I’ve had multiple friends (all female) ask me for my birthing story. I used to be all queasy about birthing stories, but ever since we decided to get pregnant, I had been very interested. It may have been from an educational standpoint. Anyway, here is mine, written in pieces over the course of the past few days (I didn’t have much time available in productive blocks). A timeline:
* Wednesday, 11/23, contractions started (~3am), entered hospital (~8:30 a.m.) and had baby (4:57 p.m.) (I was pretty happy I started in the wee hours of the morning, labored through the day with sunlight streaming through the windows and we weren’t feeling like we were up when we weren’t supposed to be, and I was done by the end of a regular workhour day. It was perfect. Oh! And I didn’t cuss, didn’t fly into verbal or physical attacks on Mr. W. I pretty much felt in rational control the entire time. [I just asked Mr. W if he was glad I didn’t cuss him out or scratch him to death and he said, “Mm-hmm! You were very pleasant to be with, as aggravating as it may have been to have me keep telling you to do stuff like breathe and count…”])
* Thursday, 11/24, stayed in hospital (we opted to stay overnight Thursday night cuz the nurses and staff were so helpful; otherwise they would’ve discharged us after 24 hours, since everyone checked out as healthy)
* Friday, 11/25, discharged early afternoon (~2pm) and came home for the first time with Allie

WARNING: This is long AND graphic; if you’re one of those queasy-about-birthing-story people, don’t click “more.” Otherwise, welcome to my last Wednesday.

On the drive home after the 40-week appointment with the OB, I mentioned to Mr. W that Rebecca suggested (jokingly) that we need to have a heart-to-heart with Allison to tell her to come out. Mr. W patted a hand on my swollen belly, and said gamely, “Allie, this is your dad. You need to come out now.” He said some other stuff, too, but I forgot it because I didn’t take it very seriously. Mr. W’s two kids came to dinner with us at California Pizza Kitchen and complained mildly about how long Allie was taking, Mr. W ordered a too-spicy pizza which we shared along with a salad, Mr. W’s son came back to our house afterwards, we watched “Biggest Loser” on TV, then everyone went to bed until it was just me and Son left downstairs. I complained online about how long Allie was taking, Son left a little past midnight to hit the gym, I invited him back the following Tuesday for the next episode of “Biggest Loser,” he mentioned hopefully that we might have Allie by then, I made a sarcastic dubious comment, then I watched TV until I fell asleep in the living room. That’s a summary of the day.

At 3:15 a.m., I was woken up by a bad lower abdominal cramp. I’d felt that a couple of times before, always in the middle of the night, and knew it would be relieved with urination. But instead, I went back to sleep. 3:45 a.m., it happened again. Then at 4:05 a.m.. And then every 3-4 minutes, sometimes without one subsiding before being hit with the other one. I staggered upstairs, went to the restroom, and saw some thick bloody mucous in the toilet. Soon, another sign of labor: diarrhea. Twice. (Lesson learned: don’t eat crazy spicy stuff if you expect to go into labor at any time.) I remembered that my cousin Jennifer had told me that if I had questions, needed to vent, wanted to talk about anything at any hour of the night, to text her because she’s up every couple of hours to feed her 2-month-old anyway. I texted her. Sure enough, she was up. She asked me some questions and assessed the situation, and suggested we go to the hospital. I wanted ideally to wait until I knew my contractions were close enough together that I was dilated 5cm or more, so that I wouldn’t have to spend my entire labor in the hospital, or be turned away from the hospital for not being far enough along. The problem was that my contractions were so on top of each other, and always were, that I had no clue how dilated I was. After dealing with some crampy contractions with Mr. W rubbing my back, bringing me water, logging my contractions in an iPad app, guarding me to see what he could do for me, we left for the hospital at 8:30am-ish because I was just insecure about how dilated I am with contractions a few minutes apart.

