A tale of food, confidence and a 37-hour labor

Guest post by Brandi Werbalowsky

Brandi and her baby!
Whenever I would tell a fellow Southerner about my plan to have a drug-free water birth, I would always receive the same reaction: skepticism and a lecture about how painful it would be. Although I would always answer their criticism with the same reply, “I have never been in labor so I know it may be too painful — I am just going to try.” What can I say? I am people pleaser. It is not in my nature to challenge those who seem more experienced. In my heart I knew I could do it. I could only think of one thing that might shake my confidence: a long labor.

I didn’t have an easy pregnancy. Over those precious 10 months I experienced: severe nausea, increased asthma symptoms (went to the hospital twice), very severe allergies and kidney stones. By the time my due date rolled around I wanted my sweet Hannah Rose out of my body and in my arms pronto. I was willing to try anything.

By the Sunday before my due date, I was working through a long list of natural-labor-inducing-baby-birth-wives’-tales. I ate Scallinis’ eggplant parmesan, Indian food and chicken wings. I sat on my birthing ball for hours, had sex with my yummy husband and walked miles and miles. Monday morning I had regular contractions for about 6 hours: then they stopped. Tuesday morning I had regular contractions for about 7 hours: then they stopped. Finally, at one in the morning on Wednesday I was awoken by a flush of liquid: my bloody show. Contractions began immediately. I called my midwife and my doula to tell them the excellent news. I was told to come to the office as soon as I awoke in the morning.

Of course, I didn’t really sleep. Neither did my husband who was just as excited as me to meet the little bundle. By 9 in the morning my contractions were about 7 minutes apart and coming regularly. Although our bags were packed and in the car, my midwife told us to stay at home until I felt like I had to go to the hospital. I felt like I “had to go” right then, but I went home anyway remembering the 4-1-1 rule they told us at birthing class. I only had to make it to 4 minutes apart—how long could that really take?

We spent Wednesday afternoon snacking on Chick-Fil-A (yes I really wanted a chicken sandwich, French Fries and a brownie during labor) and watching reality TV. I have not watched that show one time since, but during labor it was captivating. Slowly, over the hours my contractions began to become closer together. But, they never reached 4 minutes apart. I kept attempting to sleep. I just couldn’t ignore the contractions long enough to really rest.

Late that night, I finally took a very short 1 hour nap. When I awoke my contractions were 5 minutes apart lasting two minutes each. By that time, I was at my wits-end. I waited a little while and then called my midwife for advice. She told me to take a long warm bath. She explained that my uterus was exhausted which had caused my labor to stall. The bath worked and my contractions finally reached the 4 minute apart mark — although they were still lasting two minutes each.

We reached the hospital at almost 4am on Thursday. I was in tears at the check-in desk. I was certain I could not do it any longer. I wanted a damn epidural and I wanted it immediately. The nurse began checking my vitals and called my midwife. She suggested that the nurse could give me a dose of morphine to help me sleep for a few hours. She believed I should wait to make the epidural decision until after I had rested. I was convinced easily. I wanted sleep almost as much as I wanted Hannah Rose to be in my arms.

By 6am, my husband and I were finally in our hospital room and I was feeling the effects of the morphine. Once I had a nice (medically induced) high, I allowed my husband to notify my doula that we were at the hospital. I had been too embarrassed to call her at home (when I was certain that an epidural was in my future). Finally, we slept for two hours straight.

I was comforted the most by two things during my labor: running water on my lower back and the quiet inner strength of understanding that flows between women.

When I awoke at 8am, I was feeling much better. The hospital nurse brought me a wonderful breakfast of juice, fruit, yogurt and a warm blueberry muffin with butter. Everything tasted so wonderful — especially the muffin. Labor slowly resumed and I found my way to the shower to ease the contraction pains in my back. My doula sat next to me for what felt like hours, aiming the spraying water just above my butt. My husband wanted to help and offered several times, but I couldn’t bear the idea of him seeing me in such an out of control state. My husband is a very sensitive man. I just couldn’t stand the idea of burdening him with my pain. I was comforted the most by two things during my labor: running water on my lower back and the quiet inner strength of understanding that flows between women.

By 11am, I was in full transition and beginning to instinctively push. The nurse filled the tub and I assumed a hands-knees position in the comforting water. By that time my midwife AND the hospital’s on-duty midwife had arrived to assist. I was surrounded by love and strength that I could truly feel. My husband poured water over my back with a cup, the hospital midwife held my hands, my midwife observed, the doula took pictures and the nurse monitored the baby. For some reason, I was very comforted by that midwife’s cool blue eyes. I looked deeply into them during contractions to absorb her strength. When I wasn’t contracting, I rested my head on the side of the tub and took very short (but lovely) naps.

