I went into labor on Tuesday but it didn't feel real until the evening hours when I started to have contractions that were noticeable enough to wake me every 10 minutes or so. We called the midwife to give her a heads up and to let her know that if my contractions started to come 6 to 7 minutes a part for over an hour, we would call her in the night. They eventually did speed up, but not consistently enough to warrant a call at 3am. So, Adrian and I settled in for a night of almost zero sleep (I was able to sleep between contractions) and lots of excited/focused energy. I watched the Wednesday sun come up from the center of the red wool rug in our living room. After a night of slow steady contractions, there is nothing more welcoming than the break of day.
Wednesday my contractions dropped off in the morning but Adrian decided to stay home with me seeing that we both felt that things could change very rapidly (ha!). Adrian spent the day reading books, fed me little bits of food and kept me hydrated. By the early afternoon my contractions had started to come a bit stronger once again we started to focus our attention. We called Denise late in the afternoon and she came over to check my vitals, time some contractions and assess the general situation. She left and came back throughout the evening. Around midnight, when we realized things weren't progressing as we had hoped, she called Tavniah who joined us for the night so that Denise could go home and rest. Tavniah settled into our upstairs apartment and would only come down to check the baby's heartbeat every hour or so. Again, Adrian and I spent the night awake and engaged in a silent routine of breath, long glances, moments of rest and slow movement around the apartment. Adrian finally slept for a couple or hours and I, once again, watched the sun rise from the center of the red wool rug in our living room. That was, thus far in my life, the longest night I have ever endured.
Watching the sunrise on Thursday morning was difficult. I cried numerous times on Thursday. I become frustrated with my body, with the pain of the contractions, and with my general inability to do anything to move things along. Two full days of labor pains with very little to show for it felt insulting and meaningless, and left me feeling overwhelmed and powerless. Denise had checked my dilation a few times along the way and I was opening, but slowly. At some point on Thursday morning Denise and I started to talk about tinctures and homeopathics. I started to take both in hope of quickening the contractions and increasing my dilation. Because the baby's heartbeat had not faltered for a moment throughout the labor, Denise didn't show any signs of worry or alarm. She simply kept saying, "Julia, this is not abnormal. Trust your body, go deeper into your body, and follow your instincts". All wonderful advice that only inspired more tears of surrender that I let out in long solitary moments while standing in the many hot showers I took that day.
Throughout the day on Thursday I was experiencing very strong contractions but they just wouldn’t come closer than 4-5 minutes apart. Additionally, I was experiencing a tremendous amount of lower back pain which led us all to believe the baby was posterior. On top of that, because my water hadn't yet broken and the baby was still fairly high, Denise couldn't feel which way the head was facing via an internal exam. So, in order to try to turn and drop the baby, the midwives asked that during each contraction I hold myself in various positions that by nature were meant to open me more and therefore increased the intensity of the contraction. This was challenging for me for I was getting tired physically and emotionally. This is when Adrian transitioned from a support person to literally leading me through labor. He led all of my movements through a contraction allowing me to focus solely on my breath. He would mold my body into the position I needed to be in and coach me through calming my body. I have never felt so intimate with a man in my life.
Thursday afternoon Denise consulted my doctor. They agreed that in order to move the labor along and assure the continued health and safety of myself and our child, I would need to get some rest. They agreed that it would be best to administer some 'sleep therapy'. Denise informed us that if we were in the hospital I would most likely receive a morphine drip to help me sleep. However, seeing that we were in our home, I was asked to drink a hearty glass of red wine and to take 2 standard benydryl tablets. This combination sent me off into a drug induced coma that was full of strange dreams, confused moments of waking life and last but not least, painful contractions. It was so so bazaar but in the end, the little bit of sleep was exactly what I needed to jumpstart the seemingly never ending labor.
I awoke around 7:00 pm, they checked the heartbeat of the baby and we started to discuss the option of breaking my water. My contractions were coming harder and closer (3 minutes apart and lasting for over a minute) and despite the fact that both midwives do not normally recommend such an action, they agreed that it might be the time to do something like this. My uterus only had so much energy. They broke my water and almost immediately my contractions intensified. By nine that night I felt my first desire to really push. By 10 I was pushing consistently and at 1:15 am, out came the very big (9 lbs 14 oz) Penny Joe with an arm wrapped around her head (elbow across her chest, hand by her ear). I had only minor post labor aches and pains and didn't tear. That night all three of us finally fell asleep at around 4:45am after the midwives had cared for me, packed their gear and kissed us all goodnight.
After almost 50 hours of contractions that didn't seem to move along the birth, feeling the desire to push made it all seem.....ok. If I had been asked to endure the 50 hours of labor pains and then be told I wasn't going to get to push? I would probably be scarred for life and never think of having children again. Pushing a child out of your body makes so much sense when you are in that moment. It feels so right, so human, so perfectly natural. It makes the pain of early labor seem bearable. It was not easy, nor without pain or emotional turmoil but it was 'right'. I do not understand women who say you forget the pain of childbirth. I have not forgotten but I do understand and have accepted that pain. And in that coming to understand, the pain seems secondary to the experience and of course, the byproduct. If I had been in a hospital, I am sure I would have not walked out of there with a 53 hour natural birth.
In the end, her birth position put the long labor in perspective. Every step of her journey out of my body was made a little bit more complicated by "the arm". Her elbow was running down my spine leading us to believe that she was posterior (when she was probably just turned to the side) and also increasing the intensity of every contraction. She was unable to tuck her head when moving into my pelvis meaning everything was slowed and space was even more of an issue. The result? A cone head for a day and a very tired uterus which hemorrhaged upon her birth. I lost quite a bit of blood which resulted in a pretty tired and dizzy mother for a few days.
Long before I found out I was pregnant I was committed to the idea of having a natural birth if at all possible. I had grown up on a farm and completely understood that birth, although sometimes complicated, is a very natural process. Additionally, I am an athlete and had confidence in my ability to intellectually work through challenging physical situations. However, I had not started my pregnancy thinking that I would have a home birth. We live in an area of the world where midwives are a staple in our local hospital and I thought that I would be one of the women who would utilize such a service. As my pregnancy progressed and as I started to listen to the stories of the women who had birthed at home, I began to feel drawn to the idea of being in my own space and working through my labor at my own pace. Adrian was drawn to the idea of a home birth from the beginning, so he was thoroughly excited and very supportive when I decided to call Denise.
I firmly believe that things happen for reason in this life. Without knowing it at the time, the decision to have a home birth allowed me to have a natural birth which in turn made it possible for Adrian and I to experience the birth of our first child in a whole and uninterrupted manner. Birth is so cyclical; if any part of our experience had been cut short, I am sure that none of it would have made sense.
Penny's birth was epic in length, but not horrific in nature.
Born: September 17, 2010, 1:15 AM
Weight: 9 pounds 14 ounces
Parents: Julia and Adrian
The Birth of Penelope Joe