(Photo taken the day I went into labor)
Birthing my son was everything I expected it to be and nothing at all like I expected it to be. It was very primal and spiritual at the same time. It took the surrendering of my mind and body, but also my birth plan. In preparation for natural childbirth, I read a ton of birthing stories, books, and how-to guidelines. In doing this, I think I prepared myself with useful tips on how to get through natural childbirth, but I also ended up putting it into a box.
You can’t put childbirth in a neat little box.
For example, I held steadfast to statistics printed in my birthing books. Things like: “Babies are usually born within 12-14 hours after the water breaks “ or “Transition occurs when the cervix dilates from 7-10 cm, and is the shortest part of labor.”
So, before I even went into labor, I had all of these guidelines for how things should happen. What I could expect and when. My labor did not fit into any box. It definitely was not what my birthing books considered “the norm” for a first time mother.
I was four days past my due date when my water broke. The day before labor began, a Friday, I woke up feeling normal. I did a modified version of Body Pump, I went to a worship concert that my church was having. After standing and worshipping on my feet all night, we had to climb four flights of stairs to get back to our car. I joked with my husband that now that we’d gone to the concert, our baby would decide to come. Plus, it was a full moon that night…and you know what they say!
We got home around 11:30 pm, I still felt normal, except for my swollen feet. I noticed that my thighs were hurting a bit more than usual, but I attributed it to the stair-climbing and lay down to go to sleep around 12:30 a.m.
My water broke at 1:10 a.m. It was like someone had taken a pin and gently popped a water balloon inside of me. There was a first gush while I was lying down. Realizing what had just happened, I shook Jason awake and said “My water just broke!”. I climbed out of bed to get a towel and a second gush came out. It was at this point that my dog came over and began to lick up my amniotic fluid! I scolded her and sent her into the bathroom. After the second gush, my body began to shake uncontrollably. Jason asked if I was cold and I told him that I wasn’t, but I couldn’t control the shaking.
At 36 weeks pregnant, I found out that I tested positive for Group B Strep. It’s a common bacteria found in the vagina, but if passed to the baby through the birth canal, it can sometimes cause infection. (You can read more about that here.) Testing positive for this meant that I would need administering of antibiotics at least 4 hours before the baby was born. It also meant that he was at risk earlier than normal since my water had broken first (removing the protective barrier around him). But there was no way that I was going into the hospital without contractions. So I lay a towel on the bed (it’s a little late for THAT!) and try to lay back down to get some rest, having full faith that my contractions would start soon enough. I told Jason that we should try to sleep as much as we could and that I’d wake him when I needed him.
I had my first contraction about 20 minutes after my water broke. I got out of bed, grabbed Jason’s phone so that I could start timing them. I decided not to get back in bed because I knew I would just keep him awake and he needed rest, so I went into the living room and began gathering the last of our things for the hospital. I sat down to read my daily devotional, I ate some scrambled tofu with veggies, and pitter-pattered around the house while timing contractions. Jason came out of the bedroom and asked how I was doing. I told him that my contractions were 6-9 minutes apart and manageable. We both agreed that we should wait to call the midwife until they were closer together, so once again, I told him to go get some rest and I would wake him when I needed him. It was about 5 a.m. at this point, and I decided to lay on the couch to try to rest too. This whole time, I had amniotic fluid and mucous continuously dripping from me. I was making a mess all over the house! I finally put a sanitary pad on and lay down on a towel on the couch. I fell asleep until about 7 a.m., only waking a few times to time my contractions. Since laying down, they had spaced out to 10-12 minutes apart.
Wanting to speed things along, I got up and went outside to do my morning chores. I fed the chickens, walked Marley around the yard, and tended to my garden. I’d squat down to pick cucumbers and have a contraction, so I’d hold that position until it was over. I stayed out in my garden for a good 45 minutes. I felt that they were coming closer together, so I went back in to time them. They were now 6-9 minutes apart and I went into the bedroom to wake Jason.
We ate breakfast together and loaded Marley in the car for a trip to the park. I wanted to stay active so that I could keep labor moving along, so we walked a mile at the park. I think I had two measly contractions while walking.
