Atti's Birth Story
Nothing prepares you for all of the feelings that immediately fall on you the moment you realize you're literally starting to birth a baby.
Stage 1 - The Beginning
It was about 12:30 am on Friday, July 21, 2017 when my water broke and woke me up. I jumped up and went to the bathroom. It was kind of a gut reaction. After confirming what had happened, I waddled back into our bedroom and nudged Rob awake to tell him, grateful he had continued to remind me to put the fabric-coated plastic between our sheets and our bed. We phoned the on-call midwife and with input from her decided since I still wasn't having big, consistent contractions that I could wait a little bit to go to the hospital. She said try and get some more sleep. Yeah right.
(The morning before (Thursday, the 20th) I had driven the 45 minutes to work only to grab my work laptop and say "see you later" to everyone. A trip to triage the day before made me realize that the big event was very close and I'd rather not be a 45 minute car ride away from home and the hospital. My brain thought I'd have a few days to work from home, cross a few more things off the to-do list. There was no way she's coming just yet, I told myself. But my intuition knew better.)
I continued having inconsistent contractions all night and by the time 5 am rolled around, I couldn't even pretend to sleep anymore. I was completely buzzing with nervous giddiness. We called the midwife again and she said to try and get to the hospital around 7 am. I didn't understand this at the time, but it was because she correctly assessed that my body was going to need some help to get things really rolling. We took our time, made sure we had everything for the hospital, showered, I ate something (Rob didn't which will factor into this story later) and we made sure someone would be able to come hang out with our dog Chandler.
We live 3 blocks from the hospital and I knew how beneficial walking can be during labor, so I had always maintained that if I could, I would walk to the hospital when the time came. I got my wish. Rob drove all of our stuff over and I slowly made my way over there. It was a beautiful summer morning.
Stage 2 - Triage
We got there and went through the now familiar check in process, got sent to a bed in triage, hooked up to the baby monitoring equipment and waited. This is where I had my freak out moment. Like I said at the beginning of this story, nothing can prepare you for actually going through this. We took a lovely birth education course full of wonderful breathing exercises, mindfulness practices and fear-release tips. And all of that education came in handy but I needed to let go a little bit more first.
I knew that I was going to need a dose of antibiotics or two during labor due to a positive GBS test. Fine, give me the meds and come back when if/when I need to have more. Not that simple Sarah - they're given through an IV which they'll then insist you remain hooked up to the whole time. I hadn't mentally prepared for this scenario and I've had a thing with needles and IVs (really hospitals in general) since I was a kid. I wanted to be able to remain mobile and having an IV to lug around was not part of my birth plan. I sobbed lots of incoherent things to the first nurse who tried to hook me up and she basically decided that she didn't want to deal with me. So more waiting. The on-duty midwife wasn't there yet and nobody had explained the pitocin thing to me yet either. (I was aware of pitocin, but not that I was going to need some because my body was doing things a little out of order.)
Rob and I are texting our doula during all of this as well. She was a wonderfully supportive and very welcome voice of calm even before she joined us at the hospital.
I started to get anxious just sitting there but also really didn't want anything done to me until I got to talk to my midwife.
When she did arrive, she very kindly and gently explained why the IV was needed, I felt better (still not thrilled) about it and let a different nurse hook me up. I had another tearful release, processed my feelings about it and let them go. The midwife also agreed to let me try a natural form of labor stimulation before starting me on a pitocin drip. Our doulas suggested hooking me up to a breast pump and then walking around the hospital. We tried two rounds of this with no success so I finally acquiesced. Ultimately I wanted to deliver Atti vaginally and we were kinda on the clock with my water breaking so early in the process.
So they started the drip and told me it could take about an hour for it to really kick in. My doula suggested I try and get some rest. I put on my Hypnobirthing rainbow relaxation and actually managed to drift off for a little bit.
Stage 3 - Labor
Then the real contractions finally started. The surges (hypnobirthing term for contractions) were powerful from the get go. I guess that's the deal with pitocin. Laying down was not very comfortable and unfortunately it was a busy day in labor & delivery so no birthing balls were available for a good while. By the time they found me one, I was too tired to trust myself to stay upright.
We had brought a couple things from home to hopefully help me during labor. A diffuser with lavender essential oil, my crystal grid, a little cork board with positive images and some gold fabric to cover up the clock. Not knowing what time it was or how long I had been having contractions was one of the biggest blessings. I also knew better to ask. I could have easily lost my mind worrying about how much time had passed, or trying to guess how much longer it would take. Not worrying about time helped me to remain present and keep my stress levels lower.
When I arrived at the hospital I was about 1.5 cm dilated and 90% effaced. At the next check, once the surges started, I was 4 cm dilated. The midwife and labor team was impressed & encouraged with that amount of progress. They mentioned checking me again in an hour or two. I, pretty exahusted already, remember audibly commenting "that just seems so far away." So the midwife told me they'd check me again in an hour (they didn't, there was a lot going on.) I didn't know how long it had been until somebody said something about it having been more than 2 hours since the last check.
During this two hours I was able to get hooked up to a mobile fetal monitor and actually get in the shower. This was a very good thing.
