Looking back, early labor actually began on December 10th. It was in the morning that I felt the first noticeably stronger than usual contraction. I'd been having braxton hicks (practice contractions) for weeks but that morning I felt the first of what seemed to be a step up in intensity of the contractions. They were still quite sporadic but by the end of that day they were coming atleast one an hour, sometimes more. They weren't getting stronger though so I didn't think anything was imminent. Plus, the moon was still in Capricorn and I told the baby that I thought it would be better for her to wait until the moon left that most challenging of moon signs. That meant she needed to stay in until about 8:15pm on December 12th. I was concerned that perhaps little Meara may not heed my advice but was hopeful that labor was still a couple days off.
December 11th was much like the 10th. I was still feeling semi-regular contractions that were quite noticeably stronger than just regular braxton hicks but they didn't seem to be escalating in intensity. They did pick up in frequency. I was feeling about three an hour or so. I thought maaaybe real labor would start on the 12th and visualized actually meeting this baby sometime after 8:30pm. I kinda wished I didn't know anything about astrology so I could just have this baby without having to worry about such things as the sign the moon is in but it's too late for that. I reminded myself I have no control and this baby would come when she wants to.
On December 12th the contractions were consistently coming on 3 or 4 times an hour and really annoying at this point. I was extremely irritable so I dropped the kids off with my mom so I could get some last minute stuff done. Like pack my bag to take to the birth center. I also went to the craft store to buy plaster strips to make the belly cast that I'd been trying to get around to doing for the last two pregnancies and yet still hadn't managed to do. Did I mention that I'm a major procrastinator? Brett got off work at 2 and we went to buy a Yule tree. I was very happy to get that taken care of before baby arrived. We got a modestly sized but beautiful Noble Fir. It smells so lovely. After that we put in a movie- Fast Food Nation- and started in on the belly cast at about 7 pm. By this time I was happy that there was no way this baby was going to be born with a Cappy moon and I was ready for labor to really kick into high gear. I could tell that I was in the early stages but was still skeptical that the real action was imminent. Even though the contractions seemed to be getting slightly stronger they were still really easy to handle, albeit somewhat distracting. During the belly cast creation I had time to sit quietly and watch the clock and I noticed that they were about 10 minutes apart rather consistently. We were done with the movie and cast at 9 pm and at this point I think it's safe to say that my thought that the baby wasn't coming that night was somewhat foolish. Looking back it seems obvious that labor was picking up speed but I must have been in some kind of denial because I drove to my mom's house to pick up the kids- 20 minutes away and I didn't even pack the kids overnight stuff just in case. Before I left I took a quick shower and tried doing a cervical check on myself but had absolutely no luck even locating the darn thing. This was frustrating because I can very easily visualize the female anatomy, since I'd been reading pretty much nothing but midwifery texts for the last 3 months or so, but was completely unable find my own cervix.
The drive to my mom's house was actually quite uncomfortable. The contractions seemed to step up abit to the point were I was feeling really squirmy when one would come on and I had to tell myself to relax and be mushy. I kept thinking the phrase, "mushy mama." I probably should have just turned around and went home but I drove onward thinking that these contractions would keep on like this for another day. Silly me. When I used the bathroom at my mom's my mucus plug fell out. The contractions were decidedly uncomfortable and five minutes apart at this point. My mom laughted and said, "You'd better just leave the kids here tonight, it sounds like that baby is coming soon." I thought I'd really rather not drive home and tried calling Brett to come pick me up but he'd already gone to bed, since he was scheduled to work at 5am the next morning and he didn't hear the phone. So back in the truck I went, thinking that I could just pull over every five minutes if I needed to. I ended up just slowing down to about 30 mph every five minutes instead, continuing with my mushy mama mantra. I made it home and as soon as I did the contractions got even stronger. I told Brett that tonight was the night and he called his manager to let her know he wasn't coming in. We both laid down to try and rest. Brett had only slept four hours the night before, so he was already exhausted. I was totally unable to sleep due to the combination of excitement and the fact that the contractions were getting progressively stronger.
