"I started feeling light contractions in the night and I knew to call Sybille by 6am so she could make her plans for coming over to the Vineyard. My husband and I had a mellow morning, but we were both excited about soon meeting our new little one. I went with him to drop off a dory down at the harbor, we went to the grocery store and stocked up on food and drinks for everyone who would be there for the labor. I’m not good at keeping secrets and I felt very sly talking to folks we knew at the store, all the while feeling these little contractions. I remember saying to my husband, “I bet when people say they’re in labor for 36 hours they count this easy part as part of the time!” Little did I know what I had in store!
Sybille and my great friend and doula Meg came over and I made sandwiches for all 4 of us. We cleared some furniture out of our tiny house to make room for the tub and then Sybille was going to rest at a friend’s house to be ready for what was ahead. My contractions were getting stronger but they felt good and almost empowering. Meg suggested that she and I go jump in the ocean one last time before baby came so we headed off to the beach. Once there, however, I couldn’t fully enjoy the beauty of the summer day and the island that we live on. I felt the need to be on all fours and the contractions felt quite strong. We did the quickest dip ever and came right home.
Now because all of my friends had relatively fast labors, I assumed that I would too. I remember watching one of Sybille’s birth videos and making fun of the couple with the 30 plus hour labor for having on so many different outfits. In every cut they were wearing something new and looking fabulous. “That’s why the baby won’t come out!” I said, “They’re too busy worrying about what to wear!” Again, little did I know!
Soon my friend Lila, who is a young midwife, was at our home and the 300 square foot space was feeling cozy. A lot of what came next is kind of a blur. The contractions were intense and all consuming. I remember using the yoga ball; my husband putting was cloths on my head, hushed voices and some laughter too. When the summer sun began to set and candles were lit I remember thinking, “ok, I’ll be pushing soon and our little baby will be here.” But dusk turned to dark and even though probably only 7 hours of intense labor had gone by, I felt ready to end that part of the job! I recently found some notes Meg jotted down in my notebook. As early as 4pm I was having contractions every 2 minutes. At 5:37 she wrote “bloody show” and at 10:40 my water broke all over a sheepskin. At 11:45 she quotes me saying, “It’s so crazy that this is how the humans came alive.” I sounded like a six year old with English as my second language. At around midnight Sybille checked my cervix and I was 7-8 centimeters dilated.
I remember going in and out of the tub, feeling relaxed and warm in there, but my contractions would slow down. Also, I felt scared to go into a deep rest in between waves because it made coming back into the next wave seem so much more intense. Of course with all that in and out of the tub there were lots of outfit changes, I was eating my words! Soundtracks changed on the stereo. Sometimes it was hypnotic yoga stuff while other times hip hop was in order. I remember for a big chunk of the middle-of-the-night period I wanted to be in our tiny bathroom. Lovely Lila sat in there on a stool and with every contraction I would go onto some pillows on the floor with my knees, and hold her tight around her waist. What a comfort this little night routine was. I remember feeling bad that people weren’t getting to go home and go to bed. My crew of 4 took turns napping on a hammock outside and a couch in our loft, but I’m sure they didn’t get much rest.
In the morning we decided to switch it up and try walking around outside. My mother in law was happy to see us come out and offered some supportive words. My husband tied a towel to our porch beam and I tried hanging and yelling and getting really into the pain. “Whooo, this pain is awesome!” Or something like that. Then there was drinking gross black cohosh, it seemed like every 10 minutes, getting an enema, (whooo again!) and trying to focus on what might be holding me back from letting go. I even had a good cry about my dad who had died 4 months earlier, but even that didn’t make it time to push. I started to worry that I was too cerebral and not good enough at being in a meditative state.
I was feeling pretty tired when at 2pm Sybille checked me again. I was still 7-8 centimeters dilated and she could feel the baby’s head plates. This made her think that maybe baby was in there in a weird position. She tried pushing on the baby so it would go up and maybe come back down in the right position. After this attempt the heart tones got low, and although they quickly went back up, Sybille thought it was time to transfer to the hospital. I remember feeling really sad and defeated. I wasn’t going to have the homebirth I had always envisioned, and I would have to go to the hospital and be received by scornful nurses and doctors and get a c-section. My awesome team all looked rather sad, but we piled in the car and off we went. Sybille called on the way.
