Note: This is my birth story. It is a story about birth. Stuff like bloody show and my cervix are mentioned (but not shown), so if that’s not your thang then I don’t recommend continuing.
Thursday night (8/21), the night I went into pre-labor, was really miserable. I had nonstop cramps and couldn’t sleep for some reason. I got about 4 hours of sleep, total. I emailed my doula early that morning before leaving for my very last tutoring session to let her know that I had been having cramps and feeling somewhat “off”. As I was walking out the door I got hit with a cramp that stopped me in my tracks and I started to have second thoughts about going to work, but I didn’t want to get worked up over what might turn out to be nothing. I thought going to work might distract me and make the cramps stop, so off I went. I got through most of the 2 hour tutoring session, but instead of the cramps going away, they got stronger. I ended the session a few minutes early and went to the bathroom to discover what could only be “bloody show”. I told my student’s mom that I thought I might be in labor, and I stepped outside to call my doula. She told me I should definitely get home and be done driving for the day, so I called my husband (and had to leave a voicemail- he was, I suspected, in the gym) and headed home.
By the time I got home, I had noticed that the cramps were coming regularly. They were so different from the Braxton Hicks contractions! They felt much more like sharp, strong menstrual cramps, without the tightening in my upper abdomen that I had come to associate with BH contractions. My husband didn’t get my voicemail for about 45 minutes, so in the meantime I did the dishes, washed laundry, made sure my bag was packed, and tracked my contractions on the whiteboard on my fridge.
I was amazed at how quickly and consistently they were already coming. By the time I was home I had to stop to cope with each one, first sitting on my exercise ball, then kneeling over the back of the couch and swaying my hips. I felt them really intensely in my lower back (likely due to the baby’s position, which I didn’t know until much much later). Finally my husband got home and immediately jumped into birth-partner mode, bringing me water and food and rubbing my back. By that time I had noticed that I hadn’t felt the baby move all day, and after a quick text conversation, my doula recommended that we call my OB clinic to let them know. After being on hold for about ten minutes, they told us to go ahead and come into the hospital once we told them that I was having contractions 3-4 minutes apart for an hour and that I hadn’t felt the baby move. That was a little scary. We had planned for me to do most of my laboring in the comforts of home, but I just wanted him to be okay. So I didn’t feel disappointed about going to the hospital. We packed up, called our doula to meet us at the hospital, and off we went. The car ride was about 40 minutes, thanks to traffic, and MISERABLE. I felt best swaying on all fours during contractions because of the back labor, but obviously you can’t do that in a car.
The first thing the nurses did when we got into triage was strap on a monitor and we got to hear the loud, strong heartbeat. It was SUCH a relief after not feeling him move all day. We were told that sometimes babies quiet down close to the birth, and that he was fine. Then they checked me and I was 4 cm dilated. My doula showed up then, and they had me walk the halls for a while and said they would check me again in about an hour. We actually ended up walking for close to two hours because the nurses had to attend to a c-section. That was a really productive time. My doula and husband pumped me with water and coconut water, rubbed my lower back with each contraction, and we all talked and walked together, even made jokes, and they told me how good I was doing. By that time I was already feeling like I wasn’t coping well internally, but as long as I had my support team and was able to move my hips through the contractions, it was manageable. The halls of the labor and delivery ward have bars all the way around on both sides, so women walking the halls can stop and grab them for support. Genius!
After about the first 35-40 minutes I felt the need to start vocalizing through contractions. It started with some very low moaning that escalated, by the time we were finally admitted, to something rather more gutteral. I had always been concerned about what noises I would make in labor, but honestly at the time I just had to make whatever sound felt the best. My doula and husband vocalized with me during this time, which may seems odd outside the circumstances of labor, but at the time it was tremendously helpful to keep me from feeling self conscious, which I’m sure would have impeded my body’s progress.
Finally I went back to triage to get checked, and I was just about 6 cm! Yay, I got to be admitted! We spent about 20 minutes waiting in triage while they prepped our birth room, and then in we went. I had to get a hep-lock put in, just in case, and the nurse had to dig for a while in my forearm before moving to my hand. Fortunately I didn’t have to be confined with any IV fluids or anything and was free to move about the room and even to eat and drink whatever I wanted. I didn’t want much at that point, but my husband was able to order some dinner for himself and I had a few spoonfuls of pears while I worked through contractions. The next length of time (I’m not sure how long it was, maybe an hour or so?) is a blur, with contractions getting more intense and requiring a lot of guttural vocalizing and hip swaying. I remember that the sun was setting, and the light in the room was beautiful. They asked if I wanted the blinds closed since it was shining right in my eyes, but it wasn’t too intense and I really liked it.
