Grab a cup of coffee and settle in, folks. This is a long one.
Part One: Home
Tuesday morning I woke up at 5:30 with what I thought might be contractions. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions for weeks but in the past few days before this they’d started to also be uncomfortable down lower. Now they were entirely down in the cervix area. After it had happened a few times I decided to get up and keep track of how often they were coming. I was surprised to find they were five minutes apart. They remained this way, consistently, for an hour-and-a-half. In that time I woke Robert and called the midwife but she didn’t want to hear from me till the contractions were 60 seconds long, which they weren’t.
After the hour-and-a-half, though, they started to slack off. The intensity was the same but they spread out to 10-15 minutes apart. I still didn’t think they were 60 seconds long but it’s possible, looking back, that I was underestimating them simply because they didn’t hurt that badly so I was focused on other things during them and didn’t think they were as long as they truly were.
Robert took the kids to school and came back and they’d really dropped off so we went out and walked down the hill, up the block and back. When we got back in they still weren’t doing a whole lot so we decided it was okay for Robert to go down to his office and check in and do a few other things. While he was gone they were still in the 10-15 minute range, then went to 7-10 minutes. At 2:00 I finally decided to pull up the clock on the computer (the only one in the house that counts off seconds) and see. I was surprised to see they were mostly in the 60+ second range. They were also starting to come close. The first two of the 2:00 hour were 7 minutes apart but after that they started coming every 3-5 minutes. Most were over 60 seconds but there were still some that were only 30 seconds or so. My midwife seemed so concerned with them being 60 seconds long I figured I still had plenty of time left. But after it had been going on an hour I called her back. This was at 3:00. Strangely enough she still didn’t seem to think there was anything major happening. I am not sure why this is. Maybe I did something wrong? Perhaps I was too calm, or didn’t make myself clear enough as to what was going on. I am really not sure what happened there. Was it miscommunication? I started second-guessing myself at that point. Remember, I’m not the professional and I’ve never gone through a natural labor before. But when she asked me if I thought she needed to come down I said yes. So she said she’d pack up and get on her way (remember, it’s a good 95 miles from Oklahoma City to here).
Just after this things started to get really really tough. Contractions were sometimes as close as two minutes apart. About that time Robert got back from picking up the kids and I told him to fill up the pool. I was sitting on the couch while he and the kids were setting it up and the contractions were very close together and very difficult to handle, though I was hanging in there. I was making some noise but was under control. Robert had brought me, at my request, a Subway sandwich. So there I was, in the throes of active labor (though I didn’t know it), eating in between contractions! When I was done I decided I had to go to the bathroom and that was a disaster. I contracted all the way in there and all the way back. At this time Robert had setup my body pillow on the bed and suggested I go lie down while the pool finished filling. I did but it sure didn’t help. Just after I got on the bed the contractions were coming right on top of each other. I started to panic and that’s when the screaming started.
In retrospect I feel like it was not so much the pain that had me yelling. I was afraid. Remember, there was nobody there to tell me how far along I was. I had never experienced unmedicated labor before so I had no idea what to expect. I honestly thought that I might still have hours left of this almost non-stop body-wracking pain and I didn’t think I could do it. It honestly never occurred to me that I might be right near the end. I started screaming at Robert, “I don’t know what to do! I don’t know what to do!” meaning that I didn’t know if we should go to emergency or wait and follow the plan of doing this at home. It turns out I was in transition, though I never would have guessed it at the time.
Because of being scared I was tensing up whenever the contractions came. I kept feeling like I was going to lose bladder control and that’s partially why, too. Finally, though, I decided to just relax and go with it. The first contraction after I did that I felt a pop and my water broke. This was also when my body started pushing, even though it was very subtle at first.
The pool was finally ready then so I decided to get up and get in, still thinking I had a long time left to go and thinking the pool might actually help. It didn’t help, pain-wise, but I wasn’t in there two minutes before I felt my body start to push in earnest and that’s when I knew the baby was about to join us, midwife or no. By now I’m screaming fit to beat the band, telling Robert she was coming out and to call the ambulance. He got the phone and called 911 and was talking to the operator. I was on my back in the pool. I reached down and could feel the top of her head starting to crown. I honestly was not doing anything to facilitate her being born; my body said it was time to go and was taking care of business with or without my permission.
After just another few moments her head popped out entirely. Robert was still on the phone with the 911 operator and was trying to talk to her and help me at the same time. I was feeling around, not sure what to do. I know that in the hospital the doctor will grab the baby’s head and pull but I was afraid of hurting her neck and also didn’t know how to grab hold, exactly. So I did the only thing I could think to do, which was stand up. On the next contraction she popped out and Robert caught her as she splashed down (incidentally, he also, at that moment, dropped the phone in the water). I immediately sat down and grabbed the baby from Robert and sucked her nose and mouth to try to suction what I could to help her breathe. She made some noises and I could see she was breathing, though she was a little blue. She started to pink up right away, though, and gave a few little cries.
The 911 operator called back so Robert was back on the phone with her by now. He brought me a towel to wrap around the baby. He was still really worked up. I, on the other hand, was fine. As soon as she’d popped out the panic was gone and I felt like, “Great! She’s here!” I was happily talking to her and rocking her when the paramedics arrived a couple minutes later.
