By the time we were on the way to the hospital, I was definitely noticing that the pains were coming and going in waves. It was much subtler than I had expected. I remember trying to time them at one point but couldn’t really focus enough to figure out whether they were consistent. I was feeling pretty nervous as we rode the elevator up to labor and delivery. I had been planning on delivering in a very small, cozy birth center and being in the hospital full of bright lights and tons of people was making me feel a bit overwhelmed. The nurse showed us to a triage room where they would be checking my cervix and putting the now familiar monitors on my belly to look at baby’s heart rate and follow my contractions. The main thing I remember from this stage is that I was SO. HOT. Seriously, I was sweating like crazy and wanted to get out of that room so bad. I complained about it to every single person who had the misfortune to poke his head in there! The doctor was able to confirm that yes, I was having regular contractions, baby looked great and was not under any stress at all, and I was only dilated to about a 2. Being a first time mom only a couple of hours into labor and barely dilated, the doctor said they could not admit me yet. However, because I was clearly in a state of intense pain already, we were told that instead of going home we could choose to go walk around the hospital area for the next hour or 2 and then come back to be rechecked. If I progressed enough then they would admit me. We decided to do this and Josh called his mom to update her and ask her to come be with us. Because she knows pretty much everything there is to know about laboring women, she was able to help me understand where I was at, what was going on (aha, back labor.. that explained a lot!), and what to expect next. Also I think having her there really kept Josh calm and she showed him where to put pressure on my back to (somewhat) relieve the pain. We ended up just standing out in front of the hospital (super not private, didn’t even notice at this point) with me bent over a bench or something, Josh pushing on my low back and her coaching me through breathing.
Eventually, one of them suggested we go back up and have me checked out. I had a super hard time lying still for the monitors and I was more dilated than before but not tons. I think they were still on the fence about admitting me and maybe they wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the fact that I was clearly in some serious pain and I started bleeding! From here on out, things moved very quickly and my memories are all a bit hazy. At sometime around 9 pm I was admitted to a room; I think it was a pre labor room or something because I did not stay there for very long. Josh went to go get all of our stuff out of the car and I tried to get in the shower to clean myself up a bit and see if the hot water on my back would ease the pain but honestly, I could not even stand up at this point. I put on my ugly hospital gown and crawled into bed, curled up on my left side. Someone called my mom and told her it was about to go down so I knew she was on her way. Josh came back with my huge bag of stuff and I still find it hilarious that I literally did not use one single thing that I had packed for laboring. No kirtan music, no essential oils, no snacks, I wanted absolutely nothing but to lie there and breathe. Josh was right there by my side the entire time, forcing me to take sips of coconut water. I remember getting super angry with him every time he would try and make me drink although obviously I needed to.
The nurses were scheduled to come check me every hour, and each time they did I had progressed 2 more centimeters. It only took the first hour for me to be moved to another room. At this point apparently I was bleeding pretty profusely and they pushed me down the hall in a wheelchair. This was the moment my mom arrived and I think the sight of that scared her a little. For the next 2 hours or so I labored just like that, curled up on my side, squeezing my husband’s hand in a death grip just like in a movie. I definitely threw up at least once. Our moms were there but I don’t remember seeing them much. Mostly I remember the tie-dye pattern on Josh’s shirt. At some point my dad and grandparents showed up but I never saw them because when the nurses checked me again around midnight and saw I was dilated to a 9.5, they told me I was going to be moved to the OR. Now that might sound weird for someone who is entirely planning on a vaginal birth, but I was told that it was because that was the closest room to the NICU where the team would be waiting to receive my baby and stabilize him for transport to the children’s hospital. I was basically in shock that everything had happened so fast. I had been 100% prepared to be in labor for 24 hours or more, and here we were only 6 hours in and they were preparing me to push? If only I knew what I was in for…
I am not sure exactly how to describe my feelings at this point. I was relieved, a little excited, and definitely a LOT scared. I’m not sure why, but I opted out of having our moms follow us back into the OR for delivery. With 2 doctors and multiple nurses, it felt right being just my husband and I. This is the point where things got really difficult. I have always read about moms being so relieved to get through transition and on to the pushing stage because it was so much easier/less painful than labor. I should have figured it would be the opposite for me. I know myself and while I definitely have a pretty high pain tolerance, I am much better at passive pain. Things like period cramps, gallstones, headaches, etc. I can deal with pretty well by just breathing and zoning out to the feelings I am having. Active pain however is a completely different story. Josh could tell you, on backpacking trips when I get tired and achy and have to keep hiking up a damn mountain, I basically decide to give up right there and truly convince myself that I can’t go on until he half convinces, half physically pushes me on up. This experience was no different. It was SO HARD! For one thing, the pressure of another human beings head on the inside of your cervix is like nothing you will ever understand unless you have experienced it. And then there is the fact that the actual task of pushing a baby out is a completely unfamiliar one that requires harnessing every ounce of strength from every centimeter of your body and sending it out in a way that you have never tried to do before. I could not figure it out! I was in there pushing with each contraction for FOUR HOURS! It was so intense and SO tiring and I did a lot of screaming (GET HIM OUT NOW!!!) as well as trying to back out, as if this was somehow an option at this point…
Now, I have to give my doctor some props here. She is known to be one of the absolute best high risk OBs around and I was very lucky to have her on my case. However, being a doctor that deals with a lot of “abnormal” and scary births, she was definitely not the most supportive person to have when trying to achieve a med free natural birth. After the first hour or 2 of pushing and getting absolutely nowhere, she started suggesting that I get some drugs. I can’t remember what exactly she was pushing on me; I think pitocin to give me a boost or maybe an epidural to give me some rest. Probably both. If you know my husband, you can probably imagine what his response to that was! Everyone in that room knew that I wanted to do this completely on my own but when I was feeling my most vulnerable and a little defeated, they all started trying to tell me I was too tired to go on and I would never make it through without some meds. I’m not going to lie, I wavered. I didn’t really think it would help, but I also didn’t believe that I was able to do what needed to be done and was willing to accept almost anything that could potentially assist me. All I can say is that I am so completely grateful to my husband for being there and knowing what I was capable of even when I couldn’t see it myself. I had warned him that it might get to a point where I wanted to give up and take the drugs and that he was under no circumstances to allow me to do so. I know it was hard for him to watch this all happening and not be able to control it at all but he was gentle with me while at the same time holding firm and helping me find the strength to keep going. He told the doctors to leave us alone for a while (not quite as nicely as that) and with just him and 2 of my absolutely amazing, supportive nurses I was finally able to push to the point of crowning and to where I knew that I was doing this for sure, no turning back and no drugs.
My doctor was called back in and there, at 4:46 AM under the harshly bright lights of the hospital operating room, I gave birth to my beautiful baby boy. It took everything I had, completely wiped me out, but I was so proud and so grateful to have had that experience of bringing new life into the world the way I was meant to do. I had of course been warned that I would not be in for any skin to skin snuggles with my baby because he would not be able to breathe on his own and would need to be immediately intubated and IVed. But as soon as he was born they handed him to me, probably for only 30 seconds but that was enough. I will never forget what it felt like to look at him for the first time. I have a picture of him resting on my belly and when I look at it now I can say objectively he looks like any purplish wrinkly new baby does, but in the moment that is not what I saw. I saw this perfect looking, adorable baby with the same face that I see in him when I look at him now. That probably makes no sense but I can’t explain it any better. It was a completely transcendent moment and I just kept repeating “my baby, my baby, my baby” until they had to take him from me.
Click here to read the third and final part of our birth journey.