Welcome to the world, Ayla.
I get why women are pregnant for 40 (or more) weeks now – because even for those of us who really loved the whole pregnancy experience, sometime toward the end even I was like “ok, that’s enough now, labor and delivery seems like a small price to pay for being able to roll over in bed again.”
I started meeting with my midwife more often, and one-on-one, in the last few weeks. She came to my house for our meetings, which was perfect. Like most of my prenatal care, 99% of the time I spent with my midwife during those meetings was talking, and then she’d do a check for blood pressure, heart rate, and baby’s position. There were no internal exams, or checking to see if I was already dilating. In the 39th week, my blood pressure started to go up – I think it was 135/85 – and my midwife expressed a small concern that the baby didn’t seem to be growing so much (these are two warning signs that the placenta might not be doing the job properly). A couple days later she returned to check on both of those things, and luckily my blood pressure was down to 120/80 – still up there, but nothing to be concerned about for a heavily pregnant woman. As for the baby, she said “you know what, it seems like you’ll have a small baby. but he/she is fine.” The baby was exactly in the right head-down position and engaged, I felt lots of movement, heart rate was perfect, and all was good.
I went into labor two days after my due date. The days around my due date were pretty fantastic. I never felt very hormonally charged during the pregnancy (maybe I acted hormonal, but I didn’t feel it), but all of a sudden I felt really, really charged. One day I was so absurdly happy and in such a great mood, I was smiling and saying hello to everyone on the street, as if Amsterdam was a small midwestern American town. Another day I felt really, really closed off and introspective. Everything just felt like more. On day 40+1, Enrique and I went out for a long, luxurious lunch. We walked for a couple hours. I felt massively pregnant, but I wasn’t having any contractions.
On day 40+2, August 29th, I woke up around 5.30am after having slept about 3 hours (sleeping was not easy in the last month of pregnancy)… and saw that I had some pink discharge. Ah! The bloody show! I knew this was a sign that labor could be on the way, but I also knew “on the way” could mean days away. Then I felt…. something. Discomfort, something I might consider a stomach cramp… or was that a contraction? I tried to go back to sleep, but it wasn’t working. It was a warm, beautiful, sunny morning, and I was in a good mood. I went to the bathroom again and saw a more obvious “bloody show,” so I got up and dressed. I felt excited and nervous and tired and calm all at the same time. I took a short shower and a 20-minute walk by myself while Enrique slept. I loved having Amsterdam all to myself – well, all to myself and the fish guys who were opening the store for the day.
And this is where I started taking notes (I jotted everything down in a notebook), which is why I know the precise times.
7am: The shower and walk both felt good. I fixed myself breakfast (oatmeal, banana, juice, one egg, a few sips of coffee). I thought I could tell when a contraction was starting and stopping, but they were only lasting between 15-30 seconds…. and I still wasn’t 100% convinced I was feeling contractions and not just stomach discomfort. You know the feeling of needing to poop? It was like that, except it would come and go.
7.30am: Enrique was awake and happy, but both of us trying not to get too excited that this was the real deal. I was getting tired – I really had only slept a few hours during the night – and decided to try relaxing in bed with my ipad. As soon as I was back in bed, the “contractions” slowed down and then stopped. I fell back asleep from about 8am-11am, which turned out to be the greatest thing in the world.
12:30pm: Awake. Feeling great. Ate lunch (cheese & avocado sandwich) and drank a coffee. Organized the day a bit with Enrique, wrote some emails. Felt incredibly well-rested, more so than I had in days. I was mentally prepared for labor, but I was also ok with the thought that today might not be the day after all.
1.30pm: Enrique left to go do some errands. I hung out in garden, which was super sunny and warm. I noticed I started feeling some small crampy feelings again. It really didn’t feel like period cramps at all, more like needing-to-poop cramps.
2:30pm: Enrique was back home, and I was pretty sure that the contractions had returned. I still felt ok, but around this time it became hard to do other things, like sit down comfortably and read. Enrique and I were both kind of like “ok, so, this is labor? ok, cool. ouch! breathe, breathe. ok. fine.”
3:00pm: went on a 30 minute walk with Enrique. Ran into our neighbors, realized it was getting difficult (and simply not appealing) to have a conversation while a contraction was coming over me. Started to be able to identify the clear start and stop of each contraction, and they seemed… maybe 6 minutes apart or so? All still a bit hard to say, but walking felt good.
