Elspeth is just over two weeks old and just as sweet as ever. Her favorite things include eating, sleeping, bath time, making adorable facial expressions, and pontificating (rather loudly) about the relative discomfort of diaper changes.
As for me, I’m trying to master the art of Motherly Multitasking. Basically, do everything you’d normally do except with one addition–try to breastfeed your kid at the same time! Eating, sleeping, and checking e-mail all become complicated endeavors when you add a boob to the mix, but I’m sure I’ll be a pro by the end of January.
So here it is–the long, long birth story. Elspeth did not make her entrance into the world quickly or easily, but then I’ve always been one to do things the hard way… why would my daughter be any different?
We’re talking days of labor. Days. Apparently my body is a bit slow to catch on to the whole birthing process. Someone forgot to tell my cervix that dilation is a necessary component of getting the baby out and so it decided to take its pleasant time in getting from point A to point PUSH!
Contractions started early on the morning of December 17th, and by 7 a.m. I was in active labor. We called our midwife, Andrea, and our doula, Evelyn, to let them know, and Tim made up a birth bed in the guest bedroom. It started off intense… contractions were 2 minutes apart right from the beginning, and they got longer and stronger very quickly. I didn’t have much break in between, which was a bit scary. I figured I’d have a few minutes to catch my breath, but my body had other ideas! Thankfully our doula was a huge help in reassuring me that the pain was good, that it meant my body was doing what it needed to do. Throughout the entire labor, staying calm was key in keeping the pain at a bearable level.
Tim helped Evelyn set up a birth tub in the kitchen and by the time I got in, I was pretty uncomfortable. Labor pain is something else entirely… I can’t compare it to anything I’ve ever felt, but once I got used to the rhythm, it was manageable, and the tub was a pleasant distraction. As things got more intense, I withdrew into myself… all energy was focused on getting through the next contraction. By the time our midwife arrived, we were all pretty certain I’d be holding baby Elspeth in my arms that evening. Things appeared to be progressing fast.
But a few hours later, the contractions lessened in intensity and and I was getting tired. I hadn’t been able to keep food down for most of the day, and I hadn’t had a decent meal in well over 24 hours, so my energy was low. That was probably the most excruciating part of the first day… when I realized I didn’t have the strength to keep going. Because my water hadn’t broken, there was no risk of infection and therefore no rush, so our midwife agreed it would be best if I rested. She checked my cervix around 8 p.m. and–after 12 hours of active labor–I was only 2 cm dilated.
TWO CENTIMETERS, people. This is what they call “failure to progress.” I was pretty bummed, but Andrea reassured me that this isn’t uncommon for first-time moms, and that things would probably pick up again in the next few days.
Wednesday night was bad, because the contractions kept coming (albeit several minutes apart) and I was frustrated knowing they weren’t effective. The pain was enough to keep me from getting much rest, but by Thursday morning they had mostly subsided. I was able to sleep and eat. The contractions were still there, but spaced far apart and less intense.
Thursday night was scary… I started having localized pain in my upper right side–not like contraction pain, but on top of the contractions it was almost unbearable–and I was vomiting. Also, my bladder was aching so badly I could barely walk, I couldn’t pee, and I worried about a kidney infection or a UTI. Tim and I decided to go to the emergency room because things didn’t feel right. I was admitted to labor and delivery at Eastern Maine Medical around 11 p.m., where the OB on call ran some tests. They all came back negative for infection, and an ultrasound confirmed that baby’s head was firmly seated on my bladder–hence the inability to pee! The OB theorized that I was probably feeling kidney pain brought on by fluid retention and the stress of labor. We had the option of being admitted to the hospital for induction, but by that point the worst pain had subsided (of course) and I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being induced, so we opted to head home.
On Friday morning the labor really picked up again, with contractions coming closer and closer together. Once again, we called Andrea and Evelyn, and they came over around 1 p.m. Andrea checked me and I was 6-7 cm dilated–YAY! All of Thursday’s contractions were actually doing something (very slowly, but hey, progress is progress) and I was back in active labor. Andrea predicted we’d have a baby by midnight, possibly sooner.
But much like Wednesday, the going was slow. My labor’s transition–the most painful, intense part–lasted for hours and hours. By 11 p.m. I was 9 cm dilated, and once again I was exhausted–physically and emotionally. Resting was not an option because the contractions were too intense, and I still had a long way to go.
At that point, I decided (with some encouragement from Andrea and Evelyn) to transfer to the hospital. Even if I’d gotten to 10 cm at home, I wouldn’t have had the energy to push, and there was no telling how long it would take and how much more it would drain me to get there. At that point I didn’t care if I had to have a C-section–I just wanted the kid OUT and to not be in pain.
So in the wee hours of Saturday morning it was off to Maine Coast Memorial Hospital in Ellsworth (why we chose Ellsworth is a long and complicated political story–suffice it to say they were a much better choice, despite the distance), where I was strapped to a bed and given an IV and asked a million questions (some of which I answered, some of which I couldn’t because I was too busy yelling). Thankfully the OB on call was not unkind about treating a home birth patient (some are) although it was clear he had reservations about our choosing to transfer so late in the labor. As he’d soon find out, though, we were in no danger of delivering a baby on the side of the road. Elspeth was still taking her pleasant time.
By this point I had no modesty left… everything was about getting away from the pain. Screaming, swearing and thrashing about were all fair game! When the nurse kindly asked me if I had a birth plan, I told her, “Get the #$%&!ing kid out of me now. That’s my birth plan.” Yeah, I turned into that laboring woman–the one brandishing a rolling pin and screaming obscenities at her husband. Thankfully no one in the room took it personally! And I joke about yelling at Tim, because I had no reason to… he was absolutely amazing through the entire process… attentive, encouraging, and comforting. If he was afraid at any point in the labor, he didn’t let it show. I was (and still am) very proud of him.
I have never been so thankful for an epidural. The moment those sweet, sweet narcotics hit my system, I wanted to get out of bed and jump for joy–and I would have if my legs hadn’t been numb! I was put on a Pitocin drip to help my cervix dilate, but I could barely feel the contractions… just a tightening sensation in my lower back and abdomen. The nurse also gave me a shot of Benedryl, which had the pleasant side effect of making me drowsy, and I was finally able to sleep. Andrea, Evelyn, Tim and my mom stayed with me in the delivery room while I snoozed. I didn’t have a great sense of time at this point, but it took about five hours to get from 9 to 10 cm with the Pitocin. When the OB checked my cervix again, he found that Elspeth’s head was applied at a funny angle, which explained why I was dilating slowly. I was thisclose to having a C-section, but thankfully they were willing to give it some time.
When they told me I could push, I almost didn’t believe it. It was the shortest and easiest part of the labor… she was out after only an hour or so. In fact, she came so quickly that the OB wasn’t ready to catch her, and they hadn’t even brought the baby warmer into the room. I got to a point where I couldn’t NOT push because the feeling was too intense, and I vaguely remember saying, “I think that’s the head,” before Elspeth flew out of me. After such a long, drawn-out labor she was just as eager to get it over with as I was.
The nurses rushed Ellie out to the warmer and gave her oxygen. Her APGAR scores were 3 and 7, respectively… the long labor took its toll, but she recovered and pinked up quickly. Her mama was not so fortunate… I was shipped off to the OR to be stitched up under general anesthesia (I’ll spare you the gory details… let’s just say sitting was not very comfortable for several days).
I did get to hold her briefly before they took me away, and what they say is true: I forgot about the pain the minute I looked into her big, dark eyes. She’s perfect and we love her so very much. It’s nuts, but I’d actually consider doing this again. Totally worth it.