On May 31, almost June 1, I became a mother. A pretty common occurrence around the world, sure, but for me … well, my world will never be the same.
This is my birth adventure or birth story.
The plan was simple. We needed to get through the weekend for a scheduled ultrasound on Monday afternoon. Then we could determine how big baby was and set a course, likely for induction, for that following Thursday or Friday.
Well, you know what happens when you go making plans.
Saturday, May 30 — At Home
I sat in bed re-reading my Bradley Method materials and online articles on how to have an optimal delivery experience when I felt the contractions begin. That was at 10:19 at night.
Per the Bradley Method, you let your husband/coach sleep during the first stage of labor. That way he is better rested and able to assist the laboring mama later on. We also learned that you should wait until contractions last less than five minutes apart and last a minute long. Unfortunately, we did not sleep that night. Two hours in and contractions were strong and regularly timed. That, and I threw up.
Maybe the Bradley Method classes mentioned throwing up was a possibility but so soon and so violently? Also, it is worth noting that I’ve not thrown up during the entire course of the pregnancy.
Off to the hospital we go.
Sunday, May 31 — Triage
Triage. The Labor and Delivery’s purgatory — where you’re held and evaluated to determine if you can stay or must go back home. Four centimeters dilated and you can stay.
I was two centimeters. We had an hour and we’re encouraged to walk laps to progress things further. And we did. Hubbs was awesome. We tried several positions to lessen labor pains as a contraction hit. My breathing was stellar then too. Time was up and I was three and half centimeters. Close enough.
As we waited for a room to become available I could hear the other expecting mothers in triage. Both of these ladies had come in as their bag of waters broke. They seemed excited but calm. Perhaps contractions hadn’t started yet or perhaps that was my perception as I had to concentrate on my breathing. One of the soon-to-be-moms was so jazzed they started calling family members. As for me, I wanted to wait because who knew how long it would take until this boy arrived.
How true that would be.
Sunday, May 31 — Labor and Delivery Room
The Labor and Delivery rooms at Mercy Gilbert are larger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. And it was completely private. AKA: All mine.
We walked some more laps as Nurse S, one of our two amazing nurses, continued to prepare our room. From the third floor we saw the sunrise. To watch the new day’s light shine over our neighborhood was surreal — we felt as that was another lifetime ago. When we returned to our room, Nurse S asked if we had birth plan. Me? The girl who plans everything? Of course we do!
At one point my birth plan was 6 freaking pages long. My OB and Hubbs had a good laugh at/with me for that. After much rewriting, I was able to get it down to one page. In summary, my birth plan was to labor without pain medication and to deliver naturally.
I also wanted to labor in the tub. After all the wonderful things I had heard about it, I wanted that sucker out and pronto. Unfortunately, it is not recommended to get in until you are five centimeters dilated as it can make you go in the reverse direction. Yikes! So, we went for more walks and I sat on the yoga ball. Minutes felt like hours and vice versa until finally I was able to get in the tub. I was little under the size restriction but Nurse S allowed me to get in the tub.
It. Was. Glorious.
Being in the tub was my pain medication. With each contraction Hubbs would dump a pitcher of warm water onto my lower back (thanks, back labor!) and while the pain didn’t stop completely, it lessened. And so it became his responsibility to make certain the soft tunes played, to feed me ice chips, and dump warm water on my back. He was wonderful at his job. I even fell asleep between contractions.
Fun fact: Vomiting during labor is a good sign that labor is progressing.
Nurse C, my second nurse (day shift), was encouraged that I had thrown up the popsicles, ice chips, and saltines. I threw up four or five times. And each time it sucked. Hooray for running on empty!
It was time to try something new. Enter the peanut ball. This modified looking yoga ball was evil. That, or the side lying position that the peanut ball put me in was intense. I don’t recall how long we worked with the peanut ball, but we made it to seven centimeters. I was feeling encouraged.
