Today’s post is Part 2 of my birth story. Loads of pictures in this post as you read through!
Friday August 14, 2015
I have been in labor for about 8 hours. And now my contractions are strong, unmistakeable, and constant. Sometimes they felt like they were flowing one into the other with no time to recover between. I was groaning, still deep breathing, and in a lot of discomfort. I couldn’t stand or stay upright on my feet for long because the rectal pressure was overwhelming, more than I could have ever imagined. Since we got home from the birth centre, the rest of the night was spent trying to relax on the birthing ball and in the bath, focus on deep breathing through contractions, and trying to rest in between contractions as much as I could. They were coming on strong and I had given up on timing them, I just knew that I had to conserve my energy for the coming day and hours ahead of me.
Early in the morning as the sun was rising, I finally woke John up. I wanted him to rest as much as he could before we went to the birth centre because I knew that I would need him the most as I approached and progressed through active labor. When I woke him up, I knew that I couldn’t labor by myself anymore. He helped me fill the tub with warm water and he brought some fresh cantaloupe and coconut water so I could have some fuel and stay hydrated while I sat in the tub, which wasn’t working as well at keeping me relaxed. The sun was out and pouring in to our bedroom. It was a beautiful day to have a baby! John said, “Babe, we need to go back to the birthing center, I think it’s time” and I know he is right but the pain and discomfort is so overwhelming and I am so tired that I just want to lie in bed. Mom comes in the room and tells me the same thing, that we should go now. I know that she is concerned and not sure what to expect since my brother and I were both scheduled C-sections, she has never felt a contraction so she can only empathize with my pain. She helps me go downstairs as Dad and John get the car ready to go again. But wait! I really feel like I have to go to the bathroom again! But like it was 50 times ago, sitting on the toilet provides definite relief, but it’s not a movement that needs to come out….it’s a baby making his way and pushing down against organs that don’t feel very good when pressure is applied. While sitting on the toilet, Mom comes in and says, “Ging (her pet name for me), we need to go back to the birthing center. You can go to the bathroom there. But we should go now.” Everyone is waiting on me, everyone is ready to go but me!
I stood outside our house, it was such a beautiful day out. It was going to be hot and sunny. August in South Carolina. My baby’s month. He was coming and he will be a child of the hot and humid Southern sun, full of sweat and soul. I listened to the wind and the birds and I felt peace and excitement. I couldn’t believe this was it, I am now laboring and I was going to have my sweet baby boy in my arms….so soon! I was in pain and couldn’t wrap my head around feeling anything else but I remember this moment, when I stopped to smell the roses and soak in the hot sun and it was amazing.
Interstate 85 southbound toward Atlanta will forever have a soft spot in my heart. We hit the freeway in the dead of morning rush hour traffic and I almost laughed. I hated sitting on my bum and I was having contractions the whole ride through and John had to stay cool and calm enough to get through the traffic and still comfort me. I wanted to laugh and joke about the traffic and maybe I did, but I think I was just seriously trying to figure out, “How the heck am I going to do this?!”
When we got to the birthing center, it was just about 9AM. I had to go to the main office to get examined and as John parked I thought of the waiting room full of pregnant patients who would see me in my utter distress. I actually remember saying, “Ok, I will wait here in the car! You can have the midwife come and see me here” and my family must have looked me like I was crazy. It’s true though, I didn’t want to “freak” any other moms-to-be there, because I felt like I was in bad shape! I wish I could go back and say to myself, “Hel-lo, girl! You are in LABOR to have a BABY with no pain medication. Stop thinking about what others think, already!”
When I walked in, there was no one in the waiting room, thank God. The first person I saw was Jackie, the secretary and she gave me the sweetest, sympathetic welcome and smile and I instantly felt at ease. Two other sweet nurses who I had met with many times at my monthly appointments, Nildi and Dana came out and they both seemed excited and happy for me and gave me sweet and warm hugs. Coming here was a great idea! I felt supported right away. I am still in awe of how comforting it was to have all these wonderful, loving women around me, all encouraging and believing in me. At this moment, I understood how significant the power of women, loving and supporting one another during the sacred passageway of labor and birth, truly was.
