First of all, in case you didn’t know from facebook: Baby Nichols arrived on Wednesday, August 22, 2012, at 4:57 p.m, weighing in at 8 lbs, 2 oz and 21″ long with a 14.25″ head circumference. Now, the part everyone has been waiting for: the birth story! Or birth JOURNEY, rather! And my, what a journey it has been. You can read a little about my previous birth experience and the preparation I did for Baby Nichols’ birth here.
It was a very long labor, so you get a very long story! :-) This is Part 1.
Here we go.
Baby Nichols was due on Saturday the 18th, technically, but I knew that that day was just a guess (we had like three or four different due dates in the beginning) and everything in me said it would be later, probably more like the 24th or 25th. Nonetheless, by the time Monday rolled around with nothing feeling different or exciting in any way, I was ready to get things moving.
At my midwife appointment Monday afternoon, I asked Denise (my midwife) to strip my membranes, which sounds dreadful but isn’t; it’s where she uses her fingers to gently separate and lift the bag of waters up off of the cervix. The idea is that it stimulates the body to produce lots of prostaglandins, which are cervical softeners and get everything all set for labor. It doesn’t induce labor, per se, but it often will help move things along if the body is ready. So, she went ahead and did that, and within an hour or two I did indeed start having some contractions, and lost my mucous plug. I was stoked.
The contractions weren’t regular, coming anywhere from every 8-15 minutes, and they weren’t super strong. I went about my evening as usual but did have to sway a little through each one. Even though I knew that they could and probably would peter out at any time (with Max I had contractions like that on and off for about a week before he was actually born), I was SO excited that my body was actually doing something labor-esque. It made me feel like I might actually get a baby this week after all.
The mild contractions continued throughout Monday night. I did go to bed and did sleep, but fitfully and in spurts, partly due to excitement and partly because the sensations were strong enough that it was hard to sleep through them, even though they weren’t strong enough yet to hurt. They spaced out during the night to about 1-2 an hour.
I expected to wake up on Tuesday without contractions, because that’s what had always happened with Max and because I still didn’t fully believe that my body would actually go into labor within any reasonable distance from its due date, but I continued to have them. They were a little milder than they had been the night before. Still strong enough that I would zone out when I had one, but not strong enough to require any swaying or anything.
We were supposed to have lunch with some friends at our beach house in Hope on Tuesday. It was a rainy morning, the first rain we had seen in a month or so. I don’t know if it made me feel gloomy or if I was already feeling that way and it just matched my mood, but regardless, I was feeling kind of down and yucky for some reason. But we went ahead and got everything ready and headed out to Hope. It was very nice to get together with everyone, but I was just feeling so irritable and emotional that I had a hard time enjoying myself. Contractions continued irregularly, every 10-40 minutes or so, and still light. I was feeling grumpy and eager to go home.
We got home and the contractions continued. Max took his nap and I tried to sleep with him but couldn’t, so I got up and puttered around in the kitchen a little. Todd had gone over to a buddy’s house across the parking lot to hang out for awhile. Max finally woke up about 4 and I was on the verge of tears for no reason at all except that I was tired and grumpy and wondering if I would ever have a new baby. I decided to call my midwife and see if she could check me at the office before she went home for the day. I didn’t expect anything to be different, but I figured that even if I was like 1% more effaced than I had been the day before, that would be better than nothing! She told me to come on down, so I dropped Max off with Todd at his friend’s house and headed to the birth center.
Denise joked with me that usually when people are feeling weepy and grumpy, there will soon be a baby on the way! And indeed, there was progress: 3 centimeters dilated. I wasn’t actually in labor yet, which I had of course known, but I was glad to know that all of those contractions weren’t totally for nothing.
“Your cervix feels much better today than it did yesterday,” said Denise. “I’ll definitely be surprised if you aren’t waking me up tonight!” I didn’t think I would actually go into labor so soon, but this still cheered me up. As I headed out the door I heard her telling Kathy, the receptionist, “Hers is the best cervix I’ve felt all day!”, so I knew she hadn’t been saying that just to cheer me up.
They told me to go home and take a nap since I was tired from the night before, and would need all the energy I could get if I did in fact go into labor that night.
