As I write this, Junior is sitting in his swing next to the couch, kicking his little legs and giggling to himself. I can’t believe that he is already three and a half months old! In some ways, it feels like he has been a part of our life forever. I constantly marvel at how fast time has flown since he got here. And while I remember his birth as if it were yesterday, I knew I wanted to write down the details before they started to get foggy. Enjoy!
Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling excited and nervous. Thankfully I was working from home that day so I had some last minute emails and things to keep my mind occupied for the majority of the day. Still, by the time Sheldon got home from work around five o’clock, I was feeling pretty wired!
My mom had come downstairs to hang out with me for the last couple of hours before I needed to head to the hospital and we ended up binge watching Supergirl and eating a huge meal of homemade spaghetti for dinner. (One of the things I was most nervous about was not being able to eat during labor so I had Sheldon make a huge pot of spaghetti – one of my favorite meals that he makes – and I ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the day of my induction! Lol #NoMealLeftBehind)
The ride to the hospital was uneventful save for the butterflies doing cannonballs inside of my stomach.
I kept looking back at the car seat we had installed a few days prior, and it felt so surreal to think that next time Sheldon and I were in the car together, Junior would be in that very seat.
We arrived at the hospital a little after eight PM and went through the process of signing in. Apparently February 21st was a very popular day to give birth in Columbus because all of the rooms in the maternity ward were either occupied or in need of cleaning. Although the receptionist was very sweet, learning that we’d have to wait for thirty plus minutes for our room to be ready was my first disappointment of the night. (Mainly because I was feeling super anxious and ready to get started by that point!)
My second (and third!) disappointment came only minutes later. Since we had to wait anyway, I asked if we could be placed in a room with a birthing tub because I really wanted to try for a natural birth and was looking forward to being able to labor in the water. However, the receptionist quickly informed me that because I was having an induction, I would need to be continuously monitored, and therefore not be able to labor in the tub. Which meant that my only other “request” that I not be attached to machines and wires during the entire birth was also out the window.
I knew going into labor that it wasn’t wise to be overly attached to any particular plans or request and I had tried really hard to keep an open mind and to keep my request minimal but to have my two main preferences stripped away before the process even began was devastating.
As I sat in the waiting room with my husband’s arm around my shoulder, I couldn’t help but to shed a few tears of frustration and anxiety.
What was this experience going to be like? The two things I’d hoped would bring me comfort (being in water and being able to move freely) were no longer an option. I officially had no control over what was to come and I was freaking out about it!
It was around this time that our doula, Jen, arrived. For those of you who don’t know what a doula is – a doula is a non-medical professional who attends a birth and offers emotional support (i.e. coaching and encouragement), non-invasive pain relief measures (i.e. massage, counter pressure, labor position suggestions, etc.), and advocacy (i.e. explaining/clarifying certain procedures, helping talk through decisions, etc.) for a laboring mom and her support person. Depending on where you live, an experienced doula can run you anywhere from $800-$1200. (Yeah, not exactly pocket change!)
I’d known from the time I got pregnant that I wanted to hire a doula but the price was definitely a sticking point for me. Even though my hubby kept encouraging me to go through with it, if I thought it would make me feel more comfortable, I just couldn’t justify spending that much money in the midst of all the other medical bills we were paying and going to have to pay once I got out of the hospital!
Thankfully our hospital is the only one in the state with a subsidized, in-house doula program offering doula services for only $300. The only negative (for me, anyways) was that unlike a private doula who you hire and meet with at least once or twice before the actual birth, the hospital’s program is based on which doula is “on call” when you go into labor. Though you are encouraged to attend a “Meet the Doulas” night in order to meet and get to know all of the doulas, you are not able to choose a particular doula.
(In case you’re wondering, yes, this was reason number 83,973,927 why my anxiety level was through the roof. What if I hated my doula? What if I got someone who turned out to be terrible?! WHY CAN I NOT PRE-SELECT SOMEBODY WAAAAAY IN ADVANCE?!? Labor is hell on Type A personalities, y’all. Straight hell.)
Thankfully, it turned out that I didn’t have to worry about any of this. Jen – the doula who ended up being on call the night of my induction – was amazing. She got to the hospital around 9 PM thinking that we would already be checked in and settled by that time. False. We didn’t end up getting moved back to our room until almost ten o’clock and spent most of the ensuing hour in the waiting room, chatting and going over my already spectacularly defunct birth plan.
Around ten o’clock, we were moved back into our private labor room. It was super clean and spacious, not that I cared all that much about that at the moment.
