1. First labors are always extra hard (hard? yes. Extra hard? no)As most of you can tell, I had a few things to learn about giving birth.
2. When the "real" contractions start they are unmistakable (heh. Yeah. Read on....)
3. First labors are nearly always late (emphasis on "nearly")
4. First labors are looooooong. Very long. (not always...)
5. Most likely there will be false alarms. At least once or twice. (unless you're expecting them. And then it goes into the real thing right away, just to keep you guessing)
6. Recovery time for natural, unmedicated birth is measured best in days or hours, not weeks. (Mine was reasonable--neither super fast nor unusually slow)
7. Breastfeeding is the magical weightloss pill. (Apparently not for everyone. The only misconception I've been sad about...)
It was Thursday morning and I woke up with a lower back ache. This wasn't unusual. I dealt with back pain most days, so I didn't think much of the back pain that morning.
It was an exciting day. With my due date just a week away there wasn't a lot of time left before baby came. I felt certain I wouldn't be meeting my little one for at least a week (and I thought two weeks far more likely); but my steady work on the house, freezer cooking, and gathering baby things was about to be completed. I'd worked down my preparation list, and knew that the last couple projects remaining would be easily accomplished in a day. It was nice to have the end in sight, and I was already planning the various visits and invitations I was going to make in the week or two of "down time" I had left while waiting for our little one to arrive.
Around noon I heard a knock on the door. It was FedEx, delivering the parts for our birthing tub. As I was mentally checking the birthing tub off the "labor prep" list, I noticed for the first time that my backache wasn't quite normal. Instead of a steady ache, it was coming and going at random intervals. By mid afternoon I was certain I was having contractions. This didn't surprise me much-both of my sister-in-laws had dealt with prodomal labor for two to three weeks before they actually delivered their first little ones. I was sure this was what I was experiencing.
Though it never entered my mind that I could be in labor, I did decide to write my midwife, and let her know what was going on. I also decided to let my sister in law know. She and my brother live nextdoor to us, and had agreed to be the "family waiting room" while I was in labor. Any immediate family who wanted to be a part of the labor could wait at their apartment, and come visit me a few at a time. This allowed them to participate without adding pressure on me. It was an ideal set up. Because Amanda would be hosting the "labor party" as we'd dubbed it, she needed a bit more notice--even though I was sure it was a false alarm.
As a gift to myself I'd used some of my spending money to purchase a good deal on housecleaning from a daily-deal site. That afternoon a woman was due to spend a few hours deep cleaning the house for me. She was super friendly, and it was so wonderful to have the house immaculate. My "nesting instinct" was flying high.
At 5:30 the contractions were still coming, and I decided to start timing them. I was surprised to find that they had become increasingly regular--about 4 1/2 minutes apart. I found that interesting, but still didn't consider it any sort of indicator that a baby would be arriving soon. It was merely a satisfying indication that my body was getting ready and maybe my baby would arrive closer to one week than two.
Richard arrived home from work shortly after 5:30, and we both started getting ready to go out to dinner with his co-workers. After catching up on his day I casually mentioned I'd been having contractions all afternoon. I held up my phone as "proof," showing him the last few contractions. The look of shocked surprise on his face was priceless! I assured him this wasn't the "real deal" just a practice run, but that didn't change his excitement one bit! Baby was coming, and was making that known--even if we did have another week or two to wait! He immediately started mentally going down the checklist of things to do. It was pretty short:
"Are you okay? What do we need to do? Can I get you anything? Do we need to stay home tonight?"
"No--no need to stay home." I confidently assured him. "I'm sure this isn't the real deal, just practice. Remember? We decided we weren't going to give false alarms. We'll keep on going with life, and let this baby get here when he or she is good and ready. No need to get panicky over a few contractions."
"Right. Okay--right. That's good. We'll do that." He agreed, still walking on air.
An hour (and approximately 14 contractions) later we were comfortably ensconced in an Italian restaurant, waiting for his coworkers to arrive. We joked about ordering "eggplant parmesean" for me, as there is an old wives tale saying that dish will bring on labor. The next couple hours were spent talking about babies, engagements, gardening, and co-workers. Privately I continued to time contractions.
By the time we'd opened gifts and said goodbyes the contractions were starting to get stronger, and the thought first occured to me that this might, actually, be genuine labor. Donna (my midwife) had emailed me back while we were in dinner, and advised me to take a warm bath and a wine cooler when I got home. If it was false labor the contractions would slow or stop. If it was the real thing they would continue or even intensify.
On the way home I called Amanda to give her the latest update and then turned to my hubby to make a special request: "Could we stop by Joanns on the way home? I still haven't dyed my labor gown purple, and I really would rather not wear a white one... it'll get so messy and ugly. It's really easy to do, I just have to get the dye and some salt."
Richard stared at me, incredulous. He couldn't believe I was actually wanting to stop by a store to get fabric dye for a labor gown when I might already be in labor. "Uhm... no." He said, "You need to get home right away. We DON'T need to be shopping now." An ill-timed contraction kept me from objecting. I was disappointed, but accepted it--until about 15 minuted later that is, when we were nearing both home and the store. This time I timed the request just after a contraction, and was pleasantly rewarded. It's hard to deny a pregnant wife--especially if she's having contractions. We got the dye.
