I just have to start writing… but there is something so intimidating about a blank white fresh text field when I have such an Important Subject to record. Especially when I don’t really consider myself to be much of a writer. I don’t even like writing that much! Who knows why I love to blog? Maybe because it seems more informal, more like a conversation with friends (or talking to myself).
So I’m not going to try to make this into some monumental history-making essay, or try to make you laugh or cry or feel like you were totally there in the moment RIGHT THERE WITH US! I’m just going to write.
After two weeks of prodromal labor, with several episodes of hours and hours of really regular, strong, long contractions during that time… Monday July 26th at about 10pm I started having close-together contractions. Like before, it wasn’t anything I couldn’t talk through or walk through, but there it was. We were eating homemade graham crackers and watching the X-Men movie. It always seemed like when the contractions got really intense, they were in my back more than my uterus. And that HURTS. So we had to pause the movie several times for my sweet husband (T) to push on my lower back, or massage it, or for me to just drape myself over my yoga ball and whine a little.
After the movie was over, we went to bed. But I couldn’t sleep. The contractions kept coming — which was really no different than any other “intense” night I had had in the last two weeks. It wasn’t an “I just knew!” moment. I kept having to get up to pee, and when I lay down in bed again, my back would hurt so badly… it just wasn’t worth it to try to sleep anymore. Too uncomfortable.
So around 3:00, I woke my husband up so that he could help me with my back during the contractions. We went into the living room, and I found that the most comfortable position for me during contractions was to kneel facing the couch, and put my arms and head down on the cushions, so my back was parallel to the floor. Like a modified “all fours” position. Of course, with T pushing as hard as he could on my lower back.
I’m not sure what T was thinking, but my thoughts were along the lines of, “There is nothing different about this … except that now I’m 42 weeks and 3 days pregnant… EVENTUALLY I have to have the baby, right? Could this be ‘IT?’ Or is this just going to die down again and leave me still pregnant?” I didn’t want to call Coleen, our doula, because I really wasn’t sure it was going to progress into an actual baby being born. But after a while, T called her and she came over.
When Coleen arrived at 6:00am, things were still slow enough for us to chat and joke between contractions. I tried to eat some food but wasn’t really interested. In the moment, I thought, “Wow, these graham crackers aren’t as good the next day.” But that’s not true, because when we got back from the hospital they were awesome. It was just that I had no appetite and didn’t feel like eating anything — EVEN awesome homemade graham crackers. I was thirsty, but thought it was annoying that I had to pee every 4 minutes. So, I mostly drank, peed, and contracted. Sometimes all at once. Well… not drinking and peeing, but peeing and contracting. By this time, my contractions were much stronger. They literally “stopped me in my tracks” and if I didn’t anticipate it early enough, I wasn’t able to get into a more comfortable position before it hit hard.
Still, although I was uncomfortable and my back hurt so badly during the contractions, I was skeptical. I remember asking Coleen how much stronger they could possibly get. I said, “I can’t imagine them being stronger than this, but I also can’t imagine THIS causing anyone to want a huge needle in their back.” I also wasn’t sure how or when I would know it was time to travel to the hospital. I didn’t want to go too soon, because I knew I’d be “on the clock” when I arrived. I also didn’t want to wait too long and accidentally have the baby at home or something! (Though I’m open to the idea of a planned home birth in the future.)
I’m not sure if the contractions ever did get stronger than that, but they definitely got closer together. At 8:20am on Tuesday, I went into the master bathroom, had a contraction in there by myself, walked out of the bathroom into the bedroom, had another contraction (dropped on all fours) which made T come running to me, walked into the hallway, dropped to the floor again for another contraction… T gave Coleen a look like, “now?” and Coleen knelt on the floor beside me and said gently, “I think it’s time to travel to your birthing nest.” or something ridiculously sweet and sappy like that. I do know for sure she used the word “nest” which I thought was just too cute. I imagined a huge pile of blankets and pillows arranged into a nest for me… but that’s not quite how it went.
I agreed it was time to go to the hospital, but really couldn’t understand how I was going to GET there. My back hurt so intensely with every contraction that sitting and lying down were two positions I just couldn’t even fathom… especially not for a twenty-five minute car ride! I ended up kneeling on the passenger seat, hugging the back of the chair with my face on the head rest. T buckled me in backwards, and off we went. We had originally planned to call immediate family on the way to the hospital to let them know IT’S TIME! but with our ridiculous arrangement, it didn’t happen. Obviously.