I am still so very grateful for the birth team I was blessed with. Rob and/or my doula helped me through every single contraction. Massaging, counter pressure, recommending different positions and helping me to and from the toilet. The bathroom was mostly Rob's duty and it was the only place we were ever alone for a few moments during the journey. Honestly, squatting on the toilet was where Atti and I made a lot of progress.
I totally thought I would feel weird letting Rob in the bathroom with me, and at first I resisted. But it wasn't long before I couldn't handle being without him. Luckily I had taken care of all my number 2 earlier in the day and he didn't have to see any of that. But he held me through every contraction while I was sitting/squatting there. He was my rock.
I'm still not sure how pitocin is measured, but from what I understand I only ever got up to a 6 and by the time Atti was almost out back down to a 2. They actually asked if I wanted off of it completely while I was pushing but I was so tired and ready to be done, I didn't want to mess with it.
I did not get an epidural or take any pain meds ... My heart had always wanted as simple a birth as possible. (I don't like to use the word natural in that instance because I believe all versions of birth are natural.) I was always excited at the concept of seeing what my body was capable of. Was it hard? Absolutely. Did it hurt? No, not exactly. Would I do it the same way again? Yes. I obviously wished the pitocin wasn't necessary, but it was and it allowed me to fulfill my goal of a vaginal birth.
This is the part of the story where I absolutely must say how freaking blessed I was in the birth team that we assembled/lucked into that day. So I mentioned before how Rob didn't eat anything before we left the house ... Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon he started to feel very worn out and actually started getting a migraine. Our midwife expertly diagnosed the situation, made him down some ibuprofen and saltines and then recommended he take a little snooze. Thank goodness for our doula (Bergen of Two Rivers Childbirth) because of her I seriously didn't notice his short absence. The midwife, April from Midwifery Care Associates was positive and supportive throughout the day as were all of the nurses we interacted with.
There was a moment where I was squatting in the bathroom, letting Rob support me that I had the moment most women describe right before it's almost time to push. I was so tired, so very very tired. But I had to admit, I was having doubts about my decision to forgo the pain meds. It wasn't long before my next check that the midwife told me I was 8 cm dialated. She told the nurse it was probably time to start prepping the delivery cart and I had a new resolve. I remember feeling a second wind and basically telling myself "OK then I guess we're just going to finish this now."
As it was getting closer to push time, I was told I'd know because it would feel like I needed to poop. The first time I felt this sensation I was squatting on the toilet. I felt like I had no control of my body all of a sudden and all I could do was kind of yell "I'm pooping!" I wasn't but it was a pretty crazy feeling. Your body really does know what it's doing during birth, even if you don't. It was a much needed humorous moment.
After a little while longer and a few other labor positions, it was apparently time to push. Following my body's lead, with every contraction/surge I was instructed to basically bear down with everything I could. At first I was doing this on all fours, leaning on the raised back of the hospital bed. I was trying to breath Atti down like my hypnobirthing training instructed. And at first I was making some noise, and this was really the only time during the whole experience. I wasn't screaming or groaning though. I was either "singing," kind of letting out long notes as the surges passed or laughing. I found the lack of control over my sphincter muscles really amusing. Eventually I settled into the traditional reclined position and the real, hold your breath, pray your eyes don't pop out pushing began.
For those of you reading who also went the hypnobirthing route. Pushing eventually just felt right, so I went with my intuition.
They told me I pushed for about 45 minutes.
Once Atti began to crown I almost didn't take the opportunity to feel her head. But man I was glad I changed my mind and reached down there. I think it was at that point that I actually smiled a few times between surges. Feeling how close she was to coming earthside was an important boost for me. Man was I tired.
She crowned for quite a bit according to my midwife. And I didn't rush her. I let her stretch things out down there. Despite my best efforts, my perineum was still rather tight. The midwife offered the episiotomy but without any doubt in my mind I declined. A few surges later and out Atticus popped, into the midwife's and Rob's waiting hands. Yes my wonderful husband got to catch his daughter as she came into this world.
The sight of Rob holding her in those first few seconds is probable the most amazing thing I've ever seen.
He then placed her on my stomach and I cried. I looked at him, I looked at Atti and I cried. Absolute tears of complete joy (and exhaustion.)
She was here and we were a family.
We let the umbilical cord stop pulsing and Rob got to cut it. I was then able to slide her up my body and bring her closer to my face.
They did a quick wipe down right when she came out (I didn't want them to do much more) and she did need a little suction, but after that we got to snuggle for a good hour before they quickly did all of the measuring. We also tried nursing for the first time. I have no memory of if we were successful or not, I just remembered that I loved it.
Also in that hour, her grandparents and Uncle Nate (who had been waiting as patiently as they could) got their first glimpse too, with promises to return the next day.
Eventually we made our way to the recovery room. But not before I uncontrollably peed several times. And not in the bathroom. I include this because it's true and it's real, but I was so tired I had no control over my bladder for a bit. Universe bless the nurses and orderlies who have the clean up after birth.
So that is the 2200+ word account of my birth experience. I share this with the intention of putting more positive birth accounts into the world and because I believe there is power in sharing and being honest. I also share this with the knowledge that not everyone has the access or luxury of a birth experience like mine. Here's to working toward a world where that is no longer the case.