Monday arrived and I woke up at 5 a.m., unable to get back to sleep. The hospital is supposed to call as soon as they have room. With Eliza, I went in at 6 in the morning, and with Harmony, around 9, so I planned accordingly, having our dear friend Val Cooper be on call for the day shift, and planning on having DH available that evening after the birth.
When the hospital hadn't called by 7, I called over to find out that every room was full and that I was only second on their list to call. They said to give it a few hours. I called my friend Rachel, who had worked the night shift. She said that they'd been so busy, they'd had every room full plus some triage rooms that were usually empty. I crossed my fingers. At 9, I called again. Still full and now I'd been bumped behind another gal who required an induction for health reasons. At 10, I got tired of waiting and hoping and took the little girls on an outing to the Bean Life Science Museum at BYU. They had a great time and I was glad for something to do. We drove over and picked up the twins from kindergarten, and came home for lunch. At noon, I figured the chances of getting in that day were slim, since my doctor didn't want me to start any later than 2:00, and I resigned myself to waiting another day. I was tired by then and decided it was probably better that way anyway. I'd get a nap and a full night's rest.
At 12:15, I was surprised to hear my phone ring. It was the hospital -- how soon could I get there? Val Cooper came over to watch the girls, DH drove home from work and we were on our way. On the way there, I reminded him that his job was to tell me I was doing a good job. "I'll probably get to a point at the end -- all the books say it -- where I think I can't do it anymore. Just encourage me and remind me that all I have to do is one contraction at a time. If necessary, have me look at the clock and set a goal to do five more minutes or so."
We arrived, got the paperwork signed, went to room nine, and met the charge nurse. I told her I was planning on going without an epidural and to please assign me a good nurse. As she started the infant monitor and we visited, I asked for advice. "Just try to relax and take yourself away. Breathing helps. And almost every mom gets to a point where she thinks she can't do it anymore, and right after that, the baby comes."
While we waited for my doctor, my friend Rachel called, "Did you get in?"
"Yep -- we're just waiting for the doctor. Any last words of advice?"
"Just remember that transition is really tough. Most women feel like they can't do it anymore and they want to quit. Usually the baby is born right after that."
My nurse came in at that point and I took an immediate liking to her. It helped that her name was Katie. She gave me a hep-loc around 2:20 (a hep-loc is an IV line that's capped off so it's not attached to anything). My doctor arrived and broke my water about 2:30. I was extremely nervous about what might happen next. Every other time, my contractions have been very intense after my water's broken and I worried that the intensity would be too much to take right up front. I also knew that every other time, I'd already been in labor when my water was broken, so things could be different.
Things were different. I started having contractions, but they were fairly mild and about fifteen minutes apart. I started rating my contractions after about a half an hour. One book I'd read suggested that rather than trying to take your mind away from the pain, you should engage your analytical mind into exploring the pain rather than just reacting to it. Pay attention to where it starts, where it hurts, how long it lasts, and compare it to other pain you've experienced. I decided that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most difficult pain I could imagine and the limit of my endurance, the contractions right then were about a 3. Over the next hour and a half, they got a little stronger and closer together, until by 4:00, they were every ten minutes or so and I was rating them a 4. By 4:30, I still wasn't really in active labor, so we decided to start low dose of pitocin and increase it every half hour as needed.
The next two hours things picked up progressively, and I went from a level 2 of pitocin to a level 5 gradually. I had come to the hospital 3.5 cm and 90% effaced and I didn't progress very quickly. I got to 5 cm and 95% effaced after a few hours, but despite some tough contractions -- I rated them between 5 and 6 now -- I wasn't changing much. By 6:00, contractions were coming every 4 minutes or so. Up until that point, I'd been able to read, but I put the book away then.
Our friend Val had to go home to tend to her family, so Lillian was in charge at home. DH left at 6:00 to get take-out for the kids and check on them. When he left, I was coping well with the contractions. It was nice to move around a bit and shift positions on the bed, though I really didn't feel at all like walking or doing much other than relaxing and waiting. It was nice to have had those first quiet hours of labor because by the time contractions started to hit me hard, I was really excited to get things going and I (almost) couldn't wait for things to get harder, knowing that would bring me closer to my baby's birth.
By the time DH got back, at around 6:30, my contractions were a little harder, but still manageable. He went for a short walk around 6:40, and then things started to get more exciting. One of my contractions was really tough, about an 8.5 or so, and I called him on his phone -- "Get here now." I'd promised DH I'd do my best not to yell at him at any point, and I am proud to say I didn't, though I did get a little terse perhaps. The nurse, who'd by now had changed to a young woman named Hayley, could tell things were getting tougher and called my doctor.
My doctor couldn't have been more accommodating. She came in at 7:00 and stayed close by until delivery at 8:30. She told the nurse she'd rather be there for a couple of hours than miss the birth completely. She spent lots of time in my room and talking with her and the nurse really helped me through a lot of tough contractions. Most of them were coming in at a level 8 intensity and they were getting between 2 and 3 minutes apart. When I had a couple of really tough ones with virtually no break in between, she had the pitocin turned down a few levels.
By 8:00, I was tired and the pains were pretty overwhelming. I also hadn't progressed much. The doctor only checked me when I asked, but I hadn't really done much other than go to 6 cm by that point. I refused to be discouraged, knowing how quickly I can progress. To cope, I mostly just held on, closed my eyes, and waited for the peak of each contraction, then tried to enjoy the relief as they subsided. Sometimes I hummed to myself (the song stuck in my head the entire birth was "Cradle Me, Lord,"), and sometimes I held my husband's hand. I did a tiny bit of deep breathing, but mostly I just took the birth one contraction at a time.
