I want to document my labor and delivery experience so that I can have something to look back on to remember the details of that glorious and wild day.
– – – – – – January 25th – – – – – –
My due date arrived. A 40 week visit with my midwife, Valerie, revealed that I was already 4 cm dilated! I hadn’t felt a single contraction, so I started secretly hoping that meant my contractions were painless and maybe the rest of my labor would progress as easily. Hah. She suggested a combination of 3 things that almost always make labor begin naturally: walk, squat, and have sex. I got to work.
– – – – – – January 26th – – – – – –
I woke up feeling weird things around 5am. Kind of crampy, uncomfortable. I went to the restroom and noticed that I had released my mucus plug. I started getting excited that today could be the day, but didn’t want to get my hopes up. I asked Mondo not to go into work, just in case, and went back to sleep. We took a leisurely walk to Le Petite Marche (about a mile from our house) later that morning for breakfast and walked home.
As soon as we got home from brunch, I started doing squats while holding on to the back of a chair. And vuala, about 10 squats in, my water broke! It wasn’t a huge gush of fluid like I expected. It was a steady “leak” sort of feeling. It continued leaking for a few hours. My midwife suggested I not labor at home for too long since I had advanced dilation, so by 4pm we were checking in to the hospital. I didn’t have any contractions, so I was upbeat and excited- I remember leisurely talking to the woman checking me in about what it was like growing up in Miami.
We got situated in the labor and delivery room and Valerie was the midwife on call, I was glad. She suggested we wait until 10 or 11pm to see if my contractions would start naturally. I started busting out all of the items I had so carefully researched and packed to help me induce labor and manage the pain of contractions. I took a warm shower with essential oils mixing in with the steam. I bounced on the yoga ball. My playlist was playing through the portable speakers. Contractions started around 7pm, they were manageable. Mondo warmed the rice pack in the microwave and held it against my lower back, that gave me a lot of relief. We timed the contractions and they were about 4-5 minutes apart; they started getting more intense and painful.
Valerie returned to check me and 6 hours of contractions later, I was still at 4cm! Since it had already been 10 hours since my water broke, she recommended we start using Pitocin to induce labor artificially. I had been hoping to avoid that drug, but I trusted my midwife. So they hooked me up to all of the things- baby’s heart monitor, contraction monitor, fluids, and now Pitocin. That was the beginning of the end of unmedicated labor. Pitocin’s contractions came fast and furious. They were stronger than my natural contractions had ever gotten. They were quickly only 2 or 3 minutes apart. Because of all the cords, I couldn’t move around enough to utilize all of the different positions and birthing ball techniques for natural pain management, so I was stuck laying on the bed- sometimes fighting the pain, sometimes melting into it. I was yelling, I was throwing up between contractions. I had diarrhea, but walking to the bathroom was a huge inconvenience because I had to take all of these IVs and monitors with me (even though I got the portable monitors).
I hit a breaking point; I was exhausted (it was 2 am!), tired of fighting with all of the cords and IVs, and couldn’t handle the pain any longer. I said our secret code to Mondo, the one that meant I seriously couldn’t handle the pain anymore (“lets play Battlestar Galactica”) and we requested an Epidural. The nurse put in the order, but it usually takes 1-2 hours before everything is in place and ready. I was really wishing I had asked for the Epidural sooner. Those 2 hours were very hard.
The anesthesiologist and her crew arrived. My contractions had been so close together and so intense that I asked to be checked, I was pretty sure I had dilated several centimeters, and if I was close to 10, I felt like I could tough it out and finish without the epidural. Guess what, I was only at 4.5 cm. I had barely progressed. There was no way I could take this for another undetermined amount of hours, so they got everything ready. Sitting still while she put that needle in my spine was quite difficult. I was so grateful to have Mondo sitting on my feet, facing me. He helped keep me steady and focused. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. I guess compared to the contractions of childbirth, nothing hurts that much. Glory hallelujah, praise the Lord for whoever created epidurals. I felt no more pain and fell into a deep sleep.
