On this, the anniversary of my sister's birth (Happy Birthday, Sandra!), we interrupt our regularly scheduled programmed of Easter-egg-hunting cuteness and OHMYGODJAMESGOTAHAIRCUTWAITTILLYOUSEEIT pictures to bring you James' Birth Story as part of a Family-Growth-A-Thon being held today over at Sarcastic Mom.
Brace yourselves, because this is going to be a loooong post, but if you have time when you're done, you should go read everyone else's birth stories too. They're wonderful!
I feel compelled to write a birth story because James’ entrance into the world was one of the most beautiful and perfect things that has ever happened to me. But I am also, for perhaps the first time in my life, at a complete loss for words. Where do I begin my birth story, which really began 9 months before when I realized I had a new life inside of me? And how do I possibly describe what it was truly like to labor and birth my son, the mountain of physical and emotional sensations that words can never capture? Anything I write seems like just a trite recounting of some outside events while all the action was happening inside of me, both literally and figuratively. A timeline seems inappropriate as well, because time became completely unimportant while I was in labor. It all feels like a single moment, a moment that changed our lives and made us parents, made us a family, gave us this incredible little person that we love more than we ever thought possible, and whatever else I might try to write will never capture the joy and love of that moment.
However...I want my son to have this birth story to read and to understand how wonderful his birth was, and I also want to remember some of the details that so easily begin to fade into that “one shining moment” feeling. So here goes nothing.
I had always felt that James would be ready to be born early, so when his due date arrived and I was still not in labor, it was disheartening. I did not mind waiting; but because I’m diabetic, there was a lot of worry on the doctor’s part about the baby being overdue, and I knew that if he were born early, we would not have to deal with that or with our own worries about our baby being all right. So his due date passed, and the doctor said we should really consider inducing because my blood pressure was continually high, and the longer we waited, the less likely it became that we could have the kind of birth we wanted. We held out a few more days and then decided on Friday, July 7, that it was time, mainly because I was feeling the strain of the rising blood pressure on my body. So we made an appointment with the doctor to go in on Friday evening. But by the time we got home from the doctor’s appointment where we made this monumental decision, our doctor had called and asked us to wait until Saturday evening. Hey, fine with us, we thought. We want this baby to come naturally, and this gives us an extra day. But it was a little strange, because we had always planned for a completely natural birth, and now we had to deal with the thought of being in the hospital for the entire process, no laboring at home, and of “getting my labor started” and all these things that felt strange and unnatural to us, as well as all the fears we had about induction.
But come Saturday night at about 7:30, we’re at the hospital, checking in and ready to have our baby, and thinking to ourselves, OH MY GOD WE’RE HAVING THIS BABY. I remember leaving the house on the way to the hospital and thinking, the next time I come home I will be a parent. That is a stunning, stop-you-in-your-tracks, I-think-the-Earth-just-stopped-spinning kind of feeling.
So we got to the hospital and checked in. We called our doula because I had a lot of fears of the hospital and I wanted to have her help calm me down and get us mentally prepared for the birth. My mom might have come up that night—I believe she did, but even now that is getting kind of hazy for me. We checked in by 8:00, and got into a labor and delivery room to await the medicine.
Now here I need to say that, as I mentioned before, I was slightly petrified of induction. I was never afraid of labor, but coming from the background I have, was more afraid of all the risks induction introduces, and of heading for a cesarean-section, which is all too common among diabetics. So, after long discussions with our very supportive doctor and doula, we had decided that the only thing we were willing to do was a prostaglandin gel that would help to efface and dilate the cervix. So it was and it wasn’t an induction, because we were not actually starting labor, only getting my body to a point where we could take another step such as breaking the bag of water if need be, and hoping and praying that the Cervidil (the gel) would cause my body to go into labor on its own. We were told it would be a 12-hour dose, so it was best to come in, get the gel, and then go to sleep, and hopefully in the morning I’d be in labor or at least ready for it. So we waited around for HOURS and finally got the medicine around midnight. It is a long, thin strip of paper-like stuff with gel on it that goes against the cervix and that you leave in for 12 hours. Okay, now we’re ready for bed. So the doula did our relaxation exercise with us, and we felt pretty good, and we went to sleep.
