Monday, February 11th, 2019, was my last day of work before maternity leave. I had planned on taking a few days off before my due date, the 17th, to spend time with my sister, who was arriving in the afternoon of the 12th. I had high hopes of meal prepping, deep cleanings, taking some much needed relaxation from the busyness of work, and heck maybe even a pedicure before my first baby arrived. I remember sitting on the couch around 7pm, feeling a slight tensing and discomfort come and go periodically, convincing myself that it was just braxton hicks. I had been experiencing braxton hicks occasionally for a few weeks now, but never felt this same sort of discomfort. After a few more of these “braxton hicks,” sitting was becoming much more uncomfortable, so I decided to get up and walk around a bit. I remember leaning over the edge of our kitchen counter, not saying a word to Caleb (my husband), because I didn’t want to sound dramatic since I “knew” this was false labor. I mean, they always tell you that for first pregnancies, babies are more often late than early or on time. I had intricately planned my sister’s trip up from Washington to include the possibility that this baby could come at 42 weeks, and I needed her to still be here. As I stood in the kitchen, with these mild waves of discomfort continuing, my eyes met Caleb’s and he immediately said into his phone “Hey guys, I have to go, I think my wife is in labor.” It would be fitting that the evening of my last day of work would also be the evening my labor began.
I did my best to sleep. I was still in very early labor and I knew I needed to rest while I could. My sister, who was also my doula, wouldn’t be in until tomorrow afternoon, so this kid needed to wait! The night felt long but we managed some decent sleep. My contractions varied anywhere from 10 – 30 minutes apart, and were much more painful lying down, so I would have to immediately stand up to work through the contraction before laying down again to attempt more sleep.
The next morning, knowing it would be our last chance for a while, we slept in as long as possible. The late morning and early afternoon were unremarkable, contractions came and went with little consistency and the same level of discomfort as the night before. After picking my sister up from the airport, we grabbed some lunch to go from Coppa, and all did our best to take naps.
At 4pm, we had a routine prenatal visit, where we informed our midwife, Madi, of early labor and how contractions had progressed only to space out once again. I opted to have a cervical check, even though I knew it wouldn’t be an indicator as to what the rest of my labor could look like, and felt some relief knowing I was 2/3cm dilated and 80% effaced. I was so completely sure, and disappointed, that she was coming that day. I remember so specifically, and so oddly, wishing she wouldn’t be born on the number 12, for no real reason other than I just didn’t want it to be the 12th. After our appointment, we grabbed some dinner to go. At this point in my labor, I realized that meal prepping and deep cleaning were out of the question.
That night, my early labor continued. At one point my contractions were anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes apart, I was getting excited that after 24+hrs of labor, we were advancing. I was (im)patiently waiting to hit the 4-1-1 that everyone teaches you, knowing that would mean I was finally in active labor and could go to the birth center. Unfortunately the progression didn’t last long, as once again my contractions spaced out as far as 30 minutes apart. Similar to the night before, my contractions were immensely more painful when I was lying; so with every contraction, I pulled my exhausted, sleep deprived body back to its feet, and using my bedroom wall for balance, I breathed through each contraction. As fate would have it, Caleb had either eaten some bad food, or maybe caught a stomach bug. He was also up all through the night, but instead of contractions, he was throwing up. At one point, my sister rushed into my room, assuming I had entered the active/transition phase of labor. Realizing it wasn’t me who was throwing up, we both had a little laugh (mixed with a little pity) at the irony of the situation. Midnight came and went, contraction after contraction, with the only consolation that my baby would be born on the 13th, and not the 12th. The 13th is special for us. My birthday is on a 13th, as well as our wedding anniversary, so I was absolutely okay with labor finally ending and her arriving today.
At 10am on the 13th, we followed up with our midwife and agreed to meet at 2pm for an assessment. The rest of the morning proved no different than before, random unpredictable contractions that required me to stand and work through. Once we arrived at our appointment, I asked for another cervical check which found that and I had only progressed to 4cm and 90% effaced. I felt pretty disappointed since I had only progressed 1 cm in 22 hours. All that work for one cm?? But I knew I couldn’t let it get to my head, logically reminding myself that labor progression can change at any moment. At this point, the midwife had a feeling the baby could be malpositioned, hindering her ability to descend. We decided to try the rebozo, a long scarf to sift the belly side to side, in hopes that the baby would move more anterior. Madi also suggested seeing the chiropractor for an adjustment to help align and open up my pelvis. After 15 minutes of rebozo sifting, and several more contractions, we were on our way to see the chiropractor. I remember clutching the handle in the car harder than I ever had before with every contraction, trying to lift myself up as far away from the seat as possible. My contractions were not only more painful while lying, but also while sitting. It had to have been the worst car ride of my life. Dr. Chavis provided a wonderful adjustment, while working around my contractions.
