Well, I’m back at work now, so I feel like that I have to get August’s birth story written right now, or somehow I’ll never finish it.
This is a somewhat graphic tale. You’ve been warned. It’s also not short. So if you’re ready, as we say to Bea, Strap In!
During this pregnancy at around 35-36 weeks (maybe even sooner?), I started to feel my body’s tell-tale signs that it was preparing for birth. With Beatrice, these feelings had started at about 37 weeks. I had pelvic stretching and tingling and braxton hicks contractions that increased in frequency and intensity as the weeks progressed.
Some facts to note: Beatrice arrived 5 days before my due date (read her birth story here). I had two painful contractions in the middle of the night, and then my water broke at 1:23am (I was staring at my phone as I started to time the contractions). She was born at 10:14 am after a short lived epidural and two hours of pushing. She was sunny-side up and her cord was wrapped twice around her neck. She weighed 5 pounds, 13 ounces.
So this time around I was convinced that I was going to go into labor even earlier and that it was going to be fast. I was in fact pretty nervous that I would give birth too quickly and not be able to make it to the hospital. I was also Strep B positive (I had been with Bea too), which meant I needed to get to the hospital early so that I could have two rounds of antibiotics (each take a few hours) before the baby was born. I reached full term and began having even more intense braxton hicks at work, and each day I was sort of holding my breath and hoping I didn’t go into labor.
the timing: I was due on Monday, June 27th. That happened to be the Monday after San Francisco’s Pride celebration weekend. Many of the Pride celebrations during the weekend are concentrated around central hall, and in order to get to the hospital, we would need to drive from our neighborhood right through that area. I was of course imagining going into labor in the middle of Pride weekend and having to call an ambulance. Luckily for us, little Ace came way before that.
the story: I was 38 weeks pregnant on Monday, June 13th. On Tuesday, June 14th I had a board meeting, and so Wednesday, June 15th was technically my last day of work. I had a board retreat on Saturday, June 18th that I was planning to attend if I could.
All that week and the week before, my “signs” had been getting stronger. I had more stretching, more tingling, and more contractions. I literally every day thought, it could be today! But my contractions were never really painful or coming with any sort of consistency.
At my 38 weeks check-up on Monday, June 13th, my doctor did my pelvic exam and informed me that I was 3cm dilated and 75% effaced. I was like, what! whoa! My Obgyn said she thought I probably only had days left, and that she was pretty sure I wouldn’t have to worry about giving birth during Pride because she thought I wouldn’t make it that long.
Typically they tell you to monitor your contractions and wait until they’ve been coming at least every 5 minutes for one hour before you head in to the hospital. She told me that she shared my concern that I would have a very fast labor, and that I should have a low tolerance for contractions. If, she told me, I started to feel anything that felt like “real” contractions that were coming with any sort of consistency, I should go ahead and call Labor and Delivery (L&D) and let them know that I had been 3 cm/75% effaced when she checked on Monday.
It turns out (as many other experienced mamas were quick to point out) it’s not uncommon to dilate and efface in advance of birth (especially if it’s not your first labor), and it doesn’t necessarily mean the birth is immediately impending. Some women (I heard from a few) dilate in advance and stay that way for weeks before they go into labor.
Almost every evening that week, I started having contractions that seemed to be coming somewhat consistently (We started timing them. Viet put the bags my the door. We put our neighbor on standby.) and then they just petered off.
So I made it through work on Monday. . . and Tuesday. Wednesday morning I passed my mucus plug at work. I didn’t pass my mucus plug in advance with Bea (that I knew of), so I was like: WHOA. Because it was insane. I won’t go into detail here, but ask me about it in person.
Thursday morning I emailed my OBGYN to tell her that my mucus plug had passed the day before, and that I hadn’t experienced that before so I just wanted to make sure the symptoms I was having were normal (I wrote that I was sure they were). She wrote me back that based on my description she was slightly concerned I might be leaking my bag of waters and that I should call L&D ask to be admitted. So I hauled myself down to L&D. They checked me, and my waters were in tact. Baby August was still doing well, and I was still 3 cm dilated (womp womp) but fully effaced. The doctor who checked said the baby was very low and that she thought it would only be a few days. I’d heard that before, so I wasn’t convinced. 🙂
I’m pretty sure on Friday I experienced that surge of energy that people say sometimes happens right before you go into labor. I walked to two grocery stores and back, organized the apartment, and made gumbo from scratch (no joke). Looking back, yeahhhh, that was an energy surge (for sure).
