I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a few days now – and besides the obvious reasons for the delay (breastfeeding, changing diapers, breastfeeding, changing diapers…also breastfeeding and changing diapers) I’ve been putting it off because it seems literally impossible (even for a copywriter) to put into words the experience of birthing a child. Even still – I’m going to try, because it feels like I need to. I will warn you up front, however, that this will be long – and honest – and maybe gross if you don’t like mucus plugs and vaginal tears.
Mia’s birth story starts on her due date, when I truly began counting the hours until her arrival. It’s a strange feeling knowing that at any moment your life could change forever – but you have no idea and no control over when that moment will come. Every night Dan and I went to bed hoping, wondering, wishing that we would wake up in the middle of the night and pack our bags and experience that hollywood movie excitement of rushing into the car and driving at top speed to the hospital.
Every morning we woke up feeling the same as the day before… tired, crampy, anxious, uncomfortable.
We did everything to get our little munchkin to come out. Walking, eating spicy foods, sitting on the exercise ball, sex – nothing worked. And I’m pretty sure that’s because nothing ever does. Nothing makes a baby come out except a baby that’s ready to come out….and maybe pitocin, but that’s a whole other ball game. Eventually we resigned ourselves to waiting it out until Mia’s induction date on Monday July 29th.
On Saturday the 27th it was a hot, gorgeous Maine summer day. We said we would go to Dan’s mom’s lake house – but ended up taking 3 naps in front of the AC and vacuuming the living room. I felt incapable of motivating myself to do anything – but thought nothing of it, because I was tired of the false hope that came with every cramp, ache and contraction. Dan made me a lobster dinner around 7pm – and then I went to bed, only to toss and turn for hours. Dan couldn’t sleep at all, and spent most of the night on the couch in the living room.
At midnight I got up to go to the bathroom. Every time I got up I thought of my mom, whose water broke over the toilet in the middle of the night, and I secretly hoped that would happen to me. Every time I would pee, and wait, and then waddle back to bed. Nothing. Saturday night was the same. I waddled back to bed and laid there feeling sorry for my 10 month pregnant, 5 day overdue self.
At 345am I had to pee again. When I got out of bed Dan woke up and asked “is it time?!” Nope, just another pee break. Dan fell back to sleep. I went to the bathroom. And then I stood up and water gushed into the toilet. I sat back down. Another gush. Did my water just break? I knew it did but I thought it couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be happening.
The water continued to pour out. I called out to Dan. He slept through it. I yelled a little louder – and he came wandering in, still not knowing exactly what was happening.
“My water just broke,” I told him very matter of factly. Then he woke up. “What? It did? What does that mean?” he asked. “I need a pad,” I told him, “and a towel.”
I diapered myself up and headed back to bed. Water continued to gush out with every step. Gross.
I told Dan to try to sleep, but of course neither or us could. We turned on the TV but I have no idea what was on. I think it was a law and order re-run. I waited an hour for contractions to start – which they did, but very, very lightly. Almost like the painless braxton hicks I had been feeling sporadically for months. Eventually I called my doctor, who of course was not on call. I was disappointed, but too anxious and excited to really be upset. The on-call doctor called me back. He told me to come in to the hospital. I told him my birth plan was to labor at home as long as possible – and he told me, gently, that since my water had broken I needed to come in and be monitored. It was the beginning of my birth plan going out the window. And honestly, looking back, who the hell cares.
Our bags were already pretty much packed. So we added some last minute things (almonds, crackers, other snacks we never even opened) and then we packed the car. On the way to the hospital I texted all the people on my “Labor Call List” but nobody responded because it was 430am.
As we drove to the hospital I tried really hard to capture that feeling and hold onto it. I had dreamt of this day for a long time – and even though in the end my birth plan went out the window, I was really glad to have had this one part of it come true. To go into labor on my own, to drive to the hospital sitting on a towel. To call everyone in the middle of the night and tell them, today was going to be our little munchkin’s birthday. Little did we know it almost wasn’t.
When we got to the hospital Dan grabbed our bags and we made our way up to the labor and delivery floor. We had to go first to triage, to be assessed and hopefully admitted. Our nurse, Kelly, was 6 days younger than me – but so sweet and funny. She was working the 7pm-7am shift, so she was almost ready to go home. She said she hoped we would still be here when she got back that night so she could meet the baby. I said “we better not still be here in 12 hours!” If only I knew what was in store, I would have given my left arm for a 12 hour labor.
Two resident doctors came into the triage room to assess me. They told me they needed to do an internal exam to determine if my water in fact had broken. They spread my legs to begin the exam and water poured all over the floor. They admitted me.
