It was really important for me to have a vaginal birth with Peri and thankfully I was able to have one. Having a VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean) shouldn’t be a big deal, but it kind of is one. Some doctors and hospitals flat out won’t do them in spite of the American College of Gynocology issuing a bulletin proclaiming VBAC “a safe and appropriate choice for most women who have had a prior cesarean delivery.” I have another post planned where I’ll talk about the differences between my two births and what I did to try and make sure that I had a successful VBAC. For now, I just wanted to share Peri’s birth story without the birthy ranting.
There’s some minor mention of bodily fluids etc in relation to pregnancy here! Apologies for the length but it is what it is. I didn’t want to break this into a million parts.
My pregnancy with Peri was a bit different from my first. I would say that physically it was better in spite of my being 4 years older. I don’t enjoy being pregnant but my pregnancies have been very easy compared to the complaints I’ve read from others. I had no morning sickness. I had minimal back pain. This was a problem for me last time along with a bad carpal tunnel syndrome-ish feeling in my wrists. I didn’t experience these problems until the last week of my pregnancy.
I credit the easier experience to having chiropractic adjustments from 20 weeks on up. I even slept better at the end avoiding all of the pregnancy insomnia I experienced with Lewis. The only new annoying thing this time was heartburn. I couldn’t touch anything with a tomato in it if I didn’t want trouble!
This pregnancy was very different mentally. I didn’t have anything else to focus on when I was pregnant with Lewis other than being a relative newlywed. I could read all the books. I could moon over all the BabyCenter emails. This time, I was kind of like “I’m how many weeks pregnant?” and “Oh, it’s the third trimester already?” I didn’t talk to the baby as much. I didn’t really fantasize about what she’d be like. I was excited but that excitement was tempered a bit because I had a full understanding about the amount of work a newborn would require. I also had a 3-year old to occupy my time! Honestly, I felt kind of bad for Peri sometimes! I felt like I was neglecting her in some way.
I was also a lot more stressed going into this delivery because I had to consider what to do with Lewis while I was out having the baby. If things went south and I needed a C-Section, The Mister would need to stay with me to help out with the baby. What would we do with Lewis?!? We had some options but none of them was as ideal as having a grandma in-house. The stress over the whole thing made me completely understand the convenience of just scheduling another C-Section. I never considered not attempting a VBAC, but I totally understood how knowing your baby’s due date could make life easier.
Peri was due on Tuesday, April 8th. My son was born about 5 days after his due date. I read somewhere that second-time moms tend to deliver a little early, so I figured that having my Mom come down that Fri (5th)-Wed (10th) would be a safe bet. She could always stay longer if necessary. I also put my mother-in-law on road trip stand-by alert. She lives about 5 hours away in Charleston. I have a good college friend who happens to be a home daycare provider and has babysat Lewis in the past. As a final planning measure, I let her know that she might be getting a late-night call for babysitting services.
With my first pregnancy, I had no signs of labor. At my last doctor’s appointment a few days before having the baby, I was 0 cm dilated and totally closed. I kind of expected Peri to be a repeat of that scenario. My doctor did not do cervical checks before 40 weeks so I had no idea about my level of dilation and that sort of thing. Since I had no “progress” last time and then I had a baby a few days later, I’ve learned that all of that cervical checking doesn’t mean anything…until it means something! Who cares how dilated I am at 37 weeks?
On Monday morning (38w+6), I was taking a shower and lost my mucous plug. There was no blood, just this huge snotty looking thing – snot like you have a bad head cold kind of snot. Yeah, it was so gross. I didn’t get too excited because I’ve heard that unless there is blood, losing the mucous plug isn’t too big of a deal. It can even grow back! I just took it as a sign that the timing of my mom’s weekend visit might be spot on. I’d probably have the baby right on my due date.
