My Birth Story–Part 2: “Holding Back When They Say Push”

I was thankful that my bag was already packed when the midwife told us to drive to the birthing center. I had feared the 30 minute drive before the birth, but it actually wasn’t so bad. There was no traffic at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day. Between contractions I even managed to take pictures of the sunrise through the car’s window.

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It was a beautiful day to be born.

When we arrived at the birthing center, we were greeted by the calming sound of bone-shattering, blood-curdling screams. Apparently I was not the only person giving birth that day. This explained why the midwife didn’t answer her phone when I called earlier. It was terrifying to think that I would also soon be in so much pain. The midwife who let me into the building told me that the other lady had been in labor for a long time and was going to need to be transferred to the hospital. Because the main entrance to the building had stairs, but the entrance to my room did not, she explained that the paramedics would need to come through my room to carry the screaming lady away.  That was not at all what I had envisioned when I decided to give birth at a cozy birthing center rather than at a hectic hospital! Thankfully, after some time we were informed that the lady would not need to go to the hospital after all. It got quieter in the building and we heard a baby crying. I was relieved to learn that all was well with my neighbors.

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This was my room. You had to bring your own sheets for the bed. Christian prepared the bed while we listened to the lady scream next door.

Once the threat of paramedics barging into my room had passed, I was able to get into the bathtub. The midwife told me that my contractions might lessen in intensity or frequency when I go in the water. This was a lie. I didn’t like having to grab the hard sides of the tub during my (still frequent) contractions, nor did I like the way the water made my eczema-prone skin itch. I decided to get out of the tub and go to the bed for the rest of my labor. I knelt on the bed as my contractions continued to intensify. Eventually the midwives told me that whenever I felt ready, I could start pushing.

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This was the bathtub that did not make my contractions come less frequently.

Warning…here’s where things start to get very personal…click away if you don’t want too much information…

With every contraction, ever since my labor began at home, I felt the strong urge to go “number two”. While at home I tried going to the bathroom with no success. At the birthing center I told the midwives that I felt like I needed to go to the toilet, but they just told me that it’s normal to feel that way. I really, really didn’t want to be one of the women who poop while giving birth. I knew that it is normal to do so, but I absolutely didn’t want it to happen to me.

So now the midwives had told me that I could start pushing the baby out, but the only “pushing” feeling I had was the urge to go to the bathroom. The result was that every single time I felt a contraction, I tried to hold it in. The midwives told me to “push!” but all I did was hold back. The urge to push kept getting stronger and stronger, but my will to hold back was also strong. I started yelling, “Ich kann nicht! (I can’t do it!)” with each contraction. The midwives told me, “Du kannst! (Yes, you can!)” each time. What they didn’t realize is that my full thought was, “I can’t hold it back any more!” So I interpreted their response as, “Yes, you can hold it back!”

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We pretty much tried ’em all.

Because I wasn’t properly pushing, I failed to progress. The midwives had me try different positions. Kneeling on all fours…lying on one side…squatting…nothing helped. Eventually I had almost no break between my contractions. I was screaming at the top of my lungs. Christian later told me that I screamed even louder than the lady who gave birth when we arrived at the center. I wanted to push the baby out and hold everything else in, but it just wasn’t happening–the baby wasn’t coming. After a few hours I could tell that the midwives were getting worried. I saw them glance nervously at each other. They started using the handheld doppler more frequently to check the baby’s heart rate.

I knew I needed to communicate my problem more clearly. Unfortunately, in the middle of labor, I couldn’t think of a dignified German word for doo-doo. The official word Stuhlgang (bowel movement) was not at the tip of my tongue. So I had no choice but to let the midwives know that I really feel like I need to go kaka, but I don’t want to. One of the ladies could be pretty blunt, and her response was basically “Are you kidding me??? Is that what’s making this take so long? You need to get over it!” (Those were not her exact words, but that’s how I understood them.)

Her incredulous response was exactly what I needed to hear. I finally decided that I needed to give in to my pushing urge, come what may. The midwives had me kneel beside the bed on one knee while pulling a cloth that was hanging from the ceiling. My husband sat on the bed directly in front of me. During the minuscule breaks between contractions I rested my head on his lap.

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This picture (obviously taken earlier in the day) shows the cloth hanging next to the bed that I had to pull during contractions.

I soon realized that the pushing urge I had been feeling ever since my labor started had absolutely nothing to do with poop. It turns out I was not one of the women who go “number two” while giving birth! I had misinterpreted the urge to push out the baby as the urge to go to the bathroom. And that misinterpretation prevented me from having what could have been a very short, very easy birth!

At 1:19 p.m., 3 hours and 40 minutes after being told that I could push, I welcomed my beautiful son to the world. I held him in my arms and told him how much I love him. I couldn’t believe that I could finally hold him. His strong cry conveyed his health. The sense of relief that I felt was indescribable.

The midwives later told me that they really thought I would have to be transferred to the hospital, since I was taking so long to progress. I now know that a typical pushing phase lasts anywhere from a few minutes to a maximum of two hours. Because my son’s heartbeat stayed strong, however, they let me continue trying. I was very proud of him for staying strong, despite his mama’s attempts to hold him in.

I wish I could say that this was the end of my birth story, but unfortunately it was not over yet. In part 3 I’ll reveal how a foul-mouthed biker-gynecologist rode in to save the day.

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