(This is a birth story and, as such, vaginas are discussed. You’ve been warned)
I was so, so pregnant and so, so tired of it. At 41 weeks, the midwives had me come in for an hour long planning appointment to discuss strategies for getting the little one out before 42 weeks. Prior to the appointment, I had an ultrasound which showed everything to be good and at the appointment, I had an NST (fetal monitoring) and a stretch and sweep. The stretch and sweep (uncomfortable but not crazily so) showed me to be 1 cm dilated and about 25% effaced. The plan from the midwives was watchful waiting for the next three days. After that, castor oil, and then a catheter and cervadil were all discussed as interventions to jump start labor instead of me transferring to an OB practice and inducing. All of these interventions sounded horrendous, so I immediately resolved to start trying lesser methods of induction beyond the walking, raspberry leaf tea, spicy foods and primrose oil I’d been doing. This was Thursday and I wanted this baby out before Monday, castor oil day. I went home and took the dog for yet another good long walk.
Friday, I got a chiropractic adjustment and tried out acupuncture for the first time (I’m now a convert and highly recommend the studio I worked with, Little Bird DC). In between, the wife and I had a lunch date and in hindsight, I’m really glad we took that time away before everything got crazy. The acupuncturist was very sweet, explained how induction acupuncture worked, and that it usually required multiple appointments and at least a week before delivery. I explained about my situation, that I was ready for the baby to be out and how badly I did not want to take castor oil, and she was game. She got me set up and I had a fantastic acu-nap. I made an appointment to come back Saturday.
Saturday, after my acupuncture appointment, the acupuncturist left some tacks (very small needles on adhesive strips) in me to help keep things moving. At lunch shortly after, I felt some very strange internal movement that I decided was the baby moving. I also lost a bit of my mucus plug that afternoon, which I’d thought I’d already lost several days before. I thought I felt some cramps / contractions around 6 pm, but failed the four in an hour test, so I dismissed it as wishful thinking. The day ended with my wife, dog and I cuddled on the couch. I wrote a blog post about how frustrated I was about not having a baby yet. I got up to go to bed and felt a little bit of discharge that kept going… and going… and going. I was really uncertain what that meant… I’d dealt with heavy discharge for most of my last month of pregnancy and had freaked myself, my wife and the midwives out at 39 weeks when I confused even heavier discharge with a potential amniotic fluid leak. I was relatively certain that this was just discharge again and went to the bathroom to confirm. Turned out, this was, in fact, different from previous discharge and continued after I got off the toilet. So I placed a late night call to the midwives. Of course, I got the one that I’d discussed the previous scare a few weeks ago in another late night call. I explained the situation and she was concerned, but wasn’t sure how to proceed because this was more of a slow leak than anything else. The wife remembered that the midwife had given us pH strips at 39 weeks in case I was worried in future and got me one and a q-tip. Swab revealed the liquid to be basic, which indicated amniotic fluid. Confirmed, my water had broken.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t great news. I was GBS positive and I wasn’t having contractions. After agonizing for over a month about needing antibiotics during labor, I now knew for certain that I would. The highest risk to the baby was if the baby was delivered more than 17 hrs after the waters broke and since mine just had, 17 hours to baby would be optimistic. In addition, the midwives wanted a baby within 24 hours of water breaking and therefore we couldn’t wait to start labor naturally the way a GBS negative person might. This meant I needed to jump-start labor. Which meant castor oil. Great.
We made a plan with the midwife over the phone. I would eat some food and get some sleep. Since I typically woke up around 4am to use the restroom, I would take the castor oil then. It would take about two hours to take effect, waking me up around 6am for bathroom needs and hopefully contractions would start soon after with 6 hours of sleep under my belt. If nothing happened, I was to check in with her around 8am to take the second dose. I immediately stuffed some oatmeal in my face, drank a very large glass of water, and went to sleep around midnight. Of course, my body woke me up after ninety minutes to go to the bathroom and then again around 4:15 in the morning. I used the facilities, ran downstairs, poured a bottle of castor oil in a glass of orange juice, slurped it down, and got back in bed and tried to sleep.