We got back home around 11 a.m. and Jason said that I should call the midwife just to let her know what’s going on. My contractions were still 6-9 minutes apart. I knew she was going to ask us to come in for the first round of antibiotics (and she did). We took our sweet time putting things into the car, eating lunch, and preparing the animals for our absence. We left for the hospital around 1:15 p.m.
Around 2 o’clock, they checked me into triage. I put on the standard “giving birth” night gown, it was kind of surreal…knowing that I wouldn’t be leaving again until I had my baby. They hooked me up to a machine that timed my contractions, took my BP, and did a vaginal swab to make sure that it was my water that had broken. Once I was hooked up to the machine, they saw that my contractions were 6-9 minutes apart, but I was only feeling half of them. The nurse told me that I’d just had a contraction and I was like “What? I didn’t feel a thing!”. The midwife came in to see how far along dilated I was. At this point I was only 1 cm and 50% effaced. I wasn’t disappointed about only being 1 cm, I knew that it would take time and that it was still early in the game. I’d been laboring for about 12 hours by now and felt confident that things would pick up soon.
My husband and I were supposed to spend about 20-30 minutes in triage, but the staff were backed up (they had 8 mothers go into labor that morning!), so we ended up staying in the little triage room for about 3 hours. Eventually the midwife came to take us to our L&D room, I was SO GLAD to be moving to our actual room. Once we were in our room, my husband discussed our birthing plan with the midwife and nurses. They were all on board, and so they left us alone for the next few hours to labor on our own.
My contractions were coming steady, they were still bearable. I was feeling them strongly in my lower abdomen, back, and upper thighs. It felt good to be up and moving during them, whether I was draped over the edge of the bed, with my hips swaying…or just walking in circles around the room. This went on for hours. Jason and I stopped timing them. Every hour the midwife would come in and check on me, she would say things like ‘You’re doing great. Stay active and they’ll get stronger’, this really encouraged me. My husband was amazing too. He was right there if I needed anything, but at this point, I mainly wanted verbal encouragement. I didn’t necessarily want to be touched (ßthis would change!). My nurse, Shante, came in every hour to monitor my contractions and the baby’s heartbeat for 20 minutes at a time. His HR was great this whole time, and my contractions were around 3-6 minutes apart.
Sometime in the night, the contractions came closer together and stronger. Jason timed them for a while and saw that they were 2-5 minutes apart. I could no longer walk around through them, it took a lot to focus and breathe through each one. Late that night, I decided to get into the tub to help ease the pain. Jason turned on my birthing playlist, we dimmed the bathroom lights, and I sat in the water in a half-dazed state. When a contraction came, I would moan through it, trying really hard not to raise my voice in panic. I focused on keeping my moans low and deep, so as not to tense up. Jason sat outside of the tub, rubbing my arm and encouraging me. I stayed in the tub for probably an hour. My contractions were stronger and stronger, and my moaning became louder and louder. The midwife and nurse came in (I think they heard me in the hallway!) and said “It sounds like things are progressing! That’s a great sign! Do you want to get out of the tub so we can check you?”
It was 1 a.m., I had been laboring naturally for 24 hours straight. I felt certain that things were moving along and that I was getting closer and closer to meeting my baby. I got out of the tub and made it to the bed, asking her to ‘please hurry!’ because I couldn’t stand being on my back. She checked me and said “Honey, you’re still 1 cm dilated, but you’re also 100% effaced.”
I let out a cry of disbelief and anguish.
“How?! How is that possible?!” I looked at Jason and I could tell that he was shocked too. “Your body is progressing through the stages of labor, but your cervix is not getting the message. It’s been 24 hours since your water broke, and we can’t let you go too much longer without talking about other possibilities.”
I knew she was talking about starting a Pitocin drip. I looked at Jason with tears in my eyes. Honestly, I felt so betrayed by my body at this point. I felt so angry about the process. I felt defeated and so exhausted. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I got a new gust of determination. The midwife said she would give us a couple more hours to labor on our own and that she’d check back with me. She gave instructions to stay active, to do everything I could not to tense up with contractions, to get up and walk the halls and do whatever I could to get things moving along on my own. I nodded and they left the room.
