By: Gloria Miles
I did not have a traumatic first birth experience. My switch from a medicated birth to an unmedicated birth (what I dubbed as "natural" at the time) was mainly from the thought that it couldn't take all of those interventions just to have a baby. The attending staff was lovely. The nurses were sweet and the obstetrician was kind. I expressed disappointment after consenting to the epidural (which was ah-mazing at the time, by the way). The obstetrician had laughed, not unkindly. "You wouldn't get a tooth pulled without anesthesia, right?"
Except, I didn't have a tooth extracted. I had a baby. A physiological event. My labor was augmented with pitocin. Then augmented again with artificially ruptured water. The pain hit two contractions after that lovely cushion of water was relieved. An hour later, I was crying, asking for an epidural.
I read the book, Birthing From Within, when I was pregnant with my second and immediately fell in love with the idea of surrendering myself to the process. I tried to persuade my husband into a home birth, but he was terrified of the idea. I relented. However, I decided to hire a doula and really educate myself on all my options. My husband was supportive. My friends were skeptical. Everyone else had a million things to say, all negative.
Still, I knew what I wanted and I knew that I would do it.
Feb. 17, 39.6 weeks. 1:30 p.m.
I arrived at my prenatal appointment and my vitals were taken. I was escorted into a room and instructed to undress from the waist down. I smiled and watched the nurse leave. The provider, a nurse practitioner, arrived and blinked in surprise but then began to speak. I was fully dressed, the drape for my lap politely lying on the chair. A few standard questions were asked, fetal heart tones were heard, and she measured my belly. She was about to leave and then glanced at my chart. She looked up, surprised.
"Have you had a cervical check this pregnancy?" she asked. I confirmed that I had not.
"Oh. Uh, do you mind undressing so I can check you?" she asked. I confirmed that I did.
"I'm okay," I said.
She hesitated. "Well, we like to at least have a few on file, just to see how you're doing."
I shrugged. "I think I'll be okay. Labor will come regardless." She said nothing, so I continued. "Plus, with my first I was four centimeters for two weeks, so I don't think it'll tell us much anyway."
Her eyebrows raised. "Oh! Well, if you were four centimeters today, we could start you on pitocin and you could have a baby today!"
I had already explained my desire for a "natural" process. "No, that's okay, but thank you."
She left the room and said she'd be back. She'd go back and forth (probably to the actual physician/obstetrician) a few times.
"I don't think I'd feel comfortable letting you leave if you were five centimeters," she finally explained. "There's reasons we like the checks. I promise it's not for nothing."
"Well, that's more a reason not to get checked. Let's pretend I'm not five centimeters. I'll be alright," I said.
In the end, we came to a compromise. I agreed to let her schedule me for a NST (non-stress test) that Friday.
I'll call tomorrow and cancel, I thought.
Though I didn't want to be induced, I was ready to not be pregnant. I had heard that sex was a great way to help soften the cervix and I wanted all the help I could get. Afterwards, I'd always get mild contractions with cramps that made me irritable. We found, though, that if we had sex before bed, I could fall asleep before they really started to get uncomfortable. And so, this night, bedtime was about ten p.m.
Feb. 18, 40.0 weeks. 12:31 a.m.
I looked at the clock and groaned. Contractions, check. Cramps, check. I also needed to pee, so that meant that I was going to be awake enough not to be able to fall asleep. After I used the restroom, I noted pink spotting in my underwear and more when I wiped. I shrugged it off. Every now and again sex would induce some spotting. I assumed this was the same thing.
I waddled back to the bed and laid on my side.
I gave up trying to sleep and started pacing. I realized that the intensity had grown and the contractions had spaced out to time-able intervals rather than quick, short bursts.
I woke my husband. "I think I'm in labor."
He stretched and smiled. "Okay."
We went into the baby's room and he turned on his laptop. My contractions were still mild and he decided we should watch a movie. I made it halfway and decided to get something to eat. I ate an apple and toast with peanut butter. I also called my doula. She asked if I needed her and I stated that I felt okay laboring by myself. She told me she was going to go back to sleep and to call her when things amped up.
I felt like I was peeing every five minutes. Contractions were bearable when I was pacing but much more uncomfortable on the toilet.
"I'm taking a shower," I announced.
My husband checked on me ten minutes later. At this point I didn't want to talk during contractions. He called the doula and then our friends so they would come pick up our son.
A little over an hour later, our son had been whisked away and my doula had arrived. She and my husband chatted while I walked around the living room and the kitchen. The talking ceased every contraction and then continue once it was over. I was annoyed with the chatter, so I stayed mostly clear from the dining room.
My doula looked at the clock and then asked if I wanted to head to the hospital. "Rush hour traffic to the base is going to start soon and I'd hate it if you were stuck in the tunnel because of traffic."
I didn't want to head in yet because I felt like it was still early. I was waiting for the level of pain I had when my water was ruptured with my first. I was afraid that the hospital wouldn't find my contractions strong enough and that I'd be given pitocin. However, she had a great point because tunnel traffic tends to crawl once rush hour hits.
I nodded. "Yeah," I said, "that's probably a good idea."
The car was packed with the necessities and I finally was ready to go. I had always heard of the terrible trip to the hospital. You know the ones: "The car ride to the hospital was the worst! It was so much more painful!"
I sat in the passenger seat and buckled in. The trip took twenty minutes. I had one exceptionally mild contraction.
Halfway to the hospital I looked over at my husband and had a horrible though. Oh, no, I thought. What if I'm not even in labor?
"What?" he asked.
I shook my head. "Nothing."
