Well, my big plans to sit at my laptop and write this has flopped. Between feedings, changings, trying to get enough food and sleep myself, AND get in moments of quality time with Hubster, there is no opportunity to chill with my laptop. So what that means is I will be pecking it out on my phone during nursing time, and the occasional nap time. And that means expect typos, weird auto-correct issues, and that it probably won’t flow well. But I need to get it down before it all fades away as birth memories tend to. Already it feels like it was ages ago and has a hazy quality to it…
I had been having Braxton hicks for a few days before Friday, December 28th 2012, and at times they seemed to have some regularity although not very close together. Thursday night showed some good consistency (and some intense discomfort!) and I was intrigued to find out what my cervix was doing Friday morning at my appointment with Dr. B. I went in at 8:45am to learn I was 4 cm dilated! The doctor wanted to rupture my membranes but I really wanted for them to break on their own. I was sent home with instructions to “walk vigorously” and come back for a recheck at 1:30.
I got home and after speaking with Doula P decided not to rush anything, but to try and rest. I tried but contractions were slowly coming closer and closer together and I could not sleep through them so I decided to take a shower, thinking it might help me to relax, the contractions to ease, so I could sleep. Instead they started coming more frequently! At this point Hubster arrived home after leaving work and swinging by the store for some last minute items. I called Doula P back explaining contractions were averaging 1:40 apart and strong enough I couldn’t sleep through them. She offered to come to our apartment, we could meet at her class space or go to the hospital. I was worried about my bag breaking (and I needed antibiotics due to the Strep B I had) and with the contractions so close together I thought for sure the baby would be coming sooner rather than later. (Haha!) So Hubster and I rounded up our bags, sent out texts and Facebook posts, and headed to the hospital.
The ride to the hospital was… Uncomfortable. Having contractions while forced to sit, unable to move or hip rock was tough. Then Hubster got confused as to where exactly the entrance we needed was, and turned one turn too early… turned around…. then missed the entrance we needed and turned one entrance too late… if it had been a movie it would have been hilarious. So I just tried to laugh.
We checked in at the hospital and I realized I had forgotten my purse! Thankfully they took me at my word that I was who I said I was, and I had pre-registered so they had all my info in the computer system. Then they insisted I be wheeled up instead if letting me walk… I wasn’t walking fast but I was still able to walk! Sheesh…
About 1:00 -1:15pm we got up to the correct floor and go into a “triage room”, meant to be where I would be assessed before being formerly admitted. However a nurse came in and said they need that room for something else and they are going to move me over one room… Which turned out to be one of the tub rooms!!! I was totally thrilled. It seemed like everything was going “according to plan”. I have to admit, I went into this labor a little elitist. I had done my research, I had a plan, I had the determination and will power. No way was I going to give in to interventions. No way was I going to “wimp out”. I wouldn’t be like all those women who can’t handle the pain – If countless women in history and in third world countries could deliver naturally, so could I… Of course, “Pride cometh before the fall”… In all seriousness, my first lesson as a parent is the importance of humility. It is amazing how in the two weeks since she has been born, I have done several things I always swore I would never do simply because I couldn’t understand the perspective until I was in the midst of it.
So we are in the tub room. Doula P and her amazing assistant L arrive, followed shortly by Jewel (who had so very kindly ran by the apartment and retrieved my purse!) and I was hooked up for my “20 minutes of monitoring”. The contractions had slowed and eased off a little, but I felt confident they would pick up soon, and it was just the car ride that had caused me to tense up and thus cause labor to slow. The hospitalist Dr.GrumpyPants came in (since Dr.B wasn’t there yet) to determine if I should formerly be admitted. He checked me – 4cm dilated. Fully effaced. Bag bulging. Baby at -3 station (still pretty high). I was disappointed I wasn’t any more dilated, but wasn’t overly concerned. Doula P suggested I try bouncing on a yoga peanut-ball so I was game. And then doing side lunges… It felt good to be “doing something”, but it wasn’t causing any super-fast changes. So then I elected to start walking, to see if I could get my labor back to where it was when I was home.
