I’m so thrilled to announce to everyone that our baby was born on September 19th at 6:35 p.m.! (Though, if you follow me on Instagram, you probably already knew that.)
Our first week with Vivian has been amazing and trying and wonderful and exhausting. But I’ll share plenty more on that later. For today, I wanted to share her birth story because I remember getting a lot of comfort from reading other women’s stories when I was pregnant. Hopefully there’s a lady out there that gets some comfort from mine (or at least a better idea of what to expect from a drug-free labor). Before you dig in, this is a long post, and I get into some of the gritty details. You’ve been warned.
The first indications that labor was near started the Sunday night before Vivi was born. From that night on, I went to sleep with Braxton Hicks contractions, wondering if this was going to be the night. (When I would wake up the next morning without having gone into labor, I would always be a little bummed.) My mom got in from Iowa on the 15th, so after that we were just waiting the little lady out.
The night before Vivian was born, I had a pretty good feeling this was going to be the real thing. She was moving a LOT, and my whole belly just looked different — much lower and less like it was integrated into the rest of my body. More like a basketball just stuck onto my middle. Even Bogey was acting funny, not leaving my side and curling around my belly all night. The baby started pushing a lot on my cervix when we went to bed around 12:30, and I had a few cramps.
At 4 a.m., I woke up with contractions that were coming regularly every 7-10 minutes. I starting timing them with an app on my phone. (It’s called Full Term, and I highly recommend it — there is no way you are going to want to do math when you’re in labor, and this app tells you the average duration and interval of your contractions for the last hour and six hours so you don’t have to think. Plus, if you’re a dork like me and like stats and figures, it’s kind of a fun way to distract yourself from the pain.) When the contractions were consistently around seven minutes apart, I paged the midwives at our hospital just to let them know. I knew I wanted to spend the least amount of time at the hospital as I possibly could, and I wasn’t planning to get an epidural or any kind of intervention, so I didn’t want to head in until the contractions were much closer together or my water broke. I spoke with the midwife on duty, and we agreed I would call back when the contractions were 3-4 minutes apart. I woke Joey and my mom just to give them a status update. The contractions weren’t very painful yet, but I took a bath to relax and ate some breakfast per my midwife’s instructions. (Once you get to the hospital, you can’t eat or even drink water in case you have to go into surgery for an emergency C-section, so it’s good to fuel up before you get there.)
When the contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, I called again. Because my water hadn’t broken and the hospital wasn’t far from us, the midwife told me I could stay home as long at I felt safe there. So I stayed, and two of my friends came over to help distract me and coach me through contractions.
Now, about the pain. (We all know that’s what you’re really interested in, right?) The contractions became more and more intense every hour. I was sitting on the couch, and when I would feel one rolling in, I would lean forward into one of my friends, and Joey would push as firmly as he could on my hip bones since I was feeling most of the pain in my pelvis. This was a technique we had learned in our birth prep classes called the “hip squeeze,” and the counter pressure really did help with some of the pain. We also went for (short) walks every few hours. Walking made the contractions come a LOT more frequently, which was good because it progressed the labor but mentally difficult because I got less of a break between contractions. I took another bath and tried to eat more, but after a while I couldn’t really keep anything down. The middle of each contraction was the worst — I would feel like I was either going to burst into tears or throw up (and several times I did throw up). That made me a little nervous about having enough energy later in labor, but there wasn’t really anything I could do about that.
At 2:30, the contractions were 2-3 minutes apart and I decided we should go to the hospital (mostly because I wanted to get the car ride over with). A different midwife was on duty at that point. She actually wasn’t my favorite when I had met her in my routine appointments because she had a much more matter-of-fact manner, but that turned out to be exactly what I needed in labor. She examined me in triage and found that I was almost five centimeters, so I was admitted. This was my least favorite part of labor because they had to monitor the baby for 20 minutes to check her heart rate, meaning I had to lie on my back with a bunch of sensors wrapped around my belly. As difficult as contractions are in general, they are almost intolerable when you have to lie still on your back during them. I was also on an IV because I had to get a round of antibiotics before labor (I’m a carrier for strep B, so they gave me penicillin to protect the baby), meaning I had yet another tube to maneuver if I wanted to move anywhere. The pain was so intense that I threw up again, but finally it was time to take the sensors off and go to my labor and delivery room.
Once there, I bounced on a birthing ball for a while and tried in vain to find a comfortable position. About 40 minutes later, the nurse appeared again and wanted to monitor the baby for another 20 minutes. I thought I would cry just thinking about it. But this is when my midwife stepped in and basically kicked the nurse out, telling her I didn’t need the extra monitoring anymore so I could be in any position I wanted and having her clamp the IV so I didn’t have to be attached to the tower anymore. I was so grateful to her for looking out for me at a time when I could barely put a sentence together.
