I guess there are many places you can start a birth story, but this story starts in my bathtub.
Thursday night, 12/15/11, I was having a bath, soaking my swollen feet. I had just gotten back from a mom’s night out at The Cheesecake Factory, and I had a bad cold. I was 37 weeks and 3 days pregnant with my 4th child, an unnamed boy. I was texting with Nichole, my best friend and doula:
I slept horribly. I had awful heartburn from all of the food I had stuffed myself with at TCF. I would fight the coughing fits till I fell asleep, wake up having a contraction and go to the bathroom. Repeat x 50. I thought the coughing was causing the contractions, which were totally painless and only irritating because they seemed to make me want to pee.
When I woke up I texted her again:
I complained to John about the contractions too, but said “It’s not labor, I’m just contracting.” Then I got up and went to the bathroom. Of course when I was peeing 800 times in the night I had never turned on the light. As soon as I pulled down my underwear I saw the bloody show. What? For real? At 37w4d? I tried to tell myself maybe it was a fluke and it could still be days—but I knew that the last two times I’d had bloody show I had a baby in my arms before a day was up.
I called Nichole to tell her, and said I thought it would be a while, I was going to shower and get dressed and pack a hospital bag … because we had nothing ready. Like, NOTHING. Nothing. No bags packed, no car seat installed. I asked her to give a heads up to Julie, a friend and doula-in-training who was going to be helping with the birth, and Sarah, a friend and earlier doula client of mine, who was going to be photographing the birth.
I called my friend Cassie at 9:15 to see if she was free to watch the kids, and I told her I would call her back later when I needed her. I was starting to have a few pinchy contractions, and texted Nichole, who asked if I had timed them. I said I hadn’t, and that I was going to hop in the shower.
In the shower I had some contractions close together, and one that I had to lean over and let the shower pound on my back for. I started to get a little panicked that things were going to happen very quickly (oh, ha ha) and got out and called Nichole. I was whining that I wanted a “labor day” to hang out around the house and get stuff ready and things looked like they were going too fast for that. I wanted to dry and straighten my hair and I was having a tantrum because I didn’t think I should take the time – I should be packing up. She told me to straighten my hair, and asked if I wanted her to come to the house. I said yes. I also texted Cassie and asked her to come as well. It was 9:45 a.m.
I blew my hair dry and did a very quick straightening. If I’d known how much time I had I would have done a better job. Cassie got to the house and I sent John to the chiropractor—he had hurt his back earlier that week and I didn’t want him to be in pain that day. Nichole got to the house about 11:15, and I asked her to paint my toenails. This shows how much Nichole loves me, because Nichole does not like feet. I assured her they were freshly cleaned, and she painted them for me. Now that’s a friend! I let Dr. Tate know that I was still in early labor with contractions 5 minutes apart. He said, “Early labor? At 5 minutes?!” And I said, “Yes, they aren’t that intense. Nichole is painting my toenails. I promise I’m not about to drop a baby on her head.”
John had pulled the van out front so that we could install the car seat, so we did that. Then I asked Nichole if she wanted to go for a walk. It was GORGEOUS outside. At least 70 degrees and sunny, very unusual for mid-December. I was having contractions but they were very short and not super intense, and I thought the walk might help them move along some. We walked around the neighborhood and I narrated all the houses we were passing—here’s where this dog lives, these people homeschool, this house looks just like ours, etc. I had more contractions on the walk, some that I couldn’t continue walking through even, but as soon as we got back, they spaced out and shortened again. I kept changing positions—on the ball, on the floor, on the couch, moving around.
