(It’s long, but so was our birth!)
I couldn’t believe I had reached 41 weeks. I remembered that my mom gave birth to me and my brother late term. However, I thought the theory that I would have my baby late term as well was exactly that — a theory. In other words, that couldn’t possibly happen to me! One of my pregnant friends and I had even joked about her giving birth on time and me giving birth late. (Spoiler alert: Much to our amazement, we had our babies two hours apart!) Well, there I was, 11 days past my due date. My pregnancy had officially outrun both of my mom’s, and I was feeling like quite the anomaly in a culture that routinely schedules, in the words of comedian Ali Wong, to “cut-it-OUT,” as early as 38 weeks.
How About Natural Induction Techniques?
But didn’t you try nipple stimulation? How about acupuncture? Red raspberry leaf tea? Dates? Sex? Spicy food? Pineapple? Walking? Belly dancing? Birth ball? Hypnobirthing? Massage? Chiropractic? Clary sage? Meditation? Yoga? Sleep? …NOTHING?
Time to Sweep!
I followed the protocols my midwife gave me, suggestions on Liza’s blog, and read up on EBB (Evidence Based Birth), as well as other reliable resources from my doulas. Many women have had success with spontaneous labor from using one or more of the aforementioned methods, so I don’t bring this up to discredit any of them. However, I had tried it all, short of castor oil or a medical induction, and my labor hadn’t started. At 41 and 10, my midwife suggested a light membrane sweep after checking to see how dilated and effaced I was. This wasn’t part of my original plan, but after carefully weighing the benefits and risks of a quick check and light sweep at 41 and 10 versus waiting a few days and having a medical induction, I consented. I was 2 cm and 30% effaced, and the sweep was deemed successful. However, my labor still hadn’t started! My midwife’s last protocol was a castor oil milkshake. I agreed.
Castor Oil. Yum!
We picked up a 4 oz. bottle of CVS castor oil, and on the morning of August 31st, I proceeded with the first 2 oz. in a milkshake and… nothing happened! Not even any nasty side effects. We couldn’t believe it. A few hours later, I took round two, 2 oz. in another milkshake and…nothing.
We ordered spicy Chick fil-A and headed to a nearby park for lunch. Afterwards, I got on a swing for a little because at this point, well, I was willing to stand on my head to get labor going! I started to feel a little queazy, assuming it was from swinging on a swing after the combination of two milkshakes, an entire bottle of castor oil, and spicy chick fil-A. We headed home, stopping by a plant shop and Trader Joe’s. When we were checking out of the plant shop, I told Andrew I was going to meander around while he finished up. I was having what felt like mild menstrual cramps, however I figured it was just a side effect of the castor oil. I walked around looking at the pretty plants and tried to ignore the cramps. At 2:30pm, we arrived at Trader Joe’s. Andrew wanted me to pick out some pretty flowers for our kitchen table. He had been experiencing the nesting instinct that week. (Yes, men experience it, too!) I froze in front of the peonies. “Andrew, I’m going to go look around. Wait no, I’m going to go back to the car.” I had no time to take in his response, but it didn’t take him long to understand what I was talking about.
Stronger, Longer , Closer Together
When he got to the car with a bouquet of bright pink and white flowers, he saw that I had not been waiting for him in the car, but was pacing around the car, stopping every 6-ish minutes to lean forward on the car. I thought at that point heck, I’ll get out the full-term app and see if there is any pattern to what felt like strong menstrual cramps. I was still convinced at this point that I was having abdominal cramps from the castor oil and nothing more, but they were definitely strong enough to cause me to make a bee-line for the car! I timed them until we got home, and they followed a pattern that became stronger, longer, and closer together. I was finally in early first stage labor! I thought great, I’ll go for a walk! I was then hit with another contraction and thought no, I think I’ll stay home. I knew I wanted to keep moving though, so I did hip circles on the birth ball, trying to relax my jaw and stay relaxed overall. Andrew prepared some snacks and I headed upstairs not too long after.
Finally Entering “Labor-land”
The intensity of the contractions was building. I moved around our bedroom, alternating between leaning forward on the bed, “drunk prom date” swaying on Andrew, leaning on the back of the toilet, and running the shower on my lower back and abdomen. I had made birth affirmation cards that I posted on the walls of the bathroom and other areas of our home which helped me focus. Andrew also put on the long birth playlist I had made (I went to school for music so this was fun for me to make while I was pregnant!), dimmed the lights, closed the curtains, and made sure I was drinking electrolyte water, eating snacks, and peeing every hour. He was also so encouraging and affirming throughout the entire process!
Time For the Doulas
I started to not want to be touched anymore during contractions around 9pm, and as the intensity of my contractions grew, Andrew handed me a comb to hold in each hand. This was a trick my doulas had shown me to help redirect the pain, and they worked! I also found that deep breathing, visualizing the baby descending, and low, open moans were quite helpful. At around 10:30pm, Andrew called our doulas and put the first one who would come on speaker phone. (We hired a team of two doulas who take shifts during your labor.) She asked how I was doing and listened through a few contractions. My contractions moved to three minutes apart lasting about two minutes, and I had bloody show while on the phone with her. She was on her way! Andrew then called my midwife and she and her assistants were on their way as well. The midwife gave Andrew permission to fill up the birth tub and he also drew a bath for me in our bathtub. When our team arrived at 11pm, I was 7 cm. dilated. By 2:30am, I was 9cm. At this point, I was laboring in the birth tub. I remember feeling really sweaty with deep pressure on my bowels, but I was surprisingly calm. I think the music from my playlist helped a lot, and Andrew would hold up more birth affirmation cards with phrases like “the gift of grace increases as the struggle increases.” My doula misted me with water and fanned me for hours, spritzing Liza’s prenatal yoga blend in the room which was so relaxing. Cold compresses on my forehead helped, too. Also, I was still holding onto the combs at this point! I can’t overestimate how helpful these were in redirecting the pain. Yes, the contractions were painful at this point, but a sort of pain that made me feel more alive than I’ve ever been! Perhaps these were the endorphins mentioned about in transition, however I can’t say transition felt “good” by any means.
