Apologies for the length, but… it’s a long story.
Also, I wanted to be really honest about what this experience was like, so if you’re squeamish you may want to skip it. Otherwise, here goes!
I had gone so long without any signs of pre-labor — not even faux contractions until about 38 weeks — that I figured I was in for an overdue baby. Every other woman in my Bradley class went past her due date, most by a week or more. But Harper arrived just one day shy of her due date on Feb. 7.
My last day pregnant. Not sure how I mustered this smile.
If you remember, it was Superbowl Sunday when I got a henna design on my belly. I don’t know if this has anything to do with my labor, but that day the baby was as active as I can remember her ever being. And I was having a LOT of Braxton-Hicks contractions. The next day, Monday, my mom was set to arrive from Kansas. I think that her being here to support me was a big part of my mental state. I really wanted to have some family around during this major event in my life. And although I was much more worried about being overdue and having her be here a long time without a baby, I was relieved that I hadn’t gone into labor before her arrival (and thus without her help). So when we picked her up from the airport, I breathed a really big sigh of relief and probably relaxed a lot.
That night I had kind of a restless night of sleep. A couple of times previously I had noticed that when I rolled over during the night I got a cramp. I figured it was due to the weight of my belly somehow. But Monday night it happened again, and it made me wonder if I was having contractions. Real ones. Mike commented the next morning that he knew something was different from the way I was sleeping. And sure enough, when I got up Tuesday morning and went to the bathroom I had a small amount of bloody show. I grabbed my copy of “What to Expect” and reread the part about what that means. It said you usually will have your baby within a day or two. Whoa!
The nursery all set up. More about it on the Goodsmiths blog.
That day we had an appointment with our midwife, Lindy, in the afternoon, so I was really glad to be able to ask her about what was happening. In addition to the show, I was also definitely having contractions that felt like menstrual cramps. But they didn’t really hurt or affect me at that point. I knew it was just pre-labor. Mike went to work, but when he mentioned to coworkers that something was happening with me, they made him go home. So he and my mom went to the appointment with me. Lindy didn’t say much other than to keep her posted about what was going on and to call if my water broke, especially if it had meconium (baby’s first poop) in it. Otherwise we could proceed with laboring at home. I so appreciated her calm approach to everything. She didn’t even check me or worry about how many centimeters dilated I was or anything with a number in it. She is all about the other physical and emotional signs of labor, and she knew I was just at the very beginning point.
Knowing that we might not have much time left to prepare the house for the baby, we ran a bunch of errands. We made plans to cook and bought a bunch of food. Then we went home and cooked as much as we had time to make. It was the perfect distraction for me since nothing was really progressing. It’s hard for me to remember now, but I believe that night when we went to bed, things finally kicked into gear. I remember Lindy saying that it happens that way a lot. When you finally relax, your body reacts. So Mike and I stayed up most of the night breathing through the contractions. I figured that things would move into the later stages of labor much faster, so I was pretty surprised that nothing had happened by morning.
Reggie needed to be the baby one last time.
Wednesday I was still trying to do some normal things, but I wasn’t really in shape to cook or run errands anymore. I think I went back and forth between our bedroom and the living room, watching TV and doing my yoga breathing through each contraction. I can’t emphasize enough how important that deep breathing was. Without pain medication it was all I had sometimes for relief. I didn’t have back labor, so Mike couldn’t really rub on anything to make it feel better. That night we all watched KU lose a horrible basketball game. I remember thinking — I hope this is not some kind of bad omen! But by bedtime that night I was in too much pain to care. The contractions were growing really intense. I tried laying on my side, leaning over the bed, getting on my hands and knees. But nothing seemed to relieve the pain when the contractions hit. To cope, I started moaning through them. Mike or my mom would moan with me to keep me from screeching. I tried to focus on the fact that more intensity meant progress.
We called the midwife again around 3 a.m. She listened to me go through a contraction and said that I was still in early labor. I remember thinking, what?! I kept consulting the books I had for what constitutes active labor, like I was trying to convince myself I was farther along than I was. I just knew that something was happening, something was changing and getting more intense. She suggested I get in the tub to get some relief, so I did that. It definitely helped, but the contractions were still pretty strong. I got out after 45 minutes or something and went back to the bedroom, sometimes walking down the halls. There were starting to be times when I couldn’t even moan through a contraction — I just started to cry a little. It was really getting hard at that point. I know if I was in the hospital and someone offered to speed up the process or take away my pain, I probably would have said yes. I had to draw on all the inner strength I had to get through a second full night with no sleep and all that pain.
