I found the birth stories that people posted while I was pregnant to be really useful, and I vowed that I would post my complete story.
There's a short version first, and then a long version for those who are interested in the details. I started writing down the times of contractions when I first thought I might be in labor (mostly to give me something to do), and jotted down notes about what else was going on and how I was feeling, along with the times. Then Pauline (a friend who was present for the birth, sort of acting as a doula) kept a log while we were at the hospital. So even though my recollection is kind of vague, I had good notes to work from. The long version is actually an extract from a journal I've been keeping since I found out I was pregnant (and have still been writing in at least once a week, so far!).
Overall I was pretty happy with my birth experience. I wasn't too crazy about the way some of the medical staff acted (see long version). I also spent more time in bed (lying on my side) than I had planned (at least at the hospital - up until then, I was mostly up and walking around, especially in early labor), but that's mostly because I was just completely exhausted. I was monitored more (external only) than I would have liked to be, but in some ways it was a good thing, because my "support team" could tell me when I was having an extra-strong contraction (validating how I felt), and when it was tapering off. I had asked my doctor to avoid an episiotomy if possible, telling her that I would prefer a mild tear. She told me afterwards that she could see I was about to tear, so she made a very small cut to that I would tear along the midline. I don't know how it would have gone without that, but I healed fairly quickly, so I don't have any bad feelings.
I had great support people (my wonderful, amazing husband John, and a wonderfully great friend, Pauline), and I ended up with the world's most terrific baby, and I might even do it again someday.
Mom to Heather 4/2/94
The Short Version
Around 3:00, we went to the hospital, and they sent me home: I was 1.5 cm dilated, supposedly in prodromal labor. They told me it would probably be a day or two, and gave me a sleeping pill to help me sleep that night. We went back home, I got in the bathtub, and half an hour later was in killer pain, and thinking "Jeez, this is going to last for another day or two?! We'd better get me to the hospital for some serious pain medication."
At 6:00, we called the doctor, and went to the hospital; got there a little before 7:00, and I was 4cm dilated. So much for prodromal labor. Unfortunately, by this time a lot of my self-confidence was gone, because I thought it was going to be going on for so much longer.
I had three half-doses of Fentanyl (a narcotic) at about 7:50, 8:10, and 8:35. They made the peaks of the contractions a little bit more tolerable, but more importantly let me relax some in between the contractions: by this time they were 120 seconds between peaks, lasting 60 seconds, and I was completely exhausted. (I honestly can't imagine what I would have done if my labor had been much longer, or if I hadn't had a good night's sleep just before labor started. I guess I would have endured: for the last few hours, I kept saying "I can't do this;" but of course, when you're in labor, you can't just stop.)
I'm glad I didn't have anything stronger than the Fentanyl, since I think an epidural would probably have made the labor longer. But that's in retrospect, now that I've forgotten the intensity of the pain.
Heather is now 2 years old, and is usually a joy to be around, except when she's being "extra-two." She speaks in complete sentences, loves to pretend, runs, jumps, and is starting to try to dress herself. ("I can do it myself!" is probably the most common phrase heard in our house.) She wasn't the easiest baby in the world, but she was active and alert and healthy from the time she was born, and we love her to pieces.
The Long Version
Prologue: I was due on March 24th. On March 31st, we went to the doctor and had a nonstress test. Although everything looked fine, and the baby didn't seem to be dangerously large or anything, my doctor was talking about inducing at the end of the next week if I hadn't delivered by then. I seriously wanted to avoid induction, and was quite ready for the baby to be born.
7:38am: I wake up, thinking I felt a contraction that was different from the prelabor contractions I've been having for the last week or two. It was more like a menstrual cramp. I lie awake, watching the clock.
7:53am: Another one. I don't want to wake John up, but I'm too antsy to sleep, so I get up and go to the living room. The contractions keep coming every 10 minutes or so; I start writing them down on a pad of paper.
9:00am: John gets up, and I hide the pad, not wanting to tip him off until I'm sure. At 9:06 I feel another contraction, so I say, "Well, it looks like you'll win the pool if we're lucky" [he bet on April 2 - we won eight bucks!] Only takes him a second: "Are you in labor?" "Well, I think I might be..." I keep watching the clock - contractions seem to be every 7 minutes or so. It's hard to tell, sometimes, since they're pretty mild still.
