So, stop reading now if you do not want the gory details of birth. ;)
It's a long one. (And I've even shortened it as my"personal" birth story was 8 pages typed. YIKES.)
I went into this pregnancy hoping for a natural childbirth, which for me, meant that I wanted to deliver drug-free and with the least amount of interventions possible (meaning I wanted to try really hard to avoid being induced or delivering via c-section.) At first, delivering naturally was something I thought would be great, but I was also okay if it didn't happen. Then, we took a 12 week course called The Bradley Method, and I became fully committed half-way through the class. After learning the benefits and understanding that our bodies really were made for this, I became quite motivated and determined to make a natural birth happen. And both Gabe and I were very educated and very prepared by the time I went into labor. But overall, the most important thing for us was to deliver a healthy baby - no matter the method!
As of Tuesday last week, I had been checked at the doctor. Although I was dilated to 1 1/2-2 cm and 70% effaced, my doctor told me, "You are definitely not having your baby this week." I was still carrying way too high.
Friday, after completing my first week back to school, I lost my mucus plug. And people kept commenting on how I must have dropped overnight. Didn't think much of it.
Saturday morning (38 1/2 weeks pregnant), I woke up to my alarm around 7:00 a.m. Gabe was just getting off the night shift and going to bed. I went to my favorite exercise swim class. During swim, I had two pretty significant contractions. I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions the entire last half of my pregnancy, but these two were completely different. I had to stop what I was doing and sort of focus on them. Still didn't think much of it.
Felt pretty crampy and sick all morning, sort of flu-like. This made me a little concerned because in class we had learned how one major sign of early labor is feeling like you had the flu. But I ate breakfast. Got a phone call from one of my best friends in Atlanta. Had 3 contractions during this conversation. Laughed about it and told her, "How crazy if I go into labor today...but that's obviously not going to happen because I KNOW I'm having this baby late".
Things continued to be sporadic like this all early afternoon. A contraction here and a contraction there. Then 2:00 p.m. hit. Things started to get a bit more intense. Contractions were coming on stronger, and it finally crossed my mind that this really could be it. I remembered from class to continue on like any normal day during early labor. So, I decided to let Gabe sleep...because if I was in labor I was going to need him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We had work to do.
So, to pass the time, I went to my parents. Within an hour, I'd had 5 contractions. Strong, intense, and I couldn't talk through them. But I could walk through them.
At this point, I was still in denial. I truly thought I was experiencing "false labor". I think I was freaked out because I'd had several friends who went to the hospital too early due to false labor. But my mom thought otherwise. She encouraged me to start timing contractions.
So although I began labor early Saturday morning, I consider around 3:00 to be when things got real. Labor was in full force. The contractions were painful, intense, and were following a pattern. I had one every 20 minutes. Then by 5:00, I decided to head home to wake my husband because I was at 10 minutes apart.
I woke Gabe up by saying, "Well, I'm pretty sure you're going to meet your daughter tonight." He groggily looked at me...and I'm not so sure he took me seriously. Contractions kept getting stronger and closer together. We had a birthday party that night, and I still got ready to go. I mean, if I was going to be in labor for a super long time, I figured I should have fun, right?
I decided last-minute we should just go get pizza. Like a last meal, just the two of us. But we made it about 1/2 block down the neighborhood street and I yelled at Gabe to STOP THE CAR. I contracted. Then, I looked at him and told him there was no way we were going to get pizza. So he dropped me back of at home and went and picked one up. I scarfed down 3 pieces in between contractions.
By 7:00 p.m., I hit the "serious" emotional signpost (Bradley Method term meaning you are heading into active labor). My contractions were now anywhere from 3-5 minutes apart. Very painful. Some absolutely intolerable. I was rating them between a 6 and a 9 on the pain scale. But Gabe helped me relax through them. We spent about an hour in our living room. Right on a chair with pillows. He was timing with his iphone and recording in a little black notebook. I asked him if he thought I was having false labor, and he just looked at me and said, "Well, you're not due for another week and a half, so let's just wait this out." Thanks for the support, babe.
