Note: I originally published this in three posts in 2010, when Ruthie was born. Since then, I deleted all of my blog posts in order to re-launch last year with a focus on liberal feminist Christianity. When I wrote her baby brother Neville’s birth story this week, I realized that I wanted to revisit hers and publish it here, too. I’ve edited some of the original posts for length and relevance.
For those who care, like family and friends and curious Facebook acquaintances, here are some details from when I had Ruthie…
I don’t really remember what the real contractions felt like, but the early ones felt like gas. In fact, when they started in the night, I thought it was just gas. I’ve always been a little stupid in my sleep, so I’m not entirely sure when the contractions started, but I think it was around 3:30 in the morning. By 6, I was wide awake, and Chalupa asked if he should stay home from work. I didn’t know. Is this labor, I kept wondering?
We started keeping track of my contractions, and they weren’t all that regular. Still, we thought he should stay home, just in case. And then I decided to make biscuits.
While making biscuits, contractions started getting more intense, and I decided to call my doctor’s office. They said to call back if things continued to keep progressing. Mom and I ate my biscuits and decided to go on a walk. Maybe that would help things keep moving along. Too bad it was all of 10 degrees outside, and the parking lot was icy and slick. We were outdoors for all of three minutes before we realized that this was not a possibility!
That’s when I remembered the work out room! How had I forgotten? Mom and I headed up to the second floor, where I started walking on the treadmill, prompting a series of regular, routine contractions. I called the doctor again, and they told me to come on in.
Chalupa drove me, and when they did my labor check, they confirmed that I was in early labor. Of course, childbirth classes (and the internet) let me know that early labor can last for hours — or even stop altogether, if you’re unlucky. However, they told me to go home for a couple of hours, walk some more, and then go to the hospital for another check.
By just after noon, I was at the hospital, hooked up to the external monitor and pretty sure that things were slowing down. They kept me for nearly four hours before deciding that I should head home and wait a while longer. I wasn’t terribly shocked. What did surprise me was that they gave me a dose of Ambien in hopes of letting me get some rest. After all, I hadn’t slept the night before, and things could continue as they were for a long time to come. I took the Ambien because the nurse said I should, not thinking about my extreme sensitivity to sleep-inducing medicines.
An hour later, I was at home, half-awake, half-dreaming of talking puppets. According to Chalupa, I nearly collapsed in the elevator on the way up to our fifth-floor apartment. I thought my body was made up of big blocks, kind of like the cover art on my dad’s 1992 album, Thank You. I slept for all of an hour, then found myself throwing up in the bathroom. Awesome. I figured that as much as I threw up during my pregnancy, I was bound to throw up during labor, too. And I was right! I made such a mess of myself that I decided to take a shower before doing anything else. . .and right after my shower, we decided to go back to the hospital. My contractions were getting more intense, and now with the throwing up in the mix, I knew it was time to get there.
And then wait.
At 9:30 in the evening, I was back in the triage room where I’d spent several hours in the afternoon, hooked up to the monitor again. Again, things had slowed down. I threw up a few more times, grateful that our childbirth instructor had shown us where they keep the funky little puke-catchers in the rooms. When I still hadn’t progressed very far, the nurses wanted to give me more sleeping aids and put me in a labor and delivery room. That plan disappeared when I suddenly started having faster, harder contractions, and my level of progress (which is what I’m saying to avoid giving the details of dilation, which I think are kind of TMI) increased quickly. . .they decided to cancel the sleeping aids and see what happened next.
What happened next was PAIN. Ouch. I don’t remember what contractions felt like specifically, but I remember that they hurt. I came up with a system of counting through them, slowly and deliberately. Most were lasting about a minute, or to a count of thirty. I started asking what my pain management options were at this point. I didn’t want to get an epidural if I thought I could handle things, but once the contractions were lasting two and three minutes, and I couldn’t stand to walk around anymore, and everything was just hurting, hurting, hurting, I went ahead and made the call. “I’d like an epidural, please.” It was midnight.