9:30am: Mark called - we were supposed to have them over for dinner. I tell him I'm pretty sure that dinner is off. They'll call back later to check on us. I notice that the cramp-like feeling isn't as strong when I'm up and walking around.
10am: John listens to the baby's heartbeat. It's 150 between, and 171 during contractions. They're now down to every 4-5 minutes, but sometimes 10 minutes (or maybe I occasionally miss one - it's still hard to tell exactly when they start and stop). I make a nice hearty breakfast for John, to give him energy (he may need it! - and it turns out he doesn't really get another chance to eat anything until it's all over). Also, it gives me something to do, and being on my feet is more comfortable.
11am: I have a light lunch (soup, crackers, cheese, and o.j.) and call Pauline (she's not there, but I leave a message), Mom, Dad, my sister Susan, and John's cousin Kathy. The contractions are every 5 minutes or so - more often and regular when I'm up, less often when I sit down. It's still sometimes hard to tell if I'm having one - my abdomen doesn't get as hard as it used to with the Braxton-Hicks contractions. They last roughly 45 seconds (again, it's hard to tell).
11:55am: Alan and Karen stop by to drop off the breast pump they're lending us and a gift for Pebbles (a Disney-Bambi activity center). They're a little embarrassed about coming by while I'm in labor, but I'm sort of glad for the distraction. Lise calls, and can't believe I'm in labor and answering the phone! I can talk through the contractions easily, though.
12:15pm: I call the doctor, since the contractions are coming pretty regularly (every 3 minutes while I'm up, every 5 minutes while I'm sitting down), although they're not too painful. Dr. L [my doctor's partner] is on call, and says to call back when they're more like 3 minutes apart and much stronger. He's not a very warm guy, and doesn't seem real interested - he obviously thinks I'm jumping the gun. Well, he does this all the time (from that end), but it's my first time, and I sure don't know what's going on! I'm glad Dr. S will be there for the birth, not him.
12:25pm: I call Penny, but there's no answer, so I leave a message.
12:50pm: I call Diane to cancel tomorrow's dinner plans. She's excited!
1:45pm: I call Pauline (she couldn't find my phone number to call me back, but is *very* excited - she'll try to get in touch with Rick so he can watch Daniel). I also call Marie to let her know things have started. We go for a walk to Menalto Market for some juice. During the walk, the contractions are coming every 3 minutes and are mildly painful, but not intolerable. (Of course, at this point, I have no clue how intolerable they're going to get, so I have nothing to compare them to.)
2:30pm: We call the doctor. He's obviously somewhat skeptical, but says to go to the hospital and have the nurse check me.
3pm: We get to the hospital, and the nurse (J, who, it turns out, will be our labor nurse for the whole thing) puts the monitors on me for 20 minutes or so. The contractions slow down to every 5 minutes or so; the baby is doing fine during them. She does an internal exam and says I'm 1.5cm dilated, and my cervix is still posterior. But I was 1cm two weeks ago! She says this is prodromal labor - it doesn't even count as "real" labor until I'm 3cm. This could last for 1 or 2 days! She tells us to go home and try to distract ourselves, since it may be a while. Pretty discouraging, but I guess we'll manage. On the way home, we stop for gas, and I seriously consider having a burger at McD's - if this is going to go on for 2 days, I'll need more than soup! But I decide to wait.
I feel some discharge during the drive - sure enough, when we get home (around 4:10pm), I pass the mucous plug. There's quite a bit of blood and mucous, which surprises me (since some women supposedly pass it in the days before they go into labor without noticing - you couldn't miss this!). But I know it's normal. I find it very reassuring - it means this is really happening!
4:15pm: The contractions are very regular and starting to get quite painful. I decide to take a bath, since Penny said that made her labor much easier. But it doesn't work for me - the contractions keep getting stronger and harder.
4:30pm: I get out of the tub and try walking around. It helps a bit, but they're still getting worse. I have to start concentrating on my breathing, and lean on something to get through them.
4:45pm: John's in the yard pulling weeds, and the contractions have become too strong for me to handle alone. I go out and call him to come in - he's very worried, but I reassure him that I just need him to help me.
