I feel like I might not get a chance to really spend time on this for a few months so I’m just going to post what I have and everyone will be okay with it, right?
I had a hard time figuring out how to start this post. I’ll begin by saying that I’m just going to tell it as I remember feeling in that moment. Which means, I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t feel pain and I was all meditative and zen-like and totally in control. And I’m not going to tell you that natural childbirth is purely an amazing empowering transformative experience. It IS, most definitely. But it’s also the most intense thing I’ve ever been through. And there were definitely moments when I didn’t think I could do it. But (spoiler alert!), I did. And you can too. I promise.
Here we go…
Three days overdue, Tuesday night I walked to pick up Thai food for dinner from a little place in our neighborhood (Indian food hadn’t come through for me the previous two nights). Brock was at yoga. I was more sore than I’d been my entire pregnancy from ceaseless climbing of the stairs in Santa Monica and prenatal yoga. It wasn’t that I was so anxious that I was overdue, it was more that I was afraid if I didn’t try to get things moving now I’d be 41 weeks 5 days and talking seriously about scary things like induction and big babies.
So I finished my super spicy coconut soup, did the dishes sat down to stretch in front of the TV while I watched the Olympics. And just before 9 pm, like magic, my water broke. Hallelujah! And OMG, was that my water breaking or did I just pee? Definitely my water breaking. I always imagined it as one big gush followed by consistent trickling. Um, no. More like after going through 3 pairs of yoga pants in 10 minutes (gush gush gush gush), I changed into my fourth pair and decided the best option was to wear a full sized towel in my pants until some other solution presented itself.
By then Brock’s class was out and I called him to tell him it was happening. We were both pretty excited and nervous. It was time! He came home, ate dinner, I opened a bunch of coconuts and decanted the water into a quart size glass milk bottle (nature’s gatorade!) for staying hydrated during labor, we filled a bag with snacks for the hospital, finished packing our stuff, I synced my iPod so we we’d have plenty of good music at the hospital and we sat down and watched the Olympics until midnight. We called our awesome doula, Joanne, to let her know what was happening and decided we’d talk again in the morning if not before. Luckily contractions started almost immediately after my water broke and by then they were relatively regular but mild enough that I knew I wasn’t going to have my baby that night. In retrospect, I knew nothing but I was going on the assumption that early labor can be a long process.
We got in bed and decided to phone the midwife on call in labor & delivery to let her know what was happening and hear her opinion on our decision to stay home. I knew she was going to tell us to come in, which she did, but she also made it clear that she was following protocol and that since there wasn’t any meconium in the water and I could still feel the baby moving regularly, it was our decision whether to come to the hospital in the middle of the night. Really they just want to make sure everything is status quo and then you’re free to go home. Um, not driving to Westwood in the middle of the night and then turning around and coming home. And then going back in the morning. Also not spending an extra night in the hospital if I can avoid it.
So the night passed with Brock sleeping and me “resting.” Because my contractions were already 5-6 minutes apart, twas impossible to actually sleep. But they were also still mild enough that I could comfortably lay in bed and just think about my baby and our biggest day. At 5:00, Brock got up and sent an email to work letting them know he wasn’t coming in. I got up at 6 (I was determined to stay in bed until then) and we called Joanne again to check in. By then I really had to stop and breathe through my contractions, but being that I’d never done this before I had no idea what stage of labor I was in. Everything you learn in childbirth class is based on some imagined pain threshold of an average woman. Which in retrospect (many things realized after the fact), is not the best gauge for how you’re going to feel during your labor. I was thinking, “oh this isn’t really that bad, I’m probably not even in active labor yet.” Which now thinking about it, I probably was.
At 6:30, the midwife on call, Stacy, called us back and was now seriously instructing us to come in. Brock and I talked about our options: either go in as instructed or stay home, and we both felt like we didn’t want to be stubborn or stupid at the very end of my pregnancy and put either myself or the baby at risk. (My initial plan was to roll into the hospital just in time to push). So by 7:30 we were in the car, sitting in stopped morning commuter traffic on the 405. Major bummer when you’re having legit contractions. UCLA is only a few miles up the freeway from our house but in traffic it can take 30 or 40 minutes. SICK.
