Today I decided to throw it back to October of 2014 and share Freddie’s birth story, which I wrote up but never shared. I found a lot of comfort and anxiety relief in reading birth stories back when I was pregnant the first time (I also just really enjoy them!), and as I approach little brother’s big debut, I wanted to remind myself that birth really isn’t so bad (no, really!). So without further adieu, let’s fade back in time two and a half years…
October 20, 2014
My mom is leaving tomorrow (she’s been here since the day we brought Freddie home from the hospital), so I realized that if I didn’t write this down now, I’d probably never get to it. And I don’t want to forget it (well … not ALL of it). It’s going to be a novel, because frankly it’s as much for me as for anyone else, so I’m going to include LOTS of detail.
Ok, here we go!
Late Monday night, I got in bed feeling little twinges that I thought might be early contractions, but I wasn’t sure. I figured I ought to try and sleep, just in case it was the real deal and sleep became an impossibility. So I did, but come 2am, I woke with what I was pretty sure was a real contraction. Ten minutes later, another. And every ten minutes, pretty regularly until the morning. Adam, whose back was hurting, was sleeping on the couch and didn’t know any of this was happening. I decided not to wake him, again in case it was the real deal, I wanted him to have as much sleep as possible. One of us ought to be rested, after all.
By 6am, contractions were coming every 6-8 minutes, and I was having to really focus and breathe to get through them. I figured it was time to tell Adam, and the look on his face is one I’ll remember forever. Sort of a mix of shock and horror. But in a good way! I think reality hit him hard at that moment, but he recovered quickly and jumped in ready to help get me through it.
I grabbed a shower, which was one of my musts before heading to the hospital (during which I had a righteous contraction), and then decided I needed some food. So through the Starbucks drive-thru we went at 6am for a bagel and cream cheese (Adam drove, and that’s the moment where I realized that the position of sitting in the car was NOT going to cut it during contractions).
Contractions were jumping around between 10-6 minutes, and I wanted to avoid the hospital for as long as possible. I took a little cat nap, maybe 40 minutes, and then woke up with contractions. I needed a distraction. So I did the book nerdiest thing I could think of. I made Adam drive me to Barnes and Noble to buy My True Love Gave to Me, a book I was DYING for, and which came out that morning. And like a champ, he did it. Of course, at B&N I knew I wouldn’t make it through the store without a contraction, so I waited in the car while he went in. What a champ, right? And while he was in the store, we realized my contractions were suddenly regular, 5 minutes apart for the last hour or so. That was when I was told I could start to head to the hospital, but I knew I didn’t have to. And I didn’t want to. I wanted to do as much work at home as possible. So home we went to work through them until we decided it was hospital time.
A word about the pain. My contractions felt like a belt tightening around my waist, concentrating pain in my lower back and then upper abs. It was like a combination of the worst menstrual cramps plus the stitches you get in your side when you run. But thanks to my yoga breathing, I was able to tough it out. At home, I spent an hour walking in a slow circle around the dining room table, and then when a contraction would hit, I’d lean over on the table in an L-shape, and Adam would push on my lower back with both hands. And color me SHOCKED when the counter pressure made contraction pain nearly disappear. There was still tightening, and I still had to breathe and focus, but the sharpest pain was gone.
I was doing well toughing it out, but Adam was starting to get nervous. After a particularly intense contraction, he declared it time to go to the hospital, and I was starting to get excited to meet Freddie, so I agreed. We walked into the baby room, and Adam said, “Next time we see this, it’s going to have an occupant!” And I cried like a sap.
We live a mile from the hospital, maybe less. It’s literally a straight shot down the road, but those few minutes were BRUTAL. Without my dining room table and my L-shape bending over and the counter pressure, I was just gritting my teeth through contractions. Just as we were about to turn the corner to the hospital, I had a particular rough one and released a string of expletives at top volume. Adam replied, “NOW it’s like the movies!”
We parked in the designated garage (definitely make sure you know where you need to go ahead of time … we did a hospital tour so we’d basically done a dry run of it) and started to make our way across the bridge to the birthing center. I had to stop in the middle to bend over against the wall for a contraction. A volunteer kept trying to get me into a wheelchair, but I wanted to walk. It was the only comfort I had at that point, and dammit I was walking myself into that hospital.
Clearly in labor, I was ushered right into OB Assessment, where they’d check me to see if I was going to be sent home or if I’d be staying. Well guess what? OB Assessment was totally full. The docs were all blaming it on the storm we were having, saying the change in barometric pressure had sent all the pregnant ladies into labor. So they had to take me to recovery, where they put the C section moms. It meant I had to go into this tiny bathroom to get into a gown before climbing into a bed hidden behind a curtain, and there was no room for me to endure contractions in there. Did not like. But you know what I did like? When they checked me and told me I was 5 centimeters! I think everyone was shocked that a first time mom who was pretty calm walked in 5 centimeters. My midwife high fived me when she arrived. I was stoked. I could maybe do this, maybe even without an epidural! YAY!