I got out of bed, threw on my robe, and Jason and I started walking the halls. Contractions would hit, I’d grab onto the railing for support and sway my hips fervently back and forth until it was over. Then we’d keep walking. And then another contraction would hit, and I’d do the same thing over again. My contractions were a lot stronger than they were in the tub. I began sweating and shaking through them. It came to a point where I couldn’t walk through them, so we went back to the room and I labored there.
I was so hot at this point, and my contractions were so strong that I couldn’t speak through them. In the room, it would hit, and I’d grab Jason into a tight hug and he would rub my low back forcefully over and over while I moaned into his chest. Worried that I would tense up if I stopped moving, I tried my very best to go back out into the halls and keep walking.
I threw my robe back on, with nothing underneath, went back into the hallway and a contraction hit. I grabbed the railing, squatted down, and moaned loudly. There was a dad and his two young daughters walking down the hall, and they quickly walked past while avoiding eye contact with us. I’m sure my stuff was hanging out for all to see, but I didn’t care. The contraction passed, and I kept walking. We went through this cycle for about 30 minutes, and decided to go back to the room.
Once back in the room, things started picking up. My contractions were coming one on top of the other. I threw my robe off and got on all fours. My body was shaking so much, I could not control anything I was doing. I wanted the shaking to stop so that I could relax, but I couldn’t. I tried deep breathing, but I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t move. The pain was too great. Contraction after contraction hit, my mind became a blur, I was so hot and the shaking was unbearable, I began sobbing. The midwife came in and asked if she could check me. I told her I couldn’t move. Another contraction hit, and I cried through it. I just gripped the bed for dear life and cried my way through it. My legs would not stop shaking, this whole time. My whole body shook. That was not something that I was prepared for. It felt impossible to relax with the amount of shaking that I was doing. I couldn’t breathe deeply, I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t move. I just sat there and sobbed and shook uncontrollably. A strong contraction hit, and I sobbed “Please, God. Please! Please. Please” over and over to no one in particular. Another one came, and I kept crying and begging God.
I’d been in labor for 32 hours without so much as a Tylenol. At this point, I desperately wanted to be checked and told that I’d progressed, but I couldn’t stand the thought of her telling me I was still only 1 cm. In my mind, I knew I was experiencing signs of transition way too early. I knew that if I couldn’t relax, then I would only be dragging this out for who knows how much longer. Another contraction hit, I sobbed and begged for pain relief. The nurse looked at me and said “Stacey, I need you to ask me for pain relief when you aren’t having a contraction. Not in the middle of one. I need to know that is what you really want.” (I so appreciate her saying this to me, the whole team was really great about trying to follow my birth wishes.)
When the contraction ended, I looked at Jason and said “I can’t do this much longer. I can’t go on like this. My body won’t stop shaking enough for me to relax, and I just want to rest. I want my baby here.” I cried. The midwife and nurse left the room so that we could talk about our options in private. I could tell that my husband was exhausted, and I knew that if my midwife checked me and I hadn’t dilated, that there would be talk of Pitocin. We decided to move forward with an epidural, in hopes that it would relax my body and I’d be able to dilate.
The nurse came back in and I told her that I wanted the epidural. She said she would notify the anesthesiologist. Contractions came and went, and I cried and shook and begged. I asked the nurse how much longer until it would be. She informed me that he was finishing up with another mother, and I would be the next one. Another contraction – I clung to the end of the bed in desperation, my body shaking vigorously. Finally, the doctor arrived and went over the procedure with me. I wasn’t even listening at this point. I wanted all of this to stop. I didn’t want to do it anymore. I had nothing left.
He told me to sit on the edge of the bed, and to lean forward and be very still. Well, at this time, I had a HUGE contraction and with it, I almost leapt off of the bed into the nurses arms. She said “You can’t move while he’s doing this. Try to breathe through the pain.” To which I replied “I can’t sit here! I cannot sit on this bed! I have to get down, please let me down.” She grabbed my hand and said “Stacey, look at me. Squeeze my hand. Look at me and breathe.” I breathed deeply and almost crushed that poor girls hand. The pain in my thighs while sitting was unbearable. I begged the doctor to hurry up. And before I knew it, he was done.
