Hi, hello. It’s been a minute (like a year and a halfish?) since I’ve contributed to the blog. But you know, life. A whole lot of it.
I have a lot that is in progress on this blog, some unfinished projects, updates to make to my site, drafts that I started months ago, and constant ideas in my head that I’ve been meaning to get down. But I’ve also been busy with another thing over the past year: I grew a human! And he’s pretty amazing.
There’s so much that I could talk about (maternity finds, my pregnancy must-haves, baby registry tips, my infinite wisdom from the first few weeks of being a parent, the list goes on). And hopefully one of these days, (or years, let’s be real) I will. But for now, I wanted to write down the story of how Henry James joined us in the world. I’ve enjoyed reading birth stories on other blogs recently (weird how your interests change to match your new experiences, right?) so naturally, I thought I should get WAY too personal and long-winded on the internet just in case maybe someone will enjoy hearing mine. And if it’s for no other reason than my husband and I to look back years from now and remember one of the craziest and coolest days of our lives when we brought a little dude into the world, that’s enough too! So here goes.
Tuesday, September 5th, I was 40 weeks pregnant, and had reached my due date. At this point it had felt for a couple of weeks like this baby will never come out, although they tell you, it will. I wouldn’t say that I was miserable, or totally sick of being pregnant, but I would say that I was pretty ready to meet the kid who had taken up residency in my mid-section for the past 9 months. As ready as you can be, of course.
I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions off and on for a couple of weeks, where your belly tightens up and feels rock hard for a minute or so. “Practice” contractions, so they say. There were one or two evenings when these went on for over an hour, and were spaced about 5 minutes apart. We thought that surely something was happening, because this timing is consistent with early labor, and a sign you might need to go to the hospital. However, the Braxton Hicks contractions did not hurt.
Like at all.
While I really had no idea what to expect (what if I’m in labor and don’t even know it?), I figured there was about zero chance that I would be the first woman ever to have a baby completely pain free. So beyond getting momentarily excited (oh shit, is today the day?!), staying late at work one night to wrap some things up (juuust in case), and lots of googling and YouTubing “when-to-go-to-the-hospital and Braxton-Hicks-vs.-real-contractions”, we didn’t make a huge deal out of these events.
Jesse and I went in for our 40 week appointment on our due date, hoping for some good news from the doctor that would indicate I could go into labor at any minute. He told us that I was 4 cm dilated, and maybe 60-70% effaced (thinned out, which we didn’t even know was a thing until our prenatal/childbirth class). This was definitely good news, because it meant that the Braxton Hicks contractions had actually been doing something productive.
I still didn’t get too excited though, because I knew that dilation does not always equal going into labor. As one of my best friends put it, “isn’t it crazy that it took (another mutual friend who just had a baby and a very long labor – bless her) 2 days of active labor to get to 3.5, and here you are waltzing around town at 4?”.
Yes, my friend. It is cray cray.
I had been 1 cm starting at 35 weeks, so it was definitely a slow process. Regardless, we were happy to hear that progress was being made and everything looked good. I also asked the doctor to strip my membranes, which I’ve read can either help get labor going, or can do nothing at all. We had an induction date scheduled for that Friday the 8th, if I didn’t go into labor spontaneously. I had mixed feelings about this and was worried that things might not go as well if I was induced, so I was looking for any help I could get to push-start the ol’ labor train to move on its own.
I went from the doctor’s office straight to a prenatal acupuncture appointment. I had been getting treatments every month or so during pregnancy to help relieve the sciatica that I developed, which put a stop to my running at about 6 months in, and was quite literally a big pain in my ass for the next 3.
At this last appointment, my acupuncturist offered to do an induction treatment, to which I said yes, please. This consisted of using needles on some different pressure points, and she would irritate them every 15 minutes or so for an hour long treatment. She explained that the points she was using in my legs and hands were supposed to trigger my brain to produce oxytocin, which in turn can cause contractions. Basically, bypassing the baby’s role in signaling the oxytocin. She did say, though, that if the baby wasn’t ready, the contractions would stop and I wouldn’t actually go into labor. (This whole “either it will work or it won’t” thing – I’m sensing a trend). So I wasn’t sure how much of this to believe, but hey! I was ready to go and felt like a little needle voodoo was worth a shot. She said that if the treatment was successful, contractions will typically start 12-24 hours later. We finished the treatment and I headed back to work for the afternoon. I continued to have some sporadic Braxton Hicks contractions, but everything was business as usual for the rest of the day.
