We decided to write Bram’s birth story now while it’s still fresh in our minds. Our minds, however, aren’t all that fresh, so you’ll have to forgive us any subpar writing (or, for readers who were there, inaccuracies). We also decided to write this together – our first joint post on Breaking Into Blossom – as bringing our son into the world was a team effort. Since our labor stretched from Monday until Thursday night, it seems most logical to separate the days (though they all run together in our minds). J wrote the regular (un-italicized) text below: she is the keeper of dates and details, apparently even in labor. R’s impressions of the NGP labor experience are in italics (a style borrowed from N and Lyn, whose strong voices lent shape to the NGP thoughts here). The photographs were taken by our heroic doula. We’ve split the birth story into three parts so as not to overwhelm readers. We’re publishing all three parts at once, though, so read at your convenience (if you want to read at all). Our beloved Christine wrote about being on our birth team on her blog, too, if you’re interested. She’s a beautiful writer. She kept notes throughout the labor, which are invaluable to us now.
Monday, January 16th, 2012
I should probably have suspected that something was “up” on the Sunday before labor began. I desperately wanted to get manicures and pedicures with R (an experience I’ve had exactly once before in my life, namely, before our wedding). I then proceeded to drag R clothes shopping (again, an activity usually reserved for never). If R hadn’t put the brakes on our afternoon, I would have then taken her to dinner and a movie. As it was, she was exhausted and wanted to go home. Back at home, I went into furious nesting mode, including baking impromptu from-scratch brownies. Again, I should have recognized that something was “up.”
The last pregnant (pre-labor) photograph I have of J is of her making those brownies. And she wore me out that day, which I too should have registered as significant. It just seemed impossible that after all those preparations, the baby would actually come.
On Monday, January 16th, I didn’t have to work because of the MLK holiday. We had had quite a bit of snow, so R and I decided to lay low at home for the better part of the day. By evening we were getting antsy, so we decided to go the local mall to do some walking (both of our gyms were closed for the holiday). While at the mall, I lost my mucous plug in the bathroom. I remember feeling strangely elated. I knew that the mucous plug could come weeks before the baby, so I wasn’t really expecting labor to begin straightaway, but it was still thrilling that things were “progressing” toward the birth of our son.
We finished our walk at the mall, came home, and went about our normal nighttime routine. Around 10:45pm, just after finishing some night reading, I started having my first contractions. Initially, they were about 10 minutes apart. I had some minor bloody show and a lot of wetness (we weren’t sure at the time if my water had broken – in retrospect, I think it was just more mucous). Those initial, intermittent, mild contractions were quickly replaced by more intense contractions coming as quickly as two minutes apart. They weren’t super-consistent, but I felt like early labor was slipping too quickly by. I felt panicky at how fast things were progressing and I didn’t feel like I had time to adjust to the contractions.
Oh, was I devoted to J getting some sleep. To BOTH of us getting some sleep. All those childbirth classes where our doula stressed how important it was to sleep during early labor. And I just kept thinking “I don’t know if I can do this if we don’t get a little rest. Oh, please let us get some rest.” I pleaded with her all night. We never did, though, and at first that really panicked me. I doubted my ability to be a good labor partner sans sleep. I also found her first contractions unsettling. By the next morning I knew what to expect: how her body would move during them, how she would look. They stopped scaring me (until the last day). But at first they frightened me a lot. I felt small and useless in the face of them.
R and I were both overwhelmed by how fast things seemed to be moving along (little did we know how long we still had to go), so we called in our dear friend Adrienne to be with us through the night. Ad came over at about 2:30am and, upon laboring with us for 30 minutes or so, agreed that it might be time to call in our beloved doula, Jessica. It’s worth noting at this point in the story that we had only finalized our doula contract with Jessica at lunchtime on Monday. She had been our natural childbirth educator, but we had been on the fence about using a doula until very late in the pregnancy (not because we doubted a doula’s immense benefit, but because we were working on a tight budget). I am so so glad that we made the choice to have her with us. I truly believe that the consistency of her patience, presence, and expertise throughout spared us from having a c-section (though no-one on our hospital staff ever brought up the possibility of surgical birth, nor did we ever feel rushed to labor on anyone else’s timeline).
