Claire's Birth Story: Part Two

(WARNING: This series of posts contains content that some may consider TMI, as well as a fair amount of hippy-dippy stuff that may annoy some readers. Just a heads-up.) 

Please read Part One before continuing!

September 13 at my parents' house, after being sent home from the hospital for not progressing, wasn't my best day. Matt tried to reassure me that this was a good thing; here, I could eat whatever and whenever I wanted, plus there would be no obnoxious hospital staff checking on me constantly, trying to pressure me into interventions I didn't want. I could rest here. But all I could focus on was NO BABY. STILL PREGNANT. And of course, I kept wondering, how will I know when it's time to go back? Will I really be able to distinguish a change in intensity? What if I go back and they just send me home again?

I ate whatever I wanted, and yes, that was nice, but I could not rest. The contractions were too much. I spent a lot of that day crying due to pain, fatigue, and hormones. I took a couple of hot showers and a hot bath to relieve the pain, which helped a lot, but only when I was in the water. The second I got out, the relaxation vanished. I cried my way through dinner, having one strong contraction after another, constantly asking myself, are these intense enough? 

By about 9:00 PM, I was pretty sure they were, but I refused to go back to the hospital yet. Instead, Matt and I started trying all of the coping techniques we'd read about in The Birth Partner. Massage. Deep breathing. Various pain-relieving positions. But the thing that helped me the most was the thing I found most questionable in the book: slow-dancing. Whenever I felt a strong contraction coming on, I wrapped my arms around my husband's neck, he pulled me close, and we swayed back and forth gently until it passed. Slow-dancing seems like a weird thing to do when you're in labor, but there was something so comforting about him holding me close; I relaxed more, breathing in the familiar scent of his beard oil. It made me feel less alone in the pain. It's the only thing that got me through those couple of hours.

Right around 11:00 PM, the contractions were kicking my tail. The doctor said I'd know when they were more intense. Yeah. I knew. At one point, I was moaning aloud, and as soon as the contraction stopped, I told Matt, crying a bit, "We've gotta go back now." 

We moved rather quickly to the hospital after that. Even though the drive from my parents' house to the hospital is only about twelve minutes, it felt like we made it in about five. Matt was movin'; I'm pretty sure he could tell by the change in my demeanor that this was definitely, finally, the real deal. We arrived at the emergency room around 11:30 PM, and they wheeled me off to labor and delivery in seconds, a waiting room full of people openly ogling me.  

They took me to Labor and Delivery Room 2, right across the hall from the nurses' station. A few of the nurses recognized me and said, "She's back!" (Thankfully, they didn't say it with eye rolls and irritated tones, or I might have lost it.)

A bubbly young nurse I hadn't met before hooked me up to the monitors and checked me around 11:45. Much to my excitement, she announced, "You're at 5 cm and 90% effaced." She let me know they would be admitting me, then detached the monitors so I could move around freely. She also brought me a birthing ball at my request, as well as a peanut ball, which she said worked great to bring babies down quickly. 

I found the peanut ball extremely awkward and uncomfortable, and I couldn't use it for more than a few minutes. As the hours passed, the contractions became so intense, nothing helped. I abandoned the birthing ball; it seemed to make things worse now. No more slow-dancing; I didn't want Matt touching me. I was in the throes of labor now, and the pain was getting so severe, I was secretly beginning to entertain thoughts of an epidural.  

But the next time they checked my cervix, it was 2:15 AM on September 14, and I was at 8 cm. Plus, a strip test showed that my water had broken. I felt empowered by my progress and pushed thoughts of an epidural out of my mind. 

Time dragged on. I breathed and prayed my way through the pain for hours

Suddenly, it was shift change. My nurse was leaving, and I was upset because I liked her. One of my biggest fears throughout my pregnancy was the possibility of getting a crappy nurse during labor and delivery (and hey, having worked as a nurse for the past seven years, I can promise you, there are a lot of them out there). I was fully aware that, while I'd chosen an awesome physician who knew my birth plan and would do his best to make it happen, he wouldn't be the one at my side until the very end...the nurse would be. And I could get stuck with any kind of nurse. Maybe the kind who thinks natural-birth-moms just have something to prove, birth plans are ridiculous, and everyone should just get scheduled C-sections to get in and out of their unit quickly. Kind of like that one nurse who kept pressuring me to induce. What if I got her again?

