Trigger warning: While our birth story has a happy ending, if you’ve been through something similar, you could find our experience particularly triggering. Possible triggers – placental abruption, preterm labor, low birth weight, emergency c-section, birth trauma, fetal distress, NICU
Braxton Hicks…or so I thought
Before I went to bed on April 2, I wrote in my pregnancy journal that I was having pressure that evening. At first, I thought it was gas pressure, and then I thought I was finally experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions. Boy, was I wrong! I had no idea as I was writing in my journal that evening, that I was beginning to write my birth story!
The pressure kept happening throughout the night (I awoke to a little more pain each time). I remember noticing it had changed from pressure to pain, but since I was able to fall asleep easily each time, I honestly didn’t think too much about it.
Around 4:45 am, I woke up in enough pain and I knew I couldn’t sleep anymore. I googled Braxton Hicks contractions and read that they’re random, don’t intensify, and are irregular. So, I immediately opened up my Ovia pregnancy app to use the contraction timer.
I think we need to call the doctor!
After an hour of progressing (what I thought might be) contractions, I realized something wasn’t right. Even my pregnancy app said something like “your contractions are 4 minutes apart, contact your doctor!”.
Around 6 am, Rob woke up and asked if I was ok. “I think we need to call the doctor, I think I’m having regular contractions!”. He called the after-hours nurse line to tell them I was experiencing contractions 4 minutes apart. They told us to head to the hospital and asked how soon we’d be there. Rob told them 20-30 minutes and we finally got out of bed.
I got up to get dressed, ready to get some relief and get back home. I begrudgingly grabbed my toiletry bag, that I keep stocked in our linen closet, just in case. While throwing on my only pair of maternity leggings and a t-shirt, I grabbed an extra t-shirt, and a pair of underwear.
This isn’t really happening…right?
I decided I should go to the bathroom before we headed out and when I was done saw a small clump of what looked like bloody discharge, but once again, shrugged it off. I wasn’t in real labor, I told myself. Not this early.
Rob grabbed a bag of snacks (again, just in case!) and I asked about our dog, Bella. We decided we’d play it by ear, both still assuming we’d be coming back home later that morning. We finally pulled out of the garage and headed to the hospital around 6:30 am.
Wanting to make sure that our parents knew what was going on (and to get some prayers for this ordeal being over), I pulled out my phone on the way there. I text them all the same message “FYI – on the way to the hospital. Started having consistent contractions so they’ve asked us to come in.” I don’t remember too much else about the drive over. I was just focused on breathing and using what I had learned in the couple of Hypnobirthing classes we’d completed thus far.
What I remember the most was we had some trouble figuring out where exactly to turn in when we arrived. Since we didn’t get to actually go on a real tour because of Covid-19, we had to turn around a couple of times! Once we got to the entrance, there were no empty “Laboring Women” parking spots near the door. Rob asked if I wanted him to drop me off while he went to park and I immediately said “NO! Just park illegally on the curb, I don’t care!” I didn’t know what would happen if he wasn’t with me since we would have to be screened at the door for Covid-19 and I was only allowed one visitor.
Covid screening and a neverending scavenger hunt
We went in and immediately came to a screening area. We were asked the questions that I would, in the near future, come to answer what seems like an infinite number of times. After answering the screening questions, the screening guy said “Here’s hoping you have that baby today.” And it kind of truly hit me for the first time. I could have the baby…today. I thought to myself “well I hope that I don’t!” Then they sent us on what felt like an unending scavenger hunt!
From the screening desk, they sent us to the main security desk (just 10 feet away, ha!). Then up the elevators to an upstairs security desk where we had to show our IDs. From there, we were sent to the maternity nurses’ desk, where I had to sign paperwork, give insurance info, etc (and that was with pre-registration). Until that point, the hospital was eerily still and quiet. We only passed by employees. I remember when we got to the maternity desk, the nurses were in the middle of their shift change and it was so chaotic. It was really quite overwhelming.
While we were waiting for them to get the paperwork in order, a nurse came up with a wheelchair and I remember thinking “that’s a bit much for someone who ISN’T ACTUALLY having a baby today! You can save that stuff for someone who actually needs it!”. I obliged and sat in the chair, and once Rob was done, they wheeled me off to a triage room.