Dr.GrumpyPants did another check… maybe 4.5 cm? I could tell he wasn’t happy with that. By this time Dr.B showed up, and so Dr.GrumpyPants had him check me, to see if there was much change from my appointment with him that morning. There was a LOT of talk about something needing to change… Dr.GrumpyPants basically wanted me to either get Pitocin, or go home because I “wasn’t really in labor” – because apparently I was smiling too much. (I’m a happy person, I was excited, what can I say?) I wasn’t really happy about either option. I felt so strongly against unnecessary medical intervention, and I really believed that Pitocin was unnecessary at that point. I didn’t really want to go home because I dreaded having to sit in the car through contractions, and was worried we would lose the beloved tub room. (There are only 2 tub rooms, and it’s on a first-come first-serve basis) I was so committed to a water birth, and I wasn’t going to let it go!
Dr.B goes to do his check, and determines that I’m 5cm… and while doing his check he “accidentally” broke my water. At the time, I really thought it was an accident (he played it so well!) but in hindsight he must have done it intentionally, knowing it would be the card I needed to keep me in the hospital. Of course, to do it with just his finger the membrane must have been pretty ready to break anyway. My big fear of having my water broken prematurely was that it would cause contractions to unnaturally intensify, and that was why I kept putting it off. I wanted it to break when it was ready (I also had a teeny tiny hope it wouldn’t break and Seedling would be born in the caul, just because that sounded so cool) Well, any fears I had about it causing sudden-intense labor turned out to be unnecessary, because it didn’t do that. What it did do was cause me to finally be formerly admitted to the hospital! And get me started on IV antibiotics. But first we had to move to the other tub room… not sure why we had to move, but that space was even more beautiful than the first room, and it still had a tub, so I was fine with it. It took 3 tries to get my IV placed… dang my tiny veins! They actually had to call in the Charge Nurse to do it. So I got my IV set, and went back to walking… walking… walking… lunging, bouncing on the ball, lunging, more lunging… All without much change in my contractions. They would start to come more frequently and more intensely and then fade off.
It was frustrating, and I started to get more emotional that it didn’t seem like anything I was doing was helping. But Hubster, Doula P, L and Jewel were so amazing. They never seemed discouraged, they just kept encouraging me, getting me to laugh, suggesting new movements, giving me counter-pressure on my lower back during a contraction (WHAT A DIFFERENCE THAT MADE in the pain!). They made sure I was getting water and eating (The hospital provided 3 meals a day to me… and I think in the course of the 2 days we were there I ate 3 pieces of cheesecake… because, hello, CHEESECAKE! Mmmmm… But I promise I also ate other things.) I cannot imagine what my labor would have been like without those amazing people by my side.
Hubster was my rock, never far from my side, endlessly loving and patient. I could not have endured without him. Doula P was my guide through a road I had never traveled before, I would have been lost without her. L was quiet confidence, to keep up the journey. And my dear Jewel was a ray of sunshine, keeping my spirits up when times felt dark.
Doula P suggested I try some squats, to see if we could bring Seedling’s head down more. If we could get her to drop, then there would be more pressure on the cervix, and then we would hopefully see more dilation. So I started squat after squat… I wanted to make my body cooperate. After all these years of my body not working, the infertility struggles, the baby we lost… couldn’t my body finally do what it was supposed to? Reviewing “the worst pain” – the pain of wanting a child and unable to achieve it. That the pain of contractions wasn’t anything compared the the broken heart I had carried all those years. I kept thinking about all the women who had given birth without medical interventions and how much I wanted the best for Seedling. I wanted to do a good job, do everything I could. (Of course, the uterus is on the autonomic nervous system… much like you can’t consciously control when your heart beats, you can’t control when, or how strongly, the uterus contracts. Believe me, I tried.) I know at one point in the squatting tears came to my eyes, just feeling so frustrating and worried.
It was suggested I try getting in the shower. I’m so grateful for this – Not only do I just love the water, but it was a good change of pace (I was able to squat in there because they had handicap bars on the walls) and the water felt really good running down my back during a contraction, and down my tummy when the contraction was over. It was also the only laboring in water I ended up doing, and again I’m so thankful I got to spend some part of my labor in water of some kind. I also had some really great contractions, they felt closer together and stronger in the shower. But I was also starting to feel how tired I was… After 40 minutes I headed out of the shower, I can’t remember if I chose to get out or if the nurse prompted me because she needed to check me? But I do remember that I was checked… and keep in mind it was now well into the evening. (Sorry, brain way to fuzzy to offer an exact time.) I had been in the hospital for hours and hours. And the nurse found… No change.
