One important lesson I learned through pregnancy and birth: be informed but don’t make assumptions. The two greatest assumptions I made before giving birth to Ollie: 1) interventions are almost never beneficial and 2) a hospital will make me anxious. I ended up choosing both things in the heat of the moment, and I really believe my intuition guided me there, to two difficult decisions that turned out to be really beneficial for me, my baby, and my family. Humbling to admit that though much of the information I consumed during pregnancy was helpful, my assumptions about the labor and birth experience were not.
Ollie’s birth story started on Friday, May 2. I was convinced I would have him early because I was 3 cm dliated and 80% effaced and had lots of Braxton Hicks contractions. I regret thinking this way (another assumption) because it set me up for a big-time emotional roller coaster. I decided to have my membranes stripped that morning at my 40 week appointment, believing if my body was truly ready for labor, it would work, and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t work. I went back to work after the appointment but took a half day because I was having some pretty intense cramps. That evening I had a few hours’ worth of real pre-labor contractions. I knew they were different because they were more rhythmic than the Braxton Hicks I’d been having and they grew more intense over time. I was mentally preparing myself to go into active labor in the next day or so, and felt super thankful as I went to bed for the gentle start & opportunity to get used to the sensation of a contraction.
The next morning Tim & I went out for breakfast. It was a beautiful day so we decided to galavant around the city together potentially one last time as a couple. It was also his birthday weekend so we wanted to make it special. I had heard from my midwife that if the membrane stripping doesn’t do the trick that I might try acupuncture. So I googled it and found a free acupuncture session in south Minneapolis. My contractions definitely intensified after that and I noticed them taking my breath away and lasting longer each time. But they would only stay for a few hours. I began to feel disappointed and wondered when it would all go down. Tim had made a comment about not wanting to go back to work on Monday and I had it in my head that I’d have Ollie by my due date, so I sort of felt like a failure that I hadn’t had him yet. Really emotional. I was content to be pregnant a while longer but the pressure I had put on myself was starting to make me anxious.
The next day or two was more on-and-off contractions. Each set of them only lasted 3-4 hours but they intensified each time they came. My doula told me to ignore them until I couldn’t ignore them anymore. I went to bed early that night in case labor came soon, knowing I’d need to store up as much energy as possible. I woke up in the middle of the night covered in fluid and jumped out of bed. Even more spilled out when I stood up so I naturally assumed my water had broken. We called the midwife & she told me if I wasn’t in active labor within 24 hours (Tuesday at 1 am) that I’d need to be induced. I called into work that morning because we thought Ollie would be coming that day.
Tim stayed home with me and we went for another acupuncture session to move things along as I really didn’t want to be induced or go to the hospital instead of my birth center. The acupuncture caused some contractions immediately but again, nothing that lasted. We went in to the birth center for a non-stress test and to have my membranes stripped again. My midwife noticed my water bag was still in tact, so she sent us to the clinic, and sure enough, it hadn’t broken. Disclaimer: I am 100% positive I didn’t pee the bed. Still have no idea what it was, but apparently this happens to a good number of people?
I took the next day (Tuesday) off work because I was emotionally and physically spent. It was draining to wonder if each contraction was the “real deal” or not. I began to be frustrated by them because I was still only 3 cm dilated as of my last appt. but had been having pretty powerful ones all weekend. Tim wanted to stay home with me, but I convinced him to go in to work so he wouldn’t waste his paid time off. For all I knew Ollie wouldn’t come for another week or two. (I was only 2 days past my due date at this point).
I went to grab coffee and got a manicure and pedicure afterward to distract myself. I noticed a few strong contractions there, but they didn’t feel like anything different & I didn’t want to time them. I met up with Tim for lunch and on the way there, I had a couple really strong ones. I waited for him in the car outside Chipotle and they got worse, but I tried to ignore them. In the restaurant I had to grab onto a wall during one of the contractions, and that’s when I wondered if stuff was getting real.
I had Tim drive me home because I was contracting pretty frequently. He came inside to run me a bath and was planning to go back to work, but as soon as I got in the tub things got really intense, so he decided to stay home, which was a good call. This was about 1 pm. By 1:30 I had him call the doula because they were getting super close together – they went from 15 minutes apart to 1 minute apart within an hour, and each one seemed to last over a minute, some almost 2 minutes. My back also really hurt and the bath wasn’t giving me any relief. (I had guessed Ollie was posterior from where I felt kicks and sensed I would have back labor.)
While I was laboring in the bathroom my water broke, so we called the midwife. I still wasn’t 100% sure this was real labor and I didn’t want to ask Tim what he thought. It was so painful & intense that if it wasn’t truly active labor I didn’t think I could handle the real thing. The midwife heard me moaning in the background and said we should make a plan to meet at the birth center around 6 pm (they want patients to be 5-6 cm dilated when they arrive). I told Tim we needed to go sooner. I couldn’t imagine riding in the car if it was any worse than this. So she said we could meet her around 3.
