So, I'm sure you've noticed that I haven't been around much lately, but I've been pretty busy with our bouncing baby boy! I can't say that the newborn stage is my favorite. It. is. EXHAUSTING. But at almost 16 weeks now, he's finally starting to sleep a little better and I'm starting to feel slightly more human. Sometimes.
I wanted to share at least part of my story with you, though, as it was a rather special experience. My doula (her name is Sarah and if you're researching doulas, you should definitely check out her website) is currently partnered with a local photographer, Jen Lyon, and we opted for the dual service package. Because of that, we have some pretty amazing images from our son's birth and I am incredibly thankful that we have those memories documented! The time is such a blur in my memory, even without being obscured by drugs - yes, I had a natural childbirth and yes, I'm a first time mommy! I'm still not quite sure how I did it... Well, that's not entirely true; see, I decided to give Hypnobabies a try. But really, that's where this story (this chapter, at least) begins.
Labor and delivery was a phrase I avoided with a passion. I didn't know much about how "all that" would go and honestly, I was afraid of what I would read when I finally chose to educate myself. So I avoided it. My doula lent me a book, though, which peaked my interest about using hypnosis during childbirth. A friend of mine, I thought I recalled, had used something like that, so I sent her a quick message to see what she had to say about it.
She raved. I mean, she couldn't speak highly enough about it. She helped me understand the difference between hypnobirthing and hypnobabies (breathing techniques and imagery vs medical hypnosis, basically) and I was intrigued at the very least. Did you know that people use hypnosis to undergo surgery without anesthesia!? Surely, I thought, if that's possible, it at least can't hurt to give it a try for childbirth!
So I chose to give hypnobabies an honest try and I was pleasantly surprised at how much it helped me prepare. I learned a lot just from the workbook that the home study course includes. It was helpful throughout my pregnancy as well, teaching me how to deal with fears, people who want to overshare their (horror) birth stories and advice, and other concerns along the way. Yoga was also an important part of my preparation for birth, although I had to stop exercising sooner than I planned...
And that's where the story gets interesting.
At 35 weeks I went in for a regular check up and ended up in Labor and Delivery in preterm labor - without knowing it. My contractions were mild but 2-3 minutes apart and I went from 1-2 cm dilated at around 3pm to 2-3 at 6 to probably 4 by 8pm. At six I downloaded the hypnobabies Baby Stay IN track and started listening to that. Over and over and over again. At 8 they told me I could stay or go home because they wouldn't do anything to stop labor at that point. After some discussion with the midwife, I went home. I kept listening to the baby stay in track, and by morning my contractions were about ten minutes apart (after being strapped to the machines in the hospital I learned to recognize what I thought was just the baby stretching as contractions). So I don't know if it was the hypnosis or if he decided he wasn't ready after all, but labor actually stopped, which apparently is pretty rare.
So for the next four weeks I walked around 4 cm dilated or so, trying not to ridiculously imagine my baby just falling out. My doctor put me on "bedrest" and I was really terrible about it. My doula finally scolded me and told me if I didn't sit my ass down and behave I was going to have my baby in the next day or two. Which wasn't the plan, so I worked a little harder at being still. It was ... annoying.
By the week he was born I was ready for him to just get out of there. I started walking around the block - exhausting - and drinking my raspberry leaf tea again, which I had abruptly quit because of the preterm labor. Apparently my uterus didn't actually need the extra help! But at 38 weeks? Yeah, I ate spicy foods and even considered some other, probably useless, "at home" labor inducing activities.
About five days before we went back to the hospital, I started having contractions consistently ten minutes apart again. They weren't very strong but they lasted longer than they're supposed to. Like over five minutes instead of under two. It was very tiring - and the reason I was ready for him to just come out already. Tuesday night, I think it was, they crept down to 6-8 minutes apart, so I was getting hopeful. Wednesday morning? Back to ten. :- / I had some things to do that afternoon and when I finished early that evening, DH was still at work so I sent him a text to tell him I was going to lie down for a nap. As I was doing that, I heard and felt a "pop"!
Shocked but recalling that that's how the midwife had described water breaking, I grabbed an extra blanket on the bed and put it under me as I sat up and sure enough! Water had broken. It wasn't as much as I imagined but I was excited. I told DH I thought my water had broken and he was all, "Grab your bags, I'm on my way." I said, "Whoa, slow your roll!" I told him to finish what he was doing and to call me. We didn't have to rush in. So I had him pick up burgers for dinner (had to get that last meal in because I knew they wouldn't let me eat!) and I started working on gathering everything up to be ready to go. That was about 6:15.
For the next two hours not much happened. Around eight my contractions finally started intensifying and increasing in frequency. They were probably 2-4 minutes apart by the time we left the house. We got checked into the hospital around ten - after a very slow walk across the parking lot, with three pauses as I breathed through what were still fairly mild contractions. They didn't take a lot of concentration. They would later.