Around 4pm, we arrived back at the birth center, and with all the driving around, my contractions once again spaced out. At this point, we decided to be admitted to the birth center, with hopes that staying in one place would help my contractions progress again. From 4:30pm – 5:30pm, I utilized a birthing ball and rocked while standing through my contractions. At 5:35pm, I decided I’d like to try the tub, and remained there for about an hour. Once the tub water had cooled down, I decided to get out and continue moving around. My contractions starting moving closer together, approximately every 7-10 minutes. This wouldn’t typically be considered “close” together, but compared to the last 48 hours, this felt more consistent. Earlier when I was admitted, I had an IV port placed. I tested positive for GBS, which meant I needed to receive two rounds of antibiotics throughout my labor. The upside of having a port already placed, was that I was able to receive IV fluid to help with dehydration. I had now been in early labor for two days, and although I tried to be aware of my water intake, it was likely that I was becoming dehydrated at this point.
At 7:35pm, I decided to try laboring backwards on the toilet. And oh boy! Let me tell you, that was the most painful yet most productive contraction up to this point. In fact, it was so painful and I felt so depleted, that I decided I couldn’t handle another contraction in that position. In hindsight, I wish I would have pushed through and continued to labor there. Up through 8:30pm, my contractions varied anywhere from 3 – 9 minutes apart, while I did my best to rest between each one. Since each contraction continued to be immensely more painful while sitting or lying, I continued to do the dances of standing and swaying or reclining and sidelying.
At 8:30pm, I agreed to another cervical check, and couldn’t believe I was still only 6/7cm dilated but was happy to hear I was finally 100% effaced. I continued to drink water, eat easy snacks like yogurt, apple sauce, and protein shakes, and pee constantly. Finally, around 9pm, my labor turned active! I decided to try the tub one more time but I was so tired, and sweating so much through each contraction, that the water temperature felt too cold for me. I’m notorious for my love of hot showers and baths, and the max water temperature for the tub just wasn’t cutting it. I was back out of the tub in less than an hour, reverting to walking, standing, and swaying through contractions.
Around 10pm, I felt an overwhelming urge to bear down with each contraction. After telling my midwife about this, she encouraged me to try my best to breathe through my contractions and fight the urge to push. She knew something I didn’t, this baby wasn’t coming now and likely not even within the next few hours. Pushing at this point would produce nothing but maternal exhaustion. I remember hearing either my husband or my sister ask the midwife how far away she thought I might be, and I vividly remember hearing her say “I don’t think this baby is going to be born by midnight.” For a moment in between contractions, when I actually had a moment to think about anything else but the contraction, I remember feeling defeated. My mind raced a million thoughts: She’s not going to be born on the 13th? But I’ve been in labor for so long already! Is she sure? How can I make it past midnight? There is no way I can continue to labor for another minute, let alone a few more hours. There’s no way I can do this.
Ever since I was 19 years old, maybe even earlier, I knew I wanted an unmedicated birth with the help of midwives. I never once questioned whether or not it was something I wanted, it was something I just knew. No one in the room could tell you, but with every contraction I told myself there was no way I could do this, that I couldn’t handle another contraction, that I was done and at my breaking point, that I was exhausted and my pain threshold had been broken 10 times over. But then something amazing happened. With every peaceful moment between contractions, I would talk myself up, that I could do this, that I was strong enough, that my body was made to bring this baby into the world and I had everything I needed to do so.
By 11pm, I was forward leaning on the foot rest of the queen size bed, bracing myself on my forearms, which turned out to be the most comfortable position to labor in. Amidst every contraction in this position, I had “water” leaking. Knowing my body pretty well, I assured both my midwife and my sister (who both thought my water may have broken), that I was in fact peeing myself with every contraction! I guess the IV fluid and all the water intake was definitely keeping me hydrated. At 12am, I decided to give the shower a try, and I’m so thankful I did. Laboring in the shower was my second favorite place I had been all night, and I stood there bracing myself against the shower wall for nearly thirty minutes, enjoying the hot stream of water over my back.
