Today, Quinn is 3 weeks old. I am her mother, Carey. She was born in the bathtub at home. It was the most surreal, profound, intense day of my life. It was the most pain I’ve ever felt, more than I ever knew I could handle. It was the most beautiful experience I could ever imagine, and the most proud I’ve ever been.
My plan was to work through August 1st, which was a Friday. I thought it would be great to finish out the work week before I went on my 12 week leave. My due date was July 31st, and on that day I was feeling tons of kicking and movement- a contrast to the relatively quiet baby I’d been feeling for the past couple of weeks as she ran out of ‘womb’. At 4:30pm, I went to the bathroom and noticed that I’d lost part of my mucous plug. I texted my husband Gabriel right away to tell him about that and that she’d been “kicking up a storm”. He responded ‘Maybe tonight”. I wrote “who knows?” and he wrote “I do!”. Little did I know that he *did* know, and that Baby Quinn had no intention of letting me finish that work week out after all. Apparently, right after that text conversation, my sweet hubs ran out to buy a birthday cake and a gorgeous bouquet of flowers for me.
When I got home, I went to lie down in bed for a little bit- as I’d been doing for the last 2 weeks or so. As much as it was great to be going about my regular days at work, it was quite exhausting and I really looked forward to taking my shoes off, putting my feet up and resting for a bit at the end of each day. It was 6:33pm and about 2 minutes after I laid down that I was suddenly aware of soaking wet underwear. I sprung up and giggled as I ran to the bathroom explaining to Gabriel, “Ummm, I think my water may have just broken!”. I texted my boss and my co-worker to tell them that coming in tomorrow did not look likely. I texted my doula, Ryan, and my midwives, Jessica and Haddie, to tell them that this might be the big day. Ryan was teaching a class and said to keep her posted. Jessica and Haddie (aka: the dream team) had delivered 2 other babies within the prior 48 hours and advised me to try to rest. Jessica said it may not have been water breaking but possibly just more mucous plug, and that if contractions started and got to between 3-5 minutes apart for a minute long each to go ahead and call or text them again at that point. At 7:30pm I lost some more mucous and started feeling crampy and having some diarrhea. I was pretty darn sure at that point that labor was beginning, but I still wasn’t totally convinced.
Gabriel and I decided we should just go ahead with our normal plan for dinner and he went off to pick up some spicy Chinese food in the hopes that it would kick labor into high gear. Looking back, I think it’s pretty funny that I thought this was a good idea given the cramps I was feeling, but oh well, It did end up giving me the energy I’d soon find out I would be needing in the next 14 hours. It was also pretty perfect, that my fortune in the cookie that night was “Good things are coming to you in due course of time.”
At 9pm, I felt another gush of fluid and things were looking a lot more obviously like labor. I was feeling a lot of cramps, going to sit on the toilet a lot, and then had a little bloody show. Okay, I was convinced. Everything I’d learned in my birthing class about what to expect at the beginning of labor was showing itself. It was almost by the book of what I’d been taught about possible early signs. At this point I started trying to time the contractions when I accepted that was really what was going on and not just tummy troubles. They were coming consistently every 15-20 minutes or so and lasting a few minutes each. The start and finish of each one wasn’t very clear, but they were sort of what I expected them to feel like, not dissimilar from very strong menstrual cramps. I kept heading back to bed in between running to the toilet, but no sooner would I lie down that I’d feel the need to get back up and run into the bathroom again. By 2:30am the contractions were coming 7-9 minutes apart. By 3:30am they were 5 minutes apart and Gabriel and I started discussing whether it was time to make the calls/texts to get Ryan, Jessica, and Haddie over. I was hesitant because I didn’t want them to come too early and be sitting around for hours if they were going to hover at 5 minutes apart for a while. No sooner did I go from feeling that way, to suddenly seeing the clock at 4am and timing the contractions at 3 minutes apart. Gabriel pretty much insisted that it was time to call the team.
The pain had gotten intense and I was moaning through each surge. The waves were lasting 60-90 seconds each, and that short amount of time was already feeling like forever. I felt like my insides were flipping and churning and squeezing my uterus, the baby, my organs, and my entire being into a tight knot of pain over and over.
I asked Gabriel during a brief pause of the pain to ask Jessica if It was okay for me to get into the bathtub. She said “Okay, if she wants to” to him, and he immediately relayed that to me. In his words, “at that point I turned around and Carey was already in the tub”.
