“I think it’s finally happening!” I said to my husband, Dave, on a Thursday night, five days past my due date. I sat up in bed experiencing mild contractions about every ten minutes.
“Can I get you some water? What do you need? Some warm socks?” Dave asked as he buzzed around the bedroom looking for the acupressure manual that was suppose to help with contractions. As I clenched the side of the bed and took in a sudden deep breath, he lunged at my right ankle with a soft thumb—with an eye on page number five—determined to be of help.
“Beep! Beep! Beep!” went the kitchen timer which we were using to monitor the contractions. We had heard about false labor and wanted to be sure that this was the real thing before driving to the Santa Barbara Birth Center, where we planned for it all to go down. This meant waiting to see if the contractions were regular, occurring several minutes apart for at least an hour.
Half an hour went by and the contractions continued so we decided to call it good. Dave helped me down the stairs and I found a comfortable spot on the floor with my head slumped against the sofa while he packed up the car. As the minutes crept by, panic began to rise in my chest. It had been too long since my last contraction. When Dave walked back inside the house he knew something was wrong. The contractions had suddenly stopped.
“It’s okay babe,” he said, kissing the top of my head, “a practice run.”
By Monday at 3am, I had been in false labor for two days. This meant I had spent the past forty-eight hours experiencing contractions that rumbled through my body every ten to fifteen minutes. For unknown reasons, I was not advancing into active labor (meaning the contractions were not increasing in duration or frequency). I had tried everything to get things going—went on long walks around the around the neighborhood, did some prenatal yoga, listened to music, and attempted to rest. I had done everything except sleep, which I found impossible because the contractions were still coming at a steady rate, always shocking my body with a long dull ache just as I was able to drift away.
During this period of false labor, Dave and I had had two more “practice runs.” The first occurred after we sat eating nachos and watching a Clippers game on TV. The second one happened after dinner at the Elephant Bar with my dad and step-mom. I had insisted we all go out to distract myself from the pain so I sat determined to finish my grilled salmon, while breathing deep and clenching the side of the booth every fifteen minutes. I wanted this baby out and could care less about the curious looks I was getting from our waitress and the tables around us. Towards the end of dinner, the contractions suddenly picked up and Dave and I got up a hurry. As we rushed out the door we thought, finally this is it! Unfortunately, in both cases, just as we were about to call the midwives, the contractions mysteriously slowed back down.
Now we were actually in the car driving over to the Birth Center! As we sped down the 101, I was relieved to feel the pain of each contraction—it was finally time! When we got to there, Nikole, one of our midwives helped me out of the car. She led us into our room where we found a king size bed and a birth tub for three. With the heater pumping and the LED candles softly sparkling, I felt like I had just arrived home. I looked at Dave and smiled.
Three hours later, my smile had faded, along with my contractions. Nikole checked my certvix and sure enough, I was only four centimeters dilated, the same as when we had arrived. Nikole sat down on the bed and said, “Nikki,” in a gentle voice, “there is something stopping you from having this baby. Tell me what you are afraid of.”
I burst into tears and felt my body relax as I released a small river onto my pillow. I told her I was scared because I wanted to have the baby here and not at the hospital. But what if the contractions never picked up? Would I have to be induced? On top of that, I felt haunted by a traumatic birth story I had unfortunately heard about with vivid details of horrible things going wrong.
“That is not your birth story,” Nikole said. “This is your birth story. There is a difference.” She had me repeat this out loud and I began to feel better. “What else are you afraid of?” She asked.
“The pain,” I said. That’s when she told me that I must dig deep inside myself and find a place where I could bring in the pain instead of fight it. Up until that moment, every time a contraction hit, I could not wait until it was over. I worked hard to distract myself with counting and mind games and asked Dave to massage my back right when the pain hit. As Nikole’s words sank in, I realized my approach needed to change.
“Have a conversation with your baby,” Nikole said. “Tell him not to worry about you because you can do this.” She left the room and Dave lay next to me in quiet support. I reached inward and the words began to tumble out.
Suddenly, the energy of the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars awakened a side of me I had never met before—and my mantra began.
“I’m ready!” I growled, feeling a contraction coming on. “I’m strong…I’m brave…give it to me!” As the pain escalated I continued in a loud deep voice, “I want it…I want it deeper…I want it harder…I want to feel it…the sensation of my baby…the sensation of my baby’s life…taking over my body! I welcome it…I want it to stay longer…I invite it back!” With these words finally uncovered and shooting out from deep within me, I was not afraid anymore.
