Well, it’s official—I should no longer predict how future births will go based on past experience. The birth of my third child–Hyrum Matthew–was wildly different than my experiences with my other two. Part of that was because I went in with a very different birth plan this time around, and the other major part was due to the fact that I’d been having pre-term labor for months, so I knew we’d likely have a pre-term baby.
Here’s how everything shook out in the end.
I started having multiple signs of preterm labor starting at 24 weeks (cramping, pressure, more intense Braxton Hicks contractions, etc.), which worried me to no end. I had no real risks for a preterm birth, except for the fact that my second baby had come right on the dot at 37 weeks.
I went in to my doctor’s office for multiple “emergency” appointments (where I basically just showed up, explained what was going on, and saw whoever was on call that day) at 24 weeks, 28 weeks (I think), 31.5 weeks, and again on Wednesday (December 11th) at 35 weeks and 5 days. After the appointment at 31.5 weeks, we started seeing my doctor weekly, rather than waiting until the usual 36-week mark to start going so frequently.
After my appointment at 31.5 weeks, I was basically put on bed rest, and I also went into the hospital to get steroid shots to help the baby’s lung development. Additionally, I was given a medication to take as needed every time my contractions picked up more and started to become more regular. Every day the baby stayed in felt like a victory, especially as my contractions started picking up quite a lot, particularly at night.
Is It or Isn’t It?
For weeks, my doctor and I went over and over The Plan of when I should go into the hospital. We wanted to make sure I actually got there in time to begin with (since the birth of my second went SO FAST), and depending on where I was in the pregnancy and where I was at in the labor process, we wanted to get in early enough to be able to slow it down, if possible (and necessary).
I was told to go into Labor and Delivery when I met one of the following conditions:
- If my water broke (obviously)
- If I saw any pinkish/bloody “show”
- If I had regular contractions 10 minutes apart that didn’t let up after an hour, despite taking the medication that’s meant to slow them down
For about a week before I had the baby, I had several nights that I came awfully close to going in—nights when my contractions were regularly 15 minutes apart without letting up for hours, then nights when they were 12, then finally in the very early morning of Wednesday the 11th (starting around 3:30 AM or so), they went to 10 minutes apart and weren’t letting up, despite the medication. They weren’t particularly intense (at least compared to what I remembered about my last labor experience), but they did make it impossible to sleep. I tried to doze off and on between them, but I finally just decided to stay awake, told Matt what was going on, and we decided to go into the doctor’s office when they first opened, rather than heading straight to Labor & Delivery (mostly just because we wanted to know how far we needed to go to arrange childcare and such).
A neighbor graciously agreed to watch our kids while Matt and I went in to my doctor’s office, where we were seen by the doctor on call (and who would, coincidentally, be the doctor on call at the hospital as well, as my OB was off for the day). We were hoping to get some kind of definite sense of what to do next, as we ourselves had been going back and forth for hours about what to do since the wee hours of the morning, but we just got more uncertainty. The doctor checked me, and I was right at the trickiest stage to know what to do next—dilated to a 3, and 90% effaced. As he put it, I could have the baby in a few hours, or I could stay in that place for a week.
Basically, he gave us two options—go into Labor and Delivery right away just to be safe (and to see if they wanted to try and do anything to stall the labor), or go home, take another dose of the medication (since I was about due for another dose), and if the contractions still hadn’t let up after another hour, go into L & D.
We decided to pick the latter option as my neighbor still had our kids, and it didn’t sound like there was much they could do anyway at this point to stall the labor (according to the doctor). So we called my mom and told her to start heading up our way ASAP, and we went back home to have some lunch, have me take another dose of medication, and see what happened.
After another dose of medication, my contractions were starting to come between 4-7 minutes apart (though still not particularly strong, just because my membranes were still intact), and it seemed like there was no doubt I was definitely in labor, despite it being about 1000% less dramatic than my previous labor experience.
We gathered together the hospital bag and other last-minute stuff (camera, phone chargers, purse), and once my mom arrived at our house, we kissed the older two kids goodbye and headed off to the hospital around noon.