I had a relaxing prenatal massage at home after work that evening. Shortly after the masseuse left, I started having contractions. I’ve never had Braxton Hicks contractions with either pregnancy, so I knew these were the real deal. They were mild but something was definitely happening. Once again, I didn’t get too excited because last time I had irregular contractions for a few days before having a baby. But I did start to worry a bit that the baby would come before my mom could arrive.
I chatted with The Mister later and let him know that I was having contractions. As we talked, I realized that they were coming about every 10 minutes like clockwork. I still shrugged it off as probably nothing. I reminded him that last time, I had contractions all night long and they went away in the morning. I went to the bathroom a bit later and when I wiped, I saw blood, a good bit of it. I figured this was the “bloody show.” This plus the loss of my mucous plug that AM and the fairly regular contractions finally made me think that labor might be beginning.
I shared the latest happenings with The Mister and let him know what it might mean. I cautioned him again that it could very well mean nothing. Some women have their bloody show and have a baby within 24 hours. For others it is a few days. I wasn’t sure when we would have a baby, but now I was pretty sure that it would be before my Mom arrived on Friday!
The Mister was scheduled to be at work at 6AM and wanted to know what he should do. We made plans to play it by ear. He would go into work a little late and take Lewis into daycare early at 6:30AM. If this was really labor, I’d call him in from work and we’d call my mother-in-law down. That would give us a secure place for Lewis until evening and grandma could stay with him at night. It felt good to have a plan!
I tried to go to sleep knowing that if I really were in labor that I would need some rest. I couldn’t sleep in spite of my best intentions. The contractions were very regular and I was uncomfortable. I didn’t want to annoy The Mister by tossing and turning since he had to be at work early, so I headed downstairs to try and fall asleep watching TV. This had been my routine during the few nights of pregnancy insomnia that I experienced.
The masseuse left around 9PM. I started my first contraction shortly after she left. The bloody show came an hour later. I went downstairs around 10:30PM and started timing contractions as I watched TV and tried to drift off. My doctor had instructed me to call when contractions were 6-8 minutes apart. I think he wanted patients to get to the hospital sooner rather than later. Being a second-time mom meant a faster labor and being a VBAC patient required monitoring per hospital rules. I was shocked to see within the hour that I was in the 8 minute range with contractions lasting about 30 seconds each.
By midnight, I had been in the 5 minutes apart range for an hour. I know this was well beyond the “call the doctor” range but I was still in a bit of denial that I was actually in labor. I was also a little confused by the fact that my contractions only lasted about 30 seconds each. They tell first time moms to go to the hospital when contractions are 5 minutes apart, lasting for 1 minute, for about an hour. My pattern was very odd so I kind of brushed it off. It’s funny how as a first time mom, any little twinge meant I was going to have the baby right that minute. As a second-time mom, I was finding all sorts of reasons to not admit that I was in labor!
The doctor called back and he agreed that it was a little odd that the contractions were 30 seconds in duration, but that the frequency and increasing intensity could not be denied. I told him that I wanted to wait until 6:30AM to drop my son off first. He pointed out that with traffic that meant I wouldn’t be there until 7:30AM or so (it was about 2:45AM). He reminded me that I was a second-time mom and labor tends to go faster. He also noted that I was VBAC patient and that I had chosen a hospital birth for a reason. If it was nothing then I could just walk the halls at the hospital, but I should at least go in. I think he really wanted to tell me to stop effing around and get my butt into the hospital if I didn’t want to have a baby on my couch or in the car!
That was just the reality check that I needed. I told The Mister that it was time to enact the emergency plan. I woke my friend up and told her that we’d be there about 4AM to drop Lewis off. I was already packed and I had already packed an emergency bag for Lewis with a couple of days worth of clothing inside. The Mister was not packed at all. I won’t even get into the other stuff on his pre-baby honey-do list that he had neglected in the week before the baby’s due date. I’m still pissed off about the things that remain undone!
