For those who are curious about how her birth came about, feel free to linger through the story. Please keep in mind that there are words like mucous and other bodily functions in this post. If you’re familiar with birth, this should not traumatize you. If you are not, consider this fair warning.
Sharing a birth story is a way that I feel I can contribute to ‘normalizing’ birth. Our society views birth as something that must be traumatizing and always need medical intervention. This simply is not true. Birth is normal, and contrary to what most beliefs are, women’s bodies are actually made to handle the birth of a child. There are occasions in which medical intervention is necessary, as was with my first. I also came very close with Cassia’s birth to having interventions as well. I understand this and see nothing wrong with it, but I do see something wrong with the image that women can’t handle birth.
My due date was October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis. Andy and I were truly hoping that our little baby would debut on such an amazing day, especially since it seemed to coincide with our sense that either the ‘Peace Prayer’ (often attributed to St. Francis) or St. Francis had a special place in her pre-conception. Though I had my membranes swept by my doctor that morning, our little one still decided to wait nearly a day before showing signs of something starting.
Friday morning I started having random contractions. I woke up with a couple of them in the wee hours of the morning, but they were nothing I couldn’t easily go back to sleep from. When I woke for the morning, it felt like this was going to be the day that it all started. The contractions continued randomly, but it was the most that I had ever experienced up to that point, and whether or not true, it felt like they were trying to find cohesion to become regular. So I convinced Andy that we needed to go grocery shopping for some last minute items before I couldn’t do anything else. It was while we were shopping that the contractions became regular and had definite beginnings and ends. Andy used an app on his phone to time them, and while we were shopping, I just stopped walking and endured the contraction. They were short and about 5 minutes apart, which I understood as extremely early in labour and nothing to panic about.
We arrived back from shopping around 10:00-11:00. The intensity of the contractions slowly, slowly, slowly started increasing. I texted with our doula, Jude, who said to just let her know when we needed her support. Just prior to lunch, I suspected that my waters were breaking. It wasn’t a huge gush like it had been with Spencer, so it was hard to tell whether it was amniotic fluid or if it was yet another pregnancy bladder issue. However, while eating lunch, it became more obvious that my waters were breaking. A check on the toilet confirmed that they were clear with flecks of white (likely vernix), a very good sign. I chose to wait a while longer at home, knowing that being a VBAC, the hospital would push for me to be constantly monitored and I would have a harder time labouring freely, which would increase my chances of having interventions that I did not want. So I laboured. About an hour later I felt another gush of water, and at this point Andy and I decided that it was time to go to the hospital. My contractions were increasing in their intensity and it felt more right to go at this point. Jude told us she would meet us there.
Apart from the three or four contractions in the car, the trip was fine (my mom was convinced it would be torture for me or we wouldn’t make it at all). At the admission desk, once the nurse saw me going through a contraction she rushed me into an assessment room (which was shared). Unfortunately, that is where the attentive care seemed to stop for the next couple of hours. I was put on a monitor for both the fetal heart rate and for the contractions, which was expected. The hospital looks for 20 minutes of recorded info to determine what state I am in and whether I should be sent home or not. Knowing that my waters had broken, I knew they wouldn’t be sending me home. I am still unsure why I was in assessment for so long. At one point a nurse came in and looked at the 10-foot recorded info from the monitor. I asked her why it was taking so long (we had been there nearly an hour already). She told me, without any hint of compassion or care, ‘Because all I have here are sheets and sheets of blank info. We need 20 minutes of info.’ Then she left. And this was simply not true – the fetal monitor definitely had 20 minutes of recorded heart rate, albeit somewhat broken up because the monitor would shift or baby would shift positions. However, all the information on there was completely within range of ‘normal’. If anything, it was the contraction monitor that was having the most trouble picking up my contractions. It was frustrating, because if a nurse had even just stayed and observed me for 5 minutes, she would have known the intensity, frequency, and length of my contractions.
Labour continued, monitoring continued, eventually I was given a labour room to move into. They called my doctor to let her know that I was in, and she reassured them that she was supportive of me being on intermittent monitoring (rather than having to be strapped to a bed with the monitors), at least for awhile. What I still don’t understand is that they didn’t rush to start me on antibiotics, since I was GBS positive; ultimately it doubled our stay in the hospital.
