After arriving at the hospital and facing the reality that we were going to meet our baby almost 7 weeks early, here is how our story unfolded:
The doctor checked me at 1:30am and reported that I was already at 3cm, -2 station, and 70% effaced. At this point, they also gave me the first of 2 steroid shots designed to speed up the baby’s lung development. Throughout the night, I continued to have gushes of amniotic fluid. It was such a weird feeling to have these uncontrollable leaks. I was grateful to have giant disposable pads underneath me that could be changed out quickly.
Jen, our back-up doula, arrived at 3:30am. When she entered the room, I was resting on the side of the hospital bed while James sat against my back. The slight bit of counter pressure was lovely as my contractions intensified. I wasn’t sure what to expect- another stranger was entering the scene. A scene that was supposed to be an intensely private affair where I was surrounded by familiar and loving faces. Another stranger was going to see literally all of me. If I thought about anything for too long, I started to feel out of control. Any fears that I might have had quickly dissolved. Jen became an invaluable member of our team. She jumped right in but didn’t try to take over. We really appreciated her warm personality and all of her helpful suggestions.
Fairly early on, this thought train started to dominate my mind: She is coming. The baby is coming. We have no idea what shape she will be in. I’ve failed her. The only thing I can do for her is have an unmedicated birth. If I don’t take any drugs, they won’t be passed to her. Maybe that will help her initial rough start. Natural childbirth is the only thing I can give at this point.
At about 3:40am, Jen suggested that I eat a little something. I had my first Popsicle and we discussed my current nurse. Everybody in the room was looking forward to the upcoming shift change at 7am. This nurse was nice but very “by the book.” She wanted me laboring in the hospital bed and was hesitant to let me move around since my monitors might need readjusting. Any food or water was kept to a bare minimum.
At some point, we asked if the hospital had a birthing ball I could use. They found one fairly quickly; however, it was made for a giant! My tip toes barely touched the bottom of the floor! By 3:50am, Jen recorded that I was sitting on the ball by the edge of the bed with my Hypnobabies soundtrack playing in the background. She would later tell me that I was quiet and focused. By 4:05am, she noted that my waves were becoming more intense.
At 4:15 am, I used the bathroom and had the beginnings of “bloody show.” I actually remember being disappointed that there wasn’t more- I was hoping that things would start progressing even faster. I was ready to get things moving!
James and I slow danced to ease the discomfort of the pressure waves. I also ate a Luna bar from my mom’s secret stash. My Mom returned to the hospital with a few items from home that I might need, including an assortment of energy and breakfast bars. I don’t know how I would have made it through the next couple of hours without this food contraband! We all laughed as I quickly scarfed down these energy bars- all eyes were on the door to make sure a nurse didn’t catch me eating!
James was able to doze from 5-8 am. During this time, I listened to Jen’s music. I absolutely needed something in the background to focus on. After a few rounds of classical music, it was back to listening to the Hypnobabies scripts. Both my mom and Jen tried to provide counter pressure on my back to relieve some pain as I sat on the birthing ball. I definitely preferred a firm touch with no rubbing motion. Jen encouraged me to keep from scrunching up my shoulders and creating tension in my body by placing her hands firmly on my shoulders and repeating the release cue (a Hypnobabies technique to relax quickly and fully).
7am: Ate another Popsicle and was introduced to our new nurse, Emily. Emily was such a gift- she basically left us alone the entire time but was on call if we needed anything. She didn’t get bent out of shape if the monitor lost its signal as I was changing positions. She let Jen readjust my belts.
7- 7:40am- I preferred to stand at this point. I quickly ate another contraband item: a breakfast blueberry bar.
James woke up shortly after. I was so happy that he was able to rest but really glad that he was back in this with me. We stood and slow danced through the waves. It seemed like the contractions came closer together when I was standing. Sitting on the birthing ball was a welcome break. By 9:30, I was becoming nauseous and having a harder time relaxing during waves.
10:10am- My waves started to linger as I rested on the birthing ball.
10:45am- Internal exam revealed I am 7-8 cm, 100% effaced and a +1 station. I was thrilled to have made this much progress and hoped that it would all be over soon. In my mind, I thought our baby would be here by early afternoon. One of my big fears of having a hospital birth was “the clock.” I assumed I would be on a timetable and expected to make progress within a certain amount of time. I imagined myself being glued to watching each second go by. Nothing about our experience could have been further from this reality. Yes, it was a long labor. BUT, while we were in the zone, hours felt like minutes. I never watched the clock once.
By this point, James was a master at providing counter pressure on my back during waves. We resumed our routine of standing, dancing, and resting on the birthing ball.
Around 12pm, I received the second steroid shot to help mature our baby’s lungs. I commented that the waves are “doozies!” Jen noted that I started shaking from all the hormones surging in my body.
12:20-2pm- More of the same: Standing, slow dancing, and sitting on the birthing ball. My parents picked up lunch in this time frame and James quickly ate a sandwich.
At 2pm, Jen suggested that I rest by lying on my side in bed. It felt good to stop for a moment and just attempt to rest. The waves continued to get stronger. By 3:15pm, I was exhausted and started crying and quietly confided to James that I don’t think I can do this. Jen noted that my contractions were very long at this point (several minutes) and I was shaky.