When they checked me next I hadn’t advanced past 6 cm, and the OB thought I would make very quick progress if they broke my bag of waters because it hadn’t broken yet on its own. It’s worth pointing out that this actually was not “my” OB. My obstetrician, whom I had developed at least a bit of a relationship with over the past 38 weeks, was out of town that weekend, a rare occurrence for her. Go figure.
My doula talked me through what it would look like to have my water broken manually- how the next contraction would be a lot stronger and it might feel like more pressure because the baby’s head would be pressing directly on the cervix without the cushion of the water bag. She thought that with how things were going I would probably progress very quickly once this happened. So I agreed, and they broke the bag quickly. The feeling of my waters gushing out was really weird- they felt so hot. I wasn’t looking, at this point being in my own world for the most part, but Chris said later that it looked more like petroleum jelly than water. The next contraction was miserable because it came on immediately and I hadn’t gotten into a good position to cope yet- because of the back labor I really needed to be able to bend forward and sway my hips. Any contractions spent on my back/side were misery.
After that, things progressed FAST. I don’t know how long it had been at that point, but I am pretty sure it took less than an hour from breaking my water bag to being 9.5 dilated. All I really remember from that time was telling my doula something about how I wasn’t sure if I could do much more of this- I might have told her I was really tired. I honestly don’t remember what I said, but I do remember her telling me that what I said was an indication to her that I was probably a lot further than I thought I was, and that was a good thing. My cervix had an anterior lip (a portion in the rear that hasn’t yet fully dilated), but they let me push through one contraction to see how things would go. At this point I was feeling the urge to push.
It was after letting me push through this single contraction that the OB told me that the baby was occiput posterior- sunny side up. She said he couldn’t be delivered this way in conjunction with the anterior lip. She tried through one contraction to move him with her hand, which was excruciating. I once again had to endure the contraction while laying on my back, and she was trying to get her hand inside to move him. Unfortunately, she said that my perineum was too strong and she couldn’t get her hand in. Most of the information that she gave me at that point was a blur- the contractions were so frequent and intense (and I was feeling a very intense urge to push at this point) that I was not particularly coherent. The OB told us that my options were to either “endure the pain” of forcing her hand in past my strong perineum and moving him manually (I feel like there had to have been a better way of phrasing that to a woman in the last throes of transition), to get an epidural and then let her move him manually, or to try to labor down through some positions to try to get him to move on his own. It was pretty apparent that her vote was for me to just get the epidural and let her move things along.
This is where things become particularly blurry for me. I needed a lot of help from my husband and KC to reconstruct the next hour and a half in retrospect, to fill in the missing pieces and really understand what happened. I do know that I never actually made a clear choice, from among the options presented to me by the OB. My amazing nurse and my doula tried to talk me through the options for a few moments, but I was so far inside my own mind just trying to endure the contractions at that point that I honestly didn’t feel capable of making a decision. My rational side still didn’t want the epidural, but of course my rational side was out the window at the point and I remember saying in my head over and over how much I wanted one. Apparently I never said it out loud. The only things I remember saying out loud were “I don’t know what to do!” to my husband when everyone was waiting for a decision from me. When it became apparent that I wasn’t making a clear decision but also wasn’t asking for the epidural, Janet (my nurse) and KC snapped into action, getting me into the first position they wanted me to try to get the baby to move on his own. The OB left the room at that point to give us time. I remember Janet saying that I could try these positions for 30 minutes and then they would check me again to see if he had moved, and I commented that 30 minutes was SO long. At that point, the thought of enduring the contractions and the urge to push for half an hour seemed like an absolute eternity. She quickly amended it to “fifteen minutes then, that’s fine! Let’s try fifteen minutes.” Fifteen minutes ended up being closer to an hour and a half.
