An epic unmedicated, hospital, and midwife-assisted birth story

Guest post by Sayward Rebhal

Sayward and Damian, pre-birth.
Waits was born at 39 weeks on the nose, and I still can’t believe he managed to cook for so long. I’d had signs of preterm labor at 28 weeks and a minor placental abruption at 31.5 weeks. I really didn’t think we’d make it full term! And I worried I wouldn’t get to have a natural birth.

My consulting OB had recommended a medical induction at 38 weeks due to the risk of another abruption. After lots of thought, and under the care and consult of our exquisitely qualified midwife, Linda, we opted to let things progress naturally. Making it to 37 weeks was glorious, but suddenly all our attention switched from trying to keep him in, to trying to help him come out! We knew that another abruption could be very dangerous, and we were not opposed to trying to coax him out.

I ate enough pineapple to fell a yak. I did twice-daily nipple stimulation. I drank more red raspberry leaf tea than I thought possible. Damian and I were allowed (and encouraged) to make love again! This may sound like some hippy shit, but there is evidence to support each of these techniques.

I also began having regular conversations with Waits. I told him that it was safe for him to come out now. That when he did he would get to meet his mommy and daddy, and he would finally get to nurse, and that I loved him and couldn’t wait to hold him. We also talked a lot about labor, me and him. I explained that it would be in both of our best interests if things went quickly. If he would just do his best to get into the right position, I would do my best to relax and breath and then push my hardest. I told him that our labor was teamwork – the first great thing that he and I would do together. We had this conversation almost every day.

At my 38 week midwife appointment I was almost 3 cm dilated and 90% effaced, and we stripped my membranes. It didn’t hurt much. I lost a goodly portion of my plug that night, but otherwise nothing happened.

At the next appointment (38 weeks 6 days) I was almost 4 cm dilated and 95% effaced, and we stripped my membranes again. My midwife joked that I should go into labor that evening because she would be around the hospital doing some paperwork. I was hopeful but not expectant, since it hadn’t worked last time.

That evening I made chili and cornbread. We enjoyed a huge meal and just as I was finishing up I felt a little gush of liquid. That was normal for late pregnancy, so I went to the rest room to clean up. But it wasn’t liquid – it was blood. And not mucousy early labor ‘bloody show’ either, but bright red real blood and plenty of it. I calmly called to Damian and told him I was probably having another abruption. I phoned the midwife on call while Damian gathered up our labor gear (meticulously packed for weeks, of course), and we headed off to the hospital.

Linda instantly relaxed me. She took the lead and explained to me that I was probably having another abruption, and that tonight was going to have to be the night, one way or another.

We both kept our cool, all things considered, but neither of us would really settle until we heard his heartbeat. We got to Labor & Delivery around 7:30 pm and were shown to our own room – the exact same room we’d stayed in with the first abruption. I got undressed and into bed and the nurse set about doing my intake. On went the fetal monitor, and hearing that strong and steady heartbeat was music to our ears!

At our hospital you deliver with whatever midwife is on call when you go into labor. I’d never met the midwife there that night, which was a bit unnerving. But, Linda was in the building (as she had said), and somebody had called her. They came in together along with a student midwife, and seeing Linda instantly relaxed me. She took the lead and explained to me that I was probably having another abruption, and that tonight was going to have to be the night, one way or another. In light of this she wanted to break my water. I agreed (anything to avoid pitocin!)

The midwives left and it was all business. I was given a heplock and my blood was drawn and typed. We were visited by an anesthesiologist. He spent half an hour interviewing me and explaining procedures, in the [very real] event of a more serious abruption that required emergency c-section. I tried to stay positive, but that part was hard.

Eventually the midwives came in and Linda explained that she and the other midwife were going to switch shifts. Linda would stay and become the on-call for the night (even though she’d already been working since 5am), so that she could be there for my delivery. I could have cried I was so happy, and touched that she would make herself so available for us. It also brought a much-needed sense of safety – Linda knew my desires and was familiar with my birth plan. She was exceptionally experienced and I trusted her judgment implicitly.

The other midwife left and Linda and the student got ready to break my water. The student performed the procedure – what a strange sensation! It didn’t hurt at all. Afterwards I asked Linda, “So, what now?” She sort of chuckled and said, “Well . . . *ideally*, you’ll begin having contractions in the next few hours, you’ll go into labor, and by morning we’ll be delivering your baby.” We all laughed because she made it sound so simple. Just for fun before they left, Linda and the student each palpated my stomach to make a weight estimate. Linda guessed 8 lbs 1 oz and the student guessed over 9 lbs. Then they were off and Damian and I were left alone. It was about 10 pm.

