Warning: many bodily fluids described ahead. If you aren’t interested in reading about the birth, skip the bulk of the text here for photos below.
My water broke at 4:30 am on Tuesday. I had been feeling little trickles for about half an hour, but kept saying, no, it’s NOT my water, until finally I decided to get up and use the restroom and WHOOSH, just like in the movies. Ender wasn’t due until June 11, and with a half constructed changing table, giant boxes waiting to be broken down and removed, and all sorts of pre-baby chaos in the house, Matt and I were hoping for just a LITTLE more time, but just as everyone who took a look at my giant belly predicted, Ender came a little early.
If you want to see a sleeping man leap straight to a standing position, “damnit, my water broke” are apparently magic words. Actually, a week later, Matt is still a little jumpy whenever I say the word “water” in the bedroom.
Though we’d been warned in our childbirth class that when the water breaks it doesn’t just stop… I wasn’t fully prepared for the fact that it just. kept. coming. I called my midwife Colleen from the bathroom and left a message with her answering service, then texted my doula Kim, and our friend Willow who is thinking of becoming a midwife or doula and who we had invited to attend the birth. Irregular contractions started shortly after my water broke, but they were so mild I wasn’t sure that’s what they were. I called the midwife again a couple hours later when I didn’t hear anything (she was sort of busy in another labor).
We put a towel down on the bed and Matt and I took a nap, figuring the easy part of labor would take a while, and we ought to get some rest while we could. Shockingly, we both managed to get a couple hours of sleep in.
When I woke up contractions had stopped entirely. We heard back from Colleen’s office around 10 or 11 I think. I was told that normally they’d recommend I stay at home and labor there as long as possible to avoid ending up with Pitocin, but because I was group B Strep positive and had ruptured membranes (water broken) they wanted to get me in to be checked and figure out what to do from there.
On the car ride over to Colleen’s office, contractions had restarted, were consistently 5 minutes apart and irritating but still not especially painful. I had a couple more painful contractions walking to the office, and then once I was set up on the table to be checked, they stopped entirely again. I found this confusing, but I guess that’s all pretty normal. I was at 3 cm, so Colleen recommended Matt and I go to the nearby mall (air conditioning) and walk around for an hour or so, to try and get things going. I think this was around noon, but I’m not entirely sure. She asked us to call and check in at 4 (pm) and I assume at the point we would have needed to start talking induction.
As soon as we started walking, contractions started again, and they became more painful, though still tolerable. I was a little worried about how bad they’d get though, because they seemed to be almost entirely in my back, and I’ve not heard warm fuzzy things about back labor.
By about 2, contractions were getting to be less what I would call tolerable. We wanted to get a meal in me before starting what we figured would be a loooong day(s), so we drove to Liquid Planet for a smoothie and a pita. I didn’t manage to eat much. We left after fifteen minutes or so to go to the hospital, where I was pre-registered.
I should probably explain here, that I was trying to go for an unmediated birth. This is not for any philosophical reasons, it’s for phobia reasons: I hate needles. Pregnancy HAS actually reduced this fear considerably, along with years of annual flu shots and now, weekly to twice monthly allergy injections (2 in each arm), but the idea of a GIANT NEEDLE in my spine freaked me out, and I was way more afraid of that than the pain, so epidural was the course of last resort. I’d requested the holistic birthing suite. It’s a recently added labor room with a large jacuzzi bath for laboring and is generally set up for natural birth. That room was already occupied however, so we were put in a different room with a big baby pool instead. All the birthing rooms at St. Johns are private, so I didn’t really mind.
Colleen was still in another birth (I think a different one, apparently May has been insane for births) so the nurse set me up on a fluid IV until she could get a script for the antibiotics (for the GBS). They wanted to get me two doses before the birth. I think I threw a wrench in the works here… I’d forgotten to mention an amoxacillin resistance. They always ask about allergies… but resistance just means it stops working, and so I never thought to mention it. It was lucky I was reading about GBS treatment a few days earlier and saw that the normal treatment is penicillin. So I think it took longer than expected to get me sorted with antibiotics, and as a result I was laying in bed for a couple hours with a fluid IV and increasingly bad back labor. The nurse who set me up was very sweet and, reading my needle phobia, got my blood draw done at the same time as the IV poke (not exactly sure how that works).
At this point no one really knew how far along I was, because the plan had been to wait for Colleen to check me to avoid extra risk of infection from lots of checks, and Colleen was still caught up in labor. I hadn’t called Kim (doula) or Willow (trainee doula) yet, because the idea is to wait until active labor, and everyone figured I should wait to hear how far along I was. I knew I was in pain, but since I had no idea how BAD the pain would get, I wasn’t sure. When Colleen arrived, she took one look at me and said we should get me up and moving. She was a little surprised that I was still on an IV instead of just the heplock, and got the antibiotics truck rolling so I could be a little more mobil. Colleen suggested I move to the toilet in the meantime, which I found pretty gross, but the change in position did seem to help for a while. She also said yes, for the love of all that is holy or unholy, call the doulas (she may not have put it like that, I think my pain was starting to translate language in interesting ways). I was only at 4cm, which probably should have been discouraging, but Colleen made it sound like good progress.
