Giving birth was so much harder, more painful, and more challenging than I had anticipated.
I’m grateful for the presence of my husband Ryan – he was my anchor once I was in active labour; my mother, Fay – she provided countless moments of strength and comfort; my father, Glenn, who was with us for a while but later slept in a hotel room while I laboured; my doula, Piper, and my midwife, Kristen, who were both AMAZING!! I chose not to have a birth photographer because I knew that it would make me more self-conscious.
My parents were staying with us. They were sleeping in the guest bedroom (which has now become the baby’s room). The previous day, we’d visited Coney Island. My mother and I had ice cream and my father had a Nathan’s Hot Dog.
I stopped by the CrossFit gym on the way home to say hi. I had a premonition this would be my last time visiting before the babe arrived. I don’t remember what we did that night. We might have watched a movie…?
At 3:30 am in the morning, I woke with what felt similar to the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been feeling in previous weeks – except that this one hurt in a different place: lower. I went to pee and saw bloody show! I raised my hands and cheered quietly to myself, “Bloody show!” I knew this was it. I went back to bed and waited. Yup! There came another one!
It shocked me that they felt different than the Braxton Hicks. To be honest, it also scared me. The Braxton Hicks had been so bearable that I’d gotten a little cocky about how well I’d handle labour. After three or four of these contractions, I got out my iPhone and started timing them using an app that I’d downloaded. They were 7 minutes apart and at least 60 seconds long. I muscled through them by myself until about 5:45 am, when I sent an email to my midwife and doula to let them know that I was in early labour.
Ryan gave me the funniest look when he woke up at 6:30 am to pee. It was a blend of confusion, disbelief, and then frustration because he knew I wasn’t going to let him go back to sleep. He helped me through each contraction (by providing moral support) until the sun was up and we heard my parents in the living room rummaging around.
My mother’s labour with me (and I was her first and only) had started at about 3:30 am (like mine). She was in early labour until about 1:00 pm at which point she went to the hospital, was admitted, and four hours later, after 20 minutes of pushing, gave birth to me at 5:00 pm! I was hoping for a similar experience (at home and not the hospital). But it was not to be.
Once Ryan and I got up and went to the living room, I wanted to put on a movie. We ended up watching three movies back to back, while I laboured: Monsters Inc, You’ve Got Mail, and Back To The Future! But during this time, my contractions spaced out and became irregular (perhaps because the sun was up?) – some were 5 minutes apart, some were 30 minutes apart! They were all at least 60 seconds long. I texted my labour team to let them know things had slowed a bit.
The movies lasted until about 2:00 pm at which point the contractions were still irregular but were getting more intense. We put on my labour music (Iona) and started the photo slideshow on the AppleTV – a mixture of scriptures, motivational sayings, motivational photos, and funny animal photos.
The next few hours are blurry to me. I think I took a shower at some point (at the suggestion of Piper, via text). My mother sat on the toilet and spoke with me while I laboured through several contractions. I remembered my labour prep and mused how funny it was that the position I’d thought I’d take in the shower was not at all working! Instead, I leaned on the tiled window sill and breathed and swayed my hips through each contraction.
This is where it started getting serious.
The sun was going down. The light was beautiful. It was about 5:00 pm or so. This was the point at which my mother had given birth to me. I was officially having a longer labour than she did. I got out of the shower and leaned against the kitchen table. My breaths started getting heavier as I worked through each contraction. My mother got concerned. I was going longer than her. I could tell she was a little nervous. Both my mother and husband asked if I wanted to ask Piper to join us. At first I said no, but after three contractions had me starting to moan, I said yes! Call her!
Piper arrived about 6:50 pm. I was sitting on the edge of the love seat, intoning through each contraction. These were harder than I’d anticipated, but doable. The contractions were 5 to 10 minutes apart. Piper immediately set to work with awesome verbal guidance and, as if on cue, I stopped timing my contractions with my iPhone, as I’d been doing all day. She was in charge of that now. I was in charge of getting through each wave.
After an hour or so, Piper texted my midwife, Kristen, that labour was moving into a more active phase (I only know this from the birth timeline that Piper sent to me). My contractions were steady at about 5 minutes apart. Piper was providing counter pressure on my lower back. It definitely helped. I held my mother’s hand as she sat to my left. But I was starting to get tired. I’d been up since 3:30 am working through these! It’d been 17 hours already! When was transition?! When was I going to get the urge to push?! When would we meet our baby!?
