Note: This post really focuses on the specifics of my labor and delivery. If contractions and water breaking and babies crowning is not your cup of tea, then you might just skip this one.
I started having contractions at around 8:30pm on January 11th. Because of all the pre-labor I'd been experiencing over the last few weeks, I started out trying to just ignore it. But by about 10pm, I had to acknowledge them, so I let Brian know that I was having some contractions that felt serious and that I'd like to try a bath. Brian helped me draw a bath and get settled into the tub. In the water, the contractions were less intense, but their duration and frequency didn't change. When we timed them, they were about 3-4 minutes apart and took about 50 seconds from the start of the contraction to the peak (about another 30 seconds to come down off the peak). It seemed like they were coming on fast, but I'd had a recent bout of pre-labor with contractions that were about that spacing, so I wasn't letting myself get my hopes up yet. But I think Brian could tell by the way I was acting that this was going to be it. He brought be a drink and a snack to eat in the tub while he got things ready to go.
I got out of the tub at around 11pm and laid down in bed to try to relax. In pre-labor, relaxation after a bath often caused the contractions to lessen or stop. But this time they felt more intense. Brian helped me to relax my body, control my breathing, and coached me into deep relaxation. As I laid there, I was able to analyze the qualities of the contractions and I realized that these contractions felt different than my pre-labor contractions. During pre-labor, the contractions were tight and squeezy, like a corset around my middle. But these felt lower, more downward in direction. And also they were increasing in intensity and painfulness. So around 11:30pm, I relented and told Brian he'd better make the calls. He called my mom to come over and stay with Mira (already in bed for the night), and he called the on-call midwife to let her know that we were in labor but not yet ready to come into the birth center. The midwife talked to him and me a bit, asked all the normal questions, listened to a few of my contractions, then told me I was coping well with my breathing and relaxation and that I was probably in the middle of active labor. She told us to call back if the contractions got much stronger and closer, my water broke, or we decided to head into the birth center, whichever came first.
After that, the exact order of things are a little fuzzy for me. I was having to focus fully on laboring and not much outside of that was getting my attention. At some point, laying in my relaxation position felt no good anymore, so we moved downstairs so that I could try a sitting/reclining position. (That's about the time that my mom arrived.) But I pretty quickly figured out that sitting was ALL WRONG and standing was what I really needed. Brian would stand in front of me and I'd drape my arms over his shoulders, lean on him and rock side to side. That seemed to be the best thing. Brian was great and had my try several different positions to try to save my energy, but nothing worked like the standing and rocking. Somehow, he managed to be there for me to lean on in my contractions and also get the car packed in the 90 second intervals in between my contractions. I don't know how he did it, but he must've been busting his butt.
At around 2:30am, my contractions were getting much harder to cope with and my legs were getting tired, so we went back to the bath tub to try to give me a break. The tub did feel better mostly because I could rest my legs, but the contractions were still way strong and hard. (In hindsight, I was entering transition.) But because I was so exhausted, I was actually dozing off in between the contractions. Brian must've been exhausted too, because he told me that he needed to grab some coffee and that he'd be right back. He was probably only gone from my side for 10 minutes, but it felt like forever. Everything was worse without him there. I couldn't do another second without him and when he got back, I told him so. "I need help." "I need drugs." "It hurts so much." These are some of the things I remember saying to him. His response: "Time to GO." (And he called the midwife to meet us at the birth center.)
It took some convincing to get me out of the tub; I didn't want to move because anything seemed to only make it worse. And when I did move, I needed to do it in between contractions but because they were coming so fast, there was not much time between them in which to get moving. So it took a while to get from the tub to the car. But at some point along the way, I remember saying to Brian, "Umm... You're right, we need to GO." I was feeling rectal pressure as I was moving around and knew that it wouldn't be long before I needed to push.
The car ride was thankfully brief and easy. Brian drove smoothly and calmly but quickly. Being 3:30 in the morning, there was no traffic and all the lights turned green for us, so we didn't even need to stop once. We arrived at the birth center at 3:45am. The midwife was already there and waiting for us, which was good because things moved REALLY QUICKLY from that point on.
I had one contraction while standing in my room and I told the midwife I was having rectal pressure. She told me that she needed me to lay in the bed so she could check my cervix. I laid down on my side (and didn't move from that position until Ellowyn was born, a mere 20 minutes later!) She checked me and said my waters were still in tact and I was at dilated to 8 centimeters with a "VERY soft cervix". The very next contraction, I had a strong urge to push. I tried to fight it, knowing I was only at 8cm, but I couldn't stop myself from pushing just a little. And as soon as I did that littlest push, I felt my waters break. At that point my midwife said, "Now that your waters have broken, your contractions will probably get stronger and you'll dilate quickly." All I heard was "contractions get stronger" and I got scared, so scared. I couldn't DO any more. I was at my limit already. It couldn't get stronger. And I remember saying, "No no no" and gripping desperately for Brian, who was sitting on the bed in front of me as I laid on my side. And just then came my next contraction and it was STRONGER and I NEEDED to get the baby out NOW. But I still didn't think I could push. And I was scared and it hurt and so I SCREAMED. One scream. That was all. Because then that contraction ended and my midwife said "You may have just finished dilating in one contraction. Let me check again." Sure enough she said I could push on the next one. I think that scream caught Brian off guard and I think that was the first time that he felt at a loss as a labor coach. But luckily the midwife was with us now and she reminded him to coach me to put my chin on my chest and groan when pushing instead of letting me scream.
And with the next contraction we pushed. Brian held my top leg up with one hand, held my hand with the other. I squeezed his hand and his shoulder and he was my rock. I needed him. I needed him badly. Because I WAS HAVING A BABY. And I was FEELING EVERYTHING. And it was hard and it hurt and it burned and it couldn't be over fast enough. And Brian coached me to push and breathe and groan. And did I ever groan. I groaned so much my throat hurt afterwards. And in two contractions her head was crowning. And there's a reason they call that the "ring of fire", folks. And then two more contractions and her head was out. I expected it to feel better at that point, but it only seemed to increase the urgency in me to GET THIS BABY OUT. So then the midwife said that the shoulders were in good alignment and on the next contraction I could push the rest of her out. Well, good because I was going to push her out anyway, one way or another. And then that next contraction came and I pushed so hard because I was DONE with this now, thank you anyway. And out she came with a gush and a huge rush of relief.
We had arrived at the birth center at 3:45am and, just a handful of contractions later, Ellowyn was born at 4:16am. Brian timed that rather well, I'd say.
Everything after that was cake. Delivering the placenta, getting stitched up (I had a small tear as her shoulders came through), the rest of the contractions as my uterus shrunk.... all of that was nothing. I had my baby. I had FOUGHT for that baby and now I had her. It was hard. So hard. Mira's birth was nearly 3x longer, but not nearly as difficult. After Mira's birth, I almost felt like I cheated because the epidural removed me so much from the experience. But not this time. I EARNED every inch of that baby.
Ellowyn was born a healthy 8 pounds and 14 ounces (75th percentile), 21 inches long (90th percentile!!).