#BirthBootCamp #naturalbirth #onlineclasses
There were no Birth Boot Camp instructors close to them at the time so I suggested they take Birth Boot Camp online. I was thrilled when they signed up. You can read about Dana's journey to a natural birth here. She calls me fanatical... #nottrue #oksometimes.
The Birth of Washington Ray
Ray had left that morning at about 8:15 am to work a dreaded 24-hour shift. The night before, we joked about how inconvenient it would be if I went into labor while he was on (or recovering from) an overnight. We laughed it off. I was confident I had plenty of time. But just in case, I petitioned God. I wrote in my prayer journal, “Ray works overnight tonight which is a bummer. So I pray I don’t go into labor in the next two days so Ray has enough time to rest up.” Bahahaha. I went to bed at 1 am (because I’m a night owl who never gets to stay up late anymore!), and at 4:45 am, I woke up with what felt like serious menstrual cramps.
Having never experienced Braxton Hicks contractions, I didn’t know if this was a contraction or just me not feeling well. That line right where your underwear sits across your lower abdomen ached. I lay there and focused all of my attention on What The Heck My Body Was Doing. And I realized, Ah...the pangs were coming and going! And it felt like my insides were tightening! So it must be a contraction! Cool. I thought, This is no big deal. I can do cramps. I mean, they hurt, but whatevskis. I got up and drank my glass of water and laid on my left side just like you’re supposed to when you first get contractions. If they were BH, they would go away after about an hour. Well, an hour later, they were still going strong. So I figured, I should let Ray know.
Later that afternoon, Ray convinced me to chill out and watch my early labor distraction movies. So I showered and then labored on my “birthing ball” (AKA the yoga ball) while watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture (circa 1979). This was probably when I looked the most like all the birth videos I had watched. I was in my bathrobe with a heating pad on my lower back, head resting on my arms resting on the ball on the living room floor. I felt very zen. The contractions weren’t fun. But I was managing fine. I tried not to call them painful (a natural birth no-no), but they were. By 2:30 pm, they moved firmly from the mild to the moderate column. My body also prepared for war, evacuating me of every last substance in my body. I continued to eat like normal, because...well, I was hungry.
I could no longer lay down and sleep. I started out in bed, standing for each contraction while Ray slept. (I was trying so hard to be tough. I didn’t want him to help me until I really needed help. And it’s a good thing too…)
At 1:45 am, I took bath/shower. But regular home bathtubs are not equipped to handle a giant pregnant woman with contractions. I wanted to relax. I would lay back during off minutes and, when the next one hit, heave myself over onto my hands and knees, leaving only part of my giant belly in the water and the rest of me exposed to the cold air. It was awkward and ultimately not all that relaxing. So I eventually gave up on the tub altogether.
Then began the circus of sleeping arrangements. I couldn’t lay on the bed anymore. So I slept on the floor in the baby room and labored on my hands and knees. But that didn’t last long. I decided I needed Ray’s help. Poor guy. I slept upright in chair with my head resting on my arms resting on 2-3 pillows resting on our kitchen bar counter while Ray slept on the floor by the piano. I’d jump up and lean on the chair for each contraction with Ray squeezing my hips through them. We did this for HOURS. Not the best rest by any stretch.
Around 7 am, we decided to…help labor along in the most natural way we knew how… Ahem. Gotta say, during labor, it’s not nearly as fun as not during labor. For me, this was for birthing purposes only. (And I’m glad for my husband’s sake we did because the following six weeks were a doozy.) Afterward, I labored straddling toilet, attempting to sleep propping my arms on the tank. I chose Sleeping At Last to be my labor soundtrack. It was a great choice.
Around 10 am, contractions were coming hard enough and close enough that I wanted my doula there with me. Danielle arrived around 11 am and did counter-pressure with me for a little over an hour until we all decided it was finally time to go to the hospital.