The nurses greeted us and brought us into a huge, nice room. My contractions had now slowed down and were still intense when they came, but I had a couple minutes reprieve in between. They asked me and Sybille questions and strapped me up to a baby heart monitor that made it hard to move freely. After a while the doctor arrived, a visiting man from Cambridge. He was wearing dirty jeans and a baseball cap, and had a big, kinky beard. When he checked my cervix it was only 4 centimeters. He was informal and funny in a socially awkward way, and told me my options. Get pitocin or go home I think was the basic gist. I was so surprised it wasn’t an automatic c-section! This lightened my hospital spirits a bit. I knew that if I took pitocin things would get really intense and I was so tired after over 24 hours of hard laboring. I remember it was decided that if I got an epidural I could rest for a few hours so I agreed. Soon after the pitocin kicked in things got really intense again. Having to sit still while the anesthesiologists did their thing was one of the hardest moments. They had made everyone I knew leave and I remember my husband was really mad about this. I was upset too but soon realized that I was much more polite and tolerant with only strangers around. The head nurse let me squeeze her love handles so hard and told me “that’s what they’re there for honey” while I got the epidural.
I don’t think the epidural offered much relief. They kept pinching me to see what I could feel and I could always feel. I consider this a good thing in the end because I’m glad I could feel birth happen. The bad part was no rest was in store for me. The pitocin did it’s intense magic and in no time I was over 10 centimeters dilated. I pushed for 3 plus hours and really loved the nurses, my team and my husband like never before. My husband stood by my head, held my hand and my legs and offered non-stop encouragement in my ear. The nurses worked diligently and seemed truly interested in my pain and progress. I bossed around my team like a crazy person as they applied warm washcloths and hands to my pubic area and pushed on my back with the force of 100 women. Lila even stood on the bed straddling me and pushing. If my back wasn’t being pushed on during a contraction the pain felt unbearable. Also I needed to have pressure on my pubic symphysis or I don’t even know what! The doctor was supper laissez faire and let Sybille remain my primary caregiver. He only checked me one more time and offered the good suggestion to Sybille to apply hand pressure instead of the warm washcloth. When the nurses shifted an hour into pushing the new nurse offered great ideas for different positions during pushing. In the end I was pulling on a sheet tied onto a bar, my husband murmuring in my sweaty ear, my team telling me they could see the head and the nurse saying in her Polish accent, “this is so beautiful, this is the way birth is supposed to be” as if she’d never attended a birth before! Sybille said “just 30 minutes more of this and your baby will be born” and I remember thinking, “30 more minutes!?!” and I pushed the little guy out in the next push. He came out so fast that Sybille had to flip him around to get the cord off of his neck. “Look at the sac on that one” the quirky doctor said. “I guess it’s a boy” I realized. They put our little baby boy on my chest and my husband and I were the happiest we’ve ever been. He was born 32 hours after intense labor had started.
It turns out that our son came with his right elbow up by the top of his head, as if he had been resting with his arm up in the birth canal. The arm was pinched between my pubic bone and his head the whole time I was in labor! He was born with his right forearm, bent elbow and upper arm along side of his ear (as if he was trying to scratch the nape of his neck or upper back with his right hand)… all increasing the dimension of what I had to push out!
Because I was able to push out such a wide dimension - Sybille has promised that my next baby will just fly out! In the end we were all so happy with the transport to the hospital. Thankfully the nurses and doctor all treated us well, gave us space and didn’t make us feel bad. We were lucky that we had a doctor on duty who understood homebirth and didn’t take over. Sybille still got to catch the baby. Meg and Lila were right there. While I didn’t have the 7-hour peaceful labor and birth at home that I had imagined, I can now not imagine it any other way.