*Our goal for this birth was to have a natural, drug-free childbirth, with as little medical intervention as possible. While this was an important goal for us, we understand that everyone’s birth story is unique to them and their baby, and do not wish share our story to spark any conflict or debate. Also, this is a birth story – and birth, however beautiful, is not exactly a neat and pretty thing, so please read at your discretion as there are details that may be too much information 🙂
At our 39 week appointment, we met with a new midwife, and because our 20 week ultrasound report had not made it into my records, she ordered a new ultrasound just to double check that everything with Baby J was ok. It was scheduled for that Wednesday, October 1. I had had this date in my mind for weeks as the day Baby J would make their appearance. I don’t know why. October 1 has no significance to us, but it kept flashing in my head. Alas, Wednesday came, and Baby was still snug as a bug in my tummy, so we went in for our ultrasound. Everything looked great, other than the fact that there was very little room left for Baby J to move or grow. But by the end of the ultrasound, little one hadn’t shown signs of breathing exercises, so we then had to sit through a stress test.
By this point I had started to feel a few pains, but not having gone through the experience of childbirth before, I didn’t know that what I was feeling were contractions, until the nurse informed me that I had had four of them during the 20 minute stress test. These mild contractions can go on for days, so it was no alarm that labor was coming at any minute. So we got a quick tour of the labor and delivery rooms, then left, and continued on with our afternoon plans to go to Ikea. I felt those contractions throughout the rest of the afternoon and evening. I had been losing bits of my mucus plug over the previous few weeks and thought it was completely passed, but that night I passed what I knew to be all of it. Finally we went to bed, accepting that October 1 would not be Baby J’s birthday.
At 1:00am on October 2, I woke up with an intense contraction and immediately ran to the bathroom. I had downloaded an app to help us time contractions, but again this was all new to me and I wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was the real deal. I only knew they hurt, and there was no way I was going back to sleep. So I started timing them. They were coming every 5 minutes, and lasting around a minute each. In all of our studies we had read that contractions typically start out more like 10-15 minutes apart, and in short bursts around 30 seconds long. We had read that generally women are able to move about, like to nest and tidy up, and even sleep between contractions. At 5 minutes apart, and a minute long, we had already moved well past that first “putsy putsy” stage, and had entered active labor.
Will tried his best to get me to come back to bed, convinced that if I could just relax I might be able to sleep through some of the contractions (and he could get a little more rest as well). I did try, but after managing a couple in the bed, I again retreated to the bathroom. At this point Will accepted that there was no more sleep to be had, it was showtime.
Our plan had been to labor in the hotel room for as long as possible, even to the point of transition if I could make it, before walking over to the hospital. We planned it this way hoping it would assist us in avoiding the insistence of medical interventions or drugs. Having a drug-free, intervention-free birth in a hospital is actually a challenging thing to do, and often requires a little bit (and sometimes a significant) of a fight on the part of the parents to be. This is why those Bradley classes are so important – both parents, and especially the father (since mom will most likely have a hard time saying anything at all, much less advocating for herself and her wishes) need to have a plan and be informed of their options.
The contractions stayed in the same pattern over the next few hours, but were now intense enough that I could no longer be quite during them, and I was shaking terribly. I continued to labor in our hotel room, using the tub to try for some pain relief, trying to drink the labor aid that Will had made – then violently puking it right back up, then finally settling on the chair in the living room, propped up with an assortment of pillows. I felt like I needed the arms of the chair to brace myself when each contraction hit – an action that was the opposite of what I had been taught. The more you relax, the more effective and less painful your contractions tend to be. I failed in trying to relax through my contractions.
People always say women revert to their primal instincts during birth, losing all modesty (you can’t exactly pop a baby out with pants on haha!), and uttering guttural moans and cries with each wave of pain and energy. I was no different. My wails were so loud that when our doula (Nikki) showed up, she could hear me from the parking lot. She found me in the chair, and got an update from Will on our progress before jumping into action. She and Will worked to massage my hands during the contractions to keep me from holding onto the arms of the chair with a vice grip, and alternated turns retrieving and covering me with iced towels. With each contraction, my temperature would sky rocket leaving me sweating. Nothing has ever felt so great as those ice cold towels bringing sweet relief!
