Today is my 31st birthday.
Man, 31. Hey, there.
Usually I have lots of goals and reflections to share on my birthday, but today I’m just grateful. Today is my birthday, and I’m living a very full and rich life. My heart is full. I have so much more to do and so much more to learn, and I’m thoroughly grateful this new year.
To celebrate my birthday, I want to share the story of Beatrice’s Birth Day. It’s only taken me 6 and a half weeks to write, and today on my birthday all I can honestly say that bringing Beatrice into the world is the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done . . .
Beatrice just turned six weeks old, and I’ve been trying to write her birth story for several weeks now. I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for me to actually sit down and write. Maybe I’ve just been unsure that I could capture the experience in words. I’ve told her birth story at least a dozen times, but something about writing it down has felt pretty overwhelming. Nevertheless, I really do want to try to document the experience while it’s still fresh in my mind. I want to be able to read back and remember as many of the details as I can, so here goes. . .
I tried to plan for birth by doing as little planning as possible. When you’re pregnant everyone tells you their birth stories (which I loved, by the way), but listening to all those stories taught me one critical thing: women can never predict what sort of birth they’re going to have. You can’t plan for when or how you’ll give birth. Complications happen. Some women need unexpected c-sections. Some women need unexpected inductions. Some women plan for a c-section or induction and things don’t go as planned. The point is this: If I learned one thing, it was that I couldn’t plan for my labor in advance because I had no idea what sort of labor I would have or need.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had a birth plan-ish. Even when you try not to set expectations, you still have them deep down. There were things I hoped for. I hoped I wouldn’t need a c-section, and that I would go into labor on my own. I was interested in trying to give birth without an epidural, but I was also fully prepared to ask for one if I needed it. In short, I tried to avoid setting any specific expectations for my labor and delivery. I mainly focused on one simple goal: make sure little Beatrice arrives safely.
Now, there were a few things I thought might happen. My mom had four very fast labors. I was her first child, and she started early labor at midnight and had me around noon the next day. So I
thought hoped that I might have a quick labor. Her water never broke with any of us (she had to have it broken all four times when she got close to delivering), so I of course assumed my water wouldn’t break.
At about 36 weeks, I started having what I assumed were signs that my body was getting ready. Without being overly graphic, let’s just say things were stretching and getting sore, and I was starting to have what felt like contractions. They seemed more than the braxton-hicks I had had previously, because my whole stomach area was tightening. So I had a feeling that my body was getting ready.
My last day of work was Tuesday, September 9th. On Wednesday during the day I ran some errands (went to Target, Michaels, and picked up some groceries), and I had one work event Wednesday evening. I was due Wednesday, September 17th.
Thursday, September 11th
I went in for my 39 weeks check-up. When I arrived the nurse told me that the doctor was going to do a cervical exam. I thought, yipee! because I was interested to know if anything was happening yet down there.
Before she started the exam, my doctor said she was going to separate the membranes while she did the cervical exam. At the time, I sorta thought I had heard of the separating the membranes thing, but I couldn’t really remember the details. She did the exam, and she said she was very pleased to report that I was 2 cm dilated, 95% effaced and the baby’s head was at zero station. She did the separating the membranes thing, which meant that she ran her fingers around the outside of the bag of waters, but I didn’t feel a thing (I’ve heard from some women that this can be very painful). She said even though things were obviously ready down there, the baby could come any time or that it could still be a while. I left feeling encouraged and validated that all the things I had been feeling over the past few weeks and been real and were getting my body ready to bring little Bea into the world.
11:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. ish
I drove across the bay bridge and outside of the city to have lunch and visit with my friend Tiffany. I called my mom on the way to tell her the good news that the babe could come any time, and she asked me why I wasn’t at home. 🙂 I was having the full stomach tightening contraction-like things every 15-20 minutes throughout the day, but I didn’t feel any pain or cramping whatsoever so I figured they were just the same as the fake contractions I’d been having for the past few weeks. I got a car wash. I talked to my mom on the phone again, and she asked me how quickly the fake contractions were coming and I told her, and she asked me why I wasn’t at home, and I told her I had stuff to do! Don’t worry! I feel no pain! I’m sure it’s nothing. and she told me she had to get off the phone with me because I was making her nervous. I drove home and putzed around a bit. I took a quick nap in the afternoon. I made a to-do list of all the things I was going to do over the next week: start a quilt, hang a few prints, make gumbo (I kid you not).
