It is my two-year doula-versary! Just two years ago I got to attend my very first birth as a doula, and I got to share in the welcome of a special little girl. This is her story:
Claire’s due date had come and gone. Long ago it seemed. Every day after October 16th I would start each day and each night wondering, “could this be the one?” But they would continue to pass just as the one before. After just a couple turns of the clock like this, my hope became stained with anxiety. I knew that many first time moms went past their due dates, and I knew that those dates are educated guesses at best, but still I started to worry. I had stopped going into work that Friday before and felt that I needed the baby to justify to them why I was no longer sitting at my desk typing emails from nine to five. I started to think that how each day off work without that baby was a day that I wouldn’t have her all to myself at the end of my leave. I also worried about that fourteen day mark that was ever growing nearer. What if I had to give birth at a hospital? There were so many unknowns to that scenario that I wasn’t ready for, things I never wanted to have to prepare for or think about.
I had been having Braxton hicks contractions for a couple of weeks already, which feel like a simple tightening of the abdomen (as if it wasn’t tight enough already!), and these quick and rather sharp cervical pains that I learned were likely the start of effacement. As with so many other things during the course of pregnancy, these feelings became the new normal after the first week or so of experiencing them. It was wonderful and reassuring to know that my body was gearing up for the big day and I enjoyed feeling each practice uterine contraction, each cervical pang, and each leg stretch from the little baby inside me, despite the worries and anxieties that I just couldn’t seem to squash. One way or another, we were going to meet this little girl soon!
Monday October 21st was the best day since my due date had passed. I went to see my midwife for a checkup and she really set my mind straight again. She reminded me with perfect conviction that it was completely normal to be late and that there was nothing to worry about. She checked me inside and out and was impressed with my general health, the baby’s health, and my body’s progress thus far in getting ready for labor. She seemed sure that we would have this baby before the week’s end. I let her know my fears of having to go to the hospital and she reminded me that if we did make it to that point after trying all of their tricks to stimulate labor for all of those days, I would be ready for that option. A midwife would go with me to the hospital to navigate the protocols and be my liaison to help me get the best birth possible. She gave me some ideas for getting things going and sent me on my way. I felt a million times better after that. I went home relaxed, happy, and willing to wait it out until Claire was ready to greet the world. Trying every trick in the book that I learned from the midwife, the grapevine, and Google anyway, just in case. I had to feel like I was doing something to encourage this show to get on the road. If it was baking spicy gingerbread cookies and watching a weepy movie that just happened to be the ticket, then I would leave no stone unturned!
The contractions I was feeling were starting to get more noticeable and more frequent by midweek. Days passed like this, but still there was no rhythm to them and they weren’t strong enough to take much of my attention. I would announce them to my husband and mom (at their request), but even that got old after a while. ‘Yup, guess what? I am having another contraction. Big Whoop.’ Some of them came with a new dull ache that felt like period cramps, and a couple of them I felt in my back. Then, on the evening of Thursday October 24th while sitting on the couch with my mom, I felt like the contractions had started to take on a rhythm and got a little “spicier”. I downloaded an app (which was a great idea!) and started timing them. They would ramp up relatively slow, keep a little plateau of feeling at the top, and then so very slowly ramp down until all I could feel was the tightness in my uterus but no sensation other than that. For a few hours they were about 30 seconds long for anywhere between 8 and 15 minutes apart. Now THIS really could be the night!
I decided to go to bed since it was now about 11pm or so and I had been taught to get sleep if I could just in case it was the last chance I had. A couple of contractions woke me up while I was sleeping, but it wasn’t until 3am that I realized I had been having contractions for the last hour that I could no longer sleep through. The sensation of them was getting stronger now! Excited, I hopped out of bed and told my mom that I was having regular contractions that seemed to be about 6 minutes apart. She hadn’t slept a wink yet, probably as excited as I was trying not to be about all of this activity. I timed a few more contractions while sitting on a birthing ball in the living room, my excitement growing as they came almost on cue and showed no signs of relenting. They were now only a few minutes apart, but became irregular between 2 and 5 minutes apart. I counted them as lasting between 30 seconds and a minute. There was no doubt about it now, this was definitely going to happen today. I decided to take a shower and gather some last minute things for the birthing center.
