My daughter, aka Bumblebee for the purpose of this blog, was born on her due date - my brother's 26th birthday. I think it's pretty cool that, exactly 26 years after my mom was in labor for the first time, I was as well.
She was born on December 10 at 11:39 am, weighing 7 lbs 11 oz and measuring 20 inches long. Here is how she came into the world.
(Disclaimer: This is a birth story. It is not for the squeamish. It's not very graphic)
Many women have Braxton-Hicks contractions as their body prepares for birth. I'd had some in my 3rd trimester, but by 38 weeks they stopped entirely. At 39 weeks, I had no prelabor signs at all. I pretty much felt like I had just started my third trimester, and not at all like I was anywhere near giving birth. Most first-time moms go past 40 weeks, and I was anticipating to as well. I was hoping for the baby to be born at 41 weeks, so that my husband (Dude, for the purpose of this blog) could finish up his schoolwork and my mom (who planned to come up when i was 40w4d) would be around. It would be perfect.
On Sunday December 9, at 39w6d, I had some crampy contractions! Yay! My body was gearing up. I didn't think labor was imminent - plenty of women have prodromal labor for weeks! But I was happy to have signs of my body preparing. These contractions were a bit on the strong side, which was surprising, but not unusual. There was nothing regular going on at all, and it bore nearly all the marks of prelabor. (Prelabor is also known as "false" labor, but it really isn't "false" because it prepares the body to give birth.) I should point out that on Friday night I had 4 hours of sleep, and Saturday night I had 4 hours of sleep, and thus on Sunday I was exhausted.
My mother-in-law, father-in-law, and grandfather-in-law came to take us out to dinner at an Indian restaurant in town, and we returned to our place afterwards to eat potato latkes and light Chanukah candles. I was exhausted by 7 pm and wanted to get in bed. After they left, I went online for a bit, anticipating I'd go to bed early. Dude got a call from work asking if he could go in early and he said sure. As usual, I spent far more time online than I'd meant to, and decided to log off... when, at 9:30, I had a really strong contraction. At 9:40 I had another one, and DAMN! Both HURT, and radiated into my lower back. I checked a website an online due-date-club buddy had linked to a while back, explaining the difference between prodromal labor and early labor. This seemed like it COULD be the real thing, but I was so doubtful. Aren't women in early labor for hours, and don't they go to the hospital too early sure that this is "it" only to be sent home? I called my parents to ask my mom about it, since these were so painful, but she was asleep. I had a contraction while talking to my dad (at 9:50) and didn't mention it to him. Because, you know, if this wasn't "it," the last thing I needed was people bugging me even MORE about when the baby was coming. Another one came at 10, and then 10:15. I was extremely confused - why was I having strong contractions 10 minutes apart?? How many REAL first-time labors start like THAT? On TV, you might see births start with water breaking or someone suddenly going into labor, but that's TV. When you read birth stories, they feature women with pretty mellow contractions an hour apart, and then they pick up. Well, mine started off picked up, which confused the hell out of me. I didn't believe I was in labor, though. I knew of way too many moms who were in labor for days or assumed that this was "it" way too early. When you're in labor, you know. And I didn't know anything except for OW HOLY SHIT WHAT IS GOING ON. I did admit to myself that this COULD be it, but only 4% of women deliver on their due date, and this started pretty much out of nowhere. So I was great at convincing myself that I was probably wrong. i was very tense, and unable to use my relaxation techniques that had been working beautifully for weeks, because the pain was so much more intense than I expected. I told Dude to get as much work done on his paper as possible, just in case. He laughed. I don't even know if he took me seriously or not. I should ask him.
By 11:30, my contractions hadn't slowed down at all, and I was thinking that they might have picked up. We decided to start timing them and headed to Contractionmaster.com. We timed the first one at 11:39 pm. Little did we know that in 12 hours, we'd be welcoming our daughter into the world. Dude kept working on his paper as much as he could, and each time I had a contraction, I would moan and lean on my yoga ball and call for him. He'd come running, and I'd beg him to apply as much pressure as possible to my low back. He asked if I wanted to do a perineal massage to help my vaginal elasticity. (Seriously, my husband asked me that. This is why I consider him to be my soul mate.) We'd agreed to do this in early labor, since I have a very tight perineum and was concerned about it stretching enough. But I could NOT bear the thought of it with all those contractions. I said that right now was not the time*, leaned on my ball, kept moaning and begging for more sacral pressure.
*Actually it was more like "FUCK NO ARE YOU KIDDING ME I'LL DIE." (Labor, for me at least, was very caps-lock-y.)