I felt so at a loss. All my work hadn’t done anything. Doula P was so kind, but she pointed out that with how much time had passed, we needed to bring on some extra help. I felt crushed. I knew she was right, I knew I had been giving it my all and my all wasn’t working. But I couldn’t help but think about how much I had wanted to do this, I had wanted my body to work, I didn’t want to have to face my friends and family and admit that I hadn’t been able to have an unmedicated birth. I worried that Pitocin would be too much pain to handle. I worried that Pitocin would push Seedling into distress. And the thought of doing anything to harm Seedling made me nauseated with grief.
Doula P and Hubster sat and comforted me. I never felt forced to make the decision to get help, they were so kind and patient, allowing me to grieve and process the loss of a piece of my dream birth. It still felt like it was my call, my decision to make. We talked about that maybe the Pitocin would help kick-start the labor, and eventually we would be able to turn it down or turn it off and I could still do a water birth. I finally took a deep breath and agreed, to the lowest dose of “one”. (I’m still not sure if that is 1ml or 1mg or what…) Of course, by agreeing to Pitocin that meant constant monitoring, and Seedling had an unfortunate habit of “falling off” the monitor if I moved too much, so I was relegated to the bed. The “one” level really wasn’t too bad. I would feel a contraction coming, and someone would put pressure on my lower back, I would do my breathing exercises… and when it was over I would attempt to shut my eyes and rest until the next one came. However, after a while, the contractions were one on top of the other, with no relief between them. The pain and exhaustion were catching up with me – and my support team. Poor Hubster, he never complained, never made a peep, but afterwards he admitted to being exhausted, especially when he realized there wasn’t a break between contractions and I needed the pressure on my back for some semblance of relief. It turns out my nurse had slowly been upping the Pitocin without anyone realizing! I was at a “five”! Doula P got them to turn it down so we could discuss where to go from here. I’m pretty sure they did another check at this time… no real change. I think Seedling had dropped a centimeter, so was at -2 station, (I might have also been declared 6cm dilated at this point… like I said, it’s all a little fuzzy at points) but that wasn’t a very significant change considering how much time had passed.
Doula P suggested it was time to consider the epidural. I felt like such a failure. I wanted to say “No, I can keep going, turn the Pitocin back up, I can tough it out, I can be strong enough!” but she pointed out that we had a long way yet to go, and I was exhausted. I needed to get some rest so I would have the energy to actually push Seedling out. All I saw was that my body was failing me once again. That an epidural was the final pull of the rug out from underneath my dreams of a calm and peaceful waterbirth. I saw the tub in the corner and it was so close yet so far. All I saw was that the epidural would inevitably lead to a cesarean section. Once again Hubster and Doula P were so patient with me. I knew in my heart that Doula P was not a big advocate of intervention. So I trusted that if she was suggesting an intervention, then it really must be needed. (After the fact, Hubster admitted that he had really wanted me to get the epidural, but he knew that he couldn’t push, it had to be my decision. But he saw how exhausted I was, and he was so exhausted. As committed as he was to minimal interventions he saw how great a need there was for some relief.) Finally I agreed to the epidural, and tried to focus on the fact that there was still hope for a vaginal delivery.
The anesthesiologist came in. He was rather upbeat for a man about to puncture my dreams, but I’d rather take that than more of Dr.GrumpyPants. They prepped my back and explained what would happen. First the local anesthetic (yes, on par with a bee sting) and then he placed the epidural… and oh my did that HURT. All my friends who had gotten epidurals always raved about the relief they offered, no one prepared me for the fact that this would hurt. I think he must have tweaked a nerve because I could feel twinging running down the right side of my spine from where the catheter was being placed. But then the numbing started to take effect… (Just a heads up, when you lose control of your lower extremities, that includes your bladder. Yes folks, I voided my bladder in bed. Thank goodness I was very comfortable with the folks I had chosen to have in the room with me.) I had to lay on my back for a while because the drug works by gravity, and that ensured it was distributed evenly, and then it was a game of laying on one side, only to switch the other side a while later. I finally gave in to the exhaustion and started to drift to sleep. I could hear Doula P, L, Hubster and Jewel quietly talking about what was ahead, including the possibility of a cesarean section tomorrow, and what to expect if that happened. Of course I was 75% asleep so it had a dream-like-quality to it. I just remember hearing bits and pieces. Then Doula P came over to let me know she and L were heading home to try and get refreshed before the morning. Hubster and Jewel bedded down in the room with me. (Talk about commitment, Jewel slept on the floor! Hubster on a sad excuse for a roll-away-bed.)