Texting with a friend
I laid down on the couch for a bit, and almost fell asleep but not quite. Cassie and Nichole and I were just hanging out talking, and Nichole tried to order food but the pizza place didn’t deliver until 5, so she ran out and got us Subway around 2. While we waited for her to get back, John and I took another lap around the neighborhood. I wasn’t sure where this labor was going or if it was going at all. But I knew it was Friday and if I waited much longer to head intown, traffic was going to be crazy. Nichole suggested that we do what I suggest to so many of my clients (an example of how much easier it is to dole out the advice for others than to think of it for yourself – this is why doulas have doulas!) and head to a spot closer to the hospital, where we could spend some time until I was ready. The place I usually suggest? IKEA!
What better place to test out your labor? There’s food, bathrooms, plenty of furniture, and lots of tiny apartments to play around in. Nichole let Julie and Sarah know the plan, and we headed out about 3:30.
I called Elaine on the way and updated her. I had gone about 10 minutes in the car before I had a contraction at all, and I breathed through it. Elaine thought things would go very quickly from here and if I didn’t go to the hospital, I wouldn’t have time for my GBS antibiotics, but I still just wasn’t feeling it. We continued on to IKEA, and got there a little after 4 p.m.
We went up to the restaurant, and John got in line to get us food. Although I had just eaten two hours before, I snarfed down a lot of it. The meatballs went fast and I asked him why he’d only gotten ten, and he said “I got fifteen.” Guess I was hungry!
Julie had gotten her signals crossed and gone to a different hospital, so we chatted while we waited for her, and John went downstairs to get me an Icee, but they don’t have them there anymore. He came back empty handed, and Sarah went and got me a to-go cup of the lingonberry drink they have instead. I wasn’t having very many contractions at all, but sometimes new places will do that. Julie got there, and we headed off to walk the store. We poked around the tiny apartments, and I had a few contractions here and there, but for a while we were mostly just joking around.
Just before sundown, Dr. Tate called me to check in. I told him that I still wasn’t ready to go in, and that I would call Tia before I went in so she could let him know. I had a contraction as soon as I got off the phone with him. As we continued to walk through through the store, the contractions started to pick up a little.
As we were walking through kitchens, I squeezed the drink I was holding too hard and some drink and an ice cube splattered on the floor. Julie thought my water had broken, and we all laughed (I laughed until I cried!) at the idea that someone’s water would break and an ice cube would fly out …
It turned out that IKEA was not only a great place to labor for the food, furniture, and fun, but also for the signage. We found many signs along the way that “spoke to us” of birth, and also, since we hadn’t picked out a name yet, we contemplated all of the strange IKEA-names that we found along the way. Skubb? Svalen?
When we got to the kids bed section, I was starting to get whiny wondering what was going on with this labor. Was it going to take off? Was it stalling? Should I go to the hospital? What was going ON? Nichole suggested, once again, that I take the “doula advice” I would give my clients—get lunging! Get squatting! I dropped into a deep squat against a headboard and immediately had a painful contraction. Sheesh. I have my clients do this? What kind of sadist am I?
I got up and did some alternating lunges, and then some chair squats, as Nichole laid in a bed looking on. I made Sarah take her picture since we have a long-running joke about pics of doulas doing ‘nothing’ at births.
We made our way downstairs, but the lower floor isn’t nearly as fun, and the contractions were starting to come more frequently.In the bathroom section we found a stool and I did some more lunges. I think it was here when another customer made some comment like “It looks like she’s in labor!”—the first (that I know of) to notice. At this point I was getting over it. We walked through lighting, and into pictures/art. I was looking for a specific piece. When I was pregnant with Emily I made a poster of my happy places. One of them was looking up into the trees outside of the church where I took prenatal yoga. IKEA has a huge wall art pic that is a very similar view.
I stood looking at my happy place pic for a while and then I said “I want to go to the hospital and get checked. I need to know what’s going on.” Nichole said “All right then! let’s go to the hospital and see what’s going on!” I just took off. Definitely over it at this point, I went right down the side tunnel of the warehouse part. We stopped to use the bathroom one last time before we all left. I commented from the stall that I still had a ton of mucus and someone said “we’re not alone in here!” Oops.