That evening, we made dinner and watched some tv in the basement, while I bounced on an exercise ball (this is supposed to help the baby get into position, and can supposedly even jump-start labor. I suggested that we go for a walk before bed (another way to help get things going, so they say). We walked about a mile and came home to head to bed.
I slept an hour or so before having to get up to pee (as you DO when you’re nine months pregnant), and I felt like I was having some contractions that I could maybe almost definitely feel without having to put my hand on my belly to notice the tightening. I was able to go back to sleep until about 11:30 before the contractions were definitely kicking in and woke me up. I told Jesse that I was finally feeling some pain, and he started timing the contractions with the app he had downloaded.
They were coming pretty consistently at less than 5 minute intervals, and lasting around a minute each. While this had happened before with the Braxton Hicks, this time I had a deep cramping sensation that was enough to make me roll over in bed like “oooooh-k, yep this is probably legit”. We laid in bed and kept timing, until about 12:30, when I said we should probably get up and prepare to go to the hospital.
We already had our hospital bags packed, but made sure we threw in a couple last minute things (granola bars, phone chargers, camera), and got the car seat, a pillow, and our baby book in the car. We both took a shower, and I then laid in the bath for a few minutes to try and relax/ease the discomfort from the contractions. They continued pretty regularly, and were about 2-3 minutes apart around 3:00 a.m. Jesse’s app told us several times something along the lines of “Delivery imminent! Go to the hospital now!”, but I wasn’t quite buying it. We are only a 3 minute drive from the hospital, and I’ve heard that it’s best to stay home if you can during early labor.
We figured we better at least call the on-call doc and let them know that we were thinking about heading to the hospital. Our preferred OB was on call on our due date (the 5th), so I was pleasantly surprised that she answered Jesse’s call at 3:00 a.m. on the 6th. He told her about the contractions, and she asked him if there were any tears yet. Nope, but the pain is definitely getting more intense. She said we should go ahead and get to the hospital. I also texted my sweet friend Cortney, who had offered to come to the hospital and doula for us – more on that later. We spent a little bit more time at home, ate some oatmeal (assuming it could be my last meal for awhile), and off we went.
I swear, the minute we took off in the car, my contractions slowed down. Real cool. I figured while it would be embarrassing and disappointing if they stopped, we would not be the first couple to be sent home after a false labor scare. It would be best to get there and know for sure how things were going.
It was a full moon out.
We arrived around 4:00 a.m., and had to go through the emergency room because the main entrance was closed. Luckily, we had pre-registered and it was a quiet morning, so they admitted us within a few minutes and sent a nurse down to take us to Labor & Delivery.
We were taken straight into one of the huge (really!) L&D rooms, I changed into a gown, and the nurse strapped two monitors to my belly. One was to monitor the baby’s heartbeat, the other measured contractions. The attending doctor came in around 4:30 and checked me, and announced that I was 4.5 cm dilated. Not bad, since it was some progress from the 4 the day before, and I had heard/read that they will likely keep you at the hospital until you have a baby once you are at 5 cm. They said that our Doctor would be in at about 6:00 to check progress. The nurse also put our info up on a dry erase board, and asked what my “pain goal” was.
I’m sorry, my what?
Pain goal: they have this smiley face to seriously upset face scale from 1 to 10, and ask you what level you want to get to before you consider some sort of intervention. Cute.
I shrugged and said, I don’t know, probably a 10?
