If you're one of those people who loves reading other people's birth stories, I can totally relate. I've always loved reading birth stories, but as I was anticipating the birth of Madeleine I especially scoured the internet looking for (mostly positive) birth stories to encourage/motivate me. To read Madeleine's birth story in its entirety (longest. post. ever.), click through. If you want the condensed version, here you go:
I went into labor 8 days before my due date. I was in labor for 19 hours. I pushed for 3 hours. I didn't have an epidural or any other pain medication. My "birth plan" did not go quite according to plan, as I'm sure most don't. But at the end I got my beautiful baby girl in my arms.
My due date was Saturday, June 13. To be honest I was planning on her arriving on time: Caleb had a big project deadline June 12 and my parents were totally available to come down and help after June 12, so I thought her arrival on June 13 would be just perfect. Two weeks before my due date, Saturday May 30, I started having contractions right before dinner. These felt different than the Braxton Hicks contractions - they hurt a little bit and they kept coming. We ate dinner and then we went on a long walk to try to get them to stop. They kept happening during our walk and throughout the evening, and even during the night. They were by no means terrible, more just uncomfortable. They continued all through church on Sunday morning and throughout the afternoon. They finally eased up Sunday evening, just in time for our overnight company to arrive.
|last bump pic // Wednesday, June 3|
That Wednesday, June 3, I had my 38 week appointment. I was planning on asking my doctor to check me to see if I had dilated at all. My prayer throughout my pregnancy was that I would slowly progress at home, even if it meant several weeks of contractions and discomfort. Even more specifically, I wanted to labor at home as long as possible so that when I arrived to the hospital I would be at least 4 cm. I wanted a natural birth, and I knew that some slow progression prior to arriving to the hospital would help - both mentally and physically. After the 24 hours of contractions I had had over the weekend, I was specifically praying I would be 3 cm dilated when she checked me at my appointment. Caleb tried to prepare me that that might not be the case, but I was hopeful.
I was so nervous waiting at the doctor's office (as evidenced by my only high blood pressure reading my entire pregnancy!). I was nervous for how uncomfortable her checking me would be, and I was also nervous that there would be nothing to report and I would be really discouraged. When it came time for the doctor to check me, the first thing she said was, "Oh wow! This is good!" She said that she was very stingy and would say that I was 2.5, almost 3 cm dilated, but any other doctor would probably call it 3 cm. She also said I was 50% effaced. I immediately started tearing up because I was so relieved that 1) the contractions I had been feeling were real and doing something 2) that God had been so gracious to allow me to progress some at home and 3) that He answered my really specific prayer request to be 3 cm dilated. I was so encouraged after leaving my appointment! But then I also started getting nervous that this baby really could be arriving any day!
I woke up the next morning, Thursday, June 4, and began having more contractions similar to what I had had over the previous weekend. I texted Caleb just to say "FYI I'm having contractions", and he let me know he had his phone handy. I had lunch plans with my friend Kim, and I was so glad to get out of the house and get my mind off the contractions and all of the analyzing of when this baby might arrive! Funnily enough, the contractions stopped during lunch. When I got home after lunch I decided to tackle a few more of the projects I had been putting off because of how unmotivated and tired I had been all week. After working around the house for a few hours I texted my mom to say I had rallied and cleaned up the kitchen, did laundry, made up beds, and organized closets. Looking back maybe that was my little burst of nesting, but it's hard to say because I frequently get in crazy moods to organize and clean everything.
That evening was pretty uneventful: we had dinner outside, talked for a long time, and just hung out. I woke up in the night to go to the bathroom a little after 12. I went right back to sleep and then woke up again in pain at 12:30. I was confused for a second, and then I realized I was having contractions stronger than any of the ones I had had previously, but still not terrible. I laid in bed for about an hour and they were persistent, so I got my phone out and started timing them. They were about 7-10 minutes apart and lasting about 2 minutes. I wanted to make sure it was the real thing, so I got out of bed and started walking around the guest bedroom as to not disturb Caleb. I just walked and timed the contractions until about 3:00. They never let up and were getting closer together. I figured I should probably rest some if this was the real deal, so I went back to bed to lay down for a little bit. I hadn't wanted to wake Caleb up so he could get as much sleep as possible, but he finally stirred so I could tell him I had been having contractions for the past 2 1/2 hours. Laying in bed didn't last long; it was too uncomfortable. I went back to pacing the guest room. Eventually we both came downstairs, and I tried sitting in the recliner. After two contractions, I had to get up because sitting was making the pain unbearable in my back. Finally I took a really long shower. It helped ease the pain in my back, and I was able to relax for a little while. My contractions got steadily closer together, so we decided it was time to head to the hospital. I quickly ate half a bagel while Caleb showered and got all of our stuff together, and we left for the hospital around 5:30.
