As we headed toward the birth center I kept my eye on the clock. I kept anticipating the next contraction, but as we neared 5 minutes I had nothing. It was so strange. I started feeling almost normal. I started to worry. I told Chris over and over again how sure I was that they were going to take one look at me and send me home. I was already embarrassed that I, a third time mom, would make such a mistake in assessing my own progress. It took us about 20 minutes to get there, and the whole way no contractions. As we pulled into the birthing center I saw everyone's cars, and I wanted to just turn around and go home. Oh well there was no turning back. I would have to face the music no matter what the outcome. Ann was getting out of her car. As I got out I suddenly doubled over with another contraction. It may sound crazy, but even in all that pain I was so relieved. One of or birth assistants, Michelle, asked me if I wanted to use the restroom first. I wasn't really sure where we were at with progress, but that seemed like a good idea. While in the bathroom, the contractions started picking up again. I hobbled my way to the room where Ann was getting the birth tub ready. She asked if I wanted to labor on the bed for awhile or get in. I think I was already stripping from the waist down to get in before she even finished her sentence. We did decide to go ahead and check my progress before I got in. I was dilated to a 6. Hallelujah! I hadn't imagined this labor. It was for real and we were going to have a baby! It's hard for me to describe the pain of contractions. They were rough, and I sometimes felt like my insides were turning inside out, but at the same time they were so much better than contractions from pitocin. Even though each contraction progressively became more intense, I felt in control. This was a good feeling. In the hospital I always felt like I was spinning out of control. I would start to dread each contraction, anticipating the pain instead of taking them one at a time.
I slipped into the tub which felt absolutely amazing. How had I ever done this any other way? I mentally assessed the situation. If I was at a 6, I figured I had a good 1-2 hours to mentally prepare for the pushing. This was the part that terrified me the most. I feared the sensation of the baby dropping down, and literally feeling every move as he progressed down the birth canal. I dreaded the "ring of fire" I had heard so many women talk about during natural labor.
I settled in and the next contraction started to come. Kaylie had woken up and wanted to be in the room. We had discussed it and decided it would be a good experience for her as long as she felt comfortable. She came and sat by the tub and held my hand as I worked through a contraction. The water definitely helped as I was able to float through the contraction. Suddenly things started picking up. Chris came to hold my other hand and I started feeling a lot of pressure with each contraction. I told Ann who gently reminded me to relax my whole lower body and allow my baby to come down. She was such a reassuring presence. I believe I had a few contractions come one right after the other. Now I realize I was transitioning. She told me to turn so she could see my baby coming down. What!!!!??? I had only been there about 30 minutes. There is no way he can be coming down. I am not ready to push yet. I haven't had my time to relax, labor, and prepare for this moment. I know a lot of women would give anything for a short labor, and of course looking back I am gad as well. It is still strange when you have prepared yourself for the long haul, and all of a sudden it is all coming down on you at once. It is a bit intense. I thought Kaylie would want to leave the room at this point, but she was steadfast by me. With Chris supporting me from the back, Ann gently instructed me to follow her instructions. "We're not here to blast this baby out," was something she reminded me. This is so different than a hospital. Most of the time we are encouraged to push as hard as we can by nurses and doctors. With an epidural that is not a problem. There is no inhibition, but that forceful pushing is what so often leads to horrible tears and unwanted cuts. What happened next I attribute to cementing my belief that a good midwife coached birth is beyond compare.
I felt the head ready to crown. I must admit in that moment I freaked out. I wasn't sure how I was supposed to push that out of such a small area. I wanted to jump out and run, but what could I do? She told me to give a gentle push when I felt the next contraction. My mind wondered when I would know it was right, but suddenly my body instinctively took over. I pushed until she told me to breathe. We did this several times and I wondered if he would ever come out. Little did I know those controlled pushes, and breaks to breathe allowed the perineum to slowly stretch and accommodate Isaac's head. Suddenly I felt it, the ring of fire. I can't lie here and say it was pleasant, but then I immediately felt something I had never felt with Kaylie or Micah. I felt his little body leaving mine. It was weird but I'm told the only yell I gave was as his shoulders came out. The cord was wrapped around his neck a couple of timeS, but Ann quickly unwrapped it, and brought Isaac to my chest. In that moment I was awestruck. I had done it. In about 3 hours I had crossed the threshold I had feared for so long. I had a warm, blue eyed little baby staring back at me from my chest. Ann later told me it had to be the Lord that kept my from contractions from coming on the ride there or we probably would have been delivering a baby on the side of the road. Isaac was here fully alert and surrounded by so much love. Kaylie was beyond thrilled. It was such an amazing experience. She never once flinched. She kept telling us that it was the best day of her life. Chris cut the cord and we were allowed to spend time bonding with our precious son. This is perhaps what I loved most about the experience. Our birth team made sure this experience was about us. We were never rushed. Isaac was allowed to be with us at all times, and family was able to be close. It was amazing.
When I finally was out of the birth tub Ann checked me for tears. There was only a small little "skid mark" as she called it. We believe it occurred when his shoulder came out because that was the only cry I had made during pushing. It did not require stitches, which was a huge relief!
I truly did not believe it was possible for me not to tear. With Micah, the doctor told me I would probably at least tear where the scar was from my episiotomy.
I credit Ann with her awesome coaching skills. She was there at each turn instilling confidence that my body was made to do this. I also must credit the other to amazing women on the birth team. Michelle and Jenee' were so wonderful and encouraging. I could not have asked for a better birth.
The birth of Isaac has brought our family even closer. In the days that have followed I have been filled with so much emotion. In a weird way I am sad it is over. I remember hearing many women who chose to use midwives rave about their experience. I sometimes felt they were overly dogmatic. Now that I have experienced the difference between a hospital and the care of a midwife, I am starting to understand where they were coming from. This birth changed my life. It opened me to a whole new dimension of love and sacrifice as a mother. It caused me to surrender to God in a whole new way. It truly ushered in a gentle beginning for our little Isaac. He has been so peaceful and content. He has been with us every hour since his birth. His brother and sister just love him to pieces, and I credit that with them being an active part of this pregnancy and his birth. After the birth we napped on the big bed in the birth room. All of our children were piled on just like being at home. It was so wonderful.
I find myself still processing the experience, as I am sure will be the case in the weeks to come. I cannot say enough good things about the Gentle Beginnings Birth Center staff. Ann changed my view on all things birth. I was constantly challenged to re-asses my previous mind set. I find myself getting a little teary just thinking I won't be going to see them for regular appointments. I am lucky that they have built such a great community that allows women to stay connected even after birth.
I leave you with a quote I have heard many times before, but it speaks so clearly to me when it comes to natural childbirth.