*Posted with permission
I spent Tuesday to Sunday (due date was Wednesday) in prodromal labor, with contractions 5 minutes apart dissipating after about 5 hours each time. Each morning I had to decide whether I would spend the day "trying" to be in labor or enjoying the chance to do whatever I felt like doing before the baby. Sunday morning Nate and I went back and forth about whether to go to brunch with friends hosting missionaries in town from Prague. I didn't expect us to, but in the end we both decided to go. Simliarly that evening we left the house again to go to a Classical Revolution show in Bellevue. By the time we got there, I could think only of sitting still and getting water to drink. I hardly ate any dinner and couldn't imagine socializing. I felt a little nauseous but mostly just disconnected from the buzz around me.
When we got home, I slept from 11:30 til about 1 when Nate came up to sleep. By then, I felt a constant aching in my front and back which I attributed for no good reason to constipation. I lay still in the upstairs hallway (on the carpet) and at times in the bed massaging my lower back and trying to find a comfortable way to lie still.
About 5am, unsure if I ever fell asleep, I started to have contractions. I looked at the alarm clock to time them, simply opening my eyes and taking note every time I felt the wave coming on. The first 5 in a row were all 4 minutes apart so I decided to wake up Nate to let him know. I spent some time in polar bear position and then in the bath soon after to see if the contractions would space out. Nate spent this first hour timing them for me and starting to contact our team. The first stretch of hours were tough and felt solitary, as Nate worked hard at our last minute needs like packing, getting some breakfast together for me and communicating with our doula Melanie and our midwife Amber. I first tried eating some Irish soda bread with sunflower butter that Nate made me, but it was so dry and sticky and I had such little time between contractions that I felt like I couldn't keep from choking.
After about 1/2 an hour you weren't as concerned about me timing them anymore but I thought I was supposed to religiously. I remember them being consistently 2 1/2 to 3 minutes apart and just under a minute along. I remember your back hurting upstairs quite a bit already so we came downstairs. You sat on the birth ball and I supported your back and I remember feeling the baby kicking on your back. Your family kept texting me once I texted them saying it was happening. I called Melanie to tell her it was happening and she said "Do you want to have the baby today?" and that made it feel definite. At that point I contacted family (at 7:30am). Tyler [sister] kept asking if the contractions felt different and asked what the doula said. I sent her a sound clip of you laboring. I remember trying to make breakfast for you but also you being upset because I wasn't right there next to you. I had to remind myself that wives are supposed to be pissed at their husbands while laboring and I didn't need to take anything personally.
The contractions were still 2 1/2 minutes apart and had been for so long that I was surprised we weren't already going to the hospital. I was surprised how hard it was for you to concentrate on anything during or between contractions. Even between contractions it seemed you were getting ready for the next one. You were zoned into that.
I spent some time in the shower and that was some relief. I leaned part way over with my head close to the far wall and the showerhead on my back. During contractions I swayed between this position and leaning my head closer to the side wall of the shower.
At one point Nate answered the phone and it was my dad calling. I was in the midst of a contraction and was concerned that he would overhear my painful breathing and moaning and be worried, but could only control the sound so much. I spent most of the contractions wandering between rooms downstairs trying out different places to sit but nothing seemed like a good place to sit. My back just ached between contractions, not as much as during, but enough that I didn't get to rest like I had been told to expect. I couldn't settle into sitting on the birth ball. Sitting on the toilet facing forward was definitely not feeling right. I knew from our Brighter Birth class that I needed to have some ritual for the contractions and rest between, but I felt like I was still wandering to find the right thing. Over the phone, Melanie recommended I walk through some contractions, so I circled the downstairs. At some point when we talked to her on the phone she asked if I wanted her to come over to our house and I was glad for that, because I remembered that in our prep she had said she doesn't recommend having her come over during early labor, that that should be a time for Nate and me to have together. It was a small mark of things progressing for me.
Melanie came at about 9:30. I was glad for the chance to have Nate and Melanie team up so that one could stay with me while another made things happen (ex. it seemed like wherever I was in the house, my laptop with the labor playlist I had made followed us!) Soon after she got there, she had me try some contractions walking, then on the steps with one leg higher than another. It was helpful that she gave me small finish lines, like asking me to try 4 contractions doing one thing, 5 contractions doing the next, so it didn't feel indefinite. Once at the top of the stairs I was given time to get back in the shower, then we tried more contractions on the stairs.
Since I was still grabbing my back between contractions, Melanie suggested we try an inversion to try and rotate the baby to be more anterior. I was nervous because she said it would be "mean" to make me do, but she suggested just to try it for 2 contractions. I got on my knees on the bed and they lowered me into a push up position. I was actually grateful for the change of pressure and even the distraction of having to use my arms to hold myself up. Following this, she had me lie down on my side and rest. These were actually some of the more painful contractions of this early period, maybe only because of the hope of rest that didn't seem possible! Even so, lying in my own bed gave me a chance to consider that I could imagine why people had homebirths. I had some sense that some of the work of labor was behind me, and I could imagine sticking it out the rest of the way here.