Arriving to the hospital felt so strange, I think because it was very calm and slow-like, not at all rushed or stressful (of which I'm glad!). We handed our keys to the valet, who asked if I was in pain. That made me want to laugh, because why else would a hugely pregnant woman show up to the hospital before 6 AM? I declined the wheelchair he offered because sitting was more painful than standing. I remember really gripping on to the side of the elevator because the pain was getting worse with each contraction. We got to the nurses' station in L&D, and they asked why I was there. Again, I really wanted to laugh! I said, "I think I'm in labor... my contractions are 5 minutes apart, I had some bloody show, and I was 3 cm dilated at my appointment two days ago." That last part seemed to spur them into action. To their credit, arriving a little bit before a shift change is wildly inconvenient, I know. They took us to the triage room, gave me a gown, and got me into the bed. A little after 6:00 the nurse came in (whose name was Sherry Lynn!) and checked me, and I was 5 cm and 80% effaced. This was happening!! I couldn't believe that once again God had answered my specific prayer in allowing me to be at least 4 cm by the time I arrived at the hospital! Laboring at home those 5 hours was totally worth it, because knowing I was starting my time at the hospital at 5 cm was such an encouragement.
|5 cm! we're having a baby!|
The nurse informed me that I had arrived at the hospital at just the right time, because they were giving me the last room. I got into my room at 6:30 and discovered that there was no tub. A large part of my birth plan had been to labor in the tub, so I was a bit disappointed. But I realized that a shower would work too, because the shower at home had felt so good. Once I was in my room, the next couple of hours were spent getting me admitted. There was a bit of delay because of the shift change, but I finally met my two nurses and answered a million questions on my pregnancy and medical history. I was surprised at how much paperwork I also had to fill out in the room. What if I had been in excruciating pain? I really would not have wanted to sit there doing all of that. As it was, it turned out fine, but it was just surprising. I remember one of the forms was consenting to receive care for both myself and the baby, and the nurse said, "sign here as the mother", and I thought wow, I am the mother! It was such a surreal moment. When she got to the consent form for the epidural, she told me that it's better to just sign it up front instead of later when you're desperate and in too much pain to sign it. I politely told her that I was not going to sign it. A huge part of my mental preparation for being able to have a natural birth was that an epidural was just not an option. At that point my nurses knew I really wanted to go natural, and they were so wonderfully supportive. I don't even remember them asking if I wanted anything for the pain all throughout my labor, which I really appreciated.
After all of the paperwork, the nurse anesthetist came in. I freaked out a little bit inside, because having a C-section was one of my biggest fears approaching labor. To be honest, all things hospital totally freak me out. I had never had surgery and I had never been in the hospital before. I didn't even like looking around my room and seeing all of the machines and medical equipment. After answering all of the questions, I told the lady that I really didn't want a C-section and it scared me. She was like, "oh everyone is scared! No one likes surgery!" That didn't exactly comfort me, but it made me feel a little more normal.
Finally all of the paperwork was done. Caleb went down to the cafeteria to get some breakfast, and I finished up giving all of my information to my nurse. They had a hard time getting my IV access started, but after a couple of sticks managed to get it in. Because my plan had been to be up and moving around as opposed to being in the bed, I was really thankful that I wasn't hooked up to an IV for anything; they just had the lines for access taped up and ready should I need anything. They also gave me a portable external fetal heart rate monitor. After wearing it for a couple of minutes it just kept falling off, so the one nurse said I didn't even need to wear it. They came in about every 30 minutes and would stick it on me to check the baby's heart, but other than that I didn't have to wear it. Again, I was so thankful! I was hooked up to absolutely nothing, so I was free to move around as I wanted and I knew getting into the shower, if I needed to do that, would be easy.
At 9:00 the doctor came in to check me, and I was 6 cm. She said she wouldn't be surprised if the baby was born by 2 PM, which totally shocked me. I tried to put her prediction out of my head because, again, I didn't want to expect that. After she checked me one of my nurses asked if she could also check me, and I told her no. I felt kind of bad, but being checked is not the most comfortable thing in the world! She was so sweet though and didn't seem to mind.
