My estimated due weekend, February 21-22, came and went with absolutely no signs of a baby’s imminent arrival. I was still working, we had workers banging away in our kitchen—I was glad to see the days go by without a baby. In my mind, I’d envisioned a Leap Day or March 1st baby. When THAT weekend flew by, the impatience and hormones began mounting. On Monday the first, my 41 week prenatal showed that the baby had dropped and seemed to be in a good position, which gave us hope that we might be parents before the week was out. It wasn’t until Wednesday that my Braxton-Hicks turned into something more exciting.
Wednesday afternoon I was feeling good enough that Dan and I went to 5pm Mass together. I realized afterwards that I’d felt at least two contractions during the 35 minute service, but didn’t think much of it at the time. We went out to a family restaurant after Mass to enjoy what we thought might be our last dinner out for quite awhile. I commented to Dan as I experienced a couple Braxton-Hicks and he decided to time them for practice. Over the course of dinner, we realized that these practice contractions were coming fairly consistently ten minutes apart. My B-H had been fairly frequent for a week or two, but rarely had I felt more than two in an hour. Dan convinced me to come walking with him once I talked him into doing a little shopping simultaneously. We headed to the nearest mall and I browsed through bookshelves while feeling contractions every nine minutes. At first I tried to ignore the times and just tell Dan when they started, but after over an hour of regular contractions, I couldn’t help but check the times. The contractions made my belly harden enough that they were impossible to miss and they made my lower back ache a bit, too. The backache was the key to my determining that these were no longer Braxton-Hicks. We stayed at the mall nearly two hours, walking and hoping the contractions would get stronger.
We got home that night and watched “The Princess Bride” and I got online and wrote to everyone I knew that I might be in early labor. We called the midwives to let them know that something was happening. They repeated the instructions I’d heard over and over again—get as much rest as possible. They said that I might sleep through the night and have things start up again in the morning, or they might get stronger as the night went on. I went to bed at 11:30 figuring that either I’d be well-rested or in active labor by morning.
I spent my first three hours Wednesday night dozing for a few minutes and waking for contractions. My body did such a good job sleeping between them that it felt like they were coming without breaks in between. I tossed and turned trying to find the most comfortable way to get through them and becoming increasingly miserable. Seeing Dan asleep beside me made them worse somehow. The night dragged on and on—every time I woke up I looked at the clock hoping that more time would have passed. Around 2am, I couldn’t stand lying in bed any longer and went into the baby’s room. I surrounded myself with pillows and leaned back in our IKEA semi-rocking chair. I was able to wedge things behind my back so that as the contractions came, I would rock and put enough pressure on my back to get through them. Sitting like this, I was able to go longer stretches without waking—maybe 20 or 30 minutes at once. It felt heavenly after being in bed. I began writing down the times and realized the contractions were about seven minutes apart for most of the night. Around 5, I decided that I’d dealt with this alone long enough and it was time for Dan to share the pain. I couldn’t force myself to sleep any longer. He came into the nursery with me and spent an hour or two timing contractions and rubbing my back when I asked. We may have both dozed a bit after awhile.
Thursday morning, March 4th, as the sun came up I had high hopes of delivering a baby that day. I’d had about 6 hours of every-10-minute contractions and another 6 to 8 hours where they came every 7 to 10 minutes. It seemed like asking a lot to imagine a baby by lunchtime, but dinner or midnight did not seem out of the question. I was about on track to follow my mom’s 48 hour delivery with me, her firstborn, or maybe somewhat faster.
We called the midwives and told them how my contractions had gotten closer together overnight and that I’d rested as much as I could. We’d planned on having Dan’s sister Kara (a student nurse who plans to become a nurse-midwife) with us for at least my early labor. She was scheduled to be nearby for her clinicals starting at 8am, so we figured it would be better to catch her before she arrived than for her to potentially miss most of my labor. Dan picked her up from the hospital once she arrived and they were back before 9am.
I was in a good mood when they came back. The contractions slowed me down, but I could talk through them without too much trouble. Kara made herself some eggs, I had a bowl of oatmeal, and the three of us settled in to watch “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”. During the movie, I played around on the computer, mostly replying to messages inquiring as to whether anything was happening.