4:30pm: First call to my midwife, as I was now pretty sure I was in legit labor, though still not totally convinced. I could still talk through contractions, but I was getting more and more uncomfortable. Sitting or laying down wasn’t remotely an option. The feeling of the contractions was a very low, deep in my body, type pain. I was still seeing blood and fluid when I went to the bathroom. I turned off the relaxing yoga-ish music that Enrique had put on and started listening to some old pop-punk favorites instead. Much better. I tried to find some sort of comfortable spot in the house, or position. Nothing felt right other than walking and leaning against the wall at times.
6:00pm: Enrique made a small meal – cous cous with veggies. We started timing the contractions, and discovered that between 5:53pm and 6:41pm they were on average 44 seconds long, about 4 minutes apart (thank you, contraction app!). Even though all the evidence was in front of me, I still wasn’t 100% it was real labor. The contractions were very uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t say they hurt, or were so painful. Just very uncomfortable. I walked around my apartment and sang along with all the Mr T Experience songs on the “Love is Dead” album and vowed to call my midwife again when singing along became too hard.
7:00pm: I called my midwife again from the bathtub. It was getting harder to talk through the contractions but I wouldn’t say it was impossible. She kept me on the phone for awhile longer and said I sounded like I was in labor, and that I should just keep doing what I’m doing, and to let her know when I felt like I wanted her to show up.
8:00pm: Called my midwife again with the “ok, come over now” request. At this point I felt like I was no longer comfortable in my apartment, as the only thing that I really wanted to do was to walk. Walking around a small apartment was starting to make me crazy, and I was getting tired – I wanted to find a new position but couldn’t come up with anything. She came right over, and called the birthing center on her way, so they would be prepared (assuming that I was indeed in real labor and ready to leave home).
8:45pm: Midwife arrived at my house and I felt a huge sense of relief. I was ready to give over some control of the situation and take instruction. She checked my dilation, and I mentally prepared myself to hear that I was only 2cm dilated, just in case. After all, it hadn’t been that long, and the pain was still manageable. Turned out I was 5cm!!! Best news ever. She made a few calls, and we all left for the birth center in her car.
9:30pm: Beyond relieved to be at the birthing center. I admit when I got in the car, a part of me was hoping that the whole car trip/arrival at a new location would slow down my contractions, like I had heard. Turns out, nope. Not really. As I walked in, I had to lean over the reception counter and let a contraction pass before I could go any further. Whew. Once I was in the room I felt so, so happy that I was there. I immediately took off all my clothes, got into the giant tub (which they had started filling with water from the time my midwife called), and felt a huge sense of relief in the water. The setting was perfect, it was just me, Enrique, and my midwife. The room was dimly lit, there were candles, maybe we put on music – I don’t quite remember.
Time started to blur here. I would say I was in the tub for maybe 45 minutes, maybe an hour or longer. The contractions were starting to get pretty serious and much more painful, and I felt (like I had heard it described) as if I needed to take the world’s biggest poop. I decided to get out of the tub and labor on the toilet a while (which was conveniently next to the tub), which worked great. I felt like I was “allowed” to release there, which I think helped unleash all the real action. We weren’t timing anything, but there was much less time between contractions, and they were a lot more intense. Throughout everything, my midwife was monitoring the baby’s heart rate with a handheld doppler, every 15 minutes or so, and Enrique was always right there with me.
Sitting on the toilet became uncomfortable (it was a bit high off the ground), so I switched to the birthing stool. This was perfect. I was on the stool, Enrique was sitting behind me, and I was grasping on to him for dear life and I felt his support. Midwife in front of me. The entire time, she just kept telling me “you’re doing great, listen to your body, go with what you feel, this is going great.” Occasionally she would try to steer me in a certain direction, telling me to try and go toward the pain, and work with it. She was saying this during the most painful parts, when the contractions were really, really intense. Probably around… 11pm. Each contraction was taking over my entire body and just… I don’t know, I felt like everything just wanted to come out, like my eyeballs were ready to pop out of my face and I might throw up. It was a little scary! Her guidance kept me calm between the contractions, and during the contractions, well, I was a screamer.
But I was focused. I could hear her advice, and I could take it. I would repeat her words. “Open, open, going toward the pain,” and stuff like that. I didn’t quite get that I was actually ready to push until she told me a few times in a gentle way “listen to your body, it’s ok to push if you want.” Push? Like push the baby out? Wait, really? After a particularly painful contraction that made me feel like all my limbs were ready to detach themselves from my body, I asked “is this transition?” And she said “This is you delivering the baby, you are ready, just go with what your body is telling you.”
