written by mama, melissa
I knew before I ever got pregnant that I wanted to have an unmedicated birth. After all, my mom had seven, yes SEVEN, natural births. My husband and I had completed Bradley Method childbirth classes and were both onboard for a healthy, active pregnancy and birth.
I had switched over from an OB doctor to a group of midwives at a natural birthing center at around week 26 of my pregnancy. I had a friendly, capable doctor, however she was not completely onboard with my idea of an intervention-free birth, so we made the switch even though I was well along in my pregnancy. The experience and care I received there was night and day with my experience in the OB office. I was finally ready and excited to continue with the pregnancy under their care and birth at the birthing center.
It’s funny, so many women would ask me how I felt during my pregnancy and I almost always said “Wonderful!” because I truly felt alive and glowing during those months carrying our baby girl. They would then often go on to assure me that “Oh, just wait until the end of that ninth month and you’ll be so uncomfortable and begging for the baby to come out!” I, however, never felt this way and enjoyed nearly every single moment that I was able to carry Clementine on the inside before she made her appearance in the outside world. I LOVED being pregnant.
I reached week 39, and had my usual midwife appointment with Mimi. I had been told countless times how it was not uncommon for first-time mothers, such as myself, to go a few weeks beyond their projected due date. She asked if I would like to have an internal exam, which I hadn’t done before now, but being curious, I agreed. I was 1 cm dilated, and at a +2 station, meaning Clementine was engaged and quite low. As we said our goodbyes, I told her I would see her in a week at my next appointment. She looked at me with a glint in her eye and said it may be even sooner than a week!
I made it to week 40 to the day feeling mostly the same. I told my husband, Khanh, that I was in no hurry and I actually expected baby Clementine to arrive a week or two late. I even did my usual jog that morning at the gym. My parents were arriving into town that night, so we grocery shopped that evening
after dinner late into the night to get ready for their arrival. By the end of the shopping trip, I noticed some lower back aches and pains, and what I eventually realized to be somewhat steady contractions. I showered and laid down to get some rest, wondering in the back of my mind if this was “it”. The contractions continued, though somewhat irregularly but still fairly intense, throughout the night. By morning, they had mostly subsided. I decided to forego the gym that day, now Wednesday, to take a nap and get ready for my parents to arrive. We picked them up after Khanh got off of work that evening, and brought them to the beach for dinner and to watch the sunset.
My contractions picked up once again around dinner time. I found myself holding my breath and tensing up, and so we headed home to rest. I woke up around midnight to some painful contractions, now coming at regular intervals of around 8 minutes and lasting around 1-2 minutes. I took my shower, laid back down and waited to see if they would subside. I drifted in and out of sleep, but by morning they were coming more frequently and I knew that this was it. I have to admit, I was nervous, and a little bit scared at this point. I called my midwife, Mimi, around 6 am and she had us come in to be checked. We arrived at the birth center at around 8:30 am. She checked me, and I was at 3 cm, and my contractions were about 4-5 minutes apart. She then suggested we go walk along the beach, which was down the street, to get labor going. We headed to the beach, my husband, Khanh, my mom, and my dad in tow. We walked along the shore, with me pausing to manage the now very painful contractions every few minutes. I remember passing a middle aged woman who looked at me, then turned to Khanh and joked “I think she’s in labor!” To which they replied that I definitely was. Truly, it was pretty awesome to be able to labor along a warm beach wading in the crystal clear waters. Well, minus the the feeling of the bowling ball between my legs.
The midwife suggested we go and grab breakfast and head home to rest and labor as long as possible. I remember being in the parking lot of Panera Bread, needing to use the restroom. Khanh asked me if I wanted to go in while he ordered, and I cried in return telling him I could barely waddle more than a few feet without bending over to relax and breathe (or cry hysterically is I guess what I was doing then) through the contractions. I showered, again, though I was mostly on my hands and knees under the hot water at this point. I told Khanh I wanted to be at the birth center now, as driving back and forth was making me anxious. I was a first-time mother about to give birth and it was my biggest fear that I wouldn't make it to the birth center in time. Also, laboring in the car is no joke, cooped up and bent and buckled down. Yikes.
We arrived at the birth center, Mimi glanced at me and said, “Where’s the lipstick you had on this morning?” I replied that I didn’t care about makeup right now. She nodded and agreed that, yep, I can tell by that reply that you’re in labor now. “When you came in this morning with perfect lipstick and hair, I didn’t think you were quite there.” I was now 5 cm dilated, about 1.30 pm and I felt a small pop as my water broke. Things really seemed to pick up at this point. I remember trying to change into my swimsuit top, but I was so focused on laboring at this point that I only got my shirt off, and thus I stayed only in my neon green sports bra for the rest of my labor. And let me tell you, I SWORE up and down that I would be fully covered during labor because I am incredibly self-conscious about being unclothed in front of others. During labor, my hair was everywhere, falling out of my makeshift bun an frizzing up towards the sky and every which way possible. Khanh, ever so sweetly, asked me if I would like him to fix it because I always try to be put together and have my hair done up. “Don’t even TOUCH my hair!” And that was that, and I looked like a wild cave woman, but I didn't care.
