Patience Required

Patience was my lesson for both the pregnancy and birth of R; it was a theme that ran the entire nine months and even related to one of the positive affirmations I had affixed to our refrigerator in the weeks leading up to our planned home birth: “I welcome my coming labor and birth as the perfect one for my baby and me.”

Unlike during my pregnancy with first daughter, F. , when I felt I could have happily stayed pregnant for 10 months or more, I felt ready to bring R. into the world. I often told my husband and friends, “I know this [adding a child to the family] has to and is going to happen, so I feel like I’m just ready to get it on!” As my due date approached, my desire to hold my baby outside my body grew and my struggle with patience came to the forefront.

The day before I went into labor I was 39 weeks pregnant. I was supposed to go to Atlanta to spend the day with friends at a coffee shop while F. was in preschool, but I felt really tired so I decided to cancel and stay home. Instead, I took a brisk walk up and down our driveway in a light rain while listening to music and taking some time to meditate on my connection to the baby inside me. Then I took a morning nap until our patio furniture delivery arrived just before lunch. I then spent two hours outside in the sunshine removing the packaging from the furniture, lifting a heavy umbrella into its hole in the table, and just setting things up. I ate lunch, took a shower, and then did a yoga nidra for pregnancy that was sent to me by my doula.

I had told my doula earlier that week that I was struggling with patience and she suggested the yoga nidra practice to me as a way to connect to this baby and this pregnancy before giving birth. I wasn’t familiar with yoga nidra and was confused about why I felt like I was sleeping during the meditation, especially when I had just woken from a nap a couple hours before. It wasn’t until later that I googled yoga nidra and learned that it is a “nap meditation” or “yoga sleep” that puts your brainwaves into a sleep-like state for meditation. I certainly felt that I entered that state during that meditative time before I picked up F.  from school.

Later that evening after dinner I began to notice what I thought were probably Braxton Hicks contractions, although they were a little more uncomfortable than they had been the last couple months. They also seemed to consistently be about five minutes apart. I told my husband, B.  how I was feeling but didn’t make too much of it; in my mind and in all likelihood they could have abated and I could have easily spent another week or two pregnant. I was afraid to guess and be wrong, but I did think we should inflate the birth tub…just in case. So that evening before bed we inflated the tub. I texted my midwife and doula to let them know how I was feeling and to let them know that we would be going to sleep soon after. The contractions did enter my dreams and mildly wake me up during the night until about 1 or 2 am, but then they stopped and I slept through until we woke up with F. at 7 the next morning.

As soon as we woke up the contractions began again. B. decided to go to work and I didn’t encourage him otherwise. I had plans for a good friend of mine to visit with her daughter (who is F.’s  age) and newborn son. I told her I was having uncomfortable Braxton Hicks that I wanted to distract myself from and that I would welcome her company. In the hour it took her to drive up to our home in rural northwest Atlanta, however, the contractions began to change. They were just a little more intense, and a little closer together. Again, I began communicating with my doula and midwife to let them know how things were going. I also gave my mom a heads up that she might have to come pick up F. that day.

My friend arrived at around 10 that morning, and soon after she arrived I was starting to have to breathe and focus through my contractions. At 10:30 I texted again with my doula and midwife to let them know the contractions were lasting about 45 seconds and were about 3.5 minutes apart, and that I was starting to have to cope through them. They began to head my way. I also called my mom to pick up F.  and texted my husband to let him know he should come home. By that point I was fairly certain we were going to have a baby that day!

B. and our wonderful midwife arrived at about 11. My friend and her children left, and soon after the midwife’s apprentice arrived and then my parents arrived and scooped up F  to spend the day with them. The midwife suggested to B. just before F. left that she felt things would probably progress quickly once F. was out of the house. She also suggested he bring the tub upstairs (we set it up in our living room) and begin to fill it. I was open to a water birth, and at least desired to labor in the tub for this birth.

Stephanie Madson birth

Just before noon my doula arrived. I was feeling just a touch “pushy” – but none of the uncontrollable urges to push I felt with F.  The contractions so far had felt intense to some degree but not overwhelming at all; I felt much more mentally present than I had at my first birth. I began to feel like I might cry, and my midwife suggested I was going through transition, but it was hard for me to believe that the mild feelings I felt could be transition. Although my first birth had felt fairly mild until the pushing phase I also felt much more “out of body” that time than I did this. At that point I requested to be checked and my midwife found my cervix to be about 9+ centimeters. A little after 1:30, I began to feel the urge to push, but it still wasn’t that uncontrollable urge I felt with F.  For about an hour and a half I worked on pushing little R. out into the world.

