I had four hours ahead of me to count ptarmigan. Ridiculous birds, for crying out loud! It was for work – I was taking pictures of our kids on an educational trip – but that didn’t lessen my abhorrence for birds that blended in with the snow. Alas, those ptarmigan weren’t going to count themselves.
So I freaked out, because it was freezing and I was disoriented. My body was uncomfortable and I couldn’t control what was happening. If those were the ingredients for a panic attack, you can imagine what kind of meltdown childbirth would cook up.
Shortly after the mountain incident, I started counseling for anxiety and delved into the nooks of my mind and crannies of my soul. I came out the other end appreciating the harmonious freedom that comes from trusting God, letting go of my perceived control and accepting grace in place of trying so hard. Incidentally, I also decided I wanted a natural birth, when the time came.
And then suddenly, the time had come. Pregnancy was relatively easy, considering I was sprouting thousands of hairs on my baby’s head on a daily basis, as well as the occasional elbow or knee. I was prepared to go two weeks past my due date, so once I reached full term, I expected another month at least of waddling around in the summer heat.
But on Aug. 3, 18 days before my due date, I woke up at 1 a.m. with contractions. They felt somewhat more cramp-y than the Braxton Hicks contractions I had had since the second trimester, and they were coming every nine minutes, if not more frequently. After several calls to the midwives – they assured us this could last for days – and a few walks around the block, my husband and I laid back down in bed to rest, around 7:45 a.m.
I felt pressure increase and then a pop! … “Um. I think that’s, yeah, that must be …” I stood up and felt the trickle. “Yep, my water broke! This is really happening!”
I had read that contractions intensify after the water breaks, but mine didn’t change much. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we played a game of Bananagrams (I won) and we talked to our moms on the phone – who both cringed that we were laboring at home for so long. My mom suggested, “Just drive to the birthing center and wait in the parking lot!”
It wasn’t until around 1:30 p.m. that I felt some strong, consistent contractions and thought it was time to get the show on the road. A midwife we talked to on the phone gave us the green light to drive the 20 minutes to the birthing center, where our requested room – the “log room” named for the rustic bed – was ready for us.
When we drove up, a smiling nurse met us at our car and walked us into our room. A midwife checked my dilation, and I was only 3 cm dilated. Three! And I’d been at this for nearly 12 hours. Amid my frustrated tears, the midwife said that baby’s head felt a little soft and could be a bottom, so we had to head downstairs for an ultrasound.
Upon further inspection, we found that baby wasn’t breach – and we’d later find out that her head was soft because it was covered in hair. We decided that I would labor for a few hours, and if I hadn’t progressed by 5 p.m., they would send me home.
I prayed that I wouldn’t have to go home, I moaned “ooooopen” with each contraction to persuade my cervix, and I leaned on just about every surface in that log room and the adjoining bathroom. At our 5 p.m. check-in, I was elated – and dilated – to 5 cm. I was staying!
From here, I progressed quickly. I had been listening to a Jon Foreman station on Pandora, nibbling on cheese and apples and talking to my husband between contractions. A staff member of the birthing center, who’s also a doula, joined us, because there were three of us laboring mamas and not enough midwives. Toward the end of a contraction, my body jumped it into high gear to move baby along, and I threw up all of the snacks I’d had.
After, I excitedly asked the doula, “Do you think this means I’m in transition?”
She smiled and gave me a very diplomatic and careful answer, “I think you’re a woman in labor who is progressing beautifully.”
I nodded knowingly and grabbed hold of a sling hanging from the ceiling, where I hung through each contraction until I was fully dilated, about an hour and a half later.
There’s a myth that laboring women scream obscenities and resent their husbands for getting their vaginas into such a bind. But I was so thankful for my husband’s prayers, support and steady hands. … Except as the contractions got more severe and I gently said, “Maybe you could stop touching my back now,” before I moaned through another one.
I had wondered how vocal I would be during labor. I have a hard time yelling; I will walk across the room to get someone’s attention, rather than raise my voice. But as my moaning started getting grunty – lovely, right? – I started surrendering to the train that felt like it was running through my body. The noises I made came from some primal part of me, detached from conscience and decorum.
I hopped in the birthing tub — well, as close to hopping as you can be in this situation – and the pushing just started. I had tried to submit to the process of labor from the beginning, which meant embracing each stage and allowing my body to experience what it needed – not wondering when it will end or hoping to feel less of the sensation. My submission advanced into a rhythm of instinctive pushing and whispered prayers while my body recovered and prepared for the next.
After 45 minutes of this, baby’s head started to crown. I stopped pushing upon the midwife’s instruction and waited for the next contraction to push her head out. In other words, I camped out at the “ring of fire,” for awhile. Hurts like hell, to be honest. But a few pushes later, and my baby was out and resting on my chest!
She was here! And I was done laboring! The tone in the room seemed surreal, looking back. Even down to the lighting and the music playing in the background, I felt God’s presence. I can’t say that holding my baby made me forget about the pain or intensity of what we’d just done, but it did make it worth it. That and the Chipotle burrito waiting for me. Seriously.
After 17 hours of labor and 5 hours of recovery at the birthing center – including baby doing the breast crawl, stitches for my second-degree tears, an amazing sitz bath and some nursing practice – we headed home. Exactly 24 hours after the first contractions, I was back in bed, with my baby beside me. All in a day’s work.
I can add our birth story to the list of mountain top experiences. Miraculous, life-changing and just the beginning of a lifetime of surrendering to each phase of life, trusting that the pain is worth it. So worth it.
This story was shared with The Mommypotamus.