I am in awe of my body. I am amazed at what it’s done over the last nine months—and especially what it did on November 1st and 2nd.
My due date was Monday, November 3, and for several weeks we’d been hoping our girl would make her debut early. We were anxious to meet her. I wasn’t feeling miserable as many do at the end of pregnancy; I was quite fine except for maybe reaching a new level of tiredness during the last week. I hadn’t been having Braxton Hicks contractions or too many symptoms signaling labor.
However, I was 2 centimeters dilated by week 38, and the baby was “really low” so that was a good place to start!
The week before my due date, Jacob and I were trying as much as we could to get things moving. Walking around the mall, eating spicy foods, pineapple and mango (tropical fruits have a labor-inducing enzyme), etc. I even watched a YouTube video on acupressure. At my 39-week appointment (39.5 really) I had my membranes stripped and experienced mild cramping for a few hours that morning, but they went away. That was Thursday. On Saturday morning I had the same mild cramping going on, but there was no definite starting or stopping of the pain. It was just a constant background dull pain—until 10:35 a.m. when I felt a distinct start to a more intense cramping. It lasted 10-20 seconds and then ended. Could this be a contraction? The same thing happened 16 minutes later, and about another 16 minutes after that. I downloaded a free contraction-timing app hoping to watch the interval decrease throughout the day. To pass the time, I threw a little dance party in the nursery and cleaned up while singing and dancing along to Nicki Minaj and Jason DeRulo.
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Jacob and I talked about leaving for Nashville first thing in the morning (the hospital I planned to deliver at was a little more than an hour away) and walking around near the hospital, so that when crunch time came we would be closer.
By 5 o’clock, I was pretty sure I was at least in the early stages of labor. Some of my contractions were still five to seven minutes apart, but several would come as quickly as two minutes apart. There wasn’t much long-term consistency in the intervals, but they were averaging out a little less than five minutes apart.
After a quick phone call to the on-call nurse who said, “It sounds like labor to me. Being as far away as you are, I’d hate to tell you to just hang in there …” I told Jacob I don’t think our leave-in-the-morning plan is going to work. I can’t make it through the night like this. So we texted our dog-sitter and started getting bags ready!
The car ride down wasn’t terrible (thankfully we left when we did, and not even further along in labor). I had about 15 or so contractions on the way down, and I could feel them growing in intensity. Although they were getting longer and more unpleasant than they’d been all day, I was able to get through them silently by closing my eyes and breathing slowly. With every exhale I would consciously relax my muscles. I kept the word “melt” in my mind during each contraction, which helped a lot.
By 8 p.m. on Saturday evening we were pulling away from the house, and we were sitting in the hospital lobby by 9:30 p.m. It was an incredibly slow intake process, even with only one couple waiting ahead of us. At 10 p.m. I was seen by a nurse in triage whose first comment upon examining me was, “Woah, this baby is really low.” We were relieved to hear that I was 4 centimeters dilated and 100 percent effaced, so they admitted me!
I met my nurse, Gail, who pointed to a pain scale of 1-10 complete with smiley faces displaying different degrees of grimace. I was at a five or six. When she asked if I wanted an epidural, I said no. The moment I’d been anticipating for months! One of the reasons we chose St. Thomas Midtown is their reputation for being natural birth-friendly. My delivery room had a labor tub in it which you can use all the way until it’s birth time, and my nurse encouraged me by saying I was in a really great place to start a natural birth, and that chances are labor would go more quickly without any interventions.
I never even considered a natural birth until last year when several friends of mine had their first babies sans-epidural. (Thank you Kaitlin, Jen, Liza, Lauren and Maxine for sharing your stories with me and answering my questions. You guys have been such an encouragement for me!)
As soon as my first 15-minute monitoring was over, I had the nurse fill up the labor tub for me. It was a big warm tub curtained off from the room with it’s own dimmer switch, so we made the lights very low and played some soothing music I’d found on Spotify. The album is called Soothing Piano Music for Labor & Delivery. With the music, the lighting and the warm water, I closed my eyes and pretended I was at the Grove Park Inn. And it worked, for a little while. I relaxed in that tub until it was time for the next fetal monitoring, and let me tell you, I was feeling pretty confident at that point. Mind over matter is a real thing! If I could convince myself I was at the spa instead of the hospital, this can’t be SO bad.
