It’s hard to put into words the experience of labor and birth. It’s something I thought about obsessively for 9 straight months and then, when the time came, I realized nothing could have prepared me for the real deal. Leah’s birth was nothing like what I had imagined. We experienced a wide range of emotions over the long 19 hours of labor, but in the end, when she was placed on my chest, I was overcome with such a sense of peace. And I knew that, whatever I had to go through over the last 19 hours was God’s perfect plan to bring our daughter into our lives. (Warning, my birth story was quite eventful and is therefore, quite long).
Since I was induced I didn’t get to experience the “Oh my gosh this is it!” moment of contractions starting in the middle of the night. Instead, Brett and I lied in bed on Tuesday night, giddy with excitement with the thought of meeting our daughter the next day. We kept playing the “What do you think she’ll look like?” game and we picked out features on each other that we hoped Leah would inherit.
Wednesday morning dawned nice and early. I work up around 4:15 am to shower and blow dry my hair while Brett got the last minute packing together. We were at the hospital by 5 am and checked into our room by 6 am. The first hour or so passed by uneventfully. I chatted with the nurse as she put in my IV and my pitocin was ordered. The pitocin started around 7:30 am but took awhile to kick in so Brett and I rested for about an hour.
Around 8:30 the contractions hit. My nurse asked me if I was interested in an epidural, but I wanted to see how long I could last without one. I had come into the hospital 2 1/2 cm dilated and 90% effaced so at this point I was hoping that labor would not be too lengthy. An hour went by and the contractions continued to get stronger. Every time one hit I would turn on my side, grip the bedrail with one hand and Brett’s hand with my other, close my eyes and breath. Through every contraction Brett was amazing. He would speak low and calm, telling me how amazing I was doing. And when the pain started to intensify in my lower back he was there, massaging away with every contraction.
2 or so hours into labor our nurse came in and told us that baby’s heart rate was starting to drop during the contractions. It was nothing serious, she reassured us, but it was something they would continue to monitor. Around noon she went to lunch and that’s when labor started to go downhill. As I was focusing through a contraction a nurse who was covering during our nurse’s lunch break came rushing in. With barely a word she threw my bed all the way down, flipped me on my left side and jammed an oxygen mask on my face. She then told us that baby’s heart rate had dropped drastically low during the last contraction and she needed to check me to see how I was progressing. At this point I was trying to choke back tears and keep from having a total panic attack. Brett squeezed my hand and continuously told me that everything was okay, baby was fine. Of course this just made me want to cry more. After the nurse’s painful and most aggressive check I have ever experienced, she announced that I hadn’t made any progress and was still 2 1/2 cm dilated. She then told us that she needed to turn off the pitocin until the doctor arrived and could take a look the printout of baby’s heart rate.
I was devastated, both that I did not seem to be progressing, and that baby did not seem to be tolerating labor well. I knew what would happen if the heart rate continued to drop, I would need a c-section, and that was something I was praying to avoid. My contractions continued even after the pitocin was turned off but they were no where near as intense or frequent as before and I knew they would not be enough to progress my labor. For about an hour I lied on my left side, with the oxygen mask on (which, in the end, would need to stay on during my entire labor) praying that baby would be alright.
My doctor arrived around 1 pm and said that we were ready to turn the pitocin back up. By 11 am they had the level up quite high, so they were going to start low again and slowly increase the level to see if baby would tolerate the contractions. She also decided to break my water to speed things along. Once my water was broken and the pitocin was turned back on, it didn’t take long for the contractions to really hit hard. I thought they were intense before, but now I was left literally withering in my bed, gritting my teeth, with every contraction. Around 1:30 I looked up at Brett and said that I didn’t think I could do it. I had tears in my eyes as I told him that I was starting to think of getting an epidural, but I was afraid he would think I was giving up. I so wanted to be able to handle this naturally, to avoid any and all pain meds, and I felt frustrated with myself that I couldn’t do it. Brett hugged me and reassured me that he was already so proud of me and that, by getting an epidural, I was in no way giving up. What cinched the decision for me was when our nurse came in and said that baby’s heart rate was still dropping during my contractions, but she said that an epidural may slow things down a bit and even out her heart rate. With that said, I made up my mind to get an epidural and the anesthesiologist was called. I asked that the epidural was placed on a low level, so I would still be able to feel the pressure of the contractions and would later know when I needed to start pushing.
Once the epidural was placed (which I didn’t think was all that painful, even when she missed and blew a blood vessel the first time!) I felt almost immediate relief. Unfortunately, baby’s heart rate continued to drop with every contraction. This led to the pitocin drip again being stopped for an hour before starting again. At this point, my nurse was SURE I would be getting a c-section. As she explained it to me, “Some babies just like to come out the window, instead of the front door!” I lied there and tried to wrap my mind around a c-section birth. I was so disappointed with the thought of not experiencing the moment where our baby would come out and immediately be placed on my chest. I wanted to cry, but knew that, at this point, I would do whatever it took to get our baby out safely.
