Prodromal Labor Begins
The story starts five weeks before the actual birth, when I began having contractions. I knew these were not the same as Braxton Hicks. They hurt lower, and were definitely more than uncomfortable. They felt exactly like I remember the very first ones with Madelynn to be. (With the twins, I sort of skipped those early contractions, and jumped straight into active labor.) Along with these “early” contractions, I was having other labor signs such as extreme irritability, and some very loose stools. These were some of my signs. I know my body and my labors enough by now to KNOW that I was in the early stages of labor. I began to text “my people” and asked them to pray. The baby would have been premature at that point, but still at almost 36 weeks, she may not have even needed NICU time. I was hoping that if I were to go into active labor, she may not need more than a few days in the hospital. I went to sleep that night, hoping the contractions would go away, but fully expecting to wake up in the middle of the night in active labor. We packed a hospital bag and made a plan for a friend to come to our house to be with Madelynn. However, I slept a full eight hours and was decidedly NOT in labor the next day.
This Goes On For Weeks
I thought it was just a fluke, but now my “labor radar” was on and would not shut off. Every twinge of pain, every little ache, and I would start fantasizing about the birth to come later that day. Every two or three days, I would have those “early but real” contractions, even having to breathe through some of them. I became the most irritable woman on the planet and lashed out at my family on a daily basis. I was too tired to go anywhere with my daughter, and restless and bored, feeling stuck at home. I often texted my people, informing them that this time I really felt like I was in labor. I was on pins and needles, and knew that “any day” could be the day. Yet I would get terribly discouraged when, every day, it was not the day.
Elly was often NOT in optimal birthing position. She was sideways for much of my pregnancy, breech at my 32 week ultrasound, head down at 35 weeks, and diagonal at 37 weeks. We had an External Cephalic Version done, and it was successful. She was moved into head-down position by a doctor. However, three days later, Elly was sideways again! At that point, one of our care providers actually suggested that a planned c-section would be “safest” for the baby. We also considered another ECV along with induction, to make sure she was head down for birth. I didn’t ultimately feel peace about proceeding with those things, though. I wanted my baby to be born safely, of course, but I still thought there was time and room for her to get into the right position, for labor to begin spontaneously, and for birth to happen naturally. Daily I battled indecision and thoughts of elective induction. Especially after I passed my due date, I wanted to be DONE WITH THIS PREGNANCY so badly.
I really am glad that I went the full 40 weeks (and then some)! It feels really nice to know beyond any doubt that she was done cooking and ready to come out, and did, on her own!
My friend Eleanor had been in town for two and a half weeks, helping us around the house and with Madelynn, ready to step in as a doula or just stay with Madelynn if we needed to leave at a moment’s notice. She helped me deal with the emotional/psychological aspect of the end of the pregnancy so well. There is a reason she is my best friend! I believe that she was meant to come at exactly this time… no one else really knows me as well, and could be as uplifting, as this friend who I’ve known as a spiritual sister and kindred spirit for over 15 years now! Wow! I don’t really know what to call her role: prenatal doula? Every pregnant woman should have one. I also think this took some of the pressure off “the husband” who, as a practical and reasonable man, simply could not relate to my rambling, wondering, worrying mind at this time (though he did try and I appreciate him so much)!
On April 23, Eleanor went back to Boston, and my mom flew in from Montana. I was now 40 weeks PLUS a few days. I kept dreading the future, thinking I would be pregnant at 41 weeks, and 42, and then we’d really have to consider induction…
On Friday, April 25, I had an appointment with the midwives. There was an ultrasound and a non-stress test to check that baby and I were both healthy. Elly and I passed with flying colors. The ultrasound was great; the tech was fast, but answered all my questions. (Sometimes they don’t tell you what’s going on: “You’ll have to talk to your provider about it…”) I specifically asked about:
- the look of the placenta: did it look healthy, or like it was starting to ‘break down’?
- the cord: was it wrapped around her neck at all? Was it long or short?
- the fluid level: too high? too low? getting lower?
- and, of course, the baby’s position.
Everything checked out great, and a myriad of fears I had were lifted away. Elly was head down and low. Her fluid levels looked “good” (and I didn’t ask for the specific number), the cord was long but nowhere near her neck or face, and the placenta looked healthy. I began to have more faith in letting birth happen spontaneously. The NST was a breeze; we just had to be monitored (heart rate) for a few minutes. I met with the midwife afterward, who was very positive and encouraging.
