I am staring at the most beautiful face I have ever set my eyes upon. It's been days since Eden's birth and there is so much that is slipping from my memory that I am determined to take this moment and write about the most intense and life changing experience of my life.
It was around 4:30am of April 2nd that I could no longer sleep through the contractions. They were coming regularly, every 6 minutes or so, and they never really came further apart from that from that moment on. After some breakfast, Erik and I enjoyed a walk through Whatcom Falls Park and hugged through each contraction. They were very manageable at this point but it did take all my attention from everything else.
The day wore on and by the afternoon the contractions hadn't changed much in duration or frequency, but they were beginning to increase in intensity. I began to get frustrated with how slow things were moving along and didn't want to be up all night if I could avoid it, so I called my doula, Mary Burgess, and asked her for some advice on how to get things moving along. I tried nipple stimulation and circular hip movements for half an hour. There wasn't much of a change so I sat down in surrender, knowing that labor has its own timing and I just needed to trust it would unfold as it should.
By 5pm the contractions were intense enough that between them I was experiencing total bliss. I danced for about an hour to my early labor playlist, mostly happy upbeat songs and some reggae. I could tell I was surging with oxytocin because I felt like I had taken ecstasy; everything was softer and I felt very sensitive and easily moved. I even began to get weepy over the littlest of things. I just kept dancing and rubbing my big belly, talking to my little girl and telling her we were going to meet soon.
I could no longer do normal activities. We tried watching an episode of Mad Men and I have no recollection of what happened in it. I called Mary again and told her how I was feeling and that although I knew it wasn't time to go to the Birth Center, I just didn't know what to do with myself. So she came over and danced with me between contractions.
When contractions weren't coming any sooner together, Mary decided it would be a good idea to leave for a while and let Erik and I try and labor alone to see if it would pick back up. We took a bath and I unraveled my Birth Bundle. Erik and I put on our original wooden engagement rings and put our heads together through more contractions. The water felt great but it didn't do much in the way of pain, just relaxation.
After our bath, Erik lit all the candles in the lanterns on the walls in our bedroom and we lay together in bed surrounded by candle light. We held each other and my belly and talked to Eden. It was an exquisite moment inside an intensifying situation. When I realized that I couldn't just lay down anymore, we went back into the living room to ride out some more waves. When I felt a new contraction coming, I would tell Erik and he would rush to me, wherever I was pacing, and hold me as I toned into his shoulder. I moaned from a primal place, from within the ancient knowing. It allowed me to release the pain and kept me breathing wide and long.
Around 10pm I stood up to endure a contraction and with it my water broke. I ran to the bathroom to check it out and my mucus plug had come with it. There it was! Finally. Now we were cookin'.
I knew to expect the sensations to intensify even more with the breaking of the waters. I didn't care, I was so happy to be moving along. I knew now for sure that I would meet my baby within hours, not days.
Mary came over to check on me and we all decided it was time to go to the Birth Center. Contractions were coming at 3 minutes apart now and lasting the full 60 seconds, and I was beginning to fully dread the next one to come. I was beginning to leave behind my mind and enter Laborland. Eloisa, a Gentle Hands midwife, asked us to meet her at the birth center by 11. I remember laughing and counting how many more contractions I would have to endure before we left. We all had a chuckle at the reality of it.
When it was time to go, I remember Mary said I should have a contraction right before getting in the car so it would be one less while driving. She held me as I toned as quietly as possible. Then we were off!
After one contraction in the car, and one right upon getting out, were were inside the birth center. The lights were incredibly dim and I felt right at home when we entered the room where Eden was to be born. I was so happy to be there. I was so glad to have made this progress.
Eloisa checked my dilation and to my dismay I was only 2 centimeters. But I was totally effaced, she said my cervix was as thin as paper and not to be discouraged by the dilation. Soon another midwife, Beth arrived. Erik put on my labor playlist called "Love Songs" which are all the songs Erik put in mixes for me when we were dating. The first song came on, "Union" by Peter Gabriel. "...in the blood of Eden lie the woman and the man..." and before we knew it Erik and I were slow dancing to "Magnolia" by JJ Cale, a song that inspired us over a year ago to ponder what we would name a girl if we ever got pregnant. When I had a contraction, however, I could no longer hear the song.
I was really struggling now. The pain was outrageous and I put every effort I could into not suffering, but I was beginning to suffer. I was experiencing a double whammy of two different kinds of back labor. Baby's head was posterior and rubbing up against my sacrum with each contraction, and I also have menstrual cramps in my back so that is where I experienced most of the pain. In order to try and move baby, Eloisa had me get on all fours on the bed, leaning my chest into the bed with my bum in the air while Mary jiggled my belly with a long sheet. This was an experience of true suffering for me. It needed to be done but it took everything I had.
Soon I was laboring in the warmth of the tub. It did not provide the relief I was hoping for, but it gave me a place to fully rest between the pain. I would lay on my side and drift off into another place and forget about what was to come. Then I'd feel my belly tighten and the pain arrive in my back and I would get up and endure the contraction in a squatting position. I could feel, deep inside, my cervix splitting open, pulling upward to release the baby's head into the canal.
Still, Erik was there for every single one. He would let me hug his neck and tone loudly into his ears. He felt my pain and he took it inside of him. When I looked at his face I could see it killing him to see me suffer so much, but I also saw his steadfast belief in me. When another would come, I'd say "oh noooooo." and he'd tell me "You can do it, you can do this one," and he'd hold me and look into my eyes and give me a fierce look of love and determination. Mary would say, "Look into his eyes. Look into your honey's eyes." And I would, and it would transform the suffering into enduring if only for a moment. And any moment, no matter how small, was relief.