By lunchtime Thursday, the contractions had clearly spread out—they were coming every 15 minutes at the most. We decided it was safe to keep our appointment with our tax preparer across town. I noticed a few contractions while we were there—I would stop talking and quietly breathe through them, but I doubt Dan or the tax guy even realized I was having them.
Later that afternoon, we tried to walk the baby out. The three of us walked down to the river at a pretty good pace—especially for a 42 week pregnant woman. I kept walking through some of the contractions and stopped to support my back through a couple. A few times, I needed to stop and rest, but it was mostly to give my legs a break. We detoured to Dairy Queen on the way back despite the fact that it wasn’t really a warm enough day to walk outside eating ice cream. We were out more than an hour by the time we got home.
I went back on the computer and had enough messages that I decided I couldn’t keep up with them anymore and it was time to stop replying. I didn’t want to stress myself out thinking that I needed to get back to the computer. I did keep reading my usual sites until Friday afternoon when the messages started expressing worry about my safety and then I ignored the computer altogether until after the birth.
By 5pm Thursday, the contractions were back to ten minutes apart, after having 20 to 30 minute spacing for most of the day. I was able to nap for awhile at that point, waking only for the contractions. Around 9 or 10, it was clear that the birth wasn’t going to happen immediately, and Kara went to her parents’ house for the night to sleep. I felt bad that she’d missed class and Dan had missed work and we were back at the same place I’d been 24 hours before, but there’d been no way to know that the contractions would slow down like that.
Thursday night, I started off in the IKEA chair since lying in bed had been so horrible the night before. Dan made a bed of blankets on the floor next to me. It seemed like I was only in active labor when the sun went down because I had contractions every 5 to 7 minutes for the second night in a row. My back bothered me more than anything else, and during contractions I would have Dan push on my lower back when I indicated that another contraction had begun. They were lasting 45-60 seconds each. I never really had contractions shorter than 45 seconds, even at the beginning. I was able to rest more in the chair than I had in bed, but I didn’t have more than a few 20-30 minutes stretches of sleep throughout the night.
Friday morning I was tempted to send Dan to work so he could have more time off once the baby arrived, but I was glad he was with me later, even though the contractions slowed to every 10-20 minutes during the day. Again. I talked to Jeanette (of MT) and she recommended a number of baby-turning techniques like side-stepping down stairs and doing lunges since the baby had been in some awkward positions at various points during my pregnancy. She highly recommended seeing a chiropractor. I sort of pooh-poohed her ideas because I was tired and grouchy, but tried the side-stepping thing and seemed to twist my hip or something painful, and that was the end of that.
Around lunch, we called the midwives to check in and ask if they had any suggestions. We also found out that my back-up doctor wasn’t going to be at work on Monday, but that she was fine with waiting until Tuesday before an induction would be deemed necessary. Earlier, we’d thought that I’d have to go in for a bio-physical profile and ultrasound on Friday if the baby hadn’t arrived. Since labor had begun, even half-heartedly, I was able to avoid those procedures.
Essentially, the midwives wanted the labor to either slow down so I could rest or speed up so it would end. I might have been able to slow it down by taking calcium, but purposely doing something that did not get the baby out as soon as possible didn’t sound like a good plan to me. Instead, Dan went to the store and bought bottles of blue and black cohosh, which I proceeded to take all afternoon. I’d heard of people taking them to help induce labor, but the midwives said that they didn’t find that the cohoshes made much of a difference unless the woman was in labor already. They suggested taking a dropperful of one cohosh diluted in a glass of juice every fifteen minutes, switching between them each time. The liquid tasted terrible—it made the juice taste rancid, and I quickly tired of the whole thing. I took the first dose at 12:45 and the last at 4:20, with nine more in between. The timing got thrown off depending on when contractions came. I went through a LOT of juice during my labor, all of it apple, grape, cranberry—not the acidic kinds. After the cohoshes, I forgot how sweet juice normally tastes.
The midwives said that the cohoshes would take up to an hour to take effect and that they wouldn’t want me to keep taking them indefinitely. The contractions did pick up some after beginning the cohoshes—about every ten minutes, rather than 15-20—but not to the rate we’d hoped.
