A Birth Story. Warning: It May Take You Longer To Read This Than It Did For Me To Give Birth
These are the facts you should know about me: I have had four children. My first birth, a daughter, happened a month after my seventeenth birthday. It was a hospital birth and while not a bad experience, not a great one either. I gave my daughter up for adoption, and vowed to do things differently in the future. My next daughter was born nine years later, followed by my son two years after that. Both were un-medicated hospital births, with their own highs and lows. I wasn’t totally satisfied with my birthing experiences, but at that point, I thought we were done having children.
Six years after my third birth, I unexpectedly became pregnant. I was already morbidly obese – during pregnancies #2 and #3 I weighed 250 pounds; now I weighed 300. After researching and talking to the local natural birthing community, I chose a midwifery group within a hospital. The midwives made it clear from the start that if I were to have any complications; they would have to turn my care over to the OBs. However, they were also my biggest cheerleaders, encouraging me at every appointment to keep up the good work in maintaining my health.
I did not gain any weight before delivering, and against the odds, I maintained a healthy pregnancy in all respects. Despite my weight, several years between my last pregnancy and this one, and being extremely out of shape, I had a beautiful, un-medicated natural childbirth. It was the most amazing experience of my life, and I hope to inspire other moms who may be facing similar circumstances. Here is my story…
Five days before my due date, I woke up at 2:20 am, uncomfortable because I was sleeping on my stomach. I figured since I was awake, I should go ahead and hit the bathroom. As I was getting out of bed, liquid ran down my legs – just a little, not enough for me to know for sure that my water broke, but definitely enough for it to be a consideration. All three of my previous labors started with my water breaking; contractions came later. I’m just contrary like that, I guess. However, it stopped when I stood up, so I figured my bladder was just a little too full. Yes, pregnant women can and often do pee on themselves. It’s one of those awesome little secrets that no one tells you ahead of time.
After going to the bathroom, I had a contraction. It felt different from the ones I’d had previously – this was deep inside, not painful but with the potential to become so. I knew that even with this type of contraction, things could still peter out, but it felt real. I immediately got my hopes up that today might be The Day.
I laid back down and watched the clock. Sleep was out of the question – not from pain, but because I was too excited. Still, I wanted to rest and see if the contractions would keep coming. They did, every 5 minutes like clockwork. Nothing I couldn’t breathe through; I didn’t even have to change positions. At 3:00 am, I woke up my husband, Nathan, and let him know that it was looking more and more like I was in real labor. Then I called Lynn, our doula. When I told her I’d been having contractions for 40 minutes, she freaked out a bit: “You waited this long to call me?!” My previous two labors were very short – 4 hours and 2 ½ hours. I knew I should have called her right away, but I was feeling hesitant; I wanted it to be the real deal before I called her in the middle of the night. Lynn lived about 40 minutes away, so she said she would drive to our area and just hang out nearby; I could call her again when I needed her and she’d be right there. Let me tell you people, that is an awesome doula.
I told Nathan to get some rest. Yes, that’s right, I woke him up just to tell him to go back to sleep. I rock. Since sleep wasn’t going to happen for me, I sat on my birth ball and played on the laptop at the kitchen table. When that got old, I tried to get more comfortable in my recliner to watch some TV. I don’t know if it was the position or just coincidence, but the very first contraction I had in the recliner took my breath away. All of the sudden I was not happy and did not want to be alone any more. It was 4:45 am; I woke Nathan up (yes, the rat bastard had actually gone back to bed) and called Lynn again. This was it, people. The real deal. Baby was on the way!
Lynn arrived in about 2 minutes flat. For the next hour or so, I was focusing through each contraction; I spent most of them on my knees leaning on my birth ball. I really liked this position, which did not come as a big surprise. My previous labors were spent almost entirely on my hands and knees; the birth ball just made the position easier on my arms. Lynn did this thing called hip squeezes that gave me amazing pain relief. Even in the middle of contractions, I found that amusing, since Nathan had tried to do hip squeezes with me during practice sessions and it hurt every time. Just goes to show that what seems to work during practice and what really works during labor can be vastly different.