When an internal exam revealed I had just a lip of cervix left, Jen and Emily encouraged me to try the hands and knees position. It seemed like I was so close to the pushing stage but so far away! My contractions were incredibly intense by this point and I was moaning. Jen reminded me to lower my voice to make the moans effective. I spent 10-12 contractions in this position. They wanted to be sure that the next time I felt the urge to push, I could. This portion of time felt never ending.
At 5pm, I was complete and at a +2 position.
I pushed for approximately 51 minutes. I didn’t know what to do at first. The urge to push didn’t happen immediately for me and my early attempts weren’t quite effective. I was also afraid that I wasn’t pushing fast enough. I was so grateful that the doctor was patient and let me figure things out on my timetable. Finally, at the tail end of one of the contractions, my body kicked in and the pushing became primal. There was a huge difference between me attempting to push and allowing my body to push. Now, as I think about this portion of my experience, Cindy Crawford’s birth story from the movie The Business of Being Born comes to mind. She explained that she wished she had listened to her body’s cues and trusted its timing instead of just starting to push when she reached 10 cm. Her body simply wasn’t ready and the first hour of pushing was completely ineffective. I can completely understand this abstract concept now. When your body kicks in, you can’t help but push.
For some reason, it seemed like the space between each contraction was enormous- these lulls were filled with anticipation. I was grateful for the break but also dreading the next wave of pressure. According to Jen and James, however, there was hardly any time in between these rounds of pushing (long enough to take a drink of water).
I do remember that there was an incredible amount of people in the room- James, our doula Jen, the OB Doctor, a set of nurses for me and another set of nurses to attend to Olivia. I had quite a cheering section.
Do I remember the ring of fire? Yes, it is very aptly named! And, then, it was over so quickly. All the discomfort, pressure, and pain literally evaporated when Olivia was born. It really did feel like she came out in a gush – what a weird feeling! James cut the cord quickly and they placed her in a warming bed to assess the state of her health. I’m so glad someone in the room focused my attention on the fact my baby girl was crying. I couldn’t really see anything from my position on the bed so hearing her cry was amazing. The nurses allowed us to take a few precious photos before they whisked her away to the intensive care area. They refused to let me hold her but I did get the opportunity to reach out and touch her tiny, perfect hand. Prior to her delivery, I repeated to James several times, “no matter how this ends- natural delivery or c-section- promise me that you will stay with the baby.” Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible when they took her from the room. They wanted only medical personnel present to assess her breathing and create an immediate treatment plan.
My placenta came out quickly after. I was surprised how strong the contractions were to expel this organ. I relied on James, squeezing his hand, to help me cope as my body was literally shaking from all the hormone surges. I had read that women can experience an emotional high after giving birth- full of incredible energy after an exhausting labor. So true. After all the medical personnel cleared the room, I felt really good despite the fact that I had just spent 20 hours in fixed concentration working through pressure waves. And, then the emptiness set in. We were so happy and so, so alone. We weren’t snuggling with our precious newborn. We never had the opportunity to memorize the tiny features of her beautiful face. We completely skipped over the part where a new family bonds together. Our sweet girl was literally fighting to breathe at the other end of the maternity wing instead of safely wrapped up in our protective arms. It was all so surreal.
And, so begins another story: Olivia’s time in the Special Care Unit. James was allowed to visit her approximately 45 minutes later. I had to wait an additional 2 hours in “recovery”… quite possibly the longest 120 minutes of my life.
We were both really hoping that she had accidentally peed her pants.
The umbilical cord was incredibly thick and strong. Definitely not what I was expecting when I cut it.
Biggest bummer (aside from the fact she was born so early):
From the beginning, we had hoped to delay cord clamping so Olivia could receive all the stem cell rich blood in the umbilical cord. When we realized this wasn’t an option, we asked that it be donated to our local Cord Blood Bank. The medical team informed us that only blood from pregnancies week 34 and older was eligible for banking. We missed the window by 3 days. What a waste.
What was your mindset going into this experience?
I was ready for a fight. I expected the medical team to try and push various interventions. I kept a close eye on Olivia’s heartbeat and was prepared to argue to keep at least some of our natural birth plan in place. Fortunately, after the nursing shift change, we were left alone for the most part. I knew Candice could birth our baby naturally if given the opportunity.
Second biggest surprise?
Despite my exhaustion, hunger, and the fact my arm was incredibly sore from applying counter-pressure on Candice’s back- hours still managed to feel like minutes. I expected to be bored for at least a portion of our time at the hospital, especially given that we were there for 20 hours concentrating on only 1 thing (no TV, no radio, and endless hours listening to Hypnobabies scripts).
Any Other Difficult Moments?
When Olivia was born, I really wanted to go with her as they assessed her breathing. I also wanted to be able to stay with my wife, who was starting another round of contractions to expel the placenta- both of my girls needed me. It was definitely a helpless feeling not to be able to be in 2 places at once. For better or worse, the hospital made the decision for me and I wasn’t allowed to go with Olivia.