*I consumed real stories like these during my pregnancy, and found more details to be better in gaining different perspectives of birth - just a fair warning that it's on the longer side* At just shy of 34 wks, I went into the hospital thinking I was in early labor. I had been having what I thought were just strong Braxton Hicks for around 24 hrs, but after a particularly sharp contraction my husband and I stopped the movie we were watching, and started logging them. A few hours later, the pregnancy app on my phone blinked, "go to hospital", ... so we hastily packed a bag and off we went.
While I was not technically in active labor, it turns out that some of those contractions were productive after all. Once at the hospital, we discovered that I was dilated 1 cm, and my cervix was 80% effaced. We got a steroid shot for baby's lungs to be safe, and were told that while I wasn't in active labor now, we may not make it to my due date at this rate. I had been experiencing real contractions, but they were not consistent, and never progressed into active labor. They called this"prodromal labor"; a term I hadn't heard of, even after 8 months of pregnancy. I felt validated that I wasn't just being a wimp with Braxton Hicks, but also annoyed that this prodromal labor was likely to continue for weeks to come, and may or may not really mean anything, no matter how "real" it felt. My midwife also mentioned that I had what was called an "irritable uterus" (yes, this is a real medical term...who comes up with these names?!). This explained the almost constant Braxton Hicks I had felt for most of my pregnancy. While we were ultimately sent home, it was nice to actually visit the Labor & Delivery floor. They hadn't been doing in-person tours because of Covid-19, so this was our first real look. Anyways, so as to appease my irritable uterus, I adhered to their modified bedrest plan of 1 hour horizontal for every 2 hours upright, and drank water like a fish. I really believe this ultimately helped my body and baby to settle down for the weeks following this hospital visit. It's amazing what happens when you actually listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
My dog, Esau, trying to be helpful
This brings us to Thursday, January 14th, 2021. Exactly a week before my due date, I started the morning by baking double chocolate chip muffins. Baking was one of the only things that kept my mind distracted from all things baby, and chocolate is, well, it's chocolate. Need I say more? I had some Braxton Hicks like normal that morning, but otherwise was just feeling like I had been for the last 9 months: pregnant. After finishing muffins that would make Paul Hollywood proud, I went to the hospital for my weekly prenatal appointment.
Everything was routine. She measured my belly, asked how I was feeling, and we chatted about water birth. Because I had been having more bouts of prodromal labor, she asked if I wanted to be checked. I knew I had probably not progressed much, but decided I did want to know where I was at. To both of our surprise, I was already 5 cm dilated. My bishop score was an 11 out of 13. In layman's terms, baby boy was basically falling out (not really...but kind of). However, like in previous weeks, even dilated to 5 cm, I was not actually in "active labor" yet. My midwife said I could go home and let myself spontaneously go into labor, which in her estimation was likely hours or a day or two at most. She also mentioned that it may be a fast labor because of how much I had already progressed. There was a pause as I considered what "fast"meant. Fast like good fast, or fast like have my baby in a car on the way to the hospital fast?? She then said that because I was 5 cm at 39 wks, I also had the option to walk over to L&D. They could perform an AROM, and I could have my baby today if I wanted. As every pregnant lady in their 3rd trimester could probably relate...I think I heard angels singing. Nothing. Sounded. Better. I had actually had a good nights sleep, it was still early in the day, and after the long drawn out weeks of prodromal labor - I was actually afraid I wouldn't recognize "real" labor until I was holding my baby. The more I thought about it, the more January 14th sounded like a nice day to be born. I kindly thanked the midwife, and waddled my way over to the L&D floor.
1/13/21 - My last bump pictures
On the waddle over, I called my husband and our doula to tell them it was Baby Day! My husband was teaching classes online at home when he got the call. He wished his math students a good rest of the day, grabbed the hospital bags and came to meet me at the hospital. My doula did her due diligence of pressing to see why I decided on an AROM vs. waiting it out - but I knew the risks and had made my choice. I wanted an unmedicated birth, and was ultimately hoping for a water birth, but having an AROM performed meant risking Pitocin if it didn't work. However, I was in a very favorable position for it to be successful on its own, and I felt confident in my decision. I messaged our family and let them know the good news, and then tried to put my phone away. Not gonna lie, it was strange to casually stroll up to the front desk of the L&D floor, alone, not in labor. "Hi yeah, I'm uh...here to have a baby...".
At my request to try to have a water birth, I was ushered into a room with a hospital bed and a large birth tub. I found myself settling into the bed, by myself, waiting for my husband and doula to arrive. The nurses offered me a hospital gown, but I have always felt like I wore hospital gowns like a small child wearing a poorly designed tent. Looking back, I think wearing my own clothing helped me feel like I was just getting ready for an intense work out (which was not untrue).
