(Queenie has posted a birth series for her first 3 princesses' births on her blog this past week. I suggest reading those before reading this one. Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3)
The first contraction came around noon on Valentine’s Day. I was folding laundry. How romantic, right? Ah well, laundry doesn’t stop for romance around here. This being my fourth time through the ringer, and being 2 days past my due date, I was pretty sure the tightness I just felt was a contraction. I paused for a moment to assess, and then continued folding laundry. I figured if it was the real thing I’d eventually get out of having to finish working my way through the mountain of clothes.
It was a Saturday, so the princesses and hubs were underfoot. I started to put laundry away, mentally noting each time I felt my uterus contract. They were definitely the real thing, but nothing to stop life for. I already felt tired, knowing the night I was in for. I hope that’s normal when you’re about to have your fourth child. Although excited, I no longer had the blissful naivety to hold on to. Labor is no picnic, and I was the one holding the picnic basket.
After a couple hours of light contractions, I casually informed the hubs that I thought I was in labor. We then began to make plans for the princesses. Although unwavering in my resolve to have another unmedicated birth, the reality of that meant that we were at the mercy of Princess #4’s timetable. With no family in town to rely on for childcare, we began calling our back ups.
Around 5pm we loaded up the crew and headed out to our pastor’s house, who would be caring for the princesses until further notice. Contractions were still coming, and some of them quite strong, but despite that I drove our van the 15 minutes out to their house. We needed two vehicles (one to stay with the princesses and one for us) so I had no choice. I sorta laugh about that now. What woman in active labor drives around town? Me, apparently.
Once we got the princesses situated, the hubs and I set out to do our “usual” labor routine. It’s funny to me what a well oiled labor machine we’ve become. I guess when it’s your fourth time, you know what works and what doesn’t. We immediately set out for Target. Our plan was to kill time and enjoy some child-free shopping. Two birds. One stone.
We wandered up and down the aisles, looking at everything from furniture to electronics to toys. We discussed what an ingenious idea it would be to create an iPhone app that would time contractions (of course there are plenty to choose from now - we totally missed that boat). We timed my contractions which continued to roll in, most requiring me to stop talking and focus on breathing. I was definitely in the first stage of labor and we waited for a shift in my focus, when I could no longer bother to carry on conversation at all.
That point finally arrived around 9pm. Following our stop at Target we drove to a Sonic for some dinner for hubs. I was hungry but not in the mood for food, being a bit skittish about eating while in labor (not because the hospitals say not to, but because I ate during my first labor and got to see it later. Throwing up while simultaneously contracting is not my idea of fun). We decided at that point to go to Barnes and Noble (which was in the direction of the hospital) to walk around a little more, but by the time we got to the parking lot I couldn’t get myself out of the car. At this point the contractions were about 2 minutes apart and were strong enough that I had no interest in doing anything but try to manage them. Hubs tried joking with me to see if he could get me to laugh. When he got no response to his stellar joke, he agreed it was time to head to the hospital (see how scientific we are?).
Although my 4th time through the process, I had anxiety for this labor that wasn’t present for any other. I can’t entirely pin point the reason why. It may have partially been because I tested Group B Strep positive for the first time and had to endure an IV during labor, something I never had to mess with before and something that represented a “medicalization” of my labor. I think I also was just afraid. It sounds silly in retrospect. I knew exactly what to expect. I’d been through it before. But 3 times before everything went perfectly. I feared I was tempting fate in some way, like it wasn’t reasonable to expect that I could have 4 perfect deliveries. It’s dumb because I don’t believe life works that way, but in the moment I feared it nonetheless. Perhaps my mother’s intuition knew something I didn’t.
We checked into the hospital around 9:30pm and I went through the usual process (which I have to say is entirely silly when a woman clearly in active labor shows up at the hospital and you make her pee in a cup. Seriously?). In between heavy contractions I got into my gown and made my way to the uncomfortable bed. It took awhile since I only had about 45 seconds in between contractions at that point. It took all my concentration to stay on top of the waves, which threatened to take me down, one by one.
I was poked and started my IV course of antibiotics and then checked to see where I was in the process of labor. I was relieved to hear I was at 8cm and I held on tight for the imminent arrival of transition. I’m not a huge fan of laboring in beds. They are inconvenient and don’t allow for complete control over managing contractions. I definitely do better when I can sit upright or better than that when in a bathtub. But with neither of those options open to me, I did the best I could. The hubs was in super coach mode, and he was amazing, stroking my hair and fanning me when I got hot, reminding me to stay relaxed and vocalizing with me during the peak of my contractions.
And peak they did. Transition hit hard and I struggled to stay on top of the waves. Each contraction arrived before the previous one receded. With no time to rest, I held on tight, fighting to stay relaxed. I concentrated on relaxing my legs which threatened to tense with each contraction and the hubs worked on helping me relax my face and jaw. I began wishing to feel the urge to push. I knew with that urge the end was near and that I’d finally have something I could do with the pain of the contraction.