Back when we thought Freddie’s arrival was imminent … ha!
And this is where things got difficult. Because I was 40w4days, they decided to break my water right there in recovery (I had to wait on a room because the place was so busy), and when they did they discovered meconium in my fluid. Everyone assured me it was no big deal, it just meant there would be extra people in the delivery room to assess him when he arrived, but they decided to insert a uterine catheter to flush out the fluid as much as possible to help alleviate too much ingestion of meconium during birth. And that meant I needed to stay in bed, on my back. Which meant no more walking, no more leaning over the bed, no more counter pressure. Laying in that bed, I was horribly uncomfortable during contractions, to the point where it was making me feel nauseous. And that’s when I decided you know what? Epidural time.
The only photo I allowed while I was actually in labor … just post epidural!
So the epidural. I was terrified of it. More than of any other part of labor and delivery. And I didn’t feel a thing! I felt the tiny bee stings of the lidocaine, and the pressure from when they inserted, but otherwise there was no pain from it. Which is great, because Adam said it took them several tries to get it placed (“I was seriously about to lose my shit on that anesthesiologist,” he told me later).
And when the epidural was set? I felt nothing. NOTHING. Cool, except my lower half was so numb that the nurse had to come in and roll me over every half hour or so. I couldn’t move my lower half at all. And that also meant my labor slowed to a halt. I stayed 5 centimeters for over two hours, which meant they gave me pitocin. A lot, apparently. I settled back, watched half an episode of Gilmore Girls on my phone, and then I was complete. Time to push.
Of course, I couldn’t feel or move my legs. So my practice pushes with the L&D nurse? Yeah, they did nothing, except for I pulled a muscle in my back. The pain of trying to push with that was so brutal I started to cry, and then I barfed my guts out (thank you Adam for being quick with the bag so I didn’t barf on myself). The L&D nurse made me a makeshift heating pad to help with my upper back, gave me a moment to collect myself, and then we tried pushing again. It did not go well. I couldn’t feel anything, so I had no idea if I was using the right muscles! It was the only time I regretted the epidural.
After about half an hour and a half, they way turned down my epidural. As the numbness started to fade, I felt like I knew what i was doing, but at the point I was tired and also starting to experience pain, so my pushes were just crap. I was having trouble getting him under my pelvis so that he’d stop turtling back in. I was pushing, and when I was done he’d go right back. It was so hard to function mentally when I was working so hard for zero result. And my L&D nurse was not a very good cheerleader, so I had no idea if what I was doing was working. She was very quiet.
Finally, Adam jumped in and asked if we could get the midwife. He could tell I needed some support. And as soon as she showed up, things got better, but still not easy. I was doing better with pushing, but still making very little progress. And at one point I pushed so hard that I barfed again. Neat. Once again, Adam sprung into action with the barf bag. He was a fabulous cheerleader (after he was gone to the nicu with Freddie, the nurses and my midwife could not stop saying how great he was).
By 2 and ½ hours, Jennifer (my midwife) says, “Maybe we could try the vaccuum?” I barely let her get the words out before I shouted YES PLEASE! Of course, that meant we had to call in my doctor from the practice, because the midwives aren’t allowed to use those interventions. So I had to wait for my doctor to arrive (about 20 minutes, during which I continued to fruitlessly push). And when she arrived I nearly cried tears of joy. We were at hour 3 of pushing. At one point, Adam asked Jennifer what her longest pushing session was. I closed my eyes and yelled “Show him with your fingers!” So I had no idea what she said.
Ok, so my doctor suits up, pulls out the vacuum, and off we go. Freddie’s starting to make his way, thanks to vacuum (which, by the way, is not an actual vacuum, but more of a glorified suction cup) and the lower epidural making my pushes a little better, but it’s still slow going. I’m thoroughly exhausted. I’ve done three hours of the most intense sit ups of my life, all while my epidural is gradually wearing off. My arms hurt from pulling my legs back, because they were totally dead weight at first. And my upper abs were screaming. After every contraction, I would lean back just dying from the upper ab pain. I barfed one more time. Neat.
And the vacuum? Yeah, it was helping, except for the fact that Freddie’s full head of hair meant she couldn’t get a good seal. It kept popping off! The first time I heard the popping sound of the vacuum snapping off, I swear to god I nearly had a heart attack. “What was that?!?!?!” I shouted.
I pushed for what felt like an eternity. Several times my doctor said, “This next one and his head should be out!” But then the vacuum would pop off and she’d have to stop herself from swearing, I could tell. We were all getting frustrated.