Viet and I met some friends for dinner. I was still having contractions throughout the dinner, and we joked that I could have the baby at any time. I was still having no pain.
The fake contractions were still coming when we got home. Viet came over to sit with me and felt my stomach for a while, and he said something like, “Those seem to be coming pretty fast. Have you timed them?” and I said something like, “not lately, but I’m not feeling any pain so they can’t be real.” and he said something like, “why don’t you time them?” So I did, and my stomach was tightening every five minutes or so. Our hospital bags were already packed, but we had a post-it with all the items we wanted to grab at the last minute like snacks and toiletries. So once I told Viet they were happening every five minutes, he began packing all the last minute items. I was kinda laughing. Once he had everything packed, he put our bags by the door and said, “I’m going to go to bed now, and I think you should too.” I told him I was sure they were just Braxton Hicks. He went to bed. I blogged.
I went to bed.
1:00 a.m. ish
I got up and went to the restroom. I had my first wave of pain, but I wasn’t sure if it was contraction pain at that point. I laid back down and a few minutes later I had another wave of pain. A few minutes after that I had another wave of pain, and I leaned over and said something to Viet like, “I think I just had two contractions. I felt two waves of pain, and they seemed to be coming fast. I’m going to time them now.” He replied, “ok.” I turned on my phone and opened my contraction timing app, and at that moment . . .
(1:23 a.m. to be exact)
. . . my water broke all over the bed. It was a huge gush of water. There was no doubt. So I calmly said to Viet, “my water just broke all over the bed,” and he immediately jumped out of the bed and began running around and getting ready. I called our hospital and told the nurse that my bag of waters had broken. He asked me to hold and told me that he needed to check with the head nurse because they had been diverting people all day to other hospitals (this was one of the things I had worried about, of course). He came back on and asked if I was sure my water had broken. I laughed and said, Yep. He asked if I had had contractions prior to the water breaking. I told him literally like three. He asked how far apart they were now, and I told him they were coming every 2-3 minutes and lasting 60 seconds. He said, “. . .You should come to the hospital, but don’t run any red lights. . . If you feel the urge to push, don’t have the baby in the car. Stop at the nearest hospital.”
and so we went! While I had been on the phone, Viet had been loading the car. I quickly got dressed, and we drove to the hospital. I remember I was pretty giddy along the way in the car. Viet and I were both so excited. There was absolutely no traffic (perfect) and nothing but green lights.
The contractions kept coming, and I kept timing them on my phone. They were consistently 2-3 minutes apart (I was surprised by how consistent they were) and 50-60 seconds in duration. At that point they felt very manageable in terms of the pain. I’d say a 3 or 4 on a scale of 10.
2:15 a.m. ish
When we got to the hospital, Viet dropped me off at the ER and went to park the car. I walked in and waited in line behind a guy at the window (I remember thinking, huh. I never thought I’d be in labor and waiting in line all casual like this). Once I got to the window, I handed over my Id and Kaiser card, and I said, “I called. I’m in labor,” and the woman at the desk smiled and said, “Is it your first? Congrats.” I had a contraction as I was standing at the window, and I remember saying, “Excuse me. I’m having a contraction.” ha! It’s so funny to think back on it now.
I was put in a wheel chair and wheeled upstairs. They brought me to the triage room, and Viet found me there. We were in the triage room for about a half an hour or so. They began measuring the bean’s heart rate and my contractions, and they checked to make sure that my bag of waters had actually broken (they did this by taking a sample of my fluid and putting it under a microscope. Apparently, amniotic fluid looks like fern leaves, and the doctor told me I had lovely ferning. I remember saying something like, Gee thanks).
At that point they dropped the bomb on me that I wasn’t really prepared for (remember I didn’t think my water was going to break naturally): the doctor let us know that since my water had broken they weren’t going to check my cervix because they didn’t want to risk the chance of introducing infection into the womb. I sorta looked at her for a long second letting that soak in, and then I said, “Wait. a minute. what do you mean? How is this going to work then?” and she said, “Eventually you will feel the need to push and then you should let us know.” (!) I was like, “whaaaaat.” I said to the nurse, “So basically this is a total mind game then(?!), because I have no idea how dilated I am.” She said, “pretty much. but given that this is your first child, you’re probably only about 3 centimeters at this point, so just try to relax and focus on the contractions.”
