We have a cherry tree in our yard, and the day that its first blossom popped out on one of its slender branches was the same day that I had my first contraction to signaled the beginning of labor.
This is my birth story for Phoebe Isobel Wetzel, our blossoming newborn girl.
On Wednesday, April 13th at 4:30 am I awoke with my first strong contraction. Up until this point in the pregnancy I’d had no painful contractions. I doubted that I was even experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions (aka. “practice” contractions) until I had one at my midwife appointment, and she confirmed that I simply did not have painful contractions. When I awoke at 4:30, I thought, “This is different. This might be it.” And I went back to sleep.
Mr. Wetzel awoke around 7:30 am for work, and I let him know that I’d been feeling infrequent contractions. At 10:30 am we went to an already scheduled visit with our midwife, and she was able to confirm that we were in early labor and that I was dilated 2 cm. Phoebe was still in a good position: head down and back slightly on the left (she’d been in this position for about a month).
I went home. Mr. Wetzel went to work. And I slept the rest of the day between contractions.
We decided to ignore the labor as long as possible and not tell anyone. We didn’t want the pressure. I didn’t want the pressure. I wanted to be able to relax, to give into the moment of what was happening, and to let it take its course. Also, we didn’t want to tell everyone labor was under way, only to find out it was a false start.
By 11:00 pm Wednesday night, my contractions were frequent and strong. Our midwife said we could come into the Birthing Inn whenever we were ready, but I was comfortable at home, so we decided to labor there for the next few hours. I tried watching TV between contractions to take my mind off the pain and to keep from being anxious. I ended up spending a lot of time on the toilet; I found it was easier to relax my “birth muscles” when I didn’t have to worry about soiling myself. And relaxing helped ease the pain of the contractions considerably.
In our 5-week birthing class at The Birthing Inn, we learned about coping techniques to help ease the pain of the contractions and channel the pain to a more effective labor. Mr. Wetzel and I had planned to have a playlist for me to listen to. We thought Mr. Wetzel would read me a script and that would help. We thought I’d recite lines from the Psalms to get me through. In the moments of labor, however, we abandoned all of these planned techniques.
In the beginning of labor, I thought of a song, “Slow Down Jo” by Monsters of Folk, pulled it up on my iPhone and played it at the beginning of each contraction. The slow tempo of this song helped me establish a good breathing rhythm. Later in labor, I’d actually sing the chorus to myself, but adapted the words to “Slow Me Down.”
I also talked to myself to help keep “my head in the game.” I would moan “Oh Oh Oh,” and often then say “Oh Oh Ooooopen,” speaking to my cervix. Yes, I was encouraging my cervix to dilate. It sounds weird; I never thought I’d do it; and it helped (emotionally, at least). As a new contraction set on, I’d instinctively want to clench up from the pain, and so I found that I’d tell myself over and over, “Relax, relax, relax…” as a way of coaching my body to do what my head knew it needed.
From 11:00 pm Wednesday night on, I’d cope with each contraction on a different basis. Sometimes I’d sit on the toilet. Sometimes I hunched over an ottoman. By 2:30 we knew these contractions meant business, so we hopped in the car and made our way to The Birthing Inn to meet our midwife. She confirmed that we were dilated 4-5 cm and in active labor.
Once we reached active labor, we knew there was no going back. It was time to let friends and family know. Once we were settled in at the Birthing Inn, Mr. Wetzel texted our family to let them know we were in labor and he called my parents (because they don’t text). He then did a twitter update for me, to let my online pals know. Updating facebook escaped us…we were preoccupied and we were cocooning around each other.
Active labor was the hardest part for me.
I’d been drinking water and eating protein all week. I’d been drinking water all day since the 4:30 contraction. I’m a drinker; drinking water was easy for me. But it wasn’t enough. I was getting dehydrated, and it was making my contractions more painful. In addition, I’d been feeling nauseous for hours.
I kept up a lot of the routine I’d established at home: moving between the toilet and the ottoman. Yes, we brought the ottoman with us! It was small, and it was the perfect height for me to hunch over, so I had Mr. Wetzel throw it in the back of the car. I also tried sitting on a birthing ball and leaning over the bed. It was great being able to move around a lot and change positions at will. That freedom was one of the reasons we chose the Birthing Inn.
I drank water constantly, but it wasn’t enough. The contractions were more painful. Then the nausea got worse. While I was on the bed, I got terribly nauseous, leaned over and experienced the moment of the birth that was the most difficult for me emotionally. I upchucked everything in my belly into a tub, and at the same time I emptied everything else out the other end. I was so ashamed. I felt like an animal. I knew “involuntary” things would happen during the pushing stage, but I did not expect to “lose it” at this early stage of labor, and I especially did not expect to lose it while on a nice, white bed.
