Okay, so something that I’m starting to feel fascinated with is birth stories. It’s not necessarily that I’m in a place where I’m ready to have a kid, or that I’ve caught baby fever, it’s more that I’m fascinated by what the human body can do. More specifically, I’m intrigued by what a woman’s body can do. We can lift. We can run. We can have incredible boobs and incredible bodies. And then we can create and birth life? And then nourish the life with our bodies after? It’s incredible.
More so, I’m intrigued by the different choices women have. You can birth your baby in the hospital. You can have the baby at home on your bed. You can have the baby in a bathtub. You can choose pain medications. You can not choose it. But at any rate, I find it really fascinating, and so today, I bring yo a special treat – my niece’s birth story!
With everything that our family had been going through we were getting increasingly impatient for Evangeline’s arrival. We wanted more than anything for her to be healthy, but we were ready for her to come. Saturday, January 19th, Jimmy and I ran some errands and tried to get some last minute things done just in case, as I said, ” this was our last weekend just the two of us.” That night I ended up calling the midwife on call, Lisa, because I was having some bleeding. She told me Evie and I had nothing to worry about, and that it could possibly be a sign of early labor (Yay!), although there was no way to be sure. With this news I decided to get some sleep. Looking back I’m glad I did!
At 4:30 am I awoke to contractions I couldn’t sleep through. After having had lots of Braxton-Hicks for weeks, and spending hours the previous Wednesday timing them only for them to stop entirely, I knew this was different. I couldn’t sleep- due to discomfort and excitement- so I moved to the living room to watch television and try to be sure if it was finally really go time or not. Around 6 am the contractions became regular enough to warrant timing them. I was letting Jimmy sleep, but he woke up and realized I wasn’t in the bed and he came in to check on me. Was this it!? Still not sure.
We passed the time watching television and I did my best to stay hydrated. I ate when I was hungry, and though I couldn’t sleep I did my best to rest. Around noon things seem to be progressing regularly enough that it was time to alert the family and a few close friends. My mom hopped in the car and began the six hour drive to Nashville!
Things progressed somewhat slowly as I took a bath to relieve the pain and breathed through contraction after contraction. Jimmy was wonderful at reminding me to breathe and he let me lean into him with every surge. Eventually my contractions reached a steady five minutes apart and one minute in length for over an hour. It was time to call the midwife again. Now Erin was on call, the midwife who caught my cousin’s youngest baby. As she could easily tell (I suspect anyway) I was having regular contractions all right, but their intensity still had a long way to go. She told me to wait as long as possible to come in, and let me know she would inform the midwife coming on for night shift that she should expect me later on in the evening. More waiting… More intensity… Lots of time spent on a yoga ball and on my hands and knees on a yoga mat breathing and focusing trying to let my body do its job. Finally my mother arrives with my sister too! Such a nice surprise! I had wanted my sister to be there with me, but with two young children at home it hadn’t seemed possible.
Their initial arrival was a nice distraction since at this point I had been awake and contacting for 14 hours already. Soon I was reaching the point of discomfort that made the thought of enduring these contractions in the car less than ideal, and my mother and sister both felt that it was time to go to the hospital. Jimmy called the midwife for me, as I was now unable to talk through contractions. Shift change had occurred once again. The midwife on duty was Elaine, the only one at the practice I go to that I had never met. Figures, but at that point it didn’t really matter. I had known this was a possibility. Jimmy answered Elaine’s questions as my mom, sister, and I prepared to leave. Elaine asked if I wanted an epidural waiting for me, and Jimmy assured her that I did not.
The ride to the hospital is a bit of a blur. I think we hit all, or mostly all green lights on our way to Vanderbilt. We live just a few miles from the hospital so it didn’t take long. It was still before 9, so we expected to pull into the valet parking and stroll right into labor and delivery while a nice attendant parked our car. Not that night! The valet entrance was blocked and there was no one on duty! A quickly exchanged look of panic between Jimmy and myself and he circled the block to the other garage entrance. In moments we were in the correct garage and we even found a space to pull through so that my mom could park behind us. Standing next to the car while Jimmy, my mom, and sister gathered our bags to go inside seemed to take forever. Contractions in the cold, outdoor air were much more uncomfortable than in my nice warm home. I was still on my feet though, and glad to be at the hospital.
We took the elevator to the 4th floor where they were expecting me. Despite the fact that I had been told I didn’t need to preregister because I was “in the system” I found myself filling out paperwork and answering questions at check-in. No sense in complaining though, because that would only make it take longer. After the paperwork was done, they took me into triage where it suddenly hit me (and my sister who didn’t mention it until later) that they could realistically still send me back home if they thought my labor wasn’t active enough yet. The nurse went ahead and had me change into a gown and began monitoring the baby. At one point months ago I had thought I might like to labor in my own clothes. A close friend suggested a stretchy cotton fold-top skirt and a bikini top. This sounds lovely and almost cute, doesn’t it? Then you think about the process of labor, and particularly the number one thing that surprised me about labor- the amount of blood involved. I personally prefer to bleed on linens I’ll never see again so I went with the gown. Elaine the midwife came in soon after I arrived in triage. She introduced herself and though we had never met she put me immediately at ease. She is a kind, grandmotherly lady who obviously knows her craft from years of experience. I was in good hands. At last the moment of truth. It was time to check me. The previous Thursday I had been 1.5 cm dilated and 50% effaced. How much further would these hours of laboring have gotten me? I was thrilled to find that I was at 4 cm and 90% effaced and at -1 station! I would be admitted, but Elaine wanted me in more active labor. My IV port was placed (I am positive for Group B strep- 1/3 of people are- which meant that I had to receive intravenous antibiotics every 4 hours to protect the baby) and as I stood up to move to my delivery room I felt fluid drip down my leg. My water was leaking! We had actually arrived at the hospital at just the right time, because being GBS positive I was supposed to begin antibiotics as soon as my water broke.
