We were on week 40, day 6 of pregnancy. It was a Friday morning and my husband and I had woken up for the day just like every other day. I was still working (I work remotely) so I just had to drag my (what felt like huge) body into the kitchen to turn on my laptop, check my emails, and make sure everything was still set and organized for whenever maternity leave would officially start (aka whenever the baby decided to make his debut). My induction was set for 40+10 (my OB wouldn’t let me go longer than that) - so I knew I’d be having him within the week if he didn’t come on his own sooner. My OB also insisted that I head in for a non-stress test that day - just to make sure his heart rate was in a healthy range and that he didn’t seem to be under any stress. The well-meaning texts from friends and family were still coming in - “IS HE HERE YET?!” and “Are you STILL pregnant?”...”YES,” I wanted to scream. “I am still pregnant.”
The non-stress test came and went, the baby seemed to be fine. I was having random contractions but I’d been having Braxton Hicks contractions for weeks, so I didn’t put too much thought into it. By the time we got home from the hospital, they started to get more frequent and intense.
To give a little bit of a backstory - I had spent the 12 weeks or so prior preparing to go epidural-free. I had done a ton of research on Hypnobirthing and I had spent every night doing the meditation and educating and preparing myself for each step of a typical labor. I understood that every birth is different and things may come up that would prevent me from being able to have the birth that I envisioned - but I didn’t want to go into it planning to have the epidural. I had read a lot about postpartum recovery being easier without medication and I had a couple of friends who had done it - so if it was possible, that was my goal.
So, when the contractions started to become more intense, I put my plan into action. I would stay home and labor there as long as humanly possible and then once my contractions were anywhere from 3-4 minutes apart and lasting a minute or more each, head into the hospital and have that baby. I spent about an hour sitting on our exercise ball watching “Friends” trying to distract myself. From there, I realized that I needed to get in the right mindset because the contractions were really starting to become painful. I went to my bedroom, laid down, turned on the birthing meditation tracks I’d been listening to, and tried to focus on breathing and staying relaxed. I was able to do that for another hour and a half or so, and at that point, contractions were coming pretty consistently every 4-5 minutes. It was hard to keep track of them, because they weren’t coming how all the books and my doctor had told me they would. Even though they were coming at least every five minutes, they were lasting a really long time - and sometimes I would get 2-3 within the five minute time frame. I didn’t really know what to think of it - but I forced myself to crawl into the bathtub to try and ease some of the pain. Everything I’d been told indicated that if they were coming that frequently - I was probably further along that I’d thought. On the one hand I was in the bath, still trying to listen to my calming labor tracks, and I had the lights off and candles lit. At the same time, I was also yelling at my husband to call the hospital and ask at what point I should come in. They didn’t really have an answer for me either beyond “If you feel like you should come in, come in…” At that point I was starting to get nervous because the contractions were happening so frequently - we’re talking every 2 ½-3 minutes or less, and they were lasting over a minute. I couldn’t even stand up to get out the bath - I had to crawl from the tub to my closet to try and get dressed and then I pleaded with my husband to hurry as he let the dog out one last time, grabbed our bags, and got us into the car. I couldn’t sit up in the car, I was basically in the fetal position just trying to breathe and get through the 15 minute ride to the hospital.
When we pulled up to the hospital, I told him we had to try and time it out so that I could get from the car up to the L&D floor without having to lay down in the middle of the street. I was still contracting really close together and for long periods of time, so it felt like my windows of “no” pain (really just less pain) were only about 15-30 seconds at a time. Getting from the car to the check-in desk and ultimately into my delivery room was excruciating. The nurse asked if I wanted to get the anesthesiologist up there and my first reaction was to say yes. However - I asked them to check and see how far along I was first - because everything I’d read stated if my contractions were coming as frequently and strongly as they were, we might have been closer to pushing than we thought. They got me all hooked up to everything, started timing my contractions, and I think we were waiting for the doctor on call to come in and check me. “Oh yeah, you are contracting really close together,” my nurse told me.
Her name was Rosemary. She was an angel on earth. I could barely keep it together - I wanted to cry and scream. Panic was the only emotion I felt. She got me to look in her eyes, hold onto her shoulders, and she told me if I wanted to do this without an epidural she was there to help me, that I could do it, and guided me through some breathing while we waited. I had read so many other birth stories about nurses or doctors pushing back on the no-epidural idea - and it was such a relief to have her on my team being so supportive and loving. I have been surrounded by nurses my entire life - my mom, sister in law, some of my best friends are all nurses - a lot of them in labor and delivery specifically - and I always knew how incredible they were from a healthcare and medical standpoint - but I naively never really understood how much of an impact they make from a psychological and emotional standpoint. That nurse single handedly saved me from myself that day.
The doctor came in and checked to see how far along I was - “You’re 4.5 cm” she said. “Then WHY AM I HAVING SO MANY CONTRACTIONS,” I asked, exasperated. “It looks like the baby’s position is a bit off...he is facing down, which is great, but he’s facing the side, which typically causes ‘coupling’ contractions.” Coupling - I would find out - meant that I was having contractions (now every 1-2 minutes) and I would have two simultaneously within that time frame. They were back to back like a waterfall and never seemed to let up. His positioning was also causing back labor. At this point, I could not get my body to relax. I looked at my husband. We had made a deal that I wouldn’t play the “should I get an epidural” game - if I looked him in the eye and told him “I want the epidural,” that would be the decision. The great thing about Hypnobirthing is it prepares you for any outcome. It preaches understanding that anything can come up in labor, and you need to do what’s best for you and the baby in those moments. I asked for the epidural. I felt a little pang of failure, but I didn’t have the energy to worry about that for too long.
