‘You’ll know when it’s time’ – that old adage. I heard it so many times near the end of my pregnancy…and I believed it! Well, it turns out not all of us ‘know’ when it’s time. At least I didn’t.
Right around 39 weeks, I started having false or ‘prodromal’ labor every evening. Some nights my contractions were every half hour for several hours, other nights I would have cramping for an hour or so right as I lay down to sleep. It was maddening! Every time, I’d convince myself not to get too excited, but as every first time mom, I was sure I would be early or on time with this baby.
At 39 weeks we were already doing everything we could (within reason) to help my body prepare for labor. Squats, long walks, sex, spicy food, foot rubs, pumping, prim rose oil, raspberry leaf tea – EVERYTHING. Every day I would have so much pressure, cramping, Braxton Hicks, and then – no baby. By my 40 week appointment I was so frustrated. Every day ended in tears and frustration. (Which my husband reassured me was normal, and yes, it was ok to want to punch everyone who kept saying ‘she’ll come when she’s ready’). The day before my 40 week appointment was especially hard; my insomnia and frustration kept me up till 4am, until I finally managed to briefly sleep. I was so scared that if I went into labor that night, being so tired, that it would end in a C-section for sure.
At our 40 week appointment, we decided to have the midwife check my progress so we could prepare ourselves to not have a baby for another week or two. She checked, and – small victory – we were 1cm dilated! Not as far as I had hoped, with all the ‘practice’ labor, but 1cm at 40 weeks was better then 0cm at 40 weeks! She was a tad worried about my insomnia and exhaustion and suggested a sleep aid, and really encouraged me to try and relax as much as possible before going into labor. Easier said then done! We declined her offer to do a sweep and went our for a little dinner and movie date. (We saw Zoolander, laughed our faces off, and the whole time I was having a lot of cramps and praying this was it – optimist that I am.)
That night, with the help of a sleep aid, I slept about 4 consecutive hours (hadn’t happened in weeks!) and then headed to meet a girlfriend for coffee around 930am. I did a lot of walking that morning, and by lunch time I started having some contractions that definitely felt ‘different’ then Braxton hicks. Again * don’t get your hopes up * but I was really hoping that this was it. The hubs was at work so I watched some tv, tried to nap, and then eventually took a bath. My contractions were regular, though far apart, and only slowed when I took a bath. By the time Tyler got home from work I decided to start timing them.
We ate supper and tried to act like we both weren’t really excited; I spent most of the evening lying on the couch, with my contractions coming more and more regularly. I found laboring lying down to be most comfortable. I could focus more on my breath and really feel the strength of the surges doing what they needed to do. Neither of us were yet convinced that ‘this was it’, because we had thought that 2 or 3 times before.
By 9pm we decided to call the midwife, and my contractions were about 8-9 minutes apart; she suggested waiting a few more hours and calling back when they were 7 minutes or less apart. We took a break from timing, had a rest, and a snack, and by 1am my contractions were about 7 minutes apart. We called the midwife, who still wasn’t convinced I was far enough along to come in (ARGH), but then I had a bit of ‘show’ (blood) when I went to the bathroom. So at 2 am we made the decision to go in. (I was pretty frustrated with my midwife at this point, she didn’t seem to believe I was in labor, but I knew I was!)
Laboring on the drive wasn’t as bad as I had feared; I had my birth playlist playing, and said my hypnobirthing meditations out loud with every exhale, just as we had been doing at home. We arrived at the hospital by 330am, registered, and hauled our 85 bags upstairs (we brought so much stuff, but at least we actually used 90% of it!). Our midwife met us in pre-asses and checked my progress – 5 centimeters!!!! Ha! And she didn’t even think I was in labor….argh…Anyways, they started my antibiotics (I was GBS+) with a saline block and did my blood work before we checked into our room. We continued to labor just as we had been at home, as well as with the birthing ball, tub, shower, and some essential oils.
By 7am I was pretty exhausted, and my midwife was getting ready for a shift change, so she asked if she could check my progress. I had started throwing up and was really hoping it was a sign that I was nearing transition. So, the check, AND…6cm. I had dilated one cm in 4 hours…We were pretty disappointed. She asked if we were still set on ‘doing this on our own’ and we said yes, absolutely. My cervix was soft but still really high, so she tried pulling it down (OUCH), but without much success. I was feeling tired, and defeated. But we carried on…
By 8am my second (and favorite!!) midwife arrived. He was debriefed by midwife #1 and then observed me for awhile; Tyler and I were laboring pretty independently, but really I was just trying to keep it together. The exhaustion was really getting to me and my back labor was unreal. I kept trying to find a position to be comfortable in between contractions but nothing was working. I was getting really tense with each contraction, which wasn’t helping anything.