In Labor & Delivery, a nurse strapped two monitors on my stomach, one to track my contractions, one to track Allie’s heartbeats. They want to make sure the heartrate goes up and down so they know she’s awake and responsive. Every time she moves, her heartrate would go from 120ish to 140-150 bpm. I laid on the bed and stared obsessively at the two moving graphs. I was curious how my contractions correlated to what was being graphed. Pretty amazing stuff. I soon saw a correlation between the two; when Allie would move and her heartbeats increased, it seemed to trigger contractions. Or maybe she was feeling the contractions coming on and would move before I felt them. I thought I would want to move around, lean on the birthing ball, walls, etc. during labor to feel better, but in that first room I thought my contractions felt more tolerable laying on my side. I even managed to snooze often between contractions. Annoying thing: the nurse who came in and hooked up the monitors had asked about my birthing plan, understood my request to not be medicated or put on an IV unless medically necessary, but later an Asian female doctor came in and kept pressuring me about getting an epidural and an IV in place. This doctor basically said I will not be allowed to drink anything because my stomach must be empty, so I have to have the IV in for hydration immediately. (She also checked me and said I was 3cm, so I KNEW I wasn’t that far along. Birthing class also prepared me with info that it was my choice, especially that early.) I put her off and said I’ll wait on that until I’m at least in the birthing room and farther along, it’s too early for me to insert an IV right now because I wanted the freedom to move around as needed when I’m in pain, so she eventually left me alone. I never saw her again, but apparently she was full of shit because the first nurse returned, respecting my birthing plan, with drink boxes of juice and a big cup of ice water. She said I need to keep drinking orally to stay hydrated. I knew there was another way. At 11am, I was told they would admit me. The pain of the cramping at this point was about a 6 on the pain scale (4 at home). I knew I refused pain medication, but I sure thought about it a lot. I had a secret hope that I’d be so far along that the option of pain meds would no longer exist, either because I’d be pushing before meds could kick in, or because I’d have already reached maximum pain (5-6cm) and realized I could handle it.
I had compiled a big playlist of songs that don’t fail to make me feel happy, hoping they’d help with endorphin production, and Mr. W had put the songs on his iPad. They played the entire time I was in the Labor & Delivery assessment room, but I didn’t have him play them for too long in the private birthing room because I realized I was tuning the music out, anyway. Contractions have a way of taking your full attention. I kept thinking of Jordan’s warning: you’d find this music annoying when you’re in labor. It didn’t get to that, tho.

In my private birthing room later, I was introduced to a very nice nurse who wrote “do not offer pain medication” (meaning if I wanted it, I’d ask for it) and “have a healthy baby girl” on the whiteboard for our goals for this birth. Next to that, she wrote in pink “Welcome Baby Allison!” and drew a pink cloud around that. I’d stared at that obsessively throughout the day, too. A nurse midwife came in and introduced herself, and said she could split my care with the Asian doctor from the initial labor & delivery assessment room if I liked. Mr. W answered that for me immediately. “I think your care alone would be preferable.” Thank you for knowing me, Mr. W! I couldn’t talk to respond as I was overtaken with a contraction. The nurse tended to me as I waited out the rest of my labor with the midwife coming in every so often. They only brought up once that I can have alternatives to pain management if I chose, and they confirmed my IV delay were still my wishes, which it was, so they kept bringing me juice and water. Time seemed to fly by as I stared at the monitors again, fascinated by how my contractions registered. I kept being surprised how many hours have passed when to me it seemed like quarter hours. Soon (to me), the nurse said she was going to have the midwife come in to check my progress. I said that after all these contractions, if I was only dilated 3.5 cm, I’d jump out the window. She chuckled and said she was pretty sure I was farther along than 3.5.

When the midwife came in for the assessment, it was about 2pm. She checked me and announced I’m at 8cm. That’s significant progress to dilate 5cm in about 2 hours, so those contractions were doing their job! The usual rule of thumb for dilation, they told me, is 1/2 to 1cm per hour. I was so happy and relieved to be so soon nearing the end of my labor, and even more relieved for pain medication reasons — as I had learned in class that the pain peaks at 5-6 cm, once I’m past that point I’ll know for sure whether I need pain relief. I was now so far past that point that I knew I could hang in there and have my childbirth the way I’d wanted it. The midwife asked if it would be okay with me if she let a family practice doctor doing his residency come in for the delivery under her supervision. She promised she’d be here directing and supervising, he just needed more experience. I didn’t care WHO saw my crotch at this point (plus, she asked at a good time, when I was deliriously happy about my 8cm). The more staff and doctors on hand, the better. I gave her a thumbs-up as I was mid-contraction and couldn’t really talk. It seemed I was always mid-contraction at that point. The nurse warned me that as I’m now in the “transition stage” of labor (8-10 cm), I would soon feel urges from my body to push. “If I’m not here, do NOT push without calling me first,” she said, pointing at the nurse call-switch attached to the bed. “Just breathe through the contractions.”

