I will admit to being a bit of an over-planner at times. So as soon as I became pregnant I started thinking- "how can I have as pain-free and peaceful a birth as possible?" My boss where I worked at the time told me how his wife had used a hypnobirthing program for what ended up being a very difficult birth and how much it had helped her to stay calm and focused. I thought it was worth a try, being a great believer in the power of the mind over the body. I also believed my body would instinctively know what to do in labor, if I could just turn off my brain and not overanalyze what I was experiencing.
As soon as I made it through the first trimester I ordered a hypnobirthing program called Hypnobabies" and started practicing. The program consisted of a book and CDs to listen to that could be started any time before the seventh month of pregnancy, but I couldn't imagine waiting that long! That seemed like cramming before a test to me and birth felt like the biggest test I was ever going to take- I figured I needed all the studying I could get. I listened to my CDs at work while doing data entry, at night before bed, in the car, and just about everywhere. They worked almost too well- they were so relaxing I would usually fall asleep listening to them (not while driving though!) and then wake up just as the soothing voice was saying to open my eyes. Supposedly it didn't matter if I fell asleep, my mind would still be absorbing the instructions for how my body would create self-anesthesia and go to a "special place" of total relaxation. I did other things to prepare for the birth too- I read stories about natural births, I did art exercises from Pam England's book, "Birthing from Within", and of course I saw my wonderful midwives, Pam and Suzanne, with greater frequency as my due date grew near.
I finally felt ready, or as ready as I thought I could be for something so totally unknown. My first real contractions started on a Thursday night about three days after my due date. My husband Joe and I were watching a movie and I felt a tightening of my uterus- this felt much stronger than the Braxton-Hicks contractions I had been feeling for the past couple weeks. The contractions were about 15 minutes apart and I called my midwives to let them know what was going on. I was pretty excited, but I knew it could be quite a while before the labor really got going (I didn't know just how long it would really be!) and that I should try to rest. I slept a little that night but every time I would lie down the contractions would get stronger and my lower back was hurting too. Joe had rigged up a hammock inside for me and I remember lying in it with lots of pillows and a hot water bottle behind my back, listening to my Hypnobirthing CDs and trying to totally relax with each contraction.
For the next two days the contractions were intermittent but increasing in frequency and intensity. By Sunday morning I had to use all my focus and hypnobirthing techniques to get through them. I had been keeping my midwives updated via phone on my progress and now I decided I was ready for them to come and check me out in person to see how far along I was. Based on the intensity and frequency of the contractions as well as the length of time I had been in labor I figured I must be at least 4 cm dilated. When my midwife Suzanne examined me and told me I was totally effaced and 2 cm dilated, I thought I might cry- two days of labor and 2 cm dilated! At this rate I calculated that it would take me about a week to have this baby- I knew I couldn't go on like this for another couple days. I would be totally exhausted by the final stage of labor when I needed all my strength for pushing the baby out. And to add to my disappointment, as soon as I called the midwives, my contractions slowed down from every 5 minutes to every 10 or 15 minutes.
This was, for me, the hardest part of the whole birth. When Pam and Suzanne told me I was in early labor I had to readjust my idea of what this labor was going to be like. So this was only the beginning? I was starting to understand why someone would want to have their labor induced- it was such a mind game- all this waiting and not knowing how long it was going to take. Our midwives suggested that Joe and I stop watching the clock and timing contractions and go on a vigorous hike up Blue Hill mountain instead. I thought they must be out of their mind, how could I go on a hike when I could hardly walk a couple feet without stopping for a contraction? I knew I had to change my mindset though so I thought, "Ok, I'll humor them, we'll get in the car and drive to Blue Hill and then if we have to turn around and come home we will". I didn't really think I would actually be climbing a mountain while in labor- ok, so it's technically more of a hill than a mountain as Joe likes to point out to me, but it felt like a mountain that day.