We pulled up to the hospital, which thankfully has valet parking (yay LA!) at 8:00 and unloaded our bags and birth ball and food rations and lugged everything up to labor & delivery on the 5th floor. People are surprising gracious when they realize you’re having a contraction as you’re getting in the elevator.
Backstory break here: When we took our tour in December, we learned that this huge, gorgeous new hospital had only 5 labor and delivery rooms. FIVE. To serve all the women getting prenatal care at UCLA and all the community clinics around the west side of LA. So as you can imagine, I’ve been a little nervous that I’m not going to get a room for the last few months, and instead will end up in this shared triage room down the hall.
Of course all the rooms are full. We are shown into a windowless box that is literally the size of a hospital bed, a fetal monitor, and our birth ball. I assume this is our room for good and feel cheated out of the lovely open windowed delivery rooms around the corner we were promised on our tour. But the nurse reassures me that in a few hours we’ll be moved into a real room… just as soon as one of the other women gives birth. I’m thinking, a few hours??? But I need to call our doula and set up our music and figure out what position I want to give birth in! I cannot do that in this tiny closet with a shared bathroom and no shower.
The midwife on call, now Susan (they switch at 8 am every day), comes in to check my contractions and do an ultrasound to make sure the baby is still head down. Funny enough we hadn’t seen her at a prenatal visit since October until my weekly appointment the day before. And now she was going to be the one to deliver our baby.
Another side note: the way the midwifery practice works is this. There are 6 midwives. You see a different one every time you go in for a prenatal visit depending on who’s seeing patients that day. And then when it comes time to deliver, whoever is on call that day will be the one delivering your baby. It might seem a little uncertain, but we really liked all of them and as they say, the baby picks his/her midwife. For reasons I shan’t go into here, it made perfect sense to us that our baby ended up picking Susan.
Ultrasound looked good (except that I had lost pretty much every drop of amniotic fluid), heart rate good, contractions slowed down a bit once I got in the bed and they hooked me up to the monitor. We had the option of going home (NOT! Like I’m going to sit through that traffic 2 more times) or stay in the room (NOT! I couldn’t breathe in there) or go on a walk around the hospital. We took option C and agreed to be back in an hour, which would be 9:30. This is where I think it gets kind of funny. The new hospital feels more like a fancy institute than a hospital so walking around in my vintage Bob Dylan tee, with my huge belly hanging out, my “birthing skirt” that I bought at Old Navy specifically for giving birth, and flip flops, hanging on railings and benches and Brock every time I have a contraction definitely drew some amused/uncertain looks. At one point we ended up sitting on a bench, actually I was lying, and waiting through a few contractions. Which is when I realized that things had started to take on a new level of intensity.
(Switching to black and white for hospital pics. The fluorescent light isn’t the best).
We headed back to our shoebox in L&D, which was sounding safe and warm after an hour in public, and checked in with Susan and our nurse. My contractions were getting strong at that point and the option of an epidural started to occasionally creep it’s little head into my consciousness. Mostly because I had no idea how far along I was, how much longer this was going to last and how much more painful this was supposed to get. When your water breaks, the midwives don’t check you for dilation until it’s absolutely necessary because they don’t want to introduce the risk of infection. So I’m just going along on my own. Until I throw up. Like every drop of water I’ve been diligently drinking since 9 pm the night before. I know that this is a good sign because it most likely means I’m moving into a different stage of labor. But for all I know, I’m moving into active labor which is between 4-5 cm. And I’m thinking if this is just the beginning of active labor, I don’t think I can do this naturally. Of course it could also be moving into transition, but that seems a little optimistic since we’ve only just arrived at the hospital.
At 10:15, Brock decides to call Joanne and have her come to the hospital to help. Even though I’ve decided I don’t want her to come until we get our big room with the window. I’m very hung up on the big room. But as Brock tells her on the phone, I’m now saying things that he doesn’t understand and he needs her help even if I don’t… which I clearly do, but I’m stubborn and have a high tolerance for discomfort. And by discomfort I mean serious pain. Brock is squeezing my hips through every contraction and I’m telling him to stop, and when he stops I’m telling him to keep squeezing. Poor husband. He’s also attempting to breathe through my contractions for me and I quickly inform him that it’s not helping.
