I've written this in the spare moments I've had throughout these past few days. I want to not only share my experience of a natural birth with all who are interested, but record my memory of this extraordinary part of my life so I never forget it.
It was Wednesday morning, September 14th, at 10 o'clock, and the weather had changed from sunny and hot to overcast and cold. I had asked the midwife recently if it was true that a lot of babies were born on full moon, and she had that, in her experience, it was more likely for babies to come on days when there was a drastic change in the weather. But I wasn't thinking about that. Ramon had left for a business meeting in Vienna and I was in the kitchen, opening a little present of baby clothing from my mother-in-law. Suddenly there was a small gush of fluid between my legs. I remember pausing, confused, and then exclaiming "Oh!" The dogs looked at me. I stood there, frozen for a moment, taking in the realization that my water had broke. I was going to have my baby!
After cleaning up and putting on a pad (water was still running out once in a while) I called my midwife. She told me that it could still take a while for contractions to start, but that she was sending her colleague to check on me. I then called Ramon, who was riding the subway, and told him the news. I said he should go ahead with his meeting, there was still plenty of time (when the men at the meeting heard that my water had broke, they quickly sent him on his way home!). I called my mother-in-law and asked her to walk the dogs for me.
The midwife came and had a look at me. "You're only open to a 2. Eat something with a lot of cinnamon and cloves to get the contractions started. Rest and gather strength. It's going to be a long day and night."
When my mother-in-law returned, we stood in the kitchen, peeling and cutting apples for a compote. It was surreal, standing there, talking, cooking, when in the back of my mind I knew that these were the final hours before meeting my son. I ate a big serving of heavily spiced compote and my contractions began shortly afterwards, though mild at first; they felt like period cramps.
Ramon got home just as my contractions started getting stronger. My mother-in-law left us and we spent a couple of hours wandering around the apartment and the terrace, or resting in bed, timing my contractions and talking. I took a warm bath. When my contractions were 10 minutes apart, Ramon called our midwife. I was excited, thinking that we were getting close, and that we could head to the birth center soon. But Monika, our midwife, who came to check up on me, said that we should be patient. I was only between 3 and 4 centimeters open now, and we should call her again when my contractions were 2 minutes apart for 1 hour. It was discouraging, but what could I do? Monika left and we were on our own again.
The day progressed into night, and finally my contractions got stronger. Ramon ran a second bath for me. By now the contractions were very intense, and coming every two minutes. Ramon and I had been in labor alone together for about 9 hours now. My contractions suddenly got extremely intense while I was in the bath, coming over me seemingly constantly. I began panicking. I told Ramon to call the ambulance, we had to get to the birth center right away. I was sure the baby was close to coming, and was scared of having him at home.
I couldn't get out of the bath or get dressed on my own. I was shivering uncontrollably and began sobbing. Ramon called the ambulance and helped me out of the tub. He dressed me and got our birth bag and car seat ready. I was a total wreck, shaking and crying, when the paramedics came. They strapped me onto the gurney and wheeled me out to the ambulance. Ramon sat next to me in the back. The ride was the bumpiest I've ever taken, and the young paramedic kept asking Ramon if I was alright, and if he was sure we didn't want to go to the hospital. I was screaming and sobbing with each contraction, and each bump in the road was horrific. We finally arrived at the birth center, and when they wheeled me into the birthing room, the warmth and scent of aromatherapy oils was a bit of a comfort. My eyes had been closed this entire time, and I only opened them when Ramon had undressed me and Monika suggested I get into the birthing tub.
After some contractions in the tub, she asked me to lay down on the bed so she could check my dilation. She waited for the next contraction and probed with her fingers, which was really painful, but I was sure she would have good news. "You're at five centimeters, half way there."
I thought the world was going to end. "Half way there?!" I screamed. "I can't do this! I can't anymore!"
What followed were what felt like endless hours of pain, interspersed with me trying my hardest to just 'survive' the contractions, going into different positions, walking when I could, drinking water, having oils rubbed on my stomach, squatting, screaming, crying, getting into the tub again, leaning on Ramon in a sitting or standing position, sobbing that I couldn't do it anymore, and saying lots of "Please God! Please God! Help me!" One time Monika placed some homeopathic suppositories inside of me to help soften the cervix, and two other times she placed homeopathic globulis under my tongue for strength. I couldn't help wishing for real drugs, something I never thought I would hope for or consider.
At that point I was completely delirious with pain and exhaustion. Ramon, the midwife, and her assistant came and went, but I hardly noticed who was in the room or wasn't. I felt so alone in my pain. I was thinking, "This is torture. It won't stop. How will I ever do this? When will it ever end?" I really felt like my life was coming to an end. I know that sounds dramatic, but I truly felt at the very limit of my strength and life force.
I began feeling the urge to press when I had a contraction. I knew that sometimes the body told you to press before it was actually ready, but I didn't care. When I felt the urge, I pressed a little. Still, even with this sign of progression, I was so discouraged by how long this was all taking that I didn't really believe I could be nearing the end.
Monika invited me to sit on the birthing stool, which is shaped like a half donut. Ramon sat behind me on the foot of the bed, supporting my back and arms with his chest and legs. Monika and her assistant sat in front of me. The contractions came in constant waves, and with each one, I got about three presses in. The pressing was incredibly tiring, but I was determined, even though, again, I truly didn't believe there was an end in sight. I think I had even sort of forgotten that there was a baby on the way...it just felt like I was in pain for no good reason.
Pearls of sweat were pouring out of me all over as I pushed and pushed, feeling like my life depended on it. I dug my hands into Ramon's legs and pressed my feet into the ground. Now, with each press, there was a burning and stretching sensation, but I didn't 'feel' a head or object, so I didn't know how far along I was. At some point Monika said, "Each time you push, I can see a little bit of his head." This made me both angry (because I wanted her to say the head was already out) and determined ("A head! I'm having a baby! I forgot! That's why I'm doing this!").
I pushed a few more times, the stretching and burning getting more extreme, and then, suddenly, there was a slippery sensation, and Monika was holding up a little body to me! Rafael had been born, at 3:05 AM on September 15th, after 16 hours of labor. He was clean and rosy, with lots of black hair slicked onto his dome-shaped head. I took him in my arms, in total shock and awe. I'm not sure exactly, but I think my first words were, "My baby! My little boy!"
Monika invited us to get into bed. I stood up, holding Rafael, and I could feel the umbilical cord between my legs. We were still connected. Ramon got into bed with us, and we lay there for a few moments, just looking at this tiny red wriggling little being. When the cord stopped pulsating, Monika clamped it in two places and Ramon cut it.
Then the midwife told me I would have to push again to get the placenta out. "Are you kidding me?" I said. I had forgotten all about pain and pushing, and now I would have to get back into it. Ramon took Rafael onto his bare chest so I could concentrate. I pushed and pushed, but nothing happened. "Your bladder is too full, we'll have to empty it with a catheter." I said "No way! I'll try to empty it myself. I don't want a catheter put it!" So I pushed, but nothing was coming out. Monika pressed on my bladder and sort of forced it all out, which was a very strange sensation. Eventually, with one strong push from me, a passed what felt like a big wet pillow, and my placenta was out.
I had torn one centimeter, but refused to be sewn. I was sure it would heal on its own and didn't want anymore pain.
We lay with Rafael between us, admiring him, while Monika filled out papers. Eventually we dressed Raffi, got dressed ourselves, and called a taxi. We thanked our midwife and hopped into the cab, leaving the birth house about an hour after giving birth.
What a journey!
And it's just beginning...