I wanted to share my birth story here because I believe that it is important to share these stories to normalize birth. Here is my positive birth story. It might be a little TMI for some people. If you don't like graphic detail then this isn't for you.
I prepared for my labor and delivery like I was studying to become a board certified midwife and doula. I probably read at least a dozen books on pregnancy and childbirth, watched countless videos on youtube, and asked everyone I knew about their birth story. I found out everything that could possibly go wrong and rather than scare me I felt empowered. The more research I did the more sure of some things I became.
I went into it not afraid of the pain of birth but rather more afraid of complications that could have long term consequences. I wasn’t afraid of pain for a few hours. I was afraid of permanently messing up my spine or having a migraine or back pain for weeks. Because I already had horrible back pain from pregnancy and I wanted that OVER.
I believed that my body was made to give birth. I believed that the worst I had to fear was the medical field itself. I feared them pressuring me, I was afraid of them not catching something. After all, the medical field doesn’t exactly have a stellar record with the whole of missing things, treating things unnecessarily, and causing the problems themselves with overtreatment.
My labor begins
I have no freaking clue when my labor began because I don’t even know what that means. It wasn’t like labor started out of nowhere. I was 40 weeks pregnant and I felt it in my body. My body was changing. I could feel it. It was preparing itself for labor. I spent those last weeks waddling around, doing stretches, and trying to sleep as best as I could. I felt the baby drop down, perched on top of my public bone, grinding away painfully whenever I walked. I felt my ligaments loosen up. My body was preparing. I felt more and more reassured. The birth books had said that a woman’s body changes to help labor be easier and here it was changing just like they said.
In one of my birth classes that I watched for free online (because I’m too cheap to pay for birth classes) it said that early labor can last for days, even up to a week. And that labor can start and stop during that time. It warned me not to get too excited if things started happening that seemed like early labor.
And so 40 weeks came and went. I felt mild cramps occasionally. I figured they were Braxton Hicks. I didn’t really pay that much attention to them except to pack my hospital bag. At 40 weeks +2 days (Saturday night) I started to feel some cramps in the evening that were more significant and seemed to have a pattern to them. For the most part I ignored them and watched the movie Sixteen Candles. Because I had never seen it before and by gone it I wouldn’t have time once I had a baby. When I went to the bathroom however I saw a snotty pink-reddish mess on the toilet paper. It appeared that it was my mucus plug. My husband shocked me at this point by sticking his face close to my underwear and inspecting it, then googled pictures of “bloody show” and “Mucus plug” completely unphased. He determined thats what I had or at least it looked like the pictures. This man had acted completely uninterested in birth or medical things before this point and I had worried how he was going to deal with the birth. I knew that losing your mucus plug could mean that you were going into labor soon, but it also could mean nothing. We continued to monitor the cramps and then went to bed early. I figured if labor was going to start I needed as much sleep as I could get.
I woke up the next morning and went about my day. I cleaned the house. I made chili. I called my parents and questioned them about my own birth to see if I could glean any information to see if I might be in labor. All the while about once an hour I would feel a cramp or contraction or whatever. I just ignored them, breathed through them, bounced on my exercise ball and didn’t tell anyone that they were happening. I also continued to lose more of the mucus plug as the day wore on. I took my normal evening waddle around the neighborhood, pausing when the contractions hit me as they got closer and closer together. They were about every 15 minutes apart when I went to bed.
I woke up at 1:30AM, no longer able to sleep through the contractions. I went and got in the bathtub, trying to relax and timing them. They got closer and closer together. After they had been about 5 minutes apart for awhile I woke up my husband.
My obgyn had told me to call them when I was having contractions every 5 minutes, so my husband called them and they told us to come to the hospital. We got our bags packed and drove to the hospital at about 5 in the morning. The pain wasn’t so bad at this point. Just like really bad period cramps.
