Monday, August 27, 2012

Baby Nichols Arrives, Part 3: It Gets Awesome!

Alright, here it is - the long-await Part 3. ;-) If you missed the beginning of this story, you can find it here: Part 1 or Part 2.

So, we're twenty hours into labor and we've discovered that the baby is posterior. I was completely ready to give up at this point.

Denise hadn’t given up yet, though. “I’m going to try and turn the baby,” she said. She did this by using fer fingers to push the head up out of the pelvis and then trying to rotate it from the inside. She did this for some time, manipulating and pushing, but the baby was stuck. I felt a contraction coming on. I felt panicky – here I was flat on my back with her hand up inside me and now I had to deal with a contraction, too. I yelled and writhed around and yelled some more. Denise continued trying to turn the baby during the contraction.

Still not working. At this point, Ginna started trying to rotate the baby from the outside, on my abdomen, as Denise worked from the inside. I was starting to get lost in the pain and wasn’t paying as much attention to what was going on. Denise then asked me to bear down with the next contraction, to try and push the head down into the pelvis while she had it turned the right direction so that it would stay put. So we did that. AUGH. She wanted me to do it again. “Why do I have to be flat on my back!??” I wailed. “Oh, you don’t have to,” she said, and everybody helped me get upright. I think I was leaning against Ginna or possibly Todd as I forced myself to push into the next contraction. It was still horribly painful, but at least I was upright and had a bit more leverage. Pushing before your body is ready to push is hard enough without having to do it without the help of gravity. I think the pain was also significantly worse because I was scared and tired.

Finally, they stopped doing what they were doing. Apparently they actually had gotten the head turned anterior, but I didn’t know that at the time and didn’t know it until after the baby was born! I thought they had just given up.

“Okay,” Denise said. “We’re going to run to the birth center to get my birthing stool. Then we’re going to grab a cup of coffee and recharge a bit and we’ll be back. You guys try to rest.” She looked a bit discouraged and seemed frustrated, which I thought was because turning the baby hadn't worked. In retrospect, she was probably concerned, and frustrated that I was so tired and starting to lose faith. I felt her discouragement, though, and it discouraged me too. I felt like I was failing her.

Todd and I lay down on the bed together. We rested in between the contractions. At this point they came every 15 minutes. I had one more before Denise and Ginna left and they helped me through it, and then it was just me and Todd. As soon as I felt the next contraction coming I had Todd help me up quickly and hold my arms as I squatted down, as I had done with Denise. I bore down for all I was worth. I was still not fully dilated so I wasn’t trying to push the baby out, and didn’t have an urge to push, I was just doing it because I thought I could try and get that posterior head down further into the pelvis. (I still didn’t realize that the head had been turned. But it was good that I was pushing during the contractions because it probably did help the head to descend and stay anterior.) We did this three times over the next forty minutes, though it seemed longer than that. I must admit that while it was harder to deal with the contractions when I was dozing in between them and didn’t have time to prepare, the rest was nice. It felt good to be there with Todd, just the two of us. He was so sweet and calm and didn’t seem concerned at all.

I, however, was very concerned. I absolutely felt that I simply couldn’t do it anymore. I had been laboring for nearly an entire day with virtually no progress on my body’s part – Denise had basically manually dilated me the entire way, and the baby was posterior, and it just didn’t seem possible that it was going to come out. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think I could physically fit a posterior head – women birth posterior babies all the time, and as I said before, if I could fit Max’s 15” head with a nuchal hand beside it I could almost certainly fit this posterior head through my pelvis, and I did technically know that. It was more that I just didn’t have the energy. I felt that what little strength I had left had been lost in trying to push the head down this past hour, and when a contraction came and I had to get up with Todd and squat and do it again, it was almost too much for me, between the pain and the overwhelming intensity of the contraction and the effort of squatting and the incredible energy required to bear down.

“I can’t do this, Todd,” I said quietly, as we rested on the bed. “I’m done. I don’t have anything left. I think we’re going to have to go to the hospital.” He held me and told me that he really, really did think that I could do it. I shook my head. He didn’t know how absolutely, utterly drained I felt. We talked further about it.

In my head, the ideal was that we could go to the hospital, get an epidural, and then I could sleep – and if I got sleep, I had no doubt that I’d be able to push my baby out. I would have the strength I needed then. However, I also knew that they probably wouldn’t give me an epidural at 9 cm, although since my contractions were so far apart I suppose it could have been possible. Regardless, I knew that if we did go to the hospital, it would almost certainly mean a c-section at this point. I felt okay with that. I certainly didn’t want one, but I was so tired. I was just beyond caring at this point. Even the financial aspect didn’t seem to matter – I knew that we would be horribly in debt from a hospital birth even with my insurance, but I also figured that those things have a way of working themselves out (which they often do). “I really think we need to go, Todd,” I continued to say. I started trying to figure out the logistics of how I would get into the car, how I would get through a contraction in the car, how I would get through contractions at the hospital during what I knew would be a lengthy intake period. I wondered how I would hug and hold Max with a c-section incision. What I thought about most, though, was getting to hold my baby and finally be done with all of this mess.

Denise and Ginna returned. I don’t remember the exact conversation at that point, but it was similar to the one that Todd and I had been having – I didn’t think I could do it, I was exhausted, I didn’t have it left in me. We acknowledged the a transfer would probably mean a c-section. Ginna (who has had a cesarean herself with her first baby, followed by a twin VBAC) asked, “Would you rather hurt for a few hours or for six weeks?” I understood the logic, and it was a good thing to try and remind me of, but I still just didn’t think I could do it. I think I was still hoping that if we did transfer I could get an epidural, sleep, and then push. I remember wondering to myself if we could call the hospital, ask them if they would give me an epidural, and if they said yes we would go and if they said no we wouldn’t go (cut me a break, I was in labor! Haha!). Ginna also tried to dispel that notion from my mind – “If we go to the hospital, it’s either more of what we’re doing right now, or a c-section,” she said.

Everyone was of course sympathetic, but they weren’t jumping up to rush me in to the hospital because, I think, they knew that I could do it. Denise in particular, I could tell, was frustrated. I must say that I don’t think they realized I didn’t know the baby had been turned – honestly, if I’d known that she was anterior and staying there, I might have felt a little differently. But from Denise’s perspective, we’d turned the baby, it was moving down, and even though I wasn’t fully dilated yet, I’m sure she was figuring that if I wasn’t already, I would be soon. She knew I was tired but she also knew that this baby was SO close, and that a transfer was not at all necessary. I think she also knew that I an unnecessary transfer, and especially an unnecessary major surgery, would be so disappointing to me in the end, even if I thought I was okay with it now. If I had absolutely declared that we were going to the hospital, they would have taken me, and I knew that. But I hadn’t 100% decided. I felt that I had given up, but all of these people were telling me that I could do it; I think that energy was starting to sink in to me a little bit.

I remember apologizing over and over again to Ginna for being negative; one of the things I’d kept telling myself over and over again before the birth was that I’d stay positive, and try to keep the energy all around me positive, and here I was crying and whining and giving up. But, as I’ve been saying, I just didn’t feel like I had anything left.

Finally, they convinced to me to come out into the living room and try pushing on the birth stool. I went with them not because I thought I could do it but more to humor everyone. Ginna said something about how we should at least make sure we’ve tried everything before we went to the hospital, and that way if I had a c-section I would at least know that I’d tried absolutely everything else first and that it had been necessary. I finally agreed.

I got on the birth stool, which for those of you who don’t know is a low stool with the padded seat in a U shape, with bars below the seat. You sit on the seat in a squat, put your arms between your legs, and pull on the bars while you are bearing down. It’s a helpful tool because the squatting position opens the pelvis significantly, making the opening larger than it is in pretty much any other position, and the bars give you some leverage to push really hard and help you direct your energy downward. The fact that you are sitting makes it less tiring than actually squatting. Max was born on this very same birth stool.

Denise checked me. “You’re like nine and a half, but stretchy,” she said. “I’m going to try and hold this lip of cervix back while you push, and I’ll try and get it over the baby’s head.” I almost had to laugh at how this was so Max’s birth all over again – the stool, the cervical lip, the crazy pushing before I had an urge. The difference this time, though, was that I was doing better mentally even though I had “given up” – I wasn’t checked out of my body, which made a world of difference.