The midwives, whom Robert had reached by phone, were still 30 miles away and they had told him not to let the paramedics take me or the baby to the hospital. After we talked to them, though, I felt it was in our best interest to go, so I agreed to transport. They already had the baby out in the ambulance on some oxygen. They got me up out of the tub (when I first stood up I had a head rush but was able to take a moment to recover and then step out of the pool on my own) and onto a gurney and wheeled me out. During all of this my friend who lives down the street came up and took Madalyn and JZ home with her so Robert was free to follow us to the hospital. He also tells me every neighbor on the street was outside looking to see what had happened. I knew none of this, though. I don’t remember seeing Robert after they got me on the gurney and I don’t remember seeing anyone else, either, except the paramedics. They got me loaded in and we took off — we passed the midwives coming down the street, by the way!
In the ambulance they put me on some oxygen and I got to hold the baby. I was having some serious after-pains, though, which weren’t helped by the extremely bumpy ride so I ended up giving her back to the paramedic before we arrived at the hospital.
Part Two: The Hospital
We arrived at the hospital and they got me into what I guess was a delivery room. The baby was whisked away to the nursery right away. Robert arrived very soon after I got into the room. We went through all the usual stuff of being checked out. They put me on an i.v. of fluids and some oxytocin to make sure things were going back to normal as they were supposed to. The doctor on call just happened to be my general practitioner so she came in and visited with us and looked me over. She said that everything seemed to be fine and I just needed to finish the bag of fluids and could go home that night, probably in just a couple hours.
In the meantime, though, we started hearing that the pediatrician probably would want to keep the baby. Her body temperature was low and so was her blood sugar. The couple of hours stretched into three and then closer to four as we waited for the pediatrician to come talk to us and give us an update. Keep in mind we hadn’t seen the baby at all since we got there and she hadn’t nursed yet, either. I was extremely resentful that we were being told we wouldn’t be allowed to take her home since there was actually no way they could enforce that. If we wanted to go, they had to let us, and that’s what I was planning on doing the entire time, whether they liked it or not.
Finally the pediatrician came in and gave us the rundown on the situation. My determination to leave disappeared when she said that low blood sugar could lead to hypoglycemia, which could kill a baby if it wasn’t treated. She wanted to keep us there overnight so I could start nursing and they could check her blood sugar after she’d eaten each time. I decided it was more important to let professionals monitor her until she was back to normal than avoid a night in the hospital. The doctor said that once they had the baby warmed up she could come into the room with me and stay there, which I was very adamant about. Once we decided this would be the plan of action they moved me up to a postpartum room. Having never been in this hospital before I had a nasty shock when it turned out to be a double room! But, fortunately for me, the lady in there was checking out and was about to leave so I ended up with the room to myself.
I had sent Robert home to grab a few things for me. He had picked up the kids and taken them home and left them with the midwives, who were still there, cleaning up. He only stayed a moment when he came back to drop off my stuff. He found me having a turkey and cheese sandwich, some chips and a Coke, which the nurse had brought me. He needed to get home to the kids plus it was past visiting hours, anyway, so he didn’t really hang around.
After Robert left it wasn’t too much longer before they brought in the baby and I FINALLY got to hold her! She was over five hours old by then and I had only held her for a few minutes. We made up for lost time then, though. I tried to nurse her but she was too sleepy just then. True to their word, they left her with me except for taking her out for a few minutes to test her blood sugar. She slept a lot so I should have gotten more rest than I did but I was too keyed up to sleep. The most I slept was a little over an hour, with the baby in bed next to me. After they’d taken her out to check her around 3 a.m. they brought her back with good news: her temperature was normal and her blood sugar had remained stable. She was also wide-awake and ready to eat when they brought her in so we were able to get started nursing then. They’d had to put a tube down her throat and get some food in her stomach to try to get her blood sugar up, which was why she’d been reluctant to nurse right away — her tummy was full already. Once we got started, though, there was no looking back. She’s been doing great ever since.
In the morning Robert and JZ showed up around 9:30 to collect me and the baby (Madalyn had elected to go to school). Unfortunately it took them three hours to get the paperwork together so we could go! But we were eventually set free and got home a little before 2:00.
Where do I even begin? I am only just now beginning to sort out my feelings. I don’t regret how we tried to do things, or how they ended up happening. Once Eliza arrived and was safe there was no room for feeling sorry about anything and it’s kind of a neat story. I wouldn’t elect to have an unattended home birth again but I’m sort of glad I had the opportunity, since it all turned out okay in the end.
One thing that I think would’ve been different if the midwives had shown up in time would have been how I handled the whole situation. I completely lost it there at the end, once I went into transition. For the first day or afterward I thought it meant I am a big wimp who can’t handle pain. But now that I have some perspective I honestly don’t think it was the pain. I was scared and had no idea what was going on with my body. Had I had someone there who could’ve told me, “This is it! You are at the end, only a few more minutes” I think I could’ve coped just fine. But I had no inkling that I was at the end; I thought this was going to stretch on for hours this way and I couldn’t imagine being able to handle it. Then when she started pushing her way out, of course I freaked. I was screaming but, again, it wasn’t the pain, it was the terror that the baby was coming and nobody was there who knew what to do about it. I just couldn’t believe it was happening. Had there been the calming influence of experienced professionals there I think I would have been fairly composed; certainly enough to where I wouldn’t have frightened my children! But the bottom line is, she’s here, she’s fine, and all’s well that ends well. Like I said, it’s a neat story and I’m actually pretty proud of us.