40 Week Update: My natural birth story

Today is Mini Melbs’ due date. And he is already with me.

Although it’s only been 3 days since he arrived, I’ve already told this story a dozen times in my head, consulting with my husband, “Melbs” about the facts of what occurred. “Are you serious? Unbelievable!” It is still surreal and I cannot believe it happened. If there wasn’t a perfect baby boy sleeping next to me right now, I would tell you today that the events on Saturday October 4 were simply a dream.

Since there is so much detail here, I’m going to keep this post to just the facts: what happened and when. The love, the emotion, the tears, and everything that comes along with the physical aspects of childbirth will escape in later posts, I’m sure.

Cliff notes:
– Early labor – 6am to 2:30pm
– Active labor – 2:30-4:30
– Pushing – 4:30-5:51

October 4th 2014 – 6am On Saturday morning I awake to a familiar dull ache in my lower abdomen. It’s like a menstrual cramp, and I’ve had them each morning this week, hoping each day that they continue with some regularity– something that signaled real contractions– something that told me, yes, your baby will be here soon. And on this Saturday, I laid still in bed feeling the wave of this achey sensation, trying not to get my hopes up that another one will come. But it does! Just a few minutes later.

The doctors tell you not to come into the hospital until your contractions are about 4 minutes apart. Mine never started any further apart than that.

So quietly, yet filled with the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning, I tip-toed into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. I wanted to wait and give Melbs the good news only after I was certain something was happening, and after he’d slept in a bit more.

6:40 am – While making coffee, I feel a thin liquid trickle down my leg and make a small puddle on the kitchen floor. This is my water breaking, I was sure. I wiped it up, noting the time, odor and color, as instructed by my OB and called it in. She told me to labor at home as long as I could and to come in to the hospital after a couple of hours once the contractions became stronger. I went to wake Melbs. “Things are happening,” I told him with a huge grin.

9 am – I’ve been tracking my contractions with an app for a couple of hours at this point. They’re consistently 3-4 minutes apart but not strong enough (in my opinion) to come in yet. I call my mom to come down and wait with us, just to be sure.

11 am – After eating a hearty bowl of oatmeal and peanut butter (perfect carb:protein ratio!) I decide we should go in. The contractions are still “mild” meaning I can sort of talk through them but they’re definitely getting stronger.

To say we were excited to go to the hospital would be an understatement.

12 noon – We check into triage on the L&D floor and after hearing that my water has already broke, they immediately want to confirm. Because only about 10% of women actually have their water break before active labor begins, they seemed a bit skeptical that the bag had really ruptured. (Many people confuse other sorts of discharge, of which there are plenty! with water). The triage nurse swabbed me and left us for almost an hour while the lab downstairs confirmed what I already knew.

In triage, hooked up with matching baby and mama monitors

1:30 pm – The triage nurse comes back to us beaming. “Congratulations. You’re staying here,” she said, and handed me a gown and the infamous mesh underwear I’d grow to rely on over the next several days. At this point the contractions were strong enough that I couldn’t talk or pay much attention to anything else while they were happening. It was literally like, la dee da, I’m okay… just a normal person making conversation and then ——— ZAAAAAAAAAAAP, aaaand back to normal! During this time many forms were explained to me and signed only after 45 seconds of pain had passed through my body. What a hoot.

2pm – We are in our delivery suite. It’s large, with a flatscreen and a couch. There is a tub and natural light. I feel so lucky to have such a nice set-up and tell Melbs that he should relax and find the Giants post-season baseball game on the TV (assuming I’ll be rather dull entertainment for the next few hours). How perfect!

At this point, my cervix is checked for dilation for the first time all day. I’m 4.5 centimeters and 90% effaced. The doctor seems pleasantly surprised and says she’ll be back in a few hours to check my progress again.

