I remember a dear friend told me soon after the birth of her first child that labor, for her, was a “universe of pain”. That phrase stuck with me. I heard women say how labor was painful, advising to just go for the epidural, and how it was like no other sort of pain…but there was something about the analogy of being consumed by the experience of labor. Floating off into outer space.
This is precisely why my husband and I opted to take a yoga birthing class. I felt we had learned the basic mechanics of birthing through our extensive readings, but I wanted to learn techniques that would keep me tethered to this world through the otherworldly challenges of childbirth. Plus, it was a day in our week when we could focus on calm and relaxation. Have any other parents out there felt the push to achieve, gain, gather, prepare, organize, and manage as much as humanly possible during pregnancy with the understanding that it will be a different ball game once your baby is born?
Our instructor was an extremely competent and grounding woman by the name of Colette Crawford . She has been teaching yoga and birthing classes for years at her studio in Seattle’s Good Shepherd Center. She is a trained nurse and switched (career) gears after witnessing escalating numbers of Cesareans. In the class we learned breathing techniques, supported squats, and most importantly how to center and relax. The gem of the class was an exercise on determining the energetic/personality type of the mother and her partner. I am a visionary: artistic, positive, and yet liable to lose track of things in a stressful situation. My husband is a protector: sheltering those he loves but at a loss if he cannot help. From the exercise, we chose the poses and positions that would keep us balanced during labor; I would need my husband to help me root my body into the ground when labor got intense.
Eight days prior to my due date, my water broke. It was 2 in the morning on a Tuesday night. No one told me how impossible it is to sleep after your water breaks in the middle of the night. I was so excited…and I felt like I was continually peeing myself! Because I had tested GBS positive I had chosen to do a course of antibiotics to prevent any possible transfer to my baby. We crossed town so I could get an IV at the midwife’s office. It wasn’t until the evening that we started to time contractions – which I can assuredly say we did completely wrong – calling our midwife to check in several hours earlier than she needed to be there. My contractions were spaced apart and my cervix was dilating slowly. The midwife came over with her two student midwives but then left once it looked like things were not progressing.
I could not sleep that night with the expectation of a coming contraction. And I remember feeling irritated that my husband was sleeping.
The next day things were coming along and I didn’t feel like I would be able to cross town again to get another course of antibiotics. What I didn’t fully internalize was the fact that we were on a clock – many doctors will induce if a woman hasn’t delivered within 24 hours of her water breaking. Once the water breaks or leaks, the baby is at an increased risk of infection especially if anything is introduced to the vagina. We kept our internal checks to a minimum and Dr. Tracy’s students monitored baby’s heartbeats regularly.
Thursday – my birthday/my staff party/my last day of yoga birthing class – was a day of what I call “gyno-gymnastics”. I rocked. I walked. I swayed on the stairs. I lifted my leg like a peeing dog during contractions to get our baby moving. Rigorous athletics.
What I am most proud of is the space that my husband and I held between ourselves. We had three birth attendants, two worried mothers, and visiting siblings. There were too many people there and yet my partner and I held this beautiful calm between us. My ritual was to find something to fix my gaze on during the contractions – the mint leaf on the antacid label, a jaguar on the cover of an adventure novel, the toilet paper holder. I wanted and needed my husband there through almost every contraction. It was intense, but I chose to view it as something other than pain. A sensation.
So when I turned to him that evening and told him that I wanted to go to the hospital, he was surprised, doubtful, and concerned. We had been laboring all day naturally, but the babies head would crown and retreat. I had starting pushing prematurely; at the five hour mark, I was wiped. My midwife was also unsure about my choice, but I was reaching the point of exhaustion. Once we were in the car, I think she realized I had finally claimed my own space. I was trying to fight the contractions but they were coming hard and I felt the urge to push and bear down. Never did it occur to me that this might lead to a car birth.
It took less than 15 minutes to get me into a delivery room once we had reached the hospital. And here is where I was thrown all the curve balls. I was on my back with an oxygen mask over my face and a machine that was telling me when my contraction was coming. I was at the point of requesting interventions to assist in the delivery; the attending doctor and his two residents asked me to push through one contraction and from that they told me that I could have this baby naturally. They gave me a partial episiotomy and….whoosh, our daughter was born.
She was healthy. Responsive. Perfect.