July 6, 2012

Water Birth Story

Here is my water birth story for my little daughter, Freya Louise, born January 17, 2012. I so enjoyed reading the stories on your site before her birth, so I had to share!



Freya Louise Shaw was born at 8:43 PM Tuesday, January 17th. She weighed 7 lbs. 14 ounces and was 20 inches long. About 4 AM Tuesday morning I woke up with intermittent cramps—basically, I felt constipated. For the next three hours I was up about every 20 minutes trying to go to the bathroom, and around seven I couldn’t really get back to sleep. I realized I might be having contractions, so I came into the living room, ate a bowl of cereal, and half-heartedly tried to time them.

They didn’t seem to be following a regular pattern, though they mostly fell in the 15-20 minute range. I called my mom (who thought immediately I was in the early stages of labor). She was flying from Montana to Michigan that day, with the idea of being at the birth (Freya was due Saturday, January 21st). Johnathan woke up, and when I told him I was having contractions, he sprinted upstairs to do some last-minute work. I bounced on the birth ball, tried to eat as much as I could, watched some TV, and by 10 I was still feeling good, so we left for an appointment with the midwife acupuncturist. She tried a few new needle positions in my low back and ankles, and as I rested on the table I had three contractions. I had another contraction as soon as I stood up, and I rushed off to the bathroom. About this time I noticed I was probably slowly losing my mucus plug. I was having a lot of stringy discharge, some of it red-tinged.

By the time we got home I was getting a little more uncomfortable, though I was still able to eat, nap, and walk around. I still wasn’t really convinced I was in actual labor, although Johnathan told me to cancel an appointment I had 2 PM with my advisor. I sent him an email saying something along the lines of, “I may be in labor, but in case this is a false alarm, don’t tell anyone.” After that, labor rapidly ramped up. We decided to time the contractions, and within an hour they went from 20 minutes to 5 minutes apart. Johnathan called the midwives at the hospital and left a message. We waited for them to call back, and when no one did he called 30 minutes later and left another message. Still no one called back.

I got into the bath, which helped ease some of the pressure. When I got out I couldn’t stand the thought of putting on clothes, so I laid on a towel on the living room floor, curled on my side. I remember feeling like I couldn’t get comfortable or find a “zone.” I kept having hot and cold flashes. At one point, I tried three different positions during a contraction (hands and knees, curled in a ball, head resting on the couch), trying to ease the discomfort, but nothing seemed to feel “good.” Johnathan tried accupressure points and rubbed my back, but each time I told him to stop; I didn’t want to be touched. Instead, I crawled around the living room floor on hands and knees. I threw up, and started to feel slightly panicked. I remember feeling almost itchy, like I wanted to crawl out of my skin with each contraction. Part of that was because the contractions were much more irregular than I’d imagined. I had a contraction every time I stood up or went to the bathroom, regardless of when I’d had the last one. I kept waiting for the contractions to hit the 3-5 minute range, when we’d planned to leave for the hospital, but the timing never added up. Some were five minutes apart, others two minutes. Some lasted for a minute, but most lasted for a minute and a half to two minutes. I kept asking Johnathan, “how long was that?” because it felt like they went on forever. I found out later I was having back to back contractions and they were each lasting about a minute and a half. Again Johnathan called the midwives, and again left a message.

I decided to get into the bath again, and I sat in a sort of modified squat, gripping the side of the tub. I started breathing more rhythmically and moaning with each contraction, keeping my eyes closed. Meanwhile, Johnathan realized we were definitely headed to the hospital, so he was running around the house trying to pack a bag. We’d started making a list the night before, but hadn’t put anything into a suitcase. He helped me get out of the bath, but just the act of standing up caused a big contraction, and I put my head on his shoulder to breathe through it. I clearly remember thinking in that moment, “I’m not sure I can do this.” Even though we hadn’t yet talked to one of the midwives (it had been about 3 hours from our first call), Johnathan decided we should just head to the hospital. I wanted to wait—I still wasn’t 100% convinced I was in labor. But thank goodness Johnathan realized I was farther along than I thought!