Eloisa checked my dilation while I was in the tub. She said I was just about 5 and a half centimeters. Again, this left me feeling defeated, knowing that pain gets at its worst around 8 centimeters. Someone suggested I get out of the tub and walk around. So Erik helped me up and he lead me out the birthing room and into the hallway, where we heard the howling of another woman in the next room. Someone was giving birth right then and there! Within seconds, we heard the cries of a newly born baby and the ecstatic gasps of a woman in love and in relief. Mary and Erik and I looked at each other in awe as we realized what we just witnessed. It was a powerful reminder that this was why I was here and that it was my turn next.
When the next one came, I ran back into the room and held onto someone. I can't remember who. I didn't know if I could do it anymore. I went back to the tub and I flailed about now. I began losing control of myself as a person and as a body. My body did what it needed to do. I flailed and I howled and I toned.
Soon the contractions were getting much longer and sometimes would leave me with very little rest in between. They were about 90 seconds at times and sometimes I'd have to keep going, right into another one. I was losing it. I told Erik and Mary that I wanted to go to the hospital. I wanted relief. I told them I didn't think it was supposed to hurt this badly. It just wasn't. An ecstatic birth was impossible. How did women have an ecstatic birth?! If they could, then it wasn't supposed to hurt like this. But I didn't say the code word. I heard it in my head, Just say 'rocket' and you can go to the hospital. Just say it and you can go! But I didn't say it. I just let myself whine about needing relief. And they would tell me that I just needed to get through the next one and not think about anything beyond that. So I did.
I felt my face get tingly and I knew that I was probably hyperventilating. Much of my toning had turned into gasping and I knew I needed to stop doing that, but it's just the way it was. Between contractions I puffed out my exhalation very slowly and gently at the suggestion of someone, whom I can't remember..
And then my belly began pushing. Wait, I'm pushing?! I was thinking. I announced that I was pushing and I couldn't help it. I heard Eloisa from across the room telling me that it was probably okay to just let my body do what it wanted to do. So for the next several contractions I let my belly heave, as if I had a choice! It heaved and with it emerged and entirely new guttural moan. It was a pushing moan as ancient as the human race. I was beginning to expel my baby.
When Eloisa heard my moans deepening and becoming the entire contraction, she said she thought it was time to check my dilation. Beth came over and checked me in the tub and her eyes widened as she said, "You are completely dilated and your baby is really low!" I get goosebumps just re-entering this moment in my memory because this is when my whole attitude changed. This is when I knew I was going to give birth to my daughter naturally and non-violently, the way nature intended, and the way she deserved.
I heard Eloisa calling another midwife, Catriona to go ahead and head over because I was about to give birth.
So when a new contraction came, I'd lift my heavy body up from the water and squat, and Erik would take my forearms and I'd take his and my body would heave the baby down as I moaned from deep within. And I could feel her moving down. After each contraction, I'd reach into my vagina and feel just how much I moved her down. I could feel my precious little baby's head and all of it was just so crystal clear how it was happening. That it was happening. I heard the hail falling during my moments of rest. I felt the storm.
This went on for about an hour when I began to get discouraged again. Yes, she was definitely moving down, but very slowly. Someone suggested that I sit on the birthing stool so that I didn't have to hold myself up anymore and could use more energy for pushing. I was all for it. Erik helped me up and guided me toward the birthing stool. I cannot describe what it feels like to 'walk' with something so large so low inside my body. But I made it to the stool just in time to push push push that baby incredibly lower. It made all the difference. I just gripped the stool and pushed with my body's commands. And there was so much relief from the pain with the pushing. I was no longer suffering, I was pushing my baby out.
Soon I felt the sensation of her crowning, the 'ring of fire.' My eyes got wide with each push during that contraction and sometimes I screamed. Eloisa and Beth encouraged me to not push during the next contraction but to just grunt it out. I didn't know if it was possible but I managed to try. This may have been one of the most difficult parts of the entire experience. To not push when my body was pushing? For some moments it worked and for some my body still pushed with all its might. Someone told me I would need to get on all fours on the bed to give birth to prevent tearing and that I should try and have one more contraction where I didn't push very much. I could feel the excitement all around me and the energy change within the room. Everyone was getting ready for me to have this baby and everyone was wide awake, although it was close to 8 in the morning.
And although it was hard, it just didn't matter anymore. I was doing whatever they said. I trusted everything they suggested religiously. I was going to meet our baby soon! And I could see Erik watching as her head tried to emerge. I said, "It's time now for me to get on the bed. I'm going to push her out now!" And no one argued. I got up with the bowling ball between my legs and got on my hands and knees on the bed. Erik excitedly asked me where he wanted me, and I told him right in front of him because I needed him. So he pressed his forehead against mine as I pushed and heaved and screamed as I felt the stretching of my yoni. "Can I push her head out yet?" I asked whoever would answer. I heard some form of approval, and I gave it everything I had. There was no worrying about tearing anymore. It just didn't matter.
POW her head finally slid out and I felt the rush of relief and love that women talk about when the head emerges. I saw Erik's face and it was covered in tears. With several more pushes, I pushed the rest of her out and felt the most exquisite of all relief as her entire being was born. Suddenly the entire room was flooded with sunshine. It left as quickly as it came.
Someone placed her right below me and Erik and I touched her and cried together and were begging to figure out how to get her on me, skin to skin. Erik asked why she wasn't crying and I told him not to worry, she was cooing anyway. I knew she was fine. I never questioned it.
Someone set up some pillows to my right and told me to sit down, and they handed her to me and I felt the umbilical cord, still attached to me inside. Eden was born and she was on my belly and the whole room was alive. I did it. I really really did it!! I did it because of every single person in the room, especially my Erik. We did it.