Transition stage was the worst of labor for me. I give it an 8 on pain scale, but that’s not the hardest part. The urge to push started out subtle, where I wasn’t sure if what I was feeling was what she was referring to. A few more contractions in, and the urge felt like spasms caused by imminent diarrhea (i.e., when you think your bowels are going to burst if you keep holding it in, and when you begin to succumb to the pressure and let go, the body takes on a pushing life of its own). I breathed through 4-5 of these contractions, and all I could do was hang on to the railing on the bed and mew out my breath in “ooh”s as I waited for the peak to pass on each 90 second to 4-minute contraction (I was still pretty inconsistent). I remembered the breathing suggestion in birthing class to get through the pushing urge, and I let my breath out in blows as if I were trying to put out a candle. It did help. I also did visualizations that I was in my court reporter Louise’s pain-free bubble of light so the pain would come from me, then leave me as they get pushed out the bubble. That helped, too. Suddenly, it occurred to me at this point that maybe I was holding off on pushing for nothing. I made Mr. W call the nurse in and I asked her if I could push. She said clearly, “NO,” and I was left in mixed relief at not having done the wrong thing, and disappointment at having to keep waiting, while she ran to get the midwife. The midwife and a young male doctor came in. She said she would check me to see if I could push yet, and the male doctor introduced himself. I put a finger up and gasped, “Hold on — contraction.” They looked to the monitor and followed me “oohing” and blowing through a double contraction (where the first would start dying but start into another one before leaving altogether). The male doctor checked me in the very short time I had between oohings and he said there was still some cervical lip. The midwife checked after he did to confirm. She said sure enough, I’m at a 9.5 and would be pushing very soon. Breathing through a contraction, I listened to Mr. W inquire about possible scar tissue from my past LEEP procedure causing the leftover lip, and the midwife explain that any such scar tissue would hold the cervix together at maybe 1-1.5 cm but that in active labor, it wouldn’t stand a chance.

Now at 9.5-10 cm, around me people were jumping into position and setting up instruments, scrubbing up, putting on gloves. This “pushing” stage of labor, by the way, was nearly pain-free, altho it caused the most problems. The midwife and nurse told me to go ahead and start pushing, instructing me to hold my breath at the beginning of the contraction for a count of 10 as I pushed, then release the breath and take another one very quickly, hold as I push for a count of 10, and then to do it a third time. Someone asked if I needed someone to count for me. Yes, please! So that became Mr. W’s job. The midwife and nurse took turns putting finger pressure on my birth canal so that sensation could guide me to know where I was to push from and toward. Mr. W asked if they were stretching my perenium, and the nurse said no. I was a little disappointed, since I also wanted to prevent an episiotomy if I could. I feel like the majority of labor had a sort of drugged element to it from my body’s trauma- and pain-counteracting hormones, because when I look back the details are blurred and one scene sort of fades into the next. I don’t have the sharpness of memory I usually do when I could go back and relive the smells, feels, details, etc. The nurse was alone helping me at one early point of pushing and asked if I’d urinated recently. I said not since I first entered this room. She thought my bladder felt full to her and that if that was the case, it would explain why the baby was having a hard time descending into the birth canal. I pushed through a few more contractions as Mr. W counted and the nurse asked me to try to urinate as she put a bedpan under me. I told her I didn’t feel like I had to pee, but I tried anyway. Nothing. Was she SURE the bladder was full? She said at this point not having an empty bladder is a problem, and offered me a CATHETER. I freaked a little internally. I asked a lot of questions, such as whether it’s the only way, and she said yes because at this point of labor I can’t get up and walk to the restroom. Is an empty bladder necessary? Yes; otherwise the baby’s head would hit the bladder and not fit under it to come out. Would she lubricate the catheter? Yes. Is it removed right away? It would stay in place through labor only. I had to say yes. It wasn’t comfortable going in and I “ow-ed” it a couple of times, but the feeling was unspecific. General urinary tract discomfort, and once it was in place, I couldn’t even feel it, nor did I have any sensation that my bladder was emptying. Mr. W kept an eye on everything from my side. I knew he could tell me what’s going on, but chose correctly to stay quiet. I didn’t need an “ew” element to my day at this point.