I sat bleary-eyed as we waited for a contraction. Todd was behind me, Denise was in front of me holding my cervix, and Ginna was next to me, saying encouraging things. Finally, the contraction came, and I wearily gave myself over to the force of the birth. I knew there was no running from the pain at this point. The only way out was through. Even if we went to the hospital, at this exact moment I was still here, pushing on this birth stool, and I figured I might as well give it everything I had.

Everyone kept me telling me I could do it. I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe, I actually could.

So the contraction came, and I gathered everything within me, and I pushed.

It’s really an inadequate word to describe the work involved. I’ve heard pushing described as “throwing up, backwards”, which is more accurate as far as the sensation is concerned – the feeling of one’s entire body contracting to eject something from itself with incredible, overwhelming power. When you are pushing without an urge, it is a little different because you have to actual make yourself have that sensation and it doesn't necessarily take over. It takes an incredible amount of willpower. There is no sitting back and letting your body act on reflex like there is for vomiting or even regular pushing. You feel the contraction, you gather yourself, and you have to tuck down and in, hold your breath, and HEAVE yourself into the push. The first few moments of it are incredibly painful, and scary, as you try to find where you are pushing and also deal with the contraction. Denise would help me by pressing her fingers down where she wanted me to direct my energy, so I could focus on that (she did that with Max, too), and then once I was fully into my push, it felt better. I held my breath and PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSHED. I called out every reserve of strength and energy that I possibly had left in me. I pushed beyond strength and energy. I held my breath for as long as I possibly could, because I knew that as soon as I “came up for air” even for a second, I would have to find my way into the push again, which was the hardest and most painful part. I finally gasped quickly and got back into the push and kept going. I did it again, and then one more time. I’m sure the contraction was way over at this point but I didn’t want to stop because I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it again. My contractions were so ridiculously unhelpful I couldn't even tell if I was having one or not.

I was vaguely aware during this push of everyone being very excited.

When I did finally stop, Denise’s face was shining. “That was fantastic!” she said. “I could really feel the baby coming down. That was a wonderful job.” Ginna was saying similar things. They had been praising me and sounding surprised at my sudden burst of effort even while I was pushing. I suddenly felt energized, and encouraged! Could I actually do this, after all?

Another contraction came very soon – three minutes or so. (This was the first time in the entire labor that I naturally had contractions that were closer than maybe seven or eight minutes.) I gathered my courage again and worked into the push, pushing toward the pressure from Denise’s fingers, pushing down and out as I now remembered having done with Max. Denise laughed – “Girl, you’re pushing my fingers right out!” She made me want to push even harder. And, astonishingly, I started to feel the baby moving down inside of me. With Max, I pushed for a good two or two and a half hours before I was able to “feel” anything at all, and it was hard to tell if progress was being made. But this time, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was happening. If I weren’t already pushing at maximum capacity, I would have doubled my efforts. Ginna was cheering and making comments about how amazing I was, as was Denise. The best part was that I could tell that Denise was legitimately impressed and excited by how much progress I was making and how much I actually was able to move the baby down. She wasn’t just saying it to make me feel better!

Everyone made me feel very, very strong, and powerful, and l felt even more that I might be able to do this after all.

I think I had three or four contractions and pushed hard through them, maybe five, before Denise announced that head was past the cervix and that it had retracted all the way. Now my job was to get the head under the pubic bone. Once we did that, we would know for sure that we’d be having a baby soon!

I was completely excited at this point. Pushing was still hard and painful, but I felt re-energized. The contractions came, and the very beginning of each one before I got into the push was scary, but every time I just forced myself to do it and bore down. Denise was still encouraging me. She told me that as soon as we got the head past the pubic bone, I would be able to stop pushing so hard and get into the pool, which was EXTREMELY motivating. :-) I continued to give it my literal all. And like I said, when I pushed I could FEEL that head moving down through my body, which was also incredibly motivating! I knew, finally, that I COULD do this. I WAS doing it! After a final push, I felt the head not only move down but STAY down. It was right there in the birth canal, which was an astounding feeling. Baby Nichols was getting CLOSE!

“Alright, girl, you’re right there!” said Denise, taking her hand out and sitting back. “It’s time to have this baby!” Todd and Ginna had started heating up water to warm up the birth pool a little bit a few minutes before, and they finished removing some of the cooler water and pouring in the hot. I got off the evil stool (I hated that stool after Max’s birth, and I still hate it now!) and practically dove into the pool, I was so eager to be in there and so ecstatic that the hardest part was over!

And oh my GOODNESS, did that water feel good. My whole body instantly relaxed. I didn’t have another contraction right away, which was a bit disconcerting; I gave a tentative push without a contraction (I’d basically been ignoring the contractions and pushing on my own up until this point, anyway. Gosh – my contractions were just useless for this entire birth! I dilated like 4 centimeters total by myself the ENTIRE labor, I never really even went into active labor, I pushed without contractions or at least regardless of them – jeez. Well, I guess not only can I give birth, but I can give birth without any help from my body whatsoever! Take that! :-p) and felt the head move. I decided to just go for it and pushed harder and felt my body sort of hitch forward and take over a little (that throwing up in reverse sensation, again, only it was far more gentle since I was being gentle). Denise reminded me to slow down, which is something that I’d wanted to do ahead of time – I REALLY wanted to avoid a tear this time, so I wanted to push as slowly as possible to give my tissues time to stretch. So I slowed down.

I was so, SO excited. “Do you really think the baby will come out?” I demanded, although I knew the answer. Denise laughed. Everyone was all smiles, including me. She declared, “I’ll bet you a cappuccino that you can push this baby out!” Ginna winked at her and said, “You’re just saying that because you want a cappuccino and you know you’ll get one!”

You might be thinking that this is all kind of routine – obviously, this baby was going to come out. I mean, it was anterior (even though I didn’t know it was), it was smaller than Max had been, I had birthed a baby before, etc. But you just have to understand how much I had absolutely given up and was sure I couldn’t do it and then understand how INCREDIBLE I felt when I realized that I could. I could do it. Even when it got hard, which it did. I was going to have this baby, and I was going to do it even though it had been so hard and I had had so much fear and doubt. I was also astonished because I’d spent most of the labor convinced I wasn’t actually in labor, that my body was just faking (which, well, it honestly was), that it was going to be a long time still before this baby would be born. Even when I was walking out to get on the birth stool, I wasn’t convinced that we were going to have the baby at home – I was still thinking we were going to transfer for a c-section because I couldn’t do it. So it was astonishing, and thrilling, to have it all of the sudden HIT me, seemingly without warning, that I could and would actually push a baby out of my body.

Another thing I have to quickly mention – with Max, I was so completely out of my body and lost in so much pain that I don’t feel like I actually gave birth to him. It felt like I was just pushing and pushing and pushing and ripping open and dying, and feeling like I was failing, and then BAM, there was a baby on my stomach – I don’t feel like I pushed him out, I feel like he just came out of me by luck or accident and I had pretty much nothing to do with it. I went from pain and confusion to a baby appearing. So I didn’t feel like I could say “I’ve done this before” to give me courage – I hadn’t done this before! I had never felt these sensations. Honestly. Sometimes I feel like a VBAC mom that way. This was all new to me. And right now, that made it all the more wondrous.

Anyway, we’re in the pool. I’m delighted and so excited to meet this baby and realizing that it’s going to be soon. I wasn’t sure if I was having a contraction or not but I thought maybe I was so I pushed again. My body kind of took over and bore down sort of hard, but not nearly as hard as it had been before. I felt my muscles and tissues spreading around the head as it moved further down, which was an outrageous sensation. I was not aware of that sensation when I was having Max, so this was all new to me. It was wonderful and crazy. It did hurt, yes – when I pushed and my body gave that “hitch” and pushed too I would scream, but it wasn’t a scream of terror, it was just a scream of energy, of alarm at the newness and strangeness of the sensations, but not of fear. My voice got a little high pitched and Denise directed me to bring it back down, so I did, into more of a yell. I was yelling and grinning at the same time.