Riding the car with contractions wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, but still wasn’t fun. I’m glad our hospital is only 15-20 minutes away. We shuffled through the parking lot. I walked around the lobby, squatting for contractions which hadn’t felt good earlier but was a requirement for these intense ones. Before we went upstairs, I decided to use the bathroom. Danielle asked if I wanted her to come with me. I balked. I’ve always been pretty shy when it comes to my body. I never stripped naked in the locker room even when my fellow volleyball players did. My roommate in college never got a really good look at EVERYTHING I’ve got going on. I’ve peed in front of like 2 people and my husband isn’t one of them. I reallyreally wanted to tell her, “No, I can pee by myself.” But then a contraction hit. Ow. So I decided, okay, this is the moment my modesty goes. I’m in labor. She’s gonna see a lot more of my parts than me sitting on the pot. So I let her join me. It was weird trying to pee and it felt like I didn’t really have to go as bad as I thought. By this time, I really felt like I had to poop (TMI?). I kept trying, but nothing was happening. She helped me through the contractions (I was already getting kinda vocal).
When I left the bathroom, I remembered it was Sunday now. Father’s Day! This might be my last chance to call my dad. He didn’t answer so I left a message that basically went, “Hi dad. I just wanted to call and say Happy Father’s Day. And as a gift I’m giving you a grandson. I’m at the hospital and IhavetogobecauseI’mhavingacontractionsBYE!”
We moved slowly toward L&D, but I couldn’t walk through these contractions. I stopped and squatted for each one. I even labored in the courtyard outside L&D, hoping to make as much progress as possible before surrendering myself to the hospital.
The nurse came in. She seemed professional…and unimpressed with me. She had me scoot down and spread ‘em so she could check me. I had never felt pain like that in my life. I don’t know what it is they do exactly when they reach in to “check” you, but it hurts like a swear swear swear. I screamed and tried to back away from her intrusive prying unkind hands. She retracted and with a smack of her latex gloves announced, “You’re closed.”
“What?!” I said, traumatized and no longer even resembling a person holding it together.
“You’re 80% effaced and closed.”
“What do you mean ‘closed?’ How many centimeters is that?”
“Zero?” I couldn’t stop the tears them. How was this possible? I mean, I’d heard plenty of stories about people who come to the hospital too early. But I waited 33 hours. I waited until I was sure it was the real thing. And I wasn’t dilated AT ALL? My prayers started sounding pathetic at this point. I was begging God to help me because I couldn’t imagine doing this for 12 or 16 or 24 more hours.
A doctor came in. He was young and also looked unimpressed by me. I’d been making a lot of noise. So yeah. He said he was going to check me now too. Which terrified me because I already knew I didn’t want him to do it. Why go through all that pain just to hear the same thing? What could have changed in 5 minutes? I scooted and spread for him (Joy.), and he reached for the stars. My scream was a visceral thing. I said, “YOU HAVE TO STOP NOW!” And tried to back away again. He unreached and said stiffly, “Yeah, you’re only 2 cm dilated, 50% effaced.”I was crying a lot now. I felt every kind of violated. I know they were just doing their jobs (and I learned later it hurt so badly because I was still posterior), but I held it against them personally for also making me feel like crap. I hated both of them unequivocally and that hasn’t change. I still don’t know why I went from 80% to 50%. But going 0 to 2 wasn’t really an improvement because they still wouldn’t admit me. It was all terrible.
So I put my pants back on and began the long shuffle back to the car with a spirit I can only describe as utterly hopeless. The contractions had gotten worse from the inactivity. The pain was excruciating. The squats were harder to get down into and especially to get back up out of. We made it to the lobby and I had to pee again. Danielle came with me again and as I peed I noticed it seemed...different. When I thought I had stopped peeing there was still something leaking. We waited and the trickle continued. I was almost certain I wasn’t peeing (but things get crazy during labor. Maybe I was losing sensation down there!). But maybe that bro had broken my water with his nether reach. She left me alone in the bathroom to find me a pad because obviously I didn’t bring any because obviously I’m a moron. I feel bad for the mother and daughter who came in while I was alone and moaning and groaning. The mom explained I was having a baby. But I’m sure the little girl is scarred for life.
Danielle returned with a pad and helped me begin my journey back upstairs. Along the way though, my legs started shaking. I felt exhausted and I wasn’t even admitted yet. How could I keep doing this? I could no longer labor in squats. I got on my hands and knees every time and walking became all but impossible. I finally made it to L&D again, this time just to check if my water broke. We asked not to have my cervix checked. I wouldn’t do it. I just wanted to know if my water has broken. If so, they’d admit me regardless of my dilation. If not, I’d request some Ambien to help me get some rest and go home.
