I don’t have the “Pinterest Perfect” images I thought I might capture during my labor and delivery (you know, a la Kate Middleton). But these images are invaluable to me and was all thanks to my amazing doula for being able to multitask. They are raw and real and capture the energy of the experience. What I’ve written here is not everything I remember from that amazing day; I could write more about expectations, conversations with my nurse and the choice to encapsulate my placenta. But those are stories for another time.
Well, I should clarify, this is not MY birth story, but rather, my son’s! *insert some serious side eye*
Like any lover of good stories, I love me a good birth narrative. It’s got great story structure built right in: an obvious beginning, middle, climax, and then an end. Even when I adamantly didn’t want children, I still loved this narrative. And it’s time I add mine to the history books.
As I previously wrote, my pregnancy was not easy — there are by far plenty of worse pregnancies out there — but I’m learning to not minimize and well, it just wasn’t easy. Because I was measuring so large, my doctor wanted to induce me. I was set to be induced on Wednesday June 3. I was to try to rest as much as possible and then I would get a call between 4-6am telling me what time to go to the hospital. I had a feeling since it was a full moon on Tuesday June 2 that I might not get a spot. (They don’t like to take patients after 11am.) And sure enough I got the call on Tuesday morning and she told me she didn’t have room yet, but to try to rest and she would call back by 10am to let me know. How are you supposed to rest with something like that weighing on your mind?! And the phone rang by 9am, there would be no room at the inn for this pregnant lady. So, now, I wasn’t scheduled to be induced until Friday June 5 as it was the next time my doctor was scheduled to be at the hospital. This of course was only one day sooner than my actual due date. I tried to be calm about it knowing that it would give little monkey time to grow, but growing wasn’t something that sounded appealing since I was measuring so large. It was all I could do to not let myself think about worst case scenario: being rushed into a c-section because the baby was stuck, because I was after all still measuring over 3 weeks larger than supposed to be.
From Wednesday to Friday I just tried to find my zen. I also tried to sleep a lot. I cleaned the house, listened to some hypnobirth meditations, double checked my hospital bag and just waited.
Friday morning, 4:15am, the call comes in. “Carrie, we have a room and be at the hospital by 5:30am.” Shit just got real. From this point on in the process it’s hard for me to get out of my head. Everything seems a little surreal. This is the last time we’ll ever be a family of two. Next time I come home I’ll have a baby with me. We’re checking into the hospital like it’s any other day. Just a Friday.
We get sent to our room and find out the floor is again full. (Interestingly, we discovered during my labor that this particular hospital delivers more than 1,000 babies a month!!!) My first nurse gets an IV line in me and I swear, that thing hurt/bugged me more than anything else during my labor and delivery. No joke. I’m feeling really happy at this point and making jokes with the nurse as this is what I do when I’m nervous. Brad has set up the room with music, a photo, and ready to dive into my bag of other essentials. I’m just trying to remind myself to stay present, but I was really nervous for everything to just start. Brad called my doula and she said to call back once they pitocin drip started.
By 8am, the pitocin was in and I was still happily sitting on the bed — still annoyed with the IV in my right arm (just above my wrist) — waiting for things to kick in. My doula arrives by 9 and I’m still not having contractions so the nurse says that the doctor is going to come in and check my dilation and manually break my water. The sweet doctor walked in and I’m chipper and making small talk when all of the sudden I think to myself, “oh, shit — I just peed a little!” I don’t say anything right away, and the doc begins explaining how exactly she’ll break my water and out of embarrassment, I tell her, “I’m so sorry, I’ll need to go to the bathroom first and I can’t hold it and I just peed all over the bed.” Everyone in the room looks at me like I’m crazy and my doula says, “Carrie! You didn’t pee, you’re water broke on it’s own!” You could have knocked me over with a feather. “Ooooh, so this is what that feels like,” I thought. Everyone got really excited because a quick exam revealed that I was 80% effaced and at least 5cm. They stopped the pitocin drip as I had gone into full blown labor on my own.
At this point I was definitely starting to cramp, but I just kept thinking, “OK, Carr, you’ve got to hold it together because we’re going to be in for a long ride.” My doula went to work and one of the very first things she did was amazing. She took a huge zip lock bag, like one for storing sweaters, etc. and she filled it with warm water. Since my bed was the ultimate transformer machine and I was seated in a “throne-like” position, she placed it behind me on my lower back. Amazing….even when not in labor. Seriously. It was so relaxing. I was trying to meditate and keep focused, but I just kept thinking, “This is so weird, I’m in labor.”