Nathan held my hands and arms and helped me relax through the pain. That was an unexpected, and very nice, change. My previous labors, he was my only support person and he did it mostly from behind me, encircling my body with his arms or giving counter-pressure on my back. With no one else there, that was where I needed him most. This time, he was free to support me in a different way, to connect with me face-to-face, and it was amazing.
A little before six am, I realized that Kayleigh and James (our 8 year old daughter and 6 year old son) would have to get up for school soon, and it hit me that I did not want to labor in front of them. Mild panic set in, since I didn’t need or want to go to the hospital yet, but it wasn’t practical to have our babysitter take the kids out of the house. On school mornings, they need an hour to get ready and get out the door. Our sitter’s house was too far away to be an option. If I had considered it beforehand, I probably would have said to hell with it and allowed them to skip school for the day. However, I hadn’t given it a bit of thought. This was my first labor with school-age kids around and it just wasn’t something I’d considered ahead of time. Instead, without a plan in place, I was stubbornly fixated on getting them to school that day.
What to do, what to do. I really, really wanted to labor as long as possible at home. My previous in-hospital laboring experiences weren’t stellar. In those instances my water had already broke, so my doctors were seriously focused on moving things right along. I wasn’t sure my water had broken that morning (I wasn’t noticing any leakage that would have convinced me otherwise), but I was still hesitant about going to the hospital this early on. It was less than 4 hours since labor started, and just barely over an hour since what I thought of as “active labor” (i.e., painful contractions) had started. Lynn, God bless her, reminded me that the midwives at my hospital wouldn’t push me to get through labor or put me on a clock. There was also the possibility that if I checked in and was found to be not far enough along, we could leave and go walk in the park near the hospital. Coupling that with the fact that I didn’t want to be in the car when labor was really bad, I decided to head out.
The twenty-five minute car ride wasn’t too bad. I had four or five contractions on the way, but I was kneeling on the passenger seat with my arms wrapped around the back (again with the hands-and-knees thing). I highly recommend this position for the drive to the hospital.
Even though we were pre-registered, it took a long while to get checked in. I had a few more contractions while getting through the paperwork, but things had kind of slowed down. Apparently I wasn’t acting like I was in much pain, because receptionist never asked about my contractions, length of, time apart, or otherwise. She did not even admit me as being in active labor; I think she put me down as needing an exam or something. After we finally got past the front desk and were walking down the hall toward my room, the nurse noticed that we were carrying a crap-load of laboring stuff – birth ball, suitcase, cooler, etc. She asked me if I was in labor and was mightily surprised when she heard that my contractions had been 5 minutes apart for hours. There was a scramble to find out if my room could be changed, so that I’d get the awesome, “mid-wife patient” corner room, with lots of space and a shower. The nurse made it happen and we trekked to Room 14. Sweet.
Out of the four possible midwives in the practice, one of my favorites was on duty – yay! Kathryn was the first midwife I had met at the beginning of my pregnancy. She made me feel comfortable at that initial appointment, and meeting her convinced me that this particular hospital was the right hospital to be in. So maybe it was fate, destiny, kismet that she was my midwife for delivery. Or maybe it was the midwife on-call schedule. Who knows.
My nurses were Stacie and Shakia. Lynn knew Stacie from previous births, so there was an instant feel of camaraderie in the room. Or maybe I imagined that. Either way, it was nice. They needed to draw blood and asked if they could place a hep lock at the same time, to which I replied that it was fine as long as it didn’t hurt. During my first labor, I swear the hep lock hurt more than contractions. It made a big enough impression on me that “Remove hep lock if requested” was on my birth plan. Stacie tried to place it in the back of my hand and something went wrong; it hurt insanely bad right away. She finished drawing my blood and took the needle out – no hep lock for me. My hand was immediately bruised and continued to hurt for the next couple of days.
Our midwife Kathryn arrived at around 8:00 and asked about checking me to see how dilated I was. I was a little iffy about this. Check that – I was a lot iffy about this. I knew I had come to the hospital early and really did not want to hear that I was only 1-2 centimeters. Kathryn reassured me that I did not have to get checked if I didn’t want to, but she would like to know where we stood. Of course, there was always the option that she could check me but not tell me where I was at. Yeah, right. Like that was going to happen. Seriously, has any pregnant woman ever agreed to that?
