I planned for a natural waterbirth in a freestanding birth center, and that’s what I got! What I wasn’t prepared for was delivering a week early and taking a two hour drive while in labor! Hi, I’m Bianca, aka The Pierogie Mama – brand new mama my little “pierogie,” aka Penelope.
Penelope was born on March 3, 2012 and is my husband’s and my first child. We planned for this pregnancy and were over the moon when the test came positive. Although we had talked about birth options before, the actual idea of birth was very daunting! I’m a planner, and giving birth is probably the single most unplanned event I have ever participated in. Early on in my pregnancy I had to “let go” of the planner in me and just let God take the reigns on this one – because there was no way that I was going to be able to tell the baby when to come or how to. Once I relinquished control, I was able to enjoy my pregnancy fully and was at peace with what was to come. One of the very best ways that I was able to prepare myself for birth was to read lots of birth stories – which is why I want to share mine with you today.
This story is very precious to my heart. Not only because it goes into much detail that I wouldn’t openly share with very many people, but mainly because there are very few events in life that are more profound than birth. It’s very saddening that we eventually forget many of the very specific details that are so clear and present right after the fact (many argue that this is nature’s intent so that we have more!), and are left with fuzzy memories but very strong feelings. I am very glad that I took the time to write this out when I did – even so, it was written between 5-8 days after the birth, and details were already fading. I highly recommend writing yours, or even taking a video of you telling the story (this way you can do it while holding your newborn!) as soon as you can.
It’s amazing for me to actually be able to write that Penelope’s birth was exactly how I had hoped it would be, because I didn’t plan for it to happen that way at all! We had planned for a water birth at our local freestanding birth center. This was important to me because I wanted my provider, a midwife, to see me as consistently as possible throughout my pregnancy and have that same person be the one who caught my baby. We also wanted the option to birth in any way we chose – in the tub, in the bed, or on the floor if that’s where I ended up. I didn’t want to be hooked up to monitors and restricted in my movements. It was also important for my visualization to be able to see the room I was going to deliver in. I was completely open to having Penelope in any way she came, so I guess it’s best to say that I had low expectations and was pleasantly surprised when everything worked out in the way I wanted it to!
On Thursday March 1 I had my 38 week appointment with one of my two midwives. This birth center has two attending midwives and I met with each one equally so that depending whoever was on call, my husnand and I had already gotten to know her and she understood our wishes. The midwife, Constance asked if I would like to be checked to see how far along I was, which I happily agreed to. I started at 1cm dilated and after a quick massage of my cervix I opened up quickly to 3cm. I was elated, but Constance cautioned that it still wasn’t likely to happen soon but that I probably wouldn’t carry to 41 weeks. That day I came home, finished packing the rest of my birth bag, prepared our cameras and tried to get a few projects done. I began to experience some lower back pain, lost some of the mucus plug, and rested that evening with Adam (who came home from work early). That evening I lost the rest of the plug in the middle of the night.
The next day, Friday, Adam went to work and I puttered around the house feeling great. My mom mentioned that the babybump looked lower but I didn’t feel any difference. I called Constance letting her know that I had lost the plug, and asked her opinion of whether I should go anywhere this weekend (side story: we are in the process of selling our home and we moved back in with my parents for the end of my pregnancy and planned to stay for about a month or two after the birth. This way the house was available for walk throughs at any time and I was getting support while my husband was at work). We planned to drive to our house to finish up some projects, which is a two hour drive from my parents’ house and the birth center that I was going to deliver at. All we needed to get done was clean the house and we were planning on listing it the following week. Constance was confident that we’d be ok, and even if I went into labor I was only a few hours away. So Adam and I drove down and made it there around 7:00p. Adam finished a few projects and I rested on the couch. We went to bed around 10:00p and I still felt completely normal.
At midnight I woke up because I had been dreaming about a relative who just had her baby girl (we shared the same due date) and felt what I thought was a contraction . I didn’t have very many braxton-hicks contractions previously, and the few times I had felt any contractions were always following dreams of birth, so I thought that I was acting out the dream. I waited a few more minutes, and another one came. Then they started being very consistently 3 minutes long, 7-10 minutes apart. Adam and I decided that if this continues to be consistent (no matter what the length) for an hour that it would be smart to pack up and drive to the birth center. I kept track of the contractions until 1:00a and we found that they were indeed consistent so it was time to go. Adam quickly packed up the dogs and our things into the Volvo and away we went. At that point, the contractions were uncomfortable but very tolerable. I also reminded myself that I had a 2 hour ride ahead of me so I needed to keep calm!
