intensely trivial

Doula’s first homebirth: Labor, Part 1

Finally, at 4 a.m. the morning of Jan. 11, Rhiannon woke up with some real contractions. They were very regular, about 30 seconds long, and about 4 minutes apart, and nothing she did — a shower, eating, trying to sleep — made them go away. She felt nauseated and had thrown up, but was trying to nourish and hydrate herself. She called me at 9 that morning to give me a heads-up, and I put my life in order so I could go support her and James whenever they needed me. They also let Arlene know what was happening, but of course Arlene was waiting for Rhiannon to get a little closer to birth before she came.
Doula aside: You know how, in your hospital’s childbirth class, they tell you to come to the hospital when your contractions are 5 min. apart for an hour (or something like that)? If Rhiannon and James had followed that advice, the story would be drastically different from here on out. At the end of the story, feel free to come back and choose a different adventure, and then try to figure out what would have happened.
When Rhiannon told me she thought she was in labor, I encouraged her to eat and sleep, which is almost always what I tell women in early labor, and we agreed to talk later. In fact, we started texting later about the goings-on, until her phone went on the fritz, at which point I talked to James. Rhiannon was working harder by then and was using her energy for labor rather than talking on the phone. I made arrangements for my kids, made my peanut-butter sandwiches, and headed over to their home around 1 p.m.
Except for the dogs’ excited barking, everything was quiet at Rhiannon and James’s house. Rhiannon was in their large, deep bathtub, relaxing on her side, with a Hypnobabies affirmations CD playing quietly. The lights were low. James joined her in the tub, and the two of them snuggled together in the water, Rhiannon half-sleeping. Cool washcloths felt refreshing to her, so I kept a few of them cold and ready for her to press to her face. I made sure she kept drinking water and getting some calories. And I handed her Preggie Pops drops to help with her nausea. Besides that, I didn’t say or do much. I almost felt out of place in such an intimate, almost romantic atmosphere.
Rhiannon felt it had already been a long day. She’d been having contractions for the past nine hours, and nothing much seemed to be changing. Although she was handling her labor beautifully, staying calm through each contraction, relaxing well, it was hard to say how much progress she had made. Of course I wasn’t able to check her cervix to know for sure. Given the fact she was laboring in the water, and she was at home in her own comfortable environment, I thought she might just be handling things extraordinarily well and making great progress. I would have guessed her dilation at 4-5 cm, taking all these factors into account, but I wanted to see some more labor before I encouraged them to call Arlene.
Rhiannon got out of the tub and padded off to the kitchen to hunt for a snack. She paced a little, but then sought the relaxation of the tub again. Eventually, Rhiannon asked me if I thought the tub was “doing any good.” Yes, it was helping her relax, but I hadn’t seen any increase in intensity, so we talked about possibly changing settings. Finally, Rhiannon and James decided to watch a movie, and James put on Ice Age. Rhiannon sat on the birth ball, breathing through her contractions, and James and I would sometimes try massaging her lower back. We made it through Ice Age and then through Pirates of the Caribbean, and Rhiannon ended up on her hands and knees, with her head draped over the ball during contractions. By this time, things seemed to be ramping up a little, and we talked to Arlene on the phone. Since none of us knew for sure how far along Rhiannon was, and since she was in active labor, Arlene decided to drive to Rhiannon and James’s home to be on hand for the birth.
By now it was about suppertime. James made himself a salad, and Rhiannon had been nourishing herself as well as possible with protein shakes, juice, and water. The hot tub was calling again as a place of relaxation and comfort, so James started filling it up. They got back in. They had me light some unscented candles for ambience. The Hypnobabies affirmations CD was playing again, the female voice slowly saying things like “I completely cooperate with my body” and “I make my own decisions about my baby’s birth.” Indeed, Rhiannon was making all the decisions about her birth, from choosing where and how to labor, to whom she wanted there and what she wanted to eat. She never lost control or concentration during contractions.
Rhiannon and James continued to labor together in the tub, what seemed a very intimate time to me.
