If you couldn’t tell from the title, the following is a birth story. A long birth story. So if you’re into that sort of thing, read on. (And if you’re not, skip this post and go straight to the next one for pictures.)
Part 1: Due Date
Hazel’s due date was Friday, September 12, and I was scheduled for a non-stress test (NST) at 9 a.m.
I lurk in a few pregnancy forums online, and based on other people’s experiences, I thought it was a bit early for an NST. But with it being a non-invasive test, and wanting to pick my battles, I decided to go in for my appointment.
My fear was that the doctor would find something wrong and tell me to go to the hospital to induce labor. He had told me a few weeks prior that he was going on vacation on September 14, and he wanted me to go into labor before then. I was definitely feeling pressure from him to deliver before the 14th.
Of course, if there was something wrong, I wanted to know about it. But I didn’t want to feel pressured to induce labor if induction wasn’t necessary, especially because I knew that labor would come on naturally so soon. Adelaide was born at 42 weeks, and Augie was born at 40 weeks + 5 days. I felt like #3 would arrive even earlier, maybe even on her due date.
Two days before my due date, the doctor gave me castor oil and told me to take it that night, but the idea of starting labor with stomach cramps and diarrhea did not appeal to me. I wanted things to start on their own.
So, on Friday morning, I showed up to the doctor’s office for the NST. The nurse hooked me up to the contraction monitor and heart rate monitor and left me alone for 20 minutes. I felt a couple of contractions, but they weren’t painful. I heard the baby’s heart beat faster and return to normal.
The doctor told the nurse to bring me to an exam room for a pelvic exam. That annoyed me. First of all, it’s irritating to be talked about without being talked to, especially since the doctor and nurse were standing right in front of me.
Second, and more importantly, at 35 weeks or so, I told the doctor that I did not want pelvic exams before labor. “That’s fine,” he said. “Just remind me in a couple of weeks.” Since that time, I had declined at least two pelvic exams, to his chagrin.
In case you’re wondering why I didn’t want pelvic exams:
One, there is little evidence supporting routine pelvic exams before labor. I understand wanting to know whether you’re dilated or not, but on the other hand, you can be dilated and effaced for days or weeks before labor begins. Or you can be closed up one day and in labor the next. So it seems like it just gets your hopes up (or down) unnecessarily.
Two, I didn’t have pelvic exams before labor with Adelaide, and I didn’t have any at all with August, so I didn’t have any data to compare against.
Three, being GBS+ this time made me want to keep all hands away from the cervix to avoid bringing bacteria up into the womb.
Four, I can’t tell you how many stories I have read about practitioners stripping membranes without asking. And my doctor would TOTALLY do that. Even if I had told him not to do it, I think he would have. But wanting to start labor naturally, and being GBS+, I definitely did not want to give him the chance.
Five, pelvic exams creep me out.
So, back to my due date:
The doctor walked into the exam room, where I sat fully clothed. “Lie back,” he said.
“I’ve told you, I do not want pelvic exams before labor,” I said.
He took the tissue paper off my lap and threw it into the corner. “Fine,” he huffed. “Look,” he said as he sat down, “The test was not 100 percent perfect. I want you to go to the hospital. They will give you some medicine to start contractions, and they will monitor you to make sure the baby can handle the contractions.”
“That sounds like an induction to me,” I said.
“It’s not an induction, they’ll just give you something to start contractions. Or you can do nipple stimulation,” he said.
“Look,” I said. “It’s my due date today. I went past my due date with both my other kids. I just want to start labor naturally.”
“Well I can’t guarantee that everything is 100 percent perfect. There were decelerations during the test,” the doctor said.
“So can you tell me more about what you think could be wrong?”
“Well, I just can’t guarantee that everything is perfect,” he said.
This made things difficult for me. I knew that the doctor wanted me to go into labor before he left for vacation. I knew that going to the hospital for pitocin would likely put me into labor. I knew that I heard her heart accelerate during contractions, and that any decelerations must have been slight or short dips, because I was tracking her heart rate during the test.
“I heard her heart accelerate during contractions, which is good. I know I am having contractions, so I must be close to labor,” I said.
