So this is part one of our birth story… I hadn’t initially planned to write it in parts, but maybe it’s for the better, considering how long this segment is already! Sooooo sorry it’s taken so long to get up… it’s been a little hard to write, given the two babies and all!
*******WARNING- you might not want to read this if you’re preggers or expecting. I don’t want to traumatize anyone. Not all birth stories are like this, but this was my experience and I tried to be as open and honest about it as possible, and not all of the experience was positive. Read at your own discretion! ************
My contractions initially started on their own early Sunday morning, October the seventh. At that point, we were 9 days overdue and I was ridiculously happy that my body seemed to be kick-starting the labor process! Going overdue and especially by that much, I had (maybe irrationally and definitely in a deep dark corner of my mind) started to worry that my body was never actually going to go into labor- and for me, as a first-time pregnancy, I was starting to doubt that my body even knew what to do or how to do it. Well, I should never have doubted! The contractions were immediately pretty painful and I knew right away that these were actual real contractions, and not just Braxton Hicks or practice cramps that I’d been feeling all along. So much for my (other secret, irrational) fear that I wouldn’t know labor when it started! I knew, all right. They started off painful but manageable at fifteen minutes apart. I’m pretty sure I had them all night long, as I remember strange dreams of pain from that night, but I didn’t wake up to notice them for sure until 7am. By 8am, I was so excited I couldn’t stand it anymore and I woke up Shorty to announce my contractions. She was considerably calmer about the situation (not a morning person! lol) and also more practical. We had plans that day that involved a lot of driving (a court-ordered visit with Tiny Dictator and her mom at the jail 2 hours away from us), and we sat in bed debating cancelling those plans in favor of staying home and laboring, but since the contractions were still so far apart and highly manageable, Shorty argued for us to go ahead and go anyways- figuring we could always turn around if it got much worse. That plan made sense to me and so I agreed… so yes, we’re the crazy lesbians who went on a road trip while in labor! Writing it out not, it sounds a lot crazier than it felt in the moment- like, of course we should have stayed home, what were we thinking going? Whatever, we went, and the contractions continued, but over the course of the day spaced out much farther apart than 15 minutes. I knew then that we weren’t really in true active labor yet, in spite of the pain I felt with each contraction. I suspect that, had we stayed active, taken a walk, and kept my body moving, perhaps things would have progressed more quickly, but being in the car for 4+ hours that day and being essentially sedentary was not good for ramping up the quantity and duration of contractions! By Sunday night they had all but quit- they were erratic, about once every twenty minutes or so. We went ahead and texted to let our midwives know what was going on, and they texted back to keep them updated and get some rest. I went to bed discouraged but hopeful that things would get going again the next day.
Sometime in the middle of the night the contractions started back up again intensely. By early Monday morning (10/8) they were painful enough that I was having to breathe through them and couldn’t sleep through them any longer- which was when you all got that lovely middle-of-the-night blog update to let you know I was in labor, as I was up bouncing on my birthing ball and trying to distract myself from the rising pain. I started off on the ball in our room upstairs bouncing, but as both Shorty and Tiny Dictator were trying to sleep through my bouncing and computer typing and laboring, and I was waking them up, I decided to take myself downstairs for a few hours where I parked it on our recliner, had a snack (crackers and cheese), and continued to labor and have contractions. I’m not exactly sure what time I went downstairs, but I know that by 6am I was in super pain but also super tired- so I tried to go back upstairs and rest again. I remember having to breathe through a few contractions and almost giving up on rest, but then I finally succeeded, because I fell asleep for a few hours, and when I woke up the contractions had spaced back out again. Holy frustrating! I was so disappointed I almost cried. The contractions had been so intense and regular throughout the night that I had felt sure this was the start of something real… having them stop and space out again was almost unbearably frustrating. By that point in time I had been having on-again-off-again painful contractions for over 24 hours. After putting Thing One on the bus to school that morning, we decided to go ahead and take a walk, hoping it would get things revved up again. We loaded Tiny Dictator into the stroller (Shorty wanted to carry her in the Ergo but I was having far-apart-but-painful contractions and wanted the stroller to lean on), and we took off on a walk on this pretty walking trail around the neighborhood. I remember taking pictures of the fall leaves and also, at one point, hanging onto a bench for dear life as a contraction hit me. It was a nice walk but I was sore, tired, exhausted, and randomly contracting, and Tiny Dictator is NOT a fan of the stroller, so we probably only walked about a mile (which took an hour) before heading back for home.