I had 5 or 6 contractions in the car on the way to the base, and when we got to the gate, the gate guard was like, “uhhhh” obviously confused by the disheveled woman kneeling in the front seat. My husband said simply, “We’re in labor.” and the guard whisked us through, along with our doula in the car behind us, without even stopping her to check her ID. Thank you, gate guard with an Italian-sounding last name!
In the parking lot as we walked toward the hospital, I had to stop for another contraction, and someone spilled part of a water bottle accidentally at the same time… so it looked like I was leaking or something. People looked on, curiously, wondering if my water had broken. We laughed. I was happy to still have a sense of humor at this point.
When we got up to the maternal-infant unit, the nurses all looked excited and relieved. I was the most-far-along pregnant woman they’d been seeing lately, and I had just had a non-stress test the day before. The OB who did my ultrasound (and who reluctantly said everything looked normal/good) had been pushing for induction, but the nurses were supportive of my desire to wait and have spontaneous labor since my baby and I were both healthy and things were going smoothly. Still, it was a relief to actually have labor start on its own so we could not have to worry about fighting off the induction-hungry-OBs.
You’d think at this point, the goal would be “have a baby.” Right? Me too.
But the immediate goal was “Get a hep-lock into this woman’s crazy-tiny veins.” I just wanted to have a baby! But of course, if anything went wrong and they had to access my veins, it would be really bad to have trouble with the needle and stall whatever medicine/fluids I needed… so I knew the hep-lock HAD to be placed. Still, my veins are tiny (when I had surgery last year, it took two people and four veins before my IV was successfully placed.) and I HATE needles… oh, and I was in labor. The first vein popped, but the second one had success. This was also the first time I cried in labor. Because of a needle, not because of my body or the baby.
The other really hard thing was monitoring. I had to get into a monitor-friendly position so that a nurse could attach monitors tracking contractions and the baby’s heartbeat for 20 minutes every hour in the beginning. Monitor-friendly positions are not back-labor-friendly… sitting and lying down, mostly. That wasn’t pleasant.
After a couple hours of mostly laboring in modified all-fours positions, with my husband pressing on my back the entire time to help relieve some of the pain, Coleen suggested that I spend some time in the shower to take advantage of the warm water. Even though I had initially thought the shower was a good idea, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to get undressed, and I didn’t want to get wet. T and Coleen finally convinced me to try it for a bit though, and I’m glad they did. The warm water was very comforting. I sat on my yoga ball, facing the corner of the shower so I could put my arms and head on the safety bars while I had contractions and my husband pushed on my back.
The shower was also the second time I cried in labor — again, not because of my body or the baby, but because the shower seat, which folds up against the wall like a Murphy bed, came crashing down on my legs as I stood to get out of the shower. That thing hurt like the dickens! I’m not sure why I got out of the shower… maybe for more monitoring…
Yes, I think that’s what it was, because I remember sitting on the ball on the side of the bed, trying to get into a “monitor-friendly” position, and … the third (and final) time I cried in labor. The ball slipped under me and I smashed my legs into the hard pointy pieces of metal under the hospital bed. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much more comfortable (haha — comfortable) it would be at home, without the pointy hospital bed pieces, the heavy hard shower seat crashing down, and the monitors! At this point, labor seemed to be the most tolerable thing happening to my body.
(Yes, underneath that sheet, I am naked! Naked pictures on the internet!)
4 hours after checking into the hospital, at 12:30, I was fully dilated and effaced. I was kneeling on the bed, leaning my arms and head on the top of the bed, and pushing, trying to get the baby down… when my water broke. It was this HUGE impressive gush. Seriously, I was impressed with myself. And I was really relieved, because it was the first sign TO ME that this baby was actually going to come out. I had a thought along the lines of, “HA! She can’t stay in there now! Time to get things moving!”
But things moved slowly enough… as I pushed, I kept thinking “move down, baby!” and visualizing her settling down further into my pelvis, to be ready to come out… I alternated between all-fours, squatting positions, and sitting on a birth stool (imagine a chair with a hole in it — like a toilet seat with no toilet) for monitoring. I felt like I was going to be “moving her down” forever. Not with dread or anything like that… it was more of a feeling that this is my job. This is what I DO. I have contractions and move the baby down. That’s all there is in my life. I had no concept of time.
(This is my midwife. She volunteered to be on call for the THREE WEEKENDS before I had my baby, so that she could be sure not to miss it.)
At about 3:30, the midwife came in and got very excited. She said, “We’re going to have a baby!” and got suited up in her baby-catching outfit. This is the only part I might have changed, if I were to re-live the same experience… she had me lay on my back, in a semi-reclined position. As I’ve said multiple times, any lying or sitting position hurt like crazy due to my intense back contractions. I kind of wish I had been a bit more firm about wanting to continue on all fours and/or squatting. I think being on my back may have slowed things more than necessary.