I had enlisted the services of a doula (birth assistant) this time around. Last time, The Mister was very adamant that he didn’t want a doula in the room. I should have ignored him because after all *I’m* the one having the baby. He felt like it should be an intimate experience between the two of us. Newsflash, if you are giving birth in the hospital it just isn’t going to be all that intimate with all the nurses, doctors and assistants that will pile in. You might as well have someone there that is there just for you!
After what happened with Lewis’ birth, he admitted that we should have had a doula and things might have gone differently if that were the case. He did not object in the slightest to my hiring someone this time. Once we decided to head in to the hospital, I called my doula to explain the situation. Like the doctor, she felt it was weird that the contractions were so short, but she was on standby to come in anyway. I told her that I’d let her know if she should come to the hospital because I was really in labor.
It took forever to get on the road. I had to wait for The Mister to pack his stuff and then we had to wake Lewis up out of a dead sleep at 3AM. I sat in the car alone waiting and growing more irritable and uncomfortable by the minute dealing with contractions. I decided to put on my HypnoBabies track to calm myself down.
The boys eventually got in the car and we headed out. I had explained to Lewis earlier that Mommy was going to have to go to the hospital soon to have the baby. In spite of the early hour, he still had questions. I explained it to him again and re-assured him that everything was going to be alright. He kept asking me random questions from the back seat. The funniest was “Who’s that lady whispering?” in reference to the HypnoBabies lady being played loudly in my headphones in the quiet car. He made me smile through my discomfort.
Long car rides when you are in labor are just the worst! Between the trip to the babysitter’s and the hospital downtown, I was in the car for more than an hour. We finally arrived at Emory Midtown. The Mister dropped me off at the late-night emergency entrance and went to park the car. I started the long walk to Labor & Delivery alone.
I don’t know if it was my time of arrival or just a fluke, but there was NO ONE there at the hospital door. When I arrived at Kennestone to have my son, I was whisked away to L&D in an (unnecessary) wheelchair. At Emory, I marched alone down a long scary lonely hallway gripping the sides of the walls as contractions hit. I saw no one. I could have waited for The Mister, but I kept thinking that someone was going to be available to help me. Wrong.
I got checked into L&D and was sent to their triage. The Mister joined me after a few minutes. A nice nurse got me hooked up with the standard hospital getup. I had a pretty labor gown packed in my bag that I had purchased for Lewis’ birth, but I decided not to put it on. It just felt really fussy and unnecessary to me at the time. Also gone by the wayside, was my birth plan and treats for the nurses. I left my birth plan in the car and I didn’t get a chance to pick up a bakery cake because I didn’t expect to go into labor this early.
I was hooked up to a monitor in triage and waited for the standard 20 minute strip of baby’s heartbeat. The Mister was falling asleep. I was all keyed up waiting to see if I was really in labor or not. The contractions were about the same length as they were before but a little more intense. Everything was still manageable at this point. I felt 100x better being out of the car, that’s for sure!
The nurse came in to check my cervix. I had to laugh as she let me know that she was going to be far more gentle than my doctor would be. I guess he’s kind of notorious for having rougher internal exams! I wonder if it is just that a man will never know what a cervical check feels like? Someone shoving their hand way up into your ladyparts and all is just not comfortable. They should really go easy!
The nurse was just as gentle as she promised. She pronounced me 5cm dilated and I was so happy. First of all, I really was in labor and my short little contractions were apparently effective! Second, I was halfway done! It really was true about the faster labor thing. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t have a single contraction until 9PM and then at 5AM I was at 5cm.
The Mister called my doula and let her know that this was it. He also told my mother-in-law to hit the road. We got checked into our nice labor suite. I got my Ipod setup with my labor playlist to set the mood. I finally felt like I could relax. I was going to have a baby today!
