I should preface this by saying that my experience was abnormally long and arduous (much like my sister’s first birth!). Therefore, it’s a loooong read. And some of the details are graphic (we are talking about birth, after all). Yet, unlike my sister’s birth story, this shouldn’t be a traumatic read to anyone about to give birth. In fact, I encourage anyone who is afraid of birth to read on! This was a Hypnobabies birth. For more on that, read the end of this post. Also, “pressure wave” = “contraction”. The first part was written by Dave in the third person. The second part is from my perspective.
E’s Birth Story, March 27-28, 2012
E was due on March 22; Heather had some mild pressure waves that evening that stopped when she got in the bathtub. False alarm. Robbin (Heather’s mom) came down the next day, a Friday, and stayed with us. Heather was trying to encourage the baby by eating pineapple and eggplant parmesan. She took primrose oil in the evening, and we went on many long walks.
On March 23, she had an appointment at the OB/GYN. They said she was hardly dilated – maybe 1cm. Fluid levels were good, and they detected some contractions on the monitor, but nothing Heather could feel. She returned on Monday 3/26 and was 1.5 cm dilated. She decided to have her membranes stripped in hopes of encouraging the labor to begin. (Otherwise, their policy was to induce at 1 week overdue.) Afterwards, we went to have delicious bagels at NYBD III in Cary, but Heather felt crampy and gross as a result of having her membranes stripped. That night we went out to eat at The Market restaurant, near Peace College, and got ice cream afterwards. We watched the movie Hugo together before going to bed. Heather felt some strong Braxton-Hicks contractions while watching the movie that came at random intervals.
At 4:30 a.m., Heather knew something different was beginning. She noticed some bloody show when she went to the bathroom and knew this was a good sign. She told Dave to turn off the alarm, and that he wouldn’t be going to work because the labor was starting. He rolled over and went to sleep, having not heard her at all. Heather went downstairs, very calmly, and made herself some tea. After walking around, she returned to bed and tried to sleep, relaxing with each pressure wave and feeling quite calm. Around 7:00, she sent texts to Melissa and Robbin saying that labor was beginning. Robbin (who was sleeping downstairs) didn’t see the text, and, she learned of the early labor via a phone call from Melissa. She came upstairs very excitedly, then went to make pancakes and bacon, per Heather’s request.
Contractions were still very mild at this point. By 10:00 Heather began to try doing focused relaxation during the pressure waves, but they still felt very manageable. We called our doula, Sarah, at 9:00 am and she arrived at about 10:30. At that time we called the OB/GYN triage nurse, who at first asked that we come in, but Dave told her we preferred to call back when the contractions got longer in duration. We were carefully timing the contractions. From the outset, the contractions were never more than 7 minutes apart. But they were lasting only about 40-45 seconds, and were not very intense. Heather mostly labored in the bedroom, but we also went for a walk around the neighborhood. All the while, Heather remained very calm and talkative in between pressure waves.
At 11:15 the contractions began lasting a full minute apiece, and were coming about every five minutes. Heather was unsure if it was time to go to the hospital. Dave and Sarah, remembering the Hypnobabies warning that, “I will not appear to be as far along as I am,” were concerned that Heather might in fact be very dilated, so we packed up the car and made the transition to the OB/GYN office, which is next door to the hospital.
When we arrived at the office, none of the midwives were there (they were out to lunch). Dave had left messages for the Triage nurse at 12:15 and 12:45 to say we were coming, but they apparently had not been received or conveyed. This was a stressful time, as the nurse on duty was very loud and seemed to shift into a crisis mode in order to treat us. A nurse checked Heather and said that her cervix was posterior (pushed towards the back) and was only dilated about 2 cm. According to their policy, anyone who comes in (even in early labor) needs to be put on the fetal monitor before they leave. This required her to lie on her back in a big recliner. This was uncomfortable and annoying but Heather remained calm and listened to her Hypnobabies scripts and birth affirmations on her IPod. After a few more minutes, one of the nurse-midwives (Jessica) came in, looked at the monitor, and said that we should go home, take a bath or a walk, and “Come back when you’re in active labor.” She gave us her cell number. Heather felt a little silly about having gone in, but mostly we regretted having to make the 20 minute drive back home in order to continue laboring.
