On March 8th, my husband and I welcomed our first child into this world! Our son was born on his due date, which also happens to be his paternal grandpa’s birthday. As I sit here attempting to recall the events of my 20 hour labor, I find that all of it comes back to me in a bit of a haze (I assume this is nature’s way of ensuring that mothers have more than one baby: Labor amnesia), but it’s important to me to at least make a strong effort to record the most incredible day of my life.
Two weeks prior to entering active labor, I was admitted to the hospital for erratic fetal movement. It felt like the little man was having a seizure or practicing the Harlem Shake in there. The monitors at the hospital detected contractions, and for the following two weeks, I had two different “This is it!”moments where the contractions were regular and somewhat painful. Then, they would abruptly subside when I changed positions and I would then carry on as normal. I did stop teaching about 10 days before the baby was born, which was really nice for me. Our freezer is now well-stocked with my favorite recipes, our house is clean, and at the time, I felt physically ready to endure childbirth without the demands of being on my feet in front of middle school students all day long.
The morning of March 7th, I walked a 5k loop with a non-pregnant, very fit friend of mine. I was working hard to keep up with her while maintaining conversation, but getting my blood flowing felt great. By the end of our walk, I was having some mild contractions, but nothing more than in the two weeks prior. That same afternoon, I visited True North Acupuncture, which is run by my friend, Katie. I feared going beyond my due date and having to be medically induced, so I wanted to test out a holistic approach. I had never tried acupuncture before, but found it to be really relaxing and only mildly uncomfortable when Katie put in certain needles, intending for me to feel them to help labor progress. She also burned moxibustion near my small toes and sent me home with what looked like a cigar to use on my own.
At 8:00pm on the 7th, I used the moxibustion stick for about 20 minutes, then got ready for bed. At 9:00pm, just after I got into my pajamas and was about to call it a night, my water broke all over our sheets (thank God for the waterproof mattress protector I bought during pregnancy). At first, I was totally confused and couldn’t figure out what was going on, but this kind of water breakage was unmistakable and it hit me that our son would be born within 18 hours (the typical amount of time the hospital gives you to deliver post-water breaking to prevent infection). I called my OB and was asked to come into the hospital within the hour. J and I spent the next 45 minutes gathering hospital bags, showering, and phoning our friend who was on dog-watch standby. After our pups were picked up, we drove to the hospital, making it there by 10pm. I was kind of in rush mode during this hour and didn’t notice the contractions creeping up on me too much. We were able to park the car in the garage and walk to the ER, only pausing for a brief moment during one strong contraction.
Once we arrived at the hospital, I was checked in and evaluated, and then we called our parents to tell them that labor was officially on! I remember talking to my mom and having to breathe through a couple of more painful contractions, so I asked her to spread the word because I didn’t feel like I could stay on the phone. It was probably about 11pm at that point in time. From 11pm until 7am, things progressed well and kept moving along. My wonderful nurse was super respectful of my decision to avoid all meds, even when things got tough. Throughout the night, J was right there with me, being supportive and helping me through the techniques that we practiced in our labor class. I had a hard time controlling my breathing when the pain got intense, but between J and our nurse, they kept me focused and I was feeling optimistic about my chances of enduring a totally natural delivery.
I used the bathtub four times throughout the night. I can’t even recall all of the details of the hours that passed, but I remember being in the tub, feeling like I was slipping in and out of sleep between contractions. I was really exhausted from missing the entire night’s rest, but changing positions, using the birth ball, walking back and forth; all of those things helped get me through to the morning. In fact, I was so wrapped up in labor that when I saw the sunrise, I was almost surprised that I had endured the night. As I entered the transitional phase of labor, I started vomiting, which normally would have been traumatic for me (I hate feeling queasy), but in comparison to the intense contractions, I wasn’t even phased. My poor husband had to sit by and witness all of this loveliness, but he handled it super well.
At 7am, there was a nurse shift change and my doctor came in for the first time to check things out. I was dilated to 7cm, and our new nurses were extremely wonderful, so I was feeling hopeful that things were heading toward pushing after 10 hours. At this point in time, my contractions started to become so strong and close together that I was hardly getting any recovery between them. I started to feel like I was in over my head with the pain, but I recalled the words of my labor and delivery course instructor who told us that while transitional labor is the most intense, it’s typically the shortest phase. I was trying so hard to remain positive while redefining what a “10” on my pain scale really felt like.
I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty tough person. I’ve partially torn both of my rotator cuffs (and still haven’t had surgery to fix them 12 years later), removed my own stitches, had cavities filled without dental anesthesia, and endured two separate femoral neck stress fractures without so much as shedding a tear. I figured since all of those experiences I’d been through were unnatural pain, that I’d be able to handle what I consider to be a natural form of pain: Childbirth. However, the four hours that followed were definitely the toughest four hours of my entire life.