Meanwhile, the nurses are writing my birth plan on a dry erase board:
“Prefers no pain meds if possible”

To be clear, I wasn’t totally opposed to the idea of medicine if I needed it. I just wanted to be sure I needed it and I wasn’t convinced that  I did. My two primary concerns against an epidural were: I didn’t wanted to be immobile while I labored. I wanted the freedom from an IV drip to walk around, to bounce on a birthing ball, to shower if I wanted— basically anything that would help me cope with the pains of labor. I wanted to truly feel the height of my contractions, determine if I could cope with them, and if so— dare I say relish in the full birth experience. And two, I didn’t want to be numb from the waist down when it came time to push. I didn’t want doctors and nurses telling me when I was having a contraction and when to “push!”… I just knew that it would go a lot better if I could feel and work with my own body.

Despite my preference, the nurses insist that we equip my arm with a saline lock– a placeholder for an IV just in case I want an epidural later, or if there are complications during labor and they need to give me something intravenously. Ok, no big deal. Except that I have small veins or something. The nurse decides that she needs to warm me up to bring my veins to the surface and wraps me in hot towels. They feel great at first and I remember noting that I feel like I’m at a spa!

But when the waves of contractions come every couple minutes I become claustrophobic and want nothing more than these damn towels off my body—NOW! The hot towels don’t do enough to increase my vein prick-ability and I’m instructed to take a hot shower instead. The shower feels wonderful. The sensation of hot falling water distracts me from the internal pain I’m experiencing and I hang out in the shower for probably 20 minutes. Melbs, (my hunky labor coach) meanwhile is on the other side of the curtain  sweating his ass off. Poor guy had to be miserable in that sauna of a bathroom.

Once I get out of the shower, the nurses are delighted to find that I’m hot and veiny and they can get the lock in place on my arm. Hooray. Show is on the road. (The funny side note to all of this, is that I don’t end up needing an IV at all. The silver lining was that the hot shower probably sped up my labor.)

3:30 – After the hot shower, the contractions get really intense. Something has changed.They are like menstrual cramps times twenty. No, thirty. I am breathing through them, eyes closed, visualizing the yellow chrysanthemum bush in my yard blooming. Gorgeous yellow flowers opening with each exhalation… down into my baby, into my cervix. I alternated between standing and rocking back and forth on my feet while this was going on, and kneeling over the bed. I keep motivating myself to practice good breathing. I tell myself that if I fight the pain, rather than work with it, I am only prolonging the experience. Each contraction is a gift that I need to make full use of— to get this baby out of my body quickly and without too much suffering. I am in. the. zone.

This went on for about an hour. It was totally primal and I don’t remember much of anything that happened outside of low-moaning sounds, rocking myself like a baby, and wanting to labor while sitting on the toilet so that I could fully “let go” down there (If you haven’t labored before, there are all kinds of bloody things coming out of your body throughout the cervix dilating).

4:30 – A new nurse, one named Rachel no less, comes in and introduces herself. Rachel is awesome, and she will be with me through the home stretch. I immediately let her know that my contractions are becoming more intense; that something is changing. She assures me that I’m doing great and that my doctor will be back in about an hour to check my progression. I tell her I need her to check now, so she pages my doctor as asks for permission to do so. (Apparently after your water breaks, they try to minimize the amount of times they dig around in you hoo-haw, wanting to prevent infection). The doctor tells Nurse Rachel to go ahead and check. I’m almost 7 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. “Okay,” Rachel says, “whatever you’re doing is really working. Your doctor is in another procedure and won’t be back for probably an hour but thinks you’ll be fine.” And then she gets closer to my face like a game-time coach and almost whispers, “but look— between you and me, I think you’re close. With the speed of your progression so far, I want you to remove any pre-conceived time frames from your mind and you just let me know when you feel an urge to push, okay?”

5pm – “Rachel, I need to push!” I get myself back onto the bed. My contractions hurt less now, and with each wave I feel like I’m dry-heaving from my lady parts. I hear a lot of women describe the sensation as feeling the need to poop… and I get that. But for me, it was more like a gag reflex. I needed to expel something but there was nothing ready to come out.