When I signed up with my doula, she asked me about my expectations during labor and delivery. I told her first and foremost I wanted a boss. I didn’t want to have to make decisions. Don’t ask me if I want “A” or “B”… tell me “A” is what we’re going to try now because of whatever reason. The second thing I told her, not at all joking, was, “My birth plan is survival”. I’m open to anything. I didn’t have a romanticized idea about what I wanted to happen during the process. I just wanted us to both survive and come out as least traumatized as possible. I know I wanted to try to do it as naturally as possible, but if I needed to take drugs, then so be it. That was my attitude before going into labor.
Here’s what I remember happening next (versus exactly what happened at what time. B was kind enough to keep a notepad and recorded all of that). The pain wasn’t bad. It was just intense, so Patti, the doula, had me move from my throne-bed to a birthing ball. One thing I did not realize — because I’m an idiot — was that you keep leaking fluid the entire duration of labor. I was a little weirded out every time a gush of warm fluid left me. Between my amazing nurse and Patti, they kept me in clean towels and so I never felt like I was sitting in a pool of soggy goo. I stayed on the birthing ball for a while. Patti and my nurse encouraged me to grunt or moan with each contraction. At first I was self conscious, but it only took a few big contractions to really get me to find my animal roar (or dying road kill noise). I stayed pretty zen when on the ball. It helped that Patti encouraged me to bring two pillows from home as the smell would work some funky ju-ju on my subconscious self. So I would bury my face into the pillows when need be and it also helped that most of the time she was giving me a hot stone massage during contractions. Things were intense but they were bearable… until they wanted to check my cervix. My poor nurse. She was amazing… except for when she was trying to check my cervix I would have another contraction… a contraction plus a hand up your who-ha equals pain. But we were making progress. But the pain was getting even more intense. Patti then suggested that I hop into the shower and sit on the birthing ball in there. Well, I know I said I wanted a boss, but I shouldn’t have ever moved. I kind of knew I didn’t want to be in there, but I thought, no, I’ll listen to my boss. It wasn’t that it was bad. It just wasn’t comfortable and I was weirdly self conscious but the worst part was that I had nothing to hold onto during a contraction, just an awkwardly positioned husband and doula. So I finally threw the flag and said I’ve got to get out! That’s when things cranked up a notch.
So back to the bed we go, this time I was to use a birthing bar. I didn’t even know those transformer beds have those! Essentially its an assist bar that is vertically connected to the side of the bed and allows you to pull on it while you squat on the side of the bed. Another quick check and everyone was really happy with my progress. So much so they started bring in all sorts of equipment to prepare for Baby H’s arrival. This was good motivation. I thought, “wow, I’m doing it; and I’m close!”
A sidebar — for 15 weeks prior to labor I had been seeing Patti about every 10 or so days for a massage. (I cannot recommend this (or her!) enough. Each week it was a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know one another. And because she’s been a doula forever, she’s great at her job. I loved each week hearing her success stories. She was so good as sharing the beneficial facts of having a doula, facts like most women will have short labors if you use one. Each week I heard of her clients delivering completely naturally in under 6 hours. She never pushed an agenda, but certainly knew it would encourage me. She was also very forthcoming with her clients that chose to use drugs and those that even needed emergency c-sections. But she knew it was good for me to hear that “what you want to do can be done!” ANNNND since I am a perfectionist and VERY compliant in these types of situations, I was ready to be her star pupil. I had no idea that all those other success stories were in my head and somehow turned from encouragement to expectation. (Thank you hind sight.)
Ok, so back into the delivery room. Bringing in the equipment charged me mentally. I was ready to birth this thing, so to the bar I grunt (I mean go). Yes, I was on one side of the bed squatting down on my haunches desperately holding onto the birthing bar while Bradly was on the other side of the bed directly across from me ready to assist my coming up for air in between contractions. Patti then was positioned behind me and would squeeze the snot out of my hips and lower back whilst in said squatting position. Each time I would rise and lean across the bed, Bradly would repeat some of the meditation I had written on a card. I was in a VERY deep “other” place as the three of us did this methodical routine for just over an hour. It was now around 1pm. I was getting tired of the squats and my lower back was REALLY starting to hurt not only during each “pressure wave”, but in the rest intervals. It was getting so intense that I could no longer “meditate” my way through the pain. It started to feel like my lower back was shattering from the inside out. My concentration had broken. This is when I knew I had to start making the decision — drugs or no drugs.