After being admitted, they transferred me to a labor and delivery suite – room 2736. It was huge with panoramic windows, a jacuzzi tub, a walk-in shower, birthing ball, couch, rocking chair, etc. I wish I could have stayed there on a night when I wasn’t in so much pain. We called my mom, who drove to the hospital with my dad, who then rode home on his bike, trying to pass the time. My mom stayed with us in the labor and delivery suite, rubbing my back, trying to make me laugh, trying to pretend this was going to be fun.
A new nurse came in, Kelly went home for her shift change. The new nurse, Tina, hooked me up to some monitors, and baby seemed happy, so she released me to walk the halls, order breakfast, watch TV. Whatever. “This takes time,” she told me. What an understatement.
At first my contractions weren’t so bad. They felt like nasty period cramps, but the kind you could breath through. And they were 4 minutes apart, so I was able to order a bagel and eat a few bites in between contractions, and then walk the halls with Dan at a normal pace.
Then all hell broke loose.
My contractions intensified to 2 minutes apart and they doubled me over in pain. Agony. My stomach tightened so hard that I felt like my pelvic bones were being slowly crushed into tiny pieces. Just as one contraction would die down, I would gasp for breath and then another would start. The only relief (and I use the word “relief” very loosely) was when I was walking, rotating my hips, on my feet. In an upright position I could channel my yoga breathing, visualize my baby moving down – and get through it. But my legs were getting tired – I needed to sit, but I couldn’t even bend over without screaming in pain.
Tina the nurse came in from the hallway, she could see my pain level was quickly increasing, and my tolerance plummeting. She offered me an injection to “take the edge off.” I declined – because there is no “edge” to contractions. Just gut wrenching agony.
She suggested I get in the bathtub, which I did, happily. The water felt warm and wonderful – until a contraction – and then it was back to agony. Some women say that laboring in the bath is as effective for pain relief as an epidural. Those women are either much stronger than me – or they’ve never had an epidural. Laboring in the bath relieves pain like pinching your left arm relieves pain in the right arm. It’s a distraction – a new position – a good option but certainly not “relief.”
I labored in the bath for about an hour. Dan sat behind me, rubbing my back, squeezing my hips, checking the water temperature.
After an hour I got out of the tub (one leg at a time, between contractions that were now 1 minute long, 1.5 minutes apart). I was 6 hours into my labor.
After getting out of the bath Dan suggested we try walking again. I got back into my gown and shuffled out into the hallway. I was having 3 contractions per “lap” around the labor and delivery unit. Each time one began I had to stop, lean onto Dan’s chest and breath as if I were running a marathon. It was all I could do not to scream out loud. The nurses looked on from their stations with a knowing grimace – they had been there. Or been there for someone who had been there.
After two or three long, agonizing laps our nurse Tina suggested we page the doctor to check me. I couldn’t even talk, but just nodded and attempted to communicate that I would do whatever the doctor thought was best. After one more lap, I shuffled back into my room and made my way onto the bed to be examined.
Lying down was horrible. When a contraction hit I would start shaking uncontrollably, arching my back and squeezing Dan’s hand so hard I thought it might break. I thought I would throw up. I couldn’t talk. I could barely breath. I was 7 hours into my labor. The doctor checked me and didn’t say anything. “What” I asked him. “What is it?” “You’re 3-4” he told me.
I started to cry – or maybe not because I couldn’t breath but in my mind I was crying. I had progressed 1/2 a centimeter in 7 hours. Tina said they would start pitocin. Dr. Bob (as the nurses called him) said I could wait another two hours – since he knew I wanted a natural birth without interventions. I was making progress, he said. However slow it may be.
I just wanted to stand up.
After the doctor left I got on my hands and knees on the floor. I was crying, gasping for air, moaning to keep myself from screaming. At some point my dad came by to visit. He kept it together but I could see it on his face – helplessness. I looked away during my contractions so he couldn’t see the tears. I’m sure he saw them anyway.
Dan and my mom continued to tell me how well I was doing, how strong I was, how beautiful I looked. “This is the miracle of life,’ they said. “I can’t do this anymore,” I told them. They continued to encourage me but I already knew it was over. They maybe knew, too, but they wouldn’t admit it. Almost 8 hours into my labor and I had progressed less than a centimeter. The nurses told me it could be 15 hours or more before it was time to push. I told Dan I wanted the epidural. I needed it. I couldn’t breath. I thought I might pass out from the unrelenting pain – still coursing through my body every 1-2 minutes. Even after I knew I was done, I made myself wait another 30 or so minutes. I told myself just get through the next one. One at a time. You can do this. You’re stronger than you think. It’s only pain. The reward is worth it.
