I became pregnant with my second child sometime around December 1993 or January 1994, almost exactly a year after the birth of my first, Elaine.
I knew right from the start that I was going to do things differently during this pregnancy and birth than I had done with my first. For starters, I was going to be more responsible and learn a lot more about the process of labor and birth. Next, I was going to be realistic about what kind of pain and discomfort I would be facing on the big day and I was going to be ready with ways to cope with it so that I would not need any drugs or intervention to get through it. And last, I was going to take my maternity and pre-natal care very seriously and ensure that I knew everything about the tests the doctors recommended - what they were testing for, what results could be returned, and most importantly, what I could do with the results once I had them.
The outcome of Elaine's birth a year before was a healthy baby but in retrospect I felt that something had been missed from the experience. During pregnancy I had allowed the doctor to dictate tests that would be performed without asking about what I could do with the results. This caused me and my family needless worry since most of the tests resulted in indeterminate findings that left me with nothing but more questions. I had not adequately prepared for labor and allowed myself to spend the day in pain and anxiety, resulting in the need for a shot of narcotic, which I had vowed to avoid. I did not allow my body to do its best work at the birth and so deprived myself and my baby of the valuable bonding time in the first hour after birth. I wanted to enjoy my second pregnancy and birth to the fullest extent possible and so set out immediately to educate myself and to take responsibility for both.
I faithfully returned to the same ob/gyn who had seen me through all of my maternity with baby number one and learned that she was also to have a baby some weeks after me. At our third maternity visit I worked up the courage to ask how she planned on having her baby - was she going to have a natural childbirth? I was stunned when she began laughing and looked at me as though I had two heads, "of course I will be taking advantage of all that modern medicine has to offer me and my baby, including an epidural". It seemed that the implication was clear - if I wasn't so selfish then I would see that giving myself to the medical establishment would be best for me and my baby, too.
I knew right then and there that she and I were truly on divergent paths of philosophy and that continuing the relationship was only going to frustrate the both of us. I had trusted my body to birth my first baby and I was going to trust it to birth this one. It was obvious that the doctors did not trust my body. There was no way to reconcile the discrepancy. I fired her.
Within a week, I had found a midwife organization that worked out of the alternative birthing center at the hospital where I had chosen to have the baby and I made my first appointment. What a difference! I was shocked that there was no routine internal exam, no scootching to the end of the examining table to place my feet into the steel stirrups. Instead, I sat in a comfortable chair and had an actual conversation about my plans for pregnancy and birth, how I was feeling and what I could expect from the group before and during the baby's birth. I gave the midwife a synopsis of my medical history, including information about my first birth and referred her to my maternity file, which had been sent to the midwives at my request. The midwife closed off the appointment with a brief listen to the baby's heartbeat. I walked out of the appointment as though I was walking on air!
The midwives had a large library and I was told that I could check out what I liked at any time. So I took a few books to read and really enjoyed myself with all of them. I found myself most fascinated with the midwives of The Farm and with books filled with birth stories. I also decided to visit a local bookstore to see what I could find on natural childbirth, and found The Birth Book by Sears and Sears. Dr. Sears is a pediatrician and his wife is an RN. They had eight babies together, starting with a typical medically managed birth in the 1960's (strapped to a table, twilight anesthesia, hubby in the waiting room) and ending with a midwife-attended water birth at home with baby number eight.
This pregnancy, just as my first, was completely uneventful. I was lucky in that sometime around my seventh month, I decided to leave my job and take the rest of the summer off with my now 1-1/2 year old daughter, Elaine. We spent our days bike riding (me riding, she in the baby seat on the back), walking the dog along the Chicago lakefront at Diversey Avenue with Elaine in the stroller, and at the beautiful Lincoln Park Zoo and Fullerton Avenue beach. We set up a kiddy pool in the back yard and both of us would lounge in it for hours; Elaine would fill up and dump the plastic bucket with water while I watched the neighborhood wander past our backyard fence. It was a beautiful summer, with perfect sunny days almost every day. We had a great time.
