For those of you who may not know, my son, Andrew, arrived 5 weeks early on June 26, 2017. The past eight weeks have been a whirlwind adjusting to motherhood as well as moving, which is why I have neglected this space. Now that we are settled and have gotten into a routine with Andrew, I am going to use what free time I have to focus on Midtown Magnolia. You can expect the typical outfit posts and shopping guides, but I’ll also be adding a new series called “Motherhood Mondays.”
If you followed the Bumpdates, Motherhood Mondays will be an extension of those – they’ll be focused on all things post pregnancy and life as a new mom. I want these to be conversational and informative so that hopefully other new moms out there can learn something I didn’t know and can also share their thoughts! For the first Motherhood Monday post, I wanted to tell Andrew’s birth story. I had planned for and thankfully ended up having a natural birth so while this post is incredibly long and personal, I wanted to share it with you as other women’s stories of natural births are what helped me know what to expect and thus mentally prepare for my own!
Early Labor – Driving home from Nashville!
On Monday morning, June 26, Patrick and I woke up early to make the drive home from Nashville to Atlanta. We had spent the weekend in Nashville for a friend’s wedding that was on Sunday night. When I went to the bathroom first thing Monday morning, I noticed what I believed to be my mucus plug in the toilet. This discovery combined with the fact that I started spotting made me a little concerned so I called my midwife before we hit the road. She informed me that while the mucus plug could be a sign of labor starting, it could also mean that labor is still a week or two away. In regards to the spotting, she asked that I monitor it to make sure it didn’t get worse as the day progressed. So with that, Patrick and I got in the car and headed back to Atlanta around 8:00 am.
As you would expect, we had to stop a number of times on the way home so that I could go to the bathroom, and each time I went there would be more spotting. Concerned, I called my midwife again. This time she asked if I was having contractions. At this point I wasn’t so she suggested I come into the office once we got back to Atlanta so that she could check and make sure everything was okay with the baby. She also reminded me that if I did start having contractions to try and time them to see if they were consistent.
Fast forward to around 10:00 am, and I did start having what I believed to be contractions – a very dull pain similar to a period cramp. However, I wasn’t entirely sure if they were contractions especially since I hadn’t had Braxton Hicks contractions yet. My suspicions were confirmed when we began timing them and found that they were consistently happening. As the drive progressed, they went from being around ten minutes apart to six.
At this point, Patrick was driving about 90 mph to get back to Atlanta as fast as possible. I had called my midwife for a third time, and this time she said I definitely needed to come in to the office when we got home.
When we were within the Atlanta perimeter, I had to stop yet again to go to the bathroom. As I was waiting in line at the gas station bathroom, I received a call from my midwife. She said she had spoken to the OB about my case, and he wanted me to go to the hospital as soon as we could because he believed I was in preterm labor.
Up until this point, I was convinced that I was NOT in labor. I kept thinking that I was just being a paranoid first time mom and that there was no way I could be in labor 5 weeks early. I thought if anything I would go way past my due date like many other first time moms. After I got the call from my midwife though, I started to get anxious.
What if I was in labor? I was only 35 weeks…would baby be okay?? We are not ready AT ALL. I haven’t packed my hospital bag; I haven’t bought diapers or washed his clothes; we didn’t even have a car seat!
I didn’t have much time to worry about all this, however, as the most important thing was getting to the hospital to make sure our baby boy would be okay whether we were ready for him or not.
Arriving at the Hospital & Attempting to Stop Labor
We arrived at triage around 1:30 pm, and they immediately hooked me up to monitor my contractions and his heart rate. Once I was all setup, they told me they would be back in 20 minutes to let us know if my contractions were consistent. However, 20 minutes came and went and we had no feedback. Nurses had been in to read the charts, but they weren’t telling us much.
After about an hour, a nurse came in and said she was going to do a swab to test for preterm labor. If it came back positive, there was a strong chance I would be having him today. After the test around 3:30 pm, I received a call from my OB saying the test had in fact come back positive. In one last effort to keep baby boy in for what my OB hoped would be another week, he suggested putting me on a medication to try and stop the contractions and thus labor. After I hung up, the nurse brought me the medication and we waited.
For the next three hours, I continued to have strong contractions despite the fact that this medicine was supposed to stop them. At this point, I was frustrated. I just wanted to know whether I was in labor or not. If I was, I wanted to be taken off the monitoring machines so that I could deal with my contractions using the pain techniques we had learned. I especially wanted to just walk around because lying there thinking about each contraction was not helping me deal with the discomfort.
