I wrote my birth story during sleepless moments during the early days after birth. I'm so glad I did (although reading the detailed seven pages I wrote brings back the discomfort and pain more clearly than I would have thought!). I will spare you the seven page version and give you a "brief" overview with pictures below. If you missed part one or my reasons for sharing, feel free to check those out.
If I think very hard, I can easily conjure up the feel of that hospital room where I labored for sixteen hours. It was much nicer than most, though I still felt as I always feel in medical situations--vulnerable, exposed, hesitant. I fought these feelings, trying to replace them with confidence and focus for the birth I hoped for. I remember the machines, the way the fetal monitor sped up seconds before a contraction would start, the Pitocin drip drip dripping in, sometimes feeling like a death sentence--or a life sentence, the nurse who teased that she was scanning my brain when she checked my temperature.
I remember how the daylight mirrored my labor, becoming the only real sense of time during those hours. It all began in early morning, and we were all smiles in that drizzly summer morning as we joked and played games in the peaceful hospital room with the whirr of monitors. As the day wore on and the heat increased, the room became colder, quiet when contractions came, sometimes filled with the angst of decisions. As evening fell, my own doubt set in, and as the night passed on, my internal darkness increased. But before the early glow of dawn, we met our son--claiming his own independence less than three hours after the day with that name. In early, early morning stillness, they brought him back to us, starting our first day as a family of three with the scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee and fresh light in the sky. From this distance, it seems magical and beautiful, but I remember the moments of darkness and angst, and they, too, are a crucial part of the story.
We got to the hospital around 10 with my mom and my sister, Emily. We had to register first (preregistration had not gone through), and I felt my water leak more as we did. I was nervous yet trying so hard to be calm as nervousness can stall labor even more. We got through the doors and met the sweet nurses who would take us to our room. When we got to the room (which was very nice--spacious with many chairs and a huge TV, Jon wrote "10:35 All's well" on the white board. I thought the nurses had done it. Throughout labor, I would focus on that message. The nurses gave me a hospital gown to put on.
After I got into bed, the nurses came back to check me. I had been 1.5 cm. dilated at my last doctor's appointment (two days earlier) and 70% effaced. This had been a 1 cm. growth from the previous appointment four days before that one. I was optimistic that I might be moving along now. However, I was still 1.5 cm. I think I instinctively knew this, but I still felt a little disappointed. Jon reassured me that labor could progress quickly. The nurses took blood, put my IV in for antibiotics and started Pitocin. I felt like I was awaiting something awful waiting for the Pitocin to kick in. By this time, it was probably after 11am. I hoped against hope that we might have our baby by evening.
Though I was hooked up to many monitors, the nurses said I could labor however I liked as long as I kept the monitors in. As soon as the nurses left, Jon inflated the exercise ball, and I rocked on it for a while, hoping to make more progress. The room was quite cold, so at times, I would have blankets draped around my shoulders while Mom, Em, and Jon also covered up. We started out playing Draw Something on our iPads. I took breaks for contractions and then joined back in.
I grew discouraged around lunch when I was told I could not eat. I was famished, and the contractions were still not too bad. Commercials on the TV looked so good. Jon and Emily brought back some chicken noodle soup from Chick fil A so I could eat the broth. This cheered me immensely for what happened next.
All the time, they were increasing the Pitocin. The machine for the Pitocin started out showing 2. By afternoon, it was at 18. They said they would let it go to 20. At this point, the contractions were hard but manageable. By 3:00, they were about every 2-2.5 min. and lasting for about 30-35 seconds. I knew this wasn't great, but labor was increasingly rough.
I pulled out the verses I had written down for labor and read them during contractions. What peace I felt as I read those verses! In between contractions, I could still talk and laugh. I knew I was still in early stages of labor, but it was progressing. All my pain reduction techniques were working. I was focused during contractions. Jon would rub my back when I asked for it (other times, it made the contractions worse). I rocked on the birth ball. I thought about The Old Man and the Sea, Santiago's determination and courage. Overall, I felt that things were going well and progressing steadily.