Around 4:30, Jeanne came over to check me. I peed on a stick that declared me to not be exhausted—I wasn’t spilling ketones into my urine. I think that if I hadn’t passed that ‘test’, they might have considered transferring me to a hospital, or at the least, kept a very close eye on me after that. We decided against an internal exam that day. I’d had one at 37 weeks (a month before!) showing me to be 80% effaced and a fingertip dilated, but that was all. My blood pressure and the baby’s heartrate were both fine. So everything looked good except that I was at 42 weeks and seemed like I’d be laboring forever! Jeanne believed that the baby was in a position that wasn’t allowing him or her to properly dilate my cervix and that my contractions were working to turn the baby. She advised stopping the cohoshes since they weren’t doing much. She suggested having a chiropractor work on me to help things along. Of course, it’s now 5pm on a Friday, which wasn’t the best time to find someone. She said she’d try making a few calls. Perhaps if I’d listened to Jeanette, I would have been able to see someone that day, but I figured that the midwives knew what they were doing and they’d tell me if I should see a chiropractor. Jeanne also showed me how to do lunges during contractions to get the baby turning. Doing anything other than leaning over and getting my back rubbed during a contraction wasn’t that fun, but I tried a few lunges now and then.
For dinner that night we decided to make veggie lasagna. We were short of ingredients and decided to make a field trip of going to the grocery store and picking up a video. I was cranky and moved very slowly through the store—I knew walking was good for me, but my pelvis was driving me crazy. If it hadn’t been obvious before, it was clear now that something was wedging its way through that space! I was in my own world as I wandered through the store—it seemed so odd to be having contractions, experiencing labor as the rest of the world bought groceries as usual. At the video store, we went with “Pirates of the Caribbean”—we’d both seen and enjoyed it and a comedy seemed like a good idea. I was just glad to get home again. Having contractions while out of the house made me grateful once again that we were planning a homebirth. Returning to the familiar rooms was very comforting.
Around 7, my friend Adam was scheduled to arrive at the airport for a 24 hour layover. We had planned for him to come visit a bit, then stay overnight with my parents. Of course, we’d expected a baby to be in the house by then. When he found out Friday afternoon that I was still in labor, he tried to get a flight out to L.A. Friday night, but couldn’t. As it turned out, by 7, I was looking for some distraction, and an hour-long visit by Adam and my mom was fun. He brought a baby gift, checked out our house, chatted awhile, then left for my parents’ house. The contractions then were strong enough for me to stop and breathe through them, but I was cheery and chatty otherwise.
Friday night, I went back to sleeping propped on the chair, since it seemed to work better than the bed. That was my best night’s sleep in three days—I’d wake up every 30 to 45 minutes. Anything was better than waking up every 10 minutes all night.
Saturday morning, Kim came to check on me. Again, my urine showed that I wasn’t leaking ketones, my blood pressure was fine, and the baby’s heartrate was great. We decided it was time to see what an internal exam would tell us. I figured that even if I wasn’t dilating, the baby might have done lots of turning and I wouldn’t be too disappointed no matter what she felt. It turned out that my cervix was paper-thin and dilated to 3cm! It was a little thicker in the back, which Kim thought indicated that the baby’s head wasn’t pressing evenly on my cervix. The baby was at zero station, so he/she had dropped quite a bit. It now seemed very likely that the baby was positioned poorly and that all my contracting was working him/her into a good anterior position. She got serious about finding a chiropractor and left messages for a few she liked who might be willing to make a Saturday house call. The confusing thing was that the baby’s body felt anterior—it was just the head that seemed crooked. It was also possible that he or she was holding his/her hands up to his/her chin and preventing the head from fitting well.
We considered going back to the cohoshes, but never summoned the willpower to do that again. The potential risks of taking them outweighed the benefits now that we’d tried them without success the day before.
Saturday afternoon, Dan’s mom came over. Since the visit with my mom and Adam had gone well, we figured the distraction wouldn’t hurt anything. She’s a licensed massage therapist, and making use of her skills certainly sounded good to me. She’d just started working on me when the chiropractor arrived. Lucia, the chiropractor, turned out to be someone I knew from my parents’ church ten years ago. She had me lie on the couch, which was surprisingly comfortable. She worked with my pelvis, which was out of whack in some way, then did muscle work on my belly. I did feel some changes, but it wasn’t the miracle baby-turning cure that I’d convinced myself would occur with her arrival. She showed Dan’s mom some techniques that would help me before she left.
