Here is my birth story. I know these things can be graphic, and this one is definitely verbose. I feel it is complete and readable enough, however, to satisfy the women who have asked me to commit things to writing. I wrote this birth story two weeks after the events described, with the intent to memorialize my experience, celebrate the day I met my son, and encourage anyone interested in a drug-free birth. On with the TMI!
Part I: Waiting
My son’s birth story starts with an alarm clock, not the sudden onset of contractions or my water breaking. After three weeks of painful false labor, I was stalled at 3cm, fully effaced, and +1 station. As my due date approached and then passed, I woke up each morning and found new ways to be optimistic and comfortable in late pregnancy. I took long walks, I napped in the afternoon, and I told everyone who asked that the baby would come in time.
At my 41-week prenatal visit, everything still looked perfect. My doctor ordered another biophysical profile ultrasound, my fourth one in as many weeks. At each ultrasound, my baby would earn a perfect score and the tech would say, “See you next week if you’re still pregnant!” But this time, she turned off the overhead monitor, said, “I need to speak to the doctor,” and left the room. I had my husband read from the small monitor, and I quickly realized that the problem was with fluid measurements.
When the doctor came into the room, she told me that my amniotic fluid measurements were too low, “around two centimeters, and that’s being generous.” She suspected that my waters had been slowly leaking for days, and wanted me to go directly to the birthing center. I almost burst into tears at the suddenness of it all, and my frustration. I had patiently carried this pregnancy to term, and I had been adamant about wanting spontaneous labor and a healthy, drug-free birth. I was sure that heading to the birthing center right then would lead to a string of unnecessary and increasingly stressful interventions.
I pleaded with my doctor to let me wait five days, until Monday (“not a chance”). I told her I was coming down with a head cold (“doesn’t matter...a cold could last for weeks”). I asked whether I could come in over the weekend (“no, because I might not be able to attend the birth”). My husband was wonderful and diplomatic through this whole discussion, and we finally agreed to show up at the hospital before noon on the following day.
My doctor said she was not even scheduling me as an induction, but a “paced augmentation,” and she was certain I would go into active labor as soon as she broke my waters. As we drove home, I was overcome with feelings...defeat, relief, anxiety, accomplishment. My husband took me to a favorite coffee shop, where we sat in disbelief. Before long, we would be holding our son.
Part II: Headed to the Birthing Center
Part II: Headed to the Birthing Center
So, it was an alarm clock that woke me at 4:00 AM on the day I had my baby. When I woke up, I was having mildly painful contractions every four minutes or so (normal for me, since the onset of false labor weeks earlier). I sat on the floor of our bedroom combing out my hair and timing contractions. My husband went out to start the car, and reported back that it was genuinely cold outside, the first real frost of the year. While I waited for him to scrape ice off the windshield, I chugged a liter of coconut water and ate a protein bar, although I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. I thought about making my daily double espresso and cream, but I was too nervous for caffeine.
We left the house around 4:45, and stopped by my parents’ to tell them what was up. On the way to the birthing center, the roads were eerily empty of traffic. We watched oncoming trucks heading toward us and out of town for the 5:00 AM shift change at the coal mine. A skunk ran across the road, and as my husband swerved to avoid it, I thought “these contractions are really starting to hurt.” I noticed a dull ache in my back, and suddenly wished I had stayed in bed.
By 6:20, we had been shown to our suite at the birthing center. The nurses made sure they had my records on file, asked some basic questions, weighed me, and took a urine sample. I was excited to see the birthing bed and a double bed for guests, mini kitchen, and deep whirlpool bath. I took a hot shower and tried to calm down as I changed into a gown. The nurse assigned to my suite came in and said my doctor would arrive around 9:00 AM. She handed me a stack of routine paperwork. The consent form for C-section gave me some panicky feelings; I ignored them and signed anyway.
A staff midwife came in for a quick check. Even though I was at 4cm, fully effaced, and +1 station, I felt nothing except intermittent abdominal pressure and a dull backache. The midwife told me I had to lie down and stay hooked to the monitors for two full hours before I could be free to walk around, eat, and drink. I got out my iPod and listened to Beck’s Sea Change. From the window in the suite, I could see a warehouse and loading dock. I watched the sun rise, and I watched trucks loading pallets of bread and soft drinks. I listened to a Beach House album and waited and waited.
