Part II of a beautiful VBAC story, as told by Elspeth Ridout McCormick’s husband.
Elspeth had been having contractions all month, really. They would come in the evenings, mostly, and then they would stop around bedtime. This Friday, though, the contractions didn’t stop. Elspeth had them throughout dinner, and as the night got a little later we started to wonder if this might be “it”. My in-laws were going to come and watch our son, but we didn’t want to raise any false alarms; and since she had been having light contractions for weeks, we didn’t really want to call in the cavalry yet – although we probably should have.
I went upstairs with our son to try and put him to bed, but of course, because Elspeth was going into labor, the toddler started to run a small fever and would not go down to sleep. Elspeth’s contractions were getting stronger, so we went ahead and called her parents and our doula, Abigail, to let them know that this might be it. I think we undersold it a little with Elspeth’s parents, though. They were enjoying a dinner party and said that they would leave when they were done. In the meantime, I was still rocking and comforting our son and trying to get him to bed; and Elspeth’s contractions were getting stronger. Her urge to “putz putz” was showing. Of course, with Elspeth it wasn’t her putzing around… it was her telling me to go do things. But it meant the same thing.
My in-laws weren’t going to be able to get to the house any sooner than 11 p.m., and that was about when Abigail would be arriving, too. We had nothing to do but wait for them and try to load the car and finish packing. Elspeth paced around the kitchen, her contractions getting closer and closer. By 10 p.m. they were 3-5 minutes apart. I was still carrying our poor sick toddler, and was trying to load the car with one hand. Though Elspeth, the trooper that she is, was able to hold our son for a little bit while I rounded up the last few things. We waited and paced.
Elspeth didn’t seem worried, but I have to admit that I was a little nervous as we got closer to 11 p.m. Her contractions were bouncing between 2 and 3 minutes apart, and we still had no grandparents or doula at our house. In the end if we had had to leave our son with the neighbors it would have been fine, but it still was a little nerve-wracking. Abigail arrived first, at almost exactly 11, and my in-laws were only a few minutes behind. In no time at all we had the last things in the car, our son resting on his grandmother’s shoulder, and Abigail following us in the car to the hospital.
The car ride to the hospital was short – for me. It probably seemed like a journey of epic proportions to my wife, who was laboring and whose contractions were getting closer and closer. The hospital was only seven miles from our front door, but the drive took about 15 minutes. Oh –and of course, since she was in labor, halfway there we got stopped at a train crossing with a freight train. Elspeth looked up from her contraction to say, “Of course. Of course there is a freight train.”
We arrived at the hospital, and my wife and our doula hopped out of the cars and started walking into the maternity wing. I grabbed our gear and chased after them. Her contractions were really close now, so Elspeth had to stop a couple of times in the hallway to do a little laboring. (No sweat right?) I walked past her and right up to the nurses’ station with a backpack, overnight bag, and exercise ball. “Merry Christmas! My wife is having a baby and her contractions are about a minute and a half apart.” I think they thought I was kidding at first. Elspeth was still around the corner and they looked at me for a minute like I was nutters.
After that, they got us set up right away in our Labor and Delivery room. We turned the lights down and dumped our things and got right into the business of laboring. Her contractions were still about 1-2 minutes apart, and very strong. This was a moment when having a doula that we loved and trusted was a blessing. I was able to take care of registration (because I hadn’t pre-registered … doh!) in the hallway while Abigail helped Elspeth to get settled and into her gown while laboring.
The nurses at hospital were very nice. Since this was going to be a VBAC, the situation was such that Elspeth would have to be on monitoring equipment essentially the whole time. The first nurse had a little bit of a hard time getting the HEP-lock set up; but soon, Elspeth was “all set” for the nurses. This whole time, Elspeth was in a pretty good mood. If she was worried, you wouldn’t have known. We had, for our first child’s birth, a hard time with frequent station checks, and a long labor that ended in a c-section delivery. One thing we wanted to avoid was lots of checks, as it can be mentally demoralizing to work and work and work on laboring only to find out you’re only 1 cm further dilated than you were six hours prior. So when the nurses finally got Elspeth situated with the monitors and HEP-lock and asked about checking to see how far along she was, we basically told them to come back later; and they did cut us a break for a little bit.
Probably 30 minutes after we had arrived, though, the nurses really put the pressure on to do a cervical check – just to see exactly where things were. That’s when we learned we had essentially walked into the hospital at 6 cm. Shortly after, Elspeth’s water broke. They noticed that there was some meconium in the waters, so they notified the NICU in order to prepare them for the birth. Also, the OB who was on call was notified and we were told, “Your doctor is… on her way.” I was a little nervous, honestly, that she wouldn’t beat the baby there.
