Prior to going into labor myself, I loved reading any and all birth stories I could get my hands on. Stories from blogs, Facebook, Instagram, emails from my pre-natal yoga instructor; stories written by women I knew and women who were complete strangers; stories from first time moms and seasoned veterans… if it was about birth, I wanted to read it. Their words went a long way towards helping me mentally prepare for my own birth; I hope my story is able to do that for other moms as well.
I started having severe hip pain and pressure at about 38 weeks, and at my 39 week appointment was two centimeters dilated, 50% effaced, and the baby was at zero station. However, I was not having any contractions to speak of, either real or Braxton Hicks. David and I spent the week walking a ton, doing yoga/Bradley exercises, and basically anything we could think of to get contractions going.
The highlight of these efforts had to be waddling at a snails pace for three miles around the park close to our house wearing David’s clothes because nothing else fit at that point. Pregnancy is glamorous.
Our due date of January 30th came and went, and I still was not having any contractions.
We had our 40 week appointment first thing in the morning on February 2nd. My doctor checked me again and this time I had progressed to being four centimeters dilated, 99% effaced, and the baby had moved down to positive one station. All without any contractions! We decided to have the doctor strip my membranes in hopes it would get things going!
“I’m on call in labor and delivery starting tomorrow morning. I suspect I will see you there!” she called as she walked out of the exam room.
I was very shaky after the doctor’s appointment and even got sick on the way out to the car. We didn’t know it then, but this was the onset of labor!
By the time we got home I had started having very mild contractions, coming every half an hour or so. David called his office and let them know he would not be coming in, and I tried to lie down to get some sleep. My nap didn’t last long, however, as pretty soon the contractions shortened to being 12 minutes apart and started becoming painful.
Through the afternoon I labored in our living room, sitting with my legs crossed while leaning forward over our ottoman. David picked out a book, The Best of Clarence Day, to read out loud in between contractions to distract me and help me relax. During contractions, he would get on the ground with me and massage my lower back. I was experiencing quite a bit of back labor, so this was the only thing that made the pain manageable.
“As I heard the story years afterward, it was late when he got there, and he bounded up the front stoop two or three steps at a time, and…” David would read, until “Ok, sweetheart you have about 30 seconds until the next contraction starts, get ready. Breathe, breathe, breathe… you’re doing great… half way there… and done. Great job!” Then he would go back to reading to me.
Delaney the bulldog sat very calmly next to me, listening to David and letting me pet her. It was a surprisingly good distraction from the pain.
The day was long, but passed by sweetly as I continued to labor away.
By the late afternoon contractions had jumped to seven minutes apart and became very intense. It was incredibly difficult to relax through them, but David did a wonderful job talking me through each one, providing encouragement, and continuing to apply pressure to my low back.
As day turned to night, we watched a movie and tried to get as much rest as we could.
Then around 10:00pm contractions suddenly stopped. They became super spread out and very mild. We decided to walk around the block to try to get them going again, I spent some time gently bouncing on my yoga ball, and finally decided to lay down and get some rest. That did the trick, because within an hour of falling asleep the contractions were back with a vengeance! They were still seven minutes apart, but even more intense than they had been before.
I don’t remember much at this point. I was desperately trying anything I could to cope, but it felt like the contractions were beginning to win. Eventually, I ended up on my side in bed, clutching a big pile of pillows. David sat with me and continued to read, but his voice sounded very far away. I was in so much pain that I had gone into a trance-like state.
Finally, contractions dropped to being every five minutes and we were told we could come to the hospital. We got there around 3:00am and were escorted into triage. By this point the contractions were coming even closer together.
“Wow, your contractions are registering very strong,” said the triage nurse. “And you are dilated to a six! Let’s get you admitted!”
The nurse was optimistic, but I was disappointed with my progress. I had been laboring for 16 hours and was told I had only gone from four centimeters dilated to six.
The hospital staff was very respectful of our birth plan (our ultimate “plan” was whatever it took to get a healthy baby, but we really wanted to have a medication free birth if possible), and didn’t push any sort of medication on us, but I knew I was exhausted and had reached my limit, so David and I decided to request an epidural. In hindsight, I think this was possibly the best decision I made because things got so crazy at the end, I don’t think I would have had the energy to push her out without the brief break the epidural provided me.
They gave me a very low base level dose, and I refused to push the button for more medicine. This meant I could still feel each contraction, but the pain was dulled. Sweet relief! Thankfully I could also still feel and move my legs.
From that point, things started moving very quickly.
After we were settled into our Labor and Delivery room, the nurse offered to show David the pantry where he could get me snacks and ice chips. I immediately piped up and asked him to go; it may sound silly, but those amazing, easy to chew hospital ice chips were something I was really looking forward to. David went off with our nurse and I curled up on my side, finally able to really relax for the first time in almost 17 hours. Then…
“My water broke!” I thought, lifting my head with a huge smile on my face. “One step closer. I can’t wait for David to get back, he’ll be so excited.”
All of a sudden the door flew open and a doctor and three or four nurses rushed in. Apparently the baby did not handle my water breaking well at all, and her heart rate had plummeted.
“Ok mom, the baby’s heart rate isn’t where we’d like it to be, we need you to roll over to your other side. Quickly.”
