The Story of Esther’s Birth

Ever since I began working with infants four years ago in a daycare, I have loved reading and watching birth stories. Babies are such amazing little people, and I was suddenly struck with a need to know more about how they are born. Now, having given birth to my daughter, I know firsthand this scary, painful, beautiful process.

My due date was September 25, 2015.

Thursday, Sept 9th –
Dilated to 1.5 centimeters

Friday, Sept 11th –
Bloody show
Minor contractions, all in lower back

Monday, September 14th –
Bloody show continued all weekend, and after consulting our doula (a woman trained to help with emotional support and natural pain relief during labor), we decided to go to the hospital birth center triage to make sure I wasn’t leaking amniotic fluid. The fluid was good. I was still 1.5 cm dilated, but I had progressed to 60% effaced.

Wednesday, September 16th –
I officially went into labor. Little did I know that my dinner at 5pm that evening would be my last meal for a very long time and that my sleep the night before would be the last I got until Friday morning! Contractions were about 8.5 minutes apart.

Thursday, September 17th –
I had been up all night with low-back contractions and was sick to my stomach. Sometimes the contractions were 5 minutes apart, but other times, I had a 15 minute break. The hospital normally doesn’t admit women for labor until contractions are 3-5 minutes apart.

At 6am, we called Rachel, our doula. She came to sit with me and rub my back while we waited for contractions to get closer. At 9am, contractions were sometimes only 2 minutes apart, but then they’d spread out again. We decided it was time to go back to the birth center triage at the hospital to see if they would admit me.

At 10:30am, I was admitted to the hospital. My contractions weren’t as close as the nurses would have liked, but I was 3cm dilated and 80% effaced, so they admitted me because I showed progress from when I was in triage on Monday.

The birth center at our hospital was amazing. There are private birthing rooms which have birthing balls on which to sit and rock, a roomy shower with a seat, counter tops at different levels for leaning on, a pull-out sofa bed for dad, and a bed with a squatting bar. The birth center itself is in a circular shape so you can walk laps through the hallways. The hallways are lined with railings so you can stop and lean on them when contractions come. The walls are covered with photos of the hospital birth center spanning several decades so you have something interesting to look at. There is also a whirlpool labor tub (but not a birthing tub).

I spent most of Thursday walking laps. The walking never seemed to end, but I was determined to keep walking, since that motion helps the baby move down and helps speed up labor. I even purchased a birthing gown weeks before so I could wear that while walking the halls instead of a flimsy hospital gown. I absolutely loved my birthing gown. It had snaps at the shoulders for nursing, snaps down the back for an epidural, and snaps down the belly for fetal monitoring. It was definitely nice to just unsnap a section of the belly area for the fetal monitoring rather than lifting the entire hospital gown.

As soon as my parents got off work, they drove 2 hours to come see me. I had been in labor for about 20 hours, so we were hoping Esther would come soon. It was nice to have someone to talk and joke with in-between contractions. However, as the night wore on and as my parents grew more tired, they decided to go back home.

The contractions never really got closer than 2 or 3 minutes apart, and even getting into Thursday evening, they were sometimes still as much as 10 minutes apart. I was still unable to keep down more than a few sips of water at a time. I was exhausted. I was disappointed that I had been in labor for 24 hours despite all the walking and different positions. I kept increasing in dilation, but progress was slow.

Around 9pm on Thursday, I made my first deviation from my birth plan. I decided to let them break my water. I was impatient and tired and starting to worry about how much longer I could handle labor. Having my water broken was such an insane feeling. It was a HUGE rush of fluid that was super warm. I felt like someone splashed my legs with water from a Jacuzzi. My birthing gown was soaked, so the nurses helped me change into a hospital gown. I wasn’t too disappointed because I figured that this way, my gown wouldn’t get stained from birthing, and I could wear it if I ever had another baby.

