Chapter 10: Harper’s Birth Story
My friends, our SON was born last Tuesday!! He was 12 days early and came barreling out into the world with a purpose. I wanted to get the details down before they’re lost in my mind forever.
Last time I wrote, I was 34 weeks and was dilated to 2-3 cm and 50% effaced, which was a potentially worrisome thing at that point (in a first-time mom…after you’ve already been pregnant, that can be a pretty normal occurrence), since first-time moms don’t usually walk around that dilated for long. My gut told me we had a few more weeks in us, I just didn’t know how many. Turns out it was about 4.5. Since 34 weeks, I had been having contractions all day, every day. They didn’t feel like Braxton Hicks because they would start in my back, wrap around my lower abdomen and move up to the top of my belly. They would hurt, but it was never unmanageable pain (I think “ache” would be a better description rather than “pain”). They would get as close as 3-4 minutes apart on some days, while other days they would be 10 minutes apart, and others they would be 30 minutes apart. It was completely random and completely frustrating! I was definitely feeling the discomfort of the end of pregnancy and I felt like the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy (which were so uncomfortable that sleeping was hit-or-miss, so I was exhausted) had to be a cruel joke the universe was playing on someone who was about to have a newborn and not get much sleep anyway. (I want to insert here that for ME–everyone is different–but for me, the sleep I’m getting now is WAY better. I may be getting up every 2-3 hours, but the sleep in between? Heaven. I go all night without peeing! So, for me…I say baby is better on the outside. )
So, now that you have some context on what my body’s been doing for the last few weeks, I’ll tell you about the day Harper decided to come into the world…
Tuesday, October 15, I woke up like any other day and thought, “well, still pregnant!” I was 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant, so in reality I knew it could be as long as 3 more weeks until we met our baby. But, since we were full-term, I didn’t feel TOO guilty hoping our baby would be ready a bit early. (Obviously, however much time baby needs is the priority here, though.)
My friend Lily hadn’t been able to make it to my baby shower, so she and her baby girl were going to drop their gift by. They came over for about 45 minutes and then I headed to my weekly chiropractor appointment at 11:15 (my chiropractor is trained in the Webster Technique and made all of the difference in my pregnancy for my pesky and continuously misaligned sacrum). We had just moved to once-a-week appointments instead of twice-a-week, so my adjustment took a little bit more “oomph” to get things where it needed to be. “Not much longer,” she [my chiropractor] said, “but today, baby is on your left side, which is a first and is exactly where he or she needs to be for labor.” I joked around with the girls up front: “Yep, still pregnant! Hey, maybe you won’t see me for my next appointment…hey, isn’t there a full moon coming up?!”
I spent the next few hours running miscellaneous errands and tying up loose ends; for whatever reason, after a few unproductive days, something in me kicked into gear, feeling like I should hurry to get things taken care of, which seemed peculiar to me even in the moment.
Around 1:00, I started feeling a constant deep low back pain. By 2:30, the pain had increased enough for me to take a Tylenol (those of you who know me know that it takes quite a lot for me to turn to pain killers) and get into a warm bath. The pain was mostly on my left side, but was radiating down my legs and through my hips. I googled sciatic pain, but decided that wasn’t what I was feeling. Ultimately, I chalked it up to something misaligning quickly after my chiropractor appointment that morning. I was texting J throughout the afternoon and, at one point he thought maybe I was telling him my back pain equated to labor. “Ha!” I said, “I’ll be VERY clear when I think I’m in labor!” *picture me throwing my head back with laughter…and then scowling because I was in so much pain* Ironically, after 4.5 weeks of contractions, I wasn’t having very many that afternoon! The contractions I was having weren’t even all that painful.
