In honor of William's second birthday today, I've finally finished the story of his birth, which I've been meaning to complete since his first week of life. That tells you how busy we've been in the past two years! Warning to my readers, though. Although I have tried not to be too graphic, there are some very "earthy" details in the below account (it is about childbirth after all!). I know not everyone who frequents my blog is interested in such things, so feel free to skip this post if you're squeamish.
I should say by way of background that I have had both of my children naturally, with a midwife, using the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth (more information about that is available here. Although William's birth had some difficulties (as you'll read below), I wouldn't do it any other way (nor will I with any future children we may be blessed with). I found both experiences empowering in a profound way and they were incredibly unifying events for Ronnie and me, as we birthed our children together.
Happy birthday to my little boy! He was my joyful and anxious entry into motherhood and its been a journey of endless rewards ever since!
I woke up around 4 AM on May 5, 2009 with what I thought were stomach cramps. I got up and attempted to use the bathroom, to no effect. I lied back down next to Ronnie and tried to go back to sleep, but my stomach was growling and the cramps were still there periodically. So, I went downstairs and made myself a bowl of cereal.
After finishing my cereal, it was around 4:45 and I realized that I was still feeling the cramps, but now they were coming in waves. The sensation would start on my left side and tighten all across the lower part of my abdomen, then spread to my lower back as a dull ache. They seemed to last about 30 seconds each and then fade away. At this point, it occurred to me that I could be starting the early part of labor. So, I sat in the big armchair and timed a few of the contractions myself. When I couldn’t go back to sleep, I went back upstairs and crawled into bed with Ronnie. He was due to wake up around 5:30 to go to work.
When his alarm went off, I told him, “Honey, I think I might be having contractions.” I explained to him what had happened and he agreed that he should time them with his phone’s stopwatch and see where I really was. After several contractions, we observed that I was having contractions every six to seven minutes for about 45-50 seconds. We discussed whether or not Ronnie should go to work, but I told him that I wanted him at home with me. At that point, it became very real to me that the baby was on the way and I needed to put into practice all that we had learned from the Bradley Method.
We spent about an hour in bed together, timing the contractions, talking, and practicing the relaxation techniques. The ache in my lower back was getting worse and I had Ronnie begin putting pressure on it when the contraction started. Around 7 AM I decided to call the midwife because the contractions were maintaining their length and repetition. I spoke with Cyndi and she told me that it sounded like I was in early labor and I should wait to come into the hospital until the contractions were 60-90 seconds long and three to five minutes apart or my water broke, whatever came first.
At that point, we decided I would take a shower and then we would head downstairs so that Ronnie could get breakfast and do laundry to prepare our hospital bag. I sat in the big armchair again and we watched recorded TV shows while he did his work. We stopped timing the contractions for a few hours and I just concentrated on full relaxation with every contraction. They were increasing in intensity, although not at a regular pace. We finally re-started timing them around 11 AM. It was around that time that I went to the bathroom and saw that I was losing my mucous plug. The contractions were still around 60 seconds long and about 5 minutes apart.
The contractions were very uncomfortable at this point, so I lay down on the couch. But, the lack of support for my hips did nothing to help the ache in my lower back, so I asked Ronnie if we could go back upstairs. He got out the twin size mattress from his study and put it on the floor in our room. He put sheets on it and arranged pillows for me. I lay down there and he gave me the stopwatch to use while he showered and packed. I was very self-absorbed by this point because the contractions had reached a strong intensity and my lower back, especially, ached tremendously.
By the time Ronnie was done showering and getting ready, I was thinking it was time to go to the hospital. But, knowing what the Bradley Method says about delaying your time at the hospital, Ronnie wanted to wait more. I did another hour or so of contractions while he finished packing and then, finally, I said I wanted to go to the hospital. The contractions were around 60 seconds long and four to five minutes apart. Also, I was getting to a place where I didn’t want to be moved and I was concerned we wouldn’t make it to the hospital if we didn’t go then. We called the midwife again and informed them we were going to be leaving soon.
