We spent the last 12 weeks of the pregnancy taking classes in the Bradley Method of natural childbirth. Its based on going into labor with a strong education of the birth process to be your own advocate to prevent unnecessary medical interventions. It teaches the husbands to be strong coaches and we practiced many relaxation techniques for pain management. We both loved the class, felt extremely prepared to attempt a natural birth with our awesome doula and the open-minded nature of Sutter Davis Hospital. At the end of it our biggest fear was tackling the 45 minute drive to the hospital. Turns out that wasn’t what we should have been worried about.
The last month or two (I can’t pinpoint when it started) I began having really itchy skin in the evenings. My arms, back, head, and face would get so itchy at the end of the day, Terry finally bought me a retractable back scratcher. Since every tiny ache, spot or bump can be an untreatable side effect of pregnancy, I just thought it was another one of those things and tried to ignore. At one point I did a quick Google self-diagnosis and a scary liver condition called cholastasis came up. Since my hands and feet weren’t specifically itching, it didn’t seem possible and I tried to shrug off the fear. Eventually it got to a point where I was waking myself up scratching my face and head in the night so I finally mentioned it to my midwife at my 39 week appointment. She also mentioned cholastasis, and said it was rare but we agreed to run the required 2 sets of liver panels just to be sure. If I was positive, it would mean an immediate induction. They don’t know why, but babies can sometimes spontaneously die in utero or labor, so they don’t mess around. They gave me a non-stress test (baby was great) and the first results were to come back in a few hours. We were gut-wrenched waiting to hear back. We finally got the call–I was only 1 point elevated in the tested levels and she was unconcerned. So we kind of put it out of our mind and awaited our due date.
On my due date, Tuesday, September 16, I was out to dinner (eating Zelda’s version of labor pizza) with a couple friends and didn’t notice my phone ringing. My friend got a text from my anxious husband telling me to answer my phone. The hospital had been calling, and wouldn’t tell him why. It turns out of course I was positive with cholastasis and I was being induced at 8am. Uggggghhhh… induction was not what we had practiced and we were kicking off our labor with an intervention.
I was disappointed, excited, and trying not to freak out about the health of my baby.
We I had always wanted to be surprised by the gender so we were finally going to find out who this little person was! My bags had been packed for a couple months (in typical Virgo fashion) and I was focused on getting as much sleep as possible knowing I would need it. It was surreal letting our parents know that it would be happening soon, and to come take care of the dogs.
Wednesday, 8 am: We checked into the hospital the next morning and met our midwife and nurses for the morning. I’ve never been a patient in a hospital-no stitches, broken bones or anything so this was an intimidated process for me. I was so relieved at how great Sutter Davis is, and the nurses and midwives were all so warm and welcoming We were informed that the rate of stillbirth with cholestatis is .4-4% vs .1-1% in normal populations. This would require me to wear the fetal monitor around my belly for almost my entire labor, which would mean limited mobility outside of my room. Not good since we were planning to walk the baby out of me.
Wednesday, 11 am: I wanted to avoid a chemical induction if possible, so I requested starting with a foley bulb, which attempts to inflate your cervix open manually–basically a balloon they blow up inside of you. I had always been so curious of how painful this labor thing really was going to be and thought this would give me a preview of what I was in for. Terrible idea. It didn’t work (twice) and it hurt like someone was stabbing me with an ice pick. My doula insisted this wasn’t the same kind of pain as contractions. So, we agreed to start misoprostol (a pill) which causes uterine contractions and ‘ripens’ the cervix. For the next few hours I could feel mild, cramps contractions, but I was able to nap and get off the monitor once and go for a walk.
4 pm: Took another round of miso and we went for another walk in a field across the parking lot. It was pretty hot out and when then contractions would hit I would have to stop and take some deep breaths. Oh…so that’s what they really feel like. Still totally manageable though and we ate a decent dinner in the room.
9 pm: More miso and my back is starting to ache while the contractions continue along steadily, but not too badly. I kept trying to get someone to confirm that my labor had ‘kicked in’ on its own but they can’t/won’t. Looking back I think I was.