And then the contractions hit hard – really hard. They still did not increase in frequency, but they increased in duration and intensity. Most women’s contractions are 1 to 2 minutes long; mine were 3 minutes long. I had officially entered the transition stage of labor – the most painful stage, but what should be the shortest stage.

At this point, I was still drug-free. I really wanted to have a natural birth. I had lasted up to this point thanks to my husband, Frank, and our doula. With every contraction, our doula gently held my hand and massaged it, asking me to focus on my hand and on breathing. She let me breathe however I wanted to as long as I kept breathing smoothly. (I felt silly doing the “hoo hoo hee” breathing.) Frank was amazing at helping me through the back labor. He applied counter pressure for every single contraction once I had entered the hospital. He did this every few minutes for over 24 hours. The pain was unbearable whenever he let go to readjust his grip, but it was tolerable as long as he pushed against my back. I imagine his hands were aching.

At one point, I did get in the shower. Frank wore his swim suit and sat with me and sprayed the warm water on my back. It did offer some relief. I would have loved to have sat in the whirlpool at that point, but I didn’t think I could make it down the hallway.

I was incredibly emotional during transition. I remember thinking about my cousin, whose husband is on his 4th deployment. He was deployed both times she gave birth. I started sobbing and saying over and over to Frank, “I could never do this without you.”

After three hours of being stuck in transition with excruciating back labor, I gave in and consented to getting an epidural – my second deviation from my original birth plan. I was honestly terrified of the epidural, because I know two people with permanent injuries from their epidurals, and epidurals can cause a migraine, which I am prone to anyways. However, the three hours of transition left me shaking from head to toe and vomiting from the pain. My back was extremely tight all the time rather than only in-between contractions. I was sitting on the birthing ball and leaning on the bed. My doula was rocking me because I was too tired to do the swaying myself. When I wasn’t in a contraction, I was falling asleep. When a contraction came, I jerked awake. I was very concerned I would not have enough energy when it came time to push, and I knew if I couldn’t push, invasive procedures like the vacuum, forceps, or a c-section would be needed, and I felt like the epidural was the least invasive out of these options, especially since I was too close to delivery for the nurses to give me pain medication.

The anesthesiologist came in and explained all the risks and told me it would take him about 15-30 minutes to get me ready and another 15-30 minutes for me to feel the effect. I remember feeling devastated that it could be a whole hour before I felt relief. He asked how long I had been in this amount of pain, and when the nurses told him three hours, he really started acting quickly!

When he inserted the catheter in my spine, he asked me to tell him if I felt any pain, and if so, on what side. I could feel him moving the catheter, and then all the sudden, the entire right side of my body hurt. I told him, and I felt him adjust it. Then the pain was gone. It was such a creepy feeling. I was so terrified that he was going to injure me because I couldn’t sit still for him due to the intense shaking and because I kept gagging. But he did an awesome job. He was done within 10 minutes or so, and I actually felt relief immediately. My back lost the tension. It was nothing compared to how numb I would eventually feel, but compared to the amount of pain I had been in, even that tiny bit of relaxation was incredible. Once I was completely numb and all tucked in bed and warm, sleep overtook me very quickly.

Unfortunately, as is common with epidurals, my labor slowed, and I needed pitocin – my third (and last) deviation from my birth plan.

Friday, September 18th – 
I woke up about three hours later. I felt surprisingly well-rested. The nurses checked on me and encouraged me to sleep another two hours. They wanted me to have as much energy as possible for pushing. I updated my friends and family on Facebook, and then napped for a bit longer. Honestly, part of me wanted to stay awake. I felt so much better than I did before, and I just wanted to be done with labor.

