As the universe would have it, about a week before my due date, my low blood pressure began to rise. The stress of the pregnancy was starting to take its toll on my body. My midwife was worried that with labor, the blood pressure might pose a problem and maybe it was best to think about an alternative. We opted to contact a physician and have a backup plan. As the date grew closer, staying off my feet and eating tons of protein was only a temporary fix. We decided to go ahead and go with having the baby at the hospital. I thought that if I walked into the hospital calmly, then somehow I would keep some sort of control over the decisions that would be made about my birth. I thought that transporting in trauma with a pre-preeclampsia diagnosis would spin everything out of my hands.
So December 24, 2008 I woke up early that morning, as large and swollen as a house. I rolled out of bed to go pee and as I sat up, my water broke. I called my midwife and we made our way to the doctor’s office together, with my mom, my dad, my sister, my husband and little Emma ready to make her appearance. They told us to head straight to the hospital and the doc on call would take care of us. We said OK, and we had to swing by the house and pick up my prepared birthing bag and we promised to go right away.
However as we left the office, I told my midwife, I would like to birth at home for awhile. I knew from the moment I walked into that hospital that I would be clocked. With my pre-preeclampsia they would be worried. She agreed to let me go home to eat lunch and rest for just a bit. So we did. It was wonderful, we played my favorite Charlie Brown Christmas album. My husband kept us laughing with his impressions of dancing with the stars. My sister was rolling the video camera of our moments together; we were waiting for me to be ready to go. Everyone seemed to be waiting on me. I wasn’t sure I was making the right decision. I felt it was OK but I would get scared and wonder if it was going to be OK or if I was doing the right thing. I really had no idea what was in store for me as the night went on.
We made it to Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado at about 6 p.m. I was progressing but didn’t start losing my ability to converse until about 2 hours later. They admitted me with a cagillion health question interrogation. The nurse was not too jazzed about my midwife tagging along. We brought her with us as a helpful member of the family. Since midwives aren’t a welcomed practitioner of birth in the American Medical Association. I found out later that a few times she was asked to leave the room and they wouldn’t let her in. My mom had to go out and sweetly, but emphatically, demand they allow her back in. In their grace and infinite wisdom they kept this part from me while I was deep breathing and laboring in the room.
About 9 p.m. must have been the shift change, because we got a new, nicer nurse and more importantly Dr. Birnbaum made his entrance. Dr Birnbaum, my bearded angel came in, introduced himself and assured me he knew what I was wanting from my birth. He congratulated me and said he wanted what I wanted. He jokingly said that they don’t see many all natural births and there are a few resident doctors on the OB floor that night that he would like to have observe my birth, if it was OK with us. I said, fine, at that point I was OK with anything! My labor was progressing and becoming quite uncomfortable. He suggested that maybe if I was open to walking down the hall there was a tub that they could prepare and I could try to labor in the tub for a bit. I could labor there but it would be against hospital policy to birth there. I agreed, the tub was the plan for my homebirth so the familiar suggestion sounded wonderful. I just prayed I could take the walk down the hall without having an embarrassing noisy contraction in the middle of the journey.
I made it down there, and had a contraction on the way, but again who really cared at this point and not to mention I really couldn’t help it. The tub was AMAZING!! The contractions were still very real but it seemed to take the edge off. I labored there for a couple of hours and I began to get hot and so wrinkly. The nurse came in to check on me and whispered to my midwife how well I was doing in the tub and if I wanted to birth there we could make it look like an accident to avoid the hospital policy wrath. I said no, I was ready to get out and I had to poop. I waddled and scuffled over to the toilet. The nurse wanted to check my dilation – 10 cm dilated. She said, “Honey, you are ready to go! If you want to go back to the room we got to make our way back down the hall.”
Well we did and I had two more very loud contractions on the way! We got back in and I got propped up in the bed, the back of the bed sitting straight up to position and support my body in a squat up on the bed. I labored there much longer than I thought I would. I started to ask everyone, “How much longer?” and tell them, “I can’t do this anymore!” a cue my midwife told me was a way she knew I was about to start transitioning.
The room got busy while I tried to keep my noises in low tones, and keep my jaw relaxed …breathe!!! All techniques I read about when I had no idea what that really meant. Dr Birnbaum made another appearance and asked how I was doing. Such a sweet, rounded face and calm demeanor with the sweetest smile. I trusted he was there to help me. But he allowed my midwife, Lisa, to continue her work. He noticed the wet washcloth she was gently holding at my perineum and her calm soul quietly holding the space for me as I moaned and turned and breathed and screamed and passed out for moments at a time. Between contractions he asked if it would be OK to allow some resident doctors in to watch. I shrugged. I did not care. I didn’t even notice until they all walked in. I had a full room standing around the perimeter. My naked pregnant body as the centerpoint of the attention of the room and somehow the grace and intensity of the moment kept me in my own space. I saw them, but they were there watching me do something amazing. I thought of women, thousands of years of women, in caves, in the seas, my grandmother, my mother birthing our lineage of children and I summoned strength and courage and so much emotion to bring this child into the world.
She started to crown, Lisa still at my perineum keeping me from tearing. The midwife teaching medical students what to do, a beautiful, magical moment. It burned, but I didn’t tear. It burned. The ring of fire is real. But it passes. Then the next contraction, the most intense, my body took over, I didn’t even have to push like the movies, my body was pushing. I looked down at my stomach and saw the whole dome pushed in from both sides. Nature squeezing my baby though the portal. Emma was born. She did not cry, she was calm, which scared the medical team. They grabbed her from Lisa’s hands and scurried off to the exam table. She was fine. They didn’t realize that she was calm because her birth was a peaceful transition for her. It’s the pitocin and other things that makes the babies upset and wail. Emma was here, December 25, 2008 at 1:43 a.m. Daddy went with her while I waited for my placenta to arrive. Another thing we don’t hear much about; it’s scary to push out after all of that. About 10 minutes later my placenta came leaping out with my last contraction of force into the resident doctors arms. She laughed because it hit her pretty forcefully. I realized, my body is strong, I am strong! I did it. I ran a marathon. I was exhausted. My husband went home while they were cleaning me up and while I was holding miss Emma Grace and working with Lisa and Emma to eventually latch. He came back with grilled cheeses and a coke! I was starving and the hospital cafeteria was closed.
It was a beautiful moment. My body sore, tired, bleeding and shaky. But I was holding the most delicate, vulnerable being in my arms. I couldn’t move. It took me 10 minutes to try to pee when I waddled for the first time to the bathroom. It was intense! But like nothing I could ever say I have experienced before. It was an experience that I walked through, that was the trajectory for me as a mom, for my husband as a dad and even my parents as grandparents. We all walked through the portal together. It was scary, it wasn’t graceful or clean or even my perfect picture of what I envisioned from the start. But it was THE journey that was needed for Emma’s soul to step into her body, through my body.
When I was pregnant I would read in the Ina May Gaskin books that labor didn’t hurt and not to label it pain. For me, that wasn’t true. Labor hurt. But it was a pain that I could walk through. It was a pain that I could transition into growth. I think it would have been helpful to know that, so I pass this along to you: Labor is painful, but you can do it. Millions of women have done this, and you, you beautiful, creative, full of life-force woman, you got this! Be brave, be open. Stay open. Labor is the practice of staying open, just like parenting, just like all of life. I learned what that means in yoga. In fact I laughed when I got back to my regular yoga practice that I just had the most eye opening yoga experience. Now any vinyasa class wouldn’t touch what I learned birthing.