I waffled about it for a bit and then gave in and told her she could check me. I wasn’t too happy with my decision, to be perfectly honest. However, the Labor Goddess smiled upon me – I was 4-5 centimeters, stretchy, and 100% effaced. Yay! And the best part was I didn’t have another internal check until I was pushing. I love midwives.
It was about 9:15 when I found I could no longer deny my urgent need to pee. To those of you who haven’t gone through labor, or haven’t labored drug-free, you may not understand why I really, really did not want to go sit on the toilet. Let’s just say that the porcelain throne is the perfect instrument for encouraging a baby to move down the birth canal, causing major contractions. And since I personally feel that having to sit through a contraction without any options for changing position is pretty much torture equivalent to being water boarded, I was desperate to avoid putting myself there. Unfortunately, my bladder was not cooperating, so I headed in with a plan to pee as fast as possible. I was aiming for that gold medal pee, the mystical one that would allow me to finish my business between contractions. I almost, almost, made it – but alas, it was not to be. Luckily I just had one contraction while in there, because it was bad. The noises I was making must have gotten my husband’s attention, as he was almost instantly at the door asking if I was okay. I was not okay. Contractions on the toilet are not my friend. Still, I was coherent enough to notice that I lost my mucus plug. And yes, it was ahem as ~lovely~ as it sounds. It was the first time I’d ever experienced that, so it made quite the impression on me. I was very, very glad to get out of there.
Thanks to my husband’s Zune, Lynn’s awesome little travel speaker, and my 200+ playlist, we kept the party going to a very eclectic mix of music – eighties hair bands, pop, nineties grunge, current rock, oldies, etc. At one point, Stacie made the comment that it was nice to hear something that “wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns for once!” That made me laugh. Apparently us hippy, granola birther types in the midwife room are notorious for playing soothing, Zen trancy-type stuff. Yeah, not so much with me.
I found myself apologizing for a couple of my song choices that made prominent use of the f-bomb (“Shut the F#!k Up” by Cake is an excellent labor song, by the way). Because my birth team was awesome, everyone laughed it off. Music was another thing that had been overlooked in my previous labors. It was an important part of this one, and really kept my mood light. There’s nothing like singing along to your favorite tunes in-between contractions.
Labor continued to move right along. Looking back, I find myself proud that I was open to suggestions; when Lynn would say, “Do you want to try XYZ?” I’d respond, “Okaaaaay … ” I wasn’t jumping for joy at any of her ideas, but I was willing to try them. My previous labors were so fast and so chaotic that I really didn’t have time to do anything but try to breathe between contractions before whoops! There’s my baby! This time, I labored in several different positions, tried things like the heat packs, counter pressure, etc. I drank water and juice even though I didn’t want to. I walked and moved even though I was comfortable just sitting on the birth ball. I wanted to keep labor progressing, so I listened to the wisdom of those around me and it was a lovely thing.
I started to feel sick at about 9:45. I was familiar with the process of puking while in labor. It’s not the most awesome thing ever, let me tell you. It’s also one of the signs that you’re in transition, which I did not remember in the moment. All I knew was that I really, really did not want to throw up. I mean honestly, you’re just adding insult to injury at that point. Luckily, my body cooperated this time around and I got to keep my breakfast in my stomach. It was then that I asked Kathryn if I could get into the tub. Sadly, my hospital did not have a labor and delivery tub; it was for labor only, and then you have to get out to give birth. In my dream world I would have had a water birth, but since that wasn’t an option I at least wanted to spend some time in the dang thing.
As Stacie and Shakia went to fill the labor tub, transition hit in full force. Holy hell, it was rough. Really, really rough – harder than any of my previous labors. I was having quadruple and quintuple contractions; they just went on and on and on for what felt like forever. I couldn’t move, couldn’t change positions, couldn’t find relief. Nathan and Lynn tried different things to help and had to just go by how my moans sounded, as I wasn’t coherent. In my mind, the pain was obliterating everything but my need to be in in the water, the consuming feeling that everything would be okay if I could just get in the water.
What I didn’t know was that the tub should have been ready pretty quickly, but whomever turned it on never came back in the room to tell Kathryn to move me. So while I waited (and waited, and waited), it almost overflowed. Then they had to drain quite a bit of water out, which with a tub that big takes time in and of itself. All in all, it was thirty hellish minutes of transition before we got word that I could get in. It took a few more minutes before I could actually move. Luckily the tub room was literally around the corner and once I got up, I didn’t have another contraction until I was in the water.