I called the midwives' hotline and my call was returned by Vanessa around 11:30. I let her know that tonight was the night. I said that it would probably still be a couple hours before I was ready to come in. As it turns out around 12:30 I was feeling like the pushing stage could be close. The contractions were about 4 minutes apart and I was moaning through them on my hands and knees. Brett called Vanessa and she said she'd meet us at the center in 45 minutes. The contractions were strong enough that I was actually concerned that I wouldn't be able to wait that long. Fortunately the birth center is only about five minutes from our house. We arrived and I asked Vanessa to check my cervix because I was curious about my dialation. She said I was about 7 or 8 cm. That was good to hear. I quickly stripped down and hopped in the birthing tub. Sweet relief! What had previously been hard contractions suddenly seemed so much bearable after submerging myself in the warm water of the deep tub.
The relief didn't last long though. It was about 30 minutes until the contractions got strong enough to cause me to groan and moan through them. I was trying to keep my vocalizations to a minimum because my throat always ends up feeling raw before long and it's really aggravating to me but there was just no way I could be silent.
I had a terrible chill on any part of me that was out of the water and I asked if they had any heaters. The midwives obliged and after alittle while the room was toasty warm. There was the unfortunate side effect of a yucky smell that came from the heater but it was worth it in exchange for the warmth.
I found that I was much more alert and aware of the passage of time than my previous labor experiences. I think it was because I was over analyzing the experience instead of sinking into my body and listening to it's cues. After I'd been laboring for a couple hours in the tub my contractions were overwhelmingly intense and I tried giving little pushes during them. It felt good at first. But I kept doing that and it quickly became exhausting and nothing seemed to be coming of it. Dana, the other midwife had arrived awhile earlier and she'd been laying quietly on the bed. She came over after I'd been pushing futilely for awhile and said, "So you're not feeling pushy yet?" It was a gentle way of saying, 'stop that, you're wearing yourself out for no reason.' I got the message and gave up the misguided hope that it was time to push. In retrospect, I think my expectation that this labor would be quicker and easier was getting the better of me. The lesson I've taken from this is to let go of all expectations for labor and just get in touch with what your body is telling you instead of over thinking the whole thing.
After I stopped pushing during the contractions I just focused on relaxing as much as possible in between and during them. I stopped thinking about the passage of time and it wasn't long before I felt like I really needed to poop. So I jumped out of the pool and went and sat on the toilet. I had a major earthquake of a contraction that was the most unpleasant of them all yet and realized it was actually a baby that was starting to come down so I jumped up and paced around the room. I was somewhat panicky and desperate to find a comfortable position, as the tub had started to become uncomfortable to me. I wished it was padded. Even though the thought of laying on the bed seemed alluring, I knew that it was a fool's hope and that the moment I laid down, the contractions would be most unbearable. Being upright was the easiest way for me to cope so I tried sitting on the birthing stool. No, the pain in my tail bone let me know that the birthing stool was not for me. Kneeling sounded most appealing but the floor looked even more uncomfortable than the tub and the thought of pushing out the baby
on land instead of in the familiarity of the water where I'd had my previous two babies suddenly didn't seem so appealing. So back in the tub I went.
The baby moved down rather quickly, thankfully and that ring of fire was intense but bearable because I knew that meant I was almost finished. I think at that point it was only two or three pushes until her head came out. There was a brief bit of relief but not much. I waited for the next contraction to push her body out and I felt the most interesting sensation of her squirming. I said, "I can feel her moving." Dana said that she was turning herself into the right position to come the rest of the way out. I pushed with all my might at the next contraction and her shoulders slipped out but the rest of her didn't! I was very frustrated by that since my other two babies just slid out entirely after their shoulders emerged. So I had to muster up one last burst of energy and push her little butt out.
Oh the sweet blessed relief! Brett reached down to pull her up out of the water but she had the cord around her neck a couple times so Vanessa reached down and slid the loops over her head and then he could scoop her up on to my chest.
She was just perfect. Meara looked up at me and was very calm. A bit too calm for the midwives comfort. She was breathing but it was shallow and light and even though her body was a good pink color, her hands and feet were a light white/purple color. We rubbed her back vigorously and Vanessa got the oxygen tank and used the tube like a little wand and waved it in front of her nose and mouth. Her cord was still pulsing very strongly so she was still getting oxygen that way but it was time for her to start breathing like a land dweller and after a minute or so she started taking deep breaths and making some little annoyed baby noises. I offered her the breast and she latched on right away. She was already a nursing pro!
I have some more thoughts to share on the experience but since this post is already turning into a book I'm just going to hit publish and come back later to add more thoughts when I get a chance.