The doctor (who I’m convinced hated me) begrudgingly agreed. The nurse (who I’m ALSO convinced hated me) got out the speculum. She said, “Okay, I know this is uncomfortable. But I need you to lie as still as possible. No flailing and moving around.” As in, not like last time. I agreed and gripped Ray’s hand and forced myself to relax even though contractions were coming and I was laying down with a monitor belt around my waist and them putting things in my hooha when something else wanted to come out felt like death. But it didn’t hurt as bad as being checked. They swabbed me and quickly confirmed my water was leaking and I can be admitted. Yay. Because regardless of how many centimeters I was, I was SURE I was in labor. I thought, My baby is coming soon. He better be, or he’ll be born in serious trouble.
I changed into a gown. And a new nurse, who would be my nurse, came to give me my IV. This was something we fought for a while. I abhor needles and have terrible veins and always wind up getting stuck over and over. Or they search for a vein for so long that the anticipation makes me want to hyperventilate and vomit. But ultimately we agreed, because 1) it’s their policy and we really couldn’t NOT agree, 2) they agreed to just give me a saline lock without fluids, and 3) I wound up positive with GBS and had to have antibiotics anyway. Joy.
Shannon was my nurse’s name. She was blonde, pretty, happy, nice. But she stuck me twice in my left arm and didn’t get a vein. She told me she only tries twice then she gets someone else. And she rarely misses a second time. But I was the lucky winner that day. (#hatinglife) A different nurse came in to stick me and got it the first time. But I’d have a bruise on my left arm for two or three weeks from where Shannon tried.
The doctor came back and said they had to wait until I’m further dilated before they could give me an epidural. I told him with as much confidence as I could muster through my drying tears that I planned to do this naturally. To his credit, he didn’t laugh, roll his eyes, or do anything that confirmed he thought I couldn’t hack it. I was already doubting myself, but he just said, okay then. I asked if my doctor had been informed that I was there. He said she’s off duty/doesn’t work on the weekends so she wouldn’t be delivering me. I almost had a conniption.
“She told me you would call her when I was admitted, and she would come in. She assured me she would deliver me.” He said he’d see what he can do. I have no idea why this conversation even happened. I want to call the doctor a moron. Of course she has regular office hours, but she is my maternity doctor. She’s not an OB, but she is responsible for my obstetric care. So...get her the frick on the phone.
Now my plan was always to walk myself to my room because letting them sit you in a wheelchair projects an image of needing to be saved, so the medical staff tries to intervene/interfere more. Walking projects strength and capability. I made it one step out the door and a contraction hit. I dropped to the floor like I’d been shot, got on my hands and knees and yelled through the pain. I didn’t feel strong. My legs felt like they couldn’t hold me anymore—even on hands and knees. The nurse said, “You can’t do this here. We’ve got to get you to your room.” And she and Ray tried to get me up. But I couldn’t move. I wanted to be able to walk myself there so bad, but when they rolled up a wheelchair and plopped me in it and whisked me down the hall, I didn’t protest and I was secretly very, very grateful.These contractions felt like Satan and all his demons trying to break out of hell via my body. Which is to say—OW. They wheeled me straight to the bathroom and suddenly my doula had returned to me. I have no idea how that happened. Maybe Ray went to get her as I was flying down the hallway. Either way, I was glad to see her. I still felt like I had to poop (TMI?), but clearly I was not in transition or even near ready to push. In retrospect I believe this sensation was because Wash’s head was already SOOOOO LOW in my pelvis that he was putting pressure on my rear. (Result of hours and hours of counter-pressure?) I was not able to poop for all my trying. In the bathroom I had my first of many hysterical breakdowns. I labored on the toilet for a while, then tried to walk back to the bed. I didn’t make it out the door. The next contraction had me back on the floor. I remember looking up at Ray on one side and Danielle on the other yelling, “I don’t think this is right. I can’t do this anymore. I’m too tired. My legs are dead. I can’t even stand.” I looked at Ray, crying, panicking, and said, “Please, please let me get an epidural. I know it’s not what we wanted. But I’m too tired to keep doing this. I feel like I am breaking in half.” He said I was doing fine. Everything was okay. I could do this. At the time, I felt like he didn’t understand. This couldn’t be normal! He didn’t believe how my strength was really GONE. He thought I could get up and walk to the bed and push out a baby, but I was sure the only thing I could do was lay on the floor and die. #melodrama
I was so scared. I begged him to pray over me. I wanted to feel calm. I wanted to feel reassured that God was with me. That I wasn’t alone, because for all my support from Ray and Danielle, I felt the weight and the burden and the pain in my body on my own. I can’t imagine going through that WITHOUT support people. But they are emotional and moral support. They are there to get me out of my head and believe in myself and my body. But my God is the God of my body. He made me this way. He made women for birth and motherhood without the interventions of medicine and medical professionals. And I wanted to talk to him and remind him that I was down here doing what he made me to do and could he please for the love of Himself help me?! Ray didn’t want to encourage my panicking. He reaffirmed that I could do this. This is normal. I was doing great. And he helped me get back out to the bed.
