Caroline's Birth Story

Pregnancy

My pregnancy was generally uncomplicated and uneventful with a due date of July 9. This due date was probably several days off; I’m not one of those women who marks the arrival and departure of my monthly gift in my daily planner. I guessed the date of my LMP, and I guessed a little early to make it seem like I was further along. Playing this mind game with myself and my midwife was a bad idea.

I knew early on that I was interested in working with a doula. I hoped for an unmedicated and low intervention birth and knew I’d need the extra support. My husband wanted the extra support, too, because he was freaked out about birth. If he had it his way, he would have been sitting in a waiting room smoking cigars while I got knocked into a coma and someone besides us handled every aspect of getting this baby into the world. They would then present us with a nicely wrapped, clean, pink baby and my husband would spread the word to our families via telegram. And I’d be wearing my lovely strand of pearls the whole time.

But, back to reality… I had strong personal opinions and desires for my pregnancy/birth experience. With my knowledge that this pregnancy was low-risk and with the education I exposed myself to, my main desire was to do everything possible to avoid a C-section. I felt like major surgery required more pain and recovery time than an uncomplicated labor and vaginal birth. So, my main goals were to avoid IV/saline, epidural, and induction/pitocin – all things that increase the odds of ending up in the OR.

I was assigned to a midwife at the clinic where I received my prenatal care. Being interested in a natural approach to pregnancy/childbirth, I initially thought this would be great! Midwives are friendly to people like me, right? Wrong. The most basic definition of a midwife is: someone trained to assist with low-risk pregnancies/deliveries. They don’t have to be all granola about it. The second I brought up my birth plan, my midwife started telling me how unlikely it was that the hospital would allow my labor/delivery to progress according to any of my wishes. And then she tried to scare me, saying that if I denied all of the hospital’s standard interventions I would end up bleeding to death (I’m paraphrasing, but that was the basic idea).

The day my midwife put the kibosh on my birth plan (I was over 6 months pregnant at the time), I freaked out a little. I called Gaylea and asked her opinion on other birthing options. My husband is in the Army and we have the basic health care plan that costs us almost nothing. That plan had me receiving my prenatal care at the OB/GYN clinic at the Army hospital at Ft. Campbell; I would deliver there also. I looked into changing insurance plans and paying tons of co-pays to deliver at a different (preferred) hospital, one that might be friendlier to my plan. I considered paying fully out of pocket to deliver at a birthing center that was a two hour drive from our home. I considered paying several thousand dollars to have a granola midwife assist at a home birth. My husband never gave that last option a second of consideration. We ended up sticking with our non-granola midwife at the Army hospital and hoped we’d be able to be assertive enough to stick to our birth plan. We decided to take a series of childbirth classes (beyond the typical hospital 2 hour hospital class) in order to be as educated and empowered as possible. This turned out to be a wonderful idea and we loved participating in the Alpha Childbirth classes with Gayle and Annie – my husband gained a greater appreciation for the childbirth experience I hoped for, and we both had increased acceptance of the physical process of labor and delivery.

It’s My Due Date – Friday, July 9

And no baby yet. I started having Braxton-Hicks contractions around 30 weeks, and they got increasingly frequent as my due date approached. But, they were never stronger, longer & closer together (the magical trifecta that signifies early labor). At my 40 week prenatal appointment, my midwife warned about “old placentas” that wear out and cease to support the baby, ending in stillbirth. She was so exact with dates and with the baby’s gestational age that it drove me crazy. As if the arbitrary date I guessed as my LMP made my due date set in stone. Keep in mind that a woman isn’t “overdue” or “post dates” until after 42 weeks.

My midwife made me “pencil in” an induction date of July 23, exactly two weeks after my due date. She let me know she was being “generous” to go “so late”, because they “never” let women go past 41 weeks, 3 days. My husband actually said, “Well, you can schedule an induction, but that doesn’t mean we’ll show up for it.” You should have seen the midwife’s face – she immediately left the room to consult with someone. When she came back, she informed us that she was transferring my care to an OB because she “doesn’t deal with high-risk pregnancies,” which they now considered mine to be. Since I was past my due date and obstinate about it, she had no desires to deal with me anymore. And she must have made quite the note in my medical chart, because in future interactions we had with hospital staff, they almost always started by saying, “Now, WE KNOW you don’t want an induction…”

I tried almost everything to get my baby out. I joined the 65+ crowd and walked at the mall to avoid the searing July heat. I went up and down the stairs in our house 71 times a day (or so it seemed). I did so much nipple stimulation that I thought they would fall off before I got a chance to breastfeed the baby that was never coming. And my husband and I tried sex until the mere thought of doing it one more time made me cry. But, even in all my desperation, I refused to try castor oil: “The indecency of it!” I thought. Oh, please. There was plenty more indecency to come.

