I don’t remember how long I stayed in the tub, but after some time, Tara suggested I get an exam to see where things were. I was concerned with having an exam too soon incase I hadn’t progressed far and decided to wait a tad longer. I would go back and forth from the tub to getting out and sitting on our very low toilet to further open up my pelvis. When I did, I’d lean and rest all of my body weight onto Michael. If he didn’t bend down enough, I’d pull his body towards mine, and insist he stay still through the entire rush. After another trip to the tub, I suspected it was a good idea to go ahead and get that exam after all.
I beared down on Mike through a hallway rush and then quickly scurried into the bedroom. I laid down and got checked out to learn that as my midwives suspected, Marin was in posterior positioning. What they also learned was that she was acyclitic, the bonus complication that meant her head was tilted to one side allowing only part of my cervix to dilate. I was at least 24 hours into labor and only 7 cm dilated. I remembered that Mike had told me from reading “The Birth Partner” that my contractions would not get any stronger after 7 cm and it helped me to know that if I had made it to this point, with this level of intensity, I could continue to do so.
By this time, I was literally thinking someone might as well just be stabbing me in my lower back. I haven’t discussed that much as of yet, but my back labor was significant. I would at all times have someone push their fist as hard as possible into my tailbone when a contraction came. They’d push down, and I continued to ask for someone to push harder and harder. It never felt hard enough to counteract the pressure of Marin’s forehead jabbing itself against my lower spine.
I can’t remember what I did next, but I believe I went back into the tub. Or at least that’s where my story will continue till I share the actual list of events (this is just my hormonal, sleep-deprived testimony of them, but I have the full record of events from my midwives). The tub wasn’t warm, it was hot. I asked for someone to drip cold water over my forehead and face constantly. It felt amazing to feel a cold washcloth against my skin and hear a quote off of my poster read. I remember Catherine, our intern midwife, reading to me “It is important to face each birth like a bull with full force, no fear or hesitation, with the attitude that you can do this and you aren’t going to hold back.” and the attitude shift it produced.
I did squats in the hallway with assistance from Mike and coaching from Tara. I’d constantly remind myself that I wasn’t going to hesitate, but give all the energy I had to get Marin out safely. A rush came, and I’d brace myself onto Mike as I lowered my body against and down our hallway walls. Back up, and then down again, as low as I could go, facing Mike and wrapping my arms around his neck while he carried my full weight. Back to the toilet. Then back to the hallway.
I got another vaginal exam, and was told I had progressed to 8 cm. Marin still wasn’t hitting one side of my cervix and I was deeply afraid she wouldn’t turn her head to do so. I was told to rest in the tub before we tried Moxa to get her to turn. I hated to wait, but I trusted the midwives and followed their lead to know what was best (I often read birth stories where women innately followed their bodies during labor and knew what to do, but I don’t know what I would have done without my midwives instruction during labor).
It was the middle of the night, and I felt my energy sinking dramatically. Tara had asked Mike if he needed to rest and so he took a nap in the bedroom while I continued to labor in the tub. I felt so sleepy, my head would bob down into the water, and then up when a rush came. I remember Tara asking me something and me gurgling out a reply back that made utterly no sense – even in the moment, I apologized because I couldn’t even speak a full sentence to her. Fear dripped into my mind and my heart – what if I didn’t progress? What if after all of this hard work, I had to go to the hospital? What if I needed a Cesarean section? And here’s what you may not expect from a delusional laboring woman – what if I had to call insurance and deal with the mess of subscribing to Cobra and switch all of my doctor’s appointments and ultrasounds from my current primary insurance to my former one? Ha! I told you, you didn’t see that coming…In Ina May’s [mother of modern midwifery] books, she always says to “let your monkey do it”. What she means is the part of your brain that doesn’t really think logically about what it’s doing, but instinctually without any inhibition. Ironically, logic is what helped me the most during my lowest point in labor. I thought about what my recovery would be like. I thought about how in this moment, no matter how hard or painful it was, there was no way that healing from a major surgery and caring for a newborn wouldn’t be harder in the weeks to come. I thought about how painful the ride to the hospital would be. I thought about how I couldn’t even get an epidural at this point and my back labor would be excruciating on a hospital bed. How I didn’t want bright lights in my face. I thought about my future children and how I wanted to deliver them all vaginally and not as a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean).
Then I thought about a beautiful love story I’d seen in a video a few months earlier. A tragedy where a young man, in a serious relationship with a young woman, underwent a terrible car crash that deeply affected his brain, motor skills, and ability to do much for himself. How this couple went on to get engaged, marry, and shed light on how momentary this life, they continue to share, is. Momentary, that’s what this was. It was a moment, a blip in time. Catherine came over again to check Marin’s heartbeat, and I heard it – perfect and strong. I knew that if Marin was alive and well, and I was alive and well, that this momentary pain was worth enduring for what lay just ahead. I still had no idea how beautiful and worthwhile the pain and agony of natural labor was until they laid her on my chest, but I had read enough testimonies to be convinced it would be.
