Disclaimer: I’m 11 days postpartum. I have a newborn. This is inevitably not up to my normal literary standards, but I wanted to get my story down before too much time passed and I forgot things. At the end of the day, birth isn’t perfect, so neither is writing about it.
At 9 months pregnant, we had a fairly chill 4th of July. I’ve never been a huge fan of the holiday, so when midnight passed and we weren’t surprised by an early holiday baby, I was pretty stoked. That being said, my due date was still 2 weeks away, so the thought of her coming was more of a joke than anything else; it had been engrained in my mind that “first babies come late.”
On the evening of July 5th, I started experiencing what I felt was an escalation in Braxton Hicks contractions. While I wouldn’t describe them as painful, they were definitely uncomfortable, and kept me up most of the night. As I had no other signs of labor, I figured I was just continuing to experience the joys of the late third trimester, and mentally prepared myself for weeks more of this.
By noon on July 6th, I decided to start timing my contractions, as my experience from the night before continued to get more intense. By 4pm, contractions were 7 minutes apart, and much stronger than before. They felt like bad period cramps, except more towards my back, and with a clear peak then drop off. I hopped in the shower for a bit to keep myself calm and try to get my muscles to relax.
At 5:15pm, I decided to give the midwives a call. I needed someone to confirm (or deny) whether or not this was the “real thing.” Sure enough, it sounded to them like I was in early labor! However, this could go on for hours, even days, so they told us to call back if/when contractions progressed to 3 minutes apart.
By 6:45pm, they were 5 minutes apart, so it definitely seemed like things were headed in the right direction. At midnight, I decided to stop timing contractions and try to get some rest. This was easier said than done, however, and by 3:30am (it’s now the 7th), my contractions were 3.5 minutes apart. I gave up on sleep and hopped back in the shower hoping to find some relief.
At 4am, while I was laboring in the shower, I asked Andrew to call the midwives and get an idea of if/when we should head to the hospital. They said to wait 30 minutes to an hour, if things remained consistent, then we should make our way to the hospital. We spent the next hour finishing packing our hospital bags and leaning over furniture every time a contraction hit. At 5am, I lost my mucus plug in the toilet, and by 5:15, we were on our way to the hospital.
We arrived in triage at 5:45am, where they checked me and found I was only 2cm dilated. My midwife explained that I was in what they call “prodromal labor,” which meant that while our baby was as low as she could be in the birth canal and I was 90% effaced, my cervix was not in the right position to give birth. We were given 3 options: check into the hospital immediately for drug-assisted rest, go home and continue to labor there, or take a walk and come back in an hour.
There was no way I was going to leave that hospital without a baby (or labor in the car any longer), so we opted for the “take a walk” option. In all reality, however, I ended up continuing to labor in triage, as contractions were on top of each other and there was no rest in between during which I could actually take said “walk.” At 8am, I was rechecked, and at 3.5cm dilated, I was admitted to the labor ward.
Once we got to our room, I labored on the birth ball, leaning over the bed. With contractions one on top of the next, the thought of moving felt impossible. I can remember Andrew asking me if I wanted him to go grab our bags from the car multiple times, but I wouldn’t let him leave my side. In that moment, it meant more to me to have his presence than any of our belongings.
It was at this point that I realized my birth “plan” may just fly out the window. While I’d always assured everyone (okay, mostly myself) that it was just a list of preferences, I had felt so prepared for labor because of my list. I’d brought battery powered candles and my diffuser to make the environment calm, I had requested low lighting and pictured myself laboring to the sound of Jim Dale reading Harry Potter, dressed in my own clothes. I was so determined to have a natural birth, and did not want to be offered any drugs. I was going to breathe through the pain thanks to the hypnobirthing course we’d taken (The Positive Birth Company). But labor is unpredictable, and babies enter the world precisely as they wish to.
At 9am, I was still bouncing on the birth ball when I felt a pop, then a gush. Having my water break on its own was definitely encouraging, and with each contraction, more and more amniotic fluid came out. By 10am, my labor nurse, Katie, convinced me to get in the tub for some relief. At 10:15, I had my bloody show in the tub. By this point, I was barely able to speak through contractions, and I was utterly exhausted.
