Warning: this is the story of our labor and delivery. No graphic photos or details, but if it isn’t your thing, skip them. Also it’s long.
Friday, June 13th was the first day at work I’d really felt like there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it back to work on Monday and I got as many extra ducks in a row as I could. The last hour and a half of my work week was crazy productive, a flurry of activity.
Saturday we’d had various plans to do things around town. After sleeping in, I woke up still exhausted. We had a lazy morning and more naps. We finally made it to some evening social things, but I couldn’t remember a day when I’d been so tired or so lazy without being seriously ill. In retrospect, my body was making me store up some rest and I am really glad that I listened to it.
Sunday (the 15th of June) I started feeling cramps. They were intermittent and not too severe. I’ve never been in labor before and I didn’t know what it was so I ignored it. We had another lazy, full of naps day. Again so glad I took the chance to rest.
Sunday night we were at family dinner (once a week at Dave’s parents’ house all of the extended family that is free gathers for dinner) and I felt something that was a lot stronger than just a cramp. There was also an early birthday cake for me. By the time we made our excuses and got home (8pmish), I was pretty sure that I was in labor, or my appendectomy was failing at 20 minute intervals.
And the cramps continued every 20 minutes for the rest of the night. At our childbirth class, they told us if you go into labor at night you should try to sleep as much as possible; you’ll need the energy. So we did. It’s far easier said than done. I didn’t get much sleep between contractions, David got a little more. Once during the night we called OB triage who reassured us we were doing the right thing and to come in when we hit active labor.
Monday (the 16th) we got up (or David got up and I stopped pretending to sleep), determined I was still in labor, definitely real labor not false labor, and called our bosses to tell them we wouldn’t be in. The entire time I had been afraid that it was false labor and they would send me home if we went to the hospital. I’d heard so many stories about people being sent back that I was determined to wait until it was absolutely active labor.
Primer for the uninitiated – early labor they want you to do at home, it’s the beginning part of labor and can last for 8 to 12 hours, or longer. Active labor, when you’re 4 cm dilated and/or contractions are 5 minutes apart for an hour or longer, is when you’re supposed to go to the hospital. So my 20 minute apart contractions weren’t going to cut it.
All day Monday David and I hung out, timed contractions, and tried to speed up the process. We took walks, warm baths, everything. And the contractions never got closer than 10 minutes apart, but usually hung out at 15-20 minutes apart. It was frustrating.
On dealing with the contractions – we had taken a class but I swear I didn’t remember most of the breathing exercises. I did remember the poses and those helped. We had an exercise/birth ball that we had ordered that was helpful to sit on. And heating pads and such.
About mid day, I began to suspect that my water had broken but not in a gush, in a slow leak. But I couldn’t be sure so I held my tongue and kept timing contractions. (Actually David was timing contractions with an app so every time one would start I would yell TIMER at Dave and he would wake up and hit his phone.)
I also kept eating all day. Again the class told us to eat since (many) hospitals don’t allow you to eat when you get admitted because they don’t want anything in your stomach in case of emergency c-section. So eat at home while you can, you’ll need the energy. I didn’t have much appetite but I tried to eat. The popsicles were the best.
By 5pm I was so frustrated that we were at nearly 24 hours of labor and no visible progress, but it started to pick up. For most of the day we had avoided starting laundry because we didn’t want to head to the hospital and leave a load of laundry in the washer molding. About 6:30pm I told David to start one. (He claims it was his idea, but he’s wrong.) My theory was the umbrella theory. You never need an umbrella if you’re carrying one. Starting laundry would be enough to kickstart labor and insure we wouldn’t be there to finish it. By 8pm that night my contractions were 5-7 minutes apart and a LOT more intense. After I threw up (multiple times) from the pain, I declared that even if it hadn’t been a full hour of 5 minute contractions, we were going in. I was exhuasted and done. We timed the drive to the hospital (a 7 minute trip) to be between contractions.
Fortunately we had finished packing the to go hospital bag on Saturday and just had to grab iPhone chargers. Or at least, I thought we had finished the bag, I had put a couple of go-home outfits in the bag for the baby (multiple choices since we wouldn’t know her size) and called it good. The car seat had been installed in my car for a couple of weeks – thank you Anchorage Fire Department! However on Monday as it became clear that we were going to the hospital, David started frantically packing the diaper bag. He added in diapers, more outfits, wipes, etc. I tried to convince him we were covered and the hospital would have diapers, but I think it made him feel better to do something. We’re both over-packers so I understood where he was coming from.
