Although I’ve always been fascinated with other mothers’ birth stories, you never really can imagine exactly what birth is like without going through it. Before giving birth, most of the ones that I had heard were either nightmares (For some reason, people love to tell you their horrible experiences when you’re pregnant followed by “but that won’t happen to you!”) or not detailed enough for me to fully understand what I was in for. I’m hoping that by sharing what was a pretty amazing experience, some of you mamas-to-be will feel encouraged and less scared by the whole idea of what birth is like.
I tried to give as many details as possible without getting too graphic, so this post is a little long but hopefully helpful to some of you.
Before you read on, note that I am writing this on very little sleep and am half brain dead so if some sentences don’t make sense, forgive me!
It all began on Sunday night…
Sunday, 7pm- My usual nightly contractions started, but they had been coming around this time every night for about three weeks so I thought nothing of it. After one or two (about 20 minutes apart), I realized they were stronger than they had been in the past so we started timing them just in case. I really still didn’t think I was in labor though because it was totally bearable and that’s not what I envisioned birth to be like.
Sunday, 9pm– It was Game of Thrones time, but I felt really sick to my stomach and couldn’t bring myself to watch it (There’s a first time for everything!) I told Anel to watch without me, and I got in the shower and then tried to read my book. After about five minutes of reading, I realized that I couldn’t do anything besides focus on the contractions when they happened. At this point they were eight minutes apart and getting more and more painful.
Sunday, 10pm– Anel came in the bedroom and was shocked at how things had progressed. Still, neither of us thought this was actually happening for some reason, which is why I hadn’t gone to get him. I think I was in serious denial. Things escalated quickly, and within the next hour my contractions started coming harder and faster, every five minutes. We called our doula who told me to try and get some sleep, but I knew that was out of the question because laying down made the pain 100x worse.
It reached the point where I couldn’t talk through them, and that’s when I knew this was really happening. For each one, I would say my hypnobirthing mantras to myself, and get on my hands and knees. I tried the other positions we learned in classes we took but that was the only one that felt good to me. At the same time, Anel would put one hand on my forehead and rub my back with the other, saying words of encouragement that we had practiced ahead of time. He kept me grounded and made me feel strong and capable. It was pretty incredible. I couldn’t have gotten through this period or any of it without him.
Sunday, 11pm– I remembered that we had a tens machine, an electro-stimulation machine often used for labor, that we hadn’t started using yet. I had Anel put it on my back, and I kept it on a low setting until a contraction started. Once it would start, I’d turn up the intensity, which would distract from the labor pains. My friend Bailey used it with the birth of her third child and said out of all of her labors, it was the one thing that helped the most with pain. After trying it myself, I can see why!
Monday, 12am- At this point the contractions were between 2 and 5 minutes apart, jumping back and forth so I never knew how much space I’d get in between which was frustrating. We called the doctor and my doula who both said we could go to the hospital whenever we felt ready. At this point, I’d only really been in labor for about 3 hours, but I had assumed the time at home would be upwards of 8 so we decided to stay home before heading to the hospital for the birth.
My doula was heading over to our house, but I started throwing up and having consistent contractions every two minutes apart without much time to recuperate in between. I tried getting in the bathtub, but the position of being on my back was not working out in any way shape or form so that was short lived.
Monday, 1am- At this point I threw in the towel and we headed to the hospital. The doula hadn’t even made it to our house yet so we decided to meet there. Luckily there were no cars on the road, so Anel was able to pull over and stop for each contraction and do his forehead/back rub thing en route. I had three in the 8 minute car ride and then three getting up to the labor and delivery floor. It was getting pretty brutal!
Despite that fact, I never screamed, and I never let my shoulders tense up. One of the things Anel said consistently to me was to relax my shoulders which helped SO much. This was something we learned in hypnobirthing as well. Our teacher taught us that if you’re tight and tense in your body, it slows down labor, so trying to relax is one of the most important things you can do to move things along. Apparently it worked because things moved faster than I could have imagined!
Monday, 1:15am– We arrived at the hospital and they whisked us into a delivery room. I was greeted by Cathy, the kindest nurse of all time who ended up staying with us through the end. As soon as I got there, I started throwing up so she immediately put me on an IV of fluids to combat my obvious dehydration. After a few minutes I felt less dizzy and more “with it.” The doula arrived and she and Anel coached me through each contraction.
