First-time mom abandons fear in favor of stubbornness

October 6 2010 | Guest post by Erika Mitchell
Mama and 5-day-old Aidan.
Mama and 5-day-old Aidan.

When a contraction woke me up at 3:35 AM on my due date, I ignored it. When another contraction popped by to say hello ten minutes later, I ignored that one too. They continued every ten minutes or so, but were mild so I just kept sleeping. They must have taken that personally because at 4:45 AM a contraction popped me right in the nose. It was intense, painful, and it wasn't messing around.

I was still certain it was false labor, but regardless of its authenticity I needed Wes, my husband, to be awake. Shaking his shoulder, he rolled toward me and said, "Huh?" I murmured that I was having contractions, and he sat bolt upright in bed and asked what I needed him to do.

We clambered down the stairs in the dark, rushing to get downstairs and set up before another contraction hit. At this point I forbid Wes to turn on any lights, and he wasn't allowed to be so far away that I couldn't touch him.

I lit candles and sat down on the couch while Wes turned on the classical music mix we had paintakingly arranged weeks ago. All of the songs were specifically picked to make me feel peaceful and happy, and the mix did the trick. I breathed and rocked during each contraction, visualizing boogie boarding a wave with each one. My contractions sped onward, eventually reaching a pace of every three minutes like clockwork.

When my water broke, the first thing I felt was fear. This was really happening, and all I wanted in that moment was to pause. I knew it would only get more painful, what if I couldn’t do it?

About half an hour later, sitting and rocking back and forth wasn't enough. My contractions were getting the upper hand, so I stood up and started pacing. I started vocalizing during each contraction, saying “Ow” forcefully, more out of annoyance than pain at this point. I believed with every fiber of my being that it was false labor up until my water broke during a contraction.

When my water broke, the first thing I felt was fear. This was really happening, and all I wanted in that moment was to pause. I knew it would only get more painful, what if I couldn’t do it? I resolved that this was a foolish line of questioning. I threw myself headlong into the experience, not pausing for introspection but rather just letting my birth wash over and consume me. I’d think later, but now was the time for action.

I alerted Wes that we were in business, he called our midwife, and I just kept on pacing. She told Wes not to bring me in until I felt like I couldn’t handle the contractions on my own. I was doing fine, so Wes and I made the bed together, brushed our teeth, assembled the bassinet, made a few snacks, and puttered, all in three minute spurts.

At around 8 AM, I decided that even though I was still doing fine with the pain, if the contractions got any worse I’d tear the car apart. Wes called our family members and heralded our son’s birth, and then we sprinted for the car during a break in contractions and sped away.

We arrived at the birth center at 9 AM. After scooting to the birth suite I had my very first internal exam, which revealed I was 3 cm dilated and 95% effaced. I got hugs and congratulations from all the midwives at the practice, and then they left to give us some peace. Wes and I settled in for what we were sure was going to be a long day and night.

We cranked up Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief and I paced and swayed and squatted my way through increasingly vicious contractions. Wes's mom arrived half an hour after we did, bearing bagel sandwiches and good cheer. She and Wes chattered between contractions, and I just floated along. I dropped into a deep squat during each contraction and rocked back and forth on me heels, while Wes applied counterpressure on my lower back like the fate of the world depended on it.

I had expected the warm water to help with the pain, but they did nothing. I rocked back and forth on all fours and started panicking. When each contraction came I said, “No no no, I can’t!” and that was by far the darkest time in my labor.

Time gets fuzzy for me at the point because my labor picked up and I turned around all the clocks in the room. About four songs into the album, I announced that I needed to get in the tub. I changed into my halter top tankini and then I slipped in and waited to feel relief. I felt none, and the contractions took it up another notch and took me completely by surprise. I had expected the warm water to help with the pain, but they did nothing. I rocked back and forth on all fours and started panicking. When each contraction came I said, “No no no, I can’t!” and that was by far the darkest time in my labor.