Sayward blogging away!
Ever the practical ones, we set about tying up loose ends, calling family and texting friends and alerting our bosses, and I even managed a quick blog post at Bonzai Aphrodite. All this was done from atop the birth ball, as my uterus began its tightening. It started pretty much immediately, steadily building, giving me just enough time to get all my ‘business’ out of the way. I asked Damian to put on some music, and surprisingly it was Tom Waits that sounded good (that may not be surprising to *you*, but I actually thought Tom would be too melancholy for labor. But no, that’s what I wanted). I bounced on the ball as we watched my contractions on the machine. Soon the nurse returned – she had found me a set of teleometry monitors so I could go cordless, woo-hoo! (because of the abruption I had to have constant monitoring, which was fine by me – I loved hearing his heart beat!)

The contractions caused a lot of pressure and I couldn’t help but think a good bowel movement would sure make me feel better. So off I went, and man it felt good to labor on the toilet! So I spent the next hour or so mostly in the bathroom, and got rid of a lot of ‘extra baggage’. About an hour later I was all clear, and ready to switch positions. I went into this experience with no idea what to expect, and no idea how I would respond to it. I’d studied a number of pain coping techniques and now I began trying out different methods.

I tried pacing, and swaying in the ‘slow dance’ position with Damian. But everything just seemed to make me more aware of the pain.

The birth ball wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I crawled into bed and attempted a few different positions, but nothing was working and mostly it was just making the contractions worse. I tried pacing, and swaying in the ‘slow dance’ position with Damian. But everything just seemed to make me more aware of the pain. It kept me anchored in my body and tuned into my discomfort, which was the opposite of what I wanted.

When the nurse came back I was told I had risked out of using the birthing tub, but that I could get into the shower if I wanted.

I wanted!

I stripped down, save for the belly band that held my remote monitors in place. Damian set up a stool in the bathtub for me to sit on, and used the shower sprayer to blast my back with hot water. It felt so good! The nurse turned the lights out and set an upturned flashlight in the corner for a bit of dim light, and then she shut the door.

Now this was much better. The warm water was so relaxing and Damian was great about keeping the shower head moving, so that I stayed warm all over and basically got a soft water massage. The contractions were coming much stronger now and I was no longer talking through them. We spent a few hours like that.

Between the stool and the contractions, my back was really starting to hurt. At that point Damian gave me his chair so that I would have a backrest, and he just kneeled by the side of the tub, spraying me. He was so amazing throughout the whole ordeal – a constant source of support and compassion. He was totally focused on me, quietly and sincerely cheering me on, telling me over and over how amazing I was doing. I honestly don’t think I could have done it without him.

As my labor progressed I became more and more withdrawn. I spent the majority of time with my eyes closed, silent when I wasn’t contracting and moaning when I was. I clenched Damian’s hand and squeezed it through the pain. When I opened my eyes it was only halfway, with heavy lids. When I spoke it was softly and slowly. I was downright groggy, like a woman in a trance.

At one point I told Damian, “This is exactly what I would have imagined it feeling like, if I could possibly have imagined what it felt like.”

Every half hour or so the nurse would come in to adjust the monitors and take my vitals. Other than that she left us alone, which was so great. A few hours into the shower she noticed that my temperature was high. I hadn’t been drinking enough water and I was losing too much fluid in the steamy bathroom. She said I either had to come out or I had to get a fluid drip. There was no way in hell I was getting out from under that water, so I surrendered my heplocked hand and was given the IV. It really helped and I was feeling better almost immediately.

The contractions were getting bad enough that I was beginning to doubt myself, though I never said it aloud. At one point I told Damian, “This is exactly what I would have imagined it feeling like, if I could possibly have imagined what it felt like.” That doesn’t really make any sense, except it totally does.

Damian had put the plug in the tub so that the shower water would collect and warm my feet and legs. The next time the nurse came in I asked if I could please get into the actual tub. I wanted to be surrounded by that water and I wanted the relief of buoyancy. With a little bit of persistent begging and a consult with Linda, I was finally allowed to submerge. That was the real turning point in my labor. As I was getting into the water, Linda told me that at some point the pain would change, from the horrible cramping in my abdomen and back, to a feeling of intense pressure low down, pushing against my pelvic floor. Pretty much as soon as she left, I began to feel exactly what she had described.

