Disclaimer: This is a birth story. Like, a real one. It’s not particularly graphic or gross, but if you’re not interested in such things, I’d pass over it. Also, a lot of the pictures I’m posting here, while not at all graphic, are pretty personal, and even just looking through them to choose the ones I’d post actually made me sort of sad. But…it is what it is.
Seeing as my son is five six months old now, I guess you can say I’m late to the birth-story-writing party. It’s true. I’m super late. And, surprisingly, it’s for more reasons than being tired and busy and overwhelmed (though goodness knows, I am). I didn’t really want to write about it because I didn’t want to relive it.
Before Theo was born, I read for sure over a hundred birth stories. Before I was even pregnant I’d read dozens, at least. And I didn’t just read peaceful water births or home births. I read them all. Emergency C-sections, inductions, complicated ones, lightning-fast ones, impossibly long drawn-out ones–everything. I felt like I was ready for anything really, but I couldn’t help but have preferences. For example, I actually really, really looked forward to the time I could labor at home with just Andreas. We made plans for it–I planned to make him watch Bend it Like Beckham with me (as many times as I wanted), to use the shower if we needed, to walk, and hold out as long as we could. We had taxi numbers in our phones, contraction timer apps–we were prepare. But that’s not how it happened.
Every day that I went over my due date was a little bit of a disappointment. I grew more and more apprehensive of being induced, and a week or so over my due date, it just felt like I would never have this baby–not by myself, at least. I could just feel it. And I could have as many Braxton-hicks as my belly could take–and they could be strong, and consistent, and it still would not happen.
Theo’s story really starts three days before he was born. We went to the hospital for our last check–to see how far along I was, and what our approach was going to be. I got checked, and was told I was 4-5 centimeters dilated and almost completely effaced. The midwife did a membrane sweep, and basically told us she’d be mighty surprised if she didn’t see us again before her shift ended in a few hours.
I started getting excited, and decided that Andreas and I would go for a long walk. I was going to walk this baby out, if that’s what it took. But even with all the walking, there wasn’t any sign of baby by bedtime, and at that point, I just kind of knew I wasn’t going to go before Monday, when my induction was scheduled. At that point, I was a bit disappointed–because that was so not how I always imagined it would happen, but I had time to sort of resign myself to an induction, and felt comforted in that I was already so far along in the process, so hopefully a simple breaking of my water would set the whole thing going.
Sunday passed in a flurry of getting everything ready, and before we headed to bed, we watched Bend it Like Beckham. We got up very early the next morning, gathered our things, and calmly left the house–locking the door behind us, knowing we wouldn’t return without a baby in our arms. It was a far cry from the somewhat-hectic exit I always imagined, piling into a taxi, hurrying to the hospital–but it was what it was, and I was just glad the process was going to get started!
The first thing they do as they check me in to the hospital is put a monitor on my belly and check to see where I’m at. Expecting to be around the same as last time (because you can’t get much farther than that without it being rather close to real labor!), I was crestfallen when I heard that I was only about a centimeter dilated, and not particularly effaced, either!
Either the midwife checking me the first time around made a dreadful mistake, or I’d gone “backwards.” I’m actually inclined to believe the latter, as I’ve heard you can regress if there’s anxiety or nervousness (which, let’s face it, there always is with me), and the midwife had stripped my membranes, so how could she have made such a mistake?!
Either way, it was rather discouraging news to hear, first thing, but we tried to just take it all as it came. I got an enema (which was way more awful than I thought it would be), and they broke my water and sent me on my way. They told me to walk for two hours, and come back. So Andreas and I left the hospital and started walking. And walking. And nothing really happened. We walked around the neighborhood, took photos of a squirrel, and when the two hours was nearly up, to a nearby store (where I bought a pair of sweatpants, mentos, and the cookies that would power me through my labor).