No, just kidding. The bed was HORRIBLE. There is no way on earth it is humanly possible to sleep on that bed. It was, in fact, not meant for sleep—it was meant for LABOR. This means it breaks down in all kinds of cool ways so that you can squat, kneel, etc, and the doctor can still be in a prime “catching” position, but that it is rock-hard and lumpier than—well, analogies fail me. It is actually painful to lie on, especially in my 41-week-pregnant condition, with the sciatica where your bum and legs and back hurt if you lie on your side and guess what, you can’t lie on your stomach or back due to your changing shape and size. This was not such a problem at home, where I constantly propped myself up with at least 6 pillows, but even though we had brought the pillows from home AND had hospital pillows, they were no match for The Bed of Evil. So I tossed and turned and, by the way, did I mention the nurse came in every single hour to check my blood pressure and monitor the baby? (This is necessary because with any induction all of the “risks” of labor and birth rise exponentially, but they are much lower with the prostaglandin gel, since it is somewhat less “invasive” and powerful than other means of induction.) Since the nurse came in every hour, I can precisely report the amount of sleep I got: Two Hours. The next morning I did sort of feel like the walking dead, and this was made MUCH worse by the fact that I was still not in labor.
Around noon, the nurse came in to check my cervix. Absolutely, completely, 100% un-dilated. The gel had had almost no effect so far. It was decided that I needed a second dose, and should wait another 12 hours. Now this sort of feels just a little bit like what I imagine hell to be like. These people expect me to sit in a hospital room with no windows for an entire day, on a bed I can’t sleep on, after I haven’t slept all night, and did I mention I’m 9 months pregnant with rising blood pressure, and then I'll go into labor at approximately midnight and labor all night? Oh sweet Jesus. But we tried to stay upbeat and go ahead with it. I’m not really sure what we did all day because I was trying to ignore the reality of being stuck in that room. I do know that the Wimbledon final was on and it was Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal and Federer won after Nadal had beat him out at the French Open. But otherwise, the day is pretty much a blur of nurses coming in and “monitoring” me. I was so exhausted! My mom was there quite a lot and Lisa, our doula, was on phone call standby.
Finally, that night at about 8:00 p.m., the medication strip just fell out. Now, apparently, this is not supposed to happen, but I swear it did…I did not pull it out or anything of that nature! I began to have stomach cramps right around this time and started freaking out just a little bit because I was afraid the medicine was doing something bad to me and my baby. At the end of my pregnancy, I had felt the odd contraction here and there and was told that was very normal. So when I got these stomach cramp things, it really freaked me out because they were NOT what I had felt before, so obviously to me, they must not be contractions. Except they were coming every 2 minutes for about 30 seconds. Oops! So they hurt like really bad cramps, which is of course what you hear a lot of people say about labor contractions, but I refused to believe it since I knew my labor was not going to hurt (see: HypnoBirthing) and then I was also afraid of being in labor all night and I was physically and mentally exhausted from being in the hospital with no sleep all this time.
Here is where Lisa (our doula) was truly priceless. Right at the time when I was facing a second sleepless night, in painful labor, fearing something was wrong with me because of the medicine, she came in, made me sit on the labor ball, and did a relaxation exercise with me. All the pain and fear just disappeared and my head cleared and we decided we needed to go to bed and get some rest, so we did! That’s right, no more labor pains at all, and I went to sleep. The bed was still devilishly uncomfortable, but with the combination of my exhaustion and the sleeping pill my doctor kindly offered me, I didn’t have much trouble passing into Dreamland.
