40 weeks pregnant. The LONGEST I had ever been pregnant. I had been experiencing consistent Braxton Hicks contractions every 5 minutes all day for 2 weeks. Yet I still felt like it would be another two weeks until I met our baby boy.
Of course, I had already packed everything we needed for the hospital (except all of the last minute stuff). I had a suitcase with clothes, toiletries and postpartum recovery items. I had a labor bag with all sorts of things I had researched to use for comfort measures during labor. I had a cooler bag with homemade labor-aide, organic fruit juice and orange juice to keep me hydrated and energized during labor. I had my camera bag all packed and ready to go because I planned on taking my own labor and delivery photos (and enlisting my husband for the delivery shots). I also had a “car bag” just in case for some reason we were to deliver our baby roadside on the 2 hour drive to the hospital. Everything was “ready” for our baby to come. Except me.
I am a birth photographer. I had connected with a mom who was letting me photograph her home-birth free of charge to build my portfolio. I never would have scheduled a birth so close to my own due date, but she agreed that if I couldn’t make it due to my own birth that it would be ok. Sunday, 1 day before my due date… she was 9 days past her due date. We were wondering who would end up going into labor first. I ended up hearing from her Sunday night that labor had indeed started. It was a long night as I was up every hour checking in on her to try to gauge when I would need to head to her birth. I was hoping that I would still be able to photograph her birth before going into labor myself, and before my doctors appointment the next day.
Monday morning came bright and early as William woke me up at 5am ready to start his day. I had only slept 2-3 broken hours, but I got up anyways. My client’s labor was going nice and slow, so I went ahead and decided to go to my doctor. We had our 40 week OB appointment and I was a little anxious. The plan was to get a membrane sweep in order to hopefully jumpstart labor and avoid reaching 42 weeks. This entire third trimester I had been anxious about “going into labor.” It was a first for me and I had no idea what to expect. I was even scared that I would somehow miss the signs of first stage labor and end up leaving for the hospital too late. Our firstborn was a scheduled induction and our second born was a scheduled c-section, so at 40 weeks pregnant I was officially sailing uncharted waters.
My mom came over to watch the kiddos and Bradley and I made the 2 hour drive to the doctor. Bradley had only been to 1 prenatal appointment with me since we switched doctors (because of COVID) and I was grateful that he was able to come with me to this appointment because I was really nervous about the membrane sweep. Like I said, I wasn’t sure I was ready to have the baby yet, but I knew I didn’t want to get all the way to 42 weeks and be faced with the decision of a repeat c-section or an induction… because I KNEW I didn’t want either. I wanted for my body to do what God created it to do. I wanted to be in control of how my labor went. (Problem # 1: thinking I have control over my labor. HAHAHA!)
You know its funny how when we think we have everything planned out the God steps in to humble us and remind us that we are not in control, but He is. That concept seemed to be a trend throughout this pregnancy.
We arrived at our doctor and were soon taken back for our appointment. They directed me to a new room since I was 40 weeks. It had a big recliner for me to relax in. The nurse explained that I would be hooked up to a monitor for 20 minutes to see how our baby reacted to any contractions that I may have. I figured that wouldn’t be hard, because I felt contractions all day long.
20 minutes went by and in came the Nurse Practitioner of the clinic. I had met her once before at one of my 2nd trimester appointments. She explained that the baby’s heart rate needed to show acceleration at least twice within the 20 minute span and so far he hadn’t shown response. She mentioned he may just be sleeping, so I could sip on some orange juice and do another 20 minutes of monitoring to see how he did. If he did not show enough accelerations that I would need to admit to the hospital for further monitoring.
Sure enough about 5 minutes after sipping on the orange juice, little man woke up and started responding well to the contractions and had two accelerations right away. I sighed a sigh of relief! I was definitely not wanting to spend the day in Lafayette on a monitor, we had errands we had to run on the way home and it wouldn’t have left us enough time. (HA HA HA… sometimes I look back and see how silly my thoughts are…)
So I was taken off the monitor and directed to lay on the table so the nurse practitioner could measure my belly. She took her tape measurer out and measured from the top of my uterus to the top of my pubic bone. She mentioned that I was still measuring 38 weeks. Since I was there for a membrane sweep as well, she directed me to go ahead and undress and the OB would be in shortly for the sweep.