Soon the midwife and doctor returned, and the three medical personnel, plus a new nurse along with Mr. W, coached me through the last bit of it. I was having some problems. Based on what I overheard and what was explained to me, the baby was having some difficulty staying wherever my last push landed her. (I almost wrote “him” because for some reason, the baby coming out was male in my head at that point. I now wonder whether I’d referred to Allie as “he” when I talked to them. They probably thought I was delirious.) She would get through my pelvis into my birth canal, then get sucked back up when I released the push. The midwife manually pushed back a cervical tilt to help the baby’s head come through. This time she stayed in my birth canal, adding to the pressure and the desire to push as each contraction waved over me. I was instructed over and over (nicely) to hold my knees in the air with my hands curved under the bend of my knees, keep my elbows out, not put energy into pushing on my face or making any sound, but to concentrate all energy into pushing with my lower bowels. Mr. W was wonderful, staying to the right of my head, counting (altho sometimes his counts were slower than the counts going on in my head) and occasionally giving me advice and updates, much as the 4-man medical team did. Collectively, they sounded like: “Deep breath, in and out, okay, now push! One, two, three — Her head’s visible! Come on, come on, seven, eight, nine, ten! Deep breath in! One, two, three…push push! Don’t push with your face, don’t make sounds, all your strength down below! Nine, ten, breathe! One more! One, two, three…” Soon, “Good job! That was the farthest she’s come out yet! One more like that and we’d have Allison!” So the baby was apparently just sliding in and out as the doctor and midwife worked to get her out all the way. Initially, I was pushing “carefully” from my abs, like my cousin and a friend advised. “They tell you to push like you’re going poop, but that’s how you get labor hemorroids. Push at your abs.” The problem? Both of those women had epidurals and did not feel the “urge to push” which was VERY concentrated in the bowels. My biggest problem was holding my breath while pushing with the bowel urge. I’d run out air at like 6 or 7. Apparently I was letting air out while I was straining and making straining noises from my throat. Taking a new breath at this time didn’t help because I always took too long, so my pushing at the later ends of each contraction was not very strong. After all the coaching to push like I’m going #2, I finally gave up in my head (since clearly I was getting nowhere doing it “my” way), and gave in to nature and pushed with EVERYTHING down below. Wow, allowing that internal mechanism to work was amazing. My body took over pushing and sometimes pushed so hard for me that my legs shook. The medical team and Mr. W would get VERY excited looking at the progress when I would push that way, so I continued. If I jacked up my privates pushing this way, I thought, oh well cuz it’ll heal. Besides, I had already asked if the doctor could just grab Allie by the ears and pull her out for me and they had all laughed and said sorry, this baby didn’t have a handle they could grab for me…so it was all up to me. Waiting for the next contraction to come (Mr. W said I was like clockwork at this point with contractions coming exactly every 2 mins) while the baby was lodged in my birth canal, visible to everyone else, sucked for me. Since my contractions were longer than the average contraction, the medical team allowed me the option of giving 4 pushes if I felt like it instead of the standard 3. (I would ask why I felt pain in my lower abdomen after I’d done the 3rd push, and they had explained it’s cuz my contraction wasn’t over and as I wasn’t pushing, it didn’t relieve the pain. Pushing at this point really DID feel good.) I took them up on it toward the end and that’s what made it the end. Mr. W would try to tell me through the excitement in his voice that I was making progress. “One, two, three, FOUR! FIVE! SIX! SEVEN!!! EIGHT!!!!!!” That’s how I knew, and plus his eyes would grow wide and he’d look happy. While waiting in between contractions once, the midwife and doctor commented in amusement about how they could see Allie moving her head trying to find a way out. They offered me a mirror and basically, oh HELL no, keep that thing away from me. I don’t want a visual. (Mr. W later confirmed this was a smart choice on my part.)

Allie’s heartrate had slowed a little on the monitor. The midwife walked to the head of the bed and talked to me about the benefits of starting an IV line in delivering fluids or intervention quickly if needed. She didn’t say WHAT intervention, when, or why, but basically that in case the baby has a problem, they want to have faster access to an IV so suggested I open up an hep lock, or to get an IV connected now. She said they also administer a dose of Pitocin after the birth to help the uterus shrink back down, and it could be a shot on my thigh muscle or administered through the IV, it was up to me. I was still confused as to how an IV line on me would help a baby in distress, but Mr. W answered for me and said that at this point, an IV wouldn’t be an impediment because I’m not going to get up and move around anyhow. The reason we didn’t want one in from the beginning is to keep me from having to lay in bed through my entire labor there (which I ended up doing anyway cuz I found contractions felt significantly smaller when I’m lying on my side) and I didn’t want to be tempted to get pain meds injected in an IV line (which will go through my bloodstream and dope up the baby). So they hooked up a fluid IV and then a Pitocin bag on the back of my left hand.

