Ok friends … A few things to note before you dive in:
– Grab a cup of coffee (or tea, whatever’s your thing), and get cozy. I plan to be verbose in this post, and won’t be apologizing for length. So get comfy ….
– Many of you are my baby loss friends. So, as you might have guessed, there will be lots of triggers here in this post, from bump pictures to baby pictures. I’m not apologizing, as I’m beyond thankful to have reason for these triggers, but I want you to feel free to opt out of reading if you need. I know you’re still supportive, even if you can’t read all the details of our baby’s birth.
– I’m not crazy. This is appropriate to mention, as there are times in my labor experience where I seem a little irrational. So … I’m giving you the backstory here … A lot of backstory actually … So you can understand my reasoning behind some of my decisions.
So …. Without further ado … Ellie’s birth story.At 28 weeks, the contractions started. And they rarely stopped during my last trimester.
At first, our doctor said if we have 10 an hour, painful or not, we needed to be seen. Pretty quickly, we realized I would spend all of the third trimester in the hospital if we went by that standard.
Over the course of the next few weeks, my contractions got more frequent, at times every 2-3 minutes for hours. Sometimes they were painful. Sometimes I couldn’t speak through them. Most of the time, they were just uncomfortable.
One hospital visit, many NSTs, and several cervical checks all confirmed that while I was having plenty of contractions, they weren’t doing a thing to my cervix.
I had a cervix of steel.
I was deep in the throes of prodromal labor.
Now, if you don’t know what that is, it is basically labor that tries to start but doesn’t dilate or soften your cervix. They are real contractions … So “false” labor is a misnomer. It’s more like pre-labor … and can last for days, or weeks. In my case … Weeks.
With Maddy, my contractions also started at 28 weeks. Back then, they put me on bed rest and gave me terbutaline (a horrible medicine to stop contractions.)
But now, 8 years later, protocol had changed. As long as my cervix wasn’t changing, I was free to contract away and go about my normal life. (Ha!!)
At 36 weeks, I packed our hospital bags. Since I was totally unprepared for our hospital stay with Maddy, and literally had nothing but our phones, wallets and the clothes on our backs when we went in with her, I was determined to be more prepared this time. (And by that, I mean I would have at least my toothbrush and a change of clothes!!) Also, since HELLP Syndrome showed up at 36 weeks with Maddy, and we delivered just shy of 37 weeks, my brain went into “any day now” mode with this baby right at the 36-week mark.
As in … Any day I felt like our baby could be here. Every day, I wasn’t sure if the contractions would pick up or go away. I felt like I lived in one giant question mark.
At 38 weeks, and to my chagrin still very much pregnant, I had a meltdown to my doula. I questioned everything. How would I know when it was time to go to the hospital? How could I handle “real” labor if I couldn’t handle the fake stuff? I had only mentally prepared to get to 37 weeks, and always assumed I would go early. In fact, every week we got further along, my doctor did a sort of celebration that we made it that far. Each week was a victory.
And then I hit 37 weeks. And after that, every day pregnant felt like a failure to me (even though I knew logically full term wasn’t until 39 weeks.)
I was emotionally and physically drained. And super, super pregnant.Then, a day after turning 39 weeks, I had a great night.
I took a shower, and realized I hadn’t really contracted much all day. The shower felt amazing. I covered my body in Arbonne’s spa massage oil afterward, just because it smelled so nice and calming. I blew dry my hair, even though it was 9 something at night and felt ridiculous to do so.
I laid down to go to bed, and I just felt GOOD. I was so comfortable for the first time since I could remember. I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night to any contractions. And I awoke feeling amazing!
I had a busy day planned, but I felt so good, I took the time to curl my hair, put on makeup, and dress all cute. I went to mom’s group before my first appointment that day.
Some of my friends commented on how cute and well-rested I looked. “I feel amazing,” I quipped. “I feel like I could have a baby today!” One of my friend’s joked it was the calm before the storm.
This is just where they hook you up to monitors and watch your contractions, baby’s movement, and her heart rate. I had these twice a week since 32 weeks.
This time, the contraction monitor showed almost no activity at all. This was the first NST where there was barely a single contraction.
I was still in a good mood when I saw the doctor. Earlier in the week, I might have begged her for an induction. I might have asked to schedule a c-section. Earlier in the week, I was so exhausted and worn down, I was so desperate to get the baby out, I had completely questioned my desire for a VBAC. Why did I think my body could actually do something right in pregnancy??
