In the end, I figured that those who would want to know can read on, and those who don't can click past.
When it comes right down to it, this is the most likely way that I'll remember this experience forever since becoming a blogger has basically turned me into a terrible journaler.
So here goes.
Two hours into my labor, right before we checked into the hospital
Raven Jade: A Birth Story
By Saturday morning, after a week of being on spring break and having "teaser" contractions for days, I had basically given up hope of her coming before I went back to work and decided to treat the day like I would if I weren't nine months pregnant. So, even though some people probably thought we were crazy, we decided to drive down south about an hour and a half to attend my niece's baptism and spend the day with family.
After a week largely spent alone with my thoughts since my husband still had to work, I embraced the bustle and questions of loved ones before and after the baptismal service, and I felt much more at peace about just letting the chips fall where they may concerning the timing of Raven's arrival.
A few hours later, after a potluck brunch with my family and a long chat with Matt's parents, we were back in our apartment, playing the two-player game Othello and eating homemade cookies when I started to feel contractions that were different than what I'd been feeling before---these were more rhythmic, and I could feel them all around my back and a lot lower down my pelvis. Twenty-five minutes passed with the contractions coming solidly every five minutes, so I decided it was time to contact my sister, who had agreed to drive up from Syracuse to help me through my labor (since she had experienced four natural childbirths herself and would be a great help through my first time).
I'd had a couple false alarms earlier in the week, so she told me to go take a shower and continue watching/timing the surges as they came, and if they didn't ease up, to call her back in 15 minutes and let her know to start driving.
As I hopped in the shower, I felt relaxed and confident--I even had the presence of mind to shave my legs--and I welcomed each surge as it came on, knowing deep down that this was the real thing and that I was ready. We were finally going to meet our baby!
Matt and I took our time getting together the last-minute things for the hospital, although it didn't feel like it at the time--time seemed to be going in a rush as we stuffed last-minute items like deodorant and toothbrushes into our bags and double- and triple-checked that we had what was most important.
Finally, we were off, and we arrived at the hospital around 9:15 p.m. on Saturday night, two hours after my contractions had started.
I'm sure the nurses murmured amongst themselves that I'd probably come in too early--I was cracking jokes and calmly telling them that I was in labor and ready to have my baby. But, sure enough, when they checked me, I'd dilated to a five, and my antibiotic treatment was started shortly thereafter (since I had tested Strep B positive and therefore had to have the line in for at least 4 hours (ideally) before the baby showed up).
Then the doctor came in (a little earlier than planned) and broke my water around 12:30 a.m. Within a half hour, the nature of the contractions changed drastically, and I was no longer joking around and making small talk with Matt and Jill. Instead of just feeling the urge to breathe slowly through each contraction, I knew instinctively that I needed to start "breathing the baby down" (as they call it in hypnobirthing), and my breathing changed from calm and slow to very focused and forced downward.
As each surge got tougher and more intense, I started relying heavily on my two coaches, and I tried to focus on the back massages they were giving me rather than the intense pressure and discomfort I was feeling. Whenever I started to lose focus (which began to happen much more than I thought it would despite my months of training), my sister would direct my attention to her eyes, and she would reassure me through it. When I reached the point that I felt a decently intense urge to go to the bathroom, I thought I must be close and asked for the nurse to come in and check me (which was significant, because the first internal exam at the hospital was so uncomfortable that I'd vowed I wouldn't allow them to check me any more until it was absolutely necessary to check if I was ready to push).
Matt helping me relax through a contraction
I was starting to get really tired by this point (seeing as how it was about 4:00 in the morning and I thought my labor experience would go much quicker than it had because of how much I'd dilated when I went in and going by the "fact" that the transition stage for most women--the dilation from a 7 to a 10--is usually pretty fast), and I fully expected the nurse to give me the go-ahead to push.
When she conveniently "left out" what I'd dilated to after the exam and told me instead I just had a "little bit more to go" before I could start pushing, I was devastated--I knew if she wasn't telling me the number that I must not be nearly as far along as I thought, and my mind went to a pretty dark place. My energy stores were quickly being exhausted, and I'd already started to lose focus. For the first time, I really questioned my ability to do this whole natural-birth thing.
I didn't allow myself to ask Jill and Matt what I'd really dilated to--I just followed the nurse's suggestion to get into the tub and continue laboring there. As the warm water brought a small measure of relief to me, I felt a small piece of myself start to relax just a little bit (something I hadn't been accomplishing nearly as effectively as I thought I would be able to), and even though I had no idea how much longer I'd have to press through, I just kept focusing on my sister's words--"Just focus on one surge at a time---you've gotten through ones just like this before; you can get through another one." I forced myself to look into Jill's or Matt's eyes as each new intense surge came on, and even though I was whimpering by this point (something I'd really hoped to avoid), I somehow managed to push through two more hours of intense contractions.
By about 6 a.m., I once again felt the strong urge to push, and I hesitantly asked for them to send for the nurse again so I could be checked. Mentally, I tried to prepare myself for bad news again, but my strength was withering away quickly, and I didn't know how much more I could take.
Blessedly, she said that I was truly ready to push.
[Insert note here: after the whole ordeal was over, I asked Jill and Matt what I'd dilated to when the nurse was so hesitant to mention how far I [hadn't] come---it turns out I was still at a 7, which I stalled at for about six hours out of the whole twelve-hour labor. It's a level of intensity and endurance I hope I never have to endure again through another labor.]
