Each week, we share advice, encouragement, or guidance in navigating the postpartum phase and early motherhood. So, it only makes sense that I share the story that began it all – the birth of my first son, Steven.
This was a defining story for me, and I feel the need to share this positive experience, because too many American women are fed the idea that birth is a fearful thing. We’re told that birth is unbearable and taught to fear it because it will be the worst thing you’ve ever felt (and then the best). Childbirth – just like postpartum – is terribly misrepresented. So, I’m taking this opportunity to say, birth can be a beautiful and empowering experience.
My husband and I prepared for labor well; we primarily focused on the Mongan Method of Hypnobirthing (trust me, not as kooky as it sounds), but also borrowed positive experiences and tools from Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. The most important tool we utilized was practice. Nearly every day, I would listen to a calming script or my husband and I would go through one together. Rather than it being something that put me into a trance – which is what’s commonly assumed about it – it was something that taught me how to relax thoroughly, to be in control of my relaxation and focus, and to achieve a sort-of meditative state, like when you day dream. Essentially, it taught me to release tension and the ensuing restrictions it would put on my body.
Practice and knowledge were under my control, but I could not control the numerous negative stories and comments I received unsolicited from those around me. It was unwanted, but you can’t control what other people do or say. I learned to steel my mind against negative ideas like “pain” or “worst thing I ever felt.” I sought out and focused on positive birth experiences of other women to help battle the underlying effects negativity was having on my mind. Near the end, I was ready and confident.
There’s a reason we give up seats on the bus to pregnant and handicapped people. Even though I was healthy and able to stay active my whole pregnancy, in the last few weeks, I fatigued all the time. I could feel my body changing, my hips started to shift and open. I got pretty sore and achy. I would walk to the food market five minutes from our home, buy a bag or two of groceries, walk back home and be completely expired. I knew labor was imminent when I got a sudden burst of energy in the last couple days, as if my body was saying, ‘Ok lady, let’s do this!’
My husband and I used to sit in bed and watch my belly rise up and out of my abdomen and become this squarish rock in the early weeks of October. Then Saturday evening, October 12th, came along and I had more of these sensations and my thighs were tightening up. These were contractions, but I wasn’t certain at the time since they were tight, but not uncomfortable.
I woke up at 1 am and felt something start to come out of me. Then, it rushed out of me and I had no doubt in my mind that my water had broken! I rushed to the toilet and hollered for my husband, Curt.
Fluid just kept coming and coming. We eventually set me up on the couch – using garbage bags and towels – and Curt started to pack the final items in our hospital bag. We weren’t ready to leave yet, though, because we planned to labor as much as we could at home, advice we had been given from the Mongan method, since home is the most comfortable and familiar place. Contractions started coming right away. They were intense and required a lot of focus. While Curt was busy running around and packing, I timed them myself and they were a few minutes apart and anymore from 30 to 60 seconds in duration. We had time.
Initially, we had had a snack for energy. But as my labor progressed, I couldn’t keep anything down. I had read stories of vomiting during labor, usually as you are late in dilation, and it’s not cause for concern. Curt told me later that he was shocked, but the way I embraced it (it felt good!) let him know that it was ok.
Bradley talks about emotional signposts – women typically start labor excited and cheerful, get serious when they get wrapped up in the work that their body is doing, and then experience self-doubt when they are exhausted near the end. The 2nd emotional signpost – seriousness – is the recommended time to go to the hospital, since you will have progressed quite a bit, but you’re not in the final throes of labor.
Despite our naivete we stuck it out at home and labored for about 5 hours. My body was definitely working, I had to focus through each contraction. The contractions were close – about 2 minutes apart – but I was cheerful and excited. Curt was with me rubbing my tight thighs and the intensity of my contractions were moderate, so we stayed put. Time stood still; we spent about three hours there, but to me, it felt like 15 minutes.
We moved to our living room, where a bench and birthing ball were kept. Apparently, it was here that Curt realized that I hadn’t laughed at any of his jokes for about 20 minutes, a huge red flag in his book. He knew I was entering the “serious” emotional signpost. He suggested that we make our way to the hospital, and I complied.
I told him later that maybe his jokes just aren’t that funny; he scoffed at the idea.
Around 5:30 am, 4-and-a-half hours after my water broke, we made it to the hospital. Thankfully, my midwife, Genie, was on duty! Genie came into the room to check my cervix and announced that I was fully dilated. Staying at home worked well for us and I think we made it to the hospital at the right time. Up to this point, my experience had been relaxed and pleasantly intimate with my husband, despite being up since 1 am.