At 1:30a we were on the road and Adam turned on the hazards and very calmly drove 80mph until we saw we were coming up onto a sheriff. I told him to slow down, we don’t need the extra attention, but he decided to risk it and sped past, and then calmly began to move over into the right lane to pull onto the shoulder once we caught the sheriff’s attention. He began to trail us and as we pulled over, he turned on his lights and we stopped. He approached the car, asked us why we were speeding, to which Adam and I both replied “I am (she is) in labor.” He asked if we were going to the local hospital, and Adam said no, we’re going to our birth center, about two hours away. The sheriff begins to launch into a lecture about how we can’t be speeding and that if we are going to be driving like that we either need to call an ambulance (and deliver locally) or he has to write us a ticket. I had grown very impatient at this point, as another contraction was coming, and told him to either write us a ticket or let us go, because I’m not having my baby in a hospital!! I’m pretty sure he’s not accustomed to being so directly spoken to, and he took Adam’s license to run it. A few minutes passed, and when he came back he started in on another lecture about driving safely but that he’s going to us go. Adam hadn’t gotten a violation in the last 4-5 years so we are sure that played into the decision making. We called Constance and my parents on the way to let them know we were coming home.
We arrived in Lacey around 3 am and my contractions were at the “5-1-1” rule (5 minutes apart, lasting one minute for one hour). We called Constance, and she said to wait until I was to the point where I was not able to speak anymore and that Adam would have to call for me. The contractions were still very tolerable during the drive, but as soon as we came to the house I was no longer as chipper. I took a shower and was only able to find comfort by bending over the edge of the bed and having Adam rub my back or provide counter pressure. Finally at 5a I decided it was time to go and we snapped one last picture (boy did I look enthused) and got to the birth center as fast as we could, my mom followed in her car. This time around, the contractions were not very tolerable in the car. The main way I found that I could cope with the pain was to keep writing my contractions down. When we got to the birth center, I think we actually beat Constance and Lisa (the apprentice) so we had to wait a few minutes for the door to open.
I was brought into the birthing room of my choice, which was “the yellow room.” It welcomed a lot of natural light, and I knew that I’d have her during the day at this point, and the bed in this room was higher so I was able to continue to labor in the same way as I had at home. This didn’t last very long, because Lisa’s job was to keep track of the baby’s heart beat and the simple act of gently pressing the monitor to my belly sent me into contractions, which for this first check she had to hold it there for 10 straight minutes. I became very intolerant after 2. Constance invited me to the tub and as soon as I climbed in, I felt a lot better. The water wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, but it was a lot easier to move around. I had a hard time finding a position to actually have some control in, but soon just draped my arms over the side of the tub and rested on a hip.
Contractions were very difficult to cope with quietly, Adam and my mom alternated between holding my arms, hand, or wiping my face with a cold wash cloth. The wash cloth was a life saver, not necessarily for keeping my face cool but following the motion as it was wiped on my face was a distraction. There were several times where I began to doubt myself and wasn’t sure about what to do. I was mostly trying to keep my noises to a medium tone “oooh” but sometimes a pretty definite “nooo!” would come out. From my Ina May readings and Constance’s encouragement I knew keeping the tones lower should help, but to be honest I didn’t notice a difference. Each time I thought I couldn’t go any further, Adam was right there telling me that I was doing great and that I could do it. He consistently reminded me of my beauty, strength and the amazing feat I was doing for us.
Shortly after getting into the water, Constance checked me and massaged my cervix through a contraction, which was very difficult to endure. She told me I was at 5cm. Lisa diligently would check the baby’s heart rate, but after 3 or 4 times I began to realize that the check was in fact sending me into contractions (in this case, a double load of contractions because she couldn’t check me during a contraction, so she would have to wait until one passed and try, which of course would start it up again) and I had my first outburst in labor – I distinctly remember telling this poor girl not to dare touch me and to keep ‘that thing’ away from me. She took it well, explained why it was needed, and I was able to regain composure but I was grumpy. From then on she was nice enough to give me a heads up a contraction ahead of time so I was able to better prepare myself. The only other outbursts I can recollect was when my water broke, I thought I had pee’d myself and lamented over the humility of it, and another time where I needed water, so she got up to get some, and I immediately screamed for her to come back and hold my hand.
At some point Constance gave me the encouragement to get on my knees to try to open up my hips more. I was afraid to move, but Adam was able to convince me to try. Constance checked me again and announced how low her head was, and that I should be able to feel it very shallowly. This gave me such a surge of enthusiasm; my labors were working and my girl was coming. This was no drill. No going back, not getting sent home. I was here to stay until she got here. I remember Adam beginning to get weepy, but I thought he was scared of some of the blood that was starting to get into the water and I asked him to not be afraid.
