I spent the next 4 days having contractions that started at night, and would subside by the morning. Mark and I walked around the entire neighborhood of Capitol Hill several times over the next few days, I drank red raspberry tea, made spicy ginger cookies, ate spicy Mexican food, and tried every other trick in the book to kick labor into gear, including asking our midwife Sierra to sweep my membranes twice.
Sunday, we left church early and decided to go on another long walk and I felt some light contractions. Later that evening, we had friends over to visit and by the time they left at 8pm, the night contractions had started again. But this time – they felt different. They were stronger and they came in a timed pattern, and I was so happy! I timed my contractions with my handy iphone app and they were 5-8 minutes apart for a steady 3-4 hours. We called Sierra and let her know we thought this was it, and we wanted to come into the hospital.
We met Sierra at the hospital around 1am that Sunday night. Walking into the hospital, the image of Mark still makes me laugh so hard. I had packed way too much in our hospital bag, we had the baby bag, a pillow, my purse, and a giant medicine ball to labor on. Mark was so nervous and seeing him carrying all that stuff from the car to the hospital, doing his best to “keep it together” made me laugh out loud, despite my contractions. Ahhh, that guy. When we arrived on the labor and delivery floor, I was dialated to 4 cm and 80% effaced! However, Sierra thought it was still going to take awhile to get to the more serious contractions, so we walked around the hall for an hour to see if it would move things along. After an hour, we checked and…no progress. We made a decision to go back home and labor in the comfort of our own home, which turned out to be one of the better decisions we made during labor. It was so nice to be in the dark, cozy comfort of my apartment that night.
As my labor progressed and contractions got closer together, 3-5 minutes apart by sunrise on Monday, I really started feeling the pains in my back. We had taken hypnobirthing classes, and had planned on using techniques to relax and be able to handle the labor pains naturally. But we had not counted on the intensity and pain associated with back labor. The only thing that was working to relieve those back contractions had nothing to do with “going inside”. Nope, I’m sorry to say that hypnobirthing did not work for my back labor. Instead, I turned to my animal instincts and found myself pressing my lower back against anything I could find to relieve the painful back contractions, that were coming 2-3 minutes apart by 10am. I’m still haunted by images of me pacing back and forth all night from our bedroom to the living room, pressing my back up against the laundry room door, on the dining chair, and the bookcase every 3 minutes to try and relieve the pressure on my lower back. Mark would follow me around every few contractions and push my hips together for counter pressure. It felt amazing when he was able to apply the right kind of counterpressure and really helped control the pain.
We headed back into the hospital at 10:30am, feeling excited about the progress we had made, and with repacked hospital bags (and that pointless medicine ball left at home), and Sierra checked my progress - 4.5cm. I had only progressed 1/2 cm in 12 hours! We were pretty discouraged, but glad to be at the hospital with Sierra, where I felt safe. Sierra is a really good friend of mine. We lived together for about 6 months before Mark and I were married, and I had always hoped she would be my midwife, but didn’t know if we would still be living around each other when I was pregnant. I’m so happy we were able to go through the pregnancy and birth with her – she’s an amazing midwife and I loved experiencing such an intimate and private thing with just my husband and friend. It was so sweet.
When we checked into the hospital, Sierra would switch with Mark to push in on my hips, my legs, and my back every 2-3 minutes for counterpressure for the back labor, giving Mark a nice break from the previous 16 hours.
The day continued with contractions growing in intensity, staying 2-3 minutes apart. I took a couple of hot showers, walked around the halls for hours pressing my back up against the walls, and Mark continued to support me so well through the whole day. He had water, juice, ice chips, and food ready for me at any time, and rubbed my back and held my hand through every contraction or left me alone when I needed to be alone. I have never felt so much love for another human being as I did for Mark during my labor. Mark was my rock.
That night, around 10pm, we checked my progress again. I had only progressed another ½ cm reaching 5cm, and was now at -1 station. This was kind of the breaking point of my labor. I had been laboring for 26 hours, I was physically and emotionally exhausted, and my back literally felt like it would burst apart during each contraction and I was losing the ability to control my breaths during each contractions. I took another hot shower to try and relax, and we took a few hours to think about what to do. I really wanted to have a totally natural labor, but with the pain of the back contractions, I just knew I couldn’t continue on by myself anymore and have strength to push when the time came. Time didn’t really exist at that point, my eyes couldn’t stay open, and I only had a couple of minutes between each contraction to really think about what to do next, so it took awhile to decide. Finally around midnight I told Sierra I was ready for an epidural. We decided to do a Pitocin drip along with the epidural in hopes I would progress further and hopefully my water would finally break.
