As I got closer to my due date, I read a lot of birth stories including many from Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth. I found them inspiring, comforting and enlightening. Their wide variety really drove home the fact that everyone’s experience is unique and so very often – does not go to plan! I learned this firsthand when Fox was born and wanted to record our story for posterity.
(disclaimer: this is what I remember… but I am sure I am missing parts and getting the order of something wrong! the post partum brain is a wackadoodle thing, people.)
My due date was Tuesday, June 25th. The day came and went without incident. I was having contractions, but I felt like they were all over the place and not very strong. On Wednesday afternoon, I lost my mucous plug (hooray! gross!) and started to have some lower back discomfort along with some tummy troubles. All signs pointed to a baby on his way, but still didn’t feel like I was progressing too quickly.
Thursday night was a rough one. My back was killing me – so bad, in fact, that it woke me up in the middle of the night. This, in turn, caused me to wake up SteveKam and have him massage my lower back for almost an hour. I barely slept that whole night.
Friday morning arrived and I was feeling like my contractions were getting stronger, but when I tried to time them, I felt like they were still inconsistent. 7 minutes here, 5 minutes there, 10 minutes! I was confident that labor was on its way but hadn’t really started yet.
Steve and I got ready to take the dog for a walk around 9:45am – sneakers on, I ran to the little girls’ room for a pit stop. After doing my business, I saw blood. Red, red blood. On the toilet paper and in the bowl. A color I hadn’t seen in over 9 months. I’ll admit it – I freaked.
I called the nurses’ line at the OB’s office and after a quick interview was urged to come right in. Needless to say, Steve and I were feeling very on edge all of the sudden. We threw our labor and post partum bags in the car …. just in case …. and off we went.
Upon examination, my doc said I was 2 cm dilated and there was a good amount of bleeding. She said for a woman in active labor, this would be just what she’d expect – but for someone whose contractions are not consistent? It was a worrisome amount for early labor and might point to a placental abruption. She decided to send me straight to the hospital (luckily right across the street) for observation. She kept saying “Don’t worry – we may see nothing and be able to send you home to labor there!” – but she also outlined the other possibilities… a need to stay and be admitted…. or possibly needing to induce if they found something – or even if they just were not sure. Better safe than sorry is all I could think. Bye, bye birth plan!
We arrived at the hospital (St David’s North Austin Medical Center/The Women’s Center of Central Texas) and were quickly moved into room #7. (My lucky number as it happens. Believe it or not, this did make me feel a little better. I’m crazy – I know.) Hospital gown on, into bed I went strapped into monitors. A little time passed and the midwife came in to check on me. She smiled when she looked at the monitors and first told me “This is a ridiculously happy baby!” (I heard that exact saying come out of her mouth and the OB’s as well soooo many times! Always with huge grins on their faces. If that’s not reassuring in a stressful situation, I don’t know what is.) Next she looked at the record of my contractions. Another smile. “Sarah, are you feeling like you are having contractions?”. “Yeah”, I answer, “I feel them but they’re really not very strong.” Another smile. “Sarah, they are 2 and a half minutes apart.”
Ok, so maybe all that back pain the night before was more significant than I thought. Maybe those tummy troubles I was complaining about… had nothing to do with my tummy after all. Turns out I was in labor. Now, this was funny. Especially since SteveKam had noted this as his biggest fear. He insisted that I would not admit I was having a baby until the kid’s head was sticking out. I told him “We would be so lucky.”
So, the midwife decided to watch me for a few hours and then check my dilation and see how things were progressing. At this point, there was a lot of talk about maybe being allowed to head home to labor there. Music to my ears. She asked me to remind her if I was planning on a natural birth or having an epidural. I told her my goal was as little medical intervention as possible and no pain medication – if I could handle it. Smile. “Oh – judging by how you are handling things so far… I have a hunch you’ll do just fine.” Time would tell.
About 2pm, she came back in…. still 2cm. Ugh. I was hoping for some progress obviously. Another bump? My contractions had become erratic over the past couple of hours. Another possible sign of an abruption. Nothing definite – but it worried her enough to say that she could not in good conscience let me go home. If things went wrong, they could go wrong fast and she wanted me there so I could get immediate help. I couldn’t argue. Bye bye, birth plan!
