As we began our four-hour drive home with our newborn son, Orean, my husband turned to me and said, “You have so much courage.” When I asked him to explain, he summed it up like this: courage is being afraid, but going forward anyway because you believe it’s right for you.
I found out I was pregnant two weeks before we embarked on a gigantic trip together. Our plan was to return home in time for the baby to be born at a birth center in Eastern Oregon. When we found ourselves in Western Oregon instead, our midwives worked with us to create a new plan of action. We had to drive four hours one-way (longer if you include breaks) to get to them, but we all still felt like it would be fine because I was super healthy and had no complications. The final month or two, when we were traveling every weekend to the midwives, we started camping in tents to save money and sanity. Related: there is nothing like being out in nature to make you feel at peace when you’re pregnant.
I celebrated my birthday at the end of August — I was forty weeks and six days pregnant. The midwives had agreed that if our baby did not come by that weekend, we would start natural induction techniques. I really wanted to avoid that, so my husband bought me an exercise ball for a birthday gift and I bounced on it periodically throughout the day. I baked a wonderful chocolate spice cake late that night and the smell will always remind me of that “twilight hour” before labor began.
Around 7am the next day my contractions started, slow and low. I had been having Braxton Hicks for at least a month already so I knew they were different, but I was still able to talk and move through these just fine. After waiting an hour I told my husband and called the midwives, who suggested we head over with the comment that we would not go home without a baby in our arms. We packed up the car, loaded up our miniature schnauzer, and headed out. The drive was uneventful except for the mountain crossing, which intensified the contractions slightly, but it was one of the best drives we had yet and it was so beautiful outside. Funny that the part we worried about most went smoothest.
I was only a few centimeters dilated when we got to the midwives that afternoon so they sent us to our favorite local hotel to wait a while. We rented some movies and got my favorite Thai yellow curry for dinner. I wasn’t able to concentrate much because I was getting more uncomfortable by the hour. By around 9pm I was shifting positions like crazy trying to find one that would help me relax. I was in and out of the bathtub a lot, and my husband had watermelon, snacks, and water for me since I wasn’t able to eat much of my dinner. Around 1am, when it started getting to the point that I needed my husband to hold me up during each contraction, the midwives asked us to move to the birthing center. That short five minute drive felt so long.
Around this time it became obvious that I was beginning back labor, and it continued to get worse.
We had two midwives, Dana and River, and an intern, Ellen, who cared for us. As I got settled in a birthing suite (bathroom, tub room, bedroom) my husband walked our dog. Around this time it became obvious that I was beginning back labor, and it continued to get worse. Checking for dilation became my least favorite activity of labor, as it gave me instant and intense contractions. Ellen took the first shift with me until around 9am. She was always with me, rubbing my legs and arms, breathing with me, helping me walk and change positions, and always listening. I had to have someone pressing on my lower back during every contraction. I used the exercise ball a lot during this time, trying to get some sleep leaning against the bed. I tossed up everything I had in my stomach pretty early on and didn’t feel like eating anything else.
Around the time that River took over, I was starting to wonder if I would ever be able to use the tub. They asked me to wait until I was 6cm dilated so that my labor wouldn’t slow down. I think they may have taken pity on me, because they agreed to an hour wait with some good contractions and then they would let me in. The tub was supposed to be the salve to my labor pains, but instead it just meant I was in water during contractions. The midwives were concerned about my back labor being so intense. They checked the baby’s position and found that he was posterior (hence the back labor!). All three of the women now rotated in and out of the rooms constantly, helping me out and talking with each other. Someone walked the dog, but took pity on her being in the car all the time so brought her in to one of the appointment rooms. I could hear her howling at the same time that I was howling through contractions, and it made me feel at home because my family was with me — dog and all.
It’s a little bit of a blur on the order of events at this point because of the pain, but I know I had to have an IV put in my hand for fluids because I wasn’t eating or drinking anything substantial. I was around 7cm or so and the back labor was truly horrendous. The midwives talked to me and my husband about their concern for my body and exhaustion level, and suggested trying sterile water injections in my lower back to disrupt the pain communication. The warning beforehand was that each person reacts differently and it may not help at all. We agreed to try, and they administered the sterile water just under the first layers of skin while I was in the tub. My husband said it looked like six tiny bubbles of water in my back. It was more painful than any contraction that I ever experienced before or after, but it was instant relief. There is no words to describe how happy I was to have a break from the pain.
I was moved to the bed at one point and helped through the Pancake Flip maneuver, as they called it, where I had four or five contractions laying on my right side, on my hands and knees, and then on my left side to help flip the baby. I’m grateful that it all worked and that our midwives were so knowledgeable to be able to offer us different methods, even though I hated laying down at that point. I also greatly disliked sitting on the toilet because of the intense contractions and cursed it silently every time I walked towards it. My mantras became words like “Down,” “Out,” “Get Out,” and other similar variations, because I did honestly want the baby to stop messing around and come out already!
