*Warning: this birth story contains all the gritty details, read at your own risk. 😉
I love giving birth.
The way it forces me to be completely in my body and completely in the moment is incredible. I relish the intensity of the process. Strange, perhaps, but true. It’s my style of thrill-seeking, I guess. And I feel like it’s something I do well. Author and social anthropologist, Sheila Kitzinger said once about her experience giving birth, “Now THIS was a sport I could do!” (see the video of Sheila Kitzinger telling her story here. It’s short, just 2:15 minutes) Somehow, whenever I’ve given birth, I’ve had an inherent sense that this was something I knew how to do.
So having the chance to give birth again was one of the reasons I chose to be a surrogate.
Having seen the wide range of birth experiences in my years of work as a doula, though, actually made me less confident about what might happen in labor. Perhaps I was just lucky that my first two labors went smoothly? (FYI- My two children were born at home in a water birth tub. Also, my daughter was born “in the caul” which means that my water never broke, she came out in her sac, and when my son was born, my water only broke as his head was emerging).
Having had smooth, relatively easy labors in the past made me think “I’ve got this in the bag!” But then as soon as I thought that puffed up, self-congratulatory thought, I would immediately talk myself down from that place and remind myself that birth is UNPREDICTABLE and that I had to be prepared for anything (my version of knocking on wood, I suppose). So, I hired a doula who could be there to help me strategize if things were not going smoothly. We talked and made plans for what birth in a hospital would be like for me and how to keep my brain in “birthing mode” rather than “doula mode.”
As I was reaching the end of my pregnancy, I was feeling as if my little surro-boy would come early. But then again, I thought, doesn’t every pregnant woman feel that way? I would sometimes have some fairly steady practice contractions that were not painful, but definitely noticeable. I was offered cervical exams starting around 36 weeks, but I declined them because I knew I would try to draw conclusions from the result even when I know it means nothing.
One of the dads was going to be flying in on April 21, 2014 (when I would be 38 weeks and 2 days) so that he could be here early for whenever the baby decided to come. I figured that was early enough to plan to be here, especially considering that I could go past my May 3rd due date and he could be waiting for a long time! Well, it turns out that it wasn’t quite early enough.
Here I am, goofing off with my husband at an Easter Sunday egg hunt and brunch in the last non-labor photo before surro-boy was born.
At 7:15 pm on Easter Sunday, April 20th, my water broke while I was sitting on the couch–a TOTALLY new experience for me. I felt a little pop and then a trickle of fluid. It took a few minutes for me to determine that it really was my water breaking, but as I continued to leak it felt pretty clear that this was really happening. All of a sudden we had 1 million phone calls to make–the hospital, my doula, the dads, finding someone to take care of our children while my husband and I were at the hospital–there was a lot of coordinating to do. The hospital wanted us to come in right away, but we drug our feet for a few hours since I wasn’t having any labor contractions. We found a neighbor who could spend the night and another neighbor who could drive our kids to school in the morning. The dads decided to drive through the night to get to Portland instead of flying and my doula was on standby for when labor actually started to happen.
We got to the hospital at about 11 pm–yes, the fluid I was leaking was amniotic fluid–and once we were thoroughly checked-in my husband and I tried to get some sleep. I had some contractions over night that were mild to moderate, but only 7-9 minutes apart. At some point I stopped timing them and actually fell asleep for a few hours which was a good thing. But at 6 am we started to get moving again. My doula came at about 6 am (actually, my other favorite doula came, since my primary doula got called to another birth that was happening quickly) and a mentee doula was there as well. But nothing was really happening yet, so we talked. I think I got monitored some more and then decided to take a shower with my husband. In the shower we did some nipple stimulation (nothing major, but any touching of the nipples releases some oxytocin which is the main labor hormone) and that seemed to help get things going. But once we were out and in the room again, the contractions decreased again (in frequency and intensity). No big deal.
The dads got into town at about 9:30 am and wanted to know if they had time to check into their hotel room and freshen up before coming to the hospital. The answer was a resounding “YES” since I still wasn’t even in labor.
At some point in the mid-morning, a midwife came to see us and mentioned that they could give me pitocin to get labor going, but I said I was thinking more along the lines of nipple stimulation and she said, “Great. I was actually going to suggest that.” And she gave us a nipple stimulation protocol involving a breast pump. It was 3o minutes on and 2 hours off. We agreed to try it. Sure enough, it worked like a charm, but once we stopped… The contractions went away again. Kind of. I kept having these… half contractions? A contraction would start, but then it would plateau instead of reaching a peak before coming down again. I wasn’t sure what to make of them.
