The Saturday before I went into labor, I woke up, slowly got up, and felt something trickle down my leg. After some furious Googling, I called the advice nurse because there was an ever so slight chance I was leaking amniotic fluid. She told me to monitor it for the next couple of hours and if it continued, to call back.
Of course, I was fine all Saturday.
Sunday morning came and the same thing happened. I called the advice nurse again and ended up speaking to the same exact nurse who helped me the day before. Since it was my second day in a row experiencing this weird trickle thing, she suggested we come to the hospital just so we could be sure it wasn't amniotic fluid.
Of course, it wasn't.
Monday rolled around and I figured I should stock up the pantry to have enough food to last us at least until my due date. I went to Costco, to the Co-Op, and to Safeway, all the while feeling these occasional cramps in my back. I told myself they were from my running around in unsupportive shoes at 9 months pregnant.
That night, we watched Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them and at 7:37 I told Brandon I felt a contraction start in my back and work its way forward. He started keeping a log of my contractions to see if there was a pattern but there wasn't. We went to bed sometime after 11.
At 12:45 AM, I woke up to a sharp pain in my back. The contractions were now stronger and a pattern started to develop. I tried to fall back asleep but couldn't. So I paced around our tiny apartment, listening to my playlist of chill music, as I breathed my way through each contraction in the dark. I did that for a couple of hours until I felt tired enough to try to sleep again. I dozed in and out for a while, waking up to log contractions in a note on my phone.
The sun rose and my contractions were getting closer together. We called the hospital to let them know my contractions were averaging about five minutes apart. They told us we were good to come in. We excitedly grabbed our things and headed to the hospital. I slept on the ride there and for 30 minutes in the parking lot once we got there.
I've slept all of maybe three hours since my labor started.
I was three and a half centimeters dilated when they admitted me. We moved up to the labor and delivery room and I met with a midwife. I told her my plans for an unmedicated birth and admitted that my only real concern/fear was tearing. She was pretty confident that my plan would work out fine since I was a low risk pregnancy. Her one concern was my lack of sleep.
Because my plan didn't include an epidural, I was able to get up and walk around the labor and delivery courtyard. We took a lap outside and then walked back to the room so the nurse could monitor Isaac's heartbeat. My in laws brought us lunch and despite having nothing but yogurt in my stomach, I didn't eat.
I have no idea how much time has passed but my contractions were getting stronger and I was getting sleepier. I asked what the midwife thought about me laboring in the shower but she advised against it because of how sleepy I was. My labor was moving slowly and she didn't want to risk slowing it down even more.
It’s about 3 PM and even though I've been in labor for over 13 hours, I'm not even halfway dilated. We decide to swab my membranes to see if that encourages my labor to speed up a little.
After getting the swab my pain level spiked. The contractions get very real and so does my exhaustion.
I get on the birthing ball for a few minutes but hate it. I kept feeling lightheaded and like I was going to fall off it. Brandon tries to coax me out of bed so we can walk through the contractions. It takes him about 20 minutes to get me out of the room because I fight him so much, saying I just want to sleep.
We take a tiny lap outside with lots of pauses. I hang onto Brandon through every contraction and feel myself falling asleep when they subside. I know I'm falling asleep because I realize time and time again that I'm dreaming weird things then suddenly waking up from those dreams to a contraction. We take so long outside that my nurse comes out to meet us so she can check on Isaac's heartbeat again.
We make it back to the room and this time I'm at 6 centimeters. We decide it's time to try laboring in the shower. I'm experiencing a lot of back labor and the hot water gives me some relief.
I didn't know this at the time but Brandon could see Isaac sticking out in a lump on my back. I spent hours laboring in the shower. Thankfully, my nurse was an angel and decided to use a doppler to check Isaac’s heartbeat, which meant I didn’t have to get out of the shower every 30 minutes. She also hopped in the shower and did some counter pressure on my back while I hung onto Brandon.
I labored in the shower for probably an hour and a half. Once I hit seven centimeters, the back labor got even more intense. I was doing everything I could to relax but the contractions were starting to pile on top of each other. That, paired with the fact that Isaac wasn’t positioned facing down, meant lots of pressure on my back and bum (that might be TMI even for a birth story that opens with me losing my mucous plug).
It’s at this point that I bring up the epidural. I can tell that I’m losing my ability to relax and breathe through the pain. My nurse tells me there no guarantee that the meds will take the discomfort in my bum away, so we decide to keep going without medication.
After a few more hours in the shower, my midwife comes back to check me. I was super discouraged when I found out I was only at 7.5 centimeters. After all that tough laboring, I was really hoping I was nearing the end. She ended up breaking my water in the shower. The pain got more intense and my exhaustion really started taking its toll. I felt the biggest urge to push. I knew I couldn’t but the urge was overwhelming. My nurses kept telling me to relax my pelvic floor but my exhaustion was taking over. I couldn’t figure out how to isolate my muscles and relax them.
