Continued from Part I!
Warning: This has *almost* every gory detail, and is absolutely far too long for a blog post, but I’m not apologizing because I want to remember everything for myself forever and ever! (Also I wish I had more pictures to break it up but we honestly took none once actual labor started.) So here is the birth story in all of its glory…
We got home from my 41-week appointment (Monday, July 12) and settled down for some more Civ (favorite computer game to pass the time). I sat on the exercise ball and noticed that more was happening. I didn’t want to get too excited, based on the day before, so I waited it out a couple hours before trying to time anything.
Around 5pm I started to time the contractions as they seemed to be coming every 5-6 minutes or so. They felt different than the ones the previous day and that morning – the previous ones started with a crampy feeling followed by my belly tightening and it was hard to tell when they ended. These were more distinct – about as painful, but the pain came with the tightening of the belly rather than being separate in the form of lower belly cramps. They weren’t coming consistently (like the previous day when they were like clockwork), but they were definitely coming. Since they started (and were more intense) after the membrane sweep, I thought this might be the real thing!
We kept distracting ourselves and took a short walk around the block in order to make sure things kept progressing. I was still talking through the contractions, but would lose my train of thought a little bit. We came back and ate some dinner and watched an episode of Seinfeld hoping to keep things light. I was sitting on the floor to eat, which turned out to be a mistake – being in a strange position on the floor was very uncomfortable! I repositioned some and Whit rubbed my back a little bit which felt good.
We called Cece, our doula (remember she was virtual! We did a lot of Facetime), who recommended timing the contractions and working a little bit during them. I sat on the exercise ball, did squats, and Whit found a good spot to apply counter-pressure on my back. We decided to put a Phish concert on from Youtube since it seemed like I needed more distraction. I danced around a little bit and sat on the ball. Music was such a great distraction! I would either sit on the ball and try to focus on the music and do deep breathing, or get into a squat, or lean forward on the ball and sway.
The intensity kept picking up, so around 9pm I got in the tub. Best thing ever! The bath was so relaxing, and gently splashing water over my belly during each contraction felt peaceful. I stayed in for about an hour, and Cece started worrying a little bit that the bath would be masking my pain and I might be further along than I thought. Since she wasn’t with us in person, she wanted to make sure we didn’t miss our window to go to the hospital. The whole time, we were fighting the balance between staying at home to be comfortable as long as possible versus not wanting to accidentally have the baby at home! I got out of the bath and sat on the potty (aka “dilation station”) to let gravity do its thing and see if the toilet intensified things (since your body is used to relaxing there).
Things felt a little more intense, so we figured now was a good time to try to lay down and rest a little bit – who knew how long we would have like this, early labor can take many hours. I was able to stay in bed for about an hour and did some hypnobirthing. I haven’t mentioned this yet, but I loved the hypnobirthing track! It helped me come up with a great visualization (I imagined Monet’s waterlily pond in Giverny, and the strong, peaceful swaying willow tree leaves), walked me through breathing techniques (breathe in slowly, breathe out deeply), and gave me an awesome mantra to repeat (I am calm, centered, and in control). It made my body so relaxed in between contractions, but then I would feel everything so much more intensely because of how relaxed I was. So I felt more peaceful, but my belly hurt way more.
After an hour, around midnight, I gave Cece a call since laying in bed wasn’t working. She suggested getting in the shower. I let Whit try to sleep a bit more and took my phone out to our outdoor shower (where we take most of our showers! yay Florida!). It was the perfect choice! Since the contractions were harder to get through, it was great to have the warm water to relax my body and distract me. I had been visualizing my calm place as a garden, and then I was in MY garden! It felt meditative to be surrounded by the dark of night, seeing the swaying green palms and hearing the birds and creatures and rustling in the wind. I turned on one Phish song that’s about 40 minutes long and is very engrossing, with lots of changes in section and melody and mood. My goal was to get through one “Ruby Waves” and then go back inside.
I felt GREAT for awhile and was so proud of myself for not feeling too bad and getting through each contraction really well, without Whit there to help me. Towards the end of the song, I started getting more uncomfortable and sat down in the shower and used the sprayer on my back and belly. I finally dried off and moved to the living room to try to lean on the exercise ball some more. It was now around 1am. I called Cece to coach me through a few contractions since I didn’t have the help of the shower anymore and I wanted to let Whit sleep as long as possible. She noticed I was starting to sigh through the contractions. I moved to the kitchen to get some water and maybe a snack, and had to lean over the counter and groan through the next contraction. We decided I should wake up Whit and maybe think about heading to the hospital.