Around 4 pm my doctor came in and explained to us that the umbilical cord was most likely wrapped around some part of baby’s body. What happens, she explained, is when a contraction hits, the uterus squeezes against baby’s body and the umbilical cord, making baby almost hold her breath and her heart rate drop. This can be worse when there is little amniotic fluid in the womb. This might be my case, and if so, there was 1 last thing we could try before she gave in and did a c-section. It was called an amniotic infusion and it entailed a catheter being placed up into my uterus and pumping fluid back into my womb. This could help cushion baby during the contractions and would, hopefully, keep her heart rate from dropping. The infusion procedure is very rare and would most likely not work, but it was a last ditch effort before going forward with a c-section so I was more than happy to give it a try. After a quick ultra sound it was confirmed that I did have low fluid so we would go forward with the infusion.
As she pulled out the HUGE catheter I said a prayer of thanks that I had decided on getting an epidural! She was able to place the catheter into my uterus, the pitocin was restarted, and we waited to see how baby would handle the contractions once again. An hour passed and we watched the monitor closely, cheering baby on when she would make it through a contraction without her heart rate dropping. Around 5:30 pm my doctor came in and said that the infusion was working and we were going to be able to proceed with labor. I was ecstatic to hear the news and kept praying, thanking God for our doctor’s wisdom and asking that he continue to keep little Leah safe as I continued to labor.
As the evening went on I started to feel the contractions stronger and stronger. Around 9 pm I was checked and was disappointed to hear that I was only 6 cm dilated. Our nurse (who by this time was our 3rd nurse of the day!!) guessed that we would have the baby around 2 am or so, since I seemed to be dilating 1 cm an hour. She said she would probably not check me again until midnight. However, around 10:15 pm the epidural seemed to be having little effect on my contractions and they started to hit hard. I needed to breath through them again and my nurse thought the epidural had become disconnected. After she saw that is was not she decided to check me and was shocked to find out that I was already 9 1/2 cm dilated! We were so excited and she immediately called the doctor and started preparing the room for birth.
She started having me do practice pushes around 11 pm. At this point I was so happy that the epidural was wearing off and that I could feel the contractions and have control over my legs. It helped so much with pushing and I really cannot imagine pushing while being totally numb. I would lie there with my eyes closed, focusing, and when a contraction would build up I would tell the nurse, “Here it comes” and would immediately do 3 sets of pushes. Pushing felt good in a way, it relieved the pain and pressure of each contraction and I could feel how each one was bringing baby’s head further down the birth canal. After a few pushes Brett excitedly told me that he could see the baby’s head and her brown hair! The nurse asked if I wanted a mirror and I said yes. However, after only one push I realized that I couldn’t do it with my eyes open. As cool as it was to see my baby’s little head, I needed to close my eyes, get into the zone, and push hard to make any progress.
The doctor arrived around 11:30 pm and the real pushing began. I cannot describe the experience of pushing. It was exhausting, exhilarating, painful, relieving and terrifying all at once. After every set of pushes Brett was there in my ear telling me how amazing I was doing, that we were so close to meeting our baby girl,and that he was so proud of me. I heard it all, but kept my eyes closed, trying to stay in my focused zone. Around 11:50 I heard the doctor saying that if she performed an episiotomy baby would be born a lot quicker and at that point I was good with anything that would make baby come quicker! I kept my eyes closed, heard the sound of the scissors (which Brett said was the only thing he could not stand to see or hear throughout the entire birth process) but didn’t feel a thing. By this point everything felt like it was on fire so a little cut didn’t even register with me.
At this point we all looked at the clock and wondered if baby would make make it before midnight. The doctor said we were so close, but it looked like her birthday would be August 23rd. After a few more pushes, in a rush of heat and pain, Leah was born after 19 hours of labor at 12:11 am on August 23rd. My eyes were still closed and the nurse had to exclaim, “Open your eyes! Her head is out!” Having her body pulled from my own was the oddest feeling in the world, but was quickly replaced with complete bliss and peace as her screaming little body was placed on my chest. The umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, arm and leg and I remember saying a quick prayer of thanks that I was able to deliver her safely.
Although her birth went NOTHING as expected (which again made me happy that I didn’t have a set birth plan in my mind) it showed me again just how much God is in control. We felt so helpless during my labor, unsure of what was going to happen and if baby would be able to be delivered safely,and all we could do was pray and ask God to look after little Leah. And He was faithful and good and amazingly, against all odds, I was able do deliver Leah without needing a c-section. Brett and I looked at our precious little daughter and we were so in love. And I looked at my husband and was more in love with him then ever before. I’ll tell you what, birth is scary and messy and unexpected, but in the end, oh how beautiful it is.