It’s been over 4 weeks since I last posted, and believe me I’ve been meaning to– I have just been kind of swamped with being a new momma– it’s been beautiful and intense and incredible, and I want to share my story with you. All photographs are by the incredibly talented Jenna Henderson. Please note: this post does contain honest and painful descriptions of birth, along with images.
To begin, as you probably read I had weeks of prodomal labor. At my last appointment on Friday, July 26, our midwife said I was so ready that first time moms would kill to be in my shoes, and she thought I’d have a pretty quick labor. Well, here’s my story.
I woke up like usual with contractions at about 5 am. The entire week before I went into labor, I had been waking up earlier and earlier. Contractions that were deeper and stronger started at 10am on 7/29. They were timing at about every 8 minutes. I bounced on my ball, took a walk, and reheated my Indian food from the night before. My stomach was very upset (I attributed it to the Indian food). By 3 in the afternoon, they were every 6 minutes but were not not too bad. I continued on my merry way. By now, I was so used to not being in labor that I just figured it was another crazy night.
At around 10 pm, they picked up to every 4 min and from then on gained intensity. I tried watching an episode of Dawson’s Creek and taking a nap but they were just too strong– so I ran a hot bath. I was groaning through them in the bathtub and woke up my husband to ask him if he would call our doula. He did and she talked to me and said she thought I was maybe getting ready to have a baby this time. We were both worried because the midwife said the labor may be quick. We talked it over and decided to go in at 2:30. We got to the hospital with them every 2 min. I had dilated to a 5 and the cervix had lowered, but baby had gone up in the birth canal— she was at 0 station Friday and when we checked in was at a -3 station. I also had some swelling in my cervix from the contractions making me 80 % effaced instead of the 100% I was on Friday.
I was admitted, we labored, walked the hallways, rolled on the ball. All the tub rooms were taken. L+d was a total madhouse with all the rooms full. The on call midwife checked me at 8 and baby had dropped to -2 but I was still 5 centimeters dilated. I was having some really strong and long contractions at this point, but we were still smiling. I was in the “chatty” and excited phase of labor– even though contractions would knock me back a moment, and I’d lean on my husband for support, in between them I felt the excitement of what was going to come. As we walked the hallways, my hand in his, I remember reflecting on how lovely it was that this was our last moments as “single” parents– we walked the halls as the sun came up, the warm light hitting the buildings and the window, and I remember thinking how beautiful and perfect it all was.
The board still said Monday when we got in our room– it was actually July 30. This photo was taken when our sweet photographer arrived.
By 10, the on-call midwife wanted to burst my water (first thing on the birth plan to go) because she thought it would accelerate the labor. She barely swiped the sack with her finger and it burst, and got a really good feel of the baby’s head and said she was sunny side up. Top it off, meconium was in the water— so we begin the meconium clock (24 hours tops from breaking the water to delivery or a c section would be happening). She also explained that if baby came out and wasn’t crying, then we couldn’t do delayed cord clamping or instant skin to skin. Once the water burst my contractions went crazy— back to back, lasting 3 minutes. I was screaming through them in pain. It was awful. I don’t know how to explain the pain I felt– I think that part of it was due to the cushioning of the water being there, the exhaustion I already felt having been up at that point over 24 hours, and the back labor– it was by far the worst pain I have ever felt in my life.
Soon after she ruptured my amniotic sac, anesthesia came by to talk about epidurals and nitrous. The guy was really nice but I was in a world of pain and was still trying for an epidural free birth. i did opt to try the nitrous, but it made me throw up so it was an unsuccessful pain management option.
My husband was totally my rock in this, he was so supportive and really struggled seeing me in so much pain. As I sobbed and screamed through contractions, his eyes filled with tears. I was sure that since I was in so much pain, my labor must be progressing. At around noon, the midwife checked and I had only dilated to 6 (I was so pissed) and suggested that I try to relax more and not vocalize so much through the contractions. She was worried I was going to exhaust myself. She suggested that I take a shower on the birthing ball. I sat in there for 2 hours and it really took the edge off the pain, but if I stood or if I tried to walk, they came back to the same intensity.