We got to the van and I directed John through the streets to the hospital, up the parking garage to level F. Nichole parked a few cars down, and Sarah just across, so they helped us haul the bags in. Across the bridge, up to the 3rd floor … it was surreal. Not only had I done this walk twice myself in labor, but I had also done it countless times to support moms at births. Who ever thought that I would feel—dare I say it?—at home in a hospital? Maybe not entirely at home but a huge difference from my first birth there, for sure.
I went to check in, and fill out the forms. The registration people were saying they would only let two people back in triage with me. (I swear they make up the rules as they go along!) If I only got two people, it was going to be John and Sarah, because she had the camera. Sorry doulas!
We waited for a while in the lobby and then someone came to walk us back to triage. I had a moment of panic as we walked in that a particular nurse that I didn’t get along with would be working triage. I was relieved to NOT see her. (I found out later that Dr. Tate had advised the nursing staff that it would be best if the two of us never even crossed paths—just one of the many ways that my birth space was protected.)
In triage I swapped out the pastel pink and blue monitor belts for the belts I had brought with me, dyed on my stove to a deep purple and navy. The triage nurse commented on how nice they felt and asked where I got them. She said she’d never seen anything like them. I had searched for custom monitor belts online and found nothing. It’s possible I was literally the first person ever to customize my belts.
I love this picture because it looks like I'm all Scarlett O'Hara. In reality, the damn light was shining in my eyes and I was trying to block it out.
She put me on the monitors and checked me: 5cm, 70% effaced, -2 station. So there it was. I wasn’t really surprised, even though I had walked in with Jack at 9 cm, I just didn’t feel that far along. I can’t say I was pleased but I wasn’t disappointed either. I figured I would probably have time for the antibiotics which would appease the peds and keep the drama to a minimum after the birth. Of course I knew my cervix was not a crystal ball (been there, done that, made the t-shirt!) but anyway, I was okay with the exam. I texted the info to Nichole who was still out in the waiting room—I had asked the nurse if they could come back yet and she was still insistent that they only allow two people back with mom in triage. I was contracting every few minutes and didn’t have it in me to argue with her that I had JUST been at a birth a few weeks prior where there were three of us with mom in triage. It was just going to have to not matter.
Sarah held up her camera so that I could look at the pic of my happy place while the nurse started the IV. It hurt. I hate IVs. Hate them. She got the antibiotics running, and I asked Sarah if she would go swap out with Nichole in the waiting room until I got moved to my actual L&D room. The nurse let me take the monitors off, so I enjoyed my time without them as I knew I would have to put them back on soon.
Around 8:40, the charge nurse came to take us to my room. As we walked out into the hallway, I could see Dr. Tate at the end of the hall. I immediately relaxed a little bit more. He met us halfway down the hallway (he told me to cover up my belly —“You’re in the corridor!”—pfft, whatever) and I had a really strong contraction. He joked with Nichole “Aren’t you supposed to be pushing on her back or something?” and I snapped “don’t f*ing touch me!”—she looked at him with a knowing look and said “See?”
We made our way down to L&D room 1. Of all the births I have done at this hospital, my own and as a doula, I had never been in room 1. As it turns out, room 1 is the OTHER handicap room. I gave birth twice in room 8, which is a handicap room, so it has no tub, just a shower. For this birth I had bought some tub liners and planned on insisting on at least some time in the water. I had promised Dr. Tate that I would not, accidentally or otherwise, have the baby in the bathtub. I could probably write an entire separate story about this so I won’t keep going, but suffice it to say, I was irritated to get the only other room in the place with no tub!
I put John and Nichole to work setting up the room for me. I may have not had a bag packed or a carseat installed, but at least I had spent some time getting the stuff ready for my birth. I had sheets for the bed and to cover the loveseat and rocker. I already had two sets of birth pictures with the hospital's ugly patterned couches and plain sheets and pastel monitor belts. This time I was going to make that room my own.
