"One joy shatters a hundred griefs."
- Chinese Proverb
Alright. For those of you who are interested in all the harrowing drama, it's officially time for the official birth story. I tried to be specific but believe it or not, many of the details are already a bit fuzzy! (One of the many blessings of childbirth!)
It all started at 2:19am on August 12th - my water broke. I had woken up a few minutes earlier to get a drink of water and as I was lying in bed, trying to fall back asleep, it happened just like the movies. I felt this huge gush and would have possibly thought I was wetting myself if I hadn't just visited the bathroom minutes earlier! I immediately knew this was the real deal. I ran to the bathroom. Ironically, earlier that day I for some reason thought my water had broken and was slowly leaking so I had bought some pH strips to test myself. The results in the afternoon were negative for amniotic fluid but when I tested myself this time - oh boy was it amniotic fluid! At this point, I woke Rocky up to tell him what was going on. He was SO excited; exhausted, but excited. I called the midwife and she said to call once my contractions started.
So I hopped in the shower, not being able to do much else, considering my leaking was pretty constant. After some time, I decided I should try to rest a little bit since I only slept for about three hours. Almost immediately after I laid down, my contractions began. It was 3:11am. At this point, Rocky decided he should go to his work to get all this food that was in the fridge so we'd have something to eat when we got home. It's always hilarious what husbands find absolutely necessary to do right as their wives go into labor. But it was so great he did that because the first thing we ate when we got home from the hospital was that food!
After an hour of contractions that were roughly 5-7 minutes apart, I called the midwife (Cindi). We talked for a bit and decided that since this was my first baby and I was planning a natural labor and delivery, I should stay at home for awhile longer. She said to call once my contractions were strong and about 2-3 minutes apart. I ate a bowl of cereal, watched Hitch with Rocky, and labored pretty steadily. I was going back and forth from just walking around the room and bouncing/rolling on my yoga ball. I felt at this point that my labor was going quite well, and I was really dealing with the pain just as I had hoped. It honestly wasn't that bad!
Hours rolled by, and after a plate of delicious blueberry pancakes made by Rocky (aka super husband), I called Cindi to say that my contractions had been strong and close together for over an hour now. She said if I felt ready to come on in! We were anxious to finally have this baby - we'd already waited 41 weeks and 2 days! - so we packed it up and headed to the hospital, arriving around 10am.
When I was checked, I was 90 percent effaced and only 3cm dilated, which was better than the 0cm I had been a week earlier but I can't deny that I was hoping to be a bit further along. This particular day at the hospital was apparently the day that every baby in Cincinnati decided to be born, so by the time I got through triage, there still wasn't a room ready for us. The nurses told us to just walk the halls and come back in about an hour. While I was sitting in triage for almost 45 minutes, I noticed my contractions had slowed a bit so I was eager to get walking so I could keep moving my labor along.
We got into our room around 11:45am. My midwife suggested I get an IV of fluids to give me a bit of an energy boost since I'd gotten so little sleep. I got hooked up but kept walking, pushing my little IV rack thing along. I also labored on the yoga ball in the room as well. My contractions were very strong and I was breathing through them really well, just focusing on the goal - getting my baby out! I was feeling optimistic about this labor, and imagined myself having a baby by sundown. Oh, expectations, how you amuse me.
I was checked at 3pm and was only 5-6cm!! I was really upset to tell you the truth. I couldn't believe all that labor had produced such a measly result. I was also a bit worried that after 12 hours of contractions, I was still only halfway dilated. My midwife suggested putting me on a slow drip of Pitocin (synthetic oxytocin to speed up/strengthen contractions) but I refused it at this point because I was still really determined to have a natural childbirth.
Also at this check, Cindi discovered that the baby was definitely in the posterior position - she had suspected it earlier and now it was settled. A posterior baby is head down, but face up rather than face down. This makes labor a lot more painful, and also makes delivery more difficult because the mother has to push the bigger part of the baby's head out first, rather than the smaller part. I wasn't necessarily disturbed by this news, but I can't say I was looking forward to the pushing part!
Everything changed an hour later. My baby decided to throw a proverbial wrench into the whole system. I went to the bathroom and discovered that there was meconium present in the amniotic fluid. (Meconium is basically baby poo). Usually when meconium is present, hospital staff tends to freak out because there is a chance of the baby inhaling the meconium into her lungs. So once this was discovered, my midwife thought it was really necessary to move things a long a bit more effectively. I was torn, but in the end, I realized that my baby's well-being was more important to me than having this perfect natural childbirth I had pictured. They started me on a slow Pitocin drip to hopefully get things going. The contractions absolutely became stronger, and my labor became much more intense.
