I had fully expected to go past my due date (February 4th) with Ellie. I knew that first time moms usually do, so I prepared for the worst : 42 weeks pregnant and still working full-time. But Ellie had different plans. Her story begins a few days before her arrival:
On Saturday, January 17, my family threw me a baby shower. I woke up that morning not feeling well, but couldn’t skip my own baby shower, so I sucked it up and went. Afterwards, my cousin and mom came over to help me set up Ellie’s room (read: “Set up Ellie’s room for me”). Up until this point Ellie’s room was a storage room with a crib and dresser in it, and most of the gifts we had received were still in their gift bags.
On Sunday, the cough began. The cough led to congestion and a sore throat, and then all three continued to get worse. By Sunday night I was miserable. I broke down. I was tired. So I called in sick to work for Monday thinking I could just sleep it off. But my cough and sore throat kept me up all night Sunday, so I went in to the doctor on Monday. All the tests came back negative, so I was sent home with medication that ended up not working. I was just desperate. I ended up doping myself up with a muscle relaxer, pain meds, and Sudafed, and finally fell asleep around 10pm on Monday.
At 2am on Tuesday I got up to pee, walked back to bed, and then it happened.
My water broke. Out of nowhere, it just broke. Not enough to soak the floor or anything, but enough to know that it wasnt just me peeing my pants. And you know what my first response was?
“You’ve got to be effing kidding me.”
I had big and wonderful plans to have an all natural birth in the comfort of a birthing center, and I immediately starting doubting whether or not I could do it while sick and exhausted.
Greg woke up to me trying to fumble through the drawer for new undies. I told him my water had broken, then I went back in the bathroom to call the midwife. She told me that it was going to be a long day and that I needed to go back to bed and get as much sleep as possible. So, Greg and I packed a bag (’cause ya know, we still hadn’t packed a bag even though I was 38 weeks pregnant), and I went back to sleep for a few hours while Greg e-mailed his professors and boss (it was supposed to be his first day of class).
Come 9am, I still didn’t have any contractions, so I called the midwife to update her. She encouraged me to go for a lot of walks and to consider taking castor oil at about 11am if I still didn’t have any contractions. Eleven o’ clock came and went, and so I downed some castor oil. (That’s some nasty, nasty stuff, by the way). But still nothing. At 2:00pm I went in to the birthing center so that the midwife could verify that my water had actually broken (since we were now at 12 hours without a single contraction). Sure enough it had, so she sent me back home with some herbal pills to take every 2 hours, and I was to come back at 8pm for some IV antibiotics since my water had been broken for so long.
So, we went back home. I was afraid to go for walks around the neighborhood since I had taken the castor oil, so I settled on cleaning the house instead. And I think it was somewhere around 5pm when I got my first contraction. It just felt kind of like a cramp, and I thought it was probably just the castor oil. But eventually I started timing them. They were short, but regular. 15 hours after my water broke, I finally had contractions!
At 8pm I went in to the birthing center and got my first dose of antibiotics. Contractions still weren’t very painful or long. I was only 2cm, but 90% effaced. Since it was approaching nighttime, the midwife let us just stay at the birthing center. At this point I was aware that the birthing center’s policy is that they only allow your water to be broken for 24 hours before they have to transfer you to the hospital to speed things along (unless you’re very, very close to giving birth). So by the time we settled in to the birthing center, I knew I only had 6 hours to dilate another 8cm and push a baby out.
Which basically meant I could be expecting to end up in the hospital. First time moms rarely progress that quickly.
But I did all I could do until 2am. I walked laps and laps around the birthing center, went up and down the stairs, took a shower, rocked back and forth. Eventually I ended up on hands and knees on the bed, leaning over a pile of pillows, so that I could sleep in between contractions. I was so exhausted already and still sick.
At 2am the midwife checked me again. I was only 3cm. So she gave me one more dose of antibiotics and we packed up and went to the hospital.
Even though I had already expected to end up here, I was still pissed. I was angry that they bossed me around when I got there (“Everything off, put on this gown, lay in this bed, no eating or drinking, only one person back here at a time…”), so I broke the rules and ate trail mix and left on my pants and bra, and invited my whole family back with me.
