Santa Baby, Part 3: Hurry down the chimney

This is the final part of my three-part birth story. Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2.

Last I left you, I had just yelled something about my digestive system I haven’t uttered aloud since preschool with what I think was probably a lot of volume in a room full of strangers and the man who at some point in the recent past I had convinced to make a baby with me.

But so is the beauty of childbirth.

Anyway, Dr. Not-my-doctor-but-fine-anyway posted up with his catcher’s mitt as the urge to push descended on me. It wasn’t quite as strong or as much of a relief as I had read it could be. The contractions still hurt like a mother and I didn’t really feel like anything was coming out. It just HURT. So much so that my bovine moans turned into panicked, I’m-being-chased-by-an-axe-wielding-maniac screams. This is where my doula Rachel came in sooooo clutch. I think The Husband was holding my hand or one of my knees or something but probably also trying not to panic/pass out (as I surely would have been, in his situation), and while he was a hell of a support, neither of us knew what to do at this point. Rachel got in my face and kindly but very firmly told me I COULD NOT scream like that, that I was wasting my energy and not helping the baby out at all. She talked me off this ledge and I got back to the business of pushing for real.

The doctor and nurses started making excited-sounding comments, letting us know our baby had a full head of hair (as I fully suspected, having myself come into the world with what looked like an adult’s wig.) I think someone encouraged me to reach down and feel the baby’s head, and I tried to but I don’t remember it very clearly.

The pain was still incredibly intense and I was ready to get the baby out. I remember a thudding headache like when you’re trying to blow up a balloon that won’t expand but maybe multiply that by a few million. I tried to curve my body in a C position as I grabbed onto my leg. I remember it being difficult to push all the way through a contraction; I kept wanting breaks to breathe.

In a little more than a half hour from the time I started to push, I felt the weirdest sensation as the baby slid out. I opened my eyes wide for the first time in hours as the doctor lifted him to place him on my chest. I remember seeing his scrotum and being truly surprised it was a boy, having been sure it was a girl throughout my pregnancy.

IMG_23991The Baby was born at 3:36 p.m. on Christmas Day. He was placed on my chest and he cried. The Husband was gazing at him over my shoulder and I saw a tear fall on his cheek. I want to say I also cried tears of joy but I was so exhausted and relieved to be done with pushing that the happiness and the weight of motherhood hadn’t settled in me yet.

Trigger warning, this is where things get a little graphic (not too bad, but again – babies come out of human bodies), so scroll at your own risk.

The Baby’s umbilical cord was so short I think his exit basically pulled the placenta out right behind him. I remember the cord being stretched taut from where he lay on my chest to the place he just emerged from and telling the doctor it was hurting. I don’t remember pushing, but I do remember a huge gushing feeling right after. I dumbly asked the doctor, “Whoa, was that amniotic fluid?” The look on his face as he prepared a measured response so as not to alarm me made me realize that no, silly, it was about a gallon of blood.

The nursing team/cleaning crew got to work while the doctor placed a few painful but necessary stitches.

Really, though, all this was not a huge deal. I lost “on the high side of normal” amount of blood, so they started pumping me full of Pitocin to stimulate more uterine contractions.

The Dad cut the umbilical cord and got a good look at the placenta, which our childbirth instructor strongly encouraged dads to do, “because it’s so gross and so cool.”

We had narrowed our list of potential boy names down to two, and I let The Dad pick. The Baby was nursing within a half hour of delivery and kept at it for a full hour until we finally had to unlatch him to get his vitals.

The Dad, me, our Santa-hatted baby and our doula, Rachel.

In her final act of kindness and extreme helpfulness before she left, our doula took me into the bathroom and helped me get a little cleaned up before we made the trek to our recovery room. Someone put a hand-knit Santa hat on the baby. The nurses helped me into a wheelchair and fashioned a don’t-drop-the-baby sheet sling, we took a few photos and were wheeled down the corridor to introduce The Baby to our waiting family members and settle in for recovery.