As our OB came in, there was a different vibe in the room. Usually the mood is very light and optimistic, but I couldn’t help but feel a little uncertainty. He had me lay back again as he checked my cervix for dilation. Unfortunately I was not dilated at all, so a sweep was not possible, my cervix was still high at a -3 station, BUT I was 50% effaced. So that was better than nothing. He mentioned that he wanted to go ahead and measure my belly again just to be sure.
Sure enough, he got the same measurement of 38 weeks. He explained his concern. At 39 weeks I had measured 38 weeks, and now again at 40 weeks I was still measuring the same. He encouraged us to stick around for an ultrasound to check on the baby and measure fluid levels just to be on the safe side.
They only had 1 ultrasound appointment available for the day and it was the last appointment at 4:00. So we grabbed some lunch, called my mom and told her we would be back much later to get the kiddos, and then we sat in the truck for 3 hours waiting on this appointment. The entire time we were waiting I had a gut feeling that he was going to make me come back the next day to deliver this baby.
We went in for our ultrasound, which was kind of exciting because the last ultrasound Brad had been allowed to attend was our gender ultrasound at 13 weeks. The tech was super nice and took all of the measurements that the doctor needed. She told us baby looked healthy and was measuring around 6lb 5oz. She also confirmed that there was plenty of fluid left but that our baby’s head was measuring around the size of a 36 week baby.
We were taken back to a different exam room to wait on the doctor. As soon as he walked in the door I immediately noticed his head hanging lower and the disappointed look that he had on his face. My heart sank and my stomach immediately tied up in knots.
He began to explain that he was not encouraged by the ultrasound. Yes, the baby was healthy, but he was worried that he may be suffering from something called Inter Uterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). This is when a baby is no longer receiving sufficient nutrients from the placenta, and no longer growing on track. Certainly a valid concern towards the end of pregnancy. He explained that ultrasounds aren’t 100% accurate, they could be off a pound either way. Baby could be anywhere from 5lb 5 oz to 7lb 5 oz. But it it were on that low end it would place baby below the 10th percentile which is not what we wanted. Then he said the words that I knew were coming… “We need to deliver this baby as soon as possible.”
There was a little silence and then I asked a question, “Do I HAVE to have a c-section or would you still consider allowing me an induced trial of labor.” I was so nervous to ask because I was terrified of what the answer would be. I did not come this far for our birth to end in another cesarean.
To my relief, he agreed to induce me. He went over the risk of induction with a VBA2C to make sure that we were making an educated decision, and once we confirmed that we wanted the induction he said that I would need to be admitted right away to start the process.
There were so many emotions inside of me. I was shocked that in the next day or so we would be meeting our baby boy. I was nervous because induction was not in my birth plan. I was on cloud 9 because he was giving me my chance to achieve my desired birth. And I was nervous because.. HOLY CRAP I was about to finally experience a true fair trial of labor.
At 5:00 pm I called my mom as we drove over to the hospital to update her that I wouldn’t be coming home, but instead I would be staying to deliver the baby. I could tell that she was nervous about the induction (she used to be a nurse and was well aware of the risk of induction) but she made me feel so calm about what was about to happen. Bradley was able to stay with me through admitting and I got set up in a room. I didn’t even have my birth plan with me because it was in one of the packed bags we left at home. Everything was chaotic for a little while.
Bradley had to leave and meet my dad to get all of our luggage, and it was at least 2-3 hours before he got back. In the meantime I went through the admitting process. Nurses were asking a million questions, placing my IV, drawing blood and having me sign a million consent forms… all at the same time. There was a anesthesia form, epidural form, Trial of Labor After Cesarean Form, Emergency Cesarean form, and several more. It was a lot to process all at once and I was wishing that Bradley was there to help me sort through it all.