This is me that day (I was definitely looking like a torpedo):
Saturday I went to the board retreat from 9am-1pm. I was pretty surprised that I still hadn’t gone into labor even though I was only 38 weeks and change. All week I kept thinking there’s no way I’m going to make it to Saturday. The retreat was at the fancy BCG offices downtown, and I just kept hoping and hoping that my water didn’t break while I was there. The awesomeness level of my birth story would not outweigh the embarrassment I would feel if I went into labor in front of our entire board and senior staff.
I was having brixton-hicks on and off throughout the retreat. I stood a couple of times during the conversations to try to alleviate my back pain (it had gotten real bad by the end). The retreat ended at 1pm, and I drove home.
I walked in the door about 1:15ish, went to the restroom, walked into Bea’s room and picked her up, and then felt a pop and a little bit of wetness. It wasn’t the gush that I’d had during my first labor, but I was pretty sure my bag of waters had popped. It was 1:23pm. (<–Crazily, I remembered later in the hospital that my water broke at 1:23am with Bea!) We called L&D, and they told us to come in. We waited for a half hour for our friends Connor and Beckett to come watch Bea, and then we went in.
On the drive I got nervous because I wasn’t having contractions. I immediately began thinking through the possibilities. I knew that if my labor didn’t start on its own that eventually they would worry about infection and have to give me pitocin to get things going. I was hoping to avoid any interventions this time around (more on this later). I started crying a bit and got myself a little worked up. I called our friend Amit, a pediatric oncologist, and he calmed me down. He asked why I was worried about pitocin, and I told him that I didn’t want to have to have any unnecessary interventions if at all possible. He reassured me that even if I did need it, that they would only give me a very small amount at a time. He also told me that they would wait 16 hours before they started pitocin.
I remember that I was slowly leaking water this whole time every time I moved. I was sitting on a towel in the car, and my dress was drenched. When I showed up at L&D and sat in the waiting room before they admitted me, I was sitting on the towel and thinking, this is my last chance to take a pregnancy selfie! ha.
It was a slow day at L&D, so they took us right into a delivery room. I remember as the nurse was walking me down the hall she told me that assuming that my waters had broken, I would definitely be staying until the baby arrived. I think that was the first time it really hit me, we’re going to meet our baby soon!
They hooked me up to the monitors, and I changed into my birth robe. I’m so glad I decided to buy one of these to wear instead of the hospital gown. It totally improved my mood. 🙂 I also got lots of compliments from the nurses :). (It’s from pink blush maternity and only costs $42!)
Then they needed to hook me up to an IV so they could start by antibiotics for the Strep B. It took 3 nurses five tries to get the IV in. I was still in a good mood and trying to stay positive, but it was not fun to be stuck so many times unsuccessfully. I had several bruises for a few days from the IV attempts. Stacy was one of the nurses they brought in to help find a vein, and we chatted a bit. She had just returned from maternity leave and had a 7 month old son at home.
They asked me if I was planning on having an epidural or any other pain medicine. I told them the story of Bea’s labor. That if I had known how dilated I was with her when I got the epidural (like 9-10 cm), then I never would have gotten one. I told them I felt like I could make it this time, especially if the labor was going to be faster. Stacy said, You can do it. I know you can do it.
And then we just kinda hung out. The monitors showed that I was having very weak contractions that I couldn’t feel and weren’t coming consistently. We watched Deadpool. I stood and walked around the room. I did squats (lots of them) and yoga moves to try to get things going. Nothing happened. We waited and waited and waited. They brought me food! I joked that I looked like a weird santa:
Around 7pm I started to get anxious again. I did a complete 180 of crazy and even thought maybe I should just get pitocin to get this party started. I texted Amit again. He told me that usually labor will start within a few hours of the waters breaking and given my first labor and all the symptoms I’d been having so far, he said it was likely that my body would kick in before I needed to get pitocin.
I asked him to send me some good pain vibes. 45 minutes later, literally right after my second round of antibiotics had stopped, I had my first real contraction. It’s funny how all those times in the weeks leading up to that moment I had thought, is this it? is it starting? But I should have known better. Those real you’re really in labor. this is actually happening contractions are obvious. There’s no ambiguity about those. They’re like getting slapped in the face. I yelled out immediately: It’s starting!
