It was January 6th. Hutch was 41 weeks and 2 days past his due date of December 28th. An ultrasound was scheduled today to assure he was doing well with his extra time in my baby oven. The ultrasound showed that he was doing great. I, however, had excess amniotic fluid or polyhydramnios. When I asked what risk this could have, I got two equally alarming answers which included the worst word for any mother to hear: “stillbirth” or a description of what could happen if my water broke at home and the umbilical cord prolapsed with instructions to “do a handstand and call 911”.
After this ultrasound, we went out of the way to get some good and spicy Thai food. The restaurant ended up being closed with a sign on the door saying they needed a cook. As we got back in the car, the midwife called me to say that she collaborated with the fetal medicine doctor and decided that I should come in to be induced. While I was trying to avoid an induction, I have to say that I was a bit relieved I wouldn’t be finding myself at home trying to muster a handstand and figure out a way for the ambulance to traverse the partially flooded island to get to our boathouse.
Since we were sans Thai food, we made a drive through stop at Fazolis. I was going to carb up for this marathon. Little did I know, it would be three more nights before I was holding my baby. Michael and I were grateful that we packed our hospital bag and prepped our boathouse with full propane, charged batteries, and waste disposal that day. We got to the hospital, and Pitocin was started. I was 1.5cm dilated and 75% effaced; Hutch was a -2 station. If these numbers make no sense to you, it means I had progressed no further from two weeks prior when my cervix was last checked at a routine appointment. It means that Hutch was very cozy.
We admitted to the hospital that evening; it was Monday. On Tuesday, Pitocin was found to be doing nothing but making my uterus “irritable”. An irritable uterus is when you have contractions, but they are ineffective making no changes to the cervix. So as not to tire out that important uterine muscle that is supposed to push my baby out and into my arms, they stopped the Pitocin and started Cytotec, a cervical ripening agent. I got two doses of this over 8 hours. At 11pm on Tuesday, I woke up in a small puddle. My water broke spontaneously. I thought, “Alright, game on.” I had heard all the stories about how labor amps up incredibly after the water breaks. I decided that I would go back to sleep until that intense labor pain took hold.
That post-water break intense labor pain never happened. I slept through the night and woke up very comfortable. My sister arrived to be with me, and Michael continued to be there for every moment too. It was now Wednesday and 12 hours after my water broke. I got my cervix checked with the disappointing news that I was just 2cm dilated. I knew that with my water broken, I was at an increased risk of infection the longer it took for me to go in to labor. I had heard that 24 hours after this is when worry should set in. I was already halfway there with no signs of labor. Pitocin was restarted.
Again, Pitocin did nothing but provoke meaningless contractions. Eventually, the midwife decided an intrauterine pressure catheter would be appropriate to help dose the Pitocin better. This catheter goes into the uterus next to baby’s head. It measures the uterine pressure more accurately so that Pitocin can be dosed more effectively. While I was not excited about another intervention and especially one that felt so invasive near Hutch, I understood the rational and the importance of doing what we could to initiate this birth.
In the meantime, I did everything else to get labor going. I had a dance party to Beyonce. I did squats. I did lunges. I walked and rolled around on that birth ball. I used the breast pump to promote uterine contractions. I ate plenty of food (including lots of Oreos) thinking that every meal might be my last sustenance; this only resulted in three days of overeating. You can imagine how that landed mid-labor: plenty of puking and pooping at the worst of times. Childbirth is so glamorous.
By late afternoon on Wednesday, as I continued to walk laps around the unit doing my routine of calisthenics at every turn, I started to have twinges of pain. YESSSSS, labor pains! These escalated into the evening and turned into continuous sharp and aching back pains. The only position I could tolerate was on my hands and knees with Michael massaging my lower back. The back pain would not let up. Is this what they call “back labor”? I remember telling Michael and Jessi over and over, “why don’t I get a break?!” I wanted to go through labor without pain medicine, but I had mentally prepared for the type of pain that comes and goes; I desparately wanted that break that comes with normal contractions.
Around 10pm and after many hours of unrelenting back pain, the midwife came to check my progress. I was dilated at 4cm, and she found another “bag of water” intact. I had heard of this before. You can have your water break but not completely so. The midwife broke my remaining waters. This was a much more noticeable gush of liquid, and to my pleasant surprise, my back pain disappeared immediately.
The hours between 10pm and 1am on Thursday morning were a complete blur. I remember Jessi and Michael doing everything to help me get through a contraction. They used ice, massage, repositioning, and calming music. The nurse asked what I wanted to do about the pain. I could only muster the words “not an epidural” while my mind whispered “Are you sure about that?” She brought me nitrous oxide or “laughing gas” instead. I tried it once and got nothing from it. I groaned loudly with each exhale. I had told my nurse the day before, “I’m surprised I don’t hear more women yelling in pain around here.” She had responded, “Well, most women have epidurals.” Now, I was that yelling, groaning, loudly laboring woman. Sorry neighbors. I vomited four times and felt like vomiting 24 more times. I remember enjoying the vomiting because it distracted me from the pain. My sister read me affirmations that I had wrote for myself, and I tried to focus on these:
“You are surrounded by love. It is around you and within you.”
