My daughter is coming up on three, but I've just been thinking of her birth lately and finally decided to type it all out. I enjoyed reading other birth stories so much when I was pregnant, now I'll add mine to the record!
I went to sleep the night before my due date feeling like pretty much every other night recently—just hoping I would go into labor soon. I’d been 3 cm and soft for almost a month, and DD's head had engaged weeks before, making me waddle to and from the bathroom all night and day. I fell asleep easily, and woke suddenly at 1:00 a.m. with a huge contraction. I glanced at the clock (her “due date” is here!) and went back to sleep. At 2:00 I woke again with a bigger contraction. This one was so painful I woke fully up. As I lay there in the dark, on the mountain of pillows I’d constructed to keep me comfortable, I started having contractions about every twelve minutes. Big ones. By 3:00 I knew this was the Real Thing, and I felt like I needed to get up and find some better position to manage the pain. I woke up DH and told him I was pretty sure I was in labor, but he could keep sleeping if he wanted. I guess it registered, but he totally just rolled back over and went back to sleep! I got up and poured a bath, since relaxing in the tub has always been one of my best ways to manage stress and pain. Just about the time I lowered myself down into the warm water, I realized that position was really not going to work. The hard ceramic on my bottom seemed to make the contractions reverberate, and they were much more painful than they had been in bed. I was disappointed to scratch that plan, since the warm water had seemed like such a nice idea, and I was feeling chilly in our cold house.
I thought about what I could do next. I had gathered supplies weeks before to make these fabulous triple-chocolate cookies to take to the hospital with me, to share with my nursing staff and visitors. I love to cook and had thought that making these beloved cookies would be a fun way to kill time in early labor. Now, in the middle of the night, in a cold house, with strong contractions and a slightly sick-feeling stomach, the last thing I wanted to do was melt chocolate and fire up my mixer. I put my pajamas back on and flipped on the computer. I moved back and forth from a magazine on the couch to surfing the internet for a couple hours, all the while DH was sleeping upstairs and my cats were wondering what on earth I was doing up. At 5:00 I posted to my due-date-club that I was in labor, then sent e-mail to a few important people with the same news. The contractions were steady and painful, but not unbearable. They were both less scary and more annoying than I had imagined. Around 5:30 I started to feel like I needed some support. I considered waking DH, but I knew his early-riser tendencies would be getting him out of bed soon anyway. I phoned my mother, who was to accompany me in labor, and told her to come on over when she could. I heard my Dad ask her if it was me, and it was heartening to hear how excited they both were.
Around this time I started to get very sick at my stomach. I have always had stomach problems during times of stress or major excitement (my Dad and I made many private jokes about anti-diarrhea medication on the day of my wedding, and although we were joking, I think we did both actually take it just in case), and I guess it was some combination of the excitement and the labor that really through my poor stomach into revolt. I didn’t vomit (yet), but I started to have really terrible diarrhea that lasted for the next few hours. I’d sit on the toilet and between the labor pains and the cramping, it was hard to tell where the contractions were leaving off and one beginning.
DH woke up and was excited but still sleepy, and he acted like he wasn’t surprised at all that our baby was going to be born on her due date. I told him my Mom was on her way, and he asked what he could do to be helpful. The contractions were getting pretty intense, but none of the ideas from our Bradley class seemed just right—I didn’t like counter-pressure, and I just really didn’t want to be touched. I tried the ball but I’m very uncoordinated even when I’m not nine months pregnant, so that just seemed like an accident waiting to happen.
My Mom arrived and I was glad to see her. She fixed me some peanut butter graham crackers, which for some reason tasted just perfect, and took some really terrible pictures of me all straggly-haired in my pajamas and wrapped up in a homemade afghan. We tried to time my contractions but I had a hard time telling exactly when one started or ended. In retrospect, I think the bowel cramping was confusing matters, plus I seemed to be having an odd pattern of contractions where I’d have one small one, then two minutes later one big one, then two minutes later another small. I wasn’t sure if I should just count between the big ones or include the small. In any case, timing was really just a way of passing time since we were not planning to go to the hospital until I couldn’t stand it at home anymore.