From 12:45 – 1:25am, I continued to feel the pressure on my cervix increase and had to fight really hard to not bear down at the peak of every contraction. It was just like a wave, lasting anywhere from 60 – 180 seconds, my contractions would gradually rise to the peak and slowly taper back down. Throughout this part of my labor, my husband and sister had been taking turns providing support, while the other would sneak off to take a nap. You’d think I’d be jealous, right? Reality was, I didn’t even notice that one was missing while the other was assisting me, I was so focused and deep within my I can/I can’t mantra. Labor appeared to stall at around 1:45am, so we decided to walk the halls and stairs. I hung my arms around my sister’s neck while I breathed through each contraction. After 15 minutes of stairs, we decided to head back to our room so I could have a snack and “shake the apple” (another rebozo sifting, but around the hips this time), which we hoped would encourage the baby to move more anterior again. Within 30 minutes of the rebozo, the pressure heightened and my urge to push increased! Another cervical check at 3am indicated I had a slight anterior lip that was easily reduced to complete and a bulging bag of water. Surprise! My water hadn’t broken after all. It’s true, I was just peeing myself with every contraction earlier like I had thought.
Prior to “shake the apples,” the second midwife was called in, and in perfect time too. As soon as the anterior lip was reduced, I was finally ready to start pushing! I had never felt so relieved in my life. Just moments before, I had felt drained, like I barely had the capacity to endure another contraction, but in the moment I was told it was time to push, I felt invigorated and ready to go. I was placed onto a birthing stool where I would remain for the next 1.5 hours. Pushing was hard, it was painful, it was glorifying, it was terrible, and it was beautiful. All of the unpleasantness of pushing was drowned out by the feeling of how productive and constructive each push was to welcoming our baby. About an hour into pushing, I could feel burning. Ah, the ring of fire. Admirably told to last a matter of seconds while the baby’s head was crowning. While I counted the seconds, waiting for the burning to stop, it became clear to me that this wasn’t my baby’s head but my bag of water. Unbroken, I was slowly delivering an intact amniotic sac with each push. Once I was told the intact sac was visible, I became excited at the possibility of delivering a baby en caul, even if it meant the “ring of fire” was going to last more than a few seconds, and that I was needing to stretch enough to fit both a baby and an intact bag of water. I leaned back onto my sister, who was kneeling behind me, and continued pushing through several more contractions. After about another 20 minutes of pushing, the midwives calmly informed me that there was visible meconium staining in the fluid, and that they would need to break my water to prevent the baby from aspirating it. I immediately agreed, knowing that the dream of an en caul baby was nowhere near the priority of keeping my baby healthy.
At 4:22am, the midwife broke my water and my husband was kneeling in front of me watching as our baby’s head appeared with my next contraction. With my final push, our beautiful baby girl entered the world and was caught by her dad. Covered in vernix, amniotic fluid, and meconium, she was here. After 48 hours of latent labor, 6 hours of active labor, and 1.5 hours of pushing, Nell Maisie Comas was born at 4:28am on Valentine’s Day, February 14th, 2019. So much irony in that date. February 14th. When I would tell someone my due date was February 17th, the most popular response was “aww, Valentine’s baby” and I would immediately think, “no.” I was so certain that she was going to be late. But all along, those people were right, I have a Valentine’s baby!
Immediately after delivering Nell, we waddled over to the bed where we laid together skin to skin, while the midwives helped deliver the placenta and manage my bleeding. I had a deep second degree tear that required sutures, but otherwise we were both healthy and perfect. We were so lucky that Nell hadn’t aspirated any of the meconium, which was significant in volume when they broke my water, and I owe that to the fast acting alert midwives who were by my side for just over 12 hours. The euphoria of conquering the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and to have the most beautiful baby in my arms is something I’ll never forget. I was able to breastfeed Nell for the first time less than 30 minutes after she was born. We were given a few hours to rest, sleep, and take in all the newness our family had just become.
My labor varied so much from what was considered average or common. Classes taught me to expect 12 hours of early labor, and that I would enter the transition phase followed by a brief break before pushing began. Neither of those were true for me during my 57.5 hour labor, but I’m glad I created a flexible birth plan, knowing that labor and birth hardly ever look like what you would expect. I came into this pregnancy knowing I wanted an unmedicated labor and delivery, and I carried that with me through every contraction. While I am so happy to have had the labor support of my midwives, my husband, and my sister, it was ultimately myself that I needed the most emotional support from.