Who knew that it would take an hour and a half to do all the prep work leading to the epidural? It’s no wonder that some people get too far along in the process to have the epidural administered!
The process of having the epidural put in was a total breeze. Sure, the local anesthetic stung a bit, and I had trouble arching my back forward as much as they wanted me to, but it wasn’t that painful. But while she was there, the anesthesiologist remarked that I might be “an oozer,” as I seemed to be bleeding a lot from where she inserted the epidural catheter. “It’s probably just a skin thing,” she said, but she hung around long enough that she was satisfied with how I was doing. (Chalupa says my blood pressure dropped extremely low during all of this, too, but I didn’t realize.)
The relief from the epidural was IMMEDIATE and WONDERFUL. I was able to rest, able to think, able to relax a bit. If I have another baby someday, I will definitely get another epidural. . .but next time, I’ll make sure it actually stays in place. Let me explain.
After I received the epidural, I was practically in heaven. I didn’t know that the pillow under my back was steadily pooling with blood — I just knew that the pain was gone. One three-minute contraction was enough; I was so happy to get relief from the discomfort.
It was 1:30 in the morning, and we all settled down to get some sleep. Chalupa, whose asthma was still giving him trouble, rested in a lounge chair. Mom dozed in a reclining rocker that one of the nurses brought in. My night nurse, Pat, came and checked on me periodically. I don’t think I really slept much, despite the epidural and the Ambien from earlier in the day. I was just too excited. I felt like a little kid trying to go to sleep on Christmas, knowing that Santa could be arriving at any moment.
According to the notes that Mom and I made at about 3:30 in the morning, I was up and throwing up again at 2:45. However, I was also almost fully dilated, and Mom was guessing that the baby would arrive by 6 or 7 in the morning. That was not the case. My doctor was delayed because she was in surgery, so no one could come to break my water, and things kept progressing slowly but surely.
At 7:30 in the morning, my nurse Pat got to go home after her shift, and my new nurse was Angela. The doctor also went home, meaning that one of the nurse-midwives from my provider’s office would be attending the delivery. I had never met Lucy during any of my visits, but I was immediately put at ease by her nature and personality. She even took over taking notes for Mom and me once I started pushing, which was at 8:30 in the morning.
Funny story: my sister Karen and her family had been on a cruise vacation for several days leading up to Ruthie’s birthday. Even though they live in Indiana and wouldn’t be at the birth anyway, Karen kept insisting that I wait until after they were off the ship to have my baby. I had laughed, thinking that it would be pretty hard to not have the baby in the week following my due date, considering that’s pretty typical for a first birth. However, it was almost to the minute that they got off the boat in Miami and I started pushing! Karen called Mom’s phone, and I answered, saying, “Hey, I can’t talk right now — I have to have a baby now, okay?”
Shortly before I started pushing, and before Pat went off her shift, I was asked if I could feel my contractions. I remember saying that I felt them up high, and Pat suspected that was because the epidural really doesn’t work up close to the ribs. Later, we would realize that I was feeling much lighter contractions than the ones I’d had in the night, when I hadn’t felt them at all.
I ended up pushing for two hours and thirty-eight minutes. Two hours and thirty-eight LONG minutes. Despite the epidural, I was feeling a lot of discomfort which turned into a lot of pain. I was frustrated because I felt like I couldn’t figure out quite how to push in a productive manner, even though Lucy and Angela kept reassuring me that I was doing well. I just felt like Ruthie wasn’t getting any closer to arriving, even when Lucy told me she could feel her head, then could see her head during intense pushes, then could see her head most of the time. At one point, she exclaimed, “Look at all that dark hair!” and I thought, “My baby has dark hair?!”
