At 1:15 am on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014, when I was 39 weeks and 1 day pregnant, I drifted off to sleep, just like any other night. It didn’t last long because a little before 1:30 am, I was jolted awake by my first contraction. It was so strange to me to have had no warning, no feeling different, no intuition that labor was imminent. The first contraction was followed by another contraction, and another, and while I knew that these felt different from the Braxton Hicks I had had throughout my pregnancy, I lay there in bed for a while thinking they might go away. This couldn’t be the real thing, I thought. I’d had no warning! No warm up contractions or even any cramps! That first contraction took my breath away and was WAY more intense than I was expecting for the beginning of labor. While still lying there, I tried to use my Hypnobirthing breathing techniques to get through each contraction but I didn’t feel like it was working, even so early on. I didn’t want to wake Brock in case it wasn’t the real thing and he still had to go to work the next day, so I decided to get up and move around to see if they would subside that way. I walked around the house a little and they kept going, so I got in the shower, and eventually the bath, because I’d heard that that sometimes stops contractions if it’s not true labor. No such luck, so I got out.
By this time it was around 3:30 am and I decided to wake up Brock and let him know what was going on, and to get some help because the contractions were way more intense and closer together than I was expecting. I texted our midwife, Heather, and doula, Sonya, to let them know what was going on. They both wanted me to try to go back to sleep to rest up for what was coming, which, of course, I was way too excited to do. At this point I do remember Brock lying behind me and whispering some of our Hypnobirthing prompts in my ear. And I remember almost crying and telling him how good he was doing and him laughing at me. Labor logic, I guess.
I think it was around 6:30 am that I asked the doula to come over because I was feeling totally out of control. Looking back, I almost can’t believe I labored for 5 hours before calling her over. Labor created this strange time warp wherein everything felt like it was taking fooorrrreeevvver as I was going through each contraction, but the time on the clock was actually flying by. Sonya came over at around 8:30 am. We watched Pitch Perfect (well Brock and Sonya watched it) and tried some different laboring positions – the ball, with the robozo, on the floor, etc. Nothing made the contractions better. I was trying to continue with my Hypnobirthing breathing, but I was finding that if the contractions were more than 3 breaths long I started to feel really out of control.
Possibly my favorite exchange of my labor went something like this:
Me: “Is this actually happening? Am I really in labor? I keep thinking it’s not real and we’re going to get to go about our normal Tuesday activities.”
Sonya: “This is our Tuesday now.”
I think I really didn’t believe it was really happening until this point.
The midwives came over to check on my progress at about 12:30 pm. After hearing that I was "only" 4 cm dilated and feeling a bit demoralized, Brock and I went to our bedroom to try to get some rest, as it had been almost 12 hours of labor and 30-some hours since I’d really slept, and everyone else had lunch downstairs. (Sidenote: freezer meals were possibly the best thing I did to prepare in pregnancy. We put some freezer chili in the crockpot in the morning when I went into labor and it fed everyone throughout the day. And lots more meals kept Brock and I alive the first few weeks after baby was born.)
I feel I should take a minute to stress how crucial having our Doula, Sonya, was for me in having a successful labor and homebirth. I literally could not have done it without her. She was such a calm presence in the middle of such an intense time. Every time I said, “I can’t do this anymore,” she replied confidently looking right into my eyes, “But you ARE doing it.” She used our Hypnobirthing prompts; I think her saying, “Breathe love down to your baby,” is ingrained in my memory forever. She made sure I was eating and drinking and going to the bathroom, got me to try new laboring positions, squeezed my hips, took care of Brock so he could take care of me, filled the birthing pool, kept in contact with the midwives and birth photographer, cleaned up after the birth, did laundry and made us breakfast the next morning, gave so much information on every topic I wanted to know about and so, so much more. In short, she was amazing.
Brock, too, was amazing. He was my rock. He was so calm, cool, and collected. He was there for me every second; he never left my side. I really felt like he was laboring right along with me and baby. He was so empathetic and caring. If he was nervous at all, I never knew it. And he didn’t say anything about sitting in the pool with me and my poop. That’s true love.
Things got really intense around this time. I got up from the bed and was lying on the floor of our bedroom, thinking with every contraction, “I want to go to the hospital, I want an epidural, I want a c-section.” It became my mantra for a while. This was probably my least “zen” moment, and it’s probably because I was entering transition (even though my contractions had slowed to every 10 minutes). I asked for an epidural out loud only one time, and Sonya gently reminded me that it wasn’t part of my birth plan, and that I didn’t really want one. I think I just needed someone to say it to me, and I didn’t think about it again.
Sonya and Brock got me back into the bathtub with some lavender oil (to this day when I smell lavender I’m brought back to this moment), turned off the lights and turned on some little electric candles. The water made things so much better, and I was able to relax a bit more. Shortly after getting in the tub, I felt a pop and a gush of fluid. My first thought was, “Huh, that was a weird contraction.” I could feel my brain working really hard, like I could almost follow each single thought as it formed into one big “ah-hah” moment. It obviously wasn’t just a contraction – it was my water breaking, and it happened at 3:51 pm . My brain suddenly kicked into high gear and I had Sonya turn on the lights so we could check for meconium. There wasn’t any, but there was a lot of vernix. This was the point where it all became very real for me. Labor wasn’t going to go on forever. I was actually getting excited. This baby, this vernix-covered, living, breathing, human being was coming, and it was going to happen sooner rather than later.
Heather and Tamara, the midwives, came over shortly after my water broke, and Vannessa, the birth photographer, also came around then. Once the birth pool was filled everyone really wanted me to get out of the bathtub and into the pool. I finally managed to get there by waddling along the plastic trail that had been laid out for me. I felt so much better when I was in the water.
I don’t remember much about this time, at least not in more than just hazy flashes. I vaguely remember Tamara still trying to check me with the Doppler. I remember Vannessa snapping photos and moving around the tub. I remember Brock being behind me in the pool. I remember trying to get “comfortable” and I think I ended up kind of on my knees. I remember reaching down to try to feel her head and getting frustrated that it wasn’t coming out fast enough. Her head becoming visible and Brock moving around me to see and feel it. The searing pain of her head emerging, and trying to push it down with my hands so that I didn’t tear upward. Telling the midwife she had to keep her hands on baby and me so I wouldn’t fall apart. I remember feeling baby’s body turning around to get into position while still inside me – the strangest thing I’ve ever felt. I remember her head being out for almost three minutes before I had another contraction and the strength to push again. Asking over and over again during those three minutes, “Is it ok? Is it going to be ok? Can it stay under water this long?” I remember the rest of her body slithering out with a final push and grabbing my baby to bring her up to my chest. Her stopping short because the cord was wrapped around her neck twice. The midwife unwrapping it and finally handing me my floppy, slippery baby and holding her to me for the very first time. Leaning back on Brock with the greatest sense of relief I’ve ever felt in my life. I remember rubbing my still-purple baby’s back, waiting for what felt like forever but was probably only 30 seconds for her to take her first breath. Her finally moving and taking her first breath, making her first sound. I remember realizing that we still didn’t know her gender, looking between her legs and announcing, “It’s a girl! I knew it was a girl.” Crying with relief and the greatest sense of happiness and fulfillment and achievement that I’ve ever known.
And just like that, at 6:50 pm on April 22, 2014, Evelyn June became part of this world and the most important our lives.
This story was adapted from my (infrequently used) personal blog. A (much, much) longer version, and more photos from the incomparable Vannessa Brown, can be found at thebirthofamother.wordpress.com.
Kelsey Voelker is a labor doula and lactation educator with Full Circle Birth Collective. Learn more about Kelsey here.
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