At about 8:30am my contractions were now 2-3 minutes apart, and still lasting about a minute each. Nikki asked me how I was feeling in regards to going to the hospital. I knew I wasn’t to the point of transition yet, but the “breaks” were shortening and I was concerned with actually being able to make the walk over. So Will got our things ready to go and we left.
I had three contractions during the walk. It was a Thursday morning in the hospital so there were people everywhere. They all watched with concerned looks as I fell to the ground, clutching the handrail, groaning in pain. It’s true that many (most) people have no idea what real labor and childbirth are like. A male nurse passed by during one contraction, and stopped to try to help, worried that something was seriously wrong. Will and Nikki explained I was in labor, and he took my arm and helped lead me the rest of the way to labor and delivery, all the while informing me that I was in active labor – as if I hadn’t figured that out yet.
We were checked into labor and delivery room #1, coincidentally, the same room we had toured just the day before. Then one by one the nurses started coming in, each a smiling friendly face – and all the exact team that we had hoped would be on when we did finally welcome our little one. I kept telling each one how happy I was that they were there. I’m sure there were some hormones helping with those comments, but I was so truly grateful that the nurses and the midwife we wanted so bad were the ones we ended up getting. They all were completely supportive of our wishes for a natural birth, and did everything they could to help us achieve it.
I had refused the cervix checks during our prenatal appointments. Often times they will inform you that you are XX centimeters dilated and XX percent effaced. For some women it gives them hope that labor is right around the corner, but more often than not you can be slightly dilated and effaced for weeks before labor actually happens. Likewise, during labor, cervical checks mean just about as much. You can be 6 centimeters dilated for hours, or you could go from 3 to 8 centimeters in a matter of minutes. After enduring hours of painful contractions, to learn that you are still only 2 cm or 4 cm, or haven’t progressed at all, can often be the final nail in the coffin that causes you to give up on your natural birth plans and welcome the drugs.
I knew all of these things in my labor-induced stupor, and had planned to not be checked until I felt the urge to push, but in the end my need to know won out. The midwife checked me around 9:30 and found that I was 5 cm. I overheard some of the staff talking and a comment that they expected to have a baby by 12:30.
Oh how I held on to that 12:30 time. With each contraction I glanced at the clock, watching the minutes ticking away, praying they were right. But at 12:30, I was still laboring at the same rate.
Our birth team was great in encouraging me to try different positions. In fact, they wouldn’t allow me to stay in the bed no matter how much I insisted I couldn’t move. We tried the shower, Will diligently holding the sprayer to my back – at which point my water finally broke with a pop and a small splash. We went back to the toilet – where I realized the contractions were causing me to push involuntarily. And eventually I got on the birthing ball with my chest laid on the bed, where I stayed for a long time.
Being in labor is such an odd mental state. I was acutely aware of everything happening around me, but it was as if I was in a different world. Will and the nurses and Nikki would talk to me, and ask me questions, but I was unable to answer even though I heard them perfectly. I felt as if I didn’t really have control over my body. It was on a mission to birth our baby, and I was just along for the ride. The contractions had changed, and with each one I felt my torso contract and push, most of the time causing me to flood the floor with amniotic fluid. I had no idea there could be SO much fluid!
At this point, I realized I was no longer thinking in terms of getting to the end. I think I had accepted that there was no way to know when it would end, and all I could do was get through the next contraction. I thought so many times how I wished they could just reach up in there and pull the baby out, but surprisingly never once did I think about wanting the drugs. An epidural had become such a non-option to me, that it honestly never crossed my mind.