After I was out of the car, the contractions seemed to pick up. They came every few minutes and I had to lean over. My doula walked with me, letting me lean on her every contraction. The walk up to L&D seemed to take forever.
We finally reached reception. The nurse looked up. "Can I help you?"
Everyone paused. "I'm in labor," I announced.
"Okay. Can you tell me more about that?" she asked, unimpressed. I didn't know how to explain labor and no one else spoke. A contraction hit me. "When you're finished with that contraction, just let me know how far apart they are and how long you've been having them."
"I don't know," I said. "Every few minutes. Since midnight or one."
"So every three minutes, every six minutes?" she fished.
"About every five minutes. She's been having them since midnight," my husband snapped, annoyed.
She asked for our ID's and we were ushered to triage, the doula was instructed to sit in the waiting room.
In triage, my husband helped me undress. I laid back on the table and was checked. The vaginal exam was painful and the first time I needed to vocalize my discomfort. The nurse's eyes widened. "You're about nine centimeters with a bulging bag! Do you want us to break your water?" That was the first of many requests to rupture my water.
I thought back to the last labor and shook my head. No.
They started getting ready to set up an IV and my husband walked in front of them. "She doesn't want an IV."
They paused, unsure. "She needs an IV." He shook his head. "It's in her plan. She doesn't want it."
The head nurse mulled his comments over. "Is a heplock okay? Then, if we need to get her fluids, it'll already be set up but she won't be hooked up to a bag." I nodded my consent.
I was admitted and sent to a room. My doula joined us.
The two standard belts were strapped to my belly. One for the fetal heart rate, one to measure contractions. "The doctor would like you to be on the monitor for twenty minutes. Then, you can take it off and walk around if you'd like," the nurse explained.
The wait felt eternal and ended up being thirty minutes. I told my husband to go tell them I was going to take the straps off because I was in too much pain on the bed. He almost left the room but a nurse came in and told us that she was going to remove the monitors. She apologized for the extra time. The doctors had been changing shifts and didn't want me off monitoring until the switch had been made.
I should have taken them off at the twenty minute mark, I thought.
Gratefully, I left the bed and wandered the room. After a while, though, I hovered nearby, using it as a prop. It felt good to lean over it during contractions rather than standing straight up.
At about eight that morning, I was asked if I wanted to be checked. I consented. As always, the check hurt more than I felt it should. I was fully dilated but the baby was high in the pelvis.
"Do you want us to break your water? You could probably have a baby in two minutes if we did that," asked a nurse. No.
She left and returned with the doctor and two other nurses.
He smiled and introduced himself. He told me he was going to check me. At this point, I was just going with the flow, so I consented. He confirmed what the nurse had stated.
She asked me if I wanted my water broken. I shook my head. The doctor nodded and informed us that he was going to go check on another patient.
"You're fully dilated but baby is pretty high. I think you just need to labor a little longer," he said and left the room.
"Are you sure you don't want your water broken? Might speed things up," the same nurse said.
"Fine, that's fine," I said. I didn't even care anymore.
"Are you sure?" asked my husband. "You really didn't want that."
The nurse had already left the room to grab an amniohook.
I opened my mouth to tell him that I didn't care. "I...I'm nauseous." My doula quickly tossed over an emesis bag. A contraction hit me and I threw up all at the same time. I felt the baby shift and suddenly there was an insane amount of pressure in my pelvis. As I threw up, the urge to bear down took over.
My water burst immediately and the force propelled it across the room. It hit my doula on her way to grab me a cool washcloth. When I stopped pushing, I saw her surprised face and the water that was on the wall.
Another pushing contraction came and I was bearing down before I knew it. The nurses all began yelling. "Doctor!" they shouted and started running out of the room. A nurse returned with the amniohook. "What happened?" she asked. "Her water broke!" they shouted.
The obstetrician walked into the room a minute after having left it. "Okay, okay," he said. He positioned himself at the base of the bed. I was in a semi-sitting position since I had just been checked. I always envisioned a different pushing position but once it began I didn't want to move. His eyebrows raised slightly, "Oh! Wow! Good progress! Two pushes and you'll have a baby!"
I didn't know what he was talking about. The baby was stuck. I just knew it. Everyone had told me that relief came with pushing and this was the opposite. Labor had been so easy, but this...this was something else. I wanted to tell him he was crazy. I was going to break apart. I wasn't built like this. All that came out was, "No!!!"
He kept encouraging me to push. "Noooo!" I'd yell and then I'd bear down.
I didn't feel anymore progress.
My doula leaned in and gave me the best advice in the world. I have realized that I don't need as much physical support during labor but this was exactly what I need to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it. "Hey, it's okay. You're doing amazing. Reach down and touch the baby's head."
Head? The head was in my pelvis, not budging, not moving. I shook my head.
"Reach down," she coaxed.
I reached down and I was surprised at what I felt. I was crowning. I felt the smooth skin, the softest hair. I was actually doing it! This was my baby! Why had I been so afraid? I was safe. I wasn't going to break. I was going to meet my baby. I looked at her and smiled broadly.
I cooperated with my next contraction and didn't fight it. The doctor was right. A few pushes with my cooperation and the head was out. The body slid out as an afterthought.
I relaxed into the bed. I was finished. A little baby was placed onto my chest and roughly toweled. I didn't want him just yet but I was afraid they were going to push him off of me, so I held onto his body. After a minute or so, I was finally ready to meet him. He cried out a few times but was mostly just resting. I touched his soft, dark hair. I looked over his purple-red body, the funny coloring of a fresh newborn.
"Cayden," I whispered. "I love you." What a journey.