This is a post I've been really excited to write, for my own memories, for any expecting mamas out there and for anyone who just loves to read a good birth story! As I've written about before, during my pregnancy I did my best to prepare for a natural childbirth. It's not that I was majorly against the idea of an epidural, or if necessary a c-section. My end goal was always whatever it took to have a healthy and safe delivery. But after reading birth stories like Lindsay's, I found myself drawn to the idea of a natural, pain medication free birth. While I could envision having a home birth in the future, Anthony wasn't as comfortable with the idea. So I ordered the book, Natural Hospital Birth: The Best of Both Worlds for myself and the companion book The Birth Partner for Anthony. We also attended the Childbirth classes offered by our local hospital together, but tried not to do too much more research or preparation other than that. Every birth is so different, and at the end of the day, I believed that when the time came my body would know what to do.
Going past my due date
If you read my previous pregnancy posts, you'll know I had a lot of prelabor symptoms all throughout my third trimester. I was so convinced she would come early, that as I got closer to my due date I started getting more and more anxious. I tried a lot of the old wives tales, like walking a ton, eating pineapple, getting foot massages, walking down the stairs backwards, etc. The funny thing is waking up on my due date, I felt a sense of relief. Almost like, "Ok, I was wrong. She's officially not coming early"! I was still uncomfortable and hoping labor would start soon, but I was so much more chill in those days after my due date.
When I was 3 days past due, I read an article that said it's a misconception that birth is a mechanical process and things like walking will induce labor. Birth is driven by hormones, specifically oxytocin which is why they use the synthethic version (pitocin) for medical inductions. A light bulb went off in my head-- I can make some oxytocin! I decided right then that I was going to be SUPER happy, even if I was uncomfortable and grumpy I would smile until I felt happy. That was around 5 or 6pm. I felt bad at that point that Anthony was basically housebound with a very pregnant and irritable wife, so I asked him what we could do that would make him really happy and he said he wanted to get Chinese for dinner! So we went to our local grocery store, which has delicious Chinese food. I smiled the whole time and laughed wholeheartedly at all of Anthony's silly Dad jokes that had been annoying me for weeks. On the way home, I was having contractions and I felt a weird feeling that was similar to a gas bubble rumbling in my stomach. I mentioned it to Anthony because it seemed to make the contraction hurt worse, but really I didn't think anything of it because I had been having contractions for months. Then once we got home, I was walking across our kitchen and my water started leaking out! That was 7:26pm.
Labor and delivery
I was in denial at first --I said to Anthony, "Maybe I just peed myself?"-- but it became apparent pretty immediately that my water had definitely broken and I was in labor. We called the hospital but decided to eat dinner before we left because I knew I wouldn't be able to eat once we got there. At that point we didn't think we were in any rush, and I didn't want to go to the hospital too soon. I hadn't been timing the contractions before then, but as we were finishing dinner I pulled out the app on my phone and it turns out they were already 4 minutes apart. So we pretty quickly packed up dinner, grabbed our bags and headed out the door! This song came on while we were driving to hospital and it made me smile.
We got to the hospital around 8:30pm, and although the contractions were already getting more intense I was adamant that I wanted to park in the garage with Anthony and walk in. I almost stopped and got a wheelchair at the hospital entrance because I was in the middle of a contraction, but it was over before I found one so I told Anthony we should just keep going! I remember asking him to put the exercise/birthing ball down so I could bounce on it through a contraction in the elevator and then again as we were doing the intake paperwork. Then we were escorted to the exam room, where they checked my cervix (2 cm and 80% effaced) and confirmed my water had broken before admitting me and taking us to our Labor & Delivery room.
At that point, the contractions were getting pretty intense and an ultrasound confirmed that Sage was head down but face up. That meant the back of her head was pressing against my spine and causing some pretty painful back labor for me. It was so uncomfortable that I couldn't bear to lay on my back, so I moved around a lot. I started off sitting and rocking on the birth ball, then leaning over the birth ball on the bed, then sitting on the very end of the bed with pillows stacked on the tray so I could rest in between contractions. Around midnight, I was in so much pain that I asked if someone could please "just tell me about the IV pain meds one more time". Anthony was like "Are you sure?" and I said "I'm not saying I want them, I just want to hear about them". They asked if I wanted them to check me first and I said yes. At that point, I hadn't been checked since we'd been admitted. I had to lay on my back for the exam, and as soon I did, a contraction started and as soon as it was over that pain was replaced with the most terrible back pain. I definitely lost my cool at that point. If I was only at 3 or 4 cm, I think there was a good chance I would have asked for an epidural. We had decided if I did change my mind during labor, I would do an epidural instead of IV pain meds but being exhausted and in pain I wasn't exactly thinking straight. Luckily, the doctor told me I was at 6 to 7cm. I remember thinking 7cm isn't that far from transition, and that meant I was making progress! I felt encouraged and reenergized to get through the pain on my own.
I think I went through transition shortly after that, although time has a different meaning when you are in active labor! I remember throwing up (for the second time) and shaking uncontrollably but honestly, even though the pain was worse I think it was easier for me to get through 7cm to 10cm than it was to get from 2cm to 7cm. I kept telling myself that it was almost over and I would be holding our little girl very soon. And that I could do it! I may hate it, but I could do this! Anthony and I really got into a rhythm around this time, which helped immensely. I remember asking my nurse early on in my labor "how do women sleep during labor? This is terrible"! But I realized that even if there are only 20 seconds in between contractions, you fall asleep because you're just so exhausted. I would rest on the edge of the bed in between contractions, and then as soon as I felt one coming on, Anthony and I would stand up and I would hang onto him as we swayed through the contractions. They called this "the labor dance" in our childbirth classes and of all the labor positions I tried it was my favorite. We were listening to music from one of my Spotify playlists the whole time (this song stood out in my mind), and really focusing on that and moving with the music helped take my mind off the pain. Anthony told me later he could tell the contractions were getting worse, but that I was really calm and "in the zone".