I remember it was sprinkling rain and it was cool but we got a great parking spot, we walked in, pausing when I had a contraction in the parking lot, the rain coming down on us. At the front desk they screened us for Covid by asking us some questions and taking our temperatures and gave us masks to wear. Sonya from OBGYN triage came and got me and brought me to a triage room. I remember that Sonya had little earrings that looked like fetuses and I complimented her on them. They hooked me up to the monitor and sure enough my contractions were 4-5 minutes apart like I had said. But when they checked I was only 1cm dilated and 80% effaced. This wasn’t enough to be admitted. They told me to stay for an hour or 2 and see if I progressed since my contractions were sorta close together. I stayed, we walked around and 2 hours later she came to check on me again. She asked me if I had made progress and I answered “ i don’t think so”. I was right. Still at 1cm. They gave me an Ambien to help me get some sleep and told me to go home.
At this point my contractions were 2-4 minutes apart. They had originally told me to come to the hospital when my contractions were 5 minutes apart and here they were sending me home with contractions 2-4 minutes apart. How was I supposed to know when to come back? They shrugged and said that “I would know”.....whatever that means. So I trudged out of the hospital pausing to have a contraction in the lobby. One of the nurses saw me on the way out and said, “You’re in labor. How far apart are your contractions?”
“About 2-3 minutes.”
She looked at me in disbelief. “And they’re sending you home?”
I shrugged. "I’m only 1 cm, so they’re sending me home.”
She studied me for a moment and asked me my name. When I answered her she seemed simultaneously disappointed and excited. She had recognized my name from where I was scheduled for an induction later that week. “You won’t make it to the induction. You’ll have that baby today,” she said looking at her schedule.
We went home. The Ambien knocked me out, but the nurse who had given it to me was wrong. They had said that it would knock me out for 8 hours. 4 hours later I woke up to more serious cramping. I couldn’t sleep through these contractions, sleeping pill or not.
I got up, tried to eat some breakfast. I ate about 3 bites of buckwheat and went to find my husband. He was working on his computer on our couch. I joined him on the couch and tried to read Ina May’s Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth. I was reading the front section that had birth stories. That didn’t last long. Soon the pain was too much and I wasn’t able to read anymore. I got on the floor in front of the couch and ended up laying on my side. My husband tried to make me comfortable, trying to get me on the couch, bringing the mattress down to try to get me to lay on it. I refused. I just wanted to lay on the floor. He settled over giving me some pillows and blankets.
The next few hours are a blur really. I spent them on the floor, my husband trying to comfort me while I mostly could not be comforted. The contractions got more and more intense until they were to the point where all I could do between them was try to recover before the next one started. I have no idea how far apart they were. My husband might have timed them. I have no idea. Earlier in the day he had said that we weren’t going back to the hospital until I could “put on a show”. I eventually migrated to the right of the couch and my husband was holding me. During one of the contractions I felt a pop like a change of pressure and felt wet. I went to the bathroom and looked at my underwear. I was pretty sure that my water had broken. I had kinda thought that there would be more liquid even though my clothes were definitely wet. My underwear were sort of brownish green and the last bit of the mucus plug was there.
My husband jumped into analytical mode again and was staring at it and said “It looks a bit green. Is it supposed to be green?”
I remembered what I had read. I knew what green amniotic fluid was. That meant meconium which could mean trouble. I told my husband to call the doctor.
Then my contractions and pain went from a level 7 to a level 10. Everything got so much more intense. I grabbed a towel and laid in the floor. My husband was busy calling the hospital. The way our OBGYN office worked is you called them if you thought that you were in labor and then they paged the doctor/ midwife on call and then they called you back. The first time talking to them on the phone it had taken a while to actually get the call back from the on call provider. I have no idea how long it took the second time. I screamed in the background while my husband talked to them. They told him to bring me into the hospital. I don’t think he mentioned the meconium, just that we were pretty sure that my water had broken. At this point I felt completely paralyzed. My husband told me to get up and get dressed (I had taken my clothes off when my water broke and never found new ones), but I couldn’t. I literally could not move. The pain was hitting me and I didn’t want to move. He yelled at me to get up and get dressed, that we had to go to the hospital and I just moaned “No, I can’t.” I was trying to tell him that I could NOT MOVE. I kept telling him I needed to throw up. He didn’t understand. He found a skirt somewhere and forced it on me. Then he dragged me to the car with me crying “No” the whole time. He didn’t even try to get underwear on me, just shoved a towel under me to catch the slowly dripping amniotic fluid.
We now joke that if any neighbors were watching that they probably would have concluded that I was being murdered since I was screaming and he was having to drag me to the car. He later said that he knew that he had to get me to the hospital because I was no longer coherent and that the more I said no the more he was determined to get me to the hospital.