When my next contraction came, I hit the floor again. My legs were shaking, giving way to muscle failure. Suddenly I felt hot all over. All I had on was the robe, but it instantly became much too much.
I yelled, “Get this thing off me!” And yanked at it. Ray and Danielle helped too, Danielle going so far as to pry one of the more difficult snaps with her teeth. They got me up onto the bed where I continued to labor on my hand and knees while spewing aggressive barbs at Shannon The Nurse because she forced me to wear the baby HR monitor, the band of which wrapped directly over my lower abdomen where my contractions were attempting to rip me in half.
At one point I tried to use the squat bar, but I hated that so I went back to hands and knees. Apparently I was very calm between contractions. Quiet, zen. I honestly don’t remember this much. The doctor kept wanting to check my cervix to see if I had progressed, but I said no. I didn’t need more pain. Give me time to dilate without sticking your germy hands all inside me please and thank you.
With each contraction I thought I would pass out. The pain would be too much and I’d just go unconscious. Thinking of the ocean, reciting poetry or Psalms, all of that was gone. I would cry and say over and over, “I can't do this any more. I don’t think I can do this anymore. Please please please.” I was a basket case. I’m so embarrassed by this.
At some point a couple hours later my doctor, Dr. Carnes, came—hallelujah. I was so relieved to see her. It’s not that I particularly love her. I just know her. She is a family medicine doctor, young, introverted, and sometimes...she seemed like she didn’t have a freaking clue about hospital policies or practices involving birth. But she’s assured me several times that she has delivered lots of babies. I kept her because she agreed to work with me toward a natural birth and was open to laboring AND delivering in any position, which sadly I didn’t get to prove.
I finally let Carnes check my progress even though I was terrified to hear another depressingly low number. She announced I was 7 cm! I had gained 5 cm in 2 or 2.5 hours. Just one away from transition. And I’d been feeling like I was in transition since I was admitted. I couldn’t imagine it getting worse. But I was ready to move on. I was ready to get that freaking baby out of my freaking body. “Seven centimeters,” I said, in awe. “I’m doing this. I can’t believe it. I’m doing this!”
Danielle says this was her favorite part. She and Shannon apparently looked at each other and got a little teary watching me realize that I could do this and was in fact already doing it. I had this incredible moment where I thought, I’m actually going to be able to give birth naturally. I’m getting close to the end. And then my baby will be here. And I’ll have “done” birth. I’ll have succeeded. That was a heady awesome feeling.
Soon I began shaking uncontrollably. My stomach roiled, and I said, “I think I have to throw up.” Shannon immediately placed a bucket under my face. And hurl I did and did a lot. But this was the LEAST scary moment for me. My contractions didn’t change in a way that I noticed (not yet), but feeling the shakes and throwing up, I knew what was happening to me. This was normal. This happens. It meant I got to push soon.
