It has been over a week since the birth of our beautiful daughter, and I am finally ready to tell the most important story of our lives to date- Penelope’s birth story.
My due date came, and still no baby. I went to bed wondering how much longer we would have to wait for her to decide she was ready, and woke hours later, around 2am, with pain in my lower back. I remembered reading in another mother’s birth story that back pain had been her first sign of labor, so I got excited thinking that this could be it.
Soon, contractions followed, but they were not like what I had expected them to feel like. Before, when I had experienced braxton hicks, it had felt like a tightening sensation, but this time it felt more like really intense menstrual cramps that came in waves. I began timing them, and they averaged 6 to 8 minutes apart. I decided that I would wait to wake Kevin until they showed a consistent pattern- there was no reason to get him excited for nothing, and he would need his sleep if it really was time!
Soon, the contractions got stronger and I had to sit up and breath through them. Around 4 am, I finally woke Kevin, saying, “I think it’s time.” He bolted up and asked what I needed, then brought me some water and pineapple and put in a disc of “Friends” to help distract me. Ironically, it happened to be the episode when Ross’s ex-wife Carol gives birth to their son. Kevin worried that it would bother me, but I actually found it comforting to watch someone go through what I was as well in a humorous way.
Once my contractions were ranging from 4 to 6 minutes apart and were intense enough that I could not talk through them, we called our midwife. She told me to try and stay home for another hour or two to help this stage go faster, and suggested taking a bath.
After Kevin drew me a bath and lit some candles, I got in and immediately felt a stronger level of intensity in my contractions. I had two almost back to back, and we soon decided it was time to head to the birth center. I could no longer walk during contractions, so I had to time walking down the stairs and to the car between them.
We drove to the birth center just as the sun was coming up, and I was grateful that there were barely any cars on the road. When we arrived, we noticed that there were no cars in the parking lot, and Kevin called our midwife again. She said that she had just transferred someone to the hospital for an emergency c-section, but that another midwife, Laurie, was on her way and would be there in 20 minutes. It was a very long 20 minutes as we waited in our car for the midwife to arrive. I desperately wanted to get into our room and get in the tub.
When we finally saw Laurie’s car pull into the lot, I waited for another contraction to pass and then shakily walked into the center. It was clear to me by now that I was experiencing what many people had warily referred to as back labor. With every contraction was an extreme pain in my lower back that seemed to make everything so much worse. Penny was in a posterior position and was pushing on my back. The only position that I could tolerate was sitting upright- anything else was unbearable.
I sat on the bed and Laurie checked to see how dilated I was. I was afraid she was going to say 3 centimeters or something small like that, and I couldn’t imagine how I would feel if I knew I had hours more of this to go through. Thankfully, she told me I was already 7 centimeters, and she started filling the tub.
My parents arrived soon after, and while my dad sat off to the side in the waiting area, my mom immediately came over to me and started rubbing my back. It felt amazing, as though she knew exactly what I needed, and I was so glad that I had asked her to be there with me.
Once the tub was filled, Kevin and I happily got in. By this time, my contractions were so painful that I had to shout out just to get through them. I had never thought that I would be the type of person who would yell out during labor, but I also hadn’t thought I would have back labor. It was so intense and all-consuming that there was no way I could implement the relaxation techniques I had been practicing for months. The only thing that helped was leaning over the tub and yelling out- it was like a sort of release that I couldn’t control even if I wanted to.
The funny thing was that in between contractions, I felt great. It was such a relief to get a much needed, albeit brief, break. I remembered our birthing instructor saying to stay in the moment and enjoy these breaks instead of dreading the next contraction to come, and I happily took her advice. At certain points, one contraction would come and not completely subside, leading right into another one. Those were the hardest to handle because I didn’t get that break I was relying on. At times, I was aware of the others in the room with me, and would apologize for yelling out (ridiculous I know). I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, because inside I knew I was okay and would get through it. The support I had from those in the room with me was so appreciated. Kevin continuously applied cold rags to my neck and forehead, and my mom kept reminding me that soon I would get to meet my sweet baby girl. At no point did I even think about asking for drugs- I was completely in the moment and was just trying to take each contraction as it came.
After what felt like an eternity but was really only an hour and a half, i began to feel the urge to push through contractions. It was so great to have some way to focus my energy, and I knew that it meant it was almost over. This phase went on for longer than I would have liked, and after about an hour of pushing, I was getting extremely frustrated. It started to feel like I would be doing this forever, and she would never come out. I was so exhausted that in between contractions, I actually felt like I could fall asleep. Kevin sat behind me and held me up, and I just completely melted into him. Then another would come, and I would brace myself to push again.
It was around this time that I had a moment of clarity. No one else could birth this baby or help me- if Penelope was going to be born, it was going to be up to me to do it. I rationalized that the harder I pushed, the fewer contractions I would have to go through. I got a renewed surge of energy, and pushed with all my might, gasping for breath between pushes. Finally, I felt her head start to come down. It was the most amazing feeling, something that I could never describe with words. She started to emerge several times, but would keep going back in. I remember saying to Laurie how I felt like I was doing all this work for nothing every time she would retreat, and she told me it was like rocking a car back and forth to get it out of the snow- eventually she would come. And then, out of nowhere, she did. After the hard work of getting her head out (and keeping it out), her body slipped out almost immediately after.
I was so shocked when it was all over. One minute I am pushing with everything I have and the next my baby is being plopped onto my stomach and suddenly, we had our baby. She was blue and slimy and wailing at the top of her lungs, but she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. We were able to sit like that, just staring in wonder at her, until her cord blood stopped pulsing, and then Kevin cut the cord.
Penelope Joy was born at 10:40am on June 29th, 2013, after 8 hours of labor that included an hour and a half of pushing. We laid in bed with her, bonding and recovering, and were in our own home by 4 o’clock that afternoon.
Later that day, Kevin asked me if I was glad that I had chosen to labor her in the birth center with absolutely no drugs, and I told him it was way too soon to answer that question. It was undoubtedly the hardest thing I had ever done, and I still can’t believe I did it. It is only now that the memory of the pain has subsided a bit and the importance of what I went through is clear that I can really explain how I feel about Penelope’s birth.
Even though I am still recovering, I feel stronger and more empowered than I ever have. I am in awe that my body was able to create and birth such a perfect little girl. I am grateful that I was able to have the birth I wanted for both of us, and that Penelope was born into a calm environment. Finally, I am so glad that I was coherent and aware enough to fully experience and enjoy the most important moment of my life. Was it more difficult and painful that I ever could have imagined? Yes. Would I do it again? Absolutely.