Since I’m expecting my second baby, now seems like an appropriate time to write down my birth story (insert eye roll emoji). I have been thinking of this since the birth of my first, Olivia. I should tell you something first about my approach to birth: I’m very passionate about completely natural, intervention-free childbirth. If you had an elected c-section or piton induced, epidural birth, great! I truly believe that every woman is different and every woman should have the birth experience SHE wants. My desire was for a natural birth so from now on I will be talking about it in that regard, not that I am better, but that that is what I wanted. Also, I choose to be very positive about birth. I won’t sugar coat it and I’ll give you all the details realistically, but I won’t expound on anything that happened in birth as overly negative for the sake of being dramatic or humorous. I choose to look at birth in a beautiful, positive way.
My EDD was June 30th, 2014 by my OB/GYN. My EDD from my own fertility charting was July 6th. However, I had high hopes for having this baby early and when I reached June 30th and hadn’t had any signs of labor, devastation peaked and I decided to take a warm bath, have half a glass of red wine, and relax. Then I made Luka give me a pressure point massage to help induce labor naturally. We got ready for bed and as Luka was soundly asleep next to me, I would begin to drift off to sleep and then wake. It happened a few times and then I thought, why does my stomach hurt? Then I realized it wasn’t my stomach, it was lower and it was cramps. OMG! YES! This is it! This is finally it! Leaping from bed as much as an enormous abdomen will allow, I went to the bathroom and had some bloody show and some mucus. I had read somewhere that when contractions start it’s better to keep moving because relaxing too much can cause them to stop so I began cleaning the apartment and a little of this and a little of that. I was beyond excited that I was finally going to have my baby. I timed the contractions: 12 minutes apart and very light. Not even as painful as my periods. At 3am things were the same, but not progressing. That was when I decided to go back to bed and get the rest I would need later on.
I was dozing on and off until Luka got up around 7am and I told him that my contractions had started when we went to bed. He said, “Oh! So this is going to take a while then.” “Yes.” Luka went to work and I stayed home to meditate and relax and said that I would call him if things started moving any faster. I made him swear to me that he wouldn’t tell anyone my contractions had started. If it ended up to be false labor I couldn’t bear the idea of people asking me if I had had the baby yet. While he was gone, I meditated, prayed, rested, practiced breathing, tried to sleep, but didn’t really.
Around noon I went to the bathroom and wasn’t sure if I had lost more mucus or if my water had broke. The contractions were getting stronger, but still about 9-10 minutes apart. Luka came home and we went to the birth center, which was a 45 minute drive from our home. It was uncomfortable to sit in the car. It made the pain worse, but at this point it was still something like strong period cramps. We got to the center and the doctor checked me. I was 3cm dilated and my water was still intact. She told us that we could go home or we could stay. I much preferred the idea of laboring in the comfort of my own home so we decided to leave.
My mom had just arrived and Luka’s sister picked her up at the airport. We went to meet her. At this point is was around 5pm and I could tell the contractions were progressing. Luka’s sister had said, “You know you’re really progressing when you can’t talk through the contractions anymore.” I was close to that stage. Luka went to a meeting and my mom and I went to the store to get some groceries for dinner. It was about 7pm when we were in the store and at this point when the contractions reached its peak, I had to stop walking and just breathe. I remember clearly the feeling of craving privacy. I didn’t like being in this public space, in front of all these people, with all these bright lights. It made me think of how animals naturally seek seclusion when they are ready to give birth. It was so instinctual at the time it made sense. We finally got out of there and went back to the apartment. My mom made us a salad with chicken breast, which was the perfect meal before the labor got any more intense. It was light in my stomach, but gave me good energy. You can read about the other things I ate during labor in my blog post here.
At about 9pm Luka came home, we talked a little, then he and I went off to our apartment. Once we got home he said that he was going to shower. While he showered I laid down and really focused on relaxing and breathing into my contractions, to welcome each one.
About 11:30pm as I was focusing on relaxing I had three contractions 2 minutes apart and a wave of nausea swept over me. Oh my God, I’ve hit transition?! It seemed impossible, but having contractions back to back and the nausea sounded like what everyone had talked about as the signs for transition. If that was the case, we needed to get to the birth center as fast as possible. Luka was just ready for bed when I said, “We need to go NOW.” He hustled and got everything in the car, picked up my mom, and came back for me. I got in the back seat and faced backwards, held onto the headrest, and breathed through the contractions. By the way, contractions in the car are way more intense.