That evening, we went back to the mall where my contractions had got going three days before and walked and walked and walked. I was moving faster than I had for weeks. Most of the stores were closed, so we just walked the halls from one end to the other, stopping at most of the bathrooms along the way. We met my mom there so she could loan us some videos, and she walked with us for awhile. I think she felt better seeing me and knowing I was okay. For Dan and I, going from one day to the next was hard, but our families were going buggy wondering what was going on. Everybody was afraid to call us because they didn’t want to intrude.
Saturday night, we propped me up on the couch with pillows everywhere. Dan made a little mattress of blankets on the floor next to me and we prepared for another long night. Going by our contraction notes, it looks like they came every 8-10 minutes between 10 and 11, then we slept until midnight and they came every 6-10 minutes. The next notation is at 3am—I can’t remember whether I was sleeping during these gaps too, or if I just didn’t wake up Dan for support (he was the contraction tracker). I did have my first blob of mucus plug around 2:30. Every time I’d talked to the midwives for WEEKS, they’d asked if I had any unusual discharge. Nope, nothing ever. Until then. It was clear and looked like lots of egg-white, fertile cervical mucus to me. Just lots and lots of it. Dan got me through a couple contractions around 3am, then must have slept until 5. At 4am, more of my mucus plug came out.
At 5am, we were both awake for the day. Between 5 and 7, the contractions came every 7 to 15 minutes. At 6:45, I saw more of my plug—this time tinged with some blood. Starting at 7, the contractions became more frequent—they were suddenly only 3 to 5 minutes apart (lasting about a minute each). We’d been watching “An Affair to Remember”, and halfway through, I realized that I was missing more than I was watching and turned it off. By 9am, some contractions were lasting up to 90 seconds and were still coming steadily every 4 minutes. Finally, we were getting somewhere!
We called the midwives and Kara and told them all to come over. I was beginning to feel like I needed the midwives’ support to know how to cope. If nothing else, the change in frequency made me feel like the baby could potentially come anytime and I didn’t want him/her to come before the midwives did—no unassisted birth for me, thanks! I spent the contractions pacing back and forth in our living room and entryway, hoping to see someone’s car pull up. During a contraction, I could feel my uterus tightening, but the real pain came in my back. My lower back ached throughout each contraction, building then waning after the tightness released, cutting down my rest time between them considerably. I tried to remember that I would get a break each time but it got harder to avoid thinking about that next inevitable contraction.
Kara arrived before the midwives and set up camp in the dining room and kitchen. She and Dan probably gave me something to eat. At lunchtime, I had toast with peanut butter and some juice. Throughout the day, they force-fed me an energy bar—it took me hours to get through that thing with the tiny bites I took between contractions. I was scared to death that a contraction would come while I still had something in my mouth. I was a little better about fluids—I could take a few sips at a time. I had no desire to eat, but I knew that if I didn’t keep up my strength, I’d be in trouble. If I couldn’t be rested, I needed to at least have food in my belly. I’d expected to be a puker, but at no point did I get nauseous. By the time that the midwives came around 10 (and we stopped writing down contraction times), the contractions were 2 to 4 minutes apart and lasting 75 seconds.
The midwives stayed out of our (Dan and my) way for the most part. Every hour, they checked the baby’s heart tones, which were generally between 120 and 144 beats per minute with good variability. In the early afternoon, my tailbone began to hurt during contractions and that quickly became the worst pain to manage. Kim got ahold of Lucia, the chiropractor, and she agreed to return. It appeared that the baby was having a hard time getting past my tailbone and in my mind, as soon as that obstacle was accomplished, the baby would fly right out. We waited and waited for Lucia, who finally arrived at 4:45. Once again, she was able to work on me, but the pain didn’t magically disappear. Shortly after she worked on one area, she came back and discovered that as the baby shifted, the problem immediately returned.
