The pregnancy and birth of our little Angel Grace was one of the most life changing events in my life. Brian and I decided before even trying to conceive that we wanted a natural birth. Before making this decision to have a birth outside of a hospital I had to research natural labor and know exactly what I was getting into. I read every book on natural childbirth, went to a natural childbirth expo and watched The Business of Being Born. When trying to decide where we would have our baby, Brian and I looked into home birth and the local birth center. I felt very informed before making the first appointment to tour Breath of Life. I wasn’t even pregnant when I toured the birth center. After meeting with Chris (certified nurse midwife) and touring the birth center, everything fell into place for us and we knew that this would be our path. I knew in the first five minutes that this is where I wanted to have our first child!
One of the things I learned from this pregnancy is that I cannot plan every detail; pregnancy and birth is just something you have to go with. I did not have the easiest pregnancy - I got sick at least three times a day for the first five months and at 22 weeks had to have an emergency appendectomy. One fear I had the majority of my pregnancy was that I would opt out of care at Breath of Life and have to have a birth in a hospital.
My first visit set the tone for our whole experience at the birth center. During the initial appointment, the time Chris took to explain things to me, talk to me about pregnancy, birth and my body as a whole, was something I had never experienced at a normal doctor's visit. I felt for the first time I was aware of my own body and that I had control over the decisions that would be made during this pregnancy. Every appointment up until I went into labor was such a bonding experience for me with the midwives and with myself. This experience made me more aware of my own strengths and helped me to explore any weaknesses or insecurities I was feeling.
On Thursday, May 26th, I was almost 40 weeks when I went in for an appointment. I asked Chris to check me at this visit because I just had to know if anything was happening. I had been feeling lots of pressure for the previous two weeks. When Chris checked I was one centimeter dilated, 50% effaced. I was really excited even though I knew I could stay this way for weeks. Before leaving that appointment, Chris brought Vikki (certified nurse midwife) over to tell us that she was on call this weekend just in case I went into labor. I joked and said I would see them next Thursday for my regular appointment. Chris made a point of stressing that I should call if anything changes. I went back to work after the appointment and was so excited because I felt things were moving along. A friend at work told me that I should go out to dinner with Brian tonight because it might be a long time before we went out alone.
Brian and I took the advice and went to our favorite Mexican restaurant that night for dinner. I started cramping in my back halfway through dinner. The cramping would come and go but was not enough for us to start tracking. That night I could not sleep because the cramping had gotten stronger and moved to the front. The back cramping never stopped but the cramping in the front was coming every five to ten minutes and was strong enough that I could not sleep through it. The next morning I decided to call in to work and Brian stayed home as well.
The contractions would come and go with no consistency. Sometimes they were every five minutes sometimes they were every ten. At this point we had called my mom to let her know. She, of course, had very short labors and insisted I needed to call the birth center. I just knew that it was not time and decided just to appease them we would call and let Vikki know what was going on just to be on the safe side. Vikki told me that I needed to try and get some sleep so I would be ready when active labor began and advised I take a benadryl that night to help me sleep.
Brian and I went for a walk that night on the beach the contractions continued throughout the walk and I would have to stop and breathe through them. I took the benadryl but did not sleep that night because the contractions would wake me up when they came. When I woke up Saturday, I told Brian to go to work because I felt the same and did not think active labor was here yet. I went to breakfast that morning with my friend who was visiting from out of town and had some stronger contractions. After breakfast I went home and was determined to get things moving. I spent the whole day either bouncing on the exercise ball or on all fours or walking around in the back yard. Just before Brian got home from work, at about 4:00 PM, the contractions started to get stronger.
When Brian got home from work we went to the park and walked the boardwalk there is a three-story observation deck and I walked up and down the stairs for about thirty minutes. At this point the contractions were much stronger and we decided to go home so I could lie in bed and listen to my hypnobirthing CDs. I spent the next couple of hours in bed on my side trying to meditate and breath through the contractions that were much stronger and five minutes apart lasting about 45 seconds.
At around 9 PM my parents came over to check on us. I did not feel it was time to go to the birth center but my parents and Brian insisted so we packed the car and headed there to be checked. I told them if I was only two cm I was leaving and going back home. Vikki met us outside and led us back to the birthing suite. She checked me and I was 2 cm maybe 3 cm. Being stubborn I got up and said we were heading home. Vikki advised me to try to sleep and gave me something I could take to help get some rest. As soon as we got in the car and started to head home the contractions got a lot stronger. Brian and I decided I should take the pill Vikki gave me so that I could get some sleep before active labor began. I took it on the car ride home. When I got home I decided to lie down as my parents and Brian were trying to decide if my parents would stay overnight or go home. I sat down in bed and felt a sharp pain and then felt a gush of water. I knew in my head that my water broke but I still was in shock and thought I might have just wet myself. I got up and continued to leak so I knew it was my water for sure.
The contractions were so much stronger at this point and were coming every two to three minutes. I attempted to get in the shower, on the birth ball, sway and nothing seemed to help. I knew it was time to head back to the birth center. We returned thirty minutes after leaving the first time and in active labor for sure! Of course being a planner, I had a list for every bag that needed to be brought with us. I got settled in the room as Brian unloaded the car. My mom and Brian scrambled to set up the room as I tried to calm down and focus on the contractions. Brian put on the music we had chosen to listen to and started the aromatherapy candle (which didn’t last long because the smell did not agree with me in labor).