“Do what you want,” he said. “If you change your mind, just head over to the hospital any time.”
And that was that. The nurse called me to tell me about the backup doctor. I looked him up on Yelp and saw that he was a backup for someone’s home birth, and I took that as a good sign that he wouldn’t take an aggressive approach to birth. There aren’t many OBs who would agree to back up a home birth, not that I knew of.
I was relieved that my doctor was going on vacation and that I wouldn’t have to deliver with him. In my final weeks, it became more and more clear that he didn’t care to give me “as close to a home birth as possible” as he had promised when I first met him in January.
Part 2: Labor
Friday passed. Saturday passed. We talked about going to church on Sunday, but I decided I wanted to stay home and rest. It was 103 degrees that day, and I spent most of the day in bed, relaxing in the dark with three fans blowing on me. I streamed the evening service from Bethel Church. Kyle kept the kids out of the room so I could relax.
I had read that a laboring mother needs a few things to create oxytocin for labor: dark, rest, quiet, familiar surroundings. Adrenaline is the enemy of oxytocin, so I wanted to keep myself as relaxed as possible. Like a cat in a cardboard box. Kyle helped protect that atmosphere for me.
Kyle made dinner and we ate around 10 or 10:30. (We eat late.) At 11, Kyle got the kids ready for bed. I usually join in the bedtime routine, but I was starting to feel my first contractions, so I asked Kyle to take care of everything for the night.
I timed my first contraction around 11 or 11:15 p.m. Another one came about five minutes later. They were lasting about 45 seconds and coming every few minutes. Every time I pushed the “stop” button, it surprised me to see that the contraction was 45 seconds long. I would have guessed they were more like 10 seconds long.
I was standing up and swaying my hips with every contraction, which helped a lot. While the contractions were definitely manageable at this point, I told Kyle that I didn’t think I would be able to handle this at home.
We had talked about doing a home birth on our own, and I had decided I would play it by ear. Augie had come in just two and a half hours, and the midwife arrived just in time. So if this baby came so fast that I thought I might have her in the car, then I would just stay home. But if I felt like I should go to the hospital, then I would go.
Around 11:30 or midnight, I headed for the bathroom, which is where I had labored with Augie. It was a quiet, small space where I felt safe.
Kyle peeked in and asked me if I needed anything. Water, I said. He asked me if he should call someone to watch the kids. I don’t know, do what you want, I said. He asked me if he was bothering me. No, I just can’t think right now, I said. Or something like that. I just remember that he was asking me questions, and I knew that I didn’t have any answers.
Kyle said that he would leave me alone unless I called or texted him, but I didn’t like the sound of that. How would I have the presence of mind to call him? So I think I told him to check on me once in a while. He asked me if I wanted music, and I didn’t. He asked me if he should fill up the birth pool, and I told him not to. (Which is a little sad, as I had used the pool for both Adelaide and August, but I thought it would be a waste of time and hot water to fill it up.)
I decided to draw myself a bath in the tub. I got in the bathtub, and the warm water soothed my contractions. I had stopped timing contractions after the first few, and now I was taking each one as it came.
I used my Hypnobabies techniques. I told myself “peace” and I used my “light switch” to go limp and loose, as they say. I reminded myself to work with the contractions, not against them, and I imagined what it was like for the baby as she made her way down.
I stood up in the bathtub for a while, singing “The Joy of the Lord is My Strength,” the kids’ church song that goes “Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” in the second verse. I did more hip swaying, and still felt like I was on top of the contractions and handling them well. I reminded myself to smile between contractions and enjoy the breaks.
I decided to turn on some music. I chose Bethel’s “For the Sake of the World” and sang along to the first few tracks. Then I kneeled down in the water for more contractions, more visualizing, more rocking.
Kyle came in and checked on me. He put his hand on my shoulder and prayed for me. It might not sound like much, but his prayers always bring me peace, which was just what I needed.
Now I was trying to decide whether to go to the hospital, and when. I was comfortable at home. I didn’t want to leave my familiar surroundings and go to a place with doctors and nurses and beeping things and bright lights. But then I thought about the paperwork, and insurance, and what if something went wrong, what if there was meconium in my water, what if I brought the baby in afterwards and they freaked out at me and took her away for observation, etc., etc., etc.
