Warning: This post is not for the faint of heart. First, it’s really long. For many of you, it may seem like too much information, for others, like myself when I was pregnant, you will appreciate all the gory details. Reading stories of natural births, rather through one of Ina May Gaskins books, online, or hearing them from other women, was empowering for me. Knowing what was to come helped me gain strength throughout my pregnancy, and I hope telling this story will do the same for someone.
But it didn’t really begin there. Let me back up to the previous Thursday afternoon when we went in for our 37-week checkup. I had mentioned to the doctor that I’d been having contractions off and on all week. She said that was normal, but she had a much more surprised tone after doing the cervical check. I was 3 cm dilated, 80% effaced, and at a minus 1 station (I’m still not sure if that’s how I say that). I don’t know if this is unusual for first time moms at this point in their pregnancy, but I was certainly happy to hear that over the past week I had essentially labored through the first phase of labor! She explained to me that this did not mean that the baby was necessarily coming anytime soon, but that when he or she did decide to arrive that the labor would be quicker than I had expected (um, understatement of the year!) as I would begin labor in the active labor phase (the second phase of labor, the third is pushing). She then gave us instructions on how to deliver a baby in a car, which was a real possibility since we live roughly an hour from the Santa Cruz hospital we’d chosen to deliver in.
That night and off and on for the next few days I had times of much more painful contractions. In between contractions I would feel nauseated and began to think, “this is it!” but the contractions never sustained longer than 45 minutes. I didn’t want her to come too soon, but I jokingly asked the little baby in my belly to arrive Wednesday evening (the 12th) after John’s last final. That would give us eleven days together before John had to go back to school. Apparently, I have a very obliging child.
The night of the twelfth I began having some contractions around 10:15. I didn’t think anything of it, because I’d been having contractions almost every night at that time for a week and a half. I started timing them; they were lasting 2 minutes, which was unusual, but they were six minutes apart. We headed to bed at 10:45 and the minute my head hit the pillow I felt (and I swear I heard) a POP! It felt like punch, and it was painful. To the point that I may have possibly said a swear word. I jumped up and water started pouring down my leg as I ran to the bathroom. John followed me asking what was wrong and I told him to call Michelle (our doula) because my water had just broke. That’s when things started getting tough. Instantly the contractions were stronger, faster, and harder. John told Michelle the timing of my contractions and asked her if we should go to the hospital. She asked him if I was crying. We both found this to be an odd question, but told her that I wasn’t crying, but that it was getting real at this point. She instructed him to call the hospital. When he got off the phone I told him that we had to leave now, no matter what the nurse at the hospital said.
It took me a little while to be able to walk down the stairs and outside to the car as John scrambled to get the last minute essentials. Between contractions I talked to all the necessary people on the phone. I’m pretty sure my mom and sister got the wrath of my pain when they both asked me if was doing my Lamaze breathing. (I apologized later).
By the time we hit Moss Landing, which is about half way to Santa Cruz, John was slowing down for the intense fog and I was getting pretty panicky. The contractions were only two minutes apart and with each contraction I was gripping the dash and leaking more fluid. That really freaked me out. I didn’t know that your water could just keep breaking, so I started thinking something was wrong. By the time we got back on the freeway stretch of hwy 1, John was passing a construction zone and slowed down even more! I was losing my mind. I kept telling him something wasn’t right. At this point my contractions were ZERO minutes apart. It was just one wave rushing into another. Honestly, it made me think of surfing. Like when you are out and some huge set is coming through and you keep trying to swim back out to catch one, but you’re losing ground every time. I felt like the waves were overtaking me, as if I were going to drown in pain.
John seemed to think I was handling it all pretty well. He told me later that he knew I was in pain, but figured we had a few hours to go. I was thinking that I couldn’t see how this could get worse, and wondering if I could handle six or seven more hours of it until I got to 10 cm. Oh, little did I know.
We pulled up to the hospital and stopped in front (where the sign said “No parking”) and I slowly got out of the car while John grabbed the bag. It was dark inside and when I walked up to the automatic doors they didn’t open. I was beyond sanity and just started banging on the glass doors. A nurse came up from behind me and explained that we’d have to go to the emergency entrance, as this entrance closed at 8:30. I’m pretty sure the look I gave her explained that wasn’t going to happen. She used the intercom to ask for someone to bring a wheelchair and she told me to sit down to wait. I tried to sit down on the bench outside, but that’s when the burning sensation began. I had read enough about birth to know that this meant it was time to push. I’m pretty sure my eyes were bugging out of my head as I was thinking I was going to have my baby in the parking lot!! I started telling the nurse, in a very audible tone, that we had to go; this baby was coming! I told her it was burning and that the head was coming. Then she said the absolute wrong thing: “Is this your first baby? No, honey, that baby is not coming right now.”