Friday morning dawned. The nurse came in to remind me to roll over, and to check me. Still at 6cm. Although Seedling had dropped a bit. While feeling physically refreshed, my spirits were really taking a toll. I looked at the nurse and just said “That’s not enough, is it? If we are going to go in for a c-section, I just want to get it over with.” I just couldn’t handle any more waffling of “Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.” I didn’t want a c-section, but I felt it was inevitable. And if it was inevitable, let’s just “rip the band-aid off”. But the nurse said that Dr.B wanted to have an internal monitor placed to confirm how strong my contractions were. This is done by placing a small plastic tubing into the cervix, it doesn’t hurt the baby. A small part of me just sighed and rolled my eyes at one more delay of the inevitable, but figured it couldn’t hurt. However, Seedling was so low that getting the tubing placed was proving difficult, and my nurse had to call in another nurse to help place it. In some ways that was a good thing (the baby was really low!)! They finally got the tubing placed, and realized that even with the Pitocin, my contractions were not in fact strong enough to cause dilation! Suddenly there was some light at the end of the tunnel, because it was simply a matter of increasing the Pitocin! Back to napping and changing from side to side.
Sometime Saturday morning I remember Hubster coming over to the bed, with the icons and cross and prayer book and saying morning prayers. I tried to mumble along as best as my sleepy mind could… but it really touched me that he would initiate that, re-centering the entire experience on our faith. I still believe our pregnancy was a miraculous unexplainable gift from God, and it is only right to thank Him for the largest blessing of my life.
The nurses had a shift change, and the new nurse went to do a check… 8cm!!!! That was so exciting and uplifting to hear. Some real change! But I suddenly realized that I could feel my hands on my legs… was my epidural wearing off? With how high the Pitocin was running, I was terrified of feeling it, and kept repeating to the nurse that I thought something had happened to the epidural, I was starting to have feeling in my legs (Yes, nurse, both legs) and that the bolus-button did not seem to be making a difference. Could all my turning have pulled the epidural out? After much insisting they finally brought in an anesthesiologist to check. Yes, the epidural was still placed, and she put in an injection of super-special extra-strong meds… and my legs back went to being numb. Then another check, and in the course of the nurse checking she felt it stretch from 8 to 9cm! I asked her how the head was positioned… and she suddenly asked “Are we sure she is head down? I think I feel a butt.” Ummm… suddenly there was a flurry to get in an ultrasound machine… and the doctor that accompanied it was Dr. GrumpyPants. Oh joy. However, they determined that she was in fact head down. Whoo, crisis averted! But while we were waiting for the determination, Hubster had called Doula P to let her know there was a question as to the baby’s position, and she headed back in.
Then I started to feel some pressure on my cervix and rectum. It didn’t hurt, it just felt like I had to go to the bathroom. I tried to let people know what I was feeling. It was hard not to push. But I was also starting to have intense sharp pain between my should blades. All those rotations from side to side, when I had to use my arms to pull and push myself, had caught up with me. In hindsight I think I must have pulled those muscles. But the pain was consuming, taking over my ability to focus on the changes in my labor. Dr.B came in and determined I was 10cm and should start really pushing hard. But part of pushing is leaning forward, curling yourself into a ball. With my shoulder muscles in agony, that wasn’t really a movement I was inclined to do. He left, and Doula P encouraged me to just “labor down” – gently push during the contractions, but not so much that I was killing myself. That I really liked. But eventually Dr.B came back and said we had to start moving things along. He talked about using a vacuum or forceps, which I was not excited about. I didn’t want anything squishing or mushing my baby’s head! I may have had to give up most of my birth plan, but if it was possible, I was going to push Seedling out. All by myself. So I started pushing. Suddenly I heard heavy metal being played on the playlist. WTF?! Earlier Hubster and I had joked that if Hubster were in labor, he would want metal playing. But I have no idea how that joke turned into reality. However, I was so internally focused on the sensation of pushing, and the sensation of sharp pain in my shoulders to properly verbalize my opinion on the music. Hubster was listing off various metal artists and for some reason in my brain I thought I had to listen to metal, and so I threw out a band name… only to realize when they came on that I absolutely did not want to listen to that band, but I felt like I would inconveniencing someone if I complained so I decided to do my best to ignore the music. I didn’t like the music, I didn’t want to listen to the music, I didn’t want my precious baby girl born to such obnoxious, offensive music. But for some reason I had come to the conclusion I didn’t have a choice.