At 6pm, I continued to have bloody show as I’d had since the night before—there was more blood in it as the day went on. Whenever I saw more show, it gave me hope that I was dilating more and was encouraged, no matter how odd it was to have this goo coming out whenever I peed. At that point, I ate some soup and, in their notes, the midwives said I was coping well. Sometime around then, the tailbone pain lessened and I returned to my previous back pain. I never did feel menstrual cramp-ish pain—my uterus would tighten and my back would hurt.
Around 7, I thought I overheard one midwife telling someone that I was probably 6 or 7 cm dilated and entering transition. This gave me a lot of confidence because I felt like I could handle labor as it was, and transition was known to be the hardest phase to tolerate, particularly in drug-free labors. I headed upstairs then and only briefly came back down to the living room later before delivering. Somehow, thinking I was in transition meant that I should stay in the bedroom and bathroom. It was easier to avoid using the stairs.
At first I stayed in bed in the side-lying position. After awhile, I went back to standing during contractions and walking in between them or slow dancing. Throughout all of them, I needed Dan to push and rub my back during each contraction. I vocalized some, mostly a low moan. Every once in a while, I had the chiropractor (who’d never left) work on my back or just help rub. I could hear Kara and the midwives talking downstairs, but the house seemed muffled—the sounds, the lights, everything was dim to me. Dan says that the entire day I was in my own world and acted like someone who woke up in the middle of the night and was trying to find my way to the bathroom. It wasn’t possible to talk with me, but every few minutes, I needed him there to help me through the next painful minute. When the midwives would come to check on the baby, I’d have to lie down for the fetoscope, which was never pleasant. I knew they had to check him/her, but I dreaded hearing them come in the room to do it.
By 10pm, I was tired. When I’d gone upstairs as the sun set, supposedly in transition, I’d expected to have the baby by midnight. There’s a history of babies born on the seventh of the month in my mom’s family, and March 7th seemed like a great birthday. (Heck, March 1st would have been fine, or the 2nd, or 3rd…) But by 10pm, I was convinced that the baby wasn’t ever coming out. Despite the midwives’ warning that it might not be good news, I decided to have my first internal since active labor began. The result—7 cm dilated, zero station. I was crushed. I really, really wanted to hear that I was 8 or 9 cm along. But still at 7, I couldn’t see how I’d ever progress any more. That was the only point in my labor when I would have requested an epidural, had it been an option. I could cope with the contractions, but the unknown labor to come was more than I thought I could handle. I’m pretty sure I cried. I asked the midwives what my options were, part of me wanting to know what a hospital transfer might bring. They convinced me that what I needed was rest. Later, I recognized my hopelessness as a clear sign of being in transition, but at the time, it didn’t seem possible that just because the Bradley book says women want to give up at transition, that I would experience that. :) I then spent 20 or 30 minutes in the bathtub. I’d expected to use the tub more during labor, and possibly deliver there, but I couldn’t get my belly underwater or be in any position other than leaning back, and it just wasn’t as comfortable as I’d expected. The warm water did relax me enough that I was able to curl up on the bed next to Dan and rest in the dark for about half an hour. It seemed like I was just having one contraction after another and I finally gave up and got up around midnight, but I must have been sleeping between contractions. The time I spent in the bath, then napping, must have given me the strength I would need to get through the pushing phase. I woke with a new energy—the hopelessness had passed.
At 12:15am, I realized that the end of each contraction felt different—I thought they were urging me to push. I didn’t think I could have gotten fully dilated already, but with each contraction I was more convinced that my second stage was beginning. We got the midwives back upstairs and they checked me again—10 cm with a lip, +1 station. By golly, I’d arrived at my pushing stage after all!
I think the midwives were dozing for most of the time between my 10pm check and 1:30am because one of them came upstairs at that point and was surprised to hear that I’d been pushing. I varied between sitting in bed, squatting with Dan and Kara’s help, and side-lying. Early on, I remembered pooping onto a chux pad and being glad about it because at least I was pushing SOMETHING out! Ever since I’d gotten out of the bath, I was wearing just a nightgown, but eventually I took it off—I remember being concerned that it was going to get messy and not wanting to bother with it anymore. So much for modesty! My thigh muscles grew sore and squatting became more of a challenge. I would moan through each contraction, giving a number of short push attempts. I have stronger memories of my thighs being sore and not being able to hold myself up than I have of the contractions themselves. Finding positions that didn’t make my muscles ache was a priority.
