*Disclaimer* This is my personal account of the natural birth of my son.  The thoughts and opinions within this testimony are my own.  All pregnancies and birth experiences are exclusive to the individuals involved.  I respect the necessity of particular birthing options within the realm modern medicine when applicable.
     It is easier to understand my personal stance on childbirth by my upbringing.  My mother gave vaginal birth to 6 children.  I was number 3.  My two youngest brothers were home births, and I always considered all-natural childbirth as the way to go.  It is my hope that this story can provide both information and inspiration for any woman considering a natural, drug-free childbirth.
Baby Sterling, 9 hours old, and ready to go home!
     At 8:45pm on Christmas Day 2012, my water broke while my husband, AJ, I watched Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.  I called my doula from The Mothering Way, Ryka George, and the attending midwife at the Austin AreaBirthing Center-South, Vicki Meinhardt, to share the news.  We spent the next hour finishing the movie and resting up for the upcoming birth time.  By 10pm, I had experienced a few contractions, or as we like to call them, birth waves.  To me, they felt like muscle spasms in my hip flexors and round ligaments surrounding my uterus.  From 11pm- 12am, the contractions came in increasingly regular intervals of 7-4 minutes apart.  Since my water had already broken, more fluid was expelled with each pulse, and I spent most of that hour sitting backwards on the toilet.  They increased in intensity to a point where I no longer felt I could talk to my doula or midwife on the phone.  We had learned in our birth class that this was a physical sign post of Active Labor, and it was time to head to the Birthing Center a few miles from our home.
     We arrived at the Birth Center at 12:30am, and were immediately greeted by Vicki and ushered into the Folklife Room.  Of the three birth rooms at the Birth Center, the Folklife Room has the warmest feel to it with low lights, hill country décor, and soft colored walls that give a womb-like feel.  All rooms there are fully equipped with a huge walk-in shower with a built-in bench, large bath tubs, a queen sized bed, and individually decorated with a hip theme.   I headed straight to the bed to keep myself relaxed and started my birthing music playlist.  Vicki checked my progress and I was at the same point of progression from my last belly check a few days prior; 95-100% effaced, 2-3 cm dialated, and my cervix had moved posterior.  She adjusted it anterior to facilitate the process.  At the beginning of the next wave, I realized that I would not be able to manage them lying down.  The muscle spasms were so intense and powerful, I was in excruciating agony if I was not upright.  My doula, Ryka, arrived shortly after and quickly took to my side for support.  During a break between waves, I pointed out the areas of discomfort.  Ryka suggested using the hand sprayer in the shower directly on the tight muscles for relief.  To my pleasant surprise, it made a world of difference.  I spent the next four hours moving between standing in the shower, sitting on the toilet backwards, walking around the room, and even doing squats to get through the waves of ever-increasing intensity and quickening intervals.  At one point, I tried laboring in the bathtub, but due to the muscular activity of the birth waves, it was not as effective for me as standing in the shower.  Having the ability to move around and constantly adjust my position was absolutely paramount for me to manage labor drug-free.  

    As we recalled later, I treated this entire process like an athletic event.  I relaxed between waves, even if it was just by putting my head against the wall, and going as limp as possible.  I drank water regularly.  I thought of the birth team like my pit crew in a race.  AJ and Ryka were constantly by my side offering support.  From rubbing my back to spraying water on my tiring muscles to pushing on my hips as if to open my pelvis like a clothes-pin, I could count on the two of them the entire night.  As I had previously learned to endure some of my toughest CrossFit workouts, I ate coconut oil by the spoonful to not only keep me fueled, but to also help reduce inflammation.  I sniffed Clary Sage essential oil to help with pain.  To me, the process felt like a continuous Tabata workout at maximum intensity.  I had no choice to sandbag a round, or take a break.  My body just kept working.  I thought of how each wave were my muscles doing the job to help bring my baby out, and focused on relaxing as much as possible between rushes.  Modesty was out the window.  I met each wave with a loud, low moan to melt into the ache like releasing tension during a deep massage.  I imagined my body assisting the baby to move down.  By 1:30am, I was 5cm dialated. 

     At one point, I remember the waves getting so incredibly intense, I thought I just couldn’t handle anything stronger.  We had learned in birth class that this point is known as Transition, and it’s like reaching the top of the hill.  It doesn’t necessarily get easier, but the waves are supposed to stay at that intensity until the end.  I asked for Vicki to check my progress.  It was 3am, I was indeed in transition at 7-8cm dialated.  This is when most women go through a period of doubt and desire to flee the scene.  I remember thinking that this is like mile 20 in a marathon.  Regardless of how exhausted I was, it was time to suck it up and drive on to the finish line.  I remember vividly a few major thoughts in my head during this time.