One of the few things I remember from this point is that the contractions seemed very close together, were getting more intense, and were also triggered by anyone who opened the door, or walked in, or had a significant change in movement in the room. I think what is usually normal for women in labour is that when there is a change in scenery (as in, going to the hospital, a non-familiar setting) labour slows down or temporarily stops…this did not feel like the case with me. Contractions increased. At this point, my contractions were about 1-2 minutes apart. I needed constant help between Andy and Jude applying pressure on my lower back. It did not feel like any severe back labour, but it sure helped alleviate the pain by having one of them apply pressure to my sacrum or squeeze my hips during a contraction.
Around quarter after 5pm I felt sick enough to warrant a hazardous trip to the bathroom (who knew it could be so terrifying to try to walk 10 feet?!). I threw up, which helped mucho mucho to alleviate the nausea, even if it felt horrible to throw up, especially during a contraction. Not much later, about 5:30pm, a doctor came and checked my progress, informing us that I was only 4-5cm dilated. I was also told that my doctor was now recommending that I stay on constant monitoring. By this point the contractions had increased significantly and I felt about ready to give up every time one started. My mantra when they started was ‘no, no, no, not again. no, no!’ Or something along those lines (Andy would like to tell you the explicit words, but I vetoed). I was exhausted from having contractions so close together since 2pm, and they hurt like the dickens. When the doctor reported the progress, I nearly broke down at the thought of having to labour this intensely for another 5+ hours. I felt it was time for me to deviate from my original hopes of having a medicine-free birth and consider options.
In my head, my only option that would seriously give me some relief from the pain was an epidural. I couldn’t see how anything that didn’t numb me would be enough. I spent some time thinking about it, after a contraction and bracing myself for the next one, though looking back I wish I had considered first at least trying some other less-serious options, like nitrous oxide. I have no idea if it might have been enough to get me through. Anyway, shortly after 6pm, they called for the anesthesiologist. He would be around in about 20 minutes, I was told. I remember figuring that I had about 10-15 contractions that I had to get through before relief would find me.
Somewhere around this time I felt an urgent need to use the bathroom. Jude thought it was a good idea to go before the epidural. As I was there, at the very end of a contraction, I felt there was something else that had to come out. I don’t know if any other women who have had relatively natural labours have experienced this, but I had to go poop, and it was such a horrible feeling. It was a completely different sensation to the other contractions, and absolutely intense need to push. I ended up back on the bed, but when the next contraction hit, this urge hit me again. I could not stay lying down while feeling this need, so I stood by the bed during the next contraction, which was nearly entirely this new urge to push it out. The nurse attending me panicked and asked frantically, ‘Are you pushing? You can’t push yet – you’re only 4-5cm dilated! Are you pushing out baby?’ All I could think was, ‘Woman, you are crazy if you think I can prevent my body from pushing!’ I told her that I had no idea if I was pushing out the baby, but that I had to eliminate solid waste (not so nicely put), and as far as I knew they felt like the same thing. This is, of course, true. As it turned out, even after I had eliminated, I still had contractions that were pushing. The anesthesiologist had not arrived. I knew at this point that an epidural would become unlikely and that I was probably dilated to 10cm. While the nurse was panicking, Jude suggested that I be checked to see how dilated I was, while also coaching me on how to attempt to breathe through the pushing contractions until they knew more. The nurse checked me. Then she said she needed someone else to verify her check. 3 minutes later I was informed that it was okay to push, I was 10cm dilated. They called my doctor.
This part of the labour, though seriously intense, was the most relieving for me. It was the first time I had a break between contractions that lasted more than a minute. And I knew there was an end in sight. I remember at one point Jude asked me if I wanted to try anything for the pain; I said no. I could get through these. I could manage these. I knew it wouldn’t be forever. My doctor arrived in a flurry of activity, prepped herself quickly. Not long after she arrived, baby’s head started to make a more prominent appearance. After one particular push, Jude encouraged me to feel baby’s head as she was emerging; I don’t recall ever feeling anything so soft. 5 or 10 minutes later, baby Cassia was born. I pushed for a grand total of about 30 minutes.
I felt literally in shock that I gave birth naturally, having had my mind wrapped around needing to have an epidural to make it through the next unforeseen number of hours. Beautiful little Cassia was given to me (after she needed some help with mucous in her lungs), and she immediately stopped crying when she heard my voice. It was the most intimate experience to have with her, newly delivered.
I am amazed at what my body achieved, the natural hormone high from being non-medicated has been a great experience as well. Overall, after a labour and birth like Cassia’s, I feel empowered and thankful that this birth happened with so much grace and with so many blessings. We are so happy to have Cassia as a part of our family!