This birth story is long, but if you're planning a hospital birth it's worth reading because it's pretty much 100% positive and very low intervention.
Early in the morning on October 7th I began feeling fairly regular Braxton-Hicks contractions accompanied by a slight cramping/sporadic tightening in the lower segment of my uterus. I had been experiencing this intermittently for the past week; the main difference was that my previous “practice contractions” usually went away with activity and these ones did not. That morning, after breakfast, I took a long walk and drank a liter of water and the “contractions” remained steady although they had no discernible pattern. I called my doulas to let them know that the baby might be born that day, but that I was doubtful since I still hadn’t lost my mucus plug and the uterine activity I was experiencing was painless and (for the most part) not even uncomfortable.
After lunch I drank the remaining red raspberry leaf tea I had in the refrigerator and prepared the “strong infusion” recommended for while in labor (one pint boiling water steeped over one ounce of red raspberry leaf for 30 minutes) and drank it hot. I then took a nap, during which my “contractions” stopped. When I woke up I drove to the park with Alice and Mark. I took a brisk walk while Mark watched Alice ride her bike and the “contractions” resumed. I then alternated between swinging on the swings and bouncing with Alice on the mechanical animals, hoping to jostle the baby into a more engaged position.
We went home and ate dinner. At some point the “contractions” faded out again. I put Alice to bed and took a shower. Around 9:30 p.m. I drank half a glass of wine and then wrote in my journal before going to sleep around 10:30 p.m. At this point I was experiencing some slight cramping/tightening but no real contractions. Sometime during the night Alice got into bed with me earlier than usual (she had been spending most of the night in her own bed) and was fairly clingy and wanted to nurse more than usual. I know that I wasn’t having contractions during the night because I was half-awake nursing her and also getting up frequently to pee.
At 2:25 a.m. on October 8th my water broke while I was in bed nursing Alice. I heard a distinct popping noise and felt a gush. I immediately jumped out of bed, thinking “oh, s-t, this is going to soak the mattress.” I yelled out to Mark that my water had broken as I ran toward the bathroom for a towel. I wasn’t feeling any contractions but the amniotic fluid was leaking out in large, rhythmic gushes. I threw my soaked pants and underwear into the bathtub and put on a clean pair of underwear with a sanitary napkin which was immediately soaked, so I tossed those in the bathtub as well and put on a pair of the Depends I had bought to use for postpartum bleeding. I then put on a clean pair of pajama pants and inserted my contacts.
Mark and Alice had immediately gotten up when I called out and Mark had turned all of the lights on and began dressing himself and Alice. Alice was very excited and happy, running around saying that Livia was going to be born now. Mark seemed nervous that my labor was going to be precipitous even though I wasn’t feeling any contractions yet (other than the rhythmic gushing of amniotic fluid), probably because my labor with Alice had been 6 hours total and during that labor my water hadn’t broken until the second stage. During this time I attempted to call the doulas and/or convince Mark to call them but I was feeling a little bit shaky from so much adrenaline. Mark wanted to leave for the hospital immediately which I thought might be a bad idea (since I had no idea how long my actual labor might be). Mark called the nursing station on the acute unit and informed one of the nurses that his wife’s water had broken and that we would be coming in shortly. I remember being annoyed that he had given them the actual time that it had broken because I was nervous about being “put on the clock.” I got ahold of my primary doula, Jennifer, and told her that my water had just broken and that we were going to the hospital and she said that she would meet us there. I asked her to notify the other doula, Lori, which she said she would do. I gathered together some last minute things and headed downstairs. Mark made sure the dogs had extra water, grabbed Alice’s “hospital bag,” and we got into the car. It was probably only about 20 minutes, max, from when my water broke that we left for the hospital which was about 5 minutes away. At some point during all of this activity I realized that I was again experiencing the same painless “false contractions” that I had been feeling earlier in the day.
We arrived at the hospital around 3 a.m. Mark asked if I wanted to be dropped off in front of the ER entrance (the main one was locked) but I told him I’d rather walk so he parked in doctor’s parking. Alice and I got out of the car and I began walking across the parking lot holding her hand, informing Mark that we’d wait outside the ER for him and the bags. We all went inside the ER entrance and walked across the hospital to the elevator closest to the L&D unit. Mark used his employee code to enter L&D directly. He found a nurse who informed us that the L&D room with the birthing tub was being cleaned because someone had just finished delivering in there but that we could go in once housekeeping had finished and that Dr. H. was already at the hospital delivering another baby. Mark asked if the other hospitalist was awake seeing patients. When informed that he wasn’t, Mark asked to be notified if the nurses had to wake him for anything so he could get our other suitcase and diapers out of their shared room without disturbing him. (***Note: I have no idea what the actual timeline on this point ended up being, but I know that they must have woken him up for something shortly afterwards because Mark went and got the bags a few minutes later.)
***Note: My recollection of the order of events from this point forward is a bit sketchy, but I’ll try to group events that happened around the same time in discrete paragraphs and proceed in a chronological manner.