I was leaning over the side of the tub, one leg outstretched to the left and the other with knee bent on the right. In between contractions I’d rest my head on the cool tile and try to relax my legs which were quickly feeling like they were getting stiff staying in that one position. Gabriel was with me, constantly giving me sips of ice water and just being there with quiet reassurance. At 5am, in the lull between contractions, I looked up and saw Ryan, with a virtual halo over her head, and said hello. I didn’t hear her come in- but felt immeasurable comfort knowing she was there. She suggested to Gabriel that we dim lights and put music on, and she placed a cool wet towel under my head which came as an unexpected relief in contrast to the hard tile I’d been resting on. Around 5:30am, Haddie and Jessica arrived and I felt a similar wave of comfort washing over me. Knowing that my whole team was there for me meant that everything was going to be okay.
Things continued in pretty much the same way for the next few hours. I’m not sure at what point I finally got away from the side of the tub and into more of a reclining position where I could brace my legs and feet in a more comfortable way. My tailbone, which had been giving me trouble during the last couple of months of pregnancy was screaming by this point, and I remember getting a little relief when Gabriel placed a folded up towel on the tub floor beneath me. I used my arms and hands to lift my body off of the tub floor a lot and recall thinking that out of the tub, that would have been impossible.
The contractions at the worst part were so intense and coming almost on top of each other. I kept moaning and saying that I wasn’t getting a break. The pain was as close to unbearable as I could imagine and my inner voice was starting to feel that I didn’t know if this baby was ever going to come out. Every so often Jessica or Haddie would listen to the baby’s heartbeat with the fetal doppler and check my temperature, the temperature of the water, and my blood pressure and they’d always give a quiet, knowing smile and nod that all was well. I was semi-aware of those checks but knew that I really didn’t need to be thinking about those details because I was being looked after. All I needed to do was have this baby.
Gabriel remembers me saying “I don’t think I can do this” which is interesting because I don’t remember feeling doubt in my abilities. I DO remember saying “What do I do now?” because I felt that maybe someone could help me since I felt like nothing was changing. It was somewhere around that point that I tuned into the music for the first time and heard Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush singing, “Don’t Give Up”.
Jessica suggested that I try to get out of the tub and go sit on the toilet for a bit. She explained that sometimes a change of position would help things to progress and that baby was probably having a hard time getting down past my pubic bone. I said that okay, I was open to trying that. I moved maybe 1 inch before I changed my mind, shook my head ‘no’, and realized that trying to get out of the tub was totally impossible. I used all of my strength to move onto all fours for a few contractions- which only intensified the pain I was feeling. I then found even more strength from who-knows-where and forced myself into a low squat with my bottom in the water. I knew that getting into a position similar to sitting on the toilet like Jessica had suggested might help to move things along. I stayed there for a few more contractions and asked ‘Is that enough?’ and was relieved when Jessica told me she thought that had probably helped. I got back into my reclining position and felt the massive urge to push hard with the next contraction. My moans turned into more guttural noises at that point, and I surprised myself by making noises that really didn’t even sound human. I was so loud that I thought neighbors would be concerned. I worried that my loud moans were scaring the baby. In one moment, I also expressed concern to the team that ‘I must be driving you all crazy.” and of course, they assured me that it was all okay. My throat was feeling so sore and I was so grateful to the team for the numerous cups of ice water and gatorade that were delivered to me at every opportunity.
As the pushes got even stronger and more desperate, my breathing was turning from more or less controlled panting into hyperventilating and panic-driven gasps. Gabriel breathed with me through these moments and Jessica reminded me over and over to calm my breath. It was actually really helpful to have both of them constantly calming me down and saved me from getting to a point of total fear and dread. I was feeling pretty helpless and hopeless at that point after about 2 hours of pushing when everyone started telling me that with each push, they could see her head full of hair appearing and then retracting in between contractions. On the next one, Jessica told me to reach down to feel her head and that gave me the motivation I needed to keep going.