By 12:30, my contractions were 5 minutes apart. I was shaky and cold and had so much pressure that I felt like I was about to SHIT myself. My pelvic floor felt like it was being ripped apart and I could barely breathe through the pain. Um, what? This sounded like ACTUAL LABOR. But it couldn't be. Could it?? I went to post to my online due date club and ask them what was going on, because how intense can Braxton-Hicks BE anyway? If this wasn't actual labor, I was going to DIE when that rolled around, because this was really painful. I never got the chance to read much of the follow-up thread until Bee was a few days old, but the posts I did read said that this sounded like it was "it." Somehow, I still didn't believe it. By 1:30, they went to 3 minutes apart. I was supposed to call my midwife when they had been 5 minutes apart and strong for 1-2 hours. Well, they had been, so I called, but I told her it started out of nowhere and I was really confused. She suggested I take a warm bath, and if it slowed things down, to get some rest. If things picked up, I should call back.
I called my doula, E, to tell her what was up and explained how hard and fast the contractions were. I asked her if I should call my mom - who had a 5-hour drive ahead of her and was supposed to be there for the birth - and tell her to come yet, or if I should wait a bit longer. I was concerned, because on the one hand, I knew that labors that began very fast and intense tended to be much shorter. But on the other hand, I didn't want her driving all the way up if this wasn't the real thing. (Let me also mention that she was just barely getting over the flu.) E said to call my mom, take a warm bath, and relax. I told her to go to sleep and that I'd update her in a bit. (She didn't. She got ready instead.) So, at 1:45, I accepted that yes, I was in labor, but it might still be a while. I didn't call my mom so that she could get some rest, too. I told Dude to get some sleep just in case, too. Hell, if I wasn't getting any rest, SOMEONE should, right? So I got in the tub. I couldn't stay in long. I didn't feel relaxed, and my contractions didn't slow down at all. And, to be honest, I kind of hate sitting in bathtubs. So I came out and woke Dude up. At 2:30 I called E and asked her to come over, and called my mom and told her to come on up because I was in labor. I guess I didn't sound very convincing, or tell her how intense it all was, so she thought I was still in early pre-labor and that she had several hours ahead of her. She rested for an hour and then left.
Contractions were still 3-5 minutes apart, and Dude scrambled around to finish packing the hospital bag with all the last-minute stuff. Everything had been packed except for toiletries, snacks, water, and stuff like that, but he did have some stuff he needed to get together - and of course, everything needed to actually be put in the car. But every couple minutes, I would scream out for him, hunch over the ball, and beg him to apply as much pressure as possible to my sacrum. By 3:30 E was there and helped me through contractions as Dude packed up the car. I am SO glad I had a doula, and that it was her. Words can't express.
The midwife said to come to the hospital whenever I felt comfortable. I was nervous about going too early and being sent home, but I was already past the point where the midwives' policy suggested I come in. We decided to stay home until I really felt like I would be more comfortable at the hospital. E and Dude continued to give me pressure on my sacrum during contractions. I tried some different stuff, but kneeling and hugging my yoga ball seemed best. I could not laiedown at all. At 5:30, the contractions were more intense, and my most coherent and constant thought was "I AM GOING TO SHIT MYSELF." I imagined the tub at the hospital and how much nicer it is than my own tub, and we decided to leave. Even walking to the car was torture. I was nervous about that 15 minute car ride, because I would have at least 3 contractions on the way, and they would probably be awful. Dude called out of work as we were on the way but couldn't reach anyone - uh oh! He was supposed to be going in early. Too bad for them!
We reached the hospital just before 6. We went in the wrong entrance (d'oh) and were stuck in the maternity waiting room. See, they said that after-hours, you can't enter through the front and so you go in through the ER. But the front was open, so I figured it wasn't "after-hours"! How am I supposed to know? So, Dude and E asked if I would be able to go back into the elevator and go to the ER entrance. I'm sorry, I'm an 80's child, and I have seen way too many sitcoms where women give birth in elevators. I told them that I'd rather give birth in the waiting room than anything else. I called my midwife (Kathleen) and had a contraction while we were on the phone. Within minutes, she showed up and brought us to the antenatal room so they could check out the baby's heart rate and stuff. I had a contraction on the way down the hall, doubled over, BROKE MY NEW SIGG WATER BOTTLE, and let myself be dragged to antenatal. This annoyed me, because did I really have to prove that I was in labor at this point? But I knew the 20-minute strip on the external fetal monitor was part of the process of birthing at my hospital, and at least they didn't make me lie down. The nurse was really accommodating and made sure that I was comfortable during each contraction, and that as long as the strip was decent, that would be fine - it didn't need to be perfectly 20 minutes or if I needed a break, that was okay. What a sweetheart.