The medicine kicked in within the next ten minutes. I couldn’t feel anything from low abdomen all the way to my toes. My legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. Once the epidural was in place, everyone left the room. And I began to cry to my husband. This time it wasn’t out of pain, but just laboring for that long and being that exhausted, it all caught up with me. I cried because I so badly wanted to make the right decisions, medically-speaking, for my baby. All of the horror stories about epidurals that I read in my birthing books came flooding back in my mind. I wondered if I had made the right decision, and at the same time, I was too tired and spent to care.
Jason soothed me. He was so great during all of it: supporting me in the hardest of moments, and crying with me in the most emotional of moments.
He sat down in the hospital recliner to rest and quickly fell asleep. I was glad that he was asleep. I lay in the bed and rested, all was quiet. My nurse and midwife came back in to hook me up to the HR monitor and contraction machine. She checked me, I was 3cm dilated. She said we could give the epidural a few hours to see if my body progressed on its own before Pitocin should be considered. I agreed.
A couple of hours later, she checked again and I was still 3 cm. She suggested that we start a small dose of Pitocin to see if that kicked things into gear. I had been in labor for 35 hours now. Jason and I discussed it, and we agreed to the smallest possible drip of Pitocin. That was all I needed. Over the next 8 hours, my body dilated from 3 cm to the full 10 cm.
Towards the end, the epidural began to wear off a little. I couldn’t feel the urge to push, but I began to feel cramping in my pelvis and thighs. I was checked at 7:30 pm and was told that I was fully dilated and that it was pushing time. The nurse looked at me and said : “Don’t get discouraged, this part usually takes anywhere from 2-3 hours.” I nodded, already knowing that it could take hours. I didn’t care, I was close to meeting my baby! With each contraction, I held my legs back and put my chin to my chest and pushed with all of my might. My son was low down in the birth canal, and after the first two pushes, we could already see his head. In between contractions, I wore an oxygen mask to keep his HR stable. The midwife would rub the top of his head for stimulation as well.
I pushed for 40 minutes and he was out. Just like that. They handed him to me, and everything I was worried about faded! In my books, I read that epidural babies are usually blue in color, unresponsive, and have trouble latching. This was so not true for my son. He came out bright pink and red, crying and so alert! They waited for the cord to stop pulsing, and Jason cut it. My son was covered in vernix, and we left him that way. He was so alert right off the bat, looking around and responding to my voice. He took to my breast immediately, and nursed for two hours for his first feeding.
I began to feel contractions while nursing him, and the nurse informed me that it was time to push the placenta out. I did three gentle pushes and out it came. After my son was in my arms, they unhooked me from the epidural and all of the other machines. My legs were getting feeling in them again and I liked that.
They left him on my chest for a couple of hours, just to snuggle and get some skin to skin. Later in the morning, they came to weigh/measure him and do his Apgar testing. He was 8 lbs. 1 oz and 20 inches. He got 9’s on both of his Apgar tests.
I gave birth on a Sunday night, they let us go home on a Tuesday morning. My recovery has been great. I had a one degree tear from pushing, but it’s mostly healed by now. There is a lot of bleeding after a vaginal birth! It feels like the longest period of my life! And I still get contractions when I breastfeed (it’s the uterus shrinking back down to its normal size), but nothing like the contractions of labor.
Looking back, I would not change a thing about how it all went down (except maybe more sleep before going into labor!). I was so glad to have the epidural after all those hours of laboring. It was the right choice for us at the time. My husband and I were talking about the experience last night, and he says that he thinks our next child will be born naturally. I feel the same way. Now that I have an inkling of what sensations to expect, and what not to do to prepare, I feel confident that at least one of my children will be born naturally. After getting the epidural, though it was what I needed at the time, I missed the sensations of the contractions. I missed feeling my body do the hard work. I also am disappointed that I never felt the natural urge to push. I didn’t like how heavy the epidural made me feel, but I think his birth needed to happen the way it did so that I can be better prepared to labor naturally with my next child.
It was an incredible experience. I could’ve birthed this baby out of my nose and would still have this over-the-moon high that just won’t go away. I feel as if I’ve stepped right into my calling, and that’s a great feeling!
Let’s have another!