As labor continued, I tried a number of different positions. They brought out a bar for me to pull on, and I laid on my side, and at one point I even got on my knees and leaned over the back of the upright bed. Both Angela and Lucy remarked that I seemed to have really great control of my legs, which is odd for someone with an epidural. (This, like the contractions I was feeling before I started pushing, was an important detail that helped us figure out when the epidural had stopped working.) While I was on my knees, I realized just how much I was bleeding from the epidural site, as there was blood all over the mattress pads and pillows. The nurses noticed, too, and decided to call the anesthesiologist to have him take a look.
Being on my side seemed to be the most productive for me, but I can’t express how discouraged I was at this point in the process. I was trying to do what Lucy and Angela told me to do — making low, guttural noises, pushing hard through the contractions as I felt them, and not wasting energy by breathing out unnecessarily — but it hurt REALLY badly, and I didn’t think I was actually accomplishing anything. Plus, I was thinking, if this was what it felt like to go through a medicated labor, I must be a total wimp!
The anesthesiologist came by sometime in the midst of my pushing. I was up off the bed, pulling on the over-the-bed bar, so he could see my bloody back from the doorway. He didn’t bother to come into the room — he just peered in from behind the curtain in the doorway and said, “Huh, I’ve never seen that before.” Hey, anesthesiologist, if you’ve never seen something before, MAYBE YOU SHOULD TAKE A CLOSER LOOK while you’re there. Instead, he instructed Angela to just bandage me up with more 4×4 bandages, which she did. I had complained earlier that it felt like there were wires running all over my back — which was another sign that perhaps the epidural wasn’t working right. The “wires” I felt were actually three or four streams of blood that were pouring from the epidural site all over my back. Ugh.
I can’t emphasize this enough: having a baby REALLY HURT. That “ring of fire” phrase is not an exaggeration. But with my mom standing behind me and Chalupa at my side, holding my hand and constantly offering me my water bottle, and with Lucy and Angela repeatedly telling me that I was doing well, I kept going. I was tired and I was hurting, but I just kept imagining Ruthie actually existing in the world, and I kept pushing.
At one point, they had me reach down and feel her head. At another point, I was so hot and sweaty that I took off my hospital gown, grateful that I’d decided to keep a bra on all night long! And at another point, I just begged them to tell me how much longer this was going to last. I knew they didn’t have an answer for me, and I said that. . .but I wanted an idea. I wanted to know if I was ten minutes away or an hour away from finally being done. I was embarrassed at the amount of noise I was making, and worried that any expecting mothers walking down the hall outside my room might freak out if they heard the ruckus I was causing. (Later, Chalupa would assure me that although I was being loud on a Liz-scale, I was not being all that loud at all.)
During all of this, there were a few things I didn’t know, aside from the fact that I was actually doing this unmedicated. I didn’t know that Ruthie was face-up instead of face-down, which was making things more difficult. I didn’t know that her little conehead was so long (because of the face-up part) that there was a reason it felt like they could see her head FOREVER before she was actually born. I didn’t know that once her head did come out, she would feel the need to do some impressive acrobatics and spiral upside-down, just a little too late to do any good. (In fact, late enough to do some serious damage!)
But finally, at long last, Ruthie was born.
I didn’t even realize I was that close. Maybe my eyes were closed or something, because they had to tell me that her head was out, and she was almost here. I looked down and saw her head and her shoulders, and then there she was on my stomach, so warm and wet and soft and bloody and yes, beautiful.
“I see you!” was the only thing I could say to her as she cried on my stomach. “Hello, I see you!” It just seemed so different than having only felt her for so long. I could SEE my baby. I was still in a lot of pain, but it was nothing in comparison to what I’d just gone through, and delivering the placenta was a piece of cake. (Not a literal one. That’s gross. We did not make a placenta cake or soup or teddy bear, I assure you. But we did think it was pretty cool when Lucy showed us how it had begun to calcify, which means it was good that Ruthie took no more time than she did to arrive.)
