Sky above me, Earth below me, Fire within me
I felt like I had been run over by some sort of automobile and did for a solid week, maybe more, but at the same time I felt like I had just done the most badass thing a human could do on this Earth. Oskar was a water-birth, born in a tub at the University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Woman’s Hospital, Floor 9 Room 14. This was the way I had wished it to go my whole pregnancy, even though not EVERYTHING went as planned and wished (because it almost never does).
One major wish that was squashed was that I had to be induced. On Friday, December 29th, I went to my checkup with Andy because he was off work for the holidays (so thankful…what timing). For the previous two weeks before that, my blood pressure started to rise a little. My BP was completely normal previously during pregnancy. I knew an induction was in the realm of possibility because of this, even after we had ruled out preeclampsia.
On that Friday when I got a second BP reading that was high enough for concern, my midwife convinced me that induction was the thing that needed to happen in order to make sure both baby and I were safe. That day I was 37 weeks and 4 days pregnant. At first, we discussed me being closely monitored with non-stress tests for at least another week to see if maybe he would come on his own in that time, but after the second or third BP reading she took in the room, I looked at her face and I could tell she was very concerned. I did not really understand how big a deal third trimester gestational hypertension was until after the fact because I was actively trying not to freak myself out. I said to her (someone I really trust), “If this was you in my position, would you induce tonight?” She replied, “Yes, most definitely.”
I cried. I was scared. I was so happy Andy was there with me. My midwife talked me down from my Pitocin fear and was so sweet and caring, but probably relieved that I had decided to just do it.
After the decision was made, we made a plan and she told Andy and I that we did not need to go straight to the hospital. She told us to go have our last date as non-parents and to get to the hospital around 4 pm or so. I was shaking in my boots when I walked out of the clinic, grabbed Andy’s hand and told him how nervous I was. He was just as nervous. We got to the car, told our family the plan, and went off to have a really nice lunch at the same place we went for our first-anniversary dinner. I am so thankful for that lunch and the little bit of downtime we had before we had to go home and later collect our bags and head to the hospital. I was also able to take a bath, paint my nails [win!], and take one last pregnancy photo of myself in the mirror (stretch marks galore, puffy everything, and an anxiety-ridden face). A non-rushed situation for heading to the hospital is one perk of induction, I guess!
That whole afternoon, however, I had to dig down really deep to keep my fears at bay while also dealing with my mama bear instincts to get the baby out as soon and safely as possible. As nervous and anxious as I was about Pitocin and all the other scary induction stuff, I knew the best thing I could do for myself on Friday before arriving at the hospital was to review all the good stories I had read about painkiller and epidural-free births. I was still adamant about trying to go without pain meds or an epidural. I looked over images of women that have gone before and read a few snippets on pages such as Birth Without Fear with all types of birth stories to remind myself I am no different and I CAN DO IT, DAMN IT! No matter how it all ended up going down in the end.
Well, we got to the hospital as instructed at around 4:30 pm on the 29th. I was convinced I would have a multi-day labor like my midwife told me might be possible for first-time moms. My guess was that he would arrive on the 31st or 1st at that point. They hooked me up to an IV and started a foley bulb at around 10 pm after finally getting me settled into a room with a tub, which we waited almost two hours for. [Worth it!] We also decided on one small dose of oral Cervidil called Cytotec. These two things definitely started very small contractions (not sure which one), but nothing too out of the realm of bad menstrual cramps. Things seemed to be moving slowly overnight. My body was being pumped with fluids through the IV and my hands and feet started to swell like they have never been swollen before. I only have two photos from labor and that is one I took of the baby stuff ready for Oskar and one of Andy rubbing my very swollen feet in the dark at 4:04 am on December 30th, according to the time capture on my phone.
After laboring through the night of the 29th, they started Oxytocin (Pitocin) very early in the morning of the 30th to get things moving. They started me out at a level 2 and then every hour or so they would come in, check on me, do the whole BP and temperature bit, and dial the Pitocinin up at a rate of 2 every time. I tried getting in the tub around 7 or 8 am to relax, but after being in there for awhile, I think it was just slowing things down or not really helping. I was too comfortable! Haha! After that, I got out of the tub and waddled around the room and rolled around on the birthing ball. My mom and sister arrived mid-morning and did a good job distracting me by watching movies through the contractions. The contractions at that point were still semi-irregular and medium to rough on the pain scale. Nothing I could not handle yet and still had not even thought about pain meds.
