My sweet daughter, Vivienne Elise, was born at 9:46 a.m. on Friday, December 17, 2010 at 40 weeks 1 day gestation. Her birth was an incredible experience! I do long birth stories (see Johnny’s birth story)! I debated whether to do a shorter version for my blog, but I figured you could just skim.
The Due Date
From the time I was full-term, I had been experiencing plenty of Braxton Hicks contractions, coupled with a few stronger ones here or there. It was never consistent or frequent enough for me to think birth was coming soon. I just figured my body was gradually preparing for birth. In fact, I sort of hoped it would do lots of preliminary work — a little bit of effacement and dilation and getting her into the proper position — well before the actual birth began. That way I’d have more energy when the time came.
In the morning of December 16 (my 40-week date), I had contractions that started to seem like they were coming in a pattern. They weren’t strong and I was unsure if they would progress into something more. I asked Shane to stay home until 7 a.m. (he usually leaves at 6) while I listened to “Baby Come Out” on my Hypnobabies playlist to see if that could inspire her to keep it moving.
Shane ended up working from home that day and that helped me feel safe to go into labor if I was going to. I didn’t want him to be at work when it started.
Johnny and I went to the mall to walk. We shared a pretzel and played at the mall playground for awhile. I was a little disappointed that no one asked when I was due. I thought it would be fun to say, “Today! Watch out!”
It was a great last outing with my then-only child.
That evening, I went to bed around 11.
I woke up at 1:09 a.m. with a contraction. I knew this was the real deal, the way the wave started in my back and worked its way around me. I went to the bathroom and laid back down. Another one came about 10 minutes later. Yep, these were the good sort of contractions I’d been waiting for. I popped on my “Birth Day Affirmations” track from Hypnobabies to keep my head on straight.
A few more good ones came and went, and I got up to get a bowl of Cheerios. I opened Contraction Master to start timing these things. It truly didn’t take much time for me to get into a 4-minute apart, 60-second duration pattern.
My contraction log isn’t perfect as I was on the phone, in the bathroom, or puttering around during some. Oh, and I did NOT have a 4+ minute long contraction. That was an error, phew.
Even though things hadn’t been happening for long, I decided to call the midwife at 2 a.m. I told her that these weren’t really strong yet, but I probably would want to head in before morning rush hour began. I was just starting to need to be quiet during each wave. She told me to keep on doing what I was doing and to call back when I was on my way.
Johnny must have heard me talking, because he wandered into the kitchen at that time. I carried him into my room and put him in bed next to Shane, where he promptly fell back asleep. Shane noticed that I was up and on the phone and got up to see what in the world was going on. Oh, just in labor. No big deal — but eat something!
My next phone call was to Emily, my fantastic doula, so she could be aware. This was around 2:15. I also called Renee who would be watching Johnny so she would know, too.
After that, I just tried to keep my excitement down so I wouldn’t get adrenaline overload. I needed to keep focused.
I had my iPod playing the birth day affirmations, and then I switched to my choral hymns playlist.
Shane put together some last-minute items, I got dressed, and we got Johnny ready to leave. We were out the door sometime around 4:30.
I updated my Facebook status at 4:19 with a pre-determined line: “It’s 10.6 miles to the birth center, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half our kids’ car seats are occupied, it’s cold, and we’re packing swimsuits.” It was a Blues Brothers reference and I am so glad that at least one person picked up on that!
I realized that I had been in labor for about three hours, and I was surprised because it didn’t feel nearly that long. One of the lines on some of the Hypnobabies tracks is, “Every 20 minutes will only feel like 5 to you.” Maybe that helped.
Shane got Johnny in the car while I leaned over the rail outside and had another contraction. Traffic was minimal and the roads were great. My waves were coming steadily but being in the car wasn’t that big of a deal. We went through the Fort Pitt Tunnel while I had another surge and I thought that was kind of cool. It faded as the stunning Pittsburgh skyline came into view.
The Birth Center
We pulled up to the birth center and I jumped out so I could get inside and get situated in the Forest Room.
It was about 5 a.m.
Renee came to take Johnny to her house. I was relieved that she was there, because I knew I couldn’t fully relax until I knew he was fine.
I was 4 cm dilated and was happy about that. I didn’t feel like I was much further than that, based on how my surges felt, and I remember just how much work it took for me to get to 4 cm with Johnny. Things were going much faster this time!
By this point, my eyes were closed and I was being quiet or quietly humming during each wave.
The nurse asked if I wanted to call them waves, surges, rushes, contractions or whatnot. I don’t actually have a problem with the word “contraction,” but Hypnobabies encourages us to call them waves since “contraction” can have a negative connotation. I ended up just saying, “Here comes another one” or something like that.