Thursday, 3 am: They wake me up to take another miso pill and I’m tossing and turning (as much as I can in a hospital bed with a monitor belted around me). At some point I go to the bathroom and note that I may of lost my mucous plug. I have no memory of that happening now. :\
Thursday, 5:30 am: More mucous. I think I’m starting to really feel uncomfortable but trying to be quiet and let Terry sleep. I know he’ll likely have a long day ahead of him and need him to be strong for me.
Thursday, 8 am: I ate a little breakfast before my doula, Jen arrives. I’m sitting in the rocking chair trying to get comfortable and breathe through my contractions when I tell them I think I’m going to be sick. The next thing I know I’m waking up to midwifes and nurses surrounding me–I had fallen forward and passed out, thankfully someone had been right there to catch me. Ugh, that’s the worst feeling. Contractions are 2-3 minutes apart and this is the point I feel like I’m officially in labor. This shit is starting to hurt–game on.
9-11 am: Wanting a baseline I agreed to an exam. I’m 4 cm dilated/50% effaced. I get up and try to find a better position. I’m standing and leaning over the raised bed when I feel a weird pressure, an audible pop, and then splash. No doubt about it, my water broke all over my slippers. This is a great sign! They let us go out for a short walk in the garden outside. It looks like I’m making good progression so they let us transfer next door to a tub room. Jen tells her husband she’ll be home for dinner.
11-12:30 pm: Birthing tubs are in limited supply at Davis so they want to make sure you’re in the later stages of labor (another good sign!) The tub is amazing. I can float on my back, in a pseudo sleep to rest and easily turn back over to hold onto the side of the tub through each contraction. I am breathing gutturally and working hard to stay relaxed. I start getting nauseous again and throw up all the water I’ve been diligently drinking several times. I think I feel a little ‘pushy’ and in my haze I think/hope this means I’m in transition. I’m getting excited that I’m almost ready to push and meet my baby. I got this.
1 pm: Terry and Jen are trying to protect me, so I didn’t know that my contractions have actually slowed down and are now 3-4 minutes apart. I realize on my own that too much time has passed and that wasn’t transition. I get out of the tub and ask them to cover the clock.
2-3 pm: They start me on an IV for dehydration and nausea. I try sitting on a birthing stool. Who in god’s name invented this torture device!? It is so uncomfortable in every way, I can’t tolerate it. I go back in the tub with the IV and start somewhat existing outside of myself. I get into a manageable rhythm where I can sleep in 1 minute increments and automatically roll over on my knees to hug the side of tub during contractions. They are now 4-6 minutes apart which is a gift my body is giving me so I can rest (thank you Dr. Bradley).
3:30 pm I get out of the tub and all I want to do is lay down and sleep. I’m exhausted and just want a break. I try laying down on the bed and get checked again. I’m still only 5 cm dilated, but 90% effaced and baby is at -2 station which means she hasn’t dropped into pelvis much. It hits me hard and I remember why I didn’t want to get checked too often. The midwife is recommending pitocin now to help with dilation. Terry encourages me to go outside for another walk and I’m starting to lose it. I can no longer stand upright during contractions. Before they hit my legs start quivering and I lean across his back and let myself be supported by him as I try to relax everything. For the first time the word ‘epidural’ pops into my head. I don’t speak it aloud but its right there on the tip of my tongue.
4-5 pm: We have another pow wow with Jen, I tell her I’m just exhausted and over it. Its less about the pain and more about being physically drained so she recommends we consider a drug that will give me a ‘twilight sleep.’ I will still feel contractions but I will also be able to rest. I don’t really get it, but also don’t care and snatch at the option. I also agree for light pitocin to be administered at the same time.
6 pm: I wake up pushing. In my mind I slept deeply for an hour, but apparently I was conscious and working through my contractions as they came. Terry can’t believe I remember it this way because he says I was essentially screaming during this time. I guess I ‘slept’ through transition, which is typically the most intense part of labor. A miracle! They do a quick check and I’m 9 cm/100% effaced/ and the baby is at 0 station so some major progress was made. I was lucky and the quick dose of pitocin worked like a charm. Re-energized I hop back in the tub determined to get through this and maybe even deliver in the water.