By then it was 9:19am and she told me that she needed to do an internal check. Talk about adding insult to injury…just when I thought things couldn’t get more painful. I love and trust my midwife exponentially but when she palpated my cervix I nearly punched her in the face. Wow. It was so totally excruciating and I thought I might pass out for a second. Luckily, the good news was that she felt baby was really ready to be born at 10cm and 100% effaced, and she encouraged me to use everything I had to push her out. The pushing at that point made me fully understand what the ‘ring of fire’ meant. I felt like there was no way that head was going to fit to get through. Everything was on fire and felt like it was ripping my body apart. I bore down with every ounce of effort I could find and finally felt her head surge through. I could feel that her whole head was out but had to wait for the next contraction to push again. Even though I had watched countless water birth videos where the baby is under water for an extended amount of time, I worried and asked ‘Is she going to be ok with her head underwater?” and of course, they reassured me that she would be fine.
It took a few more pushes and growls on my part before her whole body finally came out. Gabriel scooped her up and Jessica flipped the umbilical cord out from around her neck as I relaxed and leaned back in total exhaustion. Gabriel cried as he kissed me. He placed her on my chest and I said, “I’m so glad you’re here.” A huge part of that statement was because the pain was finally over and the sweet relief of knowing I was done with the physical exertion was overwhelmingly amazing. Of course I was also just overjoyed to see my beautiful little girl with her full head of hair. It was almost unreal to see the baby that I’d had inside of me only seconds before. Baby Quinn was crying and I knew she was okay. She cuddled right up on my chest as the team placed washcloths over her to keep her warm. She was so tiny and warm and soft and I felt a combination of love and peace wash over me. I could feel the cord up through my legs still physically attaching us and that was a truly profound moment. Gabriel, who had one foot in the tub leaning over me kissed me again as I said to him, “Look what we made!”
Around 30 minutes later Jessica said that it was time to birth the placenta which made me really nervous. She made me laugh when she said “this part is easy, it has no bones”. She gently tugged the cord and it basically slipped right out. I must say, this felt really cool and was an unexpected relief to have something that large easily slide out. What a contrast to what I’d just gone through! She opened up the sac and showed us where Baby Quinn had been living for the past 40 weeks and I thought that was really wild. She had me touch the inside which felt just like a cat’s tongue and I was really amazed that it had provided all of the sustenance for my baby for so long. What a remarkable process this all is…It’s really mind blowing.
After 6+ hours in the tub, it was now time to get out, and with help from everyone they toweled me off and got me to my bed. It wasn’t until that moment that I was told that our dog, Figment, never left the bathroom for the entire labor and birth and was an important part of the team as well. She has since earned the title Doggie Doula. It was so awesome to be in my own home, getting into my own bed and as I got comfortable, I looked over to where our suitcase was packed and ready to go should we have needed to transfer to a hospital, and I breathed a major sigh of relief. The next sigh of relief came when I found out that not only did I not tear- which I was terrified of, I also did not poop in the tub. Phew! The whole birth experience had gone exactly as I had hoped. It was more pain that I ever imagined I could take, but it was also the most truly incredible experience I’ve ever had. Looking back now, I am able to recall the amount of pain I felt, but I’m not able to re-feel it, and for that I am very pleased. There is no question in my mind that if I ever have another baby, I would want to do it the same way again. I felt so proud of myself. So capable. So alive. So impressed with my body and mind’s ability to do what I needed to do without the help of surgical instruments, drugs, or any medical intervention.
I had prepared so many wonderful calming mantras and ideas in the weeks leading up to labor that I intended to recall and replay, but when it came down to it, they all went out the window. I was unable to call up any of the planning I’d done, and was only able to go into a primal place. One of the things I really thought would get me through was the fact that I’d completed 3 half-marathons, something I never imagined I was capable of the first time- let alone 2 more times after that. I figured I’d be able to tap into that determination to push when I felt spent, and to keep my eye on the baby steps that help me to reach a finish line. When it came down to it, I never once thought about that and when Gabriel tried to bring it up, I pretty much dismissed it and couldn’t find that place of parallel for inspiration. The phrase that had really spoken to me throughout all of the reading I’d done was one from Ina May Gaskin, “channel the monkey”…which I’d converted to “channel the animal”, and that, along with a point I’d learned in prenatal yoga and childbirth classes about keeping my jaw open and loose and my moaning tones low-pitched were really the only tools I was able to hold onto. I had a wonderful playlist on my ipod, candles burning, and essential oils in the diffuser. I had dim lights and a team of experts who was there purely to make sure that I was cared for and attended to. I had a husband who breathed with me and reminded me constantly that my body was made to do this. None of that was anything more than a dizzying blur. It was all thought out with the best of intentions, but when it came down to it, it was baby Quinn, the bathtub, and me.