Aoife’s parents, Amy & Dan Warren
Amy: I woke at about 5:00am on Thursday with rhythmic, menstrual-like cramps. I had been experiencing practice contractions over the past couple weeks — painless contractions that, nevertheless, felt functional, like they were slowly and gently beginning to open my cervix. These cramps were different, though familiar; they were the kind that always accompanied my periods, the kind that contain a lot of emotion. I lay in bed for a little while longer, watching the room begin to brighten, while Dan continued to sleep, my interest piqued. I wondered if this was the beginning of labor. I found myself wanting to tighten my muscles in response to the cramps. Knowing that this would only add another layer of discomfort, I practiced laying very still with my muscles completely relaxed, so that only my uterus was involuntarily tightening. It required some effort. I felt like I needed to move, so I got out of bed. Not knowing how long labor would last (or if this even was labor), I left Dan to sleep. I went to the bathroom and had a loose bowl movement; a bit of blood came out, too. I was now convinced that labor had begun. Wanting to get some food in me, I went to the kitchen and fixed myself a bowl of cereal. Between bites, I paced the house, sometimes stopping at the refrigerator to read from a list of affirmations that I had posted a couple months before:
“My mind and body can handle a labor of any kind”
“I have a strong and healthy baby”
“Only I can give birth to this baby and I accept responsibility for that challenge”
“I surrender to the rushes and relinquish control of the forces within my body”
“Good strong surges help my baby come into the world”
“I love my baby and I am doing all that is necessary to bring about a healthy birth”
I also read from Ina May’s Advice For Mother at the Time of Birth (Spiritual Midwifery):
“At a birthing, the mother is the main channel of life force. If she is cooperative and selfless and brave, it makes there be more energy for everyone, including her baby who is getting born…”
“Be grateful that you’re having a baby…it’s an experience that you only do a few times in your life, so make the very most of it, get your head in a place where you can get as high as possible.”
“Keep your sense of humor…If you can’t be a hero, you can at least be funny while being a chicken.”
and most importantly,
“Remember your monkey self knows how to do this really well. Your brain isn’t very reliable as a guide of how to be during childbirth, but your monkey self is.”
I tucked these words into the back of my mind, hoping that they would bubble to the surface when things got more intense.
Curious about their frequency, I timed the rushes. Two minutes apart?! That seems rather close together, given that things just got going. I continued to pace the house, as the rushes grew in intensity. At about 7:30, I was feeling like I needed Dan’s support, so I went and woke him up.
Dan: She woke me up with the infamous, “I think things are happening.” I went into coach mode and tried to keep her calm and relaxed in order to conserve energy for the task that lay before us. She was less than receptive to my early labor coaching efforts (which were textbook, I must say). She paced like a caged, disgruntled animal, stating emphatically that she would NOT “sit down” and she would NOT “relax”.
Amy: The rushes were growing in intensity. I now had to concentrate on them. Dan made me a fried egg sandwich, but I could only get down a few bites. When one of the rushes came on, I was in mid-chew and just held the half-eaten bite in my mouth until the rush was over. I then spit it out. I paced and continued to concentrate on the rushes, sometimes walking away from Dan mid-sentence to focus. Dan broke out the video camera at one point, probably to lighten the mood. I was less than enthusiastic about being filmed. “Guess that was a bad idea,” I heard him say under his breath as I walked away from him, my face saying it all. The sensations were completely manageable, as long as I kept moving.
Assuming I was in early labor, Dan encouraged me to sit and conserve my energy. He even got out the workbook from our Bradley class (of Husband-Coached Natural Childbirth) to remind me that it’s his role as coach to keep me from getting too excited during early labor. I told him to forget the workbook and listen to me, to what my body was unmistakably telling me — to move! There was a mismatch between our expectations of how quickly labor would progress and what was actually happening. Since what was “actually happening” was happening to me, I was quicker to desert my expectations. For this short time, Dan and I were on different pages, which was difficult. It felt like I was working against him, when I needed us to be working together.
Dan: She was compelled by a force beyond the workbook or my card carrying coaching credentials. The contractions appeared to be two minutes apart at this point. Amy called the midwife who assured her that this was indeed labor. The midwife timed their four minute conversation and heard no contractions, and said that it would be some time before we needed to speak again. About a half hour later things were much more intense and Amy needed to get into the shower for some comfort. She insisted that I call the midwife back and explain the changes that had occurred.
Dan calls Adrian, “I think that things are really moving along here. The contractions seem to be about two minutes apart and she’s uncomfortable”.
Adrian (our primary Midwife): I can appreciate your excitement. You are first time parents and it is natural to be anxious. You just need to relax and stay put for a while. I just talked to her and she was able to speak easily and did not have any contractions while we were on the phone. The contractions are sporadic and may space out before growing in intensity again. You’ll be fine.
Dan: I don’t think you understand. Things are different now.
Adrian: OK. Describe what she does when a contraction comes.
Dan: (pulling back the shower curtain) Well, she is on all fours moaning.
Adrian: Is that her making that noise in the background?
Adrian: I will meet you at the Birth Cottage at 10:00 am. You should come along now.
Amy: It felt good to be in the shower. I washed my hair between rushes, trying to keep things normal and calm. Dan hopped in the shower at one point to quickly bath himself. Soon I handled the rushes best on all fours. I felt most grounded in this position. After talking with the midwife on the phone, Dan said that we should get ready to go to the birth center. It was hard to picture getting in a car at this point. Ah, the brilliance of a homebirth!