The morning went on and I stayed in pretty good spirits in spite of repeated trips to the bathroom. I checked my e-mail again and had gotten fun responses from a couple friends, and then I logged onto MDC and discovered that a friend who didn’t know I’d already posted about being in labor had also announced it for me. That was kind of fun to read. I mostly liked to deal with the contractions by walking around the house. For a while I thought I’d wear a figure 8 pattern in the floor around the furniture in the dining and living rooms. DH thought maybe I’d want to go outside and walk, but I was stopping to lean up against the wall during bad contractions, and I didn’t know how I’d handle them outside. Plus I didn’t want to get dressed. I kept thinking that getting dressed would be one more way to kill time later before going to the hospital.
As the morning progressed and we all were in getting into a real labor groove, things picked up. My contractions got more painful and, unfortunately, my sick stomach got worse. I was nauseous and I had to keep going up the stairs to sit on the toilet. We don’t have a bathroom on the first floor, but there was nowhere to pace on the second floor, so I kept having to go up and down and I really hated having contractions on the stairs. Finally the contractions got so bad I couldn’t stand through them anymore, and I was down on my knees on our rug, leaning over the big ball and really started to vocalize (and complain). DH wanted to know if I was ready to go to the hospital. I said no, but I think it was partly because I didn’t want to get dressed. Then suddenly I felt very sick again and I had to almost run up the stairs to the bathroom. I had such a horrible contraction on the toilet and was feeling so out of control that I started to cry. DH and my Mom came running upstairs and said we were going to go ahead and move to the hospital. It was about 10 am. I didn’t argue, I just kept crying and started rummaging around for something comfortable to wear. All my maternity clothes seemed to have gotten too small in those final weeks, even though I didn’t really gain all that much weight, and I couldn’t bear the idea of putting anything snug on. I knew that crying was a bad waste of energy, but when you are sick and crying you can’t help it, so I cried and put on my clothes. I found some pants that weren’t unbearably tight and pulled on a huge college t-shirt because for some reason I felt better about wearing a shirt that was just oversized instead of maternity. (As if maybe the people at the hospital wouldn’t know? Who knows what I was thinking!)
DH collected our pre-packed bags and we drove to the hospital with my Mom behind. Almost as soon as we were out in the cold air and car my contractions started to slow. By the time we were out onto the highway I was back in my head and was completely aware that my labor was slowing. I commented as much to DH, and we sort of laughed that it was just like we’d been warned in Bradley class, but we decided to head on to the hospital anyway. I did continue to have painful contractions, but they were less intense and more spaced out. I had pre-registered at the hospital, but for some reason they could not find any of my paperwork. DH had dropped me off and gone to park the car, and my Mom was looking for parking, so I was on my own talking to the idiot in the admitting area. He told me to sit down, but I told him it was too painful for me to have contractions sitting down. He just looked at me like I was from outer space. He asked me when my due date was, and I told him today. He said, “you’re being induced?” I said no, I’m in labor. I already said, I’m in labor. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m standing and in pain. (IDIOT!) He had to go through page after page of paperwork, even though I had already filled out and submitted every single thing. (After I got back home I looked up my record just to double-check, and indeed, the hospital had even sent me CONFIRMATION that all my pre-registration was on file. How incredibly annoying!) I swayed through contractions right there in the admitting area, dancing with my hands on the back of the chair I was supposed to be sitting on. DH and my Mom came back and they were confused about why I was having to do all this paperwork. Riiiiggghhht. Finally someone came with a wheelchair and wanted to take me to L&D triage, which was in a totally different part of the hospital. I said I didn’t want to sit in the chair, that I was in labor and it hurt me to sit. That idiot also asked me if I was here for an induction. WTF? I’m in labor!! So I walked next to the wheelchair to triage, where I finally got put in the care of a very nice nurse.
