“Our son came into the world exactly one week early on 9/16/16 at 1:40pm. He was born weighing 8lb 3oz, and measuring 21 inches long. With a head of black hair like his daddy, he is 100% adorable. We absolutely love him and are so happy to have him in our lives.”
This is the “birth story” that I originally shared on social media when our son was first born.
I think I’m finally ready to share a little more.
The Desire to Share
I remember hearing many labor and delivery stories while growing up, as I listened to my mom, her friends, my aunts, etc. share their childbirth experiences with each other. While I remember thinking these stories were interesting, I just didn’t really get it. Why did these women enjoy talking about these (sometimes traumatic) experiences so much?
Now, I get it.
Childbirth is an incredible and truly life-changing event. For me, it is one of the most significant events of my life thus far. After experiencing something so huge, and so different than anything else I had ever experienced, I craved talking about and sharing what I had undergone. And, on the other hand, I wanted to hear about and listen to other women’s childbirth stories. It’s somehow soothing to share and be able to relate to other women and their own labor and delivery stories. I’ve found that no matter how different your stories, there is usually some aspect of your childbirth experience upon which you can relate.
Choosing to Share
Although it’s been almost eight months since my son’s birth, I still find myself with that desire to share and to hear. I originally wrote our son’s birth story just two weeks after he was born, but up until this point, I haven’t shared the written story. I worried that maybe I was a bit too dramatic and that maybe people wouldn’t want to hear about such a personal experience.
But I have since realized that by putting my son’s birth story out there, I am not forcing it anyone. And at the same time, by making it public, I can offer other women (women that I may not have a chance to speak with face to face) a chance to read and relate. Feeling a connection with other women who had given birth was something that I needed after having my son, and maybe it’s something that someone else needs as well.
“Keepin’ it Real”
I originally planned to edit my son’s birth story, to make it seem less dramatic (or maybe to just make me seem less dramatic), but if my purpose in sharing is so that others can read and relate, then I feel like I have a responsibility to “keep it real.”
My experience involved sweat, vomit, lots of pain, and a bit of hysteria. Although I had a healthy labor, without complications, my labor was hard. I felt (and I’m sure looked), pretty gross afterwards. For days afterwards. I was not among those that leave the hospital with make-up done and hair styled, a smile on their face.
And you know what? I’m okay with that.
But honestly? It took me a little while to be okay with that. Especially with the fact that I hadn’t been as calm and cool during labor as I was hoping. It’s important to recognize that there are all sorts of childbirth experiences and just because someone handled her experience differently that we did ours, it does not make her better (or worse) than us, just different.
It’s certainly tempting for me to relate that I was totally brave and confident during the whole of my labor and delivery, and that I bounced right back afterwards, but that just wasn’t the case. Although we do not all wish to share our labor and delivery experiences (which is OKAY!), when we do share, it’s important that we are honest in our depiction. In this post, I really try to take that advice to heart. No sugar-coating here folks.
I also want to make it clear that I feel that having a baby, no matter how a woman chooses to childbirth, is AMAZING. Period.
Why I Chose to Have an Unmedicated Labor
First of all, do I think that there is anything “wrong” with getting an epidural or with using some form of pain medication during labor? NO. Absolutely not. It’s just not what I chose to do.
I did a lot of research (mostly about getting an epidural vs. not), and I decided that if I was able to handle laboring unmedicated, then that is what I wanted to do. There are many pros and cons to getting an epidural, but I’ll let you do that research if you want to know more. The main point is, I figured that if I could handle labor without it, then I might as well avoid the potential risks that can come with an epidural.
To be completely honest though, the real reason that I wanted to go unmedicated doesn’t have anything to do with the pros and cons of an epidural. I wanted to fully experience childbirth, and for me, that meant doing it unmedicated. I wanted to know what it really felt like. And, I wanted to see if I could do it.
