Tuesday, April 26, 2011: My due date
10 a.m.: Appointment with the midwife to discuss induction. I had no symptoms of impending labor, but a cervical check showed I was 1 to 2 cm dilated and 50 percent effaced. Despite my Grade III placenta, the baby's most recent bio-physical profile was an 8 out of 8, so she said it would be fine to wait a few days to induce labor. I was relieved to have a couple extra days—I feared that induction would be the first of many interventions that would lead to a totally medicated birth or a C-section. At the same time, I was so weary of being pregnant and anxious for the baby to arrive safely. Just for reassurance, the midwife sent us next door to the hospital for a second BPP.
12 p.m.: After being forgotten in a basement waiting room for an hour, the radiologist finally ushered us back for the deluxe ultrasound. It took forever. I asked about my placenta and he agreed that it was “done” and showed me the calcifications. My husband and I were getting hungry and cranky, so once the test was over, we left the hospital to go home and have lunch. (The hospital is only a mile from our house). We debated going out for sushi or burritos. Later, we looked back on that debate as one of our last moments as a carefree, childless couple!
2 p.m.: We were pulling into the driveway when the midwife's office called. She told us to come back to the hospital to have the baby. We thought there was some kind of mix up, but quickly packed the car, scarfed down some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and headed back to Labor & Delivery.
3 p.m.: I was officially admitted, rigged up to an IV and monitors. My midwife said the latest BPP was 6 out of 8, that the baby's breathing wasn't great, so it would be safer to induce labor than wait any longer. I was scared but determined; I'd do anything to get him out safely. She recommended induction via Cervidil, a 12 hour process that would hopefully jumpstart labor without the need for Pitocin. My husband made phone calls to our doula and family as we settled into our large L&D room. It was at the quiet end of the hallway and filled with natural light. I could see blue sky and the tops of trees stirring through the two large windows. My husband hooked up the iPod dock and started some mellow classical music.
5 p.m.: Mommy's first enema—a natural labor stimulant and the first of many minor humiliations. It was totally effective and probably helped me get over my last scrap of modesty.
7 p.m.: Cervidil administered. I declined the Ambien. I guess I was nervous and wanted to be aware of what was going on. Maybe I should have accepted it, because exhaustion became an issue towards the end of labor. We watched back-to-back episodes of The Office and began a long, sleepless night during which crampy feelings grew into recognizable contractions.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011: Guy's birthday
5 a.m.: By now, I felt like I was in labor. Contractions hurt bad, came regularly, and it started to sink in that they were not going to stop until the baby arrived. I paced around the room, managing each surge with deep breathing. My husband gave up on trying to sleep in the crappy recliner and helped massage my lower back as the pain intensified.
7 a.m.: The nurse withdrew the Cervidil, which did its job. I was 4 cm dilated and 80 percent effaced. By now, I was hurting bad enough to tell my husband that I wanted to ditch our all-natural birth plan. I imagined a long and excruciating day ahead and it seemed ridiculous not to get some pain meds right away. I said I was proud to have made it this far, and if it hurt this bad at 4 cm, I couldn't imagine 10. He convinced me to hold out a little longer, at least until our midwife arrived.
8 a.m.: My midwife called and directed me to eat breakfast, take a hot shower, and walk the halls. She acted like my contractions and pain level were totally normal, so I decided to stick with the deep breathing. The hot shower felt amazing and was just enough distraction to keep me going.
12 p.m.: Both my midwife and doula showed up at the hospital, and just in time. The pain was freaking me out and it was hard to think. Most of my HypnoBirthing techniques—deep breathing, birthing affirmations, visualizations—were starting to expire. I was completely encouraged to hear that my cervix was up to 6cm, which meant it was time for the birthing pool. It's really happening, I thought, the baby wants to come out. I clung to that thought for the rest of the day. They sent me to take another hot shower while they set up the room for water birth. I enjoyed the industrial water pressure of that shower for several more contractions. Looking back, I think each change of scene or distraction helped my my endurance.
