Everybody said mountain babies come early. We live at 9,000 feet, so beginning a week before the baby’s expected arrival date each day I thought, “Any moment now!”
The anticipated Jan. 23 came and went and still no baby. My doctor said we would need to begin thinking about inducing, something I wanted to avoid since we were planning an un-medicated, natural birth. I had wanted a midwife but the one in my area was on sabbatical. We went with an OB recommended by a birthing center in Denver.
We kept in touch with our doula and HypnoBirthing instructor, Michelle Woods Pennisi, who reminded me that as long as the amniotic fluid was looking good and the baby wasn’t stressed we had no reason to worry. The baby would come.
Each day I spend “not waiting” I soaked in the tub and hiked with my husband, Matt. Michelle recommended a masseuse who knew all the right pressure points, and an acupuncturist who had a reputation for jumpstarting labor.
In retrospect, the extra time allowed us to fine-tune the scripts we had received from our HypnoBirthing class and to practice relaxation and light-touch massage.
Four days past my due date I went to the acupuncturist. He also aligned my pelvis, which I think really helped. About ten hours later I began to get some lower abdominal cramping. It didn’t feel like what I thought surges/contractions would; the sensation was all below my belly, with nothing in my back and sides.
Sure enough, around 11 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27, 30-second surges came every ten minutes or so. We contacted Michelle who told us to get as much sleep as possible and to let her know when we wanted her to come over. Matt and I began the relaxation techniques we’d been practicing for the past few months. We slept a bit, Matt read imagery scripts, I took a bath, and around 3 a.m. I ate a bowl of cereal.
Around 4:30 a.m. Michelle arrived. She suggested different positions and rubbed essential oils on pressure points at my feet while Matt talked me through some surges. We went to the hospital around 6 a.m., when my surges were about a minute-long and four minutes apart.
I had a couple surges during the 10-minute trip to the hospital and sang “Oh what a beautiful morning” rather loudly in the car. Matt pulled right up to the front to help me in while Michelle parked our car and brought our stuff up.
We walked up to the nurses’ desk (Michelle had called to let them know we were on our way). I can’t remember what Matt was saying to the nurses, but it felt like he was bantering in slow motion. I wanted to be in the bathtub ASAP so I interrupted Matt and blurted, “We’d like a nurse who supports natural birth.” The nurse at the counter replied, “We all support natural childbirth,” and showed us to our room.
Matt tried to convince the nurse that I didn’t need a Hep-Lock IV since we were going the all-natural route, but she said it was policy. She examined my cervix (after that I declined further vaginal exams until necessary) and took a blood sample. I’m squeamish with needles so I looked away and tried not to think about it. It seemed to take a while and the nurse finally apologized and said something about breaking a vessel or something else that I would ordinarily faint over, but I didn’t pay any mind to at that moment because I was in the HypnoBirthing zone. She never returned to put the Hep-Lock in. Victory.
The doctor popped in to say hello and tell me everything was going perfectly.
After relaxing in the tub I cycled through a wide range of positions. I read that the sensations of labor (some might refer to it as pain, but we refrained from that language) are functional because it is your body’s way of telling you to try a different position to ease the baby down.
I brought a silky robe with me, but mostly I remember not wanting any clothing on me at all. The nurse returned every half hour to monitor the baby’s heartbeat during a surge. It seemed like every five minutes, time really turned upside down. We had a sign on our door stating we are a HypnoBirthing family and please not to ask about pain or medication. “How are you doing?” the nurse asked each time, “Can I get you anything??” It became clear that our nurse did not actually support unmedicated childbirth and I think she was scared of the process. I really made sure to stay relaxed and composed when she listened to the baby’s heartbeat because the sooner I crested the wave of a surge, the sooner she was out of my face.
Michelle was constantly putting fresh pillowcases on pillows, new fabric mats out, and misting lavender into the air. Labor is messy business, but I wouldn’t have known it thanks to her. During our planning Matt was concerned about having a doula during the delivery because he was afraid it would overshadow his role. In actuality it really freed him up to focus completely on me. I needed him every second, either reading a relaxation script, taking me to an imaginary walk on the beach, or just kissing me and telling me I was doing great.