After another hour or so, they helped me move back up onto the bed. I was pushing, even though it wasn’t intentional. My voice was almost completely gone thanks to the 15+ hours of screaming and groaning. The midwife asked if she could check me again, just to make sure I was actually fully dilated and effaced, and wasn’t pushing against a partially closed cervix.
No one ever tells you how painful being checked is. One of the most uncomfortable positions you can be in for a contraction is flat on your back, yet this is the only way they can really check you. Every time she checked I ended up having a contraction in the middle of it.
She confirmed that I was 10cm and 100% effaced, and she could feel Baby J’s head low in my pelvis. The birth team moved into action, getting the bottom of the bed lowered to allow gravity to help me, donning their gloves, and getting out the supplies to welcome our baby.
So many people had told me that once you get to second stage labor (the pushing stage), you would get a little bit of a break because the contractions start coming farther apart, and that the actual pushing would feel good. In the hours before, I had repeated this to myself, encouraging myself that I just needed to get to the pushing stage and then it would all be downhill from there. Yet, like how my labor had began, there was no clear transition, and contrary to my preconceived vision of holding my breath and pushing – it wasn’t until the very end that I was able to actual get behind the contractions and really physically push – and pushing hurt…a lot.
The pushing stage typically lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours, and of course can always go longer. In my case it went much longer. I pushed for over 3 hours, eventually pushing even when I wasn’t contracting. Our midwife had started “pushing with me,” meaning she inserted her fingers with each contraction to ensure that the baby was actually moving down the birth canal – something that ultimately gave me the most encouragement, knowing that I wasn’t working in vain. Will had taken position behind me to help hold me up and support me. With each push the birth team would cheer me on, our midwife being the ultimate cheerleader telling me to “come back again,” Nikki to the side counting to help me know how long to hold my breath and push, and Will whispering in my ear a mixture of sweet encouragements and firm commands to give it all I had. And I did.
In reality, I didn’t have anything left. I was completely exhausted, my voice was long gone, the incessant shaking had kept my legs so tense the muscles were fatigued, and on one push in particular I actually gave out. That was about two pushes before the end.
Our midwife told me to reach down and feel our baby’s head. It was the strangest feeling ever. It actually didn’t feel any different than anything else down there, it was so squishy.
And with that, everyone decided it was time. No more breaks. It was conceivable that with the next push, the baby could come out. It didn’t on that next push, or the next, but the third was the charm. I could feel the midwife holding down and putting counter pressure on my perineum, and I felt the sting of the “ring of fire” I had heard about – although thankfully it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I pushed. I kept pushing. They told me I could take a break, but I was determined that this push was going to be it. I was so focused on my pushing that they had to tell me twice to reach down and grab our baby. I opened my eyes in question before I realized they were talking to me, and that Baby J was coming out! Before I knew it I was pulling our baby onto my chest.
It only remained there for a split second before the midwife took it back because something was wrong. She clamped the cord and cut it in spite of Will immediately insisting that we didn’t want the cord cut until it had stopped pulsing.
In my mind all I could think was that I couldn’t believe how beautiful our baby was. How I couldn’t believe it didn’t have a cone head, and wasn’t all blue and wrinkly. It took me a minute or so before I thought to look and saw that our baby…was a girl! I croaked out my discovery with my abused voice, and watched as they took our little Aubrey over to be assessed. The cord had been wrapped around her neck twice, and when it was removed she had gasped for air, in that process had swallowed fluid, and the fluid in her lungs was making it difficult for her to get clear breaths. Will and I watched from the bed while they worked on our baby girl, the midwife assuring us that nothing bad was wrong and that she would be just fine. I heard her, but all I could focus on was the little person in that clear bassinet. I couldn’t believe she was here. I couldn’t believe we were parents. I couldn’t believe I had done it. It felt like time stood still.
I began to cramp again, and moments later birthed the placenta. Until that point I had been silently thinking about how much pain I was still in even though Aubrey was out. Once the placenta had been birthed I felt a huge wave of relief.