As soon as my husband got there, they broke my water at 1:15pm. It was a strange sensation as I watched my belly deflate, and felt the gush of warm water. It didn't hurt, or really feel like much of anything... other than what it would probably feel like to pee my pants after drinking the ocean. They gave me a giant diaper with super attractive mesh underwear, and left it up to my body to do the rest of the magic. Everything had started so casually. I had been expecting chaos, or at least a sense of urgency. I was instead met with an immense amount of peace and excitement. I couldn’t feel embarrassed about the giant diaper I was wearing. My baby was coming, and the wait was almost over. Nothing else mattered.
We didn't know how long it would take, but we were settling in for the labor to at least last into the night. I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat a full meal once the contractions got more intense, so I ate my hospital chicken sandwich as quickly as I could. I also scarfed down a chocolate muffin that my husband had dutifully brought from home. The pressure and pain I was starting to feel was actually familiar, as I had felt this on and off in the days and weeks prior. I maybe had never progressed into full on active labor, but I had definitely experienced this in my prodromal labor...no wonder I had dilated so far...
A new rhythm began as the contractions, or "waves", got deeper and more intense. I remember feeling them build like a bad stomach cramp coming on. Once I felt it building, I would settle into a position that helped me to ride the wave until it was over. A note on having an unmedicated birth in a hospital - I wish I had brought a yoga mat or one of those garden kneeling pads. I moved around the room quite a lot throughout my labor, and often found the hard ground to be unforgiving in the many positions I tried. One of my favored positions during contractions was on my knees, arms crossed above my head as I gripped my husband's hands while he pulled up. This allowed me to let my lower body hang, and focus pressure and attention into my arms and hands rather than focusing on the pain and pressure that was in my lower body. I ended up using a hospital pillow as a pad for my knees so I wouldn't be bruised from kneeling so often. My doula was often behind me doing sacral counter pressure and lower back massage at the same time as I was facing my husband. In those moments, I couldn't have been more grateful for those two. As far as the equipment they had in the room...I didn't end up using the bed at all. I used the birth ball a bit, but again, the cold, hard hospital floor meant leaning over the ball with knees on the ground. It was just too awkward a position for me to balance. A thick rope to pull on with a yoga mat underneath would have been real helpful. My husband was amazing though, and also got a workout in that night. He would continue to rub my back and hold my hands through almost all of my contractions. His encouragement and presence was everything.
It surprised me that my doula and my husband were really the only ones in the room with me during my labor. Other nurses would come in briefly to check my vitals and baby’s vitals, and our midwife came in every now and then to check on my progress, but apart from that they didn't stay. I could also tell that the L&D floor was busy, and I likely wasn't a priority to attend to because I was doing well and had no meds to check on. I don’t know what I would have done without my duo birth team support, or if any nurses would have stayed longer if I were to have been more by myself. I found myself wondering how someone could have an unmedicated birth without a doula, or at least an invested person that stayed in the room with them the whole time.
Our doula was amazing. She coached me to try different positions when I was in one for too long, helped me to remember to go to the bathroom, drink water, and basically reminded me that the goal was not necessarily comfort - it was to help my baby move down. I can't stress how much this helped; to visualize what my body was trying to do. It gave me motivation to try hard positions that opened up my pelvis, and ultimately helped me make progress faster. My husband held me, comforted me, and assured me during big waves that they would pass soon. He was able to tell how long my contractions were lasting, and was pretty reliable in letting me know when one was almost over. I found that really helpful. I was getting deep into "labor land" - so focused on my body and my breathing that I really didn't tune in to much of anything else in the room around me. My body was giving me some organic drugs, and I was here for it.
After 3 hours of laboring "on land", they had filled the birth tub for me. The relief from the water was instant on my back and my legs. I was actually worried that my contractions would go away because of how much of a difference the water made for me! My doula assured me the contractions would only get stronger, and to take the rest while I could get it. I only left the tub once to labor around the room and go to the bathroom, but shortly returned to it. You couldn't bribe me out of that tub for anything. While it definitely provided pain relief, being in the tub also gave me a sense of privacy. I think in a very primitive way, I felt that if that privacy was threatened, I could just swim away, haha. Labor does weird things to your brain.
The room was dim and actually really pretty. Tea light candles were set up around the tub by my doula, and John Mark Pantana was playing from a the birth playlist I had made throughout my pregnancy. My doula was calm, but remained confident in continuing to coach me through different positions to try, and encouraging me when it got hard. Even with all the organic drugs by body was giving me, it was painful and hard at times. My contractions started becoming longer, and I remember vividly thinking at one point that I needed to escape my body. Gripping the tub, I had to calm my breathing because I could sense the panic rising during that contraction. It takes so much mental energy to stay calm and to release your body to accept and feel that intense pressure and pain during a contraction. It takes everything in you to not fight it, and to remember that it is temporary.
I remember my doula putting cold washcloths around my neck and on my back, while my husband held my hands in the tub. Sometimes I would repeatedly tap on the edge of the tub, or repeat a word over and over again, like "Okay, okay, okay, okay..." during hard contractions. I did the low moan thing, and I let myself just be in the moment. Watching unmedicated births in our birth class, and on my own, really helped me to feel comfortable in doing what I needed to in order to cope. I think I would have tried to "reign it in" more, or felt more embarrassed if I didn't know that these ways of coping were normal and actually helpful in an unmedicated birth.