We decided to switch up the scenery a little bit and went out for a walk in the courtyard.
It was lovely outside, a little chilly, but the flowers were in bloom. My husband and I walked the maze. But labor still wasn’t really happening. Sigh.
At some point, I realized the medical professionals were getting a little uneasy and were working up to suggesting Pitocin to get my labor going. I knew that it might be necessary, and I don’t think Pitocin is all bad at all, but I really had the gut feeling that once I could get my labor going it would take off on its own. I had a conversation with my husband and my doulas. (My main doula was back by now, as her other client had given birth early that morning.) We all decided that all the hospital interruptions were probably affecting my ability to go into labor and stay there. Foolishly, I assumed this wouldn’t be a problem for me because I don’t have anxiety about hospitals, but my ability to be chatty in early labor was hindering my ability to transition into active labor. We had to commit to creating a “laborland” before it was actually there. We asked for 1 hour of uninterrupted time (this was at 4:20 pm). Everyone left the room except for me and my husband. We got into a relaxing shower and almost immediately the contractions started to come back. I went with it. It was intense, but gratifying to know that my body DID know exactly what to do. I just needed the space to do it. A midwife came in while we were still in the shower (before our hour was up!) and through the bathroom door, we put them off for another 20 minutes to equal the hour we had asked for).
When we got out of the shower my husband encouraged me to stay connected with him and shut everything else out. Usually I like sunshine and bright light, but right now I wanted the lights turned down and the window shades lowered to make a cozy cave-like atmosphere. My doulas came back in. I told everyone that I was authorizing them to speak for me so that I could be quiet and focus inward like I usually do in labor. A few times I started to talk, but I stopped myself and asked someone else to explain. I closed my eyes in a slow-dance with my husband and I sang quietly with him. We sang “I Will Follow You into the Dark” by Death Cab for Cutie and a little bit of “Let Go” by Frou Frou this helped me feel connected and drop into my body. The nurse was quietly waiting for me to be done before taking my blood pressure, but I just asked her to just sneak in and work around whatever I was doing. I had no intention of popping back out of “laborland” for a blood pressure check.
The midwife, who I’m guessing wanted to have the “Pitocin talk” with us, walked in at this point and said, “Well, this looks different. (pause) I don’t think we need to have the conversation that I was going to have!” And she left. I was relieved and I relaxed a little bit more.
Later, another midwife came on (around 7 pm I think) and she was in the room observing. She asked me a question about whether I felt like I was in labor. I said, “yes,” but it made me second-guess myself. Maybe this wasn’t active labor yet. Maybe the contractions were still too far apart? The next contraction seemed to take forever to arrive. I didn’t want to let it get to me, so I let go and kept doing what I was doing. I tried to change positions a lot and move my hips. I was afraid that this little boy was posterior (read more about posterior babies here) and I knew that could make it harder to dilate and give birth so I was motivated to try positions that would help him turn if he was posterior (or if his head was in any kind of less-than-optimal position such as asynclitic or with his head flexed instead of tucked). Here I am in an open-knee-chest position and also sitting on the ball.
I also remember moving one leg into a lunge position from the all-fours position for one contraction and doing it again with the other leg for the next contraction. I asked my doula if there was anything that I was missing that we should try. She said that I was doing most of it already, but that we could try “the dangle” so we tried that through 3 contractions. It made my arms tired for sure, and didn’t make the contractions any easier, but I was willing to make myself very uncomfortable in the short term, if it could help in the long-run. By this time I definitely felt like I was in labor! It seemed like I was hitting transition, but it seemed like it was taking longer and feeling more intense than in my other labors. I was afraid that even though the contractions were so strong, I might not be close to giving birth after all.
I asked how far apart my contractions were and my doula told me that they were 4 minutes apart (or 3?) and that if they could get a little closer together it would probably be time to get into the big tub. I was encouraged and discouraged at the same time. I knew the tub might make my contractions feel more manageable, but they were getting so intense it was discouraging to think I might not be giving birth at any moment! I had a string of contractions while sitting on the ball, leaning on the bed that felt so strong that I was having trouble staying on top of the pain. Often I wasn’t managing it, my voice would get higher in pitch and I would lose my rhythm. I started to feel nauseous and grabbed a barf bag just in case. But I never had time to throw up because my contractions had gotten so close together. I had the classic transition moment where I thought to myself, “I cannot do this.” But I didn’t say it out loud–at least not in those words–because, being a doula, I knew what my doula would say to me. She would say I was doing it. 😉 But, really, I thought, if we’re not close to giving birth at this moment, this might be the birth where I experience what an epidural is like! What I said was, “I’m not sure how much longer I can do this.” I guess I wanted them to know that I was starting to hit my limit.