I remember being extremely confused at that point and also pretty disappointed. If I was still in early labor, then I felt like this birth was going to take forever. In the birth class they had told us that early labor can last anywhere from 8-12 hours typically and that contractions generally come about 15-20 minutes apart and last 2-3 minutes. They had also told us that when you hit 4 centimeters and your contractions are coming every 2-3 minutes and lasting 6 seconds you would be in active labor which usually lasts 4-6 hours. So I remember just feeling like, huh? Did I skip early labor? is this early labor? why are the contractions coming so fast? We were still in the triage room at that point, and I’d only been in labor about an hour or so at that point, and the contractions were already starting to get a lot stronger. I’d say a 6-7 on a scale of 10. The pain was mostly in my lower back. I would have a smaller more manageable contraction, followed by a really strong contraction that would make me nauseous. I remember that at one point in the triage room I had to get up to go the restroom and a contraction hit as I entered the restroom, and I just had to freeze and not move.
Even at that point (when we were still in the triage room), I was in enough pain that when a contraction came I wanted to be sitting up with my eyes closed completely silent and just focusing on breathing through the pain.
Here’s a picture of me when in the triage room having a contraction:
Here’s a picture of me when in the triage room resting between contractions:
2:30 a.m. ish – 5:30 a.m. ish
They moved us into a delivery room and the contractions just kept getting stronger. We had brought a yoga ball for me to help move labor along and our iPads so that we could watch movies, but we weren’t able to use either because my contractions were too strong for me to do anything but focus on breathing through them and not moving. They were still coming every 2-3 minutes and lasting 60 seconds. I remember that they were so strong that I thought there were coming even faster than that because it just didn’t feel like I had enough time to recover between them. Each time one hit I wanted to be sitting straight up with my eyes closed.
I held onto this little mouse rattle and just kept focusing on the bean and the image of holding her in my arms.
At around 5:30 I had a contraction that was so strong that I threw up a lot and the nurse told me that she had worked with a woman who had been Labor & Delivery nurse for forty years who always said that women threw up at 4 cm and 8 cm. So, she said, you’re probably at four centimeters.
At that point I remember thinking, no way. There is no way I can handle this pain if this is what 4 cm feels like. If this pain is going to double before it’s time to push, there is no way I want to do this unmedicated. Also, while I was trying to be all zen and calm, there was a woman laboring next door screaming at the top of her lungs. Of course this is perfectly understandable, but it was driving me NUTS. So I started talking to Viet about an epidural at that point. There were a few reasons why I had opted to try not to get an epidural:
1. First and foremost I wanted to avoid getting a c-section. So if I had to be induced, I wanted to avoid an epidural to decrease my chance of needing a c-section. In our class we learned that often times if you have to be induced your labor slows down, and if you get an epidural you have to be horizontal lying down which can often keep things from progressing. If things don’t move forward fast enough, they might need to break your waters to help move things along, which can increase the chance of infection and the chance that you’ll need a c-section.
2. I’ve known several women who have gotten an epidural that only worked on one side of their bodies. I didn’t want this to happen to me.
At that point, the first point was basically moot because my labor had started naturally and my bag of waters had broken on their own. So, I told the nurse I wanted an epidural.
5:30 a.m. – 6:00 a. m.
I waited for the epidural. This was the worst. Every contraction felt 10 times worse than the previous one because once you decide you want the meds, you want them NOW.
The doctor came in, and she told me that since I was asking for an epidural, if I wanted, they could check my cervix. She said if she did it now it would be extremely painful, and that if I wanted to get one regardless, I could wait until after the epidural to get the cervix checked because at that point it would be painless.
At that point I felt like in the best case scenario I might be 6 or 7 cm, but even in that case, I would still have several painful hours ahead of me, so I told her I wanted it regardless. What I actually said was something like, yespleasebringittomeNOWplease.
6:18 – 6:45 a.m.
The anesthesiologist arrived. She asked if I had been checked. I told her no. She asked who’s decision that had been, and I said mine. I was starting to grit my teeth at this point. I was in some serious pain by the time she arrived. I’d say an 8 on a scale of 10.
