This is the story of the second time I gave birth; the first time I gave birth naturally.
Looking back, I don’t know whether to describe my labor as long or short.
Hope Noel was born early on Sunday morning, December 16, 2012. I started having contractions the Wednesday evening before. They were fairly regular for several hours, but fizzled out when I went to bed. I had contractions off and on all day Thursday, but, again, they fizzled out when I went to bed. Friday morning I went to my chiropractor for an adjustment to try to help things along. I spent a lot of time doing salsa circles on the exercise ball that afternoon to help Hope get into a good position. I had a lot of contractions Friday evening. So much so, that we sent our 20 month old son, William, to spend the night with Michael’s parents, because I really thought we would be headed to the hospital at some point. My contractions slowed down when we went to bed, picked back up again around 4am, and then stopped around 10am.
I took advantage of William being with his grandparents, though. I rested, watched TV, tried to relax, and spent more time on the exercise ball. William came home later in the afternoon and we spent a fun evening together as a family with lots of rolling around on the floor, laughing, tickling, reading books, and building block towers for William to gleefully knock down. While we were playing, I started noticing contractions picking back up and growing a little more painful. Michael went to pick up dinner while I bathed William and put him to bed. Contractions became increasingly regular, five to seven minutes apart, by eight o’clock Saturday evening. Michael and I ate dinner, watched some TV, and I took a shower and finished packing my hospital bag. Then, we set up camp in our bedroom. I made myself comfortable on the exercise ball, leaning over the foot of the bed onto some pillows to rest. We turned off the lights, watched some more TV, and waited to see what would happen. Michael’s parents came over around ten to stay the night at the house in case we needed to head to the hospital.
I called my doula around midnight. I wasn’t having trouble managing the contractions on my own yet, but they were getting more intense and I wanted to make sure she was there when I needed her. I also didn’t think the contractions were as strong as they should be and wanted to see if she could try some things (robozo, different positions, etc.) that might help move things along. She brought such a calm presence with her when she came into the house. Knowing that she and Michael were close by, even if they weren’t saying anything, made me feel so comfortable and taken care of. Jenni applied heat to my low back, massaged my shoulders, and affirmed what I was already doing: trying to relax and not resist what my body was doing. My contractions were four minutes apart at that point.
At 1:30 I was starting to feel tired. Mostly my legs were tired, since I had been standing and kneeling for several hours. I decided to lie down for a few contractions and rest. The first contraction I had while lying down was the turning point in my labor. Through all the previous contractions I had felt completely in control. I had no trouble staying on top of them, breathing through them, and relaxing, but this one was different. It hit me hard. It took my breath away. I also felt a slight “pop” during the contraction that, in hindsight, was my water breaking. I didn’t feel any fluid at the time (I had on a pad and thick yoga pants) so, even though I wondered if my water had broken, I didn’t say anything. As if I could have said anything. I couldn’t breathe!
Jenni encouraged me to get up, that lying down was generally the worst position for managing contractions. They started to come much closer together at that point. I felt completely overwhelmed by them. I knew I wanted to head to the hospital, but I kept that to myself for a while. I had intended to labor at home as long as possible and I was sure it was too soon. After a while, though, I didn’t care. The thought of enduring the drive to the hospital was becoming increasingly horrifying. I wanted to go. Jenni and Michael both tried to stall a bit and encouraged me to stay at home a bit longer. Based on the my contractions up until that point, Jenni thought I was probably five to six centimeters dilated and was worried that if we got to the hospital too soon I would be tempted to get an epidural. I agreed with her. I was sure it was too soon, but I wouldn’t change my mind. I wanted to go.
It probably took 30 minutes to put our things in the car and get me loaded up. I was only able to take a few steps between each contraction before I had to stop and breathe through the next one. Jenni heated me two rice socks, one for my stomach and one for my back, to help with some pain relief during the car ride. It was about 2:30 when we left the house.
The ride to the hospital was probably the longest (and, most definitely, the worst) 15 minutes of my life. It felt like Michael was driving ten miles per hour and it felt like I was being split open from the inside. I remember being so annoyed with Michael’s driving, thinking, You speed all the time, but you can’t bring himself to pick up the pace when your wife is in labor?!?! I started to feel an increasing amount of pressure, which I attributed to sitting down in the car. Michael tells me that I handled the car ride really well, but I felt totally out of control and completely at the mercy of what my body was doing. I really began to doubt that I would be able to have an un-medicated birth. I just knew we were going to get to the hospital, they were going to tell me I was only dilated to five centimeters, and I would have nothing left to draw from to get through the remainder of labor. I could not imagine the pain getting any worse.
