The answer to that question was "no." And although I started having more and more regular contractions around 37 weeks, the time went on and still my baby remained comfortably tucked away. I sighed and wished things were different, but I reminded myself regularly that our babies have always come when they were ready, and the healthy, smooth labors and births have always been worth the wait...and of course, the healthy baby.
On Friday night, when I was 41 weeks and 3 days, my husband and I turned in early. We'd been trying to do that as often as possible, since we well remembered how difficult it could be to be labor while exhausted. Our last two babies had been evening births after an afternoon of labor, but who could say how this one would go?
Two hours later I awoke to the sensation of a warm spurt of wetness between my legs. I slipped out of bed and got the testing strips my midwife had given me. Was this amniotic fluid? The amount and the fact that my testing strip turned blue led me to believe that it was. A few minutes later I climbed back into bed to wait. Would contractions start soon? They did, and with a tinge of intensity which had been missing from the previous few weeks' warm-up. Still, they weren't too painful yet, so I tried to rest. My husband Jeff sensed that something was afoot, and although I encouraged him to go back to sleep, he wanted to know what was going on. Before very long we decided to call my midwife Katherine, to let her know what was going on. After all, this was our sixth birth - and her instructions said to call her immediately if the waters broke. We decided that I would call her back when things were more exciting. I also called my friend Michele, who was planning to join us for the labor in the role of a doula. She had a 2-3 hour drive to get to our house, so I wanted to give her plenty of time. Around 1:30 AM we called Jeff's parents, who would come for the birth and to watch over our children. During all this time I continued to have contractions at 9-10 minutes apart (some a bit closer), the low, crampy variety. I also began to experience loose bowels -- a signal that birth is in the not-too-distant future -- which was to continue through early afternoon.
Michele arrived around 3:00 AM, and my in-laws not too long after that. And then one of my great labor-fears came true: things petered out. My contractions grew irregular and less noteworthy, and by 6:00 AM things seemed to have pretty much stopped. We tried a variety of different techniques to get things rolling again - massage, essential oils, lunges. And Jeff and I rested a bit here and there. I talked to my midwife again around 6:00 AM, and then I slipped into the bathroom to shower. I felt so discouraged at that moment. What was going on? Why had my labor stalled? Had we called everyone here for nothing? I was horrified. What had I done?
Katherine came over mid-morning to talk things over. She felt confident that I was going to have the baby that day, but I wasn't so sure. I needed to be in labor for that to happen, and at that moment I had nothing going on. Katherine did a cervical check (I was at 3 cm) and at my request swept my membranes. We discussed various other ways to get things going: using a breast pump, castor oil. She ended up going by her office to pick up these things for me to have as resources, and then she left for a while, still feeling positive. I ate lunch, did a couple of rounds with the Pump In Style, and took a few short naps. I was having contractions again, but they felt tentative, as if any little change might startle them away. I felt pretty low; if it was happening any time soon, it was going so slowly. We were already operating on very little sleep and the day was passing by. I felt desperate to do something.
I must stop here and say that I had no pressure from those around me. My in-laws were cheerfully taking care of the kids (and doing household chores!). My husband, though weary, was being sweet and supportive. My doula seemed tirelessly patient in her care for me. My midwife was cheerful and upbeat.
But I needed to do something. And so I did something I have never been tempted to do, something I never imagined myself doing.
I took castor oil.
I don't know if this qualifies as impatient or brave. Regardless, I felt sure that's what I wanted to do, and even now I don't regret it. It wasn't horrible, and much to my surprise I had absolutely no digestive side effects. My dose was small (1 Tablespoon), as per Katherine's instructions. Almost immediately I began having more regular contractions. This was encouraging...but two hours later I made the decision (sanctioned by my midwife!) to take another tablespoon. And this was when things really perked up. Strong contractions, although not very lengthy, were coming closer and closer together.
I was overjoyed! I clung to my husband during the surges, wrapping my arms around his neck and leaning into his masculine body. I dropped to my knees and leaned on my birth ball. I vocalized over and over with low tones of "ohh" and "ahh." My children began to wander upstairs to quietly check in with me, and my 3-year-old daughter was adoringly attentive to my needs. I called my birth photographer Amanda, and gave her a head's up...then not too long after that, I called again and asked her to come on over. Things were happening! My midwife was on her way again to my house, my body was back on track. This was it. This was it!
And it really was. By the time my midwife arrived, the tub was filled and I was so incredibly ready to get in. The candles were lit, Michele had something wonderful in the essential oils diffuser, and the birth affirmations I'd placed around the bathroom were ready to encourage me. I got into the tub around 7:45 PM, immediately sinking into the warm relief of the water. I breathed deeply, and as the power of the contractions grew stronger, I listened to the voices around encouraging me. "Deep breaths, that's it..." "You're doing great, you can do this." "Just imagine yourself floating over the contractions..." Hands stroked my forehead. My husband massaged my legs. And I floated, now firmly in labor land, the land of increasing intensity, of more and more powerful contractions and the strength women draw from within for the task at hand. I was taking each contraction as it came, telling myself that each surge brought me closer to meeting my baby - my baby! Because that's what this was all about: this day, this journey, this series of pains. It was about my baby. Bringing my baby earthside. Closer, closer...
My sweet little doula-daughter was back at my side, fresh from a bath of her own. She continued with her gentle ministrations; her ever-present smile inspired me to press on.
And then it was time to push. Pushing, that most hated part of labor. The most intense, the most painful, the most uncontrollable. But I was ready.
Even so, I took it slow, waiting for the undeniable cues from my body, pushing during the contraction and waiting to let the tissues stretch. And then I heard my husband say that he could see the head, and I reached down and ...amazing. What motivation to feel that little head, to know how close my precious one was, so close!
A few loud pushes later, I felt her leave my body. Her daddy caught her in the water, and I soon held her to my chest...my baby. Here. Together we discovered that God had sent our family a little girl, and we shared her name with those around us. Ella Sharon. A beautiful, perfect, healthy baby girl.
The other children drifted into the room, and we sang our daughter her lullaby. I wept as I reveled in our happiness; we are so happy and blessed by this indescribable gift!
8 lb, 2 oz
December 28, 2013