**Disclaimer: A birth story follows. I include details because I want to remember and because reading birth stories encouraged me when I was pregnant. Consider yourself warned. Also, this is a long story, but it's mine and I want to remember the details. Completion is not for the faint of heart. I would suggest a strong cup of coffee before proceeding! **
My worst fear going into childbirth was of making the news by having my baby at home, in an ambulance or in the car on the side of the road. Six hours into my labor on Cannon's birthday I honestly thought my worst nightmare was going to come true. But this story doesn't start there.
This story really begins six weeks before my due date on June 1, 2010. At the recommendation of my elementary school pen pal, Jedi, and after an informative conversation with a midwife in Oregon, I started drinking Sherry's Last Six Weeks Tea. I was told it would do "amazing" things like ripen my cervix, strengthen my uterus (to make each contraction more effective - who doesn't want that!?), help my milk come in, and do wonders for my labor and delivery. While I didn't really understand what a ripened cervix was, I figured it couldn't hurt.
Fast forward to the early morning hours of Wednesday, July 7, 2010. I woke up, looked at the clock, saw that it was 2:00 am and realized I had already woken up several times with cramping in my lower abdomen. I timed four "contractions" and they were 11 minutes apart. I decided not to wake Danny because I wanted him to have as much rest as he could get if I was really going into labor. I tried to sleep, but woke up every few hours as my "contractions" progressed to nine minutes and then seven minutes apart. They stayed between seven and ten minutes apart all day.
Wednesday was my third day of maternity leave, and Danny didn't start work until July 19, so we were enjoying a little staycation while waiting for Cannon. I told Danny about my night of contractions and in my last fit of "nesting" I commissioned Danny to help me clean the entire apartment. The last thing I wanted was to bring a new baby home to a dirty house! Danny scrubbed the bathtub cleaner than I've ever seen it in preparation for hot baths during labor.
Wednesday afternoon we went to my scheduled 39 week appointment with Dr. Garner. He told us that I had progressed from 2 cm dilated and 30% effaced to 3 cm dilated and 60% effaced. I told Dr. Garner about my regular contractions that felt like menstrual cramps, but he just informed me that they were non-laboring contractions which weren't really doing any work. He predicted that I'd have a baby on either Friday or Monday, because he was going to be out of town Saturday and Sunday.
I left Dr. Garner's office slightly disappointed that I wasn't in "real" labor. I also thought I'd probably have my baby on Saturday or Sunday, being that those would be the most "inconvenient" days. That night I fell asleep watching Chuck (our current favorite TV show) with Danny.
At 1:00 am I startled awake with a contraction that was definitely stronger than a monthly cramp. I looked at the clock and waited, wondering if another contraction would come. Seven minutes later my abdomen hardened like a boulder. I flinched and clenched my teeth - it was very uncomfortable. I knew what I was suppose to do. I regulated my breathing and concentrated on relaxing every muscle in my body.
For an hour I belly breathed through contractions and dozed off to sleep in between. Finally, at 2:00 am I went to the bathroom and decided to wake Danny. I needed help. This was it.
Thus began our journey into parenthood. For the next six and a half hours we labored, working through our Bradley positions, our breathing/relaxation techniques and our birthing playlists. At one point I asked Danny if we should call anyone (our family, the birth photographer, etc.) just to let them know Cannon was on his way. Thinking we had a full day of laboring ahead of us, Danny said we should wait until morning so everyone could get their sleep. He said not to worry about calling anyone - that was his job. On this rare occasion I didn't ask him about it again - I just concentrated on laboring.
When we started labor at 2:00 am my contractions were about 5-6 minutes apart and lasted about a minute. By 5:00 am they were 3 minutes apart. However, they never really ended. One strong contractions would bleed into a very intense cramp and that would roll right into another strong contraction. At one point Danny looked at me and said, "You just had a 5 minute contraction." We had no idea what to do with those and so we just stopped timing altogether.