The first position I tried was on my knees, leaning over the back of the bed, which was upright at this point. This really did feel like an eternity. What I was doing at this point, and for the next hour or so, is called “laboring down”, and as my doula told me later with tears in her eyes, it’s not something that women are asked to do without pain medication. Ever. I’ve since read it described as trying to stop a freight train with a feather. Basically what I had to do was nothing. That doesn’t seem like much, since until this point I had been a pretty passive participant in my labor anyway, just coping with contractions, but now the urge to push was full blown and unbelievably powerful. It was the most powerful force I have ever felt, and the notion that my body was exerting this much force on itself is ridiculous. Every cell in my body screamed at me to push, and my job was to relax and NOT push. This was 100 times worse than the most painful contractions of transition. It felt like a battle. During every contraction KC led me in chanting “I can do this, I can do this”. I tried so hard to breathe, keep my body relaxed, NOT push, and not cry or scream. I know there was a lot of grunting because at some points my body just pushed on its own and there was no stopping it. After some length of time that I have no notion of (but again, it felt like eternity), they moved me to laying on my side with a stack of pillows between my legs. At this point KC instructed me to breathe through the contractions with a “ch-ch-ch-ch-ch” sound to help myself not push. Another eternity. I was entirely out of my mind with the intensity of trying not to push, so it was a blur when the OB came in again and checked to see how things were progressing. Apparently the baby had moved his shoulders on his own, and had moved so far down that she was able to turn his head manually and he was occiput anterior like a good baby! Suddenly they were getting the stirrups ready, shifting me down, and telling me that I had done it, the baby moved, and I could push!
I remember being a little confused at first, and then absolutely joyous to hear that I could push. Nothing else really registered, just the fact that I didn’t have to fight the urge anymore. Until that point it had felt like an incredibly intense battle in my mind and my body, and I felt like I was losing. Now, to be told that we’d been successful and I could push the way my body was screaming at me to? Nothing like it. Pushing was amazing. Hard, but amazing. The OB gave me a local anesthetic to numb my perineum. In retrospect this frustrates me- at the time she said that it was just in case she needed to perform a quick episiotomy. I don’t see any reason why she would have needed to (my doula agreed with me, commenting that this OB was rather “old school”), and so there lingers a sense that I didn’t entirely succeed in my quest to deliver without any medication, but this was entirely out of my control because I don’t recall being asked if I wanted the anesthetic, just told that it was happening. I ended up with a second degree tear, and I believe it’s because I couldn’t feel the “ring of fire” that would have helped me understand where I was in the pushing process. Instead I just had that incredible urge. I began pushing with each contraction, and apparently after several minutes of this, the head had been delivered and the OB told me to stop pushing for a moment. Presumable this was to prevent me from tearing, but I didn’t feel that “ring of fire” due to the anesthetic, and I also have no memory of her saying this. I was in beast mode at that point and there was no stopping. 16 minutes after I began pushing…
I had to sit there with my feet in the stirrups for a while as I delivered the placenta (do not remember that at all) and got stitched up, and I was crazy sore, but it didn’t matter. I had a little 6 pound, 6.7 ounce distraction that made it all so, so worth it. In those moments I could barely see due to swollen eyes from the strain of pushing, but I could feel him there on my chest- my prize. Never have I ever felt so much like I earned something.
Charlie’s first action upon entering the world was to coat me in meconium as he was placed on my chest. An action which, I can assure you, I will not let him live down when he’s older.
When my wonderful doula came for a postpartum visit a few days after we settled in at home, she and my husband both showered me with affirmations that I had been amazing. I had to admit to them both that I didn’t feel like I had been amazing. The experience was so powerfully intense, particularly the laboring-down, that I felt like all I did was survive. KC assured me that this is a very normal way to feel, and in my many reflections since then I have come to the conclusion that she’s right. I’ve come to realize that in the case of my baby’s birth, the work that I actually did trumps how I felt about how I was coping with the work that I did. I never had strong emotions of empowerment (still don’t, despite everyone reacting with amazement when I tell them that I delivered naturally), but that doesn’t mean that what I did wasn’t amazing.
You know who else was amazing? My husband and my doula. I am convinced that my birth, which was powerfully intense, would have been traumatic for me without their support. With the two of them by my side for a solid 10 hours, I made it through, achieved the natural birth I had hoped for, and welcomed my perfect son into the world. Support is everything.
It took me exactly 8 weeks to reach a place where I could finish writing this story and not have to step away and shed some tears from the sheer intensity of the memory. Today my baby is 8 weeks old, thriving, chubby-cheeked, and perfect, and I am one happy new mama who doesn’t have the slightest clue what she is doing, but heck if I am going to let that stop me from enjoying every minute of this new adventure.