My memory is blurred at this point, but I remember the push that got Allie out, I was letting air out in a big strained grunt and I felt no pain, but a lot of warmth along with fast-moving lumpiness coming through me in a big fluid rush, and then a slimy Allie was placed on my stomach as the atmosphere in the room got way more excited. I can’t remember my first words to my daughter, but I think they were something like, “Hey, you little kicker!” I was surprised how heavy she felt on my stomach, couldn’t see her too well from my position, and I thought her cry was adorable. What a beautiful voice. I was aware of the doctor and midwife still working between my knees. Mr. W had originally wanted to “catch” but didn’t get to as the doctor in training did it, so they let him cut the umbilical cord. I was glad I didn’t have to look at that, too. Gross. It happened sooner than I’d expected. A nurse took that photo for Mr. W. Then they took Allie to a corner to clean her off and do some preliminary exams. From that point on, Allie was never out of our sight for the duration of the hospital stay. Mr. W followed at the nurse’s invitation, and took a video of Allie’s first bath. The doc and midwife worked away stitching together a tear in my perenium (internal; externally it stretched sufficiently with a little help from the doctor’s fingers). I was told to give two good pushes and I birthed my placenta (felt like a flush of hot liquid, almost comforting), which I later asked to see and the midwife showed me what appeared to be a giant red jellyfish. Apparently that’s where the membrane around the baby was attached; I had been wondering that. The cord was still attached to the inside, and she turned it over for me so I could see the red side attached to my uterus compared to the blue side that faced the baby. Fascinating. I told her how my friend Christi said her placenta was the grossest thing she’d ever seen in her life, and that was why I was interested in seeing mine. Apparently mine was huge and healthy, which is probably what allowed Allie to stay in there longer than she should’ve. She constantly got sufficient oxygen and nutrition. (Later on before I was discharged from the hospital, the male doctor came to visit us, and I asked him whether I should’ve gotten the episiotomy; he said old-school doctors did it automatically but that the newer doctors, presumably himself included, don’t do it unless it’s essential. Where I tore was where they would’ve done the episiotomy anyway, and I tore at a 1st-2nd degree and the episiotomy would’ve likely been 2nd degree, so it came out a wash in his opinion.)

As I lay there being finished up, stats of Allie were called out. Her APGAR score was 8-9 (I remember that her hands and feet were kinda blue-gray), which made me cheer cuz that was one of the reasons I didn’t want pain relief. Shocker: her weight was 8 lbs, 2 oz. That’s HUGE! No wonder she had problems coming out easily. But she’s not a chubby girl by any means; she was also tall at 21 inches. The nurses said she was “overcooked.” Mr. W made a joke about how she’s already outgrown the tiny baby shoes given to her as shower gifts from friends. When I got a good look at her face, I thought she looked exactly like my dad with her swollen face and eyes. I told Mr. W that sorry, apparently he got no genetic input except for her size. Someone said, “Did any of you verify the gender?” Silence, then one nurse said, “I did: girl.”

I asked the nurse how long I had pushed before Allie finally came out. She picked up the strip of paper from the machine with all the readings of contractions graphed on it, then told me that it was pretty average at 30-45 minutes. I was surprised; it’d felt like 15-20 to me.

Briefly, the hospital was amazing. I felt like I was in a five-star hotel being waited on, except with lots of people giving me free advice, help, and stuff to take home including a diaper bag stuffed with goodies. We opted to stay an extra night even tho Mr. W wanted to be home, because I was happy absorbing the breastfeeding assistance and tips and medication. Plus it came in handy when we would see some spots of orange, like what appeared to be diluted blood, in a wet diaper. I just called the nurse in and asked if they could check it out. Turned out it was normal, just a response from the baby to my body’s hormones since I was breastfeeding immediately. I wasn’t in pain after the birth and could walk around just fine. My parents and Mr. W’s daughter arrived at the hospital during the time I was being transferred to my private recuperation room, where the three of us (Mr. W, myself, and Allie) would stay until we were discharged, and they all remarked how well I looked a couple of hours after birthing a baby. Natural hormones are amazing.

Thanks for reading!