My nurse, Mary (who was wonderful, despite calling me Celeste for most of my labor) took me to my room complete with hydrotherapy tub. I got my first dose of antibiotics and Mary monitored the baby. Then, at Elaine’s urging Jimmy and I walked the halls to try and help things progress a bit faster. I had to check in and monitor the baby every half hour, but we spent 3 hours walking while my contractions intensified. I was glad my mom had brought my yoga mat for me. I was able to labor on my knees and not be on the bare hospital floor. Around 12 am Elaine checked me again. Disappointment doesn’t begin to describe the way I felt when she told me I was still at 4 cm and only “a little thinner.” At this point I was exhausted and in so much pain. The newfound frustration wasn’t helping. Little did I know, Elaine told my family that 4-6 cm is usually the hardest, and once you get through that it’s much faster from there. But all I heard was Elaine suggest that I get in the tub and try to relax and open up. The warm water was a godsend! I was able to rest between contractions and even doze a bit. I got out of the tub to use the restroom (where I also spent a lot of time laboring) and ended up vomiting. I actually felt infinitely better after throwing up, but throwing up while having contractions is not pleasant… But when is throwing up pleasant? I returned to bed, now completely nude aside from blankets, where this time along with my next dose of antibiotics I received fluids since I has just undone all the drinking and hydration I had been working on keeping up with. Somewhere along the way I received some nausea medicine. It too was a godsend. It made me a little sleepy, so I was able to rest a bit more. At 1:45 Elaine checked me again. This time I had made some progress. I was at 5.5 cm. This is still not what I wanted to hear, but progress is progress. Again, Elaine suggested the tub to help my progress. This second trip to the tub was a bit different, as my pain had changed and I was feeling more pressure. At this point my entire entourage was exhausted. Everyone but Jimmy was asleep. I was in the tub and as comfortable as I could be, so I told Jimmy I would be fine if he took a walk down the hall and got some coffee. (He was so amazing during my entire labor. He deserved a few minutes to try to wake up and have a break.) At 4 am I was checked yet again and I was at 6.5 cm and the baby had moved down to 0 station. Almost to transition!
Now, everything that I had read told me that transition (7 cm to 10 cm) is the most painful and intense part of labor. This was not the case for me. I would consider going from 4-6cm to be much, much more intense for me. Be advised, I am NOT complaining. This was a pleasant surprise. At this point I was just ready to have my baby. Less pain than expected was a bonus! Somewhere around 5:45 am I told my mom that I felt the urge to bear down with each contraction. My mother in law jumped up and told me not to push and my mom went to get Elaine! Elaine soon checked me and told me I was at 9 cm. I had to learn to breathe through the contractions now so that my body would not involuntarily start pushing before I reached 10 cm (I was told that if I wasn’t fully dilated and I pushed prematurely I could end up causing my cervix to swell, thus reversing my progress). At 6:20, Elaine noted how hard I was breathing through the contractions, checked me again, and finally I was at 10 cm! It was time to push!
Suddenly I became very, very aware of the clock on the wall. 6:30- pushing. 6:45- Elaine wants me to change positions so that there is less stress on the baby. Now I’m pushing on my side. 7- shift change! Wait, what?! My wonderful nurse, Mary, and my midwife Elaine were leaving me! I could have been dramatic about this, but they explained they had to be back that evening for another night shift. They had been amazing, but at this point it was all up to me anyway. Enter new nurse, Angela, and new midwife (the same one I had seen at my last prenatal appointment), Melissa. Mary literally handed my right leg to Angela and Melissa took over setting up instruments for cutting the cord, etc. I later commented to Angela that the transition was incredibly seamless! Melissa soon had me move back from my side to my back for better leverage. Somewhere along the way someone got a mirror so I could observe my pushing progress. The only time in my entire nude labor that I felt self-conscious was when the NICU team (standard precautionary measure) came in unannounced and there was a male nurse among them. They realized they were still a bit early and immediately left for another hour or so (when they did return I only noticed one person peek at Evie- screaming on my chest- say, “Awww!” and then leave the room). All in all I pushed for a little more than an hour and a half. I will say that finally being able to actively do something productive was amazing. Pushing caused my contractions to not hurt. My skin stretching hurt, but being so close to meeting my daughter it didn’t matter. At 8:08 my beautiful baby girl finally made her way out. I’m still in shock, but I didn’t even tear. Watching those last two pushes in the mirror was the most amazing thing. Her head came out, and my contraction was over, but I wasn’t waiting any longer. One more push and her shoulders were out and the next thing I knew Melissa handed me my baby!
It was hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That being said, I’m so glad that I did it! My beautiful, alert, healthy daughter was worth every second of it. Walking, unassisted to recovery felt triumphant. I had just had a baby without pain medicine. I’ll probably never run a marathon, but I had had my ideal birth.