My first birth

When we were pregnant with our first baby I was determined to have a birth with as few interventions as possible. In particular, I did NOT want an epidural.  My husband and I took two birthing classes (one was hypnobirthing, one was a general childbirth education series) and I read a half dozen books about birth. We hired a doula.

I first heard the word “doula” when I was a teenager and a neighbor told me that her first birth had ended in a cesarean and the OB had told her that she could never have a vaginal birth: her pelvis was too small and narrow. She hired a doula (who was also a midwife) for her second birth and after many hours of labor at home she had a successful VBAC at the local hospital. She thought the doula made a world of difference. Right then and there I decided that when I had a baby, I would have a doula.

I had my 37 week appointment on a Friday afternoon and was checked for the first time, I was 3 cm and 70% effaced. After the appointment I had some bleeding. I was concerned and called our Doula; she said it was common to have bleeding after a vaginal exam, and the mucos plug could have been dislodged, so I shouldn’t worry too much. A few hours later my husband and I went to a church activity and played “water balloon volleyball.” I didn’t feel well and didn’t want to play, and on the way home (a two block walk) I complained that I was so tired and disappointed that a short excursion like this would be so exhausting. I wanted soup. My better half dutifully fetched some from the grocery store; 4 cans because he wasn’t sure what would sound best. I surprised us both by eating 3 cans in one sitting. I was hungry!

At 10:00 p.m. we had just knelt down to say our evening prayers when I announced: “Either my water just broke or I wet my pants!” A few minutes of waiting and watching and we determined that it had to be the former: there was no odor or color to the fluid and it kept coming out in little dribbles every few minutes. We called our doula, hoping she would say “It’s fine to labor at home for a few hours” but she confirmed that the hospital was where we were supposed to go. I was nervous because I hadn’t felt anything and I knew I would be looking at some interventions if I didn’t have contractions soon.

My husband gave me a blessing, we said a prayer, and after a shower and eating and drinking one more time we were on our way.Check in was at 11:30 p.m. I was declared 4 cm and 90% effaced and told that our Dr. estimated quite generously, so progress had indeed been made since the previous exam 9 hours ago. We were strapped to the monitors and Serge read some relaxation scripts and we tried to get a little rest, but I was too excited to sleep.The nurse told us that by 4:30 a.m. I would need pitocin and an antibiotic if things hadn’t progressed enough, so I was praying for contractions. The monitor showed I was having irregular contractions, although I wasn’t feeling anything. I had asked our Dr. if I could labor without an IV, and he assured me it would be no problem. I asked him to write it in my chart because the doula said that 2 liters of saline were routinely given to all laboring women at this hospital. He chucked and scribbled a note and said it would be no problem.

I explained to the nurse my strong desire not to have an IV (chemotherapy caused me to have intense nausea associated with fluids by IV), she smiled and said that would be no problem and then came back with a pole in hand and said “we’ll just give you a few liters.”

Again I told her I didn’t want the IV. She said she’d call the Dr. She returned shortly and said that the Dr. had told her to give me a few liters of fluid. I got down on my knees and pleaded: “I’m more apprehensive about having an IV than I am about experiencing childbirth. Please! Can I do this without the IV? I promise I’m well hydrated!” She called the Dr. again and reported that he said “Give her what she wants.” Phew!

She put in a “heplock”, which was ready access to a vein and then capped off. Even just the couple ml of saline she put in to clear the line made my stomach turn and brought an awful taste to my mouth. I was so grateful not to be required to have a liter of fluid.

Within the next hour I started feeling slight “crampy feelings” that came every 3 to 5 minutes, and then they intensified to a level where I would need to stop talking or moving and focus on breathing through them. Our doula suggested trying several different positions now to see what felt most comfortable. I thought the birthing stool was terrible for contractions (but a few hours later when I was fully dilated I loved it) and preferred standing and hands and knees. The “slow dance” was my favorite. I found the deep breathing I had practiced to be very helpful and was surprised to discover that I did not like having contractions with my eyes closed.

At 2:50 a.m. I was checked and found to be 7 cm and 100% effaced. At 3:00 a.m. I was very thirsty and the half a cup of ice chips that I was allowed was just not cutting it. So I excused myself to the restroom several times and used the urine collection cups (not sterile, but I knew they would be clean) to get drinks from sink faucet. I also snuck a granola bar and felt a lot better after having had a drink and a snack.

At 4:00 a.m. I was 10 cm dilated. They had filled up the Jacuzzi for me but said I was too far dilated to use it, so I got in the shower for about 10 minutes and it felt great.

