Natural Hospital Birth - how I caught my own baby
I finally decided to post my birth story because I want to share my incredibly empowering experience. It's a long but good one.
I woke up in a puddle around 2am and quickly realized that my water had broken after a couple more gushes. Knowing that this puts me on the clock for going to the hospital and that labor could begin shortly, I sprung into action. I reviewed the rupture of membranes section in all my reference guides to confirm next steps. Initially, I considered not waking my husband and just going back to bed, but then decided that I better give him as much warning as I have about baby's impending arrival. While I finished packing our hospital bags, my husband made me my favorite noodle soup. Our goal was to get food in me and get me back to bed to rest as much as possible.
Contractions started within the next hour, but they weren't how I expected them to feel so I was initially hesitant to say that I was even having contractions. However, judging by the fact that I was pausing between bites to drop into my breathing and hypnobirthing strategies by the middle of my second bowl of soup, my husband said, "you're having contractions." Those early ones truly felt like waves of intensity washing over me (as opposed to pain) and I intuitively understood why some refer to them as surges. I could feel my heart rate rising along with a rush of what I thought was endorphins (that my doula later told me was oxytocin), and then the sensations would fade. I also understood how some people could experience these surges as orgasmic. It's like having a "chemical" orgasm, similar rush, without the obvious sensations of pleasure where you'd usual expect it. I experienced no obvious tightening in my belly or back, although in the days prior, my belly felt hard nearly all the time.
So I got back into bed around 4am and worked my hyponobirthing techniques with my husband by my side, and was able to nod off between contractions which kept pace at about 10 minutes apart and decreasing. Around 9am our doula arrived and I continued to labor in bed till about 11 or noon, just relaxing and surrendering to each contraction as they steadily built in frequency and intensity. By this point, my contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart, with a distinct beginning and (less distinct) end. Now the surges were clearly accompanied by cramping and pulling sensations in my cervix, and more effort was required to get myself to completely relax and allow the contractions to simply take over. During this phase, I labored mostly on my knees, hanging off of my banister or my husband when the contraction began, then transitioning on to hands and knees with my back arched (cow pose), and eventually child's pose (on all 4s with head toward the ground and butt up in the air) by the end of each contraction. Mentally, I stayed focused on my breathing, paired with imagery of a flower (in the Georgia O'Keefe style) opening as I imagined my cervix opening for my baby, and completely letting go so that my bottom can stay loose. I did a couple of contractions in a hanging squat position, and boy were those intense! It created immense downward pressure, which made me feel like I had to have a bowl movement. Although my doula reassured that those contractions are the most productive, I did not voluntarily get back into that position.
By about 3pm, we began to get ready to head out to the hospital. Before we left, my doula said to me, "now, when we get to the hospital, you need to make a bit more noise than you are making now, or else they won't take you seriously." We expected labor to slow down some once I got out into the world, but they kept up at about 4 minutes apart, and I was feeling every tiny bump in the road for the otherwise uneventful 30 minute ride.
Once checked into the hospital, I was monitored for about 30 minutes. It was surprisingly reassuring and validating to find out that baby's heart beat was strong and steady and my contractions were actually stacking on top of each other at times without much break in between. This gave me a boost of confidence and made me feel like I can definitely handle more. Because everything looked good, I was allowed to labor unencumbered; they even let me refuse an IV.
Once we were settled into our room, I got into the tub and that was amazing; it really took the edge off. When the doctor finally came to see me, at first sight she said, "well, I think we're still in the early stages," which was discouraging, but my doula reassured me that the doctor only said that because I looked so calm. I must not have been making enough noise. They got me out of the tub not too long after that for the doctor to do a cervical exam and she was very surprised to find me at 7-8 cm dilated. I was allowed to go back into the tub, and by this point my contractions were all consuming as convulsions rolled through my middle and my uterus moved the baby down, creating more and more pressure below. I heard low primal sounds escape me from deep within as each of these powerful surges peaked, and I steadied myself on a mantra of "down baby down" in between. I was extremely grateful for the constant support of my husband, doula, and nurse, as they took turns telling me, "you're doing great" and "you got this" and I felt more confident each time I repeated their affirmation back to myself, "I got this!" (My husband later told me that at one point when the doula said "you're just doing amazing. I'm going to get you one of my t-shirts that say B.A.B.E. for bad ass birthing extraordinaire" I apparently unabashedly answered with, "I'm a bad ass!" And this of course, was one of his favorite parts of my labor.)
I did not last in the tub for very long the second time before I was helped back out. Someone did another cervical exam and determined that I was fully dilated and baby was ready to make her entrance. At this point, many providers were introduced into the room as the doctor was occupied with another patient. To my surprised, I cared very little who wanted to attend to the delivery as I felt certain that I would be able to bring my child into this world. Fortunately, I was allowed to birth however I pleased, and instinct brought me to my knees, hanging off of the raised back of the bed, and transitioning to child's pose as I began to push (much like how I labored for most of the day). It felt good to finally be able to bear down and feel the baby move under my control. After 3 or 4 pushes, feeling baby's head spread me open, I heard myself say, "I want this baby out now." Up to that point, I was fully accepting of however much time baby wanted to take to come into this world. Then with a couple more deep breaths, I felt the baby's head emerge, and at the same time, I felt what I knew was a tear. I heard someone say, "one more push for the shoulders" and when I did, I felt great relief. At this point I was still on my knees and someone said, "reach down mama" and when I did, I felt what I thought was an arm and a leg, and in the next instant, baby was all the way out, in my arms, and on my chest. She was bloody and beautiful, gave a couple of loud cries and was instantly calm, alert, and looking up at me. I heard my own and my husband's voice echo a series of elated "oh my god" "oh my god" "oh my god" as we worshiped the presence of this brand new tiny human being between us.
As I basked in my greatest accomplishment, I heard someone ask whether the cord is still pulsing and saw my husband check and confirm that it was. My care team calmly asked me to turn around and lie down, and I was surprised to find myself knee deep in a pool of blood. I got on my back, and the doctor helped ease my placenta out with the next contraction, which I barely registered. Someone pressed on my belly several times, which was quite painful, and I was told that my uterus was not clamping down to stop the bleeding as expected, and I consented to a shot of pitocin. The doctor then began sewing up the first degree tear in my labia. While I did not feel the first of the stitches after the shots of lidocaine, I certainly felt the second one. My doula instructed me to stay focused on the baby, which helped tremendously, as she remained undisturbed the whole time on my chest, though someone did manage to wipe away some blood from the baby without me even noticing it.
Afterwards, many of the staff told me what a great job I did and I figured that they say that to every new mom. Later, our primary nurse returned to tell us what a privilege it was to have gotten to attend our birth as it was one of those rare births that brought tears to her eyes.
In the end, I could not have been more satisfied with my hospital birth. We are extraordinarily grateful for the hospital team, who were extremely respectful and supportive of our birth preferences, and provided critical interventions when I needed them. While I often default to talking about being "lucky" my husband likes to remind me of all the good work I/we put in to optimizing our chances of having an unmedicated birth. My yoga practice and the labor for yoga strategies provided a solid foundation on which we were able to use our hypnobirthing techniques. Within the context of our loving relationship, my husband's constant support helped us optimize each oxytocine surge to progress labor and strengthen our bond. Although I was in labor for 19 hours, the time did not seem interminable to me as I was able to simply stay in the moment with just one contraction at a time. I feel so grateful that I was able to be fully present for every moment of this life changing experience.