It’s My Induction Date – Friday, July 23

During weeks 40 and 41, I had several non-stress tests and amniotic fluid checks that came back showing a perfectly healthy baby and perfectly healthy placenta. But, everyone at the hospital was still super anxious to get my baby out while I grew super anxious about the interventions involved in an induction. The night before my scheduled induction, I had more Braxton-Hicks contractions than usual. I called Gaylea with cautious excitement, thinking this could be early labor. We decided that Ryan would call the hospital and tell them that I was in early labor and would like to sleep as much as possible, meaning we would NOT be calling at 6am to check in for my induction. We went to sleep, and I didn’t not wake up again until my phone rang at 9 the next morning – clearly I was NOT in any kind of labor if I got 10+ hours of uninterrupted sleep. The phone call was the OB at the hospital calling to check on my progress, as they were greatly concerned about my “past due” pregnancy. Knowing that my labor had not progressed to stronger, longer and closer together contractions, I tearfully decided to throw in the towel. I was tired of being hounded by hospital staff and tired of waiting, waiting and waiting with nothing to show for it.

So, we meandered on up to the hospital for the induction. And then they told us that I didn’t have to have an induction because they knew we didn’t want it. What???? They did another NST and AFI and again found the baby to be perfectly healthy. The OB warned me about the risks of carrying a pregnancy past 42 weeks by saying, “I really don’t want to deliver a dead baby.” Followed by, “But I do want to follow your decisions for your medical care.” I elected to have the OB strip my membranes and to go home. But they wouldn’t let me leave until I scheduled another date for an induction, 48 hours later on Sunday, July 25.

It’s My Induction Date, Take 2. No, Wait. It’s My Delivery Date!

After having my membranes stripped, I had good, strong contractions that were at pain level 3 (you know how they ask, “On a scale of 0-10 , with 0 being no pain and 10 being the worst pain imaginable, what is your pain level?”). But those good, strong contractions disappeared after just a few hours.

I watched the clock constantly, dreading every passing minute as one minute closer to an induction. On Saturday, my husband and I went mall walking AGAIN, had sex AGAIN, went through the natural induction list AGAIN, and I still refused to drink the castor oil. Even though my husband knew what the castor oil would do, he still encouraged me to give it a try. And I refused AGAIN.

I called Gaylea on Saturday night and we discussed how things would go with the induction. My husband and I gave the house a once over, rechecked hospital bags, charged phones, and each had a glass of red wine. We were watching an episode of that new spy show with the girl from Coyote Ugly, and towards the end of the episode, I had the first Very Serious Contraction. Out of nowhere. It was 9:30.

I fumbled around for the next 30 minutes, finding it impossible to get much relief from the contractions. I’d give those early ones a 4.5 on the pain scale. My husband did not seem impressed and paid more attention to the Coyote Ugly girl. When the show was over, he decided to mess around on the computer for a bit. I followed him around the house like a puppy dog with my giant exercise ball, having to stop for contractions regularly. Around 10:00, I convinced him that we needed to start timing things. I pulled up contractionmaster.com and we soon realized they were 2-3 minutes apart and 45 seconds to a minute long.

So, you’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that when they say it’s time to go to the hospital?” Well, the contractions had only been around for about 30 minutes. Also, it was our plan to labor in the comfort of our home as long as possible (a good way to avoid as many hospital interventions as possible). Since I had so many starts and stops with contractions, I just wasn’t convinced that I would ever go into labor. So we kept timing things at home. I got in the tub around 10:15 and got a little relief, but the contractions still got more intense. At this point, my mind was doubtful of the seriousness of the contractions, but in my gut I just knew things were progressing quickly. My husband was responding to my requests for help and support, but still seemed oblivious to the fact that this was really it. While I sat in the tub, he was reading an article in The Economist in between timing contractions. Remember, it’s still not even been an hour since the first Very Serious Contraction. And every childbirth book/class will tell you that it just USUALLY doesn’t go so fast.