I knew that I could have a good hospital birth experience. I had read “Natural Hospital Birth,” that book I got from the library. I have two sisters-in-law who had natural births in the hospital. I could do it, too.
I also started to wonder how far along I was, and I wondered if I had slowed things down by getting in the bath. I felt like my contractions were further apart, now. Then I felt like getting out of the tub. I never felt like getting out of the pool with Augie, so it felt odd to me that I wanted to get out of the tub. I knew it hadn’t been too long, because the music wasn’t finished yet.
I got out and kneeled on some towels. I felt calm. I decided to put my dress on. I noticed a bump on my leg and scratched at it. It felt like labor had stopped altogether. Should I go to the hospital or stay here? I prayed. “Just go to the hospital,” was the reply. So I stood up and put on my shoes and told Kyle it was time to go. I felt resigned.
Kyle got the kids down from bed and gathered some things around the house. He even remembered to grab my coconut water from the fridge. Then we headed out to the car.
I had read in that library book that if it takes you less than 10 minutes to get to the car, you are going to the hospital too early. I thought by that measure, I’m definitely going to the hospital too early. But I knew they would want to hook me up to antibiotics, so maybe it was a good thing that I was going early.
I thought if they checked me and I was five centimeters or less, I’d go for the epidural. Try something new this time, you know? I would sleep through the contractions. It would be great. If I was over five centimeters, I’d have to think about it.
Part 3: At the Hospital
It was 1:30 a.m. when we got into the car. The ride to the hospital was uneventful. It was a little tougher to stay focused in the car. I imagined diving through a wave. I imagined loosening my muscles, untangling them. Kyle said something like, “In unrelated-to-birth news, gas prices are going down.” I shook my head or made some sort of gesture to show that I didn’t care.
“Should I drop you off at the front or park?” Kyle asked. I told him to park. We got out and made our way slowly across the parking lot. I pulled out my wallet and got my insurance card and ID. I stopped at the entrance to wait out another contraction. We went inside to the emergency check-in window.
I pointed at my belly and handed the clerk my cards. He gave us a bunch of papers to sign — papers that I had already signed at preregistration. He said Kyle could sign them. “I already signed all of these,” I said. “I already signed all of these.” Kyle signed the papers. I was annoyed.
We turned to walk down the hall, where a young guy with a wheelchair met us. I wanted to walk, but he said I had to get in the wheelchair. Not wanting to sit down again, I faced the driver and sat up on my knees. Someone laughed and asked if I was serious, and we wheeled down the hallway to the elevator. Kyle was beside me with the kids in the stroller.
I remember the wheelchair guy asking me if I was having a contraction, which seemed like a dumb question. Kyle answered for me.
He dropped me off in the delivery room. The room was dark, and first thing I saw was the bed with a big spotlight on it. Ugh, this was a mistake, I thought. I shouldn’t have come here. There is a spotlight on the bed. There are beeping things and nurses.
One of the nurses said I should go to the bed where they would check me. I said I need to go to the bathroom. I had to pee, but the contractions made it difficult. I sat on the toilet for a few minutes. The nurses said I couldn’t stay in there. I needed to be checked. They said I could pee on the bed, just come and get checked. I held my hand up, and someone asked if I was having a contraction. That seemed like a dumb question. I’m not sure if I answered it.
A nurse asked me if I would want pain relief. I put my hands up and shrugged. I wasn’t sure yet.
Finally, I made my way over to the bed. I asked them if they could check me from behind so I wouldn’t have to lay down, but they got me to lay down on my back or my side. There was a pause. “Do you feel like pushing at all?” the nurse said. “Ummm…I don’t know…not really…” I said. “She’s in denial,” one of the nurses said. “I think you’re at 10 centimeters,” the first nurse said. “I’ll get the doctor.”
A wave of relief went through my body. Ten centimeters. I’m almost done. I think Kyle was relieved, too.