Between 2:30 and 3:45, a midwife came to check the baby’s heart rate four times and he/she seemed to be coping well. At 3:45, they did another internal. The lip was gone and the baby was still at +1 station. My contractions’ intensity had dropped somewhat. Someone asked when I’d last peed and I realized it had been a few hours since I’d seen anything other than bloody show. Apparently, my bladder was visibly distended and my perineum was beginning to swell from the extended pushing. I could tell that the midwives were concerned that things were taking too long. When questioned, I also realized that I didn’t feel the baby descending when I pushed. Jeanne suggested that potentially, with some Pitocin, the contractions might be strong enough to get the baby out sooner. They gave us two options—transfer to the hospital for Pitocin and possible pain relief, or stay at home, take a break from pushing, and then give it another try. Either way, they recommended being catheterized to relieve the bladder pressure I didn’t even feel. We decided things had gone on long enough and it was time to transfer.
In my mind, I was pretty sure that going to the hospital would mean a C-section. It would also mean 15 minutes of contractions in the car, plus maybe up to an hour while the details of transferring a fully-dilated woman to the hospital got sorted out. Dan and Kara ran around gathering clothes for the baby and me. It was a crazy whirlwind, trying to think through where we’d stored baby things in the midst of the still-present contractions.
As Dan and Kara prepared for the transfer, Kim and Jeanne were working on the catheter. I don’t know how often my midwives insert catheters, but I doubt it’s very often. Add to the challenge a swollen perineum, and it took them a few tries to get it in. Instantly, I felt immensely better. Kim’s notes indicate I released a cup of urine. It felt like I peed for a very long time.
They wanted me to refrain from pushing for awhile to help relieve the swelling, but that was nearly impossible. The best I could do was to breathe through the beginning of the contraction, and once it got really intense, I’d push. That didn’t last too long before I returned to full-fledged pushing around 5am. Jeanne encouraged me to really push, just for awhile, to see if the baby would descent. She later said that she knew my pelvis was large enough and with enough time, the baby would turn him/herself into position and find his/her way out. “One more try” turned into pushing for however long it would take. After 20 hours of laboring at home, I couldn’t quite give it all up yet.
The midwives seemed to think that the pushing I had been doing was ineffective and I needed to change my approach. Dan and I were confused because their instructions were to do exactly what our Bradley classes told us to avoid—holding my breath and pushing as hard and long as I could. Nevertheless, we figured the midwives knew what they were doing and I did as they said. I tried a number of positions—side-lying, semi-reclining, hands and knees (which I’d expected to like, but didn’t), and squatting while being held under my armpits are the ones I remember. By 5:30, I had found the position where I would remain—semi-sitting on my bedroom floor, leaning against my dresser. I was so worn out that all the upright positions made my legs shake, no matter how much support I had. In the semi-sitting position, I was able to pull back on my own legs as I pushed.
A strange thing began to occur with this second round of pushing. In all that time, my bag of waters had not yet broken. As I pushed, the midwives could see a silver of amniotic sac get wider. They held up a mirror so I could see too and be encouraged by my progress. I could feel the baby descending now. The sliver grew and the midwives were convinced that my water would break at any second. By now, the chiropractor had left, but Kara sat in the corner of the room and each midwife sat on one side of me. The last of Dan’s adrenaline had been spent gathering clothes for the cancelled hospital transport and throughout the second round of pushing, he would doing anything someone asked, but he was clearly emotionally and physically exhausted and left the support for the midwives. Mostly, he sat and watched. He later said that he’d been nervous when we decided not to transport and he had just enough confidence in the midwives to follow their instincts throughout that last part of my labor.
By now, Kim listened to the baby during each contraction and often did internals too. The baby’s position was a bit mysterious—they couldn’t feel his/her fontanels, so it appeared that the head was still askew. At first, they were careful not to break the water bag in order to give the baby as much space as possible to turn. As time went on and the water bag emerged, I would have welcomed its accidental pop since it seemed like the baby might just come out with the amniotic fluid. For two midwives who are generally opposed to internals, I ended up with more than I can count, mostly in that last couple hours. The knowledge they hoped to gain regarding the baby’s position was more important than avoiding potential infection by doing internal exams. For awhile, they were even checking during contractions.