But this day … This day I felt strong, resilient, and sort of like I could take on anything.My doctor said we wouldn’t discuss induction until I hit 41 weeks. Surprisingly, I was good with that. I didn’t take her up on her offer to check my cervix … As I cried the last time she checked me since I had made no progress. “Who knows,” she said. “You could go into labor tonight!”
As I scheduled my 40-week appointment for the next week, I had a few sharp pains in my cervix. I didn’t hide the pain well, and the alarmed receptionist offered to get a nurse. I assured her I was fine as I literally just finished seeing the doctor.
After my appointment, I headed to my parents to pick up Leyla, then headed back home to get ready for Ryan’s work Christmas party.Once we got to his work party, it was as if everyone wanted to comment on my belly.
“Maybe you should sit closer to the exit in case baby starts to come,” one guy joked. “You must be Ryan’s wife,” one lady gushed. “I just had to look around the room and find the belly, and I knew it was you!”
I told Ryan later I was glad he got to experience that part of my world. Where every comment made to me was about my belly and about any of my other interests or contributions to society. “welcome to my last 9 months of my life,” I quipped!
Dinner itself was pretty good … And I later moaned to Ryan that I wished I hadn’t eaten quite as much as I did.
Around 8 pm, we picked up the girls from my in-laws, where I joked that maybe I would have the baby that night. Which is pretty much something I said every time I saw them.
After the girls were settled in bed, I headed to bed myself. It had been a full day, I was 9 months pregnant, and had been out and about for more than the last 12 hours.
After awhile, I noticed a few contractions that were somewhat painful. I texted Ryan, who was playing video games on the other side of the house, that I had a few painful contractions. He told me he’d come in to be with me in a bit. I wasn’t too concerned when it took him awhile to join me.
When he came to bed close to 11 pm, he felt right away that these contractions were different. I guess I was writhing around a bit during them. Right away, he wanted to know if a I had been timing them. Which of course, I hadn’t. I had long since given up on the idea that timing contractions did anything other than frustrate me.
He mentioned that maybe we should go to the hospital. I told him that what we needed to do was pretend that I wasn’t having any contractions, and distract myself.
I insisted he start an episode on netflix, and we watched the pilot of West Wing. As I had a contraction, he would pause the show so I wouldn’t miss any of it … And because I was writhing in bed making some noise.
This annoyed me to no end because he kept pausing it so dang often. I finally just said, forget me, just watch the dang show!!! (As though he even wanted to watch the show to begin with!)
He was getting increasingly nervous about my contractions, and felt like this was probably the real thing. I in the other hand, did not think that this could possibly be the real thing. At the end of the show, he requested that I start timing them. I refused. So he grabbed my phone, and we started timing the contractions. The first two were 6 minutes apart. Then they stayed 4 minutes apart.
Around midnight, Ryan asked that we go to the hospital again. I refused, and said I would call the doula. The last thing I wanted to do was jump the gun, and get sent home with no cervical changes.
Crystal heard me breathe through a few contractions over the phone and deduced that I was coping well on my own and not deep in the throes of labor. I told her I thought I was in labor, but I’m sure she heard the doubt dripping from my tone. She said the best thing to do was for me to get as much rest as possible, and allow her to rest as much as possible so she’d have energy for labor the rest of the day. I think both of us assumed that, if this was the real thing, I would go slowly like most first time moms do. Tomorrow could be a very long day.
And so, I hung up the phone and told Ryan I was going to bed. He was dubious … But wasn’t going to argue with me or the doula.
As soon as I laid down, I fell immediately asleep. As soon as a pain came (which was often), I would wake up, writhe around, make some noise, and then instantly fall back asleep as soon as it was over. At about 1 am, I woke up for good and had to pee.
I spent some time in the bathroom, and each contraction caused me to make a fair amount of noise. At some point, I yelled for Ryan to grab me a bucket as I needed to throw up all of my dinner. Everything on the other end needed to clear out too. The worst contractions were the ones that made me feel like I needed to poop and throw up at the same time.
I felt like time was not passing, but in all I spent about 2 hours total in the bathroom.
Ryan, who had gotten almost no sleep, was groggy and not thinking super clearly. He wanted to respect my wishes to labor at home as long as possible, but it seemed that the contractions were getting more intense and frequent than he was comfortable with. He called Crystal (without asking me) and told her she needed to come. She heard me vocalize through some pain, and realized that it was probably time for us to head to the hospital. She asked if we felt safe laboring at home, and I overheard him say he no longer felt like it was safe.
By this time, I was still glued the toilet. I began bleeding heavily, and I told Ryan to tell Crystal that I had bloody show. He asked if Crystal would knew what that was (as he was clueless about it himself), and I assured him she would.