Relaxing for the contractions while I was standing was very difficult. All the movement involved with getting ready to leave made the contractions come closer together, which made our preparations very slow. And, I needed Ronnie to do constant counter-pressure on my lower back to counteract the strong ache I was feeling with each contraction. When Ronnie went to start the car and put everything in it, I lied down on the couch again. My anxiety level was getting very high and I was very worried at the pain I might experience in the car ride to the hospital. I wasn’t sure I could make it and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to maintain my concentration once we got to the hospital. When Ronnie sat down next to me to encourage me, I threw up. Thankfully, it was all cranberry juice and water!
[Two years later, I finally finished the birth story!]
Ronnie says we left for the hospital around 3 PM. The ride to the hospital was hard. I inclined the front seat and did my best to relax through every contraction, breathing slowly and steadily. The seats felt so uncomfortable and my lower back ached fiercely, but without Ronnie’s help, I couldn’t have the counter-pressure that would alleviate some of the hurt. While Ronnie drove (slowly and carefully, at my insistence!), he made phone calls to some family and friends, letting them know I was in labor.
When we arrived at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, we were able to get valet service, so that Ronnie wouldn’t have to leave me. I was given a wheelchair ride while Ronnie carried the bags. All the while, I’m trying to relax through contractions, despite the fact that all the moving and stress was making it more difficult to do so. I remember being afraid that I wouldn’t be able to “get back on track” mentally once we got settled. But, I was too involved in relaxing my body to talk anymore.
We arrived at the nurse’s station on the maternity floor where a blonde happy-go-lucky nurse greeted us. Despite the fact that Ronnie told her I was in active labor, she continued to talk to me. I remember being very annoyed that she wanted to talk to me despite my obvious unwillingness to do so, but I didn’t have the energy to do anything about it. I simply waited for contractions to pass, breathing through them, before answering her questions. The nurse seemed to have no idea the urgency I was feeling and took her sweet time. It seems like we sat at that desk for a long time, but I’m sure it was only a few minutes. I know that while I was breathing and relaxing through a particularly hard contraction, someone was wheeling another wheelchair by me and crashed into the corner of my chair. It was very painful at the moment—but again, I couldn’t interrupt my relaxation to get angry. I couldn’t spare the energy!
They finally moved me into the triage room, where they wanted to monitor my contractions, “to be sure you’re really in labor.” When they said this I wanted to scream, but I didn’t—I was relaxing! When we got into the triage room, Ronnie helped me change into the nightgown I wanted to wear for the labor. And, the nurse hooked me up to the electronic fetal monitor. The bed they laid me on was horribly uncomfortable for my back aches and no matter which way I turned, I couldn’t relax fully. Our time in the triage room was extended much longer than it should have been because the belt for the monitor kept falling off. And, I remember that an aid had to come in at least twice because the machine wasn’t working properly and wasn’t recording anything! At one point, she actually had the gall to say, “Are you even having contractions?” I think she was quite lucky that I WAS having contractions, otherwise I might have hurt her!
At this point, Ronnie went into the hall and asked a nurse when we were going to get a room. She replied that they were very busy at the moment and would not be able to get us a “good room" right away. I was horrified at the thought of staying in that triage room anymore, so I told Ronnie I didn’t care where they put us. Just get us someplace permanent so I could get back to focusing on my labor.
Meanwhile, my midwife finally arrived—to my relief. The first thing she did was check my dilation. We were still on the super-uncomfortable triage bed and it was quite painful when she did the examination, but when she announced that I was 6.5 cm dilated, it was worth it. I was almost there! And, somehow, as soon as they knew I was so far along, a “good room” magically opened for me. Go figure.
(After the birth, my mom told me that the blonde nurse from the nurse’s station came up to her and told her to apologize to me because she didn’t think I was really in labor. She said she can typically tell when a woman is really in labor and I was too “quiet and calm.” I wanted to go back to her and say, “That’s precisely the point!”)
I had the choice to walk to the room myself or take the wheelchair. I knew the walk would probably be good for the advancement of my labor, but I just couldn’t imagine having to relax through all the contractions on the way to the room. So, I opted for the chair. And, we arrived at the room speedily. Ronnie thinks it was around 4:30 when we got there.