We also stopped by Tom Thumb. While still not convinced this was "real" labor (the jury was out till I tried the warm bath), we had strong enough suspicions that we wanted to get some snacks for our midwives. We knew first labors were usually long affairs, so having some fruit and other snacks on hand would be appreciated. I had to laugh when my husband came back--he'd gone in for some fruit and salt. He came back with several bags of fruit, two kinds of salt, and three 12 packs of caffenated soda (they were on sale! He might be up all night with me!), and stories of the many people to whom he'd announced my impending labor.
While Richard was inside the contractions continued to intensify--for the first time they wrapped forward from my back (all contractions up to this point had been in the lower back) to my abdomen and several lasted longer than a minute.
As soon as we got home I put my labor gown in the wash to dye, and then started my bath. It was a little before 10:00. I followed Donna's recommendations to the letter, and within 10 minutes felt more relaxed than I've ever felt before! The contractions kept coming, but I had about 2-3 that were spaced at 8-10 minutes instead of the usual 4 minutes, so I wondered if it was stopping. By the time I decided it was time to get out, I was ready for bed.
Richard asked if it was time to call family, but I still didn't think so. I wasn't sure if things were slowing down (Like Donna thought they might) or if this was just my last opportunity for rest before things got serious, but either way I wanted to get however much sleep I was able. Regardless of whether things continued or stopped, I was sure we had plenty of time to alert the family. They might as well get what sleep they could--and I would do the same.
An hour later the contractions were still coming at 4 minutes (sometimes less), and I decided it was pointless to keep pretending I was sleeping. They were getting stronger, and several had been strong enough that I felt sick to my stomach. I needed to throw up, but my body wouldn't cooperate.
We moved to the living room--I forget why--and I tried a few different birth positions. I determined quickly that the birthing ball wasn't nearly as awesome for this labor as I'd thought it would be. I was finally able to throw up. At this point Richard told me we WERE calling the midwife. I might have lingering doubts about whether this was the "real deal" but he didn't. Donna told us we needed to call our Doulas right away, especially as they had a 45 minute drive ahead of them. She would let them assess where I was, and follow afterwards. Before hanging up with her I asked if there was any way this was still false labor, she said absolutely not. This was the real deal.
After hanging up with her I had another powerful contraction. I had handled the contractions so far by going limp as soon as I felt them coming. Richard talked me through each one, reminding me not to fight it. He helped me relax through it, and told me he knew I could do it. And I knew I could, as long as he was telling me so. But this contraction surprised me, it was strong and painful, and I panicked. I couldn't do this, I wasn't able to and I wanted to give up. The complete feeling of helplessness, hopelessness, and fear washed over me. If it was this bad and I was only just starting, there was no way I'd be able to finish.
On top of the hopeless feeling I was confused. The first couple stages of labor, according our birthing class and the reading I'd done, were first emotional excitement that the awaited day had finally come, and then serious "we're getting down to business." It wasn't until a woman hit transition that she was ready to give up. Where had the excitement been? The serious "getting down to business? And why was I showing signs of transition, when I'd literally only just realized I was in labor? Didn't my body realize I couldn't possibly be in transition?
After that contraction I looked at Richard and told him, with an attempt at tongue-in-cheek humor, that I really didn't think labor was going to be much fun. The sense of humor might not have been perfect, but it did stick around most of the labor in short bursts between contractions.
From that point on things became hazy. The contractions continued to be regular, but I no longer cared how long they were or how far apart. They must have continued to get closer. I found out later that Richard had taken over timing them. At some point I told Richard to call our midwife and tell her not to wait for the Doula's assessment. I had no thoughts of whether the baby would be soon or late, I was past thinking timeframe, all I knew was that I wanted my midwife there as soon as possible.
Mentally I retreated from the world. It was like I entered into a space, a room, that only I could enter and in that room was a job only I could do. There were people outside the little room that loved me, cared for me, and helped me with anything I asked for (and many things I couldn't or didn't ask for). But no one could labor for me, only I could enter that little room and do the work that needed to be done. This was all on me.
As things intensified I kept Richard close. The Doula's had arrived, and the midwives, and if I needed something (like a drink of water) I'd ask Richard for it. He'd pass the request on, and shortly afterwards he'd have it for me. But woe the moment that I asked him for something and he attempted to get it himself!! Going even a few seconds without his hand holding mine or his reassuring words was more than I was willing to do.
My doulas, Katelyn and Vanessa, were also near at hand. As a contraction would come they would groan. I'd labored in silence up to this point, an inhibition I didn't know I had, but as I heard them the inhibition fell away and I realized that the deep moans really did help with pain management. They watched my body to see where I was putting tension, and then would remind me, "Relax your foot." Or wherever else. They were Richard's go-fers, and generally made themselves indispensable in ways that I couldn't fully appreciate until later.