My doula Nina came around 2 and suggested some position changes and pressure points for my back pain, but all i wanted to do was hang on Tim. I was surprisingly not anxious at all, just super focused. The pain wasn’t scary because it was predictable and rhythmic, but as it intensified, I wondered if I’d be able to do it naturally like I’d planned.
We left the house at 2:45 and I had at least 4 contractions between the bathroom and the car. The car ride was pretty bad but not as horrendous as I thought. We made it to the birth center within 15-20 minutes (naturally hitting every stoplight and pot hole on the way there). The midwife checked me and I was 6 cm and completely effaced. I knew transition (the toughest part of labor, preparing to push) was coming soon but had no idea how long it would last. Like I said, if it would have gotten worse or the contractions would have gotten longer, I’m not sure if I could have handled it. That’s when I started entertaining the thought of transferring to the hospital & getting an epidural.
I got in the tub for about 20 minutes. After I threw up my lunch everywhere I knew I needed to get out of there. I calculated in my mind that if I wanted to go to the hospital (just across the street) I should probably say something then because I was quickly approaching the most difficult part of labor. It took a ton of humility but I said it:
“Get me to the hospital. Please. I want an epidural.”
My midwife was gracious but reminded me that a lot of moms say that during the most difficult part of labor and don’t really mean it. I convinced them I wouldn’t be upset if my birth plan was ruined and had her call them right away and even make sure an anesthesiologist was available when I got there.
My timing was spot on. I got the last room at the Mother Baby Center. I basically ran from the car to the room, wrapped in a towel and a soaking wet night gown. As soon as I was administered the epidural the whole experience changed. I was able to enjoy myself and feel more connected to the labor experience. The dread I felt before each contraction faded and I began to joke around with the hospital staff and melt into the hospital bed.
I was surprised I could still feel my legs and even the pressure of the contractions. I had assumed I’d be totally numb and labor would slow but again, I was wrong. I was also astonished at how the epidural really worked in my favor. I went from 6 to 10 cm within an hour of getting it and didn’t need any other interventions. I had always assumed an epidural meant not feeling yourself push meant vacuum/forceps meant c-section. Totally wrong. This was the best decision for me. I can’t imagine having done it any other way.
I also thought the hospital environment would scare me, but it actually put me at ease. The birth center, though, made me feel trapped because I knew I had no other options for pain relief. It really took that intense labor experience to show me how wrong I was in all my assumptions and how modern medicine is actually a gift to be taken advantage of when appropriate. For us, I believe it was.
After an hour of “labor” in the hospital my midwife checked me and I was fully dilated. Tim went down to get dinner in the cafeteria, so Nina had to call him and tell him to come up because I was ready to push. The urge to push was super powerful. The epidural didn’t affect it at all. I was only allowed to push on every other contraction because they were so long and so close together. I also noticed on the monitor that each of my contractions had two peaks, making it even more difficult to resist pushing. I had to hold myself together though because Ollie’s heart slowed during contractions toward the end and he needed a break from the pressure of pushing.
After an hour, his head came out and the rest of him slid out on the same push. That’s where everything became surreal. I was so relieved to be done so I really had no concept of what really happened, that I’d just had a baby. Before I even realized what was going on they cut the cord and took him across the room to a warmer. He had meconium (not in his lungs, thankfully) so he had to be monitored for the first few minutes. I heard Ollie cry and knew he was okay. Tim was the first one to hold him and got to cut the rest of his cord.
At that point things got a little intense for me. My baby was crying on the other side of the room, I still hadn’t seen him, and I was losing a ton of blood. I ended up losing 800 cc’s (almost a liter). They gave me pitocin to contract my uterus and finally things settled down. I didn’t really know if I was okay or not but didn’t feel afraid. The only thing I felt was relief that it was over.
Tim brought Ollie to me while I was getting stitches. He had the sweetest cry/whimper I had ever heard. I held him skin to skin for at least 10 minutes before looking at him. I had wondered what I’d think or feel when I saw his face. I knew that moment would be special. He just felt familiar when I saw him. Of course he looked that way; he’s mine. I wasn’t surprised at all. He just felt right in my arms. It was nuts.
People have asked what it feels like to suddenly be a mom. It didn’t feel sudden in any way. It’s kind of like having a birthday. You anticipate it feeling super different but when it comes, you kind of just ease into it and realize you don’t feel different at all. It just feels natural. That’s the only way I can describe it.
Sweet baby Ollie slipped into our lives gracefully at just the right time and in just the right way, on Tuesday, May 6 at 6:56 pm. He weighed 8 lbs on the nose and was 21 inches long. To us, he’s perfect, and we have loved discovering him together each day.