Once I was in the water I was totally gone. My eyes stayed closed. I was silent. I no longer moaned or moved through contractions. I stayed focused on my breathing and the feeling of relaxing my entire torso. My goal became to stay completely limp through each contraction. I didn’t realize it at the time and it certainly wasn’t intentional, but I think I was doing impromptu self-hypnosis. At the least, I had reached a state of deep meditation. Pretty funny for me, the girl who can never quiet down! This was the last way I would have expected my labor to go (though Damian says he wasn’t surprised at all)

So this is how the next few hours went:
A contraction would hit and my mind would scream “Oh fuck, I can’t do this! No more, I’m done, I want relief. I NEED RELIEF!” But then I would remember, “You survived the last contraction and you can get through this one too, and you’ll be able to get through the next one. Think about how it feels when it’s over. Think about how it feels when it’s over. Think about how it feels when it’s over.” Damian said the only way he knew I was contracting was because my thumb would stroke the handle bar I was holding, and my toes would curl and uncurl. As soon as the contraction ended I would feel a wave of relief and relaxation, like an damn opiate. Man that felt good! Then my mind would begin to wander dreamily. Sometimes I forgot I was in a tub, sometimes I forgot I was in labor. I swear at this point I was actually dozing off between contractions. I would be totally immersed in some weird dream trip (like, “Isn’t is funny that cockatiels have mohawks?”) and then suddenly – PAIN, and my mind would scream, “Oh fuck, I can’t do this again!” And so the cycle would continue.

During all this Damian was by my side. He tried offering his hand to squeeze, but I pushed it away. He tried stroking my legs to comfort me, but I brushed him off (I couldn’t deal with any sort of stimulation that would keep my connected to my body) So he just sat tubside, bearing witness, occasionally turning on the water when I squeaked “more hot”. But mostly just sitting on the wet floor. For hours.

I was battling my own demons inside my head. I was trying to prepare myself to meet my son . . . but I didn’t feel ready. After all this time and all this waiting and all this wishing, I found that I was balking.

For such a seemingly calm scene, there was actually a lot going on. Firstly there was the screamer. My bathroom shared a wall with the bathroom next door, and in that bathroom was a lady in transition. And we could hear Every. Little. Bit. of her agonizing labor. She was howling like a banshee, like nothing I’d ever heard, and I kept thinking, “Oh my god, I’m not going to be able to deal with that much pain”. The nurse told us that she had been pushing for over 2 hours. That horrified me.

Secondly, I was battling my own demons inside my head. I was trying to prepare myself to meet my son . . . but I didn’t feel ready. After all this time and all this waiting and all this wishing, I found that I was balking. I was scared that I wouldn’t know what to do with him, wouldn’t know how to mother him. I was so afraid of looking at him and feeling nothing.

So between the wailing labor lady and my motherhood anxiety, I had plenty going on. Silent exterior, chaotic interior. I got through it by mentally singing along to the Tom Waits tunes, by allowing my mind to wander as it wished in dreamy random directions, and by putting all my faith in my body’s intuitive abilities.

I was also aware, somewhere deep down, that Linda was tied up next door with the wailing labor lady. Finally the noise on the other side of the wall was pierced by a baby’s cry and I knew that the woman had delivered. I was so glad for her that her pain had ended. I also knew it was my turn next.

A few minutes later Linda came in to check on me. I wasn’t too communicative at that point, and she didn’t stay long, but on her way out she told me that eventually my contractions would change again, and I would feel like pushing. And when that happened we should call her.

I remember her leaving and wondering how I would know that it was time to push. What did that mean? I was contemplating this as the next contraction came on, and with that very next contraction, I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to push. How amazing! My abdomen worked with a mind of it’s own, muscles tightening. I followed my impulse and bore down, and wow, it made the contraction so much less painful! When it was over I whispered to Damian, “feeling pushy”, and he was like, “what?! already??” and ran off to find Linda. I find it so beautiful that my body knew to wait, ever so patiently, until Linda was available to help us.

Damian returned with the student midwife, who asked me to get out for a cervical check: the moment of truth. They helped me to stand up and dried me off, and I was shaking uncontrollably. Damian helped me get into bed, where I laid on my side, with one knee pointed straight up in the air. Funny how *all* modesty disappears in the depths of labor. As I had my next contraction I marveled at how amazing it felt to push – it didn’t just relieve the pain, it actually felt good.

The student came over to check me, and suddenly I heard, “Woah! Okay the head is like right there!” YES!!! I was so relieved, I think I even smiled.

After that the room got busy, with various new nurses fussing about and making the appropriate preparations. I remained in laborland, in my own little world on the bed, until Linda came in. She came up close by my side and explained how the next stage was going to go. I was free to push when I wanted, she said, but at some point when the head was crowning they would ask me to stop pushing full force and instead give a series of smaller pushes, stopping in between. This would be difficult but would help prevent tearing. I nodded along. Okay.