Last pic of the belly without monitors
My nurse came in and hooked me back up to the monitors. I sat on the ball for a little bit while everyone got in the room. My contractions were really picking up and hurting a lot. In my other labors I had gone from breathing through them to moaning through them but this time I added an in-between: swearing through them. Channeling Juno, I yelled “this f*ing HURTS!” through a bunch of them. And it was true. They DID hurt. Not that my other labors were pain free, but the contractions always seemed really manageable with breathing or moaning. I don’t know what was different this time, but they definitely felt much more intense than the other births.
Nichole was showing Julie and Sarah around the room. That’s the first thing you do as a doula in the room—open every drawer. Even if you’ve done tons of births at that same hospital, the odds are nothing will be where it was at the last birth, and you need to know where to find things quickly and also if you are out of anything. Then Nichole went to heat up her soup, and took Julie to show her where the pantry with the microwave was.
Dr. Tate came in, still in his suit. I was so glad to have him there. Without getting too sappy, I will just say that we really have a special relationship, and I don’t think I felt entirely relaxed and safe to labor until I knew he was there. I know my labor changed when I saw him in the hallway, and it would change again at another moment with him later. (Ooh. Foreshadowing …) He left to change into his scrubs. I didn’t want anyone gowned for the birth—obviously scrubs are medical, but to me the gown isn’t just medical, it’s surgical. For both Emily and Jack’s births, he had already happened to be in scrubs. I didn’t realize until I started attending births with him as a doula that if he’s in street clothes, he gowns when the baby is about to be born. So I had asked him to wear scrubs instead. He came back in scrubs … still wearing his bow tie. We all laughed.
I commented during a contraction that I couldn’t find my moan—where was my moan? I was just swearing, a lot. And I normally swear a lot so when I say a lot I mean a LOT! But with one of the next contractions I managed to find the moan. Again though, instead of “ohhhhhhhhhh” it was “owwwwwwwww” and eventually “nooooooooo.”
I have a really good recollection of labor until this point. And then I have a big chunk of time that is not linear for me. I moaned. I swore. I whined. I got down on hands and knees on the ball. I stood. I posted on ICAN (International Caesarean Awareness Network). I went to the bathroom several times. I went to pee, obviously, and also kind of just to get alone in my head for a minute or two and see where I was. I kept getting pissed at the toilet. The handicap toilets are TOO TALL for this short person!
Not to keep harping on the pain issue, but this labor hurt a lot more than my other two. After Jack’s birth I took a lot of flack on the ICAN boards for how easy labor appeared to be for me. ”We can’t all labor like Christine.” Blah blah blah. Well this time I had a much more typical labor. Slow early labor, active labor gaining in intensity, and then—TRANSITION. That’s where we were now. The oft talked about transition. And I experienced pretty much a textbook transition. I was having really painful, long contractions that were very close together, and I didn’t like it. I went into the bathroom (again) and had yet another horrid contraction on the toilet, and something in me just snapped.
I came storming out of the bathroom and I said “GET DR TATE. I want to be checked RIGHT NOW and if I am still 5 cm, I am GETTING the paracervical block and I AM NOT KIDDING!!”
Julie ran out to get him (I think she literally ran, they were back pretty quickly) while Nichole said “That’s fine, if you are still 5 you can get the PCB and then we will have to try something else—shifting, squatting, something.” I think she probably knew I wasn’t 5 anymore But she was humoring me, so that was good. As I climbed into the bed in preparation for the exam I started sobbing. I didn’t think I could do it any more. The doula/CBE part of my brain recognized this as transition, but the laboring mom part of my brain did not. I just thought “I can’t go on.”