Between 7am and 11am, I dilated to 9cm fairly quickly, but then I started having really strong urges to push, even though my body wasn’t ready for me to. I couldn’t find a comfortable position and was in so much pain that walking wasn’t an option anymore. I alternated between the birth ball, lying on my side, and kneeling against the bed, which was raised to an upright position. The nurses never left my side during these four hours and continued to tell me that I was doing well and would make it through. The strongest memory I have of this time was wanting to push and feeling the most intense amount of pressure. I kept asking the nurses to check to see if I was at 10cm yet, because I was certain that I had to be ready to push. As soon as I would make it through one contraction, another would start, making it impossible for me to regroup after the pain. At this point in time, I started mentally repeating a phrase from a book I read, Birthing Within, that stuck with me and helped me stay positive: Labor is painful, it’s hard work, and you can do it.
Sometime around 10am, the nurses noticed that not only was I not dilating despite my effective contractions, but that my cervix was slightly swelling due to my tense and tired body. My doctor came in and did an exam and noticed that the baby wasn’t in the right position. Instead of being face down (toward my spine) or even face up, he was sideways. She felt an ear where there should have been a forehead. I wasn’t dilated enough to push (still at 9cm with swelling), he wasn’t in the right location to be pushed out, and I started to get frustrated. I remember having a death hold on the rails of the hospital bed, crying through contractions, telling JP that I thought I was dying. It sounds very dramatic as I type this now, but in the moment, that’s exactly how I felt. My husband says that my eyes were the saddest thing he’d seen because of how desperate I looked to be helped out of the pain. He had to take a few small walks around the halls of the hospital while the nurses stayed with me because he got a sickening feeling watching me go through this, feeling totally powerless.
During our labor and delivery class, our instructor suggested that we have a “code word” that means, “I need an epidural NOW and don’t try to talk me out of it!” Before labor, I refused a code word because I was so determined to make it through on my own. I felt (and still feel under normal circumstances), that womens’ bodies are designed to have babies naturally. Women have been doing this forever, all across the world. However, JP really wanted us to have a code word, which we joked would be cacao. He loves the show, Portlandia, and I totally hate it, being from Oregon. In fact, the “Cacao” piece on the show is probably my least favorite skit ever. It totally creeps me out.
JP and I never really came up with a true “code word”, but I knew if I ever said cacao to him during labor, he’d know not to talk me off the ledge. I had told him a few times prior to 10am that I didn’t think I could do this anymore, but he (and the nurses) kept me positive and got me through a couple of hours that I wouldn’t have gotten through on my own. At around 10:30am, after being checked and realizing that pushing wasn’t on the horizon, and that even if it was, it would be long since the baby wasn’t where he needed to be, I told J that I wanted an epidural (it was the first time anyone in the room uttered the word) and that I wasn’t sure I’d even make it through pushing if I wasn’t able to relax and regroup. I remained true to my hatred of Portlandia though, and refused to say cacao.
When I discussed (or perhaps it was begging and pleading in desperation…) the epidural with my amazing nurses and JP, they all seemed to agree that I still had a long road before me and that if I was able to relax, my cervix might dilate to 10cm and we could get things moving again. I decided to go ahead with the epidural at that point. When the anesthesiologist came in, I was in a world of hurt with contractions still two minutes apart. I had to lie on my side in the fetal position while he worked on my back, which was incredibly difficult. I just remember feeling like the pain meds couldn’t possibly enter my system quickly enough, especially since being still through the pain was nearly impossible. At 11am, after 14 hours of labor, the epidural kicked in and I was a different person entirely. I relaxed, and within a half hour, I was fully dilated to 10cm without cervical swelling.
My doctor came in at noon and gave me the green light to start pushing. The epidural definitely took the edge off the pain (majorly), but I was still able to feel pressure from contractions, which helped me know when to push. I was still able to work with my body, even with the drug. I was also able to move my legs, lift my hips, and push in a squatting position with the help of the squat bar on the bed. I never expected that I’d be able to have movement through the epidural and was pleasantly surprised that the sensation wasn’t that of complete numbness or feeling out of my own body. The nurses kept telling me that it was the best epidural they’d ever seen administered, and for that, I’m very grateful.
As expected, pushing wasn’t a simple process. The baby was still sideways, so I did a lot of pushing on my side to have gravity help him out. The nurses rocked me back and forth between contractions, and eventually, his little head faced down and he was in the right spot. Unfortunately, my contractions slowed due to the epidural, and I had to be given pitocin to kick them back into gear. Before the epidural, the contractions were two minutes apart, but they slowed to five/six minutes apart afterward. Apparently, this is typical. Because I was already given pain relief, I wasn’t too afraid of the pitocin, which can increase the strength of contractions. The pitocin worked, and I was back into pushing regularly by 1pm.
Typically, a hospital allows you to push for about three hours before moving toward a c-section. Many times, the baby can show signs of distress if he/she is stuck in the birth canal for too long, but our little guy was doing just fine, and after three hours of pushing, I asked my doctor for more time since the first hour didn’t give me enough of an opportunity since contractions slowed. My doctor, who is basically my hero now, agreed to give me another hour, which brought me to 4pm. I felt successful while pushing and was given a ton of positive feedback from the nurses. They brought a mirror over so I could see that I was making progress (something I didn’t enter labor imagining I’d want to witness), and they kept updating me, saying that he had a lot of long, blond hair. They also kept me motivated saying that pushing was like swimming underwater the length of a pool, which, given my swimming background, was the perfect analogy. I really feel that because I asked for the epidural, I was able to remain calm and collected through the hours of pushing.