We drove to the hospital. I remember looking at the time on the dashboard and it said 5:37pm. There was no traffic. I was thankful for Covid at that moment because it meant that there was no rush hour. It would have been hell driving to the hospital in rush hour with me in labor. I screamed for him to stop, that I didn’t want to go to the hospital. Sitting on my butt in the car made the pain 1000% worse.
We arrived at the hospital and he pulled the car right up to the entrance to this time, not even bothering to park. He put it in park and went around to get me out of the car. He practically dragged me to the desk and they tried to ask me my information, but I couldn’t speak. He had to tell them my information. They tried to screen me again for Covid, asking me the questions and trying to take my temperature. I remember as soon as they tried to put the thermometer near my head a contraction hit. I basically screamed “NOOOOOOOoooooooooooo…...!” and bent over the counter, unable to remain standing. They gave up screening me and got me a wheelchair, paging the nurse to come get me. It took forever for the nurse to get there. She came to get me and my husband looked uncertainly behind him. The car was still idling right outside the doors to the maternity ward. He couldn’t just very well follow me into the labor and delivery wing with the car still sitting out there. He looked at the nurse, indecision plain on his face. “Should I bring the stuff in?”, he asked the nurse. The car was packed with all of our stuff for staying at the hospital. We had been told that because of Covid we would have to bring all the stuff that we needed for the entire stay when we first got there as we would not be allowed to go back out and in again. That morning the triage nurse had told him to not worry about bringing in the stuff, that we would only need it if we were actually admitted. This time, without any hesitation, she said to go get it now. Things were starting to get really real.
She wheeled me back to triage. As soon as my husband was out of my sight I started to freak out. I was terrified that I wouldn’t see him again. She brought me back to the same triage room I had been in that morning and tried to get me on my back on the table. I refused. She also tried to get me into a hospital gown. I also refused to do that. I yelled, “My husband worked really hard to put me in this skirt!”. Which was true but the nurse had no idea what I was talking about. I just kept asking for my husband. In retrospect, I feel sorry for that nurse.
My husband showed up (carrying all of our bags) and they ended up convincing me to at least lay on my side on the table so they could put the monitors on me. This time I didn’t look at the monitors. I just didn’t care at this point. I didn’t need a monitor to tell me I was having a contraction. I bloody well knew I was having a contraction. The nurse tried to get me to breathe through the contractions. I continued to moan loudly and cry. I said “Please, make it stop. I just want my baby.”
A doctor I had never seen before showed up and checked my cervix. I was sure that I was going to be a high number. This had to be active labor. I had never been in as much pain in my life. The doctor announced that I was at 4cm.
“WHAT?!” I shrieked. “4cm. Thats not possible. What do you mean 4 cm? How is it possible for me to be in this much pain if its only 4cm?!” I stared at him in disbelief. I had been certain that I was about to have a baby. That it couldn’t possibly hurt more than this.
Another contraction hit. They assured me that 4cm was progress from this morning and that I was 90% effaced and that the baby was low. I told them I needed to vomit. My husband said that I had been saying that for over an hour.
The man disappeared for a few minutes. He returned and announced, “Good news! I talked to Dr. Munro, the doctor on call for you and you’re admitted.” They probably wanted to get me out of triage because I was probably scaring the other patients.
My mind almost completely ignored the news. Of course I was admitted. How could I NOT be admitted? There was no possible physical way that I could have gotten up and left that hospital. In fact I seriously doubted my ability to move at all. My mind was still reeling from the fact that I was only 4cm.
I responded to him by saying that I wanted it to stop and that I just wanted my baby. He attempted to soothe me. “There, there. We’ll get you your epidural and the pain will stop.”
Epidural! I didn’t want an epidural. Even in the midst of back to back contractions the idea of a long needle being inserted into my spine horrified me. And not to even mention the risks involved like spinal headaches, back problems, and the slim possibility of nerve damage. I gasped “No! No epidural. I don’t want an epidural.”