Rachel pages my doctor again, gets permission to check my cervix and I’m at 9.5 cm and the baby’s head station is +2… it was go time. Things start happening in warp speed, and Rachel begins paging people with her Siri-like pager. A bit of comedy I remember is that she kept paging for someone, but the damn voice dictation kept barking back, “sorry, I did not understand that command.” She finally gave up and ran to the door and gave a good old fashioned holler. Still no idea who she paged or why. Probably a back-up nurse.

Rachel rallies my mom and Melbs to come hold each of my legs. She explains how this “pushing thing” is going to work. To me, “Okay Rachel. I need you to grab under your thighs, tuck your chin towards your chest and when you feel a contraction coming on take a deep breath in, and then let it out for a count of 10… but NOT THROUGH YOUR FACE. Breathe it out, through your vagina, pushing as hard as you can. We need to do 3 of these for each contraction. Okay?” I was deeply confused about how I would breathe out of my vagina but said, “okay!”

The first contraction came along, and I took a deep breath in… aaaand blew it out right through my stupid face. I already knew I’d screwed up. Rachel told me that this time I needed to not open my mouth at all. No air shall escape my face. Okay. got it, let’s go!

In retrospect, I took this pushing advice too literally. In an effort to literally not breathe out any air from my nose or mouth, my eyeballs were almost expelled from my face. No, I am serious. My eyeballs were so swollen after pushing that I was temporarily blind and could barely see a foot in front of my face. Blind!

Anyhow, the pushing cycles continues. Although hard work, it’s actually a relief from “just” the contractions. Now I feel like all of this build up is about to pay off. For each contraction, I push 3 times as hard as I can, then rest in between. My mom and husband are each at my sides fanning me and telling me a great job I’m doing.

5:30pm – I am getting physically exhausted. I can’t imagine doing this for much longer. How do people push for hours?! I wonder aloud. No one responds. Some contractions begin to feel weaker and I refuse to push during those and instead opt to rest a longer duration. Rachel tells me that since the last two contractions weren’t as strong, I should prepare for a really major one soon. And it arrives. People start telling me that my baby has hair. I begin to feel like I’m actually doing a phenomenal job, and that this may almost in fact be over soon. Then all of the sudden, something is wrong.

Rachel shouts at me to turn over onto my side! 

“Why??” I ask—in alarm of course, and hurrying to my side despite the enormous discomfort. She says that the baby’s heart rate isn’t returning as strong after each push. Oh, god! I lay on my side and wait for whatever comes next. The heart rate returns steadily and everyone is relieved. The nurse sticks a more invasive heart rate monitor to the baby so that they can continue monitoring him more closely from here on out. Instead of a topical monitor strapped to my belly, it’s like an electric cord that they affix to the baby’s head. Yes, to his head….while he is still inside me. Despite the strangeness of all this, no one seems alarmed anymore. I roll back onto my back and everything resumes: contraction rolls in… 3 seriously long and painful pushes… nurse shouting orders, bulging eyeballs, panicked fanning of my face from my husband.

And then, a knock on the door. “Hellooo?”

It was my baby sister who had just driven up from school after hearing I was in labor.

Only 20 years old, and definitely inexperienced in child birth, I wish I could have seen her face when she walked into that delivery room. There was her decade-older sister, spread eagle with a baby coming out of her, and god knows what else. Between contractions, I told her she was “just in the knick of time!” and told her to start fanning my face. She got right to work.

I’m not sure when my doctor finally arrived but she was definitely there to catch the baby. I remember the fiery sensation of the baby’s head coming through and pushing 8-9 times in a row instead of 3 without stopping so that I wouldn’t lose my momentum when things were so close. It had to be over. No mind that I am out of oxygen and my eyeballs are literally bursting from my skull. Nope… just get that baby out. And then he was out.

Just like that. I looked down between my legs, and my doctor was pulling a body out of my body. I did it. There was my baby.

And he was perfect.

My sweet Max, born Oct 4, 2014 at 5:51pm

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