The backstory is this: I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for several weeks before my due date. Sometimes they would be so strong, and our baby had already dropped so low, that I was quite uncomfortable even sitting through a meal.
So we continue. About 6 days before my due date, I’m sitting in church, listening to the sermon, when I feel something tight kind of come and go. And then come and go again. And again. And this time, I start feeling the tightness in my back as well. The frequency and intensity are enough to make me pretty excited. Maybe this is it!!! After church, I let Jady know what’s going on and try to just go about the rest of the day like normal… except I can’t help but feel so eager with anticipation. Will we meet our little child soon? Or will it be two more weeks…
That afternoon, I kept smiling inside, thinking this might be the big day. I remember having to get up during our afternoon singing to lean over the bathroom sink. Actually, several times. It just felt so good and natural to lean over something. And then that evening, walking to dinner in the rain, I remember holding my pregnant belly the entire way. But after dinner, and the rest of the evening, nothing else happened. I went to bed and woke up, still feeling very pregnant.
Monday was pretty similar, except as I was lying in bed Monday night, I felt a new sensation: a wave coming over me, and then leaving. But I drifted off to sleep and nothing else happened.
Tuesday night, we’re back at church for midweek Bible study. I get up a few times during the study to walk around, just because the walking helped me stay comfortable as my belly continued to tighten and release. (But these felt just like the Braxton hicks I’d been feeling for weeks, so I was hesitant to call it labor. I didn’t want to be the girl who cried wolf for weeks in a row.) As we were getting ready for bed back home, I decided to get on my knees and lean forward over our exercise ball—to experiment with positions that felt comfortable. “Did you just have a contraction?” Jady asked, as I stood back up. “No,” I replied, “It just felt good to do that.” (But yes, I was in the beginning stages of labor and thought it would probably taper off like before.)
We were in bed around midnight, but I kept getting out of bed to lean on the kitchen counter or over the exercise ball. Finally I was realizing that this might be the real thing. Every time I went to lie back in bed, I would get very uncomfortable. This was very different from what I had studied in my Bradley literature. I’m supposed to be able to lie in bed and relax through the early stage of labor, I thought. (Little did I know I was already entering more serious labor.) Around 1 AM, I decided to force myself to lie in bed through my next contraction, because this was what we had practiced. And before I knew it, it felt as if a water balloon had popped inside of me, and I ran to the bathroom to evaluate.
Quite matter-of-factly, I went back to wake Jady up. “Jady, this is it. My water just broke.” I was not very excited by this point. Instead, I felt very serious about making it through the impending labor. (This serious stage is an indication of labor that has already progressed very far! But since my water had just broken, I thought we were only beginning!) My contractions were very irregular, often quite painful, and it seemed like they barely stopped before the next one came.
As Jady began to page our midwifery group, I tried leaning over the exercise ball as I had done before—arms stretched over it, with my belly hanging down. That seemed to be the most comfortable position I could find. We spoke with the midwife on call, and as I described what had already happened, she told me it would probably be 7-10 hours before I needed to go to the hospital. “Try to eat and get some rest,” she instructed. “Call me back when your contractions are 1 minute long, 3 minutes apart, and that’s been going on for 1 hour.”
But as I handed the phone back to Jady as I felt my next contraction coming on, I proceeded to throw up all over the floor—both in the living room and bathroom! So for the next twenty minutes, my good husband worked hard to clean that up while I struggled to find a comfortable position for the pain I was feeling… and started doubting, “Did I really think I could have a natural birth without pain medication or interventions? This is so much harder than I imagined. I don’t think I can do this. I’m not sure what I was thinking. There’s no way I can handle 10 more hours of this.”
Little did I know I was already in transition—the most difficult part of labor, often characterized by self-doubt (that was me!) and vomiting (me, too). When I started expressing these feelings to Jady, he was thinking, “What do you mean you can’t do this?! We just started!!” but graciously held his tongue and just started helping me through the pain. Still leaning over the birthing ball, I would slowly rock back and forth while moaning with each exhale (to keep my breathing calm), and Jady placed his hands firmly on my lower back and counted out loud through each contraction. Knowing this was more serious, he started timing contractions using our Contraction Master app on our iPod.
