Christine & Bastiaan
In the days leading up to my due date, I started to engage in some natural induction methods including a labor stimulating massage (with Kari Marble - highly recommended, she’s an incredible yoga teacher and massage therapist specializing in pre- and postnatal care) as well as taking primrose oil. The day of my due date, Tuesday August 30th, came and went without much fanfare. I had a checkup with Sara, one of my midwives at the SF Birth Center, that day and she told me that I still wasn’t yet dilated although my cervix appeared to have thinned out a bit.
On the 31st I had a check up with my OBGYN at Kaiser and was told I was 1cm dilated. To get things moving along I had a cervix membrane swiping and then an afternoon “labor stimulation” acupuncture appointment. It was my first acupuncture appointment so I was a bit nervous and unsure about what to expect. But it turned out to be rather relaxing. At that point during my pregnancy I could almost fall asleep anywhere. In the night to Thursday I had trouble sleeping, mainly because I had so many things on my mind. At this time, I still had not officially started my maternity leave but I knew I needed to start to wind down. So on Thursday morning I decided that by the end of the week I’d start my leave.
I mentally started winding down from work and told my boss that I was going to start my maternity leave the next day. Funnily enough, I think it was this mental separation from work that allowed my body to finally allow itself to be ready because by midday, I started to feel some light contractions coming on in regular intervals of around 15 to 20 minutes. I decided to go for a late afternoon walk as we had heard that can help advance labor. I strolled over to the Panhandle and decided to “officially” time contractions. As I was strolling through the park I kept thinking “this might be it”. My contractions seemed to get a bit stronger. Christian (my husband) organized a nice dinner of roast chicken and red wine [our favorite Italian - very relaxing to enjoy a glass of good wine ;-) ], we brought out our fancy tableware and mentally started to switch into gear that we would soon be parents. I called my doula, Sandra, to let her know that I was having light contractions and gave the Birth Center a heads up via text message too. But at this stage, contractions were fairly light and still paced quite far apart that it wasn’t clear when things would really get going. Sandra our doula advised us to relax and go to bed - in the end it could go either way. Either things would pick up or contractions might die down again.
At 10pm, as Christian and I prepared for bed, a surge of strong contractions, around 6 minutes apart started to kick in. I ran to the toilet and found that might mucus plug had come loose. I called my doula again, and she said we likely still had a while to go, but it was looking like we’d have a baby soon! Over the next couple of hours my contractions deepened in intensity and pace. I kept moving back and forth between our bed and our living room, trying different positions. I knew that sounding might work well for me to get through the pain so I “uuummm'ed” and “ooommm’ed” through each contraction. Christian was by my side, sounding with me which was really helpful. The intensity of some of the contractions took me by surprise. I had gotten a good sense for how long each contraction took - when it started, peaked and ebbed. It usually took me about 4-5 breath cycles to get through one but some of them seemed to take forever. One was so strong that I immediately ran to the bathroom and let go of my dinner. I started to have trouble finding positions that helped ease the pain. Christian applied some pressure on my lower back which helped a bit. But sometimes his touch would make it harder for me to stay inwardly focused. At that point I spent most of the time sitting on the toilet which seemed to work best. By midnight, the contractions were happening every 4 minutes and by 1am every 3 minutes. The pain got really intense and at times it felt that I couldn’t stay present and make it through a contraction. The pain got unmanageable whenever my mind slipped to the future and thought about how long this might take. I reminded myself to stay present, stay in the now and just focus on my breath. Christian called Sandra again to let her know about my progress. I overheard Sandra ask if we thought it would be a good time for her to come over. Christian said he wasn’t sure, but I was definitely sure and yelled out from the bathroom to get Sandra to come! By the time Sandra arrived, it was pretty clear that I was quite far along so we called the Birth Center to let them know we’d be coming in. It was really great to have Sandra by my side. Up until that point, I’d been mainly trying to deal with the contractions by sounding but also kind of resisting against the pain. Once Sandra was by my side, she encouraged me to stop expending so much energy by making sounds and instead breathing into the pain. She told me to kneel on the floor and lean forward on the couch (like being on all four).