Once we got there, my cervix was checked right away, and I was dilated to a 4+ and pretty much “as effaced as you can get” (according to the nurse). Judging from my past experiences, I knew it was go time, but the nurses weren’t so sure I was going to be admitted. Since my doctor wasn’t in that day, they were scrambling to figure out what they should do with me. Should they administer the last-ditch attempt shot to try and slow it down? Should they just go ahead and give me an epidural?
In the meantime, they had me use the bathroom and then walk around to “see what happened.” At this point, I basically knew they were likely trying to speed things up to admit me for sure, which to me seemed a little strange since the baby was preterm. Maybe they knew based on what I’d told them that my doctor wasn’t going to request that they try to slow it down?
Anyway, I walked around obediently, marveling at how much easier this labor felt than my last one since my membranes were still intact. After a half hour, I was checked again and was at a 5. I thought there still wouldn’t be a question in anyone’s mind that I was going to have this baby that day, but the nurses still kept saying, “Well, I just can’t see that your doctor wouldn’t want you admitted, but we’re having a hard time getting a hold of anyone…”
Matt and I settled in anyway, and the doctor on call finally returned the hospital’s call and said to skip the shot (since I wasn’t a good candidate), give me the epidural, and that he’d come in to break my water in awhile.
I’d never had an epidural before (having chosen to go unmedicated for my previous two birth experiences), so I had a lot of questions. I could tell that the nurses found it so strange that a woman having her third child would have all these basic questions, when usually it might happen opposite (where she’d had epidurals with her first two and chose not to with her third). How long does it take to work? Am I supposed to be able to feel anything? How am I supposed to sit to get the shot? What was the catheter situation—would I need one? Does it stay in? Did they want the epidural to wear off a bit when it came time to push? But what if it wasn’t working enough by the time the placenta was ready to come out [since that was the whole point I was getting one anyway]?
Having heard from most women whom I’d spoken to about their epidural experiences, I was all ready to be told to have to sit hunched over on the bed with my chest stretching down towards my knees, but that wasn’t what happened at all—instead, my legs were dangling over the side, and I was just sitting up straight. I was nervous about moving (since I’d heard you were supposed to sit completely still so they wouldn’t mess it up), but I jumped about a mile when they started sanitizing the spot with a cold towelette, ha ha (but at least the anesthesiologist knew to warn me next time he was about to do something!).
I was surprised that the prep took so long—all sorts of cleaning and fitting and taping and such. I wasn’t still in much pain or discomfort at all from the contractions (so I could concentrate plenty on what was happening with the epidural), and I was a little puzzled when the anesthesiologist told me to tell him if I felt any weird “zings” going down my legs or anything. I didn’t know what he meant until I felt excruciating nerve pain shoot down my left leg that had me screaming out pretty much immediately! He quickly adjusted the needle/line, and the pain instantly left. Then he taped the massive maze of tubes and plastic covering to my back, and I waited to see what would happen.
I know for some women, they seem to experience instant relief, but mine seemed to take awhile—probably about 10 or 15 minutes. But when it did kick in fully, it was the strangest thing—I would touch my thighs, and it would feel like I was touching a massive slab of rubber that was somehow not connected to me at all, and it was the same thing with my stomach. When the first few contractions came after that point, the nurse would ask—Did you feel that? And I would just say in wonder, “Did I just have a contraction?! What? Really?!”
How strange it was to have known what the entirety of the labor experience felt like without any numbing, and then all of a sudden to feel nothing but warmth and tingling from the top of my uterus downwards. (I did wonder if my epidural was a little off because I experienced pretty intense tingling the whole time. I also originally was going to have the catheter left in rather than have it put in and taken out every hour or so, but it was SO uncomfortable that I had to have it removed, when I know most women can’t feel it at all.)
Once the epidural was working, I was checked again, and I was at a 6. The doctor came in soon after to break my water (by this point, I’d been at the hospital about five hours), and once again, it was so strange to experience that experience of being numb—-the rupturing of membranes itself never hurt before, but boy was I used to the contractions sure picking up after that! (Although I will note that I did “up the juice” one time when I noticed the epidural’s effects almost completely wearing off about an hour after this, and I upped it again to the maximum right before I started pushing so that if there was another complication with the placenta, I hopefully wouldn’t feel everything in excruciating clarity again.)
