Oh boy, did I dream of a different birth story. Nonetheless, we get the births we get. I truly believe that. Sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason. Sometimes, even when everything is done “right”, you’re thrown for a loop with an off-the-wall complication. My experience with labor and delivery was a series of randomized, unfortunate events, though it ended with laughter and a beautiful baby boy.
All photos in this post were taken by our birth photographer, Lori Martinez.
It all started when I went in for my 38 week midwife appointment. We chatted, and I told her I was a little nervous because I was considering a membrane sweep if I had dilated any more. She took my blood pressure: 131/88. Hm. A little high for me, though not “dangerous”. She made a note of it and said we’d just continue to watch it, but it was probably a one-off.
The midwife told me to not be surprised if I didn’t go into labor that night and I laughed, “Ha! Oh, I’m consenting to the sweep because I want to have a baby in 2 weeks. I’m not going into labor today.”
Famous last words.
Around 1 pm on that Thursday, I started having very consistent, timeable contractions. I really believed they’d die down and I’d be pregnant for 2-3 more weeks. My entire family – all 3 sisters, and my mom – went 40+. Why would I be any different? I went to pick up my grocery order from Walmart Pick-Up and when contractions didn’t die down, I was secretly pretty giddy. I got home, put away (most) of the groceries, and parked it on the couch with Parts Unknown playing while I timed contractions. I found it odd that when I was upright and on my feet, I didn’t feel the contractions, but when I was seated, they were strong. I decided to just rest and feel them through. I imagined if this was the real deal then I’d need my strength and I’d be mobile before long.
John asked me 3 times if he needed to come home. Each time, I said no. A little after 3 pm, after moaning through a few minute and a half long contractions that were 2.5-4 minutes apart, I decided to ask for him to come home. He made it in record time, and I felt bad for calling him home from work. After all, I still believed these contractions were going to die down. He went upstairs to work, I continued my Anthony Bourdain marathon and my moaning. Around 4:45, John suggested that I sit on my yoga blocks to try to move baby down. I got into position, had a contraction with him holding my hands, and in true John fashion, he made a joke and I laughed. Then, I felt a big gush and I said with a lot of surprise and some disbelief in my voice, “I think my water just broke!”
But, before I finished that thought, I looked down to bright red blood dripping on our carpet. I ran to the bathroom and John followed. I was soaked with blood and I started to panic. I called my doula, Judy, and she instructed me to call the birth center. When the on-call midwife took my call, she mentioned she was on the phone with the transfer doctor right then and asked to call right back.
In the meantime I bled through two pads and finally just threw on a pair of adult diapers (which I had purchased for postpartum) over my underwear. John was busy throwing everything in the truck. We were sort of packed, but we were only prepared for the birth center. We didn’t have anything together for the hospital. We imagined if we wound up in the hospital it would be after several hours at the birth center. We never imagined we’d go straight to the hospital!
When I climbed in the truck, the midwife called and instructed us to go straight to the hospital and we’d be taken back right away to be evaluated by Dr. L. We left our driveway at 5:07 pm. Rush hour. It took us longer than we hoped to get to there, and I was frantic pretty much the entire way, begging our baby to jab me in the ribs. At this point, I didn’t know if he was ok and I was in such a state that I didn’t know if I had felt him move. I’d never seen John so determined and worried, but he got us there as quickly and safely as he could.
We practically ran into the hospital when we got there and when we made it to the fourth floor, I saw my midwife and she immediately embraced me while whisking us into L&D. We bypassed triage and that’s when I knew shit was real.
We were taken to a curtained area in one of the “recovery” rooms and immediately I was seen by a doctor and nurses who took my vitals, got our baby on the monitor, and put an IV in my arm. My blood pressure was high. I was hyperventilating. Sara, the midwife did her best to keep me calm and soon, my doulas arrived, too. We all held out hope that I’d be released back into the care of my birth center midwives. Hey, it could happen!
Dr. L made it back and evaluated me. I was 2.5 cm dilated, 50% effaced… and his belief was that I was suffering a placental abruption. Meanwhile, I’m still contracting and moaning through them. Dr. L looked at my husband and me and said, “we’re going to admit you tonight. Let’s have a baby.”
I don’t know why, but that shocked me. Through tears I asked, “induction?”, but Dr. L is a smooth talking doctor-doula, so he knew better and answered with, “let’s call it an augmentation.”
Once settled into our room, I continued to contract consistently. They placed a foley bulb catheter in hopes of kickstarting active labor. That was the single most painful experience of my labor. I basically had a peak contraction for 7 minutes, nonstop. Then, as quickly as it started, it was over. Everyone was elated when just over an hour and a half later, the foley fell out. PROGRESS!
