On July 8th, 2018, my partner T and I invited my grandpa (L’s Great Grandpa Hunt) out to an early dinner. Since I was 40 weeks pregnant and had felt indulgent in the final weeks of my pregnancy, I decided to keep it going with an all-you-can-eat buffet at Chuck-O-Rama—a nice new one in nearby Lehi. We sat for quite awhile eating and talking. Grandpa and T could eat very little, but I indulged, especially on the mini cinnamon rolls. The conversation was slow and pleasant. In my last weeks of pregnancy, I was incredibly pleasant, and slow, and calm, and docile like a cow.
That evening, I felt a little excitement, but it was indiscernible from other excitement I’d had in previous weeks. That weekend I had the urge to tell my mom to drive to Utah from Oregon, but I brushed it off thinking I was still days or maybe even a week or more away from delivery. My mom had the same impulse that weekend as well.
Earlier in the day, I’d walked my usual, daily walk along the lake path and listened to my childbirth affirmations—which had been my daily routine for weeks. After summer school was over, and I was mostly alone in Utah and keenly aware that this was the last time I would be alone for a very long time. T arrived the week before my due date in anticipation of L’s arrival. The days were hot. I was still happily mowing my new lawn weekly with my new electric mower.
After dinner with Grandpa and T—it was a Sunday night—I went to bed as usual. Relatively quickly, I felt crampy and unsettled in bed. Soon, I realized I was having real contractions. I’d had a few very mild Braxton Hicks and some aches and pains earlier that I’d timed on a childbirth app. So, I began timing these contractions a bit, but also trying to sleep. If this was labor, I wanted to rest up in the early stages. If it wasn’t labor, I still wanted to try to stay rested. The contractions intensified, and, for the next 2-3 hours, I had to breathe and focus to get through them. I let T know that I was in labor, but told him he should still try to sleep. I texted my midwife, my doula, and my mom to let them know. Though it was late, my mom began preparing to drive to Utah. My midwife, Rebecca, told me to contact her when my contractions established a pattern. My doula, Robynne, was attending another birth, but began making arrangements to have a backup take over, so she could be with me.
My water broke a little after 2am on July 9th (L’s “due date”). There was a dark greenish tinge in the amniotic fluid. (While it looked like meconium to me, my care providers weren’t so sure.) Everything intensified, and I immediately woke T for support. We had not yet installed the car seat, so I asked him to install it in case of an emergency. He also brought me towels to put between my legs when resting in bed and a small table to lean against while laboring on the toilet. My contractions were two minutes apart, and sometimes closer, and I began to vomit into the toilet because of the intensity (and I do not throw up easily!). On one hand, I felt calm. I knew what was going on and felt that I was managing the pain effectively. On the other hand, I recognized that I now I needed support, and so I texted my doula and my midwife to let them know. Things did feel a bit chaotic during that time. My contractions were erratic. They’re supposed to establish a pattern. In fact, in all of my time birth education, I’d never heard of them not establishing a pattern. They can speed up, slow down, or stay consistent, but they’re always very measurable. Mine seemed all over the place. I also continued to leak amniotic fluid and vomit. I felt the need to move back and forth between the bed and the toilet, and I also felt the need to sop up my messes with a towel, while crying, but staying calm, and also feeling very excited and ready to meet the person who would be my son.
I labored mostly alone through the early morning hours, and my doula arrived around 7 am or maybe later. It was such a relief to have her there. Her counter pressure was so comforting. My contractions began to ease up. I felt restful. But, I also started to feel some worry. I’d labored pretty intensely all night, but I could feel that my body wasn’t changing very quickly. As a doula, I had supported women, especially first time moms like myself, who had labored for days. I knew that if I was fated for such a labor, I would probably want the support of a hospital and an epidural. That had been my “Plan B” all along. If I my labor progressed steadily and I could deliver in 8-10 hours or so, I wanted to give birth at home. If it extended much beyond that, I knew I wanted more medicalized support. I expressed this concern to both my doula and to T. They both reassured me I was doing great, that I didn’t need to transfer, and that we should stay at home. So, I continued to rest and to labor, with support, and wait for my midwife to arrive.