“You must roll with the waves, not against them.”
“Pain is normal. Pain is productive.”
“Release expectations. Accept the process.”
“Your body knows what to do. Let it work.”
At 1am, as my sister Jess and Michael continuously supported me through the escalating pain, they wondered aloud to eachother about how far along I was. Jessi said, “I could tell when I was fully dilated because I felt an undeniable urge to push.” I heard that and quickly verbalized, “I could push right now.” Jessi and Michael called in the nurse and asked about checking my cervix. The midwife came in. She offered to check me but seemed to believe there wouldn’t be much of a difference from three hours ago when I was only 4cm. I also hesitated in getting checked knowing that a small amount of progress might break my confidence and resilience to continue forward unmedicated. I agreed to get checked anyway and tried to quickly mentally prepare for bad news. The midwife did her check and said slowly with surprise, “I am shocked. You are fully dilated and ready to push.” I was elated.
The staff prepared everything for delivery. This had me believing that Hutch would be here soon. Every other minute or two, I felt a contraction and pushed with everything I had. I focused on what I had seen in watching my sister give birth and what I had learned as I prepared for this. I pushed toward my bottom. I took advantage of the rest time between contractions, letting my mind and body rest. I pushed against the pain; when the pain got worse, I pushed harder. I focused only on this job to push; I didn’t let anything else pull my attention away. Three hours passed like this. I was exhausted.
The midwife offered another intervention while informing me that I still had a ways to go in moving Hutch down past my pelvic bone. She said, “You have been pushing for three hours now.” I had no idea. If time was a blur before, I was blind to it now. It felt as if I wasn’t even there, mentally anyway. The midwife offered the use of forceps or a vaccuum. I had the goal of a low intervention birth. This was not low intervention, but exhaustion and worry were quickly creeping into my psyche. I asked a few questions. I then looked at Michael and with great uncertainty asked, “What do you think?” It was the first time in awhile that I had opened my eyes to see him. He looked at me with a weary but reassuring strength and said, “I think you can do this.” That was all I needed from him. I told the midwife, “I’d like more time to try myself.”
Nearly two more hours passed. Hutch progressed slowly, but he did progress. I tried a few different positions to help him along and remembered the advice a friend gave me just days before: “push efficiently”. Eventually, as my mind’s capacity came and went with the contractions, I heard the midwife say that she could see his head and that he had hair. He was so close. I overheard the staff talking about how well Hutch was doing, that his heart rate was perfect. They were worried about whether he could tolerate the nearly five hours of pushing, and this was my biggest worry too.
Later, as Hutch was crowning, the midwife told me that his heart rate was decelerating, and I would need to have him out in the next few contractions. The room was now full of people. I noticed that the midwife quietly asked for something, a tool maybe, “just in case”. I didn’t like that phrase: “just in case”. Just in case of what? I was scared now and knew he had to get out. Everyone in the room was cheering me on but urgently so. I focused inward where it was quieter; here is where I could harness all my energy toward these final pushes. I pushed hard through that next contraction; he didn’t come. The next contraction took forever to come. I wanted him out now. The contraction built up; I knew this had to be the last and it was. It happened all of a sudden.
At 6:11am on January 9th of 2020, Hutch entered this world at 8lb 5oz and 21 inches. He was born with the cord wrapped twice around his little neck. The midwife freed him of this, and he was immediately put on my abdomen. Hutch let out some gurgly cries. I held him close and asked a minimum of four times, “Are you okay?” as I looked at my baby’s round face and held his warm body tight to mine. If my present state of mind had been floating somewhere else these past five hours, it had now returned to this perfect moment. Every pain, every push, and every minute of wait was so worth this. Hutch was indeed okay. He was more than okay. I was more than okay too. I looked at Michael and saw the overwhelming love his heart was holding. My husband had tears in his eyes and a gentle smile. The gratitude that I felt was also overwhelming. I’ve felt plenty of love and gratitude before but not like this. This was incredible.
Hutch spent that golden hour on my chest, and my world was still and perfect. Michael was right with us, and Jessi our constant support. I could not have done this without them. If I had not seen my sister give birth naturally to her two boys, I would have given up on that idea for myself. I am so thankful to have seen and consequentially believed in the power of a birthing mother. If I didn’t have Michael, I would only be half of me. I was able to bring Hutch earthside because of the love and power these two provided me. I am also incredibly grateful for the midwife team and nursing staff who supported me fully in my birth plan and provided constant compassion in conjuction with holistic and transparent care.
I will forever hold onto this birth affirmation: “You are surrounded by love. It is around you and within you.” I would also like to hold tight to this one: “Release expectations. Accept the process.” Birth was challenging, unexpected, and ultimately the best experience of my life.
Dearest Hutch, we love you forever and always. You were my partner in this crazy process. It was not easy but it was beautiful. Life will be like that too. You are going to do great. And if things don’t go like you expect them to, you can always have a dance party to Beyonce, do an absurd amount of lunges, or eat an entire package of Oreos. I love you.