I met my first nurse but I was told that she would not be there that long because shift change was coming soon. I didn’t see her too much but made sure to tell her that I didn’t want pain relief when she asked about my plans for delivery. The hospital staff was so great about being natural-birth friendly. All of the things I had on my missing birth plan were done without my asking. The lights were low, no one was bugging me about my pain levels, and I wasn’t constantly being asked if I wanted drugs.
My doula arrived not too long after we got checked in. I was in bed and managing really well there. In fact, I kept dozing off between contractions. This shocked the crap out of me. I was dealing with back labor + broken water by the time I got to the hospital with my son. There was no dozing off because it hurt too bad. This labor felt freakishly easy by comparison. It was just like contraction start, breathe through the pain, contraction stop, fall asleep. Repeat.
The music was calm and soothing and the atmosphere was just so peaceful. This was exactly what I wanted and how I described my “dream birth” to my doula in a pre-birth interview. I even grew hungry and felt like eating a snack. This was technically against hospital rules, but if they wanted to snatch the crackers and cheese away from a hungry woman in labor then fine. I’d ask forgiveness instead of permission.
I also had a student nurse working with the experienced nurse. I wasn’t so cool with her because she looked young and nervous. She also failed to put my blood pressure cuff on correctly. Isn’t that nursing 101? I made it a point to keep both eyes on her at that point.
I labored on although the ability to doze off between contractions stopped. The intensity picked up and I moved from the bed to the exercise ball that my doula bought. My back started to hurt a little bit and I got a little nervous about the baby being in a bad position. But this wasn’t that awful feeling I remember from my son’s birth. It just must have been the way my contractions felt with the pain radiating from my abdomen to my back a bit. My doula leapt into action rubbing my back and letting me know that I was doing a really good job.
My doula was pretty awesome overall and well worth the expense. She managed to be helpful but unobtrusive. She was very calm and just had a great presence about her. She actually reminded me a bit of my older sister and that was a good thing.
During a lot of the early action, The Mister was sleeping. I didn’t mind at all. He made an offhand comment before that made me think that he felt like he failed me at our son’s birth. He had also expressed that he would be totally fine with sitting in the waiting room and just waiting for the baby to be born like they did back in the fifties. I guess it just goes to show that men deal with their own feelings about a birth. I wasn’t mad at him. I needed his presence there even if he was sleeping. That was enough for me.
My doctor came back in around 9AM for a cervical check. I was kind of surprised, but grateful, that they weren’t checking me very often. I got checked a lot during labor with my old practice. I kept getting stressed out about the results because I knew they had me on a time clock. I had no fearful feelings with my current doctor because I knew he didn’t operate in that manner. This was a giant relief and another reason to have a really supportive VBAC provider on your side.
The doctor’s check was definitely not as gentle as that of the triage nurse. He announced that I was at 7cm. My water had not broken and he suggested that it would speed things along if I allowed him to break it. I didn’t feel any pressure from him to do this, he was just offering an option. I felt entirely comfortable that no matter what I decided, he wasn’t mentally putting me on the countdown to surgery. In fact, the only mention of time during my labor at all had to do with the fact that I was GBS+ and needed to get in 2 doses of antibiotics. If I made it to 9:30AM, I could get in the second dose and they wouldn’t have to dose the baby after birth. I think they said they would need to take her away to get that done. I didn’t want that so I was actually not in a hurry to deliver at that point.
I was also keenly aware that things start to hurt a lot more once your water is broken. I kind of liked the idea of letting things progress as intervention-free as possible. Why not let labor unfold as it should unfold? I decided that I didn’t want my water broken.
I guess it didn’t matter what I wanted because my water broke just as I was telling the doctor that I would hold off on having my water broken! That is a “risk” of having cervical checks. I started to get nervous because my labor had been so easy, if there is such a thing, up until this point. When my water broke, I went from 7cm to 8cm. The doctor also noted that she was coming down a little bit crooked after my water broke - asynclitic – was the word he used. I heard my doula mention a labor position that we could try to help the baby line herself up a bit better.