If you are pregnant and taking a Bradley birthing class, stop reading right now. I am a big fan of Bradley, but during labor we flew through every position and every technique we learned and none of them seemed to help. Lying in bed on my side belly breathing felt good in between contractions because I was so tired, but it got to be very painful during contractions. We couldn't get the water in our bathtub high enough to cover my belly so sitting in a bathtub felt tortuous. Squatting felt excruciatingly painful. Leaning on and dancing with Danny was awkward. And walking was impossible. The only thing that felt remotely comfortable was rocking back and forth while moaning/groaning on my hands and knees (on all fours). At one point Danny and I looked at each other and thought, "Bradley just gave us all of these positions to try not because they work, but to give us something to do to distract me from the pain."
Somewhere about 6:00 am I was laboring in bed, and I started asking Danny to take me to the hospital. Things were getting painful. Pretty soon I was telling him that I needed an epidural. At this point we were basically moving back and forth between lying in bed and kneeling on all fours on the floor. Aside from being on my hands and knees, it also helped to moan as I breathed with each contraction. I also liked blowing raspberries or exhaling with horse lips as Ina May called. You can just use your imagination as to how lovely that looked.
At one point I was on my hands and knees, begging to go to the hospital, asking Danny if he thought I'd be a failure if I got an epidural. He crouched down until he was eye level with me and said, in all seriousness, "You're now in active labor. You can do this. It's going to be hard, but you're doing great." I about wilted. I knew that if I was only in active labor I would never make it to the end. I couldn't endure the intense pain for six more hours. Looking back we now know that I was transition. For some reason Danny was choosing to ignore all of my emotional signposts and gauge my labor strictly by time.
As I was begging to go to the hospital, telling Danny, "I can't have my baby here in bed," Danny was thinking up stall tactics. (He was terrified of getting to the hospital, discovering that I was only 5 cm, getting an epidural, stalling labor and watching all of our goals go right out the window.)
"Just try laboring for another hour," Danny encouraged. "I can't Babe!" I moaned. "Okay, well, just get through 15 more contractions," he tried. "NOOOOOO!" I grunted. I was in pain and out of it, but I could still calculate that 15 contractions would take roughly an hour.
Finally, when I was practically in tears Danny agreed to at least load our bags into the car so when it was time to go we'd be ready. I quickly realized as I labored in bed that he was carrying one bag down to the car at a time in yet another stall tactic. It was at this point that two things happened:
- I wondered if he would drive me to the hospital sooner if I threatened to drive myself ("Could I actually drive myself?" I wondered. "What would happen if I had a contraction while driving?")
- I suddenly had the strongest urge to pee and poop all at the same time.
Danny finally wheeled me through the entrance of Plano Presbyterian Hospital. It was 9:00 am.
For the rest of my life I will never forget Danny wheeling me through the hospital lobby, having a contraction in the elevator, and the look of shock on the nurse's face as we rolled through the double doors on the third floor into labor and delivery.
"We're having a baby! What room can we put her in?" one nurse exclaimed frantically to another nurse. Only that's not what Danny heard. He thought she was ASKING him if we were having a baby. "Well, isn't that obvious?" he thought. So, he said the only thing that made sense in the chaotic moment. "Yes, do we need an appointment?" (Side note: At no point during this whole laboring process had it occurred to either of us to call my doctor to tell him Cannon was on his way. Why? I don't know.)
The nurses wheeled me into a room where a nurse calmly told me she knew that I was in pain but could I possibly undress to put on a gown? I've never taken off my clothes so fast in my entire life. I then turned around to get in bed and saw six to seven nurses rushing around. It was at this point that all Bradley methods flew right out the window. I completely lost all ability to relax and breathe. I just wanted Cannon out.
As soon as I lay down in bed nurses converged from all sides and several things happened at once: an IV was put in my left arm, a blood pressure cuff was put on my right arm, a fetal monitor was strapped to my rock hard belly, and a nurse was checking my progress. All I can recall seeing are a blur of scrubs and then hearing a nurse say, "She's 9 1/2 with a posterior lip."