It was about 2:30 when he made the call. And until I saw the bloody show, you should know that I was in complete denial that I was in labor. I mean the contractions hurt like heck … Each one felt like someone was trying to pry apart my pelvis in my back … And sure they seemed frequent enough …. But I had gone through so much “False labor” I didn’t trust myself to recognize the real thing.
Ryan also calls my parents, and my dad comes right over. I had taken a brief shower after I finally figured out that I was legit in labor, because water is supposed to be good for pain relief. I turned up the water as hot as I could handle, and let it spray hard on my back as I leaned forward onto the railing, swaying my hips. I only stayed in for about 20 minutes as the toilet called to me yet again.
At this point, my dad arrived. Ryan was running around, trying to pack the last minute toiletries and phone chargers and the like. My dad, in the meantime, is overhearing my vocalization (just a low-toned, loud moaning), and starts to time my contractions based on my noise.
At this point, they were two minutes apart. My dad starts panicking a bit, as he is concerned about me having a high-risk pregnancy. “I do not want to deliver this baby at home,” he says. “She needs to get off the pot, and into the car!” He was more than vocal about his concern that I might pop a baby out on the pot.
Ryan, a bit unhinged by my dad (who is a medical provider) makes another call to Crystal. She assured him the baby won’t just pop out, and that nothing is wrong, and she’s only 10 minutes away.
Once she’s here, she tells Ryan it’s time to get me to the hospital. He tells me it’s time to go … And I tell him no.
(If you hadn’t figured this out yet … Ryan and I were on two different pages about how this labor was progressing. And I’m a bit hard-headed. Try to bear in mind that I have no idea of how much time has passed, or even how frequent the contractions were since I wasn’t timing anything. My birth plan had been to labor at home with a doula as long as possible, and so far, I had only labored by myself. I figured I still had a few hours of contractions still to go with Crystal here with me.)
Ryan emerged defeated from the bathroom, and Crystal told him to put on his bossy voice, and get me out of the bathroom.
So he came back in, and said “we’re leaving.” I told him I couldn’t get off the pot. He told me I had to. I said my bowels wouldn’t let me. He told me to get dressed. I told him I needed a bra.
“Rachel, this is no time to be caring about bras!!!”
Crystal could hear the ensuing battle, and finally just popped in the bathroom, much to my total embarrassment.
“Rachel, you are going to get up, you are going to put these clothes on, and we are getting in the car right now.” She had no problem with the bossy voice.
They both quickly got me dressed and ushered me out the front door, with my dad stopping us for a hug. (And when I say we went quickly, I really mean nothing was quick at all because I had to stop every minute it felt like for another contraction. So we moved as slow as molasses to the car.)
On the way to the hospital, Ryan, trying to be encouraging, said “Rachel, you are doing so good. I know this hurts, but you are doing great!” My immediate response (once a I could talk) was “Ryan, you have no idea how badly this hurts!” (I believe this was the only snarky thing I said during labor — although I know I was pretty hard-headed and gave him a run for his money earlier in the bathroom.)
As a contraction would come in car, I would press my back as hard as I could into the seat for some counter pressure. It wasn’t much, but it did seem to help some. Also, once we started driving, Ryan heard a pop. (We later found out it was a wheel bearing, as our car refused to move once we parked it and we had to have it towed from the hospital.) Overall though, the car ride wasn’t as bad as I expected.
We pulled into the hospital right around 3:30 am. Ryan ran inside to let them know we were coming in. Crystal helped me out of the car, and we slowly inched our way to the door, stopping often so I could lean on her and bend over during contractions. The lady at reception must have just been watching the desk for someone else, because she looked like a deer in the headlights when we arrived. She flustered around, had me sign a few things, and then seemed obviously relieved when someone else took over.
Since Ryan hadn’t called ahead of time, it took them a few minutes to get the room ready. I refused the wheelchair on the way in, and the second receptionist finally decided that we could get the rest of the paperwork signed later. (Smart lady.)
We get into the triage room, where I promptly decide that my efforts to preregister were for nothing.
Here’s how our conversation goes with the first nurse, as best as I can remember:
Nurse: So what brings to you the hospital today?
Me: [Looking at her like she must have just grown a third head. Was the answer to this really not obvious?] Labor.
Her: And what number of pregnancy is this for you?
Her: And how many kids do you have?
Her: And how were you other deliveries?
Her: Did you have a vaginal birth?
Her: And what about your other one?
Me: My other what?
Her: Your other birth. You said you had two kids.