Around this time (maybe 3 or 3:30), the midwife and nurses came in. They checked me, and I think I was around 3 cm. I thought that at least I hadn't stalled. But it wasn't good enough. The doctor who was over the midwife (and who I had never met) wanted the labor to progress more quickly. I was shocked! Some people take 48 hours or more to go into labor after the water breaks. My labor was definitely not stalled; I was progressing, albeit slowly.
The contractions were bad enough that I was hoping they would turn off the Pitocin and see if my body would take over. It was all I could do to handle the contractions, and I handled them by retreating inward. However, the midwife and doctor were concerned; they said labor was not progressing well if I wasn't screaming by this point. "Oh I can scream!" I thought, but instead I waited until they left and cried.
They said that we would have to consider other options if I did not progress a centimeter an hour. No one I knew had progressed at that consistent rate. Some were really fast; but most Pitocin stories were fairly slow. They also wanted to put in an internal monitor to check on contractions (and maybe the baby). I knew that was just inviting infection, the very thing they were rushing my labor to avoid.
I cried, probably shamelessly. I don't know how I would have done it if one nurse had not been so awesome. She kept telling me I could refuse the internal monitor, and she encouraged me when I doubted. Epidural mentions and a passing c-section reference made me feel like all my plans were slipping away. I felt lost at this point. They decided to increase the Pitocin until it showed 40 over time. I would be checked again at 6:00pm.
Those two hours were rough, but the roughest part was ahead. The contractions were so strong that I got into bed. Mom found a way to gently rub/tickle my back that actually helped. Jon would hold my hand. I drank a little chicken broth, warmed up in a styrofoam cup in between strong contractions.
I moved between the ball and the bed and standing/swaying. Jon noticed at one point that I handled contractions better on the ball, so I tried to stay there until I was too tired. Then I would get in bed for a few and come back out. When I was checked at 6, I was making progress! I was so thankful. It hurt to be checked at this point, and by 7:00, they wanted to check while I was having a contraction, which was seriously unpleasant. However, I was making the progress they had hoped for! I still wanted to avoid the internal monitor they were pushing for due to some of my research. Around this time, the pictures stop until the actual birth.
The Self-Doubt Stage
The next time I was checked, I was progressing a centimeter an hour. Around 8 or 9, it was rough. We stop having pictures at this point, and there was little smiling (which is the Bradley sign of the true intense part of labor). The Pitocin contractions sometimes didn't give a break.
I must have reached the self-doubt stage around this point (and probably stayed in it until Liam was born!). I kept asking, "Can I do this?" then thinking, "I can't do this! I don't have the strength! I don't even get a break between contractions!" I would just whisper, "Please give me strength. Please give me strength" over and over during contractions. It felt like all I could do.
Around this time, I was so glad I hadn't eaten. Over the next few hours, waves of nausea would hit. I could barely sip my water. I had brought lollipops from Earthfare, and I would lick them to keep myself from throwing up. I was shaking at this point, sure that I had a fever. The nurse, Paige, reassured us that this was exactly what should be happening. That gave me some courage, but I was still at a rough place.
Things escalated intensely. I lost track of time. At one point, my brother stopped in, but I wasn't even aware. I was lying on my side with Mom rubbing my back and Jon holding my hand just praying for strength. The checks were awful! But I was so thankful I was still making progress. At one point, Mom read about the transition stage in my Bradley book: "The contractions cannot overpower you because they are a part of you." I clung to that, focusing on relaxing my whole body during each contraction.
At some point, I was checked and I was 9.5 cm. The doubt was fairly serious at this point along with a strong urge to push. I would rock on the ball and stand up and feel that all I could do was push. I pushed on all fours at one point, and the pain was so strong. I felt swallowed up by pain and the pressure to push. This went on for maybe an hour or so. When I was checked, I still was not 10, but all I could do was push. I could not maintain the Bradley position though; it hurt too bad. All fours was the only way for quite some time. I would feel a contraction coming because I would hear the beating of the monitor get faster. That sound (and the feel of contractions) used to comfort me (progress!), but now it seemed almost like torture to hear and feel a contraction. The pushing went on. I remember moaning without meaning to a lot and-at one point-apologizing for the moaning (which the nurses quickly dismissed).