It was at this point that Danny turned to a nurse and said, "We don't want an epidural. We want to go natural." With all of the different color scrubs running around our room, he was worried one was an anesthesiologist. The nurse about rolled her eyes right out of her head and quipped, "There's no epidural coming. There's no time. You're going natural."
As soon as the nurse declared that I was dilated to 9 1/2 cm I asked if I could start pushing. "PLEASE!" I begged. I figured it would feel better to push with the contraction than to try to hold him in any longer against the contraction. I asked multiple times, but all I kept hearing was, "No, the doctor's not here yet. Just breath. Blow out the candles." I'm pretty sure I was blowing out those candles so hard that I was spitting on the nurses. Danny said during this time nurses started looking at each other in excitement and telling each other, "I could catch that baby if he comes before the doctor gets here!"
In what felt like forever, but was really only about 10 minutes, a doctor finally showed up. A nurse gave me the go ahead to start pushing while the doctor was putting on her scrubs. The stirrups were put into place and the nurse on my right started lowering the bed. However, Danny, in well-trained birthing coach fashion, asked if we could keep the bed at a 45 degree angle (the optimal pushing angle). He also asked them to put the stirrups away and asked if they couldn't just hold my legs up. Three times the nurse tried to lower that darn bed and each time Danny asked her not to until she finally gave him a ridiculously long reason by pushing on your back is best. So, with Danny holding one leg and a nurse holding the other I pushed. And it hurt. It hurt like everything inside me was being torn into many little pieces all at once.
After the first contraction the nurse holding my right let looked me square in the eyes and said not to scream during the contraction. Apparently screaming wastes energy and isn't an effective pushing technique. Ok. I wanted effective pushing. No noises I told myself. Keep quiet. And in that moment I thought, "Who knew I'd be a screamer? Weird. Not me!"
As badly as I had wanted to push because I thought it would feel better, once I got going I realized that it hurt . . . badly. It was then that I thought, "There's no way he's going to fit." I also thought, "This hurts so bad, but there's no going back. There's NO other way to get him out at this point. This is it. I HAVE to do this." And so I pushed. I pushed as hard as I could.
After the second contraction, the same nurse coached me to push down through my bottom, not with my legs. Ok, I closed my eyes, concentrating. Having no pain medication did allow me to call the shots in regards to pushing. I would tell the nurse when I felt a contraction coming, push when it felt right, and then hold the push while she counted to 10. Once she reached 10 I'd exhale and inhale deeply, and we'd count to 10 all over again. We did three pushes per contraction.
It was at some point during the 2nd or 3rd contraction that the doctor applied a topical anesthesia. I'd like to say that that numbing cream brought some sort of relief, but I don't recall noticing a difference. It was also about this time that I began to realize that Danny was right in my face, very in my face, about an inch from my face actually. And he was yelling, "YOU CAN DO IT!" Later on he told me that in the middle of yelling he realized that he was screaming at me just like he use to hollar at his freshmen in the Corps of Cadets. For all you Aggies out there, you can now appreciate the volume and intensity of the encouragement I was receiving. No sooner had I realized he was in my face than I pushed him away.
Now, as labor had progressed through the night my world got continually smaller and smaller. Early on in labor I was aware of our entire apartment. I moved around it and was conscious of sounds: Danny flushing the toilet, a neighbor coming up the stairs, etc. As the night wore on all I could see and focus on was my immediate area: my yoga mat, Danny's hands on my hips, the bed, Danny's face by my side. Until, finally, in the hospital, it was just me and Cannon - me and Cannon working together to get him out. I knew that Danny was near and that nurses were bustling around everywhere, but I wasn't actively conscious of their presence. It was quite surreal, almost as if I was in another realm. I couldn't focus on anything but the contractions. Most moments I couldn't even think about the end goal - the birth of my son - I could only be in the moment and think about getting through each wave of contraction.
Cannon was crowning, but his head was not nice and round like the babies' heads Danny had seen in the birthing videos. It was jagged, pointy, and a little like a dinosaur's ridged back - the plates in his head must have been incredibly overlapped. Danny took one look and thought something was terribly, terribly wrong. His son's head should NOT look like a Klingon. Fear gripped him, and he had to stop watching. He decided to focus on me because he was so scared that his son was going to be born incredibly deformed. He prayed that God would give us grace for whatever happened.