Even my underwear?
I had no clue the room would be SO small! Basically just big enough for a hospital bed, monitor, and a chair for Rob. The nurse came in and showed me to a room for me to undress and provide a urine sample. I had NO clue what was really going on, there was very little explanation. She handed me the bright pink “personal belongings” bag and told me to undress and place my clothes in the bag. I remember asking, “even my underwear?” for some reason. She said yes, and I internally rolled my eyes then set about the tasks I’d been given.
After changing into my hospital gown, I checked myself out in the mirror, making sure nothing was hanging out. This makes me laugh so hard in retrospect. That’s what I was concerned about! Needless to say, my contractions weren’t ridiculously painful (yet).
Time to monitor things
I made my way back to the triage room and the nurse checked my blood pressure. She seemed alarmed and said, “Your blood pressure is high!”. I asked her how high, and she just said “HIGH!” without really answering my question. Side note: Rob waited over a month to tell me that my blood pressure was 180/100 at that time. And no, I didn’t have preeclampsia or anything like that. During my pregnancy, my BP would get a little elevated while I was at the doctor’s office, but pretty normal at home. They monitored it carefully, but never saw anything that truly made it a concern.
Anyway, the nurse used my urine sample to check the protein in my urine, and everything looked normal. They kept the blood pressure cuff on me throughout labor to monitor it and it came way down from that initial reading.
They then put the monitor on me to keep track of the baby. My contractions were getting progressively worse, but they weren’t THAT terrible. I’ll admit that I have a pretty high pain tolerance. I used the little bit of hypnobirthing training I had and took super long deep breaths when a contraction came, trying to ride the wave. There were definitely some contractions that kind of took my breath away that made me want to hold my breath, but Rob would remind me to breath and it helped so much.
The baby is in distress
During all of this, I was reclined on my back. That is until I realized I was experiencing back labor. As the contractions became stronger and stronger, the pain and pressure I felt in my back intensified. I decided to roll onto my left side. The side that I always tried to sleep on during my pregnancy because it’s supposed to provide the most blood to your uterus. That’s when things truly started to get scary for us. A nurse came in and said, “the baby doesn’t like the way you’re laying, can you switch to your other side?”.
It had honestly not dawned on me that something could happen to my baby. That one or both of us might not make it through this day. All I could think of at this point was them stopping my labor. After everything we’d been through to create our miracle baby, this could not be happening!
They came in to put an IV in so they could start the drugs to slow contractions in hopes that I wouldn’t have the baby yet. They tried to insert the IV in my right hand and forearm, probably 4 different times, then they tried as many times on my left. Several nurses tried, but couldn’t get a vein – something about me being too swollen – which to this day, Rob and I honestly have no clue what they were talking about.
I remember that they kept apologizing for sticking me so many times, and I kept thinking, “please shut up, that is the least of my concern!”. Especially because needles don’t bother me. They were moving and rolling me into different positions, but I didn’t care at all. I was just focused on breathing.
They made the decision to place the IV in the crook of my left arm. They advised that they didn’t prefer this, because I would have to keep my arm straight through the duration of everything and that isn’t ideal. Once again, just wanting this to all be over so I could go home and rest, I told them it was fine! The IV was finally placed and they began the drugs to slow labor.
Trying to halt labor, refusing an epidural, and the possibility of an emergency C-section
The doctor finally came in (not my regular doctor, which is standard, at least in my area) to check up on me. She advised that they were doing what they could to stop my labor, but if the baby was distressed, they may have to perform a c-section in order to prevent brain damage for the baby! Even though that was extremely scary to hear, I still didn’t really grasp that something could happen to the baby. I’d dreamt of this baby for years, and couldn’t fathom him not making it.
The doctor asked if I wanted to go ahead and get an epidural and I said no. I’ve wanted to give birth naturally since I was very young. I knew that if I really needed one and I ever felt like it was best for me or the baby that I would concede and get one. But now was not that time. She then let me know that if I ended up needing an emergency c-section and had not received an epidural, they would have to place me under to perform the c-section. I told her I understood but wasn’t in the place where I thought an epidural was necessary. They asked me my pain level and I told them it was about a 6. Oh, how I wish that it would have stayed like that!