I tried a few more laboring positions, but nothing was really helping. Then I got sick a few more times from the pain, and I could feel my energy levels dropping. (Four hours of sleep and no food or water for 13 or so hours will do that to you.) Then my midwife recommended getting in the shower for a bit. The hot water in the bath at home had helped, so I sat on a chair in the shower and pointed the sprayer directly at my pelvis. It actually did alleviate some of the pain — I was even able to doze between contractions in there. I stayed in the shower for about 45 minutes, and Joey would reach in to push on my back during contractions, which also helped.
When I got out, I’m not going to lie, I was starting to wonder if I could do this without an epidural. It was about 6 p.m. at this point, I was so tired after about 14 hours of labor with nothing in my system, and I could barely think straight. But I also noticed that I was feeling a lot of rectal pressure (basically like I had to go to the bathroom…sorry there’s not particularly ladylike way to describe that), so the midwife checked me even though she didn’t think I was ready — after all, we had only been in the hospital for about three hours. Despite her misgivings, though, she announced I was at nine-and-a-half centimeters! I have never been so relieved in my entire life — we were nearing the finish line!
The midwife left to check her other patients, telling me that I could try pushing on the next contraction if I thought it would help, but she didn’t seem to think anything would happen for a little while. Most women will push for an hour or two before the baby is actually born. Remembering some of the labor positions I had liked when we practiced in our birth class, Joey suggested changing position to hold onto the back of my bed. This simple switch changed everything for me. I suddenly had a strong urge to push, and within minutes I had broken my water (it looked and sounded exactly like popping a water balloon) and could feel the baby coming out. One of my friends ran to find the midwife while I just kept pushing through contractions (because, honestly, I couldn’t have stopped if I’d wanted to).
Things sort of speed up into a blur for me at this point. The midwife rushed into the room and tried to find the baby’s heart rate, but she couldn’t with the position I was currently in. I think the main issue was that she was still looking for the baby in my belly and Vivi was already lower than she thought in the birth canal. She made me turn back over, and there were a few seconds we all held our breath until she finally found the heart rate again.
Should we talk about pain again? This probably won’t surprise you, but pushing a baby out does hurt. (STOP THE PRESSES!) But it’s a completely different pain from the contractions because you’re actually doing something (something with an end goal) instead of just gritting your teeth and surviving the pain. I was also very fortunate that this stage of labor went very quickly for me. After about two contractions and two or three big pushes, Vivi’s head and shoulders were out. The midwife told me to grab my baby, and I did without even thinking (I was in animal mode at that point). I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of seeing her face for the first time (she looked EXACTLY like Joey), wrapping my hands around her, and pulling her out the rest of the way onto my chest.
But then she was here!! I tore a bit because she came out so quickly and with one hand by her face (a pose she was in often during her ultrasounds and still strikes when she’s sleeping), but I didn’t feel that at all. Joey cut the umbilical cord, and the midwife delivered the placenta and stitched me up while I nursed Vivi for the first time, which was a really amazing moment for me. All in all, I was in labor for about 14 hours and pushed for about 20 minutes.
Then everyone cleared the room except for Joey, and I got to spend an hour just holding her skin-to-skin and reveling in how incredible this tiny person is (definitely my favorite part of the day). As exhausted as I had been before her birth, I suddenly felt like I had all the energy in the world. We spent some time with our friends and family in our recovery room before going to bed. After 48 hours in the hospital, we headed home and have been enjoying getting to know our little girl more and more every day. She’s pretty amazing, if I do say so myself.
So that was it! (4,000 words later…)
One last thought on the pain: I’m not going to pretend it was a cake walk. I nearly lost my cool a few times, and I threw up almost a dozen times because of the strain on my body. But even though I remember in my mind that the pain was incredible at times (particularly those few seconds at the height of each contraction), I just can’t make myself remember the feeling anymore. Your body really does forget (and therein lies the secret to how so many people have more than one kid). It was some of the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced, but it was also completely bearable in hindsight. I think it helped to go in with the expectation that it was jus tgoing to be the worst pain ever, so that way anything less seems not so bad. I also have to repeat how helpful I think it was to keep working out during pregnancy — I felt strong going into labor, things progressed quickly and regularly, and the mental toughness gave me the grit I needed to get through the rough moments.
Phew, that was a long one. But, really, if you didn’t want a detailed account of a labor, you came to the wrong blog. This one’s on you.
I want to say a HUGE thank you to the staff at Beth Israel Mount Sinai Hospital for taking such good care of us and being so kind as we adapted to our new roles as parents. I’m also incredibly grateful to our friends and family that coached me through labor, brought food, and generally supported us through this whole process so far. We couldn’t have done it without you.