I reclined the passenger seat in the car and curled on my side, holding my belly. I started really moaning through each contraction, and I could hear Johnathan timing them with his watch. I have no idea how long the ride took, but it felt like we stopped and started in traffic a lot. Later, Johnathan said he was getting a bit panicked because we were driving during rush hour and my contractions were less than two minutes apart. We got to the hospital, but weren’t entirely sure where to go, so we ended up pulling into the emergency room for the children’s hospital (instead of pulling around the corner to the birth triage center).

At the emergency room a bunch of people rushed toward the car, and Johnathan, like the dad in a movie, leaned out the driver’s side door and yelled, “my wife’s in labor!” Someone opened my door and started asking me a bunch of questions: “how far apart were my contractions? Was this my first baby? Did I feel the urge to push?” At that point I had no idea how far apart my contractions were. Johnathan answered for me, presumably, because the tech said something along the lines of, “oh dear, we’d better get you inside.” I had my eyes closed and was still concentrating on breathing, and somewhere between the car and the wheelchair I made an unconscious decision that served me really well in getting through the hospital triage—I ignored everything. One of the very best things Johnathan did for me during labor was to run interference; he answered all questions, and told people to wait on talking to me directly/asking me to do anything during contractions. (As a side note, it’s a mystery to me why anyone would ask a woman mid-contraction to answer even the simplest of questions. Did my moaning not tip you off that I’m probably not in the best state of mind to tell you how to spell my name?).

Because we’d accidentally gone to the emergency room we had to go through their triage before heading up to labor and delivery. Thankfully, they were really speedy; they asked me to get onto a gurney, and I climbed onto all fours, gripping the sides of the gurney. This enabled me to keep my face pressed to the pillow, which also helped me avoid answering questions. I couldn’t say how many people were in the room at any given time; even when I had a break during contractions and I stopped moaning, I kept my face down. I felt like I was in a sort of trance, and acknowledging other people required me to break my concentration in a way that made everything feel more painful. They quickly checked to make sure I wasn’t crowning, and then we hopped in the elevator to head up to labor triage.

Labor triage is a bit more a blur. They were flustered that we hadn’t called before coming in (though Johnathan explained we’d called four times. We found out later that the number we’d been calling was supposed to be forwarded to the new wing, but for some reason there was a technical glitch and our messages were ending up “nowhere.” They later came and apologized). They must have monitored the baby at some point, although I don’t remember wearing any kind of a monitor. In hindsight, I think they just stuck a doppler to my belly for a few minutes. I remember Johnathan asking someone to turn off a TV in the room, and a nurse saying, after hearing me moan, “well, you’re definitely going to be admitted.” At some point, Johnathan leaned down and whispered to me, “I’m sorry this isn’t going like you wanted,” and I said, “no, it’s really okay.” In that moment, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, though looking back I can see his point: bright lights, TVs, lots of people, being bounced around on a gurney, my underwear around my knees, a gown draped over my back, a nurse holding a doppler to my belly, the pumping blood pressure cuff. I think the key was that I just didn’t let anyone distract me from my moaning. I really could have been anywhere; face down on a gurney seemed as good a placed as anywhere else.

The midwife on call, Lisa, said she needed to check me, and Johnathan jumped in to say I didn’t want any cervical checks. He told her I wanted to have a water birth, and she said she needed to “see where I was to see what our options were.” I remember saying, “it’s fine, it’s fine” because at that point I wanted to make sure I wasn’t, say, 2 cm dilated. Lisa wanted me to get onto my side so she could better check, but I just said, “No, I’m not moving.” So she checked me while I stayed on hands and knees. The check was much less uncomfortable than I’d imagined, although not really how I wanted to spend my brief respite between contractions. After checking me, Lisa said, “You’re at ten centimeters. And I feel a big bag of waters. Do you feel like pushing?” I hadn’t felt the need to push at all, but as soon as she said that I had an involuntary pushing feeling that caused me to grunt. (My mom asked me later if I ever felt like asking for pain killers. I remember thinking in that moment, “okay, I’m already through transition—I can do this. Plus, even if I wanted something it’s too late.”) I was so far along (10 centimeters, yikes!) when we got to the hospital that it only took about 15 minutes from the time we drove up until I was climbing into the birth tub!