Whit heard us and came in, and when he did I needed to lean on him and sway to get through my contractions. We kept talking to Cece and started making plans to head to the hospital. I was feeling less comfortable and starting to worry about handling contractions during the 20 minute drive to the hospital, so I felt confident it was time to head in. Whit moved around the house gathering all the last-minute things and I relied on leaning on him or the counter to get through each one. By the time we left our house, it was about 1:45am and I was not happy that we hung up the phone with Cece so she could call the hospital for us and call my parents, while Whit left me to get in the front seat to drive. At the last second I grabbed a pillow from our porch swing and set that up on the car seat in the back seat so I could lean over it since leaning forward seemed to be working for me.
Riding in the car on all fours while going over bumpy roads (and two railroad tracks!! Thought we had the perfect route to the hospital but completely forgot about the railroad tracks – ugh!) was not fun. You are supposed to relax during each contraction, but it was hard to do that since I needed one leg on the ground to stabilize myself. The worst part for some reason was pulling up into the hospital itself. We thought there was valet service, but there wasn’t anyone standing around. So Whit gathered our bags and then just left his car sitting there (my parents saw it still there when they arrived later, ha!). I found a post to lean on until he could support me to walk in. The security guy wanted to give me a wheelchair but I couldn’t even imagine sitting down.
When Cece had called the hospital to let them know we were on our way, she strongly recommended that they skip triage and move me straight to a room. When we arrived at the front desk, we asked the same thing – and did again to several more people along the way. No one would budge! So, who cares that you are clearly in active labor, you have to go through the whole triage process anyways. Triage sucked. I was feeling pretty poorly and contractions were coming often, but we didn’t have Cece on the phone to coach me, Whit was trying to figure out what to do with the car, and the nurses kept prodding me. It seemed like when I had to lean on the nurses’ counter and moan through a contraction on the way to a room that they would let me skip this part! But no such luck. When I got to the triage room (Whit was giving the valet the keys), I advocated for myself and asked if the nurse would let me do the exam on all fours instead of laying on the bed. She said she had been working there for 20 years and couldn’t do it that way. (Eye roll.)
This is where my awareness started slipping. I had read other birth stories where mamas enter into a trance-like state and stop being aware so much of what’s going on around them, and just focus internally to get through each contraction. That’s what started to happen. I closed my eyes and somehow got through the cervical check and they hooked me up to some monitors, while Whit returned to support me. I remember the nurse saying I was at 6cm, almost 7, and felt proud, relieved, amazed, and impressed with myself (but also pretty spaced out haha). They gurney-ed me up to a labor & delivery room – I remember being vaguely aware of being on an elevator, and coaching Whit how to support me since we didn’t have Cece on the phone to talk through my breathing.
My contractions were peaking at the beginning, not in the middle, so as soon as they started coming on, they were very intense. All of a sudden Whit had to figure out what I needed and help me through it, but it was during a lot of chaos and transition moving from room to room. I remember telling him to coach me through it, and then telling him – I don’t need you to tell me I’m doing great, I just need you to tell me to breathe in slowly and breathe out deeply! I was basically coaching him to coach me, ha! I also REALLY needed his hands on my lower back to apply counter-pressure.
Only an hour later, I had been moved into the L&D room – which unfortunately did not have a tub!! What happened to the hospital’s website saying they have a tub in every room?? I was so upset because I had been planning on laboring in the tub as soon as I got to the room. Whit turned the shower on, but by then I was pretty set in my position laying face-down on the bed (it’s funny to me that earlier I couldn’t stand being in bed, but then I couldn’t imagine getting out of it). At some point someone asked me if I wanted to get in the shower, and when I nodded my head yes, they asked if I thought I would be able to stand. When I tried lifting myself up, I shook my head. I was way too weak to try to stand up. I’m not sure why I got so lightheaded but I couldn’t imagine getting in any other position than laying on the bed. We didn’t have time to set up any music, aromatherapy, use massage oil, or for Whit to grab a snack. Everything happened too fast and I needed Whit to massage my shoulders and push on my lower back during every contraction.
Around 3:30am I had a breakthrough contraction. It was so painful and all of a sudden more intense that it caught me off guard and felt excruciating. I screamed through it in agony. I decided during it that I was going to ask for the epidural – I had done a great job, but there was no way I could handle hours more of that kind of pain! I didn’t ever want to go through that again even one more time! As soon as the contraction ended (I had heard good advice to not request an epidural DURING a contraction), I said “I want the epidural. Stardust! (my code word so Whit would know I was serious!)”