The doctor and nurse looked at me like I had 2 heads. They wanted to know why and I tried to explain. They tried to put my fears to rest but I was still envisioning that long needle in my spine and I shook my head. I could tell that the doctor was taken aback. He was clearly thinking You aren’t dealing with the pain very well. How could you not want an epidural? They offered me opioids then. I refused them too. “Absolutely not,” I said. The highly addictive nature of opioids made me strongly against them. Plus in every story I had read about childbirth and opioids, they never actually seem to help.
He recommended that I get in the tub when I got to the room then to help with the pain and then they would check back to see if I had changed my mind about the epidural. Before he left he said “With the slow progress you’ve made so far and this being your first baby, you probably won’t give birth until tomorrow morning.” It was 6:30pm.
The nurse came back in to give me my heplock. I didn’t really want one but it was hospital policy. I’m usually terrified of needles and wasn’t looking forward to the IV but at that moment all I could think was that I was going to throw up. I told her I was going to throw up and struggled to stay still while she started the heplock. The nausea got worse. I urgently told her I was going to throw up. She handed me a bag right after she finished putting the hep lock in place. I instantly vomited in the bag, almost completely filling it. As I vomited my body convulsed and I felt warm liquid come out all between my legs.
I instantly thought I had vomited so hard that I had peed myself. My husband didn’t miss a beat. Before I could tell him not to, he was lifting my skirt and saying how he thought my water had finished breaking. “Its all green and there’s blood.” I was relieved it hadn’t all been urine. Also completely horrified at this point because I was covered in vomit/blood/amniotic fluid. I felt sorry for whoever had to clean this room when we were finished. They went to see if my room was ready.
A few minutes later the nurse came back and announced that my room was ready. She asked me if I wanted to walk or if I wanted a wheelchair. I was in agony. I couldn’t imagine moving. Couldn’t they just wheel me on a gurney or something? I asked if that was an option. It wasn’t. So wheelchair it was for me. I screamed through the contractions in the hallway on the way to the room, announcing my arrival on the labor and delivery ward. We passed one couple who looked frightened by my appearance. I honestly can’t blame them.
Prior to being in labor I had put a lot of thought into what I would wear during labor. I had been very concerned about my modesty and not wanting people I didn’t know to see me naked. All of that had gone out the window after the contractions had picked up. Upon getting to my room, I stood up and walked across the room to the tub, taking my soiled clothes off as I went. I was utterly disgusted by myself and just wanted to get clean. I went ahead and climbed into the giant bathtub.
I had actually chosen this hospital partially for this exact giant bathtub. Some people choose a provider and then go to whatever hospital they deliver at. I did the opposite. I chose a hospital and then went with a provider that delivered there. There had been other reasons for the choice too like the low cesarean rate, the remodeled rooms, the proximity to my house, but I had to admit that the tub had been a big selling point. Whenever I was sick, taking a bath often comforted me, I wanted a tub to comfort me during labor as well.
The tub didn’t help as much as I had hoped for. For starters, the water was cold. I had climbed into the empty tub and the water had been turned on afterwards. I huddled in the corner away from the cold water, waiting for it to warm up. The nurse turned the shower on to get the warm water flowing through the pipes. By the time the water had even turned moderately warm, I was shivering and just gave up, plugging the tub up so that the warmish water could at least get on me. All the while, the contractions continued to hit me mercilessly, barely giving me a break. The tub filled up slowly and I continued to wither in pain now trying to keep the stupid heplock on my arm out of the water. This wasn’t going as I had envisioned at all. The nurses changed shifts( shift change was at 7pm) and my new nurse was introduced to me. Her name was Amy, but spelled funny. I saw her looking over the birth plan papers that I had brought (my husband had given them to her). Then she started asking us questions about the labor and my preferences. I don’t remember the responses. I just remember pain. Terrible, terrible pain. I begged them to make it stop. I didn’t understand how anything could hurt this much and that I was not even halfway there. Only 4cm.
That’s when the epidural began to seem like something that might actually happen. I had always known that I wasn’t afraid of the pain of labor and that if I got an epidural it would be a matter of my endurance running out. It was just past 7 and I knew I couldn’t do 8 more hours of this. The nurse started explaining the process of getting an epidural to us. This time, I listened as best I could. Apparently you were required to get a bag of fluid before you could get an epidural and that the bag of fluid took about an hour to administer. Then they had to call the anesthesiologist and they could take quite some time to come. Basically getting an epidural could be a multi hour affair. We decided to go ahead and start the bag of fluid then and reevaluate after it was over in an hour what I wanted to do. That way if the pain somehow became worse and I decided that I did need an epidural at least I was an hour closer to it. She started the bag of saline while I was still in the tub.