In the labor room, I vaguely remember Lisa saying she wanted to run a “strip” on the baby, but the tub was filling, and all I wanted was to get back in the water. I heard one of the nurses say she was going to go find an underwater doppler, so during a break I got off the gurney, stripped off my clothes, and climbed into the half-full tub. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lisa holding the monitor in the corner of the room, clearly frustrated, but I couldn’t stand the thought of laying any longer on the table. (The lesson in all of this is that you can absolutely say “No” to anything they’re trying to do in the hospital. I’m not saying that refusing to be monitored is the best idea, but at that moment I felt like I was trudging up a mountain, and I had to just ignore the people on the trail trying to get me to stop so they could check the tread on my shoes.)

We arrived about half an hour before a shift change, so I didn’t get much direction from Lisa re: pushing. I started to feel the urge to push as soon as I got in the birthing tub, and Lisa said something along the lines of, “just grunt when you feel you need to push.” I started doing that, not really actively working with my contractions, just letting my body do the work. At one point I felt a little pop as my waters broke. I was still having back-to-back contractions, so I’d have my eyes closed for three minutes at a time, and then when I had a thirty second break when Johnathan would give me sips of water. Eventually a new midwife, Ann, came on duty and she squatted by the tub and tried to help me get more comfortable. I was on all fours, my face inches from the water (and sometimes in the water), and I’d push against the side of the tub during each contraction. It sounds uncomfortable, but it felt great. I continued doing the low moaning I’d started in the car, and it helped me so much to focus on just breathing. Ann kept saying, “you’re doing great! You’re doing so great!” Those are just simple words, but they meant so much to me at a time when I kept wondering, “is everything going okay? Is this just what labor feels like?”

At one point Johnathan offered to get into the tub with me, and I remember thinking that sounded like a terrible idea; I couldn’t imagine having to navigate another body. I also didn’t want anyone touching me. The water in the tub would cool down after awhile, so the nurses kept pouring in buckets of hot water from the sink (the birthing tub was really slow to fill). They draped a towel over my shoulders to keep me warm, and Johnathan would pour more warm water over the towel after giving me each sip of water.

After awhile I heard Ann tell Johnathan I’d been pushing for an hour and I remember thinking, “really? It doesn’t feel that long.” And then Ann crouched down by the tub and said, “I think you can get another push out of each contraction.” It hit me then that I needed to be more active. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me before, but I think as silly as it sounds, Lisa threw me off by telling me to focus on grunting instead of pushing. I started actively pushing at that point and I could immediately feel the baby moving down. Ann told me that when the baby came out they’d let her slide up my stomach (underneath me, since I was on all fours) and I would grab her and then twist and sit down. I kept pushing for the next hour, alternately swinging my hips from side to side, with Ann checking my progress from time to time.

I don’t think there’s any way to describe the pressure of pushing except to say it felt like I trying to poop a stone the size of an eggplant. My head kept telling me I needed to keep going, and after some big pushes I reached down and could feel the top of the baby’s head! It felt all silky and smooth, and that gave me a burst of energy. I remember thinking, “this baby has to come out now,” and on the next contraction I gave a long push and felt a really big pop as her head came out. The rest of her followed on the next push, and then everyone was saying, “grab your baby!” I reached between my legs, pulled the baby to my chest, and sat down with my back against the tub. That the pain goes away instantly is one of the most amazing feelings I have ever experienced. Suddenly I was pulled out of a dark, cozy cocoon, into a bright, peopled hospital room. Have those nurses been here the whole time? (Yes.) Turns out Ann’s not just a voice, but a petite brunette. (Oh, hello, Ann! Nice to meet you.) My arms and knees are really sore. (Oh, right, because I pushed against the sides of the tub for two hours.) And I’m hungry! And where is my mom?

The baby was really pink and calm, and didn’t cry at all. I kept asking, “is the baby okay? Is it breathing?” and Ann kept saying, “it’s fine, it’s fine.” We hadn’t found out the baby’s gender, but with all the relief of giving birth I didn’t even look right away. After a few seconds both Johnathan and Ann were asking, “what is it?” and I remember thinking, “it’s a baby!” And then, “oh wait, let me check…” Looking back I feel incredibly lucky that I, as the mother, got to announce the baby’s gender. That’s such a rare occurrence these days, and though it happened completely by happenstance (my position in the tub), it felt awesome to say, “we have a girl!”