Dr. Tate came in and checked me. I screamed. I don’t remember what I screamed exactly but something like “ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Maybe add some expletives in there, too. He said I was 8 to 9 cm, 100% effaced, -1 station. He said I could probably push if I wanted to, but I did not want to, I did not need to, and frankly that sounded like a horrible idea. Also it was only about 10:30 p.m. I had my first dose of antibiotics at 8 p.m., which meant I needed to make it to midnight. I said something about it and Nichole told me that the baby would come when the baby came and not to worry about it. I was worried about it though, I had it on my mind the entire time. Those antibiotics messed with my mind—it was much easier with Jack when I just got there too late for them.
I laid in the bed for a while after that. First on my right and then on my left. I was moaning through the contractions but in between I was still managing to joke around some. Everyone was hanging out waiting for me. They got the baby cart ready (I thought “I’m not even close to having this baby, why are they doing that?!”) When I finally got out of the bed and stood up, the next contraction that came I just scream-growled through. Like a lion roar, like someone who is at the end of their rope, like you would step outside and just scream into the night air. And it felt, if not “good,” much better than the moan. As soon as it was done I turned to Nichole and said “Don’t even say it. Don’t even SAY it!” I didn’t want to hear the words “That sounded pushy” come out of her mouth.
I was NOT pushing this baby out. It was not time to push. No, no, no. A few minutes later she suggested I try some “small, grunty pushes—if it feels good.” Feels good, hah! Nothing would feel good at this point. But OK. So with the next one I tried some bearing down with my growling. I grabbed on to the bedrail and bore down a little while squatting. It did actually feel better than than doing nothing. I still won’t say it felt good. It felt *better* than the alternative.
I moved from the bedside to the tray table, and I had my elbows on the table and I was leaning on it and doing little grunty pushes, and the resident said “it looks like she is pushing!” and Dr. Tate said “She IS pushing.” I asked them to get me the squat bar for the bed. I told Dr. Tate “Don’t open your mouth, I don’t want to hear it, just get it for me.”
You see, Dr. Tate hates the squat bar. He likes to say “Squat bar!? Whoever designed that didn’t know squat about squatting!” He believes that it puts you in the totally wrong position to squat. I really wasn’t sure how I wanted to use it. What I really wanted at that point was to get in the bed because I knew my water was going to break with one of these little pushes. He asked if I wanted the mirror, too, and I said sure, so they left to go find the bar and the mirror.
While he was gone I started ranting. “Now I understand why people get epidurals. Why can’t I be one of those people that gets an epidural, sneezes twice and out pops a baby?! Why do we do this naturally again?” and one by one, Nichole, Sarah and Julie started listing off reasons … ”hot spots” “no mobility” “low blood pressure” “itching” “stalled labor” “fever that they think is chorio” etc. The med student and resident were standing off to the side kind of looking at each other kind of like – “whoa… really?” It was particularly awesome to me because Sarah had been my student. She took my childbirth class—I taught her those things! I was her doula. And here she was using the info to reassure ME in labor. What goes around comes around, and all that. (I am not against epidurals, for the record. There’s a time and a place.)
Dr. Tate came back in and said they couldn’t find the bar, but the nurse was still looking. It couldn’t have been too long after that though that I had a contraction and grunted and my water broke with a huge SPLAT! all over me and the floor. Nichole put a bunch of towels under me and took off my binsi skirt. I kept my slippers on even though they were soaked.
Sidenote: I wore those slippers for all of my VBACs. And I realized later that even though it’s usually a wedding thing, for this birth I had something old – slippers – something new – lotus necklace Nichole had given me just the night before – something borrowed – Elaine’s binsi birthing skirt – and something blue – my monitor belt that I had dyed navy.
Dr. Tate came over and I grabbed onto him. He was trying to help me to the bed (they had found the squat bar) but I said “No. I want to keep hugging you.” So I did. I hugged him, and I relaxed, and I gave in.
The instant the next contraction hit, I dropped into a squat on the floor. He was like “don’t you want to get in the bed?!” and I was like “RAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWOOOOOOOWWWWWWW!” and he was like “Okay then. Stop hanging on my arms and put your weight against my legs.” He stood behind me, and I sank all the way into the squat, leaning on him—physically, but also mentally, feeling his support—and I started to PUSH for real.
