Friday, January 7, 2011

Birth Day

While I was pregnant, I read everything about birth that I could get my hands on (everything, that is, except  What to expect when you're expecting, because I preferred to read things that were positive and empowering, as opposed to scary).  By far the best things I read were other women's birth stories, whether posted online or compiled in books like Ina May's Guide to Childbirth or Peggy Vincent's Baby Catcher: Tales of a Modern Midwife.

One thing that I found a little difficult about reading birth stories was that I couldn't find very many that sounded exactly like the birth scenario I was planning for.  (I have a feeling that happens to everyone)!  I was planning a hospital birth, but accompanied by a doula and without the use of medication.  It seemed like most of the stories of unmedicated childbirth that I could find were home or birth center births.  Anyway, in case the story of an unmedicated, doula-assisted, hospital birth will be helpful to anyone, and in celebration of the 6 month anniversary of my daughter's birth, here is my/her birth story!  Settle in.  It was a short labor, but I'm going to take my time describing it!

On the morning of July 7, at 38 weeks and 3 days along, I went in for my weekly check-up.  My OB checked my cervix and found that I was 2 cm dilated (which I had been for a couple weeks already).  Unfortunately, without asking my permission or letting me know in advance, she also did a "membrane sweep", which involves manually separating the membranes of the amniotic sac from the cervix, and can jump-start labor.  Had my OB asked me, I would have preferred her not to do this procedure; I was feeling perfectly comfortable and though I was excited to have my baby, I was not in any hurry at that point.

Anyway, several hours later, I was back at home eating lunch when I felt a trickle of water that increased when I went to the bathroom.  It seemed different from pee--I couldn't stop it from coming out--but it was certainly nothing like the gush that you see in the movies.  Pragmatically supposing that it might be a while before my next full meal, I sat in the bathtub to finish my lunch (two very delicious stirfries)!

There followed a number of calls to my OB and my doula, to let them know that my water had broken.  I hadn't had any contractions at that point, and my OB said that if I still hadn't had any by 6 pm, I should go into the hospital, but that I could stay home for the time being.  My doula also thought staying home was the best plan.  My husband was still at work, but I obviously called him too, to let him know that he might be needed!

Then I decided to take the dogs for a walk, to see if I could get contractions started that way.  I probably walked about 2 to 3 miles with them.  Midway through the walk, I passed a classmate who was driving with her mom.  They asked me how I was, and I said cheerily, "My water just broke!"...and they looked taken aback, to say the least.  Quite soon after I began walking, I started to feel some cramping in my abdomen, and by the time I was past the midpoint of my route, they started to feel stronger.  I stopped walking and swayed through them.  (My dogs thought this was very strange).  It seemed like they were only about 5 minutes apart, but I wasn't actually timing, and that just didn't seem possible.

Back at home, I called my husband to tell him it was time for him to leave work.  I decided to sweep the floors, for some reason, and also began to time my contractions.  They were only about 2 minutes apart, and lasted 50 seconds each.  But that couldn't be possible!  It was going too quickly.  I called my doula, who sounded happy that my contractions had started on their own, and would plan to head over soon.

My husband got home around 2:30, and my contractions started to feel much more powerful.  We assumed standard slow dance position, with my arms around his neck, and swayed through them together.  I was groaning and moaning during contractions.  As soon as a contraction ended, I would issue orders that my husband did his best to comply with:  calling our doula again, and grabbing the last few items for my hospital bag.

I was mid-contraction when my doula arrived, and she immediately began talking to me in her wonderfully soothing, affirming tones.  She also set up a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit, which is basically a couple of electrodes stuck on your back; they are commonly used for physical therapy and increasingly for relief of labor pain.  The idea is basically the gating theory of pain:  the electrical stimulation confuses your nerves, so they don't perceive the pain of the contractions as acutely.  I liked the low level of stimulation, but when it kicked up to the "boost" mode during a contraction, it almost felt like it made the contraction more intense...but then again, it was sort of distracting, so I liked it for that reason.

It soon felt like I wasn't getting much of a break between contractions, and our doula said it would be time to go to the hospital soon; I decided I wanted to go around 4 pm (4 hours after my water had broken).  We took a separate car from the doula, which upset me at the time--I wanted her with me!  I kneeled in the front seat facing backwards, my arms around the headrest, moaning and groaning pretty much the whole way.

I HATED the car ride.  I didn't like being apart from our doula, I didn't like not being able to get in a more comfortable position, and I didn't like not being in control.  My husband tried to convince me to put my seatbelt on a few times.  I'm pretty sure I snarled in response.

At the hospital, I was almost immediately admitted into a room on Labor & Delivery.  They checked my cervix, and I was 5 cm.  Which didn't feel like very much given the strength and frequency of my contractions, but on the other hand things seemed to be moving fast, so I wasn't too worried.

This is where things get a leeeetle bit blurry, and I'm not sure if I have the sequence right.  At some point, the nurse insisted that I get into bed so they could attach me to a fetal heart rate monitor and put in an IV.  That was the second-worst part of the labor for me, after the car ride.  (I have to admit that a home birth sounds pretty good for that reason)!  The wireless heart rate monitors weren't working, so I had to stay in bed while they monitored me for 20 minutes, and the strap of the monitor around my abdomen was incredibly uncomfortable.  Women, imagine that someone tried to make you wear a really tight belt during the worst menstrual cramps of your life, and you'll have some idea of the sensation.  I also really didn't want the IV put in, although I had discussed using a heparin lock with my OB ahead of time.  I just wanted to focus on the feelings of the contractions, and I wanted to be moving constantly--the last thing in the world I wanted to do was stay still for someone to put a needle in my vein.  But I finally agreed.

