Today I’m happy to share the birth of Claire Eleanor, the fourth child of Liz. This birth came after an anxiety-filled pregnancy and a previous stillbirth. This was her first birth without an epidural. I hope you enjoy it (and Liz’s priceless sense of humor) as much as I did. We enter the story after Liz has been experiencing lots of preparatory on and off contractions, a few days past her due date. At this point her contractions were irregular but strong, and Liz was hopeful that this was “it.” -Lani
The Birth of Claire Eleanor
On Monday, November 26, Chris and I settled in downstairs to hang out and watch Monday Night Football. Around 8:45-ish, I started to feel some weird pressure in my pelvis with a contraction. I got down on the floor to squat, thinking that would help things feel better, and I felt something shift, and a small gush.”Ummm… Chris? I think my water just broke.”
“What?! Are you sure?! Get upstairs! There’s no bathroom down here! Gross! Don’t wreck the basement!” So I proceeded to waddle up the stairs, trying not to laugh too hard (laughing made more fluid gush) as Chris followed me up the stairs, showing an unusually high (although appreciated) degree of concern for our carpet. I ran into the bathroom and Chris called my parents – my mom had called me about twenty minutes earlier to say that she had a bag packed and was ready to go in case I went into labor that night. Once I verified that my water had broken, although not in a Niagara Falls sort of way, she said she’d get her things together and get on the road, and would be at our house in a little over three hours. I was giddy – I am finally going to have this baby!!!!! That said, my contractions weren’t really picking up, so I figured we could just hang out and continue watching the game until things got harder.
Much to my surprise, things started to pick up. Around 9:25, my friend who had offered to watch my other kids called and said she’d be right over. I called down to Chris and said to turn off the TV – I thought we should go as soon as Stacy got there. I jotted down some notes – phone numbers, TV instructions, etc. – and asked Chris to give me a blessing. I admit I was scared – I wasn’t sure how this whole thing would go down, and I was terrified that something awful would happen in delivery, just like in my nightmares from the preceding months.
Afterwards, I felt so much peace. I felt like things would be ok, that I would have divine help, and that I didn’t need to be scared.
Around 9:40pm, Stacy arrived and we headed out the door. We called my midwife’s office, and they let us know that Kristin was on call, which made me happy – Kristin is who delivered my third baby, and I absolutely love her. Chris was driving a little quickly, but nothing out of the ordinary. Then, about three minutes away from the house, I had a huge contraction that led me to take off my seat belt, climb up on my knees facing the backseat, and grip the headrest with all of my might. I told Chris not to crash. At that point, he definitely started driving much more aggressively than normal.
At 9:58 p.m., we checked into the hospital. I had three contractions between exiting the car and getting to the check-in desk. Thankfully the nurses seemed to believe that I was in active labor and they skipped triage, taking me right back to a birthing suite.
As the nurse is asking me about my medical history and whether or not I’m allergic to everything under the sun, she casually mentions that my contractions seem to be coming close. Uh, you think? They were getting so hard and the whole time I kept thinking to myself that it was going way too fast. I felt a couple of double-peaked contractions and it freaked me out – I knew this was a sign of transition.
They tell me that the resident on the floor needs to check me to verify that my water broke (apparently the disgusting mess on the floor was not evidence enough). I conceded, and he came in and checked me – I was dilated to a 6/7, 95% effaced, and the baby was at a +1 station. I hopped up and demanded to get in the tub ASAP. The nurse started to fill it up and I stood in the bathroom, trying to cope with the insane contractions. It was weird – in all of my other labors, all I wanted was to bend over something and sway while Chris pressed on my back. This was just the opposite – all I wanted was to arch my back as far as possible. So I stood there, gripping one of those elderly person hand rails for dear life, bending backwards like a gymnast, trying not to lose my footing on the slippery floors.
I started to feel hot and a bit light-headed, which I knew meant that things were really gearing up. I finally got in the tub and was thrilled to have some reprieve. It seems like the water takes the edges off the beginning and ends of the contractions, meaning I got more time to recuperate in between them. That said, I panicked when I realized that, holy crap, these still really hurt. I just writhed around, moaning and trying to get a grip on the contractions.