So that’s it, my Christmas birth story in three parts. I have plenty more to say about the parts leading up to it and the aftermath, but I want to leave you with a few key points:

  1. I was really lucky. Every book and blog and childbirth educator and doctor tells you to go ahead and plan for the birth you want, but to understand that plans can change and you have to be able to adapt and be okay with whatever birth story you end up with. I feel very proud and empowered that I was able to have an unmedicated childbirth, but I am not smug about it. A lot of what happened was luck and circumstance. Fetal distress, or a ruptured placenta, or a spike in blood pressure or an upside-down baby or a long list of other circumstances completely out of my control could have changed how things went down. Hell, five more minutes of that “transition”-y labor and I would have been begging for someone to knock me out by whatever means necessary. My body was strong and I had amazing support and I got the birth I wanted and I don’t take it for granted. If your birth goes differently, it’s not a failure. (But you ARE allowed to mourn if it doesn’t go the way you planned. You are allowed to be happy for a healthy baby and be bummed about a C-section or a wicked tear. Mixed emotions are the right of all mothers and childbirth is hard work no matter how it shakes out.)
  2. I had an amazing team. My husband was great, from his successfully convincing me to go to the hospital when I was in complete denial, to his words of encouragement and his instantly protective and comforting approach to fatherhood as he let The Baby hold his finger while he was getting examined. He also was supportive and let me convince him to hire a doula, which was the best few hundred bucks we could have spent. She helped him help me better, kept us both calm, served as our birth historian (I’ve been consulting a stream-of-consciousness email she sent me tracking every event from the time we called her to the time she left the hospital) and checked in on me via text for weeks afterward. If you can afford it, even if you’re planning to get an epidural, I think it’s way worth it. They’re not hippie-dippy nutjobs who will shame you if you get the meds or try to force feed you your encapsulated placenta. They are there to support you in your choices, help you have the birth you want and help you adapt if things don’t go as planned. Learn more about doulas and find a few to interview if you’re thinking about it at DONA International.
  3. Don’t stress eat junk food while you’re in active labor. You will not be thinking, “Damn, I really wish I had grabbed a handful of cookies before we got here,” while on all fours feeling like your bones and organs are jockeying for front row seats to a cage match in your cervix. You just won’t.
Santa Baby, Part 3: Hurry down the chimney

Santa Baby, Part 2: Admitting I’m in labor

This is Part 2 of my three-part birth story. Catch up on Part 1.

We left off with me finally emerging from denial that I was in rapidly progressing labor on Christmas Day and getting into the car to meet the doula, and eventually my baby, at the hospital.

I buckled in for the 10-minute drive, clutching my phone with the contraction timer app and trying to focus on the imagery of waves crashing on the beach as I rode out three more contractions. As we pulled into the parking garage, I begged The Husband to “just fucking park now now nownownownownow” and as soon as he did I flung open the door so I could lean over the hood and not have to sit through another contraction.

As logistics would have it, The Husband’s hands were full of our hospital luggage and I was tasked with carrying in the birthing ball on my shoulder like an absurd parody of Atlas because my belly was in the way. We walked through the hospital doors and the receptionist gasped and clapped her hands together with glee. “A Christmas baby!” She said. I nodded, and a nearby doctor pulled a wheelchair around to help me into. I (hopefully) politely declined and said I’d rather walk, and the receptionist directed us to follow the arrows down a long series of hallways that was vastly different from our hospital tour.

Halfway between the gift shop and the elevators, I dropped to the ground with my front half on the birthing ball and waited out a contraction. A passing food services employee asked if I was all right and I think I said something witty in reply but probably not.

We got up to labor & delivery, and after answering absurd questions like my height and occupation while sitting on the birthing ball well below the receptionist’s line of sight at the desk, I was ushered into a triage room where a kind nurse asked me questions as quickly as she could and handed me two hospital gowns to put on – one facing front and one facing back. She allowed The Husband into the room while I was in the bathroom getting dressed, but first — another contraction! The Husband sounded a little panicky as he asked me if I was okay from the other side of the door, but I emerged in my new outfit and kicked my clothes to him to throw into my bag as a resident entered the room to check my progress.

A quick inspection of my downstairs confirmed it: I was 5 cm dilated. The nurse helped us to our labor room. It was about 12:30 by this time. The nurse had gone to call my doctor and let him know I was being admitted. She started to warn me he may not be able to come in, and we told her we knew it was unlikely he would.

The Husband met our doula Rachel and brought her back, and she immediately began to make herself invaluable, along with the very young but highly capable and enthusiastic nurses who were settling me in. Rachel did some magic with a bedsheet to make a stability-donut of sorts for the birthing ball, and draped another one over the ball itself so I wouldn’t get hospital floor filth on my exposed downstairs.