Around 7:30 pm my OB finally arrived to check on me and see how the medicine was doing. When I told him I was still having contractions, he performed a cervical check. I had received one when I arrived at the hospital earlier in the day, and it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. After the first check, I thought if this is how labor is going to feel, I don’t know if I can do it. So when he said he was performing another check, I was not looking forward to it. This time it was even worse. I thought I was going to pass out it was so painful. I have not heard many other women talk about the pain of the cervical check so I’m not sure if it’s just me and how my body is made, but this experience was the absolute worst! After he finished, which seemed to take an eternity, he confirmed that there was no stopping labor. Even though I was only dilated 1 cm, I was 100% effaced and baby’s head was at a +2. Here’s what all that means in case you don’t know:
- Cervical dilation shows how much your cervix has enlarged so that baby can pass through (you reach 10 cm by the time you are ready to push baby out)
- Cervical effacement is how thin your cervix has become to promote delivery. Mine was completely thinned out at 100%!
- The +2 is a measurement of baby’s fetal station or how baby is progressing through the birth canal during labor. The number reflects how many centimeters baby has moved through your pelvis. The scale goes from -3 (baby is still high in the birth canal) to +3 (baby is coming out). So again this confirmed that baby was coming out.
After he confirmed that our baby boy was coming today whether we were ready or not, I started crying. I was so worried about his health and also so confused as to why he was coming early! I felt helpless in helping him. Of course, I was also just overwhelmed by the fact that I did not feel ready. But whether I was ready or not, baby boy had decided it was time to come out so now I had to be strong and do what I could to safely deliver him.
Active Labor & Transition
Now that we knew we were in fact in labor, I started mentally preparing for a natural birth. I couldn’t control his early arrival, but I was hoping I could still control how I wanted his birth to go. I was unhooked from my IV and the contraction monitoring machine and started walking around. As I said, my contractions never stopped, even when they had me on the medicine, so as soon as the IV was removed and I started walking around it was like a light switched in my body and the contractions immediately got stronger and closer together. Here’s what I mean by strong at this point: when a contraction would come on, it would stop me in my tracks, I couldn’t talk in complete sentences, and I couldn’t think about anything except mentally getting through the contraction. At one point, I was sitting on the toilet trying to go to the bathroom in between contractions, and I started to say I couldn’t do it. At this point my doula had not arrived yet and a nurse came in to talk to me about my pain. She assured me that if I wanted an epidural there was nothing wrong with that. While I know she was just trying to be helpful, it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. I needed encouragement that I could do it, which I was getting from Patrick up to this point, but I needed to hear it from a woman who had gone through it before, I needed my doula there.
Just as quickly as I thought this, my doula walked in, and I immediately felt relieved. Shortly after her arrival, I felt a gush of fluid and looked down to see that my water had broken! And another contraction was coming…but before I could think about that, I got sick in the bathroom sink. Immediately, my doula whipped out a peppermint oil canister and set it on the counter. My uneasy stomach settled as quickly as it had gotten upset.
After my water broke, labor went into warp speed, and I entered a state that is hard to describe. I guess an out of body experience may be the most accurate description – ultimately I felt as if I had lost any control over my body. Labor was taking over, and I could no longer consciously think about it. All I could do was give in.
We stayed in this bathroom for a few more minutes and with each contraction, my doula would assure me that I could get through it. Concurrently, Patrick would stand behind me holding all my weight in his arms and I would spread my legs as far apart as possible, opening up my hips while swaying back and forth and breathing deeply.
At some point during these waves of contractions, a nurse came and said we had to move to a delivery room. They threw a gown on me, and with Patrick’s help, we began making the short walk down the hall to our new room. I think I had two or three contractions during that walk and with each one, I stopped, leaned back into Patrick, opened my hips, swayed, and breathed deeply through them. I’m sure I was a sight to see and hear!
When we got to the other room, I immediately asked for the shower. Contractions were mind numbingly strong. Patrick helped me in and positioned the shower head on my lower back. At this point in labor, I could no longer stand so I got down on my knees. Patrick and my doula helped create a makeshift head stand for me out of a hazard box and pillow (as you can see in the picture above) and put a towel under my knees. With each contraction, Patrick would squeeze my hips and remind me to breathe low and deep. He ended up making the breathing sounds with me the entire time which was so helpful!
