Disclaimer: Birth is kinda a messy subject, so if talk of dilation and tears wigs you out, you may want to skip this one. Also, it is pretty long. Sorry.
So lets start this story by first talking about what I thought Ella's birth would be like (in other words, the birth I thought about and prepared for). My assumptions about "normal" birth were formed through lots of informed research- I read both of Ina May's books, I talked to my midwife and doula a lot, I read tons of birth stories, we attended birth and baby class. In all, I "knew" that birth was unpredictable, but that there were some pretty normal patterns that it would follow. I figured somewhere between 41 and 42 weeks, I would wake in the night to some mild contractions. They would get stronger and closer together. Seth and I would work through them. Sometime the next day, we would hit the magic 3-1-1 (contractions 3 minutes apart lasting 1 minute a piece for an hour or more) and would take that as a sign to head to the hospital. Once there, I would endure the misery of triage with the help of Seth and our doula. Triage would confirm I was in active labor and a check by our midwife would show I was 6-7 cm dilated. I would be admitted. The birth tub would be set up and I would hop in. The water would help relax me and contractions would pick up more. I would labor for a few hours and then be ready to push and out Ella come with no tearing. Both Ella and I would be calm and serene.
This is not how things happened.
On September 27, at 11:45 pm, just as Seth was climbing into bed, I felt a little trickle. And I thought "theres no way..." but I got up and by the time I got to the bathroom, the water gushing down my leg confirmed that yes, my water had just broke. I called to Seth "babe, my water just broke." He hoped out of bed and we both giggle because, well, we were having a baby! We called the midwife. who confirmed that we were good to stay at home and wait for labor to pick up. We also called our doula to give her a heads up that this baby was coming way sooner than we anticiapted. And then it occured to Seth and me that we hadn't packed for the hospital yet. So we started some laundry and tried to get things together.
By about 1am, Seth was tired, so I sent him to bed. But I was not tired at all, I was wired. Baby was coming and there was so much I hadn't done. So I emailed work and tried to get some stuff together. And then I worked on some assignments for grad school. And then it was 3 am and I knew I needed to sleep, so I climbed back in bed and tried to get some rest, which just didn't happen. By 5:30am, I was ancy and I could tell my contractions were getting closer together, so I woke Seth up. I knew being vertical and moving would help things along, so we set off on a walk with the dogs. Things picked up a little more, but not much.
When we got home, we finished packing for the hospital and made a trip to the grocery store for snacks. I did get some funny looks at the grocery store when I had contractions. We got home and Seth headed into work for a bit. I folded laundry and put new sheets on the bed. I talked to the midwife around 9:30 and she suggested another walk and told us to call her back in an hour. So walk we did and things really started to pick up. My contractions were 4-5 minutes apartment and lasting about a minute. I was having to focus a bit to get through them- I took all of this as good news. I hopped into the shower and then talked to the midwife again. She was already at the hospital checking someone and wanted us to come on in (this was roughly 12 hours after my water broke).
So we loaded up the car and headed to the hospital. Our doula was waiting for us when we got there. And we got a pleasant surpise- the midwife had already admitted us, so we got to skip triage. YAY! We got to our room and the pool got set up. I answered 8 million questions and then I got checked. I was only 1 cm dilated. I can't even begin to tell you how fruststrating this was to hear. I had been laboring for 12 hours already and made such little progress. And contractions already seemed intense to me. But my labor team was great. They offered lots of encouraging words and told me not to stress out about the numbers, that my body was working the way it was supposed to.
So I labored on. I really liked being on my hands and knees over the birthing ball with lots of pressure on my back during contractions. Things kept picking up. And then I puked (a really good sign, in my mind). Our fabulous L&D nurse suggested I try the shower for a bit. And so I did. And things really picked up. It felt like contractions were right on top of each other. I started getting emotional and crying. It hurt like hell. And I took this as a good sign- surely with the puking and crying, I must be close to transition. So out of the shower I came and got check again. This time I was 5 cm. Again, I was frustrated and disappointed- I had been laboring for so long and it hurt!
Part of why things were moving so slow was because little bit was sunny side up (and we would later find out, her hand was up by her head), which is also why I was having such bad back labor. But the upside of this was that it meant I got to hop in the pool early, but just for an hour. So I labored in the pool for an hour. And then had to get out and that was really unpleasant. The doula and the nurses tried to come up with lots of fun things for me to do to try and get the baby to flip over, but these required being upright. And every time I tried to stand up, I got really dizzy. I was simply exhausted (and starting to get dehydrated). I needed some rest, so I climbed into the bed and was put into a SIMS position to help baby turn. Let me just say, contractions lying down really suck. And things were really starting to pick up. And I was starting to really not handle things well. I hadn't been able to rest, contractions were on top of each other and peaking higher than I imagined they could go. I wasn't able to get on top of the contractions- essentially, I wasn't handling things well at all.
I was checked again and was now between 6 and 7 cm. And I needed a break- just a little break, just an hour or two to get some rest so that I could get back in the game. So my midwife suggested a little cocktail of some IV fluids, a muscle relaxer, and a low dose narcotic. I still felt everything, but it was through a nice fog. I was checked again after an hour and was at 8 cm. Let me say, that my birth plan stated that I was very much against using drug interventions, but I am glad I went for it. I know my body and I know my limits. I was exhausted and at my limit. Clearly, I needed rest and my body responded very well to taking a little break. After another 20 minutes, I started feeling pushy (and was apparently saying "pushy pushy, need to pushy, pushy). Turns out I was complete and ready to pushy pushy!
The nurses very quickly pulled the IV out, refilled the pool, and threw me in. I was still a bit fuzzy because of the drugs and couldn't really figure out how to push. Seth says I got grumpy here, but I maintain I was just confused. The midwife and doula showed me what to do and I got underway with the pushing. Pushing was intense and I understand the term "ring of fire" in a whole new way (Seth says I actually yelled "ring of fire" at one point). And after just 1/2 hour of pushing, as 8:05 pm on September 28, Ella made her arrival! The midwife let her float under the water for a minute and then told me to bring my daughter to the surface. I swear as I pulled her up and saw her face come towards me, the brain fog just cleared. She was just perfect- purple and screaming, but perfect (with an 8 and 9 on her apgars). After the cord stopped pulsing, the midwife clamped it off and Seth cut it. I then handed her off to Seth, so that I could get out of the pool to deliver the placenta and get stitched up (Ella was born with her left arm over her right shoulder up by her head causing a 2nd degree tear and a small urethral tear).
And that's how Ella came into the world. Was it what I expected? No. Am I disappointed in how things went? Not at all. Here's the thing that I truly understand about childbirth (and life), you get dealt a hand. You can't change it and you can't plan for it. You just have to go with what you got. And in the end I got what was most important to me- a healthy daughter (who was very alert despite the drugs), who was born vaginally in the water.
So I end this post with a hearty thank you to everyone who supported and loved me through my pregnancy, for all those sent happy thoughts and prayers our way once I was in labor, and to my incredible birth team (my husband, who was so beyond wonderful, our super doula, our fabulous midwife, and the L&D nurses at Womens Hospital who were so respectful and supportive of our wishes). And just one picture, that makes me cry every time I see it (and if you want to see more picture of L&D, check out triad birth doula on facebook- the album is Happy Birthday, Ella)...