The hospital in Petersburg doesn’t deliver babies anymore (I was born there), but my husband has family in Juneau, so we decided to go there for the birth. Initially, I had several reasons to choose the Birth Center for care: several friends had successful birth experiences there, I liked the idea of a water birth, and the knowledge that the hospital was moments away in case of emergency was reassuring. I saw my regular doctor during the pregnancy and everything progressed smoothly, but always felt like I should have more questions. The one rough patch had to do with blood sugar. Apparently, sneaking in lunch while at the doctor’s office is a recipe for abnormal sugar results and gestational diabetes screening to rule that out- luckily everything was fine.
At about week 30, I finally went to Juneau and sat down with a midwife at the Birth Center. I was immediately impressed with the calm nature of the midwives and the way they conducted a visit. They took the time to answer the few questions I arrived with and they brought up other topics that I didn’t realize I had questions about. Our conversations helped me recognize that there were more aspects of the birth process to look into and think about. It was reassuring to talk to someone experienced who would be there to help us and was interested in knowing us as whole people. Checkups felt like therapy a few times. It was comfortable to talk about pushing the baby outside in a healthy way after all the work of making an excellent healthy habitat inside. When my husband came to appointments we focused on our dynamic as well as checking on the baby. Some of our best talks happened in the car leaving the Birth Center.
When filling out the birth plan, I made notes on a different paper and thought for days about the questions before actually filling in the plan. I realized that scary family birth stories had me worried about some aspects of birth and talking about my fears and birth in general helped me feel in-control. My favorite book was for the birth partner. The sections on what the birth partner and mother might be feeling helped me write my birth plan. I wasn’t sure what type of atmosphere I might need and we talked about how we could be the best team during the birth. I had no idea what music to pick and never got around to making a playlist. My husband had been a birth coach for a family friend and he was very confident that everything would go well. I didn’t know what to expect and how I would react. I thought I might get quiet and respond well to a “coach” type relationship with my helpers during birth. I don’t have much of a competitive side, but I was a swimmer growing up and will work hard when someone tells me to. I thought I might have trouble accepting soothing touches. I was right! No petting during labor for me.
My due date came and went. Our son was positioned on his side, head low. We continued the recommended exercises together to help center the baby and enjoyed time together as a couple. I had days with a few mild contractions off and on.
One morning, I lost the mucus plug when I got out of bed, but there was no blood, just a clear glob. We had regular appointments to check on baby’s movements and heart rate. Everything was average. Then, I started to have stronger contractions in the evening. This happened several nights in a row and each time we went to bed thinking that we might be up in a few hours. As the days ticked by, we started to talk about what happens at the 2 weeks past due mark.
Ten days after my due date, I woke up and there was some blood, enough to shock me. I didn’t have any spotting during pregnancy and I got a little panicky about it, so they moved up my midwife appointment from 4 pm to 11 am and found out I was at one centimeter. The baby had good rhythms and we went home. I had a normal day. Just like the previous evenings, moderate contractions started around 5 pm. I was in a rotten mood, in hindsight, I recognize I was feeling little cramps that afternoon. After dinner, I put in a movie to distract myself and just wanted to be alone without people pestering me. At first, the contractions were spaced enough they were just annoying and I used the bathroom often. However, as the evening went on they continued, came closer together, were more intense, and we realized it was finally happening. The baby felt very low and I had little bladder control during contractions. I couldn’t really sleep. I relaxed between contractions, watched movies to distract myself, and curled up in bed with my husband. Contractions began to get harder to ignore. My husband called the midwife line to check in about 9 pm when they were about 15 minutes apart. I was pacing in the bathroom. We talked to them a few times before finally getting into the car around 11 pm. Contractions were coming about every 4 minutes.
When we arrived at the birth center I was at only 3 cm. I got into the shower while they prepared the tub. The hot water felt fabulous between contractions and standing was okay for a while. There was no position that felt comfortable, but we did stand up and sway dance together a little early on. It was comforting to be held. We put a distracting movie on with good songs to fill the void in the background. Go Mamma Mia. I had to have an IV port, because I had tested positive for strep B. Most of the time I forgot about the port on my hand, it didn’t register compared to the contractions. It was a relief to shed my clothes and get in the tub. When a contraction started I would hold both my husbands hands, breathe, and close my eyes. Between contractions I rested my forehead on a towel on the tub edge. At one point, I started to shake badly which scared us until they explained that it was my body releasing more hormones to cope with the pain. After that, I felt relieved and proud each time I started to shake, because I knew my body was working naturally and some relief was coming. I focused on getting through each one at a time. I felt better able to cope with my husband right there with me. We changed positions to the shower or bed between times in the tub, my favorite spot. I was in the shower when the midwife asked if I felt like trying to push. I pushed on the toilet some and then on the birthing stool. My water was still intact so we talked about it and she broke it. I was horrified when I looked down. It was green.
