This is a happy birth story. For all of you expectant mothers who are avoiding people's birth stories for fear of losing your will to deliver, let me say that it is possible to have the birth you hoped for but also, birth is only the beginning! No matter how your birth goes, you will love your baby and he will love you.
I was extremely anxious by December 31, the baby’s due date. I’d been on bed rest in November, as I’d dilated to two centimeters. I’d had my bloody show in early December. The baby was large- apparently about eight pounds at 36 weeks. Every single day in December I woke up and thought, the baby will come today. I had phantom contractions and convinced myself I would give birth early. Every time I had an urge to tidy the house we joked, “it’s time, she’s nesting”! I wanted so badly to have the baby come early, as I was sure he was large and I really wanted a natural childbirth. But an early birth was not to be; in fact, he arrived on January 3, the original due date I’d been given when first pregnant.
On New Year’s Eve, we went out to dinner. My ankles were so swollen I could barely wear socks. I had eggplant caponata because I’d heard eggplant could help bring on labor. I also had two glasses of champagne, figuring it couldn’t hurt. When I went to bed at 12:05 on New Year’s Eve I had no idea what the next day would bring!
At 4:15 am I awoke with a strong cramp. Instantly, I knew this was a contraction. It felt totally different from anything I’d felt before. But it was ok, not too painful. About 45 minutes later I felt warm water in my underwear, followed by another contraction. I was totally wired, and so I lay in bed and watched TV. I felt excited and peaceful at the same time. The water kept coming; any doubts I had about my water breaking were gone. I changed underwear about every hour all day. The contractions were consistently about every half an hour through the afternoon. I lay around in a sense of disbelief and bemusement. Could it finally be happening? It wasn’t so bad.
By the evening of January 1, it was bad! Contractions, though still about 12-15 minutes apart, were viciously strong. I’m grateful to my husband, my doula, and the Hypnobirthing technique for getting me through the following day. I was determined to have a natural childbirth. We hired a doula (Ananda Lowe, who has actually just written a great book called The Doula Guide to Birth). I was group B strep negative and prepared to stay home as long as possible. I didn't call the doctor or hospital at all.
Ananda came over at about 9 pm. I was in agony. All night, she sat beside me on the bed and held me during contractions. She rubbed my back and helped me breathe. Although my husband was amazing, there was something about having another woman to hold me and know what I was going through that really helped. I was so nauseous; I couldn’t eat anything but I drank a lot of fluids from a giant sippy cup. I remember feeling as if the whole world stopped while I was in labor. All that mattered was trying to survive another contraction! And so, the next 18 hours continued: I listed to the Hypnobirthing tapes on repeat, keeping myself in a trance like state. There’s a photo of me in a glider with the cat on my lap and I cannot recall that moment. I truly went into myself; surfing waves of contractions (“surges,” in Hypnobirthing parlance) was all that mattered.
By 7pm on January 2, I’d had a day and a half of strong but far-apart contractions. I just wanted to lie prone but forced myself to move a lot to try to bring them closer together, keeping in mind the “311” rule of when to go to the hospital. But they didn’t come closer with any regularity; I wasn’t at 311 (or even 411). Ananda said I should prepare for another long night of contractions at home since I didn’t seem far dilated. She went home to rest. But my mother wit told me I needed to go to the hospital…now. I got very anxious and said to my husband, we have to go immediately. We called the hospital and Ananda and got into the car. The drive was utter agony, with contractions every few minutes. At this point, I couldn’t walk a few steps without a strong contraction.
We arrived at the hospital at 8:30 on Friday night, Jan. 2 and sure enough, I was seven cm dilated and in active labor! The nurses couldn’t believe how quiet and calm I was because I was doing the hypno-trances. I literally was semi-conscious. Later, I found out they told my husband, “she’ll be done in two hours.” I wasn't.
Miraculously, my doctor (from a practice of eight) was on call. It was a quiet night at my hospital, another miracle since it’s one of the busiest in the country and also a level one NICU!! I felt so happy to be safe and sound at the hospital. I told all the nurses, I’m doing natural, no drugs please. Except, if I need it, please give me some Nubain. I learned about Nubain--a narcotic that provides short-term light pain relief-- from a friend who’d done NCB in the eighties and she swore by it. It’s not a popular option, but I felt it would be a good option for me if I wanted to avoid an epidural but get some relief.
I got settled into my birthing room and endured the pain of transition. I wore a walking monitor and spent a lot of time in the shower. It was the only thing that helped. I lost track of time and all modesty. I was completely naked for hours and had no idea! A nurse from the ward gave me a high five for having natural childbirth. I felt proud.
But by two am I was spent. I was still having contractions about every five minutes, and not fully dilated. I had been in labor for 46 hours. I asked for some Nubain. I don’t think the nurse wanted to give it to me, because they didn't want my labor to slow down further, but she did and I had a blissful 90 minutes of rest, with manageable contractions. When it wore off and I awoke, the doctor was a bit concerned. She started a Pitocin drip. I'm not sure you can give birth in an American hospital these days without pitocin, they use it so frequently. Another couple hours passed, and the Pitocin made the surges even stronger. I felt completely focused only on my pain, but also pretty relaxed because I had no sense of time or how I “should” be progressing. I had no urge to speed things along. The monitor showed the baby was fine and I was completely self-focused on managing my surges! At about four am I was in the shower and I screamed. I felt the most terrifying feeling while standing up against the shower wall: I needed to push. This is a purely instinctual feeling and thankfully cannot be imagined until you feel it. The nurse rushed in and I said, “I have to push,” and she said, “Don’t, you’re not ready.” I kept screaming. The doctor came in and examined me: I was ready! 10 cm.
For the next couple hours, I bore down with intensity. I cannot recall how it felt, but I remember it being the most intense feeling I’ve ever had. If you’ve never given birth, just don’t think about it until it happens. You will survive it. Still, the baby was not coming down the canal quickly enough with my walking around or crouching on the bed. My instinct was to rest and slow down my contractions, but this was not good for getting the baby out! My Ob-GYN came in and asked me to lie down and actively push with my legs up. She explained I should imagine pushing the baby down and then out- a scooping motion through my pelvis and birth canal. My husband took one leg and the labor nurse another. I pushed, but my contractions were still 10 minutes apart! I was ok with this, as I was on another planet. I’m sure those holding my heavy legs and waiting to deliver the baby felt otherwise! I remember the doctor encouraging me to have another contraction and upping the pitocin drip but knowing I could only do what my body wanted me to.
I pushed for about a half hour and the head was visible. I was almost there. But I ran out of juice. At this point, a contraction was very slow in coming- ten to fifteen minutes! It was a tense period, everyone waiting, tired, and probably nervous.
Finally, I had two strong contractions and out Asa’s head came. It hurt, but nothing like the bearing down had. Once his head was out, his shoulder came out with a little slippery “plik” sound and I knew it was done- 50 minutes of pushing. 7 lbs, 11 oz and 21 inches- a perfect little boy. I was in bliss. I felt like I could conquer anything and I felt a rush of love like I’d never known. All the clichés were true for me. I’ll never forget the feeling of his shoulder coming out. He nursed right away and I held him to my chest. Then I asked, “where did all my clothes go?” and everyone laughed. His hands were blue and wizened like something from a horror film, but the rest of him was beautiful!
The rest of the day was euphoric. I couldn’t sleep even though I was so exhausted. I felt exhilarated and safe in my nice hospital recovery room. Nothing else mattered but my little boy my husband and me. It was the best day of my life. The best thing is, five months on, I can't remember how the pain felt, couldn't recall a contraction if you paid me, and so I'm willing to do it all over again!
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