We settled into our L&D room a little after 3 a.m. As we were entering it Dr. H. came out of the other L&D room wearing scrubs and waved. This was the last time I saw him before Livia was born. I opened a program called Contraction Master on my iPod and began timing my contractions at 3:18 a.m. I gave Alice a snack and showed Mark where in her bag some of her other books/toys/snacks were. At some point early in labor, Alice threw my ipod across the room but it didn’t break.
A nurse named Destiny asked if she could listen to the baby before/during/after a contraction with the electronic fetal monitor. I asked if she could use the doppler instead and she explained that that normally wouldn’t be a problem, but that their sole handheld doppler unit was out being repaired; she offered to hold the EFM against my abdomen (rather than making me wear the belts) as a compromise which I accepted. The process of her monitoring the baby through a contraction was easy and painless, but it seemed like it took forever for a contraction to come. I wasn’t even convinced that what I was experiencing were contractions until we saw it on the monitor. The EFM confirmed that the baby was tolerating labor well. (This initial check was the only fetal monitoring done during my entire labor.) Destiny confirmed that I didn’t want to be offered pain medication. I told her that she was correct. Destiny asked if the doctor could do an internal exam and I said that I would prefer not to do one yet since my water had already broken, but that if Dr. H. wanted to discuss it with me that was fine. No further mention was made of internal exams for the rest of my labor and I did not receive one. I will also note here that I was never asked by hospital staff to: fill out paperwork, provide medical history, give a blood sample, have an IV or heplock, or rate my level of pain.
Mark filled the birth tub and we discovered that the water appeared to be yellow/dirty although the tub itself was clean. We thought this might be from the tub not being used in a long time (according to the nurses) so he drained it and filled it again; the water was still yellow, but I decided to get in anyway. While this was going on the nurse I had been hoping to have assigned to me, Lisa, arrived. She had already worked one shift 12 hours before, but L&D was so busy that they had had to call her in as a backup nurse. The reason(s) I had been hoping to have Lisa as my nurse was because she was familiar with my (unwritten) birth plan and had no issues with anything on it, she had explained to me that she believed in a patient’s right to only consent to the level of care s/he felt comfortable with, and she is a huge fan of the birth tub and just as freaked out by epidurals as I am (we both have chronically low blood pressure). I put Mark in charge of the ipod and got into the birth tub.
The tub was very comfortable and relaxing. My contractions were still very comfortable/painless, however, so the hot water didn’t help with “pain management.” It did encourage me to relax, however, and spaced my contractions out to about 5 minutes apart (they had been erratic, but closer). Alice wanted to get in the tub with me, but I told her she couldn’t because we hadn’t thought to pack a swim diaper and, also, the water was pretty gross with small amounts of mucus plug/bloody show. While I was in the tub Alice pretended that she was my mommy and had to give me a bath which she found very amusing. Mark handed me my glass of water which Alice ended up pouring into the tub fairly quickly. While I was in the tub Mark played the Storm Large song “8 Miles Wide” that I had joked was going to be my mantra before pushing to avoid tearing. Some point after he played the song our doula, Jennifer, arrived and we joked about how she had made (dangerously!) good time. A few of my contractions were a little uncomfortable while in the tub since it was fairly shallow (a jacuzzi bath tub rather than a true “birthing tub”) and there was no good way to remain in an “upright” position. The water was also making me feel a little too warm so for awhile I soaked wash clothes under the cold water faucet, but I eventually decided to get out. Another factor influencing this was that I didn’t want my labor to slow down too much or become too relaxed since I was eager for Livia to be born.
When I got out of the tub I put my black tank top back on, but decided to leave my pajama bottoms off; this necessitated walking around with a towel between my legs because I was still periodically gushing (now pink tinged) water. For awhile the four of us (Mark, Alice, Jennifer, and myself) sat around talking and timing my contractions with the ipod. (As my labor progressed I got pretty OCD about making sure the contractions were timed.) Periodically Lisa would come in and see if there was anything we needed. After a little while, Mark and Jennifer began reading Alice stories from her books.
At some point I began feeling more serious and antisocial and spending more time in the attached bathroom (a curtain divided it from the main room). My bowels were pretty upset and I liked the relative privacy. Eventually I became annoyed by the social atmosphere and the stories Mark was reading Alice (they were from a book I dislike even when not in labor) and so I asked Jennifer to take Alice somewhere else. Jennifer and Alice left for the cafeteria.
I began to feel really tired (this was some time after 5 a.m.) and told Mark that I could understand why people got epidurals in order to sleep/rest. My contractions still weren’t painful, but I couldn’t really ignore them enough to sleep and I wanted to sleep! Mark suggested that I try lying down on the bed to rest, so I laid down on my left side. I immediately began to feel a lot more nauseous and told Mark to get the trash can. I ended up leaning over the side of the bed puking into the trash can Mark held for what felt like a really long time. I also ended up involuntarily pooping on one of the chux pads on the bed. While I was lying there puking my contractions were a lot more uncomfortable, so as soon as I felt a little bit better I returned to the bathroom and the toilet. I think that I had at least one really long/continuous contraction during this period, but I was doing a pretty poor job of communicating my contractions to Mark.