“Oh, we can see the head!!” Someone said. Denise said, “Look at all that hair floating around!” I almost died at this point, I was so happy. “Oh, oh, what color is it!??” I cried. “It’s the same color as Todd’s hair!” Denise said. I thought I would burst from happiness. I pushed again. I was also holding myself “down there”, which was something I had not done before and which I absolutely believe helped me not to tear, because I was able to apply counterpressure to the exact places that were feeling overstretched without having to rely on someone else to do it for me. It seems like people always worry about supporting the perineum, but what about the front?? I tore up the front with Max in addition to the perineum, and I almost thought the front was worse even though the tear in the perineum went through the muscle and the front didn’t (both places still required sutures). Anyway, it was awesome to be able to press my hands for all I was worth in the places that I needed to. Denise was also supporting me somewhere, but I wasn’t really aware of her hand and I’m still not sure exactly where it was.

At one point I exclaimed, “Where is it coming out??” because I could feel bulging not only in the obvious place but also in my rectum. Denise laughed and said, “Your vagina!!!” …Doh. :-p I guess I just wanted to make sure!

I felt the “ring of fire”… oh, it definitely burned! Oh my goodness, it stung so bad. If I hadn’t been holding myself I would have been sure I was tearing during a push, but because I could feel the skin there I knew I wasn’t. I had been expecting this and was just having total faith in the universe that I wouldn’t tear, or at least that I wouldn’t tear more than was actually necessary, which I was fine with. (With Max I felt like I tore so badly because I was pushing way too hard and panicking so much, though of course part of it was his arm, too.) Crowning hurts, but I wasn’t scared, and that made all the difference.

Finally, I could see the head myself!!!!!!! AMAZING. Amazing amazing. It was an absolute triangle, it was so pointy, at least the part of it that I could see from my perspective. And yes, it was the color of Todd’s hair! Dark blonde!! It was so unreal and so wonderful to see that. Oh, I was so eager to get the baby out – I wanted to meet Baby Nichols at long last! But I knew that I still needed to go slowly to not tear. I would push and back off and push and back off. Sometimes it was VERY hard to back off. Finally, I just PUSHED. I knew I was SO close and I just COULDN’T wait anymore!! I YELLED and then oh, there was the head! I was totally aware and watching the head come out. I was very surprised because I’d been expecting to see a face, thinking still that the baby was posterior, but there was no face, just hair. I think I either half-closed my eyes or maybe got blurry vision for a second at this point or something because in my mind’s eye the image isn’t very clear, but I gave another hard push to get the shoulders out. I had debated stopping once the head was out, but I was SO close I couldn’t stand it and just pushed. I vaguely saw/felt the shoulders come out and then the baby gently slid into the water. Baby Nichols!!! Oh!! I’m pretty sure I yelled as the head and shoulders came out but I don’t remember for sure. In my memory it's in slow motion and there is no sound and it just me and that pool and that baby. All I can really remember is how INCREDIBLE it was to be so freed from fear, so excited, so in control of my body, and to be pushing out my baby all by myself and WATCHING the baby emerge into this world. Being free from fear was the most amazing feeling of them all. Oh, that felt good.

So the head popped out, there was a pause as I debated whether to keep pushing or not, and then the shoulders popped out and there was another millisecond of a pause and then out floated Baby Nichols. I scooped up the baby and brought it up out of the water onto my stomach. “Baby Nichols! Baby Nichols! Oh, hi baby!!!” I was saying. The cord was quite short (Max’s cord had been the same way) so I could only pull the baby up to my stomach, not my chest, which was frustrating because I just wanted to cradle that babe for all it was worth. Also, in both births I was aware of how uncomfortable it was to have the taut cord pressing against certain sensitive parts of my body!! But it was okay. Baby Nichols was here!

“Oh, Baby Nichols!! Can you cry? Can you please cry for Mama?” The baby was completely pink and looked great and I knew absolutely that nothing was wrong, but I still wanted to hear a cry just to reassure myself that all systems were go on this little being. I rubbed and rubbed its back without even thinking about it, and rubbed it all over to try and stimulate it. It was completely instinctual and I didn’t even realize I was doing that until just now. The baby did cry then, probably within seconds, and it sounded great. It only cried for a second or two and then settled down right away and was just looking up and all around.

It seemed like people were running around and fussing over things but I was totally oblivious to everything. Denise gave me a shot of Pitocin to make sure I didn't bleed too heavily with having such a tired uterus, but I wasn't even aware of it at the time.  It was just me and my baby - the rest of the world was a total blur.

“What are you, Baby Nichols?” I inquired. Finding out the gender seemed like an afterthought – I didn’t even care what kind of baby I had, I was just so excited to have a BABY! Baby Nichols! But I tried to peek between the legs. It was actually hard to do because the darn cord was so tight and so short and was pressed right inbetween them, so I couldn’t see very well, and it was hard to lift the cord enough without dunking the baby’s face in the water. I managed to lift it enough to see beneath, though – and it sure looked like a girl! “Is it a girl?” I asked Denise, just to be sure. She sort of had to crane around to see, also, but finally saw and confirmed. “Todd!” I cried. “It’s a girl! We have a little girl!” Oh my gosh. I was so happy. I’ve never been that happy. I honestly wasn’t surprised at all that she was a girl – all of the “signs” had been pointing to it, after all. I don’t think I ever outrightly knew she was a girl when I was pregnant, but I certainly had my suspicions, and here she was.

At this point it had been thirteen minutes since the birth (which I only know from looking at my chart later), though it seemed like seconds, and Denise asked if we were ready to cut the cord. Are you kidding me?? I thought. I had been dying to cut the cord from the second she came out, haha. Darn those short cords, keeping from snuggling my babies right away! Anyway, Denise clamped the cord and said “Todd, you should grab the scissors!” Todd was surprised – we hadn’t ever even talked about it, and he hadn’t cut Max’s cord. But he willingly took the scissors and cut that cord! It was perfect, and we were both so glad he got to do that.

At this point I was ready to have the placenta and get out of the pool, so Baby Nichols got wrapped in a towel and handed over to Todd, who had taken his shirt off, and they cuddled up skin-to-skin on the recliner (Todd had gotten some immediate skin-to-skin time with Max after his birth, too, which is a favorite memory of his. I think it’s so awesome that he gets to do that with his kids).

I think I was supposed to wait for a contraction to have the placenta, but of course that wasn’t happening (contraction? This labor? What a joke!), so I just pushed. Nothing happened at first but then I felt it slip into the birth canal. I was just kind of hanging out by myself – Denise was off to the side doing something and Todd had the baby and Ginna was somewhere doing something else. I pushed again and it appeared, looking like a gray ball. I for some reason thought I wasn’t supposed to pull on the cord, so I didn’t, but I wasn’t able to get the entire thing out with my push, so I grabbed the gray ball with both hands and gently pulled it out. It floated up into the water and beautifully unfolded, looking just like some kind of manta ray swimming off into the water. Sorry if you are grossed out by placentas, but I think they are awesome and I LOVE that I had some “special time” with mine, just the two of us! :-p Besides, this is my blog and my birth story and I can say whatever I want. ;-)

Denise was next to the pool now and said “Wow, I’ve never seen anyone do that before!” Deliver the placenta, I guess she meant? She’s delivered well over a thousand babies so that was surprising to hear. Ladies, deliver your placentas, it’s awesome! :-p Anyway. She and Ginna helped me up and out of the pool and onto the couch. I rested there doing nothing but being completely blissed out. I was SO happy. I had just GIVEN BIRTH! All by myself! Not only had I survived what had felt unsurvivable at the time, but I had pushed an actual baby out of my body with joy and not with fear, and been able to welcome her into the world as perfectly as I'd hoped. I had found a strength and an ability to push through walls that I had never, ever dreamed that I possessed. Ever. I still can't believe I was able to do that, but I was. (Although I do feel like I could NOT have done it without my husband and my amazing birth team!! It was ONLY with their encouragement and because they had such unwavering faith in me and didn't let me quit that I was in fact able to find that strength! Thank you, wonderful people, for believing in me, for keeping me going.)

