Reading birth stories and watching TLC shows like “Baby’s First Day” in the weeks leading up to my due date were really helpful for me. Knowing more about all of the possibilities that could occur made me feel better prepared and less anxious. I also loaded myself up with positive and successful stories about natural, drug-free births. It was a goal of mine throughout the entire pregnancy to go epidural-free, though I was cautious to leave myself open to everything because I didn’t want to be disappointed or beating myself up in the middle of labor. So, I hope this birth story is helpful to people. It is unlike any I have ever heard before, and I think it’s great to go into labor knowing that just about anything can happen!
Caroline was due on Tuesday, August 7th. From 36-39 weeks, I had some progression towards labor (Braxton Hicks, the baby felt lower, my hips felt wider) but I wasn’t dilating at all. I was certain she would be late but as ready as I was, I needed the baby to wait till at least August 2nd – Shawn was in Philly finishing final exams until that time. While he would have come home right away, I would have likely had to go to the hospital without him and he would have had his exams interrupted. August 2nd came and went and I breathed a deep sigh of relief!
On Saturday August 4th, I woke up to my water breaking. It was not a gush – more a slow trickle all day – but it surprised me how much fluid there really was. It just kept coming. My doctors had told me that I could stay home as long as I wanted, being that we live 3 blocks from the hospital, but that was if contractions came first. Since there’s a 24-hour window from the time your water breaks before they worry about infection to the baby, they let me shower and eat and wrap up some things at home, and then they told me to come in. I was 1-2 cm dilated but not contracting at all. Once we checked in we set up our room with music and walked the hallways with water and popsicles. Family came and visited, and every 45 minutes the nurses would monitor my heart rate, the baby’s heart rate, and my contractions. I had about one contraction every 15 minutes that I barely felt so we discussed pitocin starting no later than 7:30pm on Saturday night.
At 4:30pm, still not progressing after my water breaking at 6:30 or 7:30am and being in the hospital since 10am, we opted to start the pitocin then. Nothing else would have happened in those 3 hours and we thought let’s get this show on the road! I was scared of the contractions on pitocin being terrible and coming on quick, but they started very gradually. I started feeling them soon after but they weren’t uncomfortable till about 6:30 or 7. From 8pm-10:30pm or so, they were just about unbearable. I started off in the bed and it helped to be on my side, but I was encouraged to get out and sit on the labor ball so that I wasn’t tensing up my hips so much.
Did I mention those contractions really hurt? They were terrible. I would feel them coming on and I needed my face buried or covered – I would bend over the bed with my face in the pillow and just clench my fists till it was over. Shawn was a lifesaver. He would put his fist in my back and the counterpressure really helped. The breathing exercises, visualization, lights off, people being quiet and not talking during the contractions, repeating some sort of mantra (mine changed, but I used “I can do this” or “This will be over soon”) – all these techniques definitely helped, but the pain was awful. In between contractions I would think ok, not so bad, but then another one would start and at its peak I would just pray for it to be over.
The contractions were coming on really quickly but according to the nurse, the monitor was showing that they were “mild.” Ha! At about 6pm I was only 3cm dilated, and at about 10:30-11pm, the nurse was telling me that we were in for a long night. Everyone estimated that the baby wouldn’t be here till 5 or 6 the following morning. I hadn’t been checked since 6pm, but because it was a first baby and I had barely dilated all day, it was assumed the baby would not be here anytime soon. At that point I let go of my wish to go drug-free. I had been only been actively laboring with difficult contractions for about 3 hours, but I was exhausted. I also could not imagine potentially 8 more hours of pain like this with no relief and no sleep. I struggled with the decision but ultimately I knew it was right for me at the time – when we made the decision finally to get the epidural, I about died when the nurse said it would probably be another hour before I felt the effects – another girl was “in line” ahead of me and then it would take 20-30 minutes to administer. (Thoughts about bribing this other girl to let me go first or asking the nurse exactly how much pain she’s in compared to me definitely went through my head.)
The epidural itself was virtually pain-free. I felt the needle and it was maybe a stronger pinch than most needles but compared to labor it was a cake walk. I laid back and gradually the contractions went from an 8 or 9 on the pain scale to a 6, to a 4, to where I couldn’t feel them at all. I was anticipating a night of rest before pushing and it was glorious. My upper body shook a lot – I wasn’t cold but was constantly shaking. My parents came and said good night – they opted to go home because our nurse said this baby definitely wasn’t coming before 5am, though she threw in the caveat that anything can happen!
From about midnight for the next 30-40 minutes, our nurse was in the room with us while the baby’s heart rate was monitored. The baby kept moving, or my position would change, so she was in the room moving the belt around and making sure the heart rate was caught on the monitor. At about 12:40am (rough guesstimate) she could not find the heart rate at all. She kept moving the belt around and just couldn’t find it, but she wasn’t worried – she very nonchalantly asked for help from another nurse, just assuming that the baby kept moving around a bit. After calling the other nurse, she lifted up the blanket, looked down, and immediately called for help. I heard her yell for the NICU, and Shawn was trying hard not to react but had obviously seen what she saw. I asked Shawn if I was bleeding or something and he calmly said that I was fine. I remember gripping the sides of the bed as people ran in, wondering when someone would tell me what’s going on. The room was suddenly flooded with nurses and our nurse said in passing that I should get ready to push. As they were getting my legs in stirrups several of the nurses said things like “Oh look, a baby!” I’m thinking that maybe I was crowning or something, when literally out of nowhere a nurse reaches down and comes up from behind the sheet with our baby girl in her arms!
The shock of seeing her (when I wasn’t expecting her for several hours!) plus how blue she was, made me gasp and my hands immediately went to cover my face. Shawn was saying, “It’s ok, she’s fine, babies are supposed to look like this” but they rushed her over to the warming table and we didn’t get to see her right away. It felt like an eternity but within maybe 30 seconds we heard her cry and the nurses reassured us she was doing great. Shawn got to go over and be with her while the NICU checked her out and I was cleaned up. He came back with an iPhone picture to show me.
Meeting our baby was surreal. They laid her on me and she just stared and stared like she knew me. Everyone said that moment was amazing but I didn’t get it until it actually happened.
My birth experience was clearly not what I expected – how many people, who don’t have a c-section, can say that they never even pushed?? When our nurse lifted the blanket, it turns out Caroline’s head and shoulder were already out - I didn’t feel a thing. So strange. Hindsight being 20/20 (and being 4 weeks away from that pain, thanktheLord) I will catch myself wishing I hadn’t gotten the epidural. I think to myself, I could have made it till 12:48am if I knew it was going to be that quick. The fact of the matter though is that no one knew how long it would take, and it’s very possible the epidural relaxed me enough to allow things to progress so quickly. In the end though, it really didn’t matter how things happened. We did what was right for us, with the information we had. And more importantly?
Caroline is here, and healthy, and perfect. We are so in love!