I love reading birth stories. No matter how diverse and unexpected, they are always beautiful.
“Tell me about your birth plan”, said Libby, my Labor & Delivery nurse. “I don’t have one. I’ll tell you what I would love to happen, but I know that things change and I trust you guys to do whatever you need for me to have a healthy baby.”
I had said it hundreds of times, but did I actually believe it? As a mother who had given birth once, it was hard to fathom a different birth experience than what I had with Michael. Spontaneous. Two full days. No pain medications. (You can read that one here if you want!)
But here I was, admitted to L&D on Superbowl Sunday morning, on the cusp of beginning an induction that wasn’t “medically necessary”, solely because my instinct, combined with several minor issues over the past few days, was telling me that something wasn’t right. As if I needed further faith in my medical team, Linda, my Midwife was going to do whatever she needed to make that happen because she trusted my gut as well. She trusted me- just a mom with no medical degree. That speaks volumes to our relationship. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Teddy’s birth story really began on Friday, when, after some bleeding, I marched myself right over to the Midwife’s office to be checked. After a few hours of tests and ultrasounds, it was determined that the baby was not in distress. The bleeding wasn’t severe, and we couldn’t identify the source, so it was decided that it was just some variation of normal and I was likely in early labor. I went home with instructions to just keep a very close eye on fetal movement and come back in if there were any concerns.
Sunday morning around 4:30, I woke up to a gush. Surely, my water had broken, I thought. I was very alarmed when I discovered that it was actually quite a bit of blood. A quick call to Linda, and it was determined that I needed to head into L&D to be checked again. My hubby called my MIL who was going to get dressed and drive down. I called a good friend who lived nearby to come and watch Michael at the house until my MIL got here. I texted my Doula, Shawna, to let her know what was going on. Go plan activated. Check. Check. Check.
When we got to the hospital, I was taken to the room with the labor tub- the same room where Michael was born almost exactly 22 months earlier. Luckily for me, it seemed to be a quiet morning in L&D. I was hooked up to all the monitors for the same testing that was done on Friday. NST to check fetal heart rate. Ultrasound to check fluid levels. Physical check for dilation. Heart rate was fine. Fluid levels were high enough. Still 2 cm dilated, as I had been for a few weeks. Linda came in to go over the test results. Everything looked good. The baby was not in distress. She still did not have an explanation for the bleeding, but there was no medical reason for her to induce me. She gave me two options: go home with the strict instructions that if fetal movement decreased or there was any more bleeding, to come back in or induce right then. Elective inductions are not usually done on Sundays, so she promised that if I decided to stay, she would provide the nurses with a medical reason why it needed to happen.
I’ll be honest. I know enough about birth to know that induction can lead to further unwanted interventions. Induction terrified me and I wanted to avoid it. I talked to Mike. I talked to Linda. I talked to Shawna. I talked to everyone a second and third time. I was nervous about the bleeding, but I was more nervous at the prospect of induction and all that came with it, so I decided that I wanted to go home. I told Mike, who, knowingly, looked at me and said “You don’t seem 100% confident in your decision.” I’d been made. How lucky am I to have a partner who knows me well enough to stop me when I am making a decision out of fear? (Even on Super Bowl Sunday!) “You’re right.” I said, “we need to have this baby today.” While deciding to induce was completely out of character for me, I knew in my heart that it was time for us to meet that baby boy.
What a strange feeling to not be in active labor, but to know that you will be soon. To know that you are willingly volunteering to start the process of one of the most trying physical experiences a person can go through. To know that, somehow, you are going to meet your baby within the next several hours. I signed the papers and said a prayer.
By 10:45am, we had begun the Pitocin drip. For the first few hours, I was really just trying to relax and have fun with it. The contractions were bearable, so I was bouncing on my labor ball and rocking out to some EDM. Mike tried to turn on the Superbowl pregame coverage, but it was really distracting me and causing my contractions to slow down so I told him to turn it off (Sorry babe!)