Intense pushing. Intense. I had the same feeling as before… this is what I do. This is my life. I’m going to do this forever. I tried to push for as long as possible each time, inhaling as much air as I could, then holding my breath and bearing down, trying to draw out every bit of oxygen I could from that one breath, until I groaned out the last of it… taking a quick breath, then doing it again. During each contraction, I was able to get 3 or 4 pushes in. And sometimes a second contraction would come right away, and I might only get 2 or 3 pushes but they were much more productive, and the nurses would cheer me on. I still felt like I wasn’t accomplishing much, until someone told me to reach down and feel the baby’s head during a contraction. Once I knew that she was RIGHT THERE, I was relieved that there was an end in sight, that I would be meeting my daughter soon.
At some point, another nurse’s shift started and she joined the entourage in my room. I immediately disliked her and wanted her OUT but I didn’t say anything. Though when she suggested that she could “count” for me during contractions (you know, like in the movies) I growled out a firm NOOOOO. I couldn’t even imagine having someone else try to guess for me or tell me how long MY body needed to push. I was pushing as long as I could, when I needed to, and that was that. Counting wasn’t going to help a darned thing. So instead of counting, she frantically chanted, “Push! Push! Push!” at me through each contraction, which was about as annoying. But there it is.
My midwife looked puzzled and confused, and a bit exhausted, staring between my legs. When she had come into the room and gotten “suited up” she really thought we were going to have a baby ANY MINUTE NOW… she didn’t know she was signing up for hours of pushing. Even in “the moment” I was entertained by her puzzled expression. When I pushed, she would try to help me, putting pressure on my perineum, trying to stretch me to help the baby out.
(I wonder if my dad will still think I’m a super-photogenic person… labor-face isn’t the most attractive! But look at my sweet husband with the cold washcloth!)
My husband later told me that he was glad I didn’t seem to realize there was a clock in the room, because if I knew how long I had been working, I might’ve gotten more frustrated. The truth is, I knew there was a clock, and it was well within my sight, but I didn’t care about time. I didn’t look at it once.
Coleen also told me later that she felt like the midwife was “labor-sitting.” She stayed in the room the entire time I was pushing, probably because if she left, she would have to give a progress report to the OB who was working that day, and with how slowly things seemed to be going, the OB might push for a C-section. I am immensely grateful to my midwife for staying with me and giving my body a chance to birth my baby.
But eventually, it was apparent that I wasn’t stretching enough, and I wasn’t tearing either… my baby had been “crowning” for a really long time. I was getting Charlie horses in both of my legs, and my arms and entire back were also tense from so much work. My midwife asked me if she could cut an episiotomy, and I told her she could. I felt the cut, and it didn’t hurt much, but stretching cut skin definitely feels different than stretching normally… during the next push, I definitely felt a bit of burning because of the cut, but my baby’s head was able to come out! My midwife announced that the umbilical cord was NOT around her neck, so we could wait as long as we wanted to cut it, and I was relieved to hear that.
One more push, and my daughter slithered out of me. 5:56pm. After 20 hours. Well, 2 weeks and 20 hours. I held her immediately, and was so overwhelmed that this entire person had been inside of me, growing for so long, and here we were, face to face, meeting for the first time! I vaguely remember someone saying she needed to cry more, and my husband patting her back to get her to cry.
After a little bit, she cried, and started to look around the room, sucking on her fist.
I could feel the placenta being delivered, which didn’t hurt at all and was basically automatic, and my husband got to cut the umbilical cord after it had stopped pulsing (so that my daughter had all of that good blood inside her, where it belonged!).
(He’s cutting the umbilical cord here, and I’m covered in infant poop. But I totally don’t care about the poop because I’m holding my BABY!)
The midwife set to work stitching me up while I held my new daughter and marveled with my husband. For an hour, we just rested, staring at each other and our baby — the beautiful person who went with the name Anneliese.
The midwife finished stitching me (I asked her later how many stitches, and she said “many”… at least 55, she said. Ouch!) and left us alone for a while. The hospital staff all knew we wanted time with our baby before any tests/weighing/measuring were done, and they left us alone in the room.
Anneliese decided to nurse, and I helped her latch on to my breast.
Coleen stayed for a while, and I know we talked, but I can’t remember all the things we talked about. After a bit, she left, and it was just me and my little family. The next couple of hours were so sweet and peaceful. No one disturbed us, and Anneliese finished nursing and slept on my chest.
(This guy is a FATHER now.)