I wasn’t expecting anything to happen on my due date. I had basically been preparing my brain during pregnancy that the “due date” didn’t really mean much and I actually really liked that the birth center and a lot of other pregnancy websites and apps refer to it as a “guess date” now—it seems like a small difference but I feel like it really helped to manage my expectations about when she would actually appear. My mom was exactly three days late with all her babies and I’d heard or read somewhere that your Mom can be a good indicator for your delivery date as well so I was wondering if she would be born a few days late as well. Ever since we found out that my due date was May 3rd Todd had been saying that he wanted her to be born on my birthday (May 7th) and I would just roll my eyes every time and mumble something about having to share birthday parties, but he persisted and even up to that very week he was telling Lola (through the belly) to wait to come out until the 7th. Once I was a few days past the guess date and no baby in sight I decided to try a few of the natural induction techniques to see if any of them would work. I mean, as any 9-month pregnant lady knows, you are SO over being pregnant by then so I dived right in to all the tricks I could think of— spicy food, walking, eating dates and bananas, extracurricular marital activities (ahem)…nothing seemed to be working so I went out to watch some late night tv and since no position is comfortable in that stage of pregnancy I ended up sitting kind of frog-legged on a yoga mat while leaning forward on a birth ball. All of the sudden I felt a gush of water between my legs and it only took a second for me to rule out peeing myself before my brain went right to “I THINK MY WATER JUST BROKE!”
As calmly as I could I called out to Todd in the other room that I needed a towel because my water just broke to which he replied with a startled expletive and I heard a bunch of panicked rustling in the direction of the towel closet. Since the fluid was still leaking out a bit I caught some in a cup to make sure that it was clear and odorless – both important signs to rule out it being actual pee and show that there weren’t any signs in the fluid that the baby might be in distress. I always felt a bit nervous about my water breaking while I was out in public or sitting on a friend’s new couch or something so I was thankful that I happened to be sitting on a rubber mat at home when it happened. Best case scenario for sure! I looked up at the clock and realized that it was a few minutes before midnight on May 6th which meant that unless I had a crazy long labor for already being 4cm dilated and 90% effaced (according to my midwife visit a few days before), I was definitely going to have a birthday baby. I guess she was listening to her Daddy the whole time!
I grabbed my phone and called our birth center who patched me through to the midwife on call and she told me to try and go to sleep since I wasn’t really having contractions and didn’t have any bloody show yet. She said they’d call me in the morning to check in on my progress unless I called them before that so I put on my pjs and nervously tried to fall asleep—fat chance of that happening, right?! I may have eventually drifted off but Lola had other plans and it wasn’t more than a half hour before my contractions had not only started (the period type cramps that had been happening with Braxton Hicks on and off for a few weeks) but already progressed to a strength where it literally took my breath away with how strong the sensation got. Uh oh, I thought, this is going to be rough if that’s just the beginning. That’s when I hopped out of bed and started to make sure Todd got all the birth bag items in the car while I timed the contractions and put on some makeup between each one to distract myself. Once the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart we drove over to the birth center at about 4am (worst car ride ever!!) and found out I was at 5cm and fully effaced so we got settled into one of the birthing suites. Our doula Jessica met us at the center and I labored in the birthing suite until about 10am with her and Todd taking turns applying counter pressure on my lower back with each contraction. I personally understand now why they say that lying down is one of the worst positions to be in so you want to be somewhere where they will let you move around. Anytime I would lie or sit down the pain was probably 3 times worse for me (which is why the car ride over was pure hell) so I only wanted to be in positions where I was on my knees leaning forward when a contraction hit.
I had been looking forward to being in water for the birth (I heard the warm water feels so good and helps you relax) and while I did labor in the tub for a few hours, I had to stay on my knees leaned over the side the whole time for pain management so I was never really able to fully relax and melt into the water laying down like I had hoped. I know some people get sick and throw up a lot and since I had a pretty nauseous pregnancy I wondered if that would happen to me too…YEP! I actually got sick so many times in labor that I had sores all over my tongue for days afterwards from the acid and I literally couldn’t speak clearly because my tongue was so swollen. Gross. Anyways, going into a first-time natural labor it’s a bit hard to totally feel prepared for the pain level since you’ve never done it before, and while everyone’s experience is different, let me tell you, it was pretty painful for me. Like WOAH. I definitely had the thought over and over again of “I don’t know if I can do this” but I would look at Todd and he would tell me I could and I would repeat it aloud over and over again until I started to believe it. I always thought that the hardest part of labor would be the contractions into the transition phase, but while transition was the most painful part for sure, the hardest part for me was the pushing. The pushing part didn’t come quite as naturally for me as I would have thought it would—you are kind of using your muscles in a completely different way from how you ever have before so it took a long time to get the idea of what a “good” push should feel like. The birth center midwife Margaret was so great and was helping by pushing down on parts of my cervix or vaginal canal (it was somewhere around there, hard for me to tell at that point!) and telling me to focus on pushing in that spot. I asked later and they said that an hour is about average for pushing time but I spent at least 2 1/2 hours pushing and it felt like an eternity. Our midwife and doula kept changing positions to see what would make more progress from kneeling or laying on the bed, using the birth stool, and hanging from what looks like a giant ladder attached to the wall, but it felt as though it was never going to happen even though I was trying so hard. I didn’t know if I would be a “vocal” person in labor, but man did I scream during those pushes!