By 1pm, I could tell that this labor was going to be very different than my first. I called Shawna and told her that we were ready for her to head in to help out. The Pitocin contractions that I was feeling were already similar in quality to those I experienced at the very end of my spontaneous labor with Michael. I can’t explain exactly, but Pitocin contractions are, for lack of a better term, relentless. With spontaneous labor, I feel like your body takes time to prepare you and ramp up to these back-to-back hard contractions that eventually come. With Pitocin, the contractions are chemically manufactured to occur every 2-3 minutes as soon as possible, so that they can be the most effective. Mentally and physically, you don’t have time to get yourself “there”. The medicine just starts to do its job and you are “there”, whether you’re ready or not, until its time for the baby to arrive. It does not act like a tide which ebbs and flows. It is like waves crashing repeatedly into a rocky shore. I began to have to really manage my way through the contractions sooner than I expected. I tried bouncing on my yoga ball, standing, walking the halls (thankfully, the hospital was more than willing to hook me up to portable monitors and IV drip so that I could be mobile!) but found that relaxing, breathing, surrendering, and getting very introverted was giving me the most effective contractions. 5 deep breaths. I found that the contractions were lasting 5 deep breaths, and that felt manageable to me. Mike and Shawna were amazing. They went with my vibe- when I was vocal, they shared my affirmations. When I was introverted, they got quiet. They knew when to apply counter-pressure and when to not touch me.
By 5pm, my “relaxing and breathing through it” seemed to be less effective. I asked to be checked and was disheartened to find that I was only at 4cm. Linda asked if I was willing to have my water broken to see if that helped move things along. I had my water broken with Michael as well, so I knew what to expect and was comfortable with it. At Linda’s suggestion, I was able to get into the labor tub in the room after my water was broken. Again, I am so grateful to have been laboring under an amazing team who helped me figure out how to spend some time in the labor tub even with the monitors on my belly and IV in my wrist. I am a water baby and have very fond memories of laboring in the very same tub during Michael’s birth. The water allowed me to mentally relax into the contractions a bit more than I could before, but after just 1.5 hours or so, I felt that I was not getting the relief that I needed anymore.
Once on dry land again, I tried to manage the contractions again by counting breaths, but at this point I was in so much pain that I could barely vocalize my needs. I was exhausted and literally could not keep my eyes open. I distinctly remember thinking “this is what zombies must feel like” as I tried to keep at it.
At 7pm, Linda wanted to check my progress again. 6cm dilated. I started doing mental math. 2 cm when I got here. 6 cm now. 4 cm divided by the number of hours since I started pitocin times 4 more cm = I couldn’t go on like this.
“I need medication.” Mike and Shawna, in trying to help me stick to my wishes, reaffirmed how wonderful I was doing and how proud they were of me. “You can do this” they said. God bless them. “I don’t have anything to prove to anybody”, said me- the woman who had barely managed to squeeze out a string of more than 2 legible words over the past few hours. “Amber is a woman who knows what she needs” said Linda. That beautiful angel of a woman. She knew my hesitations about an epidural from our prenatal conversations, so she offered me a narcotic option instead. While less invasive, it would mean that a medical team would have to take the baby first to assess him before I got to hold him if he were born within a certain amount of time. “Absolutely not”, I said. I was flexible on many things, but one thing I would not give up without a fight was the possibility to be the first arms to hold that sweet boy. “I’ll get the anesthesiologist”. Thank God.
By 8pm, my epidural was placed and the anesthesiologist had left the room. “It should start working within 15-30 minutes” he said. It couldn’t have started working soon enough, if you had asked me. “Now you can relax for a few hours, maybe even sleep, and when you wake up it will be time to push!” Linda said. She was going to go try to get a little rest in the lounge as well. Sounded great to me. “I’ll be back in about a half hour to place a catheter” said Libby. Over the next few contractions, I could feel myself beginning to relax more in-between contractions. I was frustrated that I could still feel all of the contractions themselves, but the relief in-between was truly a gift. I honestly believe that it made all the difference in the last bit of my birth story.