At 8:50, the suite nurse came back in and unhooked me from the monitors. It was such a huge relief to be able to get up! I tore off the monitors where they had been digging into my back, and put on shoes and a sweater. For the next half hour, my husband and I paced the hallways of the birthing center. The center was well heated, dimly lit, and calm. Some of the nurses and midwives were eating pastries and talking softly near the front desk. Off in the distance, I could hear a woman groaning and pushing while someone counted aloud.
At 9:30, my doctor and her intern showed up. She commented immediately that I looked like I was “finally in real labor.” She also commented that my ensemble of Tom’s shoes, dressing gown, and cashmere cardigan was “a little Grey Gardens.” (FYI, I have never NOT seen my doctor in four-inch heels, looking totally put together, even after an all-night delivery).
After reading through my chart and scrutinizing the monitor print-outs, my doctor said, “I’m going to break your water, okay?” I was nervous, but I agreed. As she placed internal monitors, she remarked, “You are at four! Wait…no…five!” Apparently, the baby’s head had been pressing into the membranes and causing stalled labor. My doctor placed internal wireless monitors that left two bizarre antennae protruding. I was thrilled that I was still free to walk around the room.
As she left, my doctor said, “you will be holding your baby before midnight!” I looked at the clock. It was 9:46 AM.
Part III: Active Labor
Part III: Active Labor
I should mention here that the monitors made a lot of noise. The fetal heart rate monitor had a low little tone for each heartbeat. It was pleasant and regular. For the whole experience, from active labor to pushing, those heart tones did not waver. I watched my baby’s heart rate on the monitor from time to time, and it stayed between 140 and 160. During the most difficult times, I focused my breath on the monitor heart tones (four counts in...four counts out). I am so glad I had a point of focus (and for this reason I would recommend having some relaxing music or a metronome or ticking clock during labor if this appeals to you).
I should also mention that I was wearing a wireless, automated blood pressure cuff that took my BP and HR every fifteen minutes. It made this horrible hissing and whirring sound as it tightened around my arm, then beeped loudly. Because I was moving around so much, it kept reading as “ERROR” and making this “waaaahamp-wooooomp” noise. I swear, I am a saint for making it through active labor without snatching that thing off and smashing it.
Having my waters broken threw me into active labor almost immediately. So, I should stop and warn you that the rest of this story will be sort of disjointed. There was a large clock in the birthing room, so I was never NOT aware of the time. It just seemed that time passed by in a completely abnormal way. Everything seemed to happen instantaneously and last forever. I was so focused on my own experience that I was only vaguely aware of events around me. I observed everything passively. Even when people spoke directly to me, I either couldn’t process what they were saying, or I couldn’t produce a response. At one point, my husband got out a pack of trail mix. I was so confused...it honestly didn’t occur to me that enough time had passed for him to become hungry. I was living another reality, and the only thing I could compare it to would be some sort of hallucinatory experience.
I also want to write a bit about the physical sensations of labor. I confess that frequently during my pregnancy, I Googled, “What do contractions feel like?” The very word “contraction” made it seem like my body would just be contorted or flexed by an unseen force. For more than a month, I had been kept awake at night by hardening sensations in my belly, sometimes by pain that felt like a giant zipper being opened in my pelvis. I knew these sensations weren’t enough for active labor, but I wondered if they were a preview of the real deal.
For me, contractions felt like an iron band closing around my waist, hips, and lower back. I felt incredibly intense physical sensations, but I wouldn’t really call it “pain.” Actually, my midsection felt very similar to the way my leg muscles feel at the very end of a long run (if that makes sense). Each contraction lasted ten breaths (I was still counting along with the monitor heart tones...four counts in...four counts out). Each time, the third breath was the peak of the intensity. Then, the contraction tapered off to nothing and I was left alert but disoriented. I could not predict or control when the next contraction would start, so all I could do was collect my wits and sit calmly.
I got through about ten contractions while I stood in the middle of the room like an idiot. I think I intended to lean over a chair, but I couldn’t figure out how to bend my legs comfortably. I was also vaguely aware that I was leaking amniotic fluid on everything in my path. Even during hard labor, I was still politely using a hand towel to mop up after myself, and feeling genuinely upset that I was dirtying the wood floors, linens, and furniture. In retrospect, this is hilarious. I eventually sat down on a small couch next to my husband (after carefully arranging a pillow covered with a few towels, ha).
