Labor was really long and hard. To give you a sense of just how long and hard, here’s a really, really lengthy post recapping our son’s arrival. Buckle up, friends. [JMP]
Henry is three weeks old! I can’t believe how quickly he is growing and changing; I tell you wistfully, he doesn’t even seem like a newborn anymore.
In any case, it has been three weeks and I made a few promises I have to keep: first, I promised Nik that I would get dressed in real-life clothes (check!) and second, I promised my sister that I would write something on the blog. Baby steps.
I should start by saying I wish I had taken the time to write down better details of Henry’s labor and delivery right after it happened. I stayed up most the night he arrived, thinking about it and replaying each chapter and marveling at the absolutely incredible part of the miracle of life and the miracle of birth, because it was truly that — miraculous. Long and hard and beautiful. I probably would have supplied a much more cohesive version of events if I had done that, but I was enjoying being in my head and staring at our beautiful little boy and skipped the practical. Regardless of details, this little boy is here; he has arrived!
As my pregnancy progressed and our little guy’s arrival approached, I had a pretty idealistic sense of how I wanted our labor and delivery to look. I hoped to labor at home as long as possible, to deliver without drugs, to avoid an unnecessary c-section, and most importantly, to have midwives by my side to assist with my survival and deliver a healthy baby. I wasn’t naive or inflexible enough to call it a PLAN, and had a pretty good idea that what I wanted would have nothing to do with how it went down, but my gosh, in reality, it turned out to be almost opposite of my expectations. Luckily, the two things that went according to plan — delivering with midwives and a healthy baby — were the two things on my list I considered most important.
Sunday, Sept. 21:
I woke up the morning of September 21 — one day past my due date — and immediately knew something was different. I felt a little crampy in my lower abdomen and simply sensed it might be time. Nik and I relaxed for the morning and within a few hours I dressed to go out for a walk, as I had most days. Over four and a half miles, to the hospital and home through some surrounding neighborhoods, the cramps developed into light contractions, noticeable but not painful, every 15 minutes or so. The sun was out, it was warm, and I was thrilled to think we might meet our baby that day or the next. Through the afternoon the contractions came closer together and by the time Nik and I camped on the couch for the Patriots’ afternoon game, they were five minutes apart, lasting nearly a minute each.
Later that night the contractions persisted and while they didn’t have me doubled over in pain, they had been the requisite five-minutes apart and lasting more than a minute for well past an hour so I called the hospital to check in. Has your water broken? the doctor on call asked when we connected. I explained that it hadn’t but my contractions were constant. You can come in if you want, she replied, so another hour or so later, we headed to the hospital. I wasn’t in a great deal of pain, and had hoped to labor at home for as long as I could, but thought it was best to follow the protocol that had been drilled into me at the doctor’s office and in baby classes for the past few months.
Upon arrival, the first midwife of our journey, Beth, examined me and determined I was only two centimeters dilated, though almost completely effaced. I was a little discouraged, since I had been one centimeter dilated nearly a week earlier, but Beth gave me a couple of poses and positions to try when I got home to help flip the baby, since her exam also revealed our little one was settled far into my right side and “sunny side up.” We returned home just before midnight and I tried to sleep in the contorted way she suggested, while assuming child’s pose with a big bag of ice on my back every half hour until morning. During the night contractions intensified and became even closer together and from time to time I became ill. I had read that vomiting was actually productive, helping your body progress labor, which seemed encouraging during uncomfortable moments. Furthermore, it had been explained by our childbirth prep instructor that dilation typically progresses about one centimeter for every two hours, so by the time we returned the hospital around eight Monday morning, I was experiencing much more traditional symptoms of labor and was certain things were coming along.
Monday, Sept. 22:
Only not. Monday morning, nine hours after our initial exam, I was still two centimeters. I burst into tears. So early in the process I already felt as though I had failed. I’m supposed to be tougher, I thought. I did everything they asked. I thought about the miles I had walked, the healthy foods I had eaten (the dates! oh my gosh, the dates!), the meditations I had practiced, and the books I had read. Nonetheless, I was admitted to the hospital for observation. Nik and I met Deb, our second midwife, who sent us walking. We shuffled the halls of the maternity ward and labor and delivery unit, stopping every few minutes to brace myself and let the contraction pass. Nik, I should mention, was my absolute champion, start to finish.
As the day wore on Monday, things progressed impossibly slowly. I lost complete track of time in the delivery room with soft lights and no windows. Luckily, it was nice and calm, which somehow managed to morph time. Even though labor was super long, I had very little concept of just just how long it was taking. By Monday afternoon, the midwives decided to start pitocin to help me progress and by evening I gave in to receive an epidural for the pain (it had also become apparent that I was having back labor), in an effort to allow me a chance to rest. After a nap, I was still only about halfway dilated and beginning to think the baby was never going to come. After 7 PM, another shift of nurses and midwives changed and Jessie, my newest midwife, suggested breaking my water, advising that it should help pick up the pace. Nik and I agreed we would surely meet our baby in the early morning hours.