6-10:30 pm: I push in every way they can think of. In the tub, on the toilet, the damn birthing stool again, standing and hanging from a bar, side lying, and on the bed as I pull on a rebozo (basically a scarf tied to bar above me). Pushing is nothing like I had imagined. Its an involuntary whole-body spasm. You can’t stop it, and you bear down with it to get the baby to move. I could reach down and feel her head so they brought me a mirror to help encourage me (something I will never unsee). In Bradley we were taught to create a mantra we would use during this time, to help focus the mind which helps the body relax. I had one written down, but it ended up being too complicated. I started to growl, over and over “You are strong.” I think I was talking to both myself and the baby, both of us innately knew what to do, but we had to keep fighting for our strength.
I’m not making progress though and eventually the doctor comes in. I’ve heard enough stories to know that when the doctor comes in at Davis (its primarily a midwife practice) it means that its time for a medical intervention. He comes to talk to me and I say “you want to use the vacuum.” He tells me no, no, he just hears I’m getting tired and wants to check on things. He has me push for him (3 times during one contraction), and tells me I’m losing steam and its time to use the vacuum (I knew it). The fetal heartrate is starting to blip and I know the team is getting nervous. He walks out and the midwives motivate me to try again before he comes back. I push the baby down 2 more stations, but can’t get her past the critical point. Terry confers with Jen and the midwife–he has major concerns based on a personal experience and he finally comes back to tell me he agrees if I do. We just need to get the baby out.
10:42 pm: The team arrives with the vacuum extractor and the doctor shows me what it looks like. I’m warned that if the cup pops off more then 3 times then I’m an automatic emergency cesarean. I know that Terry is beside himself with worry so I tap into everything I have. I am surrounded by people cheering me on with worried expressions and after 3 pushes finally make it happen. First the head (I’m literally on fire) is out, and I can tell he’s wrestling to maneuver her shoulders (we found out later one of her clavicles broke in the process).
Thursday, September 18, 2014 10:48pm: Then the most amazing sense of relief and release of pressure. The doctor (Terry was supposed to) cuts the cord and there is a slippery baby on my chest. There is a flurry of activity but she immediately locks eyes on mine and I can’t explain it, but we know each other. She is calm and completely alert. I know she’s ok but they want to hear her cry so they rub her until she does. Jen is determined to have Terry announce the gender to me (since the rest of our birth plan went out the window) and a nurse finally picks her up and holds her still so he can see. “Girl!” We kiss cry and stare–she is perfect. A few minutes later Terry gets the card we had written our name choices down on, and we both say “I think her name is Cecily” at the same time. I wanted to meet her before deciding on a name, and it definitely suits her.
12:30 am: After a few stitches, placenta delivery and skin to skin, they take her across the room to be weighed and measured. Jen shows us the placenta and umbilical cord and its only a little over a foot long. We think this might have been holding her back and preventing her from descending. Then I start to have strong contractions again. They tell me its normal but they get stronger. At one point I tell them I think there’s another baby. The nurse comes over and has me get up to go to the bathroom. This time I am able to tell them I feel dizzy and once again I wake up to smelling salts. Apparently I’m hemorrhaging gigantic clots and they need to manually extract them. I won’t go into detail but its as terrible as it sounds. I’m now yelling for drugs and screaming at the top of my lungs as they pull the clots out of me and do abdominal compressions to stop the bleeding. Its horrific. 10x worse then any point of my actual labor. Terry is helpless in the corner holding our baby and thinking the worst case scenario was unfolding in front of him. It was terrible, and then it was over.
After the final dramatic scene ends, they clean me up, bring me the best tuna sandwich I’ve ever tasted (anything would have been) and tuck my little bundle in next to me on the bed. Poor baby girl is exhausted too, and the Plumb Family gets a well-deserved sleep.
Thank you Terry for not letting me know how worried you were, keeping my family updated without freaking them out, and having a strong hand to hold on to. Your girls are so, so lucky to have you.
All photos from my amazing doula, Jen Anderson. Its hard for me to look at my swollen body but as my memories dull, I’m so grateful we have snapshots of the life-changing moments of becoming parents together. Jen was literally a lifesaver before, during and after our birth for both Terry and I. I couldn’t recommend her highly enough. If you are interested in natural birth and the Bradley Method we loved our classes with Renée Dall. We met great people and Renée is so informative, entertaining and has used Bradley for her own births.