I got home around 5:15 and decided to start getting some of my “early labor chores” done, just in case, even though I wasn’t in labor yet. I knew I was supposed to take a nap but was feeling restless and just wanted to get on top of things. I stripped the bed and re-made it with fresh sheets, a plastic drop cloth, and clean old sheets on top of that, in case we ended up having the baby in bed (even though we were planning a waterbirth). Around 6pm the contractions started kicking in much harder than they had been, and I continued my chores: chopping up ginger and putting it in the crockpot for compresses, doing some final cleaning and sweeping, and finally, baking Baby Nichols’ birthday cake. I figured at this point that even if the baby wasn’t born for a couple of days, we would just let the cake be a little stale, but I wanted to make it now. Max and Todd were still at his friend’s house, so I was alone, which was nice. The contractions definitely made me stop and sway through them. They didn’t require much more attention than that, but they were noticeably stronger than they’d been the day before. I tried laying down for awhile to rest, but just couldn’t sleep or relax very much.
Around 7:30 Todd came home and I decided to run over to Starbucks to use the internet to download a contraction timer onto the iPad. I went in and chatted with the closers for awhile, swaying through contractions occasionally (I didn’t mention anything about them, though – not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up too much, including my own!), then downloaded the timer app and came home again.
The contractions were getting stronger. I was still feeling pretty serious, not excited like I’d been on Monday night, mostly because I still didn’t think I was in labor and was frustrated by that. The contractions were every 10-11 minutes on the nose, but they weren’t getting any closer together. That’s how you know you’re in labor, when contractions start getting harder and closer together within an hour of timing them. The hours ticked by, and they were still every 10 minutes or so. For awhile they were 8 minutes apart, but then they were 12 minutes apart, and then back to 10.
I was very tired by this point, partly because I hadn’t slept well the night before and partly because I was feeling emotionally drained from the day. I decided to try to go to bed. I asked Todd and Max if they could sleep on the couch so I could have some privacy and focus on trying to relax, and they obliged, so we all settled in for the night. I think it was 9:30 or so.
The contractions were starting to really hurt. They had been getting stronger, but not closer together, and not longer; they were still each only about 50 seconds long, though they were getting VERY intense during those 50 seconds. In fact, they were so intense I had to jump out of bed when I had one, and very quickly gave up the idea of sleeping. These contractions felt different than I remember them feeling when I was in labor with Max; they were far more painful and felt overwhelming. I didn’t have a chance to work into each one like I did in my previous labor. They would just hit, and it took everything I had within me to not come apart at the seams and make it through each one. They were STILL only ten minutes apart, too, which was maddening. What was going on?? Why wasn’t I actually going into labor? (I consider this whole evening part of my labor because I was in fact “laboring”, and very hard, at that, but I wasn’t in “active labor” with contractions every 4-5 minutes, at least 60 seconds long, and getting closer together.)
I was feeling more emotional than ever, and starting to get scared. These contractions hurt. Bad. It took everything I had in me to get through each one. If this was only early labor, how on earth was I going to cope when things started picking up? How would I manage to get through one of these monster contractions every 4 minutes, or 3 minutes, or 2?? I would feel one coming and try to find a way to get through it, but nothing was working.
With Max, I would find a rhythm that worked for me for awhile and use that through contractions and it felt totally natural; for most of the labor, when I felt a contraction coming on (and like I said, I always had time to work into each one), I would quickly start pacing and speed-walk into the other room, which was dark, and then either pace quickly in tiny circles while making low moans, or press my face against the glass the of the sliding glass door and make low moans there. Then the contraction would pass, and I’d go back and socialize with everyone until the next one. I did this for hours and it worked fantastically well. The contractions were VERY strong, of course, and very intense, but they weren’t outrightly painful; they felt productive, and I enjoyed the sensation of my body working to bring my baby closer.
But not this time. This time a contraction would just hit me, and I had about 1 second from feeling the first stirrings of it before it would consume me entirely. I tried pacing. I tried rocking. I tried getting on my hands and knees, I tried breathing, I tried blowing my lips out like a horse. I tried pressing my face against the door, pressing it into the corner, pressing it into an icon of the Theotokos that I was carrying around. I tried saying “Ooooopen, oooopen, oooopen” like they do in all of the Ina May stories. I tried repeating “Isou Panagia, Isou Panagia”, which is a sort of mini-prayer built out of two longer prayers that one of my very Greek Orthodox friends taught me, and I used it like a mantra. That probably helped more than anything, but only minimally. I was really starting to freak out and absolutely dread the next contraction. I couldn’t handle it! I felt like my body was ripping itself apart in there or something with each one, and even though they were only 50 seconds long they felt like they went on and on.