5:00pm: We sit and walk around the bedroom, trying different breathing and focusing techniques. It's getting harder and harder to handle it. I'm also getting frightened and losing psychological control - can this really go on for another day or two?! There's no way I'll be able to cope. They had offered me morphine to help me sleep, which I thought I didn't need, but I realize I will need something if this goes on much longer.
6:00pm: I've tried to wait as long as I can, given the doctor's and nurse's reaction last time, but I make John call the doctor (there's no way I'd be able to talk on the phone - in fact, I have to send him into the next room during contractions (while he's on the phone) because at the peak I'm letting out yelps (to put it mildly)). We also call Pauline and tell her to meet us at the hospital as soon as Rick gets there to watch Daniel.
6:10pm: We leave for the hospital. I'm very scared about the car ride, and getting through the contractions in a moving car, with my "support person" busy driving. It's not easy, but we make it (what else can we do?) On the way into the hospital, I have to stop and lean on a pole to get through a contraction. Some guy comes over to offer to go get us a wheelchair, and I practically yell at him to go away - the last thing I want is to sit in a wheelchair! Another one hits at the top of the elevator, and John has to hold the door because I can't move!
6:30pm: J examines me - I'm at 4cm, and definitely in active labor. This is great news, but my confidence has really been shaken by the first visit. I think that if I had been treated differently by Dr. L and nurse J the first time around - taken more seriously - I'd handle it better. As it is, I'm pretty proud of myself for getting through it (this is definitely the hardest thing I've ever done), but I wish I'd had the chance to go into it with a more positive attitude. I'm also totally exhausted - how did Penny do this without having had a good night's sleep beforehand?!
I take a shower - it helps some, but soon I'm too tired to sit up in the shower. We go back to the labor room, and I try sitting on the side of the bed, standing and leaning on John during contractions (which are easier when I'm standing up; but I'm too tired to stand up the whole time).
7:15pm: Pauline arrives. Her energy and excitement really help. I'm now too tired to stand up, though, so I get in bed and lie on my right side, where I stay for the rest of the time. (At one point, I try my left side, but it's not as comfortable.) The contractions are about 45 seconds long, and 2 minutes apart, which doesn't leave much time to rest in between. Pauline said that when she got there, I was very pale and tired-looking, which is about how I felt.
7:30pm: I start to get the shakes and am having very strong contractions. They put the monitor on again - it's somewhat uncomfortable, but in a way it helps that John and Pauline can see how strong the contractions are, and when they peak.
7:45pm: The nurse does another internal exam. I'm 7.5cm dilated, and my bag of waters is bulging. I still have intense shakes, and need warm blankets put over me - a sign that I'm moving into transition. I start to get very annoyed when anyone puts undesired pressure on me, and keep telling John not to lean on me. Pauline said later that she thought it was funny that I kept telling John that, but when she rested her hand on me and I yelled "Don't lean on me!" she knew I was serious. For the rest of the labor (until the pushing stage), John or Pauline stands in front of me, holding my hand and talking me through the contractions, and the other one is behind me, rubbing my back or shoulders when it doesn't bother me. J sometimes comes in and (as John put it) "takes over" - saying "think about the baby moving down; about your cervix opening." I don't find this very helpful - I don't want to think about what's going on down there at all, just to focus on making it through each contraction.
7:50pm: I can't take it any more, and tell John we need to get me something for the pain. I definitely don't want an epidural (it's getting a bit late for that, and would involve an elaborate process and waiting for it to take effect; plus it would probably slow things down and I want to meet my baby soon!). I just need some marginal relief right now. The nurse puts in an i.v. and gives me a half-dose of Fentanyl, a narcotic. She says it will take effect right away, and sure enough, it does. I'm still in a lot of pain, but the contractions feel a little shorter (the beginning and end aren't as noticeable to me), and I can relax much better between contractions - I'm almost spacey (but not during the contractions!). Pauline makes a note that the baby's heart rate is 130 between and 142 during contractions - still very healthy.
8:00pm: The contractions keep getting stronger, and the back pain is worse. Pressure or massage helps - sometimes only between contractions, though, and sometimes not at all. I ask John to put on some music (we brought our portable CD player and mini-speakers). He chooses "Best of James Taylor," a good choice - very mellow, and familiar, so I can focus on it easily. "Going to Carolina" comes on and John says we could call the baby North Carolina - then the second can be South Carolina. (Of course, at this point, I can't imagine that I would ever voluntarily choose to do this again!! Maybe adoption...)
