As I type this, my Clara Grace is fast asleep in her swing, and I have to force myself to stop staring at her and do something with my evening. It’s been a wonderful and crazy three months since she entered this world. Take a trip down Memory Lane with me, as I record how Clara Grace made her first appearance.
Going into pregnancy, I read everything I could find on parenting, pregnancy, and childbirth. I knew that I wanted to raise my children as naturally as possible, to give them the greatest chance at health and happiness. I read about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, attachment parenting, babywearing, and attachment parenting. I read natural birth stories, and learned how to avoid unnecessary interventions. I learned the cost and health benefits of cloth diapers. I wondered why more people don’t breastfeed, because of all the wonderful things it does for babies. I also learned how and why different women make the choices they do, and was careful not to judge.
Once we started trying to conceive, we were successful right away. I was lucky enough not to have much morning sickness or too many uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. I can honestly say I enjoyed being pregnant.
Early on in my pregnancy, I signed up for private Lamaze classes with a doula/lactation consultant. Paul and I were so totally ready for this natural childbirth, though he made sure to reassure me that even if it didn’t work out and I didn’t get to go medication free, I would still be a wonderful person and he would be proud of me.
November 20th was my due date, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I managed to go to work on my due date, thus securing a few extra days of maternity leave (Thanksgiving break started that Wednesday). That date came and went with nary a contraction. The only pains I had came from over eating at Thanksgiving, which I was pleasantly surprised to be able to enjoy with my family. I made plans for that Saturday to go to a Holiday craft fair, because I didn’t want to just sit at home waiting for labor to start. That Friday night, after an action packed day of Black Friday shopping and dinner with friends, I began to have what I thought might be contractions, along with some bloody show. I sat up and timed the contractions, while reading Baby Center and texting my friend Annette, since I knew she would be up with her Ethan who didn’t like to sleep. I ended up going back to bed, and the contractions stopped.
Nothing happened all day Saturday, so I was able to attend the Craft Fair with some friends. Paul went to work as usual at 5pm, knowing that I would call him if I needed him to come home. I went to bed, only to wake up at 1am with a totally different sort of labor pains. I knew this was it, and was about to call Paul and ask him to come home, except that he was already home! I was a wreck at work, with a feeling that he should be at home, so his colleagues sent him back to me, right at the time that I needed him to be home. God is good.
I labored through the wee hours of the morning while Paul putzed around the bedroom, hanging a picture I bought at the Craft Fair. We watched some TV, then decided to go back to bed and try and get some rest. I managed to sleep in the 7-15 minutes between contractions, until I just had to get up and shower. I knew that the hot shower would feel amazing, and I was right.
Paul and I labored together at home all morning. I tried the various positions we had practiced, discovering that leaning over the birth ball felt the best. For the really strong contractions I had Paul squeeze my hips to provide counter pressure for the back labor I was experiencing.
As my contractions got closer together, we packed up the car for the long drive to St. Joes in Milwaukee. By the time we left, contractions were 3-5 minutes apart, though they slowed down in the car. I’m glad they did, because back labor strapped into the front seat of a moving vehicle is no picnic. By the time we got to the hospital, I felt very calm. The whole thing seemed very unreal, especially when I was asked several times what my reason was for coming to Labor and Delivery. Duh, to give birth?
We sat in triage for awhile to do some monitoring, and found out that I was only about 4 cm dilated. At this point I had been in labor 12 hours, so that was a bit disappointing. We then got checked into our room, which was pretty ugly and without many amenities. But a nurse brought me a birthing ball, and they didn’t make me put on a hospital gown, so I was happy. It seems like we spent the whole time filling out paperwork and asking questions. The anesthesiologist came in to get pre-authorization for her services. I laughed and said I wouldn’t be needing that, but signed anyway to get her to leave. Spoiler alert: I was glad I signed that piece of paper.
Fast forward to around 6pm. Dr. Lee, my OB, was on call, and came in and checked me. My cervix was not very far dilated at this point, so I allowed him to break my water. There was a tiny bit of meconium in it, but I was told not to worry. Apparantly that tiny bit of meconium prevented me from taking a hot bath like I planned, but I was able to take a shower. THAT WAS AWFUL! The water never really got hot, the shower head wasn’t very focused, and worse, I couldn’t do my leaning maneuver that had been successful thus far. That shower didn’t last more than 3 contractions.