My first blood pressure reading was 140/90. Not good.
Over the last few weeks, my blood pressure had been creeping upward and we were closely monitoring this in case I developed pre-ecclampsia, as I had done during the birth of my son. Pre-ecclampsia is a relatively common, but potentially serious pregnancy complication.
It is high blood pressure coupled with protein leaking in the urine. If untreated, it can lead to seizures and organ damage, among other things.
I was disappointed in that first blood pressure reading. I knew that if my pressure stayed at that level, I would need to transfer to the hospital for the birth. If my baby needed to be born at the hospital, that was totally fine with me. I wasn’t dead-set on a birth center birth; rather, I just wanted to be where my baby could be born.
The last thing I wanted was to transfer to the hospital during rush hour while I was even further in labor.
We got my iPod dock out and I was listening to the birth day affirmations. During the waves, I sat mostly upright on the edge of the bed and leaned over an exercise ball to support my weight. This felt nice.
Everyone was encouraging me to relax as much as I could in the hopes that maybe it was just adrenaline and stress raising my blood pressure. I asked to get in the tub. I wasn’t sure if it would be a great idea since I wasn’t that far along in labor and I didn’t want things to stall, but the nurse quickly agreed.
I hadn’t yet lost my modesty, so I put on my $1 swim suit top that I bought for this purpose and got into the jacuzzi tub.
The tub was deep and jetted and felt wonderful. The bathroom itself looked like one you might find at a fancy hotel. Between that and someone offering me sips of water every so often, it sorta felt like I was being really spoiled!
During a quiet moment, Shane and I prayed. He prayed for the birth to go safely and for us to be the parents that God created us to be.
I tried a few positions in the tub to see where I felt most comfortable when a wave hit. I found the most comfort in a slightly deflated, oblong exercise ball thing and leaned over it. It floated and supported my weight nicely and it all felt right.
Shane or Emily poured water over my back, and put their hands on my shoulder and forehead during each surge. In Hypnobabies, we conditioned ourselves to deepen our relaxation when our birth partner put their hands in those places. It did help me to relax further, but it also helped me to know that they were RIGHT THERE with me. I wasn’t alone. I had their full support and that meant so much to me.
During the waves, in a low tone I’d say “open, open, open” which served a few purposes. It kept me focused on my task of, well, opening. It kept my face relaxed, and keeping tension out of your face often helps keep tension out of other parts. Sometimes I just said, “baby, baby, baby” so that I could remind myself that my baby wanted to come out. Sounds silly, but there was a point in Johnny’s birth where I sort of forgot why in the world I was in the state I was in. It’s because there’s a baby who wants to come out!
We chatted between each one and I felt so comfortable and relaxed. I knew that I was still in the earlier stages of things. Deep down, I couldn’t fully surrender to the birthing process because I was still concerned about my blood pressure.
They checked my blood pressure again at 6 a.m., and it was even higher. Bummer. The midwife wasn’t completely convinced I needed to transfer though, so she consulted with two other midwives about my situation. One of them, who was on call and about to go into the hospital, wanted me to head in.
So I got out of the tub (with a lot of help) and got dressed (with even more help). But the midwife wanted to consult with their midwife/director first, and the two of them agreed that for now I was ok to stay there.
They agreed to keep watching me for a time. Back into the tub I went! Oh, and at this point I was 6 cm.
I started feeling a slight touch of nausea during a couple of surges. More signs of progress!
They did another blood pressure check, and whatever it was, it was a bad result and there was no more grey area — I had to go to the hospital.
It was about 7:30.
I was out of the tub and sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to get dressed once again. Emily did all of the dressing work, since I really was unable to do anything but just be in labor. I needed a bucket, and the nurse was fast to get me one! Out came my Cheerios.
Throwing up could be a sign of being in transition — the period where you rapidly finish dilating to complete. But I knew that my mental state and ability to talk just didn’t feel like transition. I knew there was still a bit of time left.
I was about 7cm at that point and saying “oh” or “ah” throughout each wave. I really needed to work through each one, but I was still felt fine.
Shane loaded me up in our car and Emily buckled me in. You know you’re in serious concentration in labor when you can’t even buckle your own seat belt. I switched on my hymns and tried to sing along.
It was 7:45 and we were driving through downtown during morning rush hour. Oh, goody.
Absolutely not ideal, but hey — it wasn’t snowing! And it was only three miles.
I knew that I had to keep it together. If I panicked, I might not be able to regain my composure later, when I would most need it. So I prayed. And I focused on the words of the beautiful hymns. I kept my eyes wide open and took in the scenery.
