It has taken me a week and a half to write this, in fits and starts, a paragraph here and another there. Having a newborn in the house is no joke, people! So the prose herein probably isn’t going to win me any writing awards, but I wanted to share the story anyway.
Why? I’m not sure. On a rational level, I have no desire to discuss my cervix on the internet. But in the last months of my pregnancy, I devoured other peoples’ birth stories (almost as enthusiastically as I devoured Pop Tarts) so I guess you could say I’m paying it forward. Especially since Annika’s birth was just a little on the dramatic side.
Also, a preface: I’m totally one of those obnoxious people who hoped and planned for a natural, med-free birth. Not because I think drugs are evil or to give myself something to sanctimoniously mention in future blog posts, but mostly because I HATED the idea of being hooked up to all sorts of tubes and IVs and catheters and unable to move around. HATED. (I still do.)
But obviously things don’t always go as planned, and I knew that, and indeed they didn’t.
Anyway. On to the tale. Settle in with a drink and a snack, because it’s a long one.
Wednesday, 8 PM: I was wiping down the kitchen counters after dinner when my water broke. No doubt about it: there was warm liquid running down my legs and I was certain I wasn’t peeing myself. I don’t know why I was surprised, as I’d been having contractions all day – real, slightly painful ones, not the Braxton-Hicks I’d been having for weeks – but they’d been 20-30 minutes apart, so I hadn’t thought much of them.
“Um, I am leaking,” I called into the living room. D and I looked at one another, dumbfounded. What do we do now? I texted our doula, who instructed me to take a relaxing bath and get some sleep, and to call her when contractions were consistently five minutes apart, which would likely be the next morning.
So we went about our evening.
Wednesday, 10 PM: Those contractions that had been twenty minutes apart were suddenly coming every seven minutes, then every six, lasting at least a minute each. They were painful, like a very bad period cramp, but entirely manageable for a minute at a time. Soon they were coming five minutes apart. The “rule” our doula had given us was to the 5-1-1 rule: call her when contractions were five minutes apart, lasting one minute each, for one hour.
Well shit, we thought. That happened faster than anticipated.
Thursday, 2 AM through Friday, 6 AM: Originally, I wrote a lot more about this 28-hour stretch. But on re-reading, I realized I could condense it down to bullet points:
- Labored at home all night and through the morning.
- Went to get checked Thursday afternoon; was fully effaced but only 3 cm dilated.
- Walked in the park, hoping to speed things up. Ate popsicle from King of Pops. Contractions still 5-1-1.
- Went home. Labored in tub. Labored on ball. Contractions still 5-1-1.
- Checked in to hospital Thursday evening; now 5 cm dilated.
- Started having horrible back pain along with each contraction.
- Started making strange guttural sounds that I didn’t know I was capable of producing.
- “Slept” between contractions at the hospital for a few hours on Thursday night. Somehow.
- Awoke Friday morning ready to give it one more shot.
I still cannot believe I had this same damn contraction pattern for almost 30 hours. Every nurse and midwife I encountered said they thought things would pick up any minute now and we’d have a baby before we knew it. (Hah.)
Friday, 8 AM: The midwife came to have a chat. My water had been broken for 36 hours and it was time to talk about a game plan.
I was alone in the hospital room when she arrived. Our doula had gone home to get a couple hours of sleep and D had headed back to our house to feed the cats, shower, and get fresh clothes for both of us. This was the first time I’d been by myself since this whole ordeal started and I was feeling oddly serene, bouncing on the labor ball and watching Good Morning America, pausing every few minutes to heave and groan my way through a contraction.
But first, an exam. We’d been trying to limit the number of exams to avoid getting any unnecessary bacteria up there, on account of my water being broken. So it had been a while. I was certain there’d be progress.
Alas: Five centimeters. STILL five centimeters.
“If having a natural birth is very important to you, we can keep going. Or you could even go home and labor there for a while,” she ventured.
No. It wasn’t that important.
But I had garnered some energy from my overnight nap and wanted to give it one last shot.
We agreed that I’d give it the old “college try” for a couple more hours, and if things weren’t going full steam at that point (or at least headed that direction), I’d start Pitocin to get things moving.
