Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Birth Story

"There is a secret in our culture, and it's not that birth is painful.
It's that women are strong."
~Laura Stavoe Harm

41 weeks pregnant/ 1 week old baby
I have been working on this for a while now and I'm still not sure it conveys my experience very well, but it is a documentation of the birth of my child and I guess I'm ready to just put it out there.  So here it is.

When we decided to try to get pregnant, I knew I needed to find a new OB.  I had not been happy with my OB for a long time but never took the time to find a new one.  Now that we were talking about a baby on the way it was time to change that. 

In order to find a new OB I needed to know what I expected from my OB for my prenatal care and birth experience.  So I started doing a lot of research.  I watched The Business of Being Born and read Your Best Birth and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. I read birth stories online and thought and thought and thought about what I wanted. I decided I wanted as natural a birth as possible with a midwife and interviewed several.

We chose a practice that is one OB and three midwives together.  You work with the midwives (whoever is on that day) for your prenatal care but if you become high risk or need an emergency C-section it would be the OB to take over.  Best of all worlds as far as I was concerned. 

One of the things that was very important to me was that I would not be induced unless it was necessary for the safety of the baby.  The midwifes agreed that it was perfectly fine to let the pregnancy continue to 42 weeks if it went that long as long as the baby was doing well. I felt good about this and was prepared to go past due, first pregnancies often do.

A couple weeks before my due date (June 19) the questions started.  Everyone at work and friends and family started asking almost daily “how you feeling?”  and “no baby yet, huh?”.  I wasn't even past due yet!  

I had several people, even people I don’t really know all that well ask “how far dilated are you?”  and “so when are they going to induce?”.  I had no idea how far dilated I was (there is really no point in checking, it means nothing as far as when you will go into labor) and we had no plans to induce. This was puzzling to those who asked.

I felt like I was constantly defending myself as to why I was still pregnant to everyone around me.

I had every intention of working right up until the baby came but once I hit 41 weeks and still no baby I decided to start my leave from work. I just couldn't stand the thought facing everyone while that far past due. The further past due I went the less confident I was that I was going to go into labor on my own and the harder it was for me to stand up for my choice to wait it out.

I probably shouldn't have let it bother me but it did.  I thought I was better at making my own choices and not letting other peoples opinions get to me but I guess I still have some work to do in that area.

I was 9 days past due the day I finally went into labor.

I had an appointment with my midwife that morning to do an ultrasound and non stress test to check his heart rate and make sure it was safe to continue the pregnancy.  Everything went well and he was still doing great.  The ultrasound showed he was head down and facing my spine just like he should be.

I was having regular but weak contractions and had been for a couple weeks or maybe more.  I kept thinking they would ramp up at some point but up until now they had not. I finally asked them to check how far dilated I was because I was starting to wonder if these contractions were doing anything at all!  I was a couple centimeters dilated, not much but at least it was something. 

We decided to have my membranes swept to try and get labor started in a fairly natural way.  I had heard that this could be very uncomfortable but the procedure itself really wasn't all that bad.  But as the day went on I started cramping more and more and getting very uncomfortable into the evening.   

Finally at 11:00 at night on Thursday June 28th I started having strong contractions two minutes apart.  We decided to call the midwife around midnight and she wanted us to wait an hour or so to make sure the contractions continued.  Later she told me that I sounded so calm and together that she thought there was no way I was in labor. 

I called my sister to get ready to go to the hospital and she came over to be with us as we got ready to go.  We decided it was time to go to the hospital around 2:00 am on Friday June 29th.

The hospital was about a 30 minute drive and I was really worried about having to sit still during contractions during that time but I was able to press my back into my seat and move my hips during contractions in a way that made me comfortable enough. 

We arrived at the hospital around 2:30 am.  Around 3:00 am I was checked and was at 5 cm dilated and admitted to the hospital.  Progress!   I was so excited to know that I was really in labor and already half way along!    

According to my birth plan I was to have an unmediated labor with as few interventions as possible.  I didn't even get an IV and they only did intermittent fetal monitoring with a stethoscope once an hour or so. 

So I was able to move around my room freely.  I paced the room and moved my hips. I rocked in a rocking chair and counted to myself through each contraction. My nurse kept telling me I was doing great!  That I looked very focused and that’s what I would need to do to get through it. 