In June and July 1994, I continued my appointments with the midwives on a monthly basis, receiving the same thoughtful care that they had shown me on my first visit. We would talk about what was happening with the pregnancy, they would measure my tummy, listen to the heartbeat and send me on my way. In August and September (with only one week until my due date), I was still riding my mountain bike to my appointments from my house about 15 blocks away. I felt fantastic! The midwives would always laugh and ask me "when are you going to slow down?" and my answer was always "never!"
Meanwhile, with the confidence that I gained from the situation with my care, I did as much research as I could into the birth process. I wrote a birth plan for this baby as well, but I was completely at ease with the midwives and their knowledge of my desires, so kept it short and to the point for the LDR nurses that I knew would be on duty when we arrived at the birthing center. The basics included : no EFM, no IV, no exams, no drugs, and complete freedom to move. I felt ready for labor and birth and was even anxious for it to begin. Finally, it did.
On the night of September 15, 1992, I felt that I just had to go to bed early. Elaine went to bed at 800pm and I followed shortly thereafter at 900pm. At midnight, I awoke to feeling my first stirrings of labor pains. Just as with my first labor, I was very excited that today was the day that I would finally meet my baby. But unlike with my first labor, I knew that the day would be tiring and I that I would need all of the rest that I could get before things started to get really difficult. So I went back to sleep. Every ten minutes or so, I would slightly awake to a tightening in my belly. I would think about relaxing and how tired I was, how far away the morning was, and fall right back to sleep.
I managed this way for a couple of hours, but finally the excitement got to me. I got out of bed around 230am and started to time the contractions, just to see where they were. Right away, there was a pattern of contractions every four minutes and lasting about 45 seconds. During each contraction, I started a routine where I would very very slowly squat down with my toes and knees pointing out to the sides and breath in through my nose. I would try to make the downward motion of the squat last until the peak of the contraction, then I would slowly rise back up while breathing out through my mouth during the relaxation phase of the contraction. This worked great.
I also used the Sears' tip to make my tummy look like I was 11 months pregnant by letting my abdomen completely hang out. I relaxed every muscle in my torso, from my chest to my pubic bone, by just hanging my tummy out completely and breathing very slowly. I also used visualization to think of the baby's head pushing against the stretchy cervix, thinning it and spreading it open slowly and painlessly. My abdomen responded by being very relaxed with no pain in my body whatsoever. I could feel the pressure of the uterine muscle contracting and the pinching sensation in my cervix as it dilated, but I made sure that all of my other muscles stayed completely out of the way of my uterus while it did what it was created to do.
I started thinking of things that I could do around the house since it was very early in the morning and I still had a long time to go. But, instead of busying myself with senseless work and using up all of the precious energy that I knew I would need so badly later in the day, I puttered between trying to get more sleep and a nice warm bath with a glass of wine. I got out my labor and delivery books, spread them on the kitchen table and did my squats while I refreshed my memory of what was to come. I marked my contractions on a piece of paper and they stayed very regular until 5am, every four minutes, lasting 45 seconds, when I finally went back to bed.
I had called my mother, who was planning on attending the birth, at about 400am and told her to head to the city if she wanted to be with me while the baby was born. I heard her come into the house just as I laid down for a nap but I stayed in bed, trying to get all of the sleep I could, until 630am.
When the contractions started to get stronger and were keeping me awake, I got out of bed and started to get ready to go to the hospital. I took a hot shower, shaved my legs, and washed my hair just as I usually would if I was going to work. I didn't rush as I figured I still had plenty of time. My first labor had gone on for over 24 hours; when I had gone to the hospital to get checked after ten hours of labor I had been only 3 cm dilated. I did not want to show up at the hospital too early this time, as I knew that I would only have the non-interventive birth I wanted if I was well into active labor by the time I arrived. So I waited.
After my shower, I started packing my bags. One bag for me with clothes for going home, a pair of warm socks, a T-shirt for birthing in, and my toiletries. One bag for the baby with clothes for going home, receiving blankets, and diapers. I was very excited about meeting the baby and hummed as I packed. I talked with Mom, who had just returned from getting us decaf coffee at the Dunkin Donuts on the corner and sipped just a little. I had a bowl of cereal and some toast for breakfast and mulled calling the midwife to give her fair warning that we would soon deliver a new baby.