When we got home, Heather and the crew had lunch (turkey sandwich!) and we decided to go on another walk around the neighborhood. Felt like the pressure waves were slowing down a bit, which apparently is normal for them to slow down during the daytime, though they were still about 7 minutes apart. As our doula said, babies are like vampires in that they fear the sun! Pressure waves started picking up in the afternoon and Heather decided to get in bed and rest. She listened to her Easy First Stage track and had a nice rest time with Dave. Then she decided to get in the bath. This felt really good! She was having back labor the entire time but counter pressure helped, along with back massage and the double hip squeeze. Labor still didn’t feel unmanageable. She was in bed or on the birth ball as evening approached and pressure waves became more intense.
(Now some first-person perspective!) By this point, I couldn’t stop shivering and felt nauseated, almost threw up a few times. I wondered if this could be transition. My birth team did a good job of keeping me hydrated (a sip of water after every wave) and were very attentive. Our bedroom (where I labored the majority of the time) was very peaceful, dark with candles lit and relaxation music in the background. I was on my side for some pressure waves, then changed positions to the birth ball, leaning over the bed and sitting on the toilet. I was really having to concentrate through them at this time and Sarah and Dave discussed the possibility that it might be time to go to the hospital (it was around 10pm at this point). I was getting a little panicky so we figured it was time. So, we repacked the car and headed over. I listened to relaxation music on the way and tried to remain limp and loose during pressure waves. The car ride felt quick and pressure waves were powerful but manageable.
We got to admissions and we still have several forms to fill out, though I had already pre-registered! This was a little annoying, but I remained calm. Dave was able to answer most questions and I sat on the birth ball waiting. Then we headed to our room and Dave set everything up — dimmed the lights, put out my birth plan and hung up the sign that we requested soft voices. A nurse came in and asked my level of pain and I laughed a little and said “The intensity is about a 7.” Then she put me on the monitor for 20 minutes and I stood by the bed and tried to relax through the waves. I then had an internal exam (in my birth plan, I said I didn’t want to know how far along I was but I quickly changed my mind!) and I was 5cm at around 11:30. So, finally active labor after 19 hours of consistent contractions! not nearly as far along as I had hoped but at least I could stay in the same place. Jessica, the midwife, said I had great birthing hips and that the baby was Occiput Anterior, but we found out later that this was inaccurate! I was skeptical when I heard this because I could still feel the babies feet in the front. It felt like she hadn’t moved from the position she had been in for the last 2 months. Turns out I was right.
I spent some time in the tub (the jets were awesome and relaxing) and listened to my hypnosis tracks. Then I got out and relaxed on the birth ball while my birth team massaged my back. When I was upright, I would hang on to Dave’s shoulders and try to relax. The pressure waves were definitely more intense but manageable. I continued to labor in the room throughout the early morning, though I was in a total time warp. I really had no concept of time passing at all. When they checked me again, probably around 4am, I said something like, “Didn’t you just check me a half hour ago?” Turns out it had been 5 hours! I was only at 7cm at that point and my cervix was swollen. According to my post-birth research, this happens when labor has been quite long and the baby is in a less-than-ideal position, which was my situation exactly. I’ve read multiple stories where OBs have recommended C-section at the first sight of a swollen cervix. Needless to say, I was happy to be assisted by a midwife! She recommended relaxing in the tub some more and showed my doula some pressure points to encourage stronger contractions.
At this time and out of earshot, Jessica spoke with my birth team of her concerns around my progress. She said that if my dilation didn’t complete in the next few hours, she would want to introduce a mild narcotic in an effort to relax the muscles and get us ready for the baby to come down. The team elected not to discuss this with me, in order to avoid freaking me out. Great move! I knew things weren’t going according to plan but I was never afraid. And having only positive information and affirmation helped. I made the commitment from the beginning to not be discouraged and to not say or think anything negative; this helped a great deal (power of positive thinking!) I just continued to rest in the moment, though I think my birth team was becoming discouraged for me.
My doula told me afterwards that she was pretty worried about what I would be feeling emotionally once the sun came up. She talked to me about having my water broken to move things along and I was a bit apprehensive about this. I couldn’t understand why she was pushing having my water broken when I still felt so calm and in control. I was worried that once the pressure waves became stronger, I wouldn’t be able to handle them quite as well. I opted to wait until the next check. However, after doing some squatting in the bathtub, I could feel my bag of waters bulging and I knew it was time. And, unbeknowest to me (again, I was in a time vacuum!), my doula recognize the importance of moving things along, lest my uterus tire out and labor stall.