My doctor let me know that if I wanted pain relief, this was probably going to be my last chance. He offered a paracervical block (something like a local anesthetic for the cervix) in addition to the usual epidural. This was the only time anyone mentioned pain relief outside of the first shift nurse’s query about my desires. At my first birth, the doctor just assumed I’d already had an epidural because of my demeanor of silent suffering LOL. As soon as the words were out of my doctor’s mouth, I quickly said “No” and sent him on his way. I figured that all I had to do was get from 8 to 10cm. That couldn’t possibly take that long or be that bad, right?
Ha! Things got real very quickly. Again, the difference between contractions with water broken and without was like night and day for me. I was back in the bed at this point because the water breaking was a very messy situation. My doula suggested that we try out of bed positions and I was agreeable. I was being monitored so I could only move so far on either side of the bed. I couldn’t use the shower for relief but I didn’t really mind. I’m not a “naked person” and what would I wear while laboring in the shower?
We tried laboring on the ball for a while, but I didn’t like it so much this time. I ended up sitting on the ball and putting a pillow over the food tray. I would lean over it when the contractions hit. When they hit, boy they hit. That 30 second stuff was over. I needed every ounce of focus to just make it through and the techniques I used before were just not working. I couldn’t just breathe through it anymore. They hurt. Oh they hurt. Did I mention that they hurt? The real work of labor had truly begun.
What started to feel right were some techniques we practiced in my childbirth refresher course. I moaned. Loudly. Deeply from my diaphragm. Embarrassingly. Gutturally. I couldn’t help it. That was the only thing that worked! I moaned and rocked back and forth across the bedside table. The struggle was surely obvious on my face because I don’t recall making a lot of small talk with anyone. My doula told me to just focus on making it until 10AM. This actually helped me a lot because that is what I did during ultramarathons. When you know you are running a 50-60 mile race that will take you forever, it does no good to go mile by mile. Giving myself a short extended time-frame , say 3 hours, helped me power through things a bit better. Focusing on a rather large chunk of time, helped me adjust my expectations. That might not make sense, but it worked for me!
Thirty minutes kind of flew by and then I was in a bad spot again. I was getting tired of being on my feet so a position change was in order. I moved back into the bed and my doula suggested that I try a side-lying position to help with the baby’s possible asynclitic presentation. This wasn’t very comfortable but I didn’t want a repeat of the slow descent issue that I had with my son. I ended up clutching the frame of the bed while fighting back tears and cursing myself for ever thinking that I wanted do this without drugs.
The thoughts running through my head were just crazy! I kept thinking of one scene in “Fight Club” where Brad Pitt is beating the crap out of Ed Norton. Ed keeps mentally drifting off into his ice cave to find his power animal (you have to read/watch to understand!) since that was his way of finding peace in the midst of pain and madness. Every punch kept him spinning back to reality though. That was how I felt. Everytime I tried to find peace or relax, I’d get slapped back into the reality by the pain.
I tried another one of the pain relief (distraction?) techniques from childbirth class that worked well for me during our practice contractions. Our instructor told us how some birds survive storms like hurricanes and tornadoes by flying directly into the eye of the storm. The eye of the storm is actually calm while the destruction rages outside of it. I don’t know why, but this technique resonated with me in class and it actually helped quite a bit during labor. I could visualize the situation and it helped a lot.
The Mister began to take a more active role and offered encouragement along with my doula. I needed every ounce of that support. In addition to the pain of contractions, I started shaking and shivering like I was freezing. My doula said that was good, it meant I was getting close. I was asked if I felt “pushy” but having never felt that way before, I had no idea what that really meant. I was starting to feel some pressure but nothing like that “OMG I need to push” feeling I’ve read other women describe.
It went on and on forever for about 40 minutes. I glanced at the clock again and it was 10:30AM. I playfully (as playfully as one who is in pain could) scolded my doula because she said I only had to go to 10AM until I got checked again. Then I felt kind of good that I was able to blank out and make it way past my “deadline.”
