My entire birthing experience was prefaced and affected by this determination I had to make the delivery go “perfectly” — or at least perfect from my perspective. A lot of my pregnancy had been frustrating on some petty levels — basically, we had had to rearrange a lot of our lives in ways we didn’t want based on when we conceived, and I developed an autoimmune disorder in my second trimester.
The first notion I had that my baby might be getting ready to be born was when I was tutoring on a Sunday and I felt sort of uncomfortable sitting for the hour and a half that I was with my student. That night I felt a few cramps while sleeping but I didn’t pay much attention to them. I thought they were just Braxton-Hicks contractions and not the real thing.
During the day the next Monday I felt cramps regularly, but they didn’t seem to be worsening or getting closer together, and my only indication that I was actually in labor was that they didn’t go away. Each time I got one I did the cat-cow stretch and that seemed to ward it off. My husband and I watched several action-packed episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender which I think got my adrenaline going a bit but at least made a nice distraction.
By 8:30pm on Monday I was less sure that the baby wasn’t coming so I emailed my boss and asked her to arrange a substitute tutor for my students that week. At 11:30 pm I emailed her some documents the sub would need — it took a while to write the email because I kept having to stop and let my stomach muscles stop clenching. The doulas I had talked to had recommended I get as much rest in between contractions as possible by lying down. I also timed the contractions to see if they were getting closer together but they were still erratic and not all that painful so I wasn’t sure what was happening. I had no idea how close to giving birth I was, which I think kept me from freaking out and helped a lot. My husband was fast asleep by this point and he had work the next day, so I wanted to be sure I didn’t wake him unless it was really “time.”
I made futile efforts to entertain myself and at 12:30am I realized I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in a few hours and I certainly couldn’t sleep. I clumped into the kitchen and drank some apple juice — which I immediately threw up. I had been encouraged to labor on my own for as long as possible but I figured this might be a good time to call the midwife and see if she could give me a time-frame or any advice about how to proceed. She said it would be a while yet, and she understood if I were excited but that I could keep going by myself and could take a bath to help space apart the contractions. Everything in her experience told her that the baby was nowhere near coming since it was my first, and it wasn’t her fault that my situation was such a surprise — even though her advice turned out to be wrong I didn’t blame her.
This was all sort of strange because I had initially wanted to have the baby at home and only made arrangements to use a hospital because of an autoimmune complication I had in the second trimester called pemphigoid gestationis — I had a mild case but it still sucked and most doctors had never heard of it and had no idea how to handle it. I never really wanted to use the hospital in the first place and here my hospital-affiliated midwife was telling me to stay at home — maybe she knew that’s what I really wanted and how much it would mean to me to have control over the situation. When we talked to her later, she maintained that she had no idea how quickly the baby would come.
I got into the bath and it felt sort of nice but I was having a hard time relaxing because I kept thinking about the Fire Lord (he’s the bad guy in Avatar) and every time I did another contraction came. It was really psychological. Also I had to go to the bathroom — or I felt like I did — and I didn’t want to do that in the bathtub, so I got on the toilet. Once there I felt like I had to go number two really badly but I couldn’t (I learned later that this sensation was actually caused by pressure from the baby’s head moving down). I felt like I was having a stomach virus akin to what people get in college or boarding school; very overpowering but short-lived.
Around 1:30am I was losing my ability to be discreet and my husband woke up to the sound of me grunting. When he came to the bathroom I asked him to call my midwife back because I was pretty sure they would want me in the hospital at that point. While he was on the phone with her, I lost my mucus plug, which I reported to him and was amused to hear him end his next sentence to the midwife with “… and something about a mucus plug.” She still didn’t think I needed to come in but he said I was sure it was “time” so she acquiesced and said she’d see us at the hospital.
Andy (my husband) got dressed and got ready to take me over. I tried to get up to go with him but I couldn’t stand, so I wouldn’t really have made it out to the car, and I wasn’t sure what manner of gunk was coming out of me at the time so I was afraid to leave the toilet. Andy decided to call 911 so we could have some help transporting me over. Meanwhile I felt a bit of a stretching sensation but I didn’t make a concerted effort to push because I heard that if you push too early you can hurt yourself. My muscles started pushing on their own, and suddenly the baby slipped out!
I called out, “Oh crap! Love?!” and my husband called back, “Baby?” and I said, “Yeah!” I caught the baby so he wouldn’t land in the toilet but I had a terrible time holding onto him because he was so slippery. The placenta was still inside so I had to hold him down low but I managed to put a towel around him. My Labor and Delivery nurse friend had told me that healthy babies arrived pink and crying, and Gabriel was both of these things.
Andy was still on the phone with the paramedics and he told them the baby had been born, and they told him to find a shoelace and measure how much of the umbilical cord had made it out with the baby — if it were six inches or more, he could cut it and tie it off with the shoelace, but if not, they said to just leave it and not pull on it or cut it. In our case less than six inches made it out, so we hung around waiting for the EMTs.
About seven people showed up to our apartment with an ambulance and a fire engine (at 2:30 am — my poor neighbors) and they cut the cord, sealed it with plastic clamps, and put the baby (Gabe) in a thermal blanket, then wrapped my lower half in sheets and lifted me onto a rolling stretcher, giving Andy instructions to follow the ambulance in his car. Once we were in the ambulance they let me hold the baby (he was so cute!) while I gave them as much information as I knew by heart — my driver’s license and insurance card were in my purse, which Andy was supposedly bringing.
They brought me into a delivery room and the midwife stitched me up, which SUCKED — for me that was harder than the delivery, and I kept asking for a cup of water and they wouldn’t give me one for a while. But overall the birth was AWESOME and I’m so happy I was able to do it on my own. My only “help” was from the doulas I’d talked to ahead of time and my only medication was the primrose oil supplements I started taking in week 37.
I know I was lucky things went so quickly and I was a bit of a medical anomaly, but everyone reading this — believe in yourselves! You can do it!