After about half an hour of this, my contractions were three minutes apart, lasting about a minute long, and they felt completely unbearable—except somehow we were bearing them. Being in the comfort of our own apartment, and not worrying about medical staff coming in and out tempting me to get an epidural, we were able to focus entirely on making it through each contraction. Before our hour of timing was up, my moaning turned to a pushing grunt and I felt the rest of my water gush out. “Wait,” Jady asked, “Are you getting pushy???” (Our Bradley instructor had acted out the switch from active labor to pushing, and mine sounded just like that.) I suddenly had the overwhelming, undeniable feeling that a baby was coming NOW.
Uh oh. A million emotions flooded our minds I made it through transition already? I can’t believe it happened so fast. Wait, I didn’t even finish packing my hospital bag yet! Wait, we have to call the midwife back! as we scrambled to get everything together. Yet every other minute, I had this intensely strong urge to squat down, hold on to something, and push with all my might. Adrenaline was pumping, along with the excitement of making it through stage 1 of labor, and the realization that I might have our baby in a NYC cab if we didn’t leave right then. I tried running to my closet to throw more clothes in our hospital bag, but then I’d run right back into the bathroom to squat over the toilet and push/grunt as each contraction came on. After a few minutes of that, I realized I needed to just focus on pushing.
Jady called our midwife back and she instructed him to call 911. Twenty minutes later, two paramedics—Tyrone and Havi—were at our door. “Ma’am, we need you to lie down so we can check your progress and head to the hospital.” Still in the bathroom squatting over the toilet, I felt another contraction coming on and said, “Hi, just a second…” and proceeded to push/grunt/gasp until the contraction left. Then I was able to lie down on the small pallet they had made on our living room floor: exercise mat, then a few towels, then their sterile pad.
“Oh wow, she’s already crowning,” they told us, as they showed Jady the top of the baby’s head already visible. Instead of taking us to the hospital, they told us we’d have the baby right here. But as I was lying on my back, my urge to push went away. I thought if I could sit more upright, I’d be able to push again, but the paramedics wanted me lying down. So we compromised: Jady helped me sit up half-way and supported my back and arms. My urge to push came back right away, and while the paramedics kept telling me to push, this happened very naturally as I had the urge every couple minutes. I reassured them, “I’ll push when I feel the urge. Thank you for your patience.” They laughed and said, “Patience?! We just want you to have this baby!”
In a matter of minutes, our baby’s head emerged, and with one more push which seemed to last an eternity, the baby’s body came out, too. 3:50 AM. I heard an infant cry—the voice of our child, whom no one but God had met yet—and it was like music to my ears. Crying meant the baby was breathing, that air was finally filling its little lungs, and this was very reassuring,
“Julianne, it’s a girl,” Jady told me.
A girl. A daughter. My daughter. Rosie Jane. Thank you, God.
The paramedics clamped the umbilical cord on either end and cut in between. They washed her off and handed her to Jady while they packed up and told the ambulance crew to get ready. And then, in the closest way I’ll probably ever feel like a pioneer woman, I just stood up. I felt great! Like I had just climbed a mountain. I sat down on a stretcher, Rosie was placed in my arms, and we were carried into an ambulance on Broadway down below. A little surreal.
I was still having contractions as my body worked to push out its placenta. But strapped to a stretcher in the back of a bumpy ambulance ride was not exactly an ideal way to deliver that final piece of pregnancy. We arrived at the hospital and our midwife met us at the door. She proceeded to deliver the placenta, stitch up some tearing that had occurred, and admitted us to the hospital—since we didn’t quite check in with a normal triage experience.
There we sat—our new little family—watching the morning sun rise over New York City from our hospital window, knowing no one else even knew Rosie had been born yet. Our heads were still spinning from our unplanned home birth, but our hearts were calm and grateful for the way God absolutely took care of us.