I have opted to write the birth story in three acts, in part because it was such a very long labor and in part because it just feels right to break it into three. I’ll be posting the installments as I write them, which hopefully won’t be more than a day or two apart. I need to write through this, to feel it and see it and process it. It’s going to be long, but I hope that in including so many details I can find my way through this as well as develop a thoughtful record of the end of one chapter in our lives and the beginning of another. Without further ado, here is act one.
Act I: Early Labor
On September 3rd, just a day after we had found out that our OB wanted us to begin seriously considering induction, Jodi and I spent the day out and about, determined to lower the baby and bring on labor. We went out shopping, had some keys made at the local hardware store, and spent over an hour and a half stocking up on groceries just in case the baby were to come early. We knew that in a week, one way or another, we would have a baby, so there was no time like the present to get ready. Little old ladies all over the grocery store gave me sweet, knowing looks, and several asked “When is your due date? Is it today?” I smiled, thinking I might not be quite ready, even though the bags were packed, my music was ready, and now we had groceries. I just didn’t know when I would be ready.
Readiness aside, I spent a lot of the day sitting on my yoga/birth/balance ball and walking around, and it seemed like the baby might be starting to drop lower. When I took a nap, Jodi made me put a towel down. When I woke up, she told me she felt like we were getting close, that she had this strong sense that it wouldn’t be long now at all. That night, when we went to bed, she again suggested I put a towel down just in case my water broke. I declined because the towel annoyed me, and I told her I’d put something down the next day.
Early in the morning on September 4th, I got up for one of my many bathroom visits around 5:15. I came back to bed, fell promptly back to sleep, only to be awakened a mere half hour later by a gush. I rolled quickly out of bed, running to the bathroom as I said to J, “Oh my god. My water just broke. Oh my god.” I sat on the toilet while amniotic fluid poured out of me. I was shaking with excitement and disbelief. We were going to have a baby today.
We called my mom to let her know we would be heading to the hospital so that she could make her way to us as well. Then I decided to get in the shower as Jodi made coffee, fed the cats, and frantically ran around the house trying to gather things together. She was beautiful and funny and, I think, a bit nervous. After I was out of the shower, she called our neighbor to come hang out with me while she got ready. Since I knew I was negative for Group B Strep, we didn’t have to be as frantic about getting to the hospital as we might have otherwise. I sat on my ball, talked with the neighbor, and we started timing some contractions, which were a little irregular but coming around ten minutes apart.
I sent some emails, posted on my blog, and finally got around to calling the answering service for the OB and midwife. When the midwife got on the phone, she asked if I felt ready to come to the hospital, and I agreed that it was probably a good idea, so after changing clothes twice (that fluid doesn’t stop coming), putting on two giant pads, and shoving a kitchen towel in my undies, we were off.
We left the house around 7:30a.m., assuming we’d hit some rush hour traffic, but we were fine, and in fact, there was almost no traffic at all. On the way, we timed some contractions, which were uncomfortable but not yet painful. They were still ten minutes apart, some a little closer. We arrived at the hospital, and when we got out of the car, I continued to gush. We made our way in, and the people in admitting quickly found me an elderly volunteer to usher me up the elevator to the 3rd floor where I would spend the next several days. When we got to the nurse’s station in labor and delivery, the cute little old woman said, “We’ve got a live one!” and soon I was ushered to a room, hooked up to fetal and contraction monitors, and by 8:30, I had a room and was admitted to the hospital.
While the nurse admitting me was asking me questions, taking my vitals, and the like, a woman in the very next room was moaning loudly, and soon, she was having her baby. The nurse was worried that this might bother me, but I was so inspired, so excited that this would soon be us. Within another half hour, another woman down the hall had her baby. There were many babies born that morning. Ours was not one of them, not yet.
Once we shared our birth plan with the nurses and managed to get hooked up to a remote monitor, we were able to start walking around, and this is what we did all morning and all day. My contractions were irregular, some stronger, but most very tolerable with some breathing exercises. I was starting to have back pain, however, and I knew this didn’t bode well. I was going to have back labor, and my baby was likely posterior. I started to grasp that this wasn’t going to be a short journey.