My “Birth Plan”
However, even though I knew that I wanted to do it unmedicated, I did try to remain open about getting an epidural. I knew that it was important to be flexible, because if I did end up getting one, I didn’t want to feel disappointed in myself. So ultimately, my birth plan was simply “healthy mom, healthy baby.”
Also, a lot of people ask me what kinds of techniques I used during my labor and the truth is…basically none. Since I had pretty much no idea what labor was actually going to be like, it was just really hard for me to focus on practicing one of the suggested techniques for a natural childbirth. I tried to practice things like visualization and various breathing techniques, but I just couldn’t commit to any of them. Luckily, I had an amazing nurse who helped me with my breathing (mainly so I would stop hyperventilating, let’s be honest) and who taught Josh where to apply pressure on my back and my feet to help alleviate pain. And, now that I know what to expect from labor, I’ll hopefully be able to learn some techniques that will help me get through a natural childbirth in the future with more composure.
The Beginning of it All
I, like many women, was SO ready to be done being pregnant once I hit full term. As I explained during a previous blog post, I actually had a kidney stone during my last three weeks of pregnancy. I finally passed the kidney stone just three days before giving birth to my son. Dealing with a kidney stone on top of the discomfort of the final weeks of pregnancy, meant that I was especially ready to have that baby out ASAP.
On Thursday (9/15), I went to my weekly appointment with my OB. At the appointment Dr. Bechek “stripped my membranes” (ouch), in the hopes of kick-starting labor. Before leaving the doctor’s office, I called my mom and told her that I was a couple of centimeters dilated and about 70% effaced. She wanted to buy a ticket to come right away, but I told her to wait until that evening, just in case I didn’t end up going into labor.
Dr. Bechek had told me to take a brisk walk when I got home and hopefully that would really get things moving. It did.
I started having real and consistent contractions when Josh got home from work that evening (we joke that the baby was just waiting for him to get home). The contractions continued to come closer and closer together as the evening progressed and when they had been coming about every 5-7 minutes for over an hour, we finally decided that it was time to head to the hospital. I called my mom and she bought a ticket to arrive the next morning.
The Triage Room
Josh and I got to the Riverton Hospital at about midnight. They put us in a triage room, checked how dilated I was (three centimeters), and hooked me up to a machine to monitor the baby’s heart rate as well as my contractions. The nurse told us that in order to keep me at the hospital, I needed to dilate an additional centimeter within an hour. We waited there for an hour with me trying to sleep through the contractions and then Josh and I trying to kill time by playing “Draw Something,” until I just couldn’t focus on it anymore.
Also, whoever was in the triage room right next to us, was NOT having a fun time. We could hear screaming and moaning coming from the next room over the whole time we were in our triage room. It kind of freaked us both out.
When the hour was up the nurse checked me again, and although I hadn’t quite dilated a full centimeter extra, she decided to keep me another hour because there was just enough “cervical change.” Both Josh and I prayed that I would dilate the extra centimeter so that they wouldn’t send us home. It would have been awful to have to drive back home when I was already having contractions five minutes apart. When the nurse checked again in an hour, I was dilated to four centimeters! Hurrah! At this point they moved Josh and I to a labor and delivery room and hooked me up to monitors again. The nurses then left us alone saying that they would check on us every now and then.
No Medicine Please
At this point, I still felt confident about my decision to have an unmedicated labor, although the contractions were starting to get more intense. Josh slept for a few hours, and I sort of dozed between contractions for a while.
Finally, the contractions were intense enough that I couldn’t stand to lie down anymore. I stood by the bed and paced around a little, or swayed from side to side when I had a contraction. I also tried sitting on an exercise ball for a while and whenever a contraction came, I gripped the bed as hard as I could until it passed. Josh sat beside me and asked what he could do to help. I rather bluntly told him, “Just sit there and be quiet.” I wanted him there, and his presence was comforting, but I also just needed to be able to focus.
At this point when a contraction would start, I would instantly want pain medication, but when it passed I was always like, “Nah, I’m good, I can do this!” However, I became less and less confident in my ability to labor unmedicated as my labor progressed.