When the day shift nurse, who I'll call Nurse E, introduced herself, I was exhausted and in the worst pain I'd ever experienced. She was young, attractive, fit, and blonde, and even though she was entirely pleasant, she annoyed me at the time. I felt like doo-doo, I knew I looked like doo-doo, and she was just too pretty to be around me right now. Then she assessed me and told me I was still at 8 cm. That was kind of the last straw, and I mumbled something about an epidural. 

Some other staff member in the room (I can't even recall who else was there; I was in too much pain at the time) commented on my epidural remark. I guess they were getting ready to call the anesthesiologist. Nurse E piped up, "No, that's just the pain talking. She's okay."

I felt a little part of me die when I heard those words because I was pretty much ready to throw the birth plan out the window and get the dang epidural. I knew they could potentially relax you enough to let you sleep through contractions, and I'd been going for days now, literally days, without sleep. That sounded pretty good about now. But another part of me, the greater part, felt a surge of hope and excitement. This nurse knew my goals. She'd reviewed my birth plan, and she was going to do her best to help me have the birth I'd been hoping for. 

As I talked to her in between contractions, she shared that she was excited to be attending a natural birth, as well as a gender-surprise birth. I remember her telling me that her sisters had natural births and she wanted to do the same when she had children, and that her shifts had always ended before her "team green" patients gave birth, so she never got to experience an at-birth gender reveal. She said she hoped- and felt like- she would get to share that with me today.  

Dr. J showed up not too long after this, and by that time, I was still at 8 cm and the baby hadn't budged. I'd been at 8 cm for six hours now. Also, apparently, my water hadn't broken after all but was slowly leaking, a potential problem with my positive Group B Strep. He suggested an amniotomy to keep things moving, and I basically said, "Please, anything, do what you gotta do." The next thing I knew, he was shoving what looked like a giant, plastic crochet hook inside me, then I felt an immediate gush of hot liquid pouring out of me. 

The contractions seemed to worsen a bit after this, but when I was checked again two hours later, around 10:00 AM, nothing had advanced. I was STILL at 8 cm, and no other changes had occurred. By now, I'd been at 8 cm for 8 hours. I'd been laboring for about 60 hours. I had gotten zero sleep for 56 hours. I'd been coping with the most intense pain I'd ever experienced with breathing and exercises alone, and I was drained. I remember lying there on the bed, eyes closed while the nurse and doctor were talking, feeling completely spent. Their voices sounded far away, and my mind began to feel detached from my body. I felt like I couldn't go on, and I expected someone to suggest a Cesarean. 

Dr. J said labor was stalling because my body was shutting down from exhaustion. He gave the order to start Pitocin, and I began receiving it intravenously at 10:40 AM. Then things got real. The intense contractions I'd been having for hours? I missed them. By 11:20, I was having back-to-back, over-the-top-strong contractions. There was no time to recover between them, and I was thinking about an epidural again. 

But about twenty minutes later, Nurse E told me I was at 9 cm. I was so close, an epidural at this point was pointless. However, I honestly felt like I was going to die. I remembered that nitrous oxide was an option, so I requested that. She reminded me that it isn't a pain reliever, that it can only help with relaxation. I was desperate enough to try anything to get me through this most brutal part of labor. 

I have mixed feelings about nitrous oxide. No, it didn't help with the pain, and I truthfully didn't feel any more relaxed. But, I think it helped me get through transition because it provided a distraction. Whenever you need to use it, you must hold and seal the mask against your face at the start of a contraction, inhale deeply, then exhale back into the mask. You can't remove the mask until you've exhaled completely into it due to the chance of exposing other people in the room to the gas. Focusing on these inhalations and exhalations gave my mind something to think about besides the overwhelming pain. 

Just before noon, barely an hour after starting Pitocin, I began to feel the tiniest urge to push. Nurse E gave me the green light to push whenever I felt like it. Before too long, she checked my cervix again and shared the wonderful (and kind of scary) news that I was complete, and she told me that when she saw crowning, she was calling Dr. J. 