Me: I adopted.
Her: OH. [Lights going off in her head]. So we’re having a trial of labor after Cesarean? And this is your first vaginal delivery?
Me: Yes. [Duh. It’s all in my chart.]
Her: Why did you have the c-section before?
Me: HELLP Syndrome.
Her, starting to visibly stress: Oh, well things are just getting more and more complicated aren’t they?
Crystal: At least we aren’t coming in with twins!
Ryan says the conversation was ridiculous, but he says I wasn’t helping things out by only squeaking out one or two-word answers. I have to come to my own defense and say my pelvis felt like it was being ripped in half. I’m not sure how to be a conversationalist in that moment.
The first order of business was to get a pee sample. I tell her the baby feels like it’s coming out. She looks at me like I’m crazy, and tells me to go pee. Crystal tells me she doesn’t think the nurse is used to people coming in as far into labor as I was and might have unreasonable expectations. Crystal helps me to the bathroom, and I miraculously dribble out the liquid gold they so desired.
The nurse then tells me to undress and lay back so she can check me. Since the contractions were so frequent, there was no way for her to get in and out before another pain was on me. And laying on my back was excruciating. She says she couldn’t really feel my cervix well, but she thinks I was at a 5-6.
Of course, we came to the hospital in time for a shift change. So before I’m even admitted, we’re changing nurses. And maybe, just maybe, I’m not so sad about that.
From here, things get really fuzzy for me. They get a hep lock started in my hand, but I don’t even notice. They ask about starting IV antibiotics, because I was Group Strep B Positive, but I refuse them, based on the fact that I knew this baby did not have another 4 hours of labor left to get those in.
Not long after I’m in bed, my uterus starts bearing down, taking me completely by surprise. “I’m pushing,” I sort of cry-yell. “And I can’t stop!” I was concerned about only being a 5 and pushing. At some point, they did another cervical exam, because I hear something about a cervical lip, and later I hear that I went from a 5 to a 10 in 30 minutes.
Now, it’s time to change rooms, and move me to a new bed in a delivery room because they are finally convinced that yes, this baby is coming, and I’m not just exaggerating things.
At this point, I can’t really move. Everything is so dang intense down there, it was like the rest of me was paralyzed. I felt like I was only half-present. I can’t really remember SEEING anyone’s faces — just this vague awareness that they were there. I remember them trying to get me to a different bed, but I think they just sort of had to pick me up and move me. I don’t remember rolling into another room, other than my uterus bearing down again, and hearing/feeling a pop of my waters breaking. They had me on my left side, and I stayed exactly in that position until delivery.
Crystal, during this whole time, was a godsend. Once she came, I no longer wanted Ryan at all, I just wanted Crystal. At each contraction, I had to hold her hand. If I did not have her hand to squeeze when a contraction came on, I would literally start to panic. After each wave of pain, she’d remind me to take several deep breaths to get oxygen down to the baby. Every time she said that, she reminded me that there were two of us in this process, and it wasn’t just all about me. (Which was what I needed to hear, because I kept forgetting there was a baby going through this with me.)
When my uterus pushed, it was this crazy, out of control feeling. I could feel Ellie’s head inching down, and I envisioned a dark tunnel that was opening wider. Every time her head went forward, it was the worst pain I thought I could endure. My vocalization went from low-tones, to high-pitched, and I began breathing rapidly — which Crystal tried to talk me down from. She kept reminding me to breathe deeply for the baby.
Eventually, someone told me the doctor was here. She said she was gong to check me. She put her fingers in, and got only up to her first knuckle before hitting the baby’s head.
At one point, I whispered (but it felt like I was yelling), “MY VAGINA HURTS!!!!” This of course was news to no one but me. Crystal says knowingly, “You’re going to feel a lot of sensation down there.”
“Sensation,” I think. “Heck no. This isn’t a sensation, lady. This is PAIN!” I keep my mouth shut at this point, managing the pain was all I could think about. I went completely silent.
“One more push, and she’ll be out,” they all said.
I didn’t believe them. Because I had watched a ton of documentaries and read birth books, and I knew pushing could take hours. She could start to crown and go back up. My uterus bore down again, and I tried my darndest to fight the stupid thing that was causing so much pain. “Stop fighting it,” they all told me. “Work with your uterus. Most moms find this to be the best part, to work with their uterus and bring their baby out. You can do this.” I didn’t believe them. This was for sure the hardest part of the whole process.
“Reach down and feel your daughter’s head. She has a lot of hair.”