Chris was my rock – sitting right there, telling me I’m doing great, that this one is almost over, that I can do this, that my body knows what to do, that I’m amazing… he talked me through every single contraction like nobody else could have. Hearing him voice confidence in me gave me the confidence I needed, and it took away the fear. If he thought I could do it, then I could.
At that point, I started to think how unbelievably stupid this whole thing was, and that I couldn’t do it anymore. I told Chris that I was done, and I wanted an epidural. He smiled at me, and said, “Um, I’m pretty sure you’re doing this right now.” That was not the answer I wanted, but at the same time I knew he was right – it wasn’t going to be long.
All of the sudden, I had a super hard contraction that definitely felt pushy. I told Chris, and he hopped up to tell the nurse, and came right back by my side. The next contraction came fast – and felt even more pushy. I told him that, and he told the nurse again. I could tell they were starting to panic a little bit since my midwife hadn’t arrived yet. The midwives do waterbirths at that hospital, but the residents/OBs generally don’t. The nurse came in to tell me that I needed to get out of the tub. I believe my exact response was, “NO.” I wasn’t sure I would even be able to – at that point the hospital could’ve been on fire and I probably would’ve refused to get out of the tub. I believe I also told them that I wasn’t getting out of the tub unless there was an anesthesiologist standing right there with a needle to jab into my back. As I recall, they laughed at that. I wasn’t joking.
The next contraction hit me like a freight train, and it was pushing. I didn’t feel like I had any choice in the matter – my body had taken matters into its own hands, and it was pushing hard. Sadly, this is where the decision to eat an entire Chipotle burrito just a few hours before backfired. Labor had come so fast that my body hadn’t had the opportunity to really empty things out in preparation for birth. The tub became outright disgusting. I half-heartedly apologized to everybody in the room, but really, I didn’t care how grossed out anybody was – I was too shocked by the fact that my body was trying to birth this baby and I had absolutely no say in the matter.
The nurses frantically told me to get out of the tub right then. They started explaining all of the reasons that I needed to get out – that Kristin wasn’t there yet, that the resident doesn’t do waterbirths, that my amniotic fluid had meconium in it and that the baby might try to take a breath at birth, thus prohibiting a water birth. Strangely, they ignored what I considered the most persuasive argument of all – that I was swimming in filth.
I immediately had another contraction and suddenly could feel the baby crowning. I decided that, holy crap, this baby might actually be born. I started to climb out of the tub. I finally opened my eyes and saw how disgusting the tub was, and wondered why nobody made a bigger deal out of that. I also looked up at the resident who was standing right there, all gowned/gloved up and ready for delivery. The look of sheer terror on his face is something I will never forget. I could tell he was appalled by something – it could’ve been the tub (understandable), the weird noises I was making with the contractions (also understandable), or the fact that he was going to have to deliver this crazy lady’s baby. I later found out that he was a first-year resident who had spent two weeks on the OB floor prior to this, and that he had never done an un-medicated delivery like this.
I climbed out of the tub and made a mad dash for the bed. I climbed up and positioned myself on my hands and knees, for no other reason than that’s what felt good at the time. The nurses were toweling me off and I could tell that the resident was a bit concerned about me being in that position.
I made a mental note to kick anybody in the mouth (like a horse would) who told me to turn over.
I was as comfortable as I was going to get, gripping two pillows for dear life, with Chris’ hand on my head/back/shoulder, telling me I’m doing great.
Another contraction hit and my body kept pushing. At this point, I got scared again. I admit that part of the reason I didn’t want to get out of the tub is that I’ve always been terrified that birthing without the cushion of water would hurt like the freaking dickens and that I would feel myself tear or something awful. I figure it hurts less to stub your toe in the pool than it does outside of it – why wouldn’t that be the same with birth? But as my body began to push, and I felt the baby’s head pushing and crowning, there was hardly any pain. There was a ton of pressure, and a bit of mild burning where my skin was stretching, but I was relieved to discover that pushing actually felt cool. I could feel the whole thing, and was intensely aware of what the baby and my body were doing, but luckily the endorphins seemed to really kick in and turn off any pain in the area. It was crazy – the contraction in my uterus hurt a bit, but the actual baby coming out just felt cool.
With the next push/contraction, I could tell she was almost born. I felt her head slip out, and they told me to do one more hard push, and I felt her whole body slither right out. I’m not gonna lie – that is one of the coolest/best feelings in the whole world. I suddenly felt light as a feather – the pressure was gone, the pain was gone, and I just felt DONE. It was 11:15pm, just 2.5 hours after my water broke.