Immediately my support team realized I needed more support. They knew my desires and birth plan and wanted to help me get there, sans medication. Cece started talking about our “no regrets clause” which entails riding out a few contractions to see if we could get through it. My midwife, who I hadn’t even seen or spoken to at this point (and who was INCREDIBLE – so calm and respected every one of my birth plan preferences), came right over and knelt down in front of my face and asked if she could check me. She said, “All of my patients hit this point where they feel like they can’t do it anymore. Do you mind if I check you? I’d like to see how far along you are.” She was so calm and composed and I trusted her and knew that I might be hitting transition.
Sure enough, she checked me and I was 8.5cm. Knowing I was getting close to the end motivated me to continue, but honestly the only reason I continued on without the meds was because my team didn’t let me, ha! They just upped their support and then I was able to cope better. The other reason I was able to continue was because the next couple of contractions were not as high intensity level. I know that I had more contractions later that were as intense, but by then I was coping better. I also just totally forgot about it, haha.
I was still lying face-down on the bed, somehow I must have had one leg pulled up to make room for my belly. I know my arms bore a lot of my weight – they were so weak for a full day following the birth! Whit stood next to the bed near my head, massaging my shoulders and pushing down on my lower back. Someone had tied the phone near my face so Cece could coach me through each contraction. She was amazing! As soon as a wave would start, she would calmly but firmly talk me through it, reminding me of my visualization (remember the willow tree), telling me to let it wash over me, encouraging me that it would soon be over, and helping me re-find my breath in-between. A nurse held the monitor to measure the baby’s heartbeat right underneath my belly (her poor hand in between my legs the entire time! I’ll spare you more details haha). My midwife would gently rub my legs.
They asked me if I wanted music but I didn’t know the answer. Eventually someone put on a calming radio station with spa-like music. I didn’t focus on it, but I remember at some point becoming aware that it was on and very calming, and appreciated that the lights were low and everyone’s voices were quiet too. Poor Whit could barely leave to go to the bathroom, take a sit-down break (from standing in such an odd position), or grab something to eat. That was the only reason I’d want to hire an in-person doula in the future – it would have been great to have just one more set of hands!
With every wave, I would push up on my hands to relieve the pressure on my belly, take some deep breaths (horsey lips helped), and breathe out a huge low moan. I don’t think I will ever forget that moan! It was echoing in my brain the whole next day after delivery.
I think contractions were coming every 2-3 minutes or so. It felt like longer to me at the time – I was in the zone. I was in a trance-like state, not aware of time. I felt sweaty, my hair was EVERYWHERE stuck to my face, I accepted sips of water (wish I had gotten some electrolytes too), and would basically just zone out and close my eyes and rest and try to breathe and relax in between contractions.
I felt so thankful for my team – how calm they were, how much they were helping me, and how good everyone was doing. I felt bad that everyone was talking to me, sometimes asking me questions, but I was too out of it to ever respond. A couple of times I leaned up and looked around and told them, “You guys are so nice!” (The midwife said, “She’s still so polite!” haha). I wanted them to know I appreciated the hard work they were doing and how helpful they were! One time Whit turned to me and said the sweetest things. He was so proud of me and impressed. I made eye contact and focused on his face, which was so meaningful to him as I was pretty zoned out most of the time.
An hour later (4:45), I had a contraction where the baby felt much lower and I felt pressure. On the next wave, I said I felt the urge to push. My team told me that was fine and to go with it. I didn’t realize the difference at the time between that and the pushing stage, but during this time my body was involuntarily pushing with each contraction. I just kind of gave into it and let my body push, groaning through it. Shortly after, they checked and I was at 10cm. At some point around this time I threw up (a lot – I wasn’t surprised to need to throw up, but I was surprised how much it was!). I was encouraged when Cece told me that was one less contraction I would probably have to do!
I remember when they told me I was 10cm feeling a little discouraged. I had already gone through so much, and it was such hard work. I remember think labor is definitely LABOR. I think they said he was at +1 station or something like that and being afraid of having several more hours of laboring to get him lower and then push him out. I wanted to ask for the epidural again because I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I don’t think I ever vocalized that – I must have been too distracted to remember to ask for it! I did say several times to the room, “This is HARD!” Haha. Everyone affirmed that and said, “Yes, it is! You’re doing a great job!” It felt nice to know that everyone knew how hard I was working – that gave me affirmation and motivation to keep it up.
