People often say “it all happened so fast” when describing intense situations. In the case of Malcolm’s birth, there is no other way to describe what happened- it was so fast. And it was absolutely nothing like what I had planned.
I had planned a quiet and calm, all-natural home birth. Insurance costs forced me to compromise on the “home birth” part of the plan, but the quiet and calm and all-natural were strictly planned on.
I’ll spare you the boring parts with this quick summary- Malcolm was 9 days late and over the course of those 9 days, a total of 3 hours of fetal monitoring had revealed that his heart rate was not as strong as they wanted it to be and it wasn’t improving. They determined I needed to be induced… immediately.
– Proceed with caution, this story is full of “too much information” –
At 2 pm on Wed, Nov 15 my midwife reviewed the print out from the monitor of Malcolm’s heart rate and said I needed to head straight to the hospital to be induced. She said I couldn’t even go the half mile home to get my things.
The hospital staff didn’t share my midwife’s sense of urgency. I was put in a delivery room, but they waited two and a half hours to begin the IV Pitocin that would start my labor. The nurse explained that they were waiting to induce me because they wanted me to be switched to a better room once one opened up…
The room I was in is referred to by the nurses as the Vagina Room. Apparently, the staff hates that room because it is laid out so that as soon as you walk in the door, BOOM, first thing you see is, well… vagina. They waited and waited, but no rooms opened up, so at 5pm, they gave up and started the IV. I was 4 cm dilated.
The nurse asked if we had discussed any specific birthing plans with our midwife. Kenny and I laughed. “Yeah. No unnecessary interventions. Fetal monitoring only when necessary. No drugs. Letting me move around freely.” I made a show of looking at the blood pressure cuff tethering me to the wall, the fetal monitors, and the IV bag. Like I said, this was NOT the birth I had planned. The nurse gave me a look that clearly communicated that my sarcasm would get me nowhere.
For the next hour and a half, nothing happened. Kenny played guitar (see the picture at the beginning of the post), I FaceTimed with some people, we chatted, I peed a lot (disconnecting all the monitors each time and carrying my IV bag with me).
Finally, at 6:45pm I started to have real contractions. I breathed slowly and focused on relaxing all the muscles in my body with each contraction. After a few minutes the nurses asked if I wanted to walk around. YES. I was so sick of being stuck in bed for no reason. They said they would come back with a portable monitor. By the time they got back, the contractions were so strong, I couldn’t stand. They offered an exercise ball instead. YES. At least I could move around some. They said they would come back with the ball. Again, by the time they got back, the contractions were so strong, I couldn’t sit on a ball. I was sitting on the edge of the bed and even though I was leaning on Kenny’s shoulders, I felt like I might fall. The entire process from beginning labor to hardly being able to sit up straight took about 15 minutes.
At 7:10pm, I had been in labor 25 minutes when I looked at Kenny and said, “I might not be able to do this.” I was referring to having a drug-free labor. I was shocked at how quickly the contractions were increasing in intensity. It felt like every couple of minutes was an entirely different experience and it was NOT fun. I consider myself pretty strong so when I could see my pain threshold approaching after only 25 minutes, I began to question my resolve. After all, this could take hours. Up to 40 hours, the nurse reminded me more than once. I knew the average was closer to 12 or 15 hours but still!
If this is what contractions felt like after 25 minutes, what could they possibly feel like after 12 hours? I literally could not imagine.
Fear isn’t the right word for what I was feeling, but it’s the closest emotion I can think of. Apprehension isn’t strong enough. I was fairly concerned that I had woefully overestimated my pain tolerance. I thought about all the women I know who have given birth and wondered how I had somehow overlooked their superhuman abilities.
At 7:30pm, another 20 minutes later, the doctor said I was 5cm dilated. I did the math. 1 hour of labor, 1 centimeter further along. I was halfway there. I had 5 centimeters to go, so if the pace stayed steady, that meant 5 hours until the actual delivery part starts. Give or take THIRTY FIVE HOURS. The doctor said she needed to break my water and asked if that was okay, as if I really had a choice. I responded by turning to Kenny and telling him to cross “I’d prefer to let my water break naturally” off the birth plan. Just like the nurse before her, the doctor was not amused with my attitude.
I reminded myself that our circumstances had changed since we made our birth plan. They were doing what was best for Malcolm and his poor tiny little heart.
The thing about your water breaking is, it is a super messy situation. Fluid everywhere. And every time you move? More fluid. Did I mention that I still had to pee every four seconds? Walking to the bathroom, fluid everywhere. They handle this fluid problem by covering everything with thin, absorbent sheets. When I pointed out that these were “wee-wee pads” and I felt like a puppy who was failing potty training, I got some more side eyes from the nurse. Must strengthen my resolve to be agreeable.
My midwife texted me that she was headed home for dinner and I should let her know if I needed anything. I thought again about how long this process could be. More mental math.
The next few contractions were painfully close together. I pointed at the monitor and the ski-slope peaks it was printing out, incredulous. “See! That one only pretended to stop. It eased up just a little and then another started. This is crap! I’m supposed to have a break. You’re supposed to get a break between contractions and you’re supposed to use it to rest. How can I rest if my contractions aren’t giving me a break?!” Kenny dutifully told me all the things he was “supposed to” – I was strong and doing well, etc.
