The obligatory birth story

Happy that hes external
Happy that he's external

When last we left our heroine, she was whining rather vociferously about how she had had a crappy day and was going to be pregnant FOREVER. She was feeling a little crampy after getting her membranes stripped, but nowhere near badly enough to be excited about it.

5 pm — Well, I went to go pick up my eldest son and I brought him back home. We made dinner for our friends, as is our wont on Monday nights. We weren’t role-playing on Monday — instead they brought a game called Agricola. Around dinner time, I started writing down my contractions as I had for about 6 nights in the last fortnight. Unusually, I didn’t stop writing as I got distracted/rested/put Grey to bed/sat down, which had been par for the course. (During false labor I’d get four or five decent regular contractions, and then they’d tail off.) The contractions were mild, but pretty regularly about 5 minutes apart.

They lasted for the whole game. I’d like to say, for the record, that I did much better that game than you could possibly expect from a person in labor, despite the fact the contractions did seem to line up with my turn rather unfairly. Also, Agricola is quite a fun game!

10:30 pm — By the time the game was through it was nowise clear I was in labor, but it was clear that I was closer to in labor than I had been before. We asked our friends to stay in the house while we took a walk to see if that would either calm down or solidify labor. They obliged us.

We had taken a very long walk while I was pregnant with Grey (3 – 4 miles). It had been a lovely, temperate clear night, and we were out walking very late. This time, we walked down to the friendly old graveyard where we’ve previously spotted groundhogs and cotton-tailed rabbits. We walked up the hill and down. I felt unsure — the contractions were getting more intense, but they weren’t speeding up. In fact, they were hard, but further apart.

11:15 pm — When we got home, I sat down to watch my friends play the last two games of Boom Blox. My contractions didn’t come for nearly 10 minutes and I was depressed, but unsure. It was much kinder for us to call the night shift in now if we were going to do so. I figured my friends would forgive me for continuing to cry wolf if it wasn’t labor, and we called him in. Then we worked on all the last minute things, between contractions about 7 minutes apart. The hot shower, the home made bread toast, the last-minute-charging-of-camera, etc.

Midnight — Our work was done. This either was labor or it wasn’t. We went to bed.

3 am — I won’t say it was quite what I was hoping for, but I was woken up by the pain of the contractions. They weren’t nearly as fierce as the contractions that had woken me up when I was in labor with Grey, and they were way too far apart — 10+ minutes. But they were also not contractions that could be ignored. I laid in bed as quietly as I could, knowing it wasn’t time to go yet and hoping to get my husband a bit more sleep before we launched into our ordeal. But you can’t hide strong labor contractions, so basically we’d both be just drifting back to sleep and the next contraction would come, waking both of us up.

4 am — I gave up and got up. What do you do at 4 am when you are in labor and can’t sleep and you know it’s not time to go to the hospital yet? I did the laundry. I started a load of sheets and folded the darks. I believe I will be mentioning this in “I’m tougher than you” arguments for the next 20 or so years.

5 am — we called the dr. The answering service gave us the wrong on-call doctor to call, so he understandably didn’t call us back. Fortunately, I wasn’t going to pay any attention to him anyways. With the contractions 5 – 7 minutes apart and fierce, we got in the car. We noticed the lights in our bedroom were still on and that we’d forgotten to feed the cats. We got out of the car, fixed that, and then got back into the car. My husband says on the drive in, “Gee, if I left for work at this time with this amount of traffic, I’d get there in no time!”

When we got to the hospital (we’d called ahead there too, so they were waiting for us), I once again took the stairs. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit! My husband tells the nurse I’m in transition. She looks at me and say, “She’s still smiling. She can’t be in transition.” Then she does a pelvic exam. If I’m not in transition, explain to me how I’m 5 cm dilated? I take pride in my ability to reel off (increasingly unfunny) quips while in labor.

At this point, I start losing track of the time. It takes way too long to get a strip of the baby — she doesn’t like it because his heart rate is too calm. (To which I say: wha????) Why they didn’t start prepping the tub while they were getting the strip, I do not know. But that is where my complaints about the staff end. They did finally get the heart rates they were looking for, and the tub was finally filled. Can I just say, for the record, that if you’re going to attempt a natural childbirth GET A BIRTHING TUB. I swear it cuts the pain by 30 – 40% … which may not sound like a lot but that is easily the difference between thinking you can make it and grabbing someone by the stethoscope and demanding MORPHINE. Of course, while I was IN the tub I was thinking “Gee, this doesn’t help as much as I remember” because, um, hate to break it to you but labor pains HURT.

8 am? I knew when it was time to get out of the tub and start the business of pushing. So I told my attentive husband, “Tell them it’s time.” He said, “She feels a strong urge to push.” No, I just knew it was time. Totally different. I was 9.5 cm dilated. (10 cm is “all the way — let’s get this show on the road”). I was also really, really, really tired. It’s unfair that you often go into labor after a full day. My waters were also still intact, so I spent a bit of time (maybe 15 minutes?) in this uncomfortable spot between fully dilated and ready to push. My midwife broke my waters, and then things started moving.