At 4:30am I called the midwife and our Doula, Jamie, to let them know what was happening. The midwife that called us back let me know that I was in the earliest stages of labor still and that if I could make calls and answer questions, then it was still too early to go anywhere. She must have been right, because I found myself talking to her through a contraction or two while I had her on the phone. The sensation was bordering on pain now, but it was still very manageable. She let me know that I was looking for the contraction to take all of my attention for a full minute, and be 4 minutes apart for an hour. I hung up the phone and woke my husband. It may not have been time to go anywhere just yet, but it would surely be soon and it was time for all hands on deck.
Jamie showed up about an hour later, at 5:30am. We weren’t sure until the week of my due date if we wanted a doula for our birth. When she came in the door, I was immediately happy that we had decided to get one in the end. I filled her in on the progress of the morning and she got to work; never leaving my side. Already, the contractions were getting stronger. We sat on the couch together, me switching between sitting up and laying down, and rode those waves that were coming now every 3-6 minutes and lasting 30 seconds to a minute. She helped me visualize the sensation as riding up a steep hill on a bicycle. Seeing the top coming closer and pushing through the discomfort of the effort, and then finally making it to the top and coasting down the other side, relieved and accomplished. This worked well at this stage, and I crested hill after hill knowing that the release was always soon to follow. At some point during this time, I started to vocalize each contraction. I had learned from birthing classes, prenatal yoga, and reading Ina May books that this can be a very useful tool. Using an “O” sound with your mouth can literally help to open you up down below. Using a deep voice rather than a high pitched one is said to help too, as well as keeping your face relaxed. I also concentrated on keeping my breath slow and deep, which the vocalizing helped with a great deal. I started using these tools almost automatically once the contractions became intense enough to need something additional to focus on. It was as if my voice was matching the power of the sensation in my back and lower uterus. Like an answer to a challenge; my power to its power. This method worked really well for me and I stuck to it for the remainder of the labor.
Most of the pain was in my lower back and hips, so I tried to do a lot of rocking on my knees or on all fours when I could manage it in case it was because Claire was faced the wrong way in my pelvis. But my body was tired already, so it was difficult to prop myself up on my arms for too long. I had taken to closing my eyes, going inside myself and taking each contraction at a time, resting as much as possible in between. Jamie was behind me for every one, pressing in on my back and hips – this was also something that I needed for each and every contraction until the end. It became necessary to have that counter pressure on my pelvis to get through them.
At 9am we called the birthing center again. The midwife had been right; at this point there was no way I was going to talk on the phone and I hoped no one expected me to be able to answer any questions. I needed to not be distracted by the outside world any longer. The contractions were now lasting a full minute and were coming every 4 minutes or less and had been doing that for right around an hour. I could feel the sensation of each contraction radiate through every part of my body now, though they were certainly concentrated around the middle of me. I think we were all anxious to move into the room where we would have this baby. They cleared us to come in and Paul and my mom went into a flurry of activity gathering food and drinks, the overnight bags, and stuffing everything in the car. We took two cars there, Paul took ours with the car seat in the back and my mom took her little rental with barely enough room for me to lay in Jamie’s lap in the back. By now I was in it! My eyes remained closed as I breathed through each contraction and in anticipation of the next. It was too hot, too bright, and I could not get into a good position. Even though I wasn’t looking, I knew the route so well that I could tell exactly where we were at each moment, each turn of the journey to South Austin. It felt like an eternity and I wanted so badly to get out of the car.
Once at the birthing center (about 9:30am), my family quickly unpacked and Paul’s parents showed up. The midwife checked my cervix and announced that I was only 1 ½ cm dilated. No it couldn’t be!!!! I was heartbroken at this news and wondered just how long this day was going to last. The midwife could also tell that I was exhausted from only sleeping a couple of hours the night before. It was tough decision time. She let me know that in order to avoid me wearing out before enough progress was made and us having to transport to the hospital, she could give me a mild pain med that would hopefully relax me enough to take a nap. And either way, we were going to have to return home to labor until I was 4-5 centimeters dilated. The last thing I wanted to do was leave there! Returning home felt like backwards progress and I didn’t know if I wanted to try and handle TWO more car rides. One was hard enough to take. The fact that I even was expected to make such an important decision in my state was surreal in itself. Maybe if I just laid there with my eyes closed and retreated back inside myself, she would go away and we could continue with the rhythm of the contractions. But I knew she was right, even though I asked her two or three times just to let us please stay. It was true that I was exhausted from laboring thus far, and I could hardly keep my eyes open to listen to her options for us. That, and since we had landed at the birthing center, the contractions had faded a bit (though I was only told this, I didn’t notice a change myself). I decided to take the mild pain med to see if I could sleep. I wasn’t happy about having to make that decision, but it was what would save us from having to go to the hospital, and somehow that was my greatest fear of the day.