Kathleen offered me a vaginal exam, which I had decided before that I didn't even WANT. When I said no, she explained that the reason she'd like to is so that she would have a better idea of what was going on throughout the labor, and of course it was up to me. Anyway, I changed my mind and decided to have one but not know my progress - because if I was 2 cm dilated and barely effaced, I would probably flip out. She checked me and said, "You really don't want to know? I mean, it's GOOD." Curious, I asked, and she said I was 80% effaced and 6 cm dilated. Well, shit! Since I was the only one in labor that night, Kathleen asked for the best room on the labor ward, and we went there. The tub was already being filled. I spent some time in there, and then moved to the bed and used the squat bar. Bear in mind that it was now nearly 7 am on Monday morning, and I had been awake for nearly 24 hours after 8 hours of sleep all weekend. Iwas exhausted. Exhaustion during labor isn't exactly a good thing - which is why they tell you to rest in early labor. Unfortunately for me, I pretty much skipped early labor and got right into it. We changed positions a lot, but using the birth ball seemed best with the sacral pressure. Changing positions felt like it was going to kill me because each first contraction in a new position was so intense.
Time was weird to me by this point. Dude, E, Kathleen, and the nurse (Barbara) were so awesome. I heard the nurses who came in and out of the room discussing my birth plan, telling each other not to offer me any pain meds and giving each other suggestions on how to help me relax and have the natural childbirth I wanted. Part of me was like "HA!" because so many people made me feel like I could NOT have a drug-free birth in a hospital, and that I'd be beating off the interventions - as if I'd be tied to my bed and forced with an epidural. This was absolutely not the case. I felt like I was the one in control of everything. So take that, bitches. I could not have labored in a better, more supportive environment. It was beautiful.
During each contraction, I tried to use my Hypnobabies (self-hypnosis) cues, and while I could not relax my body, I was able to envision my cervix dilating and opening more to let my baby out. This was an awesome thing to focus on during the contractions and Barbara really helped me with that. You could probably hear me from Timbuktu, intoning "OOOOPENNNN, OOOOOOPPPPPENNNNNN," in a low deep voice. Everyone helped me divert tension out of my face and body in order to just let my uterus do the work it needed to do. The constant conversation between me and everyone in earshot was: "I can't do this. I can't do this!" "You ARE doing it." "I am doing it. I am doing it. ... I can't do this!"
We called my mom intermittently, as I was anxious about her getting to me safely. Sometime in the 8 o'clock hour, she arrived as I was walking from the bathroom to the bed (with lots of support). I was so relieved to have her there, and she was an awesome addition to the birth team. Kathleen had brought a birth stool in, since I'd requested one on my birth plan, and so I got on that. In that position, the baby's head came waaaayyyyy down - and, as usual, I thought I was going to die. Kathleen checked me again and I was almost fully dilated at 8:40. She said we could have this baby any time now, and to push whenever I felt the urge (which I hadn't yet). When checking me, she said my bag of waters was right there. Some of it broke on its own, and some of it broke because she touched it by accident. She felt bad about that, I think. She guiltily said, "I accidentally broke part of your forewaters. It was right there when I checked." I kind of stared at her like a zombie and just said, "Okay." Some of the pressure was relieved, and the contractions and urge to push got extremely intense.
I didn't WANT to push. I was terrified. I was in so much pain, and so exhausted, that I couldn't do it. I literally could not do it. How could I do this? My body couldn't do this on its own. I was too tired. I couldn't handle the pain. I was going to die if i kept trying. My birth team was awesome at helping calm me down and kept reminding me that I was doing it, and giving me tips to make each contraction easier on me. We changed positions a lot, which was hard because I knew that first contraction in thew new position would be killer, but that the movement could help ease the baby out. Everyone kept telling me that the baby would be out "soon." I got pissed off about this, actually, because they wound up telling me this for 3 hours, and when you are in labor, 3 minutes can feel like an eternity.