At that point our nurse had changed 3-4 times. It was a bunch of random things. Shift change, reassigning someone, etc, but the nurse we ended up with was awesome. It’s funny how in the moment you think you’ll never forget her name, but of course I can’t remember it now. She was really helpful and calm and supportive. She seemed younger than me. She had lightly dyed short blonde hair. It had pink or purple or blue streaks. She wrapped a yoga ball in a sheet for me, and I sat on the yoga ball with my arms up on the bed. She suggested I do intermittent monitoring, which basically meant I didn’t have to have the tightly strapped monitors on me that were constantly monitoring my contractions and the baby’s heartbeat. She came by every 20 minutes or so to check the baby’s heartbeat. That was a huge improvement over my last labor because I was off the bed and not hooked to the monitor.
I was so much calmer this time around. I had really prepared myself mentally this time, and I was in a total I’m going to rock this mindset. It really helped. I knew from the first labor the things that could have made the experience better, and I had a plan this time around. I did two key things differently this time around:
1. Positioning. I labored on the yoga ball. I had wanted to do this with Bea’s labor, but I was in too much pain and too overwhelmed by the pain to make it happen so I ended up switching between laboring sitting straight up in the bed during contractions and lying back when I wasn’t having them. no bueno. I was jack-knifing my body up and down. double no bueno. This time around I was on the labor ball from the get go. They got the bed at the perfect height so that I could rest my forearms on the bed. During a contraction I would rock my hips back and forth on the ball with my forehead resting on my arms, and my eyes closed. Viet would push my hips in and down like we’d learned in laboring class, which was a huge help for the pain.
2. Blocking out the world. Ok. Long story, long. . . but when I became pregnant with Bea I immediately imagined sunshine. Her energy and her color just shown as sunshine yellow in my mind. Meeting her would be like finding a sunny patch of sidewalk on a biting fall day. Like the warmth that fills you up when you’re picnicking in the park. It was my guiding inspiration. I knit her baby blanket in sunshine colors. When I became pregnant with August, before we even knew he was a he, I knew immediately the baby’s spirit was like the ocean. I know this seems nutsos, but stay with me. I pictured the baby’s energy was deep and calming and steady like the ocean. I imagined that meeting him would be like that feeling you get laying on the sand watching the waves crash.
I knew I wanted to have some music or sounds to listen to during the birth this time. With Bea’s labor another woman laboring across the hall was screaming bloody murder (more power to her), and I had a hard time concentrating. I knew I wanted to be able to block out the world so I could manage the pain.
So I had a playlist full of ocean sounds. Basically just the waves crashing over and over again. It was so calming and was exactly what I needed. I just listened to the waves and breathed through the pain.
About 15 minutes after my contractions started (around 8pm), our doctor (Dr. Mongo) who coincidentally had been the same doctor to deliver Bea (so random and awesome) came in to check to see how dilated I was. I sorta laughed at her and said something like it’s only been fifteen minutes. I’m sure I’m not that far along yet. She checked me and said I was 6cm. She said that they would follow my cues (since I was on intermittent monitoring) and that if I felt a significant increase in pain or if anything changed, to let them know.
So the laboring began. The pain itself felt doable to me. I had back labor with Bea, so this labor felt significantly less sharp and biting than the back labor had. The only kicker was that the contractions were coming so fast. I literally barely had time to take a few breaths between them. It felt like 20 seconds, and often the tail of one contraction would just amplify into the start of another. I didn’t talk much during this period, because I was mostly just rocking my hips, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the waves as Viet pushed on my back. But several times I would gasp between the contractions and yelp at Viet, aren’t these coming fast? It seems like I’m not getting any break. He agreed.
I remember feeling really bad for him that I was on the yoga ball because he had to squat on his knees behind me to help support my lower back, and I remember feeling so guilty and thinking that he must be in a lot of discomfort. He later reassured me it wasn’t that bad. 🙂
I was listening to the playlist on spotify using my phone, but I forgot to put it in “do not disturb” mode. So all of a sudden the calming sound of the waves was broken by my annoying ring tone. My brother, Dirk, was calling me. I was so startled and frustrated by the pain, I almost threw the phone against the wall. Love you, Dirk. Only you would call me in the middle of labor to chat.