Around 3:15, I got out of the bath and decided to lay down on the couch to watch an episode of Army Wives. As the minutes passed, I got more and more miserable…every time the baby moved (which was a lot that afternoon…comforting and painful all at the same time), I felt a sharp pain in the lower left side of my abdomen. Before I got to the end of the episode, I peeled myself off of the couch to take my phone upstairs to charge. That’s where things took a turn…when I got to the side of my bed, I suddenly felt like I was going to black out. I quickly sat on the side of the bed, then laid down. I felt SO cold, so I buried myself into the sheets and down comforter. Within half an hour, I felt like I had the flu. I had continued to text J, so the second I said I was considering going in to triage (simply because of the pain level–I knew I shouldn’t be in that much pain and not go in, regardless of being in labor or not), he headed home. He got home a little after 5:00 and by the time he got to me, I was shivering, silent, nauseous, couldn’t open my eyes and was having contractions that pushed my pain level over the edge. He took my temperature, which came back normal, and wondered if my localized abdominal pain could be something like kidney stones. We decided to go in, so he ran around putting all of the last-minute items on my pre-prepared packing list into our hospital bags, just in case we weren’t coming back home that night. I focused all of my energy on sitting up, getting out of bed, walking down the stairs and getting in the car…which took longer than it did for him to pack the bags. I.was.miserable. And then I realized I still had to walk across the entire hospital to get to triage once we got there! J offered to run and get me a wheelchair, but my pride said no and that I would just walk slowly.
[Everything is a bit of a blur from here on out and a lot of these details I now know because J has told me or because I can see timestamps on our pictures.]
We finally got across the hospital and into triage, where I sat staring at the floor while J filled out the questionnaire. All I cared about was where J was sitting in case I passed out and knowing where the trash can was in case I threw up. I was vaguely aware that I LOOKED like I was in bad shape to passers-by, but I didn’t care much. I wanted silence (I’m sure that TV in the waiting room wasn’t really as loud as it seemed at the time) and I wanted to lay down.
A few minutes later, they called my name and we headed back to a triage room. My memory of the next hour or so in triage is like a movie–unsteadily and hazily filmed. My eyes were closed. I could barely answer questions (luckily, J was answering most everything for me anyway). The nurse did a cervical check and told us I was sitting at 3 cm (“MAYBE 4…”), 80% effaced and a -3 station. (Side note: the baby had been SUPER low for the last 4 weeks, but I remember waking up that morning thinking he or she was really high all of the sudden! Turns out he was!) I had been 3 cm and 50% effaced for 4.5 weeks by then, so the only change (which is a big deal) was effacement. The nurse came in and told me she was going to start me on some IV fluids just in case dehydration was the cause for my contractions (I remember laughing at her maniacally in my head, knowing I had tried EVERYTHING to get contractions to calm down for the previous 4.5 weeks!!!). She came back about a minute later and said, “okay, because of the tender spot on your abdomen, the doctor is a little bit concerned about chorioamnionitis, which is an infection in the amniotic sac, which in this case would be right next to the baby’s head. Even though your water hasn’t broken, it’s possible you have just a tiny pin prick of a hole in the sac and bacteria has gotten in and caused an infection…SO, we’re admitting you and you’re having a baby tonight! We’ll get these fluids started and I’m going to start a round of antibiotics, we’ll get you into a labor and delivery room and then we’ll start pitocin to speed things along!” (Harper’s heart rate had also stayed at around 200 bpm since we got there, which was a big concern for them–no way were they going to send me home with his heart rate that high.)
My desire all along had been to give birth as naturally as the circumstances would allow. That being said, I knew that anything could happen, so I didn’t go in with a birth plan, per se. In my mind, my husband and my doula both knew my desire and could be the advocates for me. But hearing that they were going to start pitocin to speed things along when I was already in such excruciating constant pain made me think, “Forget it…I could handle the pain if it came and went with contractions or even if I felt well, but I’m already in such a bad place physically and mentally…just give me the epidural.” It wasn’t a good place mentally. I went in feeling defeated and I knew I didn’t stand a chance.
They continued to check me for a fever since I felt warm to the touch and it was here that J remembered me telling him I had taken a Tylenol that afternoon. A-HA! The Tylenol was masking what ended up being a 101° fever.