I should mention that in my birth plan, as you all read, I explicitly said that students were ok. That’s because, in my experience, a lot of students tend to hang around my midwife and I have no problem with that. I was asked while in the tub if I was ok with a male student observing. At that point I didn’t care if this was going to play to a sold-out crowd in an amphitheater. I had work to do. But my birth was apparently unusual. For one thing, I was later told that there are almost no unmedicated births at that hospital. With a 50% c-section rate, vaginal births aren’t even a majority and most women DO get epidurals or other pain medication. Plus, plenty of women with vaginal births don’t really want spectators there, understandably. So EVERYONE in the area was very interested in watching an unmedicated, vaginal birth. By the time it came to push, I believe there were 7 – 9 people in the room other than my husband or I, most of them watching with great interest the, ahem, area highlighted by the BIG OLD SPOTLIGHT. I didn’t really care — I just thought it was funny. They were all very, very grateful to get to watch. Actually, as I came out of the tub naked as a jay-bird into this room full of people, my midwife sort of said, “Are you sure you don’t want a johnny” in a voice that indicated that maybe I should consider some pretense at modest. I believe I told her that there was a time and place for modesty, and the delivery room was not it.

9 am — Anyway, pushing really sucks. I think I did worse at it this time than last time, because I was tireder and knew how much it hurt and knew how far I had to go. Experience is a mixed blessing in giving birth. I was sort of watching the clock knowing based on where it was that I wasn’t really almost there. At the beginning of each contraction, I would make increasingly less-funny comments to the effect of, “In case you are unaware, labor is painful!” I really struggled with the pushing phase this time. It actually lasted longer (40 minutes instead of 30) than it had with Grey, and frankly I think that’s because of what I was bringing to the game. I also had full bowels, which was physically actually quite difficult to deal with. It was intensely uncomfortable when he crowned and then didn’t go backwards after the contraction was over — I was just stuck there for what felt like an eternity until I realized that the only way to make the pain stop was to just push him out. And I did.

9:27 am — It’s funny how the world just totally spins around like someone smacked a globe when you give birth. One minute I was completely absorbed by how incredibly uncomfortable I was. The next minute, there was this vernix-covered person on my lower abdomen, still connected to me, and I was crying and trying to tell him how much I loved him. They wiped off a bit of the vernix (he really was completely covered — he came out white!) and pulled him up to my chest. I watched them cut the umbilical cord. (They let one of the students do it — A. didn’t want to. I remember listening to them teaching him: “It’s tougher than you think it will be.”) And there was this perfect, amazing, wonderful, precious person. He started nursing not 5 minutes after he was born. They let me hold him for nearly 40 minutes afterwards. I actually called a bunch of people to tell them of his birth before they’d gotten a weight on him or done the fingers/toes check or anything — with him sitting joyfully there on my chest.

Eventually I relinquished him. Birth was over and recovery had begun.

There are a bunch of notes to this….

First, I hardly tore at all. I had one tiny tear. Right now, I feel unexpectedly great down there. The funny thing is that this time I felt the tear. The first time, I wasn’t aware of tearing at all.

Second, there were actually two serious issues with Thane’s placenta/umbilical cord.

The first is Velamentous Insertion of Umbilical Cord, which basically means that the placenta wasn’t in the right spot and was therefore unsupported. This could’ve caused problems if the placenta had been damaged because it was more vulnerable. In fact, it’s probably a really good thing that my water was broken on the delivery table instead of at home, because vasa previa (when the umbilical cord gets in the birth canal ahead of the baby — which can be really bad!) is a particular problem with this. This wasn’t a huge deal — actually, it was more of a risk than a deal at all. This apparently happens with 1% of singleton pregnancies, and more often with twins.

The second issue I didn’t catch a name for, and I understand that they only suspect this issue and that pathology will need to report back before it’s for sure. But there’s some kind of issue that happens once every 2500 pregnancies (my midwife had never seen one before) where instead of one big umbilical cord, there are many smaller cords. This can result in extremely small babies (not enough nutrients get through) or fetal death. Much of this was explained to me 20 minutes after I’d given birth, so I’m a bit fuzzy — I’ll ask for more information at my next checkup. But the takeaway is twofold: 1) Thane is likely smaller than his genetics would’ve had him be at birth, and at least a tiny bit growth-restricted because of his uterine environment. 2) We are very, very, very lucky that he made it.

Neither one of these conditions has the slightest bearing on his health going forward. His pediatrician and my midwife chatted yesterday morning before we were released from the hospital and she asked him if he’d heard about it and he sort of waved it off as now-unimportant (which it is).

There is probably much more to say — it’s a momentous few hours. Already some of it is fading away in the rush of things that have happened since. But it was a very good experience. I was treated extremely well and had the birth I was hoping to have. I know I’m a lucky woman to have gotten to give birth the way I chose not once, but twice. But mostly, I’m lucky to have Thane and Grey.

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Brenda currently lives in Stoneham MA, but grew up in Mineral WA. She is surrounded by men, with two sons, one husband and two boy cats. She plays trumpet at church, cans farmshare produce and works in software.

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