On Thursday, November 29th, I started having some pain in my lower back. After lots of Dr Googling, I determined that I was in prodromal (also known as “pre”) labor. Prodromal labor can come and go and is not indicative of active labor though it’s a sign that your body is preparing. So, I took it for what it was. It didn’t really hurt much and wasn’t consistent so there was no sense of impending anything. Little did I know this would be my last night of decent rest for quite a while.
Friday morning my thoughts were confirmed in my NST (non-stress test). I was contracting, though I could still only feel it in my back, about every 4-6 minutes. That is so close to active labor I could taste it! Joseph took the rest of the day off and we waited… and waited… and waited. My contractions came and went and varied in intensity. They got stronger overnight but by Saturday morning, I was more tired than anything.
So you can pretty much repeat what I said about Friday for Saturday and Sunday. Sunday night was the strongest by far, with my contractions keeping me up all night. Though they were timing at about 7 minutes apart, they were consistent and I did not sleep at all (whereas I got a few hours Friday and Saturday night).
Monday morning came and I had another NST. Joseph dropped me off and then took Alex to school, planning to come back after to be there for part of my NST before heading to work. When I got into the room, I asked the nurse if I could see Dr P that day instead of Tuesday. I explained that I wanted to be checked but that my contractions were still only in my back and still 7 to 8 minutes apart. It wasn’t unbearable but enough to keep me awake. I just wanted to hear that I was making some progress and I was hoping for a 4 or maybe even a 5. She offered to check me herself and then we had this conversation:
Nurse: No way….
Me: Is everything okay?
Nurse: You’re way too calm…
Nurse: You’re just too calm to be dilated at what I think you’re at… I’m going to get a second opinion, okay?
Me: Okay. (waits)
Nurse 2: Okay honey, I’m going to check you! I hear you’re pretty calm?
Me: Yeah… it doesn’t hurt that much.
Nurse 2: [Insert getting checked dialogue] Huh, I can’t even feel on the far side. Your cervix is way up there! I mean… I think you’re at least a 7, maybe an 8?
Nurse 1: I know, that’s what I thought, but there’s no way. Look at her.
Nurse 2: Yeah, I could be wrong. I can’t feel the far side. Should we get Nurse 3 in here?
Nurse 1: Yes, let’s try that. Okay Erika we’re going to bring one more person in here, okay?
Me: Okay, that’s fine. (internal processing about the number of people up in my business)
Nurse 3: Hey Erika! I hear we’re checking to see if you’re progressing!
Me: Yes, they think I’m maybe a 7.
Nurse 2: At least, I think. But she’s so calm.
Me: Just a lot of prayer?
Nurse 3: That’s more than prayer.
Nurse 3: You are calm. Okay, touch touch and cold jelly. Huh. Well, you’re not a 7. You thought she was a 7?
Nurse 2: Or an 8, but I couldn’t feel the far side.
Me: (internally) What is the FAR SIDE? What does that even mean?!
Nurse 1: She felt like that to me too.
Nurse 3: (to me) You’re at least an 8 but I think you’re closer to a 9. You’re not going home sweetheart. Let’s get you into a room.
So that was that. I called my doula and my husband and within an hour (a little after 9AM) all three of us were in my hospital room. I still wasn’t in abject pain though I could feel my contractions – still only in my back – getting a little stronger. What hurt more was the dang heplock. I hated that thing. They tell you it only stings for a second but that is a lie. However, I am glad I had the heplock because it gave me something to focus on (it became a running joke with my birthing team) and I wasn’t tied to an IV. I believe that having the heplock helped me avoid IV fluids. I am grateful for that because when I was tied to the IV pole, I was annoyed as all hell.
By 10:30 I was dilated to 10 and 100% effaced with an anterior lip. Connor was in +1 station. That’s just about pushing time, theoretically.
In order to reduce the anterior lip, Brandy (my fabulous doula) had me labor through different positions. We also worked through different positions I could deliver in though, I can tell you right now, that none of them appealed to me. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or what, but I was unable to connect with any of them. My legs just felt incredibly weak after too long in any position. Yeah, let’s chalk that up to being up for so damn long.
