Thursday, December 1, 2011
It began with an urge to visit the ocean. I had felt centered and “ready” throughout my pregnancy, yet all of the sudden at almost 39 weeks I was on pause.. Something inside me seemed to be waiting. It told my Mom I needed 3 more days to feel “ready”.. and that I really wanted to visit the ocean.
So that Saturday (October 8) my husband Magnus and I drove south from San Francisco towards Half Moon Bay. The first moments of the ocean came into view, (around Noon), I felt my first contraction.. though I wasn’t 100% sure that’s what it was yet: A light cramping in my belly and some back aches. We had a quiet romantic lunch at an oceanside restaurant.. and at one point I wondered to myself if this could be my last meal before I gave birth. I was 39 weeks and one day along.. I knew it could be any moment, or weeks of waiting, and I let the thought go.
We walked along the ocean at Dune Beach and sat for a while.. and while I was aware of the small surges happening within me.. I was more tuned into the big surges of waves and wind around me. It felt good to be near to something enormous- much bigger than myself & natural, powerful, rhythmic, mysterious, as I prepared for the power of what was ahead. On the walk back I began to feel tired.. and suddenly it felt like it was too far to walk to get back to the car. So I leaned a little on Magnus and we practiced a labor essential: forgetting about the distance ahead, just taking it one step at a time, relaxing and breathing through it. In fact, labor had begun. We were entering the tunnel.
We took it easy that night and I went to bed early, though I couldn’t sleep much as the cramping and back ache persisted in small, intermittent waves. I still didn’t know how early this early labor was, so I tried to rest as much as possible and wait for things to get strong and regular before calling our midwife Maria. I watched the sun come up on Sunday October 9th awake in a different way. I knew for sure then that I was in labor. The surges were still short but more regular and we began tracking them periodically. We called Maria at 8:15am, when the surges were regular enough to be reliable- at that point they were 30-45 seconds long and about 5 minutes apart. Maria told us to keep doing the things we were doing and call her when the surges were consistently a minute long or more and 3-4 minutes apart. I had the urge to eat something, to shower and to take a walk.. and Maria thought all those things would be good to do.
A shower felt good, especially good knowing that labor had begun and that I would “soon” meet my baby. It was a beautiful sunny San Francisco day and our apartment filled with sunshine as I did pelvic rocks and moved through the surges in different positions, feeling my way through. I felt so positive and connected to my husband and in awe of my baby and my body. I tuned into earthy soulful music, like Ladysmith Black Mombazo. I wasn’t thinking about time, other than checking in to see how the progress of the surges were coming along. (It really helped to know, because I couldn’t gauge well how long they were. A surge that felt like 20 seconds could be a minute, and the time between felt shorter than it was). I was glad to have Magnus tracking enough to check in with.. so I could know we were making progress.
Around 3pm, Maria arrived. By the time she showed up I was within myself and really feeling the power of the surges, breathing deeply through them and making low sounds when I needed to work through. I threw up once before she got there. She took my blood pressure, which was a little high and asked me, how do you feel?, and while I could tell by her face we were earlier in labor than I had thought we were.. I replied truthfully: “I feel rocked.” Maria checked me and my cervix was no more than 1 cm open, which she helped along to 2 cm. It was the first of many times that night I could not believe we were not farther along on the path, based on how I felt. The beach lesson came back to me.. Don’t worry about the distance.. just keep taking the steps. Maria told me to relax my shoulders, relax my face, and let my body do the work. This simple instruction was easier said than done: My mind and body struggled a bit to get in synch at this point, as I tried to find an inner foothold to manage the next level of surges. My blood pressure was higher than we wanted at this point.. so Maria had me lay down on my side with Magnus beside me to help me relax. We switched the music to calm meditation (it stayed on that channel for the rest of the birth!) and Maria went to get herbs. While she was gone I took another shower and gathered myself- I came out of the shower calmer and more centered and confident that I could manage whatever was ahead. My blood pressure came down.
The next hours became more intense and harder to remember in sequence. I was living in the moment trying to learn from one surge to the next what would help me manage the powerful forces rushing through my body (physically, mentally) and how to sustain energy between them. Sometimes it helped to be on hands and knees.. and sometimes it was agony. Sometimes it helped to have my husband rub my back or speak to me, sometimes I needed total quiet to find my way through.