Eventually, a ‘forebag’ of amniotic sac came out of my body—it looked like a two or three inch water balloon, partially filled, was hanging there. It was so strange. Finally, a midwife said that she could see the baby’s head through the bag and he/she had hair! Hearing about my baby’s hair was astonishing to me—after 9 ½ months of pregnancy and four days of labor, realizing how close I was to birthing a real, live baby was crazy. I had envisioned a bald baby and hearing that he/she had hair made it even stranger.
We never had the bursting bag that I expected—from what we could tell, my bag of waters was still intact until the birth. I wasn’t able to see the baby’s head emerging and sinking back in like in the videos because of the bag being there. I did feel (with my hand) the bag and the head behind it, but it was such a foreign feeling that it was hard to comprehend what was happening.
Once the head was close, everyone kept telling me that the baby would be there soon, to just push a little longer, a little harder. My contractions didn’t feel as strong as they once were, but I would push even when the sensation was dying away, doing all I could to bring that baby out into the world.
I looked down at one point and saw blood on Jeanne’s hands and knew I’d torn something, even before the head was out. Then I felt the baby crown and I knew I was tearing as I pushed the baby’s head out. I’d been told that tears and even episiotomies can’t be felt at the time because of all the pressure, but I could feel it. There was something horrible in knowing I was doing damage to my own body, but the labor had gone on so long that the midwives weren’t able to take the time to keep my perineum intact. They’d emphasized during our prenatals that preventing tearing was one of their primary goals. It’s not that they didn’t try, or didn’t care, but we all just knew that this child needed to come out, the sooner, the better.
Dan says he saw the baby’s head turn to align with the body, just like the books say. I looked down at the baby’s head between my legs and simply said “Youch.” I never reached a point in labor where I was screaming or swearing. Frustrated, crabby, quiet—sure, but never loud and obnoxious.
A number of things happened once the head was out that felt like a flurry of activity at the time, but I wasn’t aware of all that occurred until later. Kim reached up to pull the amniotic sac off the baby’s head and discovered a hole in it near the baby’s neck. Apparently, my water had broken after all, but too high up for the fluid to come out. Once the head was cleared, the midwives went to wipe off his/her nose and mouth and found both blood and meconium, so they used the bulb syringe to try to clear it. In addition, the baby’s umbilical cord was tight over his/her shoulder, acting as a harness. One of them pushed it down over the baby’s arm to allow the body to come out.
I have no memory of birthing the baby’s body. I remember pushing out his/her head, and then they put the baby on my chest, still suctioning him/her, and rubbing him/her with blanket after blanket. For two women who emphasize the extreme importance of immediately nursing and mom/baby bonding I knew something was wrong. I was trying to hold onto the baby, but all these hands were in my way, vigorously rubbing, while the baby made these small grunting, coughing sounds. I felt completely helpless—I was sitting on the floor, holding a slippery baby covered in bloody blankets and I had no idea what I should do. I tried to hold him/her to my breast, but someone advised me not to since they were still helping the baby breathe.
Once things calmed down a bit, we decided it was time to discover whether we had a boy or a girl. For nine months, we’d avoided ultrasounds and I’d gone back and forth with my guesses as to the sex. Then suddenly, I had a son. Dan’s immediately said, “Amy, we have a little boy!” The midwives immediately said, “He’s not so little!” It was the weirdest feeling for his sex to be determined at last. Part of me thought that I could wrap him back up, and maybe he would be a girl when I checked again. I couldn’t believe that after all the waiting, we actually knew. I suddenly imagined a future with Legos and soccer and splashing in the mud and years as the mother of a boy. What was I supposed to do with a boy? It’s not that I was hoping for a daughter, but I grew up with a sister, Dan only has sisters, I don’t know how to live with a little boy!
We realized that no one had checked the clock as he was born, but guessed it had been five minutes or so and we declared his birth to be at 6:35am, Monday March 8th, 2004. The sun was coming up as we all sat on the floor. A couple weeks earlier, I’d told someone that I liked the idea of laboring through the night and giving birth at sunrise. I hadn’t expected days of labor to precede it, but that’s exactly what happened.