- pretty tree during our walk.
during our walk through the neighborhood, in our attempt to get things started again…
By the time we got home I was having contractions regularly again but we weren’t timing them. I was exhausted and decided to curl up on the couch for an attempted nap while Shorty baby-minded Tiny Dictator and otherwise waited around for things to ramp up. I don’t know how long I slept- I do remember having to breathe through a few contractions- but at 3pm I was woken up by most painful, intense, and longest contraction I had yet had. It was a really really hard one and during it I felt a ‘pop’ and a huge sensation of pain and something “falling” inside me. I mentioned it to Shorty once I could breathe/speak again, and we were both kind of like… hmm. Wonder what that was. I thought for a fleeting second that maybe it was my water, but dismissed the idea because the pop had hurt and I didn’t think water breaking would hurt. Well, apparently I just get to be special and be the only person in the world whose water breaking hurt because right after this contraction, when I got up to go to the bathroom, my water gushed all over our couch! I yelped in surprise and ran to the bathroom, leaking the whole way there (gross). I lost my mucus plug in the bathroom and had my bloody show at the same time, and spent the next 30-45 minutes standing in the shower leaking. Every time I tried to put on a pair of dry underwear and a pad, I immediately soaked through the pad and underwear and had to change… so eventually, I just stood in the shower until it seemed like the leakage was slowing down. While I was in the shower, I had some pretty intense contractions and they were about six minutes apart, so Shorty and I decided that this + broken waters + lost plug meant things were actually finally REALLY starting, so Shorty made arrangements for neighbors to pick up the kids while I stayed in the shower. She also texted the midwives to let them know my water had broken and we were having frequent contractions again. They said to keep them updated, but didn’t otherwise seem too concerned. I finally stopped leaking and took a hot shower to clean myself up a bit (not highly logical, I know, but I wasn’t being too logical at that point). I remember feeling strangely detached from the situation- my water had broken, mucus plug lost, I’d been waiting for this moment for MONTHS, but it didn’t feel real. This, in spite of the fact I was actively having painful contractions the whole time I was in the shower. Right after I got out of the shower I had another huge contraction, and ended up leaving a giant puddle of water all over the bathroom floor. I remember being irrationally frustrated at all the leakage going on at that point, and wondering how people ever got anything done or were able to move around at home while they were in labor without leaving tons of puddles and messes everywhere. Every time I put on dry underwear and a dry pad, I would have another contraction and a giant gush of water and end up right where I’d started. Needless to say, I was still busy trying to clean myself up when our neighbor arrived an hour later to pick up Tiny Dictator. I had almost gotten myself “clean” again and was going to come out of the bathroom to say goodbye to Tiny Dictator, but just then, another strong contraction hit me. I tried to breathe through it and hoped it would pass quickly, but it ended up being a monster contraction and I had to yell to Shorty to just have them go. So they left and I didn’t get to say goodbye to Tiny Dictator. I was a little sad about that but I got over it quickly- pain is a good distraction and the contractions just kept on coming.
This is where my timeline starts to get a little fuzzy, but I do know that at 4pm, Thing One got home- the neighbor who was supposed to watch her had to work until 630pm, so she basically sat in her room with the iPad watching Netflix for a couple hours while I labored and we waited for the neighbor to get home. I moved out to the living room to labor on the birthing ball, but discovered that that really didn’t help too much. At some point in time I know I started having 3-minute-apart-contractions and I hopped back in the shower to attempt pain management while Shorty was setting up the pool. During my shower I had a contraction that made me almost throw up. I had to moan through it and lean on the shower wall- Shorty and I told the midwives this and they decided it was time to head out to our house.