Although I was pushing, Hannah Rose did not move. Everyone began to suggest that I switch positions. I was so afraid of the pain that I resisted. Finally, they convinced me to sit in the tub while my husband held me up from under my arms. My midwife put on my labor-playlist (complete with Michael Jackson’s Will You be There and several emo tunes from the Twilight soundtrack) and finally, finally with a few more pushes I could reach down and feel her beautiful hairy head.

Hannah Rose was born into the warm water of the birthing tub at 1:13pm. God, was I happy. I had no idea what I was supposed to say when they put that angel in my arms. I just whispered the only thing I could think of: “the baby is here, the baby is here. I am done with that labor.” In that moment I felt more relief than anything. The hospital staff cleaned her up while my husband called everyone he could think of. Then they gave her back to me. The moment I felt her latch to my breast for the first time: that was the greatest joy I have ever felt.

I wish I could tell you that life was peaches after that. After we left the hospital, Hannah Rose got jaundice and had to return to the hospital to stay one night at the NICU. About a week later I got a uterine infection and spent five days in the hospital. As cliché as it may sound, I wouldn’t do it differently. The truth is that I love the memories of my insane labor and crazy first two weeks as a parent. I am so proud of myself and my little family. I did it. I held strong when I wanted to give up. Until the day I die, I will always know that with the support of my patient husband and my magical birth team, not even 37 hours of labor could stop me from accomplishing my dream. I know I am very lucky.

Comments on A tale of food, confidence and a 37-hour labor

  1. Ah! I am excited to see a local (Atlanta) story on here. I, too, had an unmedicated birth and people still give me the side-eye here. Congrats on your beautiful daughter!

  2. Woo more Georgians! I’m in Athens! 🙂

    And yeah, I get weird looks too. Actually, more than looks. Especially since I’m planning a (OHGODPLEASENO) home birth.

    So yay for you! Also, your hospital sounds pretty fab, especially for a Georgia one!

    • HA! Small world. I’m in Athens, too. Isn’t it almost like a little refuge in GA? We have lots of homebirthers and folks who use the CNMs at Athens Regional. Wishing you a wonderful birth!

    • I’m really glad to hear that North Fulton is so open-minded and positive. I live maybe 2 miles up the street from them (and actually spent a couple weeks there after a nasty car wreck, but that’s another story), and they are likely the hospital my husband and I will look at primarily. My mom had me and all three of my siblings at Piedmont, but I really like the idea of having somewhere so much closer to home.

  3. Great story!

    I’m curious– How did you manage to convince them to let you eat in the hospital? My experiences with friends being in labor have all involved sneaking them food.

    • Hi N,

      Thank you for your question. Here is my experience:

      Soon after I got pregnant my mother-in-law (who teaches hypnobirthing) began to give me some hints about what qualities an obgyn and hospital will possess if they are open minded. She believes very strongly that women are made to have babies and need as little interference as possible. The more she taught me, the more I let go of the idea that a woman needs to do everything modern medicine says is best. I began to do some research on my own. I learned to look at the c-section rate (NF has a 13% rate). I learned to ask if I was required to be monitored and have an iv. And, I also learned to check to see if I could eat and drink during labor.

      (Back to the c-section rate because it directly relates to food policies.) Most hospitals do not want you to eat and drink because they know that there is a great chance that you will have to have a c-section. There is one well known/well rated hospital in Atlanta with a 49% c-section rate. It is not good to have a full belly when you go under the knife. The hospitals want to protect themselves so they only allow ice chips.

      The hospital I went to is exactly the opposite. On the tour they were very, very vocal about their desire to avoid c-sections. They also boasted about their high patient satisfaction rate. They showed us the patient hospitality station where Josh (my husband) could go to grab drinks and snacks. On the tour, they made sure we knew that we would not only be able to eat and drink, but that we must drink if we do not want to have an iv.

      Not everyone has as many hospitals to choose from as we do in Atlanta. But, if you do have the ability to pick one, the important thing is to find a hospital with the same beliefs that you have. (Even if that means driving a bit further.) The fact is, it is really tough to convince hospital staff to go against normal protocol.

  4. I’m a Southerner (well, okay, a Yankee transplant happily living in the South) too, in Chattanooga, and I’m also planning a no-pain-med water birth (at home).. and like you, the only thing I’m really worried about is a crazy-long labor.