I started feeling pretty intense pressure around 4am, and they checked me again and I was at 9cm. It took until 5:45am for me to get the whole way to 10 and then it was time to push! Honestly, pushing felt so much easier to me than getting through the contractions and dilation. Probably because I had a real job to do at that point, and was very motivated for labor to be over! I ended up pushing for an hour and a half total. Towards the end, I remember them saying several times her head was right there and just one more contraction and she would be here! But that happened over 3-4 contractions (so 9-12 pushes) where her head was almost out, but just not quite fitting. I was getting so exhausted I said something like "I don't think I can do this anymore" and I found out later in talking with the doctor that Sage was having heart rate decelerations, so they suggested using the vacuum extractor to help deliver her head. I remember looking up at Anthony and he said, "I think we should just get her out." I agreed and from there, it went super fast. Crowning was as intense as everyone says it will be, but it was over so quickly and then our baby girl was born!
1. The day before I went into labor we walked around 3 garden centers 2. On the way home I made Anthony pull over so I could wade into this creek to cool off 3. The day I went into labor we had a relaxing day at home and I made yorkshire pudding for the first time 4. The selfie Anthony sent to our best friends to let them know we wouldn't be going to the movies with them the next day 5. The first photo of me and Sage 6. Our first photo as a family of three
What happened after
In the moments after Sage was born, I felt an immediate sense of relief. I did it! Our baby girl was born and labor was finally over. I had accomplished my goal of having a natural childbirth, although it was not totally intervention-free. What came next though was a bit more challenging than I expected. I want to be honest, because I think it's more important and helpful to be real than to censor my experience and share just the "good stuff". So if you want to stop reading here and just skip ahead to the "Recovery" bit, feel free! But for those of you who want all the details, here they are...
The third stage of childbirth, aka everything that happens immediately after the baby is born is a bit of a blur because I was so exhausted at that point. But unlike the rest of labor, I felt fully present in my body at the time and the hour after I delivered Sage felt like it took forever. Because they had to use the vacuum extractor to help Sage's head out, I had second degree tears in 3 places. But before they could set about the repair, they needed to deliver my placenta. I remember the doctor applying "controlled cord traction" and in the reflection of the ceiling light above me I saw the cord snap. The doctor then had to manually extract my placenta, which is exactly what it sounds like and not a pleasant experience by any means. I honestly can't remember the timeline of how this all happened, so it may have been exactly what was necessary. But for my next birth I may add to my birth plan that I want to try expectant/physiological management of the third stage which means leaving the placenta and cord alone and letting my body deliver it on it's own time (within reason). "Controlled cord traction" is considered active management, and is very common and usually very safe. For me, the cord snapping along with the tearing lead to more blood loss than is typical for childbirth and caused me to develop iron-deficiency anemia. The good news was, I was borderline so they gave me the choice of having a blood transfusion or taking iron supplements and we opted for the iron supplements.
Back to the repairs, keep in mind at this point I had spent the last 12 hours in active labor with no pain medication. I remember turning to Anthony with tears in my eyes and telling him that I had "run out of brave". I was holding Sage in my arms and comforting her, telling her everything was going to be ok and it was almost over. She was fine - I was talking to myself. It was overwhelmingly emotional, to finally be holding my daughter and also be in a new kind of pain after telling myself for the last hour and a half of pushing that I was almost done and that it would be over soon. I remember saying to the doctors "Are you sure we have to finish this now? Couldn't we just take a break"? After them telling me it was almost over for what felt like hours, they finally cleaned me up and the nurse helped me walk to the bathroom. After that, I was finally done and the team of doctors and nurses left the room to give Anthony, Sage and I our time to rest and bond before transporting us from Labor & Delivery to Maternity. So many happy tears were shed by both of us. She was finally here! Sage nursed as soon as I was back in bed and both Anthony and I got to do skin-to-skin with her. Those first moments with the three of us together are some of the most precious memories of my life. As challenging as the first hour after Sage's birth was, by the second hour it already felt so, so worth it. Although I do remember telling Anthony that we would not be talking about any more babies anytime soon...
They wheeled us over to my recovery room around 8:30 or 9am. At this point, we had been awake for over 24 hours but I felt amazing. I had read about the oxytocin high that comes after natural childbirth and wanting to experience that was a big part of what drew me to choosing a drug-free birth. I was barely in any pain, and felt totally fine and ready to handle the day with just a 15 minute nap. I was so happy that Sage was here and I loved every minute of our first day together as a family of three. Of course, that didn't last forever and on Tuesday, I felt like I had been hit by a mac truck. By Wednesday my overall pain was decreasing but it was less of a general pain like it had been up to that point and I could begin to differentiate what hurt and when. Other than that, it's really hard for me to remember our time in the hospital (I'm glad I took pictures!) because I barely slept at all so it felt like one big blur! On Wednesday afternoon, after a weight check, an exam from the pediatric nurse practitioner and some more blood tests for me, both Sage and I were discharged and it was time to go home!
It's really hard to put into words, but I feel that giving birth to Sage changed me on a fundamental level. As challenging as childbirth was, it was also incredibly empowering. Childbirth, and now breastfeeding has given me a different kind of confidence for what I'm capable of and gratitude for what my body can do. Sage's birth was such an intense physical, emotional and spiritual experience. I thought Anthony and I were as close as we could be, being friends for 15 years and together for almost 12, but Sage's birth has brought us even closer. Of course, caring for a newborn can be challenging but I've never felt such deep happiness in my life. I don't have any other words than just, I'm so grateful and so in love with our little family!