I think I was starting to feel more pressure at this point so they called for my doctor. It still wasn’t an overwhelming feeling so I had my doubts about being complete. The doctor arrived around 11AM and I was at 10cm! It was all lights, camera, action at this point. A lot of people seemed to flood in the room. Nurses started putting pads under me. The stirrups were brought out and bright lights were trained directly onto my nether regions.
I could have requested another pushing position, but I didn’t really feel any strong desire to go squat in the corner or anything like that. I didn’t protest being directed into the the traditional semi-sitting “beetle” position. That’s the one you always see on TV, sitting upright, legs in stirrups. It is typically frowned upon in natural birth circles for not being as effective as some gravity assisted positions. I didn’t really care.
Having never gotten to the point of pushing before, the doctor explained to me what I needed to do. My reaction?
Wait until you feel a contraction. Grab your outer thighs. Arch your pelvis. Open wide. Hold your legs. Hold your breath and push out with that breath internally, but don’t actually breathe out.
Again. Huh? Wut?
The baby’s heart beat on the monitor started to speed up (which meant a contraction was coming) and it was showtime. Push! I was so confused and tired. Nothing felt instinctual about what I was supposed to do, so of course it didn’t go very well. We went through 3 or 4 contractions with me finally getting one decent push on the last set.
Once I kind of had the hang of it, my contractions had the nerve to slow down a bit. Just imagine you (and 6 other people) sitting there and waiting impatiently for another contraction! This kind of surprised me because it always seems to happen so fast on TV.
I was also surprised by how tough pushing was physically. In addition to all the things I was supposed to accomplish with a push, I had to hold back my own (huge) thighs. My arms were so tired! I suddenly regretted all the CrossFit sessions I missed in favor of sleep the prior 8 weeks.
I started to get really frustrated with myself because I never really felt like I was doing it right. We were going to be here forever! The one silver lining was that this stage didn’t hurt that much to me. The contraction pain of the past felt almost non-existent because I was so focused on getting the pushing right.
I kept pushing so hard, so hard. The nurse’s 10-count lasted forever and I had to do that 3 times during each contraction. I was flat out exhausted and crazy out of breath when it was time for the third push of the contraction. I know that I gave up a few times in there and just let my head hit the pillow. My doctor had to give me a tough-love pep talk to help me get it together.
In spite of my confusion about pushing, I got in a few good pushes along with bad ones. Eventually the good outnumbered the bad and they started to say they could see that head. I remember thinking “You’re lying! This kid is never coming out! Just reach in there and get her out if she’s as close as you claim!” I was asked if I wanted a mirror and I declined even though it might have been helpful. I just didn’t want anything else to think about.
I did reach down to feel her head and it felt…bizarre. I’ll never forget that sensation – wet and mushy but firm. Then there’s the fact that there is a huge head between your legs and that just feels like…insanely strange. Still, knowing that she was right there and actually going to make it out gave me the motivation I needed to finish the job off.
Shouts of excitement from everyone in the room.
This is crazy!
I feel like my head will explode or I will pass out from exhaustion and lack of oxygen.
They tell me to back off and pant.
Oh man, this is really going to happen!
I can push again and I do.
They are warning me about the “ring of fire.”
There is burning but it is brief and isn’t as horrible as I imagine.
And then she’s out.
It’s 11:49AM. She’s here! She’s crying! I’m crying! I did it! We did it!
We moved Peri up a bit higher on my body and she magically made the motions to get nursing started.* How do they just know how to do that? It’s kind of amazing!
I couldn’t have wished for a better experience. I don’t plan on having anymore kids and I’m so excited that I got to experience childbirth that way that I wanted to with this last experience. I wouldn’t change a thing.
*Why does everyone always say nursing “like a champ” in reference to a newborn. Why? Why? I refuse to say that!