After the fourth contraction, Danny noticed the doctor getting out tools and quickly informed her that we didn't want an episiotomy. It was then that she looked at me and said, "The baby's heart rate has been down for almost 10 minutes. If I cut I think he'll come now." I remember everything very clearly at this moment. I remember looking at the doctor's eyes behind her mask. I looked to Danny and his eyes met mine. We were both a little scared. Of course I didn't want my son in danger. I felt like saying, "Cut me to pieces. Just get him out okay."
"If his heart rate is down then do what you need to do." I said. It was then that another contraction started, and I went to my "special place" inside. Meanwhile, Danny pleaded with the doctor until she agreed to let me push for one more contraction before cutting. Danny turned to me, got in my face (again) and told me to push. I knew I had one more chance, one more contraction to get my baby out before the doctor cut. All I remember hearing in my hear was, "Push Baby!"
And so I held my breath and bore down. I pushed so heard that I thought I was going to blow a gasket, burst a blood vessel and pass out. "I have to get Cannon out." I thought. Danny said I moved Cannon the most of any other contraction, but it wasn't quite enough.
Five contractions had passed, and I could already feel myself getting tired. It hurt to sit idly through a contraction, but it also hurt like heck to push with the contractions. I felt like I was loosing my gumption. I didn't want to push and cause myself more pain, but there was no other way.
On the sixth contraction and first push I got an episiotomy. I didn't feel a thing - well, I felt the pain of childbirth - but I didn't feel a "snip." On the sixth contraction, second push Cannon's head was born and on the sixth contraction third push his body came sliding out.
And there was relief.
Instantly, there he was being held by the doctor. Grey, slimy, squinty eyes open, scrunched up . . . and big! I remember wondering the instant I laid eyes on him, "Where did all of him fit inside of me and how on earth did he fit to come out?"
The minute Danny saw Cannon he breathed a sigh of relief. Cannon's head and face were round, beautiful and perfect. There were no deformities, no Klingon-like skull.
They put Cannon on my chest, and he squalled and squirmed while they suctioned his mouth/nose. And he looked at me. He looked at me with deep, dark eyes and a serious brow, and I felt relief.
Relief that he was okay. Reif that I did it and lived to tell about it. Relief that I didn't give birth in my apartment. Relief that I didn't give birth in our car. Relief that I didn't give birth in the wheelchair on the elevator. I looked at him and breathed relief.
And then there was the thought that I had done it. In the middle of labor, in the middle of the night, I hadn't wanted to go through with an unmedicated birth. But, thanks to Danny's coaching we had done it. We had set out to do the harest thing I'd ever done, and we made it. And even though I said at that moment I would have an epidural with all subsequent children, I was glad we had made it to our goal. (The pain has since faded and the hormones have leveled out, and we've pretty much decided we would go natural again.)
At 9:25 am, less than 30 minutes after we rolled into labor and delivery, there he was. My own little, real-life, 7 lb 12 oz person, breathing life and looking at me. At that moment the tiny heartbeat that had pounded in my womb for nine months beat outside of me for the first time. And God, in His grace and wisdom, took this family of two and made us three.
Shortly after being placed on my chest, Cannon was having trouble latching. According to the nurse he had fluid in his lungs, so they whisked him away to the warmer to be suctioned. By the time he returned the doctor was stitching me up, I was signing admission papers and release forms (apparently you're suppose to fill those out before you deliver, but who had time for that!) with my right hand and holding my son with my left. Already I was multi-tasking like never before. Danny never left our side or stopped grinning all while trying to text family of Cannon's arrival.
Within 30 minutes of Cannon's arrival our birth photographer (or, in our case, our post-birth photographer) arrived and shortly after the hour family started to make an appearance. Cannon checked in at 19.76 inches. 7 lb 12 oz. and scored 9/9 on his Apgar tests. He was healthy and whole and we were parents. Forever.