Jessica the midwife came in and broke my bag of waters (which was quite strong – she had to try several times) and saw meconium in the waters. This meant that I would now have to be put on fetal monitoring permanently to monitor the wellbeing of the baby. Needless to say, continuous fetal monitoring was not in the birth plan! They had a wireless, waterproof monitor that I could wear in the bathtub. I was surprised to find that the pressure waves didn’t feel any more intense than before. Turns out that the baby was posterior, as I had already suspected, and was not exerting enough pressure on my cervix, thus labor was slooooooow. After laboring on my hands and knees in the bathtub for some time, I received another check around 8am and the swelling had gone down. However, I was only at 8cm. This means that I had dilated only 3cm over the past 9 hours. I think I might have said “That sucks” under my breath, which was basically the only negative thing I said during the whole birth time.
At 8:00 a.m. there was a shift change, and we got a new nurse and a new midwife — both named Heather. (We had seen Heather the midwife when we had our first trip to the office the day before. She’d said, “I come on at 8:00 tomorrow morning!” and we had thought, “God help us if we are still laboring by then.” But we liked her, and were glad to see her this morning.)
I continued laboring in various positions from 8:00-10:00. At about 9:30, Sarah had to leave to go begin her shift at work, leaving just Dave and my Mom in support. I felt perfectly at peace with this, though Dave and Mom were a bit freaked! I was checked again at 10:30 and was still 8 cm, but the swelling around the lip of the cervix had almost completely gone away, which was a good sign of progress. Heather the midwife also confirmed that the baby was still posterior. By this point, I had begun to vomit or retch, which continued through the rest of the labor. There was nothing in my stomach, yet I kept throwing up whatever water I had just drank. I also began shaking — this time, I really was in transition. To Dave, this looked like an alarming degree of fatigue and low blood sugar, but the shaking was caused more by the hormone surges that accompany transition.
At this point (after the 10:30 check) the nurse came in and mentioned something like, “Sounds like you’ve made some more progress, and the plan is that if things don’t pick up in the next little while then we’re going to come back with the IV.” She knew we’d discussed the possibility of a drug, but she didn’t know we hadn’t discussed it with me. Dave quickly moved on in the discussion and the nurse went on her way, but after she left I asked what she was talking about. Dave explained that there was a drug the midwives were considering offering to us, that might relax the muscles of the uterus to make the contractions more effective, but that we’d be discussing that if and when we needed to.
Per the midwife’s advice, I labored on my hands and knees in the bed for the next hour, in hopes of turning the baby. The pressure waves were very intense and I continued to retch after each one and my entire body would shake. At 11:35 am, I was checked again, and was now 9.5 cm! Only a measly half cm to go. This felt like a major victory for me. However, the midwife was concerned, and laid out several concerns to us. First, the baby was still posterior. Second, my birth canal was relatively inflexible, which meant that pushing might be more difficult. Third, and most important, the midwife noted that the contractions had become less intense and less frequent in the last 90 minutes.
It took a long time — about three contractions’ worth — for her to explain all this. I was laying on my back in bed trying desperately to concentrate and relax during the waves and my hand would shake uncontrollably during each wave. When the midwife saw this, she stopped talking so I could relax. The bottom line was that she wanted us to take a small dose of the muscle relaxant (we can’t remember the name) along with a small dose of Pitocin (“The same amount of oxytocin that your body produces naturally,” she said) in order to jump-start things and get us past transition and on to pushing. She explained it so thoroughly because she knew I had not wanted any unneeded interventions, but at this point, I was very willing to agree with any plan. “We want to ensure the possibility that you can still have a vaginal birth.” As soon as I heard this, I knew things were more serious than I had previously thought. “I just want to meet my baby,” I said to the midwife. My Mom and Dave noted later how relaxed and calm I seemed during this “change-of-plans” time. My words choked in my throat a bit and I was feeling emotionally raw, yet I managed to convince everyone around me that I was totally in control! Because I hadn’t been able to hold down water or food for a while, they also gave a glucose drip.
So, at this point, I had been in some sort of labor since 4am the previous night, meaning 32 hours, or nearly a day and a half. I was now confined to the bed because of the IV and fetal monitoring. Needless to say, I should have freaked out loooong ago. I should have been terrified, or screaming in pain. Yet, against all odds and quite miraculously, I was calm and relaxed! I knew I had been laboring for some time, but never in a million years would I have guessed 32 hours. I began repeating the mantra “I can do this, I can do this, my body was made to do this” between contractions. This was a huge help. I felt more empowered each time I said this and felt like it gave me energy to continue on. I also imagine that if I had been saying “I can’t do this, I can’t do this” my body would have shut down pretty quickly. It just goes to show the power of words.