From this point forward I felt almost continuously nauseous and spent most of my time either puking or pooping. I think this entire period was maybe 15-20 minutes at most, but I’m not sure. At some point Jennifer and Alice came back because Jennifer said that Alice had just randomly burst into tears and said she wanted her mommy. I could hear them in the other room, but I couldn’t really see/focus on them. (It may have been during this period or earlier that Jennifer asked me what my pain level was on a pain scale and Mark explained that I didn’t do that...) Some of the contractions were uncomfortable at this point and seemed to last a long time, mostly because I felt so incredibly nauseous. Jennifer and Alice stayed for a short period of time and Alice actually ended up falling asleep in Mark’s arms. I decided suddenly that I needed Mark’s undivided attention and communicated to them that Alice would have to leave, so Jennifer took her to look at the babies in the nursery.
It occurred to me that I was going to have to push at some point and that that meant I should try to finish using the toilet and go into the other room. This seemed like a superhuman feat and I sat there paralyzed trying to figure out how I’d manage it since I felt totally trapped and unable to move. After a little while I stood up and realized that I was pushing/wanted to push and felt something bulging between my legs. I yelled out to Mark that I wasn’t sure but I thought she was coming. He informed Lisa that I might be pushing (I think she had just come in the room to check on us, but I’m not certain).
Dr. H. and more nurses came into the room. I heard Dr. H. telling one of the nurses to “set up the birth kit over here” (on the bathroom floor). At this point I was standing in front of the toilet, and definitely pushing. Dr. H. knelt on the ground in front of me and began saying encouraging things (that I now cannot recall). I remember thinking that I definitely was going to tear because I was pushing in a less controlled manner, and with more urgency, than I had intended, but I saw no way to stop because I just wanted her to be OUT. While I was pushing, I leaned forward and held onto the wall with one hand and Dr. H.’s shoulder with the other. He applied counter pressure to my perineum as I pushed. After only a few pushes, her head was out and I felt him doing something that felt really good. (I later learned from Mark that her shoulders were a little “stuck” and Dr. H. had rotated her to help them out.) Livia Avery was born at 6:15 a.m. (CST).
She seemed very large and grey to me when she was first born. Dr. H. caught her but handed her to me right away. After a few minutes someone pointed out that they should do an Apgar and she scored a 9 (one off for color). After a few minutes he asked me if he could clamp her cord (it had stopped pulsing) and I said “yes.” I handed her back to either Dr. H. or a nurse (I already forget) so that I could move out of the bathroom and onto the bed to deliver the placenta. It was very awkward to walk even a few feet with a surgical clamp dangling from between my legs. I got into bed and Livia was handed back to me and I began breastfeeding her right away. It only took a few tries to get her to latch on properly. It was around this point that Alice and Jennifer came back. Alice was thrilled to meet her little sister.
Dr. H. stood back and waited for the placenta to deliver spontaneously, although he did check its progress every 5-10 minutes or so. I don’t recall how long it took to deliver, but it wasn’t very long, less than 30 minutes. The third stage was very calm and low key. After the placenta was out, he checked me for tears and decided that I only had one very small tear that didn’t require stitches. He also did some uterine massage and assessed how well my uterus was contracting down.
Dr. H., Jennifer, and most of the nurses left shortly after that. Lisa waited until Livia finished nursing and then did the routine newborn assessments, clean-up (with our own soap!), and vitamin K shot in our room. (We opted out of the erythromycin eye ointment and hepatitis B vaccine.) Mark and Alice stayed with Livia while I went into the bathroom for a desperately needed shower and change of clothes.
Postscript: This was my second "natural" hospital birth (first one here) and ended up being a way more positive and enjoyable experience than I ever could have foreseen. My doctor and the hospital staff totally exceeded my expectations. After my first hospital birth, I REALLY wanted a home birth going into this pregnancy but it ended up not being an option (lack of adequate local midwives). Dr. H. is a family practice doctor, but he isn't particularly "crunchy" (has an 80% epidural rate among his patients, prefers hep-lock, managed 3rd stage, etc.) and I was nervous about his ability to be "hands off"... so I was totally impressed by how relaxed and supportive he was once I was actually in labor. My baby is now 2 weeks old and I'm still smiling over how much better this experience was than my first birth (which objectively speaking wasn't that bad).
daughter #2 10/08/10
I'd love to know which hospital this was. I haven't had much luck with the rural hospitals in Michigan near-ish to where I live when it comes to their birth philosophies.
Enjoy your precious new baby!
Thank you for sharing your birth story. I have to say that I'm impressed that the doctor seemed to handle you delivering in the bathroom so well. So many doctors seem to really freak out about making sure a birthing woman is in the bed for delivery! LOL But hey, sometimes they just don't have a choice in the matter. I'm happy to hear that things went so well and that you avoided intervention.
Mama to DD 2.18.03, DS 3.18.06, DD 5.7.11
Jessica married to the love of my life
Momma to: Levi (09/06), Junior (09/05) , Teagann (11/10) and two furbabies Nugget and Boo TTC our next bundle of love since 1/11
Awesome story, thank you for sharing!!