I have no idea how long I was in the tub. I withered, I moaned. I tried to keep myself in control, to not shriek, to keep my mouth relaxed. I clung to my husband’s hand as he looked at me helplessly. I was pretty sure that I was dying. And then the urge started. I recognized it from my periods. You see, I had had pretty bad period cramps in the past that sometimes were accompanied by an urge to push. I don’t think thats a common thing, but that was how cramps manifested for me. And here it was again. That urge to push. I panicked a little, my mind thinking about the danger of pushing when you weren’t dilated enough. I had read that it could damage your cervix. This made me scared. I didn’t understand. I rocked back and forth trying to fight that urge. Suddenly I couldn’t take it, between the next contractions I got out of the tub that was full of water and got on all fours next to the tub. I grabbed one of the birth balls that was nearby and leaned on it dripping wet as the next contractions hit. I screamed “I’m going to die!”. The nurse said “No, you’re not going to die. You’re having a baby.” She put her fingers on my lower back and it seemed to help the pain. But something else was going on in me. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore, I felt like I had to push and that I had to poop. I thought maybe if I pooped the feeling would go away. I told the nurse. She wouldn’t let me go to the toilet. Instead she said “Let me check you, maybe you’ve progressed.” I agreed and they helped me to the bed.
I was hopeful that maybe I had progressed to 6 or 7 but I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what to do about the pressure mounting in my abdomen. She checked me and announced “Oh, you're 9 cm and fully effaced. You can push.”
“What?!” I was so confused. I had just made peace in my head that I had failed natural childbirth and that I was going to get an epidural and here they were telling me that I was ready to push?
I dumbly blurted out, “But I was going to get an epidural….”
I would later learn that in the background behind my head my husband was frantically shaking his head to say no epidural. She responded, “Its too late for that. Its time to push.”
I didn’t even want an epidural. I was just so overwhelmed by the change in events. Suddenly, everything made sense, the urge to push, the intense pain. I had felt like I was about to have a baby because well….. I WAS about to have a baby. 4cms an hour before be damned. The nurse ran from the room presumably to alert people to my change in status from “overreacting drama queen who wasn’t handling the pain well” to “giving birth right now”. My husband seemed relieved. I don’t think he had been looking forward to a long night of me screaming my head off. It would be over sooner than we had planned and that was a relief.
The room started to quickly fill up with people and the doctor arrived. I laid in the bed on my left side. The doctor arrived and checked me again. This time I was fully dilated. It was game time.
Some women say that they didn’t know how to push or that it took them awhile to figure out how to effectively push. Not me. As soon as the doctor arrived I gave in to my body wanting to push. To me pushing was almost involuntary like really forceful vomiting where your whole body is taken over by the motion and you feel as if you aren’t actually doing much but that something is happening to you. When the contractions came my body just pushed and heaved. Pushing is also described as the worst part to some people. Not to me. The pushing felt like a relief after that hour before of wave after wave of pain. I finally felt like I was doing something. It distracted me from the pain. The contractions morphed from a painful assault to a helpful force, pushing my baby out towards the world. During this I could see 2 of the nurses in front of me, the one from earlier and then the nurse Sonya who had been with me that morning so many hours before in triage when I had been sent home. I was glad that she was back.
The nurses tried to get me to push when they counted. They wanted me to push 3 different times during a contraction. I tried to tell them that I couldn’t. I couldn’t control the pushing. It just happened, but I couldn’t explain that to them. I couldn’t speak. I proceeded to vomit several times during the forceful pushing and someone gave me ice chips to suck on. They were glorious. I wanted more. At one point they tried to move me off my side and put me on my back, I screamed “NO!” at that. I was NOT going to give birth on my back so help me god. The room was hot. So hot, I tried to rearrange and found myself getting tangled in wires and the hospital gown that I had on. I realized I had all sorts of monitors on me. I yelled “What is all this CRAP on me?! Get it off!” The nurses laughed at that and helped me get my gown off and took off some of the monitors so that I wasn’t tangled anymore. I didn’t give a shit who saw me naked at this point. I was having a baby.