As a hypnobirther, the lights in my room were dimmed and the clock was covered up so that I could not keep track of time. Most of what I know about timing is from other people and I have to say that this was the best thing for me. I wasn’t focused on some arbitrary timeline. I knew it was taking a while but at any time I would have told you it was much earlier than it actually was. Not having that pressure was great and I was very happy that the staff at Lakeside was supportive. They never asked me, past my initial intake, if I wanted an epidural. They supplied me with lots of ice chips that I let melt into forbidden water, popsicles full of sugar, and apple juice.
Let’s get off subject here and discuss this. They didn’t want me to have apple juice. My husband tricked them into my first batch (they thought he wanted it) and my badass doula didn’t back off when they nurse got snide about needing to clear it with Dr P, who let me have all the apple juice I wanted. Regardless, it’s stupid to restrict liquids. The chance of being put under GA is ridiculously low. And, in that, it’s still very rare to aspirate liquid.
I had only had a Cliff Bar that morning and, because of the increasing back pain, had only managed a PB&J the night before. So I was running on no fuel and no energy and I was tired of being told I couldn’t have liquids and then being given only things that turn into liquids and are full of sugar, because that makes sense.
However, I won’t say I had absolutely no solids. There was a vending machine close-by and my birthing team was amicable to my plea to share their snacks. I wasn’t able to eat much and it wasn’t the most nutritious but that’s what you get when you live in a first world country that runs it’s birthing practices on outdated medical studies. JUST SAYING…
Let’s fast forward to somewhere between 1 and 2PM. I’m dancing with my husband and my water breaks – yay! I’m thinking it’s about to be show time and we’re all pretty psyched. We’ve been singing along to my songs on my iPod – everything from Chris Tomlin to Sublime – and are in good spirits. The baby is on it’s way! MERP. WRONG.
I’m still at +1 station and we are STILL dealing with an anterior lip. So more squats and hands & knees. More laboring on the toilet, which is the most amazing place to labor. More singing and holding onto my husband, who still has not left my side for a single second.
My contractions are not, as “usually” happens post water breaking, speeding up. They’re still 7ish minutes apart and they’re lasting a nightmarish 2-3 minutes a piece. They’re still primarily in my back.
Let’s get on another tangent here – monitoring. My first nurse was decent. “15 minutes” of monitoring every few hours for a natural, unmedicated birth. Okay. She was mostly on a 15 minute schedule. The rest would leave me on there for 30-45 minutes. This is annoying and does nothing. Connor likes to hide from doppler’s so he’d move and we’d have to hold the monitors on me. The last time, I just took it off. I had to pee. I was annoyed and had been hooked up for a while. What was the nurse going to do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was done with monitoring. Next time I am prepared to say “After 20 minutes, I’m taking this stuff off. Just FYI.”
So where are we now? Right, late afternoon. Before I know it, Dr P is in the room telling me it’s after 5:30PM and she is going to be gone from 6:15ish until 7:30ish. I’m still at the same place and I’m exhausted. And even though Brandy prepared me, I’m a bit stunned when she says:
Dr. P: I know you don’t want intervention, but Pitocin could bring your contractions closer together. If you want to think about it… we could start on a low dose.
Me: …How low?
Dr. P: Eh, we could start at a 2?
Me: *looks at Brandy*
Brandy: *nods* (not to tell me what to do, but as a signal that it’s reasonable)
Me: Okay, let’s try that.
There’s no shame in intervention. It’s not always the best choice for momma or baby and I cannot advocate it simply for convenience. However, my body wasn’t moving forward. I was out of fuel and running out of energy. Starting at the lowest dose of Pitocin allowed me to see if a small bump of medicine could push my contractions closer together. And they did. An hour at 2 proved to not be enough but when bumped to 4 (which is still so, SO much lower than what they induce people at) I didn’t have much time until I was ready to push.
The nurse worked with me to push my anterior lip on my cervix in while I had contractions. It wasn’t pleasant at all, but it worked. And then they said they were going to call Dr. P. I think it was right after 8PM. She said she’d be there soon and for me to keep breathing Connor down.
The next thing I know, they’re wanting me to pick a position to push in. I was so exhausted and I hadn’t started pushing. So I went with the standard. It’s not the easiest position for our bodies but it meant I didn’t have to move much. It meant I didn’t have to hold myself up. It was all I could pick and I went with it.