They wrapped her up and told me I could hold her for just a minute, but then they would have to take her to NICU. I don’t think I even really processed the time I had her on my chest. They had an oxygen mask covering her tiny face, and only removed it long enough for Nikki to snap a few photos. And then she was gone.
Will went with her, and I remained in the room to be checked for tearing and to recover until it was time to go to the mother/baby ward. Fortunately, I had not torn, at least not on my perineum. I had a small tear internally, but nothing that required being repaired. Unfortunately, because Aubrey had not been able to breastfeed immediately my uterus was not contracting, and I had to get a shot in each leg of pitocin to force it to. After making it all that time without drugs it sucked to have to bite the bullet at the end, but I am thankful that at least by then Aubrey was out and none of them would be getting to her.
Slowly my shaking stopped. Nikki handed me my phone an I began catching up on all the texts from our friends and family waiting to hear the announcement of whether we had welcomed an Aubrey or a Jack. I wanted to take a picture of her to send with the announcement so I informed them they would have to wait a little longer. Eventually Will came back to the room and let me know I could go see Aubrey in the NICU. I was able to walk, but he wheeled me in a wheelchair anyway. We visited her for just a few minutes, took a few pictures to send to our friends and family, and then had to leave again. They had our room ready in mother/baby, and Aubrey was still weaning off the oxygen.
We ate the meal they had ordered us, gathered our things, and checked into our room. Will said he wished our baby was with us, that it didn’t even feel like we had a baby, and I silently agreed, trying to fight back the tears.
On the one hand we were pretty devastated that we didn’t get to spend the first night of our little girl’s life with her, but on the other hand with her being in the NICU we had the luxury of getting to sleep the entire night through. I woke up a little after 6:00am the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, so we walked up to NICU in hopes of visiting Aubrey again. Visiting hours hadn’t started yet so we were refused entry. We went back and ate breakfast and returned.
When Aubrey had been taken to the NICU, we had been told they were placing her on a CPAP machine until her breathing had regulated. Then they would wean her off of that machine, and once her oxygen levels were ok they would bring her to us in mother/baby. When we got to the NICU the next morning we learned that she had come off the machine within 3-4 hours of being put on it, but instead of them bringing her to us, they had placed her on a glucose IV – something we were VERY against, and were never even asked about. She now had to be weaned off the glucose IV, a process where they tested her levels before each feeding, and if they were above a 60 they could drop the glucose level by another point or so until it finally reached zero. Getting her to breastfeed was imperative to getting them to drop the glucose levels. Unfortunately because she hadn’t been allowed to be skin to skin after birth, her natural instinct to root and nurse hadn’t kicked in. She had no interest in nursing, and the NICU nurse was trying to tell us it was unsuccessful and we would just have to come back later and try again. Will was already very upset with how things had been handled, and firmly insisted that we be given time to spend with her skin to skin. So thankfully they put screens around us and left us alone.
A few minutes later a lactation consultant came by and used a few tricks to teach Aubrey to suck, and like magic she began to nurse. We spent the rest of the day in and out of the NICU nursing her and fighting with the nurse over what felt like everything. We were told she would be out by lunch, then lunch became the 5:00 shift change, then 5:00 became 9:00. On our last visit we walked in to find a new nurse who informed us she had completed all the tests, Aubrey was off the IV, and they would have her down to us within 15-20 minutes. That became an hour, but finally we heard the wheels clinking and they wheeled her into our room in her clear bassinet chariot. And like that they were gone, and we were left alone with our new daughter.
She slept most of the night, including one 5 hour stretch which had me panicking because I had strict instructions to make sure she ate every 2 hours. But try as I might she would not wake up to nurse. When she finally did wake up she nursed feverishly for a solid 30 minutes. I was later chastised by the NICU doctor that came to discharge her for letting her sleep so long, making me feel even worse for already failing our baby.
A discharge class later, lunch, and continually harassing the nurses and doctors to let us go, we were finally given clearance around 2:00pm and walked happily out the door as a family of three.