Someone made me toast and yogurt and brought it over and I devoured it. Denise did the newborn exam and weighed the baby:

Eventually Denise came over and helped me to the bathroom and then we went back to the living room and she checked out my bottom end. Lo and behold, I DIDN’T TEAR!!!! :-D :-D :-D I had some “skid marks”, just little abrasions, but nothing even close to stitch-worthy. YAY. And I will just say now, for the record, that healing from a birth without damage to your lady parts is SO. MUCH. EASIER. You can't even compare the two!

At some point I was moved to the recliner and Baby Nichols and I got some nursies time in. She latched on well and that was all good. It’s so nice to have done it before – it comes back pretty easily and you get to enjoy all of the fun stuff without the learning curve! I’ve felt that way this entire past week, actually, about having a second child. It’s totally awesome to have a newborn without having to learn how to change diapers and breastfeed and be a parent. You get to just relax and relish the unthinkably adorable little grunts and squeaks and that’s it.

Denise and Ginna did dishes and laundry, made the bed, and wrapped up the pool in the tarp it was on (we emptied it later with a hose) and pulled a meal out of the freezer for us. Once they had packed everything up and tidied the house, they bid us farewell, about two hours after the birth. Todd and I got to have a little while to ourselves in the peace and quiet of home, just marveling over our little girl.

"You were AMAZING," Todd whispered to me, his eyes welling with emotion. "What you did... that was absolutely incredible."

Husbands, tell your wives these things. :-)

We stared at our daughter (our daughter...  oh man, what a trip that was to think about! We had a daughter!) for a while longer before we turned to each other, puzzled, and said, "She doesn't look like a Lydia!" We hadn't decided 100% on a name before the birth, but Lydia had been our favorite of the girls names we were considering, and we'd both assumed that's what her name would be. But she was not Lydia. We debated about another name we liked and that didn't seem to be it, either. Finally we both landed on who she was: Catherine! Catherine Irene. Her saints would be the Great Martyr Catherine and Irene Chrysovalantou, who is a favorite of mine for many reasons. It was perfect, and totally fit her.

One of my good friends who is a professional photographer came over about then to take pictures of us, because she is awesome. She arrived just before my parents did, which was perfect, because she was able to capture the exact second that Max met his baby sister, which was the most precious thing ever. Max came in and immediately beelined it for us, saying "Baby! Baby!!" excitedly. He started petting her and kissed her and looked both mystified and delighted. "Aww, baby!" he said, and stroked her head. She had the hiccups and he'd poke her and she'd hiccup and it made him jump and he'd laugh hysterically, and he did that over and over again for awhile. I was crying from laughing so hard.

 I thought I was going to split open from all of the joy I had within me. Max was beaming and couldn't take his eyes off of her. Here I was with my husband and my TWO BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN, and there was so much love.

Even though we are planning on having more kids, I felt and continue to feel like our family is complete now in a way that it wasn't before. Todd, me, Max, and Catherine - we are a family! What an amazing blessing it is to have children. I still feel like we aren't worthy of something so wonderful, but here we are - me and Todd and our love and our history, surrounded by these extraordinary beings full of their own love and light and personhood and wonder.

Every day now I wake up with two small, sweet-smelling people cuddled up against my simple human body and I am amazed.

Baby C, we've wanted you and waited for you for so long. Everything about you and your arrival is perfect, and I wouldn't change a thing. Thank you so much for beaming down into our household and not someone else's! We will try to take the best care of you that we can!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Baby Nichols Arrives, Part 2: It Gets Worse

If you missed the beginning of this story, it can be found here.


So, to continue. I called Denise and cried that I couldn’t handle it anymore, that I was scared and that I didn’t know what to do. She asked how far apart the contractions were now. “Still every ten minutes!!!!” I wailed, full of despair. “Okay, I’m coming over,” she said. “Let me get up and get a cup of coffee and I’ll come and check you. We’ll figure out what’s going on.”

The contractions were still a steady 10 minutes apart as I waited for her to come. I had given up entirely at trying to cope through each one and just let them hit me and screamed and screamed into a pillow until they were over.
Denise finally arrived a little after seven. I was flopped miserably on the bed when she came in, completely exhausted and awaiting the next wave of doom heading my direction. She was getting ready to check me when I felt the next contraction coming on, and I instantly flung myself onto my pillow and screamed through it. “Whew!” she said afterward. “That came on quick!” I didn’t say anything. I think I was beyond words at that point.

Her face was solemn but unsurprised as she checked my cervix. “Yeah… I figured as much… no change from yesterday.” I wasn’t surprised, either. I’d harbored a tiny, tiny hope that she’d exclaim something like “Oh, you’re eight centimeters!”, but deep inside I knew better. I was still at 3cm.

She sighed. “Are you at all familiar with ‘incoordinate contractions’?” she asked me. I shrugged miserably and shook my head. “That seems to be what’s going on here,” she said. “The uterus gets itself worked into a cycle where the muscles are firing inconsistently from one another; they come on very quickly, from the bottom to the top, like a knife plunging up suddenly.” She gestured what she meant as she spoke. “The muscles contract extremely hard, but since the muscle groups aren’t coordinating with each other the right way, they aren’t working to open the cervix at all. If it makes you feel any better, they usually do hurt worse than regular labor contractions. They’re like the peak of a transition contraction, but with the peak lasting the entire time.”

I gazed at her forlornly, still flopped on the bed. The last part did make me feel minutely better – at least I wasn’t crazy or being a total baby about the level of pain. Later, when I looked up ‘incoordinate contractions’ online, the phrase was often paired with words like ‘hypertonic’, and extreme, transition-like pain is a common sign of them.

She sighed as she removed her gloves. “You really, really need to sleep. I’m hoping that if you get some rest, things will settle down enough that the cycle will end and labor can get started for real.”

 I blanched at the thought of labor ‘starting for real’. “I’ve been doing this for TWELVE HOURS,” I whispered. “How can I possibly go through an entire labor still, after this?”

“I promise you, when we get things moving they will feel very different,” she assured me. “You said yourself that these feel different than they did in your last labor. When regular labor contractions come and are closer together, don’t forget that your body will produce endorphins to help you through them. And on top of that, you’ll have a chance to work into them and into the peak, instead of being hit with a minute-long peak all at once!” I theoretically knew she was right, but was still apprehensive about what was to come.

She rummaged in her supplies bag and pulled out a bottle of pills. “I’m going to give you some sleeping medication. I want you to try and sleep. You probably won’t sleep through the contractions, but you should be able to fall asleep again right after each one.” She gave me two pills and also an herbal sleeping supplement. “Call me when you wake up,” she said, and then left the room to go update Todd and head out.

I did get very sleepy and dozed. The contractions spaced out to 15 minutes again, which was something of a relief, but it was still a nightmare when I would have one. If anything, it was more of a nightmare, because I would be yanked from my hazy sleep by the instant pain with little warning, and then scream into my pillow and writhe around until it was over, then fall into a half-sleep again. Finally at 9:30 I woke up for a contraction that threw me onto the floor screaming and had had enough. Once again, I didn’t know what to do. What I was doing – waiting, essentially – was clearly not working. I’d hoped that resting would stop them, but it had only slowed them down. I started to panic. How was this going to end? The only solution I could think of was going to the hospital. If I got an epidural, then I would be able to actually sleep for a solid chunk of time, and I felt like if I could just sleep, and have a real rest from this madness, then I would be able to start real labor from the beginning and handle it fine. But, of course, I knew it wouldn’t work like that. First of all, would they even give me an epidural at 3cm when I wasn’t even in labor? Probably not. Second of all, once I was in the hospital, I’d be stuck in the hospital, and I’d almost certainly be given Pitocin to get things moving. At this point, I wasn’t opposed to that idea at all – after all, people have Pitocin and epidurals all the time and have perfectly healthy babies – but I also knew in the back of my ever-trying-to-be-sensible-mind that it would have serious financial repercussions for us, even with my insurance, and that if I wanted to go to the hospital, I had better really, REALLY want to go to the hospital. There would be no turning back at that point.

Regardless, I called Denise. “That wasn’t very long,” she said, disappointed. “I CAN’T do this anymore! PLEASE HELP ME!” I cried. “It’s too much! They hurt too much! I can’t take it!” I was getting hysterical. “Okay,” she said. “Okay. I need to think. I’m going to hang up and think, but I’m going to come back over.”