Hugging my husband on the way to the shower. I was already so tired and emotionally spent from the pain.
About an hour into the shower I realized that if I was going to make it through this– if I was going to make it through to see the birth of my daughter in a somewhat sane state, I was going to have to get the epidural. I remember agonizing over this decision as the warm water ran down my back and tears streamed down my face. Going into this– in the weeks of prodomal contractions, I really had believed that I was a tough chick, that I had a high pain tolerance, that really– how bad could it be. I’d listened to hypnobabies and read countless birth stories that made me feel confident and empowered. But being there– experiencing that pain, the pain that felt like it ripped through every fiber of my being, every ounce of my soul, wrecking me and leaving me spent– made me weak. I said to my husband, in a quiet voice “I think I have to have the epidural.” I didn’t even use the code word, I just said it. And I know we talked about it more, but all I remember is how sweet and supportive he was. My doula came in after he went and told her, and she nodded and held my hands. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll go tell the midwife.”
I don’t know how long it took for the midwife to come in, I was in a zone on my ball and kept crying and feeling like a failure. The epidural was my big “not going to do it” on my birthing list. I just knew I couldn’t make it. My sweet midwife came into the shower room and talked to me ,and she told me she felt like I was making the right choice. “You’re exhausted. It’s hard. But first, let’s see how far you are—maybe you’re at a 9 and you don’t even need this epidural.” I ambled out of the shower, shaking from the pain. My entire body trembled with each step I took back to the torturous bed as contraction after contraction ripped through me.
When she checked, I’d made it to a 7 — fully effaced, but the baby remained at a -2 station. She asked if I was sure about the epidural– I was— so she called them and I got lucky and the anesthesiologist came in 10 minutes. The epidural process was different from what I imagined. It took about 45 minutes from start to finish, but it was the best decision I had made the entire day. It was amazing. I could think again. I felt like a new human and like I could maybe do this– while I could still feel the contractions, I figured this was normal, and it was way better than the sniveling, terrible, terrified mess i’d been only an hour before.
Even though I had the epi I could still feel my legs and move, and I could still feel contractions, which made me happy. I labored on and we got to 8 centimeters pretty quickly– but all the sudden, I started to develop a fever. The nurse frowned as the took my temperature. “could just be from the epidural,” she said– and I started to live one of my worst fears, because we had agonized over this possibility if I did have an epidural. I’m allergic to most antibiotics, so I didn’t know what they were going to give me if they did fear an infection. Soon after my fever developed, the baby started to experience some distress with decels and tachicardia. Her heart rate would go up a lot with each contraction, and then would plummet. An on call OBGYN came in to the room in a panic over my monitor– we thought maybe the monitor feed had been dislodged, thus making incorrect readings, but it was really that the baby was in distress.
My midwife checked me, and I was at a 9 but baby wasn’t moving any further down the birth canal. I was feeling some back pain from her being sunny side up. This was at about 6 in the evening. My temp was over 100, baby was still in distress. They ordered antibiotics and Tylenol and had me relax. I asked for some chicken broth– at this point, I had been in labor for over 24 hours, I had been awake for 36 hours, and I hadn’t eaten since 7 the night before– I was tired, exhausted, and feeling the effects of a long labor and a fever.
At 7, baby and I were at the same stats but the heart rate was leveling off. So, my midwife said she thought I needed some pitocin because your contractions aren’t being productive enough— probably because I was tired. On top of it the epidural on my right side was wearing off completely and I was struggling through contractions. We got anesthesia over to remedy and they have some more spinal blocker; it made my left leg really numb showing again that left side was the dominant for the meds. At 8, 4 grams pitocin made it so my contractions were stronger and the midwife came in and said ok, so I think we need to try to push to get this baby down since I was at a 10 and she was down to a zero station.
We started pushing ,and we would get a few pushes in and then baby’s heart would decel and we would have to turn on the side and let her rest. We pushed til 9:30. No progress, baby in distress. Midwife said we may have to think about a forcep assisted delivery. She talked to the on call ob and they said try another hour of pushing. So, we pushed some more, in between contractions rolling to the side to help baby’s heart rate, and then push push push. We started to see her head, it seemed like maybe we would have a baby! Those moments– where we were in the room with our OB nurse, the midwife, my husband and doula– flew by. We took bets to see if she would be born on 7.30 or if she would be an end of the month baby (on Harry Potter’s birthday). I kept thinking she was going to come.