So for the next two hours, I did squats and lunges until my thighs burned. I power walked laps around the L&D ward. I aimed the shower head at my chest for nipple stimulation. I tried to visualize flowers opening and all of that crap.
I’m guessing you can guess where it got me.
5-1-1. And still five centimeters.
Well, I thought, I’m not going to look back on this and say I didn’t try.
Friday, noon: I crammed what was left of a Chick-Fil-A fruit cup into my mouth and scarfed down a Balance bar. If I was getting the pit, I was probably getting an epidural too, and that would trigger all of the traditional restrictions on (not) eating during labor. And I was starving.
I lasted about three seconds on the pit before I requested the epi. I mean…why not? I still wasn’t enthused about the needle going in my back, but it felt like I was hooked up to a million tubes and monitors at that point anyway, and honestly after being at this for two days I wasn’t sure I had the energy to labor through intense contractions for several more hours, or however long it was going to take for the Pitocin to force my stubborn cervix open.
As it turned out, the anesthesiologist did a great job with the epi. It was like an Epidural Lite. I could still feel each contraction, but without the pain and intensity they had before; I could still move my legs around and even flip over to hands and knees on the bed. I negotiated with the nurse to ditch the standard foley catheter (which was supremely uncomfortable when she put it in) and just had her “empty” me every so often. For having the dreaded epidural, this was about as decent of a setup as I could have hoped for.
Friday, 7 PM: Finally, ten centimeters. I’d been getting antsy to start pushing, but had tried to chill out and “labor down” as long as possible. Also, a new team of nurse + midwife had just come on shift and it seemed like a decent thing to do to give them a chance to get their bearings before I tried to expel a baby at them.
Around 8, the nurse turned the epidural off. It felt like it had been wearing off anyway, but I was doing okay with the pain. I was so ready to get this baby out and figured that after ALL OF THIS TIME, I deserved a quick and easy pushing phase. (Again: Hah.)
So I pushed. And pushed, and pushed, and pushed. For two and a half hours. On my back; on my hands and knees; half-squatting from a bar braced over the bed. Deep breath, three hard pushes, rest. I cursed and cried and must have declared that I couldn’t do it at least a dozen times. It HURT. It was HARD.
Between pushes, I asked the nurse how many rounds she thought I had left. I was starting to feel the infamous “ring of fire” – and, let me repeat, it HURT. When she answered that couldn’t tell me, I badgered her until she said “Okay fine, I would guess fifteen.”
FIFTEEN. I’d been imagining, I don’t know…three? I almost gave up. In my head (or maybe it was aloud), I wished for any path out of this mess other than the present one. I whined. I cried some more.
Over my protests, our doula dragged a mirror over to the foot of the bed so I could see what was happening down there. This was something I was sure I didn’t want, but dammit, it actually helped. I shut my whiny mouth and focused on moving this white, mucous-y bulb that everyone insisted was baby’s head a little further forward with each round of pushing. The image in the mirror looked nothing like my body, or even anything human. It was like I was playing a video game.
Finally, the midwife beckoned D down to the business end of the bed so he could help “catch” the baby, as he’d hoped to do. This was motivating; I was actually going to get this thing out. The last few pushes were unbelievably painful; I both watched and felt myself literally ripping apart. And then her head was through. In the reflection of the mirror, I watched in awe as the rest of her body slipped out effortlessly behind.
But…it was limp. And a ghostly purplish blue.
The midwife was cutting the cord and yelling TEAM and suddenly there were about thirty people in the room and the seemingly lifeless little body was whisked away to a table somewhere behind my head.
I don’t even know what happened next. D was squeezing my shoulder; our doula was telling us to send positive thoughts to our baby; our midwife was praying. I was just…numb. I remember staring at my feet, curled on the bloodstained sheets, the end of the cord sitting uselessly between my legs. I couldn’t see what was happening on the table. I didn’t even attempt to. In retrospect, I think I was trying not to get too attached.
A couple of minutes later, I heard a joke cracked, a chuckle in the midst of the cluster of scrubs. The mood had changed a little. This had to mean things were going to be okay.