At 5:15am, it was time to push. The nurses said my baby would probably be born in an hour. I was excited and felt very energetic and ready. I just wanted to meet my daughter and be done with labor. Frank and our doula had to help me move my legs; even though my epidural had been decreased, I still had the full effect. It didn’t surprise me, since most medications seem to have strong effect on me. Unfortunately, this meant I couldn’t feel anything – including contractions and whether or not I was pushing. The nurses wanted me to push three times when the contractions came and then rest in-between contractions. Since I couldn’t feel the contractions, I watched the monitor so I knew whether or not I was having one. I remember with my first push, I asked, “Am I doing it?” I was frustrated that I felt nothing and therefore felt like I was making no progress. So I asked for a mirror. The nurses rolled a mirror up to my bed, and this was such a huge motivation for me. With each contraction and each push, I was able to watch her head slowly emerge. Frank stood by my head and watched in the mirror with me. He was such a huge encouragement to me. He kept telling me how strong I was, which meant so much to me.

The only part about the pushing stage that bothered me was that my poor stomach had no room when I pushed. I threw up with every  single contraction until I was done pushing 45 minutes later. However, the vomiting didn’t bother me too much, because at this point, I was determined to do whatever it took to get my baby in my arms.

The nurses went and got the OB who was on call. I had never met him before. He came and helped Esther make her way out. I remember a lot of pressure gave way when her head was free. He suctioned her nose and mouth, and then he got her arms out. She immediately put a fist to her mouth and started sucking even though she wasn’t completely born yet!

Seeing her face in the mirror was such an amazing feeling. I hadn’t felt much of a bond with her while I was pregnant because I had been so sick. I was very preoccupied with finding food that wouldn’t make me throw up and counting carbs to stay within my limit for my gestational diabetes diet. I didn’t really have the energy to bond with her. But the very instant I saw her face appear, my heart just melted. I immediately started crying and saying, “Oh my gosh!”

With the next push, I felt a loss of weight, and then she was on my chest. After 31 hours of labor, Esther was born at 6:01am. She was crying this adorable, little cry that only newborns can do. I told her she was okay and that I loved her, and I rubbed her forehead. Within only seconds, she stopped crying and started to nurse. Her eyes were wide open and staring at me and at Frank. It was one of the most incredible moments of my life.

We waited a few minutes for the cord to stop pulsating so that whatever blood was in the placenta returned to Esther’s body. Then it was clamped. Frank did not want to cut the cord, so the OB offered the honor to our doula, who seemed so excited and accepted. I was glad she got to do something so cool after being with us for 24 hours straight.

After some skin-to-skin snuggling, Esther was cleaned up and got her Vitamin K shot. We skipped the Hep B shot and the eye ointment. Frank stayed near Esther’s side while all this was done and even got a bit of a video. Esther was so alert and awake and staring at all the nurses. Meanwhile, the OB stitched me up. (I had a second degree tear, which means the skin and muscles tore.) Once Esther was all warm and dry, she drifted off into a deep sleep, and so did Frank and I.

When I woke up, the nurse said it was time for us to move from the birthing room to the postpartum recovery room, but first, she wanted me to go to the bathroom. I told her I didn’t need to go, but she said she wanted me to try. I knew it was a silly thing to argue over, so I started to get up. That was when I felt the pain. As soon as I was in a sitting position, I could feel the swelling and bruising and the tear. It was a pretty terrible feeling. It caught me off guard. No one really talks about the pain after the birth, so it wasn’t something I was completely expecting. The swelling was so bad, I felt like I was going to tear even more.

I gripped the nurse’s arm and shuffled to the bathroom. She gave me some disposable underwear and showed me how to stuff it with pads, Tucks, and ice. She showed me how to clean up with a spray bottle. Then she gave me some privacy to do all these things on my own. To my surprise, I did have to pee. A lot. I told the nurse I now understood why she wanted me to try. She laughed and said that many women don’t feel the urge to use the bathroom because they’re so used to having a lot of pressure on their bladder from the baby. A full bladder without the weight of a baby on it feels like nothing to a new mom, so they don’t always know that they need to go.