I sat on the bed quietly, meditatively. “Jesus, Jesus,” I said. The talkative nurse asked me if I was OK. “Just calling out to the Lord,” I said. “Oh I did that once on a rollercoaster,” she said. “Knott’s Berry Farm.” She was too chatty.
They asked me if I had a written birth plan. I did, on my phone, but it seemed unnecessary now.
They started to prepare the IV antibiotics. “Do I need to be hooked up? There won’t be enough time,” I said. “It will still do some good,” a nurse said. I didn’t think it would, but I didn’t feel like fighting over what would be 15 minutes of IV penicillin. So they hooked me up to the IV.
They told me my doctor would be Dr. Yu. “I’m familiar with him,” I said. Dr. Yu was the doctor who had done my D&C the year before.
“Her,” the nurse corrected me. “Deborah Yu.” Oh, I thought. I had read her Yelp reviews. I knew that her patients loved her, but it was hard to get an appointment with her, and her staff was surly. I felt fortunate to be getting her services without having to deal with her staff.
I asked if they allowed delayed cord cutting. A nurse said that would be fine, just to tell the doctor. I asked if I could put off all the newborn stuff, and another nurse said the baby would get to be with me for an hour before they took her for the routine checks. I signed a paper to waive the eye ointment, consented to the Vitamin K shot.
Dr. Yu walked in and said she had to check me again. Ugh, I thought. They just checked me! But they somehow got me into some sort of acceptable position on the bed, and the doctor checked me. “The head is right there,” she said. “Just give two pushes and the baby will be out.”
For the record, it was more than two pushes. More like five or six. It was excruciating work. It hurt. It burned. For perhaps the first time during labor, I made noise. I yelled, maybe screamed? I know I didn’t want to scream. I buried my face in the pillow. They were moving my legs around, telling me what to do. Someone counted, and I ignored them. I just pushed as best I could, and finally her head was out. Then her shoulders. Then I heard crying. She was out! Oh thank God. I was so thankful to hear her cry right away.
They put her on my chest. The doctor clamped and cut the cord before I knew it, because I’d forgotten to tell her to wait. But the baby was breathing well, and what could I do about it now?
At some point they took the baby away to weigh her. I don’t think it was an hour later, but I didn’t care. They did everything in the room, and Kyle stayed with the baby. She weighed in at 8 pounds, 11 ounces — one ounce more than August, one pound less than Adelaide. That was a surprise, because I felt so much smaller this time. And her head was 36 centimeters, “About as big as we ever measure,” a nurse said.
One of the nurses asked me when my water broke. I had no clue. She said that she didn’t feel any bag of waters when she checked me. Maybe when I was in the bathroom? I don’t think it happened at home. We decided to say it happened in the bathroom at the hospital, but what really happened remains a mystery.
The doctor checked me for tears and waited for the placenta. For the first time, I did not not need stitches! (And let me tell you, recovery has been 100 percent easier because of that.) The placenta came out easily, but the doctor had to remove some excess tissue with some plier-type instrument. I thought it would hurt, but I didn’t feel it at all.
Then I looked to my left and saw Adelaide on the couch. Daddy’s iPhone was in her hands, but she was staring across the room, looking tharn. I had forgotten she was in the room.
“Was that scary?” I asked her. Adelaide nodded. “Do you want to come sit by me on the bed?” She nodded and jumped up on the bed. Kyle or one of the nurses handed the baby back to me.
Adelaide and I looked at the baby. I tried nursing. Kyle took some pictures. The nurses commented on the birth, saying it was fast and beautiful. One of them said I had checked in at 1:45 a.m. and the baby was born at 2:19 a.m.
A little while later, a nurse came and told us that kids were not allowed in the recovery room overnight. Kyle would have to go home. But we were allowed to stay in the delivery room until 6 a.m. if we wanted.
Kyle and the kids went home around 5 a.m. I had to stay at the hospital for 48 hours so they could check the baby for signs of strep infection. Kyle and Adelaide and August came back the next day with In-N-Out for lunch.
Some time on Monday or Tuesday we settled on her name: Hazel Evergreen. Hazel was my top pick for a name, Evergreen was Kyle’s favorite. So we compromised.
And that’s how we became a family of 5!