I could immediately tell something was amiss – they were hurrying to cut the cord and whisking her off to do something. Apparently she had pooped all over herself in the womb and they were cleaning her off and making sure there wasn’t any meconium in her lungs. And frankly, I didn’t mind.
I had always thought that after giving birth naturally, I would be overcome with tears and a desire to hold my baby and that the heavens would open and angels would sing the Hallelujah Chorus and that perhaps somebody would be playing a harp. But nope – I was just so thrilled to be done that I was almost glad that they had taken the baby away for a few minutes. I just needed to breathe and take a few minutes to recover from what had just happened. I asked if she was ok, and everybody assured me she was, and I heard her cry, and I was relieved, but I still didn’t really want to move. When I finally flopped over to lay down, I realized that there were probably 15 nurses in the room, the deer-in-the-headlights resident who had done the delivery, and a third-year resident who had come up to check on things. The first thing I said? “Oh, hey Justin.”
Yeah, that third-year resident who just watched me give birth on all fours, like a hippie out of an Ina May Gaskin book? He goes to my church. I’m really good friends with his wife. We may never make eye contact again.
Kristin rushed into the room about five minutes after delivery. She was pretty ticked that she missed the birth, especially since the nurses are the ones who messed it up by calling the wrong person. She checked me over and told me that I had a small tear, but nothing needing to be repaired. I overheard her telling the nurses that she would’ve let me deliver in the tub (although she would’ve drained it and filled it back up), and she was obviously annoyed that they weren’t as gentle as she would have been with the delivery. The resident mentioned that he had never done a hands-and-knees delivery before, and Kristin says that if the nurses can get their crap together, she can show him lots of awesome “non-traditional” births.
Since they were cleaning up the baby anyways, I asked them to weigh her (normally they wait an hour or so). She was 8lbs 6oz. After what seemed like an eternity (but was only about five minutes), they brought her over to me and laid her on my chest, skin to skin. She looked so small and perfect. She had lots of hair. I asked if anybody verified that she was, indeed, a girl, and everybody laughed and said they were 100% sure.
As I was looking her over, trying to determine if she looked like her brothers, I had a rush of happiness come over me – we did it! She’s here! She’s alive! She’s perfect! And I never have to give birth again!
I started to tear up – I was just so grateful, and I found myself being almost surprised. So much of my insane anxiety over this pregnancy has been related to loss – despite my best efforts to abate the fear, I always had a deep fear in the back of my mind that I would lose this baby. Even as I felt her move, I knew that any second she could die in utero and I would have a stillborn. I realized at some point in my third trimester that everybody in my family that has lost a baby late in pregnancy has lost a girl – my aunt had an 8-month stillborn girl. My other aunt lost a baby girl at 18 weeks. I lost a baby girl at 16 weeks. Despite knowing that it was improbable, illogical, and ultimately ridiculous, my subconscious wondered if I was genetically predisposed to not having a daughter – like I would never be able to carry one to term and have her be born alive. It’s so weird, because most people don’t consider their baby dying at full-term to be much of a possibility, but for me, it felt not only like a possible outcome, it felt like the probable outcome.
So when she was born, I was hit with such a wave of relief – I was almost shocked and surprised that she was there! And breathing! I couldn’t believe how surprised I felt. Despite trying so hard to have faith and not fear, I still ended up so surprised. I think this might be a huge factor contributing to my utter bliss in the post-partum period – there are hormones and other things involved, but ultimately I’m just so thrilled to have her here, and to have her alive and breathing. I feel so lucky.
The resident delivered the placenta and we got her nursing – she nursed like a champ from the beginning, despite the normal “oh holy crap you little wolverine please don’t chew off my nipples” bit during the first few days. And since then, we’ve spent a lot of time just lying by each other – me just listening to her breathe and sniffing her head, and her just dozing in and out of a peaceful slumber. With my other kids, I’ve never been able to sleep with them too close to me – they make too many little noises and I’m rather particular about how I sleep – I can’t just sleep in any position or have people touching me while I sleep. But with Claire, she could sleep draped across my face and I’d be happily dozing. We spent the first week with her cuddled up on my chest, me laying on my back, both of us snoozing away. It’s been so different and lovely.