For the next hour or so (?), I labored sitting on the couch. During a contraction, I would use my arm and shoulder strength to push myself up on my hands, and remove pressure from my back. I had my husband press his palm into the base of my spine as hard as he could. The harder he pressed, the more relief I felt. He put so much effort into this that he broke a sweat, and we had to swap sides a few times. I tried so hard to rely on the techniques we learned in the Bradley childbirth classes (total relaxation, visualization, deep breathing, etc.). Honestly, most of these techniques failed utterly. It seemed like I had been thrown into the middle of hard labor without any warmup, and I found it impossible to relax while doing something that required all of my attention. I used yoga breathing techniques and concentrated on flexing the muscles of my arms and shoulders.
Part IV: Transition
Part IV: Transition
At 11:12, my nurse came in to check on me, because my contractions were coming almost right on top of each other. Around this time, the physical sensations of labor had become intolerable, and the way I was coping was using so much energy, I somehow convinced myself that it wasn’t sustainable. Combine this with the thoughts in the back of my mind (“I will probably labor until midnight”), and I had somehow convinced myself that I needed an epidural. I tried to talk to the nurse about it in a reasonable way, almost trying to get her to make the decision for me. (Mind you, this conversation took place between insane contractions, while I sat on a couch in a crunchy-granola birthing center, mere hours after telling the entire staff how OH NO, I didn’t need pain medication. Hilarious.) The nurse was an absolute saint. She said, “I don’t recommend any choice over another, but why don’t you wait until 11:30 and see how much progress you have made?” In retrospect, I understand that there was nothing magical about 11:30. The nurse later told me she realized I was entering transition, and was just trying to get me to focus.
From 11:12 to 11:30, I did not take my eyes off the clock, and I am convinced it was the longest eighteen minutes of my life. The contractions were almost back-to-back, with no more than 20 seconds between each one. I never broke out of my breathing pattern, and I whispered “relax, relax, relax” after each contraction. My husband stayed sitting next to me on the little couch, motionless and completely quiet. The lights were off, and the room was filled only with the sound of my breathing and the fetal heart monitor.
When the nurse returned, she helped me to the breakaway delivery bed, which she folded into an upright position. She said, “I want to keep this bed upright, since you are doing so well sitting up.” It occurred to me that she might be getting me into a position for delivery. She confirmed that I was still thinking about an epidural as she leaned me back for a check. “Too bad!” she said, "the baby's on his way now!"
The nurse disappeared. I heard her say something out in the hallway, and several people responded with clapping and cheering. My room was suddenly filled with activity. Two midwives covered a low table with draping and surgical tools, and a nurse set up a warming table and scales. I watched everything with detached fascination while I had four more contractions. Then, as quickly as the staff entered my room, they all filtered out. The sudden emptiness and darkness were surreal.
I sort of lost track of time at this point. I do not believe I checked the clock from this point onward. I started feeling myself bear down at the peak of each contraction. It also became impossible to stay quiet (until this point, I hadn’t really made any noise). I started saying “heeeeeeeeee” and “hooooooo” with each exhalation. I couldn't help it. When my husband asked how I was doing, I said, “I’m pushing, I’m pushing.” The nurse came back in and said “I can tell you are getting ready to push.”
Part V: Pushing
Part V: Pushing
The nurse broke the news that my doctor was attending a birth at the hospital next door, but that she had been called. The nurse adjusted the bed flat, then tilted it so my feet were higher than my head, “to slow you down a bit.” I honestly cannot think of a time in my life when I have been more uncomfortable in a reclining position. I lay there like a beached whale while the staff came back into the room. They switched on bright lights and started putting on scrubs.
Someone standing in the doorway finally said, “They are getting off the elevator!” My doctor and her intern rushed into the room, and it was go time.
I will tell you right now that I did not like pushing AT ALL. It was much more painful that the very worst contractions. I also felt insecure and unable to fully commit to the process, because it seemed like my pushes were incorrect or ineffective. A little voice in the back of my head said, “This isn’t right...any minute now, the nurses will stop me and I’ll have to try something different.” It seemed like everything I had read or learned in Bradley classes was a big fat pack of lies (“pushing feels natural and comfortable, your body knows what to do, all you have to do is bear down,” blah, blah, blah). In fact, pushing felt insane, I was scared I was doing irreparable damage to my body, I couldn’t tell if I was making any progress, and the sensations of pushing did not in any way resemble “bearing down.”