A little bit of back-story, I did not have a written birth plan. I knew (and had expressed to our doctor) that I wanted to try to deliver without an epidural, or any other sort of pain medication. No judgement (AT. ALL!) against women who do get an epidural, but I didn’t really like what I heard in our prenatal class about the fact that you can’t walk or use your legs, need a catheter, and often can’t even tell when you are having contractions so someone else will have to tell you when to push. On top of that, I have low blood pressure and the pain medication used for labor lowers your blood pressure further, so I was afraid I might pass out. And on top of THAT, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wanted to do it because I feel like it makes you part of an elite, bad-ass club. And it’s weird. I mean, I get it when people say “why be a martyr?” And “why not take advantage of modern medicine?” I don’t know, why do people run marathons? Not because they have to or because it’s super fun. You’re proving what your body can do, and getting an intense but rewarding experience. Anyway. I had heard stories from so many women that tried to go without, and it wasn’t long before it was too intense and they went for the epidural. So while I wasn’t necessarily scared about giving birth, I was definitely worried that I might not be able to handle it on my own.
I also wanted to be able to move around and labor in different positions, which is why I had requested intermittent monitoring – where they only put the monitors on you every hour or so unless there is a concern, and a saline lock – a little I.V. deal that they put into your hand or wrist that is not hooked up to anything but can be used to administer fluids if needed. Beyond that, I didn’t even know what I would put in a birth plan. And I figured you never know how things are going to go, so it’s important not to get married to any one idea in case it doesn’t work out as planned.
So. Pain goal: 10 was officially on the board, and we were left to ourselves and my contractions to hopefully make progress. Cortney arrived and showed me her favorite labor position – sitting on a birthing ball and leaning forward onto the bed with a couple of pillows to rest your head and arms on. Let me just say. Cortney was basically an angel, and that birthing ball was a god-send. I was really feeling my contractions in my back, and laying in the hospital bed did NOT feel good. Cortney also showed Jesse how to apply counter-pressure to my lower back to help through contractions.
The pain was slowly intensifying, and I found myself vocalizing (making a low ooooo sound) quite a bit to get through contractions. Don’t ask me where this came from, it just felt right.
In between contractions, I was feeling pretty great. The three of us chatted and joked around, and were generally having a good time, considering.
Dr. VanKirk (our favorite of the practice) came in around 6:30 a.m., and we were so happy to see her. She checked me, and said that I was at 7 cm, and 90% effaced.
HELLS TO THE YEAH.
I felt pretty proud of myself for making that much progress in two hours, and for handling the pain without much trouble. I asked VanKirk if she was still on call today (continuing her shift from the day before?), and she said that she was only on until 8:00 a.m. Damn. Even though I just got done wanting to high five everyone over how great this was going (the baby should basically fall out soon, right?), I wasn’t confident that it was going to happen in the next hour and a half. She told us who the next doctor was, and it happened to be one that we did not particularly want. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice, and our doctor said something about stepping on toes if she stayed past her shift… so it wasn’t looking great. She said she could break my water since it hadn’t happened spontaneously yet, and that could speed things up. I figured things were progressing pretty well on their own and I didn’t want to cause any possible stress for the baby, so we decided to hold off on that for a bit. She promised to come back at about 7:30 to check and see how it was going.
So we were left to ourselves again. I continued to sit on the ball, while Jesse and Cortney tag-teamed helping me through contractions with counter-pressure and encouragement. The pain was intensifying, and was almost completely in my back. It was still pretty manageable though (maybe a 7 on the smiley/sad scale?)
At some point, the nurse came in to strap the monitors to my belly again, which was kind of a pain because they kept sliding down and losing good contact while I was laboring on the ball. Another attending doctor (whom we secretly deemed “Dr. Dweeb”) came in to do a quick ultrasound to confirm that the baby was head down. He was (duh… had been pretty low in there for several weeks), and Dr. Dweeb said he couldn’t tell from the ultrasound if the baby was sunny-side up or not.
7:30 came pretty quick, and Dr. VanKirk was back. She performed another check and said that I was still around 7 cm. Hearing this was like a huge punch to the birthing confidence after I had made so much progress before, and expected that to continue. She offered again to break my water to help move things along. While we weren’t crazy about the idea, I figured it might be worth a shot since my labor had apparently stalled out even though contractions were consistent. Cortney was sitting in the corner and asked, “If you break her water, will you stay?” I didn’t see the exchange, but apparently VanKirk winked and nodded an agreement. Without fully knowing if she was going to stay or not, I told her if she thought it might help, let’s go for it. So out came the little crochet hook and up it went to pop the bag “of waters”. This wasn’t painful, just felt like a big gush of gross. The doctor and nurses left the room once again (it’s crazy how much of the time they’re just like “ok, have at it, byeeee”. But I guess it makes sense, labor is a natural thing and there’s not a whole lot they can do for you. Once again, SO glad we decided to have Cortney there. Jesse and I would have been pretty lost by ourselves.