I labored in the tub for quite awhile, as the warm water was helping me to relax through the contractions. I lost track of time as I experienced waves of pressure to an intensity that I didn’t know existed in this world. The midwife checked me one more time, and quietly walked away without updating me on my status. I knew this could mean only one thing, that nothing had changed. My heart sank in discouragement at this point, knowing that through all of those contractions, nothing had changed. I continued to labor in the tub, holding my husband’s hand in one hand, and my mom’s in the other. Never letting them let go.
I had no idea what time it was most of the day and I requested that they not tell me the time because I didn’t want to become discouraged at how long labor was taking. Khanh and I had been practicing our Bradley Method exercises every night at the same time, and to remind myself, I had set a timer on my phone. At one point during labor, I heard the familiar dinging coming from somewhere in the room. “Khaaaaaanh I know what time it is” I whined dejectedly to him, somewhat discouraged at how late it was getting. 8 pm. Khanh sweetly tried to convince me “No, no, babe, someone’s...calling me...!” But we both knew I knew the time now. My midwife and mom both suggested I switch positions and maybe get out of the tub to see if this helped the process. I didn’t want to because I knew that if I moved the contractions got more intense. I moved to the birthing ball and bounced on that a bit, which brought on waves of contractions, which was a good thing.
Mimi checked me once again, and finally, I was at an 8. I was stuck at an 8 for a bit with a swollen cervix. I was encouraged to switch positions to take some of the pressure off of it so that I could dilate to a full and complete 10. I wish I could recall how long each stage took for me, but I was so concentrated on laboring that I wasn’t concerned with checking the time. I didn’t glance at a clock or even my phone for messages once that day until after Clementine arrived.
So I labored on all fours for some time, taking the waves of contractions one at a time. Looking back, I think I was in transition. They came with no breaks in between to catch my breath. My mind began to play tricks on me, and I remember asking multiple times if they were sure a baby would ever even come out of me. They assured me, yes, she will come. And so I kept on keeping on. I was checked once more, and low and behold, a baby’s head was coming. I remember Khanh excitedly calling out, “I see her head, babe, I see her hair!” Mimi asked me if I wanted her to be born back in the birthing tub or on the bed, where I currently laid. I got a boost of energy and drive knowing that, yes, there was indeed a baby coming because they saw her! I had always thought I might try delivering Clementine in the water, but at this point I was focused on getting her out so I told her I didn’t care, as long as it didn’t slow down the process.
Mimi had me climb into the tub, followed by Khanh. In this warm water, I pushed with all I had in me, for who knows how long (because, again, I wasn’t focused on the time). At 9:55 pm, Clementine Sally Dang came into this world born into water, straight into her daddy’s arms. Khanh cried overwhelming tears of joy as he handed my baby girl to me. I looked at her chubby little face, covered with a full head of dark hair, and was struck with such intense awe that she was mine. I did it. She was finally here. I remember that the moment she was born every ounce of pain faded away and I was blinded by such a wonderful euphoric feeling of happiness.
We bonded as a family of three, with my mom standing nearby sharing in our joy, soon joined by my dad who faithfully and patiently waited outside the room the entire day and acted as messenger to update the family on our progress. We all commented on and laughed about the fact that she was the spitting image of her daddy, who is Vietnamese. The placenta came within a few minutes of her birth, and sometime later, Khanh cut the umbilical cord. I am so grateful to my natural birthing center, they didn’t ever take Clementine out of my sight even for a second. They waited to weigh her until I had time to cuddle with her on the bed, skin to skin, and establish our first breastfeeding session. I was stitched up, she weighed in at a healthy 8 lbs. 5 oz, and measured 19.5 inches long.
We were back home by 2am, less than four hours after giving birth. I have never given birth before this, so I am no expert, but I am so thankful that I was able to experience this naturally, with little intervention and no medication. I attribute my body’s ability to bounce back so well and quickly after such an intense event as birth, to the fact that I had no drugs in me, or anything else that could hinder my ability to walk out of the birth center a mere 3.5 hours after birthing Clementine. And to be honest, there are two moments in my life where I felt like superwoman, like I had pushed my body to do something that I thought I could not physically do. The first being the half marathon I ran 4 years ago. The second, and most important, is natural childbirth. The feeling of accomplishment and strength is unmatched.
Yes, labor was hard. Yes, labor was painful. That’s what labor is, it’s work. But I would go through labor a thousand times over just to be able to bring my sweet little Clementine into this world, into our arms.