May 27, 2012 by Leah
Our baby (we had chosen not to find out if we were having a boy or a girl) was due on May 26, 2012 – give or take a couple of weeks. I thought I’d read everything there was to read, had prepared for labor using the Hypnobabies self-hypnosis method, and had even gone so far as to interview a doula (who we didn’t end up hiring) and switch providers at 25 weeks in order to stack the deck in favor of having the natural birth I wanted in the hospital setting provided by our insurance company.
My belly had been measuring big for most of the pregnancy so we’d had some growth check ultrasounds done and modern medical technology was predicting an 8 lb baby if I delivered at 40 weeks on the dot.
A couple of weeks before my due date I started having lots of labor signs – cramping, cervical effacement, etc. Last Thursday and Friday I lost my mucous plug. By Sunday I was having such active contractions I considered timing them. I was thoroughly sick of all of this, and of being pregnant, by the time Tuesday rolled around, so when my OB offered to strip my membranes I accepted with alacrity, hoping this relatively non-invasive intervention would spur the labor that was clearly really close. It did. I had my first good contraction less than an hour after my appointment (while walking around the grocery store, of course) and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in increasing discomfort. This did not stop me from eating pizza and watching a DVR-ed episode of “Sherlock” with Aaron, but I went to bed at about 10 in hopes that I’d sleep until 6 or so, after which labor would really get started.
My contractions (which I should really be calling pressure waves per Hypnobabies protocol) woke me up at 11:30. I listened to Hypnobabies scripts and got in and out of the tub a lot for the next several hours. Aaron woke up around 1:30 and got things packed for the hospital and helped me time contractions. This whole time I was having trouble distinguishing when they started and ended because they just seemed to be coming on top of one another. We went to the hospital around 4 because, as near as I could tell, contractions were 3 minutes apart and I was needing to use my self-hypnosis techniques to get through them. When we arrived, I was 1 cm dilated, which was no progress at all from where I’d been at my appointment the previous day.
We were sent home at 6:15 when an hour of laboring had produced no change in my dilation. The nurse asked if I’d like something to help me sleep and I said yes, so I was given something that would help me sleep if I wasn’t in active labor and wouldn’t do a darn thing if I turned out to be in active labor. I asked the nurse how I’d know when to come back and she said, “This sounds vague, but you’ll know – it will be when your contractions change.” Oookay…
The next few hours were really weird. I immediately got back in the tub at home. I made Aaron make me mac and cheese and only ate two bites of it. I dozed off in the tub a couple of times (to the point where I was snoring and Aaron came in wondering if I was going to drown), but at the same time felt like I wasn’t fully present in my body. I was trying to use self-hypnosis to stay together, but the out-of-body feeling was coming from somewhere beyond what I knew, and I kept getting slammed back into my body by contractions, which were very distinct at this point and which I didn’t even bother timing. By about 8:30 I was swearing like a sailor through the things and letting fear get the better of me, thinking, “It’s only been two hours, how am I going to handle more of this?” I got out of the tub and told Aaron we needed to go back to the hospital and talk drugs.
Back at the hospital at 9:15, I staggered up to the desk in L&D and was immediately shown to a room. The nurse, a trainee, checked me and said, “I need to have someone confirm this, but you’re between 6 and 7 cm.” I cried a little out of relief. I told her I wanted to talk pain meds. I labored on a birth ball, with Aaron supporting me from behind and rubbing my back, head, and shoulders while they got the delivery room whipped into shape. I think I got checked again, but I might not have been. I do know that the nurse confirmed what I already knew – anything past 7 cm was too late for pain meds. I was going to get the natural birth I had so desired. (Damn.)
By 10:15 or so I was fully dilated, and my OB broke my water (I remember asking why we would want do to that, and then agreeing because I thought her reasoning was sound). I started feeling the urge to push by 10:30 or 10:45, but I hated lying on my back to do it, so whipped around onto all fours, startling my trainee nurse. Luckily there was an experienced nurse there who said, “When moms want to do this, I stack pillows here and here to help them rest between contractions,” normalizing my “unorthodox” position for her colleague. I pushed like this for a few rounds, which my OB said helped orient the baby correctly in the birth canal. Then I let myself be talked back into lying on my back. The nurse was really insistent that I do the style of pushing where my knees are held by helpers (one of whom was Aaron), and I had to put my hands behind my upper thighs and push for three counts of ten while holding my breath and tucking my chin to my chest. I told them I hated this but they insisted this was the best way for baby’s head to get under my pelvic bone (I remembered my previous provider telling me this, too, when I asked about the efficacy of the lithotomy position) and I didn’t have much energy to argue so I went with it. At one point my OB left and went to a meeting and one of her colleagues came in and pushed with us (and introduced me to lidocane gel for my perineum and talked baseball trivia with Aaron). He was great, distracting me with chatter and asking about the effectiveness of a few of the things the nurses were having me try, which allowed me to feel slightly more comfortable, at least between contractions.