Rocky and I decided to watch Dumb and Dumber, hoping it would distract me a little from the contractions. I was still laboring without any pain medication, which was going okay pain-wise, but it was really exhausting me because the contractions were SO powerful. It was taking all my strength and energy to get through each one. I was praying for strength from the Lord and every female saint I could think of who was a mother. Again, I just kept focusing on holding my baby in my arms. I knew the pain would be worth it once she was finally here. Time was wildly flying by. Before I knew it, it was 8pm and time for me to be checked again. I was so worn out and looking forward to hearing the midwife tell me I was ready to start pushing.
I was only 7-8cm.
I was shocked. I had just endured four hours of EXTREME labor only to progress about 2 more cm. It just goes to show that Pitocin is NOT a miracle drug of labor and it does NOT magically progress your labor. The other negative update was that the baby's head was still very high in my cervix and had not descended one bit since I arrived at the hospital that morning. Cindi told me that I still had a LOT of work to do before I could start to push this baby out. I got really emotional and started crying because I honestly couldn't fathom how I was going to get through it. I was going on 3 hours of sleep, hardly any food because I wasn't allowed to eat anymore once I was on the Pitocin and had been in labor for 18 hours already. I could barely hold my head up. I was also just feeling so vulnerable and alone. No one was supporting my desire for a natural labor, and it seemed like everyone just wanted to "get the baby out" regardless of my feelings or role in this labor.
My midwife tentatively brought up the word epidural. She knew it's not what I wanted, but she thought it was really what I needed at this point. I was so upset, and cried some more because I saw my birth plan slipping further and further away every time my midwife checked me. However, as deep as I could dig to find the energy to go on, my reserves had been spent. I didn't know where to find the strength to go on. If there was as much work to be done as Cindi said there was, I was going to have to get some relief. I expressed to her that I was afraid my labor was backtrack and slow down if I got the epidural. She assured me that since I was close to completion, I didn't have to worry about that. It was her hope and belief that once I took the epidural, my body would be able to relax and open up quite quickly. She added that she understood this was not part of my plan, but we can't choose the kind of labor we're given. She described my set of circumstances as the worst case scenario for a woman who was trying to go natural; it was her professional opinion that I was most likely going to need some rest if I was going to make it through the transition and delivery. After a few more exhausting and excruciating contractions, I reluctantly agreed to the epidural. The ink hadn't even dried on my statement of consent, when the anesthesiologist was in there poking me in the back! By 8:40pm, I was officially pain-free from the waist down.
Once the epidural was in, I had to be on constant monitoring. I felt like a science experiment, sitting there with all these tubes and wires hooked up to me. For a moment I mourned the peaceful, natural childbirth I had once dreamed I would have. I had to stop feeling sorry for myself though, so I somehow got over it enough to focus on the only thing left I could focus on - giving birth to a healthy baby girl. So Plan A was officially out the window, and I replaced it with a much simpler Plan B:
Give birth to a healthy baby. Don't have a c-section.
I laid back to hopefully get some rest and gave Rocky permission to sleep. I was no longer in any pain, and I was going to need him when it came time to push so he needed his rest too. My body rested, but I could not shut my brain off... there was just too much going on in there. Around 11pm, the nurse came in and told me that my contractions hadn't slowed in frequency but had dropped in intensity. Which basically indicated that I would be progressing extremely slowly. The baby's heart rate was strong and steady, which was all I cared about really. Even still, Cindi thought it would be a good idea to switch to internal monitoring to get a better idea of just how strong my contractions really were. Whaaaaatever. By then, I had gone emotionally numb to the interventions (for my own sanity I think) and I was already physically numb wasis-down, so they hooked me up to a new set of wires.
I laid back down, and prayed to God to please allow me a safe delivery, and to avoid a c-section if it was possible. I dozed on and off; the nurse came in every hour to flip me from one side to the other, in hopes it would turn the baby from posterior to anterior. It didn't.
At 4am, Cindi checked me. I was FINALLY fully dilated and fully effaced. However, and of course there had to be a however, our baby was still sitting up very high in my cervix. Hmm.. maybe if I wasn't on the epidural, I would've been able to get up and let gravity do its work?? Not an option though. I was just barely at +1 station and normally you don't start pushing till +3 station. How that was ever going to happen was a mystery because I couldn't exactly walk around or bounce on the yoga ball to coax her down. The best I could do was sit as straight up as possible and hope she would come on down to the Price is Right. After an incredibly stimulating hour of sitting still, she had moved down a teensy bit almost to +2. The nurse, midwife, and I all made an executive decision to just start pushing this baby out. So at 5:15am, the pushing began.
