I actually dreamed of getting to give a blog post this title, and the day has come.
(This is a long post. You’ve been warned.)
Our son was born last week after a tiring cycle of ups and downs. I’ve hardly caught up on my sleep with having a newborn and a toddler under the same roof now, and my memories of his delivery have been swirling back up in chunks, but here’s the story:
The first question most people ask when you explain your labor is, “How long did it take?” It’s hard for me to answer that because my labor with Adrian was spread out over several weeks. At week 37, I was dilated to 4cm, 60% effaced. My OB didn’t expect to see me again after this appointment, but I still kept my schedule with him. At 39 weeks, he checked me again and found me to be dilated to 5cm with 70% effacement. He scraped my membranes at this appointment, and I left feeling a bit nauseous. On the way out, I stopped off at my acupuncturist’s office. We made an appointment for the following morning at 10:30am, assuming I didn’t have a new baby before then.
I went home feeling some irregular contractions, and decided to do some walking and bouncing on the exercise ball to see if that’d bring on anything significant. My contractions got stronger with physical activity, and came as close together one minute. However, they weren’t consistent, ever. I’d experience contractions every two minutes for about 10 minutes, but then I’d have one spaced out to three or four minutes apart from the one before it. It was frustrating, because I’d been trained to understand that true labor is exact; if your contractions don’t stay exactly the same interval apart for at least an hour, you’re not in labor. So, by popular definition, I wasn’t in labor.
I left a message for my OB’s nurse, and she called back and told my husband that though my contractions were not consistent, they were all indeed less than five minutes apart, and that my doctor would like to see me. I’d settled in to take a bath and do some meditation when my husband relayed the news, and I had fears about going back to the hospital. If this wasn’t actually labor, I’d be faced with another stalled situation like I faced when I went in for Kennedy’s birth. I didn’t want to place myself in a situation where doctors and nurses were pushing things on me. I didn’t stick to my birth plan before, but I was adamant about doing it right this time. If I never give birth to any other children, I don’t want regret to loom over me because I never had the wherewithal to stand up for myself in labor and delivery. I sat in the tub and prayed, I asked for a sign of something and got nothing, but ultimately figured I’d go back to the OB just to see if I was dilating anymore.
About 40 minutes later, I was back with the OB, and he confirmed I was dilated to 6cm. I’d dilated one more centimeter between seeing him late that morning, and at about 4:30 in the afternoon. I was clearly progressing through something, so my husband and I agreed to go down to labor and delivery.
Once in L&D, I began moving and staying in motion to bring back and keep my contractions coming. Maybe now they’d get consistent, my water would break, and I’d be pushing out a baby a couple hours later.
Five hours after my admission, my contractions stopped. I’d dilated a little past 6cm, but overall, nothing was happening. I requested a discharge, and the attending physician advised me that going home wasn’t a good idea. For starters, this was my second child, and labor with second, third, fourth babies tends to go faster than the first. Given that I was so far dilated, if my water indeed broke en route to the house, we could be faced with an emergency situation where baby is born in the car on the side of the road, or possibly at home. I didn’t want a home birth (or a car birth…). She also had a feeling that something might happen during the course of the night, and perhaps my baby would be born in the morning. We went back and forth for a while, but ultimately, I decided to stay the night. I still refused Pitocin as well as an artificial breaking of my water. I also declined all medicines offered to help me sleep except for Benadryl, only because I’d taken it prior in the pregnancy for the same purpose.
Morning came, and still nothing. I looked over at my exhausted husband, told him we’d need to go home, and asked the nurse for discharge papers. Thankfully, they let me go without a fight. I was already defeated, so I’m glad they didn’t come at me with swords raised. I felt embarrassed. I felt like a failure. I felt like I had let my husband down, though he insists that I didn’t:
We grabbed some breakfast at IHOP, went to my parents’ house to check in on Kennedy, and killed a little time before my acupuncture appointment. Acupuncture helped release some tension, and I felt a few more contractions while lying on the table during treatment. I thanked my doctor for his help and left for home. I needed a nap and a shower. I wanted to relish in the environment of my own house. I wanted to give my body a chance to do what it needed to do without pressure, though I’d stayed relatively calm through everything thus far. And I needed to find a safe space to just pray and be still. I took a nap and woke to my husband walking in with a fresh Cobb salad he’d crafted me (Cobb salads were my main craving during those last few weeks of pregnancy). We ate together, snuggled up to watch some TV, and then he asked if I’d like to take a walk with him. We took the dogs and decided to walk around the block a few times. My contractions returned, and once again they were close together. We agreed that if they came closer than three minutes together, we’d go to the hospital and continue walking around the pond there. We knew we were close, and we didn’t want to chance having our baby at home. I also told my husband that if labor stalled again, I’d take the Pitocin. He asked if I was sure, and truthfully, I wasn’t. But after two days of back and forth, my body was tired. I was tired. I couldn’t keep putting him through this. I just wanted it to be over.