The nice nurse asked about my contractions and my due date, my wishes for my labor, and then checked me. She seemed surprised that I was already at five centimeters, and she congratulated me that it looked like I was going to be one of those rare women who gave birth on their due date. She was very kind and encouraging, and told me that she’d had a natural birth with her daughter some twenty years ago. She put a hep-lock in and took care of the paperwork to get me into a regular L&D room. I didn’t like being in that tiny room with no place to stand or walk around, but I appreciated the nice nurse. Pretty soon she told me she had a room for me, and that I had a good nurse up there, M and that Dr. S. was the doctor on-duty this afternoon for my OB practice. I was immediately disappointed, because Dr. S. had been my least favorite doctor when I was having prenatal appointments. The doctor I had seen for most of my pregnancy was kind and supportive, but I knew I might not get her when I went into labor. Unfortunately, that was the case.
So I said goodbye to my nice triage nurse and moved to my room (#3) in L&D. It was right by the nurses station and overlooked some trees and a highway. I was so glad to be settled into the room where I would have my baby, and I told my DH and my Mom that we were all going to settle in now for some good, productive laboring. I spoke calmly to my baby and told her that we needed to get this labor picked up again. I met my nurse M, who was also very motherly and nice (and also supportive of natural birth!) and she assured me that I could move around as much as I wished. She said she’d need to monitor me for fifteen minutes, so I laid down in the bed and let the monitor be put on, and my DH got lunch for him and my mother. The baby’s heartbeat looked strong, so M unstrapped me and left the three of us to our own devices. She said she’d need to monitor again, but she was sort of vague about when, and in reality she didn’t really bother us much for the next several hours.
I snacked on some nuts and juice we’d smuggled in for me in our bag, but since we were really left on our own, I guess I could have just had DH bring me a sandwich. I wasn’t really hungry, though, just snacky and wanting to keep up my energy. I paced around the room and tried to get back into my labor groove. I phoned my best friend (six hours away) and told her what had been going on. It made me feel supported and calm to talk to her and give the update. In this space of calm, my contractions did start to pick up again. I walked around the room and swayed, and the intensity and frequency started to build again. After a couple hours the nurse came back and put me on the monitor again. This time it was very painful to have to lay down, and it made the contractions slow again as I fought against the pain. My nurse checked me and I was at 6 cm. The monitoring time ended and I got up again, letting the labor resume and reclaiming my labor vibe once again. The contractions really got intense, and I couldn’t find a comfortable place to struggle through them. I preferred to lean over something, but had trouble finding an object of the right height and sturdiness. My Mom and DH were supportive and kind, and tried to get me to calm down in the midst of the worst, but I think I was starting to lose it a little, and was feeling rather spaced out again, just me inside the pain.
Into this, at around 4:00 pm., my doctor bursts, announcing herself to us for the first time. She had a busy afternoon of c-sections, apparently, and was just checking in on my to let me know I wasn’t doing a very good job. She had seen a print-out that showed the relative intensity of my contractions (while I was being monitored) and had it in black-and-white that I’d only dilated 1 cm since arriving at the hospital. Without any kind of nicety or greeting, she looked at me and said “at this rate, I might as well just send you home.” I got furious, and told her I’d love to go back home. I felt like I’d been slapped. She looked surprised at my angry reaction, and then explained that she felt like we needed to “do something” so I didn’t lose my energy. She suggested breaking my water. I was still angry and told her I didn’t want to. She left me to think about it.
As soon as she left I started to cry. I couldn’t believe she’d been so rude to me, and even though I was very intellectually knowledgeable about natural birth (and plateaus, and transition, and the fact I’d had surgery on my cervix and was quite likely to get “stuck” in one place for a while as I dilated), I just sobbed and lost all my nerve. I told my Mom and DH that I wanted an epidural, and that if I had to go on like this I wouldn’t make it, that the doctor was right—I was tired out already. DH said, “you know, this is exactly like transition in the book, right? That you’re doing that? You were doing great!” My mom was similarly supportive. At that point I was so confused I didn’t know what I wanted. I don’t know if it was me or one of them that suggested we go ahead and let her break my water, to see if she was right about that speeding things up.