8:12pm: Another half-dose of Fentanyl. I forget what I said, but someone said "You're not here to entertain us." I respond, "Oh, really? I was going to do a tap dance." The most painful experience of my life and I still have a sense of humor!
8:15pm: The nurse goes to call Dr. S. My contractions are now hitting 80+ on the 0-100 scale. I'm doing pretty well with the breathing (with help from John and Pauline, who keep reminding me to breathe instead of yelling, which is my default choice). John tells me the contractions can't get much worse, since they're near the top of the scale. I reply that they'll probably come in soon to recalibrate it.
8:25pm: The biggest contraction yet, during "When You Need a Friend" - 85+ on the monitor. The baby's heart rate is 136, dropping to 122 during the contraction - still OK. More bloody show - my waters must have broken during the contraction. The nurse does another exam - I'm now at 8cm (only .5cm in 40 minutes?!)
8:35pm: Third and final dose of Fentanyl.
8:41pm: My back feels like it's burning during contractions, which are getting very close together - 60 seconds long and 2 minutes apart (i.e., 1 minute from the end of one to the beginning of the next). I almost feel like pushing, but can't imagine how I will - I'm so tired! I keep asking how much longer it will be. It's getting harder to focus on breathing - sometimes fast breathing helps, but I'm resorting to yelling more. Why don't they teach you yelling techniques in Lamaze?
8:55pm: Dr. S arrives during the middle of an enormously painful (and loud...) contraction. She examines me - I'm almost fully dilated, but there's still some cervix on the right side. (Sure enough, that's where Heather's head is squished when she comes out.) I occasionally get slightly longer periods between contractions (90 seconds, what a treat!)
9:08pm: I feel nauseous (as I have off and on throughout), but don't quite throw up - just burp a few times.
9:12pm: I feel like I have to push, and actually push involuntarily at the peak of the contractions.
9:15pm: Pushing starts. They sit up the bed a bit further so I have gravity to help me out (I'm way too tired to squat, which I had thought I might try). With the light behind her, and her frizzy hair, Dr. S looks like a big blur with a halo. (I'm not wearing my glasses now.) I can't believe I've made it to this stage. The baby's moving around, so the monitor keeps losing the heartbeat.
The whole pushing stage is unbelievably hard and exhausting. Some women say they find it easier because they're doing something - not me. By this point, I feel completely drained of energy. I do four pushes, then have maybe 30 or 45 seconds to rest before the next set. I'm afraid to ask how long it will be - if I know, I might just give up. The doctor, nurse, and Pauline keep saying I'm doing great, but I can't tell whether the pushes are really effective, or how far the baby has moved.
9:24pm: The doctor says, "The baby has dark hair" - the first sighting!
9:28pm: They sit me up a bit further. John and Pauline are each holding one of my feet; with each contraction, I pull my knees up (hard to do with my belly and the baby in the way!) and push. The nurse has to keep reminding me not to push with my face - a few times, my eyes feel like they're going to pop out of my head. John tells me later that he could see it, and is no longer surprised that some women have bruises around their eyes after giving birth.
9:35pm: John and Pauline see the baby's head! There's a curl of dark hair that keeps peeking out. The baby's heart rate is still strong, about 155.
9:39pm: The head is coming down under the pubic bone, almost ready to crown. Need I repeat that this is all incredibly painful? But it's starting to be really exciting too.
9:50pm: They can all see the baby's head now (long curling hair); I'm complaining about the pain - it's burning. (I don't have a mirror or anything set up for me to see, which is fine, as it turns out; I really need to just concentrate on pushing.)
9:52pm: I reach down and touch the baby's head; it's almost ready. I resolve to push as hard as I can with the next push - I really want this to be over, and now it seems as though it will be soon!
9:54pm: The baby's born! [Although John pointed out later that the clock in the room, that they were using to get the exact time of birth, is off by two minutes...] The hardest (well, most painful, anyway) part of the whole labor is probably now - waiting for them to suction the baby and unwrap the cord, after the head comes out, with the rest of the baby still inside me! But then it - she - comes out and they put her right on my stomach. I can't believe we finally have our baby - and that she had been inside me until a few seconds ago. (Sometimes I still don't believe it!) She really is a beautiful baby - even covered with goop, you can tell she's cute, not goofy-looking like many newborns. And so much hair! I've never seen a newborn with as much hair as she has.