My midwife Rebecca arrived in the late morning, and began setting up. It was around midday when she checked me, and, after over 12 hours of labor, 10 of those hours were intense after my water had ruptured, I was still only dilated two centimeters. This information did not surprise me necessarily. While my contractions felt very intense, I felt that my body was changing very gradually. After some internal worry, I finally told my doula that I was really considering transferring to the hospital. My doula and T reassured me once again, but I began to feel a certainty. Finally, I told my midwife that I was thinking about transferring to a hospital. She seemed a bit surprised. She told me my options. I could stay, and she could give me something to help get my labor going. Or, I could go to the hospital. This exchange was a bit awkward. My midwife, whom I’d had a somewhat strange relationship with up to this point, was supportive, but she also said, “You’ll pay for it now, or you’ll pay for it later,” regarding my pain in a labor at home vs. my pain and an epidural in a hospital setting. I became increasingly sure of my decision. I felt peaceful. It was an early act of mothering where I was the person in the room who knew the right answer for me, my baby, and my body.
After a bit more deliberation, I finalized my decision to go to the hospital. I had heard good things about the AF hospital—it was nearby, and I knew it was compatible with my insurance. So, I transferred there. The midwife called the hospital to let them know I would be arriving shortly. I stepped into some gray leggings and pulled on a loose dress with the help of my doula. Then, T drove me in my car. The car ride was manageable, although I had to breathe through a contraction every time he hit a bump in the road.
Throughout the morning, T had been in touch with my mom as she drove to Utah from Oregon. Shortly after we arrived at the hospital, my mom arrived at my house to drop off her dog, Jaxn, and a few perishables before coming to meet us at the hospital. She arrived at the hospital not long after we did, and I was so glad she would be there for the birth.
The intake process was fairly fast. T gave them my name, birth date, and insurance card, and we were whisked away to a birthing suite with a bathtub, which I knew I wouldn’t use because at that point I was there for the epidural. I got settled into the room. I was feeling some relief because we had arrived safely, and I could focus my attention back on to my labor. The midwife provided information about my transfer to the nurse on duty and then bid me adieu.
I contemplated whether or not I should get the epidural right away because contractions had slowed again. However, with (very little) encouragement, I went ahead and ordered the epidural. After about over 14 hours of active labor, and 12 hours after my water broke, I got the epidural. It was probably another hour before the process was complete, and the pain relief kicked in. While I was still sitting up from having the epidural placed, and the anesthesiologist was cleaning up my back, I felt a strange suction feeling travel up my spine from the site of the needle to a piercing pain in the back of my neck. It then immediately moved on to my head, where it stayed in the form of the worst headache I’ve ever felt in my life. That pain was still far less than the pain of contractions, which was already decreasing thanks to the epidural. I told the anesthesiologist, and everyone in the room, about the headache, and the anesthesiologist got a little defensive and immediately said that it wasn’t because of the epidural. I found this comical. Of course it was because of the epidural! I said I wasn’t mad at him, and the pain relief was helping with the contractions. At the staff’s instruction, I leaned back in the bed, and, after a time, the headache began to fade and was much more manageable within an hour. I had a dull headache on and off throughout the rest of my labor. The epidural meant I also needed IV fluids and a catheter. That was all set up.
When I was admitted to the hospital, they found that I was still dilated to a two. After a few hours with the epidural in full force, the on call doctor, Dr. H came in to talk about my options. He wanted to start Pitocin, and I agreed. Since I had an epidural, I was less afraid of the intensity of Pitocin contractions. Since my labor was going so slowly, I knew I would be at a risk of an c-section if I labored too long. (Most hospitals won’t let women labor for over 24 hours after the water breaks.) So, we started Pitocin and continued on and off with it until I delivered. When it intensified my contractions, I needed more pain relief from my epidural. Whenever I’d push the button, the pain relief was effective, but it would also cause an uncomfortable numbness that sometimes lasted several hours. When L didn’t handle the Pitocin well, they turned it off, trying again a few hours later. We continued like this through the evening, and all of the following night. I hadn’t eaten since Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t slept since Saturday night. And yet, I was alert. I wasn’t hungry, and I sipped the water that my doula offered like a champ throughout my entire labor.