What are These “Contractions” Anyway?
I don’t think that I can adequately describe what contractions feel like to someone who has never experienced them. I once read that contractions just feel like “really bad menstrual cramps.” Um. What? I don’t know what kind of crazy cramps that person has experienced, but that description in no way describes what I was feeling.
Also, contractions, and just labor and delivery in general, can feel very different depending on the woman. For me, contractions were full of crazy intense pain. I’ve passed a kidney stone. A rather large one. It hurt. A lot.
Ultimately, my contractions were worse.
The Contractions Intensify
With an experience that takes place over many hours, it’s hard to remember the exact order of how everything happened. I do know however, that the pain became worse and worse until everything just became a haze of pain. For a long time, I stood during my contractions. Some of the time I would stand with my arms around Josh’s neck, swaying from side to side, while he put pressure on my lower back. This was really comforting.
For an even longer time, I stood leaning against the bed (we raised it way up) with my head resting on my arms, while Josh put counter pressure on my lower back. Whenever a bad contraction would start, I would just say “Pressure! Pressure!” and Josh would be there. Despite the fact that he had sprained his hand in a mountain biking accident a week before, he was always right there to put pressure on my lower back, despite the physical discomfort it caused him.
Also, there’s this neat thing that can sometimes happen during labor where you start to fall asleep between contractions. So yep, for a period of time I would actually start to nod off between each contraction (even while standing!). It seems impossible that a person could start to fall asleep while in such pain, but it happened. And of course this dozing just made the whole experience seem even more like some crazy nightmare.
Every hour or so a nurse checked my cervix to see how dilated and effaced I was. This was never fun. Not only is it painful, but it just seems so…invasive. Also, apparently my cervix was particularly far back and hard for them to reach, which just made the experience that much better. Ugh. It was especially uncomfortable if I had a contraction during the middle of a check (and of course I usually did).
Breaking My Water
I threw up after several of the checks, which was not fun. I think that this was the first time in my life that I had ever thrown up due to pain. Also, heaving and contracting at once-that’s intense stuff.
When I reached about seven centimeters of dilation, my OB, Dr. Bechek, came to check on me. She broke my water in order to get labor to progress even faster. I immediately threw up after that. Luckily, Josh was a champ at providing emesis bags right on cue.
This is was when my contractions really started to become almost unbearable. At this point, I started to have an intense desire for pain meds (although I did not yet express that wish).
The Transition Stage
My mom arrived at about ten that morning, when my labor was reaching its most difficult stage. In thinking about my labor, I hadn’t been sure if I wanted her in the room when I delivered. I had thought that I might want it to be just Josh and I. However, when she arrived both Josh and I were incredibly grateful to have her there. (We’d already been through ten hours of labor with just the two of us, we were good.) She asked me if I wanted her to stay, and my answer was a definite, “Yes!” It was a such a comfort to me to have another person there who loved me and supported me, and also to have someone who had been through the same thing and understood.
At this point, my contractions were coming fast. To get through each one, my nurse had me breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth while making a sort of “oooohhh” sound as I breathed out. It sounds super weird, but it really did seem to help. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit, but at times I even whimpered and cried out in pain (things I never thought I would do). Thankfully, my awesome labor and delivery nurse was so calm, she really helped me. While my other nurses had come and gone, this nurse offered to stay with me and she calmly talked me through each contraction.
Give Me Meds!
The last few hours of my labor were so hard. Sometime during the last two hours or so before pushing, I just gave in and started asking for pain meds (a little too late for that). Honestly, I was almost begging for them. Here are a few fun things I remember saying, “Please!” (meaning please make it end, please give me medication) “I can’t do it, I can’t” and “I just want medicine!” I know I sounded really childish, but in my defense, I wasn’t exactly feeling like myself at this point.
My mom and Josh were encouraging and kept reminding me that I was so so close, and that I could do this. This was good of them, but at the time, I just felt really irritated at them. I kept thinking,
- “Why won’t they just give me medicine!?”