A short while later, I got a text and then a call from Ginna, the therapist I’d been seeing for my EMDR therapy to process Max’s birth. Ginna and Denise are very good friends and have been for many years, and have attended a number of births together over the years as well, which is how Denise recommended Ginna to me for therapy in the first place. Ginna spoke to me soothingly, trying to help me remember my affirmations and all the mental prep work I’d done, much as Denise had done the night before. And, just like the night before, it was well intended, but not helpful at all. I had done all of that preparation for labor, not for crazy monster non-labor hell. She said something about trusting my body and remembering that it "knew how to do this". I remember thinking "Clearly, my body does not know how to do this - this is all wrong! I feel like I'm dying and I'm not even technically in labor and there is no end in sight!" I felt like I was broken. “If you want, I can clear my afternoon after about twelve and come over,” Ginna said. I told her that I didn’t want to interrupt her schedule, but she insisted that she wouldn’t have offered if she didn’t want to. I relented – I didn’t know if I would even go into regular labor at any point, but I knew that I desperately needed help. She promised to be there by twelve thirty.

I hung up and texted Denise, “please hurry!” to which she responded, “On my way!”. I decided to run another bath just for something to do besides lie around trying to decide if I should really go to the hospital or not. If I could help it, I really didn’t want to go – I didn’t think I needed to be in the hospital for the actual labor, I just desperately needed a way to sleep and hopefully stop this craziness, and I knew that if I went to the hospital now I’d have to be there for the actual labor, too.

I got back in the tub. Denise came. She said that she was in the process of trying to get some stronger, prescription sleeping medication for me from the nurse practitioner/nurse midwife I’ve seen before whom she also works with. “There are only two options from here,” she said. “We either need to get you to sleep, or we need to get things moving for real.” I knew that sleep wasn’t going to work – even with prescription medication, it wouldn’t be strong enough for me to sleep through the contractions. I asked her if she meant breaking my water to get things moving, which scared me when I was only 3cm, but she said no, she wanted to try something else first. I leaned back in the tub and she checked me, first of all. “Oh, you are a little bit more open now,” she said. “Not a lot, but your cervix feels softer. That’s a good sign.” She stripped my membranes again and then started manipulating my cervix in other ways. It was pretty uncomfortable, but still nothing compared to the contractions I’d now been suffering for going on sixteen hours. I don’t think ANYTHING could compare to those contractions. I’m really not exaggerating when I go on about how much they hurt.

After doing all the manipulation and holding some pressure points and such, she sat back and said, “Alright, you’re nice and open now.” She was saying that she hoped that by dilating my cervix, it would kick my uterus out of its incoordinate cycle and get all of the muscles working together in a normal labor pattern, which would not only feel better but get this show on the road. “You’re like eight centimeters!” she said brightly. I did a complete double take. “Eight centimeters??? Are you sure??” I asked, absolutely shocked. How could that be possible? “Yes,” she confirmed. “It’s a “sleeve-y” eight, and when I let go it slides back a bit toward maybe six, but I can easily stretch you to eight. I think once we get the baby’s head down on your cervix, things will go pretty quickly. I bet we have a baby in a couple of hours here.”

I was flabbergasted. A couple of hours?? I had been expecting to have to go through an entire, normal-length labor still at this point, starting from 3cm. Earlier on the phone Ginna had said, “Sarah, you’re going to have a baby today!” but I hadn’t believed her; I had thought that she didn’t understand the incoordinate contraction thing and I had been convinced that the only way out at this point was to stop the contractions, sleep, and then go into labor later or a different day. But here we were. I’d suddenly gone from not even “being in labor” (again, meaning active, productive labor here – obviously I’d been laboring pretty hard all night!) and not knowing when I would be, to being told I was going to have a baby in a couple of hours. Total trip.

We waited for awhile for me to have a contraction. It was about fifteen minutes, and then one came – and it felt SO. DIFFERENT. Blessedly, fantastically different. Oh my goodness. The relief. I can’t even express it in words. It was a real contraction, and it was as I remember them feeling from my first labor – it was deep, and low, and came on slowly and then built into a peak, squeezing tightly, and then relaxing and releasing a burst of oxytocin and endorphins that washed over my body like an orgasm. A very intense feeling, certainly but NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AND I CANNOT STRESS THAT ENOUGH, like the incoordinate contractions of before. This was the “pain”, if you can even call it that, of my body doing its normal, healthy, productive work, not the PAIN! of something in my body being terribly wrong. What a difference. Labor did get very painful again later, but it was never as bad as those contractions.

“Ah… it feels good,” I said, relaxing into the water. I was so encouraged and, finally, not afraid.

Todd called my mom to come and get Max, and began setting up and filling the birth pool in the living room and doing the rest of the labor chores; Denise took baby heart tones and hung out with me for awhile, timing contractions but basically watching me sleep in the tub. I had another contraction after 10 minutes, but then the next one came at 8 minutes or so! I realized I hadn’t eaten since our lunch with friends the previous day and was so hungry that I was nauseous, so Denise got me a banana and some iced tea or coconut water or something. I had a couple of bites. She left me in the tub for awhile to make me some rice, but eventually I got out because I was getting restless.

The contractions were still only about eight minutes apart, sometimes ten.  Denise wanted to break my water to further stimulate things to progress. I sighed, knowing that that meant that things would get more intense, which was hard to face, but I knew it would have to happen eventually. I said I wanted a little time to eat and prepare myself, which I did. I was feeling great despite my apprehension. I got my banjo out and played it joyfully through three contractions; focusing on some of the more difficult riffs took my attention off of the intensity of the contractions and made them more tolerable. I got back up and walked around, so happy to be in actual labor and not feeling like the world was going to end every ten minutes.

Finally, after a few bites of rice and some husband kissing and such, we went in to the bedroom so Denise could break my water. She wasn’t sure if she’d managed to hook the bag or not, as there was no gush and we didn’t notice any trickles when I stood up, but she thought she probably had. (In retrospect, I think it didn’t actually get broken or was maybe punctured in a spot that the baby’s head plugged, as we’ll see later.) I was also 8.5 – 9 centimeters at this point, so even though the contractions were sluggish, they were accomplishing a little bit. The baby’s head was still not engaged very well (ahem… birthy people… red flags yet?), so we were hoping that breaking the waters would help with that as well and really kick this thing into high gear once and for all.

Finally, I got into the birth pool. Bliss!! The water felt SO good. It is a big pool – bigger around than a kiddie pool, oval shaped, and very deep. The water came up to my chest when I was sitting down. I leaned forward over the side and relaxed. When a contraction would come, I’d either sway my body back and forth on my knees or let my legs float up and back and wriggle around. The contractions were definitely getting stronger at this point – they were painful and it took a lot of concentration to get through them. It was certainly not pleasant – these were transition-strength contractions, after all – but STILL nothing like the incoordinate ones. The level of pain at the peak was probably the same or similar, but the entire contraction wasn’t a peak like the incoordinate ones. I could work into it and then had that awesome release at the end.

Ginna arrived, which was good timing because I was starting to need help getting through contractions. She got down next to me by the birth pool and rubbed my back, held my hands through contractions, massaged my hands. She had me look into her eyes during a contraction, which was SO HELPFUL! What an eye-opener, pun intended. ;-) I wish I’d thought or someone had thought to have me do that during my labor with Max. It was so grounding to gaze straight into her eyes, and when the scariest and most painful part of the contraction peaked, I knew that I wouldn’t float away or lose my mind, because she was there, and I was there, and we were still in my living room and doing okay and then whoosh, the contraction would be over. I felt like I had help! What a relief! At this point I started making very loud, low sounds through the contractions, like singing and moaning combined. As they got stronger, I needed to make even bigger sounds to get through them, and the best one I found was angry tiger growling. I would growl mightily and ferociously, and the best thing ever is that Ginna did it right back at me – we were growling together! I’d stare straight into her eyes and roar for all I was worth and she’d stare back and growl and I would feel almost angry – not actually angry, but just an intensity of feeling akin to anger – and roar and growl some more. It was completely awesome. Primal womanhood! (<-- one of my affirmation/key phrases. ;-p)

What was not completely awesome, however, was the effectiveness of my labor. Contractions were STILL only ever seven to ten minutes apart and irregular. Denise started coming over to me in the pool exactly every four minutes and stimulating my uterus all over from the outside to make it contract, which did work for awhile. So I had these “artificially induced” contractions every four minutes for awhile. Then she waited to time my own natural contractions. I was busy growling and not paying too much attention, and still enjoying being in normal labor and not the bowels of incoordinate hell. I knew deep down that things were not quite right and that we needed to get things moving, but the big chicken part of me was also very glad that the contractions weren’t closer together (silly, I know, because when transition contractions happen the way they’re supposed to – every two to three minutes – the endorphins not only kick in stronger and help lower the pain, but it’s much easier to find a rhythm when the timing of the contractions is quick and predictable) and didn’t want to really commit to making them closer together.