My doula was able to snap some pictures during labor that I'm grateful to be able to look back on...
My midwife during one of her check-in's, and my husband just being in the thick of it with me. More hand/arm pulling. I didn't ask, but I know his hands had to be so sore from my death grips. They kept the room pretty warm, so even though the tub wasn't hot - it stayed comfortable the whole time.
My midwife came to check on me when I was starting to become, well, more vocal. My contractions were getting closer together, and she wanted to check where I was at. After checking, she asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was. I said no because I didn’t want to be discouraged if it was a lower number, but I don't think she heard me. She immediately exclaimed that I was at 9 cm! I was glad I was so far along, but I really didn't feel like I was that close to meeting baby. I was so focused on making it through every wave, I couldn't focus on what was coming next.
I labored and felt some small urges to bear down/push for an hour, without making progress past those 9 cm. After checking again, my midwife commented that apparently there was just a "lip of cervix" that baby's head was getting caught on, preventing me from fully dilating. She offered to try to push it out of the way with her fingers, while I pushed down during a contraction to try to help baby to move through. I shakily agreed and, as expected, it hurt like a mother... but it did the trick. I was almost instantly at 10 cm. This is where I think entered what they call "transition"...if I wasn't there already. I started to feel completely out of control of my body, it just...took over. My contractions were so strong, that I couldn't control my breathing because they literally left me breathless. I sure tried though. After a little while, more people starting filling the room. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that someone had wheeled in the baby warmer. I actually remember feeling upset, because I didn't want to disappoint them if baby didn't come soon. I really didn't believe that baby was coming, and thought they were going to be standing there a while. Shouldn't I be the one to know if baby was coming soon?! While I was definitely uncomfortable, and my contractions were really intense, I didn't feel like I was dying yet. I didn't feel like I was being "ripped in two", like I had been lead to believe the worst part of labor would feel like. I didn't feel like it was "painful" enough for me to be close. My husband later told me that he had ordered dinner, thinking that this was going to be a long haul into the night... well the food arrived right when it started to get exciting, and dinner was soon forgotten.
After half an hour of what I remember as small, intermittent grunts of subconscious pushing, my whole body literally convulsed. I had no control of it, and I actually threw up a little in the tub during this contraction. Thankfully, a very prepared nurse swiftly pulled out one of those little green fish nets to scoop out any solids from the tub. I reached down, and to my disbelief, that's when I felt Baby M for the first time. I shakily said something like, "Hey, his head is coming". My midwife wasn't in the room at the time, and one of the nurses seemed panicked by this. I honestly can't remember those next 10 minutes, but it really wasn't too long before I caught my baby in my arms with my husband and my midwife. In that moment the pain was gone, the pressure was gone, and I was finally holding my perfect, squishy little baby earth-side. I had done it. I had given birth. It was over.
I stayed in the tub with M for a while, while we let the umbilical cord pulse blood back to him. He was making sounds right away and looking up at us. I remember being a little overwhelmed by all of the hands on and around baby and me. As a nurse would massage/stimulate M from time to time, rocking both of us in the water, I remember thinking, "I can do it, I've got it...", but didn't feel confident enough to say anything. Overall, I had a really awesome team of people around me, and I will always look back fondly on those first moments with M and his dad.
My husband had the honor of cutting the cord, and M was taken by the nurses while I was helped out of the tub and onto the bed to deliver the placenta. It came soon after with a quick push. That thing is gnarly looking, lemme tell ya. After checking me over, my midwife said that I had a few abrasions, but no tearing! I attribute this to being in the tub for literal hours.
After weighing and measuring baby, they kept him on the warmer for a while, across the room from my bed. My doula and I thought this strange as the minutes passed. I was able to ask my doula if that was "normal", and she said that they normally would bring him back to me to breastfeed and do skin-to-skin to help regulate their temperature. This prompted me to ask, and the nurse said that some water birth babies have a hard time regulating their temperature because they are colder from the water, and that M was having a hard time adjusting. Thankfully the midwife stepped in just then, and we were able to ask her. She informed the nurse that skin-to-skin needed to be tried first before a warmer, and that the warmer setting she had it on was too high - causing M to sweat, and his temp to be irregular. I don't know if I would have even thought to question what the nurse was doing, had my doula not been there. They then brought M back for me to nurse and do skin-to-skin with. He actually did the little "newborn breast crawl" and latched himself! It's pretty amazing how alert he was. The whole experience was surreal, and it didn't escape me how ideally everything seemed to go. I was grateful that we had taken the birth classes we took at Birth Ed. Both my husband and I had felt prepared, and it really made all the difference in our confidence as a birth team. With their help, baby M was born at 7:04pm, at 8lbs 0 oz and 21 inches long. After actually settling in for the night, we celebrated by ordering in Pizza Lucé. I don't think pizza will ever taste as good as it did on the night he was born.