WARNING – This is a birth story. If you don’t want to read about the gritty details of birth, I’d just go ahead and skip this post! Also, this is a very long post -but so was my labor, so it seemed fitting.
As the end of my third trimester grew nearer, I began actually looking forward to birth – something I never thought was possible. At the beginning of my pregnancy someone told me that I would get to that point by the end – due to discomfort and the anticipation of meeting my baby -but I didn’t quite believe them. I had decided not to make any sort of birth plan (something the labor and delivery nurses would later congratulate me on, ha!) mainly because I had heard so many stories about people being disappointed when their births didn’t go as planned. I decided instead to take birth classes and read other people’s birth stories so I had a well-rounded idea of what my options were and what could happen along the way. I felt like having lots of information, my husband, a great medical team, and an open mind were all I needed going in. It ended up being the best decision for us!
Honestly, one of my biggest worries going into birth was when it would happen! I struggled with the ambiguity and unknown of going into labor. I wondered where I would be and was so afraid I wouldn’t know I was going into labor and give birth somewhere weird! Ha! Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that our first child would have December 31st as a due date. I remember looking up our due date with an online calculator hours after taking a pregnancy test and just laughing out loud when New Years Eve popped up. In addition to the usual pressures and unknowns of birth, I had the added factors of which year my child would be born in and Christmas factor. I knew that I couldn’t control when the baby would be born, but I hoped, for his sake, that he wouldn’t be born on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and I hoped, for our wallet and taxes sake, that he would be born in 2016.
All that being said, my birth story begins the morning of December 21st – ten days before my official due date. I’d been carrying the baby very high, so that week I bought an exercise ball and bounced on it in the evenings and the baby dropped over night! I went to my doctor’s office that morning to have my 38 week check and was told that I was only 1cm dilated. I was equal parts relieved and frustrated by that news – annoyed because I was ready to meet my baby and happy because I was hoping the baby wouldn’t come on Christmas Day (please don’t be offended if your birthday is Christmas – I’d heard so many mixed reviews about people’s feelings about having a Christmas birthday and hoped to avoid it if possible). That cervix check was probably the most painful thing I had experienced at that point in my life, but my doctor said she could feel the baby’s head. After the appointment I bled periodically throughout the afternoon and started having mild contractions.
That evening I had plans to meet up with two other friends who were both due with boys the same week as me – small world! We didn’t realize how funny three very pregnant women would look going to happy hour together until we were there -None of us were drinking, so we split a hummus plate. Sitting was getting more and more uncomfortable so I rocked in my chair to get through contractions, but they were still pretty manageable. I called Dave and my mom to update them on the situation and drove home.
When I got home the contractions turned into a radiating pain throughout my back and sides and eventually it just became a constant pain instead of obvious contractions. This really got me nervous because I couldn’t time the contractions and I started to feel a bit uneasy. Dave encouraged me not to ignore my instinct and gut feelings so I called the nurse at our OB practice at around 9:00pm. She advised me to go to the hospital to be checked – just in case. Although I was relieved that I was going to be checked out by a doctor since I couldn’t shake the instinct that something was off, I was really embarrassed to be going to the hospital. For some reason I found the idea of going to the hospital when I wasn’t in active labor really embarrassing, but Dave convinced me to go.
I told Dave that if we were going to the hospital we didn’t need to bring our suitcases or anything because I knew I wasn’t in ‘real’ labor yet. He convinced me to bring them ‘as practice’ for the real thing. (Ha, it’s so funny in retrospect – little did we know!) Funny story – I had the brilliant idea of bringing a nurses gift for the staff who took care of us, but I chose to bring in Starbucks drinks and fancy sodas. I was not thinking at all about how much it would weigh to bring into the hospital! Poor Dave!!
We arrived and checked into the hospital around 10pm and left all of our stuff in the car because I was convinced we would be leaving shortly. They put us in an exam room to be evaluated and hooked me up to a bunch of monitors. The nurse came in to tell us that I was definitely having contractions, but was not in active labor yet. She said that this part of labor could be short or last days, so normally they would send me home, however they wanted to observe me for an hour since my blood pressure was high. They ran a few more tests and after an hour, the doctor came in to talk to us. She explained that she thought I might have preeclampsia, but that she couldn’t be sure since there is no definitive test so she wanted to deliver the baby as soon as possible. Seeing as I had been completely convinced that we would be sent home, I was a bit in shock at the news that she wanted us to stay. I asked if I had the option to go home for the night and re-assess in the morning just because I felt unprepared to be induced, but she explained that she would feel very uncomfortable with that. I believe her exact words were along the line of “there is a good chance you go home and sleep and in the morning your readings are back to normal. But there is also a good chance that you go home an have a seizure.” Needless to say, we heeded her advice and were admitted into Labor & Delivery. A few hours later when we received my lab results they did in fact show an elevated protein level, just as the doctor had suspected. Knowing the results confirmed our decision to be induced – Dave was so right in telling me to trust my instincts and urging me to go to the hospital.