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3 hours later. It’s 10:30am. I’m a mess. Tyler’s barely holding it together himself, with no sleep or food in ages (I was able to eat my entire labor but Tyler was so focused on being my support that he wouldn’t take 2 minutes to himself!). My second midwife wanted to do a check of his own, and lo and behold – no progress. NO PROGRESS. Still soft, high, and only 6cm. Cue the panic. I honestly lost it. I couldn’t believe how tired I was and that I hadn’t really progressed much in 7 hours. Why wasn’t I progressing? What was I doing wrong? I sobbed and sobbed my disappointments to Tyler, who was also exhausted and disappointed.
At that point, my midwife brought up interventions. Did we want to know our options, he asked? No. No no no. We were doing this, according to the birth plan….but man was I tired….could I do this?
After another hour, he asked again; did we want to know our options? Well, ok, it wouldn’t hurt to just hear them… He certainly wasn’t being pushy, but, as he explained, after the 24 hour mark of labor, things had the potential to get dicey, so it was better to be prepared to make a decision IF we needed some extra help. Our options: break my waters, or take some drugs to help me rest and hopefully progress to 10cm. His main concern was keeping baby’s heart rate strong and me getting enough rest to be able to push the baby out myself. I was really concerned too that if I didn’t get any rest, things were going to go badly, and quickly. Thankfully JJ was totally fine at that point, so really the decision wasn’t a matter of life or death for anyone. Did I need the break or could I keep going??
Tyler and I discussed the options our midwife had laid out for us; he was leaning towards them breaking my water, but I was scared that if I progressed quickly after that, I simply wouldn’t have the energy to push. I was terrified to even ask what he thought, but finally, still bawling, I said to Tyler, “Can I get the epidural?” It might seem silly to some, but I wanted Tyler to have as much say in our birth plan as I did – after all, it’s his baby being born too. I think he knew how exhausted I was (I’d been sobbing for an hour and saying ‘I’m just so tired’ over and over again). He was pretty emotionally spent as well, and he agreed that we should go ahead with the epidural. The anesthesiologist was called, and I got in the shower to try and endure another half hour of labor before receiving my epidural.
In the shower, I really tried to come to terms with the fact that I was deviating from our birth plan. I was really disappointed with myself, and I was scared that I was disappointing Tyler. When I got out of the shower I shared my feelings with my midwife and my husband. They both assured me that I was still a hero, and that laboring on my own for 22 hours was something I could be proud of. I was so set on ‘doing it on my own’, but really, I needed the extra help in the end. Tyler assured me that I was in no way disappointing him.The midwife forced him to leave the room for the very first time to get a snack and take a breather, and I had my epidural put in, and finally drifted off to sleep. I wasn’t sure I had made the right choice, but I was too relieved to beat myself up anymore.
When I woke up, 2 hours later, I was 100% sure that I had made the right choice. I could think clearly, even just after a short sleep, and I knew that if that’s what it was gonna take for me to push this baby out, then so be it. My epidural wasn’t terribly high, my waters had been broken, and I had been given a small dose of oxytocin, so I was still feeling my contractions get stronger and closer together.
After about 3 more hours of the ‘pressure’ getting stronger and stronger, I knew that we were getting close. With great anticipation, we had the midwife check me again. We were so nervous!!! He checked me, and slowly said, “do you want to know?” I was terrified; yes, we wanted to know! He smiled; TEN CENTIMETERS! We had made it!!! Tyler and I both wept with relief.
I did it! I finally made it to 10 and I felt like a champion! My midwife wanted me to wait another hour before pushing, to make sure baby girl was ready to go for sure – but after only a half hour I wanted to push. My epidural was empty at that point, and everyone started prepping for the big moment! I was on my back, in the stirrups, which I really didn’t care for, but my midwife assured me that it was for the best (he later told me that the reason he wanted me in the stirrups was just in case a doctor had to be called to come and vacuum the baby – so glad I didn’t know that then).
We got ready to push, and he informed that it would take me couple of pushes to know what I was doing – and he was right! Pushing is not as instinctive as I thought it would be, but with his instructions and guidance I got the hang of it. A clip was put on the baby’s head, to monitor her heart closer, and we pushed. We had been in labor for 28 hours, so my midwife was really encouraging to give it my all, to ensure that the baby came out as quickly as possible and that her heart rate remained stable. I could feel her descending, and the midwife and nurse both encouraged me that they could see her head more and more with each push.
Pushing was so hard and felt like it was taking so long, so when they said they could see her head, I didn’t believe them. I asked Tyler to see if he could see her head, but he refused to look! He was at my head, helping hold my legs while I pushed, and encouraging me along with the midwife and nurse. One thing that was really neat was that everyone in the room knew the baby’s name, and they referred to her by name throughout the whole pushing progress (We can see JJ! JJ’s coming! Keep pushing for JJ!), which was unreal motivating.