Let me pause to confirm that everything people tell you about losing any sense of shame/dignity while you’re in labor is 1,000% true. The President of the United States could have been chaperoning a class of fifth graders and a live camera crew to observe my labor and I would still have pulled my gown up like a crazed flasher to let the nurse get a better angle on my monitor belts. They told me a doctor would come by in a few hours to check my progress, congratulated me on my easy-to-read icons only birth plan (thanks, Rachel!), dimmed the lights (I think?) and left us to it.

My body decided I was not interested in sitting or lying on the bed AT ALL. I sat on the exercise ball for awhile and then moved up to leaning over the bed on a peanut ball that Rachel had supplied. She and The Husband started spoon-feeding me ice chips and it occurred to me how hilarious it was that I had been worried I’d get hungry/resent not being able to eat or drink anything at the hospital. As the contractions wore on I started to feel nauseated, a guaranteed side effect of wolfing down a handful of cookies while your contractions are 3 minutes apart.

The nurses kept having to come in and check my monitors, as I was squirming a lot and the one keeping track of baby’s heartbeat kept falling off and making alarms sound. On one of these return trips to reattach my belt, the nurse told me the doctor would be in to check soon. The on-call doctor seemed nice enough and really by this point it could have been the POTUS, a fifth-grader or a cameraman at the foot of the bed because it felt like the baby was on his or her way out and I really just needed someone who could catch. (Not to discount his contribution or the importance of having a qualified medical professional — this was just my state of mind at the time.)

My labor spirit animal, apparently.
Photo: By DjambalawaOwn work, CC BY 3.0

All I really remember from this time when things got really serious was that I felt far better keeping my eyes shut, and I was being louder than I ever though possible. (Imagine someone directing me to imitate a water buffalo, but to really project because I’m in the middle of a football stadium and I need someone in the upper decks to hear me clearly.) I’m sure the laboring moms with epidurals in neighboring rooms were thanking their lucky stars they hadn’t done anything so idiotic as to refuse drugs.

My doula’s notes tell me that it was about 1:35 when I started to enter “transition,” also known as “Reanna’s breaking point.” The contractions seemed to be almost continuous and I remember kneeling on the bed with the back up as high as it could go, me clutching the top and saying things like, “Oh God, I don’t think I can do this,” and thinking things to myself like, “Oh God, I think I am going to have to get an epidural soon.” I remember feeling like I needed to climb away from my body.

A few minutes after that the doctor came in to see how I was moving along. I was gravely certain he was going to tell me I was only 6 or 7 centimeters, and facing the prospect of hours more of this unimaginable pressure and pain. I flipped onto my back onto the bed to try to get this uncomfortable position over as quickly as possible. The doctor examined me and exclaimed with some degree of surprise that I was, “At least 9 centimeters.” He suggested that now might be a good time to break my water, since that hadn’t happened yet. I agreed, and he got to it. I would say more about this but I really don’t remember much. I was just relieved to be close to the end.

I still couldn’t really keep my eyes open and was in the hormone-induced fog that makes unmedicated labor survivable, but The Husband tells me that some scrambling took place in the room as people prepared for delivery. Rachel changed into her scrubs, I think probably some trays of instruments were assembled, and the doctor told me he’d be right back, and that the urge to push felt a lot like the urge to poop, so to let someone know if that feeling came.

I stayed in the bed sort of lying on my side, clutching the bed rails and mentally checking out as much as possible.

In the interest of telling how things really went down, and with apologies to friends, family and future employers who may stumble across this post, it felt like only seconds passed before I called out, “I have to POOP!!!!”

Stay tuned for the next exciting installment: Santa Baby, Part 3: Hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa Baby, Part 2: Admitting I’m in labor

Santa Baby, Part 1: Denial and sugar cookies

Santa Baby

Pull up a chair, kids. Here comes the birth story. (I’m not going to get too graphic, but babies do come out of human bodies, so if you don’t want to hear about mine, skip this series. Also, why are you reading mommy blogs if you don’t want to hear about this stuff?)

My birthday is December 20. So early on when I calculated my due date as New Year’s Eve, I knew I had doomed my unborn child to a birthday that would always be overshadowed to some extent by the hustle and stress of the holiday season.

My OB warned me not to go into labor on Christmas, because he’s a father of four young children and that’s basically the one day of the year he WILL NOT WORK. “It’s basically my Super Bowl,” he explained.