I heaved my knees, rolling my body and all the cords and monitors to my other side.
“Heart rate is still dropping,” the doctor murmured with concern to one of the nurses.
“Alright, mom, we need you to get on your hands and knees. Can you do that on your own, or do we need to lift you?”
“I can do it,” I assured them, saying a silent prayer of thanks that even though they were heavy with medication, I could still feel my legs.
It took all my leg, upper body, and non-existent core strength to roll over onto my hands and knees and hold myself there. Once I was up, I looked under my arm and noticed David had made it back to the room and was standing behind the doctor and nurses clutching my big cup of ice chips. Talk about a chaotic scene to walk in to! He gave me a concerned, but reassuring smile, and I smiled back.
The hands and knees position wasn’t working to bring her heart rate back up either, and they stopped being able to get a good read on the external monitor. The doctor called out that she was going to put an internal fetal monitor on the baby.
“I’m still not happy with that heart rate. We’re going to give it a couple more minutes, but if it doesn’t come up we’re going to have to get her out through a cesarean section.”
An emergency c-section? That was definitely not what we had hoped for.
I took a deep breath, “Whatever you have to do to keep her safe.” David agreed.
Thankfully, her heart rate finally came back up to a safe level and they let me lay back down on my side. The big group of nurses cleared out and David came back to his seat right next to me. “Crisis averted,” I looked up at him and tried to say with a laugh; but it was a frightening several minutes.
Before we knew it, it was 6:30am, I was dilated to a ten and felt a very strong urge to push. By this point the epidural had just about completely worn off, so I could feel everything, which is exactly what I wanted. The contractions were coming one right on top of the other and were barely tolerable. One of the nurses actually commented that she rarely ever saw contractions that intense and close together without the use of Pitocin. Awesome.
I started to push, but once again our girl was not handling the change in her environment well and her heart rate would plummet each time I pushed.
The doctor decided to have me wait to see if she would move further down the birth canal on her own. I was able to hold off for a while; by far one of the hardest things I have ever done! David stood right next to me, talking me through each contraction, while I focused intently on my breathing.
“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.” It was the only thing getting me through.
At 7:30am it was finally time to push again! Baby girl still wasn’t doing well with the pushing, so I was told to only push on the very strong contractions.
They turned on that huge spotlight over the bed, and the doctor and several nurses took their positions. Everything was a blur at this point, almost like an out of body experience.
With all the commotion and bright lights around me, the only thing I remember being in focus is David’s face as he talked me through everything.
“Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, and PUSH! You can do it, babe. That’s it!”
It was painful and all encompassing, but thankfully I was making quick progress.
Then I heard the doctor’s matter of fact tone once again.
“Baby and mom are both in distress.”
Apparently, both our heart rates were dropping at the same time.
“I’m going to get out the vacuum, if this doesn’t work we’re going to resort to an emergency cesarean. I need you to push!”
An emergency c-section? Again?? I looked at David holding my leg and sweetly smiling down on me, closed my eyes, and gave it everything I had.
A few more pushes and out she came at 8:01am after only 30 short, but scary minutes of pushing!
I felt an immediate release as they placed her on my chest. I closed my eyes and as she let out her first cries, I allowed everything to wash over me; the exhaustion, the elation, the strong feeling of relief that it was over, the extreme joy that she was here, the way her body felt wiggling on top of me, the sense of comfort I had with her, the fact that she was mine.
“There’s ten of everything, and look at the size of those hands and feet!” the doctor said happily.
After all of that, the only thing I could manage to say was “Is she still a girl??” much to everyone’s amusement. What can I say? After we decided to go the very girly pink flamingo route with her nursery, I was paranoid she was going to come out a boy.
I could feel right away that she was a big baby; even so, I could hardly believe it when the nurse weighed her a couple of minutes later… 9lbs 11oz! No wonder she was so hard to get out!
They placed her back on my chest and I looked over at David. “She has your lips,” he smiled at me. “She’s beautiful.”
I lifted my head, laying my eyes on her for the first time. We had two names picked out for her going into the birth, and had decided to wait until we actually met her to decide on one.
“She doesn’t look like a Harper,” I said. David smiled again, “You know what my favorite name has been from the start.”
I looked back at our little wiggle worm. “Elenora,” I said.
My labor was 21 hours from start to finish, and a lot more extreme than I was expecting. I don’t know exactly what I thought giving birth would be like, but the reality of it was nothing like I imagined it would be.
If I could give any advice to new moms who have not yet delivered it would be to hold on to your expectations loosely and make sure you have a good support team.
There is absolutely no way I could have done any of it without David, he was the best coach, emotionally and physically supporting me through every minute. Like we tackle just about everything in our lives, we were truly a team. From the start of my pregnancy to the very end, we were in it together. Thankfully, that same teamwork has transferred into our parenting. I love him so much. Ellie and I are so very, very lucky.
I am also thankful that while we had goals for the birth, I didn’t allow myself to expect anything. If I had, I probably would have come out of this experience disappointed because things didn’t go at all how I wanted them to. The reality is there is nothing to be disappointed about! I managed to power through a long, difficult labor and I have a beautiful, healthy little girl to show for it.
It is truly amazing what our bodies can do.