The Dreaded Stall
Since my last labor experience happened so quickly once my water broke on its own at home, I figured that the baby would come easily within the hour of my membranes being ruptured this time around.
This experience actually mirrored much more closely that of my first labor, where I stalled for 6 hours while dilated to a 7+ and just couldn’t seem to reach the transition stage. Two hours after my water was broken this time, I was still only at a 6. Knowing what happened the first time, and knowing that I didn’t need to worry about pitocin doing anything to the intensity of my contractions (since I couldn’t feel them anyway), I accepted the nurse’s offer to help speed things up a bit. She gave me the tiniest hit of pitocin to see where things went, and within 20 minutes, I was feeling the need to push.
Since my doctor wasn’t in that day, I got the doctor on call, who was the same doctor I’d seen that morning at the office. (Fun fact: there are four doctors who work together at the Women’s Center, and I’ve now had three out of the four of them deliver my children, and the fourth was actually the one who did the ultrasound when I miscarried, so I now know all of them.) The nurses broke down the bed, and he set things up, but I could tell I wouldn’t be able to hold off for long, even with the epidural—my body knew it wanted to push.
Finally, as a contraction started to come on, the doctor instructed me to push, and even though I could only feel the pressure of what was going on, my body knew exactly what to do still. I felt the baby move right down and start emerging, and when the doctor told me to wait until the next contraction to push the rest of the way, I said, “Nope! Can’t wait!”, and I kept pushing so that Hyrum emerged in one contraction, pink and wrinkled and screaming, at 8:09 p.m (my longest labor of the three but my shortest pushing time, interestingly).
I started sobbing with relief. I’ve cried tears of relief and joy after the births of all my children, but I had been terrified that because Hyrum had come a month early, he wouldn’t be able to breathe on his own. My anxiety had been simmering in the back of my mind all day—what if he wasn’t okay? What if there was another major problem with the placenta, and something had gone wrong with the epidural? What if I had another uterine inversion, and they had to do an emergency hysterectomy this time?
I had been shoving the thoughts back all day and trying to think positively, but nevertheless, they still were lurking in the back the entire labor, despite the overall peaceful experience I had had up to that point. Many of my fears were released when they held Hyrum up, and I heard him wailing—he was okay! He was breathing on his own! And he actually didn’t seem nearly as tiny as I expected him to be!
The Last Hurdle
But my anxiety wasn’t totally gone yet—I still had the placenta to deal with. In the past, I’ve done the immediate skin to skin with my baby and experienced about 15 minutes of bliss before pure agony comes. This time, I figured that even if things went south, I at least shouldn’t be able to feel too much of it.
I expected my usual quarter hour of enjoyment before having to deal with the placenta, so imagine my surprise when the doctor was pushing down on my stomach a few minutes after the birth and said, “Placenta is halfway out…placenta is all the way out!”
“Wait, the placenta is out? All of it?” I felt dizzy with surreal relief.
“Yup! I’m just going to go in real quick with this little scraper to make sure we got all of it, but hopefully it shouldn’t be too uncomfortable.”
While I did feel a bit of discomfort with the scraping, it was nothing—nothing!—compared to my last two experiences. (And the interesting thing was that the scraping wasn’t even necessary—all the placental material had come out on its own, which was unprecedented in my case.)
I had done it! I had actually done it—I had experienced as peaceful of a birthing experience as I possibly could have hoped for, especially under the circumstances.
It was a miracle.
Of course, the anxiety wasn’t totally over yet–although Hyrum had received an 8/9 on his Apgar scores, he ended up having a little bit of a hard time with fully getting his lungs to fill up with air, so they ended up having to admit him to the NICU for two days (which I’m hoping to do a post on by itself).
But I will forever be grateful for this birthing experience, which allowed me to be able to relax physically, especially when mentally I was kind of a mess as we waited to see if our son would be okay.
Sometimes we don’t get the labor experiences we want and plan for—my first two deliveries are proof of that.
But it sure was nice that this time, when so much else with the pregnancy hadn’t gone so well, that I got exactly the birth experience I had hoped for.
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