I love telling the story of how Henry came into the world. On Thursday morning, June 16, at 3 am, I awoke to new, strong contractions. Now I had been having plenty of Braxton-Hicks contractions over the 2 months prior, and I knew what those felt like. I had also had some painful contractions after being checked (I was 4 cm for a whole week before I went into labor) and I would walk and walk for hours trying to get them started, as if I could. I even swam and did lunges.
But that morning, the feeling was completely different. They were strong and seemingly regular. I got up, took a shower and started timing them with the app on my iPod- 5 minutes apart! WHOA! I remembered to pay the BWL bill, waited until 5 am and woke up Jesse, telling him he would meet his son that day (except Henry didn’t come for more than 24 hours!). So I got dressed and got my hospital bag, and we got out the door. My contractions were strong enough to make me stop what I was doing, so I felt confident getting out the door. I called my mom and we left for the hospital.
I walked to the L&D desk, stopping every few minutes for contractions and I was sent to a triage room. There, I was hooked up to the horrific heartbeat and contraction monitors and was checked. 4 cm! 75%! They told me to go home. I was completely confused- weren’t these contractions? Didn’t I just graduate from nursing school with plans on continuing into Women’s Health? To top it off, I watched the contraction line on the monitor and while I was having a strong contraction, I noticed no change on the monitor. A nurse proceeded to come in and tell me that I wasn’t even having contractions. Retarded monitor- I guess if I’d been a good little patient and been laying still in bed, it would have registered the contraction. But as we all know, I’m not a good little patient. And so, we went home.
My mom had joined us at the hospital, so all three of us went back to the apartment with some uncertainty. We all passed out for naps (well, I tried to) and I started what would become about 18 hours of timing contractions that never really got closer than 6 or 7 minutes apart. I ate my way though a package of English Muffins and honey (that was ALL that sounded good!) and tried to stay hydrated. Eventually I found a rhythm between resting on the bed, being on hands and knees while my mom or Jesse pressed super hard on my back to help counteract the pain, or I was on the ball trying to get the contractions to get stronger (which worked but was PAINFUL!) or in the shower trying to soothe the pain (which slowed down the contractions). During this time I am pretty sure we watched about 20 reruns of Monk, and I’m also pretty sure that I had a contraction during every theme song, causing me to request strongly that someone turn that damned TV DOWN!! Eventually I put two and two together and took the exercise ball into the shower, so I could help speed up contractions and work on the pain. Yup, that is about as safe as it sounds.
Eventually midnight came and I realized that I was TIRED! I had been timing my contractions and they just hadn’t gotten closer together. I decided to go back to L&D for… something. Not Pitocin, I knew my midwife wouldn’t give me that and I did NOT want it. But something. I figured they had a magic thing they could do. I walked to L&D and by 2 am we were back in a triage room- six red-rimmed eyes pleading with the nurses to find that I was 10 cm and ready to push. Nope. 4 cm. 75%. -1. No progress. WHAT!!??! They called my midwife and she ordered a dose of Ambien to help me get some sleep, which I gladly took.
By the time I got home I was pretty loopy and excited to get a few hours sleep. That’s when the crazy started. I laid down in bed, expecting to drift off (my mom and Jesse were way beyond passed out) but it wasn’t happening. The contractions got super crazy painful and different, and I started to hallucinate that the mattress was also having contractions and was in pain. I climbed into the shower, by myself (probably not smart!) and nothing helped. I finally came out and told my mom that I felt like I was being tortured, so we need to go back NOW! We had only been home for maybe an hour and we left again for L&D.
I did NOT walk this time to the L&D desk, which was probably a sign that this was it. I was wheeled there and things got a little fuzzy- I know that I walked to a triage room where I was checked- 7 cm! FINALLY! They gave me ID bands and started to put in an IV, which I protested until they explained to me that I’d been in labor a helluva long time and I was super dehydrated, so it was a good idea. I could see the logic there, so one IV catheter got stuck into my hand. I would have kept protesting, but I couldn’t drink so they were probably right.