My nurse (who, by the way, basically stayed in the room almost the entire time with me) was telling me that it was perfectly OK to take drugs. I was surprised by my own internal resistance. I wanted a check to see how far along I was; I mean, they had brought in the cart already. A quick (and VERY painful) check revealed that I was 8cm! I was SO CLOSE. I began my internal battle: “Don’t be such a quitter. You’re almost at the finish line, just do it!” Mind you, what never entered my mind were things like: “An epidural can have complications; it could effect the baby, etc.” My brain at this point is into beating myself up. I was also going over how it had been 6 hours and I hadn’t been Patti’s start client after-all, and especially if I took the epidural. Mind you, during this decision process I was still having crazy painful contractions. It was hard to think straight. Bradly was telling me he would support any decision I made. (As was Patti.) I did have a moment of clarity and a little humor. As I let out another guttural animal noise, I was all too aware of just how loud I was and I looked at everyone in the room and said, “I’m sure the poor women laboring in the rooms on either side of me want to yell at ME and say, ‘Just take the F*ing epidural!'” So I did.
I cried a lot. But it was out of guilt. I felt GUILTY!?! I felt like I was cheating. I really felt like such a wuss. I just couldn’t take the pain any more. Everyone but the anesthesiologist left the room and in just a quick second the deed was done. I really don’t remember having the procedure. I don’t remember it hurting. I just remember having contractions by myself and thinking they will be over soon.
When everyone came back, all were breathing a sigh of relief. I cried as I talked to Bradly, told him how disappointed I was in myself and how I felt like I had let down Patti. Then without her knowing that, she said, “Good Lord, I can’t believe you went that long without drugs! I thought I was going to have to have an epidural! I haven’t had to work that hard in a long time!” This was surprising. Not only did she approve, she would have encouraged me to get one sooner but she knew that was a decision I had to come to on my own. It was also validating that for a woman who delivers approximately 3 babies a week to tell me that I was in fact having a very difficult labor. As I lay in the bed waiting for the drugs to fully kick in, I wondered how all the women in history did this without drugs. I was already feeling like a failure as a mother. Then I fell asleep.
I slept on and off for a while. I tried not to beat myself up too much. I also couldn’t believe just how good I felt and that I could barely feel anything. (I also asked for the least amount of drugs as I wanted to be able to walk soon after delivering.) Because I took the drugs I had to be hooked up to monitors for the duration of labor. I remember waking up and feeling rested and excited, but then bummed when I looked at the clock. Clearly my labor had stalled. It was late afternoon and my hopes of giving birth during the day was waning fast. I was glad that my OB was on call that day and so she came in to check on me periodically. The cervix checking no longer hurt. In fact, I could barely tell when I was having a contraction. Drugs are good. I then started thinking, “What took me so long?! Drugs are amazing. It’s like refusing to take tylenol when you have a headache because you want to power through it because you can. The reason women in the past didn’t take drugs is because they didn’t have the option! This is awesome!” Clearly things were looking up.
Throughout the day, Bradly was updating my family who had been patiently waiting in the TINY waiting room since about 7am. I was appreciative of this because I didn’t want to have to worry about playing “host” and make sure they were taken care of too. I do remember feeling terrible because my labor had stalled so much and all the rush and excitement of bringing the baby-catching cart in at noon had clearly dissipated. I tried to stay present to my own labor room and I became all too aware that this is really, really weird and I’m going to have a baby on the outside of my body soon.
My fantastic OB came back in for a quick check around 6:30pm and she said that she was between patients and so she just hung out at the foot of my bed and we just talked. It was SO NICE. We talked about her own two pregnancies, her work, her neighborhood flooding the weekend before during the crazy Memorial Day floods. We just made small talk (with love) and it was good to feel “normal” for a little while and not like my life was about to crack open and change forever. Just before 7pm she got a call that another patient was ready to push and she jumped up and coyly said, “Don’t you worry, I’ll be right back. This is her 2nd kid, so it’ll go really fast. Then it’s your turn!” Well Bradly took that opportunity to leave the room and go give my family a face-to-face update. You can see where this is going.
