“Dilated to THREE… I’ve been in labor for TWENTY hours!” I thought frantically to myself. My body had been pushing through every contraction for over an hour; I physically could not stop it from happening. It was 830pm and my Hypnobirthing training seemed to fly out the window, panic swiftly taking up residence in my once very-controlled thoughts. I was paralyzed by the information my midwives had just given me, feeling more exhausted than at any other moment in my entire life. My midwives and my mother stood around me and I’ll never forget the looks on their faces as they stared blankly at me, wishing to offer comfort and encouragement but coming up empty. I laid there still, staring into space in disbelief, replaying my reality over and over again in my head. “I’m not going to make it through this…"
Rewind to 12am the previous day. Let’s just say my body had began the “cleansing” process. I’d experienced Braxton Hicks since about 31 weeks, but this was different. They said I’d know, and I did. The shivering began almost immediately. Apparently shivering during labor is a hormone thing but I’d never heard of anyone having experienced shivering through the entirety of their labor like I did. My contractions were just strong enough that I couldn’t sleep through them; they stayed consistently around every 10 minutes, and they didn’t slow my entire labor.
I tried to labor quietly so my husband could sleep, I knew he was going to need it. But 2am rolled around and my breathing had become labored. He sat up and said, “Is this it?” Without any hesitation I blurted out, “YES, this is it."
Fast forward 13 hours later to 3pm and I had made it through the night, shivering almost violently, moving my hips in circles on the exercise ball, walking up and down the hall of my home with my incredible husband, Sam, my amazing doula, and my mother and sister. I was making noises I’d never heard myself make; labor was so animalistic for me, something I did not expect. I played the Lucy playlist I had made specifically for labor, as well as my birthing affirmations; those two playlists were on continuously throughout my entire labor. My contractions moved to somewhere between 3-5 minutes apart. I got the green light from the doula and the midwife to go now. We hopped in the car and headed 20 minutes up the freeway to our birthing center. My husband ran all the lights and my sister sat in the back massaging my shoulders - it was the longest drive of my life; I wonder now what the neighboring cars were thinking - me topless with a sports bra and my belly taking up most of the front seat! My mother also describes Sam’s driving that day like “a bat out of hell”. That still makes me laugh.
We finally arrived, 14 hours into labor. Expecting to be dilated to 5 or 6cm at the very least, I was really bummed that I was only dilated to a 3. Took the wind out of my sails just a little, but no matter, first-time-babies come slow; it’s what I’d been told and what I’d come to expect. I hadn’t been able to eat anything because of the nausea but was given strict advice to eat a couple of honey sticks upon arrival. I was feeling tired but still in control. I climbed into the warm bath my midwives had prepared for me. After about 40 minutes, my contractions slowed from 3 minutes apart to 5 minutes apart so they pulled me out. I bounced and I walked up and down the hall leaning on my mom with my husband squeezing my hips during every wave. Every single move I made triggered a contraction, sometimes two or three on top of each other. I never felt the contraction come all the way down, it always seemed to hover in a semi-contracted state, so I never had any “rest” in between; I continued to shiver. I focused on the affirmations playing in the room:
“I am not afraid.”
“Every surge brings my baby closer to me.”
“I was made for this moment.”
“My body and my baby know what to do."
I fought with everything I had to keep control of my breathing, of my mind. To stay relaxed. To keep my jaw soft, my hands soft, to keep unclenched and to move through each contraction however I needed to.
Twenty hours in, body bearing down with every contraction…and still dilated to 3cm.
I looked up. “God, help me.” That was the only prayer I could seem to muster out loud, though I know we often pray through strife and tears and the Lord hears them just the same. I did not understand why my body was pushing when my cervix was still basically closed. Later on, I would learn that a minor procedure I had on my cervix years before was preventing it from opening due to scar tissue, something my body had worked tirelessly to move past. Nonetheless, everyone seemed to buckle down as it was shaping up to be a much longer night than any of us had anticipated. I had never felt so defeated in my life. I looked at my mom and my husband and said “I can’t do this anymore. I have nothing left.” I’m getting emotional as I write this because I wonder how many of us have come to a crossroad in life where we’ve thought the same thing. We choose to continue or to give up.
Well, I had the choice to get in the car and go to the hospital for the epidural, or to get in the tub and try to focus on relaxing as hard as I could - I chose the tub. My father ran to get me a smoothie as it was the only thing I could stomach and it had been over 24 hours since I’d last eaten. My midwives helped me into the tub and had me labor in a circuit in case Lucy needed help getting into a better position. I labored sitting up, on each side, and on my hands and knees. Toward the end of the circuit and during a push caused by a very intense contraction, my water broke - FINALLY! I hadn’t realized how important that was until I saw my sister’s face, beaming with excitement. The midwives rushed in. Everyone’s excitement gave me renewed hope and strength.
Still dilated to 3.
My body continued to push and I was advised to “blow it out” - a term used to try and direct the energy elsewhere; it was tremendous energy and felt nearly impossible to redirect. I sounded like a horse! I was making a sound my 1 year old nephew had just learned how to do with his lips - I felt ridiculous but had to laugh! About 30 minutes later I couldn’t withstand the energy anymore. The midwife came to check my progress again in what seemed to be a mere attempt to appease me. It had only been 30 minutes, what could have changed? I’ll never forget what she said next:
“Oh HI head!!!”
What? You can feel her head? Emotions overtook me and I began to sob cries of relief. I had gone from 3cm to 10cm in 30 minutes time and it was finally time to push. I had learned something during my Hypnobirthing training that I only understood post-delivery: your body releases different hormones and chemicals to help you through each stage of labor, something I’d learned can be stifled by medications given during labor. So, as I began to push, my body released hormones that allowed me rest - the first true rest I had had in nearly 21 hours. In between contractions, I felt no pain. I could breathe deep, wonderful breaths. I had many minutes in between each contraction, as if my body was giving me time to prepare to bear down for the next push. Lucy’s head was finally out and stayed under water for 6.5 minutes before I had another contraction; I sobbed most of that time, feeling her hair move through the water, feeling her tiny ear. I believe my body knew the next push would be the final so it gave me that incredible and much-needed break.
Five or so pushes total and Lucy shot out. My husband yelled, “Oh my God!” Ha! I hadn’t remembered that until I watched the video my mom spontaneously decided to film on her iPhone.
Lucy was placed on my chest and the emotions that came over me cannot be explained in words. I sobbed harder than I have ever sobbed in my entire life. I was broken in the most beautiful way; my life was no longer my own. Two years of infertility, heartbreak, broken dreams, uncertainty, grief. Twenty one hours of labor and my mini-Sam was laying on my chest, the most beautiful human I’d ever laid eyes on; Sam sobbed. For years I’d dreamt of this exact moment and it was infinitely more than I ever could have imagined. There is no life experience I have had or will ever have again that could compare to the magnitude of what I felt when I first laid eyes on Lucy.
Labor was ethereal, a proper out-of-body experience. I left saying, “I’ll never do that again”, and today I say, “I can’t wait to experience that again”, because there is no experience that holds a candle to the ride that is labor. And I am eternally grateful I was able to birth my daughter in the water. God-willing we have another one, I wouldn't change a thing.
No matter how or where women birth, there will never be a word that can describe how freaking awesome we are and how insanely miraculous our bodies are. Labor and delivery are the wildest ride and I find myself humbled and honored to have been able to experience such a holy moment.
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