(Fair warning: the writing in this post is long on details and the pictures in it are short on clothes that cover my thighs (especially the right one), so if either of those things scare you, you may want to skip it.)
I have sort of been putting off writing this post. I have thought about it over and over since the day our girl was born, but it is a little bit daunting to try to put words to experiences that are so full of awe and intensity. I'll do my best.
I had been having irregular contractions for a few days and I just kept thinking that the baby would come sometime that week. I had been planning to go at least a few days past my due date (since I did with Baby G), but I just kept getting this feeling that the baby would come sooner. On Tuesday night (the 9th) I had a Relief Society function that I was in charge of. I was running around setting up tables and chairs, preparing food, getting the mini-classes set up etc. and people kept telling me to slow down, but I was totally hoping that the stress and activity would put me into labor so I didn't mind working so hard. I stopped at my neighbor's for some Raspberry Leaf Tea on my way home and had a big mug of it before I went to bed. I had bunches of contractions that night and they even woke me up at about 4:30 AM. I hoped and hoped that they would continue and intensify, but by about 9:00 I was pretty sure it wasn't going to happen. I met my mom at the store with Baby G and we had fun picking up some last minute things for organizing my house in preparation for the baby. That evening (Wednesday, the 10th) when J got home from work we decided to go on a walk. I did the one-foot-on-the-curb, one-foot-in-the-gutter walk all around my neighborhood while J pushed G in the jogger. It was freezing, but we stayed out for about an hour. J had church meetings all night, so after I put my boy to bed, I warmed another cup of tea and went to bed. I wanted to be rested just in case the baby decided to come that night.
At about 2:00 AM (on my due date, March 11th) a contraction woke me up. A few minutes later, another one. They kept coming, but totally irregularly. Some were 2 minutes apart, others were 10. So I grabbed my book (I knew there would be no more sleeping for me) and hopped in the bath. I finished my book in the tub, and after about another hour and a half of still irregular, but intensifying contractions, I decided to wake J up and tell him. That was at 4:00 AM. We did a Hypnobabies session together, and then at 5:00 AM I started wondering if we should leave for the hospital. I knew I was in labor, I just didn't know how fast the baby would come. Under normal circumstances I would have never wanted to go to the hospital that soon (I had really, really hoped to do most of the laboring at home), but I had tested positive for Strep B, and in order to make sure my baby didn't get sick I needed to have a dose of IV antibiotics in my system at least 4 hours prior to giving birth. Since my labor with G had been so quick I really wanted to make sure I got to the hospital in time to protect my baby. So I decided to call my dad (he is an OB/GYN) and ask him what he thought. He told me that I should probably head to the hospital right away, just to be checked and be safe. We arranged for my little brother to come stay at our house with our sleeping boy, and at about 6:15 AM we headed for the hospital.
My husband called them on the way there to let them know we were coming, so they were ready for us when we arrived. I got changed into a gown and they checked me to see where I was at. At my last doctor's appointment I was dilated to a little over a 1, so I was happy to hear I was at a 3 1/2 that morning and to know that the contractions were doing something. Knowing how fast my labor with G had been, they wanted to start the antibiotics right away. They had the IV (oh please don't get me started on how much I loved where the nurse put it in my wrist-- I think IVs are one of the worst things about labor and I was really disappointed that I had to have one even though I wasn't getting an epidural all because of that blasted Strep B) in by 7:00 AM, and the antibiotics were all in by 7:30 (bless Bobeye, one of my dad's close nurse friends who arrived and requested to have me as her patient-- she pushed those fluids in me as fast as she could so I could get unhooked).
This is when the laboring really started for me. The contractions were coming much more regularly and getting stronger. I was a little tired, so I wanted to lay down. I put in my headphones and started listening to some of my Hypnobabies tracks. I stayed exceedingly calm and relaxed. I almost fell asleep. Within an hour, my doctor came to see how I was doing. I remember him being surprised at how relaxed I was. He checked me and I was a 5. I noticed he was wearing regular clothes, not scrubs. I asked him if it was his day off and if he had plans to go somewhere. He said, "Not anymore!" and was really sweet about it, but knowing what that is like as the daughter of an OB, I felt really bad that I was messing up his day with his family. I even went so far as to tell him he could just go (they had planned to be skiing), but he said he wasn't going to leave. Then he asked if I wanted him to break my water. Oh, the dreaded question. Again, if my dad wasn't an OB (and his friend) I probably wouldn't have felt pressure to say yes, but knowing that that might speed my labor up and enable him to get on with his day, I felt like I should say yes. I had not planned on getting my water broken, but in the moment I looked at my husband and asked what he thought. We talked through it for a second, and ultimately, I decided I would need to get to a 10 either way, and maybe getting my water broken would make it more painful, but it would also probably make my labor shorter, and my water would likely break on its own pretty soon anyway (with G my water broke when I was dilated to a 6), so I decided to let him break it. I still don't know if that was the right thing to do, and I probably wouldn't have done it had I not felt pressure (not from my doctor-- he was really supportive either way, but just because of the situation), but oh well, it was done.