This is where I’m going to give a few revealing and personal details that you might want to skip if you are queasy about the whole childbirth thing, or if you’re queasy about knowing about MY childbirth experience, in particular.
My nurse-midwife, Lucy, keeping an eye on me. I really appreciated her good humor and personality. She was very calming and reassuring.
I knew something wasn’t exactly right after I delivered the placenta and Lucy, my nurse-midwife, didn’t leave the end of my bed once she set it aside. She said that she needed to call for one of the doctors, because I had some tearing that needed double checked. I was still hurting pretty badly, and evidently I was bleeding a lot, too. I was so happy to be holding Ruthie, who scored a 9 on the Apgar scale, and I was also trying not to laugh at her spectacular conehead. (I’m telling you, it was impressive. It’s a good thing I knew that babies don’t come out looking normal, because otherwise I probably would have been heartbroken instead of amused!)
Somewhere in the midst of all this, Chalupa cut Ruthie’s cord, by the way. That was cool.
A doctor must have come in and verified what Lucy thought, although I don’t remember his or her visit. What I remember is that Lucy told me I did not have a third-degree tear (which you can Google on your own), but rather a series of first second degree tears. Four tears, in fact, with one of them being particularly bad. (Second degree means a tearing of the skin and muscles.) In different directions. Three would need stitches, while one was going to have to heal on its own. Umm, OUCH. I was encouraged when she told me that “a lesser woman would have torn a lot more.” I don’t know exactly what that meant, or whether it’s true or not — but I’ll take it as a compliment.
The hospital where Ruthie was born is a huge proponent of skin-to-skin contact as soon as the baby is born. In fact, they encourage new mothers to hold their babies for two full hours before they are taken away for any tests, measurements, or evaluations. Then, they are only taken away as far as four or five feet, where everything is done in the room, where the mom and dad can see it. It was very cool. I felt a little guilty for not letting Chalupa hold her for so long, but all I wanted to do was keep her in my arms, and I doubt I could have given her up if they’d wanted me to.
Lucy took care of my stitches, and after a while, I told Mom that she could go get Andy (Chalupa’s brother) from the waiting room. He had arrived from Boston in the minutes before Ruthie’s birth, and it seemed silly for him to be waiting all alone while we were all together in the hospital room. I wasn’t up for letting anyone else hold her quite yet, but there was no reason for someone to be waiting alone instead of hanging out with us. (I also got dressed at some point.)
It’s funny how the details all sort of run together. I know that shortly after my two hours of holding her were over (and they flew by SO FAST), Angela came to do a number of tests. I wanted to find out how much she weighed, and see sorts of things they were measuring, but I was so tired, and I could hardly keep my eyes open. Chalupa and Andy were at one end of the room, and Mom was watching the tests, but I just kept drifting off to sleep. I don’t know how long I slept, but I know that Ruthie was measured, tested, and then held by her dad, her Grandma Carol, and her Uncle Andy.
It was before that, I think, that we finally realized what had happened with my epidural. Angela went to remove the epidural catheter, but of course she first had to take off all of those bloody bandages. To her surprise — and I could tell it was surprise by the tone of her voice when she said it — the needle wasn’t even in my back anymore. “It’s not even in there!” she exclaimed, and suddenly everything began falling into place.
The way I could feel my contractions and my toes, my ability to move from position to position and support myself on only mildly-wobby legs, the pain I felt as Ruthie was moving down the birth canal, the blood I could feel on my back — it all meant one thing: I hadn’t had the epidural in place when I delivered my baby. I accidentally delivered all-naturally!
That said, if I ever do this again, I will DEFINITELY get the epidural again, and DEFINITELY make sure it stays in place.
So that was the story of Ruthie’s birth. There were other big details that I’ll try to recount soon — like Chalupa’s trip to the ER on the morning we were supposed to be discharged — but for now, I need to check on my sleeping baby girl. She’s probably hungry again by now, and as much as breastfeeding still hurts, I really like the time we get to spend together when she’s hungry.