At 8:30pm, Shawna was applying counter-pressure to my lower back during a contraction when I started feeling urgent pressure in my bottom.The feeling did not come on gradually- it came in all at once and unrelenting. I mustered all of the energy I could and urgently mumbled “I’m feeling a lot of pressure!” Shawna thought I was yelling at her for applying too much counter-pressure and she was taken aback. When I realized that she hadn’t heard me, I screamed “I have to push!” Shawna & Mike said they would call for the nurse. I knew this baby was coming, but I don’t think that Mike, Shawna, or Libby believed me until Libby checked me at Shawna’s urging and saw that the baby was crowning. I had progressed from 6 to 10cm in a matter of 1.5 hours. Something that none of us expected.
From here, things got a little frenzied. This little boy was coming, ready or not! I remembered from Michael’s birth that Linda had me hold my breath and slowly blow it out to help pace the pushing. Like I was blowing out a candle. Linda hadn’t made it down to the room yet, so I “blew out the candle” as best as I could to slow this kid down. At this point, I was grateful that the Epidural hadn’t numbed me yet so I could feel and control what my body was doing. A second nurse hastily got the baby station in the room set up. Linda had been paged again, but wasn’t responding. Libby went into the hall to get anyone else who was around and could help deliver this baby. The two resident doctors on rotation in OB that Sunday came in to the room and Libby quickly explained that the baby was coming. No sooner than the residents got into the room and threw on some gloves, Theodore Anthony flew into the world. 8:50pm after 2 pushes, I was a Mama again.
A few minutes later, a very surprised Linda came tearing into the room (apologetic for not having gotten there sooner!) to help wrap up the process and do an evaluation. While Teddy nursed like a champ on Mama’s chest, Linda helped me deliver the placenta (which I later had made into capsules- I’ll blog more about this later!) and, upon looking it over, discovered that I actually had a placental abruption and a small blood clot, which explains the bleeding I had been having the past few days. She validated my instincts by telling me that induction today was the right decision. Had I waited any longer, the abruption could have caused serious issues for both me and Teddy. I had a little bit above average bleeding, likely due to the abruption, but miraculously, despite not being coached through my pushing, no tearing at all! Since the epidural had not numbed my legs yet, I was able to avoid a catheter all-together and even able to get up and walk myself to the bathroom shortly after Teddy’s birth.
While Teddy’s birth story was much different than I envisioned, it was just as beautiful as I could have imagined. For the past two years, I have been very vocal about my natural birth experience with Michael and, in a weird way, I am glad that Teddy’s birth was so different so that I can share on other aspects of birth now from a place of experience.
Just as in Michael’s birth, I was reminded of the importance of having a birth team that you trust implicitly with your and your child’s life. My Midwife, Linda, my Doula, Shawna, my Nurse, Libby, and my amazing hubby, Mike were all on my side. No one was trying to diminish my feelings. No one questioned my requests or feedback. I felt 100% supported and knew that, if any of them said that something needed to happen, it was not just to meet a quota or because they wanted to go home earlier or because it was easier for them. It was because that was what was necessary for the safe delivery of my baby boy. I can’t imagine making the decisions that had to be made that day without the support from and confidence in my birth team.
Most importantly, I learned to trust my own instinct. One of the reasons I decided to do the induction was because I said that I would not be able to live with myself had we gone home and something happened to Teddy. I shudder to think of what could have happened if this abruption continued to go undetected, but because of my own mommy instinct, I don’t have to. This is a lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
It felt like the longest day of my life, but once it was done, it was all a blur. Like all the nerves and the pain never even happened. Labor is just like motherhood in that way. The hours are long, but the days are short, and now the two most beautiful boys in the world call me Mama. Someone pinch me.