The contractions kept getting more intense at this point, and as much as I wish I could say it just felt like pressure (Hypnobabies talk), it was definitely more than that. But I was totally in control, relaxing and managing it. I did not want to be laying down anymore, so I got out my birth ball. It felt so much better to have my legs a little elevated and spread out, so I leaned back on J while sitting on the ball, and put my legs up on the bed. This was definitely the most "in the zone" part of my labor. J was softly giving me relaxation cues and telling me stories, but I honestly do not remember them at all. I was so focused. During a contraction I would become more aware again, but then between them I was so relaxed that I do not remember a thing. Isn't that crazy? J said that the nurses kept coming in to check on me and would whisper to him, "Is she okay?" because I was just laying there so limply. I remember hearing my sweet husband's voice talking to me from time to time, but I don't recall a thing that he said.
(in the zone, on the birth ball)
Looking back now, I am in awe that the mind, and my mind specifically, can be so powerful. Because those contractions were so, SO intense and strong (I got dilated to an 8 while on the ball), and yet, I barely remember them. I know how strong (and painful) they were because I got up to go pee in between contractions, which I probably shouldn't have done. I hadn't realized how fast the contractions were coming, and as soon as I sat down on the toilet another one started and, holy cow, I can't even express what it felt like. I immediately tried to lay back against the toilet and relax, but there was no escaping it. I think I probably said something to J about how much it hurt and I realized that I needed to get refocused and relaxed or else I would lose control very quickly. There wasn't time to get back on the birth ball before another contraction started, so I just collapsed on the bed and tried to make myself as limp as possible. I stayed completely calm outwardly, breathed and tried to relax through contractions, but I never got back to the Hypnobabies stuff entirely. I realize now that I interrupted myself to use the bathroom right as transition was beginning, which was not a great idea. The contractions were coming so fast and so incredibly strong that all I could do was tell myself to breathe, relax, and get through it. I didn't even think about Hypnobabies specifically (ie: turning myself completely "off") again, because the only thing I could think about was getting through one contraction at a time. This part was by far the most physically painful and mentally difficult thing I have done, and I am so, so grateful that I had prepared for it. I was able to stay in control and get through it calmly (even though the intensity of those contractions was absolutely indescribable) because I had mindfully practiced being calm and relaxed every day. I had also thought through all of these scenes in my mind and had made the decision that no matter what I was feeling or thinking, I could chose to stay calm, I could chose to not let the pain take over. So, even though Hypnobabies did not provide me with a "pain free" birth, and even though it wasn't exactly "easy and comfortable" (the words the hypnosis sessions use to describe what your birth will be like), I know I could not have had the calm, steady, peaceful, and un-panicked birth that I did have without the preparation of my Hypnobabies classes and the practicing I did at home.
(during transition-- my doctor over there in the corner looks a little too amused, don't you think?)
After about 30 minutes of transition contractions, my doctor checked me and I was complete. He told me I could start pushing and the baby would come. I vaguely remember the nurse asking me what position I wanted to be in to push, but I couldn't even fathom the idea of changing positions at that point, so I don't even think I answered her. When the next contraction started, I pushed using the Hypnobabies technique where you breathe through the push rather than holding your breath. Pushing was really hard for me at this point though, because I was not feeling the urge to push myself yet, I was just doing it because the doctor had said I was ready. I didn't think about that at the time, but looking back, I know now that I rushed this part. I pushed (if you can even really call it that-- I was so not feeling it, so it was very ineffective pushing) through 2 contractions and then my doctor checked me again. When he told me the baby was still in the same place I started to get a little worried. I remember thinking in horror that all of this work could be in vain if I couldn't push my baby out. I remember asking the doctor why the baby hadn't moved down at all and what I needed to do differently. He explained that I was only pushing for about 5 seconds total during a contraction, and usually when women have epidurals they are pushing for about 30 seconds total during a contraction. He said that my way, of slowly breathe-pushing would work, and it was totally fine if I wanted to keep doing it, but it would take probably 20 or so minutes. He said if I wanted to try to push for longer during a contraction the baby would come right away. I remember exhaustedly saying, "I'll try it that way" because I really just wanted to get my baby here. I didn't want 20 more minutes of those contractions.