Dan pulled together the last minute, perishable items for our birth bag, while I got ready. I put lotion on half of one leg before deciding, with the help of my next rush, to abandon my usual routine. The sensations directed my attention to my body, where it needed to be. Everything else faded in importance. This sort of extreme mental focus was exhilarating. So common is it to have one’s mind flit from one thing to the next, resting only briefly in the present moment. How wonderful to be completely captivated by the task at hand, especially THIS task. I threw on a black maternity dress and made my way out to the car, dropping down on all fours — by the back door, in the yard, next to the car — to handle each contraction.
My eyes were closed for most of the car ride, my attention focused inward. Dan gave me periodic updates of our progress. Looking back on the labor and birth, the car ride was the only time I perceived pain. It was also the only time I rejected what I was feeling. I was having some pushing contractions – an involuntary bearing down sensation – and I did not want to give birth in the car! I clenched my muscles in opposition. The rest of the time, I welcomed and encouraged the intense sensations, knowing that they were healthy and functional.
We arrived at the Birth Cottage. Maggie, our student midwife, greeted us from the porch. “I’m so happy to be here,” I told her. “And we’re so happy to have you here,” she said. It was the perfect welcome. We had the birth center to ourselves. I climbed onto the bed just in time for the next contraction. I asked Maggie if I could get into the tub. She said we needed to get Adrian’s, our primary midwife’s, approval. Adrian arrived a few minutes later. She said that I could either get into the tub and see what happens – if I was not that far along, labor might slow down – or she could check to see my progress. They knew that we had wanted to avoid internal exams because of the risk of infection and the psychological risk of feeling discouraged should we find that I had not made much progress. We decided to check anyway, wanting to have just a baseline measurement of where we were at.
Dan: The midwives checked Amy and she was 100% effaced and fully dilated! This is the point when the realization set in about why the morning was so confusing, why the emotional signposts did not match our expectations. Labor was much further along than either the midwife on the phone or I thought. Amy knew intrinsically, but was having difficulty convincing the rest of us. This exam shed a huge amount of light on the situation. It was likely that she was going through transition just around the beginning of the car ride. Lesson learned…TRUST THE WOMAN WHO IS EXPERIENCING THE LABOR.
Amy’s water broke almost immediately, like the security of being at the birthplace allowed her to stop resisting the progress of the labor. Her whole demeanor changed and she became calm and determined. Amy actively labored in the tub for about an hour, moved to the toilet for about a half hour, sat on a birth stool in the shower for maybe ten minutes, and then returned to the tub for the final half hour of pushing.
Amy: Dan was steadfast in his support of me. He rubbed my back while I labored on all fours in the tub, giving me sips of water between contractions, and offering words of encouragement. One of my contractions in the tub peaked twice before subsiding. “That was a hard one,” he said. He was so tuned into my body, he knew what had happened without my saying a word. He never left my side, not even to go to the bathroom. He was completely present and centered.
The midwives were a calm, quiet presence. Their faith in our ability to birth our daughter was palpable. To them, birth was an everyday occurrence, the most normal and healthy thing in the world. Maggie stayed by our side, checking the water temperature, putting cold clothes on my forehead, and offering juice. Adrian was in and out of the room, tending to phone calls and laundry. She came in at one point and said, “Have you had that baby yet?!” Her humor inspired great confidence.
In front of Dan and the midwives, I could be completely and honestly me. I was stripped of all pretense, operating directly from my core. And in this unadorned state, I was powerful. I roared with the rushes of energy, my vocalizations matching their intensity. Big sounds and deep breathing helped me rid my body of the waves of energy. It felt as though this energy could “get stuck,” “build up,” and overwhelm me if I didn’t help move it through. I reminded myself that this incredible power I felt, these powerful waves of energy, was MY power. It wasn’t separate from me, something being done to me, it WAS me. Merging with and taking ownership of that power allowed me to surrender to it. If the power was mine, then there was nothing to fear. I felt proud to show Dan my strength as I gave birth to our daughter.
And when the sensations were especially strong, it helped to “look” very closely at them, to almost dissect them. Moments of twisting, tightening, stretching were far less daunting than a contraction seen as a monolithic entity. Those moments of sensation were at times even pleasurable, a delicious and long-awaited release. I felt the burning that signaled Aoife’s final decent, and let the midwives know. They encouraged me to reach down and feel her head. I could feel her soft wet hair and the very top of her head. It felt otherworldly.
Dan: Aoife went from crowning to fully out in one push. She shot past my waiting hands and into the water like a baby torpedo. It was very fast and she was very slippery. We sat together for some time in the tub just staring at each other and taking in the magic of the moment. It was surreal.
Amy: We looked down at this small, precious creature cradled in our hands. Aoife wrinkled her face and let out a cry, and then she opened her dark blue eyes and returned our gaze. I kissed Dan and then I kissed our daughter. I was flooded with profound love for both of them.
Giving birth to Aoife was everything. It was natural and honest, it was wet and wild, it was physical and full of deep emotion, it was intimate and sensual, it was challenging and deeply satisfying, and it left in its wake many lasting gifts. It left me with a strong sense of my power and endurance as a woman and a mother. It showed me that I can stay centered and calm, open and loving, when things get hard. It revealed the strength of my relationship with Dan, that we’ll remain kind and patient with each other even in the thick of parenting. And it filled me with an infinite love and respect for our daughter, for her inherent wisdom and potential. She knew how to be born and she showed me that I knew how to give birth, that I, too, have inherent wisdom as a mother.
Dan: After lying in bed for about four hours, we got our new family into the car and drove home. We were home and settled in before the sun set.
This experience was more profound than we could have imagined. We were well prepared both physically and mentally. The midwives at the Birth Cottage were like an invisible net, constantly supportive yet unobtrusive. This incredibly empowering and independent experience was just the way that we wanted to begin our life together as a family. It set a tone for the way that we have continued to work together over these past weeks and I am sure that it will be a constant reminder of the way in which we are choosing to live and grow.