Two hours for castor oil to take effect was a vicious lie. I never got back to sleep and the oil did its work in 20 minutes. After that round finished, I got back in bed again and tried to sleep, only to run back to the toilet immediately after. I figured my stomach problems would continue and moved to the armchair in the nursery to wait them out while reading a book on my phone. While there, I began feeling the equivalent of menstrual cramps. I started timing them around 6 am and found they were coming every five minutes or so. At 7, I pulled out the birth ball and started inflating it, then called the midwife at 7:30. She thought these were good signs, and advised me to rest while I could. I finally woke up the wife and gave her the good news and the task of inflating the birth ball. I got in bed and slept the best I could until 10 am or so, when the contractions started getting more frequent and intense. Per the midwife, we went out to take the dog for a walk. I would make it a few steps before having to lean on a tree and curse softly while Meigh gave me counter pressure. After we got home, I tried to do hands and knees on our brand new birthing ball, only to have it immediately pop. The wife retrieved our old one from the attic and inflated it, only to find it was riddled with holes and useless. So, instead I lay on the couch in my side, working through contractions while wife fed me bites of banana, until I finally threw everything up in my stomach. Sexy! After that, we called the midwife for the fourth time and she agreed I was in active labor. She asked if I felt any pressure or urge to push and while I didn’t feel the urge to push, I did have an odd constipated pressure feeling and mentioned that. I found out later this caused my midwives and birth assistants to go into a panic, thinking I was pushing prematurely. Everyone started to make their way over to our house, while I changed into the nightgown I’d picked out months ago to labor in and washed the vomit from my face. I went upstairs to our bedroom that morning knowing I wouldn’t go back down until the day after I had a baby.
Midwife 1, Midwife 2 (a new hire at the practice who actually ran my birth under 1’s supervision) and my birth assistant all showed up in quick succession. In the way that fate has of laughing at you, MW1 and MW2 were the midwives we’d clicked with the least and BA was the one birth assistant in the on call practice that I’d never met. They all said hi, left me to labor with Wife on my own for a while and got their gear set up. Essentially, they suggested positions and places to labor for a while, the first one being the shower, while Wife finished setting up the bed with sheets we didn’t like and shower curtains underneath to catch fluids.
Active labor was hard and lasted what felt like forever, about nine hours. I worked really hard to stay relaxed before, during and after contractions. While I don’t consider myself an athlete, I’ve done a fair amount of running, weight lifting and yoga, all of which target specific muscle groups and relaxing into discomfort. I also remembered the open hands and open jaw mantra from birth class. I threw up a few more times. I also had been fighting some terrible reflux for a few days prior and all of the acidic juices we had (lemonade, oj and peach mango juice) triggered it something fierce. The tums I took to counteract it is actually what triggered the second round of vomiting… onto the floor by my bed.
I never knew what time it was – Wife had turned the clock in our bedroom around earlier that morning “to keep the light from interfering with my rest” and I never put my watch on after the first shower. But I kept trying to figure out how long it had been or what time it was. Sometime in the late afternoon, MW2 checked my process and I was only 3 cm dilated and 100% effaced. I was so mad. I’d been working so hard and that felt like nothing. MW2 pointed out that 100% effaced meant that things would progress well now. They placed my IV and gave me the first of three bags of antibiotics. Eventually, it got dark and I realized my hopes for a quick labor were over. I kept trying to figure out what time it was, because I’m that kind of person and no one would tell me. Jerks.
Somewhere in active labor, MW2 told me that they were concerned about the baby being sunny side up and that they wanted me to labor in a specific position, essentially facedown on the bed with one leg up for 10 contractions or so. That was excruciatingly painful. I remember asking at one point how many more I had left, to which MW2 replied that she hadn’t been counting. If I hadn’t been facedown on the bed panting after a contraction, I probably would have punched her. I’m not honestly positive that Bix was still posterior – after all, I’d felt what I think was her turning the day before and I never had super intense back pain – but better safe than sunny side up.