Denise wanted me to get out of the pool and start moving around and being active. I didn’t want to, and I lollygagged for awhile. (Yes, I just used the word ‘lollygagged’. I know, I’m so cool I can’t even stand it.) But finally I knew it needed to be done and I got out and they all toweled me off. We started with Denise holding my arms and supporting me as I squatted, hoping that squatting would get the baby’s head low enough to hit my cervix and cause a contraction. It worked, and after that contraction I started pacing with my legs very wide and doing lunges, trying to accomplish the same effect. After a few minutes I went back to Denise and she stimulated my uterus and we did the squat again. It wasn’t working. I stood up and she did more stimulation and I squatted and did have a contraction, but it was shorter and not as strong. I paced and lunged around the house some more, walked circles quickly around the pool, walked up and down the hall, put a leg up on a chair and lunged into it. No contractions. Ten minutes passed. Denise started stimulating my uterus very vigorously, rubbing and prodding and shaking it all over, and we squatted, and stimulated, and squatted again. No contractions. I walked more. No contractions. It had been a good fifteen minutes by this point.


Denise shook her head. “You’re tired, Sarah,” she said. “Your uterus is tired. You haven’t slept in three days. What I really think needs to happen here is that you need to rest.”

Ugh. I knew she was right. I was scared of resting – I was afraid of those contractions ripping me up out of the bed as they had earlier and the night before. I was scared of losing what little rhythm I’d managed to find. I think, deep down, I was scared to really commit and have this baby, especially in light of the surreal and dysfunctional labor. I didn’t know if I could actually do it. It seemed like my body kept postponing that moment of truth for which I’d been preparing for months, and my mind, afraid, wasn’t quite up to pushing my body onward to that point.

“I’d like to check you first,” she continued. “Then I think Ginna and I are going to step out and take a breather and let you guys rest for awhile.”

I was terrified at the thought of being left alone, but knew that resting was the only option at this point. We went into the bedroom and I lay on my back as she checked me. It seemed like it was taking longer than usual.

“You’re about nine centimeters. I’m not sure that we broke the water before or not… let me just check something… hmm…” She basically started digging around, feeling and evaluating and doing her midwife thing. Suddenly I felt a warm gush of fluid against my butt. “Whoah!” I said. “That was definitely my water!” She nodded but didn’t say anything and kept feeling around, a look of concentration on her face. I was tired, and feeling discouraged and scared about the lack of progress with my labor, about the pain, about my ability to actual do this giant thing. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon at this point. I closed my eyes wearily. Ginna came into the room at that point and crawled upon the bed and kissed me on the cheek. I smiled half-heartedly, but I was starting to feel despondent.

Denise looked grim. “Now that the waters are broken I can feel the sagittal sutures better,” she said. (The sagittal sutures are the lines where the bones of the skull meet and overlap; you can tell a baby’s position by feeling the direction of the lines.) “The baby’s completely posterior.”

…Of course.

(A posterior or “sunny side up” presentation is where the baby’s spine is against the mom’s spine and she is facing forward, as opposed to anterior, when the baby’s spine is facing outward and she is facing toward the mom’s back. The reason this is important during birth is because when the baby is anterior, the smallest part of the head goes through the pelvis first; when baby’s posterior, the large, flat part of the head tries to go through first, which doesn’t fit as well and in some women might not fit at all. Imagine putting on a turtleneck sweater; you pull it over your head with the pointier, narrower, back part of your head going through first; if you try to pull it over the flatter front part of your head, it often gets stuck. Same idea.)

I had spent MONTHS of this pregnancy trying to avoid a posterior baby, because I so badly wanted the birth to go as smoothly as possible and had my doubts about being able to birth a posterior head if the head was very large, as Max’s head had been. (This fear is probably not rational, because I have a big pelvis anyway and because Max’s giant head came out with a whole extra inch of fist and arm next to it, which probably took more fitting than a posterior head would, but still, it is a fear that I’ve had.) I’d been doing all sorts of exercises and never ever leaned back or reclined if I could help it and tried everything to get the baby to stay anterior. And the baby was anterior for most of the pregnancy! At my appointment the Monday before Denise had been able to feel the sutures and the baby was anterior.

But it wasn’t now.

This explained a lot about the dysfunctional labor. When the head isn’t well engaged in the pelvis and the head isn’t applying very good pressure against the cervix, things just don’t progress as they normally would.

I was in complete despair at this point. More than anything, I was so, so tired. I was starting to have a hard time dealing with the pain of the contractions again. I just didn’t have the energy. And now, to learn that the baby was posterior – my greatest fear realized.

I hadn't slept in days. I had barely eaten. I'd been in excruciating, abnormal labor for a good twenty hours. The baby was posterior. I was exhausted. More than anything, I was terrified. It just didn’t seem possible that I was going to make it through this birth.

Click here for Baby Nichols Arrives, Part 3!

Baby Nichols Arrives, Part 1: It Gets Bad

First of all, in case you didn't know from facebook: Baby Nichols arrived on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at 4:57 p.m, weighing in at 8 lbs, 2 oz and 21" long with a 14.25" head circumference. Now, the part everyone has been waiting for: the birth story! Or birth JOURNEY, rather! And my, what a journey it has been. You can read about my previous birth experience and the preparation I did for Baby Nichols' birth here.

It was a very long labor, so you get a very long story! :-) This is Part 1.

Here we go.


Baby Nichols was due on Saturday the 18th, technically, but I knew that that day was just a guess (we had like three or four different due dates in the beginning) and everything in me said it would be later, probably more like the 24th or 25th. Nonetheless, by the time Monday rolled around with nothing feeling different or exciting in any way, I was ready to get things moving.

At my midwife appointment Monday afternoon, I asked Denise (my midwife) to strip my membranes, which sounds dreadful but isn’t; it’s where she uses her fingers to gently separate and lift the bag of waters up off of the cervix. The idea is that it stimulates the body to produce lots of prostaglandins, which are cervical softeners and get everything all set for labor. It doesn’t induce labor, per se, but it often will help move things along if the body is ready. So, she went ahead and did that, and within an hour or two I did indeed start having some contractions, and lost my mucous plug. I was stoked.

The contractions weren’t regular, coming anywhere from every 8-15 minutes, and they weren’t super strong. I went about my evening as usual but did have to sway a little through each one. Even though I knew that they could and probably would peter out at any time (with Max I had contractions like that on and off for about a week before he was actually born), I was SO excited that my body was actually doing something labor-esque. It made me feel like I might actually get a baby this week after all.

The mild contractions continued throughout Monday night. I did go to bed and did sleep, but fitfully and in spurts, partly due to excitement and partly because the sensations were strong enough that it was hard to sleep through them, even though they weren’t strong enough yet to hurt. They spaced out during the night to about 1-2 an hour.


I expected to wake up on Tuesday without contractions, because that’s what had always happened with Max and because I still didn’t fully believe that my body would actually go into labor within any reasonable distance from its due date, but I continued to have them. They were a little milder than they had been the night before. Still strong enough that I would zone out when I had one, but not strong enough to require any swaying or anything.

We were supposed to have lunch with some friends at our beach house in Hope on Tuesday. It was a rainy morning, the first rain we had seen in a month or so. I don’t know if it made me feel gloomy or if I was already feeling that way and it just matched my mood, but regardless, I was feeling kind of down and yucky for some reason. But we went ahead and got everything ready and headed out to Hope. It was very nice to get together with everyone, but I was just feeling so irritable and emotional that I had a hard time enjoying myself. Contractions continued irregularly, every 10-40 minutes or so, and still light. I was feeling grumpy and eager to go home.