Both Doulas were on the way, but I think I was still on the toilet when I said, get me some drugs, PLEASE. I had been mildly freaked at having a heplock, though mostly distracted by contractions, but at this point I was wholly thankful to have it, as it made the nubain that much easier to get into my blood.
Can I just say, nubain is awesome? I moved from the toilet to the rocker and the contractions still hurt, but I didn’t care that it hurt. I LOVED the nubain. The nurse said, “Oh yeah, you’re high,” and I said, “YES I am.” Anyway.
Kim and Willow showed up at around the same time, with me still flying but the pain sharpening through the drugs. When I started to have a hard time again, Kim got me up from the rocker, and had me kneel, leaning on a birthing ball. This helped some, but not enough. What DID help was the pressure Kim applied to my lower back. I think she showed Matt and Willow how to do this as well, but I was starting to lose track of who was doing what at this point.
For some reason they want you at 5 cm before you can use the birthing tub, but my pain levels were rising rapidly, and the second dose of nubain didn’t help for nearly as long as the first. I started to talk about an epidural, but Kim suggested I get checked to see if I was far enough along to use the tub. So we did that.
I don’t think anyone expected me to be further along than 5 cm, but I was at 7. They started filling the tub, and I tried to figure out what I wanted to do. I had a pretty good idea about how the rest of the night was going to go.
I think I was progressing faster than people thought I was. Colleen had predicted (out of my earshot) a baby sometime after breakfast. First time labors aren’t supposed to move all that fast, but the pain seemed to be escalating fast… I had a feeling if I got in the tub I’d lose my window for an epidural by the time I needed one. In the end I figured I’d give it a try, and if it didn’t help enough, I’d get the epidural.
It did help, a lot, especially with water on my back and Matt stroking my hair. It ended up working out really well for me that the birthing suite was occupied: the baby pool used as a replacement was padded everywhere so I could move around without fighting hard surfaces. The walls were like vinyl couches.
Everything still hurt more than I felt I could cope with. At this point everything goes from kind of blurry to almost blank in my memory. I think I went into transition almost as soon as I got into the tub. It was horrific. It’s as close as I’ve come to crying from pain in my adult life. Friends had told us that the screaming you see on TV is unrealistic, but let me tell you, I am a screamer. Also a curser, though I’d like to point out that my swearing wasn’t directed at anyone, and I don’t believe I ever resorted to screaming, “you did this to me,” at Matt.
I think the only reason I didn’t say, “that’s it, get me the epidural,” is that I sort of zonked out in the short peace between contractions and couldn’t focus long enough to say anything.
I have no idea how long transition lasted. At some point I started feeling “pushy” and when I mentioned it Kim and the nurse said to go ahead and push. Colleen wasn’t around at that point, I think she was nap-recovering in another room from her back to back deliveries, so I started pushing halfheartedly, not really sure.
I think at this point I managed to vocalize that I wanted an epidural if it wasn’t too late. I was pretty sure it was too late, so I wasn’t too crushed when they got me out of the tub to check me and announced I was fully dilated, and someone ran to get Colleen.
Kim kept saying, “push through the pain,” and eventually I realized that pushing actually made the pain of the contraction LESS and I started pushing with a lot more enthusiasm. They asked me if wanted to get back in the tub, but I was pretty sure I didn’t have the energy/coordination/balance to get back in, much less back OUT again, and I did not want to deliver in the water, so we continued in bed. I don’t remember when Colleen got there, or when they added the birthing bar, and when I look at the nurse in the photos, I don’t even recognize her (there were a couple shift changes while I was in labor).
The pushing actually hurt much less than transition. It was incredibly HARD, but such a relief to be in less pain that I was able to joke around a bit with everyone in between contractions. There was still considerable pain, I was still yelling and cursing, but it was more about the exertion than the agony. Colleen was awesome about explaining that the almost unbearable pressure/pain/stretching at the end of each contraction let me stretch more slowly. Kim managed to get me to relax between and prepare for the next. For the most part, I think pushing was within my coping range, but it was probably the most physically taxing thing I’ve ever had to do.
At first pushing was fairly productive, according to Matt, Kim and Willow you could physically SEE the difference as Ender moved down. One of the few times I opened my eyes, I glanced down and was startled at how flat my belly was. Progress seemed to stall right at the end though, and everyone kept telling me I needed to push harder/more. I didn’t exactly have more to put into it. Eventually Colleen said if we didn’t get him out soon she’d need to do an episiotomy or get the vacuum. She was actually numbing me up for the an episiotomy which got me a bit panicky (the needles, not the thought of cutting which I wasn’t thrilled about either) but I finally managed to get him out in the next push.