Anyways, after about an hour and change, I had one very long contraction. It felt like it went for almost two minutes, and it felt weird. Like I thought I could feel him moving down there. I remember saying something to Viet during the contraction about how long it was and that it just wasn’t stopping, and then when it was over, I remember telling him that it wasn’t more painful than the others but that it felt different and that maybe something had changed.
and then. . . all of a sudden. . . I immediately felt as though I was actively, literally pushing the baby out onto the yoga ball. It was like I could feel his head pushing onto the ball, and just like that I started screaming:
Help! I’m pushing! I can’t stop! He’s coming! Help me! I can’t stop pushing! He’s coming! He’s coming! Help!
It was such a panicked, fearful feeling. I think it was maybe the scariest few minutes of my whole life. My entire body was singularly focused on pushing the baby out, and I was doing everything I could to hold him in.
I remember that Viet was running around like crazy. Later he told me that he couldn’t find the nurse call button at first, but finally did. He also told me later that after he had called the nurse and while I was screaming he had squatted down behind me and outstretched his arms like a catcher in case he needed to catch the baby.
In the moment it all seemed like it went so fast. One moment I felt his head pushing onto the ball. The next, I was screaming. The next, five nurses were running in telling me not to push, to wait for the doctor. They helped me up on to the bed. I was on all fours, and they cut or ripped off my underwear. Someone asked me if I could lay down on my back, and I yelled, “NO.” It was everything I could do to even say that because every inch of me was focused on not pushing. I didn’t even feel contractions or pain at that point, I just felt this indescribable pressure. Like a champagne cork. I remember they rotated me as I was on all fours on the bed so that my head was facing the top of the bed, and Stacy (the nurse from before) told me I could grab on to the top of the bed to push.
I remember that I didn’t know Dr. Mongo was there until she said, “Meredith, it’s Dr. Mongo. You’re 10 centimeters. You can go ahead and push the next time you feel a contraction.”
But all I heard was “it’s Dr. Mongo,” and I took a deep breath and started pushing. There was no contraction. There was just the pressure. I felt his head pop out, and then I heard someone say “Take a breath and when the next contraction comes you can push again,” but I just get pushing because I still felt the pressure. It was in that moment that I was pushing the rest of his body out that Viet said to me, “You got this. Like a boss.” And if I hadn’t been literally pushing out Ace’s body in that moment, I would have laughed. It was too perfect.
And boom. Just like that, two pushes and 1.5 hours of labor later, August was born at 9:18pm the night before Father’s day.
I shakily stood up. I was standing on my knees on the bed, and they handed me the baby through my knees. I remember I was looking up and someone said something like, “Look down. grab the baby.” I grabbed him even though my whole body was shaking and brought him to my chest (luckily the cord was long. they were like-whoa!whoa! but then it was fine). and then I just held him shaking for a moment until I realized I couldn’t lay down holding him like that, and I handed him to Stacy and then lay down and she laid him on my chest.
She told me, “I knew you could do it!” and she said “It’s a good thing most women don’t birth babies like you, or we’d all be out of a job!” ha. I’ll never forget that. Like a boss. I think it may have been a bit scary for them too.
and then it was just blissful. My placenta came out this time with no trouble and I only needed one tiny little stitch. I do remember that my whole body was cold and shaking for a long time after that. I think they said it was probably the aftershocks of the pitocin they gave me to birth the placenta. I remember that he didn’t nurse for a while. He just lay there angelically. I don’t think we have many photos of those moments, because it was night out and the room was dark. It was magical.
I remember they waited a while to weigh him, and when they finally did and told us he was 7 pounds we were both shocked. I had thought he was much bigger than Bea my whole pregnancy, but my doctor had said over and over again that she was sure he was going to be a very small baby, most likely not more than 6 pounds.
It was a crazy, whirlwind of a birth, but I’m so very, very grateful that everything happened exactly the way it did. I’m grateful that I hadn’t gone into active labor when my water broke, so we were able to make it safely to the hospital. I’m grateful I wasn’t having contractions yet, so that I could get both round of the antibiotics for strep b. I’m grateful that I was able to labor on my own on the yoga ball exactly as I had envisioned it, and that I was able to birth him safely. I am so very grateful for all the nurses and doctors who cared for us, and I am so, so, so very grateful for my husband whose calm, supportive presence is all I ever need. Like a boss. I am grateful and humbled by the experience that felt a lot like those first few moments when you run into the ocean, and you are swept up in something so much bigger than yourself.