Looking back, I am convinced that my labor would have been picture perfect if I could have gone through transition in the tub. Because it turns out that my instinct was right – I loved being in the water. I don’t have words for how much I loved it. The tub was pure magic.
I’ve read a lot of birth stories in which the mom says getting in the water relieved most or all of her pain. I’ll be the first to say that was not the case for me. However, being in the water meant I didn’t have to worry about my body any more. I didn’t have to find the perfect position to help me get through contractions, I didn’t have to worry about not tensing my muscles while still maintaining that perfect position. I could just relax and float. Float and relax. It was so freeing that I was able to focus exclusively on each contraction, and getting through them was infinitely easier.
We put our candles (electric – they have really nice ones these days!) to good use, since the tub room was windowless. Lynn set up two large ones and several small ones all around the tub, and we kept the fluorescent light off. That was another one of those small yet important details … lighting. Sunlight I love. Candlelight I love. Fluorescent lights, not so much. Hooray for bringing a suitcase full of crap to the hospital!
I’ll tell you a secret … I was pretty damn determined to screw the rules and have a water birth. Other women have done so, and their baby’s footprints are inked on the wall above the tub. Isn’t that cute? Pretty much if you stay quiet and get to a certain point of the pushing stage while in the tub, the midwives aren’t going to make you stop, get out, and go back to your room. Instead you can just plow ahead and voila … water birth. I was totally down with that scenario – and yes, I’ll admit it, I wanted to see my baby boy’s little toes on that wall.
Unfortunately, my plan was shot to hell by a faulty Doppler. Back in the room, the Doppler worked just fine, but Kathryn had to switch to using a waterproof one in the tub and it wasn’t working. She couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. For 30 minutes she moved the Doppler around, trying to find a spot on my belly from which she could pick up the heartbeat while being careful not to disturb me. I was vaguely aware that something was going on because she kept moving the probe, but I refused to focus on anything but my contractions. Kathryn never said anything, just kept trying to find that sweet little drum beat. The stress level of my birth team continued to slowly rise with each silent minute while I stayed oblivious.
I’d been in the tub for close to half an hour when it came time to push. I put my plan into motion and pushed for a few contractions without bothering to tell anyone what I was doing. In my head, I was sure they all knew I was pushing because my vocalizations completely changed. No one said anything, though, and I forged ahead. Then for no apparent reason, while resting between the third or fourth push, I quite suddenly and fully became aware of what the problem was that had Kathryn so absorbed. No heartbeat. The unrelenting movement of the Doppler without a single result. This was not a good thing. I immediately announced I needed to push, knowing that she would make me get out of the tub and hoping that doing so would somehow magically make everything okay.
(I later learned that at the time, Kathryn thought the new Doppler wasn’t working because I had too much “adipose tissue”, which is medical-speak for “lots of fat”. Being obese means that the extra layers of fat get in the way of the Doppler, and sometimes it doesn’t work with us bigger women. This is why she let me stay in the tub for 30 minutes – she wasn’t convinced there was truly a problem with the baby. In reality, the farking thing was actually broken.)
The reality of what I’d done – announced that I needed to push, effectively eighty-sixing my water birth – hit me when Kathryn told me we needed to go back to my room. I immediately retreated, responding, “Never mind, I don’t have to push! I’m fine, I’ll just stay here. Not pushing. Not moving.” The idea of not only getting out of the water, but also having to walk back to my room, completely overwhelmed me. I was fully convinced that I couldn’t even stand up in the tub let alone get out of it. Thank God for Nathan and Lynn. While I was busy feeling positive that I couldn’t move, they somehow they got me up, out, and back in my room. I was so caught up in my own head that I don’t even know how they did it. One minute I felt like there was no way in hell it was going to happen, the next I was out of the tub, down the hallway, and on my bed. There’s no way on God’s green earth I could have done that on my own.