I woke up to a nurse setting up the delivery table. “Does that mean I’m delivering soon?” I asked him. He said, “probably.” Mondo called my mom; her and Lydia rushed over. It turned out that no, that didn’t mean I was delivering soon. We just had to wait it out, watching my contractions on a screen. I tried to rest, but it was impossible with all the things I was connected to. On top of the baby’s heart monitor, IV fluids, and Pitocin, I now had an internal contraction monitor, catheter for my urine (I was so glad not to have to be going to the bathroom every 15 minutes anymore), and blood pressure cuff. Once you take the epidural route, you get all strapped down…but it was worth it. Around this point I was feeling my contracts again, a little bit of the epidural had worn off, so a new anesthesiologist came to administer more medicine. When she walked in, I was in pain and in a daze, but I recognized her from The Beehive (a boutique I work at twice a month). That was kind of funny. She was shocked I remembered her and especially at such a moment.
I started feeling ready to push. Even with the epidural, I could feel an intense pressure. I had been feeling it for the past hour, but only during contractions. The midwife said to call her when I started feeling like I had to push consistently- not just during contractions. This was that time. The midwives had switched shifts and now Dixie was with me. She was the same midwife we had met with to go over our birthing plan a few weeks prior, so I was grateful about that. She warned me that this was probably going to take a full hour or two, and we got started. Holy crap. I guess because I had gotten an epidural and the pain had subsided, I thought the worst was behind me. Pushing was hard! And I had to push so many times! I felt like all the books and classes I took focused on pain management for the contracts, but barely prepared me for how hard the pushing phase of delivery would be. Imagine that you haven’t eaten a meal in 20 hours. Imagine that you haven’t slept in 28 hours. Imagine that you have been through the most physically draining experience of your life for the last 12 hours. Then you have to run a marathon. That’s what it felt like. I was exhausted, sleepy, hungry… I had nothing left to give, and now I had to give everything. This is the only time in my life that I’ve had an out of body experience. I wanted to quit, but that wasn’t an option. I remember just watching myself from the outside. There was no way through it but through….my body just kept doing what it had to do, but I felt like I checked out and watched from above. My mom was holding one leg, Mondo was holding the other, and Lydia was taking photos. Dixie was patient and good at giving clear directions about when to start pushing, how long to push for, and when to relax. I was in a “sitting squat” position, since I had an epidural and couldn’t stand up, this was the next best thing. I remember a lot about that hour. Dixie squealing as she told my mom that she had tickets to see Justin Timberlake in concert, my mom exclaiming that they could see Valley’s head and it was full of dark hair, how Mondo kept dropping my leg every time I asked for water or something to throw up in, the smell of the alcohol on the little wipe that I kept smelling between pushes to help my nausea, the blood pounding in my head as I pushed with all of my might, how I kept asking if I had pooped (it was hard to tell!), the feeling of despair when I asked how much longer and Dixie said “about 15 more good pushes”. FIFTEEN!? I swear, the people in the movies only push for like 3 minutes. I was at it for just over an hour before her head finally popped out. I could hear all the excitement, everyone got to see her little face and I had to keep working.
On the next contraction, I gave one more good push and the rest of her body made its way out. She arrived! Dixie immediately laid her on my chest and I was shocked at how soft she was. “Valley! Oh Valley. You are so soft. Valley, you are so soft.” I kept looking at Mondo and looking back at this quiet little girl on my chest. She was starting at me so intently. I could tell that she recognized my voice, so I kept talking. She started to grumble and cry. “Tell me your story, Valley. That must have been quite a journey for you. We did such a hard thing today, girl, but we did it. You are here. We did it.” Mondo didn’t leave my side for that hour. We were giddy with joy, staring at this little human that magically grew within me and was now breathing oxygen. This little soul that somehow lived inside of my body… she was real. There was actually a person in there and now she was with me. It was all so surreal, so special.
Dixie stitched me up (I had internal tearing) and it all felt really uncomfortable and kind of painful, but I had the greatest distraction laying on my chest. She kept putting her tiny hand in her tiny mouth and sucking. The nurses helped me to try to breastfeed her, I can’t really remember if it worked or not. I kept thinking back to all the moments I spent talking to her in my belly- at the Sigur Ros concert a few hours after I got a positive on my pregnancy test, in Norway as we hiked along a waterfall, in the shower, on my 30th birthday costume party, during Christmas in St. Louis, at night on my bed… all of those moments, this is who I had been talking to, waiting for. This little creature. She was beautiful. She was perfect. And she was finally here. After my hour of skin to skin, Mondo got his hour of skin-to-skin. I just closed my eyes and rested.
She weighed 6 lbs and 11 ounces, she was 23 inches long.
That next week was really hard, but that’s a whole different story.