Until Dr. T came in. She was from the practice I visited but not from the same location — so I had never met her before. The previous OB on duty described her as a “firecracker” and a “pistol.” First impression was she was a bit of a bully as she made it clear that I needed to progress things faster. Now that I write this and a month has passed, perhaps I can give her the benefit of the doubt as I had no idea how much time had passed. But, morale was shot. I later learned that Hubbs went into the hallway and had a frank discussion with her.
Time eluded me again. Was it hours? Minutes? Before long Dr. T returned. While she was more tactful her message was the same: we need to progress things faster. Life is about compromise, right? Even though I stated in my birth plan that I did not want my water broken she suggested that we try it. Stating how breaking the bag of waters could help things move along faster. How I should have already pushed out this baby and wouldn’t it be nice to have him in my arms? Yes! Of course!
Breaking the bag of waters didn’t hurt. After throwing up a couple more times it was time for a change of scenery. Squatting in the shower was too difficult, but now I wonder if I stuck with the pain if I could have seen an even faster progression. Oh well. Yoga ball in the shower, now that was a nice combination.
Eight centimeters now, but still we needed to keep things moving. Time happened. I do remember that the sun had gone and Nurse C had stayed past her shift. She found Nurse S and asked her if she wanted her patient back (read: me). Nurse S was astounded that I was still there. I remember how Nurse S’s warrior-esque presence energized us. Dr. T returned and this time she was suggesting pitocin.
Downtrodden and hysterical. That was me. Even though the breaking of the waters didn’t hurt I had convinced myself that pitocin would be unbearable. If I had to do pitocin then I might as well give up and get that epidural, I thought. No way I could take on that pain.
However, coach Hubbs talked me off the ledge and we tried pitocin sans epidural.
Spoiler alert: I lived. In fact, I don’t remember it being that much worse except that the contractions were more regular and more powerful. The pitocin did help keep things moving: nine centimeters.
As we all know, nine centimeters is not 10 and 10 is the magic number to start pushing. Yet, the wonderful Nurse S advocated for us that we could try with some extra help to push that pesky cervical lip out of the way. And so I pushed for what I thought was an hour but later learned was closer to three hours.
Fun Fact 2: The correct way to push is during a contraction where you hold your breath and bear down as if you’re making a bowel movement. The goal is to push three of four times per contraction.
Dr. T came back and barked at me to push and push harder. I shouted back: “how?” This was not meant to be rude. Was there some secret she could share? I’d gladly follow her advice if there was something I could do to be more efficient. Dr. T said something about not being able to stay as she would only be barking more (I’m paraphrasing. A lot.) and would come back to check on me later.
Nurse S kept telling me what a great job I was doing. It all felt the same to me but her and Hubbs’ words of encouragement were so nourishing. Then she went and pulled out a mirror — a much larger than expected mirror — and asked if I was able to see his full head of hair. Nope. “But I’ll take your word for it,” I told her.
Also, I’d just like to say that Hubbs was amazing.
The very best.
Dr. T came back. I was exhausted. Time had run out, she said. I believed her. She was saying things about we might get his head out but his shoulders could get stuck. And that he was a big baby, although no one knew how big. And if he got stuck my options for surgery were more limited. As in instead of a nice neat horizontal incision (and the option for a VBAC later), she would have to incise vertically and do it quickly.
The magnitude of her words didn’t land as the contractions were all I could focus on. That and I was distracted by not being able to push after being taught how and not pushing felt awful. As Dr. T continued to speak I pleaded for someone to “turn off the contractions!” They stopped the pitocin drip but the contractions were still going and going strong.
Hubbs asked me how much more could I give it. However, the concept of time had eluded me the whole process … so what did I know? I replied: “30 minutes.”
So, out came the paperwork for the cesarean. I was distraught. Crying, to say the least. Dr. T and Nurse S reassured me that all the work I had done was commendable and so great for my baby. While they spoke we waited for a gurney to arrive. Hubbs was already in his scrubs. This was happening.
Operating Room – Cesarean Section
There were about 10 people in the operating room.
“You’re in luck,” someone in scrubs told me. “J [one of the surgeons] is here and he’s a perfectionist.” That’s good, I thought and left it at that. Now I wonder if I should have quipped: “Shouldn’t you all be?!” To J’s credit, I’ve been told that my soon-to-be scar is “beautiful.”