Tuesday, Sept. 23:
Completely confined to bed and unable to feel anything below my diaphragm, I prayed that Jessie had been right and that the combination of breaking my water and receiving pitocin would move things along. For 12 long hours, “moving things along” took place very, very slowly. The epidural helped ease some of the pain, but my body just couldn’t seem to coordinate that last bit of becoming effaced, the bulk of dilation, and getting the baby to flip over and get going. By early morning, things started to come together, just as we approached yet another shift change, with new nurses and midwives.
Luckily, this would be my last shift even though I wasn’t convinced at the time. Two midwives, Julie and Susan, introduced themselves and Anne, who had been my nurse the day before, rejoined the team. My mother, understandably worried by this stage of the game, joined us and was immediately comforted by how well Julie and Susan had the situation under control. Just after 8 AM on Tuesday, my two midwives and a very petite doctor worked to try and flip the baby into the appropriate position by reaching in to gently turn his head and hoping his body would follow. It was already evident our child might be quite stubborn. He would not be flipped (and later, was born sideways).
By manipulating the drugs and, I suppose, waiting a really long time, by late-morning I had progressed enough to start pushing. Finally! My contractions had started more than 48 hours earlier and I had already been in labor for more than 30… I was ready, and also, exhausted. After pushing for about an hour, the team decided I should rest, as I was becoming completely overwhelmed with exhaustion and emotion. I was also becoming slightly irrational. (Skip this if you don’t want to hear any reference to poop, even though it’s funny and doesn’t involve actual poop.) It is widely said that when it’s time to push and when the baby is coming, to the mother it feels like the most desperate need to use the bathroom that she’s ever felt. To me, I was instead absolutely certain I needed to use the bathroom. So, I tried to negotiate with my care team to let me get off the table, quickly use the restroom, and then resume pushing. I think they literally laughed. Come on, I begged (not joking), the bathroom is right there. Maybe one of you could just help me over there. Mind you, I couldn’t feel my legs.
Everyone left the room and encouraged me to sleep, so that after an hour I would have enough energy to push the baby out. Julie had to go to a meeting, leaving Susan to take over, but promising that when she returned at 1 PM I would have a newborn. I don’t believe you, I insisted. I definitely thought and may have told her that I thought she was lying to me. Poor woman.
I tried to sleep, but the need to push was overwhelming and in my sleep, apparently, I tried to make something happen. Nik came back to the room to check on me, only to find me pushing by myself on the delivery table. After running to get the nurse and rallying the rest of the care team (which, by this point included the NICU due to some precautions) we got back in action. After a little while, Nik and Susan told me the baby had a full head of dark hair. They promised the baby was almost here. It felt like hell. Just as we neared the end (or the beginning, depending on perspective, I suppose) I heard Susan say with quiet authority, Cord. Instinctively, I stopped pushing, and I stared intently at Nik’s terrified face. The baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped tightly around his neck and Susan was unable to move it over his head. Moments passed until I heard Susan confirm, after some maneuvering, cutting me and then clamping and cutting the cord, Okay, we’re good.
Quickly, then, with one last push, our son was born at 12:08 PM.
He was swooped off by the NICU nurses to be checked and cleared and, luckily, Nik remained by his side. I sobbed — a combination of complete joy and relief — and turned to see my mother doing the same. The idea of my mom becoming a grandmother and the fact that I was suddenly — officially — a mother was utterly overwhelming. As I looked over to the warmer where the nurses worked on the baby, I marveled at the fact that we had a little boy, having been completely convinced the baby would be a girl. I wanted desperately to hold him, but instead just asked Is he okay? over and over while the NICU nurses tended to the baby and my team worked on me and stitched me up. It felt like a lifetime, but only minutes later they laid our son on my chest for the first time.
We laughed that he was like a share pei puppy, with rolls and rolls of skin that needed to be grown into; like a teddy bear, with light brown down covering his back and the tips of his ears to keep him warm before birth; and the most perfect little boy we had ever seen.
Though named a few hours later, Henry was born at 12:08 PM on Tuesday, September 23. He weighed a healthy 8 pounds 2 ounces, and measured 21 1/2 inches long.
In the end, labor was much different than I had anticipated and surely, much longer. What was most important, given the time, was that the midwives were able to show me on monitors that the baby was healthy and safe throughout the labor, from start to finish, which meant I was never worried for his well being. My opposition to drugs stemmed mainly from the fear that it meant I could not deliver with midwives and that they would be used as a cure-all instead of measured solution. Too much of what I read illustrated drugs being dispensed liberally and sometimes, recklessly, so I was relieved to find I could deliver with midwives regardless, and impressed at how the drugs were so carefully used to solve problems instead of as a blanket response to pain. Days before Henry was born I came across the 10 Things I wish All Women Knew About Giving Birth. I agreed with it then and agree with it now.