Me at 38 weeksI wanted my OB to help deliver my baby. He had been fantastic throughout my pregnancy, not just reassuring my husband and me about the medical side of things, but also giving us down-to-earth advice about parenthood peppered with just enough expletives, which made him very relatable.

In addition to that,we had hired a great doula, Rachel, to see us through what I hoped would be an intervention-free labor and delivery. And as a neurotically non-confrontational person who hates to inconvenience anyone, even though she assured me that she’d be ready with her go-bag no matter when labor hit, I didn’t want to have to call my doula into service and away from her family on Christmas.

So when I woke up at 3 a.m. on December 25th with one painful, 15-second long twinge, and then another, and then another, I leaned into denial as much as I could.

This is my first baby, I thought to myself. I could be in labor for days before this is over.

Maybe I can at least hold off until late into the night, when all the presents have been unwrapped and my doctor would do anything to get away from the battery-powered mayhem in his house.

I thought about a friend who labored over the course of three days, baking her baby a birthday cake on Monday and finally meeting him on Wednesday.

So I got out of bed, plugged in the Christmas tree and lay on the couch, hitting the timer on my contraction counter app, waiting to see if it was the real thing. While they were only about 20 seconds long and definitely bearable, contractions were coming no less frequently than eight to 10 minutes apart. Not having had much in the way of Braxton-Hicks contractions, I could tell this was probably labor.

At about 5:30 a.m. I went back upstairs and whispered to my husband, “We might meet our baby today.” Ever the sound sleeper, he mumbled an “mmmmm,” rolled over, and went back to sleep. (To his credit, once he processed what I had said, he woke up and came to check on me.)

Having known there was a chance I could go into labor and all hell could break loose in our small house, we had impolitely invited The Husband’s mom and siblings to find Airbnb accommodations nearby if they wanted to spend Christmas with us. We had plans to host them for a late breakfast before their other Christmas plans. Thinking again of my friend baking her baby’s birthday cake and imagining myself eating eggs and gracefully riding through the occasional mild contraction, I insisted around 9 a.m. that they should still come over. I filled up the bathtub and tried to relax, remembering I had read somewhere that a warm bath could slow labor.

I got dressed, and kjmmmmmmmmmmm788888888888888888888u

That above is my cat stomping across the keyboard, but it accurately reflects how things intensified after that. At about 10:30, The Husband decided it was time to call Rachel when he found me lowing like a cow, on all fours on the guest bed. She asked about the timing of my contractions and stayed on the line to listen through one. She affirmed that all signs pointed to real labor, but didn’t sound concerned that I was especially close to delivery. She told us to track contractions for the next hour while she prepared to drive up (she had about an hour’s drive to meet us) and call her if anything changed. The plan was for her to come to our house and then go to the hospital together.

The Husband’s family seemed reluctant to join us for breakfast (probably because they could hear me bellowing in the background when he called them). I kept ridiculously insisting they should come over while The Husband began to grow more and more concerned. I finally conceded that I would not be able to enjoy a plate of scrambled eggs and asked The Husband’s family to at least swing by and pick up their gifts and the gifts for other family they were going to visit.

At about 11:15 they showed up. The Husband went outside… I think to walk the dog one last time? Who knows. Anyway, while he did that, his mom rubbed my stomach while I had a contraction and told me it was probably about time to get to the freaking hospital. The Husband’s sister and brother kept a cautious distance and I felt a little like a feral dog they weren’t sure they could trust. The Husband returned a few minutes later, we said goodbye to his family (with his mother again reminding me to go to the damn hospital), and that was the end of our Christmas celebrations, as they were.

I still had it in my head that this was going to be a long labor, and I dreaded going to the hospital to be told I wasn’t far enough along, or to have labor slow on the drive there, or to beat Rachel to the hospital and not have her there to help us through delivery, so I kept stalling for time while The Husband grew more and more frantic, begging me to let him take me to the hospital.

But by the 11:45, The Husband pointed out that my contractions were consistently about 3 minutes apart and a good minute long, I had to concede that this was really happening. I told him to give me three more contractions and I’d go.

Because I am a nervous eater, I foolishly wolfed down a few sugar cookies I’d made the day before while The Husband threw our hospital bags and birthing ball in the car and called Rachel to tell her we were meeting at the hospital.

Click to read Santa Baby, Part 2: Admitting I’m in labor

Click to read Santa Baby, Part 3: Hurry down the chimney

Santa Baby, Part 1: Denial and sugar cookies