My doctor had gone home to rest, so when the resident came in to check me and found me at 4 cm and 70% effaced, I was really hopeful and felt great about where labor was going… little did I know that the progress I made with the foley catheter would be the only progress I would make for over thirty more hours.
I felt pretty great (considering) on Thursday night. I labored through the night, with some medication given to me for sleep. I slept between the contractions. Shortly after midnight on Friday, the resident keeping an eye on me came in to discuss Pitocin. I knew once pit was started, we were on some sort of a clock and I didn’t want to pull out the big guns, yet, so I declined and asked to wait for Dr. L’s consult in the morning.
I called my doula, Judy, back around 5:30 am and that’s when our day started. John, Judy, and I walked the halls and labored a little on the birth ball. Contractions were picking up, even as I was upright and I felt really energized by that. I believed my body was doing what it needed to be doing. My entire team was fantastic. My other doula, Stephanie, showed up later that morning and my entire birth team worked with me seamlessly with touch, massage, aromatherapy, and positive reinforcement. I got in the bath for a while, too.
The contractions were hard. My body was really working and I’m thankful Judy decided to call in our birth photographer. I was going on over 24 hours of labor at this point and around 5:30 pm, Dr. L came in and said, “The way you’re acting, I imagine you’re at a 7 or 8. How about we check you?”
I was relieved and I knew I had made great progress. I was leaning over the bed while laboring and asked that he check me that way. He did, but then asked that I get back in bed so he could check me again. I know now it was because he didn’t feel a change and he wanted to be really sure. So, at 5:30 pm on Friday, I was still at 4 cm and had only effaced 5% more. I believe he briefly mentioned he could stretch me to a 5, but wouldn’t call me a 5. In a nutshell, no progress.
After that news, I was absolutely broken. I was exhausted. I was hurting. Dr. L suggested I get back in the tub, and I did. It was around this time that my birth photographer left, and my doulas went to get something for us to eat, leaving John and I in the bathroom. I remember sitting in the tub and bawling my eyes out in between contractions. Why was I not progressing?
It was that point that I told John I didn’t think I could do it. I needed the epidural so that I could continue to labor and I didn’t believe I could labor unmedicated for another day and actually have the energy to push our baby out. I cried and I cried and I cried as he fed me fruit and held me. This is actually my favorite memory from labor, even though it was a tough one. In that moment, I felt completely loved and supported by my partner.
We called Judy and Stephanie into the bathroom and told them what we thought. Judy said that there’s a difference between pain and suffering and she believed I was suffering at that point. Both Judy and Stephanie supported our decision to ask for pain medication.
I knew I didn’t want gas and air or IV pain meds because I had already labored for so long and I accepted the epidural because it was what I felt was best for my body. I could have dealt with more pain, but I needed rest and I thought maybe rest was just what my body needed to get over the hump and progress.
They placed the epidural around 7:30 pm on Friday. It was the perfect epidural. I could feel my legs, move my legs, and move my hips. The nurses were impressed that I could move myself around in bed, and I was elated that I still had a lot of feeling, but I was able to sleep. My doulas went home to rest, and they started me on misoprostil to ripen my cervix. An unripened cervix won’t dilate, so that was first priority.
I had two doses of miso overnight. All the while, my contractions still looked beautiful. Baby looked beautiful. I used the peanut ball overnight to keep my pelvis open.
At 1:30 am, I was checked again and once again, I knew I had progressed. No change. I knew as soon as they said 4 cm that we were going to be starting pitocin. I accepted that fate, and they started me on the lowest drip rate. Every half an hour or so the nurse would come in and bump the rate a point or two. At 3:30, I felt a trickle and I knew I had SROMed (spontaneous rupture of membranes: aka my water had broken on its own). Because of my bleeding from the abruption, they couldn’t test the fluid.
At 5:30 am, Dr. L returned and checked me again. After my suspected SROM, I once again, knew I had made progress. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I’m not feeling any change.” I started to bawl. He asked for an amnio-hook and I said, “oh – my water broke a few hours ago.” He felt again, hoping to feel some hair, but he said he was still feeling the bag. He broke the bag and liters of fluid came pouring out. He mentioned that there was a ton of fluid and it was blood tinged, confirming that I had indeed abrupted.
At that point, I told him that I knew he was the best and I was thankful for his wisdom, but that I was starting to have a really bad association with his face (you know, something only a woman in labor should say to the sweetest man alive). I think he was a little offended but I continued, “you only ever have bad news for me. Am I going to have to have a cesarean?”