I’m not sure how to describe the sensation, but somehow I knew when a contraction was about to start. Initially, I would tense up right before they started, but I quickly realized it was better to completely surrender to the contractions versus trying to fight them – they were coming whether I wanted them to or not! So now, as they would begin, I let my body take over. When I did this my breathing sounds turned to full on animalistic groans. With each contraction, I would bury my head into the pillow, push against Patrick, and howl like a gorilla. It sounds ridiculous, but surrendering my body to cope with labor however it wanted combined with my labor team is what got me through.
When I would have my short break between each contraction, I’d look up at my doula and say, “I can’t do it!” She would smile and say yes you can, you’re doing it and you’re doing great. My mom who was also in the hospital room with us (by pure coincidence, she was in Atlanta the day before and had decided to stay an extra day to see Patrick and I, not knowing I would go into labor!) would come in to check on me every now and then. When she did, she would pat me on the head and would also offer words of encouragement – telling me what a great job I was doing. Labor was truly a team effort, and I couldn’t have gotten through it without Patrick, my doula, and my mom.
At one point, the shower no longer felt appealing, and I wanted to stand up. I suddenly felt like I needed to use the bathroom, and I kept voicing that. My doula smiled and said that it meant I was probably ready to push. I remember thinking no this definitely feels like I need to poop not push out a baby. However, I also remember thinking there was no way that I could get myself to the toilet between contractions. So, for some reason instead of going towards the toilet, I began crawling to the hospital bed.
As I made my way to the bed, I kept pausing along the way for each contraction and this time when they came I would grunt and instinctively push down. When my OB saw me doing this, he kept saying that he really needed to perform a cervical check to see if I was dilated enough to start pushing. Even in my stupor, I knew I did not want that. The memory of the pain of the cervical check was worse than what I was currently experiencing.
After a couple contractions and crawls across the floor, I made it to the bed. Again, my body had a mind of its own, and for some reason, I got on the bed with my belly pressed against the back of the bed and my head leaning over it. At my OB’s persistence, my mom and Patrick helped roll me over so that he could perform what I prayed would be the last cervical check…I didn’t have a choice at this point.
Thankfully, he did a quick look, barely putting his hand inside, and said the head was right there! He reached for my hand and had me feel for myself. Now, I just had to push! Knowing I was almost to the point of meeting my baby, I mustered all the energy I had left and focused on the coaching my OB provided for pushing our baby boy out. He encouraged me to work with each contraction so right before one began, I would take a deep breath and once it started, I would push with everything I had for the ten seconds that my OB counted aloud. With each pushing effort, I felt as if I was doing the hardest crunch of my life!
After a few of these cycles, I reached the dreaded ring of fire. This part was by far the most painful, but it was also so quick that I soon forgot it. In just fifteen minutes of pushing and almost exactly twelve hours after my first contraction at 10:44 pm, Patrick helped provide the final pull that got our son out! As Patrick placed him on my chest and I got to see him for the first time, the pain, anxiety, and exhaustion from the day faded away. Our precious little boy was small at just 5 lbs 1 oz, but he was perfectly healthy! We were so thankful and still in complete shock that we were holding our son!!!
A number of people have asked me if I would labor without an epidural again, and after this experience I can say yes, I definitely would. Was it painful? Yes, but it was a different kind of pain than the pain of other experiences like tearing my ACL or having my cervix checked 😉 It was a pain that had a purpose and a pain that was supposed to be happening. Having this mindset about the “pain” definitely helped me accept it. Feeling the intensity of every contraction as my baby moved through my body and facing them head on was the most empowering experience of my whole life. What’s even better is I didn’t face it alone. Having Patrick beside me to help cope with each contraction was incredibly bonding and I love that he felt like he was a special part of our son’s birth because of his hands on involvement in labor and delivery. This was one of the many reasons I wanted to have a natural birth so I was so happy to hear him say that! While you can never know what might happen in labor, I am so thankful that I was able to have the natural birth I had planned for, and ultimately, I’m thankful for having a healthy baby boy who I got to meet five weeks early!
If you’re considering a natural birth, I highly recommend hiring a doula, attending a birthing class that focuses on natural birth, and reading this book and this one – all of which were essential in helping me mentally and physically prepare for this crazy and amazing experience! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.