Editor’s Note: At TodaysMama, we believe that every mother has the right to choose her birth experiences and that every experience is different. One experience we’d like to forego is the tradition of only sharing birthing horror stories…because, really, how is that helpful? We’ll continue to share stories of homebirth, hospital birth and the occasional I-meant-to-have-a-hospital-birth-but-I had-my-baby-at-home-but-it-worked-out story.
-Erin Oltmanns, Managing Editor
By Shelly Knight:
I was 29 when I got pregnant with my daughter, and while we planned a pregnancy, it happened very quickly for us. I feel like we were thrown into parenthood at full speed. I immediately picked up that book that a pregnant woman should only use as a reference, and never, ever read cover-to-cover. I obsessed over every test, pain, or dream despite having a completely healthy pregnancy. The funniest moments occurred when the book suggested I create a birth plan. We had selected a doctor who is a very nice mix of Eastern and Western medicinal practices, and matches our laid-back personalities perfectly. I handed her the pages of instructions I had meticulously filled, with decisions I had labored over, sometimes for hours and days, and she laughed. Yes, that's right, she laughed at me and my beautiful, complete, perfect birth plan! It went something like this:
Me: The book said I should write a birth plan, so here you go.
Dr. K: Oh, a birth plan?
Me: Well, I read that the baby might be taken to the nursery to sleep at night, and I want the baby with me at all times.
Dr. K: No, the baby is only allowed in the nursery if you or she is sick. Otherwise, she'll be rooming with you.
Me: Yes, but I read that a nurse might try to give my baby a pacifier, or <gasp> formula!
Dr. K: We'll have a lactation consultant available to ensure that you both get a good start breastfeeding (as if there was no option, which was fine with me).
The one item we did discuss was the fact that I wanted to have a natural childbirth, if at all possible. I took a childbirth class and practiced breathing techniques, different positions to labor in, and listened to descriptions about the stages of labor. I had a prenatal massage on the due date, and loved the look on the massage therapist's face when she asked me when I was due. Two days earlier my membranes were swept by my doctor, and I cleared the massage with her. She had offered to sweep the membranes after listening to me complain about the August heat, and the estranged relationship between my eyes and my feet. So after that, and the massage, I went to sleep very relaxed on a Sunday evening. I woke up at about 4:00 am with what I thought were cramps. I thought it was something I ate and made multiple trips to the toilet. After about an hour, I started timing these "cramps" and realized they were contractions. I woke up the soon-to-be-dad and called the doctor, as I walked around "the baby's room" for the last time before it became "Emily's room." I took a shower while Rob watered the grass, put the trash cans out, and got the house ready for the pet sitter.
By about 6:30 am I was in quite a bit of pain, and contractions were definitely less than 5 minutes apart. The look on my face mid-contraction in this photo says it all:
Mid-contraction but still smiling, heading to the hospital.
Luckily, we lived only a few blocks from the hospital, since the time between contractions was growing shorter. Once we arrived in the room, labor was progressing at such a pace that the doctor never left the room (and I will always love her for that). The baby was still at a very high station, and despite the contractions, she was not dropping. I used techniques from the birthing class such as leaning on my husband, with my legs apart, swaying back and forth. I actually used this technique with both babies, and it's very comforting. The doctor asked if she could break my water and I agreed. After this major event was my weakest moment and I asked for an epidural. The doctor checked me and I was fully dilated and "ready" to push, so it was too late for anesthesia. Ready, meaning although it was time to push, my body and I were not the least bit prepared for what was to come.
I pushed standing up, in bed, on the toilet, on the balance ball and all with little progress in the baby’s station. My doctor was new to the hospital so there was a practicing physician observing the birth, and in this case it was an older gentleman, whom if we had met under different circumstances I would probably like him very much. With no progress being made after about two hours, and me growing tired, the nurse (who I will always love for this) suggested we try the birthing stool.
At this point I was up for anything and the stool was just what my body needed. The nurse (and I will always love her for this) asked the doctor if I could give birth on the stool, essentially asking Dr. K if she would sit on the floor to catch the baby. Dr. K happily agreed, and the observing doctor stated very clearly, "I'm too old to sit on the floor," which to me indicated I would have been on my way to having a c-section if he would have been my doctor. We are all very glad this doctor was not in charge!
The nurses laid out some pads on the floor, Dr. K gowned up, and I successfully popped a baby out in about 15 minutes. The miraculous thing about this was that I was the first one to see the girl parts on our first baby, and I yelled, "It’s a girl!" There was a period of time when I actually felt bad for stealing this moment from Dr. K because in my mind the doctor always announces the gender. With both of my pregnancies, my husband I chose to wait until the birth to find out the gender, and to be surprised in that moment. Dr. K caught the baby face up and there were her girl parts looking right at me. With a nurse's help, I was able to hold her right away, against my chest.
I realize I'm very lucky to have labored hard for a mere 5 hours, and under different circumstances probably would have opted for anesthesia. I also would not have changed a thing about this birth, and in fact I didn't for baby number two. The labor was very similar, except shorter with a greater distance to the hospital, and a little girl to make arrangements for. Also, it hurt so much when they broke my water that another nurse came in to make sure everything was okay. I went to the hospital knowing exactly what I needed to do, and that the reward would be unlike any other!
Her first look at the little brother.
With number two, I also knew to enjoy the time in the hospital, while having ice brought to me, meals served, and a big bed for just the baby and I. Big sister popped in and out of the hospital with her dad, decorating the walls with drawings, wowing the nurses with her cuteness, but always happy to see her brother. Just today she ran all the way to the local park to give her brother a newly ripened strawberry from the garden. It was the second strawberry of the season, but just like births, there is an order to these things!