I think we called Lindy again around 7 in the morning and she said I still wasn’t ready to go to the hospital (her goal was for me to be at 5-6 centimeters, and she’s heard enough laboring women to know what that sounds like). She suggested I get back in the tub. I was so frustrated at that point. I just desperately wanted to feel like I’d reached the final stages and was getting to the end. But I went ahead and got in the tub again. I remember thinking that maybe it was a bad idea because I actually felt better after a while. Like perhaps I’d slowed down the labor by getting in the tub and I’d set myself back. Worst-case scenario! But at some point while Mike was with me I felt a pop and then a gush. I wasn’t sure, but I thought maybe my water broke in the tub. He seemed to think it had, but for some reason I was like, no it was probably just more show or something (it had been increasing all night). I think I was so used to not making progress that I didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment.
I got out of the tub and started to get dressed. I went into the bedroom to keep laboring and then all the sudden I had a contraction that felt like it was going to break me in half. I started to moan, then cry, and then I just screamed. It was like a primal scream I couldn’t stop. I moved into the bathroom and then another contraction hit me, this time with the urge to push. It was so strong I felt I couldn’t stop it — the only thing I could do was push. I’ve heard people say it feels like the biggest bowel movement you’ll ever have, and I have to say it’s true. Not quite where I was expecting to feel the pressure. (Thankfully I had pretty much cleared out my entire system over the last 2 days, so no worries on that front.) 😉
I was just roaring at that point. Everything happened so fast that I had no way to put it into perspective. I don’t know how, but Mike kept his cool, saying, “This is transition, this is transition.” (He told me later he was actually happy to see me get there, even though I was hysterical.) My mom kept saying that it was like a freight train, and that’s what had happened with her labor with me. But I wasn’t buying it. I was saying things like “I’m going to have the baby right here” and “I’ll never make it to the hospital” and “I’m so scared” (classic transition, it seems now). But somehow Mike and my mom managed to call Lindy and tell her to meet us at the hospital, gather all of our things we had packed, and get me to finish dressing and walk to the car. Once the first couple of huge contractions subsided I realized they were right and that I could make it to the car. We got in and I screamed into a pillow the whole way there. I don’t think that was a pleasant car ride for anyone involved!
Once we got to Alta Bates, we pulled up to the 20-minute parking and found a guy with a wheelchair. I kept the pillow in front of me so I could yell into it if I needed to. I’m sure anyone we passed while I was being wheeled upstairs must have been entertained or horrified by me. The idea of doing paperwork for check-in was pretty comical at that point. I went to triage, and when Lindy checked me she said I was fully dilated, at +1 station, and that she could see the baby pushing against the perineum. They wheeled me into a delivery room and we all got settled. The nurses were trying to take my blood pressure and various other things, but I had to keep stopping them to get through contractions.
The only photo I have from the labor/delivery.
I turned on my side and a nurse helped me hold my leg up while I pushed. I sort of thought I’d push 2 or 3 times and she’d be out, but it took a little more than an hour of pushes. One funny thing — when everyone was saying that the baby’s head was starting to poke out and I felt that she’d be out any second, Lindy goes, “she’ll be out in 5 or fewer pushes.” I said, “Five?! One sounds good.” And sure enough, it was on that next push that Harper came out. After the head and shoulders emerged, Mike got to grab her body and pull her the rest of the way out. Then they put her on my chest. She was crying as she came out. They didn’t even have to suction her. And right away she peed on me. Parental initiation! We spent probably half an hour skin-to-skin before the nurses took her for all her tests and things. I was a little surprised that Lindy said she wanted to give me a shot of Pitocin to get the placenta out. But it only took about five minutes before I pushed and it plopped right out.
Even though the labor was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the delivery was a little nuts, I am completely at peace with our decision to have a natural birth. With such a long labor, I can see how being in a hospital could have made us all eager to speed up the process and pile up the interventions. I didn’t want to be numb for this experience. I wanted to feel everything, good and bad.
Afterwards I felt a high like I’ve never had before. All that lack of sleep didn’t matter. I felt great and had the energy to get through the first tough week with a newborn. Having done the perineal massage beforehand, I only had a small tear that needed just one stitch, so my physical recovery was so much shorter than it could have been. Emotionally, I felt like I had gotten in touch with a place of strength that I didn’t know I had. It’s so empowering. It might take me a while before I can consider the idea of going through this again. 😉 But knowing I could get through that and come out with the most beautiful baby in the world has a way of making you forget about the pain.