At this point, she stayed in the room by my side constantly, giving me one-on-one attention. She coached me as I began pushing (but all on my terms, only when I felt like it; none of that count-to-ten junk), kept a close eye on the fetal monitor, politely cleaned up my poop when that happened (which was more than once, unfortunately), and talked to me whenever I felt like it. My husband remained at my other side, holding my hand when I wanted, encouraging me, offering ice water, and placing a cold, wet washcloth on my forehead when I needed it. 

The two of them helped me change positions as I requested. I was SO thankful that Nurse E allowed me to choose whatever position felt best for me at the time. I'd heard countless stories of women being forced to lie on their backs while pushing, and that sounded horrible; I needed to move. I alternated between lying on my back to all-fours to upright/leaning forward and holding onto the mattress to, eventually, as the shakes took over and I couldn't support myself any longer, side-lying.

More hours passed, and I caught my second wind. Not so long ago, I'd felt weak and certain I wouldn't be able to push this baby out. But the sensation of needing to push changed everything. It's difficult to describe, but I suddenly felt this almost explosive power inside me. With each contraction, I needed to push as hard I could, and while it was the hardest work I've ever done, I felt immense relief each time. I was on such a roll, Nurse E turned off the Pitocin and just let my body do its thing.

Dr. J came in and checked me around 2:00, said everything looked great, to keep doing what I was doing, and he'd be back shortly. Knowing it wouldn't be too much longer now, I focused on pushing and the fact that I was actually managing to do this, and without an epidural! The harder I worked, the hotter and sweatier I got, and the more I felt like I might pass out from the heat. I ended up ripping that awful, annoying, scratchy hospital gown off, no longer caring about modesty, and Matt and Nurse E draped a cold, wet towel across my back to cool me down. 

Around 3:00 PM, Dr. J came back, and this time, he didn't leave. He sat down and scooted close to the foot of the bed, coaching me along with Matt and Nurse E. I felt a surge of adrenaline then because if he was sticking around, this baby had to be getting close. 

Things started to feel different in my pelvis with each push, and I visualized my baby descending. Dr. J and Nurse E started sounding very excited as they remarked what a full head of hair this baby had, and their comments surprised me. I didn't think we were that close. The baby's head was coming out? Wasn't I supposed to be feeling the infamous "ring of fire" about now?

The next few pushes were incredible. I could feel the descent, all the subtle changes in pressure, and it spurred me on in this fierce, animalistic way. But still none of that searing pain I'd read about in the natural birth books. Mostly an increasingly intense rectal pressure that told me I was about to poop in front of everyone, again.

The "come on, keep pushing, keep pushing, don't stop, give it all you've got!" grew louder and more excited, and I was certain I was pooping again. Then suddenly, I glanced down at the foot of the bed where Dr. J was now standing, and I noticed that he was wearing a surgical gown and tugging on a pair of gloves. 

I gasped, totally shocked. Either he was getting ready to scoop poo, or this was it. Inspired, I pushed and pushed as hard as I could.

And there it was. The ring of fire. I felt like I was being split in two, but the feeling only lasted for a mere three seconds or so, if that, and was immediately followed by a slippery sensation as my baby appeared in Dr. J's hands. 

The moment happened so fast, I was stunned. I knew we were getting close to birth, but I really thought it would hurt more. The pressure I felt was all rectal until the last three seconds. As embarrassing as it is to share, I seriously thought I was just having another BM. But there was a baby in the doctor's hands, which meant it was all over.

I couldn't believe the size of this infant. Had that really just come out of me? But before I could think anything else, Dr. J lifted this little chubster and smiled, proudly making the announcement we'd been waiting months to hear:

"It's a big ol' beautiful baby girl!" 

I'll never forget those words. I couldn't breathe. We had a daughter. I wanted to look at Matt to see his reaction, but I could not turn my teary eyes away from this big ol' beautiful baby girl.