The midwives arrived around 5 o’clock, with the apprentice midwife arriving first and the actual midwife arriving about fifteen minutes later. When they got there, the first thing they did was check in with me and check fetal heart tones, which showed up just fine (they actually never fell to a concerning level at any point during labor at home or in the hospital). After checking the baby’s heartrate, the midwives proceeded to set up their stuff while I labored through several painful contractions on the birth ball in the corner. The apprentice midwife helped Shorty fix the birth pool- she had set it up so that the piece that was supposed to be the lid was on the bottom of the pool instead- but in her defense the thing did NOT come with instructions and it was easily fixed. I was a little too busy trying to get through contractions to care much about how or what they had to do to fix it! Initially, I felt a little self-conscious laboring and being in pain in front of everyone, with nothing to do but sit around and chat in between contractions. I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to show weakness and tries very hard to like everything’s fine even when it’s not (as an eight year old, I limped through the airport on an ankle I had broken in the parking garage ten minutes earlier and never said anything to my parents until we arrived at our destination!) but I got over it quickly as the pain took over and I was having to concentrate very hard through the contractions, with no time to think about the fact that I had an audience. I never did really find a good rhythm or a comfortable laboring position- this is one of the things that bothers me, even now after the labor. I thought for sure I would be able to cope a lot better than I ended up being able to, that I would be able to find a breathing rhythm, that I would be able to get into a calm state of mind to work my way through contractions. To my surprise, this never happened for me- not at home and not in the hospital. Each contraction felt different, more painful, more intense, and any concentration I had at the beginning of one was basically shattered by the end. I did try several different positions- one of my favorites/most comfortable was on all fours, with my hands and upper torso leaning on the birthing ball and my knees cushioned by a pillow. I went through several contractions this way, moaning into the birthing ball as either Shorty or the midwives rubbed my back/provided counter pressure during it. Whether or not the counter pressure or the back pressure felt better varied by each contraction- and it was a random pattern, because there were even some contractions where any amount of counterpressure felt completely unbearable and I would have to gasp out to the person doing it to stop.
setting up the birthing pool
laboring through contractions…
Finally the birthing pool was fixed and filled up enough that I could get in… I did and it was instant relief. Though the midwives thought the water was too hot (somewhere between hot bath and Jacuzzi), I thought it was HEAVEN and they said there wasn’t any harm in it being that hot, so in I got. I instantly relaxed about 10,000 times more than I had been and even though the next contraction still hurt just as much, I was able to lean over the side of the pool and breathe through it, I felt more in control of myself during it, and more importantly I was better able to relax between the contractions, which were still about 3 minutes apart (or closer) and super intense (hellih would be an appropriate description of them at this point in time!). I stayed in for about an hour by myself, until I got too hot and climbed out for a break, but being out of the tub made the contractions unbearable again, so I didn’t stay out for long. When I got back in, Shorty got in with me and I was able to relax back into her arms in between each contraction and hear her whispering encouragement into my ear during it. This was my absolute favorite part of home labor. It was everything I had pictured about how labor was going to be beforehand and one of the main reasons I chose to have a home birth. The contractions were still really hard, but the midwives stayed quiet and left us to labor on our own during this part, there were candles lit, and it felt very intimate just between my wife and I- relaxing back into Shorty’s chest, skin to skin in the warm water with my arms floating at my sides and my legs relaxed out in front of me, knowing we were laboring together to bring our son into the world. If our son could have been born like this, I would have been ecstatic and it would have been everything I had pictured. But, of course, that just wasn’t in the cards; however, the fact that I got to experience even this little bit of my ideal labor scenario is, I think, part of what makes me so okay now with how the rest of my labor turned out.
Shorty and I laboring together
After a period of time- I don’t know how long, maybe an hour and a half?- the contractions were getting unbearably intense and close together, even in spite of how relaxed I was in the water with Shorty. I was moaning through each one and curling in on myself from the pain, trying to find some way to escape it or lessen it (there was none). The midwives kept reminding me to relax and drop my shoulders- apparently I was tensing up and hunching through each contraction- and I remember hearing them but not being able to do anything except exist through each contraction. I was shaking uncontrollably during them and mentally, I was starting to fall apart. The only thing keeping me together was the thought that surely this had to be either transition, or something close to transition- the contractions were SO intense and SO close together, this had to be almost the end! I remember thinking to myself, surely the Hulk was almost here and this had to be the worst it would get. I was sure I would feel the “relief” of pushing soon. At this point in time (around ten PM that night) we’d been in labor already for almost 48 hours!
Evidently from the way I was acting and the timing of the contractions, the midwives thought I was close too, because one of them asked me if I was feeling any pressure. I told them I was feeling some in my bum with each contraction and she decided it was time to check my cervix and see where we were at. I got excited by this and it gave me a little mental boost to get me through the next few contractions, because our midwives are very hands-off and had told us beforehand that they will only check your cervix when they think it’s about time to start pushing. To me, her offering to check was her affirming that they thought we were almost at the end, and I was excited at the prospect of labor almost being over and getting to meet our son. At the same time, it made me very nervous to be checked, because I knew it would be really hard for me to bear if we weren’t as far along as we thought we were. I even asked the midwife, several times, if she thought that I was at least a 5 (for some reason, that was a number that seemed sufficiently far enough along to not be soul-crushing if I hadn’t attained it), but she diplomatically refused to say. Eventually, I got out of the tub anyways, pausing for a huge contraction right, during which both Shorty and the midwife had to help hold me up as I stood there mindless, shaking, and almost crying from the pain. As it subsided, I made my way over to the couch to be checked.