We got home and the contractions continued. Max took his nap and I tried to sleep with him but couldn’t, so I got up and puttered around in the kitchen a little. Todd had gone over to a buddy’s house across the parking lot to hang out for awhile. Max finally woke up about 4 and I was on the verge of tears for no reason at all except that I was tired and grumpy and wondering if I would ever have a new baby. I decided to call my midwife and see if she could check me at the office before she went home for the day. I didn’t expect anything to be different, but I figured that even if I was like 1% more effaced than I had been the day before, that would be better than nothing! She told me to come on down, so I dropped Max off with Todd at his friend’s house and headed to the birth center.

Denise joked with me that usually when people are feeling weepy and grumpy, there will soon be a baby on the way! And indeed, there was progress: 3 centimeters dilated. I wasn’t actually in labor yet, which I had of course known, but I was glad to know that all of those contractions weren’t totally for nothing.

 “Your cervix feels much better today than it did yesterday,” said Denise. “I’ll definitely be surprised if you aren’t waking me up tonight!” I didn’t think I would actually go into labor so soon, but this still cheered me up. As I headed out the door I heard her telling Kathy, the receptionist, “Hers is the best cervix I’ve felt all day!”, so I knew she hadn’t been saying that just to cheer me up.

She told me to go home and take a nap since I was tired from the night before, and would need all the energy I could get if I did in fact go into labor that night.

Tuesday Night

I got home around 5:15 and decided to start getting some of my “early labor chores” done, just in case, even though I wasn’t in labor yet. I knew I was supposed to take a nap but was feeling restless and just wanted to get on top of things. I stripped the bed and re-made it with fresh sheets, a plastic drop cloth, and clean old sheets on top of that, in case we ended up having the baby in bed (even though we were planning a waterbirth). Around 6pm the contractions started kicking in much harder than they had been, and I continued my chores: chopping up ginger and putting it in the crockpot for compresses, doing some final cleaning and sweeping, and finally, baking Baby Nichols’ birthday cake. I figured at this point that even if the baby wasn’t born for a couple of days, we would just let the cake be a little stale, but I wanted to make it now. Max and Todd were still at his friend’s house, so I was alone, which was nice. The contractions definitely made me stop and sway through them. They didn’t require much more attention than that, but they were noticeably stronger than they’d been the day before. I tried laying down for awhile to rest, but just couldn’t sleep or relax very much.

Around 7:30 Todd came home and I decided to run over to Starbucks to use the internet to download a contraction timer onto the iPad. I went in and chatted with the closers for awhile, swaying through contractions occasionally (I didn’t mention anything about them, though – not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up too much, including my own!), then downloaded the timer app and came home again.

The contractions were getting stronger. I was still feeling pretty serious, not excited like I’d been on Monday night, mostly because I still didn’t think I was in labor and was frustrated by that. The contractions were every 10-11 minutes on the nose, but they weren’t getting any closer together. That’s how you know you’re in labor, when contractions start getting harder and closer together within an hour of timing them. The hours ticked by, and they were still every 10 minutes or so. For awhile they were 8 minutes apart, but then they were 12 minutes apart, and then back to 10.

I was very tired by this point, partly because I hadn’t slept well the night before and partly because I was feeling emotionally drained from the day. I decided to try to go to bed. I asked Todd and Max if they could sleep on the couch so I could have some privacy and focus on trying to relax, and they obliged, so we all settled in for the night. I think it was 9:30 or so.

The contractions were starting to really hurt. They had been getting stronger, but not closer together, and not longer; they were still each only about 50 seconds long, though they were getting VERY intense during those 50 seconds. In fact, they were so intense I had to jump out of bed when I had one, and very quickly gave up the idea of sleeping. These contractions felt different than I remember them feeling when I was in labor with Max; they were far more painful and felt overwhelming. I didn’t have a chance to work into each one like I did in my previous labor. They would just hit, and it took everything I had within me to not come apart at the seams and make it through each one. They were STILL only ten minutes apart, too, which was maddening. What was going on?? Why wasn’t I actually going into labor? (I consider this whole evening part of my labor because I was in fact “laboring”, and very hard, at that, but I wasn’t in “active labor” with contractions every 4-5 minutes, at least 60 seconds long, and getting closer together.)

I was feeling more emotional than ever, and starting to get scared. These contractions hurt. Bad. It took everything I had in me to get through each one. If this was only early labor, how on earth was I going to cope when things started picking up? How would I manage to get through one of these monster contractions every 4 minutes, or 3 minutes, or 2?? I would feel one coming and try to find a way to get through it, but nothing was working.

With Max, I would find a rhythm that worked for me for awhile and use that through contractions and it felt totally natural; for most of the labor, when I felt a contraction coming on (and like I said, I always had time to work into each one), I would quickly start pacing and speed-walk into the other room, which was dark, and then either pace quickly in tiny circles while making low moans, or press my face against the glass the of the sliding glass door and make low moans there. Then the contraction would pass, and I’d go back and socialize with everyone until the next one. I did this for hours and it worked fantastically well. The contractions were VERY strong, of course, and very intense, but they weren’t outrightly painful; they felt productive, and I enjoyed the sensation of my body working to bring my baby closer.

But not this time. This time a contraction would just hit me, and I had about 1 second from feeling the first stirrings of it before it would consume me entirely. I tried pacing. I tried rocking. I tried getting on my hands and knees, I tried breathing, I tried blowing my lips out like a horse. I tried pressing my face against the door, pressing it into the corner, pressing it into an icon of the Theotokos that I was carrying around. I tried saying “Ooooopen, oooopen, oooopen” like they do in all of the Ina May stories. I tried repeating “Isou Panagia, Isou Panagia”, which is a sort of mini-prayer built out of two longer prayers that one of my very Greek Orthodox friends taught me, and I used it like a mantra. That probably helped more than anything, but only minimally. I was really starting to freak out and absolutely dread the next contraction. I couldn’t handle it! I felt like my body was ripping itself apart in there or something with each one, and even though they were only 50 seconds long they felt like they went on and on.

And they were STILL only ten minutes apart. UGH.

I finally called Denise around 11 or 11:30, not because it was time for her to come, but because I was freaking out. I was crying as I talked to her on the phone. “They HURT!” I lamented, which sounded so pathetic, but it was all I could find to say. “They hurt” just wasn’t enough close to describing what I was actually feeling, but it was the best I could do. “This is NOTHING like my labor with Max! These hurt so much worse than I remember labor feeling like! AND THEY’RE STILL ONLY TEN MINUTES APART!”

“When did you start having them?” Denise asked.

“Basically since I left the birth center! Hours ago!! Sometimes they’d be like eight minutes apart, even six minutes at one point, but sometimes like fifteen. They are mostly ten minutes. They aren’t getting any closer together… they hurt so bad… I don’t know what to do!”

She asked me if each one would come on really quickly. I didn’t really understand what she was driving at and said that I had a second or two at the beginning of each one where I could tell one was coming.

“Do you want me to come over?” She asked.

“No, not yet,” I said tearfully. I knew it was too early. I still wasn’t even in active labor, even though the contractions were so strong. “I just need emotional support… I don’t know what to do. How am I going to get through this? It didn’t feel like this before!”

“Well, how about this. Try taking a bath. The warm water should either slow things down enough that you will be able to get some sleep, or they’ll help you cope through the contractions, if nothing else. Call me if you need me, okay?”

“Okay,” I sniffed.

I started drawing a bath. Within a few minutes Denise sent me a very sweet text full of encouragement, reminding me of some of the affirmations I’d developed beforehand in preparation for labor. It was very nice, but I felt like the affirmations were useless to me at this point; when a contraction would hit, everything in my brain and consciousness immediately checked out, and I was lost in pain. Even if I could remember all of the visualizations and stuff I’d worked on at that point, I just couldn’t figure out how to integrate it well enough to feel on top of the contraction. Like I’ve said, they were utterly overwhelming.

While the tub was filling, I went out into the living room and gathered some candles and my icon of the Theokos, trying to be careful and not wake Todd and Max, who were cuddled up sleeping on the couch together. I put the icon on the floor or the bathroom opposite the tub and set up candles all around it and a vigil lamp in front. I knew I needed to relax to try and get a handle on things and was trying to soothe myself as much as possible.