Y’all. My nerves were on TEN, for real! The nurse on duty came in, introduced herself, and got my IV started (which is always one of my least favorite parts of any hospital visit). Once I was good and hooked up to about five different machines, IT WAS TIME. DUM DUM DUM. (And yes, that’s how it played in my head – dramatic music and all.)
My doctor had explained how the induction would work but the nurse spent a few minutes reminding me of the details: We’d start off with a pill called Cytotec, a pill used to “ripen” the cervix (i.e. soften and begin early contractions) for women like me who need to start labor but whose bodies had not begun dilating or contracting at all. Once I was dialated to a two or a three (which could take anywhere from eight to twelve hours), we’d move on to the dreaded Pitocin which would continue to encourage labor but also shared the sh*t out of me because the contractions were rumored to be about twice as strong as regular contractions.
Before giving me my first dose of Cytotec, the nurse checked me (legitimately one of the worse parts of having a baby is having a doctor/nurse stick THEIR ENTIRE HAND, elbow deep into your vagina #funtimes #notreally) and found that I was still zero centimeters dilated. She gave me a tiny white pill, which she instructed me to place under my tongue until it dissolved and we were off to the races!
Since we knew nothing much was going to be happening for the next six to eight hours, my doula headed home to get some rest and encouraged us to do the same. And while I had read so much advice about getting as much rest as you can in the early stages of labor, I was way to hyped up to sleep. Instead I spent the next four hours watching reruns of House Hunters while Sheldon snoozed on what had to be the most uncomfortable looking chair-bed hybrid thingy on the planet. Around 4 AM, the nurse came back to check me and told me that I had dilated 1 cm, which apparently was “great” progress.
She gave me my second dose of Cytotec and THAT’S when the real fun started.
Within the next hour, I began to experience what felt like mildly painful period cramps. I get pretty bad cramps every month so this initial pain was fairly tolerable but quickly became pretty intense. Within about two hours, I was at the point where I could no longer hold back a pained moan with every contraction. I’m not talking, a cute lil’ sound, y’all. I’m talking full on, is-there-a-dying-cow-in-the-back-room type moan.
It was around this time that Sheldon started to wake up (I had wanted him to sleep for as long as possible since I anticipated a long day ahead) and my doula, Jen, also returned to the labor room. Thank God! Jen immediately jumped into action and started showing Sheldon how to put counter-pressure on my back and hips to help with the labor pains. The pain. Y’all. I do not even know how to describe the pain I was in. Several of the birth stories I had read prior to going into labor had described contractions as a “wave” and I definitely agree.
I could feel when a contraction was about to hit. Then the pain would build for about 30 seconds, last for another 30-60 seconds (Jesus be an extra strength Tylenol!) before starting to taper off. I had been laboring hard for about an hour (since I don’t include the first 2-3 hours of mild and medium crampy contractions), with my contractions getting stronger and stronger with each passing moment.
It was at this point that the nurse returned to check my progress and tell me that I was only three cm dilated. I was devastated. Although I knew that progress would be slow, I couldn’t believe that all that pain had only resulted in two more cm of dilation. My goal was to have a natural birth but at this point, I began to doubt myself. As if determined to reinforce my insecurities, my nurse took this moment to inform me:
“This is still early labor. It’s going to get two or three times worse than this.”
Those two sentences were the straw that broke the camel’s back (or in this case, the mamma’s uterus). I broke down crying and asked for an epidural. If labor was going to get two to three times worse than this, there was no way I could make it through. Immediately after the request left my mouth, a new wave of tears burst forth.
I was a terrible mamma already. I couldn’t even make it through labor without pain meds that might impact my baby. I was already disappointing him.
It took both Jen and Sheldon’s words of love and affirmation to convince me that I was trippin and to remind me that I had said that my most important goal was to have a healthy mamma and a healthy baby. In this case,
I was exhausted and in more pain than I could handle.
It took less than ten minutes for the anesthesiologist to make it to the room. She quickly explained the procedure while prepping me to receive the injection. I usually have a pretty intense fear of needles but by this point, I was in so much pain I didn’t even care about the damn needle! Not to mention while she was explaining the procedure, all I wanted to do was shout: GIVE ME THE DRUGS, LADY! Lol
It’s crazy how quickly the epidural started to work. I had about three to four more intense contractions before I began to feel the numbing effects and within about fifteen minutes, I was fully numb. I could still wiggle my toes and feel what I jokingly called the “essence” of the contraction but wasn’t in pain at all. It was magical. Straight Hogwarts-level sorcery!
As soon as the pain was gone, I could feel how exhausted I was. My nurse and doula both advised that I get some rest while my body continued to contract and dilate. They would check me again in a few hours. I was in full support of this plan and fell asleep immediately, only to be woken up less than thirty minutes later. The baby’s heart rate was slowing down and they wanted to flip me over to the other side to see if a change of position would help.