When we got to our Labor & Delivery room, the nerves set in as they began the induction process. They gave me Cervidil to dilate me since I was still only at about 1 cm. They hooked me up to all of the monitors in my new room, gave me an IV, and started me on Cervidil, which takes about 12 hours to work, at about 1am. At this point we were feeling pretty tired and we didn’t have much to do but wait, so we tried to get some sleep. This was kind of a joke because I was having contractions and the blood pressure cuff that was on my arm automatically tightened every 15 minutes and woke me up, but we did our best. I eventually gave into watching random sitcoms on TV to distract myself from the pain – and the painfully slow clock! I was on a liquid diet, so when it was finally morning, Dave got some coffee and I got…some chicken broth! haha It wasn’t as bad as it sounds.
My contractions continued to get stronger throughout the morning and I continued to get more uncomfortable. I absolutely hated being hooked up to so many machines and wires, but I also loved being able to see the baby’ heart rate, so I focused on that. The shift changed and my new doctor let me eat some mashed potatoes for lunch, so I was feeling pretty good when we finally reached 1pm and I couldn’t wait to be checked by the doctor. Unfortunately, after a very excruciating cervix check, I had only reached 2cm. This was obviously not my favorite news, especially as the contractions had now reached a very painful level. The doctor told me that they usually start Pitocin at this phase, but that I was contracting fully on my own so she didn’t think I would need it – ha this wasn’t news to me!
We waited a couple more hours and after another check, she concluded that I needed more help with dilation. She suggested a balloon catheter – yea it’s what it sounds like. Seeing as her checking my cervix was the most painful thing I had ever experienced, the idea of having a water balloon pushing on it until it popped did not appeal to me. My contractions had yet again, strengthened to a new level with only a couple of minutes of relief in between, so it was at this point that I asked for an epidural. By the time the anesthesiologist arrived it had been about 16 hours since we’d been admitted and I was in a delirious state with pain. The room felt foggy and I was having a hard time concentrating on anything but the pain. I do not think we could have had a kinder anesthesiologist and the sting of the needle in my spine was nothing compared to the contractions, so the epidural experience was pretty great for me. I felt almost instant relief and went from horrendous pain to falling asleep sitting up as soon as the doctors left.
After allowing me to sleep for a little while, the doctor came back to start the balloon catheter – and I couldn’t have cared less! I was no longer in pain and it was glorious. Once the catheter began its work, we were playing the waiting game once again, so this is when I took full advantage of the liquid diet cart – all the Italian ice and jello! Dave and I watched a lot of television and just enjoyed the anticipation of meeting our son – yes, I said enjoyed, the epidural actually allowed me some enjoyment in the birthing process. I called my mom and found out that they had started to drive to us and would be there shortly – I remember feeling so much relief that they were on the way. Even at almost 30 years old, sometimes it’s just nice to see your mom’s face when you are in pain! They stopped by for a bit to visit while we continued to wait for dilation. Finally, they decided to start me on Pitocin to see if it would move things along, and around 11pm my water broke! I was hoping this meant that the baby would be born on December 22nd, but the nurse smiled and told me that probably would not be the case. At around 2 am I was finally dilated to 10cm! That was music to our ears – we were getting so anxious to meet baby!
Shortly after reaching 10cm I felt the babies head and the urge to push and told the nurse who was preparing for birth. She told me we would do some practice pushes before the doctor arrived, but that most first time moms take about 1-2 hours of pushing before meeting baby. I quickly informed her that the women in my family (grandmother, mom, sister, etc) often push their babies out in only a few pushes- usually about 20 minutes! I was so grateful that we had an amazing nurse who listened to me and called the doctor right in. We did a few practice pushes while we waited and I just kept telling her that I needed to push and couldn’t wait. The doctor arrived and began putting on her gloves and facemask and preparing the area when the nurse told me I was crowning! She said that the next time I felt a contraction I should give a ‘really big push’ – so I did and baby came flying out and the doctor literally had to catch him! He came out peeing and in one loud gush, so I am sure the doctor was glad to have just put on her face mask. It was quite the entrance! He was born at 2:59 am and was absolutely perfect.
Next, Dave cut the cord and I heard his first cry as they handed him to me. My first thought seeing him was how much he looked like Dave! I held him for a while and did skin-to-skin while I just stared at him in awe. Then the nurse and Dave took him to be weighed and evaluated – he was doing great!
It was so surreal to finally see his little face and hold him in my arms – after 30+ hours of labor! Dave and I felt an instant connection to him and for the first couple of days we could barely look at each other without tears welling up. Our time in the hospital together was so sweet and emotional as the three of us got to know each other. Both sets of out parents were able to come up to the hospital to meet him and we spent a quiet Christmas Eve enjoying each other.
My recovery was fairly difficult and we received the news that I would need another day of observation before we could all go home, so we ended up spending Christmas morning at the hospital as well. At first I was sad about that news, but bringing him home on Christmas felt like the greatest gift we’d ever received.
Looking back on Coen’s birth I feel so overwhelmed with gratitude for a smooth birth and a healthy baby. The days that I was in labor were some of the hardest days of my life, but I found myself really enjoying parts of the labor process too! The female body is truly amazing – I still can’t believe I grew a human! What a miracle. Meeting Coen was such a joy and I feel like I have been whispering “thank yous” and “hallelujahs” to God constantly in my heart for months now since I first held my sweet baby.