Being told I was doing terrific helped me immensely. I remember Michelle saying something about how it was a “classic HypnoBirth,” music to my ears.
At some point we thought my water broke, it didn’t come out in a gush, rather in trickles. Soon I felt like I needed to poop and that there was a basketball inside my crotch, so I waddled around the room breathing through each surge. Michelle went to get the nurse to let her know about this progress. The nurse wanted to do a vaginal exam to see if it was time to push yet. At that point I was leaning over the hospital bed, which was in sort of a stepped position (luckily Michelle knew how to operate the complicated beds).
The nurse said she could do the exam from behind. That was a very bad idea. She had trouble finding the right hole, eventually working her way too far forward. She finally got in the right spot, but by that time I had tensed up so much it didn’t seem like I’d progressed very far at all. I had read that if a laboring woman gets stressed her cervix can actually close up. It’s an evolutionary thing, as you don’t want to have the baby come out while fighting or fleeing. I’m fairly confident this was the case. The nurse said I was not far enough along and that it was not time to push, and if I did then I would tear something. (I can’t quite remember if that was it, but the gist was, “Don’t push, that would be really bad.”)
I think this is when I went into transition, because I really felt like the baby would never come out and that I wasn’t capable of doing it. I just kept asking, “I can do this, right??”
At this point the nurse told my mom in the hallway she didn’t think the baby would come until midnight. Luckily I did not find this out until later, and even luckier was that she was completely wrong.
We decided to slow things down and focus on peaceful relaxation. Michelle recommended that we lay down for a little bit and just rest. She set us up on the pullout bed so Matt and I could cuddle. We both slept for a little bit, apparently I slept through a surge.
At this point I really think that HypnoBirthing saved my life. My body kept telling me to push, but since the nurse told me not to, I put all of that energy into the “J” breath we learned in HypnoBirthing class. With each surge I either tried to let it completely pass through me or I’d push all of that energy into the J breath. It empowered me away from a helpless and trapped feeling.
Any positive thought became a mantra I’d repeat until the next one. I remember “beautiful intensity,” and “all things work together for good.” Matt’s presence was the most important thing in the world to me in those moments and as each surge came I demanded that he guide me through a walk on the beach. He was the perfect birth partner.
My mom held my hand for a bit while Matt ate a sandwich (the only time he wasn’t right next to me). I couldn’t think of eating, luckily we brought some frozen orange juice cubes. My mom was a very comforting presence. A Christian Scientist, she had all three of her kids naturally and brought a very uplifted thought to the laboring room. When Matt returned she sat on the couch in the room and prayed. Throughout the day she spoke with my cousin and sister who all worked to spiritually support me.
I remember going back into the bathtub with Matt for a bit, and then feeling a very strong need to poop. This was around when our nurse’s shift changed. Michelle said that I should follow my body. Those were glorious words to hear. I let myself push a bit with the contractions. It wasn’t a forced push, but one that just felt really amazing. Not to be crude, but it was like when you’re on a road trip and after miles upon miles of needing to go, finally reaching bathroom to do your duty.
Michelle took a quick look down there and saw what she thought might be the head. She went to get the nurse and the next thing I knew the doctor was in the room, bright lights shone on the bed, and a host of nurses surrounded me. What Michelle saw was apparently the amniotic sack. The doctor left the room for a bit while I kept breathing the baby down. He returned and I think I pushed for about 20 minutes. I sang out some moans and could really feel the baby coming out. My mom held my left hand and Matt held my right; it felt like everyone in the room was a cheerleader.
I went back and forth from squatting on the bed and lying back during this time. Even though I’d been laboring through the night and hadn’t eaten anything all day, I felt tremendously strong. After a really great push the doctor took my hand. I wasn’t sure what he was doing until he said, “OK, get your baby.” I pulled the baby up onto my bare chest straight from the womb. Everything wonderful I’d ever done in my life pales in comparison to that experience.
Matt announced that we had a boy. Brooks entered our lives and everything forever changed.