Imagine strapping on several extra weights to your body, climbing a mountain and not being able to stop to rest. The mountain as it rises above the horizon disappears into clouds and the end of your journey is not in sight.  Most of what lies ahead of you is a vast unknown, but from the first step you take you are committed to the climb. Whatever rest you might get will fall in between the strides of your step. Labor can sometimes feel like this. It is why, in my opinion, that a number of women will not choose to have a natural, un-medicated birth. It just seems too hard. It is called labor for a reason.

The choices women make during birth are often made one at a time. You walk in with a “plan” and hope to be able to stick to it as much as possible. The path to birth can often change in midstream and each leg of the journey takes delving deep into your reserves and coming forth with the next right move.

In the midst of a thunderstorm late one night Gayle’s water broke, containing meconium. The presence of meconium meant that her plan to labor at home as long as possible had been superseded by the need to be protective and safeguarding her son’s arrival. Heading out into the storm they made their way to the hospital, were admitted and discovered that she was dilated to only 1-2 cm and  contractions had not yet begun. The first hurdle to climb was surrendering to being on a full time monitor and laboring at the hospital instead of comfortably at home.And while the safety of baby trumps personal preferences, there is also the emotional hurdle of letting go of the “plan.”

My plan after their last call was to sleep, feeling that my strength would be needed by morning and I wanted to be ready to meet the challenge. I did not sleep well. Each time I feel asleep I woke up to dreaming that I was at the hospital with Gayle. About every hour or so I would wake up and realize I was still in my bed. At 5 am I awoke to a knowing. I needed to go. It was helpful that her husband later told me, he felt my timing was perfect. I was glad I listened to my intuition.

When I arrived I discovered that their night had felt productive to them. Her contractions had picked up good and strong and she was moving through them well, they had done that for several hours. However, by the time  I arrived at 6:30 am things had stalled out and not much was happening. In this situation if her water had not broken the night before they would likely have sent her home and asked her to come back later. We did not have that choice.

Gayle  asked for a “reprieve” from the constant monitoring so that she might get a shower.  Staff was able to get a strip of responsive time on baby and gave her permission. Another hurdle crossed, yes..they wanted to be in charge but she did have a voice. I know that was a very enjoyable shower for her. Between the shower, some walking around and movement  and gravity Gayle’s labor once again picked up and started moving. In fact, she moved well into contractions that were 3 minutes apart and lasting a minute or longer. There was a point, I even felt as if she might be headed towards transition. Her body language and her contractions gave every indication that she was progressing very well. The morning melted into afternoon and the hours of the day crept by one by one.

At 2:20 pm  the OB came in to check her progress and reported that she was  4-5 cm. She did an exceptionally painful exam, popping a small sac of membrane and stretching open her cervix. It created a series of very strong contractions that seemed to pick things up even more and creating a great deal of discomfort. Gayle was handling the increased sensations very well. She moved within to a quiet place and worked through them one at a time.  The intensity and the frequency were increasing and holding often at 3 minutes apart, lasting at least a minute often longer. Those long lasting contractions are the ones we want, they dilate the cervix and bring the baby down.

The next great hurdle came when the nurse came in and said that the Dr. wanted to assess her progress. She had been laboring hard for several hours, I believe they too thought things were progressing well. As it turned out she was still 5cm. All of us, Gayle, her husband Eddie and myself all expected that number to be higher. This is the fallback to vaginal exams during labor. Perhaps if we had gone with our own assumptions things might have continued to change, even if that was slow. But the news came like a weight, especially to Daddy, raising doubt and uncertainty.

Gayle was amazing though. She kept digging deep within herself to not let that rule her thoughts and push forward. She would get up and walk around to hopefully stimulate progress, and we hit walls. Sometimes small ones, sometimes big ones and Gayle kept climbing the next hurdle taking them one at a time. Up on her feet and moving she would contract strong and frequent, she would rest or lie down and her contractions would slowly move farther and farther apart and at times slow to nothing.

She was exhausted, sleep walking (or sleep dancing with hubby) or crawling into bed to sleep through just a few contractions, while she carved out the much needed time to prevent an unwanted intervention.  She received some IV fluids at 9:30 and started to have some considerable back labor. She pushed through the challenges, moving around as much as she could, dealing with her aching hips and the onset of back labor. The clock was ticking away, I know the three of us tried to avoid watching the time click by but we knew that there was a 24 hour limit to the insistence of an intervention.  As midnight rolled around we began to have the talk about what the next best thing would be. Even though I could see she wrestled with herself about having hands up inside of her yet one more time she gave in to an exam before agreeing to the introduction of pitocin. There was some wavering in both of them prior to the exam but the news of 5cm was disheartening and eventually Gayle felt the next best thing for her and her baby was to allow a small dose of pitocin.

Contractions began to ride one into the next, between each one I believe all three of us might have been dozing. Sleeping in the almost nonexistent  rest cycles and giving her pressure, support and energy to get through each contraction. I have to say at this point how amazing it is that she wasn’t even talking pain medications. Even though Eddie brought the conversation to light she moved past it and if she were debating it on the inside I never saw it.

Again they checked her at 2:25 a.m. after the pit had been nudged up each half hour. She was 8 cm. It wasn’t long before she was feeling the pressure to push, but it would be hours before she was able to push him out.  WE later learned a nuchal chord was wrapped around him once and it was making it hard for him to emerge. It was likely the stress he was experiencing in all of his attempts to push through her cervix was the interference of his chord. For nearly 3 hours Gayle gave all of her effort and then some to bringing her little guy into the world.  The heaviness of effort and weariness cloaked the room with focused intensity,and at  5:57 a.m. 30 hours after her water broke and in the middle of yet another thunderstorm little Maxwell emerged and the energy in the room was completely changed. Gayle was suddenly lively and full of energy, sparkling eyes and I believe words like “holy f….k” on her lips.

It was unfortunate that those following moments also did not meet Gayle’s plans. She had to give her new son a quick peck on the cheek while he was whisked away to NICU, to make sure he was alright after his long ordeal. It was interesting to note that upon being born he cried and squirmed and generally sounded unhappy, but when presented all bundled up to his mama he became quiet and peaceful  Just the feel of her breath on him and he was soothed instantly. He was followed by a dazed and a little bit loopy daddy to NICU. Fortunately his stay was not lasting.

We use the term “warrior women” amongst ourselves as doulas. We seem women at their most courageous, their most vulnerable and witness the incredible strength and fortitude that they have. That causes us to give them the title we bestow in awe and honor. Gayle came through her birth with all the strength of a warrior. She pushed herself past places she most likely didn’t even know she had. She held as true to her birthing beliefs and desires as she felt supported her and her baby in the moment. It takes as much strength to surrender and allow changes to your plan as  it does to ask yourself to push beyond your conceived limitations. We welcome you to a long line of warrior women Gayle and in to the welcoming circle of motherhood.

Maxwell  was born with 4 planets in Aries. Aries is the sign of the warrior, ruled by the planet Mars. It all seemed rightly fitting that he began his entry into the world and his labor journey in a thunderstorm and emerged during a thunderstorm. I am reminded by an image of Mars the Warrior God from mythology with a spear in his hand made from a lightening bolt.  May the force be with you, little man.