That is when Madi calmly talked about taking a ride over to the hospital. Our baby had obviously emptied his bowels and they were concerned he might inhale some gunk on the way out. There was concern he might be ready to come anytime, so I journeyed over in an ambulance with the lights off. I closed my eyes for the whole transfer and tried to stay calm through contractions. I remember feeling frustrated because I knew there was no tub at the hospital. The side position I was in started to hurt. That is when I started having back labor. I think my baby turned back into a side position during that transfer. Labor started to feel like one long contraction with a wave of double pain during the actual contraction. I was grateful the midwives were there. Moving locations felt like starting over and they helped deal with new caregivers asking many questions as they settled me in. I didn’t feel comfortable in the bed, but the pain was worse standing in the shower and I was too tired to stand for a long stretch. I struggled to remain calm and focus on relaxing and breathing in this new place with the back extra pain. I knew I was supposed to breathe low, but my voice started to come shrill and whining. I didn’t want drugs, but I was struggling, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I kept thinking it would get better. After a time, I started to cry because I couldn’t rest between contractions. My husband was cheering me on, but I was feeling the hours and wanted it to all stop. My husband was confident I could continue without drugs and my birth plan stated that too. I kept going. When I finally started sobbing help, the midwives told my husband they thought we needed to discuss the options. They told me to help I had to talk to them about my new wishes at this point: IV drugs or epidural were the options the hospital offered at the moment. The midwives briefly left the room to let us talk about it. We consented to a half dose of IV drugs. After a few minutes, the extra pain faded into the background and I could concentrate through contractions again. It was a good choice. Eventually, the pain started to come back as the drug worn off and they put a Tems pack on my lower back. The vibrations felt terrible at first, but eventually I forgot they were there and the back labor was under control again.
One midwife was right near my ear whispering encouragement and redirecting me back to my breath if I was distracted by activities in the room. We heard staff say someone was working to have twins down the hall. The doctor was tending to us both, so they called in another doctor and the new one took over my care. He wanted to know how much energy I had left. They had me hooked to an instrument that measured the strength of my pushes. The doctor watched that and decided I had enough “gas” to keep going, so we did. I knew they were evaluating the possible need for a C-section and that sure kept me pushing hard. The baby felt like he was coming close, but then didn’t. When the doctor felt for the head it felt like he had to reach up just as far as before. That was maddening. With each push I could feel the head come down and then retreat. The doctor stayed in the room. They talked about all the staff coming in to help with the baby when he came. There were at least eleven hospital and birth center people in the room at one point, one team for me, and one for the baby. My husband held my hand on one side and the midwife held my other hand. I was pushing with everything I had and they started asking me for more during a long contraction. Several pushes felt impossible when it was happening, but they said he was close and kept asking me for more, so I did. Each contraction I pushed several times and he would come close but not out. My husband started to worry about me out loud. He asked, “How long can she go on? How many hours has it been”? The midwives nicely told him to be quiet. They knew I didn’t want to know at that moment. The doctor decided the baby was slightly turned and was slipping back because a shoulder was getting caught. He said the baby was getting stressed and needed to come out, he would go for it using the vacuum. I followed the pushing directions with everything I had and my husband told me when he could see the baby’s head. There was a bright sharp rip of pain when his head was pulled out, then another when the shoulders came. Then I didn’t have to push anymore. They checked him over and cleaned him up while he cried. The doctor checking him worried that his collarbone might be broken, so they ordered x-rays. The doctor and my husband talked while he monitored me and we waited for my placenta to come. They put the baby on my chest. He still had little bits of goo on his skin in places. His open eyes were large and bright. He was bigger than I imagined: 9lbs 5oz. and 20 inches long. He was born about 25 hours after my contractions started at the house.
After a time, the staff went away and midwives left. Both sets of grandparents came in to meet the baby, take pictures, and tell me good job. The nurses on the night shift reminded me they were staying and we had something to eat. They made up a bed for my husband to sleep on and brought a clear bassinet for our son. A nurse invited my husband to help give our son his first bath. I couldn’t really see, but I was happy he got to help. My son didn’t have a broken collarbone, but he was more sensitive on that side and he had marks on his head from the vacuum and the monitor. I couldn’t get out of bed myself yet. The first time the nurse helped me to the bathroom a gush of fluid came out when I sat up, I was worried, but she said it was normal. One nurse changed the bedding while the other helped me to the restroom and to cleanse myself with a rinse bottle after peeing. I had many stitches to deal with. I slept on and off that night. The next day, I got up by myself to the restroom a few times and spent the day cuddling the baby and practicing nursing. The day nurse was very helpful giving me tips on nursing positions and self-expression. We went home about 48 hours after he was born.
The Birth Center midwives were an essential part of my team and I’m so glad they came over to the hospital with us. The birth plan and meetings with them helped me prepare for labor. With their support, and my husband’s, I was able to get through a relatively tough labor with minimal intervention. In fact, after my labor the doctor mentioned that my situation would have likely ended in a C-section if I had gone for an epidural, it was only because I could feel the contractions that I could push so hard for that long with him stuck. After about 3 days, the pain disappeared from my labor memories and only the facts are left. Each moment of rough labor was worth it to have our healthy son in our lives!