Luka did about 110MPH to the birth center (I am not exaggerating). We arrived around midnight and were the only ones around. They put me in a wheelchair and took me to the first examination room. By now the contractions were strong and made 10X worse by sitting down. I started to have back pain during the contraction. It wasn’t because Olivia was facing the wrong way, but I think because I had a previous back injury from years ago. They asked me to lie down to be monitored and after being monitored through 3 contractions, the doctor checked me again. This time I was 5cm dilated and my water was still intact. Being told you’re only 5cm dilated would make many women feel extreme disappointment. However, after reading Ina May Gaskin’s book Guide to Childbirth I knew that dilation didn’t mean much. Some women take 3 hours to dilate half a centimeter and some go from 4cm to 10cm in 30 minutes. This kept me positive. Once they decided labor was well on the way, they took me to my room.
The birth center was small so we only went two doors down and entered a room with a bed, pillows, exercise ball, birthing stool, birthing rack on the wall, and other things for going through labor. It also had a bathroom and shower and that was where I was headed. I really had wanted to have a water birth, but this center didn’t have birthing pools. However, this center was the most supportive of my birth plan and a natural birth and I chose that over the bath. But I could still shower! And oh man, did that water feel good! I believe that your body is shy to unfamiliarity during labor. When I arrived I wanted my body to relax, open up, and be comfortable in my surroundings. As the hot water ran over my body I breathed through my contractions. I was in there for over an hour until I couldn’t stand for the contraction anymore. A few more on my hands and knees and then I decided to get out. I was also really wanting to have Luka near me.
I was on an exercise ball for a while, then got into the bed and the midwife put a few pads and a pillow at the head of the bed so that I could labor on all four and have support to rest in between contractions. At this point I have to mention the midwife. She was the only one on duty and didn’t speak English. That was a little intimidating. It was something I had worried about when I realized I would give birth in a country outside my home country. However, she was great and with Luka to translate the important things it was fine. Other than that, she was exactly the kind of midwife I had hoped for. In the beginning she left us alone quite a bit. She didn’t interfere often or much. She was helpful and non-invasive. Once transition happened (and it was much more intense than what I thought was transition) she was there the whole time. Quietly moving about, moving around me, occasionally monitoring Olivia’s heart rate.
Throughout my entire labor and birth I never had consistent contractions. I was always told that they start out easy and far apart and then they get more painful and closer together. Well for me it didn’t happen like that at all. They were consistently inconsistent. I would have a few 6 minutes apart and then 2 or 3 that were 2 minutes apart. It was like this all the way to the end.
Something interesting that happened during labor was every time I went pee it triggered another contraction. Also, whenever my midwife checked the heart rate with the little handheld device, as soon as that thing touched me it triggered another contraction. Initially I thought this was a good thing because it would move things along, but in the end I was ready to throw it out the window. Another thing that happened to me, which no one had ever mentioned before, was the baby moving during labor. Oh my God, how she moved! Mostly during a contraction. It was like she didn’t at all like being squeezed in there and fought back. It intensified the contractions too.
As the contractions grew in strength I remember clearly one ended and I as the next one began I could feel fear wash over me like a massive ocean wave. The dread of the next one. And, in a moment of unfathomable clarity, I decidedly thought, “No! I will not become afraid! I can do this. My body was made for this.” Two things led to this: 1, I really felt and believed that fear would only prolong labor and cause my body to close up. It would make labor longer. There’s good evidence of this in Ina May’s book. 2, I had meditated on affirmations so much that in the moment I needed it most, they came to me. I had meditated on these things every day in the 3rd trimester.
From now on the story becomes… animalistic. Once I hit transition, around 8cm, it was like my body became so primal and instinctual. I had been breathing through and moaning through contractions and at one point the moans got louder and louder. I screamed and would bite down hard and grip the bed with such strength I never knew I possessed. It became much like when a bodybuilder lets out that AAARRGGGGHHH when they are reaching their new max. That guttural, physical strain. It makes sense too. This enormous organ/muscle, the uterus, is creating incredible muscular contractions over and over again. I was so hot too. The windows were open (so I could wake everyone within a mile of the place) and I started to undress. It was around this time that you begin to try this position and that position in an attempt to lessen the intensity, but this is nature running her course. This is the body leading up to the most incredible climax.