I truly think that up to that point when I arrived there, I hadn’t let myself go to the reality that everything I was feeling and experiencing was true to the nature of labor. As a woman, or a human in general really, I spent a lot of energy trying to be controlled in my temper, manner and reactions. I don’t like to reveal how I am when vulnerable and I don’t like telling people when something is bothering me or showing much weakness. During labor, you literally just give all that ego up. Give it up, and just give in. When I arrived at the birthing center, I felt like all these women, nurses, midwives, staff, they just knew what I was feeling and they understood. While my husband and parents were amazing and would have done anything for me, I knew they were nervous and scared too and I guess I could feel their uncertain energy, which made me nervous too. But being in the presence of childbirth professionals and even more importantly, Mom and Baby advocates who were confident in the process of childbirth and the ability to give birth that all women have, made me feel 10000% better. It is SO, so, so important to be comfortable with your birthing care providers! I cannot stress that enough.
I sat in an examining room. Kim, our midwife, was on her way and would be there within minutes. Nildi and Kristine, another midwife, held me and helped me through some contractions and talked to John and my mom. The mood was quiet, calm, supportive and collected in the room. Nildi gave the absolute best hugs and I hadn’t felt that calm through a contraction up to that point. When Kim arrived, she was amazing at helping me through contractions. She noticed right away that I needed to have eye contact as a coping method through contractions. Literally, she had been there five minutes and she picked up on that! I don’t think I had even verbalized that need and she figured it out right away. She told John and my mom, “She seems to be responding well to eye contact through contractions. Hold her and keep eye contact to help her” At that moment, I just knew how blessed I was to have Kim as my midwife! It is amazing how, in this world of medical technology and pain relief advancements, it was simply the power of physical touch and eye contact that helped me get through the most difficult contractions and helped to center my energy and focus on pain management. I remember reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and reading birth stories about how midwives would just spend hours holding their patients as they laboured and I didn’t get it…well now, I totally understand it. Labor is intense, totally introspective and subjective and there are moments where I felt totally alone…and just feeling the presence and touch and firm, loving hold of someone while you go through a contraction is one of the most comforting feelings I have ever experienced.
When Kim checked me between a contraction, she announced with such enthusiastic joy (that’s her personality! Love it) that I was 7cm dilated and officially in active labor. She said I did a great job going from 2-7cm in 7 hours. It was those affirmations that kept my confidence and spirits up. As a laboring woman, there was something about someone validating the experience throughout that makes it real and the thought of giving birth a lot more fathomable.
Kim: Now you have a choice as to what you want to do. We can go across the street to the hospital and check you in and I will be there with you the whole time and you can have your baby there. Or, we can head downstairs (to the birthing center) and get you set up down there.
*I just want to reiterate that the birthing center has absolutely no medical intervention, no ivy, no fetal monitoring (but they do check the heartbeat often with a Doppler) and no pain medication. You have the freedom to move around however you wish to alleviate pain and discomfort, but no possibility of pain relief medication.
Me: Kim, if we go downstairs, do you really think that I can do this? (It took me about 30 seconds to get all those words out)
Kim: I absolutely 100% know that you can do this. This is what your body is designed to do.
(Ok I’m crying again now) Kim said this with such earnest, genuine sincerity in her voice and love in her eyes, and I couldn’t believe I was convinced!
Me: Ok. Let’s go downstairs!
When she said that, my heart soared and I just knew that this was how I wanted to have my baby. And I knew that no one in that office would let me believe for a second that I was not capable of giving birth to my son, without pain medication. As we got ready to go downstairs and headed to the elevator, I was filled with excitement, fear and uncertainty. But this was it, and I couldn’t wrap my head around that reality either. I loved being pregnant, absolutely loved it. But being pregnant, especially the seemingly glamor of it all these days, is literally a blink of an eye and just the tip of all things that matter. Labor, childbirth and having my baby was what mattered now.
My bags were where I had left them. They told me that I could put something on that I felt comfortable in, a bathing suit top or robe. But for me, comfortable was…nothing! Yup, that’s right I was buck naked from beginning to end, except for coming out of the shower or tub and they gave me a bathrobe. I couldn’t stand the feeling of any clothing on me, and while I know a lot of women wear bathing suit tops, I couldn’t even bring myself to put mine on. I felt like my boobs were aching and my skin was so sensitive. So yes, I was completely naked. The birthing center allowed me that liberty which was awesome because I don’t think the hospital would have been a big fan of me strutting my stuff (ha!) through the hallways. I was the only woman in labor at the birthing center and it was mine to claim.
The contractions at that point started to sear down my lower back. Our childbirth educator had told us about the possibility of that. It literally felt like my lower back was ripping apart at every contraction. I sat in the shower on a birth ball and John put on his swim shorts, joined me in the shower and sat on a stool behind me and massaged and provided counterpressure to help with the pain. Luckily, with John’s help, the contractions did not stay in my back.