Then another change - we tried facing backwards on the toilet and that seemed a little better. All this time the contractions continued about 3 minutes apart and 1 minute long. I was surprised by how much the pressure felt downward, and how my mind was telling me that it was safest for my body to resist it. With all the affirmations I had prepared for myself, I was surprised that a simple phrase came to mind instead: "Down, baby" and I tried to override my mind telling me to push up and away from the pressure. Nate was so helpful in this because he kept catching my shoulders up high and reminding me to lower them, or seeing my hands rise and easing them back down low by my sides.
Eventually, we got back downstairs and started walking slow laps around the back porch. I had a brief moment to enjoy how cool the day's heat was (after many days of 90 degrees). I liked the chance to be outside, while I walked with my eyes more or less closed and guided by Nate, who was nearly holding me up. Following these laps I spoke up about a fear that had started to be on my mind but I had never thought about in prep for birth - how was I going to get to the hospital? Where I had once thought that a 12 minute drive to the hospital was fortunate and easy, it now seemed like an impossible distance. Back inside, sitting on the birth ball, I shared my fear with Melanie and she seemed to understand that I was ready to move. She told me to get into the car's back seat on all 4's with my head in the baby car seat. She encouraged me that my contractions might slow down for the drive.
The car ride was so hard, but eased by Nate's thoughtfulness in putting on "If I Were a Carpenter" (Johnny & June Cash) on the stereo to take my mind back to our wedding. He got us there smoothly and I tried to open my eyes when I realized we would be crossing the river towards the hospital.
The hospital was so crowded when we arrived at about noon. I had expected to walk through the hospital while having contractions - Nate and I had even joked about it when we were the in the parking deck for my most recent midwife appointment - but I didn't account for how many people would be moving quickly around me. Again, with my eyes closed, Nate held me and guided my steps. Melanie pushed our luggage in the wheelchair, which bothered those around us who kept insisting I sit down and be pushed, but this was always part of the plan. I found out later that a friend was coming out of the elevators as we were going in, and I never saw her. I was glad to be the anonymous laboring mom and could almost picture our little scene from the outside like a sitcom.
We got to Labor and Delivery and Amber (midwife) met us at registration. I had to wait through a contraction to be able to sign my own release. I wanted to apologize, like "sorry, I should be able to do normal stuff during contractions" but of course, everyone just waited patiently because contracting women don't multitask and that's OK :)
We were set up in the same L&D room we had seen on our tour just a couple weeks before. I liked the familiarity. I moved towards the bed where Amber would check my cervix. I overhead Nate in the background asking Melanie to set up the music: "Can you put on the Early labor mix?" and Melanie said "I think we're way past that" which was the first anyone had really spoken about where we were in the timeline of labor. I had expected to be obsessed with measuring the progress of it all, but apart from the early timing of contractions, it just never came up.
I had a brief spiel from an anesthesiologist, asking for my signature, but otherwise - again - medication just never came up. Looking back, I can't even think when I would have asked for an epidural in the process. I had been so lukewarm in my commitment to "resisting" the epidural, but in the end it somehow never entered my mind. I attribute this entirely to my support team, especially of Nate and Melanie there to build my confidence early on. Melanie's familiarity with birth assured me that the frightening pressure I was feeling was actual the labor itself, and that I was quite safe (not just to feel it, but to actually let my body go "down" with it!)
Finally, Amber checked my cervix, which hadn't been checked since I was 33 weeks pregnant. I didn't know what to expect, but late in labor had had my hopes of getting to the hospital and hearing I was already 5 cm (I didn't let myself hope for more!). Amber said I was 7 cm and had a bulging bag of waters. I was so relieved and proud of myself to get to the hospital so far along, but had a twinge of fear about how it would change when my water broke.
Since I was GBS positive, the nurse quickly put in my penicillin IV which Amber wrapped in plastic so she could help me immediately into the tub. I anticipated wanted to be upright on my knees leaning on Nate, but was surprised how much comfortable I was lying back into Nate's legs and arms. He mentioned later how hard this work was for him, to lean down into the tub to hold me up. Before turning over onto my back, I felt a small pop like a balloon bursting and told my team that my water had broken. Everything was clear, so we continued in the tub.
At some point during the hour I was in the tub (his recollection of the time - to me it felt much briefer) he asked Melanie to bring the affirmation cards I had made and he held several of them for me to see. Melanie selected one in particular to encourage me that said "My son is almost here." Seeing the affirmation cards gave me a moment to be grateful for how different my labor experience was than I had prepared for. All along Nate and I had both talked through how to handle my anxiety and the inevitability of my feelings of panic. Instead, thanks to the safety of my support team or the momentum of my labor's progress which never stalled or gave me too much space to mentally commit to anything but the work of "staying ahead of the contractions" (Melanie's words), I never panicked. I took a moment to reflect on my unexpected courage. I was so surprised at how positive my internal monologue turned out to be under pressure. Coming out of a tough contraction, I told myself "that was even a really hard one, but you did it and you're OK!"