She put the epidural in, which I didn’t feel at all. I was too busy focusing on the contraction pain. Long story long, the epidural only worked on my right side (yep, that was reason #2 for not getting the epidural). I was still feeling the full contraction pain down my left side. They tried rolling me onto my left side, but it didn’t work. At that point the anesthesiologist told me that most likely the catheter had been pushed in too far and was leaning to the right. The only way she could try to fix it would be to try to pull it out a bit to straighten in, but there was a risk that by doing that she would pull it all the way out and have to start over. I told her to go for it. I hadn’t felt it going in the first time anyways, and feeling everything on one side was not working for me. She was able to straighten the epidural and then I felt numb on both sides.
6:45 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. ish
At this point Viet said, “I’m going to go to sleep now, and you should too.” (sound familiar?) But I told him I wanted to wait until they checked my cervix. There was a shift change at 7 a.m., so for the next hour I chatted with our new nurse whose name was also Meredith and was born exactly a month before me on 9/29 the same year (she was rad).
Around 8 a.m. a resident came in to check my cervix, and she did and then looked up surprised and said something like, “Whoa. You’re fully dilated. Are you feeling the urge to push?” I reminded her that I had an epidural and didn’t feel anything. At that point they stopped the flow of medicine to my epidural so that I would be able to feel to push.
I have to admit that at that point I was pretty ding dang disappointed. I felt like I probably totally could have made it that last hour without an epidural if I had known that I was that far along. Of course I felt validated that the intense pain I had been having wasn’t early labor after all. No wonder I hadn’t felt the epidural and no wonder the pain was so intense. By the time they put the epidural in I was most likely at 8 or 9 cm. Nurse Meredith reminded me that I had missed the worst hour of the pain and that I should be grateful that I got the time to rest up to push.
8:00 a.m. – 10:13 a.m.
I started pushing immediately after they saw that I was fully dilated. It took 20-30 minutes for my epidural to wear off and during that time I was pushing without being able to really feel anything. Each contraction I would push for three counts of 10. It was just me, Viet, and nurse Meredith. I remember that I was super annoyed that I had my glasses on with an oxygen mask. Nurse Meredith convinced me that I should use a mirror to help me stay motivated (and I have to confess it was super helpful).
About 45 minutes into pushing, three doctors casually walked in and asked nurse Meredith if we had tried different pushing positions. She told them we had. At that point I became ultra alert. I knew something was up. I just wasn’t sure what.
When my next contraction came, I could hear her heart rate plummet on the monitor, and I immediately started to lose all my clam, focus, and composure. I asked them: “Is that her heart rate? What’s going on? Is the cord wrapped around her neck?” I was especially worried about the cord being wrapped around her neck. They told me that her heart rate had been dropping from about 140-150 down to 60 every time I pushed. They said this wasn’t completely unusual because the pushing put a lot of pressure on the baby, but they said that they were concerned because her heart rate had dropped and stayed down for a bit. After that it kept dropping but it was coming back up each time, so they finally left to let us keep pushing.
Eventually I was able to push her head through the pelvic canal, but it was much harder than I thought it would be. Finally her head was starting to crown and the doctors came back in to get ready to deliver her. I remember that there was a lot of waiting in between contractions so that I could build up my strength. At that point her heart rate was still dropping when I pushed, and I asked the doctor if she though the cord was wrapped around her neck. She told me I was going to give birth naturally even if the cord was wrapped because I hadn’t needed any medication to move the labor along and my labor had moved along very rapidly. In the worse case scenario she said they might have to use suction to get the baby out if she wasn’t coming out quickly enough, but she said she thought I was close and wouldn’t need that.
When Beatrice Bao popped her head into this world the first crazy thing I noticed was that she was facing me! The bean was born sunny-side up or opposite from the way that she should have born, which explained why I had such intense back labor. Apparently when babies are born in reverse like that they push on the spine, and it’s a lot harder to push them through the birth canal. When her head came out the doctor said something like double neural cord wrapped, and then I watched her unwrap the cord from her neck.
And then as soon as the cord was unwrapped but before her shoulders were out she opened her mouth and started screaming! What a relief. I remember the nurse laughing in shock and telling us that most babies take a few minutes to start crying. Then they pulled her out and placed her on my chest. Beatrice had arrived:
It was so much more than I can write in words. Beatrice, we love you so much. We never knew that we were always waiting for you to arrive.