So, I had my baby! A little boy who is perfect in every way. And I keep running through the events of his birth, trying to commit it to memory, and it’s keeping me up at night. I feel like some of the details are already slipping away! I wasn’t sure if I was going to write it up on the internet for all to see, but I don’t want to forget anything. So here goes.
Looking back, I had probably been in early labor for several days, but at the time I figured they were just braxton hicks contractions because they weren’t very painful. I went in to work on Monday, my due date, but fairly quickly decided that I wasn’t going to make that mistake the next day :). And I kept thinking about all the things I still had to do at home! So I spent Tuesday furiously finishing up thank you notes, running errands, and scrubbing my bathroom. I guess that should have been a sign.
In the evening when my husband got home, we walked the dog, I made dinner, and kept getting increasingly uncomfortable. I decided to go to bed around 10 and knew that sleep would determine if this was the real thing or not, as it had every other night. Well at 1am I woke up, unable to sleep through the contractions. They were 100% in my back, which was weird to me — I thought “real” contractions would be both in the back and front, but I only felt tightening in my uterus. By around 2am I had to get out of bed and concentrate through them. I took a bath which felt amazing, did a bunch of cat/cow poses (I was worried that the back labor was a sign that he had flipped to a posterior position) and walked around — I wanted nothing more than to climb back into bed but that made the contractions so much worse. I was also really nauseous and around 3 or 4am I threw up into the toilet, the force of which caused my water to break. Things then started to speed up and we called the midwife and the doula and decided to head to the hospital around 4:30am. I had expected to labor at home a lot longer, and was hoping that I wouldn’t get there only to be told to head back home, but the hospital was in downtown DC and with rush hour looming, we decided to err on the safe side. The ride in was pretty miserable, but traffic was a breeze at that hour!
By 5:30 we were all checked in and in the hospital room. The midwife checked me and told me I was already dilated to 7cm. I was very pleasantly shocked at how far I had already progressed — I had been bracing myself to hear a disappointing 3 or 4 cm and expecting all this to take much longer!
There were no more rooms with tubs available when we arrived, so I spent the next couple hours in the shower, having my back massaged by my doula and just working through the contractions. I don’t remember ever feeling an “overwhelming” urge to push. I just kinda started feeling like pushing through the contractions might feel good. I recalled from my bradley classes that you should wait to push until it becomes impossible not to do so, in order to conserve energy. I waited a little while but eventually just gave in and said that I felt like pushing. So at 8am the midwife checked me again, and confirmed that I was fully dilated.
They set me up and wheeled out a mirror so I could see what was going on. It was a ghastly view of my nether regions, but having the mirror there was actually incredibly motivating. I could see the progress I was making each time, and know which muscles were the most effective.
Watching my son’s head, and then the rest of his body, suddenly emerge into the world after about an hour of pushing was quite possibly the most amazing thing I have ever seen. When the midwife caught him, I blurted out, “is it a boy or a girl?!” She held him up and said, “can’t you tell?” They immediately placed him on my chest and there he stayed for about an hour. He was so alert! And started breastfeeding almost right away. My husband cut the cord once it stopped pulsating. The midwife held up the placenta for me to see. It was such an incredible, joyful experience. Throughout my pregnancy, I honestly rolled my eyes at the hippie-dippie glorification of birth being such a beautiful, blissful, empowering moment — I always assumed that it would be pretty messy, difficult and painful. But truly, it was all of those things for my husband and me. I know I was lucky to have an easy, quick delivery, but in spite of what I may have yelled during transition, I never felt the pain was totally unbearable, or the worst pain I’ve ever felt, or that I’d cut off an arm to make the pain go away as one person described to me. The breaks between each contraction really make all the difference! I lay there as the midwife was still stitching me up, saying I’d totally do that all over again, what’s the big deal? Ha. I realize that many women have very painful, long and difficult deliveries, and I completely support the right of women to give birth in whatever way makes them feel most comfortable, whether at home or with a scheduled c-section — but I feel like that is the message that dominates our culture’s rhetoric about childbirth, and just want you to know that it doesn’t HAVE to be that way :). I think I will post more thoughts on this later.
After about an hour, my husband went to accompany the baby to the nursery for the initial tests, and they got me ready to transfer to the postpartum room. And that is when the proverbial shit hit the fan and my beautiful delivery turned into an emergency.
My memory at this point becomes a little fuzzy. I know they sat me up to assist me in getting out of bed, and the next thing I know I am laying back down. Apparently I fainted. The midwife gave me a shot of pitocin, saying I was bleeding a little more than normal. I failed at a second attempt to get up and so they gave up and wheeled the whole bed into my postpartum room. Over the next few hours there were several episodes of massive bleeding. They gave me more pitocin, cytotec, and methergine. At one point the midwife got on her phone to call in an OB and finally dropped the word “hemorrhage.” They did a few (VERY PAINFUL) internal exams and a sonogram, but there was no apparent source of the bleeding. They gave me morphine at some point. I had a catheter put in. The day went on like this and I kept feeling progressively worse — the room felt like it was 1000 degrees, the lights were flickering, my heart was racing, and I just generally felt like crap — but they kept reassuring me that my vitals were stable.
Until suddenly, they weren’t. At some point early in the evening, I guess my blood pressure finally crashed and the next thing I knew they had called some kind of “rapid response” and whisked me away to the ICU. There was little time to explain what was going on to my husband and while the ICU nurse reassured me that I was going to be fine, he was left behind thinking that I was dying! In the ICU they hooked me up to an inordinate amount of IV lines and wires; getting stuck that many times was seriously worse than labor. My veins were so clamped down they had to use an ultrasound to find them. They ultimately kept me overnight and transfused 3 units of blood. The ICU was not a safe place for the baby so he had to stay behind with my husband and spend more time in the nursery than we would have liked. But my bleeding finally stopped and the next morning I was sent back down to postpartum. My blood levels were still well below normal, but I was stable enough to be discharged the next day.
They warned me that it would take months to restore my blood levels and fully regain my strength. The first week home was very hard and simple tasks like getting out of bed to go to the bathroom made me feel like I had just sprinted up a flight of stairs. But each day I feel a little better, and luckily my perfect little baby has kept things easy for me :).
So I feel like my birth story encompasses both ends of the spectrum — a natural birth followed by a whole host of drugs and interventions. I feel very lucky to have been able to give birth in a place where all these options were available to me.