At some point that morning, our midwife—the first one we met and liked, and also the one who had just recently endorsed induction—came in to check on me, as did the OB. Everyone was excited that our baby decided to make his way on his own, and they were alerted of our plans to keep things natural. Even so, the OB was insisting on an IV. I didn’t want one. I didn’t want to be chained to a pole for hours on end, so she agreed to a heparin lock “just in case.” I think she was convinced I would be having a cesarean later that day. While she was there, she also didn’t like some decelerations of the baby’s heart rate, so I was put on oxygen for awhile, and this resolved the small heart rate issue. I was so relieved when she left. I needed to be left alone with my wife to do what I knew my body and my baby could do together.
My mom arrived later in the morning, and she walked with us a bit, then went to get a hotel room nearby to serve as a staging ground for her, Jodi, and my step-dad who had decided to come pace the halls. The day was gorgeous, and we were able to spend a good amount of time outside on a patio with trees and flowers and a slight breeze. I felt good. I was excited and welcoming my contractions.
I could still talk through them, but I was finally feeling them on a more regular basis. It felt good to know that each one was inching me closer to our baby. I didn’t know when they would ramp up, but I had a strong feeling our baby would be here early the next morning. The moon would be full then, and I had a sense that we would have a full moon baby.
We did spend some time in our room, and when we did, we made it our own. We had created an aromatherapy spray with lavender oil and water, and we had music, pillows from home, and even fake, battery-operated candles to make it feel a little cozier. This helped so much with relaxation, but it also helped me feel a little less like I was in a hospital, despite the machines and hospital gowns.
As afternoon came, we learned that our new nurse was going to be Terri, our birth class instructor, and we were delighted. She was only going to be on for a four-hour shift, but we knew we would be in excellent hands. As soon as she saw us, she took a final reading on the fetal and contraction monitors, and then she took them off of me. She shook her head at the hep lock in my hand, and she proceeded to help us try to move things forward. She brought us a rocking chair, encouraged me to eat a bit, and even made me a fruit juice cocktail. At this point, my contractions were occasionally quite strong but still irregular, so she encouraged me to get into the shower and start some nipple stimulation. We did this, and with the nipple stimulation came some stronger and more frequent contractions, about four minutes apart. At twelve hours in, we wanted to do anything we could to avoid the Pitocin talk.
By 7:30, a new nurse came on, Dawn, and she promptly moved us to a new and improved room. Because labor and delivery was so busy when we arrived, we had apparently been placed in the overflow room—a tiny space—but since then a big room with huge windows overlooking the garden had opened up. We packed up, switched rooms, and got to know our new nurse, who happened to have lived in Humboldt during some of the time we did. She had the perfect, soft, earthy energy that we needed to get through the night. Terri had gone over our birth plan with Dawn, and she was prepared to help us stick with it. Honestly, it felt like each one of these nurses so far had been a doula for us, advocating to keep us as close to our wishes as they could. With the shift change came night and increased contractions. They were getting harder and harder and much more frequent, but I was managing fine. I would breathe through them, visualize through them, do whatever I could to cope, and I felt good about it.
We were listening to Loreena McKennitt at this time, and I remember the song “The Lady of Shalott” coming on as I sat on the birth ball while Jodi rested on the bed and my mom sat in the rocking chair. I sang along, rolling my hips on the ball. I paused for contractions a few times, and then sang along some more. The full moon was beaming through our window, so I used it as a focal point. I was beginning to feel connected to something so great.
Around midnight, we went for another walk outside. The moon was directly overhead, and as we came through the doors to the patio, I looked up and just stared. I wandered around the patio for a few moments, working through a few contractions, and then a big one came on. My mom stood on one side of me, her arm around my waist, and Jodi stood on the other side of me, her arm also around my waist. We all swayed through the contraction. I moaned and swayed and stared at that moon feeling the strength of my wife and my mother, feeling the connection to the thousands of other women giving birth all around the world that night, feeling primal and strong and open. This would be our last walk outside, but I continued to follow that full moon through the window for as long as I could.