It felt like a thick bubble, and through each contraction I could feel my body saying to me, “It doesn’t feel right, it needs to move.”
After the injections and pancake flip, things started picking up. While back in the tub, the baby was so low already that I started feeling an awkward sensation between my legs. The midwives confirmed that it was the amniotic sac with some fluid coming ahead of the baby’s head; my water had not yet broken. It felt like a thick bubble, and through each contraction I could feel my body saying to me, “It doesn’t feel right, it needs to move.” I talked to the midwives about what my body was feeling, and they said it would be fine at this point to break it.
When one of them asked if I wanted to break the sac myself, I was totally up for it. How many women get to break their own water? People have asked me what the sac felt like, and the closest thing I can compare it to is umbilical cord material. It was just as strong as that and I had to use both hands to make a tear in it. I have a feeling that I would have given birth to the full sac as well as my baby if I hadn’t broken it on my own. It felt great to get that out of the way, and the sensation of wanting to bear down began a bit later. The midwives helped me make it through wave after wave of contractions as the baby rocked around under my pubic bone, fighting the urge to push as the head wasn’t far enough along. I couldn’t get in any good position that felt like it would help me, and ended up bruising my forehead slightly because I was using the wall next to the tub to push against with my head. After a while of fighting these urges, I told them I could no longer fight it. The midwives suggested I move to the bedroom to get some help from gravity, and also mentioned the birthing stool they had.
I will forever profess my love for the birthing stool, and will use it for any future labors I go through. If you haven’t seen one before, it’s a simple metal frame low to the ground that you balance yourself on so you can bear down as if you’re on the toilet. It takes a lot of coordination: Hold with both hands! Your bottom should be off the metal! Curve your back! Tuck your chin! Bear down! It was the perfect distraction from the intense sensations I was having. If you didn’t do everything all at once it wasn’t as effective and didn’t feel as good, so I was concentrating heavily on it. I knew at this point that I had torn a bit despite the warm compresses and oils, but everything was going well despite that.
River called out that the baby was coming and we quickly moved to the bed. It was everything I could do just to get on my hands and knees between the waves of contractions. Each contraction had three or four peaks to it. When it was finally time to get the head pushed out, I was able to do it in one contraction, but ran out of peaks to keep pushing for the rest of the body. My husband, humorous as always, saw our baby’s head sticking out and could only say, “You don’t see that every day.” The next contraction brought our wonderful baby into the world completely.
I looked down and between my legs to watch the baby come down on the bed, and the midwives quickly turned into the most efficient team I have ever seen. We discovered that the baby had descended with the head slightly tilted instead of tucked and straight, which had made the final phase of labor so long. They suctioned and rubbed the baby off, but were quiet for the most part to let us experience the moment. My husband came up to my head and the look on his face was priceless. “It’s a boy?!” he stated in surprise, all this time thinking it might have been a girl. Once our son started crying they passed him up between my legs and helped me hold him while I turned to lay down. Our son needed a few puffs of oxygen and some monitoring to make sure he was okay, but I was able to breastfeed right away and he latched on like a pro. We named him Orean after his great-great grandfather.
The midwives were not sure of exactly how deep I had torn and wanted to err on the side of caution when it came to suturing me up. They could do up to a 2nd degree tear, but a 3rd degree tear would be complicated. River and Dana helped take me to the nearby hospital after working out logistics with the on-call doctor there to get me sutured. I was glad to return to the birthing center and sleep for the night. They let our dog run around and check us out, and she ended up following the midwives all around every time they went to a different room. We were one big happy family.
It has taken me a couple of months to get this story written down, not because I was so busy (even though I was) but because I had difficulty realizing just how much courage I truly had making it through what I did. So many people doubted us being able to make our labor and delivery happen the way we wanted it to happen. We even doubted ourselves at times that we would be able to pull it off. Throughout the labor I felt like giving up every 20 minutes and had a large sense of guilt afterward at having those feelings. Our midwives made the simple point to me when I mentioned how bad I felt about “complaining” all the time during labor, “You may have wanted to give up and voiced that, but you never did, not once through the entire ordeal.”
Thirty-three hours after I had first started contractions, I delivered our healthy son in the birthing facility I chose, with the midwives who were part of our family after everything we had been through, without any medication. I was wide awake and fully present. It is only now, months later, that I realize the truth: if I hadn’t been so adamant about my choices, so active in my experience, I most likely would have ended up with a short labor and a C-section because of our son’s body position and head tilt causing labor to go longer than usual for a hospital. The hospital staff also would likely not have been able to help me maneuver the baby into a new position naturally, or assist me naturally in pain management to help me make it through the long labor, or provide me with various positioning tools during delivery that are better than being on your back in a bed. I am grateful every day for knowledgeable midwives who know when something is normal and natural, how to help it along, and when to defer to a doctor.