Once I got out of the shower, I felt like I was in transition. The contractions were bringing me to my knees, I was having a hard time breathing through them, even as Paul coached me with everything we practiced. I started to get the feeling that I just couldn’t do this. But at the same time, I knew that once I felt that way, birth would be imminent. Spoiler alert: I was wrong. I was about 7cm dilated at this point. I remember that my response to that announcement was a tearful “that’s not far at all!”
At this point the nurse wanted me on continuous monitoring, which was a big pain, since the monitor just wouldn’t stay on well. I tried using the squatting bar on the bed to get my cervix to open up more. I alternated between hanging on to that for dear life and leaning over the back of the bed. The whole time I demanded hip squeezing from Paul. I was really having a hard time dealing with contractions, and just couldn’t breathe anymore. I ended up moaning/screaming through them, as well as a bit of crying and swearing. Finally I asked if I could please have some of the drugs that were supposed to take the edge off the pain without requiring an epidural. Paul, as he was trained to do, asked me if I was sure I wanted this, because it wasn’t part of our plan. I did. In went the IV that I didn’t want, but once the drugs kicked in, I didn’t care. They didn’t really take away much pain, but they made me loopy and sleepy and made them a bit more bearable. The nurse assured me that I would be pushing by the time they wore off. Then they wore off. I was still only about 9 cm dilated by 11pm. Not ready to push. Totally discouraged. I asked for another shot, knowing that this one probably wouldn’t work as well. I also decided at that point that I wanted the epidural. I could not take the back labor any more, and couldn’t even imagine pushing through this pain. My blood pressure had been steadily rising this whole time, which was making everyone nervous. My doctor and nurse seemed relieved that I was asking for the epidural, and that they wouldn’t have to encourage me to get it. Again, Paul made sure this was what I wanted, because an epidural was definitely not on our birth plan. I knew that Clara Grace needed me to get this, otherwise we’d be facing a C-section, which would be bad for both of us.
On went the dreaded hospital gown. In went the epidural. Out went the back labor. Magic. I had really bad shakes still, which made it hard to relax, but I still managed to sleep for about an hour (the nurse demanded it). By 12am, I was declared ready to push! Since Clara Grace was posterior, I was told my best option was to push on my back in a semi-reclined c position. Also not in my birth plan. Because of this position, as well as the baby’s, pushing was HARD. Oh my gosh it was hard. It was probably made harder by the epidural, because I couldn’t totally figure out how to make my pushing effective. But I did it. For two hours. Eventually we could see her head starting to appear, but then it would go back once I stopped pushing. Toward the end, Clara’s heart rate started doing something bad (I can’t remember if it sped up or slowed down), so they put me on oxygen to help her.
By 2am, I was finally crowning. The nurse went to get Dr. Lee, while I held a baby’s head halfway out of my… Doctor came in, got ready to catch, and I looked down and saw my beautiful baby girl with a head full of hair emerging from my body. It took her way too long to breathe, though. She was blue and floppy and it was terrifying. Just as it was decided that she had to go to the NICU, she let out a big scream, and they placed her wet slimy body on my chest. They waited for a few minutes to clamp her umbilical cord, at my request (er, insistence), so that all that good placenta blood could re-enter her body. And I, Paul, and Clara Grace experienced a Magic Hour which was just that. She laid on my chest, crying and squirming, while Paul and I talked to her and took pictures. She crawled slowly toward my breast and eventually started to nurse. It was beautiful, and I never want to forget that moment. Who cares about the pain. Who cares about the interventions that I didn’t want but got anyway. I had my baby on my chest. She wasn’t drugged up, because enough time had passed since my narcotics, and I hadn’t had the epidural long enough to affect her. She nursed beautifully. I was in love. Paul was in love.
I didn’t have the birth that I designed in my head or on paper. I was a little annoyed at the thought of people saying “I told you you couldn’t do it” (which they did). But here’s the thing: I was respected by my doctor and nurse. No one ONCE told me I had to have anything. They may have, had things gone on much longer without more progress. But my wishes and desires were honored. My birth plan wasn’t thrown away. It was read and respected. Clara Grace was born safely, and was able to bond beautifully with us from the moment of birth. My husband was the best birth partner I could ever ask for. God gave us a precious first born daughter, who we will love and cherish for all the days of our lives. God is good.