The next thing I remember was them checking me the first time. It hurt, so bad! I’m still not sure why. We heard 3 cm dilated and “bulging sac”. She then started to ask about our birth plan, then stopped herself and said, “well I’m not even going to ask about that right now!” Looking back I should have realized that my birthing experience probably wasn’t going to look how I intended it to.
Moving to labor and delivery
They decided to go ahead and move me to a labor and delivery room. My pain was much worse by this time. My back was in knots! I remember laying down in the hospital bed, the 90’s style artwork on the walls whizzing by, the wheels echoing down the empty hallway.
After arriving to the MUCH larger room (thank goodness, cause I was getting a little claustrophobic) I climbed into the hospital bed that I would eventually deliver my baby in. For some reason, the thing that sticks out the most was the nurse assistant that kept checking the cabinets, asking if there was a peanut ball – like she was really concerned about it. And the nurses ignored her. She came back, peanut ball in hand, gladly putting it in the empty cabinet. I thought “I guess they ignored her because I’m not giving birth today.”
I was asked again about an epidural, and again I refused. Although the thought did cross my mind. After the move to labor and delivery, my pain intensified, a lot. “Maybe I should just get an epidural so I won’t be in so much pain. It sucks that I’m feeling all this pain and I’m not even going to give birth today!” I thought.
I told Rob he should leave to go move the car to a real spot, and he asked my L&D nurse if she thought it’d be ok if he stepped out for a few minutes. He was so concerned he wouldn’t make it back in time if something happened. I honestly don’t remember him being gone, I just really focused and centered myself until he returned.
This is my birth story
I continued to breathe and hold Rob’s hand through the contractions. Except I had transitioned from calm, zen breathing to more painful grunting. I remember saying “I need something for this pain in my back!”.
I also kept bending my arm (with the IV) and which set an alarm off. My labor and delivery nurse was clearly annoyed by this and constantly fussed at me to keep my arm straight.
As my pain intensified, and the reality of what was actually happening settled in, I looked at the bathtub in the room, and thought about the birthing and peanut balls, and realized I wouldn’t be laboring how I had planned at all.
I never wanted to be the girl tied to the bed, laying down through it all. In my hypnobirthing classes, they reiterate over and over that when the baby and mom are safe and healthy, that birthing is not a medical event. I so wanted my birth story to be me in the tub, bouncing on a birthing ball, or walking through my contractions. That, unfortunately, wasn’t my reality, and it was finally setting in that this was my birth story. Luckily, everything progressed so quickly, I didn’t have time to dwell on that.
It’s getting real
Everything happened so quickly, that it wasn’t until I was almost done with laboring that Rob turned on my birthing meditation from my hypnobirthing class. But man, the moment I heard the music and the woman’s voice, it honestly felt like I was floating above my body and I felt so relaxed like I could take a nap.
Just as I got to a totally peaceful state, they asked me if I’d like to go to the bathroom, and I said yes. That was when $#!t got real! As I was peeing I had the worst contraction. Since I could feel everything and I was intuitive to my body, I almost felt I should push as I was sitting there. I moaned loudly in pain until my labor and delivery nurse came to get me.
As she was helping me up I said “there’s blood now!” – I guess thinking that was my mucus plug (pretty sure I was way past that in hindsight!). The nurse was just like “that’s ok!”. I got back in the bed, and they told me the doctor was coming back in to check me.
I’m having this baby…today!
I heard “10 cm” this time. To put this in perspective, I had only been at the hospital for a couple of hours! I had basically gone from 0 to 100 – while on medication that should have delayed or completely stopped me from laboring. The OBgyn said “you’re 10 cm dilated. We’re going to break your water and you’re going to push. Since you didn’t get an epidural, you’re going to give birth naturally, ok?” And I thought, “yeah, that was my goal!” Ha!