My contractions were now 3-4 minutes apart, and I was up and out of the bed. I tried using the birthing ball, but it made the pain worse. I tried rocking in the rocking chair, but that also made the pain worse. I just had to keep walking in order to manage the pain, which was mostly located in my back. The nurse would frequently ask me what my pain level was, and I never really knew what to say, because I didn't know how much worse it would get. I kept saying about a 6, because I knew I could handle worse (at this point the pain I had had with a kidney stone was worse than the contractions). I was holding off on using any breathing techniques or visualization, because I wanted to only use those when I really, really needed them. Instead I had Caleb turn on the playlist I had created of worship songs. I picked really specific songs with words that I knew would encourage me (like this, this, and this). I knew the only way that I would be able to get through labor naturally was with the Lord's help. We turned the music up loud, and I walked the same path around my room over and over again, singing the songs. I was so focused on the words of the songs that my labor experience was really quite worshipful, which is what I had wanted.
Around 10:30 the contraction were 2-3 minutes apart and were getting stronger. I kept walking and focusing on the words of the songs. In between contractions I felt totally fine; Caleb and I would talk, I was still smiling and laughing, I was still keeping up with texting at this point, etc. During the contractions I would just get quiet, sometimes close my eyes, and keep on walking. Around 11:30 I started feeling nauseous. I told the nurse I thought I was nauseous because I was so starving (that's how I had been my entire pregnancy). She offered to see if she could find me a popsicle. She came back with an orange popsicle and that was like the best thing ever! It tasted so good and really satisfied me and helped take my nausea away. Again, I was so surprised at how fine I felt in between contractions - totally not what I was expecting.
|still happy, especially with a popsicle in my hand|
The doctor came back a little before 1:00 to check me, and I was still 6 cm. I was so discouraged because I had been having consistent, strong contractions for four hours but they hadn't done anything. The doctor really wanted to break my water to get things moving. My birth plan had been to definitely not have my water broken. I knew that it was cushioning the contractions, and I was afraid that having my water broken would make the contractions too close together and too intense for me to handle. I expressed my concern to the doctor and asked if she thought I would still be able to go natural and manage the pain if she broke my water. She reassured me that she did think I could do it, and that whether she broke my water or it broke naturally, the contractions would become more intense. I decided to throw my plan out the window, and I let her break my water. I was afraid that it was going to hurt, but I really didn't feel anything. There was just some relief and a gushing feeling as the waters leaked out.
Pretty much immediately after she broke my water, the contractions ramped up in intensity. At this point I had to put my phone down and let Caleb take over updating our families. (All morning I had been texting my family almost constantly. All of us had been at the hospital for the first births of both of my sisters, and I desperately wanted them to be kept in the loop and a part of things with my first birth!). I was still up and walking, listening to my music and really just focusing on the words. Sitting or laying in the bed was completely unbearable. It wasn't long after she broke my water that Caleb told me I needed to get into the shower. I was in so much pain I had not even remembered my plan to be in the tub/shower, and I really needed help in managing the pain. The hot water helped some, but the contractions were just out of control. My pain level was a 9, and the contractions were coming so close together. There was a little seat in the shower that I would sit on for a few seconds in between contractions, but as soon as the contraction started I had to stand up because the pain in my back was so intense. I took the shower sprayer off the wall and during each contraction I would just spray the hot water on my back, not even my abdomen (later I realized I was in back labor the whole time; for some reason during it I just kept thinking how painful my back was and never put it all together). I couldn't hear any of my music while I was in the shower, and a couple of times I started to lose it. I would start to cry but quickly stopped because I knew I needed to remain calm and in control or else I wouldn't be able to make it through. Caleb stood right next to the shower and helped me through every single awful contraction. A couple of times my breathing became really erratic with the pain, so Caleb tried to help me remember my breathing techniques. I tried them, but they just did not work for me. I couldn't get a good rhythm going, and it just wasn't working. During the peak of each contraction, I would stand up, spray the water on my back with one hand, grip his hand as hard as I could with my other hand, slightly bend my knees, and sway back and forth, shifting my weight from foot to foot. To get through the most intense part of each contraction, I sang this song slowly in my head and swayed to the rhythm. If I went through the words slowly enough, it would be about the length of the worst part of each contraction. This became my entire focus through each contraction.