At 10:30, my midwife came by to check on me, at which point we discussed pain relief. While I had intended to go natural, I knew that after 40 hours of labor, I was going to have to get some relief if I wanted any chance of being able to push my baby out whenever she got around to being ready. I was given Fentanyl, and by 10:45am asked for a second dose. While I’d like to say it helped take the edge off a bit, all I can actually recall it doing was making me throw up. I tried to stick it out a while longer, but by noon, I was completely resigned to an epidural.
I can remember Andrew asking me multiple times if I was sure I wanted an epidural before he went to find our nurse and ask for one. He knew how much I’d wanted to go natural, and wasn’t sure if I had lost my mind or genuinely thought it through. Through every moment of my labor and delivery, this man kept my wishes at the forefront and truly fought for me and stood by my side in every way; I could not be more appreciative of him, and could not have asked for a better partner.
At 12:30pm, I got the epidural, and after 42 hours of straight labor, was finally able to rest. At 1pm, once the epidural had set in, they rechecked me. This time, thank goodness, I was 8cm dilated. While things had not gone anywhere close to my expectations thus far, I felt proud of myself for breathing through 42 hours and 8cm. For the next few hours, I dozed off and on and allowed myself to rest as best I could.
At 5:45pm, while flipping sides, the nurses noticed meconium in my amniotic fluid. At 6:45, I was checked again and was 10cm dilated. By 7pm, I was pushing. After 30 minutes of pushing, things started to get complicated. While she’d handled labor fine, each push was causing baby’s heart rate to drop. They kept having me change positions, but nothing seemed to make her happy. When they sat me up in the squat position, my blood pressure dropped dramatically. I can remember suddenly not being able to hear anything and then throwing up. At some point, there was discussion of baby’s cord being wrapped around her neck, which would explain the drops in heart rate.
By 8:30pm, my midwife decided to call in the OB on the floor for assistance. At 8:30pm, I resumed pushing, this time with an OB down below, and the help of a vacuum. When we were told about the necessity of vacuum assistance, the OB explained that if it popped off baby’s head twice, a C-section would be required. On the first go, the vacuum popped off. The OB immediately assured us the vacuum wasn’t properly suctioned, this wasn’t the “pop off” she’d referred to. After a few more failed attempts, the OB asked for a different vacuum hoping for a better result.
Alas, she continued to have no luck with the vacuum. Despite the struggles with the vacuum, I continued to push with every contraction, and eventually it was decided that I may be able to birth her on my own without the vacuum. They had me grab my own legs and push with everything I had, and at 9:48pm on July 7th, our stubborn baby girl was born. I birthed the placenta naturally less than 10 minutes later. Apparently, my placenta was extremely small, which could be why baby decided to come so early. I received 1 stitch for a 2nd degree tear.
Throughout 3 hours of pushing, I kept my eyes closed and focused on breathing. I tried to remain as relaxed as possible despite the chaos surrounding me. My desire for as few people to be in the room as possible turned into 9 hospital staffers I’d never met. For 3 hours, I just breathed, and pushed. And somehow, miraculously, our baby girl was born.
She came out with the cord wrapped twice around her neck. It turns out she’d been lying “back to back” or “sunny side up” as hospital staff termed it, which means her spine was aligned with mine, quite the opposite of the ideal position to deliver a baby. This stubborn back to back babe explains the intensity of my labor with so little progress for so long, and why it was so difficult to push her out at all.
The doctor placed her on my chest for less than a minute before whisking her away to the NICU team. We weren’t able to delay cord clamping like we’d hoped, but Andrew did get to cut the cord. The NICU team had to help resuscitate her so she would start breathing normally on her own, and check her head for trauma after the dramatic birth. When they evaluated her, her Apgar score was a 3 (on a scale of 1 to 10, the higher the better), which was alarming. Baby girl spent her first 4 hours of life in the NICU; luckily, Andrew was able to go with her.
While nothing went as expected, both mom and baby are happy and healthy, and that’s all that matters. I am truly proud of what my mind was able to accomplish, and what my body was able to endure. I am completely in love with this perfect little girl.
9:48pm on July 7, 2018
5lbs 7oz, 20in