I went home and took two capsules of Evening Primrose Oil (supposed to help soften the cervix in preparation for labor) and drank Raspberry Leaf Tea. Mom and Madelynn went to the park, and I began organizing some cloth diapers and last-minute things in the hospital bag. Then, we all had lunch and took naps. Ryan came home from work, and Mom made dinner. I ate and took more EPO and drank tea. I thought we should settle in and get ready for a nice, relaxing weekend. The marathon through town was the next day, so we looked up the route so we could be prepared for roadblocks if I went into labor. It was a cool evening, and I thought a walk in Meadowbrook Park sounded good. After eating, I began to feel “funny” but I ignored it and we drove to Meadowbrook. It is about 5 minutes by car. By the time we got there, I was in active labor. It was 6:34 PM.
I was having a pretty heavy contraction, and then knew I had to go to the bathroom (more loose stools!). I knew enough to make Ryan go in with me. Sure enough, after relieving myself, I had a contraction so painful I could not stand up off the toilet. I stayed on it and breathed through, and Ryan stood in front of me, so I could sort of lean on him. Hey, labor isn’t necessarily glamorous! The toilet became my favorite place to be. But, I was not going to have a baby in a stinky park bathroom. “Call Shannon!” (our friend and doula), I commanded my husband. He did, and even then I still said something like, “Well, this MIGHT not be real labor…” (I think I was so used to thinking that by that time, it was hard to admit this was really it.)
Ryan and Shannon agreed we would meet at the hospital, ASAP. So we slowly walked back to the cars, having contractions all the way. Ryan had driven his car, and my mom was driving mine. We had two cars with us because of the car seats being in the back seat. Now the problem was that Madelynn did not want to get in and go! We had promised her a park date and riding her bike, and now we were getting back in. I offered to let her stop and get ice cream, and in we went. We stopped at Dairy Queen. My mom ran in to get milkshakes for her and Madelynn. Nothing for me, thanks! (Again, a sign I am in labor–turning down ice cream?) I stood up in the DQ parking lot and breathed through contractions. Then we thought we should call Labor and Delivery… (Duh…)
At this point it was about 7:15 PM, contractions were 2 minutes apart and lasting not quite one minute. It was tough to get through them but I was doing okay. After calling L&D, they told us to come through the Emergency Room exit. I did not want to do this because I knew it would mean me going up to the 10th floor by myself while Ryan parked and Mom parked. I cried and said I didn’t want to do that, but men bringing a wheelchair rushed outside to greet me, so what choice did I have? It was fine. They sped me up the staff elevator (so much faster) to 10. The labor nurses were ready for me but the room wasn’t. They were cleaning the room. So, I am alone, and there is no room for me! By then I was really struggling through contractions, so I just leaned over the nurses desk and closed my eyes and breathed. Then they let me in the room. I went straight for the toilet and closed the bathroom door. I know typically they would want to do a cervical check and place an IV, but I wasn’t having it. I also wasn’t putting on the gown they handed me on my way into the bathroom. I simply took off my pants and shirt and continued laboring on the toilet. One nurse timidly knocked on the door. “Michelle…? If you feel like you have to start pushing, please let us know…” (Ha! I thought. There are worse things than delivering on the toilet.)
Ryan, Mom, and Madelynn came into the room and Shannon was there soon after. Mom and Madelynn hung out in the room while Ryan and Shannon joined me in the bathroom. I then started to realize this was a smaller room and would be hard to labor in if I needed room to move. The shower was small, etc. They said they were cleaning the bigger room and we could transfer to it soon. I do not remember the walk in between rooms. But I do know that there was a nurse who was assigned to me, and she was great about leaving me alone. She asked for my birth plan, and respected it down to the letter… and I was VERY specific about what I did and did not want. She did try to use the doppler a few times to get a read on the baby’s heart rate. She was mostly unsuccessful but still left me alone. I am grateful for that. I could feel the baby moving quite a bit, and I was not worried about her.
Toilet, Shower, Toilet, Shower
The next little bit, I know contractions were getting stronger and closer together. It felt like there were no breaks in between. One minute I was on the toilet, and then a contraction would hit (my back would start hurting like crazy) and I would want to be in the hot shower. Then I’d feel like I had to pee so back to the toilet we’d go. And as you can imagine, I was totally nude by that time. Here’s the cool thing about natural birth… you just stop caring about unimportant things like clothing.
The Midwife came in–it was Ellen–and she respectfully asked that we do a vaginal exam to check the baby’s position. Even though I knew she had to be in the right position or labor would not be moving along so well, I consented and off we went to the bed. She proclaimed, “I feel a head!” and I went back to the bathroom. I think she knew I did not want to be made aware of my cervical changes but I found out later she held up nine fingers to the nurse. So I was 9 cm at that point, and I think about 20 minutes later I gave birth. The crazy thing is that if I would have heard at that point that I was 9, I actually would have been discouraged! That’s how hard it was to get through the contractions at that point. I was at the “I can’t do it” stage, and hearing that I still had 1 cm to go (and who knows how long until the actual delivery) would have upset me during that time. THIS IS WHY I DIDN’T WANT CERVICAL CHECKS. (Laboring women can be so unreasonable.)
