WARNING: The following account may be too explicit for some readers. Use caution.
I wanted to share my birth story with you all for a few reasons. First, I'd like to get it down in words while it's still fresh in my mind. What was already somewhat of a blur might become hopelessly unrecognizable should any considerable length of time be allowed to pass. Second, I think it important to demystify as much as possible the birth process, especially since most of our understanding of birth likely comes from watching A Baby Story on TLC. If someone like me, who despises even the smallest discomfort, can endure a natural labor, anyone can.
No, really, the last time I stubbed my toe, I thought I was going to die.
Anyway, if this subject makes you squeamish or uncomfortable, I won't be offended if you don't read it. You won't hurt my feelings. That said, I begin my tale.
my darling husband, and my mom) found ourselves home once again at 11am the following morning. False alarm.
Needless to say, I was pretty discouraged. My contractions gradually petered out as I attempted to regain the sleep I had lost while at the hospital and by the end of the day had completely disappeared. How was I ever going to know when real labor began? I tried to keep my mind off of it the rest of the day, hoping that I wouldn't have to wait too much longer.
The next day my Braxton-Hicks contractions started up again, and didn't go away with changes in activity. This was a hopeful sign, but I tried not to get my hopes up and went about my day as usual. My mom and I planned on making a rather involved layer cake that evening, for example. By early evening, the contractions were coming closer together and increasing a bit in intensity, though not enough to be particularly bothersome. Before the RCIA session (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, for those unfamiliar with the term, and I'm one of the catechists) that evening we all went to Five Guys Burgers and Fries for supper, and I remember commenting that if I did go into labor that night, I would regret having eaten a greasy burger with jalapeños on it beforehand. We'll follow up on that comment later...
We went to RCIA and no sooner had I sat down than I was hit with a rather painful contraction. I breathed through it as best I could without drawing attention to myself and, once it was over, I leaned over to my mom and whispered, "I just had a doozy." For the rest of the session I would kick my mom's foot whenever a contraction started and again when it ended so she could time them accordingly. Can I just say that breathing through contractions in a room full of people without drawing attention to oneself is really REALLY hard?? By the end of the session, about 8:30pm Central Standard Time, my mom and I were fairly well convinced I was in labor for real this time. My contractions were at least a minute long and around five minutes apart, gradually increasing in intensity. On our way home we stopped at the liquor store for a bottle of wine. We prepared ourselves for a long night.
Once home I immediately changed into comfortable clothes and tried to relax. My mom poured me a glass of wine and we all settled in to watch Moby Dick on Netflix Instant Watch (we're huge Gregory Peck fans). I missed most of it because of my contractions, and had to transition to my hands and knees to deal with the pain. In between contractions, I sat back and took a sip of wine. Boy, was that a lifesaver! Eventually we had to stop the movie so we could all get some rest before things really picked up.
I laid down in the bed on my side, in the running position recommended by Dr. Bradley in Husband-Coached Childbirth, and waited for the next contraction...
Side lying may work for some people, but it certainly did not work for me. I leapt up onto my hand and knees right there in the bed and moaned through the contraction. From that moment onward time became a blur. It was me and the contraction, one-on-one. Each one was like a mountain, with a discernible ascent, peak, and descent. Right when I thought I couldn't take anymore pain it would subside and I would have a few moments of rest before the next ascent. My husband helped me stay focused by talking me through the contraction and reminding me to breath slowly. As per the wise words of my mom, I tried my best to focus on each contraction and rest as a separate event, and not to look back at what I had already been through, nor look forward to what I had yet to accomplish. This kept me from despairing over how long I had already been in labor and how much longer I had to go.
Like I said, time became irrelevant after a while. So I really only have a vague idea of how long I labored at home before we decided to make the hour-long drive to the hospital. I want to say the contractions really got intense around 11pm and by 3am they were each over a minute long and three minutes or so apart, and we were packing into the car. I thought the drive would be horrendous since I'd have to spend the entire time in a seated, semi-reclining position, but it actually went by quite fast, and the pain was no greater than it had been at home. When we got to the hospital, I scurried inside in between contractions like a frantic bunny and commandeered the nearest available wheelchair. I remember waiting for the nurse to come take me up to Labor & Delivery whilst providing some pretty snide commentary for an infomercial about some weight loss "breakthrough" they were showing on the TVs in the waiting area. Apparently my sense of humor wasn't affected.