At 6:30 the next morning I woke up and thought, Man! I have to PEE! So, being 9 months pregnant and incapable of normal movement, I rolled up onto my knees to begin my departure from the bed when there was a pop and a WHOOSH! Oops, I guess I don’t have to pee, that was just my water breaking. OH MY GOD MY WATER JUST BROKE!!! This time, having actually slept at least 5 hours the night before, and having seen firsthand that I could experience contractions without any pain, I was excited! But I have to admit, I was also very sleepy, so the first couple of hours I was very drowsy. And of course, when a woman is laboring, she goes into a different state of being that is hard to describe but I would call it transcendent. I was aware of all that was going on outside of me but was intensely focused on the work happening inside of me. The contractions felt more like waves or a roller coaster now. Again let me emphasize that they did not hurt, I would just breathe through each one and then continue in my birthing state. I had some pressure sensations on my back and the nurse told me the baby was OP or “sunny side up,” meaning he was facing frontward instead of towards my spine, which often makes it more difficult for a baby to come out properly. So, during the breaks between contractions, we used hot and cold packs to try to get him to flip, we all talked to him and encouraged him, and Lisa’s back-up doula, Chris, helped me do lunges as well. Many may seem amazed by this as I was in labor with no pain medications this whole time, but it just seemed to me like part of the enormous LABOR that giving birth is, and none of it hurt. It was somewhat hard, though, because I just wanted to rest and sleep some more, but my body and my baby were ready for other things!
Ben got me in the tub because I had gotten in it the night before and it had really helped my pains, so we were hoping if I floated on my tummy in the tub the baby would turn. However, as soon as I got in, I felt like I was going to go to the bathroom right then and there, so I hurried out. Then, it struck me that I didn’t have to go to the bathroom…I had to push! I was only dilated to a 6 or something, so the nurse actually told me Don’t Push (as though I had a choice) but thank God for Chris, who reminded me that if I felt like pushing, my body probably needed to push, and maybe it would help the baby turn, just take it easy on yourself and breathe through them rather than straining. So I actually had to bear down a little every third or fourth contraction from...I would guess 9:00 a.m. onward. And then…the baby turned! And before I knew it, maybe 12:30 by the clock, the nurse checked me and said she couldn’t feel my cervix anymore so I was fully dilated and now I could actually birth my baby! I pushed some on my hands and knees, some on my side, and then finally the doctor showed up and suggested a “lotus” position, leaning back at about a 45 degree angle and holding my feet together and grabbing my legs like I’m doing yoga, because apparently this was supposed to help the baby get past the pelvic bone. So then I pushed like that for about an hour, only bearing down when I felt the need, no coaching or yelling, and breathing through each one so I didn’t strain too hard. The nurse got me some Sierra Mist and would give me a few sips in between contractions. That stuff tasted like manna from heaven…my throat was somewhat dry from the deep breathing. I will always have fond memories of Sierra Mist because it was there for me during my labor, when I needed it most!
So there I was, during what I’ve heard is the most painful and difficult part of a first birth, and I felt WONDERFUL. True, it was a huge effort, but it didn’t hurt at all. I knew I was very close to holding my baby in my arms, and I had my mother, Lisa, Dr. Saunders, and a very young nurse in training all standing around me giving me gentle encouragement. Yes, Susan, you’re doing so good! That’s just right, Susan, good job! Oh, you’re doing great! It made me feel so empowered and connected as a woman to the community of women who have gone through this before, so supported by these women who cared about what happened to me and my baby and who helped me have the birth that I wanted. Dr. Saunders did some perineal massage, and finally, at 2:42 p.m., James was born! The doctor simply caught him and brought him right to my chest, Ben flew to my side, and we both stared at our baby in wonder. There are truly not words to describe how magical and perfect that moment was, and every time I think of the beauty of it, I cry with joy all over again. This is an emotional high so high it’s not even in this world, and I hope and pray that every parent gets to feel that same feeling, however different their birth process may have been from mine.
So. We had slightly more than 8 hours of “labor,” including an hour and a half of pushing, after 36 hours waiting in the hospital for something to happen. And when something did happen…it was the greatest moment of my life. It was so much more than words can say, and I haven't even gotten to all the ways it made me fall more in love with my husband, feel closer to my mother, and find new strength and vigor to fight for the needs of the world's children. All I know is, I feel so blessed to have been in that exact moment, time and place. It was extraordinary. Just like James is extraordinary in every way. And just like every baby is extraordinary to his or her parents, uniquely precious and perfect.
James Alexander, thank you so much for being mine.