(pushing-- this picture looks totally staged to me, but I promise, it was the real thing and I was really making that face :))
During the next contraction I started to push harder than I had been pushing. I still breathed through the push, but instead of taking a break to breathe after one push, I just kept pushing. I distinctly remember suddenly feeling the baby's head coming and finally, feeling the strong urge to push myself. Oh, how pushing hurt. I felt like that whole area down there was on fire. Most women I've talked to say pushing against the contractions felt so good, but that was not the case for me. It just burned like crazy. Pushing was the only point during the entire labor that I really made any noise and I just remember saying, "Ouch, ouch ouch..." over and over as I pushed. As soon as I felt the baby's head, I pushed hard and got it out. Oh, there are not words for that relief-- it felt so good. But then, so quickly, I felt the shoulders and I knew I had to get one more strong push and the baby would be here. There are not words to express what it was like to feel my baby's shoulders squeeze out of me, followed by the rest of her tiny body just slide quickly out. It was so surreal and incredible to actually feel all of that and to know exactly what was happening. Baby girl was born at 11:45 AM, after being at the hospital and getting the antibiotics in me almost exactly for the needed 4 hours. Bless her timing.
The baby had a super short umbilical cord, so even though we had planned for her to be put right on my chest, they kept her down at my legs until they cut the cord. I remember just laying my head back in relief and amazement of what I had just done and that it was actually over. I immediately started thinking, "Do I have a baby boy or girl?" in my head, but for some reason, I couldn't speak. I was so overwhelmed by all that my body and mind had just done, and it felt like too much work to talk. I just kept thinking, "Why aren't they telling me if it's a boy or girl?" for what felt like forever (but was really only probably 15 seconds), until pretty soon I heard my husband's voice, full of emotion, say, "It's a girl!"
I remember I just kept looking at her in my arms, and then closing my eyes and laying my head back, so full of gratitude and relief and wonder that she was actually here, that I had gotten her here, that she was a girl, that she was mine.
I was so worn out, so happy, and so incredibly full of love for my little family. I love that this picture captures all of that.
Feeling everything this time made me much more aware of how traumatic labor and birth must be for the baby. I just kept looking at her and wondering what on earth she must be thinking about what she had just been through. Sweet little tiny, screaming baby.
Since her birth so many people have asked me if I would want to deliver a baby naturally again. I feel really grateful for the perspective I have of giving birth both ways, with an epidural the first time, and completely unmedicated this last time. I think this topic can be polarizing and cause people to be judgmental, on both sides. People who only give birth naturally sometimes feel like that is the only safe way, and that women who chose epidurals are somehow inferior. And sometimes women who choose epidurals think that it is absolutely crazy for a woman to choose to feel it all when she doesn't have to. Here's the truth, in my opinion: any way that a woman chooses to get her baby here is valid and wonderful. I truly feel like this is such a personal matter, one that may vary for a woman from pregnancy to pregnancy. I am SO grateful that I had an epidural with Baby G. The experience of giving birth to him is one that I hold so, so dear. It is truly one of the greatest memories I have-- being in that hospital with my husband, anticipating the arrival of our first baby. Having the epidural made it so that I could just soak up the joy that was filling our hospital room rather than having to focus on the labor. I honestly get chills thinking about how incredible those moments were. On the other hand, I am now so grateful for the experience I had giving birth this time, to my little girl, without any medication at all. It was a raw, intense, emotional experience. It taught me how capable my mind is, how strong I can be. It was empowering and rewarding. I have a renewed and increased appreciation for the miracle that is the human body. I felt such gratitude to be a woman, and I felt connected to motherhood the way my ancestors experienced it and a sense of sisterhood with mothers through the ages, like we are all so much more similar than we are different. So would I give birth naturally again? In short, yes. I think I likely will choose that route again. But I also may choose an epidural at some point. I think those are decisions I will make one baby at a time. And since I happen to have a ten day old baby, I am planning on giving myself a bit of time before I have to think about it all again :).