I looked at the parade of business people making their way to work, and the buses and cars and all the commotion of the morning. I wondered if anyone saw me. I watched them and talked to my daughter, mentally trying to tell her to stop — that she was not where she could safely be born.
She seemed to get that message, because I’m convinced that my waves did space out a bit in the car.
We traveled down a brick road, and Shane tried to avoid the biggest ruts. I felt one slightly pushy wave, and I told Shane to just get me there and not worry about the ruts.
Part of me was actually thinking, “Well, this part makes my story a little more interesting at least.” Hah!
We finally arrived at the ER entrance of Mercy Hospital. They knew I was coming, so I was annoyed that no one was out there waiting for me.
I walked in as quickly as I could, and told the lady at the desk, “I’m in labor, and I’m close.” No one really moved. She asked my name and birthdate while I leaned over the counter to get through another wave. She had me sign some forms. I hope they were harmless ones, because I certainly didn’t read any of it.
Shane got a wheelchair for me.
I sat. I spotted two police officers sitting nearby in the waiting room, looking bored.
No one there seemed to feel my urgency.
“Why am I still here? Let’s go!” I said.
Some man said, “Wow, people are pushy around here!” and I was like…wow. YES, I’m feeling pushy! What, do these people want me to just take off my pants and have her in the waiting room? Because I might.
The orderly came and got me, and he wasn’t running and that sorta bummed me out. I kept listening to my iPod and was trying to just keep calm and focused. Then I realized he was trying to chat with me.
He then had me get out of the wheel chair so I could be weighed. Good grief! I could ball park my weight — was this really necessary?! Another wave hit and I loudly said “ohhhhhh” through it, while leaning over the scale, and then the guy realized, oh, this lady really is in labor. And he told me I could sit back down even before the numbers finished stabilizing on the screen.
He got me to room 5009. I got out of that dang chair, took off my clothes, and knew I was finally where I could safely give birth. I could finally surrender to the process.
I sat on the edge of the bed and wondered why it was just Shane and I in the room. I wanted water, but he couldn’t find any cups. I was so relieved when Emily came in!
She got me ice chips, which was all I was allowed to have. “Oh for pete’s sake!” I told her, to her amusement. Because really, ice is just really cold water. So why couldn’t I have it in my chosen form? Ugh.
The nurse walked in and started my heparin lock and took some blood. I recognized her from a few weeks ago when I had a nonstress test. She told me she hoped she wouldn’t see me again — that I would have my birth center birth and all would be well. Well, whoops, we meet again, miss nurse!
The heparin lock and bloodwork process took awhile and I was really annoyed. I just wanted to be able to change positions and get back to work. During one wave, I remember reaching for the nurse’s hand. She had no choice but to hold it until I gave it back. It’s not like I would let her stick me with a needle during a wave!
Shane and Emily were supporting my weight, applying pressure on my back, and just generally being present for me.
While I sat there on the edge of the bed, my water broke. What a weird feeling! It felt like I sat on a balloon that had popped, and suddenly fluid was everywhere. This happened at 8:50.
Fortunately, the nurse was finally done taking blood and setting the heparin lock. I climbed over onto the bed and sat in a modified supported squat since that’s what felt best at the time.
I was feeling a bit pushy, but not overwhelmingly so. I wanted to just take my time and let my baby guide her way out.
The waves changed. I was now saying, “Ugghhh” through each, and I knew that my changing in tones to this particular sound signaled that I really was in the pushing stage and I was probably completely dilated.
I didn’t want a check at first, because those aren’t pleasant. So we waited a few minutes.
I asked for them to raise some stirrups because I wanted to have something for my body to brace against. They placed some really low, so that I could still be really upright.
Things were getting really powerful now. I knew that she was coming very soon. I gave myself a little pep talk aloud, something about how she was coming soon, and how this was ok, and how I needed to let this happen and not hold back.
When Johnny was born, I had a pretty lousy tear that needed surgery to correct. I didn’t want that to happen again. And I knew that the fear of tearing could impede my pushes. Hence the pep talk.
I wanted my body to guide my pushes, rather than being coached to hold my breath, bear down, and give it all I had for 10 seconds at a time (like I was with Johnny).
Somewhere around this time, the midwife checked me and told me I could push whenever I wanted — that I was completely dilated.
I must have been in transition at some point on that hospital bed, but it went by mostly unnoticed. Emily saw that I was starting to sweat and tremble a bit, but those were the only signs I displayed.
So during these waves, my body automatically gave slight pushes to move her further down. I didn’t do much to help push her along. I just gave small little pushy efforts at first.
