James' Birth Story

I started writing this post a week before I gave birth to Cameron.   At the time, my mind was completely consumed with thoughts of labor and delivery and I found it impossible to look toward my second experience giving birth without thinking a lot about the first time.

Alas, I didn't finish writing the story before I went into labor!  But I'm sitting down now to finish it.  Because I always find other women's birth stories fascinating, so someone might like reading mine.  Because sitting down to intentionally write my story forces me to remember and process the whole experience more deeply.  Because it truly was one of the most significant experiences of my life and deserves to be documented and shared.  And because today is my first baby's second birthday (my how the time flies!), so I share this in honor of that beautiful day he came into my life and made me a mommy.

5:30 AM: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
I wake up earlier than usual on this chilly winter morning and realize I have to go to the bathroom.  (What else is new...)  I begrudgingly slip out of the warm comfortable covers into the chilly air (our bedroom was always freezing during the winter due to horribly leaky cheap apartment windows) and realize something else: my PJ pants and underwear are completely soaked through.  I hurry to the bathroom to assess the situation, pee, and dart back to bed.  I whisper excitedly to Justin as I shake him awake, "Justin!  I think my water broke.  Or I peed my pants during the night....I'm not really sure!"  He looks at me with a wild, excited look in his eyes despite having just woken up (which never happens normally, we are both slow and groggy wakers).  We decide to try to go back to sleep since I'm feeling no contractions and the clinic where I can get checked out by my midwife won't open until 8 that morning.  I lay in bed and do genuinely try to get a few more zzz's, but of course my heart and mind are racing and there's not a chance I'm going back to sleep.  45 minutes later, I turn toward Justin again and whisper, "I can't really sleep, I'm just too excited."  Not surprisingly, he whispers back immediately, "Me neither," so we get up.

9:30 AM
After eating a leisurely breakfast and finishing packing up our hospital bag just in case, we head to the clinic.  For the last couple of hours, Justin has been asking me on and off, "So is this really happening, Nicole?!  Is it time?" to which I have been responding with a very unconfident, "I don't know?!?!  Maybe?? I think so?? I hope so??"

When the midwife sees me, we explain what's going on and she does a quick test for the presence of amniotic fluid to determine whether or not my water did indeed break.  The test results are negative.  She is about to send us home, then asks if I'd like her to do a cervical check first to see how dilated I am.  I agree and when she checks she reports I am dilated to about 3 cm.  (For those unfamiliar with the process, labor contractions cause the cervix to dilate or open to 10 cm, at which point a woman's body is ready to push the baby out.)  She also feels a little bit of a gush of fluid while checking, though, which prompts her to try one more test for amniotic fluid.  This one is more accurate, she tells us, but will need to be sent to the lab and the results won't be ready for an hour.  We can go home if we'd like, and they can call with the results, she explains.  I almost agree to this, but since I am fairly certain it was indeed my water that broke and not that I wet the bed, Justin convinces me we should just stay at the clinic and wait for the results.

We wait in the waiting room with the other pregnant ladies and some husbands and kids who have come along for appointments.  I read one of the free pregnancy magazines while Justin reads Time (this is before we owned iPhones so we read magazines...so old school!) and we chat on and off about the interesting things we find in our respective mags.  After a while, a nurse comes and tells us the test results are positive so we should head to the hospital and check in.  I still have not yet felt a single contraction.

11:30 AM
This is not quite the way I envisioned going to the hospital to have a baby.  From every depiction I had ever seen on TV or in the movies I expected it to be a dramatic affair with me doubled over in pain, barely able to walk and yelling at everyone in site to make way for the woman in labor.  Okay, maybe not the yelling part.  That's not really my style.

Instead we check into the hospital and are led to our room in total calm, taking our time since I am not yet in labor.  I change into the hospital gown and plop down on the bed.  The midwife on call explains to me that we can start an IV with Pitocin (a labor inducing drug) if we'd like to get the process going.  We explain that we'd hoped for a natural delivery without any unnecessary interventions or pain medications, so we'd prefer to wait and see if I go into labor on my own.  The midwife is totally in support of that decision and informs us they are comfortable letting me go 24 hours from when my water broke before they will recommend interventions, since the risk of fever and infection increases dramatically at that point.

Justin posts this picture of me on Facebook and we wait.

3:30 PM
Contractions start after a few hours of waiting, but they are slow, spaced out, and not very strong.  I feel like a rock star- this is seriously not that bad.

