Elizabeth Turner shares the story of her empowering medication-free hospital birth.
Since having my daughter Avery two years ago, I spent a great deal of time thinking of how I would have changed my birth experience. Watching my sisters birth their daughters after me, and numerous friends do the same, I had come up with a small list of things I certainly did not want to take place, if I had the control. I truly wouldn’t change my experience with Avery – it’s all I knew, and her unique story sort of describes her personality – however, knowing I had a do-over with my son, Cole, I did have the opportunity to change some of my goals.
Natural childbirth. Most called me crazy; I had called my sister crazy. In my mind I had a failed epidural, so I knew what to expect; it would be hard, but I could do it. I was only correct about one of the above statements.
My labor started very different with Cole. I experienced prodromal labor for three days before the actual labor day began. All morning on Saturday, January 17 I could feel that it was the day. Avery and I walked at target for two hours with my sister Lauren and my niece Alaina, just to keep myself moving. I never had contractions – just typical Braxton Hicks.
When I got home, my husband woke up, which was weird for him as he works third shift. It was noon, but he was wired. I started having really lame contractions that I could time, but which weren’t painful. Ben, my husband, made me a tuna sandwich for lunch, and I immediately threw it up. At 2 p.m., when I went to the bathroom, I passed my mucus plug. I started getting excited! Contractions were still lame, but I was still so excited at the prospect of meeting my son so soon!
At around 3-4 p.m. the contractions, though still not painful, were increasing in length and frequency. I wanted some type of sign that this was it – that this was labor. There were so many moving parts this time; my mom had to come up from over an hour away to watch Avery, and my husband needed all of his time so he didn’t want to call out unless it was truly go-time. I decided that if by 6:30 I was still not sure, I would decide then.
At 5:30, I had an epiphany. I called my mom and had Ben call out sick. My contractions may not have shown I was ready, but I knew it was happening. I decided to shower and get ready. In the shower each contraction made me need to pee. I literally stood in the shower contracting and peeing, peeing and contracting.
When my mom arrived at around 7:30, I was in full panic mode. Contractions were still very bearable, but my emotions were not. Months of guilt surrounding this moment built up and overflowed. I was crying for my daughter, who had no idea how her life was about to change. But by 8 p.m. I stopped crying, and we finally left for the hospital. I remember texting my sister on our way, asking what the chances were that I would deliver before midnight – “Slim to none.”
We arrived at the hospital and got into our room at around 8:40 p.m. They hooked me up to monitor my contractions, and the nurse checked me. My heart sank when she said she felt I was only 2 cm dilated. She tried to sound positive, noting that with second babies anything could happen.
Part of me was angry. The only reason I had gone to the hospital so early is because I had tested positive for Group B Strep and knew I needed to get two doses of penicillin, though I really didn’t want to get any of it (and only ended up with one dose, defeating the whole purpose). I was annoyed because my original birth plan had been to labor at home as long as possible, and instead, due to the Group B Strep, I was here at the hospital already at only 2 cm dilated and 80% effaced. That’s the funny thing about plans though, isn’t it?
The nurse said she’d come back at 10 o’clock to check me again and see if they would be admitting me or not. The doctor still had not been in my room. The nurse asked if I wanted to walk around or go in the birthing tub. Not feeling like my contractions were very strong, I wanted to walk around and continue to get this labor going.
I did have to use the rest room, which is where I finally noticed my contractions getting stronger; so I labored there for a while. The desire to pee was still strong, and of course like any good labor, I had to poop as well. Each time I tried to move from the toilet I would get a contraction, which made me feel like I needed to pee or poop. It was a vicious cycle.
I finally peeled myself away from the bathroom and leaned against a window ledge, with Ben behind me rubbing my back and hips. He was amazing support. I paced back and forth through the hospital room in between contractions. At some points leaning over chairs, hugging or hanging from Ben; anything that alleviated some of the pain of the contractions, which had gotten noticeably stronger.
When the nurse came back in just after 10:00, she had me lie down to check me and see if I should be admitted. In an hour, I had progressed from 2 cm to 4-5 cm dilated. She said my cervix was melting away and that things were going fast. The doctor then made her way into my room to introduce herself and discuss my birth plan.
I mentioned not wanting any Pitocin at all should labor stall, and that I didn’t want any pain medication offered to me, and that I wanted to labor in the birth tub as soon as the penicillin was administered. I wanted to chose how and when to push when the time came.
I had specific desires for Cole when he was born. I wanted him immediately on my chest, and breastfeeding as soon as possible. I wanted to delay cutting and clamping the cord until it had stopped pulsating. I did not want any interventions within the first sensitive hour of his life. All I wanted, quite simply, was to bond with him as naturally as medically possible. That was my plan. Again, those pesky plans…!
When the doctor discussed the birth tub, she mentioned wanting me to be checked in 15 minutes to see if I had progressed any further before deciding whether I’d be able to go in the tub. Again, those silly second babies – things can change fast.
Our nurse walked down to the labor tub and filled it up for us. She brought in an exercise ball and turned on the shower. I felt a drastic difference in my contractions, but attributed it to lying flat on my back and unable to really work with them as I would have wanted to. At around 10:45 she checked me again, as my penicillin was finally finished. The hope was that I wouldn’t have progressed much so that I could labor in the tub; however, that wasn’t the case.
Within 45 minutes, I had gone from 4-5 cm to 7-8 cm dilated. The tub was no longer an option, as it was not meant to birth in. Once she disconnected me from the monitors, I was free to get up and move. As I tried to sit up, I got the worst contraction I had so far. I lay partially on my side, but still on my back with my legs awkwardly crossed. I was paralyzed. I joked that it was possibly the worst position to labor in, but still I never moved.