About five minutes into being there, I made the decision that I wanted to get an epidural after all. I really wanted to give birth naturally, and I actually think I could have if I had tried a little harder, but I was exhausted, nauseous, and in so much pain that I went for it. In the end, I’m so so so glad that I did because it made the rest of the morning super calm and relaxed… a truly blissful labor.
Before I could get it, they had to see how far along I was. I found out quickly that I was 5 cm dilated and 70% effaced. Given how calm I was, no one could believe it!
The epidural itself hurt a little but it wasn’t bad. The worst part was that I had to remove my tens machine and endure four contractions without it! That’s when I realized how much of a difference it had made. Once you get the epidural, they make you lay down so it spreads. As I mentioned earlier, laying down was the worst position for the pain so until it kicked in, I was in pretty bad agony.
Luckily, within 15 minutes I couldn’t feel them anymore, but I could still move my legs which was a surprise.
Monday, 2am- Anel and the doula decided to sleep so they could be alert when I started pushing. I tried to sleep but was too excited/anxious so sat in the bed listening to James Taylor and trying to meditate. I may have even sent a few Snapchat selfies to my sister.
Monday, 4am- At 4am, they came to check my progress again. At this point I was 7 cm and 100% effaced, so things had kept moving!
Monday, 6am- When they checked me two hours later, I was 10 cm and ready to push. They told me we had to wait for the doctor to arrive but to mentally prepare to go. Note: There is nothing you can do to mentally prepare for what birth is like!
Monday, 6:30am- The doctor on call walked in and asked if I was ready to start pushing. At this point, there were two doctors, three nurses, Anel, and my doula in the room. I looked around and they were all totally relaxed and chill like it was a regular old day. In my head I was freaking out, thinking holy crap I’m about to really have this baby. It was so surreal! My doula taught me how to push, whenever I felt downward pressure, it meant I was having a contraction and I should suck in a big breath and push for 10 seconds. I’d repeat that three times for each contraction.
In between pushing, we all chatted about random things like summer vacations and fall in New Hampshire. It was far more relaxed than I ever would have imagined for that period. Thank God for that epidural!
With each set of pushes, she came down a little further and everyone was joking about how much hair she had. Just before 8am, I heard the doctor say, “Is that her heart rate or the baby’s?” and when the nurse replied that it was the baby’s, she looked at me and said, “Julia, you need to just keep pushing and don’t stop.” I knew something was wrong, and a surge of adrenaline coursed through me. Despite being in labor for 11 hours on no sleep, I had the strength of an Olympian. I pushed and pushed, but she wouldn’t come out.
I watched the doctor, seemingly in slow motion, take a giant pair of silver scissors…down there. I heard the snip snip and freaked out for one second, but the next second I heard someone say, “Look at your baby girl!” and the episiotomy was quickly forgotten.
Monday, 8:02am- The first glimpse at Amalia was so strange. She wasn’t at all what I pictured (full head of hair??) and she was a dark blue/purple with the umbilical cord tied around her neck. After they cut it and she could fully breathe, her color changed and it became more real. They placed her on my chest and it finally hit me that I had a baby. I looked up at Anel and there were tears in his eyes as he stared at his little girl and kissed me.
The next two hours after the birth were a blur. The doctors spent almost a full hour cleaning me up and, unfortunately, stitching me up. I had third degree tears and the episiotomy so apparently there was a lot of work to do. While they did that, my doula showed me how to get the baby to latch, which she did almost immediately. I fed her for about an hour before they took her to measure her height and weight which was so nice.
Soon after that, I was wheeled up to the maternity ward on a stretcher with the baby in my arms. We were put in a giant VIP room because our neighbor is a nurse there and hooked us up with a space that people usually have to pay more to get. It was unreal and we’re still so grateful to her for that little extra luxury.
I fed the baby on and off that day, and was able to even take a long nap while Anel held Amalia. I don’t think I’ve ever passed out so hard in my life.
Since then it’s been a whirlwind of breastfeeding (more on that later), figuring out her schedule, and learning to live on very little sleep. My mom and Anel are doing a lot of the heavy lifting around the house and with the baby, so that my main focus these first few weeks is literally just to feed her. I’m so grateful for their help, and I have no idea how I’d be doing it without them.
We also have a post-partum doula who has spent a few nights with us from 10pm-6am so that Anel can sleep and all I have to do is feed the baby every few hours. I’ll write more about the first weeks at home soon but I hope my story of what birth is like helps some of you know what to possibly expect.