In case you’ve never had a baby, what they want you to do is breathe in on a contraction and then do three 10-counts of pushing, taking deep breaths in between. Pushing is done with you holding your breath. If you’re like me, you’re not going to take very deep breaths in between and they’re going to put you on oxygen between contractions.
I had no concept of time. All you know is there is a lot of pressure and everything is really uncomfortable. I don’t know who says childbirth is the most painful thing you’ll ever experience. It hurts – sure. And I don’t have a great pain tolerance to begin with. Maybe I was just over prepared for some level of torture that would make me scream at my husband and beg for drugs. I remember telling Brandy that it hurt. I remember thinking I wasn’t strong enough and they were going to have to dig him out of me because they kept telling me I was progressing but I mistakenly thought that once he crowned he’d be out on the next push or two. However, I never thought of asking for drugs. This is a distinction I want to make because I wasn’t secretly coveting them and trying to tough it out. I was prepared for the process.
Eventually, I just decided I was done. They kept telling me it would be the next push or how I was doing a great job but then they’d just tell me to push better or harder. And they did great – it certainly kept me going which is the point. But I was just done. So when he didn’t come out on the third push during a contraction I just went for a fourth, without really verbalizing it. But my team was ready and on it. And what do you know? In one push I got him out. I finished pushing out his head, his shoulders, and his body all in one push. I practically evicted him from my uterus.
Dr P asked me to open my eyes and I saw him. Then he was on my chest, she’s milking the cord (delayed cord clamping is SO important), we’re rubbing vernix in, I’m kissing him over and over even though he’s totally still covered in everything and the nursery team is assessing him. The next thing we know, he’s not breathing well – there’s fluid in his airways and they have to take him. Dr P is apologizing and Brandy’s telling me that they have to cut the cord and take him to the warmer. Everything’s still moving so quickly in my mind that it happens before I can process it. I think Brandy knew this because she just keeps telling me they’ll bring him right back. I don’t even know if I said anything. I’m just watching them with him in the warmer, pumping out a lot of fluid they say he breathed in during the birth.
They pop a hat on him and wrap him in a towel and bring him back pretty quickly, as promised. I was very happy with how that went down. Lakeside can get a bad rap but I think if you come in ready and educated you can have the birth you want. I think that’s probably the case just about everywhere and I would venture that the largest problem lies in proper patient education and empowerment. I am disappointed that Connor didn’t get more cord blood but I know he got a good amount from Dr P milking the cord and because my placenta delivered pretty quickly. When Connor was back on my chest, we were able to latch him to my breast fairly easily. Once we were settled in this way and seeing that I was alright, Brandy took leave after over 12 hours of active support.
I enjoyed two precious hours of skin-on-skin time before reluctantly handing him over to Joseph for his own skin-to-skin experience (an act too often overlooked but so great for father-child bonding). Then we finally allowed the nursery to take him (Joseph went with) and bathe him. I tried to sleep but really, it’s quite impossible that first night, even when you haven’t slept in an excessive number of hours. I don’t know how many times I checked to see if he was breathing or if he was even real, if I’d really accomplished forming and birthing a child.
And that’s about it. I could talk about so many tiny little things but I am so proud of myself for my accomplishment. And I will do it again. I have no desire to request drugs a second time. My labor was long. I had to work hard to make progress. But I did it and I came out with a very minor tear, and 5 stitches that wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t bled from the site, that would probably have been much worse if I had been doped up and unable to decide when to push and with what intensity by listening to my body.
The only change will be that I will eat more before going in to the hospital next time and pack snacks. They did have a tray waiting for me after I was all cleaned up, which was great. I was happy to scarf it down with my baby in my arms (my sweet husband fed me and I shared my dinner with him in return). I wonder if I would have needed the Pitocin if I had more fuel to combat my exhaustion. I don’t fret over it but until the outdated practice of barring patients from food turns around, I will have to plan better.
I would love to be a source of further information for anyone wishing to learn about natural births. I believe that birthing choices are personal but I do feel it’s important to make a truly informed decision. I may not be able to answer all your questions, but I bet I can answer a lot. And I can point you towards valuable resources for your own research and discovery. But dear ladies, I promise that if you WANT to do this, you *probably* can. It’s going to take knowledge and empowerment on your side, but it’s possible. I’d love to support you. Let’s take the fear back out of birthing because it is a beautiful and wonderful thing that we should embrace.