Whenever I would tell a fellow Southerner about my plan to have a drug-free water birth, I would always receive the same reaction: skepticism and a lecture about how painful it would be. Although I would always answer their criticism with the same reply, “I have never been in labor so I know it may be too painful — I am just going to try.” What can I say? I am people pleaser. It is not in my nature to challenge those who seem more experienced. In my heart I knew I could do it. I could only think of one thing that might shake my confidence: a long labor.
I didn’t have an easy pregnancy. Over those precious 10 months I experienced: severe nausea, increased asthma symptoms (went to the hospital twice), very severe allergies and kidney stones. By the time my due date rolled around I wanted my sweet Hannah Rose out of my body and in my arms pronto. I was willing to try anything.
By the Sunday before my due date, I was working through a long list of natural-labor-inducing-baby-birth-wives’-tales. I ate Scallinis’ eggplant parmesan, Indian food and chicken wings. I sat on my birthing ball for hours, had sex with my yummy husband and walked miles and miles. Monday morning I had regular contractions for about 6 hours: then they stopped. Tuesday morning I had regular contractions for about 7 hours: then they stopped. Finally, at one in the morning on Wednesday I was awoken by a flush of liquid: my bloody show. Contractions began immediately. I called my midwife and my doula to tell them the excellent news. I was told to come to the office as soon as I awoke in the morning.
Of course, I didn’t really sleep. Neither did my husband who was just as excited as me to meet the little bundle. By 9 in the morning my contractions were about 7 minutes apart and coming regularly. Although our bags were packed and in the car, my midwife told us to stay at home until I felt like I had to go to the hospital. I felt like I “had to go” right then, but I went home anyway remembering the 4-1-1 rule they told us at birthing class. I only had to make it to 4 minutes apart—how long could that really take?
We spent Wednesday afternoon snacking on Chick-Fil-A (yes I really wanted a chicken sandwich, French Fries and a brownie during labor) and watching reality TV. I have not watched that show one time since, but during labor it was captivating. Slowly, over the hours my contractions began to become closer together. But, they never reached 4 minutes apart. I kept attempting to sleep. I just couldn’t ignore the contractions long enough to really rest.
Late that night, I finally took a very short 1 hour nap. When I awoke my contractions were 5 minutes apart lasting two minutes each. By that time, I was at my wits-end. I waited a little while and then called my midwife for advice. She told me to take a long warm bath. She explained that my uterus was exhausted which had caused my labor to stall. The bath worked and my contractions finally reached the 4 minute apart mark — although they were still lasting two minutes each.
We reached the hospital at almost 4am on Thursday. I was in tears at the check-in desk. I was certain I could not do it any longer. I wanted a damn epidural and I wanted it immediately. The nurse began checking my vitals and called my midwife. She suggested that the nurse could give me a dose of morphine to help me sleep for a few hours. She believed I should wait to make the epidural decision until after I had rested. I was convinced easily. I wanted sleep almost as much as I wanted Hannah Rose to be in my arms.
By 6am, my husband and I were finally in our hospital room and I was feeling the effects of the morphine. Once I had a nice (medically induced) high, I allowed my husband to notify my doula that we were at the hospital. I had been too embarrassed to call her at home (when I was certain that an epidural was in my future). Finally, we slept for two hours straight.
I was comforted the most by two things during my labor: running water on my lower back and the quiet inner strength of understanding that flows between women.
When I awoke at 8am, I was feeling much better. The hospital nurse brought me a wonderful breakfast of juice, fruit, yogurt and a warm blueberry muffin with butter. Everything tasted so wonderful — especially the muffin. Labor slowly resumed and I found my way to the shower to ease the contraction pains in my back. My doula sat next to me for what felt like hours, aiming the spraying water just above my butt. My husband wanted to help and offered several times, but I couldn’t bear the idea of him seeing me in such an out of control state. My husband is a very sensitive man. I just couldn’t stand the idea of burdening him with my pain. I was comforted the most by two things during my labor: running water on my lower back and the quiet inner strength of understanding that flows between women.
By 11am, I was in full transition and beginning to instinctively push. The nurse filled the tub and I assumed a hands-knees position in the comforting water. By that time my midwife AND the hospital’s on-duty midwife had arrived to assist. I was surrounded by love and strength that I could truly feel. My husband poured water over my back with a cup, the hospital midwife held my hands, my midwife observed, the doula took pictures and the nurse monitored the baby. For some reason, I was very comforted by that midwife’s cool blue eyes. I looked deeply into them during contractions to absorb her strength. When I wasn’t contracting, I rested my head on the side of the tub and took very short (but lovely) naps.
Although I was pushing, Hannah Rose did not move. Everyone began to suggest that I switch positions. I was so afraid of the pain that I resisted. Finally, they convinced me to sit in the tub while my husband held me up from under my arms. My midwife put on my labor-playlist (complete with Michael Jackson’s Will You be There and several emo tunes from the Twilight soundtrack) and finally, finally with a few more pushes I could reach down and feel her beautiful hairy head.
Hannah Rose was born into the warm water of the birthing tub at 1:13pm. God, was I happy. I had no idea what I was supposed to say when they put that angel in my arms. I just whispered the only thing I could think of: “the baby is here, the baby is here. I am done with that labor.” In that moment I felt more relief than anything. The hospital staff cleaned her up while my husband called everyone he could think of. Then they gave her back to me. The moment I felt her latch to my breast for the first time: that was the greatest joy I have ever felt.
I wish I could tell you that life was peaches after that. After we left the hospital, Hannah Rose got jaundice and had to return to the hospital to stay one night at the NICU. About a week later I got a uterine infection and spent five days in the hospital. As cliché as it may sound, I wouldn’t do it differently. The truth is that I love the memories of my insane labor and crazy first two weeks as a parent. I am so proud of myself and my little family. I did it. I held strong when I wanted to give up. Until the day I die, I will always know that with the support of my patient husband and my magical birth team, not even 37 hours of labor could stop me from accomplishing my dream. I know I am very lucky.