3:30 Am Wednesday, April 4, 2012
“I think something is happening. I am feeling period like cramps.”
“Yeah, well… (deep yawn) lets just wait and see wait happens”
“Something is definitely going on. I just had multiple contractions that lasted a while.”
“Do they hurt?”
“No stupid. They feel great.”
“Wake up, I am in labor. The contractions keep coming. Their starting to really hurt”
“Huh… (fully awake now) Seriously?! Should I call the midwife?”
Ellie has beaten me to the punch with her side of the story. Here’s mine.
Wednesday morning, my beautiful wife, Ellison, woke me up to say she thought she might be going into labor.We proceeded to spend the day with a stopwatch in hand, collecting data on every contraction. In a little notebook we wrote down the time between each contraction and how long each lasted. Nervously, we waited between each one. Whenever Ellie would have one, she’d get this serious look on her face, glance at the stopwatch and then start grimacing through the pain. Around 10:00 AM, we called the midwife to let them know that Ellie was starting labor. The midwife said it was good to know, but that we shouldn’t call back until contractions were 2 minutes apart and Ellie was screaming in pain with each one. “The next time you call, you won’t be so calm.” The rest of the day we nervously waited for Ellie to lose control and feel lots of pain. It was a bizarre stand off.
Finally at 10:00 PM she was close. Contractions were two to three minutes apart. Most important of all, she was doubled over in pain screaming and panting with each wave. This time Ellie was not calm and in control. I grabbed the phone and paged the midwife. Anxiously, we waited for her to call us back. Finally, the phone rang, and behold, Connie, our favorite midwife was on duty tonight! I mouthed “Connie” to Ellie as I answered and gave her a stupidly big thumbs up. The midwife group we go to staffs 5-6 midwives, who all work on rotation. We’d seen most of them throughout the past 10 months, but we liked some more than others. Mainly we liked Connie and Martine. Time and time again, we’d hoped Connie or Martine would be on call the night Hen came. Things were going our way. Ellie screamed at/ chatted with Connie throughout the contractions. Connie told her we could come in now, but suggested we try to hold out as long as possible. Ever one for a challenge, my lovely wife spent the next hour howling with each contraction, determined to hold out another hour.
11:30 PM we arrived at the hospital. The triage nurse checked Ellie out and determined she was dilated to 3 cm. She needed to get to 10 cm before she could start to push. Essentially, contractions cause the cervix, what keeps the baby in the uterus, to open so mom can push baby out. Between waves of intense contractions, we made our way up to labor and delivery. Our plan from the beginning of pregnancy was to do everything as naturally as possible. This is the reason we found the midwife group. While they are based out of a hospital, they accepted our insurance (natural and low cost). With the midwives we’d get a more liberal and natural approach to pregnancy and birth, but somethings would be bound by medical and hospital regulations. We’d get both worlds. Unfortunately, this meant that labor would take place in a hospital labor and delivery room. While we would have liked to do a water birth, hospital regulations (and fear of contamination) prohibit water births. (When we were leaving, the midwife who discharged us did tell us that they are working with hospital administration to allow water births by the end of the year!) So at 12:00 Am Thursday morning (night?) we settled into our delivery room. It was not your typical white washed flourcent lit hospital room though. It was pretty cozy with soft lights, wood trim, and an ipod dock to boot.
Ellie promptly head to the jacuzzi. While she couldn’t deliver in it, she could use it to manage the pain. Part of our natural birth plan was to go without any drugs or medical intervention. Ellie thenplanned to labor most of the time in the tub filled with warm water. Connie and I were stationed beside her. I massaged her and eventually got in the tube myself. Our midwife Connie, stayed with us for the entire night. She left once to use the bathroom and another time to grab some water. She was there helping Ellie through the pain all night. With each contraction, she performed this ninja midwife move in which she put her hands on Ellie’s hips and squeezed as are hard as she could. Ellie cooed with relief each time. I tried the move once, and Ellie swatted me away calling for Connie.