I actually thought Colleen had bopped him on the head to somehow get him to jump out (it didn’t make any more sense in my head to be honest) and then there was this wiggly mass of baby on the bed. Matt was supposed to get to hold him first, but the umbilical cord wasn’t quite long enough for that, so they put him on my chest. He was sort of greyish blue, which really worried me while they were suctioning out his lungs. The first of many freakouts in parenting, I realize. I’m pretty sure it was only a matter of seconds before they cleared his lungs and he started screaming in earnest, but it felt like quite a lot longer. He pinked up pretty soon once they got him crying, though his feet and hands stayed purplish for a bit.
The name Olivander doesn’t have any special significance for our family, we found it in a baby name book, and both quite liked it. We figured it’s nice and unique without being so weird sounding that he’ll get teased or be embarrassed. I have no idea what the “right” way to pronounce it is, but we’re saying it like a mash-up of Oliver and Alexander.
Olivander means “protector of the olive tree” which we thought was kind of cool. As a side note, Oliver means “olive tree” but it can also mean “elf army,” which is sort of awesome. We did NOT get the name Olivander from Harry Potter, though one of the characters is named Mr. Ollivander, and I’m sure people will assume that no matter what we say. Ah well.
Ender is a character from a favorite sci-fi book, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. We figure if he doesn’t like that nickname when get gets older, he can always go by Ollie or Van or even Oliver. Olivander is the name I used while he was in the womb, and Ender seems like a different creature than the imaginary baby I carried around for nine months. To us he looks like an Ender.
Willow was our wedding photographer, and she took most of the photos during the birth, as well as keeping me stocked in ice chips (love ice chips) and probably helping out in lots of other ways that I was too busy to notice. She also took a flipbook worth of photos of Ender crowning, which I will not be sharing, and which make me wince. Lots. I have a second degree tear, which I’d hoped to avoid, but I realize in terms of tearing it could be much worse.
Of course, every minute of the pain was worth it, but I wouldn’t say it was necessary. I wasn’t sure where my needle fear would balance with pain tolerance, and now I know: next time I’m getting the epidural.
It’s interesting to me that some of the people who set out to have a natural birth say they’re doing it that way because they want to be “present” for the birth, to be aware of the whole experience. For myself, I think I would have been much more aware and present had I had less pain. I think I would have been mentally defeated pretty early on without the nubain and the support of both my husband and doula(s). Transition was impossible, and I kept repeating, “I don’t want to,” because I realized, “I can’t,” was pretty much unhelpful and, frankly, untrue as evidenced by human history. The only real upside I can about the pain is that it made the pushing phase seem tolerable by comparison, but even with that, I think I may have had more energy for it if I hadn’t been so spent by transition.
I am glad it went the way it went. I am also glad it’s over.
The next morning:
With our insurance we get two days at the hospital from time of birth, and since Ender was kind enough to be born just after midnight, it was closer to three days, which made me feel much more secure about the whole healthy newborn thing, especially since my labor was fairly short- they only had time to give me one dose of antibiotics for the GBS.
I kept asking people if his nose looked yellow, but they periodically tested his bilirubin levels (the way they measure jaundice) and they were fine… right up until the point that they jumped up to not fine. I think that was sometime late Thursday, and unfortunately they weren’t able to get a blood test on him until Friday, when we were supposed to be discharged.
The levels were high enough that they told us he needed to stay another night… and under the UV lamps the whole time.
That was tough news… one of the things we loved about the hospital was that we had the option of keeping him with us the whole time we were there, and the UV lamps meant our time with him was limited to half hour feedings every three hours.
There were a few upsides to this though. The first one was that they wanted to supplement my milk with a little formula after each feeding to make sure he was getting enough (and flushing out his system). This gave Matt and opportunity to feed Ender, which he wouldn’t have had otherwise since everyone says don’t introduce a bottle until 4 weeks etc, etc.
Probably the biggest upside of being separated from him is that, as much as it sucked, it gave us a chance to sleep in solid 3 hour blocks. The last two nights had been disrupted by every little sound he made, every big sound he made, as we struggled to figure out how to get him to sleep, and the frequent checks by nurses on both his and my health. The third day, where I was technically discharged from the hospital (we stayed on as “boarders” at no cost) there were no checkups, and no fussing, but we still had access to lactation consultants and knew our baby was being taken care of. So even though it was emotionally rough, we both felt much better for the extra rest and support the next day, and I think we went home from the hospital much more recovered than most people do. We had to continue to monitor Ender’s bilirubin levels, and today they finally went down on their own. He’s still a tiny bit fake-tan looking, but he’s beautiful anyway and with any luck his color will return completely to normal over the next day or so.
Of course the final benefit was that being away from him made us appreciate being with him, and gave us an extra drop of patience for the next week of sleep deprivation. It’s anyone’s guess how long that will last, but for now, we’re all three feeling pretty good.