I started pushing at 12:44. At first, I had my feet propped up on these really high stirrups. I could tell that I was too tall for the table, and things weren’t positioned correctly. I pushed through two contractions, and everyone in the room was giving me different instructions (“bear down!” “hold your breath!” “harder!” “relax your calves!” “curl around yourself!”), which was very disorienting. Finally, my doctor said, “You need to STOP and listen to me. I want you to hold your feet, and the nurse is going to coach you through this.”
After that, everything was much calmer. I got out of the stirrups, and just held the soles of my feet. Between contractions, I would rest. It still blows my mind how lucid and content I felt during these breaks. I was able to joke with the staff in the room, answer questions, and collect my wits. When a contraction started building, everyone would get quiet and the nurse would guide me through one deep breath to relax. As the contraction started, I would breathe in and hold it while I pushed for a count of ten. I did this three times for each contraction.
After a while, the pain did not subside between contractions. Instead, it got WORSE when I stopped pushing. It felt like a giant, immovable foreign object was splitting my hips apart. At least twice, as soon as I stopped pushing I screamed involuntarily. My deepest apologies to all the other women calmly laboring at the birthing center that afternoon.
I know that I probably slowed down the whole process of pushing, by being confused and wasting energy. But, at one point, I was just like “WHOA this pain is unbearable, and I am going to push as hard as I can without stopping until this baby is out of me.”
I heard my doctor say, “Your baby is soooo bald!” and my husband went down to the foot of the bed to check it out. The nurses brought in a mirror so that I could confirm that, yes, my child was bald. And also, his head was starting to crown. Very surreal. After another set of pushes, the doctor told me to reach down and feel his head. It was so warm and much softer than I expected.
With the next push, the nurse stopped counting and said, “You’re going to feel lots of burning, like fire.” Indeed, it felt like a live electrical wire was embedded under my skin.
My husband said, “His head is out!” and then I head soft cries. A nurse announced, “Time of birth 13:16.” Then, my husband said, “One shoulder is out...the other shoulder is out.” Almost instantly, my baby was on my chest and screaming. I watched my husband cut the cord, after some confusion over his left-handedness (FYI: he cut with his right hand, and the photos documenting the event show that he was sooooo awkward and terrified, haha).
Part VI: The Rest
Part VI: The Rest
The next moments are very blurred in my mind. I announced my son’s name and gave him a bunch of kisses. A nurse helped me latch on and breastfeed for a while. The doctor told me "no tears, great job." I laughed at the noise my placenta made dropping into the little plastic bin they use to examine it. Someone said the baby’s APGARs were 9 and 9. They took him to the warmer and said he was eight pounds, one ounce, and 22 inches long. Everyone remarked on his long legs and big feet.
When my husband took the baby out to meet some family who had been waiting in the lobby, and then to see the pediatrician (who makes calls to the birthing center nursery from the adjoining hospital). I was able to get up and walk around almost immediately. I had some extra bleeding, so I had to get a drip with a unit of pitocin. I felt almost completely like myself, too; just slightly disconnected and shaky.
When my husband came back with the baby, we all settled into the bed. A few nurses made up the bed with a memory foam mattress and fresh sheets. They told us we could order anything off the hospital cafe menu, and started suggesting all their favorite foods. That was when I realized how hungry I was. I ordered a grilled cheese, crinkle fries, a spinach salad, milk, and hot tea. When the food arrived, I absolutely crushed it...best meal I have ever eaten in my life! My husband got a cheeseburger and we just hung out eating in bed.
We were discharged the next morning, and it was so good to get home. My milk came in right about 48 hours after the birth, and breastfeeding has been going well. My son has settled into a routine where he wakes one or two times during the night to breastfeed. He is already developing such a cute little personality, and I love him to pieces. The best moments are late at night, when the whole family is awake and cuddling in the bed.
I am surprised that two weeks post-partum, I have already lost 24 of the 28 pounds I gained. Today, I went out for a jog and felt almost like my old self! I know I wrote a lengthy and graphic story, and I’m not sure how it comes across, but I also want to say that I truly enjoyed labor and delivery. I had so much fear and anxiety going into it, but the experience was entirely positive.