The nurse checked on me several times while I was in the shower, and I informed her my pain level was now at a 10. I stayed in the shower for about two hours. I was starting to have the urge to push, but I was afraid I would get out and they would check me and I would only be at 7 or 8 cm. I knew that I would be discouraged and wonder how much more I could take without any pain relief, so I stayed in the shower as long as possible. About this time my mom and my in-laws arrived to the hospital from Virginia (my dad couldn't come right away because of work). The urge to push was getting stronger, and I really wanted to be able to see my mom before I started pushing. I got out of the shower around 3:00, and without the pressure of the water on my back I had to start walking around the room again. I had my mom come down to my room, and immediately I started to break down; I was so relieved to see her and was so overwhelmed with emotions and pain. She walked the room with me as I moaned through the contractions and gripped her hands. I told Caleb I needed the verses I had typed up and brought to encourage me. He started to read the specific verses I had prepared, and he started to lose it as well. My mom took over reading the verses while Caleb walked the room with me and I held onto his hand. I think my mom was only in the room with us for about 15 minutes, but it was the most intense part of the entire day.
My mom then left and the nurse checked me and said I was 10 cm. My other nurse then came in and checked me and said I was only 9.5 cm (it was 3:30 now). I was so relieved that I had made it to the point of no return. I continued pacing the room, sucking on ice chips like nobody's business, and focusing on my music. Finally around 4:00 the nurse checked me again and I was 10 cm and the baby was at 0 station. She told me I could go ahead and start pushing whenever I felt like it. My plan had been to labor down once I was fully dilated. I had hoped to labor down until the baby was a 2+. So I got into the bed and put the peanut between my legs to help labor down. Immediately I had very severe hip pain, and my back pain also was so much worse laying down. So laboring down was out the window because I couldn't stay in the bed.
At 4:15 I started pushing. The pain was unbearable and I had to do something to combat it. Pushing helped make me feel like I was doing something through the pain. I had intended to squat while pushing, and I did sort of a modified squat by the edge of the bed, with my knees turned out so my thighs were completely perpendicular to my torso but parallel to the floor. In between pushes I rested my elbows/arms on the top of the bed for support and would lay my head down on the bed. I pushed for what seemed like an eternity. I was drenched in sweat and working harder than I ever had in my entire life. In between pushes I would close my eyes, turn my head toward Caleb, and open my mouth for him to put more ice chips in. I was so incredibly hot and tired and thirsty. As I continued to push I got more and more exhausted. In between pushes I would enter an almost dream-like state. I was partially asleep, but at the same time felt like I was in another world. One time I remember hearing my nurse's voice but I couldn't focus to understand the words she was saying. I opened my eyes and looked up at her and had to ask her to repeat what she had just said.
The pushing went on and on and on. The weirdest part was that most of the time Caleb and I were by ourselves. The nurse told me that when I felt burning to buzz them and they would come in and check on me. I guess I had anticipated that the whole time I was pushing we would have nurses in the room with us, and then at the last second the doctor would come in, but we were by ourselves for a couple of hours. I continued pushing, trying to rest as much as possible in between pushes (contractions were about 30 seconds - 1 minute apart), and downing the ice chips. I'm not going to lie - I was groaning and moaning and making a lot of noise. It was SO hard to feel like I was pushing effectively and it hurt SO much. I did briefly wonder if people out in the hall/in other rooms could hear me, but I totally didn't care. I remember looking up at the clock at one point and it was 6:15. I looked at Caleb and said, "I've been pushing for two hours." I was so exhausted and was starting to feel like the baby was never going to come out. I had thought I would push for maybe an hour and a half tops. I did finally start to feel some burning, and the nurse checked me and the baby was at station 2+. She helped me to feel exactly where I should be pushing, and then I got in the bed to push some more.
We raised up the head of the bed and I tried leaning my arms and chest against it (backwards in the bed), but that made my back pain worse. I tried laying on my side to push, but that also made my back pain worse. Finally I ended up just sitting in the bed, with my back reclined a little bit. I hadn't wanted to be in that position, but that was the only thing that worked. I then continued pushing, with the nurses coaching me and helping me to know where to push. I was so glad that I could feel every contraction, so that I knew exactly when I needed to push. I never wanted someone else telling me to push; I wanted to go with what my body felt, and I was so glad I was able to do that. With each contraction I would do three big pushes, but by the third push I would run out of steam and couldn't give as strong of a push as I needed to. The nurse kept telling me I needed to push harder but I just couldn't! I was getting so frustrated.
