It all started around 5am on Sunday, April 22nd. I (Julia) woke up to contractions that were painful and around 6-7 minutes apart. About an hour later, I woke Paul up to say that I thought that this was it and that we should call our doula (Emma). Knowing that she needed an hour to get to us and that the women in my family have a history of quick labor and deliveries, we thought it was prudent to get her involved ASAP. Little did we know, that I was going to break the family legacy!
Emma arrived and for the next few hours, she began to coach us through contractions, but within a couple of hours, it became clear that labor was stalling so she went home and we promised to call when things picked up again more consistently.
While I was still having contractions, we decided to keep ourselves busy: we went to church, got take-out with Paul’s sisters (I was craving mac and cheese!), went for a walk around Pentagon City Mall, had dinner at Noodle and Co, played a game, and watched an episode of Friday Night Lights. By the time we took the walk around the mall, my contractions were consistent and painful again and although I had to stop walking and concentrate during a contraction, I could still enjoy things in between so we waited to call Emma back.
Around 11pm that night, my contractions started getting stronger, longer and closer together so we called Emma again and asked her to come over. Throughout the night, I continued to labor with contractions that were anywhere from 5-7 minutes apart and 1 1/2-2 minutes long. My midwife wanted us to wait until contractions were consistently 3-4 minutes apart for at least an hour to come into the hospital, and we fully expected that we would be heading there shortly after the morning rush hour. 9 am came and went and I was still not having consistent contractions that were 3-4 minutes apart. Mind you, they were consistent, painful and long though, much longer than we had learned contractions would be at this stage in our Bradley book (a book about natural childbirth – we recommend it highly!) which left us a little puzzled as to why they were not closer together at this point.
Around 1pm on the 23rd (32 hours later), we called the midwife again and gave her an update. We were hoping that she would give us some advice that would speed things up, but her main advice was to get some rest since I had been awake since 5 am the day before. This was frustrating because when I was active (eg. climbing steps or taking a walk), my contractions would get closer together. When I rested, they got further apart. I wanted to speed things up, not slow things down! I tried to take her advice but my contractions were still so strong and long that it seemed to be a losing battle and by 3pm or so, I hit a wall. In tears I told Paul that I didn’t think I could continue doing things the way we had been here at home without knowing that everything was ok. I wanted to go in to get checked to see what progress I had made and to make sure that the baby was fine. Our doula cautioned us that they would probably just send us home, but we decided to call the midwife anyways and after blubbering on the phone with her, she agreed to let us come in and see where we were at. Both our midwife and doula fully expected that we would be coming back home, so Emma hopped into the car with us instead of going in her own car. We parked in two hour parking, but both Paul and I walked into that hospital thinking, “There is no way that we are leaving here without a baby in our arms!”
They ushered me into triage and checked me, finding me 100% effaced, the baby at the 0 position, and 1 cm dilated. YES, only 1 cm dilated! I wasn’t discouraged though because she said that my cervix was so thin that it could really pop open very quickly and with him in such a low position, it could go fairly quickly after that. My options were to go home and try to rest (they could give me something to help me rest better), walk around the hospital for a couple of hours and then get checked again to see if there was progress, or do something artificially to speed things up. Although my midwife made mention of that last option, we all knew (including her) that that was not even on the table since we were passionate about having a natural birth.
I chose to walk around the labor and delivery floor for a couple of hours and Paul quickly dashed off a few texts and a Facebook status update asking everyone to pray for progress so that I didn’t have to go home. He was so concerned about how much stamina I would have left if this went on much longer, and we really didn’t want to have interventions purely because I didn’t have the strength to go on anymore. As soon as I started walking around, my contractions picked up. The doula and a nurse at the hospital also helped me by suggesting some techniques of lifting my ball of a belly and placing it more squarely on my pelvis and low deep breathing.
Around 6:30pm, Nora, my midwife, checked me again and the internal itself caused me to go from 1 to almost 5 cm dilated. They admitted me and my labor went to a whole new level of intensity. The midwife practice that I chose to go with, Wisdom Midwifery, has been revolutionary in how it has impacted George Washington University Hospital’s practices, and because of them, I had a tub to labor and deliver in, telemetry monitoring (wireless) so that I could move around and not be contained to a bed while they were making sure that the baby was not under too much stress, and other great props to help me manage a natural delivery. They started to fill the tub and I was whisked into the shower since water was my only source of comfort. Once the tub was full, they helped me in and while I hadn’t necessarily planned to deliver in it, there was no way I was getting out once I was in. The room was dim, worship music was playing, and I continued to breath low and steady through each one of the increasingly powerful contractions. There were a few times where I almost lost control because of the pain, but Paul, my doula, midwife and the nurses were great at helping me maintain focus and composure through the worst of it.
Finally, around 9:30 pm or so, I was ready to push. That stage of the process was one of the most amazing and crazy feelings ever. When a contraction hit, there was such a power rushing through my body that I created handles with the tub liner and held on for dear life while it felt like my body was going to be catapulted across the room. There was no controlling of the pushing, my body did the work and I just had to help. I pushed for about 1 hour and 20 minutes before our little baby emerged, hand over his face which was why I had felt little movements down very low during my labor. (He still loves to have his hands by his face!)
Once he emerged, Nora handed him to me and I then I quickly moved the umbilical cord out of the way to see if we had a little boy or girl. I cried out, “It’s a boy!” Wow, we did it.
There’s more to the next part of the story, but I will share what happened next in the following post. As I reflect on my labor and delivery, I do not regret for one minute going the natural route. Although it was over 40 hours and there were times where I didn’t think I could go on, I never was tempted to take drugs. It was probably a good thing that I had been so natural birth militant while pregnant, and I didn’t want to lose face. In all reality, it was really hard, but it was so empowering to reach down into the depths of the strength God had given me to give birth. Now I have a story that shows that it can be long and hard but possible to do it naturally. One of the major keys is to have a good team around you who has the same convictions. In other situations, I probably would have been encouraged to take Pitocin which would have most likely led to an epidural and maybe even a c-section because it was so long, but thanks to my team who would have intervened if medically necessary, they were patient and let my body do it’s work. If you live in the DC area, I highly recommend Wisdom Midwifery if you are interested in giving birth naturally, but get connected early because they are super busy and have a long waiting list these days!