Siena’s birth was the most mentally and physically taxing experience of my life. It challenged me in ways that I didn’t expect and it forced me to go deep within a place inside me that I didn’t even know existed. In the end, I was presented with a beautiful, healthy baby girl and every moment of agony was worth it.
I’ve never been concise in my writing and this story is no different. I’m also not planning on holding back on details so if you’re not comfortable with the less glamorous side of birth, I wouldn’t read on (no photos – we were too in the zone to take many)! My hope is that getting my story as detailed and realistic as possible will help others who may be in my or my husband’s shoes one day get a better picture of what labor can be like and give them some ideas on how to manage the pain.
Before I got pregnant, I had briefly considered epidural vs. natural labor and hadn’t made up my mind. However, once I did the research, I decided that I wanted to give natural labor a try and I signed us up for the Bradley Method birth classes, which consisted of 8 weeks of 3 hour classes, covering pregnancy (how the body works, how to ease discomforts, exercises to help prepare for labor and the nutrition side as well), the three stages of childbirth, interventions, and even a breastfeeding and infant care crash course. Bradley Method’s philosophy is hard to summarize but the basic principles is that is is “husband coached child birth” using relaxation techniques to manage pain. Mike’s engagement in the class and readings was just as important as my own and I was pleased at how interested he was in the entire process. Because of this and knowing myself, I opted not to hire a doula – I knew that Mike would be the best partner and advocate for me during labor.
During every class we would discuss pain management techniques, often practicing a relaxation technique during class, and would watch a birth video. By the end of the 8 weeks, both Mike and I were dead set on a natural delivery and believed that I could do it. We both felt confident and prepared and were not fearful of what was to come.
When I visualized Siena’s birth, I usually visualized the typical labor which begins with mild contractions that progress into intense contractions over the course of several hours, ending with a short but extremely intense transition phase before about an hour or so of pushing. The whole thing takes about 14 hours and the hard labor happens for about half that time or less. Mike and I actually kept referring to it as an Ironman since it took me 13.5 hours to do the Ironman, and the progression is similar – the swim is exciting, the bike is long and hard work but manageable and the run is a serious mental and physical battle before the exciting finish.
However confident I was, the small fear that crept into the back of my mind leading up to the birth was that I would be what Bradley calls a “putterer” and have a very long labor. Our Bradley birth teacher said that one of the times an epidural would be needed is if mom was in labor for so long that she was too physically exhausted to push and would need to rest, therefore requiring the epidural to sleep before she could begin to push. My mom had a long labor with me, so I knew this could be a possibility but kept envisioning my perfect birth day instead.
My due date was September 25th and I had absolutely zero signs of labor until the evening of the 24th, when I began to have mild menstrual-like cramps in the evening that eventually went away. Over the course of the next week they’d reappear and I also began to have braxton hicks contractions (tightening but not painful). That next Wednesday, October 1st, I had enough cramping and contractions to begin timing them, but I was disappointed when they went away after 5 hours.
On Thursday morning I noticed the beginning of my mucus plug coming out in the shower and throughout the day I had more of it come out. I had painless Braxton Hicks contractions throughout the day but with no cramping. At the ultrasound I had on Thursday the doctor said that the baby was super low and that she could tell that I was very effaced (I didn’t have any cervical checks leading up to birth) so I was hopeful she was coming soon. Thursday is when I wrote my last Bumpdate, set to be published Friday morning after I took the 41 week photo.
That night at 11 pm, shortly after I got into bed, the menstrual like cramps and tightening started to pick up and they seemed to have a pattern so I started timing (using the Full Term app). My first timed contraction was 11:04 PM and the next happened 6 minutes 38 seconds later. The contractions continued, at about an interval of 7-9 minutes apart. I didn’t want to get too excited but I told Mike about it. We both chatted as I timed until midnight and then decided to stop timing at midnight since we were wasting energy. I laid there in the darkness, trying to relax. One big thing we learned in Bradley Method is that if early labor starts at night, you want to get as much rest and sleep as possible to prepare for what is to come. I tried to sleep and did some relaxation techniques to stop my racing mind.
