Until we have births at SFBC, we thought we’d share stories from former clients we’ve worked with prior to SFBC. Thanks to Cerrithwen for sharing this story of her birth with Sara Van Acker, CNM at Santa Rosa Birth Center.
On the Thursday before my due date, I woke up with a dull cramping sensation in my uterus. It was the middle of July and the weather had been unbearably hot for days. My intuition throughout pregnancy had been that the baby would come early or right on time, and I was starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable and sick of being pregnant.
The cramps continued throughout the day but stayed mild and dull without following a discernible pattern. I had been full of nesting energy for the past week and tried to busy myself by cleaning the house and repacking my birth bag for the 15th time. Later that afternoon, I lost a large chunk of my mucus plug. I felt sure that labor was on the way, but the cramping disappeared by the end of the day. The on and off cramping continued throughout the next day and through the weekend, occasionally turning into mild contractions that were 7-10 minutes apart. At this point I was both frustrated at the lack of progress and unsure if this was real labor, so I called the after hours phone number for the Birth Center and spoke with one of my midwives. She told me that I should take a nice long bath and try to take my mind off of the cramping. She also told me trust my intuition and that I would know when real labor started.
I had an appointment at the Birth Center the following day. My midwife told me that labor probably wouldn’t be too far off, that I was 2cm dilated and partially effaced, and that my cervix was super soft. I asked her to sweep my membranes and she agreed. It was an uncomfortable process but over quickly, and my husband Oak and I left the Birth Center to run errands. I started having mild contractions less than 2 hours later. We live an hour and a half from the Birth Center in the boonies and we debated staying in town with my sister instead of driving home, but I decided that I wanted to be in the comfort of my own living space if labor was indeed imminent. As we drove home along the coast, I could feel my contractions growing stronger, but the pain was very mild. I fell asleep easily despite the mild cramping and woke up like a bolt at 3 in the morning with strong contractions. This is it, I thought! I woke up my snoring husband, called my doula, and we hopped in the car at 3:00 in the morning to drive to my sister’s house. It was a foggy night and we could barely see the road in front of us. I was in the front seat timing my contractions and breathing as best I could through the pain. The contractions were 1-3 minutes apart at this point and I called the midwife as soon as I was in cell phone service range. We arrived at the Birth Center and the midwife checked me only to discover that I was 3cm dilated and only 50% effaced. Given the strength and closeness of my contractions, I thought I would be further along at this point.
Disappointed but still energized, I was thrilled to discover that the midwife who had done the majority of my 3rd trimester care was on call! I remember feeling a huge sense of trust and relief wash over me as Sara walked into the room. I was lying on my side on the couch and Sara asked me on a scale of 1-10 how painful my contractions were. I told her they were a 6 and she said “I want you to take that 6 and turn it into a 3.” This was the best advice that I received during labor and helped me to reframe my understanding of the pain in a huge way. She sent me back to my sister’s house with the understanding that I could call at any time, but that I should come back to the Birth Center when my contractions were a scale of 8.
I labored at my sister’s house for several hours with my doula and husband by my side. I was able to breathe and moan/yell my way through the contractions until the back labor started, at which point the pain went from a 6 to a 9. My doula called Sara and she told us to come in. The car ride to the Birth Center was excruciating for me as I didn’t have the space to stretch and writhe through the back contractions. When we arrived, Sara checked me and I was 100% effaced but still only 3cm dilated. I was disappointed, but what really crushed me was the thought of having to get back in the car. Sara could see the tension in my face and told me that I could labor in the courtyard between the Birth Center and the birthing rooms. Utter relief washed over me and I felt something shift knowing that I was in the place where I would birth my baby.
The back labor subsided enough for me to close my eyes and get some much needed rest. I focused my breathing inward and fell into an almost meditative state where it was just me and my baby. I felt empowered and strong in this moment as I trusted the process and labored on my own, envisioning my cervix opening. When Sara checked me again (only 45 minutes later), I was 6 cm dilated! We made ourselves cozy in the birthing rooms and I considered filling the tub, but my back labor started again in earnest and all I could do was writhe and yell as I tried to find a position that gave me some relief. My doula and Oak were helping me as best they could, but the back labor was incredibly strong and I seemed to forget how to breathe deeply when the contractions were on me. It was basic survival as I navigated my way through each contraction. One of the thoughts that helped me through was remembering the millions of women who have been through childbirth before me. I called on their strength as the back labor surged through my body.
Sara told me that she was going to try to shift the baby’s position to give me some relief, as I was losing my energy at this point and feeling like I couldn’t continue. Sara positioned me on all fours and stood behind me with a rebozo in hand. She polished my belly like a bowling ball in between contractions for a good 30 minutes and at long last, I could feel my baby shift! I was filled with gratitude and felt a second surge of strength fill my body. The back labor subsided enough for me to catch my breath and find my center.
My water broke shortly thereafter in a huge gush. Sara told me there was meconium in the water and to prepare our bags to transfer to the hospital. My birthing team hastened to pack bags and I had a quiet moment to myself as everyone bustled around me. As I sat on the toilet, I suddenly had an immense urge to push. I grunted and Sara rushed in immediately, recognizing the sound as that of woman ready to push her baby out. She checked me and I was fully dilated. I urgently needed to push, so we scrapped the plans to transfer to the hospital and I moved to the bed. Pushing was such intense, physical work and I was having a hard time discerning the contractions because they almost didn’t register after the excruciating pain of back labor. My mom and sister had told me that pushing was the easy part, but I didn’t feel that way at all. I have never worked so hard in my life. I pushed until I thought my veins would burst, I yelled and screamed with the force of my baby moving through the birth canal. Sara brought a mirror and showed me my baby’s head and I felt this huge rush of maternal instinct as I saw the first glimpse of my son. We didn’t know the sex of the baby and this helped me through the last 30 minutes of pushing. I strained and roared like a mama lion, and in one big gush, my beautiful son came out sunny side up. “It’s a boy!’ I exclaimed as the most intense feeling of pure relief washed over me. He was screaming and vital and beautiful, and I whispered “I love him” as he nuzzled against my chest.
As I lay in bed gazing at my perfect little boy, I noticed that everyone around me had nervous looks on their faces and that Sara was incredibly focused and moving fast. “You have a serious hemorrhage” she told me, “I’m going to give you a shot of pitocin.” Sara was so calm that I never once felt anxious. She worked efficiently to stop the hemorrhage while I was lost in the bliss of my son’s first latch. After she stopped the bleeding, she told me that I had a first and third degree tear. She was able to fix the first degree tear, but we had to be transferred to the hospital to have the third degree tear stitched up. It was so surreal to find a team of paramedics in my peaceful birth space. Sara rode with me in the ambulance, and Oak followed with our brand new son. I was dazed at this point, so tired that I almost couldn’t speak in complete sentences, but I drew my strength from Sara. She stayed with me at the hospital for hours, advocating for me and making sure I was as comfortable as possible. Even though the transfer to the hospital was unexpected, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace as I held my son, knowing how hard I had worked to bring him earth-side.