Around 7 p.m., Arlene arrived. She came in quietly, without fanfare, and started getting the bathroom and the adjoining bedroom set up for birth, laying a new plastic tablecloth over the carpet and Chux pads on the bed and the bathroom floor. At some point, she greeted Rhiannon, but did not interrupt Rhiannon and James’s birth dance.
Arlene and I stayed nearby, watching the two of them cope with labor and occasionally expressing our admiration of Rhiannon. Honestly, it was just beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. Rhiannon moved like a dancer, her body graceful and curving in and out with the waves of labor. And James was infinitely gentle and patient, lightly stroking Rhiannon’s wet body through each contraction. They spoke to each other so softly Arlene and I rarely heard anything they said. They were in this dark, watery microcosm together, together bringing their baby out into the world. Some labors I attend are very intimate, and this one had a comfortable sensuality that could only be expressed in the privacy of their own bathroom.
I was timing contractions just to see what the data told us. They were more than a minute long and about 2 1/2 minutes apart usually, and were becoming more and more intense. Rhiannon’s sounds were changing to the kind that accompany transition. No one had checked her cervix yet, even though she had been in labor 15 or 16 hours by then. Rhiannon started complaining of a pain in her side, as though the baby was pushing on her ureter. Position changes and massage didn’t seem to help, so Arlene suggested rubbing Traumeel, a homeopathic analgesic, on the area. It worked, so James massaged some more of it in every time the pain returned. (I have to get me some of that Traumeel! It was magical!)
Arlene ran out to get some coffee and offered to bring some for James and me, too. Rhiannon kept laboring, handling each contraction beautifully, and some were very intense. Arlene and I exchanged happy looks that meant, “This is going great! We’re going to have a baby soon!” But after a while, the contractions started spacing out, some 6 or 8 minutes apart. Rhiannon asked if there was anything we could do to get things going, and after checking the baby’s heartbeat (which was great), Arlene explained her options to her: 1) Rhiannon could take some herbs that would intensify contractions; however, the herbs were unpleasant, and the baby and/or Rhiannon might react negatively to them. 2) Arlene could check Rhiannon’s cervix to know for sure how far Rhiannon had progressed. Or 3) We could all realize that toward the end of labor, there is often a period of slowed contractions, and be thankful for the rest. By not choosing any interventions, Rhiannon implied she wanted to wait and see.
So we waited some more. Rhiannon and James continued to labor beautifully together. Arlene predicted the baby would be born by 12:15 or 12:30. And then the contractions spaced out again, and Rhiannon wondered out loud why it was taking so long. Even though her total amount of labor (20 hours by now) was not unusual (Arlene said it was “dead average”), Rhiannon was discouraged and very tired. She got out of the tub and picked a new place to labor, for a refreshing change of pace. James put on an episode of That 70’s Show, and Rhiannon relaxed with that comforting distraction. (Watching TV is frequently what she does to get to sleep at night.) She draped herself over the birth ball and watched the show when she could.
Arlene went outside for a smoke break and a few minutes to check in with herself to think about what was going on with Rhiannon’s labor. When she came in, we turned off the TV and got quiet for a conversation. Arlene had decided she needed some information, so she needed to check Rhiannon’s cervix. She was fine with whatever position Rhiannon wanted to be in for the internal exam, even hands-and-knees or standing up. It turns out Rhiannon got onto the bed for the exam, and then Arlene checked her.
And we all held our breath — and you know that feeling if you’ve ever been intimately involved with a birth.

Sorry to end on a cliffhanger — I know you’ll have to check back to find out how much she was dilated! Coming soon!


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Excerpt from Rediscovering Birth « intensely trivial pingbacked on 8 years, 3 months ago


  1. * Morgan says:

    You’re not sorry at all. You’re thoroughly enjoying leaving us hanging. 🙂

    Posted 8 years, 4 months ago
  2. * manhattandoula says:

    Yeah, I have to admit I like the feeling of power.

    Posted 8 years, 4 months ago
  3. * Terri says:

    Wow…what a story so far! I think I’ll skip the choose my own adventure (which would probably already involve the operating room), and just wait for the ending.

    Posted 8 years, 4 months ago
  4. * Melissa says:

    My guess is 5 or 6! Just to be ornery because that’s NOT how it would be for me but I know I am not the average person. Well, none of us is average.

    Posted 8 years, 4 months ago

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