During the first 30 hours of labor, the only monitoring I had was a handheld fetal monitor that Sierra used to listen to the baby’s heartbeat every 30 minutes. No hep locks, no IVs, no nothing. Mark fed me applesauce, hummus, broth, saltines, and apple juice and had the water cup at my mouth after every contraction. In a matter of minutes, our peaceful and warm labor atmosphere that we had created the first 30 hours of labor ramped up to bright fluorescent lights, IV drips, needles, monitors, anesthesiologists, nurses, and no eating or drinking. I felt so scared and nervous and I could tell Mark was getting upset with the brash treatment from the nurses who couldn’t care less about my fragile and exhausted state after 30 hours of back labor. I don’t know how I did it, but I stayed still during a back contraction while the candyman gave me an epidural. After the epidural and Pitocin was administered, I finally felt some relief and Mark and I both fell asleep for about 4 hours. It was kind of heavenly, even if I hated the feeling of not being able to feel my legs, it was amazing to rest from the intense back labor pains. When I woke up at around 7am, we decided to break my water since it wasn’t happening naturally. Within about 3 hours, around 10am Sierra checked and I was up to over 8cm! Finally, it was working!
Within the hour, I started to feel more pressure and felt the urge to start pushing. I was also feeling some of the back labor coming back, so we ordered another epidural dose, but by the time the doctor arrived, it was too late! The baby had dropped so low, that the epidural wasn’t working. It was 11:00am. I announced to Mark and Sierra, “I want to have this baby by noon, let’s do this”. So I started pushing. And pushing. And pushing. Each push, I was encouraged by Sierra, Mark and the additional nurse who told me how good each push was. They could see the head with each push, and encouraged me with each effective push. About 45 minutes into pushing, Sierra stepped out to get another doctor to help out with the birth, because she was concerned that the baby wasn’t coming out during what she told me were very effective pushes. Her and the additional doctor were both worried that the baby was too big for my pelvis and the shoulders might get stuck during my pushing, so they told me I would have to push him out entirely with one push to prevent him getting stuck. Um, terrifying. Thoughts of the medical birth and c-sections entered my mind. The back labor had also returned with vengeance and I remember after about an hour of pushing literally throwing my hands up in the air after each contraction and finally saying “I CAN’T DO THIS!” I was sweaty, thirsty, sore, and I thought my back was going to snap in half every time I pushed. Sierra and Mark and others in the room responded, “Yes you can do it! You are so close!” So I gathered my strength and pushed with all I had. After about 3 contractions, I pushed and felt the most amazing all-consuming feeling that completely took over my body. I screamed out in pain and said “The ring of fire! I feel it!”
During my pregnancy I had read so much about the ring of fire that occurs when the baby is coming out, and was anticipating and so excited for this part of the labor and delivery. I laugh now when I look back on that moment, because I’m pretty sure the nurses and everyone in the room were like “this girl is totally crazy”. I don’t remember what they said, but there was definitely some chatter about me saying “the ring of fire”.
So, knowing that I had to push out this baby in one push, or risk him getting stuck, I pushed through the ring of fire with every ounce of strength I had left in my body, and out he came, head and body in one push! It was just after the noon hour - 12:21 pm.
Sierra put him on my chest and I felt the warmth of his heavy baby body lay on my chest and then tiny little cries from his little mouth. He was brownish-gray and a little slimy and so new. His little face was so scrunchy and mad, I just died at his adorable serious face. Mark was sobbing and I was shaking, but felt so calm as I looked at him. I felt like I was kind of looking down on the scene, not really experiencing the delivery and I could not comprehend that this baby on my chest was the thing that had been growing inside my belly for the past 9+ months. It was the strangest mix of feelings, but I remember feeling so satisfied and proud of this little baby. After about a minute of looking at his face and arms and hands, I said – wait, is it a boy or a girl? We didn’t even think to look because I think instinctively I just knew it was a boy. He had such a boy face! We picked up his leg, and yep – a boy! I couldn’t believe how happy and tired I felt. I even remember thinking “ok I cannot wait to do that again” (seriously, that ring of fire thing is amazing). Mark cut the umbilical cord, and Henry was weighed and measured - 8 lbs 11 oz and 20 1/2 inches!
Right after Henry was born, he had to be taken to the NICU because he had inhaled some meconium during the pushing. The doctor gave him some air to push out the meconium, and took him for monitoring and x-rays to make sure he didn’t have anything in his lungs (he didn't).
Mark went with him to the NICU while the doctors took care of my post-birth body. It was really hard to be away from him during those first couple of hours – I felt exhausted and I couldn’t even remember what he looked like because we’d only spent a minute of his life together. Finally, after what seemed like hours I was finally ready to leave the delivery room, and Mark pushed my wheelchair down the hall to the NICU to see our little boy. I gathered him in my arms and we tried to breastfeed. He latched right away and I just cried and cried. I couldn’t believe how perfect he was and how familiar it felt to hold him.
“I think I know what his name is”, whispered Mark, “Henry George”. George after Mark’s grandfather, and Henry because he just looked like a Henry (later we found out my great great grandfather is named Henry). Mark gave him his name, and since Henry is Mark’s spitting image, it was totally fitting that he named him, too.
I'm so happy with the way my labor and delivery went. While I didn't have the natural birth I had anticipated, I am grateful for the support team of Mark and Sierra - they both helped me make the important decisions that helped me stay focused and I know helped Henry arrive safely. We love our Henry and really can't imagine our life without our sweet little guy.