Then I started worrying about the third stage and how that would go. The thought of pushing anything else through there was not remotely appealing. Before I could get too caught up in fear, I found myself pushing out the placenta and hardly realizing it (It was 6:44, I found out later). I hadn’t been given anything, it just came on its own. Soon after, Dan cut the umbilical cord, which turned out to be fairly short.
After Dan had a chance to hold the baby (he was even more awkward than me), the midwives took him away to give him oxygen and deep-suction him. He was making grunting sounds—a sign, they said, that he had something in his lungs that he needed to cough up. Jeanne held him for quite awhile, giving “blow-by” oxygen—Dan called it the Jeanne isolette monitoring system.
Kara, who’d been in the background throughout the whole second stage, had broken down sobbing after the baby was born. Dan and I were on the floor still in shock over everything. Eventually, I asked someone if I was bleeding too much and was told that I was fine. Since Jeanette, the homebirther I was most familiar with, had problems with bleeding afterwards, it was a relief to know I wasn’t having similar trouble. Kara and the midwives massaged my uterus a bit, but nothing like I’d heard other people experience. Apparently, it firmed up quickly and wasn’t cause for concern.
At 7:30, they helped me get up and make my way to the shower. Although I didn’t mind the blood and goo I was covered with at the time, it felt really good to be rid of it! While I was there, Dan and I discussed the name we’d been considered and decided that our son would be forever known as Peter Kenneth. I’d waited to make a final naming decision until after the birth in case it didn’t feel right. But when it came down to it, I had no better idea than I’d had before. In the end, I couldn’t think of any reasons not to use our first choice name.
They helped me into bed and I was immediately hungry and thirsty—I ate an entire energy bar and gulped a glass of water, after taking 12 hours to consume the previous bar. I rested until they brought the baby back at 9am for his newborn exam. His APGAR scores, at 1, 5, and 10 minutes had been 7, 8, and 10, losing points for respirations, tone, and color. Even during the exam, his hands and feet still looked slightly blue. Dan and Kara picked out a sleeper and diaper for him to wear. For some reason, we hadn’t thought to choose anything earlier. It seemed weird for all those little clothes we’d carefully washed and folded away to be used on an actual baby! We finally got to find out just how big he was. Kim guessed that he was at least nine pounds. He didn’t seem that big to me, but I haven’t seen many newborns to compare. Jeanne put him in her fish scale and determined him to be 9 pounds exactly. He was 22” long, with a 14.5” head and a 14.5” chest. Apparently, I’d birthed a fully-grown football player! Peter’s breathing had improved over the previous hours with the help of the oxygen, and they gave him back to me to try nursing after the exam. He was clearly rooting and trying to suck—he’d suck my finger—but he wouldn’t latch on. His breathing was labored enough that nursing was still too much effort.
As they held him up to me, my eyes were drooping—I could hardly stay awake even while holding the baby. Meanwhile, I was getting instructions about keeping watch on his breathing and making sure that he latched on by the end of the day. I just kept thinking that I couldn’t take care of a baby! Wasn’t somebody going to be around to make sure I didn’t screw everything up? Suddenly, the midwives’ questions during our prenatals about who we’d lined up to help us came back to me. We were going to need a lot more help than I’d thought. Why exactly hadn’t I studied the chapters on baby care?
Kara took Peter, since I was clearly going to fall asleep no matter what, and the next thing I knew, the midwives were back trying to wake Dan and I up. It was 10:30, and Peter’s breathing had gotten worse instead of better. They were almost through the entire oxygen tank, and after consulting with the backup doctor, they decided that Peter needed to get to a hospital. The doctor had lined things up at Children’s, the best hospital in the area for very sick babies. They said that he might be gone for 24 hours to be observed. I felt like this mysterious baby I must have given birth to was being taken away before I’d come to grips with being his mother, but I knew it was the safest thing to do.
I fell back asleep and only woke for lunch and dinner when Kara brought me food. The eight hours of sleep I got that day were more than I’d had in nearly a week. By sunset, I felt better than I had in a long time.
While I was sleeping, more things happened than I could possibly have guessed.