I’m not sure when, but sometime after that the midwife started directing me to push. Now, she had me flip over onto my back or side and lifted one or both legs up, and told me to reach and grab my leg during the contraction. I didn’t want to move AT ALL, but when I felt the contraction coming on and things started heating up, I would grab Whit’s arm, take DEEP breaths while groaning in a low voice, prepare myself mentally, reach and pull one leg back, and then push – at first, hard, then with all my strength, and eventually for all I was worth.
I didn’t know it would be like this, but each wave had several pushes within it. First was the buildup where I pulled myself up and mentally prepared, then I would push hard, then would have to catch my breath again, then would push again, and usually I would push one more time after that until the contraction ran out.
With each push I would groan/yell, trying to keep my jaw loose and my voice low. As the contractions grew stronger and I pushed harder, I yelled louder and several times felt like I was roaring like a lioness. I remember thinking, “I totally sound like a woman in labor!” and thinking about people’s reactions if they heard my screaming from the hallway. Towards the end I was pushing so hard, there were a few times I ended up in a high-pitch scream, which my team reminded me was a waste of energy and to keep my voice low.
I was so surprised that it was okay to scream and put my energy into it after so many hours of needing to let the contractions just wash over me and try to relax during them. I wasn’t sure at first, but I ended up deciding I liked pushing because it felt like I was able to do more and be more in control.
My midwife was great and repositioned me several times to help the baby move down and keep my pelvis balanced. She had me on my back, on each side, on all fours (I didn’t like that as much), and eventually grabbing onto some handlebars at the end (a good thing because I was about to break Whit’s arm off haha). At one point, the baby’s heartrate dropped during a contraction, but she remained calm and had me keep my legs wide in between each wave to reduce some pressure on his head. That had been a fear of mine during childbirth, and I was glad she remained so calm when that happened – I trusted that he was just fine with the way we responded.
At 5:30 we were getting close! My water had still not broken, and the amniotic sac was getting pushed out during each push. Another 45 minutes went by and the midwife thought we were near the end! I felt exhausted (one of the times I verbalized how hard it was!), and looked up at the midwife and asked if she thought we were close. She said yes, probably 20-30 minutes. I think she truly thought that, but even if she didn’t I’m glad she said it because I figured I could manage for that much longer.
An HOUR AND A HALF later, I was still pushing! In between each contraction felt like 10 minutes (I think it was 3 or 4). I laid back and tried to rest as much as I could. I needed water, someone to blow on my face, and to get my hair out of my face (not all of those needs were met haha). Of course we had a mini fan in our bag but I would not let Whit leave for a minute to go get it. Then I would go through a contraction, push as hard as I could, and my midwife would tell me it was such a good push, keep going keep going keep going, but it wasn’t quite enough. She would direct me to make sure I was pushing in the right place and not clenching my buttox up, but pushing downwards.
We obviously didn’t remember to ask this, but my midwife was on top of my birth plan and was rubbing gel and applying a warm compress to my perineum to prevent tearing. I was okay with pushing longer if it mean I wouldn’t tear and have a shorter recovery. Cece was so frustrated that they didn’t break my water! I’m not sure why they didn’t – it seems like it would have made him come faster. I think my midwife thought on every push that I was just about at the end. They eventually called in the doctor and rest of the team so I knew things were getting close. I looked up once to see that there were more people, but was so oblivious to everything but pulling up my legs, pushing as hard as I could, and resting in between.
Finally, Whit told me he could see his head! It was still in the amniotic sac, but he told me, “I can see his hair! Do you want to touch it?” I did not, hah. I didn’t NOT want to, but I was too focused and didn’t want to be thrown off. Whit knew it was almost time, and I noticed he walked away and sat down briefly to take it all in.
A couple pushes later, and my midwife told me THIS was the push I needed, and to give it all I’ve got and not stop. I could feel his head right in between my legs. I felt burning (the “ring of fire”), but it honestly wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. The perineal massage the midwife was doing was more bothersome to me than that – it felt like she was causing contraction pain when I wanted to be resting. During some of the previous contractions leading up to this one, I intentionally let them die down so I could rest a bit more. This time, I pushed and pushed and took a few quick breaths and didn’t stop pushing or roaring until that baby’s head popped out.