I wore my own clothes, I was not going to wear a gown. I had on a strapless sports bra and eventually was just bottomless. I remember the point exactly at which I made a turning point; the point where I completely surrendered physically to what my body was doing. I was moving all over, trying different positions and my midwife would just move one of those absorbent pads underneath me. Gasping, I said, “I need to pee.” to which the midwife replied and Luka translated, “She says you can just go right here.” A moment’s hesitation, while I considered my dignity. What dignity? Pride. What pride? Those were gone long ago. And I peed, on the pad, in front of my husband and my mom. At that point, I really did not give one shit about anything but that baby coming out of me. There was something very freeing and liberating in that moment. Shortly after that my water broke.
The suggestion was made that I try the birthing stool. I sat on it, my midwife neatly placed the pad under me, and Luka got on an exercise ball behind me to support me. The first contraction on that stool and I almost jumped back into bed. It was so much more intense I thought I would lose my mind. However, my mom came to the reasoning rescue, “No! It’s worse because her head in engaged now! If you can stay in this position it will help her come much more quickly.” That was all I needed to hear. If this baby will come any faster, I can handle it.
Another contraction. Groaning, gritting, gasping. The midwife got up and closed the window. “No! I’m so hot!” I begged. Luka said, “She said she’s closing it because the baby is coming now.” These were the most beautiful words I had heard all night. Contraction. “AAH! Why is she moving so much?!” I cried. Luka and the midwife exchange words. “She says the baby is helping you.” I almost wept. My sweet baby! I’m sure this ordeal wasn’t easy on her either. I swear, the thoughts that went racing through my mind.
The midwife asked if I felt like pushing. This is where I think I made a bit of a mistake and maybe it contributed to my stitches. When baby is really ready to come out, you can’t NOT push. I had been gutting through each contraction and I felt like I was somewhat bearing down through them, but not really intentionally pushing. However, at this point I began to bear down and PUSH through the contractions. It felt good, honestly. It felt like the end was near. It felt like I had purpose; something concrete to do instead of just coping. As I pushed, my midwife calmly encouraged me, “Good! You’re doing great.” It was only about 6 contractions total on that stool and then she came.
Dawn was just lighting the sky. That glorious morning light was filtering in through the windows in the room. It felt as if magic came into the room in those moments. The whole earth was ready to greet and welcome Olivia. Luka was supporting me as I rested between contractions. At the very end, Katja, the midwife who had gone over my birth plan with me, came into the room, came to my side and cheered me on, “You can do this, Mariah!” I heard my mom gasp and saw the smile on her face. I knew she was almost here. It was almost over. Hair in my face, gasping in between contractions, I look up to see a student midwife standing behind Katja. I gave her a weak smile and then came the contraction that brought Olivia’s head out. I didn’t know it until Katja told me, “Her head is out!” I was almost delirious. Really?! No burning, no ring of fire. I reached down and felt her head. Relief came over me as I knew that the next contraction would mean the end of this long, arduous journey. I waited, breathing patiently, as I relaxed against Luka. The final contraction began. It mounted slowly. Inhale. Exhale. Relax, relax, relax. I leaned forward. She’s coming. As the intensity peaked, I acutely felt the bones in my pelvis shift apart as her body came out.
On July 2nd, at 6:30am on the dot Olivia made her entrance into this world. In an instant, there was my daughter on my chest. Grateful relief, rapturous joy, pure love, incomparable triumph, and radiating energy filled me all at once. She gave a good wail as I held onto her tightly trying to look at her. “Oh my God, oh my God! She’s here!” was all I could think. A moment later I began losing quite a bit of blood so they had me move to the bed, which was when I could really look at her. “Oh, I’m so glad you’re finally here.” I said to her again and again. “She looks like Luka!” I gasped. Luka at my side, we took in all the beauty of our newborn. It’s funny, but we had discussed the fact that many babies come out looking like aliens. I knew that wouldn’t affect me, but Luka had honestly said that if he didn’t think she looked pretty at birth, he knew it couldn’t be helped and also it didn’t matter because love usually triumphs over these things in time. However, the infant before us was the most glorious, most beautiful baby I had ever seen. I could hardly believe it. Her face was clean, but not just wiped clean, it was glowing. Her cheeks were flushed and rosy, her lips were full and red. She was absolutely breathtaking. And she was finally here.