We settled in to the room and, as per hospital protocol, they hooked me up to the electronic fetal monitor to see how everything was going. Thankfully I only had to be on it for 30 minutes because reclining in that hospital bed was not my favorite position to labor in. That and I noticed a decided shift in the attentions of my support team from me to the monitor. I was very glad when they disconnected me.
I gave the nurse permission to check my cervix, and was found to be at 4cm dilation and 100% effaced. One of the many things I was thankful for during my labor was that every time I was checked, I was asked for my permission first. I know some women who weren't even extended that courtesy. I was a little disappointed I hadn't progressed farther, but I tried to stay positive. Since I was GBS (Group Beta Strep) positive, I was hooked up to an IV for antibiotics. I asked for a birthing ball, and sat on that until my midwife arrived. I ended up spending most of my labor on that ball. What a Godsend!
Speaking of Godsends, after my midwife checked in with me and made sure everything was going well, she told me that once I was off the IV, I could go ahead and use the jacuzzi tub in the room if I wanted. Well, there was no question I wanted! The minute they unhooked me from the IV pole, I made a beeline for the bathroom (I had a Heparin lock on my IV port so I could be mobile). I sat down in the warm waters of the tub and just laid back and went limp. The contractions, though no doubt increasing in intensity, were much easier to bear. I spent a good long while just soaking and working through each contraction.
I sat in the tub MUCH longer, I'm sure, than the 30 minute time limit. My darling husband sat next to me on the floor of the bathroom and encouraged me. I knew something was happening when one of the contractions lasted almost five minutes! I felt like I wanted to cry for the first time and thought to myself, God, I hope this is transition! Sure enough, when the midwife checked me once I was out of the tub she found me at 7cm! Hallelujah!
Remember that burger and fries I had earlier? Right around transition I began to regret that decision. I had pretty intense heartburn, and remember asking the nurses if they had any almond milk (it was the only thing that helped my heartburn during pregnancy). Thankfully, I didn't throw it up...blegh.
The transition contractions were far more intense and lasted much longer than the ones I had already experienced. I spent the whole time (again, I have no idea how long it was) sitting on the ball with either my mom or my husband behind me for support. The midwife had to make my husband go get some food in the cafeteria (apparently he was looking pale). I kept telling myself after each contraction, Ok, you survived that one, you can survive the next one...
The nurse suggested I use the bathroom since I hadn't been in a while. I was hooked up to the IV pole again for the second round of antibiotics, so hauling that thing in after me was a royal pain in the....you know what. I kept wondering whether I would know when it was time to push. The nurse had asked me if I felt any pressure in my bottom and I told her "Yes, ever since I went into labor!" I guess I still had some misconceptions still hanging around from watching too many movies, because I was afraid the kid was gonna fall out of me! I wouldn't know I was pushing, and before I knew it I would be catching a baby! HA!
I had nothing to worry about. The contraction that came while I was in the bathroom felt entirely different than the early labor of transition contractions. I felt like everything was pushing down and in, and while it wasn't as painful, it was much stronger. The midwife checked me and I was at 9.5cm with a little cervix still in the way.
Finally! Now I can do something! I was convinced it was almost over. I needed it to be because I was absolutely exhausted. I knew I wanted to push either squatting or on my hands and knees. But when I tried to squat I didn't have the strength left in me to hold myself up. The midiwfe brought over the birthing ball and put it in front of me on the bed so I could rest against it in between contractions, and we tried hands and knees. After three or four contractions I was beside myself with exhaustion and entirely uncomfortable. For the first time during my labor I began to doubt myself.
I don't think I can take much more of this...
We ditched the ball and I laid back on the semi-reclined bed. I knew an upright position would help things go faster, but I just didn't have the strength. If I had been at home, I probably would have needed something to eat, but because of ridiculous and outdated hospital policies, I was only allowed clear fluids. Thank God for the coconut water I had brought with me.
At this point, I just wanted it to be over with. I had already been laboring for 14 hours. Now that I was pushing, I was convinced it would only be a matter of maybe an hour before he would be born...
I pushed, and pushed, and pushed, and PUSHED!!
Two hours later, I was still pushing, and saying over and over "I can't do this...I don't have another one in me..." My husband and my mom (who were both holding my legs at this point) kept reassuring me. The midwife kept telling me I was doing fine. I wasn't convinced. I was going to be pregnant forever.