The next few hours were an infinite blur. I switched positions a good deal, from laboring in the bed, in the bath, on the birthing ball and even on the sling hanging from the ceiling. I gave my best effort to walk around but the rectal pressure made it way too uncomfortable. I needed to feel weightless in order to feel someone comfortable. The method that relieved the most discomfort was definitely the bath. I would have loved to have a water birth but it being in the bath was a little too relaxing (yes, that is possible during labor!) and it actually slowed my contractions down. Kim actually told me that if I wanted to have this baby I probably needed to get out of the tub and get my contractions up to speed. I believe that had to be around 12pm. Going on 12 hours of labor now. At that point I wasn’t reluctant, I just wanted labor to be over. I will be honest when I say that labor was so exhausting to the point that I just wanted it to be finished already. During an unmedicated labor, all the hormones take over, my body’s natural pain relief chemicals kicked in and everything is a foggy memory, but I remember how exhausted I was and how tired I was of being wet in the bath, feeling huge and immobile and pretty much uncomfortable in every position.
At one point, I am assuming somewhere between 12-1:30, there was a knock at the door and God blessed me with even more support that I absolutely needed. Kristine, another midwife, and Dana and Nildi, two nurses whom I had gotten to know throughout my pregnancy came in and asked if I wouldn’t mind if they could come in and help. “YES! Please come in and help me!” Was my enthusiastic response. Like I mentioned, I was buck naked from the beginning and at the point when they came in, I was lying in the tub. And one of the nurses (Nildi, if I can recall) said how I looked like a goddess. She kept saying it over and over again. Even when I came back to the office a few days later for a checkup, Jackie, the secretary had said how she heard I looked like a goddess during labor. That makes me tear up, because I sure didn’t feel like one!
Looking back, labor and giving birth was the hardest thing I have EVER done – both physically, mentally and emotionally. Despite all the training, relaxing, reading and support, there is a solitude you feel as a laboring woman. My childbirth educator, Jen, described it perfectly, that in the heat of labor it’s like “being on a lonely island by yourself” I thought it would never end. The sensations, the emotions, the feeling of being out of my mind in pain, it is such an overload that no one else in the room can bear for you. That’s why it was so important in my labor, to have people around me who believed in me and who supported me. It is amazing and beautiful, knowing every single moment of the experience resulted in the beautiful boy I fall in love with every day. But in the moment, it is difficult and painful and heart wrenching. I didn’t trust my body entirely and had NO idea how I was going to do this. I was weepy, I had very low confidence, and yet I was determined. It’s amazing how the chemicals and hormones actually made me feel high, without a drop of medication, I felt like a crazy person with a drive to get this important task done.
At one point, I remember that all I could say was, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. Do you really think I can do this? I can’t do this.” And Kim and every nurse in the room said, “You ARE doing it! And that’s what every woman at this point says, which means you are almost ready” I had arrived to the Transition phase, which I read was the hardest part of labor. And common to that phase was for women to give up hope and lose focus. I read about it a million times and here I was, still convinced that I couldn’t do it. I had all the signs: unstable, emotional, I felt like I needed to throw up, difficulty breathing through contractions now, needing more emotional support. Transition was hard but I knew the time was close. I kept checking the clock and thinking how I needed to have this baby and for this to be over by X amount of time. Ha!
I was “stuck” at 9cm dilated for quite some time. Natural childbirth educators and methods will tune you in to the fact that once you hit 10cm, at some point your body will have the natural instinct and urge to push. I couldn’t tell that urge yet, since the whole time I did feel like I needed to push with all the pressure, but I knew I wasn’t fully dilated yet, so I felt like I resisted a bit. Being stuck at a 9, Kim checked me and informed me that I had a cervical lip which was keeping me from getting to a 10, and that she would need to “adjust” me. It would be slightly uncomfortable, which is a complete understatement. At that point, (so I thought!) there was nothing that could be more uncomfortable that what I had already been going through. God BLESS midwives and their knowledge and talents. While I was still in the bath, Kim had to do some digging (literally) and get that lip over to help me get to 10 cm. I can’t tell you physiologically what happened but apparently my body was ready….until the cervical lip slipped again and I was back to a 9. My reaction was a very heartbroken, “OH No!!” Because I knew it meant she had to adjust me again. Yes, you can digress on your labor so expecting Mamas – keep the faith! With more adjustments, I was finally back to a 10. It was quiet in the room as I was in the bath. Soft music played in the background and the room was dark. All I could hear was my breathing and the movement of water in the bath, and on occasion, the voices of my Mom and the midwives conversing in the hallway. John was with me, massaging me, holding me through my deep breaths and contractions. Then the urge swept over me.