After an hour, my nurse said she could see about a dime sized amount of the baby's head - she was happy to add that there was hair! Unfortunately, she said, we were going to need to see a lot more than a dime sized amount of head if I was ever going to hold this little girl in my arms. Cindi was concerned about my body's ability to get her head out in the posterior position; she wasn't sure if my bone structure was wide enough to handle it, yada yada yada. With every negative concern she expressed, my fear of having a c-section grew. What if she was right? What if my body was too small for her head to fit? Even though I had read that it is actually a VERY rare condition that a woman's body is unable to accommodate her baby during birth, I was way beyond thinking rationally at this point. Cindi said that I should let the OB on duty come in to assess me. She said if anyone could help turn and/or deliver this baby, it would be him. I couldn't believe after all this time, being cared for by a midwife, that I would in the end have some random doctor step in at the last minute to deliver my baby.
I said if he could get my baby out, then bring him in. He came in with a let's-do-this attitude that took me a little off guard. He didn't inspire a lot of confidence when the first thing he said after checking me was "This is a huge baby." He asked me how tall I was. He did an internal check. He very matter-of-factly said that she may come out if he assisted me with forceps. If that didn't work, he said, I'd need a c-section. Nice bedsie manner, Doc. I kind of lost it a little bit here. I just started crying so much because I was so scared of what seemed like a good chance I'd have to get surgery, and also scared of the idea of my poor little baby's head being yanked on by huge metal salad tongs. How did it all get so out of hand? Why was having a baby so stinkin hard?? I was also crying because it was 7am and that meant it was time for a shift change. Cindi, who'd been with me for 24 hours had to leave. My nurse, Mandy, who had been with me for 12 hours, and who I LOVED would be leaving too. I was seriously stressed out, people! Everyone could see it.
I knew my midwife felt guilty for leaving but she had to, and was replaced by the ONE midwife of the group I used that I really didn't like. Of course. She busted in the place like a football coach on speed. The new nurse that came in seemed really sweet, but Mandy - this is how awesome she is - decided she would stay till my baby was born. It takes a special person to stick around a crazy lady in labor after a 12 hour shift! Love. Her.
Anyway, everything got insane really quickly. People were leaving, new people were coming. There was some random nurse assistant person who was never introduced to me and whose face was covered the whole time. (This made me very angry - I mean, she was all up in my business helping the doctor down there and didn't even tell me her name!) Also, the drug man came back in to give me a super shot of painkillers to make sure I wouldn't feel anything. (Did I consent to that? Don't even remember.) The doctor went in with the forceps and as soon as the next contraction came, everyone started screaming for me to push! Let me just state for the record that I think it is an awful idea to shout at a very tired, very emotional, very scared laboring woman. It really startled me!
I pushed a little bit but not my best because I was so shook up. Not to mention, it is very difficult to "push" WHEN YOU CAN'T FEEL ANYTHING. How am I supposed to know if I'm pushing?? Arggh. At the next contraction, I just listened to Rocky because his was the only gentle voice in the room. I prayed with all my might, literally begging God to bring me my baby so I wouldn't have to have a c-section. I pushed as hard as my body could manage. And all of a sudden, just like that, she was there.
I heard her little cry and I think everyone was as surprised as I was that she came out so suddenly after 29 hours of such slow progress. They laid her on my stomach and I put my hand on her to make sure she was real! I have never cried so hard in all my life. Once she was finally out, it was clear why it had taken so long. Her very short cord was wrapped around her twice - once around her neck, and once around her body; it had essentially been creating a bungee cord effect. So every time she came down a bit, it would pull her back up... every time I pushed her out a bit, it would pull her back in! But I didn't care about any of that or any pain I had gone through - my baby girl was in the world, right there on my belly. I just kept saying "Thank you, Jesus."
Plan B had worked out: Healthy baby. No c-section.
Gemma Therese was born at 7:37am on August 13th. She weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces. She was 20.5 inches long. She was perfect in every way.
My immediate postpartum care unfortunately left A LOT to be desired however. At some point, somebody cut the umbilical cord even though we had explicitly stated that Rocky would be the one to cut the cord. That was really, really disappointing. I don't even know if it had finished pulsing before they cut it, as I had also requested. I don't have any real recollection of birthing the placenta either. No one coached me through that and the doctor was pushing really hard on my belly, which was uncomfortable even with the epidural. The hospital staff took my baby girl away from me (albeit she was about 2 feet from me for only 3 minutes or so) to clean her off even though I specifically said I did not want them to take her unless there was something wrong with her (which there wasn't). Finally they brought her to me, but then they told me I wasn't allowed to nurse her until the doctor finished stitching me up (which, with all the violence of the forceps, I had torn to the 3rd degree - once again, thanks a lot Doc). I ignored them though and told them they couldn't stop me from nursing my baby. Thankfully they let me win that battle.
I won't go into the details of the remainder of our hospital stay, since this is a birth story and our story pretty much ends there.
We've been home over a week now, and I have so much more to say about mommyhood but this post is crazy long as it is so I'll hold off for now!
Lastly, let me just say how thankful I am for all the love and prayers during those 29 crazy hours - I can't imagine how much worse it would have been without it!!