As soon as I emptied myself, I said how embarrassed I was, and the first words I heard were the reassuring words of our midwife, Amy, “That’s just a part of pregnancy.” Her calm, matter-of-fact tone and response helped me find the mental and emotional fortitude to put myself back together and to keep going. I’m so thankful that there was no criticism or disgust in the room; if there had been, I might have gotten a little depressed about it. As it was, I was able to take it as a lump. Then I sucked it up for the next bout of labor pains.
I vomited a few more times. I couldn’t eat anything. I was not getting enough water. So, Amy insisted that they give me an IV. Which is a big deal for me. As in: when I get my blood drawn I’m so panicked about it I nearly faint. It’s a REAL phobia of mine. I did not want an IV. When she insisted on the IV, however, I understood that it was the best thing for me, for the pregnancy and for the baby, so we talked about where she’d put it in (we decided on top of my left hand); Mr. Wetzel said a prayer over me and over the IV, and them as she put it in, I breathed deeply, found a calm place and stayed there mentally. Once it was in, Amy said with admiration how surprised she was at how well I handled it. Once it was in, it did not bother me mentally as much as I thought it would. It was just there, and I had peace about it. For this I was VERY thankful.
Eventually, I labored lying on the bed, on my side. This was to give me rest; I’d often fall asleep between contractions, which actually proved to be very hard on me overall. When I started a contraction awake, I could see it coming and start relaxing. When I started a contraction while asleep, it would wake me up; these contractions were very painful because I was shocked into them, so I’d clench up more in response, which made them hurt more.
The coping techniques that I taught myself in the early stages of labor became vital during active labor. Mr. Wetzel would often remind me to do the simple things I couldn’t remember anymore by myself: breathe and relax. I wanted no stimulus: no bright lights, no music, no touch. I wanted to just go into a zone and relax as much as possible and let the contraction do what it needed to me.
Transition & Pushing
We planned on having a water birth, and Amy advised that I stay out of the tub until the last possible moment, in order to get the most benefit out of it. As I entered the transition stage (where my cervix dilates the last few centimeters), they filled the tub, and I got in. I only had a few contractions in the tub when I started feeling the need to push. I said aloud how I wanted to push but was trying to resist, when Amy told me to give it a shot and see how it went.
So I did. Transition seemed to last only a few minutes, and it wasn’t nearly as arduous as active labor. I was completely dilated at 10:00 am on Thursday and pushed for the next two hours.
I pushed in the water on my hands and knees. I moved around a little, but this position felt the most “right.” Amy suggested Matt get in the tub with me so that I could lean my back into him, but I knew I did not want that. I wanted the tub to myself, I wanted the room to move around, and I wanted to be on my knees. These things were simply intuitive to me.
Once I was really pushing, I found it particularly nice to be able to lean my arms outside the tub and clench the side or rest on the side of the tub as the contraction passed and I pushed through it. The side of the tub provided great leverage. And it was nice to have Mr. Wetzel right there, by my face, offering words of support, as well as a glass of water which I sipped whenever possible.
My knees were sore. I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours. I hadn’t slept. I’d lost a lot of fluids from vomiting. I was weak. But I was in a “zone” and I felt my baby moving slowly through me. She’d advance, I’d feel her head in my pelvis as I pushed, and then it would retract. I mentioned I felt like I was losing ground, and Amy told me this was normal, this is just part of how the birth happens.
Eventually her head didn’t retract. We were at the end of pushing. At 11:42 am, Amy felt for our baby’s head and told us the water still hadn’t broken. It had been easing the labor pains this whole time, but we were nearing the end. As Amy felt the water, she was letting us know our options, mentioning we could go ahead and break it, or we could give it more time, and then we heard her say, “Oops! Wow! There it goes!”
During the next few minutes, Mr. Wetzel came around behind me and saw the crown of our baby’s hairy little head while I was in labor. He was really tired, but it was so surprising for him to see a real head there, that it startled him into realizing that we were in the home stretch!
I still remember the feeling of the last few pushes, how my right pelvis shifted out and then back in as the round head of our little baby girl emerged. I remember how they pulled her up between my legs and placed her in my arms as I leaned back, exhausted. I remember lying there, holding her for the first time, astonished at what she looked like: she looked like a little person! She was no longer this nondescript fuzzy idea of a baby; she was in my arms!
She was a little blue, but Amy massaged her up. They put a hat on her right away, as well as a blanket for warmth. And because of the way they placed her on my chest, we actually didn’t know the baby’s sex for the first few minutes while I held her. We just basked in the overwhelming presence of our new baby. When it occurred to us we hadn’t peeked at the gender yet, I lifted the blanket and Mr. Wetzel told me: we had a baby girl!
Stage Three: Delivering the Placenta
The chord had stopped pulsing, so Amy clamped it and Mr. Wetzel got to cut his daughter’s cord. We wanted to wait till it had stopped pulsing so that Phoebe would get to take advantage of all the rich blood in the cord.
