by Missy Swanson
It was a Friday two weeks past my due date, and I was exhausted. I’d spent the previous night trying to sleep through mild but uncomfortable contractions on a mattress in our hallway (the only place in the house without windows) while we waited out a tornado tearing through our town. For each of the two nights before that, I’d had contractions that were too uncomfortable to sleep through but not strong enough to be real labor. The first night that happened, I was excited and stayed up timing contractions. But now, I’d had enough. I decided I was through.
“I’m ready to get induced at the hospital,” I told my husband Andy. We had a 42-week ultrasound scheduled at UNC that day, and then an NST at the birth center. “I’ll tell the midwives after our ultrasound. I don’t think I can handle another night of this.” The only alternative I could see was being pregnant forever and having mild contractions for the rest of my life as I slowly went insane from lack of sleep. Andy agreed that an induction at this point was a reasonable plan, and we headed out to UNC.
The ultrasound showed a healthy baby with plenty of fluid. As we were checking out, the receptionist said, “Let’s go ahead and schedule your next ultrasound for Tuesday.” I laughed. “No! I’m not going to be pregnant on Tuesday.” She was insistent, so I begrudgingly pulled out my calendar to mark down the time. At that moment, I felt an odd pop and then a huge gush. “I think my water just broke!” I gasped in disbelief. The growing puddle at my feet confirmed this. “Told you I’m not going to be pregnant on Tuesday,” I said triumphantly as I squished to the bathroom in my soggy flip-flops.
My water breaking gave me a second wind. The contractions stopped immediately, so my body got a break. Even better, I was now in the frame of mind that maybe I would eventually give birth, and I could do it at the birth center! We went back to the birth center, had our NST, and got our stuff set up in the peach room. Since I was no longer having contractions, and I needed new flip-flops, Andy and I went out to do some shopping and have lunch. We made plans to check back with the midwife later. We ate, picked up a People magazine to read while we waited for labor, and walked around the mall for awhile. From time to time, we checked in with the midwife on call, Jenny. Nothing had changed by the evening, so Jenny decided to have us sleep at the birth center and take some castor oil and herbs to get things rolling in the morning.
We got tucked in and rested pretty well. Around six, I woke up, and Jenny filled a medicine cup with thick, slimy castor oil for me to swallow. I chugged the vile liquid and chased it with a brownie, and we awaited results. Still no contractions. Jenny’s shift ended, and Maureen took over. She bound up my belly and suggested I try sitting on the ball, since the baby’s head wasn’t in the best position.
When it got to be about noon (24 hours since my water broke) and I still wasn’t having any contractions to speak of, we decided to start the blue and black cohosh. Almost immediately after the first dose, I learned what a real contraction felt like. Andy and I had faithfully studied our Hypnobabies scripts for the birth, so when I told him, “You’ve got to read me something!” I figured it would be clear that I meant one of the hypnosis scripts. Instead, he looked at me in confusion. “What, like People or something?” he asked, sounding a little panicky. “No! The Hypnobabies! Any script, I don’t care!” I settled into the rocking chair and put on my headphones while he started reading scripts to me.
Maureen came in and told us that she had to leave for a little bit, and Sarah would be taking over.
“We’ll see where you are around 8 tonight when I come back,” she said. I continued with the Hypnobabies music, Sarah kept giving me the herbs, and the contractions kept rocking on. I had a lot of back labor; I kept wondering when I would get this “break between contractions” that I had been promised in my childbirth classes. It just felt like a tabletop corner pushing into my back with contractions on top of it.
After awhile, I felt like getting into the tub. Sarah said she’d like to check my dilation first, because getting in the tub too soon could slow down the contractions. Lying down for a cervix check sounded like a horrible proposition to me, so I opted for the shower instead. The warm water on my back helped to ease the contractions, but I started to feel nauseous and needed to get out. I went back to my rocker with my headphones on and concentrated on getting through each contraction.
Around 3:00, Sarah came in to give me yet another dose of herbs. The thought of even stronger contractions was just too much. “Do I have to take it?” I asked pitifully. “Of course not,” she responded kindly. I felt like the contractions were coming on much stronger and closer together, so I asked to be checked.
To my surprise, I was dilated to eight centimeters. We filled up the tub, and the hot water felt wonderful. But after about 15 minutes, I felt a new, intense pressure. “This is different!” I told Andy. “I think I have to unnnnggggg…push!” Andy went to get Sarah, and sure enough, I only had a little lip of cervix left.
“Do you want to breathe your baby out?” Sarah asked, thinking of our Hypnobabies scripts.
“No! I need to push it out!” I told her. It truly was an uncontrollable urge. I pushed in the tub for a little bit, and on the birth stool, and in several different positions throughout the room. Ellen, our nurse, came in to help move me around and listen to the baby. Pushing felt like such a relief! After about an hour and a half, it was finally time for the baby to be born. Andy sat behind me and supported me on the bed as I eased the baby out. “Reach down and get your baby,” Sarah told me, and I pulled that sweet little boy right up to my chest. He was long and skinny with a funny-looking head, but he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. “It’s a boy! I knew you were a boy!” I exclaimed, a little shocked that a baby had just come out of me. “It’s Elliot!” cried Andy. Elliot was born at 5:09 PM. He weighed 7 pounds, eight ounces.
Giving birth to Elliot was the most amazing, empowering thing I’d ever done. The feeling of bringing that warm, wet little child to my chest, of becoming a mother for the first time – the moment when the pain and intensity were suddenly replaced with relief, amazement, and love – is indescribable. I feel lucky that I was able to give birth with so much support and freedom. I thought it was so great that four months later I took a job as a nurse at WBWC, and have been dutifully having babies every two years since then.