So I was surprised to hear an hour had passed since I was checked but I was still at 7 cm. I swung from confident in what my body was doing to extreme frustration that my body hadn’t progressed. Maybe my attitude affected my perception of these next contractions, maybe I was exhausted and fed up from consistently severe contractions, or maybe this was real transition and the contractions became severe-er—but I started to lose it. I went deeeeeep into the psycho place. I did exactly what Donna Ryan said you shouldn’t do if you want to keep yourself under control. But it was involuntary. I tried to back away from my body. I pushed with my arms as though I could physically distance myself from my waist. Ray tried to help me. Told me I was panicking. Reminded me that I could do this. But I was freaking out. I wanted this to end. And I was willing to do almost anything to get there. Shannon stepped in and asked me then what my baby’s name was. “Washington.” She told me to say it again. So I did. Over and over and over. Washington. Washington. Washington. It became my new mantra. Just his name on my lips was encouragement to me.
Six pm finally rolled around, and with it the news, that I had at last, at last reached 10 cm. (For those keeping track, I went from 2 cm at 2pm to 10 at 6!) Doc said I didn’t have to push yet if I didn’t feel the urge. But I said, “I want to push.” I didn’t have the urge, per se. *rolls eyes* But I had decided that it was time. Mentally, I thought if I’m at 10, then there’s nothing stopping me from speeding this thing up. She said she’d let me push once to see if that brought the baby lower in station. My very first push, I moved the baby from a 0 station to +2. Everyone was impressed, and Dr. Carnes said I could keep pushing if I wanted since I made so much progress. Sadly, I could never push as well as I did that very first time.
Indeed, a lot of metaphors were thrown at me in an attempt to help me push the right way. I did it right probably one in five times. Not breathing for 10 seconds in a row, I discovered, was not possible. It led me to screaming out the last few seconds which was a waste of my voice and strength and got me in trouble with everyone every time. I wanted to yell though. I wanted to scream myself hoarse with frustration and anger. Why the heck was I doing this? Let them cut the kid out of me for all I care. I just wanted it to be over. (#heckamelodrama) Anyway, going for a 7-second push was better. But my contractions no longer seemed long enough to make progress. And pushing without the momentum of a contraction cost me strength I didn’t have and didn’t progress me at all. It was aggravating to make it all the way to the pushing stage and to feel again like I couldn’t do this anymore.
Laying slightly reclined, I had to get creative with the position of my legs. Stirrups were never offered. No, instead I stuck my giant horse legs up in a proud exultant V on the squat bar. I imagine when I’m on my death bed, if I decide to pinpoint the least dignified moment of my existence, this will be it. Naked as the day is long. Screaming my head off, spewing mild to moderate profanities. Legs, like steeples, pointed toward heaven. And all of my private bits very publicly exposed to God and everybody.
They offered me a mirror several times. I thought the only thing worse than exposing everyone to all my private parts is to see for myself exactly what they are seeing. But soon, the next worst thing was about to happen. Leg cramps.
The act of pushing requires you to pull your knees up to your chest and curl forward like a sit up and squeeze your whole body, including your legs. I can’t explain how impossible that seemed at the time. The only issue I really had with pushing was how exhausted my legs were. Each time I felt defeated by them. And when the leg cramps—which I had been staving off for hours—finally set in, I thought I would go mad. My toes curled and my calves twisted wretchedly, leaving me panicked (again) because how could I focus on having a baby when my legs were trying to break themselves?!
Apparently this was quite an ordeal. Danielle insists a good chunk of time was devoted to me trying to work out the cramps in my legs. I would sit up pathetically, impeded by my still sadly gigantic and baby-full belly, and reach for my legs, which were too far away, and squeeze them in imitation of how I wanted to massage my calves. I put Ray on one leg and Danielle on the other, but I couldn’t show them where the cramp was. And they didn’t know how to rub them. All the doctors and nurses didn’t offer to help, and I felt like they thought I was crazy. The consensus was that my priorities were out of order. I was having a baby and needed to ignore my spasming legs to push him out. Ha! Easier said than done. That is like saying I’m going to squirt salt water and lemon juice in your eyes while you shoot a bow and arrow. And the consequences of not hitting the center target is major abdominal surgery.