At this point something shifted for me. It was as if I had been standing on a diving board looking down at the water and thinking about how deep the water was and how far I had to jump, etc. Then I decided I'm just going to do it, I'm just going to jump. I'm going to have the baby today. I'm not going to linger in this labor limbo any longer. I told Pam and Suzanne I wanted to take whatever herbs they could give me to crank things up a notch and really get my labor going. They gave me some blue and black cohosh to take as I was climbing the up the mountain.
Amazingly, I found myself charging up the mountain, striding through each contraction with a new burst of energy. The day was foggy and the air felt nice and cool on my sweaty face. The view from the top was beautiful and best of all we didn't see a single other person on the whole hike. When we returned home later that day my contractions still hadn't picked up so Pam and Suzanne and apprentice Penny went home with instructions for us to call when things picked up.
After the midwives left Joe took a nap, but I couldn't get comfortable lying down so I went outside to be alone with my thoughts and contractions. I did a lot of walking and moaning while our dog looked at me strangely, like "What's wrong with you?" I began moaning more and more loudly as my contractions started to get more intense and I remember thinking, "why did I want to have a baby anyway?" I had stopped listening to my hypnobirthing CDs a while ago and was not consciously using any techniques- I was just in the zone, trying to get through each contraction. In retrospect, I see that I was making the shift to "active labor", but at the time I kept thinking that I didn't want to have Pam and Suzanne come back and find out that I was only 3 cm dilated- I couldn't take the disappointment. I decided to wait until there was no doubt that I was really in full-on labor.
A little later I noticed some blood while going to the bathroom and couldn't remember if this was anything to be concerned about- I thought that I better call the midwives. When Pam asked me if I thought they should come I wasn't really sure, then I started to have a contraction and handed the phone to Joe (now awake). Pam heard me moaning in the background and decided that they would be on their way over. That was very insightful of her, because about 45 minutes after we talked my water broke and I felt ready to start pushing almost immediately. All of the sudden, it finally dawned on me (and Joe) that I was actually in very active labor and was probably going to have the baby soon! I said to Joe "the midwives better get here soon!" because I knew I did not want to have the baby without them. Thankfully Pam, Suzanne, and Penny arrived about 15 minutes after my water broke and went about setting up their equipment very quickly. I asked if I could get in the tub now and Suzanne told me to go for it. Once in the tub, I went primal and started bellowing with each contraction, causing our dog (who was outside) to bark as if he was hearing a wild animal. My sister Deirdre arrived as I was bellowing in the tub and took some pictures- not of the bellowing thankfully, but of me looking pretty peaceful in between contractions.
The pushing was a great relief after all the days of contractions and I felt so glad to know the end was in sight. As I was hoping, my body just took over and my mind was along for ride. Though I wasn't consciously using any hypnobirthing techniques I think they were working on a subconscious level because I felt very calm and focused. I wouldn't describe what I was feeling as being painful, just extremely intense and powerful.
I loved being in the tub, but I had to get out after a while because Violette wasn't moving down. I tried all kinds of positions- going up and down the stairs, using a birthing stool, leaning on Joe and lying on the bed to name a few. After a couple hours of pushing, Pam and Suzanne realized that my bladder was full and preventing Violette from fully descending, so they catheterized me and about a liter of pee later it was full speed ahead. I got down on the floor on my hands and knees with one leg up and my head resting in Joe's lap and started to push the head out. I would push out her head until she was almost crowning, then it would slip back in. This happened a number of times until I realized that I had to keep pushing even after the contraction was over if I was going to get her out. I used every last ounce of energy I had and pushed and pushed and finally her big old head crowned and kept going (that did burn!). A couple more pushes and out came the rest of her head with her body following quickly. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the floor next to Joe with a big (8lb 14oz) baby girl in my arms. Luckily I missed sitting on Violette by a good couple inches as I flopped myself down on the floor, exhausted. She looked at me very alertly as if to say, "Don't I know you from somewhere?", then turned her head and looked all around the room checking out the scene.
The placenta come out pretty soon after and then I was back on the bed for a couple stitches- I had a small tear, but I don't even remember feeling much of anything after that- I was on a total high. The labor was over (finally!) and Violette was here and she was beautiful.