“I think I need to push. I need to push. I need to push. I NEED to push!”
Catrice, a nurse with me in the room, sat with me by the tub. It was amazing how calm, firm but collected all the nurses and midwives were. My urge to push was urgent and I suppose the reaction I was “expecting” was for everyone around me to be as frantic as I was. Obviously that would not have been a good environment. These nurses and midwives were amazing. They were calm, they held my hands, gave me embraces and literally made me feel like everything was OK. (And obviously it was) My parents, were in awe of them and their hands-on care and concentration with me.
I tried so hard to push in the tub, but I just couldn’t get the “oomph” (midwife’s words!) I needed. I went on all fours, trying to push, knowing this was the optimal position for the baby to come out. No such luck. At this point, Kim instructed me that the bath might not be helpful in getting me to the contractions I needed to push him out. They suggested I try the sling from the ceiling, which I was supposed to use as a support while I squatted and pushed. First of all, I have no idea how I got in to that position in the first place…and when it didn’t work for me, I have no idea how I got out.
Finally, we got on the bed. This was it. I just knew it. I was determined to push my baby out. John was lying behind me, propped up at a 45 degree angle like a body pillow. And I had Kristine on my left, holding one leg and Dana and Susan were on my right and they were all holding my legs up and back. Kim was at the front of the ship, applying a warm compress to help with any tearing. And my sweet Mom was next to Kim, filming my contractions and my pushes. They instructed that when I had a contraction, to push, and for John to push me forward while the nurses and midwives pushed my legs back at the same time. It was a big collaboration. I couldn’t believe I was here, I had made it and my baby was going to be in this world. It was surreal and I was so nervous to meet him. I think part of me felt disappointed that labor was a lot harder than I expected it to be and that I wasn’t going to be at my best to meet him (boy was I WRONG! Post labor was phenomenal!)
I had been pushing for some time and felt discouraged. I was tired and I knew something didn’t feel right. I was very familiar with my pelvic floor muscles and did a lot of visualizations on being open and pushing out but I felt like I wasn’t doing it right. “I feel like I need to poop but I don’t want to poop!” Yes, one of the realities of giving birth vaginally is a lot of women end up pushing a lot out, including poop. And yes even in my labor, I was self conscious about this reality. Well, turns out that feeling of having to poop and the urge to push “that way” is exactly what I needed to follow. Here I was, imagining I needed to push my pelvic floor down like it was an elevator, when the reality was and I quote my midwife, “Push like it’s the biggest poop you have ever taken!” And I was like, “Okay! You asked for it” so certain I was going to poop. But as I pushed with all my might both vaginally and rectally, all the nurses and midwives erupted in cheers. After about 30 minutes of pushing, I was finally doing it right!! So I continued on that with every contraction. Contractions were so close together now, feeling like they were rolling in to one another. It was SO intense. I was out of breath and was exhausted, and so thankful that I love high intensity interval training because this was the epitome of it. I was very vocal, screaming at the top of my lungs, thinking that would help me. But Kim instructed me to push silently and then then be vocal, with low tones, at the end of the push if I needed to. Wow, another highly effective tip from these masters. I was finally getting the hang of it. They offered me a mirror but when they showed it to me, and it looked like I hadn’t done a single thing, I couldn’t bear to look at the mirror so they took it away. As they stroked and massaged me between contractions, I was pushing better and better and then he started to crown. “Look at all that hair!” His hair?? You could see him? And I couldn’t believe HE WAS ALMOST HERE. They told me to reach down and I felt his sweet soft hair at the opening of my vagina and I gasped in awe and terror because I felt like there was no way he could be comfy there! He needed to be out! So the next push, I tried harder and he came out a little bit more and while I could have kept going, the midwives slowed me down and said, “Let him stretch you out. Just a few more pushes.” With all these hands on me and love, I felt so secure and ready. John was doing amazing and he was so excited. He could see everything and he was thrilled to see his baby’s head.