I pushed some in the tub, but then became hot and decided to walk around. I tried different squatting positions around the house and eventually made my way into the tub again. A couple times I felt with my hand to see if I could feel her head but it wasn’t in or really even near the birth canal at all. I began to feel really discouraged. With F., the pushing phase took 30 minutes. At one point, my doula reminded me that it was time to let go of my birth of F. and focus on this birth in all its uniqueness. I began to focus my energy and mind on the new baby inside me and on our experience. Every time my mind began to wander back to my first birth or to flare with impatience, I acknowledged the feeling but then tried to refocus it back to the present. Still, I was discouraged at times. Part of me felt like she would never come and that I just wanted to give up. I was so thankful for the encouragement and support of everyone there.

I loved my midwives’ hands off approach. They were encouraging and always present, but for the most part just allowed the labor and birth process to unfold. But at this point it felt like being in the tub wasn’t working anymore; I felt I needed another suggestion to help bring the baby down, and I asked the midwife for something I could try. She suggested taking some time to push while sitting on the toilet, as that’s often a place that a woman’s body can help a baby come down since we are all so accustomed to opening up and pushing on a toilet already. I went with B.  into the bathroom and the midwives and doula were close by. I pushed through several contractions there and while she still wasn’t in the birth canal I could sense that things were changing. I think I wanted to make sure she wasn’t born on the toilet, so I told B. I wanted to do one more contraction there and then move. As soon as the next contraction ended, I decided I wanted to kneel on the floor at the foot of our bed. Our doula followed us in there, and as my pushing sounds began to change my midwife quickly joined her; she knew the baby was coming soon.

Pushing, once again, was the hardest part of labor for me, this time both because of my lesson with patience and also because it’s such an intense feeling for me. Some women describe pushing as a relief and the best part of labor for them; I am in the opposite camp. As she entered the birth canal I could again feel so vividly that feeling that I can only describe as something akin to bone against bone; although her head is designed to mold its way through the birth canal the intensity of it is almost unbelievable to me. I screamed that she was coming, and I began to scream, “Help.” I’m not sure what I thought anyone could do! In fact, B (who was my constant, loving supporter and companion through this entire process) asked me how he could help and I think I shrieked back, “I don’t know! Just touch me!” So he pressed his hand against me as she came down through me, and then he positioned his hands below my body and prepared to catch his baby girl as she came into the world.

“Her head is RIGHT here, sweetie!” he said. Those words were so encouraging to me. “I have her head!”

Another push, two, and she was out, into his hands, covered in vernix. Her cord was looped loosely around her shoulders, which probably had something to do with her slow descent. Everyone helped me sit down so I was sitting back against Bill’s legs and I pulled her up against my chest. A towel was laid over us. Little R. started rooting and sucking on her hand right away, so I nursed her even before the placenta was delivered. After the placenta came out, the midwife helped us into a beautiful “celebration bath” full of flowers. She and B took pictures as I sat floating the baby atop the warm water. Then B held the baby while I showered, and we all crawled into bed.

Stephanie Madson birth2

The midwives did a thorough exam on me and on the baby. She was 7 pounds, 10 ounces, 19.5 inches long, and perfectly healthy. A couple hours after she was born, the midwives left us to settle in with our new daughter. They came back for another exam the next day, did a phone check-up three days later, and another exam at one week postpartum. We weren’t without the postpartum support we needed, and our daughter’s birth was treated as the safe, joyous event that it was.

B and I marveled at how calm we felt about our home birth. I was considered a very low risk patient and we were aware of the risks of both hospital and home birth. For us, choosing a home birth was what we believed was the safest option for us and our baby, and now we see what a low-anxiety, spiritual, joyous experience it can truly be. I would never suggest home birth for every woman, but for many women it is a safe option for birth. For us, it was the option that made the most sense and is one we would choose again. Regardless of the location – hospital for F or home for R – I believe my soul mate and I enter the birth experience as if it is a spiritual practice we share with each other, and I believe that’s an experience you can achieve no matter where your story unfolds, if you seek it.