My husband, being the champ that he was, was down by my leg, holding up my one leg in the air as I laid on my side. He seemed completely fascinated by what was going on and was talking to the doctors and nurses. The baby’s head was coming into view. They offered to let my husband touch it, he did and he said that it was the cord. That shot me into a panic! “WHAT?! The cord?! She has a prolapsed cord?!”, I yelled, using the medical term for when the cord was coming out first. I told you that I had studied for childbirth like I was going to become a freaking midwife. The doctor instantly was reassuring me that my husband was wrong and that it wasn’t the cord, it was the head. They asked if I wanted to feel the head. I did. I understood why he had thought that it was a cord. The baby’s head was crushed impossibly small. It was squishy, not hard as I would have imagined that a head would be.
The room was crowded with at least 10 people in there. I didn’t understand why there were so many people there. Someone explained to me that there was a whole infant specialist team there because there had been meconium in the amniotic fluid, that they might need to help the baby when she came out. This was the first time this had been mentioned to me since I had gotten to the hospital. I understood though, I guess they had seen it when my water had broken all over the triage room. I supposed that they hadn’t talked to me about it because I had went to the pushing stage so quickly. I realized that this would affect what I had wanted to happen after the birth. That she would probably be taken from me, that the cord might not get to have delayed cord clamping. I tried to make peace with this as I continued to push. Someone patted my face with a wet rag. It felt nice. I kept trying to close my legs and they wouldn’t let me. This frustrated me and they continued to tell me to push, counting away while I ignored them and pushed my own way, wishing they would shut up. The baby was crowning. I desperately wanted to close my legs and thrashed about trying to. They wouldn’t let go of my leg. People describe the ring of fire when the baby is being born. I have no idea where the emphasis on that came from. After the pain from the contractions, this stretching pain of my skin was nothing. I pushed and half her head came out during a contraction, and then the contraction stopped, leaving me stranded there with her head half out, my vagina stretched impossibly big and taunt. Now it hurt. I screamed, “It hurts! It hurts!” My husband later told me that when I screamed that he was looking at her head thinking “Yeah, I bet that does hurt.” but I was stuck there, unable to push effectively until the next contraction would start. Now the doctor got serious. “You have to deliver her with this next contraction, okay? I need you to really push this time.” I got scared from her tone. Was the baby okay? Was she going to give me an episiotomy? I was terrified of getting an episiotomy. The next contraction hit. I pushed with everything I had. And then the pressure was gone and I felt her slipping into this world. Only a moment later she was placed on my tummy and I could hear her. I looked down at her in shock and confusion. She was perfectly pink and plump, her crying showing that she was healthy and not in distress at all. The infant team never had to do anything. She was perfect. The emergency infant care team headed out of the room, wheeling their equipment with them.
I tried to hold her to my chest but I was so confused. I had prepared my brain for them to take her, that she wasn’t going to be okay. But here she was, big and healthy on me. I tried to cling to her, but she was so slippery I was afraid that I would drop her. She became silent on my chest as I cooed at her.
After the Birth
I had read so much about the golden hour after birth when babies and mothers should be together. I tried to hold her close. Then the nurses were pushing on my belly and I cried out. When I cried out, my baby cried out too as if seeing me in distress upset her. I tried to calm her. It seemed like my placenta was being delivered. I barely even noticed. But then the shaking started. I began to tremble uncontrollably. I was shaking so bad I was afraid I was going to drop her slippery naked body. I told my husband to take her. Maybe him, maybe the nurse took her. I felt better knowing that I couldn’t drop her. I felt woozy and disconnected. They were giving me pitocin and I didn’t understand why. I tried to figure out what had happened. I only had minor 1st degree tearing and no perineal tearing (maybe perineal massage worked?) but I had to get some stitches. They stitched me up and eventually I stopped shaking (apparently this is a thing?) and my little one was returned to me. I have this photo of me cooing at her at this point. She was perfect and healthy at 8lbs 3oz and she was all ours.
Overall, I think it went well considering everything. Not how I had read about (dilating 4cm to 10cm so quickly!) but definitely okay. And the best part is that I got a baby!