I asked for someone to retrieve Mike so he could comfort and encourage me. When he got out of the bedroom, I asked for him to pray for me immediately. I felt so weak; all I could do was turn to God. All of my physical abilities were diminishing – my eyes kept closing and my body tiring from continual, impulsive rushes. It gave me instant energy and peace to ask God for help in a time of my greatest weakness. (It was the most tangibly and instantaneously I have ever felt the power of prayer, and it has become one of my favorite moments during my birth experience with Marin.)
Now, it was time for Moxa (a type of acupuncture where incense is burned and placed on a specific toe to stimulate the uterus). My back was killing me and the constant need to apply counter-pressure was hurting everyone else’s hands. Sarafina placed electrodes on my back to aid in relieving it with each rush. She’d turn them on, and I’d ask for her to turn them up. Higher, higher…higher! (She later told me she had never put them up to that high of an intensity for anyone before). It wasn’t as good as a fist, but it cut it. She told me we were going to do two positions and warned that they may not feel pleasant. I didn’t care, I’d left my feelings the second I decided that I was going to keep going – I had to just do. I trusted her, and got in the first position, the Polar Bear position. The goal was to get on the bed, on all fours, and press my chest as low as I could during the rush. Holy expletive, I felt these rushes. I yelled, ‘I’m dripping, I’m dripping!”. Water pushed out all over me and the sheets (we had gotten sheets from Goodwill to use and put over the shower curtains that protected our nice sheets and bedding below them). I couldn’t believe that more of my water was releasing – wait, is that even possible? A little had dripped out the night before, but I thought that after the bathroom incident, we were all done. Nope! Then came another, more fluid, and another, more fluid. Then onto my side. Oh, was that intense. So very, very intense compared to all the other rushes I felt, but by far the most productive of them yet. Then back to the tub I went after some more squats in the hallway with Tara’s coaching and Mike supporting my weight.
I had decided in my heart that I just had to make it to sunrise. If I could do that, I could make it. The night was terribly painful to be awake for for the second time in a row. I really questioned whether I could do this and continued to fight fears that I wouldn’t physically be able to do it. Then, I heard the buses – the great beacon of hope that came just before morning. That noise was absolute magic to my ears. I knew that it must be early morning and soon with the start of a busy day, the sun would be up. I continued to take my rushes one at a time until it was suggested I get my third and final vaginal exam.
This time I was fully dilated. It was amazing to be told I could push, but I still didn’t feel this ‘urge’ I’d always heard about to do so. I’d hold onto the sides of the tub, and when a rush came, exert all of my energy downwards bracing my legs against the edges of the tub. I’d grunt and yell at the top of my lungs and didn’t feel like I was making much progress, if any. I could feel Marin’s head if I put the tips of my fingers inside, but with each rush, I didn’t feel her budging at all.
Then, Tara told me to do what I was doing quietly. Not in a ‘hush, there’s neighbors around here!’ sort of way, but to remind me that when you poop, you don’t grunt. Ha! That may sound funny, but to open up my sphincter muscles below, it really helped to mentally grasp that all this yelling and hard work wasn’t producing anything.
That ‘aha!’ moment was just what I needed. I got mentally serious. I zoned everyone in the room out, my eyes shut, my ears went below the water, and my mind deeply focused on getting Marin out. I remember the very next rush, and I definitely felt Marin move down and knew we were on the right track. Tara suggested I go to the toilet seat to help her along, but it was the first time I rejected her instruction. I knew this was going to work, I could feel it working already. Then, came that ‘urge’. I immediately fell in love with the pushing stage – it was so naturally compulsive and after hours of labor, it finally felt like I was in control of doing something to help me get to the finish line of birthing Marin. I couldn’t help but push which was the craziest part of all. It felt a lot more like throwing up than pooping to me. Like a gag reflex that I couldn’t help but submit to, that’s what each pushing rush felt like.
Things were coming to an end very abruptly, and I believe from when I started productively pushing till Marin was born, it was probably a total of 30 minutes. Michael got in the tub with me as it was our plan to have him ‘catch’ Marin. He was on my right side and after another rush, her head began to crown. This was my short-lived ‘ring of fire’ moment that lasted for what felt like only two sets of rushes. She went from having only the top of her head exposed to coming out to her shoulders to finally (*drum roll please*) being birthed.
Out she shot, and with Catherine’s assistance, Mike semi-caught Marin. In an explosive rush, she was here, and on my chest. In a moment, I went from being pregnant with my unborn child to holding her in my arms. The exhaustion trumped all my emotion, but I could not mentally grasp what was actually happening and I’m not sure it’s realistic to think that I possibly could.
I looked at her and said again and again ‘you’re here, I can’t believe you’re actually here’. That’s essentially what the end of my labor felt like, much like what the end of being pregnant felt like – sheer amazement that my baby was here. After exactly 43 weeks of pregnancy, my daughter, Marin Kelly Bennett was born at 8:58 a.m. on August 30th, 2012 after 37.5 hours of labor. This is her birth story, in its unedited entirety, written with the hope that there will be many more stories to share about her life in the years to come.