Here’s what my labor looked like–moaning (loudly) and sitting on the ball.
Of course they never doubted that I could do it, but I did. I seriously doubted myself. But I also doula’ed myself. I reminded myself to stay in the moment and to stay as relaxed as possible. It wasn’t going to help to get discouraged now. My team finally said that it was time to get into the tub. I finished a contraction and started to turn away from the bed to start the long walk down the hall to the tub room two doors down, but immediately another contraction started. I moaned SOOOO loud, but droning at the top of my lungs worked THE BEST for coping with the intensity of my labor. I have pretty good diaphragm control (my theater voice) so I can get very loud without hurting my voice or getting scream-y. I tried again to turn away from the bed to walk down the hall, but another contraction hit and it hit so hard that as I leaned back over the bed, if just felt as if I couldn’t get low enough. I kept the downward momentum, kneeling onto one knee and then the other until I was on my hands and knees on the floor.
At this point, my husband and my doula asked if there was a wheelchair we could use to get me down to the tub. The nurse asked me if I wanted that and I think I just mumbled, “I don’t know.” So my people answered for me, “Yes, please get a wheelchair.” And she did. Between contractions I placed myself in the wheelchair and our nurse wheeled me rapidly down the hall. I had another contraction in the wheelchair. I pushed on the arms of the chair, lifting myself. I was trying to lift myself out of my body at that point. We arrived in the tub room. I went to the bathroom first. This was the first time that I felt really encouraged–like we were close–because my pad had lots of blood in it. And it was dripping from my body as I stood up from the toilet and I had a worried moment, asking my doula if that was too much blood. She said, “No, it’s great.” As she led me by my elbow quickly over to the labor tub.
I got into the tub. My contractions were still coming so close together–I was making unearthly wild animal noises. My voice would go from a low moan and then into a wild primal shriek. At the end of the first tub contraction I started to feel the unmistakable pressure of a baby entering the birth canal. The pushing stage had begun. And since my second baby had come out in about 3 minutes flat, I knew I needed to say something quickly. I announced to the room that the last contraction felt… pushy. And since this hospital does not allow water birth, they announced that I would need to get out of the tub that I just got into. I wondered how that was going to work, but I figured I would let them handle the details, another contraction was starting. Yep, more pushing. Holy pressure, Batman.
The midwife felt my perineum and she said, “Well, he’s not crowning. We’ll get you out after the next contraction.” My husband heard this and hurriedly explained that if this birth was anything like my last birth, the baby would be coming out on the next contraction. So our midwife just asked that the nurse drain some more water out of the tub. Sure enough, I believe this little boy was crowning on the next contraction. His head was out on the contraction after that. And right after that, his whole body was out. He had the cord wrapped around his neck, around his body and under his arm (a nice long cord, in contrast to the short cords of my own babies), so he required a little bit of untangling, but he was alert and vigorous. At 10:10 pm on April 21st he was born!
He stayed on my chest until it was time to cut the cord. One of his daddies cut the cord and then held him, skin-to-skin. I got out to deliver the placenta, which turned out to be more complicated than it usually is. (I’ll spare you the pictures of that) My placenta was having trouble detaching and I needed to push hard to help it come out. It eventually did, but I had some more bleeding than they like to see so I ended up with a lot of medications to control the bleeding. I think it may have been overkill, but I understand why they get concerned. I hadn’t gotten an IV port in labor, so they put it in postpartum to give me IV pitocin (for the bleeding) and had to try three times to get the IV in properly. I just didn’t mind at all, though, because I was still so in love with everyone who had helped me through labor. I couldn’t believe how crazy and intense it had been. Also, it felt like labor had taken a long time, but when I did the math it turned out that it was only about 5 hours from when I entered actual labor to when he was born.
These dads are amazing human beings, who are adorable and loving parents and also–I’m eternally grateful for this–they completely had my back when it came to labor which was important to me in two ways: 1) I got to have a labor with no drugs, the way I prefer, and even more importantly, 2) It meant that they completely trusted me with their baby. We all had the same goal, after all, but they trusted that I knew how to get there.
Laboring is like trying to find your way through a maze without a map or a light. It’s done by feel.
I might have been a little cocky going into this, but thank goodness I realized early that that sort of ego wasn’t going to help in labor. I let myself be stripped down, to get quiet and let the internal compass guide me as I was supported by my incredible birth team whom I know would have supported me through anything. Thank you birth team!