Around 11:30pm my nurse came in and checked me and announced me complete (yay!). As if on cue my contractions mercifully started spacing out a bit and the urge to push overcame me. I remember at one point saying to the nurse that I hoped I had improved my pushing time over my last births (2 hours, 1.5 hours and 1 hour, respectively). She laughed and said she had never seen a patient of my doctor’s push for over a half hour. With that bit of hope, I began to bear down.
I don’t really remember when things began to deteriorate. I had been pushing for about 45 minutes (so much for a half hour!) and wasn’t making much progress. At this point I really didn’t need to be too discouraged. I had been here before. I’m just not a great pusher. Two steps forward, one step back. Same song and dance. But this time... this time it felt different. I didn’t feel the exhilaration I was used to while pushing. In fact, I was actually fighting sleep in between contractions. I could tell I wasn’t moving the baby down. And something... something wasn’t right.
That feeling began to overwhelm me. I began to beg the doctor to take her. I knew I needed to get her out. And I couldn’t. At first my doctor, being carefully chosen by me as one with an incredibly low C-Section rate and highly regarded as a natural childbirth advocate, quietly chuckled at me and told me that being tired wasn’t a good enough excuse to be cut open. But with the next push, his demeanor changed. I hadn’t noticed him looking at the baby’s heart tone monitor, but he must have.
It all happened very quickly then. In fact, it would probably be more accurate to have the hubs finish the rest of this story as I lived the rest of it in a thick cloud. With that next push, I saw my doctor glance at the nurse, she nodded and darted out of the room. He then calmly told me that my baby was not doing well with the pushing and he was going to have to take her by Cesarean. At first, overwhelming relief washed over me. This was almost over. The pain, the fatigue, the fear... all of it. And then reality hit, in the form of another contraction. I was no longer allowed to push. I completely lost control. The deep breathing, the vocalization, nothing could keep me from the pain of a pushing contraction with no push.
Within less than a minute I was being wheeled down the hallway in my bed, with the hubs jogging alongside me. Visions of TV dramas played out in my mind, I wondered if that’s what I looked like. I was in agony, I remember seeing the bright florescent lights flash by on the ceiling and then the bright white of the OR blinded me. Hubs had disappeared. I vaguely wondered what happened to him, but was too overcome with pain to ask. I imagine at this point I was given some heavy sedative. Somehow they moved me onto another bed and I think I was rolled onto my side (for the epidural?). A heavy warmth washed over me and I was no longer in pain. Someone behind me asked me my name and as I answered I flashbacked to all those episodes of A Baby Story I had watched on TV. “This can’t be happening to me” kept running through my head and I desperately wanted hubs with me.
But there was no time. I heard some counting and then someone said “oh boy!”. I panicked, thinking I had just given birth to a boy. The person behind me (I assume the anesthesiologist) laughed lightly and said, no, it’s a girl! I remember feeling tremendous relief and a simultaneous surge of love and disbelief at the way this birth was playing out. I asked how much she weighed. From behind me I heard, “they’ll get to that, they have other things to worry about right now.” Suddenly deafening silence filled my ears. I realized then I hadn’t heard my baby cry.
I think they may have knocked me entirely out at this point, I’m not really sure. I absolutely have no memory of anything between that moment and finally waking up in the recovery room. A nurse was sitting at a desk across the room from me, and my doctor walked in. After he assessed me, he spoke with the nurse. Through a fog I heard him ask what their response time was. She replied 6 minutes.
6 minutes that changed my life. 6 minutes that meant the literal difference between life and death. A couple days later as my doctor visited with the hubs and I, he informed us that Princess #4 emerged from my womb with the umbilical cord wrapped around her head. He also went on to say that given the size and shape of my pelvis he thought it was a miracle I was able to give birth vaginally at all.
I held my newborn Princess #4. The world in my hands. So many times I have played out her birth in my mind. So many times I’ve relived it. So many unanswered questions, so many what if’s. But beyond that, so many miracles. There is a reason I chose to deliver my babies without drugs or interventions. It’s because I was created to give birth. Because I instinctively know what to do. And although Princess #4 was birthed differently, she lives because that instinct was intact. I’m forever grateful for the experience, which has changed the way I view the birth process. I still strongly believe that every woman should prepare for a natural childbirth, because there’s no guarantee that the epidural will work or that you’ll even have time to get one. But I also now know that the attitude of “it won’t happen to me” goes both ways and not being prepared for all aspects can be traumatizing and leave alot for a mama to process. And no one wants to be burdened with that when there is a new baby to love. Ultimately, we got our happy ending and our family is complete. To be a participant in a miracle is an incomparable honor and bringing a new life into the world, no matter the means is a miracle like none other.