Pain management: Off to my delivery room and straight into the tub. AAAAHHHH…. awesome. At one point my midwife and the nurse came in and offered me Nubain or Stadol, which I considered (don’t judge, I’d been at it awhile by then!) and I was considering it, when they informed me that I would have to get out of the tub and get on a monitor. Um nothanksbye. So about then, the Ambien kicked in (really freaking late) and I slept while the tub with its powerful jets kept the pain of the contractions at a manageable level. My angel nurse came in at one point and let me know that I should come out to the bed when I felt “pushy.” It didn’t take too long before I felt “pushy” and climbed out of the tub. Slowly. But I made it!
In the bed I tried a few different positions- the squat bar, leaning over a ball, but with the intense back labor I was having I decided to lay on my back with a trochanter roll along my lower back. Now, I was completely against being on my back for labor, but it was actually ideal because I could push as hard as I wanted against the roll to support my back during the contractions, helping the pain and allowing me to rest between the contractions. So there I was, Jesse holding my right leg and my mom holding my left leg. Jesse later let me know that he was mostly holding my leg to make sure I didn’t kick the midwife in the head during contractions. Oops:)
Pain management: As things progressed and my contractions became more productive and regular, I settled into sitting/laying. I found that smiling and humming through my contractions helped tremendously. I pictured the gradually worsening and then lessening of the pain during each contraction as me skating along an imaginary ribbon-like line that once I caught control of it, I could then control the pain myself.
As things got more difficult and a little desperate, I started to realize that there was nothing I could do to stop what was happening. I had to go through with it, no matter what. There was no taking a break! A friend had put a quote on facebook the morning that my contractions started and I remembered it at that point- it was something about when you come to the end of your rope, you have to tie a knot and hold on. Well, I visualized that, me hanging onto the knot at the end of the rope. It worked! I later thanked her profusely for sharing that.
Eventually I felt really truly “push-y,” and started to push with each contraction. I’d push for about four seconds, breathe and repeat about three times during each contraction. At first, the pushing was just a vague feeling down there, but eventually with progress I was able to focus my muscles and effort at the correct place to get results. The nurse set up a mirror which at first I was objected to (a little weirded out, for some reason) but then I was super fine with it when I began to see a little more head with each contraction and push. Seeing my progress made so much difference! I watched with each contraction/push until I could tell that the next one would push Henry’s head out- then I couldn’t watch! I was afraid that seeing his head sticking out of me would psych me out too much, so at that point I just started pushing like crazy. I had finally perfected my technique- grabbing the outside of my legs and using them to help me push, so it only took one great big push to birth the rest of Henry’s body. It felt so much easier than his head, it just kind of slid out.
WOW! The first feeling I remember was WOW! I feel EMPTY! I could breathe so much easier. Everything was a blur for a few seconds when I asked- “Is he a boy?!” and was glad to hear he was. Henry was placed on my chest and I pulled my shirt over my head so we could be skin to skin. He was so close to me that all I could see at first was his feet, so— I counted toes!
He hadn’t cried yet and was a bit blue and tachypneic. The pediatrician (who was wonderful) was concerned that he might have a spontaneous pneumo which she said was common in newborns and would resolve spontaneously, but that he needed a few blood tests and a chest X-ray. Jesse went with him and they came back after a few minutes- they said all he needed to do was give a good cry and he inflated the rest of his lung. In retrospect I wish they had left him on my chest to try and resolve things, but at that point I was euphoric and quite trusting, and he was not gone for long. So he came back and I wish I remembered more at this point. We attempted nursing and I’m sure it went fine because he seemed happy and contented. He got all bundled up and we cuddled. In retrospect he should have been skin to skin (I knew that!) but I was just caught up in the moment and it wasn’t too long before I got him skin to skin again.
I got up with the nurse’s help to get myself cleaned up after everything, and that was interesting. And kinda painful! Things settled down quickly and we were all able to bond together.
Message to anyone who reads this: my natural labor and birth were an absolutely life-changing experience. Allowing my body to go into labor on its own, giving Henry all the time he needed in the womb (even though the last month or so was rough!) was the best thing I could have done. Labor and delivery with a midwife who allowed things to progress naturally (not inducing me the day before, not cutting an episiotomy, not pushing drugs, helping me change positions and just sitting back and allowing nature to happen) was irreplaceable. I gave birth to my son myself- yes, I felt every single feeling that came with it, but I wouldn’t trade any of the discomfort for the empowering feeling that I DID IT! I feel like I can do anything!