The doctor warned us that the room was about to “get a lot smaller!”. She wasn’t lying – all of a sudden, there was like, what felt like 10-15 people in the room. They were mostly NICU and neonatal staff there to check the baby as soon as he was out. All of a sudden there were bright lights, and I was wiggling myself into the birthing stirrups.
The doctor took her place, let me know she was breaking my water and I would feel a gush. I then got ready to push. Anyone familiar with hypnobirthing knows, that you are taught not to forcefully push the baby out. I “breathed” through one of my contractions (surges in hypnobirthing) and the doctor and nurse both said, “don’t breathe through your contraction. Push like you’re going to the bathroom!”
Giving birth the old fashioned way
I was once again reminded how this day was not going to go like it was planned. Since my baby was so early, and possibly in danger, I felt it was best to work with the staff, instead of advocating for the birthing experience we originally wanted. On my next contraction, I pushed – hard!
I had read about the ring of fire before, and that definitely perfectly described the sensation of the baby making his way out. It was honestly bearable, but I also wouldn’t have wanted to feel that pain for hours, if that makes sense.
Thinking back to my Hypnobirthing class, our instructor told us that if you felt like you needed to push that you should feel empowered to. I felt a surge coming on and I looked up and said “Can I push?!” and they said “yes! If you feel like you need to!”. That little moment helped me to feel like I had a little bit of control in the situation.
So I pushed for the 2nd time. After the fact, I realized that I didn’t make a sound, and I didn’t break a sweat. I was laser-focused on making my pushes productive. I was so glad I was active during my entire pregnancy. And I’m so glad I had made it through half of my Hypnobirthing classes. I know that helped me not only have the endurance I needed but to also focus my mind and let my body do what it naturally knew how to do.
Another contraction came and I focused all my energy – and suddenly, he was here! I cannot wrap my mind around how quickly I labored or how quickly he arrived once I started pushing. All I remember being able to say was “Oh my gosh!” when he came out. It was like I was still in disbelief!
They grabbed him up and asked Rob if he wanted to cut the cord. I remember saying “is it not too early?!”. When I initially spoke to my doctor about their after birth protocol I was so excited that they did delayed cord clamping, and would even let the cord stay intact as long as you wanted. The nurse said “30 seconds is the protocol for preemies!”. Since I didn’t intend on having a preemie (who does) I knew nothing about it and just trusted the medical personnel to do the best thing for me and my baby.
After Rob cut the cord, they took Langston to the side to make sure he was ok. In those moments, I was in shock. I felt both whole and empty at the same time. I felt so helpless and tried to listen to anything they were saying. They said his weight out loud and I asked Rob “what did they say?”. “3 lb 8 ounces!” he said. “Is he ok?” I asked Rob. And he assured me he was. I felt emotionally numb in those moments. They finished cleaning him up and then placed him in my arms.
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
Once again all I could muster was “Oh my gosh!” when I was finally face to face with my son. He was the most beautiful thing I’d ever laid my eyes on. He looked nothing like I expected, even though I had no idea what he looked like! The first time I laid eyes on his precious face will forever be seared in my brain.
Rob took our first picture together, then, since they placed him in my left arm (where my IV was) my nurse fussed at me for bending my arm! I reached across with my other arm to cradle him so I wouldn’t get in trouble and Rob snapped a couple more photos. The next little bit is a blur. In the pictures Rob took, I’m intensely looking up at the L&D nurse like I’m listening. I think she was telling us that they were going to take the baby to the NICU. She then asked if we’d like her to take a picture of the 3 of us. “The dad is important too!” she said. We got a few photos of the 3 of us, and then our son was taken away to the NICU.
The doctor said “we’re going to deliver the placenta now. It shouldn’t take much because it’s detached already.” That was the first we’d heard that! She then grabbed the umbilical cord and the placenta just came right out. She explained that I’d had a placental abruption that caused me to go into preterm labor. They wanted to keep an eye on my blood pressure in case that’s what caused it.
I had a 1st-degree tear and she told me she was going to put one stitch in. I held my breath expecting pain, but didn’t really feel anything.
Just a few moments earlier, the room was bustling with life and energy, then in just a blink of the eye the air in the room was so still, so quiet. We were still utterly in shock. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what just happened. I remember looking at Rob and saying “I guess you’re not going to the grocery store today.”
