Warning: birth story coming. Click away now if you're not a fan of such intimate details.
So after we were discharged from the hospital on Friday with the disappointing news, "you're not in labor," Matt and I attempted to return to life as normal. Back at home, I was still having a lot of pain in every position I stood, sat, or laid, and I did continue to have random, painful, sporadic contractions all day. We knew that I would likely enter active labor soon, but we had no idea what soon looked like. I was honestly wondering how I was going to make it through the workweek if Monday arrived and the baby didn't as caring for myself seemed difficult and adding Abigail to the mix seemed impossible.
But it was just after 10pm that very night when Matt and I were curled up on the bed watching tv online when my water broke. It was totally like what you see in the movies: I felt this odd popping sensation and suddenly a gush of warm liquid started pouring down my leg. As we hadn't really unpacked anything from our morning trek to the hospital, Matt ran Abigail back down to my sister-in-law's house while I double-checked our bags and straightened up the apartment from the small mess we'd made that day. We sped back up to the hospital, this time cruising through triage and ending in a large corner labor and delivery room with an amazing night nurse.
After my water broke, all my symptoms grew worse. To put it bluntly, there was gushing amniotic fluid, diarrhea, vomiting, and contractions all going on at the same time in a woman who hadn't been able to keep a single thing down - including water - in about 48 hours and was going on 48 hours of constant contractions. I was done. So very done. I couldn't stop using the F-word as I was enduring the above scene and as soon as I could poke my head out of the bathroom, I asked for an epidural as soon as possible.
It was one of my major goals to avoid an epidural. I had soft music, a back massager, a flameless fragrance warmer with a special fragrance selected, and plans to use the shower and a birthing ball to deal with the pain au natural. While I know that the epidural isn't the reason for everything going wrong with my labor with Abigail, it was the first of a series of incredibly invasive medical procedures and so it was cemented in my brain as a bad thing. So when I said, "call the anesthesiologist," I was fully prepared to end up needing Pitocin and had come to terms in my head that I would likely need a c-section. As much as I hated these prospects, I was far too tired, exhausted, drained, sick to care about anything anymore. So I asked for drugs and waited for everything to go wrong.
But it didn't. Nothing went wrong, in fact. In my regular IV, I had fluids and anti-nausea meds that cleared up all my awful symptoms and with the epidural, my contractions were nothing more than slight pressures. In a weird way I didn't see coming, getting the epidural was healing in its own respect. I was so terrified that getting one would cause so much more to go wrong. But it didn't. I didn't realize that epidurals and failed VBACs could be so very mutually exclusive.
And so I slept. In two sessions lasting five hours total. Periodically they would check my progress and comment as to how quickly and smoothly I was progressing. As the night wore on, I felt rested, restored, amazing. Every time the nurse walked in the room, I prepared for the progress to stall. For the cascade of medical interventions all the "natural hospital birth" books warned me would come. For the pains that came before. Every time the nurse walked over to the computer screen, I was prepared for battled, pain, regret. But nothing was going wrong. I especially waited for the heart rate to drop. But then the doctor and nurse would point and laugh, tipping the screen to Matt and I, "look, normally the heart rate drops a little with each contraction, but your little girl's spikes a little - she's so happy to be born!"
Somewhere around 8:30am, I was 10cm dilated and 100% effaced, but the baby wasn't low enough to start pushing yet. So I took another nap. I still could barely feel my contractions and whenever I had a twinge of nausea or heartburn, I'd mention something to my new, also amazing day nurse and she'd slip a little something into my IV. Labor is often described as the most painful event in a woman's life, but mine was down right pleasant. I felt a little guilty even asking for the heartburn meds.
My nurse kept asking me if I was getting any steady pressure that indicated a need to push, but I really wasn't. Finally around 10:30am, she asked me to give a little test push, just to see how things were going. "That's amazing! You're going to have this baby in no time!" She predicted. She gathered up the necessary birthing supplies and paged the doctor to enter. While we were waiting, she decided to have me push until the baby was crowning. After one good push, she commanded me to stop. "Don't push anymore! Don't laugh, don't sneeze!" As I tried to discern if she was joking or serious, she looked at me flatly, "If you push again, I'm going to be delivering this baby!" She yelled down the hall for the doctor to arrive Right. Now. I have to admit, I thought she was exaggerating a bit. The doctor, who I'd never met in the office during regular pregnancy visits, but ended up really loving, burst into the room, threw on a gown, did whatever other prep-things he needed to do as super-sonic speed and coached me to push again. The room was gently lit, there were only two nurses and one doctor, one of the doctors I really liked, present in the room at the time. Things felt soft, gentle, cozy. I gave two more good pushes and maybe one small push when I felt the rushing relief of birth and heard my daughter's little kitten cries. They put her on my chest for immediate skin-to-skin bonding while the doctor coaxed out the placenta and stitched up my tiny, one-stitch tear. I sobbed happy tears so hard I couldn't respond to the question on the nurses' and doctor's mind, "What is her name?"
Matt cut the cord and answered: "Eleanor Grace."
After about 10 minutes of bonding, Eleanor was eager to start nursing. She latched on and started chugging like she'd just graduated from breastfeeding bootcamp.
I was fully prepared to fight to keep Eleanor with me after she was born, but no one had any interest in removing her. They wiped her down while she rest on me, they waited about an hour or so before administering the eye drops and vitamin K shot. As I sobbed and we bonded, everyone kept repeating in astonishment, "I can't believe this was your first vaginal birth!" The doctor warned me in a half-joking, half serious voice that my next baby was likely to be born in the car. The nurse leaned over and told me that in all her 17 years as a nurse, I was her best delivery.
The birth of Eleanor Grace was incredibly healing, soothing, blissful, and astonishingly peaceful.