After two contractions like this, I set my jaw and decided that I wasn’t going down like this. No way was this going to get the better of me. I started saying things like, “Woo hoo! Alright Aidan, let’s go Aidan!” and “Yes! That was a good one!” They say reframing is an important part of natural childbirth, and they are so right!

I kept trying to eat small bites of my bagel sandwich, but eventually I reached a point where I couldn’t eat any more. I collapsed against the side of the tub after every contraction, exhausted and limp. People may have talked, I have no idea, I simply was not there.

At one point Wes started putting a cold washcloth against the back of my neck between contractions, and that felt simple incredible. At another point, I announced that I was nauseous. In the back of my mind, I suspected I might be going through transition but refused to give into that hope lest I prove to be at 5 cm.

The contractions changed again, and I started feeling an immense, otherworldly-huge downward pressure with each one. I conveyed this to my midwife, and she had Suzanne, my student midwife, check me. As she was checking, another contraction started up and, as I was on my back in the tub, I barked at her to get out so I could scramble back onto all fours.

After the contraction and my enthusiastic bellowing passed, Suzanne said I was complete and could start pushing. Everyone cheered at this point, and I’m pretty sure there was a period of rest because I think I fell asleep briefly before starting to push. When a contraction came and I snapped back into consciousness, I bore down and started pushing. I didn’t even try keeping track of how many pushes I went through before my midwife, Ali, suggested I reach down and feel for his head. I felt something, and told her it felt pokey.

Let me tell you, the Ring of Fire is a terrifying thing, but not as terrifying as the prospect of the baby never coming out and being pregnant forever.

She reached out to feel, and said the amniotic sac was slowing things down. She popped it, and I felt his head drop immediately. The next push yielded the precursor to the Ring of Fire. Let me tell you, the Ring of Fire is a terrifying thing, but not as terrifying as the prospect of the baby never coming out and being pregnant forever. Suzanne, who was seated behind me and applying pressure to my perineum, started calling out numbers. 4 centimeters! 7 centimeters!

I grew furious, thinking that was the distance his head was away from coming out and he was moving backward. Ali checked his heartbeat, and when I asked how he was doing she told me he needed to come out soon. I balled my hands into fists, marshaled every ounce of stubbornness and determination I possessed, and PUSHED. I felt him slide down, and his head felt positively global. Like he should by rights have had his own gravitational pull, he was so gigantic.

I pushed past my own fear of what that gargantuan head was doing to my lady bits, and within two pushes his head was out. My body, deciding it had had enough of labor, pushed the rest of Aidan’s body out with the next contraction without my help.

At 12:35 PM, roughly nine hours after labor started, he came tumbling out and Suzanne caught him and then handed him up to me from behind. I reached down and brought him up to my chest. I still can’t remember what I said to him first, but I remember thinking he looked exactly like my little Aidan boy.

He took his time taking his first breath, but when it came it sounded loud and strong. He cuddled up to me and I felt a fierce love for him and for Wes, who took him so I could stand up and dry off, and for myself. I did it. Truly motherhood and childbirth are remarkable things in that they turn one person into two, and make your heart double in size all the while.

  1. the Ring of Fire is a terrifying thing, but not as terrifying as the prospect of the baby never coming out and being pregnant forever. that is one of the most true sentences I have heard in a while!! I love it!

  2. Thank you for sharing this descriptive memoir post! I may print it to read again closer to my own due date! But today it made me bawl (in a good way – 5.5 months along, and anything inspiring an emotional reaction makes me cry!)

  3. The ring of fire is when the baby's head is crowning. It is so named because you are stretched completely at that point. Having myself gone through natural childbirth I can say that, the ring of fire is rightly named.

  4. "In the back of my mind, I suspected I might be going through transition but refused to give into that hope lest I prove to be at 5 cm."

    I felt the same way!

  5. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, candid telling of your birth! That ring of fire is something, I remember thinking during my HBAC that it was amazing: it meant I was doing it! But, dang was did it BURN!

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