“She’s pink,” our doula said, craning her neck to see. “She’s breathing.”
Saturday, 1 AM: Annika had been born at 10:33 PM after 2.5 hours of pushing. Her initial APGAR score was 2. After five minutes it was 7 and at ten minutes it was 8, obviously much better numbers, but the length of my labor and the dramatic circumstances of her delivery mandated a trip to the NICU per hospital policy.
The nurse had apologized repeatedly as she brought over the blanket-wrapped bundle and handed her to me to see for the first time, to cuddle for about five minutes, before she had to be taken away. I’d been bombarded with questions about whether I’d prefer her to have formula or an IV (um, ideally neither?) and hammered with information on the antibiotics she was to receive, in spite of the fact that she hadn’t tested positive for any signs of infection. I thought fleetingly of how I’d debated over whether to have her get her HepB vaccine in the hospital or just wait until her pediatrician visit. Because, after all, I didn’t want my tiny newborn getting stuck with a needle straight away when it could just as easily be done a couple of weeks later.
I didn’t have any of that fight left in me. It seemed stupid and naive to begin with. I consented to whatever needed to be done and watched helplessly as they loaded my baby onto a cart and wheeled her away.
Physically, I’d been repaired: two sets of stitches and a bunch of “road rash” that the midwife cautioned me would hurt for a while. I’d been loaded up with ice packs in my giant disposable underwear and a layer of pads that looked suitable for potty training a Great Dane. I’d been dosed with a painkiller that made the stiff hospital bed feel like a squishy beanbag. I was ready to head to recovery.
Emotionally, however, the wheels were just starting to turn. I had a baby. The baby had been born “stunned” – another word for shock, so we were told. Now the baby was in the NICU. Why did this happen? If I’d just pushed a little faster and harder, would she have come out rosy and screaming rather than icy and limp? If I’d headed to the hospital as soon as my water had broken and started the induction immediately, would I be home with my baby now?
I know this is an unproductive way to think, but it’s hard to avoid it. Even though multiple doctors and nurses have assured me that her state at delivery had nothing to do with the labor itself. It just happens sometimes, they said. It was a shock to everyone. Her heart rate had looked great the entire time I labored and pushed. There had been no indication of distress whatsoever.
At 3AM, we visited Annika in the NICU for the first time. We tried to establish the all-important “skin to skin” time, although we were a few hours late and had to work around a tangled web of wires and monitors.
She was in the NICU for three days altogether. That was hard. For three days, we visited her every three hours and attempted to breastfeed her and snuggle her and do everything we’d be doing under “normal” circumstances. On Sunday night, we were discharged from the hospital and had to go home without her. That was doubly hard.
Thankfully, as I finish writing this (finally!) Annika has gained over a pound since her birth and we are all healthy and happy. It’s starting to feel like the wild tale of her entrance is behind us.
On our way to her two-week pediatrician check-up, where she got two thumbs up from the doctor!
Still, occasionally I feel haunted. Would I have done anything differently if I could do it over again? I really don’t know. Obviously, I did not plan or expect to have a 51-hour labor, but things really did seem to be on the verge of picking up for almost that entire time. Of course I could have taken the drugs much sooner and shaved over a day off of my experience…but at the time, it didn’t seem necessary. And these are the things you cannot know when Monday morning quarterbacking. The decisions I made during those 51 hours were logical and right at the time. Maybe this will affect how I approach L&D the next time around (if there is a next time around), but I’m trying not to play the “what if” game with this one.
The story ends with me typing this while a healthy baby snoozes on my chest, and that’s all that matters.
As our doula gathered her things to depart the L&D room in the wee hours of that Saturday morning, her fee more than earned after being with us practically nonstop since Wednesday night, I half-jokingly asked her a question:
“Hey, what’s your record?”
She looked at me blankly. We were all exhausted.
“You know, for time with a client in labor.”
After a pause, she answered: “I think you just set it.”
So I guess I can end Annika’s birth story in a way that’s fitting for a running blog.
For all of that drama, at least someone got a PR.