As promised, things got real intense REAL quick. I had moved back to the ball, and the next contraction I had was not only painful but was accompanied with a huge amount of warm liquid. I whimpered to Jesse and Cortney that I thought I had peed, and they laughed and assured me that it was most likely just more “babybag juice” as Jesse put it, but either way, there were much worse things so not to worry about it. This went on for the next few contractions, which felt like they were coming one right after the other. I didn’t find out until the next day, but my contractions literally were coming in waves of two, which our doctor said was a sign that the baby was in a posterior position (face up with his skull pressing down on the back of your pelvis). This is NOT what you want, and it explained the intense back labor that I was experiencing. The pain of the contractions was getting to the point that I was having trouble keeping my voice to a controlled low “oooo” and was starting to get a little bit screamy.
One of the nurses was back to check the monitors, and said that it appeared that the baby’s heartrate was dropping. They asked me to move back to the bed so that the doctor could try to hook up a scalp probe monitor to the baby to track the heartrate more closely. For some reason, they were not successful in getting it attached, and the doctor said that one side of my cervix was swelling. She said I was dilated to about an 8 at this point, but apparently the baby had his arm up next to his head, and was getting stopped up trying to descend that way. She suggested that I labor laying on my right side, to try to reduce the pressure that was occurring and relieve the swelling. She also had me hold a peanut exercise ball between my legs to keep my pelvis open and encourage the baby to slide into a better position.
For the next/last hour and a half or so, everything got a little blurry. Things were moving pretty quickly and the whole experience was incredibly intense. The pain from my contractions was at a level 9, gaining on 10, and having to lie on the bed was not helping. The team decided to put me on oxygen to help bring the baby’s heart rate back up. The mask was kind of a pain in the butt (the strap kept sliding around my head as I was working (screaming) through contractions, and Jesse had to help adjust it, move it out of the way so that I could drink some water in between, etc.) We were happy to hear that it brought his heart rate back up to safe levels, though.
Our nurse Amy came in and suggested that they try administering some Benadryl through my wrist IV, which could potentially reduce the swelling of my cervix. We said sure, why not – and they gave me a big dose. I don’t know how effective this was on the swelling, but it hit me pretty hard as I started basically falling asleep for 30 seconds or so in between contractions, until the next one hit and I was back in it and yelling through the pain. There were a few times I remember telling Jesse that “it huuuurts!”
…and also that I didn’t think I could do it. I don’t know if there is any way to describe the pain except to say that it is worse than anything I’ve ever experienced, and there is no way to prepare or anticipate what it will feel like. Even now as I write this, I can’t really imagine exactly how it felt (which I think is nature’s dirty little trick and the only reason women choose to have more than one baby).
But I digress.
Let’s just say I had definitely reached that fun little pain goal called “10”.
Thankfully, Cortney kept counter-pressure on my back throughout this process, and Jesse was right in front of me providing encouragement, the face I needed to focus on to keep me sane, and a hand and sweatshirt collar to hang on to for dear life. He said at one point he thought I might actually break his fingers, but he wasn’t about to complain. Smart man I married.
Cortney kept asking me if I felt the need to poop (which is apparently the sensation you get when you are close to transition). For awhile, I kept saying no. Until finally, I did. Probably 7 or 8 more hard contractions, and in a split second I felt like the baby was coming. I actually yelled “OH he’s coming out!” and performed what I imagine was some sort of panicked sideways laying down jump, and reached down yonder as if I was going to have to catch my own baby because everyone else in the room and/or maternity ward was too slow and he was ready to be born NOW.
Cortney ran out into the hall to hail the doctor, who was already on her way back to check on us. Dr. VanKirk agreed that I was in fact about to have a baby, and it was time to push.