Some nurses were fine. Some used unnecessary fear mongering. In the early morning, around 4 am, they stopped checking me. I think this is because if I was complete, they didn’t want to bother a doctor at that hour, and they didn’t want to be in delivery during shift change if at all possible. In the early morning hours, L showed some signs of distress, and I would need to shift positions to help him. Eventually, before I started pushing him out, the nurse gave me oxygen to help with L’s signs of distress. I liked having the oxygen and used it throughout the pushing stage delivery.
My backup doula, Ashlie, arrived and took over at around 6 am. After shift change at 7am, I was finally checked an hour later, and they found that I was complete. I think, based on the pressure and way I was feeling, that I had been complete and ready to push since maybe 5 am or so. After it was determined that I was complete, I was allowed to start pushing. Before giving birth, I knew that sometimes women had to wait for a doctor to arrive before they pushed. I thought I might be able to start pushing when I felt ready. However, as it turned out, I absolutely needed coaching to push out my baby.
The nurse instructed me to put my chin to my chest, hold my breath, and push. This is called “purple pushing,” and it felt very counter intuitive to me. I tried to push in other ways, pushing down through my throat and through my core (opposed to curling), and this felt more powerful to me. My mom thought it looked wrong though, and the nurse thought it was strange, so I tried it their way for awhile. But, that continued to feel strange to me, and I felt weak pushing in that way, so I shifted back to the way that felt strong and intuitive to me and continued to push that way until I pushed my baby out.
We started out using the hospital’s birthing bar. The nurse had never used it before, so my doula showed her how. My pushes with the bar were not very productive, but I also wasn’t very supported by the nurse, so we removed it and moved into a traditional lithotomy position, with someone holding each leg, and a nurse sitting between my legs, monitoring the situation, and telling me to push each time I had a contraction.
It did not feel like I’d pushed very long before the nurse said that L’s head was showing and that he said hair! (He had very little hair.) In a few more pushes, T and my mom were able to see L’s head starting to come out as well, but only during a push. Finally, as I neared delivery, the nurse had me stop pushing so that she could get the doctor. So, once again, I had to wait to push. And again I was surprised that I was unable to really push productively without external support.
The doctor arrived, Dr. A, the table was broken down, and the neonatal team arrived. I commenced pushing until my baby’s head was out, and not going back in between contractions. I reached down and felt him with my hand. My mom was able to see him. I became more aware of T’s presence in the room as he saw his son for the first time, and there was a noticeable shift as he instantly transformed into a dad.
Finally, I knew the time had come for my baby to leave my body. I pushed, and before I could catch my breath, was told to push again. I felt pulling and pressure, and, at 10:59 am on Tuesday, July 10th, the doctor pulled out my baby with the turning motion that babies make as they are delivered. The feeling of having my baby leave my body is one I hope I’ll never forget. I could feel his power and his energy and his spirit transfer out into the world. It felt inevitable, essential, and profound. That 9 lbs 7 oz comfort in my belly slipped to the outside world, coughing and sputtering, and them crying softly. I reached for him with outstretched arms and held him to my chest, skin to skin, with tears streaming down my face. Our spirits reunited on the outside.
L gave me so much power and strength throughout my pregnancy. He blessed me with some of that power that I still feel today. It’s the strength I had to lift my heavy baby when I was postpartum and no longer had any abs or a pelvic floor to speak of. It’s the strength I had to endure the ongoing pain and slow recovery from childbirth. It’s the strength I have to lovingly rise again and again and again at 3am to feed my baby. It’s the strength I have every day to show up and be a mother.