1 p.m.: Climbing in the inflatable birthing pool was an instant relief. I could stretch out and soak or even float on my belly, which was more freedom of movement than I had felt in weeks. My husband kept the water temperature around 98 degrees by relaying buckets of water from the bathroom. He must have made 30 trips by the end of the day. I remember him playing all the Great Lake Swimmers albums on my iPod and the mood in the room (between contractions) was warm, quiet, and dreamy. My doula filled the room with the cooling scent of peppermint oil. The contractions were still dreadful, but I always had a break in between to catch my breath, drink some water, talk, reposition, and strategize about the next one. I never felt panicked or terrified; I never thought “I'm dying,” or “I can't do this.” Once I was in the tub, it felt like there was no going back. I think the water was just soothing enough to make labor manageable. The nurses checked the baby's heart rate every 15 minutes with a waterproof doppler. Knowing that his heartrate was strong was another huge encouragement to me.
4 p.m.: I got out of the tub briefly to be examined—8 cm dilated with a “bulging bag.” My midwife offered to break my water, but I chickened out. As the sky outside darkened, I could tell the wind was really picking up. I was already feeling the urge to push and I experimented with different positions in the pool. On one push, I distinctly heard a pop as my water broke. No one else heard it. I laughed.
5 p.m.: 10 cm dilated, or “complete.” I remember my midwife saying, “It's up to you now,” which was both empowering and scary as hell. I could reach down and feel the baby's head crowning. Our families were now gathered in the waiting room, taking bets on what time the baby would arrive. I know a lot of people were coming and going from the L&D room—curious nurses, midwives, various techs and students who had never seen a water birth. I was focused and didn't notice much, but later I found it interesting that no men and no doctors ever came in my room. From here, the pushing got pretty hardcore and I lost all track of time and reality. I felt like a performer on a stage in the spotlight—I couldn't see the audience, but I knew everything depended on me and the show had to go on.
After 2 hours of serious pushing in the pool, it was obvious that I was exhausted and struggling to breathe. The baby's head was coming out and going back in with each contraction. My midwife suggested I get up on the bed and into the stirrups so she could better see how to get the baby out. Funny how, between contractions, I was able to discuss this and walk calmly to the bed. The next phase is a complete blur to me. I remember everyone in the room cheering me on during each push. (“Cheering” is a euphemism for yelling.) My husband and my doula were holding my knees up by my ears. I remember repeating, “I don't know how to push any harder.” I could hear the midwives discussing the baby's position, my pelvic outlet, and all the options for getting the baby out safely. His heartrate was decelerating, the tension was mounting. I might have been scared if I wasn't so delirious with pain and fatigue. During the final, insane pushes, I could feel the sting of an episiotomy, which pretty much amounted to a bee sting compared to everything else I was experiencing.
7:51 p.m.: Guy was born. I opened my eyes when they flopped him on my chest. His skin was marbled white and red and he was howling. My husband was whimpering in my ear. Neither one of us could talk. I am just beginning to process the explosive emotions of that moment, but at the time, all I could feel was disbelief. He was so impossibly big, so complete. Over the next hour, my husband was able to cut the umbilical cord and Guy was examined by a respiratory team while I got stitched up. Soon, an irrational clarity and energy came over me as I realized it was finally OVER. I chatted happily with the medical personnel scurrying around the room. I asked our doula to go to the waiting room and tell the assembled crowd the good news. Meanwhile, tornadoes were wreaking havoc across Georgia and Alabama. Of course, nothing was over, but just beginning. I am still gazing at my son in humble disbelief.
So I'm proud to say that we had our “natural” childbirth, with a few unexpected interventions. But it wasn't the beautiful “blossoming forth” that I imagined. Those last hours of pushing were pretty brutal, and I can't say I recommend it. I think both my husband and I are a bit traumatized and dazed by the experience, but I guess all new parents feel that way to some degree. Without my husband, my doula and my badass midwife, I would've abandoned our birth plan. When people high-five me about how strong I am, I want to point out that any mama would walk through fire for her baby, that's all.
Guy Warren was born on the 27th of April 27, 2011, weighing 6lbs, 5oz and 21 inches long.