Soon I became impatient. I had felt her head, knew it was right there, and wanted her out. I knew that from here on out, it wasn’t going to be just my body doing the work for me, but that I needed the willpower to get her out. But I didn’t have the urge to push. I asked Constance if I should only push when I had the urge, and she said that I should, but the urge really didn’t come. I moved into a position where I was kneeling and would push down with my hands on my thighs and try to make the urge to push come. I remember feeling my arm and shoulder muscles being so strong and found all of my power from them, not from the actual “pushing” muscles. I imagined using my arms pushing down on my legs as a way to get her out. Constance had me feel her head during a contraction, how it would get pushed out and slightly retract. She assured me that this was normal (and I remembered it from my readings) but this did put in some despair to me. There’s nothing worse than knowing she’s so close and each contraction was pushing her out, but that she was just going back. I started pushing without the urge. I begged my body for the urge to poop, and do remember the couple times where I actually did get the feeling to bear down that I did use the word “poop” as my power word during the contraction (a little silly and embarrassing, I remember hoping at that very moment that I wouldn’t remember this). The urge to push was so terrifying, it was the strongest feeling I have ever felt in my life and even though I had hoped and wished so hard for this feeling to come, when it did I felt myself trying so hard to hold it back. I was terrified that literally everything was going to come out. I wasn’t afraid of going #2, I knew it happens commonly during labor but I was more concerned about pushing all of my intestines out and just losing it all. As it turns out, I didn’t go #2 anyways. I was beginning to get very tired and would actually be able to fall asleep between contractions. For almost the entire labor I kept my eyes closed, but a few times that I did have them open I would focus on a droplet of water just hanging from my arm, playing a game with myself of whether the droplet would fall first or my contraction would end, or I’d very intensely look at Constance (who has the most amazing way of encouraging a woman with just her eyes).
Adam and I recollect that I pushed about a dozen times. After the first half, I did begin to feel tears and knew the ring of fire was coming. I was still in the kneeling position, and Constance encouraged me to get on my knees and use Adam as support, so I put my arms on his shoulders and pushed my head into my mom’s hands. I think I pushed twice this way, and although I felt like I was getting somewhere, I was tearing and it was time to turn over. In this position I felt so out of control because of not having a place to brace my legs to help push.
I knew the end was near when I opened my eyes and saw a stranger in the room. To this point and the best of my knowledge, it had only been myself, Adam, my mom, Constance and Lisa in the birth center. Now there was another person there, not in scrubs, preparing something. I demanded who this person was, and at first no one knew what I was talking about (I began to think I was hallucinating). The woman came over and I saw that she was someone who I had met before at an appointment. She explained that she was the birth assistant and also a midwife.
She helped Constance put on some long gloves so that she can check me, help with the stretching and I think that the baby had to be shifted into a better position. I had asked if she was facing posterior or anterior, she was anterior (I’m sure we would have known earlier because I would have experienced back labor, but all of my labor was felt between my belly button and pubic bone). I asked Constance how many more pushes I had to give, I knew I was so close but with now in the sitting position, facing forward, being impatient and tired (and deep down knowing that I never felt like I had to push but pushed anyways), I just wanted a number. She couldn’t, she said soon, I joked that she always was so qualitative and I wanted quantitative. I asked was it six more times, and she said likely 2-3, maybe even 1-2. This gave me so much encouragement, but again I got scared. I pleaded for her help, and whatever she did, whether it was by physical manipulation or her encouraging eyes, I got the baby’s head out.
I took a small break, asked if it was ok to push the rest of her out, and closed my eyes and out Penelope came.
Immediately she was put on my chest; I saw a baby but didn’t realize who it was. I felt the vernix on my hands, saw and felt a little wiggly body, but still didn’t get it. I looked back at Adam and asked him if this was our daughter, and he joyfully said yes. A small wet towel was placed on her to keep her warm, and Constance asked when I wanted the cord cut. I said that I wanted her to get whatever else she needed to get from it, and we waited a few minutes. The instruments were brought over, and it was determined that someone was to cut it. Adam and I had spoken about this a couple times during the pregnancy, if he was going to cut the order or catch her, but never came to a decision. Constance ended up catching her, but I asked Adam to cut her cord. It was a very short cord, I could feel that it had to be pulled a little bit to bring the baby to my chest and then some more to get the two clamps on it. I watched Adam very gingerly bring the scissors over, and pause. I asked Constance if the cord has nerves in it, because I knew he was afraid of hurting me or Penelope. It didn’t, and his shakily started cutting the cord. It took three snips, and Penelope was now separate from me for the first time in her life.
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