In the category of “Things They Say You’ll Do But You Don’t Believe Them,” I started vocalizing through the contractions. My husband (his name is Ryan, BTW) finally clued in and called Gaylea. She lives in the north Nashville area, and we were about 50 miles away from her in Clarksville, TN. So, we knew it would take a while for her to join us. I spent less than 30 minutes in the tub because Ryan was concerned that I was getting light headed from the hot water. Once I was out of the water, things got super serious. Contractions were still 2-3 minutes apart and a minute long, but I’d up the pain scale number to an 8. At this point, I remember saying to Ryan, “How am I going to stand up, walk down the stairs, sit in the car for the 25 minute drive to the hospital, walk into L&D, and actually survive?”

I’m now having Very Very Very Serious Contractions, and I’m going to give them a 10 on the pain scale. In between contractions, I begged for an epidural. As if Ryan could go pick one up from the store or the guy next store is an anesthesiologist. It’s probably around 11:30 by now. Ryan and I talked about trying to get to the hospital, but I could barely make it through contractions that were almost incessant while sitting on our comfy bed. I felt like Gaylea would have some great ideas on how to get me moving along to the hospital; she was still on the road trying to get to us. I think Ryan and I still believed we’d somehow get to the hospital; we just didn’t have any idea how that would happen.

When contractions were most intense, I started to feel somewhat out of control and helpless about what was happening to my body. But there were two external stimuli that helped me regain focus. One was music! I had a labor playlist going, and it included devotional tracks from the Alpha Childbirth CD (from our childbirth class www.alphachildbirth.com ). I carefully chose each song/track, thinking about the hopes and desires I had for my birth experience and the love I felt for our growing family. I also had my dear husband trying his hardest to support me. Ryan is a runner, and during labor he told me about how he pushes through physically demanding work outs. How his body screams for oxygen and he can feel seconds from collapse, but he reminds himself that he can make it “just 10 more feet”. Initially, I was slightly annoyed that he was trying to compare his jogs in the park to labor, but we both started using that phrase. I reminded myself that it was just one more contraction, just 10 more feet.

I guess I made it 10 feet ahead, because at midnight, my water broke. Actually, I’m going to say it was more of a pop – lots of pressure behind it, I guess! I was really paranoid that there would be meconium (more likely to be present the longer a pregnancy goes), but Ryan said the fluid was clear. I felt a lot of relief from the contractions, but I gained an urge to push that was unstoppable. I decided to try to labor on the toilet, and when I stood up to walk, I realized that the baby was RIGHT THERE.

Being on the toilet was horrible, so I hobbled back to bed (water still leaking). Ryan threw down a towel over my popped water puddle, and once I was settled on the bed, the uncontrollable pushing started again. I tried to feel for the baby’s head (I was convinced that I wasn’t fully dilated for some reason and that there wasn’t enough room for the baby to come out), but it just felt like a crazy mess. Ryan let me know that he could actually see the head and that the baby really was coming, like, RIGHT NOW. He delivered her, untangled the umbilical cord from around her body, and plopped her down on my stomach. We estimate she was born at 12:15, 15 minutes after my water broke. He called Gaylea first, who arrived within minutes, and then 911.

Ryan grabbed stuff out of the linen closet to cover up the baby and keep her warm. I just held on for dear life (SO slippery) in a complete haze. When Gaylea arrived, she grabbed more covers for me and the baby – I was majorly shivering all over (a hormone thing, apparently). She tried to coach me through delivering the placenta, but I was having a really hard time. Turns out the thing was pretty big. Part of it didn’t detach, which can be a concern for possible hemorrhaging.

The paramedics arrived, along with firemen to carry me down the stairs in a stretcher. They were all awesome, assuring us that we did a good job and that we were all okay. They clamped off the umbilical cord and had Ryan cut it with a scalpel, though the spot they chose for the cut left about a foot of cord dangling from poor Cora. Gaylea was massaging my uterus in attempts to get the placenta to let go. It would have really helped to have the baby breastfeed (to induce more contractions), but for some reason the paramedics asked me not to. They wrapped me and my still attached placenta up in more sheets and towels from my linen closet and got me down to the ambulance. We all decided to go to the local hospital instead of the Army hospital, due to proximity.