At first this position and breathing into the pain felt counter intuitive because it intensified the pain, but then I could feel that this was the right thing to do as it allowed my body to go with the flow of the birthing process rather than fighting against it. And she applied counter pressure on my lower back which was really helpful. I noticed that Christian had lit candles throughout the apartment and turned on the playlist we had put together. My water broke shortly thereafter and we decided to head to the Birth Center at 3am. The thought of getting in the car felt daunting. I tried to make it to the car in between contractions which didn’t work out. But luckily Sandra was on my side and I leaned on her back, breathing through each contraction. We made the short 5 minute drive to the Birth Center. Well, it didn’t feel that short as every bump in the road intensified my contractions [as I learned later I was already in transition at home and in the car which explained the intense pain].
At the Birth Center we were greeted by Nancy, one of our midwives. Sandra suggested I try the birthing tub. While I had been convinced to use it during labor the thought of moving and getting into the water didn’t appeal to me at all at this point. Nancy examined me and said I was fully dilated. It was time to push! I didn’t have an idea how far along I was at that point so that was great news. That might also have been the reason it didn’t feel right to hop into the tub… As I started pushing I overheard the midwives say that our baby’s heart rate was dropping. Sandra told me to slow down my breath. As I was deepening my breathing I heard them say that his heart rate was going up … 110, 120, 130. What a relief. They wanted me to get into a different position as he was coming down too quickly. I felt like I couldn’t move and said I can’t. But it was necessary so they basically flipped me over on my side so I was lying on the bed. Christian was next to me with his arm wrapped around my back, holding my hand. The new position wasn’t as bad as expected. Our baby's heartbeat had stabilized. I kept pushing and the pain intensified. At that point I started to think about how much longer this might take. Around that time his head was emerging. I briefly looked down and saw a wrinkly triangle. All I remember was thinking “If this is only the tip of his head how long do I still need to push?”. Every push caused an intense burning sensation. I felt like I would explode and said out loud “I don’t know if I can do this anymore”. Everyone cheered me on. Christian on one side and Sandra on the other. It made such a huge difference to have them there, disperse any negative thoughts and help me focus on the now. And I remembered what my sister had told me about this burning sensation. She had said that when I get to the point where I think I can’t do it anymore, the baby will come out. And she was exactly right. A few more pushes later his head emerged (at 4:16am). And he started crying immediately! He wasn’t even fully out yet. It was incredible. His body followed right thereafter and Nancy immediately put him on my chest. Christian started crying. And I stared in disbelief at this little human being. I took me a few seconds to adjust to the new reality - one moment I’m pregnant and in pain and in the next one the pain is over and we have a baby!
The hours that followed were one of the most precious ones in our lives. Nancy placed the placenta next to us. There was no rush to cut the cord. She helped the baby latch on so he could breastfeed. And it worked immediately! They then left us to ourselves so we could rest and enjoy this special time. There we were the three of us cuddled up in this big comfortable bed. Christian and I looked at each other and decided on his name: Bastiaan. It had been on the top of the list but we wanted to wait until we met the little guy. And it fit perfectly. We then fell asleep for an hour or so. When we opened our eyes the sun was rising and shining into our room. It felt like a new chapter of our lives had officially begun. Nancy and Sara came back. Christian cut the cord. By that time it was ~2 hours after the birth so Bastiaan was able to get all the blood from the placenta. I needed a few stitches so Bastiaan was cuddling with Christian skin-to-skin in the meantime. The newborn exam followed. Bastiaan weighed 6.15 lbs and was 20 inches long. I took a quick shower, we dressed Bastiaan (his onsie was way too big :), and then we all got ready to head home at 9am. At home Christian whipped up a quick breakfast and we all hit the bed and slept for a few hours. It felt great to be at home in our own bed.
Giving birth in the Birth Center was the best decision we have made. I could not have wished for a more supportive environment. The combination of the midwives' year-long experience in the out-of-hospital and hospital setting, the personalized care and the wonderful environment at the Center (it feels like being at home) made this an unforgettable experience. During labor, Nancy and Sara were constantly explaining what was happening, asked for our opinion along the way and there was never a feeling of being rushed. It felt like the most natural thing to give birth this way. Thank you Nancy, Sara and Julie for making this Center a reality!
A big thank you to our doula Sandra Lloyd. I could have not done this without her advice and presence along the way. Thank you for your direction, wisdom, calm demeanor and humor through all of this!