Honestly, what happened from that point on is now something of a blur. The change from 7 to 10 cms was quite overwhelming in terms of what my body was doing. I had to work very, very hard to remain as relaxed as possible, to allow the contractions to advance without my body getting in the way. And, looking back, I’m not sure how well I did that. The back pain I was experiencing was overwhelming--far worse than the contractions. And, try as we might, no matter what position I got into, we couldn’t get William to turn around (from posterior to anterior). All the while, Ronnie never left my side. He talked me through every contraction, applying very hard counter-pressure on my back, and providing me with ice water when I needed it. He was so helpful and attentive, the midwife had very little to do. She sat in the corner in a rocking chair waiting for the “action” to begin.
I remember that the midwife had a woman with her who was in training as a midwife. And, a number of nurses kept coming in and out to see what was going on. I felt a bit like an exhibit, but I was too busy trying to concentrate to care. As requested, they never once offered me pain medication and I never once asked for it. Ronnie had succeeded in making sure I was confident in my ability to birth our baby. He was all the help I needed! At some point, the midwife did offer to break my water to speed along the transition phase, but I said no.
Eventually, I was feeling overwhelmed with the sensation of William descending and I began having the urge to push. I asked the midwife to check me again and she announced I was at 9.5 cms. She said that if I wanted to, she thought I could push when I felt the urge and see what happens. At that point, I realized I wanted my mom to be with us when William arrived. Though we had discussed no one else being in the room until it was all over, I asked the nurse to get my mom. I think Ronnie was surprised, but he was so focused on helping me, he didn’t object.
I began to push around 7 PM. They put up a mirror so that I could see the progress, but I was too focused on pushing to pay much attention, really. I was so glad to be at the end, I didn’t really care about anything else. I just wanted to be done. My water broke finally as I was pushing. When William’s head finally emerged, there was rejoicing. There was a flurry of activity because he came out with his cord wrapped very tightly around his neck. The midwife had to cut the cord and instructed me to push the rest of him out. I did, but nothing happened. She said loudly, “Emily, you need to push now!” And, I said, “I am!” Nothing was happening. At that point, they realized that William’s shoulders were stuck. The midwife called for help and nurses came running in.
Again, the rest is a blur, but I remember a nurse pushing down hard on my abdomen and the midwife maneuvering William’s body out. It only took 60 seconds total to get William out, but it felt like an eternity. It was a very scary few minutes, full of all kinds of emotions. At first, I was frightened by the pain of William’s emerging and the tearing I could feel happening. But then, I was overcome with fear at the fact that William was stuck. And when they finally got him out, I was desperate to know that he was all right.
They took him immediately to check his vital signs and all I could do was watch as they worked with him across the room. I remember his cry finally and the nurse assuring me that he was OK. And, although everything else is a blur, I distinctly remember seeing his big blue eyes staring at me across the room, blinking slowly and watching everything. He didn’t cry much at all. We just looked at each other for what felt like hours.
I had wanted to nurse William right away after birth, but they were concerned about his lack of oxygen during the period he was stuck. They told me his stats, 9 lbs 2 oz, and that they were going to transfer him to the NICU for observation. Ronnie, as we had agreed beforehand, went with him. He told me after the fact that he was very torn about leaving me. He knew he was supposed to go with William, but he didn’t want to leave me behind. I was still very emotional following the birth—the joy of giving birth followed by the fear of something being wrong, followed by relief that all was OK. Thankfully, my mom was there and she held my hand and talked to me while I pushed out the placenta and had a few stitches put in. (It was a blessing that the tearing wasn’t nearly as bad as it felt. There’s no doubt that I did not need to be cut—even with a 9 lb. baby! The midwife definitely made sure the tearing wasn’t as bad as it could have been, applying counter-pressure and applying warm oil as I was pushing William out.)
William was in the NICU for about an hour before they finally brought him to me. We were very grateful that he suffered no harm from the delay in getting him out and his body was unharmed, despite the forceful efforts made to to remove him. The time I spent waiting on William was a very strange experience. I had done this wonderful thing—birthed a baby naturally with my husband by my side—but I didn’t have my child! My arms felt empty without him.
When he finally arrived, he was asleep, with his two middle fingers stuck into his mouth. We took pictures as a family and then I held him as they wheeled us to our overnight room and we got settled there. It was only then that I was able to nurse him for the first time. William was a ferocious eater from his first day. I think he must have nursed all night long!