    I’m FLOORED by how freaked out everyone is by my decision! Some friends tell me I’m the bravest woman they know, some have told me I’m certifiably insane to not be afraid of birth. But what good would fear do me? I’ve taken my classes, talked and rehearsed with my husband, hired a doula, etc. I’m downright excited to give birth on what I consider to be the best terms — with all the rest I need, all the food I need, and all the support I’ll need.

    Reading your story confirms that I’m not crazy, and I should be excited about the birth, because it’s going to be ok (knock on wood!!!), and I’m going to meet my daughter.

    Also, your hospital sounds awesome. No hospital around here would bring a laboring mother a plate of food or actually tell her to wait before getting an epidural. You chose the right practice!

    • Hi Madeleine,

      Good luck with your upcoming delivery. I am sure your story will be perfect.  You have more courage than I do.. Although I was able to get over my belief that “modern medicine always knows best” and have a more natural childbirth, I was not able to find the courage to deliver at home. Somewhere in the back of my mind I still have small lingering ideas that birth is a dangerous condition instead of the beautiful natural event that it really is.

      I think homebirth is so cool. Especially if you have children and it can be a family event. Maybe with my next one? I don’t know… I do know that if I do use a hospital for my second, I will use the same one.


      • Well, I hope you’re right about my delivery! I’ve got about 8 weeks until I find out…

        Honestly, if I had access to a hospital like yours, I don’t think I ever would have gone the homebirth route. I chose it because I was so unsatisfied by my ob’s answers to my questions, the most ‘modern’ hospital here doesn’t use wireless fetal monitoring and has a 40% c-section rate, and the nearest birth center is an hour away. I’m now really excited about my choice, my Bradley classes have been super empowering, and I think the care I’ve gotten from my midwife has been wonderful — so it’s coming together. But I think be just as excited for a peaceful, positive, “women’s bodies are meant for this” hospital birth 🙂

        • I am in pretty much the same situation as you! No hospitals I felt good about in the area, and no birth centers less than 2 hours away so home birth it is! We are planning a water birth and took Bradley classes, now we’re just waiting for our little guy to make a move 🙂 My due date is less than two weeks away now, so could be any day. It is great to know there are others out there choosing to give birth naturally, and to have a forum to discuss it.

  5. “the quiet inner strength of understanding that flows between women”–I just love that. I also had a doula and midwife assisted birth (my husband missed it!) and that is so true. Well-written story!!

  6. SO WEIRD. Your labor timeline is amazingly close to mine. Mine was 42 hours starting at 7pm Tuesday and ending with Evan’s arrival at 1:02pm Thursday.

    I did end up getting an epidural at about 5am Thursday (round about the time you got your morphine – I wish I’d been offered that instead!). I was able to have a lovely 2-hour nap at that point. But I was weaned off the epidural before it was time to push, so it worked out OK. My little guy spent 24 hours in NICU also, due to fluid in his lungs.

    People’s eyes pop out of their heads whenever they hear about the length of my labor, so I’m glad to hear another long-labor story.

    I felt like an Amazon warrior when it was all said and done, how about you?

    • It is really cool that our stories are so alike. We must have twin labor bodies… How much weight did you gain–if it was 55 pounds than we must be birth-story sisters. 🙂

      Believe it or not I still don’t feel all that strong or brave or anything. I can’t believe I did it and I know I want to have a natural water-birth again, but it doesn’t really feel like it was me. I guess that even now, I still have not owned my experience. I don’t know why. I would really like to be more proud of my life experiences (some of them have been really interesting), but I just have not done that yet. I think for me, owning the “me” that is “me” may be even harder than labor. 🙂

  7. I guess I’m a little timid, too, when it comes to replying to people’s comments regarding my decision to plan for an unmedicated birth at a local hospital. I either encounter doubt or silence, and most of the time I end up saying “I’m going to try” or “that’s the plan”, even though I (and my husband) are quite determined, have taken a natural childbirth class, practiced relaxation techniques, and hired a doula. I live in central SC, and no one in my circle of friends has birthed without an epidural and most would’ve never considered it. There is definitely a fear of the pain.

  8. Pregnancy lasts less than 9 months. When you go over 40 weeks you are barely over the 9th month mark (by a few days). There is no ninth or tenth month in pregnancy. There is the eighth month, which is the last month of your pregnancy.

    Before you say what? They include the first two weeks before you became pregnant in your pregnancy. At 40 weeks you are actually only 38 weeks (which is 8.74 months) and at 42 weeks you are actually only 40 weeks (9.2 months). I don’t know where this ten month thing comes from or who came up with it but it’s extremely inaccurate!

    Congrats on your baby! Way to go momma! I’m glad you went with your gut and didn’t listen to the naysayers! I hope your adventures as a mother are filled with lots of delight!

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