The midwife finally brought over the mirror so I could watch my progress, since I was convinced that nothing was happening and he was stuck somehow. Let me tell you...that was downright amazing to watch. At first all I could see was a quarter sized patch of scalp and hair. With each contraction it got bigger. I couldn't believe how big his head was! Just when I thought it was almost out, the midwife pointed to an area of almost an inch around the opening and said "That still has to come out."
Are you kidding me?!?
In between the contractions the midwife encouraged me to reach down and feel his head. After nine months of dreaming about him and being able to touch and hold him, I stroked his little head. It was so surreal, and honestly was probably what made it possible for me to continue pushing. He's almost here!
My muscles hurt, I was tired, and his head had been crowning for at least a half hour (!!!). My perineum was screaming for relief (the midwife did a fantastic job helping it to stretch so I wouldn't tear). The midwife turned to the nurse and asked her to make sure Dr. So-and-So was available just in case she needed help delivering his shoulders. I knew that the hands and knees position would help with that if it came up, but the midwife insisted she couldn't protect my perineum if I did that. Whatever...thankfully it wasn't an issue.
He let out a lusty cry and immediately pinked up. I automatically began speaking to him comfortingly and rubbing his back. I will never forget how his cries silenced at the sound of my voice and his little eyes opened right up and stared at me, as if to say, "Hey, I recognize that sound..." He hardly made a peep the entire time he was in my arms.
The lactation consultant was right there to help me get him started on the breast, and was talking to me about letting him find it and latch on by himself. I was familiar with this phenomenon after seeing videos like this one, so I was curious to see if Dominic would do it. He seemed rather nonplussed by the whole idea, so we had to help him along in the end. He wound up nursing less than an hour after birth.
As per my wishes, the clamping of the cord was delayed until it had stopped pulsing. The midwife invited my husband to cut the cord. About 10 minutes later the midwife told me to push and I felt something slide out. She then held up one of the largest placentas I have ever seen! My husband was awestruck. I almost think he wanted to keep it as a souvenir. To be honest, I kinda wish I could have had it encapsulated, because the baby blues really hit me hard that coming week. Maybe next time...
Despite all our efforts to protect my perineum I had torn pretty bad, although not in the way we had expected. I had an inner vaginal tear, and the midwife had to call in a surgeon to help her repair it. I suppose it's a testimony to how childbirth really destroys one's inhibitions that when this surgeon, who I had never met before, came into our room, the fact that my legs were in stirrups didn't seem to phase me one bit. I was focused so intently on breastfeeding Dominic that I almost didn't notice what they were doing. I say almost because it's really hard not to notice when someone has both his hands up there! The surgeon kept commenting on how quiet I was despite the fact that I hadn't received an epidural or any narcotic pain relief. One of the nurses watching said she would never want to get in a fist fight with me.
Keep in mind...I am a WUSS.
I wish I could say the rest of our hospital stay was as peaceful. I won't bore you with all the details, but suffice it so say they were extremely paranoid of Dominic developing a Group B infection (obviously they don't have much faith in the antibiotics). We got little sleep that night. Dominic wanted to be held constantly and I wasn't sure if I would be reprimanded for co-sleeping so I kept myself half-awake in case the nurse came in to check on us (which she did almost every hour...ugh). After that we decided that home was the best place for us...we just had to convince the hospital of that. One superfluous blood test later and we were cleared to leave.
Had you asked me 5 years ago whether I thought I would be able (or want) to labor completely naturally, I would have laughed in your face. I'm still amazed that I was able to do it without once screaming for an epidural. My mom was even impressed at how well I handled it...she knows how much of a wuss I am. I chalk it all up to trusting my body to do its thing and working with the pain instead of recoiling from it. Not to mention the awesome support I received from my husband, my mom, and our midwife! Nick deserves extra kudos for being as much of a noob as I was to this whole thing and never once flinching. I couldn't ask for a better husband, and Dominic couldn't ask for a better father. Looking back, if I could change anything, I would have trusted my body as much during the pushing phase as I had done during the rest of my labor. Overall, however, I was extremely pleased with how our midwife and nurses handled our birth experience and I count myself lucky that I was able to have such an experience in a hospital setting.