by Clare Harrop

At my prenatal visit at 39 weeks, I cried to poor Mariah. The NC heat had started to pick up, I was tired, and my feet had finally swollen. Emotions were high, and I was ready to be done. This last visit was in stark contrast to the rest of my pregnancy. Aside from some first trimester concerns, my pregnancy had been smooth sailing. I wouldn’t say I loved being pregnant, but my life didn’t change that much. I socialized, I worked out, I travelled (including getting stuck in NYC during a blizzard), my sleep was good, and I generally felt great. I was one of those pregnant women others hate – I’m making up for this smugness now with a very active and vocal 6 week old!

Around 38 weeks my husband, Dan, and I started all the old wives’ tales to get things moving. However, the day before my labor started, I had a feeling our little girl was on her way. I woke up energized, went to a workout class, had brunch and drinks with friends, cleaned the house, ran some errands and ordered takeout.

As with most pregnant women, my nightly bathroom visits had become very regular. I had gotten very skilled at crawling out of bed and peeing in the dark without really waking myself or my husband. Yet for some reason at 5 AM on Sunday May 1st, 2 days before my due date, I turned on the bathroom light. And lo and behold, I had some “bloody show.” Like a kid a Christmas I couldn’t sleep (despite what Wanda, our birthing class instructor, had advised us to do), but I let my husband sleep and went downstairs to work. I submitted a research paper that morning, only for it to be returned twice due to formatting issues.  Note to self: do not submit a paper in early labor/with a newborn!

Around 10 AM, I decided to wake Dan up. I’d been having very weak contractions and thought it was time to go grocery shopping! Around 11:30, on the way to Harris Teeter, we called the birthing center. Rani was on call. At first I thought we hadn’t met her before, but when we arrived at the center early the next morning, we realized we’d bonded over my tiny belly button which never popped, only got smaller and smaller! Rani advised us to stay put and relax. I’ll admit at the time I felt a little disappointed, as I was sure this was happening. So we walked round the grocery store while I had a few small contractions and tried to carry on as if it were a normal Sunday.

Then, as Rani predicted, everything seemed to stop. I was so disheartened.  I wanted to meet our little one that day, which happened to be my Mum’s birthday. We took ourselves out for a walk and the contractions, while there, weren’t consistent. I came home and baked a cake, watched some TV, and finally packed my birthing bag! At 4:30, Dan decided he was off to yoga – it seems he needed some Shavasana! We still debate to this day whether he left me in labor, or as he says, the very early stages of early labor!

When he got back, my contractions had picked up again but were still 8-9 minutes apart and not very long.  We ate dinner, and I treated myself to a glass of wine and went for a walk round the neighborhood. This is when things REALLY got going. I couldn’t make it as far as we wanted, and we headed back. It was now around 8 PM, and we watched TV while I squatted and swayed and bounced on a yoga ball – which is now the best way to soothe Harper! I threw up my dinner. I had a bath. I walked around. Around 11:30 PM, my contractions were lasting 45 seconds every 5 minutes, so we called the birth center again. Rani told us to hang tight and wait until they were a minute long every 4 minutes. Dan was great, encouraging me to sleep between the contractions – which I did, as I can really sleep anywhere, anytime! Around 12:30 AM Dan called again.  My contractions were longer, closer together, and I threw up again. It was time to get going.

On the way in the car, I was extremely focused. Dan commented that the 15-501 had never been so quiet, and we got the birthing center in no time. Rani examined me, and I was already 8 cm dilated. I was so proud of what we had achieved at home and credit Dan for this fully – I would have gone in at 11 AM if I could!

There wasn’t really much left to do other than work through until I needed to push. I tried the tub, but by this point I wasn’t relaxed. We got into a rhythm with swaying on all fours, but as I’d been awake since 5 AM I was so tired. I begged for nitrous (disclaimer – in the UK, where we are from, most people have “gas and air” during labor. Also note to all ladies – your partner will give in to anything you ask for when you are in labor!) I’m not sure the nitrous helped as I was so far gone at this stage, but maybe it relaxed me a bit and allowed me to catch some much needed sleep between contractions and early pushes.

At some point Rani asked to manually break my waters, and after that I started pushing. I pushed for a couple of hours; it was honestly the hardest thing I have ever put my body through. At times I cried and really felt I couldn’t do it. I was exhausted, and while I felt pretty prepared after our birthing classes, nothing could have prepared me for pushing. Toward the end, Rani, Missy and Dan held my legs so Harper couldn’t recede. And finally at 4 AM, our daughter arrived – though Dan announced at first she was a boy!

People have asked me since if our birth met our expectations. We honestly had no expectations. We wanted our little one to arrive safely and were okay with all possibilities. But we can say it was an amazing experience. The staff at the birth center were fantastic throughout, and our birthing team was incredible. Our birthing plan stated “no happy places, no cheerleading. Firm encouragement” – Rani and Missy really did well in adhering to this and even checked afterwards that they hadn’t been too “cheerleadery!”

Now Harper is 5 weeks old. She loves being bounced on the yoga ball, sung Allison Krauss songs, going for long walks, and curling up on Daddy’s chest. She has a determined personality and people always comment how strong she is. We can’t thank the birth center staff enough for bringing her into the world with us. And Rani – my belly button has returned to its normal size!