8 PM
We do a lot of moving around, I walk the halls, bounce on the labor ball, switch positions in bed, take a shower.  Periodically I am hooked up to a monitor to measure the strength and frequency of my contractions and the baby's vitals, but not too frequently.  I remember asking at some point about getting into the whirlpool tub, but the nurse warns me it's good to wait to do that until things get pretty painful.  Since it's just about the most relaxing and helpful non-drug pain relief method, she says it's better not to bust it out too early.  (Unfortunately, the way things unfold I never get a chance to try the amazing whirlpool tub in the end...)

1 AM: Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Things are starting to feel intense.  Contractions are getting a lot more painful, and I am starting to tire of the wave after wave after wave of pain wracking my abdomen and lower back.  I'm also getting really sleepy tired.  I've been up since 5:30 AM that morning, remember?

2:30 AM
Justin is sleepy too and asks if I would mind if he tries to rest for a bit.  I tell him to go ahead, then realize once he's asleep I wish I wouldn't have.  I am in serious pain and feel alone in it, which makes it seem even worse.  I think about trying to wake Justin up, but don't have the energy or strength to move over to him and he's wearing ear plugs so I can't just call out and wake him up.

The next few hours I remain very sedentary laying on the bed, occasionally switching sides, trying to rest between contractions and relax as much as possible to cope with the pain.  Interesting thing is, even though the pain is getting pretty bad by this point, I never once consider asking for an epidural or any other pain relief drugs. I guess I'm stubborn?  I'd gone into it determined to do without, so I never really let myself think of it as an option, even as things get pretty painful.  

It has been 12+ hours now of contractions and I have been awake for close to 24 hours.  Little do I know, though it seems intense now, I am barely over halfway there.

5 AM (ish?)
At some point the nurse comes in to check on me and makes a somewhat rude comment directed toward Justin about "Mr. Sleepyhead" or something... I can't remember now exactly what she said, but I do remember her giving me some counter-pressure to help with the intense back labor and implying that Justin could/should have been helping.  I didn't realize until recently how significantly her words and the few hours I spent laboring 'alone' leading up to that point affected me.  (More on that later.)

After a few minutes Justin stirs (we must have been talking loud enough to wake him) and he's back by my side.  It's a good thing too, because we're basically at the 24 hour mark since my water broke so it's time for us to make an important decision.

6 AM
I have been laboring long enough that another midwife is now on call (the switch happened the evening before), so she comes in and explains she's going to do a cervical check so we can assess how close I might be to delivery.  I imagine I have to be close, since the contractions seem so painful and I have been laboring for what seems to me like an eternity.

Much to my dismay, she reports I'm only dilated to 4 cm.  4 CM!!!!  That's only 1 cm of progress to show for a whole painful night of labor sans sleep.  To say I am disappointed is an understatement.  The news makes me doubt my body's capability to pull this whole thing off.  I am becoming really exhausted by this point- awake for over 24 hours, in labor for 15 of them- and I question whether this baby will ever come out of me, this pain will ever stop, and if I will have the strength to get through this whole ordeal.

The news also means that it is decision time.  The midwife strongly recommends that we start an IV drip of Pitocin to help move things along.  She explains again that the risk of me developing a fever and infection is significant by this point, which could lead to other complications, putting me and the baby at risk.

I'm all in favor of moving the process along, but feel scared and disappointed at the thought of having to take Pitocin.  You see, I watched The Business of Being Born while pregnant (it was pretty much the one source I based my opinions of childbirth on and the reason I decided to pursue a natural birth) and in the documentary they make Pitocin seem like a pretty scary, evil thing.  I worry that taking it will make the contractions so unnaturally strong that my baby will get distressed and I'll need an emergency C-section, like they warn about in the documentary.

We ask the nurse and midwife for a moment alone to talk about our options and make a decision and they leave the room.  We decide to pray and ask God to give us direction as to whether we should move forward with Pitocin or not.  After praying, Justin tells me he feels like God revealed to him that Pitocin isn't an inherently bad thing.  It was created by doctors to help and protect mothers and babies.  We both see Pitocin in a different light after thinking about it that way, and feel the freedom to choose to use it and the grace that things will go well with that choice.  So we call the nurse back and tell her we'd like to go ahead with Pitocin.

7:30 AM
They insert an IV that administers a slow drip of the drug into my arm and also hook me up to a monitor to measure my contractions.  They explain that they will increase the dosage as needed based on how my contractions respond.  I am in pain and very tired, but I am hopeful that I will have this baby out of me soon.

10:30 AM
After the start of the Pitocin my memory gets a little hazy.  At some point the midwife on call switches again.  Contractions are very intense, but the nurses keep checking the monitors and telling us they need to get longer, stronger, and closer together.  I feel a bit like I am tied to the back of a truck and am being dragged around and beat up: I don't feel in control of my body.  I don't ask for pain meds because I believe I can get through it, but I also feel like I'm hanging on for dear life on a very wild ride.