They explained that I could order lunch if I wanted, and while we waited for it to arrive, we discussed how we had to finally settle on a name, and that we needed to go buy a car seat to bring the baby home. You know, normal stuff (ha!). By the way, that grilled chicken sandwich, broccoli, and sweet potato fries felt like the best meal I’d had in a long time!
I had to wait on a permanent room, so I casually ate my lunch and rested in the labor and delivery room. I remember thinking how bizarre but natural it was to lay in a puddle of my own blood and fluid (which continued to seep out of me as I ate lunch and spoke with my husband).
The part most don’t talk about
It was so weird to have had my baby with me every second of every day for 7 months, and now, they were just…gone. They were in the hospital somewhere separate from us while I laid on a glorified puppy pad and ate cold fries.
They finally let my nurse know that the baby was stable and settled enough for us to visit – separately. Honestly, my heart just couldn’t wrap itself around this situation. I struggled with thinking this was unfair, while also knowing how lucky I was that my baby was born alive. My nurse told Rob to go visit while they got me cleaned up and ready to head to the room.
She helped me to the toilet and handed me my peri bottle. She didn’t really explain how to use it before stepping out of the room briefly to answer a question. I remember that the water was too warm, ouch. She returned and handed me my huge pad. I know all you Mamas know this already, but this thing is not a pad. It’s a diaper. Period. She then helped me stumble into my mesh underwear. I’ve heard terrible things about them, but I remember feeling so proud to have them on. I wore them like they were a badge of honor.
Visiting the NICU
After I was cleaned up and my room was ready, my nurse wheeled me down to the NICU to see the baby. She showed me how to scrub in, and sanitize my phone. Then she wheeled me to the wing of the NICU the baby was in. I stood up from my wheelchair and stood over his bed, he wasn’t yet under his incubator lid yet, so I could see him clearly.
He was so small, and hooked up to the machines, but they told me he was stable and doing well. He scored great on his APGAR test, and they mentioned that HE did not know he was only 31 weeks old. I was so proud of our little warrior! I then asked the neonatal nurse how long he would have to stay there, thinking it’d just be a few days. What came out of her mouth next, knocked all of the air out of me, “Usually premature babies stay until their due date. So probably about two months.”
My nurse asked me if I was ready. I nodded and she wheeled me to my room (even though, no, I was not ready. How could I be ready to leave my little one’s side?). After she parked me I just hopped out of the wheelchair and into the bed, and she almost had a heart attack! “I’m not used to having mothers who’ve done it naturally and don’t need assistance!” she exclaimed.
My recovery nurse helped me use the bathroom again and taught me how to properly use the peri bottle (I was doing it wrong since I was left to my own devices previously), and helped me to change once again.
So much to process
When she finally left, Rob, able to see I wasn’t myself, asked “what’s wrong?”. “The baby is going to have to be here two months,” I barely muttered with a twinge of pain on my face. He too had that moment of let down that I did.
There’s so much more to our stay, but I’ll try to post later about our hospital and NICU experience. We were so in love with our angel baby, and our hearts so longed to have him in the room with us. But more importantly, I had listened to my body and successfully delivered him naturally. Everything didn’t go exactly as we planned (does it ever?) but we had our sweet boy with us on the earth, and there’s ultimately nothing more we could have asked for given the circumstances.
It took me a while to process Langston’s birth story. I was so proud of us after I gave birth, but I did have a little bit of trauma that I had to work through. Ultimately, I choose to accept it for how it happened, even if I have moments of wishing it was closer to our plan. Oh, and I would give birth naturally again in a heartbeat. It honestly could have ended so differently, and for that we will be eternally grateful.
Woo! That was a doozy, thanks for sticking with me if you did! I’m finally finishing up Langston’s birth story on his 4 month birthday. He is more than we ever imagined or wished for. And ultimately, I would have gone through anything to just lay my eyes on his face for 1 second. Rob and I will forever be bonded by that short window of time. Where we conquered both the scariest and happiest day of our lives, all by ourselves. I hope one day Langston (Baby A) and I will look back on his birth story as the day that we both proved what we were made of.