Then they moved me from the gurney to the operating table. I had to sit up, cross-legged and hug a pillow so I could receive the spinal tap. “Oh wait! A contraction is starting up,” I warned as I was afraid I might move. The anesthesiologist didn’t hear me and I never felt the end of that contraction. They laid me down on the table and I became a Pink Floyd lyric: “I have become comfortably numb.”
The anesthesiologist came back after the divider was in place and asked if I was ready. Too tired to make an attempt at humor I looked at him and said, “No.” He smiled and that was encouraging.
Another voice said something about needing to test “it” and by that I imagine they meant the effectiveness of the spinal block. Perhaps they tickled my feet or pricked my toe. I felt nothing.
I turned to Dr. T, who had embodied a “bully” to my birth plan and was going to be cutting me open in a few moments. “This may sound corny,” I said as coherently as I could. “But while this [the C-section] is not my preference, I know that I am in good hands. Thank you.” She nodded at me.
While the operating team continued to prep me, Nurse S walked in and I held her hand until Hubbs arrived. When he did we began to whisper reassurances to each other.
“You did a great job. You shouldn’t feel bad. Don’t feel bad.”
“Did I fail you as a coach?”
“No, you did great. So great.”
We went on like this for perhaps five minutes all the while the surgery was underway. It wasn’t long until a surgeon asked if Hubbs wanted to stand up and take a photo as they lifted their son out of me.
“Nope,” he replied. “I’m good. Thanks.”
It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see our child being born. Moreover, he had seen so much already, done so much already, (and he was incredible!) that he was confident that he didn’t want the memory of his wife’s innards splayed about on the operating table also in the mix.
As Hubbs and I kept whispering we missed the loud POP! as our son was dislodged from my pelvis. Poor kid was stuck. Nurse S later told me that she was so proud of all the work I had done and that the C-section was the right call.
It was nearly Monday morning (twenty minutes to midnight) and my son was born! And Holy Moly he was a big boy! The attending doctors and nurses were all astounded (“Oh shit!” we recall them saying) that I was carrying a 10 pound, 1 ounce child. And he was sunny-side up (he never flipped), so that explained the back labor.
Advice To Future Mamas: Go With The Flow
Throughout my pregnancy I felt pressure and received advice about labor and delivery. (Not including the pressure I put on myself.) Most of what I heard was how I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain and to get the epidural right away. But I also have some friends and family who believe that women have the strength to deliver au naturel if they trust in the wisdom of their bodies. I wanted to be apart of the latter camp. Plus, I’m a writer and I wanted to be able to draw on my experiences for future writing (and this blog post).
As a result, I spent much of my pregnancy fearful that I wouldn’t be able to hack it and that things wouldn’t go according to my birth plan. Fearful that I would have an unsupportive team of doctors and nurses. That they would advocate for treatment I didn’t want which would cause a downward spiral until I had a cesarean.
Well, I had a cesarean after all. Yet, my OB/GYN, my team of nurses and doctors, and (most importantly!) my husband and coach, were super supportive of my wishes about the birthing experience I wanted to have.
However, I did not plan for a scenario where I would have labored without pain medication for 26 hours and still need a C-section. I could never have known that had I tried to deliver naturally my baby boy likely would have gotten stuck (shoulder dystocia). I only planned for the scenario I wanted.
Future mamas, here’s my advice to you:
- Create your birth plan.
- Keep it concise.
- Then throw it out the window.
I’m not saying having a birth plan sets you up for failure, but perhaps it’s more worthwhile to prepare yourself to go with the flow. Teach your birth plan to your team so they can be your advocate and you just focus on keeping calm and having an open mind.
Going with the flow is a lesson that I’m learning every day (thanks baby boy), so get your practice in now. Bonus: One of the pleasant side effects is that you will become gentler with yourself.
Double bonus: When it’s all said and done you will have a beautiful baby. Not as a adorable as mine.
Although they do say I’m biased. But I ain’t listening.