At this point, I firmly believe that all of the friends and family J had been texting updates to were praying HARD on my behalf (I wasn’t even mentally present enough to be praying myself!). Because by the time they were wheeling me over to a labor & delivery room, I felt like a COMPLETELY different person. I had had my round of antibiotics and fluids, which I know made a difference, but I honestly believe this story would have gone a very different direction were it not for the prayer warriors battling on my behalf. My eyes were open, my color had returned (so I am told), I was conversing (I was even laughing!), I was sitting up…complete and utter change! My constant back/hip pain was gone–and only returning with contractions. Ahhh, true back labor had begun! I remember thinking, “This…I can do this! Besides, these contractions don’t hurt much more than my menstrual cramps! Just take it one contraction at a time and embrace the pain as progress.” (A little context, I’ve had crazy intense menstrual cramps since I was a teenager–enough that they could put me in bed for a day every month. I once had a doctor tell me that I would be well-prepared for labor because of my pain level and I always wondered if she was right…she was!)
About an hour later (~8:00), one of the nurses came in to do a routine check and happened to see that Harper’s heart rate–which again had been ~200 bpm since arriving–had dropped into the 60s. What she DIDN’T realize was that the monitor on my belly had slipped up too high and my contractions, which were happening every minute and right on top of each other, weren’t showing up on the screen! Not knowing what was happening, she calmly, but quickly, grabbed gloves and walked into the hallway and yelled, “Can I get some help in here?” Within seconds, 5 or 6 nurses and a doctor were in my room, throwing the sheets off of me, throwing my gown up, putting an oxygen mask on my face and flipping me from side to side–which I knew meant they were trying desperately to get oxygen to the baby. I remember glancing over to see my husband’s face to know if I should be concerned or not (doctors see and know too many “bad things,” so I knew if he looked panicked, I should be too). He looked focused and calm (though who knows if he actually was), which had a huge effect on me, and in turn, our baby. (Thank you, my love, for being strong for us when you didn’t even realize I was watching!) They told me they were going to break my water so that they could put a fetal scalp monitor on the baby’s head. (By the way…laying down in your own waters breaking is one of the most disgusting feelings ever! Think warm fluids gushing all over your legs and underneath you. DEEEEES-gusting! And also–something they don’t tell you–your waters regenerate to keep baby safe until he or she is born, so you continue to leak/gush fluids until you give birth! My heart goes out to anyone whose water has broken anywhere but the place they intend to give birth because I can’t imagine trying to navigate somewhere with gushing water!) At this point, I heard a nurse quietly ask the doctor if there had been any cervical change–and the manner in which she asked under her breath, I knew she was expecting no change. “She’s at 6 cm!” the doctor said. “6 CM!” I remember thinking, “oh heck yes, I can do this!”
Marie, my doula, arrived about 30 minutes later and we brought her up to speed. I was still talking (even laughing!) through contractions for the first hour that she was there (until maybe 9:15 or 9:30?), and then I had to start focusing my energy to take on every contraction. But in between? I was great! Talking and laughing again. J’s friend Tom, who is also an intern at the hospital, stopped by our room as he was just finishing a shift. Right after 10:00, I needed to pee, so J and Tom stepped out into the hallway to give me some privacy (obviously J would have stayed if Tom weren’t there, haha!).
I think getting out of the bed caused Harper to drop quickly, because I had three major contractions (as in, can’t do anything but squat on the ground holding the IV pole) on the way to the bathroom, and then a few while I was trying to pee, and then a few on the way back to the bed. The nurse and Marie were setting up the birthing ball for me and as soon as I got settled, I remember Marie sticking her head into the hall to let J and Tom know I was decent again. But at this point, the contractions were so intense that I couldn’t do anything but groan through them. I wasn’t in control, and my body had totally taken over at this point! (Hearing me groan sent Tom back out of the room to wait elsewhere in the hospital–lol!!) My back labor (which had been helped a little bit earlier by laboring on hands and knees) had hit an all-time high. I felt like I was on fire, like my body was being ripped apart, like someone was stabbing me! Marie showed J how to use counter-pressure on my back during a contraction and that was AMAZING!!! It made the contractions bearable. However, he only got to do this for about three contractions because my eyes shot open and I somehow managed to get out the words to Marie, “I’m bearing down and I can’t stop it!” She calmly clarified that I was telling her I (well, my body) was pushing and told the nurse who grabbed a doctor.
