I started typing my birth story up a few days after it happened, but it has mysteriously disappeared. By that I mean I assume I was typing it into a Word document, but that document doesn’t seem to exist, nor does any other trace of my efforts. It may be just as well, though, as this version will probably be significantly more succinct, since the details have since faded a bit in my memory.
About 12:30am on Thursday night/Friday morning, December 7, 2012, my husband and I went to bed. I have insomnia so was still lying awake at 1:30am when I began having abdominal cramping. I got up and used the bathroom, but noticed pretty quickly that the cramping was coming in waves. Since my EDD was December 1, 2012, I was pretty sure this was either labor or something to do with labor, so I woke my husband up.
Initially the cramping was uncomfortable but not too terrible, so we stayed in bed. My husband slept and I breathed through the cramps. We did call our doula, but I was still not 100% sure I was even in labor, since this felt nothing like what I imagined “contractions” would feel like. Instead, it felt intestinal, as though I’d eaten something not so good. Eventually, though, the cramping began to get worse, and my husband was woken by my breathing/moaning. I called my doula again to let her know it was on, and my husband ran me a bath.
My doula arrived while I was in the bath. My contractions were now 4 – 6 minutes apart, and several minutes in duration, but still not too terribly painful. I thought, man, this is going to be awesome. I totally have this licked. It was about 4:30am at this point, and the previous three hours had really flown by. I got out of the bath and went to labor on our birth ball. Our doula, Ashley, had me call the on-call midwife, who turned out to be Samantha (not the midwife we’d planned on using, Felice). Samantha asked me some questions and said to keep laboring at home and call when the contractions got more intense. I was a little bummed by this, but to be fair, I could still easily breathe through my contractions with a minimum amount of vocalization. So we kept at it.
My husband got me water and fruit. I was starting to have pretty intense contractions by now, and I was definitely yelling a bit. I couldn’t eat the fruit (or anything) and was trying to drink water as much as I could, but my contractions had started getting pretty bad. I was now having very painful cramping that was lasting several minutes, with only a very short break in between. I was also very nauseated and threw up. This time, Ashley called Samantha and basically told her we needed to come in. It was around 6:20am, and Ashley told Samantha I was having “cluster” contractions. Samantha arranged to meet us at the birth center at 7:40am.
My contractions continued to worsen. The best position for me was on my knees draped over the birth ball. I was doing a LOT of screaming – I’m pretty sure my neighbors all knew I was in labor by this point. At 7:30 we went to the car and headed to the birth center. Every minute in the car felt like an hour. When we arrived, Samantha was setting up the tub. I asked for a birth ball but they didn’t have one (?!?) so my husband called my Mom, who was visiting, and had her bring it to the birth center. In the meantime, I labored on my knees in front of a chair. I used the toilet and found I was bleeding. I called Samantha in to show her – by this time I’d lost all humility and didn’t really care who saw what or how. She said it was normal and not to worry.
When I got in the tub I felt a lot better, but not for long. Floating helped but my contractions kept getting crazier. Eventually I was having like 10 minutes of contractions, a very brief 1 or 2 minute break, and then another 10 minutes of contractions. I threw up several more times but since there was nothing in my stomach, it was mostly retching and then a little bile. I asked for ice chips, but they didn’t have those either (?!?!??!?) so Ashley went to a café to get some for me. My husband and Ashley took turns draping cool towels over my head and neck. Samantha checked the baby’s heartbeat what felt like every two minutes. Around 11, I got out of the tub so Samantha could check my dilation.
At that point, I can’t remember how dilated I was, but I do remember it was less than half, which made me cry, because I didn’t think I could take anymore. Samantha said she could see my sac and asked if I wanted her to break my water. I asked if it would hurt and she said not really, and it might speed things up, so I said go for it. She did, and it didn’t hurt at all, but there was a rush of warm water. I didn’t know this at the time, but there was blood in my amniotic fluid, which concerned her. I got back into the tub and after another hour or so she had me start doing gentle pushing with my contractions. I had been bleeding lightly the entire labor and at this time, I guess I released a clot. Samantha had taken/made several phone calls during the labor but I didn’t know until around this time that they were about me. She told me she was a little concerned about the bleeding and wanted to consult with an OB to see if I needed to transfer.
The OB she spoke to did advise a transfer because she was concerned I might have a placental abruption. Of course I was freaking out. I guess a placental abruption is when the placenta begins to detach from the wall of the uterus too soon. If it detaches all the way, blood supply to the baby can be cut off.
