“How’s your vagina?” – my friend Beth
Yeah, this feels like a good place to start. It’s a legitimate question from your friend after having given birth to a 9 pound 2 ounce, 21 inch long baby boy. And after having it done unmedicated (as planned), I would ask the same, unfiltered question as well.
Leading up to labor and birth, I was obsessed with reading about, watching, and listening to birth stories. Whether they were difficult labors or “easy” labors, I wanted to know the range of possibilities. For many, this is insane. For me, this was preparation. I mean, as much preparation one can have before B-day.
I will say, though, I started the journey convinced I was going unmedicated and no one could convince me otherwise. However, after this journey toward understanding grew longer (like 40 weeks, five days long), I began to open up and prepare myself to be open-minded when the day came. I’m glad I did this.
On a chilly Saturday at forty weeks, four days pregnant, Brendan and I had decided to mosey around Lincoln Park. We went out to brunch and then walked from there to Lincoln Park Zoo. I was convinced on walking this baby out for the sake of my sanity. Along the walk, I would have to stop and sit to rest and reset. I was cramp-y, but figured it was just the weight of my belly on my body.
At around 2pm, we headed back home to rest. I laid down with B and we started a movie. It wasn’t two hours later that I started having mild, but very real contractions. I still remember the first contraction — it brought tears to my eyes immediately. From then, I knew it was game time. B and I laid back down and waited. What felt like a sudden arrival at around 5pm, my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart from the onset. But, because we were newbies to this whole labor and delivery thing (and you tend to forget everything you’ve learned when in the moment), we weren’t concerned. Our plan was to labor at home anyway. B did, however, text my doula to let her know. She, too, didn’t seem concerned. So we kept on doing our thing. I was listening to my birthing meditations and a worship album on repeat.
By 8pm, my contractions moved to three minutes apart. Mentally, I had officially entered “labor land.” There is no one way to describe this feeling other than your mind enters a completely different universe. Between contractions, I was elsewhere. I felt extremely sleepy but had extremely lucid dreaming/thinking about random things. It makes sense why there’s a huge piece of psychological work to be done before birth. When a contraction began, I was brought back in tunnel-like vision. From all the things I had read and remembered, I knew I needed to welcome each contraction instead of avoiding it. I remember one birthing video where she talked about fighting the contractions and it only made it worse. Knowing this, I was especially mindful to be present … despite the feeling like my lower half was being ripped open. I was truly with my most animalistic nature.
I had made my way around the house in different positions, even drawing a bath and sitting on the toilet (which, turns out, to be the most comfortable position). At 10:30pm, my contractions had moved to one minute apart. This was probably the worst. B contacted my doula again, but she still seemed a little unfazed since I’m a first-time mom. Taking matters in his own hands, he called my midwife and she suggested we head to the hospital immediately. Finally, my doula showed up.
And when she did, I was lying on my bed in the dark, groaning and moaning. She took one look at me and said I was in active labor (the second of the three stages). However, because I still believed I was going to be in this stage of labor for another 10+ hours, I began asking for an epidural. I was so, so, so tired. I felt defeated by the intensity of the contractions by this point, and I knew that I could not go on for so many hours longer. Even though I wanted an unmedicated birth, I was still happy that I kept my mindset open to make any necessary change.
As we headed out, I knew I had one minute to make it down our front steps. I waited for my contraction to end and quickly made my way down, only to have one welcome me at the front gate of our place. As I loudly groaned against the gate, our night owl neighbors on their porch cheered me on. The car ride was really a blur, but B got us there as fast as he humanly could despite the River North party goers on a Saturday night.
This is where it gets fun. Upon arriving to triage at Prentice at 11:45pm, we noticed the waiting room was fairly busy. Just a bunch of dudes waiting around were not expecting me to burst in with my groans and howls, I’m certain. Those at the front desk gave up trying to ask me questions when they realized I was making “pushing sounds” and requested that I be taken back immediately. As my body fell onto the cot, the only position that felt remotely comfortable was on my left side. I gripped the handles with everything I had as they tried to put in my IV’s. At this point, I was still asking for an epidural believing I would be at this level of pain for hours. Then, they checked me and said I was 7cm. Again, I didn’t care. I wanted to sleep and some relief.
At roughly 11:55pm I thought I peed myself. I yelled out in the room that I peed and everyone began to look. Well, then there was an extremely loud pop. My waters broke in a dramatic fashion in that very moment. I then began making lower groaning noises and they asked if I needed to push. I yelled out yes. They scrapped the IV’s and began wheeling me to the delivery room. All I remember is gripping the side of the bed and howling like a freaking wolf.
By 12:05am, I was in the delivery room asking them to turn off the lights. Two amazing nurses and my lovely midwife were prepping me to deliver. Still, I was under the assumption that I was going to be here for hours. So, when they asked if I wanted an epidural or wanted another cervical check, I looked at B. He told me to get checked just to be sure. Lo and behold, within those 10-12 minutes, I went from 7cm to 10cm. My midwife, Johnna, looked at me and said it’s time to push. B looked at me and exclaimed, “Babe, this is exactly what you wanted!”
I, on the other hand, was in complete and total shock. I became very lucid and in control in those moments. My legs were lifted by B and my doula and I was told to push with each contraction. My doula told me to push “like I was holding my breath underwater.” So, a contraction would surface, I would lift my legs, inform everyone I was ready, and I would push. After about 12 minutes of pushing, Declan Francis was born at 12:32am at 9 pounds, 2 ounces and 21 inches long. My doula said it was the most effective pushing she’s ever seen. I, again, was still in disbelief it all just happened.
After just seven hours of labor, our son was born into this world. I still don’t know how this even happened. I keep going over my birth prep and wondering if that helped in making it so fast. For me, birth prep was reading Ina May’s “Guide to Childbirth” and my favorite of all the books, “Birthing from Within” by Pam England. I was also consistent in holding yoga poses when I woke up each morning and listening to a birth meditation on repeat as I walked to the ‘L’ in the morning. And, the podcast from the Birth Kweens will forever hold a place in my heart in my preparation. Whatever it was, my dreams to “listen to my body and to listen to my baby” were realized.
Overall, I do want to repeat that it was so helpful for me to keep my mind open. Birth is an experience like no other, and it is also completely unpredictable. We did not have any concept of how fast or slow this would go, which is why I asked for an epidural as I transitioned. I have great respect and admiration for my body and the body of every woman who has entered this space of labor and birth, no matter what their labor looked like. In “Birthing from Within,” the author talks about birth feeling like death. And it should. Women are beginning the process of dying to themselves and becoming something completely other: A mom.
Also, my vagina is fine. A second-degree tear and some gnarly stitching later, we’re OK.