With every series of pushes, the baby's head would start to come out but when my third push was not strong enough, her head would just go right back in. At one point they even said, "we see her hair!" and I couldn't believe it! We thought she would be bald! Eventually they told me that they realized something with my bone structure was making it difficult for her head to come under and out, which is why it kept starting to come out and they would go back in. At one point the nurse said she saw the baby's head turn (later she explained that yes, I was probably in back labor for my entire labor and it was during pushing that she finally turned around and came out the right way). This went on for about 30 minutes. I would put a foot on Caleb's and one of the nurse's stomachs, hold my legs, and push for all I was worth. Her head would start to come out and then pop right back in. The position I was in during the pushes was causing me to have severe hip pain again, so in between contractions the nurses would massage my hips and try to relieve that pain before the next contraction started. I was a hot mess.
The doctor came in I think around 6:45 or 6:50. I kept pushing, and they all kept encouraging me that the baby could be born on the next push if I could just push hard enough. They kept asking if I wanted a mirror to see the baby, but I said no (I would see that baby when it was out, and not before!). I wanted that baby out of me and in my arms more than anyone, but I still could not push hard enough! At one point I remember saying, "I smell BO and poop." What a thing to say! Birthing a child is messy business, I was so over any sense of modesty or decorum - I wanted my baby out. I was so exhausted but so strangely aware of everything that was going on. A few minutes before 7:00 I looked at my favorite nurse Joann and said in a panicked voice, "you have to leave soon don't you?" I didn't want her to go! She said, "I am not going anywhere until this baby is born", which made me love her even more.
Shortly after the doctor arrived, she told the nurse to get the stirrups out. I had not wanted to use them, so I asked why they were getting them out. They said that they needed to be ready just in case the baby was having trouble coming out. I quickly said that I did not want an episiotomy, and my doctor reassured me she was not going to give me one. They were more concerned about the baby's shoulders getting stuck and having to manipulate the baby to get her out. It was so strange talking about all of these things in the midst of pushing and pain and a baby halfway sticking out of me. The whole birthing experience is just like no other!
The whole time I was pushing the doctor was working on stretching me out down there. She was really quite forceful but honestly that didn't even bother me compared to everything else I was feeling. After a series of pushes that were declared "good pushes", I felt an intense burning like no other. I cried out, "It burns!!" and my doctor was like, "yes, that's the ring of fire." I told her I thought it would just last a second but it just kept going! The first few inches of the baby's head were out and kind of stuck, so that ring of fire just kept on burning. I remember one nurse saying something about Johnny Cash singing about the ring of fire, and how he didn't know anything about the ring of fire. Time seemed to go so fast and stand still at the same time.
Finally I had a couple of good pushes in a row. I wanted my baby in my arms, and I was going to get her out! Again they said the baby could be born on the next push if I could just push hard enough (what I had been hearing for like 30-40 minutes). After one series of pushes the baby's head came out further than ever, but then went right back in. Joann said "ok we are going to have a baby on the next push!" When the next contraction hit, I was pushing and Joann was cheering saying "yes, yes, that's the kind of push I need" and all of a sudden there was immense relief and my baby girl was on my chest! It was the most incredible moment of my life. She didn't cry right away, she just looked at me with her big eyes. I remember asking the doctor why she wasn't crying, and before she could answer my baby started crying. She was covered in vernix (thick white stuff) so it was hard to tell how cute she was right away. I just kept kissing her and telling her I loved her. I was crying and kept exclaiming to Caleb that I couldn't believe she was really ours and she was finally here. They were sweet, sweet moments, and I will never forget them!
|sweet baby girl, 8 minutes old|
I remember the doctor then asking if Caleb wanted to cut the cord, and we both promptly said no! We are all for the medical professionals doing their jobs. They cut the cord and then were busy doing everything they needed to collect the cord blood for cord blood banking. I got to hold her for a while, but then they had to take her because she had aspirated a lot of amniotic fluid and was having a bit of a hard time breathing. It was at that point that we texted our families to let them know the baby had arrived and everyone was healthy. My doctor finished stitching me up (I had a second degree tear), the placenta came out, and my labor was over. Madeleine Ruth was born eight days early, after 19 hours of labor and 3 hours of pushing, at 7:17 PM. We spent the rest of the evening holding her, declaring her the cutest baby in the world, and introducing her to her grandparents. It was such a special day that I will never forget!
|the sweetest moments|
I cannot even convey how happy I am that I was able to experience natural childbirth. The pain was awful, worse than I ever imagined, but the immediate relief when she was born was also better than I ever imagined. The rush of endorphins and emotions and immense love the second your baby is placed on your chest after such intense pain and hard work to get to that point is nothing short of incredible. New life is such a precious gift and a miracle!