At 6:12pm the nurse checked me before starting my medication. To my surprise I had dilated to 1cm on my own! As silly as it sounds, I was so excited because I had never dilated on my own with any of my pregnancies. She went ahead and hooked me up to the wireless monitors like I requested and started my pitocin drip at a 2 which made my contractions consistently 2-3 minutes apart.
I quickly realized that because I was being induced about half of my birth plan was about to be thrown out the window… I didn’t want pitocin, but now I HAD to have pitocin. I only wanted a hep-lock, no fluids… now I was REQUIRED to have fluids while on pitocin. I wanted the freedom to move around with no hookups- now I was attached to an IV pole. One by one, I felt items on my birth plan get scratched off but somehow it didn’t seem to matter to me as much as it did when I wrote the birth plan.
I should have rested during those first few hours but there was so much going on with admitting, shift change, being by myself. So just began to call family members and update them on what was happening. Being on the phone definitely helped pass the time that Bradley wasn’t there, and ease my nerves.
After a while, the door opened and Bradley came in holding bags and pulling a cart loaded up with more bags. He ripped off his mask and was dripping sweat. Wow.. I didn’t realize I had packed so many bags… Poor thing had to drag it all around the hospital to get to an entrance that was open so he could get back in since it was after 8pm.
At 10:38pm my night nurse Lori went ahead and increased my pitocin to a 4 in order to help me make a change in dilation. I opted to not be checked at this time. I was worried that I would be discouraged if I had not made as much change as I felt I had.
I continued to labor through the night. I don’t have a high pain tolerance, so the contractions were pretty uncomfortable. However I was able to manage them by breathing slowly through them. As it got closer to morning my contractions were more intense. By this point my pitocin had been raised to a 6 and I was exhausted. I couldn’t find a position that was comfortable. I tried laboring on the birth ball… man were those contractions intense. I tried standing, laying down, hands and knees… nothing really gave relief. I felt like I had to pee every 10 minutes, so I would wait until a contraction let up and then race to the bathroom as fast as my IV pole could roll so that I could pee and get back to bed before the next one started. I missed that mark on a few trips. Ouch. If I started contracting while sitting on the toilet I would literally freeze. Those were the most intense contractions. One was so intense that It caused me to immediately throw up once the contraction was over.
I was almost 12 hours into my “dream” of having an unmedicated labor and I was rethinking everything that I had learned leading up to this birth. I knew that I needed to relax during contractions and work with my body, but in that moment I had absolutely no clue how to. We had taken an online comfort measures class due to COVID restrictions, but it would have been more helpful to have someone teach me in person. Brad was wonderful in trying to help with counter pressure and anything that would help relieve the pain, but every contraction was different and nothing worked consistently.
When I admitted I made sure my nurse knew that I didn’t want any cervical checks. Well around 5:30 am I was begging for one, so I “broke my rule” and let her check me. I just needed to know that it was almost over. Unfortunately for me, I was only dilated to 3.5cm and 70% effaced. Little man was still high in a -3 station. I didn’t feel defeated like I thought I would, I just felt exhausted. All night, all that pain, and I was only at a 3.5. I knew in my head that the pitocin was making it more painful, but it was now causing me to be nauseous. So I broke another one of my “rules” and requested nausea medication.
Shift changed at 7am and I was given a new nurse, Adrian. She was so supportive and sweet. By the time her shift started I was in a world of pain and I decided to ask for pain medication. I was still convinced that I wouldn’t need an epidural, but I thought that maybe a shot of pain medicine could take the edge off and get me over this hump. After all, my OB had mentioned that once labor was going well, he planned to turn off the pitocin. I told my nurse that I didn’t want demerol, so she mentioned the other options and I chose stadol, a drug that I had received after my 2nd c-section with no complications. She gave me the meds right away and within minutes I was in a whole different world. Literally.