Outside, the sky started to lighten a bit as I was instructed to use each surge to my advantage and focus all my energy on breathing and pushing the baby out. When I arrived at this point in the labor, I was surprised to find that, though the contractions were intense, I actually welcomed them this time because with each contraction, I could literally feel myself and my baby making progress together. Finally, there was something I could do besides just try to keep my head on semi-straight as I attempted to steady my breathing.
But, like every other part of my labor, the pushing also took me longer than I'd anticipated---in the majority of the hypnobirths I'd heard about, the mother only pushed for anywhere from 10 - 45 minutes or so, and as I started nearing the hour mark and the doctor still hadn't come in, I once again felt myself getting a little frustrated. But with encouragement from everyone present, I continued to utilize each contraction the best that I could, and when the excitement in the room started growing because the baby's head was crowning, I felt second and third waves of energy surge through my body. While pushing, I felt much more in my element---I was able to almost fully relax between surges, and I felt like I was able to regain my sense of control (something I had lost somewhere while getting stalled in that stage 7).
When the doctor arrived (blessed moment!) and started to guide the baby's head through, I just kept telling myself that I was close and only had a bit further to go. After a particularly productive contraction, the doctor made the prediction that the baby would likely come out fully after one or two more solid pushes, and right as I felt the next surge coming on, I looked out the window and noticed that the sun was about to break over the mountaintops in all of its glory.
That was all I needed---
I gave it all I had, and I felt my baby slip out of me and heard everyone say, "You did it! Here's your baby girl!"
And, for that moment, everything was right--I had done it. I had somehow made it through everything, even when so many times I had felt like giving up. I could see the look of wonder on Matt's tear-streaked face, and in our first moments as a family of three, I felt a wonderful sense of completeness.
But then, something was terribly, horribly off---I knew there was still some work to be done (with getting my placenta delivered and perhaps getting some repair work done), but suddenly and without warning, I felt the most intense and excruciating pain I've ever felt in my life. I knew dimly in my mind that it had something to do with what the doctor was doing, so I started yelling at him, demanding him to tell me what was going on and begging him to stop. Surely, I had thought the worst was over, so why on earth did I feel like I was about to be ripped apart from the inside out?
In this state of delirium, all I registered is that he firmly told me something about my uterus flipping inside out and that if he didn't do this now, I would bleed to death.
At that point, Matt and Jill (my faithful partners through it all) told me to just look at their faces and just focus on their eyes. I was somewhat aware that my legs were kicking at the doctor, trying to push him away (and that I probably shouldn't be doing that), but my reaction to the pain and trauma was swift and involuntary. The details of all this have already become fuzzy, but it seemed like there were people everywhere at once---a nurse sticking a shot in my side, my antibiotic needle being swapped out for a narcotic, my birthing companions trying to keep me calm.
As the drugs took effect and I started to feel a dizzy sense of relief and simultaneous bewilderment, I could hear Jill and Matt pressing the doctor for more details. I didn't register any of it at the time, but the situation has all been explained to me since---apparently, while I was pushing out the placenta, the doctor tugged at the same time, and what happened is a rare condition called a uterine inversion that only happens about once in every 3,000 births. Basically, my uterus came out of my body with the placenta, and flipped completely inside out. If not treated immediately, it can lead to an emergency hysterectomy or death, and the only way to avoid both is to take the uterus and press it back into the body, applying a constant force (with the doctor's entire fist inside, holding it in), until the uterus contracts again into place.
While I felt angry and frustrated with the doctor at the time, I now feel an intense gratitude that I had the doctor I did. The funny thing is, my doctor wasn't on call that night, so when I first heard that I'd be getting someone else, I was so disappointed. But, after talking to my own doctor the day after the fact, it seems like I got the best doctor to handle that kind of situation---from the sounds of it, had I had a different doctor, my story could have had a very different outcome.
Even though my natural birth did not culminate in the rush of endorphins and the complete high that everyone else talked about (and that I at first felt robbed and cheated out of the "natural birth high" I'd been promised), I can only look back now with intense gratitude that the outcome was what it was. When I found out how close I'd come to this being perhaps my only child or, in the worst case, the last few minutes of my life, how can I feel anything but grateful for the mercy I was extended?
Of course, I'd be lying if I said that this ending didn't give me some pretty intense fear about future labor experiences (especially since my chances of it happening again are much higher than the average woman's), but as I hold my perfect baby girl today and know that my body is now stable and recovering quickly, my heart pours out in thanks to a Father in Heaven who was with me and made sure I had the exact help I needed during this experience---I never could have gone through with any of it without my husband and my sister by my side, and I am so thankful for the doctor's ability to handle what my own doctor called the 'worst-case scenario" in dealing with an inverted uterus.
And now, I have this beautiful human being who has filled me with this perfect love that everyone else always talked about but which I wondered would exist in all its fullness for me. I have a closeness with my sister that couldn't have been achieved in any other way. And it seems like my marriage--which has always been fulfilling and strengthening and the greatest blessing in my life--has been raised to a new plane of love and devotion and intimacy I could never have dreamed of before.
So maybe I didn't get the perfect first-time labor I was hoping for--
But I sure got everything else, and in much greater quantities than I'd ever dreamed.
Life is beautiful.