By 10:45 when Joanne arrives I’m, how do they say, finding my “voice”. Which means I’m on my hands and knees in what little floor space we have in our shoebox and seriously vocalizing every contraction. I had this idea that I would be calm and collected and zen-like and breathe patiently through even the worst of them, that I would somehow feel in control of what is happening to my body. But I don’t. I feel like my lower back is splitting in half and a bowling ball is slowly descending through my pelvis. In retrospect (told you there was lots of retrospective wisdom), I think the bowling ball sensation was the beginnings of the urge to push. But when you’ve never given birth before, you don’t exactly know what they mean when they mention this is birth class. Or at least how it’s going to feel.
At 11, Joanne asks when the last time I peed was and I can’t remember (possibly at home? eek). She’s like, you need to start drinking water asap (remember I threw everything up), and she suggests that I try to pee to make some space for the baby. We stay in our lovely shared bathroom through one contraction and when it’s over she looks at me and says,
“Are you pushing?”
And I say, “I DON’T KNOW, MAYBE? I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING?WHAT AM I DOING???”
And she says, “Okay, you need to be checked. Now.”
See why you have a doula? Because they know when you need to be checked.
This is when things start getting a little hectic. Joanne goes to find someone to check how dilated I am (Susan, the midwife, coincidentally has another patient delivering at that moment), I’m seriously seriously wishing I was running a marathon instead of having a baby. Really. That thought, clear as the clearest day, is going through my head. I think, I’m not even trained and I’d still rather be running a marathon. Finally an OB comes in and introduces herself as the doctor who’s going to check me, and possibly deliver my baby if Susan doesn’t finish the other delivery in time. I get on the bed and she checks me, which is not comfortable, FYI. But the next words are the best words I’ve ever heard in my entire life. In fact I still get goosebumps when I say them.
“Well, you’re a complete 9 and you’re plus 1.”
Translation, you are 9 cm dilated (only 1 to go!), fully effaced and I’m more than half way to crowning.
OMG. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG. I am going to make it. That’s all I can think about. I’m going to do this!
Now things move into high gear. They realize that I need to be in a delivery room. Like 5 minutes ago. Because at the rate I’m progressing, the baby is going to be here very soon.
So I pass on the right. They actually remove a woman from a room and wheel her into a shoebox like ours to make space for me. In her huge lovely window room, now mine. Muuhaaahaahaa. Which I am going to be in for approx 20 minutes before my baby is born. Joanne meanwhile is helping me blow through my contractions instead of push. Which is so hard. At 11:15 or so they check me one more time and I’m 9 1/2. Now it’s time to move rooms. So I start to get off the bed, thinking I’m going to walk down the hall to my new room. And everyone is like WHOA WHOA, no. You don’t have to walk, we’re going to push this bed into the new room with you on it.
And so they push me on the bed and I’m having a massive contraction as we’re going down the hall, and blowing my little heart out but also somehow screaming. Screaming because for the last 1/2 hour I’ve been trying hold the bowling ball IN my pelvis, which I’m convinced is WAY worse than trying to get it out. You can practically hear the woman in the other four rooms crying for an epidural. I am, in that moment, the reason 98% of women opt for pain relief during childbirth. If I’d have heard myself I might have reconsidered my resolve to do this naturally too.
So into the big room we go. In a break between contractions I demand that someone turn off the TV, which is showing a soap opera. I cannot have my baby with the TV on, especially a soap. Dr. OB checks me one more time and she says,
“Still 9 1/2… oh, nope. 10. You’re going to push with the next contraction, okay Kristina?”
And I get nervous because I don’t know how to push. I’ve never pushed before. And pushing the bowling ball out of me now sounds like a really bad idea. Possibly worse than holding it in. But I suck it up, because I have no choice and I look at the women in the room (Susan has showed up, just in the nick of time BTW) and I say,
“Okay. So I’m going to poop my baby out, right?” Classy! I can’t think of any other way to communicate the appropriate sensation in the moment.
And I get the thumbs up around the room. The first push… not so successful. I blow instead of push. Because I’ve been blowing through the last 1/2 hour of contractions. So we have to have a mini training session and then I get it. And it’s so f*ing hard. Omg, I’ve never done anything so hard.