I don’t remember how, but Ryan ended up sitting on the coffee table in front of me. And after that, he did not leave me. Poor, poor dedicated man! From that moment I used his strength through each contraction. He was sitting on the coffee table facing me and I held his hands. During each contraction, I pulled against him, while moaning and spreading my legs apart in a kind of squat on the edge of the love seat. And between contractions, I rested against his shoulders and on a pillow on his knees once someone placed it there. I laboured like this for a while. Hours.
Once my contractions were between 3-4 minutes apart (and still 60-90 seconds long), Piper asked if I was ready to have Kristen present. I said yes.
But we were still hours away.
During this time, I wasn’t focused on my baby. I wasn’t focused on my pregnancy. I tried to look at the screen of floating pictures to motivate myself, but all I could think was, “This is harder than I thought!” and “Just take it one at a time.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to give voice to my fears. To the fact that it was bigger than me. I just quietly muscled through, moaned through, each contraction.
My father, who I loved having present because I knew that he knew I could do this, asked my mother why I was moaning. Was I okay? My mother explained to him that the vocalization helps me stay focused. I experienced this exchange in the periphery of my awareness.
Kristen arrived at 10:15 pm. I was in the middle of a contraction. I think I managed a weak smile once that one ended. I think she saw it. I did not have any internal checks. No one, including me, knew when I was dilated to what measurements. Kristen is a hands-off kind of midwife and we’d agreed that she wouldn’t check me unless either one of us wanted/needed to know.
I moaned through more contractions. Each one feeling like it was going to rip me apart. Also, my tailbone was starting to hurt from sitting on the edge of the love seat.
Shortly after Kristen arrived, my father left for the hotel. He was going to get some sleep since the rest of us weren’t. Before he left, he said to me, “Have fun!” Soft chuckles from the whole team followed.
A little while later, I began to feel a specific pain inside me during each contraction.
It took several contractions for me to realize what it was – my cervix. It took another several for me to realize what was happening – my body was trying to stretch it from 8 cm to 10 cm.
It dawned on me. “Oh! I have to embrace this pain. I have to allow it to expand. I have to go through my cervix.”
It then took many more contractions for me to work up the nerve to do it. For the first few, I moved my body in such a way to avoid it. I widened my hips, I leaned back, I moaned deeper. When I finally worked up the nerve and embraced it, I had a 5 minute long contraction.
It was horrible. It was like riding an electrical storm naked and cold and inside out. It was like internal rope burns. It was never ending. I was in that moment for eternity, going through the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Being out of control. Being very inside my body that was being ripped apart. I intoned throughout the whole thing, sucking in air, and intoning again. Riding it out. Higher pitched when it got worse and lower when I felt in control. I was on top of it, beneath it, inside it. Gasping for breath. Knowing what I needed to do and feeling unable to do it. But doing it.
Then it was over. 11:50 pm.
And I threw up all over Ryan.
Someone grabbed a bucket and I threw up again in the bucket.
Someone took the bucket away and I threw up again onto Ryan. He tried to catch it with his hands. Laughter in the midst of mess.
Then, I rested. I’d made it through.
Then, an urge to push.
My body convulsed in such a strange way. Like my abs were trying to push my uterus out through my back. Kristen suggested that I go to the bathroom to pee. I did. Then I had a contraction on the toilet. Everyone ran in. Ryan stepped into the tub at my right. Kristen was at my left, Piper and my mother behind her. I laboured on the toilet for a while. Then during one of the contractions, at the end, I felt a drop (the baby?) and a POP! SPLASH!
My water broke while I was on the toilet. It was 1:25 am.
An estimated 0% actually made it into the toilet. Yes, 0%. It had actually splashed all over the bathroom, soaking the hairdryer and pooling on the floor. Ryan later used the phrase, “horizontal geyser” to describe the situation.
Piper appeared in the doorway and said to Kristen, “It’s ready.”
Kristen turned to me and said calmly, “Gillian, I don’t want to deliver this baby on the toilet. There’s not a lot of room in here. We have a stool set up in the bedroom.” I nodded and with Ryan’s help, waddled to the birthing stool.
Oh, that birthing stool. I loved and hated it. It was hard but it was almost perfect. I’d envisioned pushing in a squat position but I was so so tired. So the stool it was! I pushed and pushed and pushed. Ryan was sitting behind me on the bed. Between each contraction, I rested on his shoulder. Mostly on the right one but sometimes on the left one. During each contraction I had a hold of his left hand with my left hand and with my right hand I held onto the door handle. It was right there. At one point, I tried not holding onto the door handle, but that didn’t work. I needed the door handle.
After 40 minutes of pushing, Kristen had Piper and Ryan help me onto the bed in a side-lying position. That hurt worse. While on the bed, we tried hands and knees, but the cushiness of the bed prohibited me somehow. I moved back to the stool.