- “They don’t know anything! Because I definitely can NOT do this!”
- “They don’t understand, no one understands!” (Channeling my thirteen-year-old self, I guess?)
- “Why are they being so mean?! They are SO mean!”
Thinking about all this now, it’s amusing to me, but I was totally in earnest at the time.
Loss of all Confidence
I eventually hit a point where I honestly did not think that I was going to make it. I was exhausted, in incredible pain, and I had no idea when it would end. At this point my irritation had moved from Josh and my mom, to myself. Some things I specifically remember thinking were:
- “This is so so stupid, why didn’t I just get an epidural!? Why would I choose pain!?”
- “We are NOT having any more kids, we can adopt.”
- “I am never doing this again.”
- “Can’t I just have a c-section?” (Again, not thinking too clearly here).
One thing that is so hard about labor, is the fact that you just have no idea how long it’s going to last. With each contraction you just wonder how many more you will have to endure.
Finally, when they checked my cervix again, I was 8cm dilated. (Which devastated me, I was so ready to be done!) And I was almost completely effaced. I’m not sure how much time passed between this point and when I was able to start pushing. But, I do know that my contractions were reaching their climax. It was especially hard because instead of having one big contraction, and then a break, I was having two really big contractions one right after another and then a little break. My nurse, Josh, and my mom all continued to talk me through the contractions. They kept reminding me how close I was to being done.
But it didn’t feel close to me. Not at all.
Time to Push
Finally, they had me get into a position on all fours, so I was kneeling on the bed. At this point I started to feel the urge to push and Dr. Bechek arrived. After a little while, they had me get on my back and slide down to the end of the bed so I was ready to push. (Side-note: with future labors, I am definitely going to opt for a birthing position in which I can have the aid of gravity. Lying on my back was not my favorite). With the start of each contraction, Dr. Bechek would have me take a big breath and hold it. Then I would pull my legs back towards me as hard as I could, while leaning forward and pushing. My mom and Josh held up my legs and tried to help me relax between contractions.
Pushing was exhausting, but it was also a relief. It felt good to be working with the contractions and to have an end in sight. Dr. Bechek was a great coach, and kept pushing me to push harder and dig deeper for strength. She was very no nonsense, which is what I needed. If I had had a doctor that was nonchalant or too gentle, my pushing would have gone on for much longer.
With each push, I felt like my face was going to explode as I was supposed to hold my breath and not make any sound. At one point, Dr. Bechek told me that she could see the top of my baby’s head and said, “this baby has got a head full of dark hair!” That was exciting!
Many women opt to have a mirror in front of them so that they can watch their delivery progress, but I did not choose this option. I can’t even handle looking at a needle in my arm when having blood drawn, so I’m pretty sure that actually seeing what was going on down there, would have only served to majorly freak me out.
Freak Out Time
Speaking of freaking out…finally, Dr. Bechek told me that I was getting really close and that with the next pushes I would feel a crazy burning sensation like I had never felt before, but that I just needed to push through it. She said that I was tired and that the baby was getting tired so we needed to end it quickly or they might have to use a vacuum or forceps to get him out. I did NOT want that. So, even though I was exhausted and my legs were shaking with fatigue, I pushed my hardest with the next contraction and… started screaming.
You know those labor and delivery scenes in movies, where the woman is screeching and basically just losing her mind while pushing? Yeah, well, I used to watch those and think, “Puhlease, that girl needs to Get. A. Grip.” I’ve since repented. Sincerely.
Seriously, those last pushes caused the most intense pain I have ever felt. I never ever imagined that I would scream during labor, but I definitely did. I screamed like a banshee. Full-on banshee shrieking. Not only that, but I started trying to hit my doctor’s and nurse’s hands away from me (while still screaming)…So, yep, I lost it. Just a bit.
Dr. Bechek just told me firmly, “Shaylee, stop screaming, and push.” I needed that bluntness. I re-focused, thought of my baby, and pushed with everything I had.
And then it was all over. I had delivered my baby.