Of course, Hubster ever the supportive man, kept trying to encourage me and would ask “are you listening to the music?” to which my brain would think “I’m doing my get to ignore it!” but I couldn’t get those words out. (Hubster has since profusely apologized, he thought the driving beat would help. Ah, men!) Eventually the music stopped playing on its own, and nobody bothered to restart it… thank goodness. (Note to self, next time make sure to put together a playlist for the pushing stage of music I like! We had done so well with the laboring playlist I had put together…)
Most of my memory of the pushing stage is about hating the music, searing pain in my shoulders, nurses telling me to push harder (and me thinking “I am pushing as hard I can! Stop telling me to push harder!”) and Dr.B saying “Get angry” (and me thinking “I am angry!”) The pushing wasn’t actually that painful or difficult, (thank you epidural) it was my shoulder muscles that felt like someone was stabbing them over and over with a knife, that hurt. And every push someone would try to lift my head or shoulders, intensifying the shoulder pain, and that just made me angrier! And the tub was over in the corner mocking me. Suddenly someone exclaimed “I can see the head! There’s so much hair!” And they wheeled in a giant mirror so I could see – that was bizarre. It was hard to believe the view in the mirror was ME. (Because, let’s be honest, how often do you see that side of yourself?) But the next push I could see a little sliver of baby head and suddenly tears filled my eyes. More pushing and pushing… so many comments about her hair, one nurse said “the next push I could braid her hair!”. (According to Jewel, as she was descending, and the contraction would end and her head would slip back a little, her hair would continue to be sticking out. So, as Jewel put it, “She was born hair first!”)
At one point someone said “Her head is out!” and I remember there wasn’t any noise so I exclaimed “Why isn’t she crying???” and someone clarified that she was almost out.
I remember Doula P encouraging me to open my eyes and look in the mirror, or reach down and feel her head, but all I could focus on was the pushing and the pain in my shoulders.
There was a moment where I felt a flash of pain and I realized Dr.B had cut an episiotomy, and I yelled out “What’s going on?!” – we hadn’t discussed an episiotomy, but apparently I was starting to tear, and the doctor knew that if he hadn’t made a small cut, I would have had a significant tear. While it startled me, it’s another example of why I am so thankful for the great team I had, who was looking out for me when I was so vulnerable and in a state where I couldn’t be clear and rational.
Suddenly I felt a release of pressure, and I opened my eyes to see the doctor holding a baby, bum up, (she came out with meconium, so he was being careful she didn’t get any in her lungs) and then she was placed on my chest, warm and wet and slightly purple – and so incredibly perfect and beautiful.
There was more pressure, as Dr.B delivered the placenta.
I looked at the beautiful tiny face, and I found myself saying “Where did you come from?”. I couldn’t believe this was the same little being that had been in my tummy. “Surreal” doesn’t even being to cover it. But even as I wondered how this could be one in the same, how after everything I had been through I had somehow find myself at this inestimable moment, I knew that I loved this little girl. The word “love” doesn’t even cover it. The feeling I felt – and still feel – is primal. It is consuming. Complete, overwhelming adoration and protectiveness of this person. Delicious obsession. The desire to know everything, every curve of her face, every dimple in her fingers, to see her grow, to learn about what she loves.
I know it took 2 weeks for me to get this post out. What can I say – it’s hard to type when you find yourself lost in looking at a face for hours. But I hope to do a slightly better job of writing posts, in order to cherish these memories later. She is growing and changing so fast! Some favorite photos from that first day… taken by Doula P (all rights given to her, please feel free to check out her website!)
***update*** I just want to clarify: although it didn’t go according to my “plan”, I have nothing but warm, fuzzy nostalgia for my birth experience. I wish I could return to that room, that time, that experience. I felt so loved, cared for, and safe. I feel so lucky, blessed and grateful for my experience. It was filled with much fun and laughter, even though it also had moments of difficulty and tears. Sometimes the most rewarding experiences have highs and lows, because we grow so much through both emotions.