The next hour is a haze. The doctor returned and broke my water. I tried to get back up to resume my standing/swaying rhythm, but it was disgusting to be leaking all over the place, and the pressure was intense, and that’s when I started to vomit. Right onto the bed (which, handily, was completely covered in disposable pads and such—they must get that all the time), the floor, my socks. I sobbed and puked and demanded pain relief. My DH and mother alternately comforted me and encouraged me, and weren’t sure what to do, since I was sobbing and begging for relief. The doctor came back and and seemed quite apologetic that her supposed plan to keep me drug-free had, apparently, backfired. She suggested we just do two hours of epidural, in which I’d never lose feeling in my legs, and then no drugs for pushing. I said fine, whatever. I had to endure some really agonizing contractions in the bed, because they had to hook me up to the IV and give me a certain amount of fluids before I could be given an epidural. All that time is a blur of pain and vomit and leakiness. Finally a nurse anesthetist came in and banished my mother and husband from the room. My nurse M held my hand and asked me terrifying questions (“do you taste a taste like pennies?”) while I sat at still as possible and got a needle in my back. They laid me back and checked me—9 centimeters.
On my back, with the pain gone and still some odd, alien feeling in my legs (they felt like they must each by 100 pounds), time resumed. It was only about 5:30. We listened to the baby’s heartbeat on my monitor and it sounded comforting. We watched my contractions peak, and it was really surreal to only feel the slightest twinges of their presence. I asked for my phone again and made another call to my best friend, then another to my worried sister-in-law. DH phoned his parents (they’d started driving when he’d called that morning and were now in town, waiting over at his grandma’s house), and Mom called my father. We all just rested for a while and I don’t really think I thought about what would happen next—it just seemed to be this odd, time-suspended moment of half-feeling and drug-induced rest.
While I lay there, we heard a flurry of activity in the room next door. Between overheard conversation in the hallway and the thin walls, we learned that a c-section birth was occurring at that moment just a few feet away. We heard a newborn’s cry.
Nurse M’s shift ended and she introduced me to my new nurse. This one was young, probably younger than me, and looked very cute and pulled-together. I wasn’t sure I really wanted her perky, pretty energy in the room, but decided to make the best of her. Around 7:00 she checked me and I was (no surprise) fully dilated. My doctor also put in an appearance. After my hazy rest period, I wasn’t mentally prepared to push. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen that coming—I just hadn’t.
The nurse helped me get into stirrups (every natural birther’s dream!) and started instructing me on how and when to push. Baby’s head was low and she predicted a short pushing phase and a baby in my arms in fifteen minutes. I was flabbergasted, but I’m not sure why. After all the day’s events, I just wasn’t ready for a baby in fifteen minutes!
I started pushing but wasn’t very good at it. I could still only barely feel the contractions, and I just wasn’t pushing with the right muscles. Baby’s head stayed stubbornly under my pelvis. After about an hour, my doctor came in. She started massaging my perineum and being so kind and supportive that I gathered she felt badly about the afternoon’s confrontation and subsequent epidural. Someone mentioned that I was her sixth birth today—she’d already performed five c-sections. A baby nurse came in and introduced herself, and wheeled in a bassinet stocked with tiny hats and blood pressure cuffs, but after a while she wandered back out. My Mom sat down for a while and I asked her to come back up. I started getting exhausted. Everyone kept telling me how close I was, but I didn’t believe them anymore. My fingers started turning numb from gripping the sides of the hospital bed while I pushed, and I became paranoid that I was dying from my fingertips in and that no one else was worried. I had regained all the feeling in my lower body, but my contractions were spacing out and not strong. I still pushed, as directed. My doctor installed a mirror at the foot of my bed so I could watch my progress, but it wouldn’t stay in place so she crammed a hospital footy in it to keep it in place. The baby finally descended so low that we could see her head, and the doctor could touch her curly black hair. My squeamish husband finally got over his scruples at some point and started watching as well, which made everyone laugh, even me I think. The doctor commented on how long her hair was, and tried to encourage me by saying that when I pushed, some of her long hair was already coming out! I saw but still didn’t believe. The early prediction of fifteen minutes had turned into an hour and forty-five and I thought I’d never get the baby out. The pain of the labor and the discomfort of laying like a stranded turtle for almost two hours was agonizing.