Ellen told me to let her know when my water broke. And I labored a few more minutes in this surreal state–I was not looking forward to the pushing stage. Let her know when my water broke? Was she expecting that to happen soon? I so didn’t want to push… but I talked to Shannon about how I should push. Initially I thought I might want to do a squat position for birth, but I really couldn’t maneuver it at that point, nor did I feel like trying. So I thought hands and knees might work. I had been on the bed in that position for one contraction earlier so I knew I could at least get there.
I was on the toilet and felt a small pop, gush of warm fluid, and pressure. This is the first time I felt my waters break and that they were “allowed” to break naturally. I was happy about that! But scared because, “Ellen! It broke, it broke, it broke!” and I knew pushing was soon to follow. I stood up from the toilet and could not get comfortable. Shannon told me I was just saying “Oh no oh no” at this point and I remember feeling a little out of my mind.
And then immediately felt like I had to poop.
And you know what that means, people. Time to push out a baby.
“The bed, the bed, the bed!” I yelled, and we all rushed to the bed where I climbed up onto my hands and knees.
Scream Your Baby Out
And the screaming began. As much as I wanted a calm, natural birth, what I got was a fast, intense, screaming-my-head-off natural birth. I had been telling myself the mantra “breathe your baby out” for weeks, to prepare for a long, hard pushing phase like I had had with Madelynn. I wanted pushing to come naturally, and happen on its own timeline. This felt like a roller coaster ride I wasn’t ready for! I didn’t expect her to come out fast. All I could think was that this was the worst pain ever, in all my life, in anyone’s life, terrible, awful, why do we want natural births so badly anyway, owwww!
Sorry, but that is me keeping it real.
And meanwhile, Madelynn is still in the room. I could hear her–above my own screaming and five people trying to calm me down–saying that she wanted to get out of the room. My mom, however, was mesmerized and wanted to watch her new granddaughter be born. I whipped around and screamed “Mom, get her out of here!” And they left. Then, more screaming from me. At one point I yelled “Somebody Help Me!” At one point I tried to crawl up the bed and away from the pain. At one point, I lifted my leg to try to flip over onto my back, reasoning that I was in too good of a position, and I wanted this part to slow down and hurt less.
But, I finally gave in and just tried to push and get it over with.
I remember a lot of pain, and then suddenly I was holding a baby.
Ellen had caught her and passed her through my legs to me. I don’t remember that part. I just looked down and there she was. I noticed that she had a good amount of vernix and my first thought was, you weren’t late after all. I think I was in shock. I am holding a baby. It didn’t seem real. No matter how often I go through it, I just forget that pregnancy, labor, birth, and all of our thoughts and discussions and worries lead to THIS. My new baby in my arms. I had almost forgotten that this is what it is all about. New life. Warm, squishy baby.
Eventually I was guided to lay on my back on the bed. The cord was not clamped or cut, per my birth plan. The baby did not leave my arms, except I think Ryan held her for a minute. Oh, and soon after she was born, she pooped meconium on me–just like Madelynn had! When that happened with Madelynn, the nurse swooped in and took her away from me, cleaning her up, wrapping her in a blanket, weighing her. I didn’t hold her again for 10 minutes. But with this one, they just put some towels and blankets over us. We were a mess! A happy, undisturbed mess. Wonderful! The placenta took about 30 minutes to come out. Ellen was patient and waited, and didn’t tug or offer me any meds to help it along. She said I had a tiny tear, but nothing she would even measure, and I didn’t need stitches. Finally, the placenta was out. Ellen placed it in a bowl and we just hung out, all lotus-birthy, for about another half an hour. I tried to breastfeed a little bit. Finally, I thought we could start getting cleaned up, so I gave permission for the nurses to cut the cord, weigh the baby, administer vitamin K, etc. I had guessed maybe Elly weighed about 8 lbs 3 oz, others guessed a little higher, but all of our jaws dropped when the scale went higher than nine pounds. She was 9 lbs 1.8 oz (so they round up to 2). Wow! Amazingly, she was bigger than her sister. Of course she was a week later than Madelynn had been, too.
She was born at 8:38 PM. I had a two-hour labor (after five weeks of start-and-stop early labor).
Welcome to the world, Elly Grace!
Eleanor Grace Gossett
9 lbs 2 oz, 22.25 in.
April 25, 2014