I wanted to be on the squat bar again so badly, but I could not move off the bed sufficiently to let them set it up, nor could I move enough to even figure out how to get into a supported squat with Dude or E or Mom. I lay on my side for a while, with everyone holding my legs, and pushed. Each push felt like a train coming at top speed from my brain down my spinal cord out my sacrum, and made me think I was actually going to die. Kathleen, E, and Barbara helped cue me in terms of moaning. They said that I was too high and needed to moan deep and low, that the high-pitched moans would exhaust me further whereas the deep and low ones would move the baby out. This helped so much. My legs cramped up horribly and I switched positions again so that I was half-seated and half-reclined, holding my legs up, like a more upright version of the Bradley method semi-squat. I did not want to birth in this position. I wanted to be fully squatting. My body begged me to, but I couldn't do it, even with everyone trying to help me. They would try, and I would beg them to stop and leave me where I was. I was TOO TIRED. I couldn't give birth anyway. I was going to die. I had been pushing for hours already and was sick of all the "soon"s. It was after 11 am and there was no way I could do this. Kathleen told me I was resisting with each push, and I had to just let go and let my body do its work. She actually said this almost sternly, that I was holding back, and I had to be the one to let go. No one else could do it for me. I was really able to focus on her words (and everyone else's suggestions) and let them guide me. If everyone hadn't been supportive and awesome and known exactly what to say, I dunno what I would have done. I was so convinced I couldn't do it.
Kathleen tried using warm compresses on my perineum to relax it, but it was still really tight. She said there was one really tight band of muscles there and that she knew i didn't want to hear this, but we might need to do an episiotomy. I looked her right in the eye and said "NO. No. We can't. No." My midwife practice does 1-2 episiotomies a year - some places have a 75% or higher episiotomy rate. I did not want to be one of those 1-2. The whole practice is against it and feels they're unnecessary. Why should it be necessary for me? I was upset, but after I told her "no," she let it go and didn't push me and suggested other things to try.
The train sensations down my spinal cord suddenly got RIDICULOUSLY intense. I groaned deep and low as I pushed. Mom was grinning and telling me she could see the head and that the baby had hair (I guessed she'd be bald), but I felt her head going back up between pushes. This frustrated me. I said that I couldn't do it. Everyone kept reminding me I WAS doing it, and again I would echo "I AM doing it." Kathleen reminded me to LET GO during the pushing and not resist it. There was no more episiotomy talk.
(When E tells other people the story, she says, "During pushing, the perineum wouldn't open. The baby had been in the birth canal for a while, and there were some serious decels. So the midwife said 'let's do an episiotomy,' and this chick said 'NO! HNNNNNNGGGGHHHH!' And out came the baby!")
Somehow, at 11:39 am (12 hours after we started timing contractions), after several pushes, one ripped through me and she was coming out. I could see her head and it was not in my body anymore. Kathleen was doing something with her hands in my vagina - I don't even know what. I closed my eyes and I don't know how I did it, but she was out and on my belly all of a sudden. Kathleen told Dude he could cut the cord when it stopped pulsing. I was in a daze. I tried to move her close to me, but the cord was so short. I was so happy to see her, but I felt uncomfortable having her there on my belly, as it caused pressure on my short cord and rubbed against the tearing in my vagina. The cord stopped pulsing, the placenta came out, and I held my baby close. I was overwhelmed. I don't really remember how long we lay like that.
I do remember the nurse asked me about vitamin K - my birth plan specified that we didn't want erythromycin ointment or the Hepatitis B vaccine, but that we would decide about vitamin K depending on how the birth went. I asked Kathleen for her opinion, and she said that she would recommend it because Bee was in the birth canal so long and needed help coming out, and probably had internal bruising. I looked at E and asked her what she thought, since we were on the same page and I trusted her opinion immensely. She agreed with Kathleen, and Bee got the shot. She didn't really care. The same thing happened about administering Cytotec to me after birth. I could only remember from Bradley class that it was not a good idea before birth but that it wasn't as bad afterwards, without any clue what it was or what was bad about it. But since they both agreed I needed it due to bleeding, I went for it. It was really nice to have E there. I trusted whatever she said in terms of what would help me, and it was awesome to be able to ask her if something was a good decision when i was way too out of it to decide for myself. Knowing that she and Kathleen agreed set my mind at ease even more. I mean, if two women I trusted immensely to help me with decisions said the same thing, I felt very comfortable going along with them.
At some point, Dude took the baby and had skin-to-skin time with her. She was weighed at that point, and I don't really know what else was going on, because I'd had 2nd degree tears (but no episiotomy!) and needed stitches. I know that either my mom or Dude was with her the whole time, but I can't really remember what went on. I forget why or how or when she stopped being on my belly. But I do remember a grinning Dude pulling off his shirt and holding her close to him, and I remember being very out of it when I got stitches and woozy when we talked about my bleeding and Cytotec. Eventually E left and we got ready to head to our postpartum room. The birth was over, and I got to have the intervention-free labor I wanted. I felt empowered and amazed. My baby was out in the world, and now we were a family.
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