We had written a birth plan, but forgot to print it out and bring it with us. It’s okay because from this point on not everything went exactly how we hoped. But that isn’t too surprising. I was mostly glad we wrote the birth plan because it let us talk through things and make decisions together, many of which (delayed cord clamping, immediate skin to skin) we did do at the hospital. And since we’d already discussed these with the midwife previously, they were in our record and we reiterated them to staff during labor.
Our perfectly timed 7 minute drive to the hospital worked and I had a contraction in the parking lot. And then at about 9pm I waddled into ANMC (Alaska Native Medical Center) to have a baby. After 9pm, the hospital is closed to visitors and you are supposed to check in with ER/triage who will send you up to OB triage past the security check point. I’d just had a very painful contraction, I’d been doing this for over 24 hours, and I was exhausted and in a lot of pain. So forget those bureaucratic rules. I waddled right past security who was wise enough not to argue with the hugely pregnant angry looking woman. They just told David to come back and register for an overnight visitor pass when I got admitted. When we got to the locked security doors for OB, I just pressed the button and said, “Baby! Help!” and they buzzed me in.
OB triage checked me in, determined my water had broken (partially, slow leak), and tried to hook me up to the monitors to measure my contractions. They hurt bad enough that I was throwing up (again) and not really able to lay still so the monitors could work. Originally I had planned on trying to go without pain medicines if possible. But I didn’t count on over a full day of labor with no sleep. I was too tired and I wanted an epidural and I wanted it RIGHT NOW. The nurse told me that I didn’t get an epidural until I laid still and they got the monitor readings (she said it nicer) and I tried my best.
At this point we learned it was a very busy night in baby-town. They weren’t sure they would have a labor room for me. I could have the baby in triage, no problem, but I wouldn’t get an epidural. According to David at this point, I basically stopped just short of grabbing the nurse by the lapels and demanding an immediate epidural.
Apparently Native women are very good at having babies. They don’t scream, don’t often need pain medicine, have quick labors, etc. In other words I know there were other women in the other triage cubicles, but I was the only one I could hear screaming. I think that I might have gotten bumped up faster to get a labor room before the women who were farther along than me because of my screaming. Whatever, at that point I wasn’t proud. I was exhausted and in a lot of pain.
About midnight we get transferred to Labor and Delivery and 12:30 I got an epidural and tried to get some sleep. The midwife determined my water was only partially broken and finished breaking it. We slept for less than 2 hours, but they were lovely. At 2am I could feel things despite the epidural and I called the nurse. She brought in the midwife who checked me and determined I was fully dilated (10 cm) and ready to start pushing. 26 hours to get to 4cm, less than 2 hours to get the next 6cm. Dave came out of the bathroom and I told him we were going to start pushing. He was really surprised and blurted something about him just going to the bathroom. (Also operating on almost no sleep.)
Side note: ANMC is midwife led. All the midwives are nurse practitioners. I had a great experience there. All my prenatal care was with a midwife except for two appointments with an OB until they determined that my gestational diabetes was under control with diet. During labor there was always a doctor/OB available, but the midwife/nurse practitioner, and labor nurse took the lead. I didn’t see the doctor because I didn’t need him. Because the clinic and hospital are all in the same computer system, all my records were always there. I was really impressed with our care and glad I was eligible for Native medical services because my husband and child are Alaska Native. I am covered for up to six weeks after. Of course the best part of ANMC care is that it was all free. They charged my insurance but never sent us a copay or other bill. There were some oddities going through as a non-Native person and some inconveniences since Dave and I aren’t the average clientele. But there’s one thing that can’t be beat: Free Baby!
And we started pushing. Some women, especially Native women apparently, push for about 15 minutes and out pops baby. That was not me. They turned down and eventually entirely off my epidural (so I was feeling everything by the end). After an hour of pushing, I got my first dose of pitocin. Twenty minutes later they gave me another dose of pitocin. They just needed me to make more progress during this last transition stage.