Honestly, I couldn’t figure out how to relax, period. I moved out of the shower and back to the bed. My pain was getting unmanageable. I’d kept an optimistic mindset up until that point. But getting stuck in transition for two hours with contractions coming on top of each other plus the intense back labor had drained my positive mindset.
Back in the bed, as I tried to white knuckle my way through the pain (which I don’t recommend, by the way) while fading in and out of sleep, my angel of a nurse brought the epidural back up. She said she thought the biggest thing I needed in order to progress my labor and get out of transition was to relax and sleep and that the epidural would help me do that.
When I say I was in and out of sleep, I really mean it. I could hear her talking to me and I was processing what she was saying while also totally dreaming.
My nurse’s shift was ending but before she left we decided to go for the epidural so I could get some sleep. I signed a shaky signature around midnight and cried through a couple of contractions as I got set up.
I’m not a needle person, which was honestly one of the biggest factors in me deciding not to include the epidural in my plan. While it was definitely uncomfortable and, for a brief couple of seconds, painful, I’m very glad I got it.
It was amazing how quickly I was able to relax. My family – who’d been posted up in the waiting room since 2 that afternoon – was finally able to come in to see me. My hands were still shaking from the adrenaline and aforementioned white knuckling, but I was finally mentally relaxed. I could still feel my contractions happening but they felt more like early labor contractions, totally manageable. After a quick visit with the family, Brandon and I went to sleep.
My new nurse came in around 2:30 AM to check me. I was finally at 9.5 centimeters. She said she’d be back to have me start pushing. Once she left I looked over at Brandon and said, “This is it. This is our last moment of it being just us.”
She came back an hour later and got me ready to start pushing. She had me scoot down on the table in the hopes of getting Isaac to flip face down instead of being on his side. Thank God it worked! It actually worked better than she expected because as soon as he got into the right position his head was already peeking out (which totally explains the intense urge to push I’d been feeling for hours). I pushed during my contractions for about 15 minutes or so before she called the midwife.
Months before this, I’d had a dream that I got to see Isaac. It was a weird ream because in it I knew that it wasn’t time for him to be born. I understood that I was getting to see and hold him but that he’d have to go back. I couldn’t tell you exactly what he looked like in my dream. All that stuck out was his head of hair and big blue eyes. When my nurse told me his head was already pretty far down, she mentioned that he had a bunch of hair. It made that dream even more special than it was when I first had it.
Those moments of pushing were the calmest I’d felt in all my labor. Nothing else about my labor had really gone the way I envisioned, so it was such a gift to have at least one moment that felt like it was going according to plan.
I started pushing for real once the midwife came in. I hadn’t planned on using the mirror to see my progress but I went for it when it was offered. And you know, it actually helped a lot! The epidural made it tougher to know exactly which muscles I was using but the mirror and the coaching from the nurses helped me pinpoint when I was making progress. Before I knew it, I could see – and feel – Isaac’s head making its way out. Once I reached that point, I just kept pushing. I didn’t wait for anymore coaching. My calm breathing gave way to groans and I pushed with everything I had. I knew he was so close to being born and that I was finally close to being done with labor and meeting my son.
It was 4:24 AM when I saw the midwife catch Isaac. She handed him to one of the nurses, who quickly put him on my chest as she slightly wiped him down. She cleared out his nostrils and mouth and Isaac let out one cry before opening his eyes to examine his new world. He laid there on me for a while, just looking around. I nursed him and rubbed his back. Brandon and I wondered at the tiny miracle I carried in my body for nine months. The whole thing was like an out of body experience. I remember it vividly but the memory plays in my head like something I watched.
Our family came in an hour later to meet Isaac and were instantly in love. After they left we thought we’d finally get some rest but a nurse came in to move us to our recovery room around 6:30 AM. The epidural made my right leg go completely numb so I couldn’t hold myself up, but thankfully Brandon helped get me into the wheelchair and new bed.
The rest of our time at the hospital was a blur; a stressful, surreal blur (to borrow a line from Mean Girls). My sleep was constantly interrupted at all hours of the day and night – and not really by Isaac. No one tells you about the complete overload of information thrown at you in the 24 hours after having a baby. The nurse shift changes, the food drops, the records lady, the medicine doses, the lactation consultant that stops by when your baby is getting his hearing tested, the blood draws, all on top of having a newborn you’re learning to nurse and care for…it’s a lot. Thankfully we did manage to get some rest and went home the next day.
In hindsight, I'm not surprised at how slow moving my labor was. In the 10-ish hours I was in labor before going to the hospital, I'd only dilated three and a half centimeters. With that in mind, I would have liked to stay home longer. Had coffee. Had breakfast and even lunch at home. Made sure I drank enough water. Braided my hair. Showered! Walked around my neighborhood. Just to have a few last intentional hours to savor my pregnancy and my time with Brandon. I probably could have forced myself to sleep more too.
Even though I didn’t do any of those things and even though I ended up asking for the epidural, I’m still very happy with how my labor went. And luckily it didn’t scare me off from having another baby (but that’s for future Alex to think about).
For now, we’re happy enjoying our new life as a family of three!