After three hours of laboring, Gail checked me again and I was at 6 centimeters. For the next two hours contractions got increasingly more miserable, and my Grove Park visualization and “melt” mantra became less effective. I could no longer find a position that felt good during contractions. They all felt awful. During this time I tried hanging out in the hot shower, which was only semi-comfortable if I got on my knees on the floor and leaned over the stool, but I was quickly convulsing from the cold and asked to move back into the labor tub.
I’d had such fond memories of that tub from just a few hours earlier, but alas, that time had passed. I got in there and I think made it through ONE contraction before snarling to Jacob, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!” I knew that lying down in the bed was probably the least desirable of all my options, so that left me with one last thing to try: the birthing ball.
I spent most of the rest of labor sitting on the birthing ball on the side of my bed, leaning over with my head/chest on the bed. It was there, at around 3 a.m. that I felt my water break. I called the nurse in and she checked me for the second time—7 centimeters now. We were encouraged that every check-in was proof of progress, and that made it much easier for me to endure. She told me I could expect to feel more water breaking soon.
I thought, How much more can there be?
For the next hour and a half, I felt more water breaking with almost every contraction. Who knew it could happen in so many little steps? Each one brought a little wave of relief amidst the WORST part of labor. From 7 centimeters until it was time to push was agony. The pain and pressure were so intense, but I knew we still had a little while to go before Caroline’s debut. Jacob kept reminding me that we were so close to meeting our daughter that each contraction brought us closer to her. He brought over a 4-D ultrasound picture of her for me to focus on, but by that point I couldn’t really focus on anything.
At times I found relief in Jacob pressing my hips in or putting pressure on my lower back, and other times that same pressure drove me crazy. Sometimes I would want him to rub my shoulders and other times I didn’t want him to touch me at all. There was no perfect anecdote for comfort.
Gail checked me again around 4:30 a.m., and I was at 9.5 centimeters. Almost there! This part was really the worst, as the next few contractions felt like they necessitated me pushing with them, but I wasn’t supposed to do that yet! It was so hard to breathe slowly and not push.
She called my doctor (well, the on-call doc who works with my doctor), and it took about 20 minutes for her to show up. Right as she did, she broke the rest of my water (yep, there was still a little left!) and said I was at a perfect 10 and could begin pushing when I felt the urge. Hallelujah! So, I started pushing at 4:50 a.m., and Caroline was born at 5:30 a.m.
Pushing may have actually been my favorite part of it because I knew we were at the end! After hours and hours of trying to relax, stay loose, conserve my energy, breathe slowly, etc. it felt so much better to be able to finally tense up my muscles with all I’ve got, hold my breath, clench my teeth and release whatever other primal urges I’d spent all night fighting. It was a great release.
The crowning and actual birth was so surreal. Jacob and I had seen a few graphic videos, but to experience it ourselves and know that was our daughter emerging, was so cool. She had lots of dark, curly hair (What?!) After her first glorious cry and a brief wipe down, she was placed immediately on my chest. Jacob and I were both crying and laughing with joy at how beautiful (and big!) and full of life this human that we made was.
The next 45 minutes are kind of a blur. I started hemorrhaging immediately when Caroline was born, and I lost a lot of blood. In efforts to stop the bleeding, there was some extreme … I’ll call it manhandling (though torture feels like an appropriate word). Granted, they did a great job. My doctor and the nurses were wonderful and treated me exactly how they should.
I’m glad that in the moment I was too out of it to grasp what was going on, and I was able to hold my baby skin-to-skin the entire time. Kissing her and gazing at her perfect face provided all the distraction I needed. After all was said and done with the postpartum hemorrhaging, I had to stay in the delivery room for 24 hours but was discharged from the hospital Tuesday at noon.
Aside from the scary bleeding situation, it really was a fantastic childbirth experience. I’m so glad I did it naturally, and I consider myself so lucky that labor progressed the way that it did. I feel like Superwoman (as I’m sure all mamas do, regardless of their birthing stories!) and am so impressed with myself for the grueling task my body went through. All glory to God for sustaining me and giving me new strength. I doubt I ever could have made it without knowing He was with me, fighting for me, and giving me the grace to endure. If you made it this far and read the whole thing, congratulations! I am very impressed!
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