Paul’s mom, Janie, had the marvelously amazing idea of us going back to their house to labor, since it was on the same side of town and so much closer. Somehow I was stood up, put my shoes back on, and tried to hide as much of myself in my hoodie as I could as we ambled back out into the bright, hot world and into the cramped little car for another impossible car ride. At their apartment, it was now about 11am. I laid down on the guest bed and tried to feel sleep coming on or those pain meds that I had just been shot with. The problem was that though I did feel drowsy for a short time and I did get a few longer breaks between contractions which probably only amounted to a few extra seconds each, I never got this “nap” everyone was hoping for. Not even close. In fact, we only stayed at the house for a couple of hours. I would lay on my side and relax as much as possible, breathing deeply, until a contraction would send me shooting up on all fours to rock it out (still thinking maybe Claire was turned the wrong way and I wasn’t taking any chances either way.) Things really picked up at about 12:30pm and I no longer felt much of a break between contractions. My voice became louder and louder in response to the ever increasing waves of sensation that shook my body. It was apparent that this labor was moving ahead whether we were ready or not, especially when a few of the last contractions gave me the urge to push! Jamie and my mom could hear it in my voice. I didn’t even have the luxury of being tired any more, and it soon became clear that we needed to call the birthing center and get the ok to make our way back.
We arrived back in the room at 1:30pm. Upon being checked, the midwife announced that I was 7-8 cm dilated now. Oh my GOD that was good news to hear. We had made so much progress! Granted, I had absolutely no concept of time throughout the whole day and I did not know how long we labored at Paul’s parents or what time it was at that point. Godzilla could have trampled all of downtown Austin that morning and I wouldn’t have known nor cared, as long as it didn’t get in the way of my immediate world of careful laboring. All I knew was that somehow I had opened up and we were getting so very close to meeting this baby of ours. It didn’t really occur to me at the time that the centimeter reading meant that I was in the middle of transition and had been for the car ride over. All I knew was that I could handle this. I was handling this. I was so close. What was 2 more centimeters? The bath was run and I quickly stripped the rest of my clothes off and gingerly got in to kneel down on a towel. The water felt warm but didn’t provide the relief I always hoped it would. At this point, there was only a few breaths between each long contraction, which I met with a now furious roar that came out with each long exhale and had me almost gasping for breath in between. I couldn’t believe the strength of the noises coming from my mouth. It made me feel powerful. It gave me a sense of awe for the power of my body; a respect for what it could do all on its own. I knew with each contraction that it would rise but then it would fall. I would get a few precious seconds of relief to recover and ready myself for the next one. It was the most intense physical pain I had ever sustained willingly and consciously, but I was never fearful of it. Especially since I knew we were so close. Jamie was in the tub with me, standing and pressing on my back. I would direct her hands to the right spot if she was off a little. Paul got in front of me on the counter and I found both his hands and clutched them desperately through the contractions. I wanted him to feel the intensity of what I was going through. My eyes remained shut and it was harder to keep my face relaxed, though the open mouth roaring really helped me relax as much as I could manage. Some of the contractions made my head rise up and my back arch in response. I felt the strength of my arms and my legs holding on for dear life. The last ones gave me that urge to push again and I could hear waves of agreement around the room when they heard it in my still rising voice. They told me to try and shorten my breaths, which I tried but had no idea if I was doing what they meant and if it was making a difference.
In 20 minutes I was checked again. I was fully dilated with just a little lip left to go! I was almost there! The midwife announced that I would have to move to the bed to push since I had progressed so quickly. They needed to be able to get a better view of what was happening and to make sure that I wouldn’t tear. I wasn’t happy about this; I think I had imagined having this baby in the tub, with my husband in it with me. But they knew best. I did the next couple of contractions with the midwife’s hand inside me to lift the last lip around the baby’s head. Then, it was time!! Moving out of the tub proved difficult, and I had to stop twice to let a contraction pass - once with one leg in the tub and one leg out, and once standing in front of the bed before I was able to get on. I felt like any major movement at this point brought on another contraction. It made me hesitate to move much unless I had to. I could also feel the baby low in my pelvis, and the widening pressure of her head bones squashed between my hip bones also made it difficult to move too much. The last thing I wanted to do with my legs was close them to perform actions such as walking or crawling on the bed. It wasn’t a painful feeling, just awkward and I didn’t want to run the risk of squeezing her little head any more than I was already or pushing her back up into the uterus.