Holy crap. I know, she had said that a few times, but I … I didn’t quite get it! This all hurt a lot, sure, but there wasn’t a single second that I thought “I wish I had pain relief,” and I thought that I should expect even more intense pain than what I was feeling before I would be ready to push. I was using all my energy to be 100% focused on staying on top of the contractions – getting my breathing and mental state ready for when they would come – and I would try to regroup myself mentally and physically during the breaks. There wasn’t really time to think or do anything else.
According to her records, I started pushing at 11:20pm, so only two hours or so after I had arrived. She had me get back in the water around this time, which was exactly the right thing to do. I was able to be on my hands and knees in the tub, which allowed my body to feel like everything was pointing in the right direction. On the birthing stool I had been fighting the urge to throw up, but once I was on my hands and knees, I was 100% focused on pushing and the urge to vomit passed. I am still so grateful that she advised me to do this – because my head was down (there was a towel under my forehead, so I could place it on the edge of the tub against the wall) I was also able to block out looking around at anything else and just focus on the voices of my midwife and Enrique.
I could feel everything so vividly. I could feel the baby’s head come down the birth canal. I could feel the crowning. I could feel her slide back and forth as I tried to push her out – still quite overwhelmed by what I was doing, but feeling incredibly supported and confident with my midwife and Enrique cheering me on. At some point, the midwife had Enrique change his position with hers (they were both outside the tub, leaning over), and put his hands in the water to get ready to receive his daughter. I was aware all this was happening but still completely in disbelief that I was minutes away from delivering.
At the end, I realized I needed to push not only when the contractions were hitting, but also during the “rest.” No one really explained this to me, but I was getting the sense from the way my midwife and Enrique were encouraging me to push that I really should make every effort to get her out, and so I did. Even with all this craziness going on, it was amazing that I still had so much control over how my body was working. Finally, her head came out under the water, and Enrique’s hand was there to catch her. She opened her eyes (this was all told to me, of course) and looked up at him through the water. Two more contractions later, her body came out – god I still remember how that felt. It felt amazing. Painful but… it all felt like it made sense. It was so much to take in and manage, but it was all logical. I know that’s a weird word to use, but that’s the best way I can describe it. And there was so, so much relief.
As she fully exited my body, Enrique’s hands were still holding her. While I tried to process what I just did, the midwife unwrapped the cord from her neck (it was wrapped around one time) while she was still under the water. I turned over into a sitting position, kind of tangled up in the umbilical cord, and it was then that I could exclaim “It’s a GIRL!!” The most perfect little girl, with a head full of dark hair, crying with her amazing little voice. She was placed immediately in my hands, and against my body.
It was insane. I felt like it all happened so fast, but I had no real concept of time, so if someone had told me it had taken 20 hours I would have believed it I believed it.. but in the end my labor was approximately 2.30pm-12.20am, or ten hours. And there I was, with my daughter in my arms, finally meeting her. All I said at first was “oh my god, it’s a girl, it’s Ayla, hello baby.” After just a few minutes I got out of the tub with her, still attached by the cord, and was helped to the bed (which was 2 steps away). Ayla and I weren’t separated at all for the next 2-3 hours. We were both covered with blankets and made to feel as comfortable as possible, and I held her next to my body the entire time. I delivered the placenta with her on my chest. I was checked for tearing with her on my chest (no tearing, and no stitches!). After about an hour or so, we started breastfeeding. It was perfect. The entire situation was just perfect – I couldn’t have scripted it better if I tried.
We were bought a plate of food and I drank about 15 liters of water and juice (man I was thirsty!) while she laid against me. We didn’t cut the cord from the placenta for a few hours, because there just didn’t seem to be a reason to. The placenta delivery was easy (maybe because I had a wonderful little baby in my arms to distract me!) – I pushed, felt a cramp, and it was out. My midwife showed Enrique and I the placenta, and explained where Ayla had been, and what it had done for us. These hours were amazing.
Around 4am or so, I wanted to get up and shower and move around a bit. I was sore and slightly light-headed, but I was able to get out of bed, shower, walk, get myself dressed (with help), and get back in bed to cuddle with Enrique and Ayla some more. And then we all left, around 5.30am. We could have stayed longer, and it was lovely there, but we wanted to be home. So we packed the bags, called a taxi, put Ayla in the carseat, and walked outside. It was still dark, but just starting to get some hints of daylight. The moon was so big and full. Drunk people were riding by on their bikes, laughing. It felt so perfect to be outside in the fresh air, in the middle of such a beautiful city, on the day of my daughter’s birth.
And then we arrived home, around 6am, and everything about my new life started.