I was completely chill until my OB came back in the room, took a peek and said, “Carrie! It’s time to push!” What?! My husband is NOT in the room yet. She then told me that I could start pushing because I”ll be pushing for a while and and she’s sure he’ll be back soon. I said, no and that I’ll just quick call him and tell him to get back. When asking Patti to dig for my phone (which was put away), she said, here’s a phone — Bradly’s. He had been using his to play music for me and didn’t think to take it with him when he left. P-A-N-I-C set in. I could NOT start pushing without my rock beside me. However, the Dr. really wanted me to start pushing. I begged Patti to run and find him. So she rushed out of the room and a few minutes later came right back in, sans husband. She said she couldn’t find him! I thought I might crumble into a million pieces right then. There was a little debate about there being two waiting rooms on the floor instead of just one. Patti left again and I tried to hold back tears and I’ll admit — anger. Why would he leave without his phone!?!?! Just as soon as she left she reentered the room again, this time husband in tow. Apparently he had been making his way back to the room just as she left it the second time but he realized that if she was coming to get him that meant something was going on. He entered the room and immediately started apologizing. I think someone started giving him shit about leaving his phone, but I was already over it and leaving to go to my “other” place as the weight of my present reality became acutely into focus. Dr. B transformed the bed and started massaging my perineum and gave me pushing instructions. She told me to conserve energy when I wasn’t pushing because this was the hard part and, again, could be a while. Somewhere my subconscious said, “Really?! THIS is the hard part? What was I doing earlier then?!”
With Bradly at my left side by my head, Patti holding my left leg and hand and a new random nurse on my right side, I began to push. I was to push in sets of 3 for 10 seconds each. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, deep breath in, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, deep breath in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 and rest! During each set of 10 my Dr. was the head cheerleader, counter, and number one motivator. She gave me a few pointers on how to more effectively push and super-compliant me listened closely. On my second set of pushes Patti noticed that as I was pulling my legs back, hands under my knees, that my elbows were digging down into the bed. I remember her telling me to lift my elbows off the bed and kick them out to the side like chicken wings as I pulled back my legs and clearly that was the trick. On my third set of pushing Dr. B’s cheerleading octave got higher and I could tell she was pleased with the result. During my rest I purposefully closed my eyes. I didn’t want to look at anyway. I tried to not listen to the sounds in the room. I just tried to go deep inside and focus on getting the baby out safely. And it worked. I heard in the distance a little commotion and then an oxygen mask was placed over my nose and mouth. I heard whispers. I didn’t want to know what they were saying. I just kept focusing. Ok, time to push again, fourth set. Dr. B was again pleased and was really good at getting me to dig deep during that third rep of each set. I was getting tired, but was surprised at how “easy” this pushing thing was. This was NOTHING like the back labor I was experiencing earlier. Granted, I had drugs. I also remember that the new nurse on my right was doing a terrible job of holding my right foot…or rather NOT holding my foot. I had nothing to push against on that side. I briefly pulled off my oxygen mask to ask her to do it a certain way, but it was to no avail. She might as well have not even been there. She was actually bugging me way more than anything. I just wanted her out of the way. But I couldn’t focus on that. I had to block out her ineffectiveness. By the 5th set, Dr. B was telling me what an awesome pusher I was and she wanted me to teach all of her other patients how to push so effectively. The perfectionist in me REALLY responded to that kind of positive affirmation and I think I came out of my “otherness” for just a minute to tell her to keep telling me I was the best. (Oh, I am aware of my own crazy.)
During the 6th set of pushes, there was lots of excitement and more commotion at the foot of the bed. Dr. B then told me I was going to have a baby very soon. The 7th set came and she got really excited (she too was in the dark about the gender) and she said, “I see lots of hair!!! Ok, Carrie, stop pushing now. We have to get a few things ready.” I kept my eyes closed, breathed in the pure oxygen, and I could tell there was a baby between my legs. I could hear a new team of people fluttering around the room. This seemed to take forever. I mean, how long could I lay there without pushing the baby out? With the new team in place, and fresh garb on the Dr., she said, “OK Carrie, it’s time to meet your baby. Push for me one more time!” And with those words, I went deep deep inside, and thought of meeting my baby.
