Childbirth, and all of the details surrounding it, was a taboo word for me pretty much up until beginning my ninth month of pregnancy.
Once I hit the 36th-week mark, however, some panic over the unknown set in and I suddenly wanted to feel prepared for what was ahead. I was lucky that Arnie found a childbirth class for us to attend; it was an all-day live instruction course held at a local hospital. Since it was live, we were able to ask questions and experience hands-on techniques for managing labor.
I cannot overstate how worthwhile the childbirth class was; I felt so much more at ease afterwards. It covered multiple topics including breathing and labor techniques, pain management options, the stages of labor, and when to go to the hospital. I highly recommend finding a live course and taking it as close to your due date as possible. (Since our little girl came two weeks early, our class ended up being the week before her arrival–we were very lucky!)
My Childbirth Story:
Monday, January 7 (20 days before due date)
During our weekly OB appointment, the doctor told us that my body was already preparing for labor and that she expected our little girl would arrive early–she estimated within the next ten or so days. From that point forward, I had a nagging feeling that it would be my last work week. I worked long days all week to ensure all of my loose ends were tied up, just in case she arrived early.
Saturday, January 12 (15 days before due date)
8:00 a.m. – Still feeling like our baby girl was not far away, Arnie and I got up early and went to a coffee shop, where we enjoyed some alone time and made plans for the day ahead. I was adamant that we prepare some meals to freeze for post-baby and do some deep cleaning in the apartment. As we were grocery shopping, just the walking around had me feeling like I needed to sit down–I definitely had a sense that things were progressing, I just didn’t know how quickly.
This feeling continued throughout the day–I took several breaks while cooking, and sat as often as I could. All day, I had a sense that things felt different–which I would describe as more pressure associated with her “dropping”–but again, I didn’t know how soon this meant she would arrive.
11:30 p.m. – After an hour of tossing and turning, I found myself unable to sleep because of relentless back pain and what felt like strong menstrual cramps. I wasn’t experiencing contractions in the way that I thought I would–a tightening of my abdomen, similar to Braxton Hicks contractions–so I didn’t think I was in labor. Since the pain wasn’t going away, I finally went to get Arnie to tell him I thought something was wrong and that we should call the doctor. After some Google searching (by Arnie), we realized that the back pain and strong menstrual cramps were actually signs of early labor, and we started to time the contractions. From there, I worked to manage the increasing pain (which at that point was more of a strong cramp) by sitting on an exercise ball, or kneeling over the arm of the couch and practicing deep breathing.
Sunday, January 13 (14 days before due date)
4:00 a.m. – As the contractions intensified, I decided to take a bath. Being in the water helps so much to relieve pressure; this is one of the tips that we received during childbirth class. I probably stayed in the tub for close to 45 minutes, continuing the breathing techniques. The bath definitely allowed me to labor at home for as long as possible.
5:00 a.m. – I finally woke Arnie up and told him I thought we needed to start making our way to the hospital–which we luckily only live a mile from. Since you’re not able to eat anything once you get to the hospital and I was already feeling hungry, I had a small snack while Arnie went out to start the car and pack it with our hospital bags. At this point, I just kept watching the clock until 6:00 a.m., wanting to be at home as long as I could manage.
6:15 a.m. – We arrived at the hospital and were admitted to the Triage room. Standard protocol is to monitor patients for two hours in Triage before moving them to Labor & Delivery. I was so worried that I was going to be sent home–I got the feeling that the hospital staff often thinks first-time moms come much earlier than necessary–but the doctor announced that my cervix was already 4 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced–which meant that all of those hours laboring at home got me past the early labor stage and into the active labor stage. Our little girl was coming that day! I provided my birth plan to the nurse (I also recommend having a birth plan prepared–I used this post to help me create a basic plan) and we went over my wishes for pain management. I wanted to labor as long as I could without an epidural and I did not want any stadol. That being the case, once arriving at the hospital, I continued to work through the contractions with breathing, walking around, and using a birthing ball.
Early Labor – 0 cm to 3 cm
Active Labor – 4 cm to 7 cm
Transition – 7 cm to 10 cm
7:00 a.m. – We were moved into the Labor & Delivery room, and I was checked again for progress. At that point, I was 5 centimeters dilated. The resident doctor contacted my OB to let her know the status and she advised them to break my water. From the childbirth class, I knew that having your water broken by the hospital staff would make the contractions even more intense, so I told the nurse I wanted the epidural before they broke my water. I’m not sure what time I got the epidural, but once I did, I was able to rest–which was very much welcomed after laboring those six hours through the night. I already felt exhausted and knew I would need energy once we started pushing. You will have control over how often you want to receive medication through the epidural–you can press a button every 10 minutes for it to be released–but I only pressed it twice throughout the labor period. I didn’t want to feel nothing, I just wanted to feel some relief.
Throughout the rest of the morning, the doctor periodically checked my cervix for progress. The general guideline is that you’ll dilate 1 centimeter per hour. Once the cervix is 10 cm dilated, 100% “thinned”, and the baby is making its way downward, you’ll be able to start pushing. Since I was at 5 centimeters at the time of receiving the epidural, I knew my body still had several hours to go until I could start pushing.
1:00 p.m. – Somewhere between 1:00 and 1:30, my OB checked my progress again and announced we were ready to push. You’ll push during the contractions so that your pushing is working in parallel with your body’s natural contracting. If you’ve had an epidural, you won’t feel the same intensity of the contractions so it can be difficult to know if/when one is coming.
I ended up pushing for a little over two hours. Luckily, during that time, the baby’s vitals were showing no sign of distress so, despite pushing for a long time, it wasn’t necessary to move towards an emergency c-section. Because of the epidural, I would say that the process of giving birth was not as bad as I had imagined it would be. I’m sure those who deliver without any pain management would have a totally different childbirth story to tell. As a friend of mine put it, “because of the epidural, I was able to enjoy my deliveries.” I agree with this sentiment. I felt like I was able to enjoy the process.
Finally after 15 hours of labor, our sweet girl arrived at 3:31, weighing in at 5 pounds and 13 ounces. I can’t even describe what it feels like to see your baby for the first time; Arnie and I were both crying and filled with emotion. We were able to have skin-to-skin for an hour after birth; during this time the mother also breastfeeds for the first time. In a way, that experience almost didn’t feel real–it felt like 5 minutes. You’re waiting so long for this little one to arrive, and then they do, and there is so much emotion upon seeing them that it’s almost like an out of body experience.
When I think back on it, it was easily the best moment of my life. Being there with Arnie to welcome our baby into the world. I can completely understand why people forget the pain of labor because the moment you hold your child for the first time, nothing else matters. It is truly a feeling that cannot be described.