And anyone who knows about the anatomy of birth can tell you that when you are pushing a baby out, if there’s anything else that may be sitting in tubes in that area, it comes out too So I am pushing and screaming but I am also saying to Dr Tate “I’m going to poop on your shoes! I’m going to poop on your shoes!” and Nichole was like “No you’re not.” I thought she was trying to tell me I wasn’t pooping, which I knew I was. But she was really trying to say “I see his shoes, idiot, you’re not pooping on them.” Finally he said “Ok! I will move my shoes.” And he spread his feet out a little bit so I would stop thinking about that and focus on pushing.
I pushed a few times and Dr. Tate asked someone to let him know when they saw the head. Nichole said “Not yet but it’s about to be that time.” And she suggested Julie take his place behind me so he could move in front of me to catch the baby.
This pushing did not feel “good” at all. It felt like that same crazy split-in-half feeling that the other two vaginal births felt like. I yelled “It burns!” and then they were telling me to pant. I really wanted to pant. I had two 2nd degree tears with my other births and this time I had reminded myself over and over to listen when they said pant. I don’t think I actually panted, I think I was blowing air out through my lips—but I was not pushing. And then I heard Dr. Tate say “Ok, push for the shoulders”. And I was thinking “The shoulders? That means the head is out. How can the head be out? It still hurts!” Again he said, “Help me out with the shoulders—push!” And I said, “Do you need me to lay back?” He said, “No, I need you to push the shoulders out!” So I pushed, and they came out. And he was out! He was born!! 11:29 p.m.—7 minutes after my water broke.
Holy crap. I birthed my baby in a SQUAT. On the FLOOR. With my husband, and my friends, and my favorite, amazing, wonderful doctor supporting me!
He had a nuchal cord which was quickly unwrapped, and then they put him straight onto my chest. He immediately grabbed a fistful of my hair! Dr. Tate rubbed him down with a towel, which he also grabbed. He really wanted something to hold onto apparently. I was just totally amazed and ecstatic.
Dr. Tate wanted me to move to the bed, and I was unsure how I was going to do that. He said “Just hold the baby and we’ll get you there,” and he and Julie lifted me to my legs and got me to the bed. It took a while to get totally on the bed—it was hard to move, but I eventually got up there and he checked me out for a tear. 2nd degree. Darn it! And I totally panted, too! The baby nurses brought me warm blankets and John came over to check out our son. After a while, Dr. Tate said “Is it ok if we disconnect this baby now?” and I said sure. According to the camera timestamp we got *twelve* minutes before the cord was cut. This was a different man than the one who had held Emily at the bottom of the bed until the cord was clamped four years ago, and who had practically counted the seconds to two minutes to cut Jack’s cord two years ago!
So they clamped, and John cut. Then he checked to see if the placenta was ready to come out, it wasn’t. He asked the nurse to come massage my tummy, and I went off on another little rant about two things that should never be allowed to be called massage—perineal massage, and fundal massage. After the cord was cut and the placenta was out, Dr. Tate and the resident got to work repairing the tear. It didn’t take nearly as long as I remember it taking with Jack, which was good.
John came over and I looked at him and said “Holy crap. We have four kids!”
We did indeed have four kids. This one still had no name, though. We knew the middle name would be George, but we had not been able to settle on a first name. I looked at his sweet face, and he just seemed like a Brian to me, and I told John, “I like Brian. How about Brian?”
And so he was named. Brian George Strain:
(When we finally let them take him, he weighed in at 7lbs 5oz – a good size for me at 37w4d!)|
So, that is the story of Brian’s Birth. A cookie for you if you made it all the way through!
Huge shout outs to my fantastic birth team: Nichole Feinauer, Julie Gamull, Sarah Taege, and Dr. Joseph Tate