After some time of tossing and turning and coming in and out of sleep, around 2 or 3 a.m. both Mike and I ended up getting up so I could eat a bowl of cereal because I was starving. I noticed when I went to the bathroom while I was up that I had even more blood and started to get very confident that labor had started. However, I also wondered if it was just more of the prodromal labor (false labor) that I’d had throughout the week and that it might just go away. I had read a few birth stories of women having prodromal labor for up to a week before the real deal began. After a while, Mike and I decided we had to try to sleep either way to conserve energy, and went back to bed.
I slept between contractions as much as I could and at some point they must have been mild enough to let me sleep for a few solid chunks. I started timing again at 5:30 AM and Mike and I got up to drink coffee. We were both so tired and the contractions were now 12-15 minutes apart so we both decided it was time to go back to bed to conserve energy. We still didn’t even know if I was in labor or not, but either way, sleep was key. I slept another hour and got out of bed around 8 a.m. and started timing again, but only for a few contractions as they were between 9-12 minutes apart. Mike kept encouraging me NOT to time, because it was getting in my head.
At this point, I emailed our Bradley Method teacher with subject line “putterer or prodromal labor!?” and explained what had been happening. She wrote back and told me that her most recent labor started VERY similarly and it sounded like I was in fact in labor. She also said that she had a very long early labor phase and then a VERY fast hard labor and she hoped I would too. I got excited when I read her response and was hopeful that Siena would be born that day.
Mike called in to his boss and told him he was staying home. We took the last 41 week bumpdate photo (I had a contraction during it and Mike snapped a photo as I closed my eyes through it). We ate breakfast, drank coffee and then went for about a 45 minute walk, hoping that walking would speed things up. I could still walk and talk through contractions but they were definitely coming in a pattern, although not seeming to get much closer together. By 11 a.m. I was timing again, and they were coming anywhere from 5 to 9 minutes apart. However, they were getting longer and stronger, but were still mostly concentrated in my lower abdomen. I was starting to get frustrated but since they were getting stronger and longer, I thought I was probably still making progress. Around noon we headed to Which Wich for lunch and I continued timing while we ate. At this point, the contractions were starting to get more painful and distracting. During one contraction I stopped eating my sandwich but kept staring at it and Mike joked that he could see it in my eyes that I was contemplating whether or not I should take a bite while contracting (I didn’t). As was in our plan, I would continue to eat and do anything to distract myself that I could during early labor.
By early afternoon, contractions were coming closer together, sometimes as close as 2 minutes apart but no longer than 6 minutes. I made pumpkin bread for the nurses, cleaned the house, ate snacks and tried to distract myself through them. I called my Dad who had an 8 hour drive and told him what was happening but that I likely wouldn’t have the baby til after visiting hours that night so he and my Step Mom made a plan to leave Saturday morning and likely arrive after she was born. I was now stopping to focus through the contractions and there were definitely getting more painful, but still manageable.
Mike and I went on another walk in the afternoon and he said something along the lines of Siena possibly making her debut around noon the next day and I told him that he was NOT encouraging me by telling me I wouldn’t have her til then (little did I know it would actually be past 7 PM the next day!). At that point, I felt like I had already put in a lot of work and he already had one mostly sleepless night and he was discounting it. After the walk I got a cold towel and put some relaxing essential oil on it and did a 20 minute relaxation (I had several guided labor relaxations saved on YouTube) to help ease my mind. I had been very active all day and I thought that relaxing might help move things along. It didn’t really do much physically but mentally I think it was a boost.
And on it went – the contractions would slow at times (usually when I was sitting or lying) and then pick up again when I did something active, like climbing the stairs. It was frustrating and by dinner time I was wondering if I’d ever have this baby at all. I was surprised when I had to eat yet another meal while in labor and we picked up pizza and ate it in the backyard. Now I definitely could not eat during a contraction – I was working harder and had to focus and relax through them.
After dinner, I decided I was set on getting this labor started. Clearly, it was not going to go away and I didn’t want to be up all night! We went on a short walk and I was pleased that I had to stop to breathe through contractions and had no desire to go very far from home. Bradley encourages you to stay at home as long as possible before heading to the hospital in order to avoid the temptation of interventions. We were told to stay at home for several hours after “hard work” began. I felt like hard work was finally starting.