The birthing tub finished filling at some point, and I was able to get into the warm water. It helped. I draped myself over the edge, and kept holding on to Richard. Once I got in I didn't want to ever get out. The warm water even relaxed some of the contractions, giving me a minor respite.
It was at this point that my body, yet again, seemed to think it was farther along than I thought reasonable (or possible). After a few contractions I felt the urge to push. I couldn't help going along with it to a degree, but I tried not to. Wanting to push, when the midwives and doulas had only been there an hour at most, was beyond ridiculous. First labors, I had been told, always took awhile. I thought of my body as an impatient child, and mentally scolded it for being unreasonably over-eager.
I told Richard and the Doulas the contraction had been different, and they asked if I wanted Donna to check my dilation. I didn't want her to. Getting out of the warm water and being cold and shivery was definitely not on the list of things I wanted to do while having serious contractions. On top of that, I truly didn't believe I could be at the point where pushing was reasonable. My labor hadn't been long enough yet, and I was scared she'd check me and find out that I was only a 3 or a 4. That would be depressing. I'd rather fight the occasional (unreasonable) urge to push than find out that I'd barely even started. So I continued on as was, and the pushing urge subsided.
Eventually, though, I had to get out to make a pit stop. While I was out it made sense to have Donna check me. It was 3:04 when she told me I was fully effaced. The words seemed hazy. I was pretty sure "fully effaced" meant I was at a 10, and the baby was ready to come, but I was equally sure she couldn't possibly mean that. Surely not. It had only been a few hours. She had to repeat it another two times before I finally "got" what she meant. This baby was ready to go! She suggested if I could hold off a couple contractions, making that pit stop would be a good idea. So I did.
But I didn't have to hold off on the contractions. As soon as she said I was ready to go the contractions stopped. I was incredibly relieved. I stayed put for QUITE awhile, because I was sure the contractions would start as soon as I stood up. I started to get up a couple times--but it hurt too much and I wasn't ready to start into the fray again. I had zero perspective at that point. I wasn't thinking about my baby, or the fact that I was close to meeting him or her. I wasn't thinking that in just a few more minutes, a few more pushes, I'd know whether we had a boy or a girl. I wasn't even sitting there afraid of the next stage of labor. All I could think was that the contractions had stopped, and I didn't want them to start again.
At one point my water broke. Ashley, Donna's assistant, wanted to check to be sure it was clear. I started to stand up, but it was so uncomfortable I sat back down before she could check. I told her she'd have to look later, I wasn't ready to move yet. I vaguely wondered if I was being unreasonable, but at that point I didn't really care.
Finally I knew I had to get up. I was as ready as I'd ever be. So I headed to the bedroom. On the way someone asked if I wanted to go to the bed or the birth pool. I didnt' strongly care, but I remembered wanting a water birth if possible. So I went with the birthing tub.
I got in the warm water, fully expecting the contractions to start up again. But they didn't. Even after several minutes they didn't start up again. Half of me was relieved, as the only reason I'd avoided getting up was because I didn't want the contractions to start--and I'd gotten up and they hadn't. The other part of me was a little concerned--I'd finally mentally prepared myself for the final step--and no contractions?? I tried pushing on my own to see if that would start something--it didn't, so I stopped.
After waiting for what seemed like a long, long time Ashley suggested they pray. Almost immediately I felt a contraction coming. I didn't try to hurry it--I let the contraction build and didn't interfere. As the intensity increased I pushed. As the contraction subsided I waited for another. It didn't come. After a few minutes Richard leaned over me and began praying. Another contraction started.
The contractions never became regular again. Each contraction that followed was a spiritual battle. I remember everyone in the room praying aloud for each contraction, though my husband remembers differently. It was simple--if my birth team didn't pray, I didn't have a contraction.
I could feel our baby descending--no one told me when our little one was crowning. With my position in the water I don't think they could see. I felt the "Ring of fire" and the head emerged. After that contraction Donna told me to reach down and touch my baby. I did and felt a head-full of hair. Minutes passed before the next contraction, scaring me. Another prayer, and the final push. It was a surreal moment, one I replayed in my mind for weeks following, the moment I felt our baby slipping into the world.
After only six pushing contractions I heard my midwife tell me--"Reach down and get your baby." Time passed slowly as I brought my baby out of the water, dripping and wet. I could hear my husband overcome, crying with joy as we both looked at our baby. I saw her a few seconds before he did as he said with a sob, "We've got a girl!"
We shifted so she was lying on my chest, and the midwife suctioned her. They asked what her name was--Tirza, Tirza Salome.
She was born at 4:09am. It was 9 hours of active labor counting by contraction spacing, but only about 4-5 hours since I realized it was "real" labor. Because the labor had happened so fast, we never had a chance to tell family. The parents found out I was in labor an hour or two before Tirza was born, but the rest of the siblings/grandparents didn't know till after the fact. So much for a labor party at my SILs house!
The labor was hard work, but not miserable work. Many of my fears proved to be unfounded. Our daughters name, Tirza Salome, means beautiful peace, and in many ways I think this actually describes my labor and the days following as well.
Oh--and that labor gown I was so determined to dye? It never made it out of the washing machine.
But at least it's purple. :P