I finished the excruciating job of cleaning myself up, and I stood up to pull up the underwear. I got very dizzy and called out for the nurse. She said she was coming, and I could hear her footsteps. I sat back down, and my vision had dark spots. I remember thinking, “Do not fall and hit your head. Your baby needs you.” Then I felt the nurse lift me and pull my underwear up, and then I couldn’t see. The next thing I knew, my nose, eyes, and face were burning. There was something in front of my face that was hurting me. I could hear voices but no words. I jerked away, and everything went quiet again. Then my face burned again, so I jerked away a second time. This happened once more before I was finally able to open my eyes. I was being held by two nurses, and there were a few more nurses in the room. I had no idea where they came from. Frank was standing off to the side, and he looked worried. The nurses got me to the bed, and I laid down. My vision went black again, and my face burned again. This time a nurse made sure I got a few good, burning sniffs before I jerked away, and this time I stayed conscious. And then I threw up. Thankfully, that would be the last time I threw up. Frank later explained that I had passed out, the nurse caught me and called out for him to pull the emergency cord. Frank couldn’t believe how many nurses came immediately.

I have passed out once before from hitting my head while playing broomball on ice. This was nothing like that. I was trying so hard to stay awake, but I felt like my eyes were heavy and like I had no body. I was also incredibly angry that my nose and face kept burning, but I didn’t understand what was happening, either. I had no idea smelling salts hurt like that. They are definitely effective, though.

My nurse wanted me to rest, eat some Goldfish crackers, and drink half a can of Coke before attempting to move again. After doing this, I felt much better. The nurse helped me into a wheelchair and put a swaddled Esther in my lap. I remember being pushed down the hallway. The movement created a little breeze that made Esther jump, and I realized she had never felt the movement of air over her skin before.

The recovery room was very similar to the delivery room, but smaller. I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning there. I loved every minute with Esther, so much so, that I couldn’t bear the thought of sending her to the nursery, so we did rooming-in the whole time.

I do remember one point in the middle of that first night where I was exhausted and frustrated, although now it is funny. Esther was starting to fuss. I wasn’t allowed to hold her while standing or walking since I still felt a little faint. My bottom was killing me and swollen beyond belief, so getting up was torture. I called for Frank, who was across the room, asleep on the couch. He didn’t wake up. I threw my pen at him. Nothing. Then I threw the car keys at him. Nope. I threw my book at him. Still sound asleep! I slowly and painfully sat up, swung my legs over the side of the bed, and stood. I shuffled over to him and smacked him awake. Thus began our nighttime feedings, ha ha.

Honestly, waking up to feed Esther wasn’t bad. What was frustrating was being woken up by nurses who needed blood work or paperwork or needed to do a check up on either me or Esther. I felt like I was constantly being woken up. However, this made me excited to go home, even though it meant I would be without the nurses’ help.

Saturday, September 19th –
We had an amazing celebratory dinner served to us by the hospital. We ate filet mignon, broccoli, baked potato, shrimp, and a birthday cake. It was so wonderful to eat a meal without first counting carbs and planning how much of each thing I was allowed to eat.

Frank’s parents came to visit us. They brought O’Doul’s (which helps with lactation) and DeBrand chocolate. Jenn (my friend and former boss) and her daughter (whom I nannied for 3 years) came to visit us. It was so amazing to watch the little girl I used to take care of hold my own baby.

One of the nurses I had during labor came to the postpartum wing to check on me and meet Esther. She wanted to let us know that she had never seen a couple work together during labor like she saw with Frank and me. That made me feel amazing, and I was so thankful to have Frank by my side.

Sunday, September 20th –
We went home Sunday morning, and our adventures with Esther began.

Fun fact: The 17th is my sister’s birthday. The 18th is Frank’s brother’s birthday. We had a bet to see which day Esther would be born once I went into labor on the 16th. I was disappointed she wasn’t born on the 17th, but only because who wants to be in labor that long!

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