Around 2 pm, we were part of the way through watching Frozen (and yes my sister made “Let it go” jokes) and I felt like I had to pee. So up I went and waddled to the bathroom. Then, I sat down on the toilet, did my thing, and a moment later, my water broke! I was so shocked and at first and did not really understand what just happened. All I knew was that what just happened was not pee because it was more like a huge gush of fluid. I figured it out pretty quick and told the nurse. She checked the fluid and sure enough, that was exactly what it was! Turns out all I needed was a little Frozen!
After my water broke I was at about Pit level 10 and checked to be at about 6 cm dilated. At this point, I was transitioning, as they say, into painful active labor with very frequent contractions. Things were speeding up at a very rapid rate. Interesting to think back and realize that getting to 6 cm, although seemingly slow, (which now I have learned was not that slow at all for induction) was not too painful at all.
When the contractions started to get more intense, I decided it was time to get back in the tub. This is also when everything got a little blurry in my memory because I felt that with every contraction, I had to mentally check out and go into zen mode. Almost as if I was leaving my body, going to a different place, and returning every time I got a break in contractions. I guess that is how I was handling the pain up to that point.
When the pain started to get really bad, it had gone down to my thighs. My legs felt like they were burning so bad, like the worst possible Charlie Horse you could ever have in both legs at the same time (x 100), over and over every 1 minute or so. I had no idea leg labor was a thing until I was in the thick of it and the nurse told me that is normal for some women. I later looked this up, and sure enough, it is a thing. All the while, I was trying to do the low humming noise the hypnobirthing videos teach you to do, but I am pretty sure in reality I was just screaming at the top of my lungs every time a big one hit and the whole birthing unit could hear me. Maybe even the extraterrestrials on Mars.
At this point, I was up to Pit level 12. I am not sure when that happened exactly, maybe right after my water broke and they checked my cervix.
I was yelling to the nurse (she was the best, by the way, thank goodness) that my body had started pushing and I was having trouble controlling it. I kept telling her this over and over at every contraction, which were coming at a fast and furious rate now. I was not getting much of a break in between contractions at this point at all. Just constant hellish pain like you would not believe. At the same time, the pain in my back and legs were also excruciating, especially the legs.
While my contractions were getting closer and closer together, the midwife finally came in and checked me after the nurse told her I felt that I needed to push and was screaming that I was involuntarily pushing already.
The midwife told me I would push for at least 2-3 hours after she checked me, so she left to attend to other ladies (apparently there were a lot of tax credit babies being born the 30th and 31st, not to mention a full moon brewing in the sky). The midwife had her hands full. When she told me it might be about 2-3 hours, I remember thinking that if I had to do this for another 2-3 hours, I might not make it. I was in more pain than I could have ever imagined. It felt like my body was splitting in two and I started thinking about how stupid I was for not considering pain medication.
[Story aside: I wanted to write out his birth story as soon as I could as to remember these little details. It is important because as other ladies will tell you, you tend to forget the pain as time moves on. I think remembering it, acknowledging it, and honoring it are all very important things. It is one of life’s most intense and mysterious moments, for the good and for the painful.]
Before she left the tub room and after checking me, she told me he was a tad stuck and that changing to my knees or feet would help. So I did! Up I went hovering slightly over the water! I kept screaming that I could not control my urge to push but the midwife went off to another room thinking it would still be awhile for me. However, she did tell me to go ahead and do what I felt my body needed to do at that point because I was at about 9.5 cm dilated. SO, I just did…full steam ahead. I remember asking the nurse at some point, “I’m guessing it is way too late to consider pain meds?” She kindly nodded her head and said, yes, “but you can do it.” (She knew my plan and even though I was not able to have a doula in the end, she was a rockstar nurse. I am so thankful for Sam at U of M Labor and Delivery! Nurses deserve all the praise, thanks, and medals.)
Andy kept chanting those words to me too! “You’ve got this, you can do it!” He was right next to me the whole time and was great! I think I was pretty good and only told him off in the heat of the pain a couple of times (like I said, I was not really in my head), but you will have to ask him!