I got into the tub. Unfortunately, our bath tub is incredibly tiny, so it is hard for a pregnant lady to fit in there, but I did manage to find a way to sit sideways so that my belly was in the water and I could sort of lean forward and rest my arms and my head on the edge of the tub. I put a towel on the ledge like a pillow and rested forward on it, gazing at the icon. A contraction came. It was still horribly wrenching, but it did feel more manageable in the water!! “Isou Panagia, Isou Panagia, Isou Panagia,” I whispered fervently, over and over again, willing myself through the pain and begging for divine intercession and mercy. When the contraction was over, I rested my head on my arms, watching the flames, gazing into the icon, and resting. I did feel like I was starting to relax, and dozed a bit. I stayed in the tub for maybe an hour, dozing in between contractions, and trying to keep my head on my shoulders during them. I had stopped timing them while I was in the tub (plus that had just been frustrating me), but could tell they had also slowed down a bit, which was a relief.

The water was getting cold so I decided to be brave and get out. I was feeling much better, at least emotionally if not physically. The little bit of rest had helped some, even if I hadn’t actually slept. I think it was around 12:30 or 12:45 a.m. at this point.

I went into the living room and felt bad for Todd and Max being scrunched on the couch when I wasn’t even using the bed. I woke Todd up and told him to go get in bed with Max, which he did. I also wanted to be in the living room for awhile. At this point I knew I was not going to sleep; it was impossible. My goal now was to find a way to survive, either until the morning came, or until active labor kicked in and my contractions started getting closer together. (I couldn’t imagine it even being possible for them to get stronger than they were at this point, though! And indeed, I don’t think it was! These contractions were truly unreal.)

Baby Nichols’ birthday cake was cool at this point, so I decided to make the ganache that I was planning of the icing.

I started timing contractions on the iPad again while I was making the ganache. They were still extremely painful but they seemed more manageable now! And, glory of glories, they were about six minutes apart. I was feeling much more optimistic at this point. As long as I was in motion while a contraction came on, which was easy enough to do as I was up and about, heating cream, chopping chocolate, and doing dishes, I was able to handle it. I actually felt like I might get through this after all.

I finished the ganache and assembled the cake layers. Ten minutes came and went without a contraction. Then fifteen. I was very tired, so I sat down on the birth ball for a second. As soon as I sat down, though, and there was more pressure on my cervix, BAM, I was bowled over with another contraction from hell. AAAAUUUGGGH. It was horrible. I quickly got up and started walking around again.

By now it was around 2 a.m. The contractions were back to about 10 minutes apart, still only 50 seconds long, and absolutely excruciating. Yet again, I couldn’t handle them, and felt like I was losing my mind whenever I had one. I was also SO. TIRED. I decided to try resting on the couch, because I HAD to lay down, and sitting down made the contractions too painful when they did come. So I lay down on the couch and closed my eyes, trying to sleep or at least rest, breathing deeply. When I would feel that 1.5 second stirring of the beginning of a contraction, I would jump up to try and get on top of it, but they were just too sudden and too intense. I again tried all sorts of pacing, chanting, rocking, and different positions to get through each one, but it seemed impossible. When one finally passed I laid back down and tried to sleep again. Ten minutes later, I’d feel like I was going to die, all over again.

I did this until about 3:30 when I couldn’t bear it any more. I wanted to rest more, but when the contractions hit me lying down it was just too much. I got up and started pacing around, forcing one foot in front of the other, feeling like a zombie. SO TIRED. The contractions were still maddeningly painful, but at least when I was standing up I felt like I had one more instant to prepare for them than I did sitting or lying down.

At this point it was going on 4 and it was close enough to morning that I didn’t want to wake Denise until she’d been able to sleep later. I felt like if I could just make it until dawn, I might survive. For some reason, I felt like these contractions couldn’t possibly hurt as much in the light of day as they did in the night.

I decided to push myself to 4:30. Pacing. Breathing. Trying not to die. Trying very hard to die.

Still no light in the sky.

5:00 a.m. came. I was losing it and remembered how the bath had helped the night before. So I went into the bathroom and shut the door, trying not to wake Todd and Max but also not caring, and drew another bath. I got in when the water was only a few inches deep because I couldn’t wait, and let it fill around me. My towel-pillow was still there so I set myself up with it and tried to rest.

I spent another hour in the tub. The water wasn’t helping me with the pain of the contractions anymore. I did find that if I pressed as hard on my tailbone and lower back as I possibly could and rubbed in circles, the pain was a little more manageable, though I still just about panicked through each one. (Pokey labor… lower back pressure giving some relief… birthy people, any guesses yet as to what’s going on here??)

Finally, I got out of the tub, dried off and opened the bathroom door. Startlingly, the outside world was suddenly light in the dawn. When I’d gone into the bathroom, it had still been dark. Daylight! Morning had come! I’d made it alive through the night!

But, the contractions were still mind-blowingly painful. I can’t even come up with a metaphor for what they felt like (I was going to say something about someone reaching in and grabbing my insides and twisting them right out of me, and maybe throw in something about knives and fire, but even that doesn't quite do it justice...) because they were so horrendous that they really just defy description. Just believe me, people, when I say that these were more painful than just about anything I’d felt before (with the possible exception of Max’s head, fist and elbow tearing me open, but that’s another story!), and that they were NOT like regular labor contractions. Not at all.

Todd and Max woke up suddenly, around 5:45. Max wanted breakfast so Todd took him into the kitchen even though it was so early. I was glad, because I wanted the bedroom to myself. A contraction came. I couldn’t hold back anymore. I grabbed a pillow and SCREAMED into it. I screamed and screamed until the contraction was over. Then I grabbed my phone and called Denise. I couldn’t handle it one more second.

For the next part of the story, click here: Baby Nichols Arrives, Part 2: It Gets Worse.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Maternity Leave

You may be wondering what I do all day since I've been on leave from work for two weeks and don't yet have a baby. Well, besides gestating and toddler-wrangling, both of which are, if you ask me, pretty impressive daily feats in and of themselves, we spend our days doing the following:


Yes, I am thirty-nine weeks pregnant in this picture and rocking the Ergo. What the photo doesn't show are the small tantrums Max and I took turns having every eighth of a mile or so. A break from hiking may be in order after this. :-)

Doing Crafty Things

Scrapbooking for me
Painting, coloring, and cutting for Max

( ...And gluing. But there are no pictures of the gluing because Max decided that the glue stick was more interesting as a makeup applicator than as a craft tool and ended up coating half a stick onto his face and subsequently his hands and subsequently
my hands and I didn't feel like gluing myself to the camera at that point.
 ...We may hold off on trying the glue stick again for a few months.)


World's best banana bread recipe can be found here.
I left out the nuts in a rare display of sympathy toward Todd, who doesn't care for them in his baked goods (I know, I know... it's a good thing he's handsome and does the dishes or I may not have married him), and added chocolate chips on top. They didn't mix and ended up just sitting on top, but it worked out because it made a kind of delicious chocolaty crust.

Consuming Large
Quantities of Bunny
Grahams and Iced Tea on
the Patio and then 
Taking Cuddly Naps

Berry Picking

 Playing with Dada

Note poor Bop cast off to the side. Yet again. Sigh.

Reading, Drinking More Iced Tea and Taking More Cuddly Naps

Iced tea tastes much better in a Guiness glass than it does in plastic cup, I decided. But then again, EVERYTHING tastes better in a Guiness glass. Also, my Annie's bunny craving has been recently supplanted by an organic poptart craving, as you can see.

 Going For Walks With Friends

Playing with Pipe Cleaners

Well, why wouldn't you play with pipe cleaners??

Lamenting the Appearance of the 40 Week Stretch Marks

I didn't get stretch marks to speak of with Max until I was 40 weeks, either. They were slightly worse then than they are this time around. By 41 weeks with Max, though, they were taking over, and by 42 weeks my belly looked like a road map that had been scribbled on by a toddler wielding a red sharpie.
If any of my future kids actually come EARLY, maybe I can avoid stretch marks altogether! What a concept!


These are actually adorable baby booties, not decapitated toy puppy heads. In case you were wondering.