1. How could anyone voluntarily do this more than once?
2. Savor the exquisite pain.  Stay in the moment and work through each wave as they come.
3. I am so glad I can move around to manage this.  I am even more relieved that I have no option for drugs at the birth center.
4. If I were restricted to a bed, I would demand an epidural.  

  One hour later, I was almost completely dialated, but there was a catch, literally.  Part of my cervix had become inflamed and a lip was caught on the top of the baby’s head.  We needed to allow the baby’s head to mold to the birth canal as well.  Pushing was not an option, but it was all I wanted to do.  I have no idea how I got through the next two hours.  Somehow, I managed to lie on my side, fighting the urge to push, yet staying relaxed enough to let my body continue to work.  Vicki checked me every 20-30 minutes to put Evening Primrose oil on my cervix and give me arnica to bring the inflammation down.  Ryka stayed by my side and held my hand while AJ rubbed my back.  The birth assistant, Cat, arrived and took over rubbing my back to give AJ a break.  She used Clary Sage oil on my back which eased some of the back pain.  Those two hours tested my limits of mental fortitude and surrender; a practice in total contradiction.  At certain moments, when I thought this is absolutely ridiculous, I would look Ryka in the eyes, and as though she could read my mind, she would nod and say with confident encouragement, “You’re doing it.”  I realized the true power of my body when I got up to use the toilet, and involuntarily pushed with a wave.  It just overcame me, and without choice, I let out a grunt.  I also tried getting in the bathtub again, but experienced the same unintentional push with a wave.  So, it was back to the bed, lying on my side.   
     Around 5:30am, Vicki allowed me to “gently” succumb to the urge to push, but stay in my side-lying position.  She told me to push a little if I desired, but not too hard.  It was a huge relief to at least get to give in to the urge, at least a little.  Finally, at 5:50am, Vicki told me it was time to push.  Due to the irritation on my cervix, I had to stay on my back.  But, when I was completely flat on my back, the baby’s heart tone would drop.  So, we compromised, and I spent the next half hour in a half-side/ half-back position pushing my little angel out.  As we neared the end, I realized why they call it the ring of fire.  I tried to envision myself opening like a lotus flower, but damn it burned like a flower of hell.  Just when I thought I was going to faint from exhaustion and pain, Vicki told me that she could feel the head and it had hair on it.  I reached down and felt my son’s head, longing to emerge.  Like the final sprint of a race, I sucked it up and found strength from deep within to push him further.  I felt his head crown during one of the waves, and creep back up slightly when it was over.  During the next wave, I reached down as I pushed and felt his head move.  I took another breath and pushed through the burning fire and kept my hand on his head as it came out.  There were a few seconds of rest before the final wave rushed over me.  I looked at Vicki and asked if I could push him out.  She encouraged me to finish the job.  I took a deep breath and bore down as she assisted my precious one into the world.  She immediately placed my baby on me so we were belly-to-belly.  I was amazed that the first thing he did was lift his head and look around.  My doula noticed my awe and mentioned that this is completely common for un-drugged babies.  As he let out a small cry, I put my hand on his head and told him he was safe and ok.  He immediately relaxed.  We soon discovered that the reason my cervix had become inflamed was because the umbilical cord was short and did not allow the baby’s head to travel straight though the birth canal.  Instead, he was positioned slightly canted.  Fortunately, this was not a life-threatening situation, but a minor hitch in the birth process.  Thanks to my wonderful birth team, we managed to overcome the obstacle without harm to me or my baby.

Vicki swaddling Sterling so he can visit his big brother
     We waited until my baby received all of the nutrient-dense cord blood from the placenta, and the cord went limp before AJ cut him free.  The placenta followed within 25 minutes, and I only needed 3 stitches for a minor tear.
     Howard Sterling Rosenberg was born at 6:18am on December 26, 2012.  He weighed 7lbs 14oz and was 21 1/4 inches long.  He is named after my grandfather on my father’s side (Howard), and AJ’s uncle on his mother’s side (Stirling).  We are using Sterling as his first name.  His birth was both the most intense and magical moment in my life to date.  I am incredibly thankful to my husband and the birth team for helping this to be such a positive experience for my child’s introduction to the world.