Finally, they said it was time to push in earnest (which I thought I had already been doing!). The nurse and Mom would hold my legs, and Jon would hold my head and stroke it. I still did not think I could have strength to actually push. At first, the position was so hard to maintain. The nurse made me take a breath in as the contraction started. Then I would push (making NO sound!) while she counted to 10. Then I would take a quick breath and repeat and another quick breath and repeat. Sometimes, she started counting late; I hated that. But I knew I was making progress the longer I could push and that motivated me.
If things weren't a blur before, they were now. It was after midnight. The only lights were right around the tray and the baby blanket area. I was foused on pushing. The midwife would massage while I pushed. From others' stories, I had heard that pushing was the best--new energy! new focus! and then the baby slips out and you feel so... empty. Not so for me. Every second hurt. My body felt like it would explode and rip apart. I wanted to give up. Time was a blur; nurses crowded around.
Pushing continued to take forever. They talked about his hair and how pretty it was. They brought in a mirror; I wasn't sure I wanted to look. But then I did. Each push seemed to make just a very little progress. I couldn't speak or signal to anyone how I was feeling. I felt like I was drifting away--a feeling I had felt for the past few hours. I felt removed from the experience. I knew it would be over and that I was doing what I had planned; I was having a natural (though induced) birth! But I honestly did not care.
Jon never wavered in his belief that I could do it. He told me later how awful it was for him--and how he wasn't sure at times if I would make it. But in the moment, he stayed so calm and strong. He was so sure. He even watched the birth just as I did.
Finally, between closed-eyed pushes and glimpses of Baby in between, I gave another huge push. The midwife gently pulled his head out. Just his head was out now--a big head, with open eyes! A strange sight. I thought, "Now that the head's out, it will be easy." But it wasn't. I felt each shoulder. I had to focus and push only when she let me to prevent tearing. This was the only time in those hours that I "came back" for a little while.
Meeting Our Son
After the second shoulder, he was born at 2:41am. They threw him on my chest; he was so big (9 pounds)! His eyes were open, and he only cried a little. He went from whitish purple to rosy and beautiful so fast. He had the fullest little lips and the most perfect head of dark hair.
I held our son while they stitched me up, filled with gratitude and enamored by this baby. I still held Jon's hand. The pain was intense. Though the contractions themselves were not so much pain as intense pressure, the pain afterwards was definite pain. I had torn a lot. I was afraid i would squeeze our baby too hard because of the pain! When the stitches were done, they covered me up, and my brother and sister came to meet their nephew.
I was deliriously happy and chatty, though still very weak. Before an hour was up, I had to nurse the baby before he was taken to the nursery. He ate a little, and they took him. I had planned to fight this hospital protocol, but I was in so much pain. My blood sugar was low; the room was spinning. I drank some of a smoothie and ate half of a turkey sandwich. Still the room was spinning. They brought in a wheelchair to take me to my room.
During the moving process, I was in a good deal of pain. I felt dizzy and again, not in the world. I remember feeling like I had to make myself focus on the Exit sign and the other signs so I wouldn't just slip away. I got in the bed in my post-delivery room. Every time I dozed, nurses would come in. When I was forced to stand up and walk, I surprised by how hard it was for me to walk. I woke up asking for the baby later on, wanting him so badly. They finally (in less than an hour and a half or so) brought Liam back, all bundled up, just as the sun was rising. I felt like myself again--and a huge sense of joy and accomplishment--as we had our first breakfast as a family of three.
I recently read a birth story where the author said the hospital stay and first week or so were part of the birth story. I may add an afterword to this story to include our early experiences as a family of three and healing. Stay tuned! And if you made it this far, thanks for reading.