Everything was pretty slow at first. We didn’t get to the hospital until about 3:30am on Wednesday and didn’t get in to a real room until about 5am. My contractions had slowed down a lot during the transition. It wasn’t until 6am that they started Pitocin. And then we waited.
Now, we were lucky for a few reasons: One, one of the midwives at the birthing center has privileges at the hospital and was able to assume my care. Two, the hospital is very natural-birth friendly. My nurse especially was absolutely incredible and so, so patient with me.
Eventually the Pitocin started kicking in and I was in the full swing of things. The bed was uncomfortable, so I spent most of my labor standing up and leaning over the bed. This went on for several hours. I got in and out of the shower a few times, but the policy was that I had to be at least 7cm before I could get in the tub. At 11am, the nurse checked me and I was at 5cm and becoming very, very uncomfortable. At 1pm, I asked to be checked again, and I was finally at 7cm! So the nurse and midwife began setting up the tub for me. The only problem with the tub is that they needed to turn off the Pitocin in order for me to get in the tub, and this would most likely slow my labor down. But my midwife agreed to let me try. And sure enough, I got in the water and my contractions went from every 2-3 minutes to every 10 minutes. But I was SO tired, so they let me stay in for about 45 minutes so that I could take a nap.
By this time it was 2pm (36 hours since my water had broken!) and I was still only at 7cm. There was a lot of pressure from the supervising physician to speed things along or risk getting a c-section, so when I got out of the tub they hooked me back up to the Pitocin and inserted an internal monitor to monitor Ellie’s heart rate (it was difficult to get accurate readings otherwise with me moving around so much).
They upped the Pitocin and upped it some more and then upped it some more. They were serious about getting this baby out. I was still laboring standing up, leaning over Greg, while our doula kept a heat pack to my back. There were a few times when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I was so tired, and discouraged by the thought of possibly having 2 or 3 more hours of pushing to do even after I reached 10cm. But every now and then I would have a pep talk with myself and go back to taking it just one contraction at a time. I think Greg broke down a time or two seeing me in so much pain, but he was incredible at supporting me and encouraging me.
There were a few times that either the midwife or the doula made me get in the bed and lay on my side to help with dilation and positioning of the baby. These were by far the worst parts of labor, but they worked. At about 5:30pm, the midwife made me get in bed so that she could check my progress. I was 9cm with only a tiny bit left to go in order to be fully dilated. With a few (very painful) maneuvers, she was able to help me fully dilate and told me I could start pushing whenever I wanted and in whatever position I wanted. All I asked for was to be able to get out of the bed!
I got out of the bed and into a squatting position on the floor. The first few pushes were not that great, but Ellie was coming down quickly, and it hurt. I got a little panicked for a few minutes and all I could think about was my vagina ripping open. So I stood up and took a short break from pushing while I regained my composure. Then I got back on the floor on hands and knees and kept pushing. When they talk about a “ring of fire”, they really do mean it like it sounds. Its awful. Its scary. I was yelling “fuck” the entire time (which I’m sure sounded hilarious, considering my sickness had left me without much of a voice). But at one point I was able to reach down and feel Ellie’s head and it gave the motivation to keep going! The midwife was on the floor with me (and using her phone flashlight to look at things!) coaching me through each push. At some point I think I asked for a Chik-fil-a sandwich and chocolate shake when I was done, so that was pretty good motivation too!
And then at 5:51pm on Wednesday, Ellie made her arrival into this world (40 hours after my water broke)! I reached between my legs and pulled her to my chest and it was absolutely perfect. She was so small and beautiful and slimy and in an instant I knew I would have done it all over again just for that moment.
My labor and birth experience is the single most empowering thing I have ever done. It affected me and my identity in ways that I didn’t expect and that I’m still processing even 3 months later. I haven’t forgotten the pain or exhaustion, but the reward was so sweet and good. And I couldn’t have done it without such a loving, supporting husband, and a midwife and doula who trusted me and my body and a woman’s ability to give birth.
But even though I’d do it all over again, I sure am hoping that baby #2 won’t take so long 🙂