The midwives were checking me over as I had those sweet moments with Olivia. Something you’re never told: the contractions don’t go away after birth. In fact they continue for a while. They are surprisingly intense. I thought they would be like early labor contractions, but they were much stronger. And they are very good! They help the uterus go back down in size and they also help to stop bleeding and birth the placenta. However, they were interrupting my happy moments. About 20 minutes later Katja came to me and showed me the umbilical cord and asked if I was okay now to cut it since the blood had left it. I said, yes, and Luka cut it. Katja said the placenta wasn’t quite ready yet to come out. A few minutes later she checked back again and said it was ready and I could give a push. One push and it was out and with it came to most incredible rush of relief. “WOW! That feels so much better!” I exclaimed. I really couldn’t believe how much better I felt instantly. Afterwards, I found out that the reason I bled so much was because the placenta partially detached when Olivia came out, but it all turned out fine and I didn’t have any complications.
Katja said to me, “I think now is a good time to try to breastfeed her.” This was also something in my birth plan that was important to me. Olivia latched on like a pro on both sides as if she had been doing it for ages. Altogether we were skin-to-skin in our birthing room for 2 hours. Around this time, the doctor came in to examine me. She told me I would need stitches and that we could do it now or wait until later. I said now would probably be better since the endorphins and hormones were running high. But I tell you, after pushing a baby out I did not feel like having anything within a mile of my vagina. They cleaned me off and then sprayed me with a numbing spray that stung like hell. I had four stitches and they were all internal. The first two I didn’t feel and then suddenly, “OW!!!!” The doctor said, “I’m sorry, but there is one more we need to do.” “Will I feel it too?” I asked. “Yes.” she replied honestly. “Okay, I’m ready.” It was quick, but not painless. Honestly though, it wasn’t something that stayed with me as a bad experience. Having Olivia in my arms made everything better. As I was there, I was reflecting on the whole experience. That was really hard. Thinking about it brought tears to my eyes. Not because it was so difficult, but because it was also so wonderful. It wasn’t at all easy, but when I thought about my overall birth experience in the days that followed, I was so happy with it. I had wanted a natural birth and I did it and it gave me great joy.
What Happens After Birth
They asked if it was okay now to take Olivia to be weighed and wiped down and then I could take a shower and be taken to my room. I said yes and the student midwife, Erika, became my assistant. She helped me into the shower and out. Gave me clothes. I was a bit shaky so I needed the extra help. They gave me the underwear and those enormous pads and then wheeled me to my room and helped me into bed. A few minutes later I needed to pee so I asked the midwife if I could go to the bathroom. On my way there, I got so incredibly dizzy and lightheaded that my vision began to blackout. Erika got me to the toilet and when I peed it was stinging like crazy! Not only that, but I peed for what seemed like an eternity! I could not believe how much fluid I could hold now that there wasn’t a baby on top of my bladder. After that experience, when I need to pee I either stepped in the shower to run cool water over myself or I took a water bottle to the bathroom and poured it over myself while I peed and then it was fine. After that episode, they had wheeled my bed out into the hallway and helped me into and then wheeled me back into my room. They also brought me an ice pack for my vagina which made SUCH a difference.
Olivia, Luka, and my mom came in just then with Olivia swaddled up tightly. She weighed 3,190 grams or 7 pounds exactly. Her hair was light brown, soft, fuzzy. Her little face was perfectly round and her red lips full and puckered. She was perfect. Not at all what I had expected my baby to look like, but then again, I had no idea what to expect. It was now about 10am on the 2nd and I had been up since 7am on the 1st. But I was not at all sleepy. I was physically a little tired, but full of this incredible feeling of happiness and joy. Luka seemed like he was sleepier than I was. He and my mom left and I had some time alone to be with Olivia. I looked at her. I watched her. I felt like I needed to get to know her. It sounds strange, but it’s true! Something in me felt like I wanted her to get to know me too. I don’t know if other mom’s felt that way, but if they did I never heard them talk about it.
The nurses asked if I wanted them to take Olivia to the nursery so I could rest. Absolutely not! I just got her here! It was about 4 hours later and Olivia didn’t cry or anything. I was nervous that it had been too long since she had breastfed, but she was sleeping. After about 5 hours I tried to get her to breastfeed and she did very shortly. I just wanted to make sure that she did indeed breastfeed, even if it was a moment or two at a time. After that I slept and got some much needed rest. Olivia began to whimper and I asked the nurse to take her from her little crib and give her to me. Once I got her ready to breastfeed she fell asleep! I looked at the nurse in bewilderment looking for an answer or some instruction. She simply shrugged and said, “Maybe she just needed a cuddle.” What love and elation filled my heart! For the rest of our stay there she slept with me and I held her almost the entire time. My Olivia, my baby, she was finally here.