When we came back, they checked me–no progress. No contractions. Nothing. They wanted to start me on oxytocin, but I wanted to try everything else first, so I asked for acupuncture. I’ve always heard that the needles were super thin and it didn’t really hurt. Pa-hah!! Each needle hurt worse than when I got my eyebrow pierced–and there were eight needles! Anyways, after the acupuncture, there was still no sign of labor, so they asked again about oxytocin. I asked, instead, if we could walk again, and we were given the go-ahead, although she warned us that she didn’t expect anything to happen. And she was right. Nothing. Happened.
So, six hours after originally coming to the hospital, I had the IV put in, and started on the drip. I sat on a birthing ball, bouncing, playing my little Bubble Pop game on the Kindle, and chatting with Andreas. We noticed that the curtains hanging in the room were the same ones that hung in the windows of the room we rented for the wedding. Of course, contractions started soon after, and got worse, and worse. And because I was on the drip, they had to monitor both the contractions and the baby (which meant no using water as pain relief). As soon as I was attached to all of the machines, I just wanted the monitors OFF. I hate being attached to things, and that was really one of the worst things I remember about being in labor.
Of course the contractions were painful, but honestly, what I remember the most is how absolutely tired I was, and how much the contraction monitor was bothering me. It dug into my (really-sensitive-because-of-all-the-stretchmarks) skin. Three hours after starting the drop, I was using a TENS machine, which I honestly wasn’t a big fan of. Not that it didn’t work…exactly…but it felt like it was just distracting me from the pain with more pain, and seemed to make me even more tired. Three hours after that, the TENS just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was So. Tired. I still felt like I was handling the pain okay (maybe I wasn’t, but I felt like I was, haha!), but I couldn’t take the exhaustion. I couldn’t imagine several more hours of swaying through the pain. At this point, I remember, to get through every contraction, I would think of something–for example, an office chair–and think of something that has to do with an office chair (wheels) and think of something that has to do with wheels (a car) and think of something to do with a car (an antennae), and so on, as quickly as I possibly could until the contraction was over. Around this time, we had Friends playing on the Kindle in the background–of course! Even through the contractions and my constant brain activity, it was rather comforting. (For perspective, I’ve always, always watched Friends as a comfort TV show. I’ve watched each episode at LEAST 15 times. I had it playing in the background in college any time I’d do homework, or bake, or be home alone, etc. And when I moved abroad, it became even more of a comfort to have.)
It was somewhere around this point in time, where it felt like the contractions were never-ending. The monitor showed that there were pauses between them, but since it was more the exhaustion and pain from the monitor I was feeling, I never felt any relief. I was around five centimeters when we played with the idea of an epidural, and about an hour later (at 8:30 pm), I got one. I had really not wanted an epidural, but the thing is, I’m actually really glad I got one–given the circumstances. By the time the epidural was wearing off (around 10:30 pm) I was 9 centimeters. When the pain was mostly gone, I could finally really talk to Andreas again, and couldn’t believe how much I’d missed him when I was so inside myself, trying to get through everything. We talked a bit, and while I wanted to talk more, and really be with him, I knew I had to get some sleep, so I did. When it wore off, I got through the contractions again with deep breathing, but after a while, the exhaustion got to me again, and I asked for an epidural “refresher.”
However, there was something wrong with it, and it wouldn’t work. The midwife advised me to wait, and I did, but after a while, I just didn’t feel like I could. I wasn’t progressing anymore. I was doing my best to sway, be in good positions (the epidural I had was enough to take the edge off the pain, but I still had absolute control over my legs, so I could sit, stand, and be on hands and knees, etc.) but I was frustrated and just tired. I agreed to some “bee-stings” instead. I’m not sure what they’re called in English, honestly, but they’re like sterile water drops that they inject under the skin. It’s supposed to just cause a momentary “sting” and cause the body to send extra pain relief stuff to that area. I vaguely remember getting them, but don’t remember them doing anything except for hurting.
Around midnight, I remember feeling like I had to push. Like…I couldn’t not push. But I still wasn’t progressing, so I wasn’t much nearer getting him out than I was a couple of hours ago. At this point, I was not able to relax at any time. I was exhausted, and in pain, and really sad that I couldn’t connect with Andreas. Around 1:30 am, they offered to put in a whole new epidural, which I accepted, and they did. I stayed on my hands and knees, swaying (as per the midwife’s suggestion), and an hour later, the epidural took better effect, and I fell asleep around 2:45. Apparently I slept like a rock for about an hour, after which I woke up (because the epidural was wearing off) and it was time to push!