Just a few minutes later, I felt that ring of fire pain people speak of (cue Johnny Cash song). I reached down and low and behold, felt his head.
In my mind, from the videos I watched and things I have read, that meant I still had a lot more work to do (his shoulders, etc.) and needed to push with every ounce of strength I had left in me. Which was not really an option as my body was doing it already. I yelled out, “I feel his head!!” Nurse Sam then went into emergency mode! My mom and sister had JUST gotten back from finding some food in another part of the hospital. They left because they thought they would have plenty of time, based on what the midwife told us prior.
My sister was on the phone with my dad while walking into the room and telling him what the midwife had told her and my mom, then immediately hung up when she heard the midwife yelling “Second Nurse! Second Nurse! NO CALL THE MIDWIFE!!” [This was what I was told happened after the fact because I really only remember a little bit of how it went down at this point.] Nurse Sam quickly told my mom to hit the red button on the wall for immediate assistance. My body was not going to wait for that assistance though!
One giant push after that, surprising just about everyone (including myself), out came Oskar with full mighty force, right into the water. Such swiftness and timing! This must have been only a couple pushes after I felt his head. I picked him up from in the water IMMEDIATELY with help from nurse Sam, sat down, and we placed him on my chest and I cried and gazed at him in shock and amazement. I think I was more in shock than crying!
I did it. No pain meds! No epidural! Not that I really had a choice with how fast labor went after 6 cm. I could not believe what had just happened! There he was, crying a really strong cry and vernix galore!
The midwife literally missed the delivery by just minutes and I delivered him with just Andy and the nurse in the tub room with me and my mom and sister standing right outside that room! Thankfully they did not miss it, but it was a close one! We later found out it was nurse Sam’s first solo birth! That is a pretty cool story in itself!
Technically speaking, however, no one really “caught him” as he came out, but she and I grabbed him with an incredibly fast instinct to get him out of the water since he was technically born right above the water.
Luckily, he was okay and all was well as he was still attached to the placenta via his chord. [Also to note, he did not drop very far, and the water protected him from hitting his head or any body part in the descent.]
The only part of my birth that was traumatic for me, even post-birth as I look back on it, was the fact that no one guided him out. Not even me because I thought we had more time, as I was told. I am being hard on myself here because I did not think it would happen fast quite like it did and it was not my fault there was not a midwife present at that very moment. However, I so so so so wish that I could have known to reach down and deliver him by pulling him up directly from his exit.
Actual note by the midwife on my hospitalization report :
Called urgently to room. Upon arrival RN delivering baby in tub with mother in a standing position. Infant directly to mother and both seated in tub. After 5-10 minutes cord clamped and cut and mother and baby assisted from tub to bed.
Then it goes on to talk about the placenta, his two vessel chord (which was surprisingly good size), and tearing, but I’ll spare you those particular details.
Maybe I am getting too deep with things here, but maybe his entrance into the world is part of the way Oskar will live his life. Not waiting for permission or waiting on other people to do what he wants or needs to do! If this is the case, boy are Andy and I in for it!
I thank all the women in my mama circle and other ladies on Instagram and other hidden gem-type places on the internet for sharing their positive stories and rough stories with me. Going in, I truly felt empowered knowing that no matter how it happens, birth is BIRTH! It is amazing and every type of birth is legit and real. My story is in no way to glorify water birth or pain med free birth over other types of birth, but to help other women know that no matter what happens, no matter how much it hurts like hell physically, emotionally, or both, your story is amazing and you are Woman! Hear you ROAR! (I know many people on the 9th floor of the University of Michigan Von Voigtlander Woman’s Hospital heard me roar! Hahahahaha!) Power to the ladies! We rock! You can do it! Birth without fear!
Here is a good mantra to leave you with if you are pregnant and about to go through your own birth experience. It has also helped me in the postpartum days too.
Sky above me, Earth below me, Fire within me.
Welcome to the world, Oskar Clemens.
12.30.17 4:15 pm 7lbs 5.6oz, 19.75 inches long, 13.5 inches head circumference
Meg's blog: http://scribbles.megpatch.com/%3Fp%3D87/ @megpatchhoward