Once we got in the hospital, there was a lot of waiting, but they finally confirmed that my water had indeed broken and a very crotchety old nurse came to take me back to a delivery room. First she fussed about me putting on the robe. I told her I was more comfortable in what I had on for the time being and she felt the need to tell me that my clothes would be a mess. I told her they'd wash. I'm pretty sure she said something like, "Fine. It doesn't matter to me."
Then she tried to get me to sit in a wheelchair, which I didn't think was necessary, but she started grumping about me dripping on the floor so I decided not to fight that battle - until I tried to sit down into the thing, was hit with another contraction, and said, "No. I'm walking." There just wasn't enough room for me to sit down like that anymore! I certainly couldn't breathe through contractions that way. I got another snappy retort, grabbed the pad I was sitting on, and waddled down the hallway after her, both of us rolling our eyes, I'm sure.
We got into the delivery room and old grumpy puss left and my doula reminded me, "You know... if you don't like your nurse, you can request a different one." Luckily that wasn't necessary because another gal came in and she was great. We discussed my plan, she told me it was the last time she'd mention pain meds to me and it was. She pulled out the birthing ball, which was too squashy and of course there was no air pump to be found, but they also had a peanut ball, which I'd never seen before but ended up using quite a bit.
Contractions slowly intensified and I got more and more tired. I was in every different position any of us could think of to try. I had my hypnobabies tracks playing in the background from the time we checked in, but I didn't really hear them anymore. Honestly, I felt like I kind of failed myself with it because I never really got myself into the deep state of hypnosis I'd trained for. I think it would have worked better in a birthing center or for a home birth where there are fewer distractions. For a hospital birth, it went really well, though, I think. I had a saline lock but no IV and I had pretty much all the freedom of movement I wanted.
Afterwards everyone else said they could see me using the hypnobabies techniques and that they believed it truly made a difference. I expect they're probably right. The back labor was intense and exhausting and at one point I looked at Sarah (my doula) and said, "I don't think I can do this anymore," but it wasn't pain, it was sheer physical exhaustion. My legs were SO tired and I got the damn shakes and that made it even harder to concentrate. But then they checked me for the first time since arriving (remember, I was already probably 4cm plus for the past four weeks) and I was 9cm. They said it was too late anyway and I just accepted it. Apparently they still could have done something but I don't remember now what that was.
When they checked me, though, they discovered that my bag of waters was in fact still intact, which meant when it broke earlier it was a high leak and baby plugged it up. We ended up agreeing to let them break it which truly WAS a lot of water, and that was the only intervention I had. It did speed things up but we also had to try to get baby boy turned so he wasn't face up. The nurse put me in some awful position she could have only learned in hell, but it did the trick.
Yes, that's me smashing my face into a pillow. Whether this was a break between contractions or I was "breathing" (read: loudly vocalizing) through a contraction, I don't recall.
Once he turned, though, the back labor eased and I was able to concentrate better. It was still intense and exhausting and frustrating, especially seeing him crowning in a mirror they put up for "motivation" and FEELING him slide back up inside. But I think it took about two hours of active pushing to coax him out. My sense of time was nonexistent. I remember DH's alarm going off and being shocked that it was 5am. And I remember thinking I was never going to push him out.
I remember earlier the nurse trying to help me push him down and her telling me to stop and just keep doing what I was doing because me breathing him down was working better than what she tried to coach me to do. I remember them telling me to listen to my body. I remember there being WAY more people in there by the end than there should have been and that they were acting... excited? Kind of amazed? I remember someone telling me that very few first time moms successfully have a drug free natural birth. I remember SWEARING that I felt him come out and then hearing her tell me to get ready to push again as the next contraction started to build. I remember that I dropped the F bomb a lot...
And I remember when I really did push him out and feeling relief and like all I wanted to do was collapse - and then they were yelling, "Connie, your son!" and I was lifting him out from underneath me, squirming and soaking wet, and awkward, and amazing. I thought they would take him, but I was basically kneeling over him and he was struggling with all the amniotic fluid and then somehow I found a way to pick him up and I found the strength to kneel there and be awestruck and amazed and I was talking to him and nothing else existed.
The picture of this moment, this image, is the reason I decided to share some of the photos from his birth, and this story. It's probably the most powerful image of myself I've ever seen. But then I guess it was a powerful moment.
I really don't remember what happened next. Somehow I was helped onto my back and he was on my belly and when the cord had stopped pulsing, DH cut it when they pushed the scissors at him even though he hadn't planned to. I barely remember delivering my placenta, but it came easily. I remember them holding it up for me to see. DH said later it was the scariest thing he'd ever seen! :)
Baby C didn't leave our room for the newborn exams and they didn't do any of those things until he'd latched on and nursed for a few minutes. Overall, it went about as perfectly as it could have. Despite him getting stuck sunny side up for a while and despite back labor and despite having him in an army hospital.
It was quite the experience indeed.