Finally, at 4pm, my doctor determined that I had what is called “arrest of descent”, meaning that the baby’s head was stuck in my pelvis somewhere and wasn’t going to move on its own, even though my contractions were powerful and my pushing was effective. I was given two options moving forward: Forceps or a c-section. I was desperate not to have a c-section after 19 hours of labor, 14 of which were unmedicated. We talked pros/cons of forceps, and decided that we’d give it a go. I was to push through one contraction (I pushed four times per contraction), and my doctor would bring his head to crowning, then remove the forceps. I’d push him out on the next contraction. If that plan didn’t work, we’d move to c-section. I was surprisingly calm during this decision making process. I completely trust my doctor, and because of that, I felt 100% confident that the forceps would work and that the baby would be born according to our new plan.
In order to be prepared for an emergency c-section, or whatever could possibly happen to the baby in the event of a forceps mishap, we had to call in several other doctors. I think there were probably about eight people in the delivery room from the NICU, the anesthesiologist, our nurses, doctor, and some other medical staff from places I don’t even know. The forceps were much larger than I expected (think salad tongs on steroids), but my doctor was absolutely amazing and between the two of us, we were able to get the little guy out exactly as planned! He was born at 4:36pm and placed immediately on my chest, without so much as a scratch on his adorable little face.
I can’t even adequately describe the feeling of meeting him for the first time. I know I was crying, saying that he was perfect, and that my life was forever changed, as cliché as that might sound. The medical staff slowly started leaving the room as our healthy baby made cute little sounds on my chest and grasped my finger with his miniature hands. I kept staring at him in disbelief; this little person who had spent 40 weeks growing inside of me was finally in my arms. There is no other feeling like it in the world. I was instantly in love.
A lot has to happen after the baby is born, but I didn’t even blink as my doctor and nurses delivered the placenta, collected the cord blood for our donation to Be the Match, and fixed me up (all said and done, I had a 2nd degree tear, not terrible considering the forceps). I couldn’t stop staring at our son in disbelief, experiencing all of the new moments of motherhood. Some people say that they feel like their newborn is a bit of a stranger to them at first, but I felt the complete opposite. I’d spent 40 weeks talking to him, imagining what he’d look like and who he will someday become, and once I held him in my arms, all of those bonding feelings consumed me entirely. It’s a love that can’t even be expressed in words.
After a couple of hours in the delivery room, we were moved to another section of the hospital where we stayed for two nights. Although I hadn’t slept in 36 hours by the time we arrived in our second room, I stayed up all night long, holding the baby and simply staring at him. It had been suggested that I have the nurses take him to the nursery for a couple of hours so that I could sleep, but I don’t think anyone could have pried him out of my arms!
Baby Grasshopper was born on a Friday, and throughout our weekend stay, the lactation consultants, nurses, and doctors were beyond amazing. Procedures on both myself and the baby were done seamlessly, and it was completely evident that every single person at the hospital loves their job. My OB came in to check on me both Saturday and Sunday mornings, and she took the time to ask me if I was at peace with the way delivery happened. We had gone over my birth plan during pregnancy and she knew how against pain relief I was. Truth be told, I am at peace with my decision. Both JP and I have a strong feeling that had I continued with natural labor considering all of the hoops I had to jump through with cervical swelling, Grasshopper being in the wrong position, and my pelvis not allowing his head through, that I would have ended up in distress, or the baby in distress, and a c-section would have been the outcome. There is no way of knowing this for sure, of course, but neither of us is confident that natural, drug-free, vaginal delivery would have been successful in my particular situation.
As I look back, I feel that I did get the things out of labor and delivery that I wanted. Most importantly, I have a healthy, beautiful son and I am also healthy and well. I redefined my pain threshold during the first 14 hours, and proved to myself that I can remain positive and focused, even when I’m unaware of the finish line. While that might not be important to most women, I feel a strong correlation between my strength in labor and the strength that I need to do the things in life that I love, such as training for and competing well in marathons and hopefully someday, an Ironman triathlon. The final thing that I got out of delivery was post-epidural: Pushing. Even though I had the assistance of drugs, I felt strong and powerful as I was pushing. I felt in control of my ability to use my endurance, and I think that both Grasshopper and I benefited from my fitness by not becoming distressed as the hours passed (and passed, and passed…)
Toward the end of my pregnancy, as JP and I worked on our birth plan, I changed the title of our plan to “Birth Wishes”, and that is all that you can expect them to be. There was no way for me to predict the length of labor, the intensity of pain, the positioning of the baby, or the width of my pelvis. I didn’t carry out my wishes as intended, but I’m still proud of myself for staying strong, and every day when I look at my precious baby, I am thankful for modern medicine and everyone involved in his delivery who helped him safely enter this world. There is absolutely nothing more important than that.
If you would like to share your birth story, please email me at alidamron @ gmail . com