I was not a happy camper at that point, and got up to labor in the bathroom.  I think in retrospect I was in transition then.  I was cursing a lot, and my husband says he started to feel scared.  I think maybe my doula encouraged me to move out of the bathroom, but I'm not sure.  I got back on the bed again, and I started to do a better job of melting into the bed between contractions.  I know that my doula was talking to me a lot, and I found her touch comforting, although I don't remember exactly what she did or said.  I do remember liking it when she said, at the end of a contraction, "that one's done now.  You don't have to have that one ever again."

At one point, during an odd moment of clarity, I turned to my husband and said, "This is just barbaric."  Everyone in the room laughed.  I think I was even able to find it a little funny myself!

I started to grunt during contractions, so they checked me again, and I was 8 cm dilated.  It was 5:30, so I had progressed 3 cm in an hour.  I really started to feel like I wanted to push soon after that but they asked me to pant through the contractions to avoid pushing.  It quickly became very, very hard not to push during contractions.  Oh, it just felt so good, so right, to start pushing!  Finally the doctor came back in and checked me again and said I could push.

I started pushing on all fours, for a few contractions, until the doctor suggested that I roll over in a sort of reclining squat, grabbing my own ankles while I pushed during contractions.  Pushing felt pretty terrific. FABULOUS, actually, compared to the non-pushing contractions.  At one point, my doula said, "you can see the head!", and I looked down, but I remember feeling not that impressed.  I had a job to do, after all.

As her head came out, I remember a few moments of very sharp, burning pain, but they were over so quickly that it didn't really hurt.  I felt great as she emerged.

At 6:15, after about 15 minutes of pushing (and 6 hours of labor), there she was, slipping out and being laid on my chest!  She had a full head of downy, light brown hair, and the most perfect little rosebud mouth and plump body.  I refused pitocin for the delivery of the placenta, so the nurse massaged my abdomen to make sure my uterus was contracting down and I wouldn't bleed too much; they used local anesthetic to repair a small tear from the delivery, while my husband took his shirt off to hold our daughter close to his skin.

My husband went with our daughter while she was washed off and given a quick exam and a vitamin K injection (although I refused the erythromicin eye ointment, since I knew I didn't have the infections that that is used to treat), while I got wheeled to the maternity ward.

I was SO.  HUNGRY.  A very sweet friend (thanks, A.!) brought turkey sandwiches for me and my husband, and a number of other friends who were working in the hospital that night stopped by to visit.  I loved seeing people.  I was so happy.   My baby was so perfect.  The next day, we were both doing well, and she was nursing well, so we went home the night after delivery.

Giving birth was such a rush that for at least 2 weeks, despite sleeping four hours a night, I wasn't tired at all.  It felt like I was perpetually caffeinated, although I wasn't.  This poem made me cry a few times in the heady, hormone-laden haze of the first few postpartum weeks, as I gazed at my daughter nursing or sleeping (it popped into my head all on its own, since I knew a few stanzas by heart from a children's book of poems--then I looked it up and wept as I read it in its entirety).  Sentimental?  Yes.  But also lovely:

George Macdonald (1824–1905)
WHERE did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into the here.
Where did you get those eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.
What makes the light in them sparkle and spin?        5
Some of the starry spikes left in.
Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.
What makes your forehead so smooth and high?
A soft hand strok’d it as I went by.        10
What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
I saw something better than any one knows.
Whence that three-corner’d smile of bliss?
Three angels gave me at once a kiss.
Where did you get this pearly ear?        15
God spoke, and it came out to hear.
Where did you get those arms and hands?
Love made itself into bonds and bands.
Feet, whence did you come, you darling things?
From the same box as the cherubs’ wings.        20
How did they all just come to be you?
God thought about me, and so I grew.
But how did you come to us, you dear?
God thought about you, and so I am here.


  1. It's difficult to write a comment when you're crying, which I am. I'm so glad you wrote this -- it will be wonderful for Jo to read one day, and to help you remember, too.

  2. Great post - along with all your recent posts. I was/am also an avid reader of birth's nice to read one by someone I actually know! (Which reminds me I need to finish writing mine.) You and I actually had pretty similar experiences, including awful car rides, TEMS machines, and unmedicated births, except my story was stretched over 13 hours (3+ of pushing) and took place at a freestanding birth center. Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing more about why you chose to have an unmedicated birth in a hospital and, now that you've done it, whether you would choose to do it again that way.

  3. p.s. I absolutely love the birth photos you posted. They are amazing and you look radiant (as opposed to mine, where I looked just plain awful).

  4. thanks Judith! I would love to read your birth story, too! If I'd had my druthers, I would have used a midwife at a birthing center with a back-up OB; unfortunately my student insurance didn't cover that kind of set-up. Actually, really my first choice would be to live in a country where the health system fully supports homebirth, so that transfers to hospital care would be easy and conflict-free...but that's not where we live! As far as the birth photos...I'm pretty sure that my looking okay is entirely thanks to the short duration of labor. After all, I didn't even really miss a single meal, and I had a full night of sleep the night before!