The contractions kept intensifying and coming closer and closer together until eventually they were on top of each other. That was really, really hard, as I had seconds to catch my breath until the next one hit. Through all of these moments, Wife was a rock and kept motivating and talking to me. Eventually, contractions became longer, much more intense and I had what felt like a dry heave in the middle of each one. The birth assistant told me that I was probably transitioning into pushing and those moments were actually my body pushing the baby out. In my delirium, I recalled the many birth stories from Ina May that discussed how pushing was a relief and decided that meant that pushing wouldn’t hurt so bad. I needed something hopeful to hang onto, I think. I was desperate for an idea that things might get a little easier.
I was really, really wrong. Pushing meant a long contraction, with a push somewhere in the middle. So, pain, pain with pushing, more pain. I got in the shower, where Wife helped hold me up and stayed there until the water got cold. They got me out of the shower, I eschewed clothes and got back to my bedroom, where I labored without actively pushing for a while until they had me begin to bear down. MW1 found a birthing stool, which I loved using to help bear down. Pushing took four and a half hours. It kept getting worse. I continued to have a sensation of, essentially, needing to poop out a billiard ball. Once someone told me that was the baby’s head, something clicked in the pushing process and I began to bear down more. The midwives tried to show me progress with mirrors, but I didn’t have my contacts in, putting my glasses on was too much of a pain and I just wanted to focus with my eyes closed. I didn’t need the mirror, I could tell where she was from that billiard ball sensation.
I kept begging to be done. It was so exhausting and the contractions were hard and the most intense yet. As I got closer to completion, they also came more frequently and I felt almost no breaks. The midwives tried to have me rest through a couple of pushes without active involvement, but at that point, I couldn’t. I also kept trying to keep her from sliding back after pushes were over, but that also took effort. Every time I felt her move back, I was so angry and disheartened. I kept asking when I would be done and they kept saying soon. I eventually called them all liars because I knew that it had been several hours since I started pushing. Bix was caught on the lip of my cervix, which kept her from progressing forward. MW2 helped push it out of the way (also ouch!). At one point, MW2 made a comment about the kid wanting the 27th for a birthday and I knew it was after midnight, I’d been at this for hours and we still weren’t done. She started crowning and again, I grasped at straws that we would be done soon. (There is a difference between crowning and crowned!)
They cut the fan off and turned the heat on in anticipation of the baby. I remember spurting sweat while pushing and knowing we still had a ways to go. It was probably another hour before I got her head fully out. My wife watched our daughter be born, while I felt an excruciating ripping feeling. I was sure I’d torn, but after I pushed out her body, they put her on my stomach and I suddenly cared far less about the pain (though it never went away fully, all that talk about oxytocin was lies for me). My ten day late baby was covered in vernix and had a full head of black hair. She gazed at us solemnly and my wife cried happy tears back at her. I just stared in wonder at the tiny human we made – who then proceeded to poop onto every receiving blanket they had ready for her. (MW2 told me this was her revenge for me calling her an asshole during pushing.) With the placenta came a lot of bleeding, so I got a pitocin shot, but again, I didn’t care, nor did I care about the uterine massage, Wife got to cut the cord after the placenta stopped pulsing and they weighed her at 7 pounds, 10 ounces. MW2 examined me and said that while I was swollen, I’d only suffered a slight internal tear, one that she didn’t even recommend getting stitched.
Wife admitted to me that she’d had a migraine the entire time I’d been in labor. I knew something had been wrong with her, but thought she’d been having low blood sugar issues from not eating (and had insisted that she do so to the midwives at several opportunities). The midwives left us all to rest around 4 am.
It’s funny, the things I worried about during the pregnancy were all things that were out of my control. I was GBS positive and agonized about whether or not to take the antibiotics, only to have legitimate need for them. I told everyone I wanted the baby out without castor oil; too bad! I was worried the baby might be sunny side up and she was (and if she wasn’t, I had to labor as if she was). I had had some concerns about nursing and ended up having serious, still unresolved breastfeeding issues. In a lot of ways, my labor was about letting go of control, my ego, my desires and my wants. I wasted a lot of mental energy agonizing over decisions that my body made for me. Instead, I had to reframe all of these events as what was best for my daughter. Good practice, eh?