Meanwhile, the baby’s heart rate is dropping (which I don’t know about, luckily), they’ve hooked up my saline lock to an IV since I’m now officially low on fluid, and they’re giving me oxygen in between contractions. For the record, none of this was in our birth plan. They gently roll me to my other side and baby responds favorably which is good. But at some point the heart rate drops into the 80′s for a stretch of a few minutes. Which is when the birth team starts to get anxious for baby to come out. Like now. And baby is coming. Brock and Joanne can see the head when I push and Joanne even says, “You’re baby has blonde hair!” But baby isn’t coming quite fast enough.
We learn later that a deceleration of the heart rate can mean nothing or it can be a sign that baby is in distress and they really don’t have any good way to know which it is. Susan and the OB residents who are assisting her start discussing options, which are potentially an episiotomy or perhaps vacuum assistance. Joanne looks at me and asks if I understand what those two options mean. I do, and I’m like um, AHEM. I’m here… vacuum please. Possibly a selfish decision, but I couldn’t deal with cutting. Tearing was fine, but no cutting. I’m terrified that a small cut will turn into a massive tear. Eeeeee.
Now that we’re going to have an assisted delivery, the troops are called in. Within 2 minutes there are 15 people in our room: the entire Peds team, all of the OB residents, more nurses and of course me and Brock and Joanne and Susan. And do you know what? I don’t care at all. I even say, “Wow, there are a lot of people in here.” But I truthfully don’t care. I’ve entered survival mode and I just need my baby out of me as soon as humanly possible. This all happens in the space of maybe 10 minutes since we’ve been wheeled into the delivery room, BTW.
So the vacuum comes out, which is tiny and not scary at all thankfully. I keep pushing. The vacuum pops off, which makes a loud snapping sound, and scares Brock who thinks they’ve just pulled our baby’s head off. (Not really, but maybe). And in the end I push baby out myself. Head first, which you imagine will provide some relief, but it doesn’t really because the whole body is still in there. And then at 12:03 pm, one more push and out baby comes. Brock says
“It’s a boy!!!!”
And he really is so so excited because he wanted a boy. And then he gets to cut the cord, and our baby boy cries. Which is all I’m listening for at that moment.
I also know that they’re not going to put him directly on my chest because the Peds team now has to check him out because of the decels and the vacuum. But I’m okay with it, (also not in our birth plan), because he’s here and he’s okay and I’m no longer in the most pain I’ve ever experienced. Actually, I’ll say that pain peeked before I was pushing. When I was holding the baby in, that was the max pain for sure. But I’m now just shaking and I still have to deliver the placenta, which at the hospital they sort of massage out of you. And then the female SWAT team assembles between my legs to assess the tear and start the stitching. None of which I feel, don’t worry. Brock is with our baby at the warming table taking pictures and soon they give him to me and I just stare.
He is beautiful and so tiny and here. It is the most remarkable feeling the world, holding the little person who’s been inside of you for so long. I unwrap him and lay him on my chest and try to get one side of my sports bra off so I can feed him. And he is just so small.
There’s so much about birth that is really truly amazing. And really really really truly hard. I will say that I have a whole new understanding of why most women opt for the epidural. The day he was born I was like, I don’t think I ever want to do this again. Of course now I’m all pumped for the next birth, due to hormones and the human body’s ability to forget pain. But that shit is intense.
(Hilariously, after declining the gown pre-birth, I ask for one once the whole thing is over and we’re moving to postpartum. Cue nurse shaking head.)
And do you know what else? In the first few weeks after Dashiell was born, I was pretty sad that my first birth was over. So many months thinking about it and preparing for it and then it passes and you can never have it back. And I kind of missed being pregnant too. But then again I have a baby, which is much much better of course.
And now we’re a little family and Dashiell is already a month old and 10 pounds and practically a little boy. It’s scary how quickly your little newborn changes. And how much they teach you in such a short amount of time.
So 15 hours from the moment my water broke to the minute Dashiell was born. And I’d say only the last 2.5 were really really hard. Not too bad. I have some post birth thoughts to share too but I’ll post them separately since this is already way too long.
Now out into the garden with farmer Laura and baby Judah who are visiting us from Georgia for the week.