The medications began at 12:15 pm, with the Pitocin being increased gradually from 2 to 8 mL/hr over the next hour. I immediately felt a difference in intensity. The waves bowled me over like a freight train. The experience felt both out-of-body and entirely bodily at the same time, if that makes sense. Dave and my Mom noticed a sharp increase on the monitor, with the contractions coming faster and longer with greater intensity. I was now having to vocalize through contractions. At times, this would become high-pitched and Dave would remind me “Low tones, low tones” and he;p vocalize with me. It took an insane amount of concentration not to scream a shrill cry, but with the help of Dave, I did my best to keep them low and moaning, which helped me stay in control.
Unfortunately, we’d thought that the muscle relaxant was also going to dull the pain, so I kept waiting and hoping that it would “kick in” as the Pitocin-induced contractions became more intense. Yet the relief never came. However, I soon adjusted to the new pattern and remained calm using self-hypnosis and affirmations/mini hypnosis scripts from Dave. During birth preparation, these scripts seemed so cheesy to me but I was shocked how helpful they were during labor. They worked like magic. Whenever I was becoming afraid, I would reach out for Dave and whisper “Help” and he would say calming, encouraging words. And, of course, I kept saying “I can do this, I can do this, I can do this” whenever I felt like I couldn’t do it. And this was my fodder throughout the rest of my birthing time.
For two hours after the medicine began, I remained in a state of hypnosis as the waves came and went. I was lying on the bed on my left side, shaking during contractions and then remaining quite still in between. For me, it felt like I had entered a weird vortex. Time and space meant nothing. All there was in the world was my body and an intense feeling of pressure. I began tapping my fingers up and down, very fast, as each contraction would peak. This didn’t seem in keeping with the hypnobabies scheme, but it was working for me as I rode each wave. I continued to feel very nauseous and hot, retching all the way. Dave and my Mom were talking me through each wave, using hypnosis mini-scripts, and giving me cold washcloths and ice chips. I felt totally delusional, yet there was another part of my consciousness that was fully aware, totally logical and relaxed, asking myself questions and assessing the situation. It was so strange. I was thinking things like, “Wow, Dave and mom are doing a really great job. I’m sure they are so tired, poor things,” and “Wow, I have been throwing up for 4 hours and haven’t slept for 34 hours. I wonder if I will have enough energy to push this baby out in the end.” Needless to say, my birth team was wondering the same thing.
At 2:49 in the afternoon, I was checked again. I had officially been in transition since 8am. For most women, transition last maybe an hour at most. For me, it lasted 7 hours. At this point, it had been 2.5 hours after the medication had begun, but it hadn’t felt that long, even to Dave. I was FINALLY fully dilated, though the baby remained posterior. The midwife told me it was okay to start trying to “breathe the baby down” whenever I started to feel pushy. I noticed the waves had slowed down but I didn’t really notice any other change in sensation. I couldn’t imagine feeling anything different than I had been feeling the last 7 hours. I got out of the bed for a while and tried squatting. Then I felt the slightest hint that I needed to push. The feelings got stronger fast and I rushed back into bed, and said that we needed to notify the nurse ASAP.The pushing waves (very similar to the ones you feel when you are taking a large number 2!) were very strong and initiated entirely by my body. There was no counting, no deliberate bearing down or conscious pushing on my part. My body took over entirely and I felt a bit out of control. Because of the presence of meconium in the waters, an emergency medical team would need to be present in the room at the time of birth, in case the baby needed to be rushed to the ICU. What if the baby came before the medical staff was in the room? What if Dave had to catch the baby?
The nurse was slowly getting things ready as I laid on my left side and my body pushed the baby down and out. I tried the squat bar for a bit but preferred my left side. Having seen my sister push her baby out in a sitting position and the intense pressure she felt on her tailbone, I insisted that Dave support me from behind so I didn’t roll over. I could feel my tailbone moving out of the way and couldn’t imagine what it would feel like if I had been sitting on it!