The hours passed quickly. We had turned the televison onto the “relaxation channel” and it was something that kept us laughing, because the music never really matched what was on the screen. Those hours were tiring and long– I had some more broth, I watched the monitors while we pushed, I was put on oxygen to help the baby get some more– the midwife expressed concerns that her cord was maybe wrapped around her neck, and that was causing more complications. I started to feel her concern– the infection I was fighting, the meconium in the water, the heart issues, the possible cord wrapped around her neck– I prayed in between contractions that our little girl would be ok.
When my husband first saw the top of her head. I asked what color it was, he said “Black!”
At 12, she was still struggling (maybe even more) so they had us pause for a bit. We were all exhausted, my husband and doula and photographer napped, I dozed in between contractions. They were pretty painful on the right side. Some obs came in and checked her position and said they could help with forceps; I just needed to try to push one more half hour— which was kind of the last measure because they “normally” let you push for 3 hours or 4 at most, they were letting me go for 4.5 hours with baby in distress. The good news: she was no longer sunny side up! They turned off the pitocin, we pushed that half hour, and she still wasn’t even to crowning.
A team of obs that came in, an attending, some residents, support staff— the room got crowded. The attending said “ok so we are going to try to help with forceps, and that means we will be doing like 10% of the work and you will be doing the other 90% with pushing.” He said it would be hard work, but I could do it, and if I didn’t do it we would be having a c section. Since I had not really processed that as it was down to forceps vs c section I kind of freaked. I did not want a c-section. I said ok, lets do this and the room came to life. At one point there were 12 people in the room: Nicu, an attending, 2 surgical nurses, residents galore. A resident put in the forceps (I could feel everything, and she was not at all gentle) and then they said tell us when you feel a contraction, but that when they told me to stop pushing (even mid contraction) that i had to stop so they could extract the forceps and then i would push her the rest of the way out. Feet in the stirrups, he said “now the lady right before you wouldn’t push so it was over. If you want this baby to be born then you’re going to have to push!”
I said I would and a contraction started and I pushed… They were yelling to push harder and harder, and it was very painful but I pushed like no tomorrow. The next contraction the top of her head was crowning, so I had to stop mid push/contraction (which was kind of hard!) and I could feel her head there and he asked if I wanted to touch it, but I was so in pain and trying to focus I said no ( I wish I had in retrospect!). My doula whispered in my ear it would just be a few more pushes, and I thought to myself I didn’t know if I could make it a few more pushes…
The next contraction came and I pushed my brains out and we got out her head and a shoulder, and then the next contraction out the rest of her came. She flopped on my belly and the room went “woah! She’s huge” and then I heard her sweet cry. The doctor stimulated her and she was there and slimy and beautiful. I was in total shock. I couldn’t believe she was here. They let my husband cut the cord after a few minutes so we got to do the delayed cord clamping just as we had hoped.
There’s no way I can explain the feeling of holding my daughter for the first time– she was on my chest, and there was so much commotion in the room– her wail– strong and clear and true– made me sob. I couldn’t fully see her, and then she turned her little head up to look at me… it was incredible. They weighed her and the entire room went “woah!” (we had to ask, because it was in kilograms) she was 10 lbs, 0 oz, 21 1/4 inches long. Her cord had been around her neck, but she was healthy and beautiful and perfect.
In the end, I had a 2nd degree tear, and while we had hoped to encapsulate my placenta, I had chorioamnionitis which meant I couldn’t consume my placenta as it was infected. Overall– I wouldn’t change anything about my birth experience. I didn’t regret the epidural– especially since we had over 36 hours of labor. My daughter, Emmaline Grace, was so worth all the pain and the waiting.
I am going to make some separate posts on what to expect for newborns and all about my trials and tribulations breastfeeding, but i wanted to share my birth story first!