I told him if this was false labor, then I wasn't doing "real labor". Just wouldn't happen.
An hour passed. Now, I was contracting anywhere from 1-3 minutes apart. We moved throughout the house. We tried to go for a walk, but couldn't make it out the door. We spent much of this time "dancing" (where we both stand and I lean on Gabe to contract). I got on the exercise ball. I got on my hands and knees on our bed and on the floor. Nothing felt good at this point.
Another hour passed. Some of my contractions were right on top of each other - no break in between. We debated whether to go to the hospital. You are typically supposed to go if you've contracted for an hour straight every 3-5 minutes. This had been going on over 2 hours now.
Gabe decided to call Wendy, our Bradley instructor, just to pick her brain. She coached me through 2 consecutive contractions. She told Gabe this was definitely NOT false labor. This was it! She advised us to try the bathtub, but if this pattern continued for another 30 minutes, we needed to head to the hospital asap.
I got in the tub. It felt amazing in between contractions. But that was only 1 minute reprieve at this point. Actual contractions were unbearable. So, we decided to go to the hospital. Gabe ran around the house like a mad man...because he hadn't packed his hospital bag like I'd been telling him to do for weeks. But he had to stop what he was doing about every minute to come and help me contract. I'm sure it was quite the sight to see.
As he loaded stuff in the car, I contracted on my hands and knees...in the front seat. He ran back inside to grab a few more things. Later, we would find out, in the chaos of everything, he left my purse on the front porch. All.night.long.
I contracted 7 times in the car on the 12 minute car ride. Not fun at all. Then, while waiting to be checked in (even though I had filled out the pre-admission paperwork), I contracted 4 or 5 times. I even went to the hospital bathroom to just keep moving. I ended up contracting on my hands and knees...on a public bathroom floor. Ugh.
We got to our room. Right in the middle of the nurse change-over. This was the biggest blessing ever because we ended up with Nettie. Most amazing nurse of all time. She was so supportive all night. It was about 10:15 p.m. She checked me. She yelled, "You're a 6, Girl!" We fully believe that at this moment, the hospital staff knew I meant business and completely respected our wishes for a natural birth.
My mom arrived and was the best little delivery/support person ever. She provided water and ice chips for me. She would rub my leg from time to time and tell me "you're almost there", but I would ask her not to talk or touch me. Sorry mom! :( And I know, even though Gabe was doing the coaching, my mom was standing there praying her heart out for her own baby who was in desperate pain.
After about one hour, I felt like I was starting to lose my mind. But I was dilated to a 7, which meant I was progressing. I really believe I was progressing because I was able to "relax" through contractions. It's amazing what the whole relaxation technique can do. Nettie the nurse told me that even during my strongest contractions, my blood pressure was lower than she'd seen and sometimes she couldn't even tell I was in pain...even though the monitor was jumping off the scale. I assured her I was absolutely in pain, just trying to relax through it.
It's funny. We brought our "bag of tricks" to help us get through labor: rolling pin, tennis balls, towels, for massages, etc. and we never used one. At one point, I asked Gabe to turn on some music, he did. And I immediately told him to turn it off. We stuck to two positions pretty much all night: me sitting on the edge of the bed with my hands on Gabe's thighs (who sat directly across from me), and then switching places with him to be in a chair and he on the edge of the bed. The thought of lying on my back (which is how most people labor) made me want to die. The only times I had to lie on my back is when they had to check me. And it was by far the most excruciating part of labor. I would get up immediately when they were done. I HATED being on my back.
Then the resident came in to check me. Still a dang 7. And my bag of waters was "bulging" and completely intact. My heart sank. I grabbed Gabe's face and told him I wanted an epidural. Yep. I said it. More than once. But he and my mom reminded me that is not what I wanted and that I was almost there. So, I pushed through it. And an hour later, I was an 8!!!