With each wave, my body would let out this guttural roar, a noise I had never heard come out of me before. I turned to Dave once and said rather sheepishly, “Uh, that was involuntary.” I wanted him to know I wasn’t in intense pain or anything. My body just needed to roar, like a weightlifter does when she lifts a gigantic dumbbell. Pushing was actually the easiest and quickest part of the labor experience. Frankly, it was awesome. I was so relieved that my super-powered body could do such amazing, difficult work with so little sleep and nourishment. I felt like I was just sitting back in awe. A wave would come, my body would bear down with incredible force, my lungs would cry out with an incredibly shout and then I would rest in between. So easy!
I had probably pushed for about 15 minutes (it felt like 5) when the midwife had me reach down and feel my baby’s head. So mind-blowing. During the last three or four pushes, I was in a daze and my body was working hard to get this thing out. Amazingly, little E turned right before she came out, which meant that I didn’t need to stretch nearly as much to push her through. I don’t really remember the crowning or ring of fire, and even though the midwife told me to stop, my body pushed her shoulders out with gigantic force. Woops! I ended up with a 2nd degree tear that the midwife said was “purely cosmetic” but sure didn’t feel that way in recovery!
Out came by slippery baby and the placed her on my tummy, as the cord was a little too short for her to be placed on my chest. She came out roaring, and the emergency medical team left pretty soon after that, as a crying baby meant that she hadn’t aspirated any meconium and her lungs were fine. Dave looked down and said “It’s a girl! We have a daughter!” and we wept and wept with joy and exhaustion. My mom and sister (who had been watching the whole thing on my mom’s IPhone!) were also crying! The midwife patiently waited for the cord to stop pulsing and then cut the cord. The pain of being stitched up wasn’t awesome but I was fortunately distracted! Out came the placenta and I got a good look at the organ that had been nourishing my babe for the last 9 months. E (who was unnamed for the first 24 hours) remained on my chest for an hour or two (or more?) before they weighed her. She got a 9 out of 10 on the APGAR score and weighed in at 7lbs 13oz. She was so beautiful with such a powerful cry (which continues to this day!). Interestingly, her head wasn’t particularly cone-shaped (because was posterior most of the time) except for an 8cm circle on the top of her head from where she had been stuck against my cervix for 7 hours. Poor lady.
I have heard some people say that you have the birth that you envision. Hypnobabies really stresses visualizing your birth but it also recognizes that there are many aspects to labor that are out of our immediate control. My birth was the total opposite of what I had envisioned- ridiculously slow, long labor (35 hours!) with a terribly long transition period, limited mobility due to constant fetal monitoring and the use of Pitocin. The combination of poor fetal position and “especially tight vaginal muscles” (according to my midwife) resulted in a very long, drawnout labor. My sister’s first labor was 36 hours long, and her baby was also posterior. Genetic link? Anyway, despite devoting the last three months of pregnancy to turning my posterior child (through weekly chiropractic visits, sitting on a birth ball, crawling on my hands and knees, prenatal massage, daily pelvic exercises, etc), she remained stubbornly posterior.
And yet, through it all, I remained calm, collected, positive and rational the vast majority of the time. With regards to pain, I wouldn’t say that the contractions I felt (esp. when Pitocin was introduced) were pain-free, but the pain was more like what a marathon runner feels in her legs at mile 20 — needless to say, it’s terrible but nothing to fear. There was a point when I thought, “Hmm, an epidural would be nice because at least I could get some rest,” but for the most part, I never even thought about it. I am not against epidurals, but a pain-medication-free birth was something I was committed to and, thankfully, was able to achieve. I felt equipped with the relaxation and self-hypnosis tools I had to manage pain. With the help of my incredible birth team (my husband was so amazing that I really think he should consider becoming a doula himself!), I was able to manage all of the intensity and various discouragements that came with my labor.
According to Dave, all of the nurses in our wing were in awe. They couldn’t believe how calm I was! And, my doula said this was the calmest, most serene labor she has ever witnessed. She said she was amazed at how well the hypnosis tools worked. In our post-birth meeting, “If you are wondering whether or not the program was effective, I’m here to tell you that it absolutely was!” And, thanks to self-hypnosis, my whole labor experience felt like it was half the time than it actually was. The experience was the most intense, physically and mentally, of my life. But it was also quite relaxing, intimate and sweet. And I can honestly say without any shadow of doubt that I wasn’t afraid and I never loss control. And I think this is the biggest achievement of the whole process. I wanted to have a fear-free birth and, against all odds, I did!