I asked if an ambulance was coming for me and Samantha said no, since it was a non-emergent transfer, we’d be taking our cars. I started crying because I was in the birth tub, naked, totally nauseated, completely exhausted, and in pain I cannot even begin to describe, and she was telling me I had to leave the tub, dry off, get dressed, pack up all my stuff, and ride in the car to the hospital. This task frankly seemed impossible, but with my husband’s help, I managed. I stuck a towel down my pants because I was bleeding enough that it soaked through my pajama pants almost immediately.
We got stuck in traffic on the way there because of road work and, I kid you not, sat at the same light through three cycles. I almost lost it. There was a police officer directing traffic and I very nearly got out and screamed at him. My pain by now was unbearable. By the time we got to the hospital I was almost delirious. This was about 1:30pm – I’d been in labor 12 hours, and had not slept in about 30 hours.
I love hospitals because I limped in like Quasimodo, moaning and yelling, a towel clearly hanging out of my pajama pants, and I swear not one person even glanced at me. We walked down a hallway, took elevators, passed employees, patients, visitors – no one seemed to notice me at all. Incredible. When we got to the desk to check in, a family was in the waiting room and I literally had to step over their kids, who were playing and rolling around on the floor. Didn’t seem to faze them at all – the kids or the adults.
When they got me into a room and a bed, I said, “GIVE ME PAINKILLERS NOW.” I had planned to do my whole labor pain med free but I had not bargained on 10 to 15-minute contractions with little to no break in between, nothing in my stomach, vomiting, and absolutely no sleep whatsoever. They gave me fentanyl before I even signed the admit papers because they could see I was in a bad, bad place. After getting all signed in, they got me an epidural. After that, I became somewhat human again. I thanked everyone in sight – nurses, doctors, my husband, my doula, my midwife. I finally let my husband kiss me, which he’d asked to do at the birth center and I’d told him not to. The doctor performed an exam on me and found that I was 9cm dilated and the baby’s head was at 0. Basically I’d made it ALMOST ALL THE WAY through labor before being transferred. The bleeding had stopped, but they were still a little concerned about me. They began monitoring the baby’s heartbeat, which was elevated. Then they had me relax and rest for a few hours.
At six, they had me “practice push” a few times. I could still feel the contractions but the difference between contractions with and without an epidural was ASTOUNDING. I pushed a few times and they decided I should wait another hour or two and try again, since he was still pretty far up. At 7, the OB who had admitted me came in and said she wanted to have me start pushing again.
At some point, they took my temperature and discovered I had a low-grade fever of around 100. They indicated this could mean I had an infection of some sort. I felt fine and couldn’t even tell my temperature was elevated, so I didn’t think much of it.
They were having a hard time keeping track of the baby’s heart rate during the contractions and so asked if they could put a scalp electrode on him. I was really unhappy about this and so much time without sleep and on such an emotional roller coaster finally took its toll and I burst into tears. Here I’d been hoping to have this totally non-invasive water birth with no pain meds or anything, and now they wanted to screw an electrode into my baby’s scalp. Both doctors suggested it, however, and seemed genuinely worried about his wellbeing, so I hesitantly agreed.
They quickly found that the baby’s heart rate was soaring when I was having contractions/pushing. The doctor was concerned that he still did not seem to be coming out, so suggested using a vacuum extractor on him. Again, I cried. This was NOT how I wanted my poor baby to come into the world, but I deferred to the doctors’ opinion and agreed. There were like 20 people in the room, all women besides my husband. Every time I would contract, they’d all cheer for me to push. I pushed as hard as I think anyone has ever pushed and they would cheer and cheer. When the contraction would end, the group sigh was almost audible. The doctor tried to coax the baby out through several contractions before finally telling me it wasn’t going to happen. She told me that when I would have a contraction and push, she could see him begin to descend, but as soon as the contraction ended and I stopped pushing, he would zip back up the birth canal. It was like one step forward, two steps back, and his vitals were not looking good. At this point, she recommended I have an emergency C-section. I was so exhausted and heartbroken and scared by this time that I agreed to the C-section immediately.
The doctor briefed me regarding what to expect. She said it would be loud and bright, that they’d perform the operation while I was awake, and that I would have my baby on my chest 2 – 3 minutes after they started. I have never heard anything that made me happier. By now I’d been in labor almost 20 hours and I just wanted to meet my baby so very much.