It’s 5pm, we’re back in Labor & Delivery, and I’m even back in the same room as before. My mother showed up, much to our surprise, and decided to ride it out with us. I chat with the nurses about what had happened the night before, and I ask if I should just go onto Pitocin right away. The nurse admitting me advises that if I want to indeed stay natural for this process, perhaps breaking the water is a better way to go. Given how far dilated I was (which was 7cm at this point) that’d be sure to kick start things for real, and help me avoid the drugs. I refused at first – and this wasn’t because I had a logical reason for doing so – I was afraid. I used the excuse that having my water broken ruined my labor with Kennedy before, but that wasn’t an informed deduction of my process with her. When my water was broken with Kennedy, I had already been on Pitocin for about three hours. Pitocin is known to make contractions much more intense, so the pain I felt after having my water broken was indeed painful, but beyond what it probably would’ve been had I just had my water broken on its own. Another more glaring reality that I didn’t want to face: The water would have to break at some point, regardless. Delaying having my water broken was like delaying the inevitable end that I claimed to want so bad. Labor hurts, Antoinette, and you said you wanted to do this, so just do it. Thank you, internal voice. Once again, you knew exactly what to say.
I had to wait two hours to have the doctor come break my water. A host of other pregnant women came in around the same time as I did, but they were all progressing through their labors and required immediate care. I sat and waited, and waited, and waited. I got frustrated with myself again, snapped at the nurse whose fault it wasn’t, and finally got the doctor to “crochet hook“ my amniotic sack. “This is when shit gets real,” I whispered to my husband. My mother nodded…
Hour One of Dry Labor:
The first few contractions weren’t so bad, but by the fourth one, I was feeling it. They were about five minutes apart, so I had some time to rest and crack jokes in between them, but they were rough when they hit. I coped by squeezing my husband’s hands and practicing slow breathing. “This isn’t so bad,” I thought, but I was nowhere near the peak of what was coming.
Hour Two of Dry Labor:
At this point, I’m sitting on my exercise ball exclusively. Somehow, the ball helped alleviate some of the pressure in my back. Not by much. Pain was at level 10 at this point during contractions, and I was feeling extremely nauseous. The contractions were also lasting longer, making them harder to endure. I squeezed my husband’s hands, and my mom did things like apply lip balm to my lips and pass me drinks when I asked.
About an hour and a half after my water was broken, the nausea became so bad that…I vomited. Everything hurt so bad, and I’d been pounding clear juices and water to stay hydrated. The breathing I had to do to cope with each contraction left me with dry mouth, and my once freezing hospital room suddenly felt like a sauna. I had to pee at one point, and the walk from the exercise ball to the bathroom felt like miles. Despite what others had said, laboring on the toilet wasn’t any more comfortable. Get me back to my ball I thought. Walking hurt; gravity turned my level 10 pain into 11, and I just couldn’t do it. I shuffled back to the ball as quickly as I could after peeing. The mesh panties and pad they’d given me to wear were soaked in amniotic fluid. I asked for a change, but ultimately decided that I’d just stay commando. They’d only be in the way later.
I remember speaking to the nurse between contractions and not finishing my sentence before the next one hit. Nothing had really been textbook up to this point, but I do remember reading very clearly that labor is progressing when the woman is unable to speak through contractions. I definitely couldn’t talk through these. It was all I could do to intentionally breathe. Around the end of this second hour was when I asked to be checked for progression. I felt more pressure in my pelvis, and was hopeful that perhaps I’d be there.
I was dilated to 8cm with 100% effacement. Only 8?! F—!!!!! The nurse told me not to be discouraged. I was progressing, these contractions weren’t for nothing, and my baby’s position had descended significantly since her last check. She told me to be calm and trust in this process. Fatigue was setting in at this point, but I nodded with her. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I looked at my mom, and my face must’ve explained it all, because without my speaking she just said to me, “You are almost there, and I’m so proud.” I couldn’t respond. I didn’t know how to feel. I just whispered ever so softly to myself, “I can do this…I can do this…” That’s when my husband whispered to me, “You ARE doing this, my queen…” My cracking heart healed over.
Hour Three of Dry Labor:
At this point, the physical and mental fatigue was taking its toll. I told my husband and mother repeatedly that I wasn’t sure how much more of this I could take. About 10 minutes after I’d been told I was at 8cm, I asked for another check. The nurse found me to be at 9cm, and I heard her call the doctor…”Doctor, she’s dilated from 8 to 9cm in 10 minutes. I think you should stay nearby.”