Frankincense, Toilet, and TENS
I left the birth pool at 5:30am because I was feeling too hot. I was helped onto my bed by my doula, and I felt like I could push. My midwife thought it would be good to try, too. After trying to push for an hour to no avail, my second doula who had just arrived began sifting my belly with a rebozo so my husband could nap. At this point, I was having very deep pain in my lower back. My doula sifted my belly for a half an hour straight and applied frankincense essential oil to my lower back. This helped ease the pain. However, by the end of the half hour, I was still experiencing tremendously painful, long contractions. My doula helped me to the bathroom and I sat backwards on the toilet. She attached a TENS unit to my lower back. When a contraction would hit, I would increase the stimulation to my lower back, which mitigated the pain. My doula prepared some snacks for me like toast with honey. I could barely keep anything down, however I forced myself to take small bites and drink water to keep my energy up and to stay hydrated.
I was blessed at 9am with the presence of a female minister whom I requested in advance to bring the Eucharist to my birth. (My husband and I are Catholic, and we believe the Eucharist to be a source of spiritual strength and nourishment as well as physical.) I had forgotten all about her, but my husband had texted her earlier and there she was, praying over me and placing the host in my mouth while I labored backwards naked on the toilet. In that most vulnerable moment, I felt tangibly united to Christ’s Passion. I thought I knew in that moment how much I needed that reminder of His sacrifice and how much I needed to continue to trust Him in what felt like my own Calvary, but it was the hours following that I would experience a deeper need for that reminder…my labor stalled. It felt like someone hit reset and I was in early labor again, only somehow still at 9cm. I slept a few hours, continued to eat and drink water, moved around, and took homeopathic remedies from my midwife. My doula had me walk up and down the stairs, doing hip circles and lunges at the top and bottom of the stairs. A few mild contractions came and went. I slept some more, took additional homeopathic remedies, went up and down and up and down the stairs, had a few contractions, tried the toilet again…
It was now 2:30pm on Sunday, September 1st. My midwife knew transferring because of labor stalling was not part of my birth plan. However, the idea of transferring because I had been in transition at 9cm. for over 7 hours never crossed my mind and was something I had never even thought possible. We were all in agreement that this was a situation in which extra assistance was necessary. This scared me at first, however I had gone over a plan B (hospital transfer) and plan C (section) with my husband and birth team in advance, so I was prepared on that level. Scripps Encinitas, where we registered as a backup, was full, so we headed to UCSD Jacobs Medical Center.
A Much Needed Rest
The twenty minutes in the car was the only time in my birth where I felt like I was really suffering. I was glad that this was caused by an inanimate object (the car) rather than by a person, and I was thankful my labor started back up again. However, when we arrived at the hospital, I was sure that I wanted to follow my midwife’s suggestion and have an epidural so I could rest. After napping for two hours with the epidural (I was actually able to sleep thanks to my doula’s support!), a little pitocin, and my doula helping me do side lying releases, our daughter moved lower in station and I dilated to 10cm.!
Incredible Support and Tools for Labor Helped Me Through
My midwife and doula spoke to me words of affirmation and encouragement that I will never forget. I am indebted to them, along with my husband who woke up from his own nap at this point and joined my side. My doula had me eat honey sticks and drink electrolyte water between pushes, and I was able to have my birth playlist playing on a portable speaker, along with diffusing essential oils my doula provided. Also, smelling peppermint essential oil on a cotton swab in a bag helped with the nausea I had between pushes. The epidural had worn off a little and I could feel pressure and stretching as I pushed over the next three hours. It actually felt wonderful and powerful to push! I saw our daughter’s head beginning to crown in a mirror that the hospital provided, and I reached down to touch her head. Filled with wonder and amazement, a gave a few more pushes and Thea Marie Dominguez came torpedoing out with her arm snuggly above her head at 3:32am on Labor Day! All 8 lbs. 14 oz. 20.6 in. of her very strong and healthy body was immediately placed on my chest, and she squirmed to my breast, attempting to latch. Our eyes met when my husband and I sang her the song we sang every night to her throughout my third trimester, and our lives have forever changed for the better since that moment. My husband cut the umbilical cord after it stopped pulsating, and my placenta was birthed shortly after that. I barely realized it being birthed because I was so enamored watching Thea nurse. It all felt so natural and surreal. I am grateful for a positive birth experience, and I believe that that was made possible in large part because of my husband’s and birth team’s support, and because I embraced the plan unfolding before me rather than clinging desperately to my own plan. Thank you, Liza, for all you taught us, and for your prenatal yoga class, too. You taught us to “expect the unexpected” in labor and birth, and oh how that served us well!