Finally Maria said I could get into the birthing tub. I was encouraged, because I knew that getting into the tub too early in labor can slow it down. That must mean we were making progress. The tub felt good, and I could move easier and relax better between surges. I was also able to find positions leaning against Magnus that worked better than out of the tub..and if I needed to adjust mid-surge it was less painful to do so. I labored for a long time in the tub, it felt like. Maria asked me if I was having the urge to push (from my body, not my mind) during any of my surges.. Once I felt that she would check my dilation. A while later I thought I was having this “bearing down”/pushing feeling.. It felt like I was getting close to meeting my baby. I was moaning and om-ing through most surges and feeling pushed to my limits. However when Maria checked me at around 9pm Magnus and I were both shocked and discouraged to find out I was only 4 centimeters dilated. I couldn’t believe it. Especially when Maria then said it could take 1-2 hours for each of the remaining 6 centimeters and to try to stay calm and keep breathing well. Something in me resisted: This baby HAD to come sooner than that... I could not imagine birthing like this for 6-12 more hours! Something again had to shift, and in that moment, I asked for guidance. I said, “I know I can do this but I don’t know HOW I will do this.” Maria reminded me that I didn’t have to know how to birth my baby out, my body knew how to do it. And she gave me a couple of things to focus on to get out of my own way: “All you have to do is breathe. Keep breathing your baby down” and “between surges go deep- let go completely and take deep rest- don’t think about anything.” She also said I could move or make noise however I needed to move through each surge.. which liberated me to tune into my body even deeper and let go of any remaining inhibitions. Two hours later, I felt a definite urge to push. “Pushing! Pushing!” I said in a low moan. Maria checked my dilation in the tub and was surprised to find me at 10 centimeters! I had gained the remaining 6 centimeters in only 2 hours. Pushing time had arrived and Maria went off to call the second midwife to come help birth our baby. Somewhere in the distance between huge surges I heard something like “we have a speedy mama here who is ready to birth her baby. I think you should come right away.”
I tried pushing on hands and knees in the tub- I had always intended to birth my son in the water.. But when the time came it didn’t feel right. So I got out of the tub and Maria and Nile, our second midwife, helped me onto the birthing stool. I thought we were moments away from meeting him, and I was ready! However, pushing was more slow, patient, hard work, just like the rest of labor. I had been present for my 3 younger sisters’ births.. but most conscious for the last two, who seemed to “slip right out” during pushing. I didn’t realize that a normal first timer can push for about 2 hours. With my husband supporting me from behind and the midwives in front of me, I pushed. I thought about opening wide. I thought about breathing my baby down. I knew I was making progress but it felt slow and my energy didn’t seem to match the enormous task of getting him out. I wondered again.. HOW can I do this? Again, Maria told me to trust that my body knew what to do.. to just stay focused on my breath and each individual surge/push. So I went deep inside, closed my eyes, and kept pushing. We tried this for a while on the birthing stool, then on hands and knees getting onto the bed, then sidelying (which I immediately knew would not work for me) and then finally sitting on the bed with Magnus supporting me from behind. Maria told me to hold my knees up and curl forward as I pushed. Somehow this was not working well and I was really getting exhausted. So Maria suggested maybe I walk around the apartment and get some energy to try pushing again. Again- something in me strongly resisted this idea: I knew we were closer than it seemed. And I wanted to use my energy for pushing, not walking. So I pressed my feet into the bed and just started to push.. and push.. and push. I heard encouraging words from Maria and Nile in the distance, and felt my husband’s energy and love, but I was someplace deeper, pushing my baby through me. And then: I felt his head emerge, pushed and felt his body slip out of me... and felt the joy rushing through my husband as he saw our child for the first time. I was so shocked in my own body, I felt these sensations first through him. And then there he was.. our beautiful boy was placed on my belly for the first time, and the umbilical cord was cut right away so he could be moved up to my chest. He cried and my whole body shook and melted at the feeling of him being right there in front of me. I didn’t know HOW I did it really.. All I knew was that I was his mother, that we were finally together after so much waiting, and that the love for him was infinite.
Our little Rhys Henry is such a miracle.. and his birth at home, with my husband by my side at every step, birthed in our bed with no drugs or machines and with deep persistence and love is such a miraculous gift- a strong beginning for a wonderful life together. I am simply in awe...and indeed, rocked.
Rhys was born on Monday October 10, 2011 at 12:59AM at home in San Francisco, CA, 37 hours after the first contraction, and after ~12 hours active labor. He weighed 7lbs 14oz and was 20in. long.