At 7:00 am there was a shift change and my midwife asked if it was ok to check how dilated I was even though I asked not to be checked in my birth plan (again, there is really no reason, it tells you nothing about how long labor will be) because she wanted to leave the other midwife with an updated status.  (The other midwife did not end up taking over, Maria decided she wanted to stay with me to the end).

Maria checked and I was still only 5 cm dilated.  I was a little disappointed but not too worried at this point.  I knew that sometimes labor can appear to get stuck but then progress rapidly and that there was really no need for concern. 

So I continued to labor unmediated and without intervention.  I continued to move and rock and vocalize and deal with my contractions in whatever way seemed natural.

I was having back pain continuously even between contractions which was not fun but not surprising to me.  I have back pain with my menstrual cramps so I kind of figured I would have back labor no matter how the baby was positioned.  I knew he was not sunny side up from my ultrasound the previous morning.  That’s just how my uterus contracts I guess.  

As my labor went on my contractions started to become irregular and difficult to deal with.  Sometimes they would pass as I counted slowly to myself to 6 sometimes I counted to 10 or more.  Sometimes I would have a minute or two minute break between contractions and sometimes they would be much closer.  Sometimes my contractions would seem to be back to back and sometimes they would have double peaks. 

Around 2:00 pm my labor began to slow down and I started to feel like maybe I needed to push but I was not sure. It was not a super strong urge but I thought maybe, just maybe it might be time. I had been in labor for 15 hours after all.

I decided to have Maria check my dilation again to see if maybe it was almost time to push.  I was still only 5 cm dilated.  At this point I was having a very hard time coping with my irregular labor pattern and was anxious to get things moving.

Maria suggested we break my water to help things move along. I decided it was also time to take a dose of an IV painkiller (morphine) to try to give me a rest with the hope that by the time it wore off I would have had a good amount of progress and be refreshed enough to keep going without any further intervention. 

The morphine didn't really help me rest.  I did sleep but it was not a true restful sleep.  My contractions would wake me up but didn't really care about the pain and then I would just zone out between them.  When it started to wear off  I did not feel rested or anymore ready to continue on with my labor.  It was a very strange sensation and I don’t think it is something I would recommend or ever do again.

I was checked again and was still only at 5 cm dilated.  I really broke down at this point and truly did not know what to do or how I was going to make it.  I started to think seriously about an epidural but was still fighting the idea.  The thought of having a procedure that messes with the nervous system like that really bothered me. 

I decided to jump in the shower for a while and agonized over how to move forward.  I guess I was still hoping I would suddenly progress rapidly and if I could just find a way to hang on a little longer I could have the birth experience I had planned on.

My bubble was burst when Maria said she thought it was time to start Pitocin to move things along.  I broke down and cried.  My husband asked Maria to give us some time to talk it over. We talked a bit and I cried a lot.  “Why can’t my body do this?” I asked. I knew it was time and that this was what needed to happen but I guess it took me a little bit to mentally come to terms with the fact that my body was not going to do this on it's own.

I also knew I needed an epidural to get some true rest and be ready to push when it was time.  If I was going to avoid a C-section, I needed to have the energy to push my baby out on my own and that was not going to happen if I was stubborn about avoiding an epidural.  I was so exhausted after being in labor for so long already. 

At 6:00 pm on Friday June 29th I got an epidural and started on Pitocin.  I started to shake uncontrollably. My husband was worried I was in shock.  I guess it is a normal response   Your body is so pumped full of adrenaline to hep you deal with the pain and when the pain wears off your body still has all that adrenaline in your system and it makes you shake. I was told it might even get worse after the baby was delivered. It was so strange, but thankfully I was able to relax and sleep anyway.

The plan was to check me again around 9:00 and if there was still no progress at that point I would need an emergency c-section. 

I really don’t remember much from this point until it was time to push.  I had not slept since Wednesday night and was beyond exhausted.  My mom had stopped by the hospital because she was worried.  Everyone was worried about me. It had been so long already and I wasn't close to being done.  She joined my sister and my husband in the room with me.  I think they all watched a movie and probably slept or something.  I don’t really know.  I was pretty out of it. 