She was getting extremely low and it became obvious to the room that she would be born very soon. My midwife knew that I was concerned about tearing, and she wanted to encourage me to get on my side, since that’s a good anti-tearing position.
I rolled onto my left side and pulled my knees up toward me. Shane was facing me and Emily was on my other side, giving me lots of counter-pressure on my back. My amniotic fluid was dripping into a river on the floor, they tell me.
It seems like I only had a few waves like this. Maybe three? I pushed fairly hard with the first one like this, but I didn’t want it to be full-force. I heard the midwife or nurse tell me that she moved pretty far, and that it was going well.
They wanted me to make sure my right leg was up and out of the way for when she actually came out. And I was concerned about getting a leg cramp, of all things. I’m not the most flexible. But, I had been doing some Pilates exercises to strengthen my legs in anticipation of pushing this way.
Shane helped to hold my leg out of the way and I pushed once more. I could feel her descending really low now. Lots of pressure!
The midwife said it would probably only take one more contraction for her to be out.
I had a few minutes in between to rest and contemplate it all. I decided I was finally done with being pregnant. I wasn’t in pain really, but I was plenty uncomfortable and getting tired. I knew that the sooner she was born, the sooner my body would be getting back to normal. I was done with all of it, finally.
I told them that I was going to push her out with this next surge.
It came, and Shane held my leg and I gave it all I had. I was surprised when I felt her head come out, because I never felt the “ring of fire” that I experienced with Johnny. And I paused for a moment, and kept on pushing and she was born at 9:46 a.m., just under 9 hours of labor.
She cried immediately and looked fantastic. They helped me to lift her onto my belly where I held her until the umbilical cord stopped pulsing (only took a moment) and Shane cut the cord. I lifted her closer to me so we could nurse.
She was healthy, alert, and so beautiful.
The placenta came out soon after, and they gave me a shot of Pitocin in my IV line as a preventative measure against excessive bleeding.
I was really surprised to learn that Vivienne was 8 lbs. 2 oz.! That’s almost two pounds heavier than her brother. I was measuring small during my pregnancy and I didn’t feel huge. But I was even more surprised to learn that I didn’t actually have a bad tear. I had a slight blip that the midwife said could use just one stitch if I wanted, but I could also just let it heal as-is. Phew! What a relief.
I credit being on my side, but also I think just letting my body control the pushes, rather than pushing as hard as I could right away really helped. It helped my body stretch at a slower, more controlled rate.
When I pushed with Johnny, I gave each push all the effort I had. I was coached to “purple push,” holding my breath and bearing down for 10 seconds at a time. I didn’t feel any pain with those pushes, just a lot of power. And since I was on magnesium sulfate (it makes your muscles really relaxed and kind of worthless), maybe I did need some coaching for that birth.
But with Vivienne, since I wasn’t bearing down with all my might the entire time, I didn’t numb the nerves in my bottom and I felt it more. It sorta hurt but mostly it was just really uncomfortable and I wanted it to end.
Even though at first I thought I wouldn’t want to transfer to the hospital — I’d rather just go straight to the hospital if I needed to be there — I think her birth was exactly as it should have been. I’m glad I showed up at the birth center relatively early on. I didn’t want Johnny to be freaked out. I wanted time to get settled there. And laboring at the birth center was really enjoyable and spa-like. I wouldn’t have had that experience at the hospital.
Plus, if they started bloodwork on me, maybe the pre-e diagnosis would have come back before she was born. Pushing out a baby while on magnesium sulfate is much harder.
So now the big question — did Hypnobabies help me have a pain-free birth? I didn’t expect a totally painless birth, and Hypnobabies doesn’t promise that. But it does help moms have a more comfortable, peaceful birth.
And I’d absolutely say it was a peaceful, reasonably comfortable birth. There was never any point in the process where I felt like I was in horrible pain. I didn’t think, “ow, this hurts!” or “I want an epidural!” I just felt pretty calm throughout, and I experienced the waves as intense, powerful pressure. I was tuned in with my body. Toward the end, it got uncomfortable and hurt. I mostly just wanted her to be born to end my discomfort — I didn’t want any drugs or anything.
Please don’t misunderstand me — labor didn’t feel “good.” The sensations I felt weren’t the kind that I’d want to have happen all day every day. I was happy it was happening and I wanted it to continue so that she’d be born. But I wasn’t suffering. At the time, it just felt really intense to me and I’m really and truly not remembering the experience as full of pain, even though there probably was pain.
I do think Hypnobabies helped tremendously! I’ll write more about Hypnobabies specifically, and my recovery period will also need a separate update.
Because as it turns out, I developed severe pre-eclampsia. And that stunk. More to come.