At 7 o’clock, the nurses change shifts. Shannon told me she’d stay. She’d stuck with me this long and she needed to see this baby. I was grateful. Her replacement was already there, a black lady named Pam with good best-friend-in-a-sitcom qualities, if you know what I mean. She is not the only extra body in the room. Roll call: me, Ray, Danielle, Shannon, Pam, Dr. Carnes, her attending, douchey doctor from earlier, and a male pediatric nurse waiting for Wash. Every time I pushed they would ALL yell to keep going, push harder, almost there almost there ALMOST THERE. But I couldn’t sustain it. I would let go, and they would fizzle like popped balloons. Each time, Dr. Carnes would press inside, I’m assuming this was a perineal massage and she was trying to protect all my bits from tearing. But it hurt like a mother and started to piss me off. So I may have exasperatedly said, “What the heck are you doing down there? I don’t like it.” And she stopped. Shannon found a warm compress and THAT felt heavenly.
Then things got kinda crazy. The monitor around my waist couldn’t track baby’s HR anymore because he was too far down, and since I’d been pushing for so long and his heart rate naturally dipped with each contraction, they thought it was important to keep monitoring him. They wanted to attach one to his head. This was one of the things we didn’t really want to do. Ray and Shannon conferred over me about whether this was something that could be avoided and decided it wasn’t. He agreed to it, and I trusted him to make that decision because I was starting to become delirious.
Suddenly Pam was there helping me push. She gave me the best direction for pushing. And with her on my left by my face and Ray next to her and Danielle on my right, the chorus of encouragement was overwhelming.
After a long while of useless pushing, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. I accepted the mirror and watched myself push. When I saw that my baby’s head went out out out OUT when I was pushing and then aaaaaaaall the way back in when I let go, my head literally tilted to the side. Huh. That’s ridiculous. I thought all this time he was inching his way forward. But it’s more like a suction than a train. On the next push, his head stayed halfway out. Danielle was excited, “He’s not going back in!”
I grunted. “I’m holding him.” She also loves to tell that line. She makes me sound like a feisty pirate saying, “Aye, matey!” Which I guess is pretty cool. In any event, I had decided he was not going back inside. He was only going out. Whether this was a good decision or not, I don’t know. At the time, it was the only thing that made sense. With the mirror, I became much more motivated. I remembered I was the only one who could get that baby out. I had to focus, try not to think about my legs and push. The next several minutes are a blur to me. Literally. I took off my glasses (I wish I’d been wearing my contacts. Maybe I would’ve really seen Wash born. :/). I was in a state of absolute delirium. I pushed. I cried. I was all over the place. Mostly I had no clue what was going on. I was just going through the motions. I remember the ring of fire as my baby boy crowned and I watched that happen. I was freaked out by how much blood I could see and didn’t know if that was because I was tearing or if it was normal.
Then finally his head was out! But suddenly his heart rate dropped. In my memory, the room became a hurricane of motion. They told me I HAD to push. He had to be born RIGHT NOW. I dug deep. I thought if I didn’t get myself together something horrible would happen. Without my glasses and in the craze, I was sure I saw my doctor reach her entire hands inside me and pull my baby out. But she didn’t. I was sure she had to cut me wide open to get him out. But she didn’t. I pushed one final incredible time and he was out. Because the professionals in the room were freaked out by his dropped heart rate, they forced Ray to cut the cord immediately and ran Wash over to the side to check him out. But within seconds, he started crying. And Ray said, “He’s okay. Hear him? He’s fine.” And I could hear him, and I was so so happy. I kept saying, “It’s over. It’s finally over.” Since Wash didn’t immediately start breastfeeding, I let them give me Pitocin to stop the bleeding. Shannon congratulated me and told me he was beautiful and she was glad she stayed. A few moments later, they placed Wash in my arms, and I was immediately overwhelmed by him. His beautiful face. His tiny hands. His adorable curls. His wrinkly skin. My button nose. He began breastfeeding right then. His skin on my skin. He was all mine. And I was all his. In that moment, I was fundamentally altered. I thought I was a whole person. And in a way, I was. But with my son in my arms, I discovered this whole other side of myself that has been dormant and waiting to be revealed. And that missing piece is fierce and passionate and tender and impenetrable. It’s the mommy piece. I’m not sure I ever knew who I was before. I’ve spent years trying to figure it out. But I know I was made for this. For pregnancy. For birth. For motherhood.
I’m a mom. And I love it.
You can read Ray's thoughts on our birth story in my friend Cori's article "Birth Matters to Dads."