Linda suggested I do my pushing on the toilet, as the position would utilize gravity, and also it was a familiar place for pushing (haha). With a little help from Damian, I got into position. The contractions were coming faster now and I was pushing hard through them, making some of the most incredible guttural animal noises I’ve ever heard. Damian was standing right to my left, holding my hand, and when I contracted I would turn my head towards him and lean into him, making my strange ape sounds into his chest.

Pretty soon Linda and the student returned. When Damian and I saw them we both laughed – the student was shrouded from head to toe in a blue paper suit, complete with head cover and face mask. She looked like a Hazmat worker ready to enter a radiation zone.

The student knelt in front of me (she was catching) while Linda coached us both. A few contractions later and I was starting to understand what they mean when they say ‘ring of fire’. Suddenly they were telling me to stand up. Somehow I managed, holding onto Damian with my left hand and a metal wall grip with my right. I could feel the baby’s head opening me, beginning to pass into the world. It was fierce hot alarm bells and my reptile brain taking over and wild surging hope.

He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I’d thought I would cry at meeting my son, but there were no tears. There was no room for tears. Just awe. Reverence. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

Just as the pain reached its crescendo I was instructed to pause my pushing. I did – there wasn’t much room to think or to argue here. The student talked me through a series of small pushes, slowly easing his head out. This was happening between contractions, so it was all intentional, directed action as opposed to involuntary muscle work. But with the next contraction I gave it my all, and there was a ‘pop’ and a splash, and holy crap that poor student midwife was completely covered in all sorts of ugly! I guess the Hazmat suit was necessary after all.

That was the head, and one more push brought the rest of him out. I sat back down and then he was in my lap, all pink and perfect and wailing like a warrior.

He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I’d thought I would cry at meeting my son, but there were no tears. There was no room for tears. Just awe. Reverence. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.

All that worry for nothing. I became ‘Mom’ instantly and completely. There aren’t words to describe that kind of affection.

Damian and I just marveled at him, as the umbilical cord finished pulsing. When it was done, Damian cut it. Then it was time for me to birth the placenta, and so Damian held his son for the first time.

I was exhausted and had no contractions to help me out, so birthing the placenta was a bit of a struggle. I had to push my ass off to get it out. It was hard work, and holy hell that thing was huge!

But then it was out and I was done. I hobbled over to the bed and crawled in, pausing to marvel at my magically-shrunken-and-now-ridiculously-squishy belly, before taking back my baby.

The sun was coming up.

Comments on An epic unmedicated, hospital, and midwife-assisted birth story

  1. OH! So much of your description matches my labor! It really brought me back! My daughter is almost two months old, and it’s hard being alone with her all day long (from 7am to 11pm) while my man is at work then school, so being able to remember how it felt to go through labor and finally get to see her really helps to get me through the day!

    Thank you for your beautiful story!

  2. What a great story! Thank you for sharing it. I always get a little weepy when I see/hear/read about birth… the joy and the pain of it. I’m expecting my first this winter.

    Oh, and your blog is cool too!

  3. Thank you thank you thank you for writing such a beautiful and detailed account of your experience! I love reading birth stories to prepare mentally for my own (I’m at 36 wks 5 days), and the short ones always leave me wanting more… Yours was so vivid and thorough. And amazing. Congratulations on your bundle of love!

  4. This just felt so much like my daughter’s birth. Although there were quite a few differences, there were tons of similarities.

    It was so nice to have the baby at dawn. Thanks for reminding me : )

  5. I think it’s awesome you named your son after the music you listened to in labor ,because i did the same thing LOL. I love your blog also btw.

  6. I’ve had 2 c-sections, so I don’t know what true labor is like (I did almost 19 hours of laboring but was so sick and out of it, I don’t remember any of it), so to read others details accounts of their labor is eye-opening to me. Thank you for sharing.

    • I live in Portland and we’ve been looking for a hospital with a midwife birthing center. Do you mind telling me which hospital you were at? Thank you!

  7. Best. Birth story. Ever.

    I’m a total spaz at doing things for the first time, so the idea of impending labour and birth is freaking me out a bit. But your description was so evocative, I feel like I just lived it (without the excruciating pain and exhaustion, obviously).

    Thanks, lady. You’re a real brick.

  8. That was so amazingly mind-blowing. I normally bounce from page to page as I read things, but this caught and held my attention for the entire article. Wow… just wow.

  9. I took a break from writing my nursing school application essay to read this. I have tears in my eyes. Epic is right. This is one of the many reasons I am becoming a midwife. And I hope I get to be pregnant one day and have my own epic tale to journey through.

  10. Amazing birth story! As someone else commented, the short stories leave me wanting more – I loved how detailed this was. I felt like I was really there with you reading it.

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