Why do people do that? Like you don’t know what’s going on with your own body??
Luckily, the security guard arrived and pushed me to the delivery room. The nurses helped me onto the bed and checked for dilation. I heard her say, “Oh my God, she’s at ten.” Told you so.
The doctor on call came in and they had me lay back and put my feet in stirrups. I told them this wasn’t right, this wasn’t how I was supposed to do this. The nurse explained that this is how you have a baby and that I needed to hold my breath, put my chin to my chest, and push. I didn’t argue, but none of it felt right to me. Shouldn’t gravity have been helping me out in this?
I tried a few pushes, annoyed that no one was listening to me. I didn’t have much progress. I kept trying to focus my energy, but honestly, I didn’t know how to push from that location. Maybe that sounds silly, but, well, I’d never done it before!
Luckily, my OB arrived in minutes and she had the nurses raise the bed and lower the stirrups. Right again, I thought to myself. Now in a closer to seated position I began to push with every contraction. That’s when utter pandemonium began. I could feel the baby’s head with every push and I was screaming. I wasn’t meaning to, by any means, but it was like something else had just taken over. The nurses keep telling me to stop screaming and hold my breath and push. And I kept trying, but I wasn’t really making much progress. It was finally at this point that I thought, I don’t want to do this anymore. I’ll just stay pregnant. Why did I want to do this naturally?! But darn logic kicked in to remind me that there was no possible way to get relief other than to just have the baby at this point.
I started hearing the nurses talking to the doctor, I heard them talking about heart rates and whose was whose. Then my OB looked at me and said, “Jessica, you have to push this baby out right now. The heart rate has dropped and it needs to come out. If you don’t push it out with this contraction I’ll have to do an episiotomy.” I knew then that this was serious. We chose this doc because she’s so adamant about natural birth. She wouldn’t suggest cutting someone if it wasn’t serious business. I’d love to say that this was my shining moment and that I did it then, I had my baby and everything was perfect. But I pushed and pushed and when I was done, she was still in there.
That push did move her around though. Her heart rate went back up! After that last push, though, I was determined. I guess my doctor could see determination in my eyes, because she knew. She told John to take my clothes off so the baby could lay skin-to-skin with me immediately. He pulled my top off removing the oxygen mask they had given me to wear between contractions.
When the next contraction came everyone around me blurred. I was so focused. I could see everyone yelling around me, cheering me on, but the only person I heard was John telling me to push, telling me I was doing great, that I was almost there until it happened. All at once, the baby came out- head, body, adorable bum and all :). The doctor put her directly on my chest and I just looked at her, taking the whole thing in before I realized I still didn’t know the gender! I started asking What is it? What is it? The doctor suggested I turn the baby over on its back, when I did John told me we had a baby girl! I asked hm if he was happy, if he had secretly wanted a boy, but he said he wanted God's perfect will, and that's what we got :)
I felt like I had been in the pushing stage for hours. Turned out I only pushed for 25 minutes! I had experienced all of active labor in the car, and all of early labor over the course of ten days at home. It was and still is hard to wrap my head around. Maybe because I didn’t really have the time to process what was happening with my body.
Looking back, I’m overwhelmed at God’s provisions and blessings. I told this story to our pediatrician at our first visit this week, and he said the same thing all my doctors have said: “You were made to have babies.” I don’t know really how much I believe that, but I do believe that I was made to have this baby. In my pregnancy, delivery, and in holding my newborn I can see how God had his hand in this entire process. I had an absolutely perfect pregnancy, medically speaking. My delivery was everything we’d prayed for and more. It was a natural and fast vaginal delivery with no pain medications whatsoever. And our girl is perfectly healthy, a very healthy eater (haha) and a great sleeper. Even my silly little wishes of not wanting to be cursed with swollen ankles in pregnancy, telling the baby to show up after John’s last final, and praying that our baby would have John’s nose were answered.
The Lord listens to even the smallest of prayers.