Through the next several contractions, I got back into the bed (darn–I liked that birthing ball!) and laid back for the doctor to check me. Again, I think the nurse wasn’t expecting me to be ready to push yet, so when the doctor said, “OH! There’s a head right there. She’s complete.” the room snapped into action. They flipped the end of the bed off, put the stirrups in, the doctor got into her gear and the room started being prepped for a baby. They asked me if I wanted them to count for me to push or if I wanted to follow my body. I managed to say, “follow….my….body!” and we all waited for the next contraction. Since we didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, the nurses had asked J right after I started pushing if he wanted to be the one to announce gender and cut the cord (which he did both!). Since I didn’t have a birth plan to hand to anyone, I also managed to get out, “delayed cord clamping, too!” They kind of laughed at me and said, “okay, good to know–just in time, haha!” One of the nurses helped coach me a little bit on how long to hold a push and within a few contractions, everyone was cheering! After another few contractions, the glorious words, “We can see the baby’s head!” were said! I got to feel his head as he was crowning, which was great motivation to push as hard and as long as I could during the next couple contractions. I had read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth while I was pregnant and had read story after story where women spoke of the relief when the baby’s head (the biggest part) was born, and I was chasing after that relief with a vengeance! AND IT WAS TRUE!!!! His head was born, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and one push later, the rest of him was born!
They placed him on my chest and one of the nurses said, “what is it, dad?!” and he said, “It’s A BOY!” I remember, despite being in such shock that he was here, thinking, “I KNEW IT WAS A BOY!!!!!” I didn’t cry (yet), I just laid there staring at him, in awe, taking in the details of his tiny body. It wasn’t until after he had nursed and we had had some time together that they took him to weigh, measure and look over. He was 6 lbs 10 oz, 19.5 inches long, his Apgar was 9 at both the 1- and 5-minute marks, born at 10:49 PM on October 15, 2013. Perfectly healthy and beautiful!!!
Because of the suspected chorioamnionitis, they were going to continue monitoring me and were going to start him on 48 hours of antibiotics, so they had to put a big, sad IV in his tiny little arm. I sent J to go with him while they were putting the IV in and while they were stitching me up. (I only had a first-degree perineal tear, but the more painful damage was a slight labial laceration–which happened because my sweet boy, who LOVES having his hands by his face–he was even doing it in his 17-week ultrasound!–was born with a hand by his face and he shot his arm out right when his head was being born…so, he essentially karate chopped my tissues, earning me a few extra stitches. )
So here we are, 10 days later, with a handsome, healthy and happy baby. I feel great other than your standard soreness around the stitches. I can’t help but feel so blessed for the way things went–I got my natural, unmedicated, intervention-less birth and in today’s medical society, I know how rare that can be. Especially when you consider the shape I was in when we arrived at the hospital. I am eternally grateful for those who were praying on our behalf! They never had to start that Pitocin. I’m not entirely sure when I actually went into labor, which is a funny thing to say, I know…ultimately, the pain started almost 10 hours before he was born, the contractions established a pattern (though I never timed them, so I guess I mean they finally started being effective after 4.5 weeks of ineffective contractions) almost 5 hours before and I only pushed for a little under 30 minutes (but it felt like five). Now that I’ve actually gone through labor, I can officially respond to everyone who told me the contractions I was having for 4.5 weeks “weren’t real” (haha) and say…yes, they were. They were ineffective, yes, but they felt totally different than Braxton Hicks and felt exactly like my early labor contractions! I don’t know why I was experiencing them (although I have a sister-in-law who has an “irritable uterus” and wonder if maybe that’s what could have caused mine, too), but I guess in a sense, I can say I was in labor for 4.5 weeks!
No matter, though…it was completely and totally worth every contraction I experienced. I was wholly unprepared for how I would feel after he was born. It changes everything–your perspective, your heart, your focus, your goals…everything.
We love you, sweet baby Harper!