Finally I felt her crowning – and promptly started vomiting! Let me tell you – throwing up, on your back, with your legs in stirrups, while your baby’s head is just beginning to crown – OUCH. I really didn’t want to be pushing at that point, but not pushing was impossible while vomiting. I had started to panic when I realized I was going to throw up, and said to Tyler between sobs, “I don’t want to be puking when she’s born, I want to be happy.” Haha! The crazy things you say in labor…..
After I finished puking, my midwife told me to stop pushing and the nurse said, “ok, this is the ring of fire” (not sure the introduction was necessary) and man was she right! I couldn’t have stopped pushing if my life depended on it, but I tried my best to follow my midwife’s instructions and breath through while he did his best to help me avoid tearing. There is nothing more intense then that moment, when you know your baby is about to be born, and the pain and emotions are so strong!
The journey had been so long at this point, and when we decided to do the epidural I really began to doubt that I would be able to give birth vaginally. Even when she was crowning, I was still subconsciously afraid that I would end up having a c-section. Around the time of the ‘ring of fire’ my midwife exclaimed, “well, I can guarantee that you’re going to have a vaginal birth!”, but I was still in doubt! Even as her head was born, I didn’t feel any relief, as many women say they do. Then her shoulders were born, and I was like ‘WHAT IS THAT’ because they felt SO wide! Once her shoulders were out I finally felt like maybe things were going to work out after all! Her chord was wrapped around her head and legs 3 or 4 times, which no one was expecting. She was fine, not even a tiny bit blue or purple, and once she was unraveled they placed her on my chest. The placenta came very quickly afterwards and then I knew we were in the clear!
Everyone kept saying how pink she was, and I noticed right away how little vernix was left on her skin – she was nearly squeaky clean! Which didn’t last for long – as soon as she latched on to nurse, she started to poop all over me! I was too happy to care. We were a big mess of blood and tears and poop (hers!), and I was so beyond relieved that I had been able to push her out! And here she was!!
My whole pregnancy I had thought about the first words I would say to Jessa after she was born, but once she was out, all I could say was “I did it! I did it!” Ha! And also, that I thought she looked like me – which she did not.
Shortly after she was born, while she was still crying and being wiped down, I sang her the lullaby that I had sang to her throughout my pregnancy. She immediately stopped crying and looked into my eyes, and man did I weep. That was perhaps the most beautiful moment of my life; Tyler and I shared some very special moments in that first 10 minutes after she was born too, as well as throughout the entire labor progress, and I will cherish those moments forever. Labor is so intimate and intense, and does something so amazing for the husband wife relationship.
Post labor: The nurse basically wiped Jessa off after she was born, and that was it. We had decided ahead of time to not have her bathed in the hospital, and to delay all routine examinations until after her first feed. I held her, skin to skin, and she latched like a pro! She nursed for 45 minutes while I was still stuck in the stirrups. I had 2nd degree internal tears, which my midwife couldn’t really have prevented. It took 45 minutes of stitches until I was finally left to relax with my babe – those 45 minutes were pure agony, and I basically whined, complained, and cursed the entire time.
The epidural and local anesthetic did nothing for the pain, which was terrible, so I did my best to focus on my baby and not on the fact that someone was STILL poking around my vagina. I begged my midwife to just leave the tears, which he obviously did not, and afterwards I made sure to apologize for being so difficult during that part. I was just so ready to be left alone! (Tyler tried to keep me calm and assured me it was almost over and that I was doing great, to which I replied: “I don’t care! Imagine someone pulling on your balls as hard as they can – that’s what I’m going through right now!” Classy, real classy..)
After the stitches, some nurses came to clean us all up and Tyler’s parents came to meet our daughter. was still in the stirrups being stitched up, so Tyler let them know to come back around 8pm.
Looking back on Jessa’s birth, I can honestly say I am happy and at peace with how things went. When we were in it, every hour and centimeter felt like an eternity, and the exhaustion was terrifying. We had planned for a vaginal, intervention free birth – and while it might seem silly that I was so broken up about getting an epidural, for me it was a very big decision to make. My #1 personal goal and priority for our birth, besides a healthy baby, was staying positive and not operating out of fear. After hour 19, that was hard to do! The decision to have an epidural was partially motivated by fear, and I definitely hit that “I don’t think I can do this” wall. But I feel now, that JJ’s birth was a perfect introduction into motherhood, and that it prepared me to be a better mother – to be gentle with myself, and flexible with ‘the plan’ – both things I am not naturally good at. It was the most intense 2 days of my life, and 100 times harder then I thought it would be – but, Jessa my Joy, it was totally worth it.