That we should absolutely.without.a.doubt hire Jessica had occurred to me about five days before J’s labor started. I’m pretty sure I woke up to the realization. It wasn’t that I was scared, I just felt sure we would be better off with her by our sides. I wasn’t sure J would go along with it, so I tentatively broached the subject on a walk at my university’s track. She was all in. We called Jessica the next morning, with not a day to spare.
So Jessica came over to the house at about 3:30am. We all labored together at the house until about 6:45am.
At that point, I was feeling very eager to know whether or not we were making cervical change, so we decided to venture into the hospital. I think that we were all expecting that I would be at least 3 or 4 cm dilated. So when we went to the hospital to get checked, I was very disappointed to find out that we were 0cm dilated, the cervix was still anterior, I was only 50% effaced, and it was possible that the baby was in a posterior position. This was the first of many painful and disappointing vaginal checks to come. The on-call midwife joked that she had to reach up to my tonsils to get at the cervix. Until Bram shifted much later in labor, the vaginal checks were really painful because they literally had to go around the baby’s head to find the cervix.
The midwife, though, felt confident that progressive labor was imminent, so she let us leave while remaining registered (she even let us store our suitcases in her on-call sleeping area). Throughout this story, I hope I’m able to convey how supportive and generous all of the midwives and L&D nurses that we interacted with were during the course of our stay. Of the eight rotating midwives in the practice, we managed to work with six of them during our stay! This is impressive considering that they work in 24-hour shifts. After the vaginal exam, R and I decided to head back home around 9am. There was a lot of crying on the way back home. It felt so defeating to be where we started after nine hours of difficult contractions.
I remember checking in at the hospital early on the 17th, and thinking, “this isn’t right. Rabbit isn’t coming on the 17th.” Though it was disappointing to head home, it made sense to me. This was a much bigger blow to J than to me.
Tuesday, January 17th, 2012
Tuesday is sort of the lost day in my memory of the laboring sequence. My contractions were present but irregular throughout the day. Sometimes they were 10-15 minutes apart, during which points I was able to rest between peaks. Sometimes they sped up to being 2-3 minutes apart again. We had been advised to wait to return to the hospital until they were 2-3 minutes apart, lasting 60-90 seconds, and staying that way for more than 2 hours. Throughout Tuesday, R and I tried to rest, watched Buffy re-runs, and ate a few small meals. That evening, around 9pm, our friend Jessica (not our doula) came over to the house and labored with me for an hour or so while R tried to get some sleep. I really think there was a circadian rhythm to my hormones, because every night between about 10pm and 3am, things really picked up. Again, we found ourselves having regular, stronger contractions in the middle of the night, and, again, our friend Ad and our doula came over in the night. This time, everyone felt pretty sure that we would be 4 or 5cm by the time we went back in, so I was feeling equally optimistic…
We only managed to watch one Buffy re-run, but it took all day to get through. We slept spooned together so I could apply counterpressure and give J reassurances every time I felt her body tense up. I think her contractions subsided long enough for one 2 ½ hour nap in the afternoon. I baked sweet potatoes when we woke up, and J devoured hers. This is something she did really well throughout labor: eat. It was impressive. I only got a few bites down at a time. Leaving this second time for the hospital was so much better, since all of our baggage (there was a lot, though to our credit we ended up using almost everything, and still needing my mom to bring us some things) was already there. I remember taking the time each trip, though, to straighten the bedclothes and the couch cushions, and to stack rinsed dishes neatly in the sink. Somehow the thought of bringing a baby home to mussed-up bedding was too much. I needed at least that bit of order.