I couldn’t seem to calm down when we first arrived I was really nervous and couldn’t stop thinking about the pill I had taken to sleep. Vikki assured me it would not effect my labor and to try and relax. The contractions were really intense at this point and were two to three minutes apart. I had all these thoughts of the positions that I would try in labor but I could not get into any of them without getting sick. The three areas that I labored in were the rocking chair, the tub and the toilet. I seemed to move between the three quite a bit. When I got into the water for the first time it felt amazing. I loved being in the water because I could sit in a squatted position and not have to feel the weight of my body.
As contractions came, and throughout the entire labor, I had an internal dialogue going on in my head. It was such a different experience, I was present in the room and could hear the conversations and what my mom or Brian were saying to me but I felt as if I was in my own little world. I kept going back to the birth stories I had read in Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin and repeating a lot of the positive affirmations that women used in those stories. It was funny I was saying one thing internally in my head but when a contraction came the only thing toward the end that I could manage to say out loud was 'no no no no no no…' When I started to get too worked up Vikki was able to calm me down by telling me to focus on what I could control or encouraging me when I would moan through a contraction.
Vikki was so wonderful at showing Brian or my mom something they could do to help me even if it was just repeating something she had said that had calmed me the contraction before. I remember at one point I was in the water and I knew it was getting late and I was just so tired that I looked at everyone in the eye and said, “I am done, I can’t do this anymore I am just done." Vikki looked at me and said that is fine but when you are thinking of your plan just remember you will need to get in the car and drive to St. Pete. General. I looked at her like she was crazy and said, “No, I am not going to a hospital, I am just done.” Vikki always seemed to have the right thing to say to make me focus on the process.
At one point in the water I felt the urge to push but I was scared to push too soon and swell my uterus so asked Vikki to check me. I had already pushed through a couple of contractions at this point. Vikki checked me in the water and said that there was still some of my cervix left. I got really discouraged at this point and got out of the water. I am so thankful now that they do not check you every couple of hours at BOL and the only time I was checked was when I asked. I never asked Vikki how dilated I was at that point because I knew hearing a number would only discourage me. By not being checked and being told where I was in the process I felt more in control of my labor and it really helped me be more in tune with my body.
After I got out of the water I sat on the rocking chair some more. The only time I got scared during the whole process was when my hips started burning. I had not read about this burning and when it happened I wasn’t prepared for the feeling. The burning in my hips lasted for four or five contractions and was very intense. After the hip burning I got back in the water. I had been feeling the need to push for sometime but was afraid that I wasn’t there again and not trusting my own instincts I held back. I finally asked Vikki to check me again, she told me I would have to get out of the water and lay down on the bed, I knew there was no way I was getting out of the water at this point so I just trusted what I was feeling and began to push. The entire time I was pushing I kept feeling inside and touching the babies head. It was so amazing feeling her hair and knowing with each push I was closer to meeting our baby girl.
Pushing was heaven for me, finally after all these hours of sitting through the contractions and the pain I could push and work with the contractions, it really did feel good. At one point during pushing I became aware that it was light outside and realized that I had been laboring through the night. I did become fearful during pushing that I was going to tear, and yes the ring of fire is miserable, but I think at that point I was so excited to know with just one more push Grace’s head would finally be out.
I felt for a couple of contractions if I just pushed a little more she would be here but I was so fearful of tearing that I kept holding back. The last thing I remember before the final push that brought her into the world was Vikki saying a beautiful prayer. Right when she finished the prayer I pushed Grace’s head out, Brian caught her and brought her to my chest. It was so exciting when she finally came out and everyone was crying and all I could do was look down at my beautiful baby girl in amazement. I will never forget when Grace looked up at me for the first time it was as if her little eyes when they met mine said I am here Mom.
It was such a powerful moment. In all the books I read, women would describe how great they felt right after birth and I was always a skeptic, but the second Grace was born I felt so alive, it was the most amazing feeling one I find hard to describe with words. I felt so good with my baby on my chest that when Vikki told me I needed to try and give a little push to get the placenta out I looked at her like she was crazy and said, “No I am done, I have my baby I am not pushing anymore.” I wish I could end my birth story here with the happy ending of having my sweet baby girl but our path did not end the way we had hoped.
Vikki had Brian cut the cord and take the baby while we tried to get the placenta out. I got out of the water and onto the bed, I squatted, Vikki administered pitocin, but nothing was working and the placenta just did not want to deliver. After about 20 minutes, Vikki started preparing me mentally for the possibility of having to transfer. Of course I told her just to yank on the cord and pull it out, but after 29 minutes we knew I was going to have to transfer. Even though the situation got serious I was never worried - Vikki handled the whole situation with such a calm but assertive manner that I never panicked and was still even cracking jokes up until the stretcher came in.
Right before they opened the doors to let the paramedics in the room, Vikki looked at me and said, “In a second we are going to open the doors and everything is going to happen very fast but just remember you are okay and your baby is fine." I did not understand why she was saying this until the doors opened and the two male paramedics walked in with the stretcher and for a brief moment I started to panic, but right away I went back to what Vikki had just said, “I am fine and my baby is fine.” I immediately calmed down, stood up and walked to sit down on the stretcher. I was transferred to Morton Plant and had to have a spinal and have my placenta removed.
Being in the hospital made me appreciate the experience I just had had even more. I had the birth I had hoped for just not the afterbirth. I would not change one choice Brian and I made for Grace’s birth. Breath of Life is the most amazing place to have a baby and the love we have for Chris and Vikki for being on this journey with us as we welcomed our first child into the world is overwhelming.