Being checked was a truly hellish experience. I had several contractions during, and it felt like she was shoving her whole fist up there… it hurt so badly. I remember quite literally begging her to stop, telling her in as firm a voice as I could muster that I had changed my mind and she needed to stop, pleading with her… but of course, she told me she was sorry but she had to keep going and it would be over soon. I had several contractions during it and I felt like I was going to pass out from the pain. Finally it was over (it seemed like it took awhile to me, but that could be a distorted perspective) and she took her hand out and looked at me, and from the look on her face I knew it was going to be bad news. This was confirmed when she told me I was about three centimeters, maybe less, and I could tell from the tone of her voice that even she was disappointed in such a dismal number.
Cue me crumpling into tears. I can’t even begin to tell you how completely heart-breaking and spirit-crushing that news was to me at the time. I’d been having contractions for literally days at that point in time, had been having 3-minute-apart super intense contractions all evening for hours, had been giving it what felt like EVERYTHING I had and mentally starting to break down, and the only way I had been getting through this was by convincing myself that transition and pushing and baby were all just right around the corner. Hearing that I was only 3cm, after all that work and pain and feeling like I was already giving my all to this labor, was completely crushing to me. I broke down and started sobbing, and in between sobs I said, for the first time, that I couldn’t do it. It felt, to me, like I had already been giving everything I had and so the fact that I still had seven more centimeters to dilate and the thought of all the intense contractions that would go along with those seven centimeters… it was too much. I felt broken, at that point, and I just wanted it to be over- I said my first “I can’t do this” and once I said it more of them came out, between sobs, over and over and over. I can’t do it Ican’tdoit I CAN’T DO IT. I was basically desperate to be done, to be transferred to a hospital, to find some relief. Somehow, though, (and I honestly don’t know how) the midwives and my amazing wife convinced me to keep going. The midwife who had checked me managed to convince me to go ahead and try going upstairs to our bedroom to labor and rest for awhile. She told me that while she was checking me she had also done a sweep (which is partly why it hurt so much) and reassured me that a lot of times it can take awhile to get to the 3cm mark, but that once there things can happen quickly and that with the help of the sweep I could go from 3cm to 10cm in the space of a few hours. I’m not sure if I believed her, or if I just didn’t have the strength to keep arguing against all the encouragement I was getting, but either way Shorty and I headed upstairs and got into bed while the midwives made themselves comfortable on our couches and my daughter’s bed and dug in for a long night. Although I was probably mentally cursing them at the time, I will be forever grateful to the midwives for staying with us through the night. Shorty told me later that she had had a conversation with them while I was upstairs where they told her that our labor had stalled to the point where, normally, they would have just gone home for the night. They told her they were staying basically for moral support and not because there was anything they could actually do for us- they said they knew that if they left us, I probably would have bolted for the hospital as soon as they shut the door (and oh yes, I would have). The fact that they stayed and spent the night away from their families and beds to support us means the world to me, and I will always be grateful.
The rest of the night went by at snail’s pace. Once lying down, my contractions (once again) spaced themselves back out to probably to every five or six minutes, although we were no longer timing them. They did not, however, get any less intense, and so every five or six minutes I would go rigid with pain and moan into my pillow. Shorty was very supportive, whispering encouragement and holding me, but sometime during the wee hours of the morning she fell asleep and I remember being glad that she had, because without her awake I had no one to say I couldn’t do it to every contraction, and also I was glad that she was able to get some rest since it had been a long few days and I knew there was possibly still a long time to come. After a few hours of resting, I hadn’t necessarily accepted that I “could” do it, but I had recovered a lot from the breakdown I had after the sweep and I was able to concentrate better through the contractions. I developed a mantra- whenever a contraction would come I would breathe as deeply as I could and repeat over and over in my head: “Come out baby boy. We’re waiting for you. I am laboring towards my baby. Come out.” I think that sleep deprivation along with mental exhaustion allowed me to kind of hypnotize myself a bit, because although I never actually fell asleep, I did get finally get some rest and this part of the night was when I felt most in control of my contractions during my entire labor. There were also contractions where I would push on my own hip with my right hand while lying on my left side in order to provide my own counter pressure, and that helped some too. By repeating my mantra, breathing, and providing counter pressure, I was able to make it through the rest of the night. I did throw up from the pain at one point in time, but other than that I feel like I dealt very well after I got over the breakdown.