Apparently everyone reacts differently to pain medication. The stadol caused me to hallucinate. I’ve never used drugs, but I imagined this was as close as I would ever get to being high. I would dose on and off. Whether my eyes were opened or closed I would see objects flying all around the room. I was imagining things that weren’t there. I was talking so much that I was getting tired of the sound of my voice. I still felt every single contraction, but I wasn’t able to focus on them to get through them like before. The room would spin in circles. I swore that I had been taken somewhere else because nothing looked familiar. Brad says that with each contraction I swore something was hurting me and he thought that I was going to start ripping IVs out. I was SO upset because I 100% realized what was happening and I was 100% out of control. I couldn’t focus on anything. Instead of breathing and managing contractions I began sobbing through contractions. I was a mess.
I was just hoping that it would be a while before my doctor arrived because I knew he was going to want to break my water, and I wanted to discuss it with him, but I was in NO condition to even express my thoughts. At 7:50 my doctor came in and my medicine had barely begun to wear off. I told him that I wasn’t ready for my water to be broken because I wasn’t sure that I could tolerate the additional pain of not having a cushion during contractions. He explained to me that he wanted to go ahead and break it so that he could turn my pitocin off. With the water broken, the contractions should be able to make enough change on their own without the aide of pitocin. I knew that I wasn’t thinking clearly and so I went ahead and told him to do what he thought was best. I completely trusted him, and he went ahead and broke my water. He also confirmed that I was dilated to 4.5cm and reassured me that if I wanted an epidural that he believed that it wouldn’t stall me at this point.
10 minutes went by and I decided that I wanted the epidural. I never planned on having one for this birth. I went into it determined to have a 100% unmedicated birth. But the pitocin was kicking my butt and I decided that I would benefit from the nerve block because up until now I had been tensing through my contractions and working against my body. It took the anesthesiologist about an hour to get to me. Once he hooked me up to the epidural I was finally able to relax within minutes and let my body finally work with the contractions.
About 30 minutes after getting my epidural my nurse started coming in my room frequently checking on the monitors and my blood pressure. After a bit she told me that my blood pressure was really low and that the baby’s heart-rate was dropping with each contraction. I knew that it was super common for this to happen when receiving an epidural (one of the reasons that I had planned to NOT have an epidural). The nurse said that she needed to give me a medication that would raise my blood pressure and hopefully help the baby’s heart rate increase. I thought to myself… why not, I’ve already trashed my whole birth plan, what is another medication going to do… so I allowed her to give it to me.
About 30 minutes later she came back in and had me lay on my right side. Ten minutes later she came in and flipped me to my left side.. 15 minutes later she came back in and went ahead and put me on oxygen. I knew without even having to ask that she was doing everything she had been trained to do to help my baby’s heart rate get back within normal range. She went ahead and checked me again (10:15am) and I was already at a 6. I was impressed.
At 10:36am our baby’s heart rate was still dancing too low, so I was given another dose of blood pressure medicine (you are allowed to have 3 doses). This time around things stayed pretty normal for about an hour and then she returned to give me the third dose at 11:44 am.
The good news was that baby was responding to the medicine. The bad news was, I wasn’t able to have any more doses and my contractions were spacing out to 5min apart because the pitocin had been off for 4 hours.
At 12:06pm the anesthesiologist reduced my epidural to hopefully help counter the blood pressure issue. My pitocin was turned back on to a 1 at 12:35 and a little while later bumped up to a 2. Baby was now tolerating everything wonderful! The nurse went ahead and turned me to my right side with a peanut ball and I took a short nap.
Around 2pm I started to feel contractions deep in my left hip. Believe it or not, I didn’t mind feeling these contractions, it was a reminder of the amazing job my body was doing. Around 2:30 I had complete feeling back in my left side and my right side felt like it weighed 100lbs. My nurse helped me flip to my left side in an effort to even out the epidural block. She went ahead and checked me again and I was at an 8! I couldn’t believe it! I was so close to delivery!
About 30 minutes later (3:10pm) I swore I was feeling my baby’s head drop with each contraction. I waited through several intense contractions to make sure that I wasn’t just crazy… then I had a giant contraction, I felt like my back was about to snap and I had an uncontrollable urge to push in my bottom. I had Bradley call for the nurse.