But by the next contraction I knew there was no award for natural childbirth. Well, there was…but it was the same one you got for a medicated childbirth – and I was done with the pain. I was exhausted, defeated, and in a small way proud – that I had made it so long. I had already proved whatever I needed to prove. I told Dan to get me the $%^*ing epidural NOW. He called the nurse, and she called the anesthesiologist. The next half hour was a blur. The contractions continued to slam into me, but I knew the end was in sight. One might think a needle into the spine would hurt – and they would be right – but in contrast to the labor, it felt like a finger prick. Within 20 minutes the pain was gone. Completely, blissfully gone. I could have kissed the anesthesiologist.
After the epidural I turned on the TV, watched some news. Eventually I fell asleep.
The doctor checked me again and I was 4 centimeters.
Under normal circumstances I would have been devastated. But I was numb, I could breath. I didn’t even care how many centimeters I was. The doctor said my contractions had spread out and slowed down in intensity. They weren’t strong enough to make me dilate. He suggested pitocin. “Whatever,” I told him. The birth plan had long gone out the window.
The nurses hooked me up to pitocin. Then they ran a catheter, and internal fetal heart rate monitor, and an internal contraction monitor. I had so many wires coming out of my vagina I’m pretty sure Mia had cable TV in there.
I fell back to sleep. An hour later I woke up, turned toward the computer screen to see my contractions – which were coming, but still slower than before. I looked at Mia’s heart rate, and it seemed kind of low. Then it got lower, than way lower….I asked my mom to come look. “Doesn’t her heart rate seem kind of…”
Before I could finish the sentence 4 doctors and nurses ran into the room. They slammed an oxygen mask on my face and flipped me over onto my hands and knees. I looked over at Dan who was paralyzed on the couch. I tried to stay calm, breath deep. Nobody said anything. Doctor’s buzzed around, in and out. Eventually they all left, my nurse told me to keep the oxygen on, not to panic. Mia’s heart rate had crashed but it was stable again. My contractions were being weird and spreading out, but then coming three in a row. It was confusing the baby. Something like that. The doctor checked me again and I was 4 centimeters. Still.
After that my contractions started coming back. I pushed the epidural booster button once, twice, three times. I tried to stay calm but inside I was panicking. I was feeling pain again. Why was it coming back?!
The nurses told me it meant the baby was dropping. “Once she gets low enough, the epidural won’t work as well,” they said. They told me it was a good sign. Easy for them to say.
For the next 8 or so hours I breathed through the contractions (painful, but nothing compared to pre-epidural) and I watched on the monitor as they got stronger and faster. I started shaking again, and the doctor came to check me. 6 centimeters. Progress.
This went on for even more hours – by that point I had lost track of time. I had some visitors, I tried to smile. I tried to close my eyes and sleep. Dan held my hand, my mom massaged my partially numb feet and legs. The nurses helped me roll from side to side to keep the pressure off my back, and to keep Mia’s heart rate stable. It was a long, slow blur, punctuated by visits from Dr. Bob who checked me every hour – 1 centimeter at a time. By 9pm I was 9cm. 18 hours into my labor. The nurses told me to call when I felt the urge to push. 45 minutes later I called them, they checked me. It was go time.
After 18 hours of labor I couldn’t believe it was actually time. The day seemed impossibly long. Nurse kelly had come back for her next shift, which made me happy, because I liked her. She was instructing me on how to push. I was thinking about what Mia would look like. How much this part would hurt. How long it would take.
Dr. Bob came in and put on his scrubs. They showed Dan how to hold my legs and my head and told me to start pushing with the next contraction. My dad retreated to the waiting room, along with Taryn and Kevin, who had come to visit Mia as soon as she was born. My dad told me this part would be easy, because I could control it, I was strong.
He was right.
After 4 contractions the doctor told me I had moved Mia down as far as most people do in 2 hours. He told me this would be quick.
He was right.
The pushing took 45 minutes, but it felt like 5. I was focused, intense, determined. I pushed so hard my face turned purple. Dan draped cool wash cloths over my forehead. I practiced my yoga breaths in between contractions. A few more pushes and everyone gushed about how much hair the baby had. They offered me a mirror. They told me to reach down and touch her head. I ignored them and pushed harder. The pressure was so intense. I could literally feel her head coming through my vagina, sitting in the opening, half way in and half way out. My mom said the hair on her head started to curl as it was exposed to air for the first time. I could think of nothing else besides getting her out, seeing her face. My baby was about to be born. I was about to become a mother. It was too much. I could only push, the rest was too much to fathom.
The doctors turned all the monitors off. “Push when you have to push” they told me. Suddenly, I felt burning. A burning so intense I knew it had to be my vagina tearing. “It hurts so badly” I told the doctor. “push through it,” he said. And so I did, and then, it was gone. Her head was out. I looked down, the doctor was unwrapping the cord from around her neck. She cried, and I looked at Dan and there were tears in his eyes. All I can remember is saying “oh my god, oh my god” and “I love you Mia, I love you.” With the next contraction her shoulders came out. I barely even felt it. I’m not even sure I pushed. The doctors suctioned her mouth and then laid her on my chest. There are no words that can describe that feeling. No image that can capture it. It was the most intense, blissful, incredible feeling of my entire life. Our daughter was born. We created her. She was finally real.