This is when I was officially admitted to the hospital, hooked to an IV and instructed not to eat or drink anything. It is also when I had an emotional breakdown. These were all things I feared and had wanted to avoid. I was watching helplessly as items from my birth plan were plucked off the page and incinerated. I knew things would not go exactly as I had hoped… (they never do!) but while I took the first couple of course corrections in stride, by the time the nurse could not find a vein and had to stick me 4 times for the IV, I had just about lost it. Tears flowed and were plentiful. I made a conscious decision at that point to cry it out. I leaned into Steve and I sobbed. I had to release it so I could reset my brain. Luckily, it worked. I was able to pull my shit together after that and acknowledge that while this was not what I had planned – this was the birth of my son. This was our experience. And it was time to stop mourning and move forward.
We discussed our options. Option #1 was to administer Pitocin to kick start my labor. #2 was to wait a bit longer to see if I made any progress. The midwife suggested that some labors go with the setting sun, so there was a decent chance my labor may kick in after dark. We opted for #2 – and agreed to reconvene at 10pm.
10pm. 3cm! Progress! This allowed for a couple of options to be presented to me. #1 was still Pitocin. This was what seemed to be where the midwife was leaning. Kick start labor with a small dose and have a baby that night. #2 Stripping the membranes to *possibly* kick start labor – a little more naturally since no drugs involved… but not a comfortable procedure and no guarantee that it will do the trick. #3. Rest. We asked for some time to discuss it and Steve and I set to work weighing our options. Ultimately, I decided that after a sleepless night the evening before and a long, stressful (emotional!) day, administering Pitocin could result in a painful labor that I would be too exhausted to handle without drugs. It was at this time that I really accepted that this birth was not going to proceed anything like what I had planned for, so it was time to salvage what I could and make decisions that would strengthen my body and my spirit as much as possible. If I wanted to do this au natural, I would need my energy. We went to sleep.
After a night of intermittent rest, my contractions had all but ground to a halt. (What the what, amiright?) The nurse came in at 5:30am to tell me that the midwife wanted to start me on Pitocin at 6am. She told me that I could eat breakfast (hooray!) so I could get my energy level up.
6am. Here we go. They started me on a very tiny dose of Pit. Too bad my body didn’t want to cooperate. It didn’t do anything. A little more… nope. An hour or so of this and it was decided that it needed to be raised every 15 minutes to get me going.
Around 7am our doula, De’Andrea, stopped by to bring Steve breakfast and to check in. I was doing okay at this point – same old jovial Sarah that she was used to seeing. I was a little apprehensive since I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but after getting some rest I was feeling pretty positive. She reminded me of a few key things. She told me that since the Pit was going to bring on contractions, I was going to be launched from a day of early labor/mild contractions straight into the heart of active labor. My body would accept this, she said – the challenge would be getting my mind to accept it as well.
She was more right than I could have known.
She had to duck out for a couple of hours, but was confident that not much would happen in the time she was gone. When she got back to my room at 10am, she walked in to a different person entirely. Sarah had left the building. I was crying. I was breathing heavy. I was in bed. I was looking at Steve wide eyed whispering “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” I remember feeling like I was begging him to make it stop hurting. But I knew he couldn’t!
In the time our doula had been gone, the real contractions had arrived. And boy howdy – did they ever feel different than what I had expected! I had guessed all this time that the pain would be somehow menstrual – something familiar but much more intense. Wrong. It was sharp. It was low. And intense? That’s not even the word. There is no word. It felt impossible.
De’Andrea got me out of bed and got me moving. My desperate whispers to my husband continued. Never asking for anything but constantly declaring that I could not do this. It was clear to everyone around me where my mind was headed. All I could think was epidural. I had started to have an internal conversation with myself, justifying why this was okay – why it would not be the end of the world if I asked for it. My baby was coming either way – my plan was shot to shit – it wasn’t my fault if this got too intense too quick for me to handle! I left it on the table as a real option.