We left the tub room at about 10:45. I’m not sure how long it took me to actually get to the bed; it didn’t feel long but I’m a little blurry on that whole trip. A contraction hit me just as I was climbing onto the bed, so I reassumed my beloved hands-and-knees position. Afterward, I lay on my left side, resting while Kathryn checked me. You could not have paid me a million dollars to lay flat on my back at that point. She found the baby’s heartbeat right away, alleviating a ton of stress. We all cheered to find out I was 10 centimeters and +1 station. I was officially cleared to push.
By the way, have you noticed that I haven’t talked about my water breaking? At that final check, Kathryn announced there were no membranes. That meant my bag of waters was completely gone. At some point during the day it snuck out unnoticed – ninja water! My best guess is that it broke while I was in the tub, probably while I was sneak-pushing.
Because I was already on my left side, I pushed that way for about 10 minutes. It wasn’t a super effective position, but it gave me a chance to rest between pushes. Then Kathryn suggested using the birth stool. I had never used one before, but it’s exactly what it sounds like: a stool with a cut-out for the baby to emerge through. Using one means you’re almost in a squat position, but supported by the stool instead having to rely on your own strength. It was awesome, and totally made pushing much more efficient (yay gravity!). The stool was placed next to the bed, so I could sit on it and lean against the mattress. Nathan sat on the bed behind me, hands on my shoulders, and in-between contractions I leaned my head on his chest. I pushed like this for another 10 minutes and that was all it took.
At our request, Lynn took a video of the birth. It’s the only reason I have details for this next part of the story. I am not a silent birther, by any means, but I only truly screamed twice. The first time was when my baby boy’s head was crowning. At that moment, my body decided to slow things down and paused with his head right there. For almost a full minute, nothing happened; I just trembled and breathed and made pain noises while my body took stock. Then in one push, his head came out. Again I paused, while Kathryn checked to make sure the cord was not around his neck. Having verified that everything was fine, she asked me if I was ready to push again. I responded with a tremulous, “No,” but in less than 10 seconds I was doing that very thing. My second round of screaming hit when his shoulders came out. That shit hurts, y’all. Just plain hurts. But half a second later, I was holding him in my arms, pain and screams forgotten.
My first words to my baby were, “Breathe, breathe! Breathe honey, breathe!” followed by, “You are a boy!” Awesome. Lynn said, “Happy Birthday!” and Kathryn said, “Welcome.” Me, I’m bossing him around and checking his genitals.
He did seem very blue to me, but Kathryn reassured me he was fine. We sat there, with our baby in my arms and Nathan holding us both, while they cleaned him up with warm towels. I was naked, so we were skin-to-skin, heartbeat-to-heartbeat, in the ultimate new-baby moment. (You like how I slipped that naked detail in there? You’re welcome.) When he was all clean and shiny, I stood up and scooted backward into the bed.
From there, I continued to hold him and marvel at his beautiful face while my body went about the business of delivering the placenta. It didn’t take too long before that was done. I was given an intramuscular shot of Pitocin to help stop the bleeding, which is pretty standard these days. Nonetheless, Kathryn cleared it with me first, because she’s the bomb. I was fine with it – my baby was safely delivered, so whatever they needed to do to get my body back in shape was okay with me.
When the placenta stopped pulsating, Nathan cut the cord. He’s a pro at it now, with three under his belt. I had a very small tear that ended up needing one stitch. By the time that happened, I was on the phone with my mom and dad, telling them they had a new grandchild. That was a little awkward: “Hi Mom, hi Dad! You have a new grandson! He’s adorable, and … OW. Ow ow ow. Okay then, sorry about that, the midwife was just stitching me up. Anyway …”
I held our baby boy for almost two hours before the nurses took him to be weighed and measured. Yes, I held him while delivering the placenta, held him while Nathan cut the cord, held him while making phone calls and being stitched up. Just held him, skin-to-skin, reveling in him. There is nothing in this world more miraculous than the face of a new born baby.
Also, it’s pretty fun to call your family and tell them you had your baby, but no, you don’t know how much he weighs, or how long he is, or even what his name is. That was a big source of amusement for us post-birth. We have a large family. Lots of phone calls.
For the record, Grayson Matthew was born May 23rd, 2012, at 11:20 am. He weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces, and was 20 inches long. He came home the next day and instantly added his big sister and brother, along with the family dog, to his fan club. He continues to try to recruit the cat, who has resisted all efforts to this point.