And they were STILL only ten minutes apart. UGH.
I finally called Denise around 11 or 11:30, not because it was time for her to come, but because I was freaking out. I was crying as I talked to her on the phone. “They HURT!” I lamented, which sounded so pathetic, but it was all I could find to say. “They hurt” just wasn’t enough close to describing what I was actually feeling, but it was the best I could do. “This is NOTHING like my labor with Max! These hurt so much worse than I remember labor feeling like! AND THEY’RE STILL ONLY TEN MINUTES APART!”
“When did you start having them?” Denise asked.
“Basically since I left the birth center! Hours ago!! Sometimes they’d be like eight minutes apart, even six minutes at one point, but sometimes like fifteen. They are mostly ten minutes. They aren’t getting any closer together… they hurt so bad… I don’t know what to do!”
She asked me if each one would come on really quickly. I didn’t really understand what she was driving at and said that I had a second or two at the beginning of each one where I could tell one was coming.
“Do you want me to come over?” she asked.
“No, not yet,” I said tearfully. I knew it was too early. I still wasn’t even in active labor, even though the contractions were so strong. “I just need emotional support… I don’t know what to do. How am I going to get through this? It didn’t feel like this before!”
“Well, how about this. Try taking a bath. The warm water should either slow things down enough that you will be able to get some sleep, or they’ll help you cope through the contractions, if nothing else. Call me if you need me, okay?”
“Okay,” I sniffed.
I started drawing a bath. Within a few minutes Denise sent me a very sweet text full of encouragement, reminding me of some of the affirmations I’d developed beforehand in preparation for labor. It was very nice, but I felt like the affirmations were useless to me at this point; when a contraction would hit, everything in my brain and consciousness immediately checked out, and I was lost in pain. Even if I could remember all of the visualizations and stuff I’d worked on at that point, I just couldn’t figure out how to integrate it well enough to feel on top of the contraction. Like I’ve said, they were utterly overwhelming.
While the tub was filling, I went out into the living room and gathered some candles and my icon of the Theotokos, trying to be careful and not wake Todd and Max, who were cuddled up sleeping on the couch together. I put the icon on the floor or the bathroom opposite the tub and set up candles all around it and a vigil lamp in front. I knew I needed to relax to try and get a handle on things and was trying to soothe myself as much as possible.
I got into the tub. Unfortunately, our bath tub is incredibly tiny, so it is hard for a pregnant lady to fit in there, but I did manage to find a way to sit sideways so that my belly was in the water and I could sort of lean forward and rest my arms and my head on the edge of the tub. I put a towel on the ledge like a pillow and rested forward on it, gazing at the icon. A contraction came. It was still horribly wrenching, but it did feel more manageable in the water!! “Eisou Panagia, Eisou Panagia, Eisou Panagia,” I whispered fervently, over and over again, willing myself through the pain and begging for divine intercession and mercy. When the contraction was over, I rested my head on my arms, watching the flames, gazing into the icon, and resting. I did feel like I was starting to relax, and dozed a bit. I stayed in the tub for maybe an hour, dozing in between contractions, and trying to keep my head on my shoulders during them. I had stopped timing them while I was in the tub (plus that had just been frustrating me), but could tell they had also slowed down a bit, which was a relief.
The water was getting cold so I decided to be brave and get out. I was feeling much better, at least emotionally if not physically. The little bit of rest had helped some, even if I hadn’t actually slept. I think it was around 12:30 or 12:45 a.m. at this point.
I went into the living room and felt bad for Todd and Max being scrunched on the couch when I wasn’t even using the bed. I woke Todd up and told him to go get in bed with Max, which he did. I also wanted to be in the living room for awhile. At this point I knew I was not going to sleep; it was impossible. My goal now was to find a way to survive, either until the morning came, or until active labor kicked in and my contractions started getting closer together. (I couldn’t imagine it even being possible for them to get stronger than they were at this point, though! And indeed, I don’t think it was! These contractions were truly unreal.)