At 7:45pm, I had a contraction that was NO JOKE. The nurse calmly checked the monitor when she heard my string of curse words. Apparently the worst was yet to come because she felt the need to explain to me that the window of opportunity for me to get an epidural was closing. I had been clear- do not OFFER me pain medicine, I will ask for it if I need it- so she was careful not to “offer” but to explain that to get an epidural I would need to be able to sit on the edge of the bed leaning forward and remain completely still, even if I had a contraction. She also explained that because I was on Pitocin, my contractions were longer, stronger, and closer together than normal labor; basically, she said nobody would blame me for needing pain medicine when I had planned to go without it.
I considered it. I thought hard about the will power it would take to sit perfectly still on the edge of the bed. I knew the next contraction would be worse than the last. I could do it, I thought, but barely. Just as I was telling myself that I would be able to sit still, but before I had time to consider whether I would ask for the epidural, I was proved wrong. I could not have sat still.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had thrust myself down on the bed and was laying on my side, clutching the bed rail. This contraction was vastly different than the ones before it- it moved Malcolm all the way down the birth canal- a journey that felt to me like a foot and a half of travel space.
The nurse looked away from her computer, eyeing me over her shoulder. “You were pushing a little bit on that last one. It’s not time to push yet, ok? Just do your best to relax and breathe.”
I tried to process the fact that my baby was about to be born, that I had just felt him move, and that the nurse had no idea what was going on. I racked my brain for the word “crowning” and managed to blurt out something explanatory enough to get the nurse to come check things out. When she saw that Malcolm was, in fact, crowning, she dashed out into the hall and yelled for help.
Had I pushed? Maybe. The entire thing was 100% involuntary. The involuntariness of it gave me confidence. No matter what I, or anybody else did, this kid was being born. My body was doing it whether we were ready or not- whether the doctor and nurses made it into the room in time or not.
A doctor and two or three nurses burst through the doors of the Vagina Room making no effort to conceal their shock and sense of urgency. “I’m calmer than they are,” I thought to myself. They readied more wee-wee pads and bustled around for a minute. Kenny said later that they had been talking to me about how and when I would need to push. I didn’t hear them. I could only focus on the thought that I would be actually giving birth to Malcolm any second and that my body was about to shoot him out and the entire labor/ delivery thing would be over. It felt sort of dream-like. I was in the zone. These yahoos around me could sort themselves out or not, I was about to give birth.
The thing about delivery that’s difficult to explain is that, in my experience at least, the pain is not what is most prominent. The contractions hurt. But delivery wasn’t painful. It was intense. There is no other way to describe it but sheer intensity. I have never experienced anything in the same league of intensity as delivery. My entire body used every force I have, without me instructing it to do anything. I looked back on the experience over and over for days in awe at how little choice I had in what my muscles did. People describe birth as empowering, but I actually didn’t feel empowered, I felt sort of out of control. I mean I knew I wouldn’t be able to control contractions, but I had yelled. Loudly, I think. I had let out strange, loud yelling sounds without telling myself to. It’s felt embarrassing and like I had Tourettes.
The delivery was quick, just like the labor. Labor started at 6:45, delivery started soon after 7:45. I pushed twice and Malcolm was born at 8:00pm.
It was over. I looked down at Malcolm flailing around surrounded by nurses and at the clock, 8pm. I looked down at my baby again. It was over. I didn’t feel joy or relief or anything. It had all happened so quickly that I had trouble wrapping my head around the idea that I had a baby. Pregnancy and labor and delivery were over. I had completed the mythical act of “giving birth.” It was all just… over.
I couldn’t hold him right away- they said if I wanted to have a delayed cord clamping I would have to wait to hold him- so I had nothing to do but just sit there. After such an intense experience, it was an absurd juxtaposition.
Everybody’s reaction was the same- “You are SO lucky!” or “I hope I have a birth like that.” Don’t get me wrong, an hour is much better than forty when it comes to labor, but if I could go back and do it again, I actually would make the experience longer. I wouldn’t change being induced or any of that- that was part of our journey- me and Malcolm. It’s what needed to happen even though it wasn’t part of the plan. I would, however, change the duration. An hour just isn’t long enough to go from end-of-pregnancy Laura to mother-of-Malcolm Laura. There’s a lot of mental shifting that happens during labor. There’s a lot of experiences happening. I wish I had more time to process everything as it was going on. Not too much time, mind you, just enough that I could really digest it and be present for each part of the experience. It all happened just a little too quickly for me. I almost feel like I missed it.
As I write this, my little Malcolm is a month old. That also went by too quickly! When they say “they grow up so fast,” they aren’t kidding.
p.s. I found out that my midwife (who missed the birth entirely) had written only one thing on my chart besides the vital information: “Norwegian.” She said that I was Norwegian, descended from Vikings, and therefore I would give birth like a Viking- quick and easy. That feels pretty badass.