Dr. J offered a pair of scissors to Matt and asked if he'd like to cut the cord, which he did while I watched in awe. I'm not sure what I said to our little girl as they placed her on my chest for the first time, but I know I couldn't stop crying. I felt such overwhelming gratitude. Matt and I both had wanted a girl so badly, but we'd said all along we'd be happy with a boy. Experiencing this most wonderful of surprises after all those rough months of pregnancy, after all these hours and hours of hard was simply amazing.

Someone asked if she had a name. We'd never been able to fully settle on a boy name, but we'd agreed surprisingly easily on a girl name early in the pregnancy. My voice came out shaky, which only made me cry more, as I said, "This is Claire Josephine Oliver." Saying it aloud made everything even more real. This was my daughter. This was Claire.

After I passed the placenta, Dr. J got to work on stitching me up. Turns out that ripping pain I'd felt was an actual rip; I had a second-degree tear. It sounds dumb after everything I'd just gone through, but the lidocaine injections he gave me down there prior to doing the stitching combined with the ridiculously painful uterine massage might have been the worst part.

Claire had come out smacking her lips loudly and rooting for the breast, so Nurse E wasted no time in helping me initiate breastfeeding before the staff left us alone to bond for the Golden Hour. Matt and I both did skin-to-skin with Claire, we guessed how much she weighed (surely about 8 lbs), counted fingers and toes, and just sort of recapped everything that had just gone down. Matt also texted our parents to let them know they could visit in a couple of hours, as soon as the recovery period was over.

Now that our room was calm and quiet, I couldn't help but pay attention to a problem that I'd first noticed in the last hour or two of pushing. I felt a large, heavy knot in the right side of my face, and it was beginning to impede my speech. I also observed a similar knot in the right side of my chest. Both knots, when touched, felt as though I had dozens of tiny rocks beneath my skin, and they crackled audibly when pressed. I felt okay enough for having just given birth, but when the Golden Hour was over, I discussed the finding with the nurses who came in to check on me. The responses were, "Hmm, that's strange. It's gotta be from all the IV fluids." Everyone was only concerned with monitoring me for signs of postpartum hemorrhage, understandably, so that was that.

It was also time for them to obtain Claire's weight and height. Our little girl was a shocking 9 lbs, 6 oz and 22 inches long. My jaw dropped when Nurse E (who had guessed 8 lb, 5 oz herself) told me the measurements. I couldn't believe I'd successfully pushed out such a giant baby with no pain medication.

After ensuring for two hours that my vitals were stable, our immediate family could come in to visit. My parents (and sister) came first, since it was their first grandchild, then my mother-in-law alone (unfortunately my father-in-law was stuck at work).

Nana, Grandaddy, Aunt Jessie, and Gammy <3

They didn't know the baby's gender until they came in the room and we had the pleasure of telling them ourselves. Lots of happy tears all around! 

Their visits were short as I was exhausted and about to be moved to a postpartum room on the opposite of the building. As soon as they left, the night shift nurse had me get out of bed and walk to the restroom for the first time, which was a feat in itself. That's when I received the hospital's mesh panties of legend and the biggest pads in the universe (though still somehow not quite big enough; a Depend would have been more effective immediately post-birth). That's also when I walked past a mirror and saw myself for the first time. 

I looked like a chipmunk, like I'd just had oral surgery. 

After getting settled into our room on the postpartum unit, my face felt even tighter, and I noticed the bubbly knot in my chest was beginning to spread up past my clavicle, into my neck. It was around midnight when I told my new nurse about this, and she seemed concerned, especially after she palpated my skin. She, too, felt the "tiny rocks" beneath my skin, and we both heard the loud crunching noises. 

It was now early Saturday morning, and there was a different OBGYN on call for Dr. J. By the time he came around to examine me, the crunchy tiny rocks had spread across my face, up under my left eye, and I was actually beginning to notice changes in my vision. I also now had a lot of tightness in my chest, and it hurt a bit with each inhalation. This doctor took a quick look at me, ordered a two-view chest x-ray, and said he was going to have a pulmonologist come by to assess me. He looked serious when he said, "Lots of crazy things can happen to girls in labor," and it looked like one of those "crazy things" had happened to me.

Click to read Part Three.

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