Every once and a while the nurses would come in to check my dilation and move me from side to side to help the baby move down the birth canal, or so I’m told, I really don’t remember.

I guess I was making progress because at 10:30 pm I was checked and was finally 10 cm dilated.  I don't think I fully believed it after what I had been through so far.

My mom left the room to give me some privacy and thought for sure she would be back to meet my baby within half an hour at the most.  Based on how the rest of this story has unfolded so far I bet you can guess how that plan went.

The nurses had me do 2 or 3 trial pushes to see how things went.  They said it looked like it would be a while so they were going to let me “labor down” for half an hour before we began pushing.  My contractions alone moved the baby down for the next 30 minutes.

At 11:00 pm my epidural was turned down so that I could feel my contractions which was what I wanted. I knew I would be able to push more effectively if I could feel my contractions.  I remember my midwife asking a few times if I wanted it turned back up but I said no. The epidural was to give me rest so I could have the energy to push my baby out and it had done it’s job.  I was ready to go the rest alone.

I pushed and pushed and pushed.  My husband and sister and the nurses kept telling me how well I was doing and that the baby was almost here. 

At this point, after being so far past due and worried I would not go into labor on my own, after having such a difficult labor without progress for so long, I had a very hard time believing them. I think I actually said "that's not helping me!".  

At some point Maria asked if I would like to feel the babies head.  That did help bring up my spirits some, but I still had no idea how soon was "soon".  Unless it was going to be on the next push or two, it seemed like it was not worth getting my hopes up.

Without Pitocin my contractions became irregular and unpredictable again.  Sometimes I would push 2 or 3 times each contraction and sometimes I had time for several more pushes.  Sometimes they were back to back without giving me any break and sometimes they would have double peaks.

It is so much harder when there is no pattern, when you don’t know what to expect.  At this point I was having a really hard time trusting that my body knew what it was doing. 

I pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed.  My husband said that for the last 20 minutes or more I pushed with nothing more than a single breath between pushes continuously. 

It was the most difficult and intense thing I have ever done.

Finally my baby boy was born at 1:42 am on June 30th 2012.

The baby was placed on my chest but was not breathing at first.  I kept asking “is he ok?”  and the nurses very calmly just said “yes, but we need to get him to cry”.  He did and it was such a wonderful sad little sound. 

His APGAR scores were 5 and 8, a little low but understandable considering what he had just been through.  He came out with his head at an odd angle (perhaps the reason we got stuck, not sure) and the side of the top of his head and one ear came out first.  The poor little guy had a lopsided cone head. 

Once I knew he was here and OK I passed out.  I’d like say that I instantly fell in love and knew it was all worth it and took the time to bond with my little one but honestly, I was just glad it was over

I have never been so exhausted in my life.

Those first few hours are a blur.  I remember pushing out the placenta, and I got a good look at it, it seemed big but then again I had a big baby, 8 lbs 14 ounces.  I remember getting stitched up, I had three separate first degree tears. Not to bad considering how big he was and the odd angle he was in. I healed up pretty quickly.

I know the nurses woke me every couple of hours to feed him but I pretty much slept through these first few feedings and so did he I think. I know the nurses helped me to the bathroom a couple times and changed my sheets and my pads for me several times.  At some point I got food, I think that was right after he was born but I’m not really sure. 

You hear stories of women getting a sudden surge of energy when the baby is born.  Not me, I was barely conscious for the next 12 hours or more.  I didn't even really get a good look at my son and take him in until the next day. 

What a beautiful sight to wake up to.  He was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, and I got him here safely.  I don’t even have the words to express how proud I am of myself for that.

This was hardly my dream birth.  Nothing seemed to go according to plan.  Nothing happened as I expected it to. 

As difficult and unpredictable and scary as it was, I have very positive feelings about my experience.   I am so incredibly thankful that my body was strong enough to do it and that I had the support I needed around me to get me through.


  1. It is soooo interesting to hear all the details Jen. You know, when a baby is born the routein is: get a call saying the baby was born, weighed so much, length, etc Mom and baby are fine. That really does not tell much of the story does it. :-)
    Thanks for sharing. <3

  2. That was your Aunt Becky. :-)