When she arrived I told her I needed to be checked because I felt like I needed to push. I felt silly asking this because she had JUST checked me, but sure enough… I was completely dilated to a 10 and she stepped out in the hallway to call for my doctor. While she was out of the room I remembered reading that it was great to drink orange juice during second stage because it gave you extra energy. So I snuck a few sips of orange juice before she returned. We called my mom and as soon as I heard her voice I broke out in a cry “I’m about to have a baby!” I could hear the emotion and excitement in her voice as she told me how proud she was of me. Then the door opened to my nurse, doctor and two pediatric nurses entering.
By this point my nurse was breaking down the delivery bed, laying me back and my feet were placed on little foot rest. I completely forgot that another point on my birth plan was “I do not want to push on my back.” At that point I was just ready to push this baby out! I was feeling contractions pretty well and breathing through them as everyone was hustling around the room. I remember my doctor asking my nurse if we had done practice pushing and she said “No, I have a feeling once she starts pushing she won’t stop.” He said “Have her do a practice push and let’s see.” So they had me do one big push and then stopped me. I was officially about to deliver my baby. It was so surreal.
The nurse told me that with the next contraction she wanted me to hold my breath and push as hard as I could. She must have told me 2 or 3 times and then seemed to get a little frustrated. She placed her hand on my forehead and once more said “I need for you to stop pushing your breath out and to hold it in.” Then I realized that I hadn’t been holding my breath at all. I felt so silly and everyone had a little laugh.
As I felt the next contraction I took a deep breath, HELD IT, and pushed as hard as I could while pulling my knees to my chest. I did this three times back to back to back. Once I stopped pushing I heard my doctor ask the pediatric nurse to get the vacuum ready. I immediately vocalized that I did not want the vacuum at all, I refused it. Bradley mentioned that when I was pushing the baby’s heart rate was dropping into the 60s. The doctor told me that he was going to give me one more chance to push, but then he would have to help with the vacuum to get baby out faster. I knew my doctor, and that he would never reach for an intervention unless baby was in trouble, so I knew that I had to try my hardest to get him out.
With the next contraction I pushed as hard and deep as I could. I remembered all of the research that I had done on birthing a baby and I tried to focus on “breathing down my baby.” It really helped! I had pushed so well for that round that the doctor said I could do one more.
With the next contractions I was able to deliver the head and then I felt the shoulders and body follow with the next push. It was such an amazing feeling, but it didn’t register with my brain. As I geared up to push once more I opened my eyes and saw my baby cradled in the doctors arms. He was SO TINY. He wasn’t yet crying, so the doctor was suctioning him pretty well. Finally, he let out his first cry and started peeing everywhere. They laid him straight on my chest and I felt like I was living a dream. THIS MOMENT is what I had been waiting for. This moment was one that I had witnessed moms experience over and over as a birth photographer, and I was finally experiencing it myself.
I felt emotion overwhelm me and I looked up and saw that the same was happening for Bradley. His eyes were swoll up with tears and he had the biggest smile on his face. I knew in that moment how proud he was of me, how amazing it was to witness someone you love delivering your child, and how much LOVE he felt for both me and our baby. It is a moment that is frozen forever in my mind.
I watched as he cut the cord (something he hadn’t been able to do with our other children) and I continued to rub my baby’s back, over and over. I had done it. FINALLY. I did what so many doctors had told me I couldn’t do. I had overcome so many obstacles and God chose to let me have the outcome that I had dreamed of for so long. And for that I was so grateful!
Tears are streaming from my face as I write this. I don’t think that I could ever forget this experience ever! I do wish that I would have been able to have my photographer and doula like I originally had planned, but the circumstances didn’t allow it this time. Working together we were able to take some sweet hospital photos of our family.
NOTHING with my pregnancy or birth went as planned. I hit roadblock after roadblock. I battled so many emotions in these 9 months. But through it all, God showed me that if I trust Him, He can make ANYTHING happen!