Our nurse checked me after I was fully dilated to try to estimate when to call our Doctor. She had me lay flat on my back and then push during a contraction while she checked me so that the Dr. could arrive in the ideal “10 to 15 minutes before delivery window.” I felt like I needed all my concentration to do my slow breathing during the contractions, but I still felt like things were doable. It was intense, but I was feeling alright. The contraction on my back was a different story: the pain was so much worse that I felt like I almost lost consciousness.

After declaring me ready to push and calling the Dr. we got set up for delivery: I wanted to be upright, so I was on a birthing stool on top of the bed. The squatting bar was in front of me and at just the right height for me to rest my forehead on it inbetween contractions. This is how we delivered:I had decided that I was not a fan of “purple faced pushing” and I was in favor of “breathing my baby down” rather than pushing him out. The nurse and doctor kept telling me to hold my breath and push, and I ignored them and just kept blowing it out. I tried pushing a couple times for just a half second or so but it didn’t feel good, there was too much pressure when I pushed. Our doula started telling me to push too, getting about 2 inches from my face and telling me to hold my breath. I remember thinking: “Traitor doula!” and I ignored her too. They kept trying to motivate me by telling me that I would be done sooner if I pushed, and I just wanted them to leave me alone. I wasn’t in a hurry.

I thought about telling Serge to tell them what I was thinking because I didn’t feel like talking, but decided that I didn’t even want to say that. I was not in the mood for conversation. When I told Serge this after the delivery he laughed and said he would have had no idea what to say if I’d told him “tell them what I’m thinking. I don’t want to talk right now.” I was surprised that he didn’t know. It took me a few more years to fully appreciate that even though he loved and knew me very well, he could not read my mind.

At 5:10 a.m. our doula held a small mirror so that I could see the head was crowning: there was about a 2 inch circle of the head visible. At the same time the Dr. told me that the baby’s heart rate had dropped to around 60 beats per minute, and he wouldn’t be okay with his heart rate that low for too long, so I needed to get him out. That was motivation for me to push, and so with the next contraction I pushed just like they’d told me to and the head was delivered in less than a second. Then they switched to “Stop! Don’t push anymore!” After the Dr. suctioned his mouth out the shoulders came easily (and with hardly any effort on my part).

I didn’t feel anything during that last contraction when the head was delivered and I felt like I observed it third person; it was an odd sensation to see it but not feel it. They placed our darling son on my stomach and put a heated blanket over him immediately after birth. He was a little dusky colored but pinked up as he took his first few breaths and sneezed. His face was squashed and he was messy and a little odd looking, but I didn’t care at all. I was so full of happiness and had such a strong feeling of love for this little human being in my arms. It was amazing. Although I knew I was pregnant and that this was the end result, it was still a surprise to see him: a real live person, new to the world. What a miracle.The placenta delivered a few minutes later and the Dr. said I’d lost about 250 ml of blood and I had some tearing and he’d like to start a pitocin drip if that was okay with me. I said it was fine. I felt so great at this point I doubted that anything could bother me. The tearing looked to me to be severe: I had split open from the vagina down to the anus and the whole perineum was a ragged mess. The Dr. said it wasn’t too bad, “just second degree”, and I appreciated his optimistic tone, but it took quite a while to stitch up and required a layer or two of stitches in the muscle followed by a layer in the skin. While he was stitching he got outside of the area he had numbed, but the endorphin release from the birth was so powerful that although I could feel the stitching it didn’t hurt.

The doctor showed me the placenta and let me hold it and explained how it worked. I thought it was really cool to see. I was surprised by how small it was: the umbilical cord wasn’t much thicker than my little finger and the placenta was maybe 7 inches in diameter. Our baby was on the smaller side too: 6 pounds 9 ounces.
Then we had an hour of cuddling and trying to figure out nursing before our first born went to the nursery. He never latched on very well and I was a little disgruntled that they took him when they did; I had almost gotten him to nurse and thought that I might have succeeded if we’d had just 10 or 15 more minutes.

When I got out of bed I picked up our bags to walk over to our postpartum room and the nurse and doula laughed and told me I had to get in a wheel chair and that I should take it easy. I felt so good after his birth, like I could’ve run a mile. A week after our son was born we drove by the hospital and as soon as I saw the building I was flooded with a happy joyful feeling “that’s where our darling baby was born.” But in the subsequent year there was a shift: as I retold the story I focused more energy on the few very minor things that hadn’t gone as smoothly: the pressure to have an IV, taking the baby to the nursery before we had successfully nursed.

I complained about these things too much and was developing an anti-hospital attitude. Around this time I re-read what I had written the day after his birth and was surprised by how positive and joyful my story was. At the time I did not really care about the IV and the rocky start to breastfeeding. Having had a healthy baby and having had the birth experience I had hoped for was a joy that completely overcame those hiccups. I made an effort then to recapture that perspective, but the hospital phobia and anxiety that someone was going to interfere in my birth remained and was part of the reason that our second baby was born in our living room.


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