It was now 3am, I’d been pushing for an hour and David was doing his best to be supportive. However he also had had almost no sleep for over 30 hours and was falling asleep between contractions. The nurses looked at him and offered him juice to keep his blood sugar up. He refused, but I accepted on his behalf. I knew I needed him. He drank the orange juice and it did help.
For the most part, I never went rude and yelling and mean during labor. There was one thing during early labor at the house that I said that caused David to give me a hurt look before remembering I was in labor and allowed to say whatever I wanted. And neither of us can remember what that was. During the pushing stage I was mostly too focused on pushing to say anything at all. Plus they want you to focus all your body energy on pushing and not to scream or moan. Maybe they just didn’t want to hear me scream. However everyone has their own idiosyncratic phrases and one of David’s is “you gotta want it”. Normally this is after I can’t do something like open a jam jar. During one contraction he was encouraging me, “you’re doing great, keep going, you gotta want it.” I waited until the end of the contraction before telling him that no one in that room wanted this baby out more than me and he could not use that expression again.
As I said before, I didn’t remember my breathing exercises. The midwife asked if I preferred word encouragement (you’re doing great, you’re so strong, etc) or if I preferred counting. Definitely counting. It’s weird and geeky but I love counting things. I always count stairs as I climb them. It also really helps me to know what is happening, how long it will last and what will happen next. So during a contraction, I would push for a count of ten, take a deep breath, and push for another count of ten. Four pushes (four counts of ten) and that was a contraction. Knowing that kept me focused and helped a lot. At one point I started pushing and no one was counting and I screamed at them to start counting. The nurse kept saying “you’re almost done” when I knew I had 2 pushes left and that was irritating me. Don’t tell me rosy lies, give me a countdown.
After almost two hours of pushing, they started using words like crowning and telling me they could see that she would have hair. Dave (briefly) left my side to look at the hair. I knew we were getting close because the midwife put on her serious baby catching outfit over her scrubs and the baby nurse stopped looking bored. Those last few pushes were the most intense pain of my life. In the videos during childbirth class, they asked the mother to stop after pushing out the head so they can do their thing before the body comes out. I think they asked me not to push after the head, but I was too focused at that point and just kept pushing. I was also screaming for the first time since the epidural.
Then the nurses and David had to tell me to open my eyes and see my daughter. They brought her up to my chest and everyone was crying (well David, Annabelle, and I were, the nurses seemed fine). After a few minutes, when the cord had stopped pulsing, they cut it. (They offered but David did not want to cut it.) We were allowed to hold her skin to skin and do immediate nursing for as long as we wanted before they took her for the bath/weight check/apgar score, etc. They also offered the placenta, but we chose to let them dispose of it as medical waste. By that point, we had eyes for nothing but our daughter.
Those first few hours will forever be some of my happiest memories. Watching David hold our daughter for the first time, and just laying there, feeling her, smelling her, holding her. At one point he carried her over to the window and softly talked to her. We made calls and shared our joyous news with the world. If I could have yelled it from the top of a mountain, I would have. (So super cheesy, babies make you cheesy.)
The rest of the hospital stay was more difficult. The mother/baby recovery area was under construction, loud, and crowded. The first night we were on our own in our double room, but we got roommates the next morning. With a roommate your husband can not spend the night. David was NOT going to go for that and as soon as day shift came on, we asked how to get home. We got out at 1pm Wednesday afternoon, 30 hours after birth instead of the required 36 hours. At the hospital they wake you up every two hours to take your vitals and the babies, it’s noisy, the bed is uncomfortable, and it isn’t a restful environment. Great care, amazing staff, but I was happier at my home.
I will say that I had sushi and a cookie cake brought to me by my sister-in-law. Delicous. I waited a year for that sushi. I’ve eaten a lot of sushi since then and probably will continue to. I’ve got ground to make up! Also breast feeding means you are starving most of the time. I feel like I can never eat enough.
Since she was losing weight and we were having trouble with breastfeeding, we had to come back for weight checks and to meet with a lactation consultant on Thursday and Friday. While she had lost weight on Thursday, she had gained a few ounces on Friday and was back to her birth weight by her one week appointment.
Everything didn’t go exactly as I wanted, but a lot of good things did. I didn’t need a ton of interventions and I got to hold my daughter immediately. Mostly at the end of it, we had our perfect healthy daughter, I was healthy, and that is all that matters.