The epidural came - it was hard to get it positioned correctly because of the coupling contractions. I didn’t have much down time - so I was white knuckling through the contractions trying not to move so it could be safely inserted. Finally the epidural was in, my mom was on her way (driving from about two hours away), and I was hopeful that things would soften up a bit from there. Soften up they did, on my right side. I was still feeling the excruciating contractions on the entire left side of my body. The nurses had me roll from side to side a few times to try and get the medicine to evenly distribute throughout my body, but I could see the nervous looks. They knew before I did that I was going to be one of those people where the epidural just randomly didn’t work in the full way it was supposed to. Cool cool cool cool cool. Didn’t really know that was a possibility. I will say - I am so thankful that I had done the Hypnobirthing in preparation. Because of that, I had a lot of pain management and coping strategies ready - so even though the epidural wasn’t working how it was supposed to, I was able to get through it. *Would highly recommend having this as a backup plan just in case*
Besides the fact that I still felt every contraction (only on the left!) - I was able to calm down substantially from where I was prior to the epidural - which was a very welcome feeling. One side of pain is much better than two! At that point, I was trying to distract myself by watching TV and listening to the calming tracks. Within a couple of hours my mom arrived, so now my birthing team was officially complete. At some point the doctor broke my water. I was progressing about a centimeter per hour - so I was happy that things weren’t stalled. We did that for (I don’t remember exactly) probably 5-6 hours - which went by in the blink of an eye. I knew I had hit 10 before they told me I’d hit 10. From all my reading, I knew the next part was called “transitioning” and I was there. The pain had become increasingly intense - from manageable to not - and I just kept hitting the button to get more juice (aka epidural) but no matter how many times I hit it, that left side was coming up with nothing. I was starting to get a little bit woozy - because I had so much medicine in my right side, nothing in my left, and it was a really unsettling feeling. I started getting physically sick, and I told my husband and mom that I was transitioning. The nurses and doctor came in and said “Yep, it’s time to push!”
Still coupling, still feeling everything on the left - so the pushing was hard and intense. I did get a lot of great pushes in, because I had so many contractions to choose from (hah!). My husband tells me I pushed for about two hours - all I remember was how exhausting it was. When the baby hadn’t come after all that time, I started to feel like a failure. What was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t he coming? What I didn’t realize until after having him was how important that baby’s position is. If they aren’t exactly in the right position - it is so easy for them to get stuck - and stuck he was. They kept trying to move him, move me, get me to push, take a break, nothing was working. I felt completely out of it and my brain was foggy from what I assume was the epidural and from pushing for so long. Eventually the monitor that was tracking the baby’s heart rate started slowing down substantially. My mom looked panicked and I saw her exchanging nervous glances with my husband. The nurses swiftly called the doctor back in and all of a sudden there were about 10 new people in the room within 30 seconds. The doctor calmly told me that we needed to get the baby out now and that she would be using forceps to do that. The joke I’d made in passing at the beginning of pushing “Can’t you just pull him out of me?” had now become a reality. I tried negotiating with her to try and change positions again or push a few more times. She basically told me no and that this was happening right now to keep the baby safe. “Okay,” I nodded. Within maybe twenty seconds he was born. They quickly moved him to my chest for a second, and then they immediately pulled him back off of me and took him to the other side of the room where another doctor was waiting. He wasn’t really crying. He was making a whining sound but only every 10-20 seconds - so they were worried something was wrong. All I wanted in that moment was to look at this person that I'd spent the last 10 months creating. I wanted to hold him and tell him how much I already loved him. Writing this two years later I still get teary, and every time I see a picture of a newborn lying on their mother’s chest right after delivering I feel a pang of jealousy. I know it was just a moment in time, and it was what needed to be done, but it was scary and I felt so helpless. After checking his vitals they took him to another unit just to monitor his lungs and heart and make sure everything was okay. He stayed there for a few hours while they put me back together...I’ll spare you the details on that, but let’s just say the forceps made for a long and challenging recovery.
It wasn’t what I’d read in my books, and it wasn’t the delivery or post-delivery that I’d expected, but Shepard was born and he was perfect and thankfully we were reunited after a few hours with the news that everything was okay. I’d given birth after midnight - so we were able to stay the entire weekend through Monday morning, which we took full advantage of. The next couple of days in the hospital were spent getting to know each other, trying to figure out breastfeeding, hormones and emotions all over the place, and getting adjusted to our new life as a family of three.
I’d like to end with a disclaimer for any first time pregnant mamas out there - not all deliveries are scary. I hated reading horror birth stories when I was pregnant. It did not suit the mindset I was trying to accomplish. And in all honesty, I (perhaps naively) went into labor thinking everything would go as planned. I wasn’t scared at all - which ultimately was a good thing. Everybody’s journey is different and valid. I have a lot of friends who’ve had beautiful, by the book births. Ultimately, the important part is that you get a baby at the end of it - and no matter how that baby decides to make his or her entrance into the world - your life will be changed for the better, and you would do it a million times over just to have that child.