Ryan and Gaylea drove their cars behind me and Cora in the ambulance, and Ryan made a few brief phone calls to our family. The ride was bumpy and seemed so long. I really felt light headed and found out later that my blood pressure was slowly dropping (darn placenta). I was also in a lot of pain from a horrible saline IV in my arm. And I was sad because Cora was sucking on anything she could get in her mouth, looking for an opportunity to breastfeed, which I was still not allowed to do.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were not kindly greeted. Since I got all my prenatal care from another provider through a different hospital, they knew nothing about me. I was also an ‘unexpected emergency’ added into an already busy night for the staff. And, they all thought that I delivered at home on purpose, with insufficient support, and now they had to clean up my mess. As the OB & nurses untangled all the blankets and sheets, I got some pitocin to stimulate more contractions. The OB had to end up applying traction to the placenta to get it all out – so unpleasant! And then the OB started in on a few stitches accompanied by the comment, “Next time you deliver your baby alone, do yourself a favor and support your perineum.” Dislike!

While the OB worked on me, a nurse worked on Cora. She kept the baby away from me for ages, despite Ryan’s and my constant requests for the baby to breastfeed. She also administered the vitamin K shot and eye ointment without consent, two procedures we were likely going to decline. When I inquired about those procedures, she just said, “Oops! Too late!” Dislke again!

Our arrival at the hospital was pretty chaotic. I relied heavily on Gaylea to help me understand what all was going on, and which of the hospital staff was doing what to me and Cora. After everything was stable and we transferred to a post-partum room, Gaylea stayed to help make sure we were able to relax after Cora’s dramatic entrance. I turned out to be a Godsend that she stuck around… My husband got called into his Army job just a few hours after Cora was born. I didn’t realize that going to the bathroom or taking a shower would be so complicated or scary at first! I definitely needed some support to complete pretty mundane things in those first few hours.

I guess that’s the end of the most interesting parts. But I’m going to keep going just a little longer so I can answer the question every single person wants to ask – what about the mess, especially since we didn’t plan/prepare for a home birth? Because you know there was a mess. Here’s the scoop… Ryan and I were concerned about the possibility of my water breaking while I was sleeping (even though this is statistically a small occurrence in labor). A few weeks before my due date, we put a waterproof mattress cover on the bed. And it did its job. Our mattress remained completely mess-free. Ryan was also very concerned about the path of carpet between my side of the bed and the bathroom, so he bought a cheap shower curtain. The shower curtain was to be transferred to the car to protect the seats during the trip to the hospital . I had to walk on that stupid shower curtain for over a month, and I hated it SO much, but it saved our carpet.

After Ryan finished up with the work tasks that called him away from us that Sunday morning, he stopped by our house to survey the damage from our impromptu home birth. The sheets on our bed, the waterproof mattress cover, and the shower curtain went straight in the trash. Ryan cleaned up the bathroom and put the furniture back into place (paramedics moved several pieces in order to maneuver the stretcher through the house).

When I got unwrapped at the hospital, the staff kindly set aside the whole mess of linens in two plastic “Patient Belongings” bags. And I was stupid enough to think that I was going to take them home and somehow magically save them. I did take them home, where I opened one up and reached in for the hand towel. Stupid, stupid, stupid. After a bit of gagging, I took both bags straight down to the garbage. If my mother had been in town at that very moment, I’m sure she could have salvaged something, but I didn’t have it in me to try. Ryan later wondered if the trash guys suspected homicide when they got to our bin.

When I write it all out like this, it really seems nuts. It’s hard to convey how calm everything felt. I’m going to give a ton of credit to my wonderful husband. Despite being a little slow to jump on board (seriously, remember the part where he was reading The Economist?), his affect was steadfastly composed and confident that we could handle this. Later on, he admitted to being quite jarred by the whole thing, but I never would have known. As much as I was in pain, I truly never felt panicked or helpless about the situation. I actually remember thinking, “Why am I so okay about all this?” Maybe it’s because there just wasn’t time to get myself worked up. From the time of the first Very Serious Contraction until Cora’s birth, it was less than three hours. Geez, it probably took you longer than that to read all this.

To close, here are three pregnancy/childbirth lessons to be learned from all this:

-Waterproof your couch/bed/carpet/car. Just in case. Childbirth is messy.

-You get what you pray for. I wanted an intervention-free birth. I sure got one!

-Educate yourself about your body and your baby (doulas, comprehensive “non-hospital based” childbirth classes, books, videos, etc). There’s so much to be gained both physically and mentally as you prepare for your sweet one’s arrival, however they decide to get here!

Back