While in the tub, I started to feel like my body was pushing. I tried to resist it and forced all my energy against it (and "up"), then told Melanie that I thought I was going to throw up. I was surprised no one ran for a bucket! I knew that in the transition to pushing, I was likely to need to hold off on pushing because I might not be fully dilated even if I felt like pushing. Instead, now Melanie told me that I could bear down if my body felt like it was trying to. I was impressed with how heavy the downward pressure felt - different than before, and I was glad to be held up in the water. Here Amber checked my cervix again and shared that the baby was in a +4 position, right at my pelvic bone. They started coaching me about leaving the tub to push the baby out. Later, Melanie told me that Amber expected I might have the baby on the floor outside the tub and had set up towels down there for that possibility.
It took all of their arms to help me climb out of the deep tub between contractions and they helped me move to the adapted bed in the middle of the room. It was here, for pushing, that I was most impressed by the teamwork between Melanie and Amber, with the seamlessness of their communication with each other, plus how efficiently they were able to explain to me how to push, in a very few words. Melanie encouraged me to tuck my chin as I pushed, and to feel like I was pushing down around the baby. Amber coached me through grabbing my own ankles and then knees. With each contraction I gave a quick "OK" to signal to Nate and Melanie to hand me my legs so that I could pull/push. Amber calmly helped keep my perineum healthy through the pressure with oil and massage, and updated me regularly on the progress of the baby's head. Not long after I began pushing, I was able to reach down and feel a small section of my baby's hair covered head.
During each contraction, I tried to give 3-4 pushes and was surprised how easily I got out of breath, but also how much work my body could do just by holding my breath and bearing down low. Amber encouraged me that our son was making real progress. She said he was clearly a big baby, but that my pelvis was plenty big enough to accommodate him. Soon, she and the nurse confirmed that the baby's heart rate was quite low from the pressure on his head, and Amber calmly assured me that we would be able to get him out without any danger, but that I would need to work hard on the next few pushes.
I didn't have much brain space to think or worry about the baby's condition, but kept up the rhythm Amber had set up for me. As we got closer, and she confirmed that his head was very close, I started anticipating what I had heard of as the ring of fire when his head would be fully crowning. Instead, the pressure felt very consistent so that I didn't know how far along we were in the pushing phase. Amber called Nate over quickly (I think he didn't realize that I had said on our birth plant that he wanted to catch the baby, and we hadn't discussed it in weeks!) and Nate prepared to hold our son's body as he slid out.
I can't remember the moment our son was placed on my chest, because I was too stunned! Who knew he could go from barely crowning to fully out and laying heavily on my chest so quickly! I was still anticipating further pain from pushing when he was already out and ready to meet us. I couldn't believe how big he was, how fully formed! He was nothing like a fetus at all but a real boy!
Nate circled back to my side and Amber handed him a pair of scissors so that he could cut the cord. He put the scissors in his armpit to store them there, thinking Amber just needed them to hold them, then couldn't find them when she said to cut. It was funny watching that interaction and feeling more with-it and less stunned than even Nate felt in that moment.
I delivered the placenta almost immediately after and didn't feel it pass at all. Because we had had to get our son out so quickly, I was left with a 2nd degree tear which Amber mended with some stitches. I was hoping to be distracted by our new son so much that I didn't pay attention to her work, but I was very aware of the procedure - though it was mercifully short! While she worked, Nate was at my side holding up the list of baby names for me to see - he had written out first and middle name combinations for us to consider, from the short list we had brought to the hospital with us.
8 lb 12 oz
A final surprise: perhaps because I felt so much satisfaction at having given birth courageously, I was not at all hampered by embarrassment at the limitations of my body post-partum. I needed a bedpan for the next 12 or so hours, then had to be carted to the bathroom, but I didn't find these supports humiliating like I thought I would. I even asked a nurse nonchalantly to check and see if I was bleeding or peeing on my self. My belly was shaking with adrenaline for the next 24 hours which kept me to weak and lightheaded to walk on my own. I loved how ridiculously I giggled when I got started, because of how loose my stomach muscles suddenly were - like a bowl full of jelly! It did make me feel jolly.
I couldn't believe I had done it! Sometimes I still can't believe I am already on the other side and my son is here, after so many weeks of fearing and dreading labor (or even looking forward to with excitement but not knowing what to expect), and that my son is here!
I fully expected the weight of his arrival to hit me in joyful tears right away, like it did for Nate, but for some reason I was finally struck days later, at home, when reading another woman's birth story who had recently given birth at VCU as well. For some reason it was that moment that I looked around the bedroom at the evidence of Gus' arrival and felt overwhelming blessing to have had a successful pregnancy and a healthy birth to have our family at home together!