As soon as I felt his head come out, it was the biggest relief ever!! I knew I had done it, and it felt so much better than before. I knew he was almost here! I gave one more big push on the same contraction and felt his whole big squirmy body come out of me! At 7:44 (I had NO idea what time it was in the moment), the midwife announced, “Your baby is here! Reach down and grab him!” I hadn’t been expecting that, but immediately I became alert and reached down and pulled my slimy, squirmy, crying baby up on my chest.
My midwife untangled his cord, which was wrapped around him twice. I pulled him on my chest and was unsure of exactly how to hold him or grab him safely, but I pulled him close to me and kissed his sweet hair on his head, shushed him, and told him it’s okay, it’s okay!
I looked over and Whit was weeping all over the place! I was overcome with satisfaction, relief, elation, and love and appreciation for Whit. Whit told me later that seeing my disposition change so instantly was so powerful for him! I had been in such pain and in the zone, and all of a sudden I was ready and alert and motherly. He was so, so proud of me.
I looked down at the baby on me in complete relief and thankfulness that he was here – safe and alive and healthy and perfect and good! All of those many months of worrying about his development and growth in my belly, and now he was here and alive and perfect. I kept thinking how good he was. Here was my little BABY GUY that I knew in my tummy but didn’t really know yet – a live human, a real boy! I remember thinking he was so small, which is funny because Whit’s first impression was how big he seemed.
He didn’t stop crying for probably 20 minutes! I absolutely loved holding him in my arms and felt instantly bonded with him. Whit was in awe, and after a few minutes I thought to remind him, “you should touch him!” I think he was too overwhelmed to think about actually interacting with him! Haha. I knew that Whit’s touch would be calming to him as it was in the womb.
The team let us do skin-to-skin, getting to know each other, while they delivered the placenta (which wasn’t bad at all, it felt floppy but satisfying), stitched me up (which was horrible – I had a few small labial tears, but my perineum was intact! Great job, midwife and thank you for honoring my birth plan!! Even though the tears weren’t bad, the lidocaine and stitching was very painful – I kept saying, “OW!”), and pressed on my uterus to get it to contract (which felt just as bad as a contraction! I had to moan through it). I think they also took the baby’s vitals, but left him on my chest for all of that until the first hour was up. His APGAR scores were 9 and 9, which is apparently unheard of! We didn’t find that out until later, but with all his crying and how red he was all over, I knew he was absolutely perfect!
Later (a day and a half later, that is), we picked out a name that we both agreed on and decided to try it out for a few hours before making a decision. He was laying next to me in his clear hospital bassinet, and my mind took me back to being in the room with him just after giving birth and holding him on my chest. My mama heart swelled up when I thought that THAT was Arthur! I hadn’t known his name for SO LONG, and just called him my baby guy. When I put myself back in the memory of meeting him for the first time and using his name, I knew it was just right. I was so incredibly thankful to meet him and know my little Arthur.
Not long after that first special hour, the nurses took the baby to do all the things they have to do. I was feeling very weak and didn’t trust myself to hold him, and anyways it was the perfect time for Whit to get to hold him. Looking over and seeing your husband hold his baby for the first time! Heart melted.
Soon after, before we moved rooms, my mom came up and got to meet him. She and my dad had been waiting downstairs all night! I had thought we might want one or both of them to come and help in the labor room, but we had such a groove going I didn’t want to mess it up, and my mom told me later she would have been too overwhelmed seeing me in such a state. Once we got upstairs to our recovery room, my dad got to come up too. (Technically you could only have 2 visitors at a time including your husband, but thankfully the nurses let my dad in as the third person.)
Right after the birth I kept thinking, do I really want to do that ever again? Could I really do that if we have another child in the next year and a half-ish? Maybe I’ll just get the epidural next time, because I did it once and I’m so proud of myself but it was really hard. But the more I got to know Arthur, the more I thought I would do that again and again and again just to have those first few minutes of grabbing him and pulling him on my chest, comforting him and meeting him for the first time, kissing that sweet head, and soaking it all up like the miracle it truly is. It was all worth it. I love him so much.
As soon as we started moving on to the next steps, I was already mourning the experience of birthing him and holding and meeting him for the first time, how completely in awe I was and seeing how in awe Whit was, and getting to be with Arthur during his first few minutes of life. Getting to know him better and better each hour is a gift, and makes me appreciate those first moments even more deeply. When I look back on his birth experience, I’m filled with gratitude to the Lord for watching over us, protecting him, and blessing us tremendously with a good and perfect gift (James 1:17).