I reached down, and first felt my swollen lady parts and thought, “Oh crap, what the heck have I done to my body???” Then I felt her fuzzy little head. This should have been incentive enough for me to push her out and meet her. But no, I was STILL convinced I had hours of pushing to go. (You know, at some point you would think that I would learn …)
“Just one more. . . ” they kept saying. My doula told me later she could have been born a good 10-15 minutes earlier if I had worked with my body instead of against it.
Finally, I realized that I had little choice at this point. She wasn’t going back in. We had passed the point where there was a little relief after my body pushed, her head descended a bit, then went slightly back up to a more comfortable position. We had passed that point of return. Instead, she was crowning, she was right there, and I had to work with my body.
With the next contraction, I did my best to push-not-push. As in, control the pushing a little more without it getting away from me. And that did it. Her head and body flew right out, and little Eleanor Grace was born at 4:48 am, just a little over an hour after getting to the hospital, and after 1-2 intentional pushes, and 5-6 unintentional ones.
They put her, bloody and all, right on my chest. At this point, I was naked, as I guessed I had refused the hospital gown when we switched rooms. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care who saw what. And I’m glad my skin was readily available to Ellie once she came. She was beautiful and perfect.
She cried for just a minute, and then calmed. They put warm blankets on her, and rubbed her a bit. Then she pooped all over me — twice. I didn’t care. I was so glad I got to see my baby right away.
I never cried. I thought I would gush, and I would say something super sentimental. I think all I said was “Hi. I love you.” And then about 5 minutes later, I told Ryan, “I am so glad we are never doing this again. If we didn’t get the vasectomy earlier this fall, I think this would have done it for me.” I believe I repeatedly said for the next several says, “I can’t believe I did it. I can’t believe I pushed this baby out of my body.”
She started rooting immediately, and my doula encouraged me to let her find her way to my breast. She did, and with just a little bit of encouragement, latched right on. I was nursing right away after delivery. I couldn’t believe how different this was from Maddy’s birth. I felt so attached right away. I didn’t want her away from me at all.
Our doula later asked Ryan how this delivery was different from Maddy’s. “Well, no one thought anyone was dying, and no one was freaking out … So there’s that.” The truth is, this delivery was a million times different and better than Maddy’s birth.
It turns out, I had a third degree tear. I won’t tell you what that is, but if you want to look it up, here you go. I also tore across into my labia.
I told Ryan, “I think I missed the part where I am so elated about birth that I forget the pain. I’m in a lot of pain.”
Not only did I have an unmedicated VBAC, but I also was now having numbing shots all up in my hoo-ha and yonder as my doctor stitched up skin and muscle. Gah. Then, I was bleeding too much, so they had to start a bag of pitocin. So my uterus is cramping up like crazy, I’m getting poked and sewn up in my “down-belows” … and at this point, I’m ready to ask for my epidural!
They offer me Ibuprofen.
I take the ibuprofen, with Ryan feeding me crackers bite-by-bite. I can’t eat myself because my hands are covered in blood and baby-poo. Then I request something stronger. This was no longer about me doing what I thought was best for baby. Now, I just needed relief! Percocet it was.
At some point, Ryan complains that he is really tired. I don’t remember this. But Crystal tells me I looked at him, and saracstically said, “Are you now???”
The nurses and doctor let Ellie stay on me for a really long time. Eventually, they get her weighed (6 lbs 7 oz.). They wait to do the Vitamin K shot until she was nursing, just as I asked. In fact, all of my requests were so respectfully adhered to, I was surprised. I was prepared to fight for food (turns out, there was no way I was eating anything in labor), to fight to say no to the eye goop (they just said, OK, and left it at that), and they never offered me pain meds until AFTER I had given birth — and even then, they just wanted me on ibuprofen.
All the nurses (except for maybe the first one) was amazing. Later, my nurse friend (who actually manages the whole department), said the delivery nurses said I was a natural birthing warrior.
I liked that description.
I’m not sure what I thought failure or success would be in laboring and delivering Ellie. I knew I couldn’t think of a c-section as failure, as I felt that way with Maddy, and it took me forever to accept the means of her birth as necessary and not my fault. Developing HELLP Syndrome or preeclampsia, or any other complication could not be considered failures.
I wanted to have as natural of a birth as possible, which meant no epidural … But I told my doula it wasn’t a hill I would die on. If having an epidural somehow meant I could still have a vaginal birth, I would gladly call for the anesthesiologist.
So I’m not sure that when I say that, with the exception of the tear, this birth was a total success that that can be qualified . Except that what I wanted more than anything was to be able to have my victory cry at the end. And you know what?