The midwives came up the stairs at 5am. I woke Shorty up and we sat up to talk to them. I knew that they weren’t going to have anything really helpful to discuss- what could they possibly say? We were 50+ hours in to labor by then and no closer to having our baby than when we started. They looked sympathetic and tried to offer reassurances that we could still do this, but the general gist of the talk was that they were going home and we could call them when things started to go more quickly again. There was a definite tone of futility in the air, and I wondered as they were talking to me if they knew that every word they were saying was going in one ear and out the other. At that point, I pretty much knew we were going to the hospital. I sat, breathed through contractions, and stared at the sheets while they were talking- I couldn’t help it, I just felt so deflated, exhausted, and done. After some final attempts at reassurances, they headed back downstairs to pack up their stuff. Shorty slipped downstairs, ostensibly for a bathroom break, though she later confessed to me that she and the midwives had a mini pow wow while she was downstairs. She told me that the midwives discussed the possibility of heading to the hospital during this time, and asked her how she felt about that… she told them that at that point in time she would do whatever I said I wanted to do. They basically told her they wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where we ended up and even hinted that it might be time to go, but left the final decision up to us. Meanwhile, I was upstairs, unaware of this conversation but knowing that I was done. I sat on the edge of the bed where they had left me and knew that I had done everything I had in me to do on my own. Fifty hours of home labor and still no baby was not a scenario I had ever prepared myself for, even in the deepest darkest “what if” corners of my mind, and more than the physical exhaustion (which was extensive), I just felt emotionally drained. Completely drained. I knew, at this point, that it was time to head in to the hospital. Our attempt at a home birth was over.
Oddly enough, I didn’t feel upset by my “failure”- I think because I was too exhausted to feel anything much at all. As soon as the midwives were gone, I made my way downstairs and sat on my birthing ball to talk to Shorty. She asked me what I wanted to do, and I did not mince words… I told her I wanted to go to the hospital and all she said was “Okay, let’s do it then.” I remember being incredibly grateful to her at that point for being understanding and supportive, for not making me argue with her through contractions about the need to go. I wasn’t sure how she was feeling about it then, but we’ve talked about it since then and it turns out she was feeling the same as I was: ready to go. More than just desiring pain relief (although at that point in time, I was definitely ready for some!), my decision to go to the hospital was also based on a feeling that something was wrong. 50+ hours of labor, hours of strong, 3-minute-apart contractions, and only being dilated to 3cm and being nowhere NEAR transition or pushing (the contractions were still spaced out when I woke up at 5 that morning)… it seemed to both of us like something was wrong, and that more than anything is why I made the call to go. If it had been solely a pain-based decision, I would have been out of the house the night before (and would have been, had the midwives and Shorty not convinced me otherwise). Looking back on the decision-making process gives me mixed feelings- on the one hand, I’m glad that I didn’t throw the towel in the night before, because if I had made the decision based solely on a desire to make the pain go away, I would have definitely felt like I had “failed”. Making the decision in the morning to go, based on mostly on concern that things were not progressing, felt and still feels like it was the right decision to make with no sense of failure attached. However, it is also hard not to think that if we were going to end up in the hospital anyways, if we had gone the night before that would have saved me a long hard night of progression-less labor. But of course, there was no way to know that for certain at the time and I am very comfortable with the decision we made and when we made it.
By the time Shorty and I had finished discussing our decision, it was about 530 or 545 AM. Having been thoroughly prepared for our home birth and fully expecting that everything would go according to plan, we had never bothered to pack a “just in case” hospital bag. That was our mistake- murphy’s law and all. So once we made the decision to go, we had to do some rushing around (in Shorty’s case) or limping around and breathing through contractions (in my case) to get all of the things we would need for our hospital bag. Given the hour, our level of exhaustion, and the fact that I was in constant pain throughout the packing process, we actually did a pretty good job of packing. We only forgot one or two things, which weren’t vitally important and which Shorty was able to get at a later time. By the time we were all packed, it was around 615 and we left for the hospital- a half hour drive away. I distinctly remember how surreal it felt to be leaving our house with a hospital bag and an empty car seat, double-checking with each other things like “did you grab a baby blanket? What about the camera?” When we pulled out of our neighborhood everything was dark and quiet, and it was raining. We pulled out of the driveway towards the hospital, and all I felt was intense relief that we were headed towards help and pain relief.