They had been checking Lola’s heart rate the whole time periodically with a hand-held doppler to make sure she was ok and they were always impressed with how strong her heartbeat was throughout labor, so when she finally dropped into the birth canal and was crowning they became concerned when her heart rate dropped low and wasn’t recovering. As a testament to our team, it really was a true emergency to be alarmed about but our midwife very calmly told me that they needed to get Baby out faster so she was was going to do an episiotomy to help me push her through now. Even though I’m only a couple of months out from the event and the memory of the overall pain has faded quite a bit, those sharp cuts are something I can still feel very clearly if I let myself think about it and I shudder every time I do. They had to cut several times but within a matter of a few minutes she was out and I felt a giant sense of relief as they laid this rather purple looking baby on my chest. I’m sure there were many emotions running through my head and it all felt rather fuzzy at the time, but I mostly just remember feeling a sense of shock and disbelief, like, “What? Was this baby in there this whole time?? Where did she come from??” Some mamas will say their baby looked just “right” to them when they were finally born, like they had imagined them correctly the whole pregnancy, but I always had a hard time imagining what she would look like so I was so surprised to finally see her beautiful face and dark hair. I always wanted a baby with dark hair (I had none at birth) so that was exciting!
I was just starting to finally calm down a bit as they assessed her on my chest when I could tell that they were concerned with her oxygen level. They said she had some fluid in her lungs and her levels would drop if they didn’t keep an oxygen mask on her so they had someone from the hospital come over (the birth center is only about a mile away) to assess her and they agreed that she needed to be transported to the NICU. While they were deciding on that, the midwife delivered my placenta (which I saved and had encapsulated by the way) and told me that it looked like I had some fourth degree tears that would need surgery to repair over at the hospital so we would both be transferring over. It’s definitely a lot to take in to hear that your baby needs help breathing and you need surgery (my first!) all while trying to process that you just gave birth to this tiny human and your whole world has changed. We had talked about worst case scenario before the birth and decided that if we were separated like that Todd would go with Lola since it was more important to me that he be with her rather than me. I have to say that it was very strange going into my first surgery by myself separated from my husband and my newborn but I think my brain felt it had to “man up” so all of the sudden I got very calm and was cracking jokes with the hospital staff as a way to cope with the otherwise scary situation. After I was stitched up I wasn’t allowed to go to the NICU to see Lola until I could get into a wheelchair on my own (I had a spinal for the surgery so I couldn’t feel my legs for a few hours) so Todd would send me videos of her and I felt so relieved that she had him there with her to talk and sing to her. I honestly think that’s why they still have a special connection.
It was probably 7 hours after the birth at this point but I still didn’t know what she looked like as she had an oxygen mask covering her face since right after she was born. Todd found a picture of her on my chest where they had taken it off for a second so I just stared at that photo all night mesmerized by her sweet face. I did get to see her some that night while she was asleep in the NICU but I couldn’t hold her yet and I had to stick my hands into the holes in her incubator machine to get to her tiny body and hold her hands. It was so hard to see her hooked up to so many tubes and wires and I didn’t want to leave her but I had been up for about 36 hours at that point (and given birth and had surgery in that span as well) so I was pretty exhausted and knew I needed to get some rest. They said they would have some doctors assess her breathing in the morning and she could be taken off the oxygen machine if she was doing well. Thankfully she passed the tests and the next morning I got to go back and hold her (with only a few wires attached) and try out our first attempt at breast feeding as well. They released her from the NICU later that day and she was able to stay with us in our room that night and do lots of skin to skin with us and we could finally stare at her beautiful face and just drink her in.
We were released to go home the next day and while it was so great to finally be able to leave the hospital (so hard to get much sleep since they wake you up constantly to take vitals and give pills, etc.), at the same time, you have so much help there that you’re terrified you can’t do it without them! My parents came down for 10 days to help us pretty soon after we got home from the hospital and we had a post partum doula help us for the day or two in between. I honestly don’t know what we would have done without that help. Having someone make you food, clean up, and watch the baby while you take naps made one of the most difficult times I could imagine more manageable. And so many of our friends helped by bringing us dinners as well and it’s amazing how much a seemingly small gesture like that helps. If you have a friend that’s about to deliver, offer to create a meal train for them- they will be forever grateful!
While I would definitely categorize my birth experience as traumatic overall (more on that later), the important thing is that she’s out and healthy and I’m mending pretty well too and that’s a lot to be grateful for.
P.S. If you’ve got that baby fever check out what I packed in my birth bag and my newborn essentials list! Also, if you’re wondering about the Instax prints with her birth photos, you can use this tiny printer to print whatever photo you want from your phone-YES!