With each contraction, I continued to squat slowly while breathing deeply, and hang my tummy out as large and relaxed as I could make it. I continued to visualize the stretching cervix and the baby's head pressing it open little by little with each squat. I had felt a bit of discomfort here and there during the morning, but overall I felt very relaxed and excited about feeling so great through my first 7-8 hours of labor. Such a huge difference from the first time - I was doing it right and handling it with aplomb!!
I called the midwife after breakfast, at about 800am and Elaine was taken to her day care. It was a Friday and she went every day to family care around the corner and today was as good a day as any for her to be in her usual routine. I gave Carol, the midwife on call that morning, a rundown of how things had been going so far.
I told her that I had been timing my contractions since about 200am and they had been four minutes lasting 45 seconds since then. I had noticed that they had seemed to get a little more intense since my shower at 700am, did she think that I should come to the hospital so that she could check my progress? She listened to two contractions on the phone and said that I sounded in control of the situation, did I feel that I needed to come in? I told her no, that based on my last labor I was betting that I was only 3-4 cm dilated so far and we had plenty of time. She said "good, then I will do a few things and then start on my way to the hospital around 930am and will call you then".
By the time Carol called back, around 1000am, I was thinking it would be a really good idea to see where I was, progression-wise. I was continuing to have a very easy time riding the contractions with my squat-and-breathe routine but I wanted to know how far along I was. Being an athlete of sorts, I knew that numbers would motivate me further. I knew that transition was ahead somewhere and I wanted lots of confidence and motivation to stay with it. I told her that I would jump into the car and come over the hospital real quick just to get a check of status, then come back home and finish laboring. I was really enjoying myself.
I started my old four-speed Volkswagen Jetta and piloted it toward the hospital, about 15 city blocks away. I noticed on the way that it was low on gas, and I thought "well, I may have to make this trip a few times today, so I had better get some gas". I stopped at the station and pumped the gas myself, leaning against the roof of the car and doing my breathing while I had a contraction. I thought the better of squatting next to my car at the corner of Ashland Ave. and Diversey in the middle of Chicago.
I arrived at the parking garage of the hospital and walked to the elevator. Thankfully, no one noticed that I was in labor and I was able to walk to the alternative birthing center under my own power. I greeted the LDR nurses and my midwife, who had been getting the room ready for me since 1000am or so. It was 1045am.
I laid down on the double bed and Carol gave me my first internal exam. I looked at her with anticipation and said "Please tell me I'm over 3 cm!". She looked at me thoughtfully and said, "oh, you're over 3 cm". I cheered and said "Really, really? That's great! Where am I?" She looked at me for a minute and didn't say anything, then she smiled. "You are doing great, you are 9-1/2 cm, you can start pushing any time!"
I sat up straight in the bed like an arrow. "What? It can't be!", I said. They looked at me and nodded. "We had better get admissions up here to get the paperwork going", said the LDR nurse. I sat up and was cheerful as I could be. Here I was in transition and I didn't even know it! I was already finished with the hardest part of labor and I had been anticipating its arrival for hours! This was great news. Then I remembered "I don't have any of my stuff, my family is not here, the video camera…" and started for the phone. I called the house and told my family to come as the baby would be coming any minute.
Within ten minutes my family had arrived and the excitement was getting rolling. I was in a 45 degree incline on the bed and doing little test pushes. The midwife checked and said that the baby was at zero station and engaged for birth. He or she was in the optimum position for birth. We were ready!
I told the midwife that I wanted to wait for the urge to push and when it came I was ready. Each contraction had two or three peaks and I would push along with each of them. I kept my chin down on my chest and remembered to breathe with each long contraction. Between the contractions, I had about two or three minutes of rest, which I really started to appreciate after a half hour of pushing.
At 1145am, 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, the baby's head crowned. At 1149am, she was born.
We were home at 500pm, in time to pick up Elaine from her day care. We ordered a pizza, drank champaign and enjoyed the new baby. We named her Grace Suzzett.