I was back on the bed and ready to push at 2pm. I tried hands and knees, on my knees with Paul in front of me so I could hang on his neck (and scream in his ears which were surely ringing by now), and on my back but cocked to one side with one leg up. On my knees with my arms wrapped around my husband was the best feeling in the world at that moment. Knowing that he was right there, taking my weight and my screams and experiencing everything through me was an amazing bonding experience for both of us. Feeling the strength of his body gave me strength. I could actually hear people around us agree that it was a beautiful sight to see, as I buried my head in his neck during my recoveries. For over an hour I pushed; only getting 3-4 exhales of pushing before needing to recover for what seemed like 10 breaths. It was such exhausting work! Much tougher than any of the contractions before. Each time my long recovery started, I breathed deep and slow, knowing that I would have to give it even more the next time…and I was so tired. During this time more people came into the room. A new midwife instructed me to stop letting out so much of my energy through my mouth now. I would have to bear down instead, and send all of the energy to the bottom. I tried this and it worked beautifully. I gritted my teeth and grunted, visualizing my energy moving downward rather than upward, which is where it had been going for the last however many hours it had been.
The extra people in the room were there for a reason. I knew that something was up and that the midwives and assistants were not alarmed, but they were on high alert. They didn’t let me know what it was, and I started having inklings of worry toward having to go to the hospital again. I felt like I had been pushing for so long – hours – what if I didn’t have the energy to get her out? An oxygen mask was put on over my face and I heard something about the baby’s heart rate. Turns out it had dropped a few times and they were just monitoring it extra carefully in case it turned into a situation worth acting on. Still I pushed. I pushed and I pushed, recovering deep and long and slow in between. I could feel the stretch and tightness of her moving down inside me, and I was hoping for someone to call out, “the head!” but I heard no such thing yet. Push Push Push! Loooong Recovery. Push Push Push! Loooong Recovery. I had been moved from my back to my knees and again to my back. Paul was behind me and I was gripping his hands; Jamie had my left leg in her arms to hold it up. I was instructed to curl my body inward rather than arch my back while pushing. I dutifully did so. I had a room full of cheerleaders all around me encouraging me on. “That was a great push, let’s give it one more!” “Yes, like that, keep on pushing!”.
Finally, someone saw the head. It was full of dark hair! I could see it in my mind. I gave it a couple more rounds of pushing and felt the stretching sting of her head make it through. So many hands were on me, protecting me and the baby. She had come down in the right position. I paused to let them check things and then pushed on command. For the last time I pushed. Immediately out gushed the rest of her body, so fast that it surprised everyone. It felt so small and slippery compared to that head. They lifted her up and set her on my chest, all warm and slippery and bloodied. I could feel the warm tug of the cord that still connected us between my legs. She cried and I was in complete shock, my eyes now wide open. A million emotions flitted through me as I held onto my daughter for the very first time. I looked up at Paul, who was crying and looking on at her. The midwives covered us with a blanket, put a little hat on her, and got busy cleaning me up (there was a lot of blood, but I had been prepared for that so I didn’t mind.) The energy in the room was so incredible. Cameras came out, and everyone was buzzing with wonder, relief, and happiness. I kept looking from her to Paul and back to her. Our new family.
All in all it seems that I was in labor a total of 13 hours, (starting from the contractions that kept me awake at 2am), with active labor only lasting a short 3 hours. I did tear a little bit when her body came out so fast, but it was an internal tear and it just took a few stiches. I didn’t even feel it when it happened, and they numbed me to stitch it up.
Claire Rosalia Garcia weighed in at 6 lbs and 10 ounces, was 19 inches long, and extremely healthy and happy. She didn’t cry much, and almost immediately took to the most important task of eating. She took to my breast right away (with some help from the experienced ladies in the room) and fed for over an hour, which is always a good sign. I couldn’t have been happier with how everything went. Already I started to recount the events of the day, in awe of my very own birth experience. It was an incredible, intense, epic journey that I couldn’t believe I had just accomplished. All of those hours of reading, yoga’ing, studying, and prepping really paid off and helped to empower and comfort me. Knowing that each contraction, each sensation, and each hour every step of the way was all part of the process. All natural, normal, necessary, and most importantly, perfectly surmountable pieces to getting my beautiful baby girl out and into the world.