1:00 PM
I am in transition now (the part where the shirt comes off as my dear friend Christie likes to say!) only I am freezing and burning up at the same time.  I am shivering and shaking and also intensely sweating.  Somehow I have gone the entire time with my curly bush of hair down, but now it's way too hot so I quickly tie it on top of my head in between contractions.  They do a quick cervical check, I am at 8 or 9 cm, and I see a frenzy of people preparing the room for delivery.  I feel the urge to push so I start pushing.  I am utterly exhausted.

2:00 PM
I have been pushing for an hour.  I don't know why, but I expected once I got to the pushing part for it to go a lot better.  I'd heard that pushing can be liberating because "you can finally do something!" but right now it just seems like it sucks!  I was actually expecting only a push or two and done, not this insanity!  The nurses and midwife are amazing, they cheer me after every push.  Some pushes their cheers are more excited and genuine, so I can tell those are the good ones where I'm making some progress.  They keep remarking at how James is so content just hanging out crowning forever and ever as I keep trying to close this thing out.  I feel very strange and not really present in the room.  I am focused on the task at hand but I am also zoned out and in my own world.  In between each contraction I look at Justin with this pathetic, worn out, deer in the headlights look on my face.  I remember trying to tell him how strange I felt and ask him whether it would ever end.  He speaks life and truth over me and I press on.

I remember one of the nurses asking Justin if I work out, and for some reason he thinks she is asking if he works out (LOL), so he says yes.  (I am pretty much the least athletic person imaginable and have barely worked out the entire pregnancy.)  She says, "I can tell, her stamina is so good and she's strong."  (I feel the complete opposite of both of these things.)

2:45 PM
Finally finally finally I give one last push and he's here!  Oh the bliss, the awe, the wonder!  I am crying and smiling the widest I have ever smiled.  (Crying right now as I write this and relive the moment!)  I am overjoyed.  Amazed.  Thankful.  So in love.

There's a lot going on down below but I am distracted with the new little life on my chest.  I deliver the placenta (which surprisingly really hurts!) and I've torn only slightly because he came out so gradually so I receive one stitch.  I feel so relieved to not feel contractions any more!

I remember thinking pretty immediately after James is born, "Ok I'm good, I've been pregnant and given birth, and that was hard enough that once is good for me.  We can adopt from here on out."  (My feelings about that change after a few months, obviously.)

With the flurry of immediate family visiting that afternoon and evening I didn't sleep until around 9 pm that night, so in the end I was awake for about 40 hours straight.  I was in labor for 23 of those hours.

I wasn't unhappy with my birth experience, but also didn't give it a whole lot of thought until I started to prep myself for my second labor and delivery.  I felt proud of myself for doing it without pain meds and pleased I didn't have to worry about the baby being negatively affected by drugs I had taken.   And that was about all I thought of it immediately after.  It was harder than I anticipated, I was glad it was over, and I was happy that I had gone (mostly) natural.

When I began to reflect on it a year and a half later while facing labor and delivery #2, I realized I didn't have as positive a perspective on it as I did immediately after.  I recognized how deeply the nurse's comment about Justin being a lazy sleepyhead affected me at the time and after the fact.  I admitted to myself I wished he had stayed faithfully by my side throughout the whole thing and felt abandoned and alone when he went to sleep.  I believe those feelings profoundly affected how powerful I felt to handle the pain and feel in control throughout the rest of the labor.  When I recognized all of that, Justin and I discussed it, apologized and forgave one another, and made a plan to do things differently the second time.

I also seriously questioned whether going natural was worth it and whether I wanted to do it again.  The dilemma in my mind was this: Yes, so going completely natural is probably the best way to minimize risks and potential negative effects on the baby, BUT using pain relief can't actually be that bad for baby (heck, my mom took opiates while birthing me and I ended up Valedictorian...), so is the little bit better for baby worth the WHOLE LOTTA pain it takes to go natural?  Also, if I wouldn't have been so anti-intervention I could have taken Pitocin the moment I checked into the hospital and saved myself that sleepless, painful night of laboring while making minimal progress.  (I ended up deciding for Cam's birth to go in with an open mind and I didn't rule out the possibility of getting an epidural before I even felt my first contraction.  I wanted to play it by ear, pray throughout the process, see how the labor progressed, and make a decision from there.)

So that is my story.  Our story.  How James (slowly and painfully) came into the world and into our lives.  And let me tell you something: Giving birth to James was hands down the most physically taxing and demanding thing I have ever done.  But every second that ticked by while I was in labor, every gut wrenching contraction was 100% totally and completely worth it.

I love you forever sweet baby James!  Happy second birthday big boy!

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