It was amazing, the absolute relief I felt as soon as he was out. I was so SO happy to be done. My total time pushing was about thirty five minutes and my total labor time (in the hospital at least), was about thirteen hours. I had survived.
When they had broken my water earlier, it was a little bit greenish, meaning that our baby had pooped in the womb. They had to examine him first, so I wasn’t able to do immediate skin-to-skin. He was also totally quiet when he first came out. Luckily, he started crying after a few seconds and everything was okay.
While they cleaned him up and did the few tests they needed to do, Dr. Bechek informed me that I had torn pretty badly in three separate places. Yikes. She had to stitch me up right then. At that moment, I did not even care about the tears because I was just so happy to be done with labor. Josh had been over with the baby, but he came and stood by me and let me grip his arm tightly as Dr. Bechek completed my stitches.
Although I was numbed, it still hurt, but I smiled through the whole thing just thinking, “This is nothing compared to contractions.” (Which is what I continued to think during other moments of pain while at the hospital). I also was humming/singing while being stitched up in order to distract from the pain. I think Josh may have been slightly concerned about my sanity at that point.
Finally, when I was done being stitched up, they brought my baby over to me and laid him on my chest. It was so crazy to think that he had actually just been inside my belly. As soon as he was on my chest, he was quiet and just turned his face up to look at me. And he totally knew me. He just kept looking and looking at me. It was the sweetest moment.
However, holding my baby did not cause my exhaustion and pain to somehow evaporate. There were A LOT of difficult times still ahead, but I’ll save that for another post.
Ultimately though, YES, it was all worth it. I have so many thoughts and feelings on becoming a mother and the incredible joy that it has brought me, but again, I’ll save that for another post. Just know that the love that I feel for my son is, honestly? Too deep for words. I know that’s corny, but what can I say when it’s simply the truth?
I later apologized to Dr. Bechek for my crazy screaming, (and the fact that I basically tried to assault her at one point). She was just like “Please, you don’t need to apologize.” She was definitely the doctor that I needed and I’m grateful for her.
I also got to look at the placenta, which I hadn’t though that I would want to do. It was actually really really cool. It’s pretty awesome that your body just creates a new organ in order to support your baby. Our bodies are crazy amazing.
Also, when Josh and I had attended our birthing class and watched the birthing videos, I had been horrified when I realized just how “exposed” I was going to be during childbirth. I felt like I was going to feel so embarrassed. However, the reality is that when you’re in labor, you do not care in the slightest. After my son was born there were a bunch of people in the room, and I did not even feel awkward at all as I lay there being stitched up. There are much bigger concerns on your mind during labor than that of being modest.
I remember being a little worried about how my husband would feel about me and my body after witnessing my labor and delivery (which is ridiculous, because Josh is the absolute best. But, I’m human, and I still felt that insecurity and uncertainty). Josh told me that day, “I don’t know how anyone couldn’t be insanely attracted to their wife after seeing her go through labor. You’re like, my hero. I didn’t think that I could love you any more than I already did, but I was wrong.”
See? The absolute best.
His words definitely strengthened me through what was a pretty difficult recovery. When I first tried to stand and walk after having my son, I felt like I had run a marathon. And was then promptly hit by a bus. And was then handed a baby. But again, still worth it.
Having my mom with me was also amazing. I don’t think we would have survived that first week without her. Becoming a mom myself has increased my love and appreciation for her so much. Just like Josh said about me, I didn’t think that I could possibly love my mom any more than I already did. But I too, was wrong. Also, getting to see my husband become a father? Wonderful.
I still have a lot to say about those few days in the hospital post-delivery, about my recovery, and about how insanely difficult those first few weeks with a newborn can be. But, I’ve probably rambled on long enough for one post.
So? Will I do an unmedicated labor again? Probably. Does the thought scare me? A bit. But now that I know that I can do it, why not? I’m kind of stubborn like that.
If you’re interested in reading Josh’s thoughts on this experience, click here for his post.