At 3:00 am, Kristen asked for hot towels. She thought we were close. We all did.
I knew my baby was fine. After each contraction, Kristen would check her heart rate and then indicate somehow to my mother that everything was okay.
Our little one was patient.
I remember not having any idea how to push. I expected that part to be easier. I expected there to be more that my body was doing. I didn’t realize that I’d have to work to push so hard! I thought my uterus would do more work. So I was just following my body’s cues. But during one of the contractions, I did something different and Kristen and Piper and even my mother (who was watching from the living room behind Kristen) began to cheer!
“Oh that’s how to do it!” I said to myself silently.
It was a strange thing – a three stage push. I pushed with the contraction, then switched to a push akin to pooping, then found the sweet spot where I was actually pushing my baby out.
It. Was. Exhausting.
But this is what I went through with each push. I was able to get three pushes in with each contraction and then I was done. Even if the contraction was still going, I was spent. Exhausted. I leaned back on Ryan and rested.
At nearly 4:00 am, I started to bleed from what Kristen later realized was an internal tear. In the perimeter of my experience, I witnessed Kristen ask Piper to get the pitocin ready. I knew why. They wanted to stop the bleeding once the babe was born. I also witnessed my mother get up and start praying. So I prayed too.
Lord, I said silently, I need strength. I’m so tired. I need strength. Also, I asked, is there anything I can do differently? I felt an answer come, “Just lift your knees as high as you can and keep pushing.” I hadn’t been lifting my knees. In other words, I hadn’t been squatting low enough. The birth stool was just too high.
So with the next contraction, I lifted my knees higher. They began to shake, but Kristen and Piper began to cheer!
With the next contraction, I got four pushes in! And the one after that five!
With each push the cheers got louder and more excited. We were close to meeting our baby!
Kristen was concerned about the blood so she asked me to move to my hands and knees, on the floor, so she could protect my perineum. I nodded. I knew what she meant.
I think it was two or maybe three contractions on my hands and knees. I knew by the cheers of my husband (who was now just observing from behind), Kristen and Piper that we were close. And to be honest, I didn’t feel her crown. I had no idea she’d been born until I heard her scream and saw her beneath me, on the floor of my bedroom, and I felt such amazing relief. It is finished.
Baby. 4:34 am.
25 hours after labour had started. 40 weeks plus 3 days after conception. 5 years and 5 months after Ryan and I had married. Perfect.
After taking a breath, our little baby pooped right on the floor. Good timing, kid! And then the newborn screaming began again. Healthy lungs! My mother called my father and told him to return.
I did as I was told. I leaned back onto the bed and Kristen placed my baby on my chest. Things happened around me; but I just stared at my baby. Someone (was it Ryan?) asked, “What is it?” I looked and with shock and delight said, “It’s a girl!” My mother cried.
I felt a warm sensation spread across my belly. “I think my daughter just peed on me!” Laughter.
It felt like five minutes later that Kristen said, “Gillian, I need you to give a little push now and we can deliver the placenta.” I protested, “But I wanted it to deliver itself naturally!” Kristen replied, “It’s already detached, I just need you to push.” “How long has it been?” I asked. “Twenty-five minutes!” Oh!
Time flies when you’re staring at your newly born baby girl for the first time.
I gave a little push and out it came. Like a jelly fish. Kristen and Piper held it up and said, “It’s so healthy!” I felt proud. Kristen and Piper examined my bits. I lost an estimated total of 350 cc of blood: 200 cc from the internal tear and only about 150 cc from the uterus. And I’d had a small “cosmetic” tear. One stitch. Hallelujah.
I looked at my baby girl. She had already latched and was nursing. I felt so proud. So tired. But so happy.
My father held the scale while she was weighed.
8 pounds, 12 ounces. 21 inches tall.
“What is her name?” Someone asked. Ryan and I looked at each other, “Have we decided on a middle name yet?” No. So, I announced, “Her first name is Olivia!” Ooos and aws. My mother suggested Grace as a middle name. Later in the day, Ryan and I agreed it was perfect.
Olivia Grace. Our daughter.
Giving birth was so much harder and so much more painful than I had anticipated. But it changed how I feel about being a woman. I feel that I am at once so much stronger and so much more vulnerable than I ever thought possible. I want to yell and scream at women who are not yet mothers (and shake the memory of it into every mother that’s forgotten): that they can be so much stronger than they know! But that it’s okay to be vulnerable too.
Now I look forward to the rest of what my lovely Olivia Grace and motherhood have to teach me… and I look forward to teaching her what her birth taught me:
Womanhood is beautiful.