At one point, she said, “If he doesn’t come out in the next couple of pushes, we’re going to have to shove him back up and cut him out.” I don’t know if she was serious, or if she was trying to scare me, but I dug down deep and found some tiny reserve of energy. Two pushes later, at 10:10pm his head was out. They suctioned his nose and mouth, and then I pushed with my next contraction and out he came, all gooey and squirming, making little crying sounds. He was such a little chunk, and all that hair! I’ll never forget it. He was exactly what I pictured when we used to do visualizations in prenatal yoga. Exactly.
Finally holding my baby!
Unfortunately, because of the meconium, he was rushed straight to the warmer in the corner of the room, where the nicu respiratory team jumped into action. That’s the moment that I realized there were suddenly 11 people in the delivery room. Seriously, it was like a party in there, only everyone was very serious. They were suctioning and pushing oxygen, and I tried to watch, but this nicu nurse kept standing in the way. I hated her, because I wanted to see my baby! But Adam told me later that watching Freddie arch his back with every breath was such a brutal image, and she was probably trying to shield me from it. So I’m sorry that I wanted to hit her back then.
They suctioned him enough that I could hold him for a few minutes, but that was all I got before they took him off to the nicu to work on him. Adam went with him, and I was left to get stitched and put back together (yep, episiotomy happened, and I remember it vividly. My doctor grabbed a scalpel, and then I heard, “now he should have some more room,” and then there was a clatter as she tossed it back on the tray). I probably should have been panicking, but the nicu respiratory team was so reassuring and calming, my midwife was being really chipper, and I was so exhausted that I just trusted everything would be fine.
Oh, remember when Adam asked Jennifer about the longest pushing session she’d done? It was four hours. Guess how long I pushed? FOUR HOURS. My doctor told me she and Jennifer were going out for a drink after that delivery. Everyone looked exhausted.
Once I was all put back together, Adam returned with someone from the nicu who assured us that other than getting his lungs cleared out, Freddie was 100% healthy. They just needed to solve this one problem, which they were confident would happen in a couple hours, and then he’d be released to us in the morning. I had to wait until my epidural wore off and I could stand before they’d let me go to the nicu to see him, and that hour and a half was BRUTAL. I wanted to go see him. I was desperately trying to wake my legs up.
Adam in the NICU with Freddie
But eventually they did, and at 1am Adam and the nurse wheeled me down to the nicu where I sat next to his bassinet and held his little hand. At 8lbs 4oz, he looked crazy out of place in there, the little chunk. I worked really hard not to freak out, because they wanted to keep him overnight for observation, even though he was completely breathing on his own at that point. He only needed oxygen for two hours. He was fine, but I still had to wait. And so I was sent to my recovery room without my baby. And that was maybe the hardest part of the whole thing. I just tried to tell myself we were going old school, with the baby in the nursery and this new mama getting some sleep (I got no sleep).
Freddie was back with us by noon the next day, and then we had 24 hours in the hospital with him where we tried to make up for lost time.
Reunited in our tiny hospital room!
And 24 hours after he returned from the nicu, we were rolling out of the hospital. And when I put him in the hat I made him and wrapped him in that blanket I’d worked so hard on, it was the first time I became a total puddle of tears (I kept telling Adam I needed to pull it together or the nurses were going to think I was suffering from PPD and not let me leave with him!).
Finally going home in the blanket and hat I crocheted for him
Did the birth turn out how I imagined? No. But even though I pushed for four hours, and at the end of that they took my baby to the nicu for 12 hours, I can’t ignore the fact that a week later I’m home with a happy, healthy baby. So screw the perfect birth experience.
And that, my friends, is how Freddie got here.
And now, back to 2017…
Ok, so I’m now 2.5 years away from that experience, and not that far away from doing it again. Am I getting another epidural? Again, I’m going to try and go as long as I can without, and maybe without the meconium situation I’ll be able to push through to the end. But the epidural is definitely still on the table. I don’t need to be a hero. Natural birth is not a goal for any kind of emotional reason, I’d just like to avoid the epidural because it’s kind of a pain in the ass to recover from. I did talk to my doctor already about how the epidural I had was too strong, and this time I’m going to have a different combination of drugs to give me more control over my body. But otherwise, my first labor experience wasn’t that bad. I came away with a lot of confidence in myself and what my body can do, and while I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to doing it again, I can honestly say that even with the complications I had, I don’t feel any sense of fear or dread. My biggest concern going into this experience is not scaring Freddie and making sure he has a smooth transition as we leave for the hospital (if I make it to my due date, my mom will be here to watch him, so that will basically eliminate that fear for me).
So wish me luck! And if you have a link to your birth story that you’d like the share with others, drop it down in the comments!