[Note: This is a work in progress, with two more stories yet to add.]
Almost as soon as I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I started reading lots and lots of books about labor and birth. The very first of these was Dr. Grantly Dick Read’s famous Childbirth without Fear. From there I moved on to Dr. Lamaze’s Painless Childbirth. My mother had actually been the first woman to deliver using the Lamaze method at the same hospital where all my kids would eventually be born. I remember her doing her exercises and practicing her breathing while pregnant with both my sisters. So I had always been committed to the ideal of natural childbirth, and the reading I was doing reinforced that.
We attended Lamaze classes and planned for our own natural birth. Except Emily was breech. My doctor was one of the last ones around who would attempt a vaginal breech delivery, but he wouldn’t do it with a first baby. So I was scheduled for an external version, which was unsuccessful. I was sad, and cried about it, but I was able to accept the inevitable and didn’t experience grief or guilt for having to have a surgical birth, just disappointment.
It was important for me to experience labor, and that my baby should “choose” her own birthday. So I was given until February 6, 1991 to go into labor on my own. I woke up with contractions on February 4, 1991, which just happened to be my husband’s 25th birthday! We were both so excited!
I already had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for that afternoon at 2 p.m. I was only having mild contractions, but my doctor confirmed that I was about 2 cm dilated, and that the baby was officially on the way. He made plans to perform the surgery in a few hours, and we left the office because we had an errand to run first.
Because it was John’s birthday, I had ordered a cake, so we went to the bakery to pick it up and we brought it along in the car. At the hospital, John got all suited up, I got the epidural, and we headed for the delivery room. I had no desire to watch the surgery and was happy for the screen. I did not even realize that the surgery had begun until John told me it had, and I never felt anything except for some tugging as the doctor pulled the baby out.
We had been expecting a big baby, because I weighed over ten pounds at birth, but Emily was 8 lbs. 14 oz. I know that’s a respectable size baby, but John had never had anything do with babies and his first comment was, “She’s so tiny!”
I remember feeling aggrieved that John was so interested in this new creature that he temporarily left my side. For me, the worst part of the operation was right then when for some reason I felt an irrational desire to get off the table and had to be strapped down. It was over quickly, though, and then we headed down the hall to the recovery room. I have a vague memory of passing the waiting room full (really, really full) of my family members, with my father actually on the phone giving my sister who was away at college a play by play!
We had to stay in recovery for 45 minutes, and for the most part we were alone there, which was nice. John made phone calls to his family and friends, and changed his first diaper while we were there! When we went back to our room, everyone got to meet Emily, and then we celebrated her arrival AND John’s birthday with the cake we had picked up earlier. He always says she was the best present he ever received.
After having had a section, I had my heart set on a natural birth with my second child. And there was no reason to think I couldn’t achieve one, since the only reason I had to have a section with Emily was her refusal to turn head down. So I got out all the books I had read before, and I took another Lamaze class. I read up on VBACs. I acquired a tape of relaxing heartbeats and womb sounds to help me relax during labor. I found a recipe for something called “Laborade” and made plans to smuggle it and some snacks into the hospital so I would have energy.
I was fortunate that my doctors were very supportive of VBACs. They even agreed to intermittent monitoring so that I would be able to walk during labor.
I had an OB appointment on Tuesday, January 25, 1994. Baby was head down, and I wasn’t dilated or effaced yet. I woke up Wednesday morning with mild pains. John went to school, and my cousin came over and kept me company for awhile. At some point my mother came to take Emily away. I remember crying a little as I thought to myself that it was her last day to be an only child.
I remember that when John came home I cooked dinner for him even though I was in labor. The pains were not close together or regular, though. In the hopes of getting things going we walked all around our apartment complex and then we drove to the supermarket because I wanted some lollipops to take to the hospital. We were laughing in the store wondering how much the cashier would freak out if we announced I was in labor!
We walked around the shopping center for awhile before going back home. When we got home I lay in the tub for awhile and we timed the pains. It was frustrating because the contractions were getting harder, but they weren’t coming in a regular pattern, and they were never closer than five minutes. John called the doctor and he said that there was no way the baby was coming any time soon given my recent exam, and that we should go to bed and try to rest.
John had no trouble doing exactly that, but I was in too much pain to sleep. After an hour or so I woke John up and told him to call the doctor again. This time the doctor told us to come on in but he was just humoring me, I’m pretty sure.
I think it was around 1:00 a.m. when we went to the hospital, and I was 3 cm dilated with leaking amniotic fluid so I was admitted. From there on, my labor was exactly what I had always dreamed of and hoped for. I listened to the tape I had brought, rocked in the rocking chair, walked the halls with John, did my breathing. Looking back now, there was a dreamlike quality to the experience. Just like all the books said, labor was hard, but manageable. Everything was going so well.
Until the doctor arrived, checked me and said I was eight cm, but added this upsetting comment: “That’s not a head.”
He dragged in an ultrasound machine to confirm that somehow a baby who had been head down two days prior had flipped over and was now breech. And because birth was now imminent this was turning into an urgent situation with words like “stat” getting thrown around. John was on the phone calling everyone to let them know what was happening while I lay on the bed crying as I got my epidural.
Jake was born via C-section early on the morning of January 27, 1994, his due date. John loved his birth because the doctor took the time to describe what he was doing and to show him all of my internal organs, closing by saying, “Now you know your wife inside and out.” What a comedian!
There was a little excitement shortly after the birth because Jake weighed 11 lbs. 8 oz.
(The following is an account of my fourth birth.)