We arrived at the hospital about 2:50. Jenni noted that it was 2:52 when she was running through the parking lot to meet us at the ER entrance. It took a few minutes before I managed to get out of the car and into the wheelchair. It felt like I was having one, long contraction. Jenni took me inside while Michael went to park the car. They immediately admitted me in the ER and took me upstairs to Labor and Delivery. Jenni was so wonderful during that wheelchair ride. She was holding my hand, comforting me, and assuring me that I was about to meet my baby. The nurses at Admissions in L&D somehow coaxed my name, birthdate, and Social Security Number out of me and got me to initial and sign a few forms while I was standing at the desk (I couldn’t sit anymore!) working through contractions. I have NO IDEA what those forms said. I could have been signing away the rights to my child for all I knew. I just figured if I did what they told me, they would leave me alone!
When Michael and I toured the hospital a month before Hope’s birth, we got to see the amazing birth tub and water birth suite they had. I hadn’t been sold on the idea of a water birth before then, but, after seeing the tub, I knew that was what I wanted to do. I wanted dim lights, soft music, and wonderful warm water when we welcomed Hope into the world. However, since there was only one tub available for the whole hospital, I had been concerned that it wouldn’t be available when I needed it. We asked at admissions and I was relieved to hear that that room was free!
They wheeled me down the hall to the room. I stood up out of the wheel chair and immediately had to lean over onto the bed to get through a contraction. I remember one nurse telling me to go into the bathroom and change into a gown. I told her I couldn’t move. Another nurse told me to get onto the bed so they could check my progress. I told her I couldn’t move. My doula went to fill up the tub. Michael was still parking the car. I had my eyes closed and my back turned to most of the activity in the room, still standing beside the bed, but I could tell that there was a lot going on behind me. Nurses were calling out instructions to each other, one of the midwives from the UNT Midwife group arrived (though I had no idea which one until after Hope was born), the midwife’s phone was ringing as they were trying to call her to my room (not realizing she was already there), someone was helping me take my pants off, nurses laid towels down on the floor where I was standing, my doula came back, and, finally, Michael arrived. He and Jenni sat on the other side of the bed, facing me, so they could support me. It still hadn’t dawned on me that it was time to have this baby! The midwife checked my progress and I heard her say, “Alright. You’re ready.”
I don’t remember making the conscious decision to push. My body just sort of took over and did it. What a relief pushing was! In our Birth Bootcamp classes, I had heard that some women hated pushing and other women loved it. I’m thankful I was in the latter category! For William’s birth I had an epidural. That, coupled with the fact that he was OP (sunny side up), meant that I pushed for two hours before he was born. Until the very end, when the epidural was wearing off, I couldn’t really feel anything. It was such an amazing experience to be able to feel Hope being born! I don’t recall exactly how long I pushed, but it couldn’t have been more than a couple minutes. Before I knew it, I heard Michael and the midwife both telling me to reach down and pick up the baby. Michael says the image that is burned into his memory from that morning is me, standing by the hospital bed, naked from the waist down, still in the shirt I wore while in labor, holding just-born Hope on my chest with her umbilical cord still attached. I absolutely couldn’t believe what had just happened. My mind was reeling. I was crying and laughing and in a little bit of shock, I think. Hope was born at 3:04 a.m. We couldn’t have been in the hospital room for more than five minutes at that point.
They got me and Hope onto the bed and checked us both out. Once I was in bed, I saw that it was Tania that had delivered Hope. She was the perfect midwife to have attended her birth. She was so relaxed and calm through the whole hectic ordeal. Thankfully, we didn’t even have to ask for her to wait to clamp the cord until it pulsed out. I don’t think either Michael or I would have remembered that detail at the time. She just did it. Immediately after delivery, the nurses were a little concerned that Hope wasn’t crying more or pinking up as quickly as they would have liked, but Tania encouraged them to give us some space while the cord pulsed out. Within minutes she was doing just fine. Once they had taken Hope’s initial Apgars, Michael had cut the cord, and I delivered the placenta, they left us alone for at least an hour. Hope laid on my chest, tried to nurse, Michael and I called our families, and my nurse took my “pre-delivery” blood work and asked me all of the questions that are usually asked upon admission to the hospital. They then took Hope to weigh her (6 lbs, 14 oz) and measure her (19 3/4″). They let Michael apply her prophylactic eye ointment. He put it in her eyebrows, just like we had talked about, and the nurses were totally fine with it.
I got myself up out of bed, changed clothes, freshened up a bit and then we were off to our postpartum room. I felt amazing, slightly sore and a little tired, but otherwise like my old self. One of the first questions I asked after the birth was, “Did I tear?” Not a bit! My recovery from William’s delivery was long and painful (thanks for nothing, episiotomy!). It was such a nice surprise to feel like I could have resumed all my normal activities almost immediately after delivering Hope.
This definitely was not the birth I imagined, but it was everything I wanted: an un-medicated birth with personal, warm care in an environment that supported the choices Michael and I made for Hope’s birth and her care. I’m afraid that this experience has turned me into a birth junkie. As difficult as life is right now, caring for a 24 month old and a four month old, I really can’t wait to do this all over again!
Photos by Jenni King of Joyful Birth Doula Care