The labor ward supplies traditional nurses to assist the midwife. From the get go there was a little tension, really more featherruffling. Our nurse, Trisha (who’s name fit her personality), immediately wanted to put and IV in Ellie, “just in case.” We politely declined, but Trisha continued to insist. Connie then smartly told Trisha she was okay with no IV. In other words, set back Trish. Later, Connie wanted to check Hen’s heart rate while Ellie was in the jacuzzi. Connie told Trisha to go get the underwater heart rate monitor. A few minutes later she returned saying she couldn’t find the underwater one, and instead brought the regular one. She suggested Ellie arch her back and lift her belly out of the water. Connie replied, “oh I’ve stuck that one in the tube before. I haven’t broken it yet. Hand it here.” Mortified, Trisha handed it over. It didn’t break.
Ellie labored through a night filled with choice quotes. My favorite: “Christy Turlington is full of shit! Marathons are soooooo much easier than labor.” At the same time Connie and I said, “who’s Christy Turlington?”. Around 2:30 AM, Ellie got out of the water and Connie checked her cervix. “Seven Centimeters! Nice. You’ll have this baby in the next hour or two.”
By 7:30 AM, no baby. Ellie hadn’t dilated beyond 7 cm. Her labor was failing to progress. We were all exhausted. Ellie had endured nearly 28 hours of active contractions many of which were at 10 out of 10 level pain. “Ellie,” Connie said very seriously, “I think its time we start talking about pain managment options. The only way to progress the labor at this point is to break your amniotic sac or to start you on a slow Pitosin drip, both of which are going to make your contractions even more painful. An epidural will help you get some relief, maybe sleep for a bit too.” Ellie was crestfallen and began to sob. She so badly wanted to not use any medical interventions. Connie then told us about her birthing her first child. She had a very similar story. After 30 hours of laboring with no progress she took an epidural and several hours later delivered a healthy and happy baby. “Ellie, I promise you that once Henriette is in your arms, nothing else will matter.”
With the epidural, Ellie did get relief and slept for an hour. I was pretty restless and couldn’t relax. I couldn’t stop worrying. Would Ellison be okay? Would Henriette be okay? At this point, teary-eyed I sent out the first text message to friends and family letting them know what was going on. An atheist, but believer in The Secret, I knew we needed everyone’s positive energy through their thoughts and prayers. We would get through.
At 8:30 AM, Martine came into the room. Connie had gone home when Ellie laid down to rest. Martine was the other midwife we loved. Hopefully things were starting to go our way. Martine checked Ellie’s cervix. Eight centimeters. We’re making progress. Martine decided it would be best to break the amniotic sac at this point to help the labor progress. She then pulled out the equivalent of a K sized crochet hook and stuck it in Ellie. Immediately, a slight tinged fluid began seeping out. I’m struggling with words to describe seeing a crochet hook stuck in my pregnant, laboring wife’s vagina. For some reason this was weirder for me than the actual crowning, episiotmy and birth.
Two hours later, after Ellie and I had napped for a little while, Martine returned. “Alright, you’re dilated to 10 centimeters! Its time to have a baby!” Ellie and I gave one another looks like holy fucking shit fuck this it! The nurse, no longer Trisha, but an older and maturer Jen, took one of Ellie’s legs and I took the other. At each contraction, we lifted her legs to her shoulders. Ellie then grab her knees, curled her chin to her chest and pushed with all her might. Martine was between her legs monitoring Hen’s progress out the vaginal canal. The goal in laboring is to push the baby’s head to a point where it gets stuck beneath the woman’s pelvic bone. Once you’re there, so they told me, its pretty easy. However, after an hour of pushing, Hen just wouldn’t get wedged under the pelvis. Jen the nurse remarked, “wow, you have a very small pelvis.” With each push, I could see Hen’s head coming closer to coming out, but when the contractions would stop she’d slid back inside. I kept thinking how the hell is she going to fit? Such a big head and such a small opening. I now understand episiotomies. If only there were a little more room.
After an hour, Martine called a timeout. “Ellie,” she asked, “can you feel the pressure where you should be pushing?” “Ummm, I can’t feel anything.” The problem with epidurals is that they can make a woman so numb it stops her urge to push and inhibits her from feeling how and where to push. This was part of our reluctance from the beginning to use an epidural in the first place. Certain theories say that pain is necessary, mom and baby need to be able to communicate during labor. “What if we turn the epidural down?” Martine then called by in the anesthesiologist to turn the epidural way down, essentially off so Ellie could get a better feel of what she was doing. It takes an hour or so to wear off, so it was nap and rest time again. Something Ellie desperately needed.