At some point, baby’s head made it around the bend of the pubic bone and I realized I had to just keep going forward. Nevertheless, the pushing was awful. I had to push during contractions and “push past the pain” and it was horrific. I’d read, and heard from friends, that many women actually like pushing, or think it feels good, because it makes them feel like they’re in control of the situation. I was not one of those women. The L&D staff kept talking about pressure, which made me wonder what planet they were on, as I was feeling pain. In all my research on labor and delivery, I’d kind of skipped the parts about delivery, and particularly pushing. I figured I’d know what to do and it would be the shortest, and least memorable part of the experience. Boy, was I wrong.
After a while people (Aaron, the nurses, the OB) started talking about how the baby had hair, so I figured the baby must be close to out. Not so. Eventually, my OB said she could tell I was getting really tired (well, yeah – I was operating on 1.5 hours of sleep and not really any food and things had progressed so quickly we’d left our hospital bag with honey sticks and whatnot in the car, although I’d been sucking down ice water for the entire time) and suggested a vacuum-assist for baby. I asked something about the risks and benefits, and she said it was going to increase the pressure (translation: hurt worse) and that I’d have to work harder but that baby would be out faster. I agreed to this because I thought the increased pain would be the kick in the pants I needed to get things over with. During the whole vacuum-insertion process the doctor grabbed the scissors and both Aaron and I were like, “What are those for?” and made her outline the risks and benefits of an episiotomy. I ended up snarling “Don’t cut me!” and she was like, “Okay, then,” and we proceeded without the scissors.
After just a few rounds of vacuum-assisted pushing, Baby slithered on out at 1:36 p.m. I remember them telling me the baby was out before I registered feeling the baby come out and saying, “Really?!” He was a boy! I was so happy! The doctor put him on my belly just as planned, and he stayed there for a few minutes while his cord stopped pulsing and I delivered the placenta. Aaron happily cut the cord, and Baby stayed on me for a while longer. I’d asked for an hour with the baby before he got his Vitamin K shot and antibiotic eye ointment, but I didn’t count on the fact that I’d be shaking and receiving multiple (I didn’t ask how many) sutures for a third-degree tear that had my OB worried about blood loss, so I asked the nurses to take him and do his newborn procedures after 20 or 30 minutes. Baby Elias weighed 9 lbs, 2 oz! We were all amazed. I was sure he’d be somewhere around 8 lbs.
In the week before Elias was born, I had been eagerly anticipating the main event because I wanted to see what happened. The experience turned out to be really different from how I’d imagined it (notably in how much more painful the whole thing was), and yet, as Aaron pointed out, we still managed to achieve everything we’d hoped for and included in our birth plan – a drug-free labor and vaginal delivery, early bonding time, and, best of all, a healthy baby. During the labor, I felt like none of my “tools” I’d prepared did anything, but looking back at it, I think the self-hypnosis training, birth ball, and hands-on support from Aaron were all crucial to how well it went. Also, help from the baby himself – if he hadn’t been perfectly positioned and totally calm (as in, not going into distress) during his three hours in the birth canal, I’m not sure I could have birthed a 9 lb. first baby. (Actually, I’m still amazed I did that and will probably continue to be amazed by it for the rest of my life.) I ended up not caring about a lot of things I thought I’d care about, like random people coming into the delivery room – and I loved being in the hospital with 24/7 support from nurses for the two days we were there. I was totally impressed by how awesome Aaron was through the entire ordeal. Both of us thought he’d be standing behind my head letting the medical professionals deal with things, but he was hands-on and interested every step of the way, and saying all the right things, too.
We’re home now with our beautiful baby boy and lots of helpful family members, and we’re all learning new things every day and really excited about the journey ahead.