9:59pm: The placenta is delivered, but we're all too busy with Heather to care. Dr. S had made a tiny cut so I'd tear along the midline - since I had told her I didn't want an episiotomy - so she starts suturing the stitches. (It's about average - 2nd degree, maybe?) According to the notes, somebody (me? Pauline?) says, "You hurt your mommy like anything, but I forgive you - you're beautiful." Heather has a lusty cry! Apgars are 8 and 9 - points off for color (blue at 1 minute, blue and pink at 5 minutes). Her eyes are already open - we have a great photo of her looking directly at the camera. My blood pressure is 128/83 - high for me, but that's not too surprising. My heart rate is 99 - ditto. They towel off Heather a bit, and wrap her in a warm blanket, then I try to nurse her. She's reasonably interested, but isn't really sucking yet, just gumming.
12 midnight: They've bathed and examined the baby, finished stitching me, and are about ready to move me to a postpartum room. (We've also made a dozen or so phone calls to announce the big news.) First they take me to the bathroom - I'm a little nervous, since Pauline said she couldn't go after Daniel was born, and had to be catheterized. But I go with no problem (just a little burning). After I pee, though, I get very lightheaded and nearly faint. They revive me with smelling salts, carefully help me transfer into a wheelchair and wheel me to a postpartum room. What am I wearing at this point, you ask? Oh, it's very attractive - a hospital gown and a diaper (yes, a diaper - there's quite a bit of blood still coming out) held on by these bizarre fishnet panties. Pauline gives me a big hug, says she'll come visit tomorrow, and goes home.
1:30am: After a lot of settling in and checking various things (and regular visits to massage my uterus and help it contract, and check the bleeding - rather painful, but nothing compared to the labor itself!), we finally have some quiet time alone with Heather. I give her her first real feeding, and she really gets into it - she's a natural. I had been worried, since I know people who have had trouble breastfeeding, but we seem to make a good team. Several people had suggested laboring in my nightgown instead of a hospital gown, since they don't let you change afterwards and it's easier to nurse in your own gown (the hospital gown opens in the back). I'm glad I didn't, though - that gown ended up pretty grungy; I think I would have thrown it away. I just take it off one arm to nurse.
John folds down the (uncomfortable) extra bed, and we go to sleep, with Heather in her bassinet next to us.
2:45am: She wakes up and feeds again. I let her nurse for nearly 20 minutes on each side, but I think she might have gone on forever if I let her! After we put her down, she was fussy - not because she was actually hungry, I think, but just because she wanted to suck on something. She'd find her hand, suck on the side of that for a while, and lose it again and start crying. This went on for about an hour. The nurses kept offering pacifiers, but we didn't want her to get used to one so soon, if at all. [She turned out to be a fussy baby; when we finally got her to take a pacifier at around 4 weeks, we were just relieved. Now, at 2 years, she's hooked. So much for pre-parental idealism.] Also, I'm somewhat worried about nipple confusion (though I'm sure the hospital staff would have said "oh, it's no problem" - and who knows whether they'd have been right or not). [We had to fight to get her to take bottles of expressed milk - after 5 weeks of trying, finally would take one occasionally, with only minor complaining. So maybe giving her a nipple early would have helped?! Who knows...]
Epilogue: They took Heather away in the morning for some tests, and didn't bring her back until she started crying (she fell asleep after the tests, I guess), even though I had specifically requested rooming-in. But I did at least get to finish my breakfast! John slept all morning, but I was wide awake - too much adrenaline to sleep. I made lots of phone calls. We went home that night after dinner. The rest is history...
One extra comment for expectant moms: the thing I really didn't know about was how much bleeding there would be, and how yucky it would be. The morning after Heather was born, I passed a blood clot the size of a golf ball in the shower. Yuck! I'm glad I was still in the hospital, so I didn't have to clean it up. I was wearing "diapers" for the next few days, and changing serious heavy-duty sanitary napkins every few hours for the next week or two. It didn't let up until about 6 weeks postpartum, and then I still had a fair amount of (smelly...) discharge. Just another thing they don't warn you to expect...