At 12:08 pm I delivered the placenta. I just pushed once or twice, and it globbed out into the tub. A placenta has no bones, so the delivery is like passing a big booger. I know. It sounds gross. It kinda is, but it’s sooooo much easier than the baby delivery! There was a lot of blood in the water, and I was ready to get out.
I was very weak. I had lost a lot of blood, and the labor had exhausted me. For the next two hours, Mr. Wetzel held Phoebe while I lay on the bed and Amy and her birthing attendant took care of me. They gave me some Gatorade and yogurt, both of which I gladly ate. They also gave me Petocin to help my uterus contract and to help stop the bleeding. I had several blood clots that I passed, some on the bed, some while on the toilet. They were very painful, and they were such a relief to get out of my system. Overall, it is estimated that I lost 600 ccs of blood. The “fundal massages” were painful, as expected, but I knew they were necessary, and I knew they would make me heal better and feel better eventually.
I did not tear, which surprised Amy given how much blood there was. Plus, Phoebe had a large head, measuring at 14 inches, and her chest circumference was 14.5 inches! I was weak and tired, but I did not require any “repair work” down below. I was as shocked as anyone, but ever so grateful!
Finally, at 2:00 pm, they felt I was well enough that I could sit up in bed. They propped me up and I was able to hold my daughter for the first time outside of the tub. I was finally aware enough that I could really look at her. She was beautiful. Amy and her assistant helped me position Phoebe and nurse her for the first time. After a few tries, Phoebe latched on and nursed for the first time at 2:10 pm. I was so relieved.
I stayed in bed, holding Phoebe and resting for the next few hours. Then, at 6:00 pm, we headed home with our little baby girl. We were parents!
On Natural Childbirth
Did the labor hurt? Was it difficult? Yes and yes. However it was not as bad as I expected. Before you go thinking “she is writing this 2 weeks after the birth, she already has selective memory,” I will rebut you: I said these things to Mr. Wetzel 2 hours after the birth while I was still exhausted, bleeding and in pain. Labor is difficult. Contractions do hurt. My birth experience was arduous. But it was do-able. It was bearable. Like a marathon, it was conquerable.
Some women need epidurals. Some women need medical intervention. And all women need unequivocal support before, during and after labor. But our culture is so afraid of the pain of childbirth that I want to emphatically and earnestly say to you all: there is a way to have a natural childbirth and it is difficult, but YOU CAN DO IT! You can at least attempt to have a birth without an epidural, and you definitely do not need to let fear of the pain control you.
I was afraid of the pain, and I surrendered that fear through prayer and faith. My birth was not as painful as I once feared, and I attribute almost all of that to the mindset I had going into it and the support that I had while in labor.
Contractions are painful. However, the contractions you have early on teach you how to handle the contractions later in the birth. Your body has all the equipment it needs to get you through the birthing experience; you just need to trust it and listen to it…and surround yourself with people who will do the same.
If you are reading this and you had a more medical birth or a C-section, please know I do not “judge” you; I love you and know that you, as the mother, made the best decisions you knew how to in your circumstances. But I want to encourage pregnant ladies to consider less medical and less surgical approaches whenever possible, because I earnestly believe this will help make pregnancy, birth and recovery much easier on mom and baby. If you have any questions or just want to share your experience, I encourage you to comment below.
I loved the privacy, intimacy and control we had at the Birthing Inn. Our midwife, Amy, trusted us, and she built up a relationship with us so that we came to trust her. Until the pushing stage, the only people in the room were Amy and Mr. Wetzel. Amy’s birth assistant came in at the very end, but the only other people to enter the room were a few select friends and family that we invited to stop by for a visit afterwards so we could introduce them to our new little baby.
I am thankful for how well I handled the IV. I am thankful that I did not tear. And I am thankful that breastfeeding started well. I say “thankful,” and what I mean is “overwhelmingly full of gratitude in a way that words cannot express.” I understand that I was blessed in these ways, and I can see how God gave me the strength of his presence to overcome fears and worries I had in regards to each of these areas.
In regards to tearing, there are a few things I did to help pre-birth. I did kegels. I took an evening primrose oil supplement. And I took the Gentle Birth Formula sold by Mountain Meadow Herbs.
I feel like this is a very clinical account of the birth. Many women say they cry when writing their birth stories. I recognize how “matter-of-fact” I seem about mine. I do not feel callous about our experience. In fact, I feel very intimate about it, and I feel very intimately about each of these details.
The feelings I have are very deep. When I was feeling the birth, I was very tired and very weak. I did not have much capacity to capture my feelings in words. I still lack the capacity. Maybe someday painting or poetry will help bridge the gap. In the meantime, I feel like forcing a description of these deep emotions would cheapen them, alter them, and forever change their presence in my heart.
For now, the feelings are like a river running through an underground cavern. They rush and swell in the darkness: cold, crisp and fresh. Perhaps no explorer will ever find them. Perhaps they will never see the light of day. But their very existence makes the world richer; and their very presence transforms these deep places in my heart from a cavern into a gushing spring.