We flipped me to my right side and again I drifted off, only to be woken this time fifteen minutes later. The baby’s heart rate had picked up but had started to slip. They needed me to change positions again. I didn’t bother trying to go back to sleep and it’s a good thing. The nurse was having a hard time finding the baby’s heart rate and decided to check me to see if I had made any progress, just in case the baby continued to be in distress and we needed to strategize around next steps.
I had dilated to an eight! I had dilated five cm in less than an hour!
The nurse was as shocked as I was and decided to call the doctor in, thinking that it might be a good time to break my water. My doctor arrived about fifteen minutes later and it was so reassuring to see a familiar face. She explained that she was going to break my water and it shouldn’t cause me any discomfort but may speed up the process and get the baby ready to come out sooner rather than later.
Sheldon had stepped out to grab lunch thirty minutes prior as everyone had assured him that nothing eventful was going to happen any time soon. He told me later that he had just walked back into the waiting area when the receptionist asked him frantically, “Are you Sheldon?! They are about to break your wife’s water!” He rushed into the room, arriving only seconds before the doctor. Lol
Welllllllllllll, turns out he wasn’t the only one in a hurry! A quick peek under my hospital gown and my doctor looked up with surprise in her eyes. “You’re complete,” she told me, smiling.
I couldn’t believe it! In fifteen minutes I had dilated the final two cm and was at a ten.
And all this on two doses of Cytotec – I’d never even gotten to the point of needing Pitocin. My doctor broke my water and although I was at a ten, suggested I labor for a couple more hours in order to let the baby descend. I was finally going to get the nap I had been wishing for! Or so I thought…
Almost immediately after closing my eyes, I heard the heart monitors start beeping like crazy. Sheldon had come over to my side of the bed and was watching the numbers on the monitors.
“Why are the numbers so low? Is that normal?” he asked Jenn. I could tell he was worried.
And apparently Jen was to. “His heart rate is too low. Your doctor is about to be on her way back in here.”
Sure enough, my nurse and doctor both rushed back into the room not a minute later. They checked the monitor and began whispering to themselves.
I was just started to get worried when my doctor turned to me smiling brightly and said, “Change of plans! Baby’s heartbeat is decelerating and we need to get him out as soon as possible! Ready to push??”
This, of course, was a hypothetical question but my answer was all the way NO! All of a sudden, I was hit with a wave of anxiety. Everything had happened so fast. Every time I thought I would have time to rest and mentally catch up, the opportunity had been snatched away. Now it was already time to push the baby out! Was I ready to be a mom? Ready or not, it was happening. And it was happening that very moment. No time for a nap. Do not pass GO.
I was so nervous but I knew I had to get the baby out ASAP. My doctor, nurse, doula, and husband were all surrounding me with loving and positive energy. They repositioned my legs and my doctor gave me a quick lesson on how to push.
“Pretend like you’re having a giant bowel movement.” Lol
I couldn’t feel the contractions so my doctor said she would tell me when to push and then would count to ten for each push. I would push three times per contraction. We did one practice push and I heard the doctor shout.
“Keep going! I can see his head!”
Fifteen minutes and several intense pushes later and he was out! It was a surreal feeling when he slid out and into the world. For an instant, I felt the utter absence of his presence that had been such a big part of my life, my identity, and my physical body for the past nine months. But then he was in my arms and I lost the ability to think, to breathe, to do anything other than stare at his perfect (albeit grey and slimy) face.
Looking back on that day, a couple of things stand out to me.
Despite only having dilated to a three, I knew that what I was feeling was real pain and that I was in active labor. I wish I hadn’t listened to the nurse who told me that I was still in early labor that that it was going to get so much worse because in reality, the contractions I was having were not only “real” contraction but were twice as painful as regular contractions because they were dilating my cervix so quickly.
That said, I don’t regret asking for the epidural. I believe that allowing myself that brief reprieve from pain (Junior was born less than three hours later), gave my body a chance to relax and prepare for the pushing stage. Had I been too exhausted to push, with Junior being in distress, the day might have ended with a c-section instead of a vaginal birth.
Ultimately the greatest lessons I learned that day were to trust myself and to celebrate any and all choices made with the intention of delivering a healthy baby. Every woman who gives birth – no matter the means or method – is a superhero in my book. To this day, I occasionally look down at Junior and am reminded of the fact that there is something within me with the magical ability to nurture and birth new life into this world. And while it was hard and painful and exhausting, I am forever grateful for the experience of having given birth to one of the greatest blessings in my life.