So push I did, through 5 or 6 more contractions with quite a bit of noise and some choice expletives. This is the part that they lovingly refer to as “the ring of fire”. All I could think at this point was He’s got to be crowning. For the love of god, somebody please say he’s crowning.
Unfortunately, they didn’t.
Jesse said his collar was again stretched at this point, and his eyes were far from dry. “Like I cried a lot”, he says. He was worried about me, and worried about the baby. Dr. VanKirk was concerned about the baby’s oxygen levels again, and encouraged me to really bear down and get the baby out into the world. I tried my best, but he was still not quite making it through.
VanKirk then mentioned that she may want to use a vacuum to help guide the baby out. Ultimately, she changed her mind and performed a small episiotomy. Apparently she explained that she was going to do this, but I honestly had no idea it was even happening. I couldn’t distinguish the feeling from anything else that was already going on which is good or bad, depending on how you look at it. I later thought that she might have used a local anesthetic before the scissors came out, but Jesse watched her do it and assured me that she definitely did not, as there was NO time.
THE DRAMA, I know.
This was apparently just the ticket. I went through a few more contractions and all of the grueling effort I could manage, and finally. Finally! He was here. Baby Henry James was born, at 9:43 a.m. Less than 6 hours from the time we stepped into the hospital (lucky, yes!), we had our little boy.
They laid him on my chest, and according to Jesse, rubbed him for quite some time until he started to breathe and cry. I was so overwhelmed and relieved at this point, that I didn’t honestly notice (does this make me a terrible mother? I don’t know.) We were all definitely relieved that our baby boy was finally out in the world, and Jesse and I both cried, “like a lot”.
Dr. VanKirk asked Jesse if he would like to cut the cord, and – despite insisting for 9 months that he absolutely WOULD NOT – he agreed. They let me hold and nurse Henry for at least an hour before taking him to weigh him, do his blood screening, all of that good stuff. This was… amazing, and I was legitimately impressed with how good looking he was. It didn’t matter how many 3D and 4D ultrasound pics we had seen, until I had him in my arms it was impossible to fathom what he would look like. I kept telling Jesse “I can’t believe how CUTE he is!” I was also a bit in awe of the fact that here was the actual human baby that had been camping out in my belly for the better part of a year. So we commenced the act of literally just staring at our baby, which would be a lot of what we did in the coming weeks. Sounds boring, I know. But it’s pretty great. I was so peacefully occupied that I hardly noticed the doctor delivering my placenta and stitching me up. Piece of cake, really.
We hadn’t told anyone the names that we were thinking about, and while we had a pretty good idea the last month or so of pregnancy, we didn’t officially decide on Henry James until he was born. Cortney was the first person we told, just before she left us to enjoy our baby and greet family as they came to visit throughout the day.
I really can’t say enough good things about having Cortney there to help coach us through the birthing process (nor can I ever sufficiently thank her for the gift of her support!) Having a neutral third party there who had been through this before was invaluable. Her second set of strong hands for counter-pressure, advice for labor positions and encouragement helped me manage the pain while being able to focus on Jesse. Her willingness to speak up also may have been the only reason we were able to keep our doctor on past her shift to deliver our baby! We had never seriously considered a doula until the week before we went into labor, and I am endlessly thankful that Cortney offered to be there for us. I truly believe that we probably would have turned to an epidural without her there (more out of fear and uncertainty than anything) and would definitely not have had the same birth experience. So if you are interested in trying to achieve an un-medicated birth, my advice to you is to hire a doula!
Henry weighed in at 6 pounds, 4.9 ounces, and was 19″ long. He was born with the cutest head of hair, and I thought he looked a little like Jesse, though it’s hard to really pick out either one of us in his tiny baby features.
It’s been a whirlwind (hello, two months that it’s taken me to get this written down). It’s one of those things (maybe the only thing?) that sounds kind of terrible when you hear about it, but people say “it’s the BEST thing you’ll ever do”. Yes, it will change your life and you can’t fully understand the love you will feel for this tiny little person until you’ve done it yourself. So thank you, Henry James. I get it now. I GET IT.