Baby Cloudberry is--I can't believe it!--one year old! There are so many parenting topics I'd expected to write about in this year, from cosleeping to baby-led weaning and elimination communication. But with full-time mothering, part-time work, some volunteer work, and just plain living, time is not something I've had in abundance.
Anyway, here it is at last--the story of Baby Cloudberry's birth. This is an edited version of an email I sent to some women in met in an active birth class--turns out I'd already written it down and had just forgotten!
It was a good birth, so no need to cover your eyes if you're pregnant (nothing like a pregnant woman to attract birth horror stories!).
Our little girl was born five days after her due date. My water broke at 2am, but although I'd been feeling Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks, there were no 'real' contractions to tell me that labor was beginning. At this point, J and I had heard several stories of women whose water had broken days before delivery, so he fortunately convinced me to go back to sleep after we both did some nervous laps around the house for ten minutes or so. I somehow managed to sleep a more or less full night and, in the morning, I called our doula who guided us through stimulating acupressure points to initiate labor. We then went on a long walk, during which mild contractions started to come increasingly regularly. I took a warm, relaxing shower on our return and then at 2pm we headed to the hospital for examination.
All the while, the contractions were gradually becoming stronger, but I didn't expect we'd end up staying at the hospital (our doula had advised us that we weren't obliged to stay there unless labor was truly underway). However, once I set foot in the delivery room, the contractions became more powerful. And when a midwife came to examine me half an hour later, it was clear that we wouldn't be going home that day. Not having the amniotic fluid as a buffer meant that contractions were painful from the beginning. My movement would cause the baby to move, and the baby's movements were both uncomfortable at times and often triggered contractions. I also felt progressively physically weak as labor advanced--all this meant that I was not as active as I had imagined I would be, though I stayed upright for the duration of the labor.
The earliest stage was the most difficult for me--I was still trying to find a rhythm in all the excitement of the approaching birth of our baby, and a few hours in I started to get overwhelming hot and cold flashes. Then nausea set in and, in the worst moment of the birth, I vomited during an intense contraction. Up until this time, we'd tried back massage, acupressure, and a TENS machine, but nothing had made much difference. Still, even though I was uncomfortable, it was all perfectly manageable with relaxation and focused breathing. After vomiting, I had a long break with no contractions during which I took a warm shower and felt like I was in heaven--it was such a relief! The contractions picked up gradually from that point, and by the time the midwife checked my dilation again, I was at 6cm and able to enter the birthing pool that we'd rented.
Another surprising thing for me was how powerful natural oxytocin can be. I felt unbearably drowsy after the first couple of hours and actually fell asleep between some contractions. Before I threw up, this was very uncomfortable, but later it contributed to relaxation. I was able to drift to sleep and get some rest until I was woken by the next contraction. Also, towards the end--perhaps during transition?--some of the hardest, most intense contractions were followed by a strong sensation of euphoria. It was a unique feeling and a great surprise, and once I realized the pattern, I was able to welcome some of the harder contractions and look forward to that euphoric feeling. I stayed in the pool for about five hours, just focusing on the contractions, relaxation, and breathing. J and our doula took turns pouring water over my back, helping me to relax, and encouraging me. Water again was the only pain relief that really worked. I'd imagined myself vocalizing like we'd practiced in yoga and the active birth class, but mostly felt I didn't have the energy to move or make any noise.
I stayed in the pool until I felt the urge to push, and then the midwives checked my dilation--9.5 cm! Not long after, I was able to start pushing. Squatting is a comfortable position for me, so I always thought that would be how I gave birth, but I simply didn't have the energy for it...and I didn't have the energy to communicate this either. Thankfully, J understood this and suggested the birth stool. I sat down with him supporting me from behind, and our doula by my side wiping my forehead with a cold cloth and giving me sips of water. I shocked myself (and, I think everyone in the room!) by, after almost ten hours of silence, roaring (from the sheer intensity of it all, not from pain) with each push. Apparently I sounded like one of those Olympic weightlifters picking up a heavy weight! I couldn't have been quiet to save my life. As one of my friends had told me, there's no room for self-reflection at the moment of birth.
After about half an hour of pushing, our Hilla was born. We were left in peace to bond for two, blissful hours. The birth went better than I could have ever hoped, and I feel so grateful for the experience. Ten hours might have sounded like a long time to me before giving birth, but it feels like it all happened so quickly.
I'm so grateful too for the help we received. The midwives were extremely kind and supportive, and getting a doula was perhaps the single best decision we made in this whole process. Our doula, Veera, supported me through pregnancy and was able to give advice on things like hospital procedure, she supported both of us during labor, and she stayed on afterward to help me with breastfeeding when the midwife and Janne were busy cleaning. She even visited us in the hospital and once at home to discuss the birth and our feelings about it. Having her there meant J could take a break to rest and eat, and that I was never left alone.
And that was that. Our little Cloudberry was born close to midnight, but with the excitement of meeting our baby it was another five hours before J and I even tried to sleep. We all snuggled in bed and spent our first night together as a family.