Our doula spotted this right off. It was 10:40am at this point. She asked me what I thought about picking a time to re-assess. How about 11am? I said okay. She asked if I would be willing to try the shower. I said okay. From this point on, she gave me options. Positions to try, movements to try. I never said no. (Although some things were rejected pretty quickly if they didn’t feel good.) I felt I owed it to my body, my spirit and my baby to try everything that was offered to me. Even if it still led to the epidural highway.
At some point around here (time… did not exist for me…. lol) De’Andrea suggested getting checked to help us assess where we were at and talk about our options. I agreed. I remember that she and the L&D nurse started saying things to each other like “She’s going fast.” and the baby table started getting set up. De’Andrea pointed this out to me… and asked me if I remembered the times we talked about how some women have very intense, very short labors? I affirmed I did and she asked me “What if that’s what’s happening right now?” I thought to myself, “Yeah right.” I was still convinced this was going to last another 14 hours and that I was going to die before getting this kid out of me unless I got some pain medication. She and the nurse were very positive and worked to encourage me that this baby was coming sooner than I thought. I remember – very clearly – thinking that they were lying to me. Not in a bad way, of course – but in an effort to help me keep going and to achieve my goal of a natural birth. Liars, I thought. Lie telling liars! I was going to feel like this for all eternity.
As we waited for the OB, I started having hot and cold flashes, felt nauseous and light headed. I was moaning (if you can call it that). It was absolutely bovine. I have no idea where those sounds came from or how I made them! All I know is that it was the only release I had and God help anyone else on that floor that morning – I was L O U D. I remember being on the birth ball, leaned over the bed when there was talk about putting on some relaxing music. I managed to tell Steve that it was on the iPod and which playlist to look for. Well, something was wrong with the iPod and he couldn’t get it to change playlists. He desperately tried to fix it – all the while explaining to me that it wasn’t working. I remember shouting at him “WHAT. Do you want to bring it here and I’ll just do it for you?!” On he went fiddling with the darn thing and he reports back again “I just can’t get it to work!”
“THROW IT IN THE GARBAGE!”
At the top of my lungs.
He backed away slowly. Good man.
Ah, time to be checked. I was convinced that she would peer up and inform me that I was now 4 cm. And I would promptly ask them to stick me with whatever needles necessary to take me to happy land.
“Sarah, you’re 7-8 cm!”
Smiles and cheers all around the room! “Sarah, you’re in transition! Hooray!”
My response? (Pretty sure this was internal… but maybe I said it out loud?)
“AM I SUPPOSED TO BE HAPPY ABOUT THAT?!”
My amazing support people told me that this was the time for me to lie back in the bed and be loved upon. Over the next hour, the doula and nurse lovingly moved me from position to position, helping me find where I was most comfortable. My feet and legs were massaged. Steve stroked my hair. My moans got louder and more intense. But what was magical about transition for me was that this is when I re-entered the picture. It was the most intense and painful part of labor… yet I suddenly let go of all that nasty self doubt I had filled myself with. I even smiled a few times. Something clicked in at that point and I realized that I had set the tone in the room. A tone that had – up to this point – been tense and shaky started to turn the other way. I started having the birth I had always wanted. It was hard work, but my husband was by my side and I was surrounded by some incredible women cheering me to the finish line. I started marveling at the crazy sensations I was feeling. (Much to the delight of the room who found every WHOA! and OH MY GOSH! very amusing – especially since my face conveys every emotion I ever feel.) I also remember one particularly spicy contraction which lifted my moans to atmospheric levels. I remember the feeling of letting that moan out with all the breath in my body…. and looking over to my left at the end to see my OB taking a phone call. I quickly put my hand over my mouth and said, “Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry – you’re on the phone!” Needless to say, this cracked her up. “What must the person on the other end of that phone call think?” I said. Yep. I was back.
Before I knew it, it was time to check me again. “Sarah… you’re 10cm! You’re fully dilated! You can start to push!”
I remember feeling a warm rush as I sat up in the bed. I looked at De’Andrea – confused – and said, “What’s happening?”
“Rest and be thankful.”, she replied.
“But, it doesn’t hurt! I don’t understand – what’s going on?”
