by Ann Waterman
Since I’ve shared details of my pregnancy with John here on SlowMama from the very start, there could be no doubt I’d share his birth story with you, too. Each birth is unique in its own way, and this one was no exception — with a few unexpected twists and turns, but resulting in the same happy ending: a sweet bundle of joy to love and hold.
I spent the last few weeks of this pregnancy wondering two things: Would I go into labor on my own, and if I did, how would I know? Since I was induced with my first two babies — who were both more than a week late — with no real hints of labor beforehand, I didn’t know what to expect. In many ways, I felt like a first-time mom all over again.
So when I started to feel what seemed like more than just Braxton Hicks contractions several days before my due date, I knew something might be up — something…birthy. The contractions were accompanied by bloody show – another new-to-me phenomena — which my seasoned mama friends swore was a sign of imminent labor. When I told my doula, Tara, she texted back that she was packing her car in preparation. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but deep down, I really wanted everyone to be right.
Figuring the best way to bring on labor was to pretend like it wasn’t going to happen, I carried on my life as usual, doing what might be considered imprudent activities for a very pregnant lady: I took long walks by myself far, far from home; scheduled lunch dates dangerously close to my due date; and even made a solo trip into the city by Metro to get my brows waxed (because even if I’m a disheveled mess in those post-delivery pics, at least I have perfectly arched brows. It’s the small things, my friends).
On my due date, those more-than-just-Braxton Hicks contractions started again, but this time, I felt them in the morning rather than the evening (when they usually made their appearance). They were very intermittent and far apart, but I was excited: For the first time, I thought I might really be in the early stages of labor. I texted Tara to let her know what was going on.
Still operating under the mindset that a watched pot never boils, I made a run to Trader Joe’s and Costco to pick up some last-minute things, pausing every so often in the aisles to lean on the shopping cart and breathe through a contraction. When I got home, I used my son’s nap time to rest rather than get work done like I normally do, and my contractions subsided for a bit — starting up again when my husband arrived home. They were more regular now and about 20 minutes apart. We ate dinner and I headed directly up to our bedroom. All I wanted was to curl up in a dimly lit, comfortable place. I’ve heard it said that a woman’s animal instincts take over during labor, and for me, it certainly seemed to be true — I felt like a mama bear retreating to her den.
I texted Tara at 9 p.m. to tell her I was having regular contractions every 10 minutes or so, lasting 30 to 60 seconds. At first I was able to breathe through them while lying down, using Bradley relaxation techniques, but in a couple of hours, the intensity increased and I needed to work through them by bouncing on my exercise ball (temporarily dubbed the “birthing” ball for the occasion). They remained about 10 minutes apart, though, which gave me a good amount of time to rest in between. Tara said to check in with her when they got to be 6-7 minutes apart, or my water broke. In another two hours, I texted her again to let her know the contractions were more intense and closer together, and she suggested taking a shower to help me relax. The shower did just that, providing wonderful pain relief (even if it was short-lived, thanks to a small hot-water tank).
In another hour, my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, and Tara said it was time to head to the hospital. We called a friend who was on standby to look after the kids, and I ate a small energy bar to keep up my strength before heading out to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning.
When we arrived at 4 a.m., the nurse at the labor and delivery desk seemed surprised to see me and spent several minutes looking me up in the system. Having always been scheduled for an induction in the past, it never occurred to me to call beforehand and let them know I was on my way. (Oops.) Thankfully, it was a slow night, and a room was quickly prepared for me. Good thing I brought a gift basket for the nursing staff to help smooth things over!
The on-call doctor arrived and, after a cervical check, told me I was at (drumroll)…9 cm! I was prepared to hear that I was only 4 or 5 cm, but 9? I could hardly believe it, especially since the contractions were so manageable compared to the pitocin-induced contractions I endured with my son Peter, which were extremely hard and very close together.
The doctor wanted to break my water immediately, insisting the baby would come flying out, but I wanted to wait until Tara arrived before making any decisions. Tara was part of my team, and I wanted to discuss the matter with her first, particularly since breaking my water when I was laboring with Peter only resulted in unbearable contractions and no baby. The doctor didn’t seem to understand my desire to wait and it made for a little bit of tension in the delivery room, but I stuck to my guns.
Tara soon arrived and, after talking for a bit, I decided to go ahead with breaking my water: I was so far along, and it seemed like this baby was ready to come. As expected, my contractions increased dramatically in intensity and pain, but after two hours of laboring, no baby. It was now past 6 a.m. I was exhausted both physically and mentally, and another cervical check revealed that I hadn’t made any progress. It was frustrating being so close, but I desperately needed a break, so I asked the nurse to ring up the anesthesiologist for an epidural.
With the epidural working its magic and a new upbeat doctor who arrived with a shift change, I got just the lift I needed. I slept for two hours, woke up, and then waited. There must have been several ladies ahead of me in the birthing queue, because no one came by for a long time. I passed the time chatting with Tara and my husband, and I finally caught the nurse assigned to me to see what was going on; apparently, they were just letting my body get good and ready for delivery. Around 11 a.m., they checked me again and I was still at 9 cm. The doctor suggested we augment my contractions with a little pitocin, just to help me make it that last centimeter. That did the trick, and by noon, I was ready to push — only 9 hours after I had been assured the baby would come flying out!
I requested a mirror to help me see what has going on down there and got to work pushing. With help and encouragement from my team, John Douglas Waterman was born at 12:55 p.m., turning sunny-side up at the last moment to greet the world. He was perfect and I was in love.
Were there things I wish were different about John’s delivery? Sure. I admit to having a love-hate relationship with epidurals. It was frustrating to go so far on my own and then tap out for one, but I was thankful for the relief it provided me when I was totally spent. In the end, I was just thrilled that I went into labor on my own and delivered without a C-section, so I’m not going to lose sleep over what was otherwise a very smooth delivery. Besides, I can always make changes for round #4!
Images: Ann Waterman