As Ellie drifted to sleep again, Jen, the nurse, told me not to worry. They’d figure out how to get Henriette out. She then intimated that we might have to consider other options, namely a Cesarean birth. “Whoa, wait a fucking second,” I thought to myself. If there was one intervention Ellie absolutely one hundred percent did not want, was a cesearan birth. I began mentally preparing myself for a battle. Ellie said she would only allow a cesarean birth if Henriette’s life depended on it. It did not seem like we were at that point. All indications from the fetal monitors said Henriette was doing great. No way would I allow them to cut my wife unless all other avenues had been pursued. Now, I was truly freaked.
Around 12:30 PM, Martine came back and woke us up. Ellie reported that pain was indeed back, and she could feel again. Time to push. After another thirty minutes of pushing, Hen was getting closer, but still not wedging. Martine began to realize that Hen was “sunnyside up.” In other words, as Ellie lay on her back, Hen was facing up. Most babies are born facing down. It is much easier to slide through the vaginal canal when you’re face down. “I think this is our problem,” Martine reported. “Let me see if I can’t turn her.” Martine then stuck her hand in Ellie’s vagina and attempted to turn Henriette face down. She was able to do it successfully several times. Hen wouldn’t cooperate though. Each time she’d roll herself back to sunnyside up. This went on for another thirty minutes or so. At one point, an OB stepped into the room, and Martine looked at him saying, “we’re getting there, its definitely going to be a vaginal birth.” Unbeknownst to us they were making back up plans for a cesearan birth. I felt a little betrayed but also elated now realizing it wouldn’t happen. Ellie continued laboring. With each push, Hen got closer and closer. I thought every push was going to be it. But… she still wouldn’t wedge.
Martine quickly left, to get some help from one of the OBs. I don’t remember their names, but two OB’s came in to see if they couldn’t get Hen to face down. After several minutes of trying, success! The OB got Hen to stay face down, and Ellie then wedged her on the next push. Immediately, Martine transformed the bed. The bottom dropped out, it raised up so Ellie was at Martine’s waist line. “Push!” Push and push she did, but Hen wouldn’t come out. Several times, Henriette’s heart rate plummeted, and we had to throw Ellie on her side to get Hen to move and get her heart rate back up. It was all getting very intense. Finally one of the OB’s said “we either need to use the vacuum to help pull the baby out, or we need to do an episiotomy.” We elected to do the episiotomy. With the vacuum sucker, there is a small chance of internal brain hemorrhaging, and we didn’t want to take the risk. With in a fraction of giving our assent they pulled out a scissors and cut. This was the most traumatic event of the whole show for me. The sound was like cutting through heavy cotton fabric. I’ll never forget.
Once cut, Ellie pushed Henriette out on the next contraction. I saw her come sliding out. She was so beautiful. Wailing, they wiped her once with a rag, and laid her on Ellie’s chest. Within 5 seconds, Henriette stopped crying and looked up into Ellie’s eyes. We were sobbing. Joy and love filling our hearts. Several seconds later, I realizec Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day was playing. (For those of you who don’t know this is Ellie’s favorite song and the one that was playing when her father, Michael, walked her across the apple orchard at our wedding). When I realized what was playing I started sobbing even harder.
The rest of the night is sort of a blur to me now. All my focus and attention, which wasn’t much after 36 hours of labor, went to Henriette. As Ellie held Hen and began the first feeding, Martine worked on sewing up Ellie. Because of the episiotomy, Ellie had a class 3 tear. A class 4 is the worse tear. It is when you tear straight into your rectum. Ellie only tore through the sphincter muscle, but not quite through to the rectum. Episiotomies make you tear worse. Imagine trying to tear a piece of cloth. You have to pull really hard to tear it. If you cut it a little, it takes far less force to tear clean through. So, Ellie needed 21 sutures.
After a bath, a weighing (7.54 oz), and a measuring of height (19″) we rolled out of labor and delivery and into our post-partum room in the mother/ baby ward. Here we spent the next two days as Ellie recovered and we began to bond with Hen. We were treated by wonderful company of the Pietari’s and Uncle David.
Labor was obviously far easier for me. Much less painful. However, watching the woman I love go through such an ordeal wasn’t easy. It was intense. It was scary. It was beautiful.
And now, I’m a father. I have a daughter. My wife is a mother. Intense, scary and beautiful.