Then finally things changed. I knew that my doctor would probably give me a c-section if I pushed for more than two hours, but I don’t think that was what did it, since at that point I probably would have welcomed any end to that ordeal. I think I just finally figured out how to push productively. Suddenly things were happening very fast, and the end seemed to be in sight. The flurry of activity now descended on my hospital room. The baby nurse hurried back in, with two helpers besides. My doctor’s pager went off, she answered, and I heard her say “room 3? I’m already here!” I felt horrible, awful pressure worse than anything in my life, like I was splitting in two. I know I was yelling and probably disturbing the peace in the whole ward. I remember my nurse said, “it’s going to hurt like that until you push her out!” And I thought I couldn’t possibly handle the pain for one more minute. My mom and DH and everyone kept getting more and more excited in their encouragement, and then it happened—she came out! 8:58 pm. I don’t remember the pain of the final exit, just the huge relief. She was 7 lbs, 4 oz and completely (cone-headedly) beautiful, alert, and calm. She was put in my arms and I immediately noticed that she looked like my husband’s sister, and basically looked exactly as I’d pictured her all those months. It was the most amazing experience ever to meet her.
I did tear (although I’m glad I didn’t get cut) and since my epidural was long-gone I had to get local anesthetic to get stitched up. Once I was stitched, I was able to get up and use the bathroom, and I was glad to have avoided being catheterized. DH and I snuggled her for a bit, and I put her to my breast although she wouldn’t latch yet. Then the family members started arriving (which is fine, because I’m a big family person) and they all came right on in to the labor and delivery room with balloons and flowers and excitement. They left after an appropriate amount of time, and I tried to nurse again (still no luck) and then got wheeled what seemed like miles to my new room in the regular maternity ward. It felt like a victory lap being wheeled through the hospital with my gorgeous baby on my lap, and as people kept smiling at me I kept thinking, “I’m never freaking doing this again. Ever. No more children. I’m never freaking doing this again.” Even though I was totally in love with my baby.
We got settled into our new room and tried to nurse again (still no latch) and then it was time for them to do the newborn exam. Although we had previously agreed to refuse her being away from me, I was just tired and felt oddly peaceful and comfortable and didn’t care, as long as DH went with her. While they did her newborn exam I called friends like a crazy woman, waking people up at midnight to tell them I’d had my baby on her due date. I think they must have thought I was out of my mind! I guess I was a little.
My recovery was fast and easy and the tear healed pretty quickly. DD did have latch problems, and I saw a couple different people for lactation help, but we were able to nurse with plastic shields for three months, and then weaned off of them to nurse au natural until she was two. Although I regret that my doctor upset me and caused me to break my concentration, I felt okay about my birth in the end. For a hospital birth, it could have been worse (this hospital has a c-section rate of almost 40 percent), and I feel confident that my next birth will be better. Now that I know what happens, and a new and wonderfully natural-birth-friendly doctor has opened a practice at another local hospital, I feel like this birth was my training birth for the beautiful, natural one I’ll have next time. And I couldn’t be happier with the result of it, my lovely DD, who will now be three in March.
Homeschooling mama to DD 3/28/06 , DS 2/27/10 , Belle the Orange Dog 03/11, and DD 10/03/2013.