Baby Nichols’ birthday cake was cool at this point, so I decided to make the ganache that I was planning of the icing.
I started timing contractions on the iPad again while I was making the ganache. They were still extremely painful but they seemed more manageable now! And, glory of glories, they were about six minutes apart. I was feeling much more optimistic at this point. As long as I was in motion while a contraction came on, which was easy enough to do as I was up and about, heating cream, chopping chocolate, and doing dishes, I was able to handle it. I actually felt like I might get through this after all.
I finished the ganache and assembled the cake layers. Ten minutes came and went without a contraction. Then fifteen. I was very tired, so I sat down on the birth ball for a second. As soon as I sat down, though, and there was more pressure on my cervix, BAM, I was bowled over with another contraction from hell. AAAAUUUGGGH. It was horrible. I quickly got up and started walking around again.
By now it was around 2 a.m. The contractions were back to about 10 minutes apart, still only 50 seconds long, and absolutely excruciating. Yet again, I couldn’t handle them, and felt like I was losing my mind whenever I had one. I was also SO. TIRED. I decided to try resting on the couch, because I HAD to lay down, and sitting down made the contractions too painful when they did come. So I lay down on the couch and closed my eyes, trying to sleep or at least rest, breathing deeply. When I would feel that 1.5 second stirring of the beginning of a contraction, I would jump up to try and get on top of it, but they were just too sudden and too intense. I again tried all sorts of pacing, chanting, rocking, and different positions to get through each one, but it seemed impossible. When one finally passed I laid back down and tried to sleep again. Ten minutes later, I’d feel like I was going to die, all over again.
I did this until about 3:30 when I couldn’t bear it any more. I wanted to rest more, but when the contractions hit me lying down it was just too much. I got up and started pacing around, forcing one foot in front of the other, feeling like a zombie. SO TIRED. The contractions were still maddeningly painful, but at least when I was standing up I felt like I had one more instant to prepare for them than I did sitting or lying down.
At this point it was going on 4 and it was close enough to morning that I didn’t want to wake Denise until she’d been able to sleep later. I felt like if I could just make it until dawn, I might survive. For some reason, I felt like these contractions couldn’t possibly hurt as much in the light of day as they did in the night.
I decided to push myself to 4:30. Pacing. Breathing. Trying not to die. Trying very hard to die.
Still no light in the sky.
5:00 a.m. came. I was losing it and remembered how the bath had helped the night before. So I went into the bathroom and shut the door, trying not to wake Todd and Max but also not caring, and drew another bath. I got in when the water was only a few inches deep because I couldn’t wait, and let it fill around me. My towel-pillow was still there so I set myself up with it and tried to rest.
I spent another hour in the tub. The water wasn’t helping me with the pain of the contractions anymore. I did find that if I pressed as hard on my tailbone and lower back as I possibly could and rubbed in circles, the pain was a little more manageable, though I still just about panicked through each one. (Pokey labor… lower back pressure giving some relief… birthy people, any guesses yet as to what’s going on here??)
Finally, I got out of the tub, dried off and opened the bathroom door. Startlingly, the outside world was suddenly light in the dawn. When I’d gone into the bathroom, it had still been dark. Daylight! Morning had come! I’d made it alive through the night!
But, the contractions were still mind-blowingly painful. I can’t even come up with a metaphor for what they felt like (I was going to say something about someone reaching in and grabbing my insides and twisting them right out of me, and maybe throw in something about knives and fire, but even that doesn’t quite do it justice…) because they were so horrendous that they really just defy description. Just believe me, people, when I say that these were more painful than just about anything I’d felt before (with the possible exception of Max’s head, fist and elbow tearing me open, but that’s another story!), and that they were NOT like regular labor contractions. Not at all.
Todd and Max woke up suddenly, around 5:45. Max wanted breakfast so Todd took him into the kitchen even though it was so early. I was glad, because I wanted the bedroom to myself. A contraction came. I couldn’t hold back anymore. I grabbed a pillow and SCREAMED into it. I screamed and screamed until the contraction was over. Then I grabbed my phone and called Denise. I couldn’t handle it one more second.
For the next part of the story, click here: Baby Nichols Arrives, Part 2: It Gets Worse.