I rated my contractions at that point at level 9. The pain, which was searing and intense, wasn't just in my belly, it was down both of my legs and no longer subsided between contractions. I started to worry that I would probably reach 10 and beyond before this experience was over and wondered if I could handle it. Around 8:15, the contractions were excruciating, as was the pain between them and though I'd been quiet up to that point, I started to cry out when they hit. After my first all-out "This is a 10!" contraction, I gasped to the nurse quietly, "I think I might be one of those women who give up right at the end. I don't know how much more I can take." I had the smallest thought that perhaps I was close, but I also didn't want to get my hopes up. It surprised me that even with all the reminders of how tough that last bit was, I was just like everyone else and wanted to give up. Since I hadn't progressed much up to that point, I felt I had to face the fact that it really could be several hours at that intensity.
"Don't worry," the nurse assured me, "we can do an epidural if you really want, but we'll check you first. You're probably close."
The next contraction hit with more force than I believed possible. I was curled up on my side and gripped the sides of the bed as I felt the change. "Ahhhhhhh! She's here! I'm ready to push." The doctor checked me really fast as I gasped for breath and I tried to roll onto my back to push her out. The pain in my legs was too intense to move that way. They felt paralyzed. Instead, I rolled over onto my tummy. They lowered the end of the bed so I was on my knees with my head burrowed into the pillow. The next contraction hit and I pushed!
"I'm pushing! Can you see her? Is she there? Owwwwwwww! Can you see her?"
"She's coming!" they assured me, and then I felt the most intense pain ever right as the contraction subsided. Nothing prepared me for the ring of fire as the baby's head crowned and stayed there for a moment as I waited for another contraction. It was a relief to push her into the world with the next contraction. With her head out, they asked me to push for her shoulders, but I said, "Wait. I'm not having a contraction yet." A moment later, the next contraction began and I pushed through it and felt my baby slip into the world. I could hear her cry but I couldn't see her.
I felt a huge sense of relief but also incredible physical intensity. I rolled over onto my back and began to shake uncontrollably. The placenta was delivered without too much pain. I continued to shake as the nurses cleaned and weighed the baby and DH attended to her. Unlike my other births, when I've been anxious and felt such joy at the baby's arrival, this time I was rather uninterested in holding her until my body had calmed down. I was grateful DH was there for her. I had torn during delivery, so I endured many shots of local anesthetic and some stitches before I felt ready to hold Katie.
As soon as I did, I felt the joy and the excitement I had at my other births. She was beautiful, perfect, and so peaceful. She nursed right away, longer than some of my other babies and more intensely. As the shaking subsided, I felt so strong and proud of myself for enduring and meeting the challenge of each contraction.
DH left to see to the kids at home at this time. Lillian -- bless her heart -- had put everyone but Joey to bed and she and Joey were eagerly awaiting news. After an hour with her, I let them take Katie down to the nursery for her bath. I still had lingering pain in my legs, so I was grateful for the wheelchair that brought me downstairs. When I got to my room, I had a few moments to set things down, use the bathroom, then get rid of that IV for good (hooray!). Then I was ready to take advantage of my full mobility and walked down to the nursery. They'd had three babies born within moments of each other, so they hadn't bathed Katherine yet. It was wonderful to be there for that, since usually that's DH's job. I felt great, and it was thrilling to not be numb this time. I had to get a picture -- here's me two hours after delivering Katie (see the clock? It's 10:36), up and around and on top of the world.
So, would I change anything? Not at all. I'm so pleased with how Katie's birth went. It was wonderful and empowering and I am absolutely proud of myself for how I handled everything. I took full advantage of the mobility I had after delivery and I really appreciate the experience for what it taught me about my body and coping with pain. I was especially pleased that other than the pain of the moment of birth, I understood my body and was able to accurately gauge the intensity of contractions and what I could endure. It amazes me that as soon as I started rating my contractions at a 10, they started doing the work and my baby came within fifteen minutes. I was proud of how calm and collected and in control I felt. I'm especially pleased that I didn't yell at anyone. =)
Would I birth this way again? Actually, I'm undecided. This birth was definitely different than my others, but I don't feel I missed out on anything with my epidural births. I don't regret a minute of them, just as I don't regret anything about this birth. I didn't feel that the experience without the epidural was more meaningful in a spiritual or emotional way. There is a wonderful physical satisfaction I feel from doing something hard, from finding the courage inside myself to face the pain and conquer it, but I won't feel a bit disappointed if I decide to get an epidural next time. In fact, to avoid that last thirty minutes and especially that excruciating ring of fire, I think it is probably worth the few hours of numbness after the birth -- and I had a quick, relatively easy delivery, with 2 hours of mild labor, 2 hours of fairly difficult pains, then 2 hours of intensity! I don't know how women do it who have to push for a long time or who labor for endless hours. I feel a great awe at what generations of women have done to bring children into the world, with none of the pain relief available today.
While I enjoyed the mobility I had after the birth to walk to the nursery and be up and moving, the rest of the recovery was about the same as my other births (As a side note, after you've had eight children, the doctors and nurses figure you know what you're talking about when you rate your bleeding as "average"). In fact, though I've bounced back fairly quickly after all my births, it's still my twin birth that I recovered from the fastest (other than 8 weeks of bleeding). They were my smallest babies and I didn't tear that time, so I really felt good afterward and ready to conquer the world.
And in the end, no matter how she arrived, she's here -- small, perfect, beautiful, fresh from heaven and bringing the peace and purity of her divinity with her. I'm so grateful for my life and the privilege of being a mother.
What a precious gift this little girl is!