Everything went according to plan and before long a very nice anesthesiologist was at my right shoulder, ensuring my epidural was working, while my husband was at my left, holding my hand. I felt pressure on my abdomen as they shaved my pubic hair and then began the operation.
I was very anxious to see my baby, but it didn’t happen as quickly as we’d all hoped – he was stuck. I could hear the doctor panting and grunting as she tried to get him out. I asked repeatedly what was going on, but no one responded. I started to become frantic. Finally the anesthesiologist told me the doctor was just having a little trouble getting him out, but should be done soon. She wasn’t. I began to feel pain in my abdomen as she wrestled with the baby. I started crying, both in pain and fear. I continued to beg for information, but was ignored. It was TERRIFYING.
The climax came when I heard the doctor say to a nurse, “I need another OB in here, stat.” The nurse asked what OB she wanted, and the doctor replied. I heard the nurse call for the other OB, and when she hung up, she told the doctor, “He’s on his way. He’s running.”
Before the other OB could arrive, the doctor did manage to get my baby out. I heard him cough once and that was all. I didn’t see him. My husband says they whisked him across the room to the NICU team. I found out later that he was limp and blue. The doctor continued to work on me and I continued to feel pain. I finally asked, “How much longer will you be?” and she responded, “About another twenty minutes.” I still hadn’t seen my baby and had no idea what was going on. I said I couldn’t take another twenty minutes. The anesthesiologist put me under.
In the time I was out, my husband was able to cut our baby’s cord, and follow him up to the NICU. He was born with dual pneumothoraces – two collapsed lungs – and an infection due to chorioamnioitis, or chorio for short. He could not breathe on his own and was intubated. He was put on antibiotics, morphine, and sedatives to prevent him from pulling out the breathing tube. The baby that I wanted to have in the water at a birth center, for whom I decided against antibiotic eye ointment because it was unnecessary and I wanted his birth to be as natural as possible, was now hooked up to machines, tubes, and monitors.
He was born at 9:54pm. I was in post-op until 1:30am – 24 hours after my labor started. They had a room available for me not long after I woke up, but the nurse in post-op kept me there until they were ready for us in the NICU – she said she was afraid that if they took me to post-partum, they wouldn’t get me in to see my baby until the next day, and she thought I should get to see him tonight. Knowing now what I do, I wonder if she was concerned I might not otherwise get to see him alive.
At 1:30am they took me to the NICU on a stretcher. We could barely see our baby – whom we named Gregory’s – face, because of the breathing tube and tape. I was not allowed to pick him up or hold him. I could touch him but only by laying my hand on him – stroking, kissing, or other touching would agitate him. I asked the nurses, “Be honest with me, what are his chances?” One nurse looked at me steadily and paused before replying, “He is really sick.” That was all she said.
Gregory made it through the night and the following day. Each day he became stronger. Eventually he came off the ventilator. I was able to hold him, which was a defining moment in my life. He slowly improved, and after a week and a half, we were able to bring him home. People asked me how my recovery was, and I can’t really say. I didn’t notice. All I cared about was being with my son.
Gregory is six weeks old today, as I finish typing this. He is healthy, happy, and normal. He will have no lasting effects from the pneumothoraces or chorioamnioitis. He’s gaining weight like a champ, eating like crazy, and maybe not sleeping as much as Mommy and Daddy would like. He smiled socially for the first time on his one-month birthday. He is beautiful.
Gregory’s birth was traumatic and terrifying. I sometimes feel cheated because of the way it went. In our birth class, we were the only couple planning for an out-of-hospital birth, and I think we were also the only couple who had to have an emergency C-section. I had a lot of guilt in the week and a half before we could bring him home. I wondered what I could have done or not done to change the outcome. I wondered if he was lonely, afraid, cold. I was sad that he had to come into the world in such a violent and scary way. I felt like I had failed in some way, as a woman and as a mother. I look at him now, however, and can’t help but feel anything but lucky. I have a beautiful, healthy, wonderful baby. I truly believe his rough start helped make him stronger and only made me love him more. I can’t say I wouldn’t change a thing – that would be a blatant lie – but I am so grateful to have him that the rest of it no longer matters. The journey was difficult but the destination is completely worth it.
(One last thing I should add. I could not be more grateful or lucky with regard to everyone that was a part of this experience. My midwives, the doctors and nurses, the anesthesiologists, but most especially my amazing doula, my incredible, wonderful husband, my loving, supportive family, and my fabulous friends. Every one of them helped make all Gregory and I went through as easy as possible, and I am really without words to convey my gratitude and love. Thank you.)