When we got home, I started climbing the stairs 2 by 2. This was really getting my contractions going and I was having them anywhere from 2-4 minutes apart, but lasting only about 30-45 seconds. They were, however, much more painful and I would have to brace myself or bend over the birthing ball to get through each one. I’d often find myself on all fours or leaning over the couch or stairs supporting my body with my upper body as much as possible. I tried to relax my belly as much as possible during each contraction, as I had learned, although my immediate reaction was to clench. I also started to get a little more vocal through them, letting out a low moan. The pain was mostly concentrated in my abdomen but now in my lower back as well (if pain is mostly in the back, the baby is likely facing the wrong direction – I had been told at my ultrasound on Thursday that was facing the right way so I felt good about that).
After the stairs, I started to bounce on the birthing ball. I suggested we rent a movie but after a few contractions while trying to select one, we decided we’d never finish it so we didn’t want to waste our money. We picked a movie on Netflix that we’d both never seen, but after one contraction I wasn’t paying attention anymore so we switched to old How I Met Your Mother reruns and I think we got through 2 episodes, bracing myself on the birth ball or on hands and knees to get through each one before Mike suggested I take a bath.
I lit some candles and started playing my labor play list (made up of slow songs I like) and got in the tub. I stayed in there for about an hour, working through contractions that were coming less frequently than 1 per song. I was trying not to get discouraged. The contractions were painful and now had moved into my inner thighs as well as my stomach and back, but now that I wasn’t lunging up the stairs, they weren’t very close together. At the end of the bath I spent another 15 minutes or so standing in the shower bracing myself as the water hit my lower back. I’d alternate between cold and hot and both felt soothing but nothing could take the pain away.
I got out of the shower after an hour total and Mike suggested we lay down for a bit. We let the music play and Mike massaged my back and comforted me through the contractions. I had started really getting vocal and wondered if the neighbors could hear my moans. I could no longer time the contractions myself – they were getting too intense and there was literally nothing I could do during them except try to take deep breaths to get through the pain. Mike could now tell when I was having one and was timing for me. From 11:15 – 4 AM he comforted me and timed the contractions as I labored, mostly in the bedroom, sometimes lying on my side, but often on all fours or bent over the bed, bracing myself on my forearms. Another position I liked was putting the birth ball on the bed and draping my upper body over it. The contractions seemed to be all over the place, moving from 4 minutes apart to 6 minutes to 7, back down to 3, then back up to 8 and even 10 minutes apart at some points. At times, I’d get two super close together, one starting within 20 seconds of the other stopping. There didn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to them and it was confusing and frustrating.
The pain was getting much worse and I was moving in and out of being hot and cold, but the contractions were not consistent. I’d discussed with my doctor waiting until the contractions were 2 minutes apart for an hour before going to the hospital (it’s only 10 minutes away) so that we would be laboring at the hospital for as little time as possible. However, I didn’t see how I could be in so much pain now and not be getting closer and consistent. I’d been working hard for several hours now (just as Bradley Method says you should) and yet didn’t feel like I was making any progress.
At one point I broke down and started to cry, telling Mike that I was in so much pain but didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere. I was scared that labor was going to last for days. I also got the shakes – a possible sign of transition (but later I learned also just a reaction from the hormones). I also said something about not knowing how much longer I could go on, another sign of transition. I started wondering if I was getting close and was starting to worry about the neighborhood garage sale that was happening at 7 a.m. I didn’t feel comfortable being in labor in our house, moaning loudly while my entire neighborhood was outside our door, or worse, leaving for the hospital during it. In retrospect I should have known I had plenty of time left since you lose all modesty as you approach transition.
After another hour or so I was convinced that I needed to get to the hospital but Mike told me to stick to our plan of waiting for contractions to be 2-3 minutes apart. I was absolutely exhausted, physically from the lack of sleep and the intensity of the contractions, and mentally from pushing my mind to work through them. As we were debating (and I was crying), he noticed that my arm was imprinted by the sheets and he told me I needed to drink more water. Mike had been eagerly filling my water cup for me all night but I clearly needed to drink more. He told me if I drank 2 full glasses of water, then we could go to the hospital. Through tears, I nodded and chugged the water and told him it was time to go. Mike packed the car and I moaned my way through a few more contractions. At exactly 6 a.m., 31 hours after my first contraction and after 9 or so hours of hard working contractions, we pulled out of the driveway and onto the dark street, headed for the hospital. I immediately had another contraction.
To be continued!