This is when things got really dark and grim for me. (However, this is a sign that you're almost there!) I began to completely lose control of my body. I was shaking uncontrollably, and I felt the desperate urge to push and/or go to the bathroom. Nettie wouldn't even let me go to the bathroom on the toilet for fear I would push out a baby. The problem? I still had 2 cm to go, and she kept telling me, "Angela, you CANNOT push". Little did I know I was in the transition phase of labor (by FAR the worst, most awful part for me). I swore I would not yell or make weird noises while laboring. HA! I had absolutely no control. Some contractions forced me to scream, push (against Nettie's and the resident's orders), and groan so loudly. One time, I contracted so hard, I fell out of the chair onto the floor. During contractions, I can remember apologizing to everyone in the room for "being so dramatic." The residents all kept saying, "Are you kidding me? We NEVER see this. You are doing amazing." But I still felt so embarrassed for all my noise.
This continued for what seemed like an eternity (3 hours in reality). And I later found out that this is unusual as an average transition time is 1 to 1 1/2 hours. My body kept pushing, and the doctors did everything they could to make me not push. Sorry. No control there. After what seemed like days later, the resident came in to check me. I heard him say something about being "AC" - Almost Complete. This means that I was a 9 1/2. One half cm to go...are you kidding me? I told him to just stretch my cervix to get to a 10. He smiled and said he couldn't do that.
I think at this point I told everyone I was done. I just wasn't doing this anymore, and I'm leaving! But Gabe and mom cheered me on and reminded me the baby was almost here. Everyone said I was doing such a good job, but I kept telling them I wasn't doing a good job. At the time, I felt like everyone was just saying I was almost there just to make me feel better. But I really was almost there.
I somehow made it through transition. And I was finally a 10. Ready to ACTUALLY push. I did this with my mom and Gabe holding my legs up to my chest during contractions while I pushed. I pushed HARD for an hour. I have to admit. I thought this would be the "I'm in the clear" part. I had focused so much on the first part of labor, I was totally not prepared for how hard pushing was.
At one point, the resident said, "She has a FULL head of hair". I got so excited - "So, you can see the head?" He told me yes. I told him he was lying. He told me to feel it. I got scared to feel anything. But he encouraged me to, and I felt my baby's head. And that's all I needed. I pushed with all my might. And my water FINALLY broke.
But the look on the doctor's faces told me this wasn't a good thing. My baby had a bowel movement. This can be very dangerous. So, they told me I would not be able to do skin-to-skin immediately (this was my #1 on my birth plan). I began to cry. Gabe and mom encouraged me this was the best thing. To make sure baby was safe. So, I kept pushing.
After an hour, the doctor told Gabe that baby's head was too big and I was about to have a really bad tear. So, I got an episiotomy. Something I did not want to do. However, now, I am SO happy with that decision.
After the episiotomy and a few intense pushes that made me feel like I was going to explode, there she was. Our baby. Our sweet little angel.
To be honest, I was so exhausted. So relieved. I had given every ounce of myself. And I just remember being amazed the baby was out. And that we created her. But then they took her away. And I just watched from my bed. Exhausted and emotional. I didn't even realize (which turned out to be a good thing), that the umbilical chord was wrapped around baby. Another reason why they had to take her from me.
After about 2 minutes of checking her out, they brought her to me. And we did skin-to-skin for one hour. She immediately crawled (literally) to my breast to nurse. It was amazing. I was in awe of her. And I never wanted to let her go. So I didn't. This hour was so peaceful and calm and intimate. I truly felt like I was in a dream. And then they transferred us to my recovery room. Baby girl didn't sleep for 12 hours. She was so alert, so with it. She couldn't wait to explore the new world around her.
I will probably never, ever experience something as mentally, physically, and emotionally trying as natural childbirth. Ever. So, now that it has been 5 days, and I've had time to process...would I do it all over again? Absolutely. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. And yes, I will try to do it with Baby # 2. It was a beautiful experience, and I am SO happy I did it. And what I experienced with Gabe is something unexplainable. The teamwork, determination, and encouragement bonded us in a way that can never be broken. And now we have a perfectly healthy and beautiful baby girl that is part of US. And I'm not gonna lie. I feel like a champion.