This is why I’m glad I got the epidural. Each time I got one, I was able to relax, and I really progressed so much better this way. I’d heard they can really slow down labor, so I was reluctant, but I think because I get so nervous and anxious in general, I was extra nervous and anxious–being in the hospital, under unusual circumstances (I don’t give birth on a regular basis, haha) and surrounded by people I don’t know. This wasn’t the best environment for me to progress naturally in, but with the effect of the epidural, I was able to relax a bit more, and my body was able to do its work.
The epidural had worn off by that point, but pushing felt good. It was nice to finally be able to work with my body, to know the end was near, and it was actually nice to feel what was happening. The “ring of fire” is a real thing, but honestly it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. It felt like I pushed for ten minutes, but it was actually about half an hour before Theo was born. I remember just before the last push, I asked if he had hair (which he did, a little bit) and reached down and felt it. It was cool to feel, but I wouldn’t exactly call something that slimey “beautiful” or “miraculous.”
A minute later he was out, on my belly, and yelling. I was, of course, completely amazed that it was over, he was here and he was a he! Well, to be honest, I wasn’t amazed that he was a he. Even though we didn’t find out before he was born, the feeling I had that he was a boy had been so strong that in the end, it didn’t really feel like a surprise at all (although I guess it would have if he would’ve been a she!)
While we were adoring our little man (and I was slightly distracted by the fact that he hardly fit on my chest), the room started to buzz a bit. I wasn’t paying so much attention, as it was all in Danish, and I was in a baby-daze, but I did what I was told–which was to push the placenta out. After about twenty minutes, more and more people filtered into the room–more midwives, perhaps, and a real doctor or two. Apparently I was bleeding a lot, and the placenta wasn’t all there. At that point, I was rushed to emergency surgery (where I had to get a spinal block, and they manually took the rest of the placenta–but not before I lost two liters of blood!) and Andreas was left in the room with our tiny new baby boy. We didn’t see each other again for a couple of hours. I didn’t even know how long my baby was, or how much he weighed. But that moment Andreas walked in the door of my recovery room with our as-yet-unnamed baby was definitely a highlight of the whole process.
That day was one of the hardest. Theo was born August 20, 2013 at 4:21 am, and I am not ashamed to say that that was not one of the best days of my life. Not even close. Was I happy I had my baby boy on the outside? Of course I was! But, after losing so much blood, having a bad reaction to a transfusion, and not being allowed to eat for about half a day (after having just been in labor and only eaten cookies…oops!), I didn’t even have the strength to hold my (9 lb 1oz, 22 inch long) baby boy. I had to have Andreas strategically place him so I could even see him. For the next full day, I was attached to something at all times–there was a catheter, heart monitors, and three IVs (one in each wrist, and one in my arm). Those photos of me and Theo in the first few days are, of course, precious to me. But my periwinkle lips don’t exactly say “best day of my life.”
I know it’s not what I wanted, but as the circumstances allowed, I was, of course, satisfied with my birthing experience. I just really, really, really hope that next time, it can be a bit more on my terms, or at least my baby’s terms. That I won’t be 42 weeks pregnant, that I won’t be induced, tied to monitors and IVs and have strings and tubes and wires attached to me for three days. Now, when I think about my birth story, my skin crawls, remembering how trapped I felt with everything just on me all the time. And more than anything, I want to be able to connect with Andreas. Whenever we talked about labor, I kind of thought that he would just be my support person–that he would get anything I needed, massage anything I needed massaged (haha), and just be there to encourage me. But next time, I think I really need him in there with me–talking to me, holding my hand–the. entire. way.
But in the end, we got our little boy, and thank goodness we didn’t know how hard the next couple of months would be, or I might have wished he’d stayed inside even longer, haha!
And that’s how Theo came into our world.