The next time Nikole checked my cervix, we were finally making progress. However, by 8am my water still had not broken. Nikole gave Dave a bottle of water and instructed him to take me out on a walk around the neighborhood. “Get her going as fast as she can walk,” she told him, “And don’t come back for an hour.”
Although I was running on zero sleep, I felt energized by my awakening and the scrambled eggs and toast I had just wolfed downed. “I can do this,” I said as we started down the small driveway towards the street. We walked fast, stopping every ten minutes as a contraction hit, ignoring curious eyes picking up the morning paper and minivans leaving for work. During each contraction, I clutched Dave like we were at a middle school dance and said my mantra into his neck as the power of my baby’s life shot through my body. “I welcome it…I want it…the power of life…taking control of my body…”
After an hour, we rounded the corner and I felt a wave of relief upon seeing the Birth Center. We did it, I smiled. Suddenly, my bladder felt extremely full and as soon as I got to the bathroom my water broke.
It was 3:00pm and I had been in active labor for nine hours, continuing my mantra with every contraction. Nikole, Alyssa (a birth assistant) and Alice (a second midwife who had arrived) were taking good care of me and my baby. They were continuously monitoring our heart beats and pulse and making me drink lots of water while instructing me into different positions to keep things going—in hands and knees, squats, lunges against the tub, and lying in side position to rest. In between contractions I kept telling myself, “I’ve trained for this moment—every day, every walk, every prenatal yoga class!”
When Dave decided to take a quick shower, Nikole told me to jump on in. “Give him a few kisses in there,” Nikole smiled, “it will get your hormones going.” I was exhausted but determined so I followed him in there. Dave grinned and we stood underneath the hot water kissing in between my contractions.
Soon after our shower, the midwives checked my cervix. “She’s almost completely dilated,” I heard them say, “but the baby needs to turn.” In calm voices they explained to me that we needed to get the baby to tuck in his chin and shift his body so that his back was in line with the top of my stomach. Right now he was in more of a side position and this was the only thing stopping him from coming out. I couldn’t believe it—we were so close yet still so far! “I can do this…we can do this…Bring it!” I said, diving straight into my mantra.
The midwives called an acupuncturist and meanwhile worked their magic. First they had me stand up with my back leaning against Dave while I held onto a pair of ropes dangling from the ceiling. Nikole took a long piece of long fabric and placed it behind my back. On the count of three, she shimmied it against the left side of my body where the baby needed to move from. After several minutes of this, they had me go into the tub. They instructed me onto hands and knees with my tummy in the water and an ice pack on my back, with the idea was that the baby would migrate away from the cold and towards the warmth.
Holding myself up on hands and knees took all of my energy so I asked Dave to say my mantra. He had heard it for the past nine hours so he had it down. “You welcome it…the sensation of our baby’s life…you invite it to stay,” he said as the midwives brought me water and wiped my forehead with a cool cloth.
The contractions intensified into lightning bolts and with steam rising up from the bathtub, I suddenly felt like I was in an alternate reality. It was as if I was watching the scene in slow motion from somewhere else. During the next contraction, a wild sensation of needing to push shot threw my body. I told the midwives and they helped me out of the tub and over to the bed.
Alice checked the baby and said, “He’s turned!” Everyone cheered and a wave of relief washed over me. “Watch Nikole,” Alice said, “and she will instruct you on how to push.”
I gave it everything I could—all of the intensity that had built up after three and a half days of labor, nine months of anticipation, and a lifetime of dreaming about becoming a mama. Each push was pain but it was also ecstasy.
I heard a squeal and the midwives reached out my hand so I could feel my baby’s head. Dave jumped back and forth between me and the emerging baby while laughing and crying. I will never forget the look on his face during this moment—shining with all of the love and joy and excitement of the universe.
After a few more pushes, the midwives plopped a squirming, wet, squealing baby onto my chest. I had never felt so strong, proud, at peace and in love as we lay there—chest to chest, heart to heart, his skin melting into mine.
Johnny Michael Heeren, 8 lbs 21 inches, born February 13th, 2012 at the Santa Barbara Birth Center.
My first day of false labor, at home in bed with my yoga ball.
Getting into my groove at the Birth Center.
Working it in active labor.
In between pushes, thinking about my baby’s life shooting through my body.
A mama and baby are born!
Daddy and Johnny falling in love!
The little trickster! Johnny's unique way of entering the world has already taught me so much. I look forward to conquering our next challenge together.