With one final exhale, I heard the cry of new life enter the room. I couldn’t believe it was over, he was out. It had been discussed from the beginning that Bradly would tell me the gender. I just remember as soon as he popped out, I heard Dr. B say, “Well, you’re not that big!!” and she laughed. It seemed like minutes passed and I hadn’t heard Bradly say anything and it was clearly too long for Dr. B too because she said impatiently, “Well, Dad, what is it!?” With that she held up my baby and his anatomy gave him away. At the same moment, Bradly was whispering in my ear, “It’s a Heston.” I couldn’t believe I had baby boy. A son. I am a mother… to a little boy! I just couldn’t believe it.
They immediately placed him on my chest to get him all cleaned up. I kept bouncing between wonderment and being overwhelmed. I was so tired. I thought my heart might explode as I lay there and look at him. My child. Mine. He was little of me and a little of my great love. He was so perfect. And he was SO TINY. He was NOT the worlds largest baby after all. We opted for delayed cord cutting and honestly I don’t even remember when they did it. They were busying sewing me up and tending to him and I was just floating in the strange place between gut-busting love and exhaustion. Apparently Bradly cut the cord. He said it felt squishy.
I don’t even remember delivering my placenta. But I felt like it took forever for them to finish everything that needed to happen so I might one day walk again. I vaguely remember someone asking if I wanted them to weigh him right away or wait a little while. I don’t think I understand what they meant because I was really anxious to see just how much the worlds biggest, tiniest baby actually weighed, but I also didn’t want anyone to take the baby away/off my check. Team members exited the room without my knowledge and the room grew more and more quiet. Heston’s little cry was so beautiful and aural magic. I don’t remember him going from being on top of my gown to under it and snuggling, but apparently that happened because we have the pictures to prove it.
I’ve never felt that close to my husband and just remember looking up at him, as he wiped away my tears, and saying, “YOU have a SON… we have a little boy.” I felt so proud and excited for him. I wanted all three of us to be snuggled up together. And that’s basically what we did. Bradly was camped out at my head and in several photos is clearly just in awe of what he was looking out. Our baby. On my chest. It was all very surreal.
Eventually they took him off my chest to weigh him and get his vitals. Little monkey weighed only 7lb 2oz! However, he was nearly 21″ long! And his head….that giant noggin’ was the reason they thought he was so big. During ultrasounds they measure the skull for fetal gestation. And when your kid’s head is in the 91st percentile, they think you’re having a huge baby!
I have no idea how much time passed, but Patti told me it was time to get that little nipper to latch onto my breast. I was already so unsure of how to hold him and what to do, terrified of breaking him; but with her guidance, he was latched on and I never wanted him to leave.
Immediately after giving birth I was glad I had taken the epidural. I don’t know that I would have been able to push so effectively if I had been working so hard during the hours my labor stalled out. I also found out that the commotion during active labor was that the cord was wrapped around his neck and his vitals would drop when I pushed. I’m glad I didn’t know that; but I also never felt like either of us were in real danger, everyone was just ready to spring into action if we were. Like a lot of vaginal deliveries, Heston’s little head came out a bit squished, but because he was a posterior baby (i.e. coming out face up) his little head was jamming against my spine (henceforth my crazy labor pain) and that created a massive cephalohematoma. Basically it’s a big bruise on his skull. (The Dan Akrord – Jane Curtain kind!) They are also known to cause jaundice — which he had to go back into the hospital for on day 4 of life. As I told Bradly in the days following, the bigger the bump got on his head, the more it validated my decision to take the epidural. But I’m just a little crazy like that.
Over all it was a very positive birth experience. For an induced birth, it was pretty text book. I will always be self-critical and think things could have been different knowing what I know now. But I also have to give myself a little grace and say, I did what I did with the info I had at the time. This was my labor and no one else’s. And it brought my son to me safely in my arms.
The crazy hormone cocktail I would experience in the immediate days postpartum kicked in almost instantly. The first 10 days of life were quite the wild ride that I’ll delve into in future posts. Other things I want to process are jaundice, thyroid issues, tongue tie, colic, acid reflux, breastfeeding, laryngomalacia, and how I’m learning to accept the child we were given rather than hope for someone elses’ experience.