Elspeth continued to labor mostly on her side for the next two hours. We kept her spirits up with a steady stream of ice chips and apple juice and some great foot massages from our doula. (She is also a trained masseuse. Win.) The apple juice was actually at the request of the nurses. The baby was fine (in the “zone”) on the monitors, but as they explained, she wasn’t really reacting to the contractions. The baby is supposed to dip and peak on the charts with the mom’s contractions. So in an effort to wake her up some, we juiced the baby. (And the mom.) The contractions got stronger and closer, and the doctor still hadn’t arrived yet. At one point, the NICU nurse came in to set up the baby station; and for a minute there, Abigail and I thought she was the doctor. Elspeth, who of course had met the doctor before said, “No guys. That’s not her.” So we waited and labored some more. Elspeth was really a champ all this time. I tried to help her with her breathing and keeping the tension out, but she was doing really well.
After we had been there for maybe an hour and a half, the doctor did arrive and check in on us. At that point the contractions were practically right on top of each other, and the labor was getting much harder for Elspeth. She tried some different positions on the bed, including leaning over the back of the head rest, but nothing was really comfortable for her; and to make it harder, the contractions were so close most of the time that there was hardly any time to change positions before another one would hit. Finally, after being at the hospital for two hours, Elspeth hit transition.
Transition is the stage of labor when the mother’s body is almost ready to push. Bradley classes! Thank you Hannah. (Our Bradley teacher.) Things that come along with transition are a temporary slow-down or stall in the contractions, feelings of fear or “I can’t do this”, uncertainty in the mother, and fatigue. Elspeth’s transition was textbook. She had been so strong through all of the early and hard labor that it surprised me when she said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” But then it hit me – this was transition. I knew right then that we were close. She had wanted, from the very first, to have a natural, unmedicated birth. She looked at me and said, “I don’t think I can do this – I want the epidural.” We had talked about this before, especially with the way that our first birth went, and she and I had agreed that if she asked for an epidural, I’d have to coach her out of it unless she really needed it. That was a little bit of pressure – having to determine for someone else whether or not they really needed it. When she asked for it the first time, Abigail and I just brushed it off and said, “Nah, you’re doing great! You don’t need that.” She asked for it again. Then I said, “We’re not going to let you ask for that unless you really need it.” Elspeth shot back with “Epidural, epidural, epidural!” (Think “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!”) So in a last-ditch coaching effort I said, “Just hang on a minute. We can let the doctor check to see how close you are before we go for the epidural.” The doctor came in. She was at 10 cm with almost no lip. The doctor just said, “Well, you’re ready to have this baby, I think.” I could see the relief spread across my wife’s face as she got the okay to push.
Our son was delivered as a c-section after almost 20 hours of hard labor. So this is the part of the story that was wildly new and different from last time. Elspeth, after being told that it was okay to push, looked up at the doctor and was visibly elated. Immediately, she kind of smiled and said with a half laugh, “Will you tell me what to do, because I’ve never done this part before.” The doctor smiled and said she would. Elspeth was a trooper. She pushed and pushed and bore down. She tucked her head to her chest, and with a little encouragement, she pushed that baby out. Each time she pushed, we could see the baby getting closer. Eventually the top of the head was visible, and she had to take a little break; and then got right back into it. The pushing didn’t take long, but halfway through, the baby turned her shoulders and this caused some hard tearing. Ultimately it happened fast (comparatively), and it was beautiful and amazing.
The aftermath already seems like a bit of a blur. First thing was, due to the meconium, the baby was a little sluggish and they intubated her for suction to help clear her lungs and get her to respond a little better. It didn’t take long, though, and she was soon rosy and crying (like you do) while they weighed and measured and poked her. (Being a newborn must be annoying.) The great thing was that we never left the room. They had a NICU station right in the delivery room, and were able perform the suction and all their tests with me right there while Elspeth was recovering and getting a “few” stitches. Abigail did her best to tell jokes and keep Elspeth distracted while they addressed her tear. She says that hurt more than the actual giving birth. Less than 15 minutes after she was born, Cora was resting peacefully on her mother’s chest and getting to know us.
We entered with a little trepidation at around 11:15 p.m., because of what the last time was like, but by 2 a.m. we had a baby, naturally delivered, healthy and safe resting with her mother. It was wonderful.