He frankly told me that a cesarean was a definite possibility if I didn’t progress, and that the breaking of my waters was our last ditch effort for a vaginal birth. He tried to calm me by saying, “you know, we’ve developed a beautiful way of cesarean births here, so if one is needed, I believe you’ll have a nice birth.” He told me we’d have a baby sometime between 12 and 18 hours from then and a little piece of me died.
Cool side story: Dr. L is Dr. Larry Leeman, who pioneered the gentle, or family centered, cesarean. I was in the very best of hands either way.
He left and I cried with John and Judy. I knew then that I’d have a cesarean birth, which was the last thing I wanted, especially after so many hours of labor and so many other disappointments. I pretty much shut down then. I continued to use the peanut ball and Judy went home to rest.
My other doula, Stephanie, came in around 9:30 am and I was still having myself a little pity party. She fed me broth and we chatted a bit while John went home to shower and bring more things to the hospital. Around 10, the nurse burst into the room and got me off of my left side. Baby’s heart rate had decelerated. As soon as I got neutral in the bed, I started to shake. She asked if I was feeling pressure and I told her I didn’t think I was. She left the room after baby stabilized and around that time, John got back. It wasn’t but 3 minutes later that I was feeling very shaky, and all of a sudden, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure.
Stephanie left to get the nurse, and when she came back, she came back with a team of doctors. My favorite resident was back on (Dr. C) and she immediately checked me. I believed she said, “you’re an 8,” and I immediately started beaming, when in reality she said, “you’re complete, plus 1”! When I realized what she said, the tears just started pouring. She and the other doctor hugged me for several minutes and I thanked her for good news. Stephanie quickly got on the phone and called Judy to come back. Judy got ahold of our photographer, Lori, so the whole team was in route!
They set up the room for delivery while I “labored down” (allowed baby to descend lower through contractions without active pushing). Around 10:35, Dr. L came in to congratulate me and told me he was going to go make himself presentable for delivery and that he’d be back. In the meantime, I’d “practice” pushing with Dr. C. I asked for the squatting bar and a bedsheet for counter pulling through pushes.
With my entire team by my side, I gave a few practice pushes. I should have known, having seen this with clients before, that practice pushes rarely turn out to just be practice. After a couple of pushes, I was making real progress and I could feel when each contraction came to push. I remember asking, “am I really making progress or are you just saying that?”. They assured me that my pushes were very effective and that baby was moving down.
Soon, after asking, yet again, if I was indeed making progress, Dr. C told me I could reach down and touch his head. Dr. L joined about then as well and was so impressed by my quick progress. John had one leg, Stephanie had the other, and Judy was by my head whispering things to keep me motivated and fanning me with a towel laced with orange essential oil.
Things got more and more intense with each push. I could feel the whole process. That “perfect” epidural had done its job, but I was thankful that I could feel in order to push. Soon, Dr. L cautioned me to cough and I knew baby was crowning and it was time for easy, soft pushes.
I coughed once, when someone in the room made me laugh and I let out a hearty giggle. Dr. L then said, “– or you can laugh baby out,” and I knew right then that I would laugh my baby into the world. I continued to laugh, jokingly at first, and as his entrance became more imminent my laughs turned somewhat maniacal.
I felt my baby’s slippery body leave mine and he was immediately placed on my chest, screaming at 11:20 am. I had done it! 45 minutes of pushing and he was here. He was mine. John and I cooed over our son, who had entangled himself in my hair and was grasping my bra like his life depended on it. It was as if he was afraid someone was going to whisk him away. We had our golden hour and we soaked up all the oxytocin.
Dr. L congratulated us, and I told him I loved him… it was the truth. I was so thankful for a doctor who let me labor for 46 hours with a placental abruption, through 30 hours of no progress, and who helped me have the vaginal birth I desired. It wasn’t the unmedicated, birth center experience I longed for, but it was the birth we were given.
After it was all said and done, I left L&D feeling exhausted, but thankful for and so in love with our precious baby. I was so relieved to have avoided a cesarean and I couldn’t wait to start my motherhood journey. Labor was nothing like I imagined, but I battled through my seven gates of hell. I made it out, hardly unscathed, but triumphant and ready for my motherhood journey to begin. This is hardly the end of our struggles, but I’ll leave you here: blissful, and completely oblivious to what was to come in the next few hours.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
If you want to read more from Jaelan, check out her blog at: https://makingmrsm.com/
You can listen to Jaelan’s full interview on the Growing Our Family Pregnancy Podcast about managing birth expectations here: https://growingourfamily.com/s01e25/