The final push came. That last contraction and a deep scream that lasted almost 20 seconds and the biggest rush and relief I have ever felt, filled me. And then his cry, his beautiful cry. “He is already crying! And he is pooping!” I couldn’t believe he was here! I laughed and I looked stunned and John was stunned as well that this baby came out of me!! He was born at 1:52 PM on Friday August 14, 2015, 13.5 hours after my water broke. I was in shock, out of breath and couldn’t believe the rush that was going through my body, my mind and mostly, through my heart. My skin felt electric, my blood was pumping, my head high as a kite from natural hormones and chemicals and I felt so overjoyed I couldn’t breathe. I could feel the joy in the room and I felt so many emotions that I couldn’t even focus on one.
They put him on my chest immediately, as I knew they would for the magic hour where we would do skin to skin. He was full of blood, and fluid and he smelled AMAZING. I literally could not stop kissing his head and taking long deep breaths. Is that what it smelled like in there for 9 months?! His smell was intoxicating and it made my heart move and all the oxytocin goodness release for weeks to come. Skin to skin, breathing in his scent and sharing our warmth was the ultimate bonding and imprinting experience. I couldn’t stop smelling and kissing him. He was crying and trembling and I just held him close. All the pain was gone. I couldn’t feel anything but love and adoration for him. I knew immediately that I would go through 13.5 hours of labor over and over again for this moment. This was bliss. Everything is so foggy in my direct memory but the world became a completely warm, comforting place compared to the fear of the unknown just hours before. He was so beautiful, my sweet baby that I had been holding and talking to for months, here he was in my arms.
For the remaining 4 hours at the birthing center, we practiced nursing, continued skin to skin between John and I. He weighed in at 7lbs 2 oz and measured a little 18.75 inches. He didn’t leave our side. My heart swelled and I couldn’t believe that I did it. My Mom and Dad were in awe of the whole experience which they had never been through (both me and my brother were scheduled C-sections) and they were amazed at the level of care from the midwives. John was a proud Dada and husband and he raved for weeks (and to this day) how amazing it was that I did that and without any drugs or medication. All the nurses and midwives left very quietly and calmly, as if they knew that these first precious moments were like a miracle in itself that needed to be experienced only by mom and dad. What was a commotion for hours suddenly was a quiet, calm room for me and my baby and it was perfect.
After the birth, I was on an adrenaline HIGH. Despite the absolute messiness of childbirth and immediate postpartum (blood everywhere and soreness like you wouldn’t believe), I felt like I could have danced in the streets with my baby, I was so elated. My parents and John however, my A-Team, were exhausted. They didn’t have all the hormones surging through them! We ordered in some Jimmy John’s subs and ate while we all stared in awe of our sweet baby boy.
We left the birthing center at 6PM but this time with our baby boy! Checked in at 9AM and out at 6PM, it felt like a regular work day! It was beautiful out and hot. It amazed me that the whole world went on with its day while I was in the birthing center being part of a miracle. The world was immediately different and I was so excited for him to be a part of it. I was so excited to have him by my side in this life. He was minuscule in his car seat the poor thing, and probably so confused about why he wasn’t in his warm, dark, cozy cocoon in Mama’s belly. We went to bed that night and woke up the next morning and he had a name. John Fredrick McAleer III. John Jr is his Daddy and his Grandpa on Daddy’s side is John Sr. And Frederico is my Grandpa’s name and Fred is my Dad’s name. His name is beautiful and a mixture of both our families and legacies that mean the world to us. His name is perfect.
Here I am, at the conclusion of my birth story. 39 weeks and now 4 days ago. But that was just the beginning of a world and existence thereafter that is so filled with adventure, love and passion I have never before felt. Everything about that day will forever have a special place in my heart: the endless night of contractions, the birthing center, the entire team at Greenville Midwifery Care, the room where he was born, Kim, our midwife…everyone and everything that was tangible in those momentous hours of labor will always have a beautiful place in my memory and heart.
Time goes so quickly. Today you are 9 months old and 4 days, and have officially been in the world longer than you have been in my tummy. It brings me joy but also brings me to tears. Life is precious. Every experience and every blessing and trial from God builds and sharpens us. Life is precious and time is fleeting. This is the season of motherhood and your childhood and I feel like if I lose focus for one moment, it will be done in a blink of an eye. So I wrote this for you my sweet John Fredrick. I love you and everything you have made me and helped me to grow as a woman and as a mother. I love being your Mama and sharing that bond that only a mother and her child have. If I could, I would relive my labor and the moment you were born over and over again to keep time afloat. But you will grow and I will grow and this memory will distance itself. So I will hold you and remember how far we have come and how far we have left to go, explore, adventure and love together.
Happy 39weeks + 4 days in this world. I love you.
The End. And just the beginning, every single day.