The delivery room was a hectic blur of blood draws, hep locks (a port for intravenous fluids), and questions about medicinal allergies and diseases in the family. The room would stop to see me through a contraction and would continue promptly when my body was calm again.
The pushing phase was long. We were all over the room. I stood. I leaned. I squatted. I used pretty much every function of the amazing transformer bed we came to call Bedimus Prime. Although this was my first go at it, I was in tune with my body and the nursing staff respected my boundaries. They waited respectfully if I didn’t answer right away and I never felt badgered to do or be a certain way. I was able to feel and respond to the sensations of my body. Push now. Ok, not so much. Now relax; let yourself regroup for the next one. Just breathe.
Practice is an essential part of preparing for labor, but practice birthing a child? It took me a while to get into the groove, and I had a lot of helpful advice from my midwife. Instinct got me part of the way but I realized I had to bite down and get my body to work. I had to breathe that baby down and push at the right time. My body was doing its part, so now I had to do mine.
I started to get discouraged. I felt like I wasn’t making progress. Remember the final emotional signpost, “self-doubt”? Yeah, it’s real. Everything about this labor experience was textbook, and still I doubted myself in those final moments. Encouragement and affirmation are priceless, and having the right emotional support going into labor makes a world of difference. Fortunately, my team was there and reminding me that I was doing well and making progress.
Taking a big inhale during a contraction and then a slow exhale while focusing downward, suspending the exhale at the end with an oomph was the trick that worked for me and my body. Each time, it helped to give a low-toned and long oooooooomph. I ended up being on all fours leaning up the back of the bed, shifting my pelvis back with each exhale. His head felt so low, and was hanging halfway out for the last bit. Then he popped out! It was a bit of a shock! I’d been at it for so long, but the moment he was born just kind of came upon us in one big push.
They told me to grab my baby and I was able to reach down and grab our son; I was the first one to hold him. The room erupted with energy; it had been quiet and dim, but nurses jumped in right away, rubbing and aspirating the crying, slimy baby in my hands. I was helped onto my back with baby across my stomach. I had a lot of bleeding and needed Genie to do some work on me. The placenta was delivered swiftly. Once the small tears were repaired and placenta was out, everyone left the room to give us time with our son.
The next hour-and-a-half was pure bliss. I could not believe the creature wriggling around on my chest was our kid! He moved around, rooting to be fed. It was amazing to watch his instinctual behavior when he was just minutes old. I just stared at him as he crawled around looking for the breast. After watching him and getting to know him a bit, we decided to name him Steven Bruce, after our fathers. The name suits him well.
A corpsman came in and helped Curt give Steven his first bath. The also weighed him – 8 pounds 7 ounces! Bigger than both me and Curt at birth!
We spent about 4 hours in the delivery room after Steven was born and then moved to our postpartum room to enjoy our new baby. We made our calls home to tell family and friends, got some much-needed rest, and ate lunch. The labor was good and the delivery uneventful. It was, dare I say, an enjoyable experience.
I hope our birth story can encourage expecting mothers and provide a positive example of labor and delivery. Our fear-driven society comes up with all sorts of ways to inspire women to dread birth. Don’t fall into that trap, but don’t become inflexible. Examples of trauma do exist because they do occur. Hope for the best, but prepare for the various scenarios you may encounter. In the end, remember: with proper support, you got this! You are more powerful than you know.
How does Marabou support women?
We live in culture where “bouncing back” is more valued than proper rest. As admirable as it may be for a sports star to get back on the field, the same rules don’t apply to postpartum recovery. The traditional resting period has been stolen from women through pressure to get back to their job or simply through lack of presence.
Grandmas, sisters and best friends who otherwise would have been there to help a woman transition into motherhood often live too far away to be of any help. Household chores and caring for older children inevitably fall on the mom. But she just delivered a new life! She needs rest.
Marabou Services is a unique gift registry which provides services instead of stuff. Most mom’s get too many onesies, too many baby blankets and not enough helping hands. Break out of a destructive cultural norm and start a Marabou registry today.
With a Marabou registry you can sing up for any service which will benefit you or someone you know during the postpartum recovery period.
Postpartum doulas for a first time mom
House cleanings for moms of multiples
Childcare for moms with older children!
Once your registry is created, add it to any other registry or post it to your Facebook and ask friends and family contribute to your postpartum service, rather than buying you more stuff.