Instinctively I cooed to her, told her I loved her, cradled her against my chest. Dan cut her umbilical cord – and each time I looked at his face I was flooded with another rush of pure joy, happiness, adoration. Our baby was here. I just had a baby. I’m a mommy.
Mia cried in my arms, but her lungs were filled with fluid. So they took her to the warmer for some more suctioning. Dan held my hand, until I told him to go with her. He stood over her as they worked on her tiny little body, and she stopped crying as soon as she heard his voice. I cried as the doctors delivered the placenta, and stitched up my small tear. They were tears of joy. I felt no pain.
At some point, my dad came into the room. He cried. I cried. My mom cried. Mia was so beautiful. More beautiful than I could have ever imagined. People say once you see your baby you forget the pain of labor. That’s bullshit. You don’t forget. I didn’t forget. But I was absolutely positive it was worth it.
After I was stitched up, and Mia was determined to be healthy, she laid on my chest and practiced breast feeding. She wasn’t getting much at first, but the nurses assured me she was making good progress. As the adrenaline wore off, I became incredibly tired. Dan came and took her from me, took off his shirt, and placed her skin to skin on his chest. She immediately fell asleep. And once again my entire body was overcome with joy. I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe. There was so much emotion, so much exhaustion. So much happiness. Welcome to the world baby Mia.
After the birth, my mom and dad left. Taryn and Kevin left. We were on our own. Dan and I were moved upstairs to the mother-baby unit. Room 4736. It was 1am. I fell off the bed trying to stand up on still wobbly, partially numb legs. Dan picked me up under my arms, and with the help of the nurse, carried me into the bathroom and held me over the toilet while the nurse cleaned me up, helped me pee.
Everyone tells you about the pain of labor. Nobody tells you about the loss of dignity. Probably because by that point nobody cares.
That first night I remember thinking how crazy it was that everyone just left us in our room, with a tiny 3 hour old baby. What were we supposed to do? What shouldn’t we do? Were there instructions for this somewhere? Why weren’t the nurses telling us anything?
She didn’t cry when we were holding her, but the second we put her in the bassinet she screamed. I was so tired I didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t even really have time to think, we just started trading off one of us holding her while she slept, and the other trying to close their eyes for a few minutes. Before we knew it it was morning, and a steady stream of nurses were coming in and out, taking her for hearing tests, and blood tests and tests about tests. The morning light brought another rush of adrenaline, and somehow I had energy again – despite going on 36 hours with only a few minutes of sleep.
During her first days of life, Mia had many visitors at the hospital. She met Papa Jay…
She met Great Grandpa Jack…
She met Great Grandma Betsy, Grammie Carol, Auntie Jen, “Auntie” Margie and “Uncle” Jerry, Auntie Rachel and Uncle Ryan. She met Traci and Holly, Great Aunt Bethie and Great Uncle Gordon, Auntie Laura and Mimi Micky. She spent the vast majority of her days sleeping, and being photographed.
Her pediatrician came to visit, and since Mia was slightly jaundice, she ordered some window sun time. Mia was loving it.
Then it was time for her favorite, some skin-to-skin with Daddy.
After cuddling with Daddy it was time to pick out a new outfit…but all her 0-3 months clothes were too big! The little peanut had to wear a preemie onesie for the trip home.
On day two, the nurses deemed mommy and baby healthy enough to go home (12 hours early). So we packed up and head out…
…on to the next adventure.
Our first few days at home have been wonderful. Tiring, but incredible. But that’s for another blog post. I’m hoping that Mia will sleep enough to allow me to keep writing these posts…or at least putting up some pictures. But if I’ve learned anything from Mia’s birth, it’s to never plan anything when it comes to babies. Because you are no longer in control. And for the first time in my life – that’s ok with me.
Until next time…here’s the final “chart.”
How far along? 1 week pp
Total weight gain: 18 lbs (lost 14 pounds in the hospital)
Maternity clothes? yep…haven’t tried on my regular jeans yet
Stretch marks? lots….but they’re worth it
Sleep: in 2 and 4 hour blocks
Best moment this week: seeing my baby girl for the first time
Miss Anything? I already miss the first moment I saw her
Movement: she was a mover and a shaker on the inside, and she’s a squirmer on the outside too!
Food cravings: ice cream, still 🙂
Anything making you queasy or sick: nope
Gender: She’s a girl!
Labor Signs: been there, done that
Symptoms: joy, love, exhaustion
Belly Button in or out? back in!
Wedding rings on or off? haven’t even opened the jewelry box yet
Happy or Moody most of the time: so happy
Looking forward to: every second with my beautiful baby