Friday morning (March 2, 2001) I went in for my first appointment in almost two weeks. My BP was up (160/110) and I had protein in my urine. The doctor told me to go home and rest, do a 24-hour urine sample, and return to the hospital the next day for a BP check. Saturday at the hospital my BP was 170/111 but went down to normal as long as I was resting. They called my OB and he said I could go home but was on absolute bedrest until my Monday morning appointment.
By Sunday I was starting to freak out because I kept hearing toxemia horror stories from people. So I called my doctor. He said that if I were someone else he would have sent me in to be induced on Friday, but he knew that I would stay in bed and he knew that I really didn’t want to be induced. He said he would have been happier inducing me but wanted to give me a few extra days to go into labor on my own (since I had told him it would be Sunday). He said that he had planned to tell me on Monday that I had until Wednesday to go into labor naturally. He also told me that due to the high BP I would have to stay in bed during labor which really upset me as all my plans for VBACing and avoiding pain meds involved walking and being upright.
John was at a birthday party with the kids at the time so I told the OB that when he got home we would talk over possibly going ahead with the induction. Well, I went into labor at 4:30, shortly before John and the kids arrived. The doctor called to check on me around 5:30 and said he wanted me in the hospital right away so he could monitor the BP. So there went another part of my birth plan—staying home as long as possible—out the window. I ate some eggs and milk and yogurt before I left because I figured they would starve me at the hospital, and we went on, arriving there around 6:30 p.m.
They checked me and found no dilation at all and a very posterior cervix. My water had also broken and my contractions were hard and difficult to manage almost immediately. I had to be hooked up to a fetal heart monitor, a contraction monitor, a BP cuff, and an IV for fluid and antibiotics for Group B Strep. All I could do was lie on my side. I was panicky and could not cope with the pain at all. After 7 hours of what certainly felt like hard labor to me, I had made NO PROGRESS at all. And due to the ruptured membranes, GBS strep, and high BP, the OB had said that if I wasn’t progressing by that point I would need pitocin augmentation.
I have had two long and completely unmedicated labors before, and was able to cope with them by walking, changing positions, etc. When I had to get up to go to the bathroom I could see that I would have been much more comfortable upright. But lying down, I couldn’t cope with the pain, and I couldn’t imagine coping with the added pain of pit contractions. Also, everything was going so wrong that I felt sure I was all set for another section. I thought to myself that it was ridiculous to suffer for 12 more hours only to end up with a cesarean anyway. Also, my ideal birth had been so completely messed up by this point that an epidural didn’t seem like much. So I said that if I had to have pit I was having an epidural too.
Bless my husband’s heart, he was trying to do the right thing. I said, “I can’t DO this anymore,” and he said, “That’s what the Bradley book said you would say. That’s normal.” I said it was normal when you hit the self-doubt signpost at transition but not at 1 cm. I said I was serious! And then he suggested I just try some pit contractions, but I was afraid that I would be in agony for hours if I had to wait until after the pit for the epidural. So I got the epidural first, then the pit. This was all hooked up shortly after 1 a.m. and then we rested for a while
Two hours later when I was checked I was at 7 cm. I truly believe this was one of the situations where the epidural was beneficial, since it enabled me to relax. By 5 a.m. I was at 9, and at 7 a.m. the OB said I could push. However, he also told me that my baby’s head was big and that it was well behind the pubic bones. He said that all he could feel was bone and that the head would have to mold incredibly to fit through. Then he left the room and told the nurses (he told me this himself later) that I could push but to be ready to do a c-section at noon!
I myself did not believe I would be having a VBAC at this point, but I had a very supportive labor nurse. Of course, just to add to everything else, I had to push semi-sitting—-they wouldn’t let me get upright because of the BP. I had counted on squatting so I really did think that was going to be the last straw. Anyway, she held one leg and John the other. We got in at least three pushes for every contraction. I was able to push effectively despite the epidural, or I would have had it turned off. I had no trouble feeling where to push.
For a long time his head did not move. She turned me on my side between contractions so the head could descend through the available space. There was very little resting time between contractions and pushing was very hard work! Finally, she had people come in and start setting up for delivery. When the OB came in he said, “I love it when I’m wrong.” I still did not believe it would happen. But getting his head through the pelvis was the hard part, apparently. The next thing I knew, his head was out and I started to cry because I knew it was really going to happen. The rest of him was born really quickly—what a strange feeling!!
I had an episiotomy and three tears—one in the sphincter, one inside, and one near the urethra. The sphincter is the main place I have felt discomfort. I really did not realize a vaginal birth would be so painful afterwards! [NOTE: Apparently this was due to William’s size. I was fine after Lorelei’s birth. I could not sit down comfortably after William’s birth for at least three weeks.] It does seem to get better faster than a section, though.
The baby ingested a lot of meconium, so it was nearly an hour before I could hold him, although I could see him the whole time. And of course we were all dying to hear the weight, since baby #3 was 12 lbs. The neonatologist said he was sure that it would be more than 12 pounds. He was born at 9:01 a.m. on Monday, March 5, 2001, at 24.75 inches, with a 16 inch head, and weighed 13 lbs., 5 ounces!!!!!
Just a few days later I was readmitted to the hospital because my chest hurt, I was short of breath, and my head was splitting. Long hellish story short, after a battery of tests it became apparent I was seriously low on blood (hematocrit of 17, half what it was when I entered the hospital to give birth). I needed two pints. My husband said there was a LOT of blood involved in William’s birth, but never having had a baby born vaginally before, we didn’t realize this wasn’t normal.