The contractions continued to come with crazy intensity. There was no gradual progression of the contractions getting worse – they had gone from very bearable to ungodly in an hour’s time. I knew this is what I signed up for. I wanted to feel this; feel my body, and trust that my body knew what it was doing. I wanted to trust that my baby would do what he was supposed to.
A friend of mine had given me the affirmations for birth, and I kept repeating one to myself – one that you all will recognize: “Vaginas do open, babies do come out.” I knew I could do this, but man did I underestimate the pain.
At around 11:15 I remember looking at the clock and thinking, “Is he seriously going to be born today? I can’t possibly be in this much pain for much longer, right? I can only have so much energy to breathe through these contractions.” I remember having to pee, but having zero energy to move, so I peed in a bed pan. I must have apologized 40 times to our nurse for random things – her having to hold a bed pan while I peed was one of them. I kept telling myself that I needed my energy reserve, and that it was fine.
Shortly after, the contractions felt like an earthquake running through my body. The urge to push was life-altering; I tried as hard as I could to breathe through the contractions and not push, but my body was doing it anyway. The nurse checked me again, and I was still only 8 cm at 11:30. This can’t be happening, I thought – the contractions have been stronger in this last hour then ever before, yet now is when my cervix takes a break?
The nurse offered to have the doctor break my water; “It may get more intense but it could speed things up,” she said. Though I had almost no brainpower flowing, I did have the right mind to say no, and that I would let it break on its own.
No sooner did I say that, I got another contraction that was so strong that Ben tells me the monitor couldn’t register the peak of it. It peaked three different times before finally going down. Toward the middle of the contraction, I couldn’t help it – I pushed. And with that push, my water broke. The pressure release was amazing, and actually stopped me from having another contraction for a couple minutes instead of right on top of it.
With my water breaking, Cole chose to surprise us with his first poop. I knew what it meant when there is meconium in the water, but nothing really prepares you for that announcement. The nurse, very matter-of-factly and with a little nervousness in her voice, said that the plan had changed a little, and that they were going to do everything they could to keep my birth plan how I had hoped, but if he wasn’t crying, some things may need to be altered.
She ran over to the phone, and called pediatrics to have a pediatrician in the room on standby. She checked me and said I was basically 10 with an anterior lip, and that I’d be able to push within five minutes. The pediatrician she spoke to was apparently rude to my nurse, because she told us when she hung up she wanted her to call her back when I started to push.
My OB was back in the room, nurses filled the room, and I got a contraction so strong Cole crowned without me doing anything. The feeling petrified me. The burning was so intense, and I didn’t know how on earth was I supposed to push into that sort of pain. Knowing that was how it would feel if I pushed, I couldn’t fathom having to do it again.
They hurried to get me ready to push, putting pads under me, moving the bed apart, and putting my body where it needed to be. My husband and one of the nurses held my legs. I felt a contraction coming, and they all told me to slow down and let it build up. I had no patience for that, though; I was about to lose my nerve. So I began pushing, and in less then 30 seconds, Cole’s head was out.
I took a breath, and continued to bear down. They all told me to slow down, but I couldn’t. With my next breath, Cole’s body was delivered and he was placed on my chest. Born January 17, 2015 at 11:48 p.m., he made it earth-side with about three hours of active labor and less than two minutes of pushing.
As we suspected, he was not born crying, as they hoped he would. The baby nurse still tried suctioning him on my chest to try and get him to breathe on his own. When he hadn’t, they asked Ben to quickly cut the cord. No sooner as those scissors sliced through did he take a big breath, and you could hear those handsome lungs. The pediatrician finally made her way into the hospital room, noting, “I hear a healthy cry and see a pink baby, what am I doing here?” Luckily, my baby boy was perfect despite him being a premature pooper.
The concern shifted a bit to me. This is where my understanding and memory of it is not as clear. I do recall the unbearable pain of my nurse putting all her body weight into my abdomen. I remember the doctor spending an awful lot of time after he had arrived. Some of my placenta seemed to have stayed inside of me, causing a lot of bleeding and clotting; so they hooked me up to pitocin to deliver the placenta, and more to continue the contractions to try to get the clots out. My doctor had to assist in this effort. Things were a little scary for a while, but finally the bleeding was under control. They kept a closer eye on my postpartum bleeding because of it, but it didn’t cause any further complications.
Finally, it was just me and my baby snuggling together. He searched for my breast and immediately latched on. He was awesome. We were taking guesses as to how big he was. We knew by looking he wasn’t the 9lb 14oz baby his sister was, but then again she was born at 42 weeks and he was born at 38.5 weeks. After our full hour of skin-on-skin and breastfeeding, he was weighed in at 8lbs 1oz and 20.25 inches. Ben was the closest as he guessed 8lbs even. He was truly perfect. We still couldn’t believe what a peanut he was!
Looking back on both of my experiences, one thing is clear to me: my epidural was numbing my vagina by the time I pushed out Avery. I may have felt all my contractions and pain, but my vagina had never felt pain like that, till I pushed out a much-smaller baby Cole!
If we are to ever have a third baby, I would 100% choose natural birth. Not because it was easier or because my recovery was any better, but because the feeling was so empowering. I could feel my body. I trusted my body. There was no doubt in my mind that my baby would be here and I knew that the pain would be fleeting. I am so proud of accomplishing my goal. Moreover, I’m so happy that my body allowed for it to happen. I know a lot of people who would have killed for that experience. Not everyone has the optimal birth experience, so I am extremely grateful that I was able to have mine.