Freya and I sat together in the water for a few minutes, until she opened her eyes and cried, and then Ann and one of the nurses helped me climb out of the water and onto the bed. I remember Ann saying, as I stepped out of the tub, “I wish some of the midwifery students could have seen this birth, to see how great a water birth can be.” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but whenever I’ve though of it later it’s struck me as such a sweet, encouraging thing to say in a moment when I was thinking, “really? Even with all that moaning?”

I delivered the placenta on the bed with one little push (it really didn’t hurt—felt all gooshy) and though I’d asked not to have a shot of pitocin (as is often routine), I was bleeding quite a bit so they asked if it’d be all right to give me one (to which I said yes, of course). Turns out much of the bleeding was because I had a third degree tear and a few other little lacerations. Freya came out with a hand by her head, which isn’t dangerous or uncommon, but added an extra inch to her head circumference. Her head was also slightly tipped, and those two things together added up to one large tear.

While we waited for an attending surgeon to come stitch me up, we cut the chord. We wanted to wait until it stopped pulsing, so this was about 15-20 minutes after Freya’s birth. I was laying on the bed, legs in stirrups, holding Freya to my chest, when my mom arrived at the hospital, straight from the airport. She walked in the room not even half an hour after Freya’s birth.

At first the stitching really wasn’t all that bad—perhaps because I was focused on the new little baby in my arms. I nursed Freya for the first time, and just enjoyed cuddling with her. But after awhile even the cute little baby couldn’t distract me, and so an hour after she was born I passed her off. They wheeled a little cart next to my bed to weigh her (I was still close enough to touch her, which felt reassuring)—she was never more than an arm’s length away. We’d asked for Freya not to have the eye drops or the hep B shot (although we did give her the vitamin K shot), and by the time all was said and done it was so late that we decided to wait to give her a first bath. So they wrapped her up, and passed her to Johnathan.

All in all, it took about 45 minutes to stitch me up, and then the nurse cleaned me off and massaged my belly to get my uterus to contract. The “massage” doesn’t feel good, but every time someone warned me, “sorry, I have to do this, it’s going to hurt” and then they massaged my belly or put in another stitch, I couldn’t help thinking, “after birth, nothing really hurts anymore.” Not too long after the stitching they brought in a box of food, and I ate while my mom and Johnathan took turns holding Freya. After about two hours I needed to go to the bathroom, and though I had help getting off the bed and to the toilet I almost fainted on the way back. I felt fine, and my blood pressure was fine—I’d just lost a lot of blood. I was able to crawl back onto the bed, and once I laid back down I was fine. I drank a bunch of juice and ate a sandwich to get my blood sugar up, and when I got back up a few hours later I had no trouble.

Overall I feel like Freya’s birth went really, really well. I wouldn’t trade the feeling I had after her birth for anything. I felt so good and alert and full of energy. I’m lucky Johnathan was so on the ball, because if it had been up to me I probably would have accidentally ended up having the baby at home. And the biggest lesson: if someone’s asking you to do something while you’re in labor and it doesn’t feel right, you can always say no. And if you can help it, let your partner take on the roll of answering questions. I didn’t tell anyone so much as my name until after Freya was born.

Before I went into labor I don’t think I could have convincingly articulated why I wanted a natural birth, only that I knew it was something that mattered to me. Now, on the other side of it, I can say that I would definitely do a natural birth again, and I think the feeling I took from the birth is one of pride. I hope, in writing this, to be a voice of encouragement for other women who think they might want to have a natural delivery. I’m so proud of myself for climbing that mountain. I’m so thankful that everything went as well as it did and I didn’t need any interventions. I know how rare that is. As intense as birth is—and oh nelly, it’s intense—it was an experience that I now think of only as awesome. I brought a new life into the world in a way that has forever changed the way I think about myself as woman, as squeamishly hippy-dippy as that sounds. I can’t wait to do it again!


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This blog post was sponsored by Giraffe Child Care.

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Comments (2)

  1. Loved it! This is one of my favorite birth stories now 🙂
    What a great experience.

  2. I noticed you never mentioned the “ring of fire” .. is this something that subsides when you’re in hot water?

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