Is that a good sign? Will I breeze through this last centimeter quickly? Jesus, please, if there was EVER a time for you to step in and save me, it is now. Please…
They left me in the bed at this point (all these “checks” you’re reading about are happening in the hospital bed – not on the ball). It’s not the most comfortable place to be, but nothing really is anymore. From this vantage point, I can see my mom’s face clearly, and my husband is on the other side of the bed, still holding my hand. The nurse quietly encourages me, and I keep hoping that the immense pressure I feel with each contraction is helping me dilate that much faster to 10. The contractions seem to be lasting longer at this point, but it’s hard to tell if they’re just longer, or if they’re doubling up. The nurse is talking me through each one by saying things like, “That was the peak…” “You should start to feel some relief…” “That one’s over…” Yes, I could feel these things myself, but having someone to “coach” me through these painful periods gave me something else to concentrate on. However, as I’m barely holding on to get through the peaks of these contractions, I catch a glimpse of my mom’s face as she’s glancing at the monitor and back at me. I see a look of panic cross her face as she views the monitor, and she looks away from me quickly. I thought, “Oh no. This is gonna be a double…yep, this is a double.” The contraction strengthens to its peak, lessens in intensity a bit, but then strengthens to peak again. This all lasts for about 90 seconds. I’m still breathing slowly with longer exhalations, but that measure is really just for keeping me calm. The pain is what it is and will not go away until this is over.
I gasp and whisper the word “pressure” to the nurse, and she decides to check me again. “You’re about 9.5cm,” she says. I wince. She calls the doctor again and says, “Doctor, she’s at anterior lip. Are you close?” quick pause “All right, thank you.”
“My wife pushes fast,” my husband advised, “so make sure the doctor is ready, please.” (Refer to Kennedy Faye’s birth story to understand why he said this)
Then she turns to me and advises that only a small piece of my cervix is lying in the way. Baby is in perfect position, effacement is complete. She advises that with the next contraction, I give a gentle push – she will attempt to pull the cervix up so that it’s out of the way. I pull my knees to my chest as she instructs, and give the best push I can. It was weak. I was out of energy. Oh, and if I didn’t mention it, I was in the worst pain of my life.
But her strategy worked.
The next part is a little blurry, but a lot of folks started showing up. A doctor, another nurse, a respiratory therapist, a pediatric nurse, and at least two other people associated with baby’s care upon birth. The end of the bed detaches, and my waist is suddenly at the edge. The doctor instructs me to pull my knees back, wait for the next contraction, take in a deep breath, and push with everything I have. It’s go-time, finally. THIS is what I came here for. C’mon, Antoinette, let’s get this done.
In come my knees, here comes the tightening of the next contraction, I take a deep breath, and start pushing. Up until this point, my noise level hadn’t reached much above a whisper, but upon starting the push, I screamed. I let out a feral, raw, maternal scream. I was that voice you hear behind closed doors when a woman is in labor. My entire bottom half seemed to be coming apart. My mom’s face was sympathetic, as well as impressed. She did this twice, and now I was finally getting to see what it was all about.
Another deep breath in, and another push. I gave this one more of me because I wanted to this part to just be over. Suddenly, it was as if the Earth was opening up. I saw the moon and stars, heard a symphony playing, saw a dolphin swim past, felt an earthquake, and oh my gosh, ring of fire, ring of fire, RING OF FIRE. RING OF FIRE.
I couldn’t tell how far I’d gotten, but I kept taking in deep breaths and concentrating on the push. Everyone seemed to be cheering. My entire body was trembling. I was covered in a cold sweat. I’d ditched the gown and was completely nude. I didn’t care who saw or what anyone thought; I just wanted my baby.
Somewhere amidst the chaos, I found my doctor’s voice. She calmly advised that I look down at my baby, whose face was looking up at me with two arms free. “Reach down and pull up your baby, she said.” I paused and looked to my husband’s face. “Pull him out,” he said. I reached down and pulled a slippery, slightly grayish blue, extremely warm newborn out of my own birth canal and up to my chest, and the post-birth euphoria I’d met last time pounded me in the face, heart, and lungs with unbridled, unmedicated intensity. This was the greatest moment of my life.
And just like that, it was over. Placenta came out, breastfeeding went off without a hitch, I got moved to a recovery room, and my family and I got to celebrate our new blessing. I’m still piecing together my observations after this experience, but having done this with an epidural before, and without any drugs this time, I’d have to say that I will choose the med-free route again if we decide to welcome a third child.I’ll be back to write more about second-time momhood later.