She told me this was my body’s way of giving me some rest before starting the work of pushing the baby out. Rest and be thankful. I did and I was. 🙂
I headed to the bathroom to pee where I shouted out – “I reeeeeeally want to poop!” “DON’T POOP!” they all reply. “But how do I pee without pooping?!?!?” I wanted to know. I was instructed to wait until the contraction and urge to poop passed… and THEN pee. Oh. Okay. Done!
Then back to the bed and the squat bar to find a position that felt right. And it began.
I’ve heard both sides of pushing from friends. Seems that most gals I know fall into one of two camps – loved pushing or hated pushing. Me? LOVED IT. I think it was partially due to the high I had from shaking off that mantle of self doubt. And partially due to the pride I felt about getting through transition the way I did. Mostly, I think it was the feeling that I was able to do something with the pain now. I was able to put those contractions to work now! No more sitting around.
It was also just crazy to feel what I was feeling! The baby was moving down lower and lower – and I could feel it! Again – BIG eyes and lots of WHOA!s coming out of my mouth. It hurt, yes – but I was really enjoying experiencing this! (Sounds crazy but it’s totally true.) The women in the room got a kick out of me – which helped boost me even higher and made me feel – scratch that! – I knew that I could do this. I was about to meet my son and it was an incredible ride.
Also – on a side note – apparently I growl when I push. Again – no clue where that came from! But, I’d have to say I found it pretty badass – and it was entertaining for everyone else in the room.
I was calling out my contractions and later was told that my natural pushing really helped ease him out and lessened my tearing. Good stuff!
When he crowned, I put my hand down and felt the top of his (very hairy!) head! Eep! It was almost surreal.
A little more work, a little more slow pushing (so hard to go slow at the end! I had to really pull my body back to keep the pace that I needed in order to be kind to my body!) and before I knew it – HUZZAH! He was out! He was crying! He was on my chest! He was so warm and small and dear. I have never in my life felt such love so instantly. Pain was already a distant memory – all I could feel was my heart stretching to it’s max capacity as I gazed at this little human being. This little person who would not exist if I hadn’t met his Dad and fallen in love and gotten married and so and so on. I immediately understood why so many of my friends refer to a baby as a miracle. It always sounded so trite… but in that moment, that’s what he was. (And still is! Every time I stare at his sweet little mug to be honest. Cheez-Whiz I know… but whatever. Go have a baby then judge me!)
There was some meconium present when he was born, so he did have to head over to the warming table pretty quickly to be checked out – Steve went with him (cuteness ensued). He came back to me in a jiff though – and started looking for a meal almost immediately! Gave it a shot and would you believe this little guy latched on his first try?! That was a sign of things to come as it’s turned out he is a fantastic eater.
And that pesky placenta of mine? It made it through, but the doc had to go in at the end and clean out some pieces that were left behind. :-\ Not the greatest feeling, but she got it all – and I had one heck of a distraction during the process. I also had two very small tears – both first degree and very minimal. I didn’t even notice when I was being stitched up.
Reflecting back, I am struck by how differently this all went down than what I had imagined. A lot of things didn’t go my way. Still… is it crazy to say I wouldn’t change a thing?
I knew that the chances were high that this would be a life changing experience. What I didn’t know was how. I thought I would be up against pain. I thought my biggest need would be for stamina to make it through. I thought I would face some fear, but thought I was prepared for that. I never imagined that self doubt would be my true enemy. But, battling through that doubt? And coming out the other side? I’m stronger for it. Once I found my rhythm, I was present in every moment. An active participant. My personality and strength carried me through from that point on. The entire experience taught me so much about who I am. I feel like I can do anything now. I feel like the next time I doubt myself, I have something to refer back to. Remember the last thing you thought you couldn’t do? Yeah. Turns out you could. And while I am sure to face other challenges where I will question myself – can anything really compare? My perspective has shifted and I am a better person for it.
For all the things that got burned off my birth plan, one thing went right. I delivered naturally. It was the most important preference I had – and it happened.
And bottom line? Healthy, happy baby! (and healthy, happy Mama to boot!) It was the only result I was really interested in – and I feel blessed to have brought home a healthy baby boy – and so much more. 🙂