L was born on a late evening in early July. It was hot and I was very ready to be done being pregnant. I was so excited to have a little baby that I could actually hold after months of feeling her dancing in my belly. I diligently prepared myself for labor by trying to come up with exactly how I wanted to whole process to go, despite never having had a baby. Now, looking back, I would have done a few things differently so hopefully by sharing L’s birth along with the lessons I learned will help you with your own birth story.
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I prepared myself for the labor and delivery that I wanted
You don’t have ultimate control over your birth experience, which is why every birth is unique and in the end you try to prepare for the experience the best you can. To prepare, I filled out a birth plan and had my partner weigh in on various aspects. I researched every single item on the birth plan to ensure I had decided on what was best for my baby. I am by no means saying that was a waste of time but think more of your birth plan as your birth wishes. I actually encourage you all to fill out a birth plan. We offer a birth plan in our Birth Smart Nesting Planner.
I should have also prepared myself more on when things didn’t go as planned. I was so focused on having a natural birth, when I should have looked more at the full picture. Labor is just one aspect. I was so exhausted from labor that I barely made it through delivery. It also took me forever to recover from the exhaustion because I had a baby who needed me around the clock. In retrospect, it might have been smarter for me to have gotten an epidural earlier so I could have rested and been more recovered once L was born. Labor is definitely challenging and by no means an easy task, but it isn’t the only hard part. Caring for a newborn while trying to recover, I would say, was equally hard for me.
Contractions started in the early evening around 5 pm on L’s due-date
I was so excited because up until now, I hadn’t had a single Braxton-hicks contraction. I knew it was possible that it could be false labor, so we decided to watch a movie at home to try to stay calm. Throughout the movie, Cole charted the contractions on a phone app. To be more comfortable, I hung out on a yoga ball. By the end of the movie, the contractions had become much stronger and were very regular. We needed to give it more time until going to the hospital and I still wasn’t convinced that labor was actually here. For so long, the idea of giving birth was a futuristic abstract thought in a lot of ways.
When I called the midwives
After eating some snacks and going on a summer night walk (with many breaks for each contraction), we decided to call the midwives at around 11 pm. She thought it would be a good idea to get ready to come in, especially if the contractions continued at the same strength and intervals. We double-checked our bags, got everything at home situated, and left because the hospital was a good 40 minutes away. The drive to the hospital was probably what you would imagine it to be. I couldn’t sit comfortably at all and just wanted to be there already. By not being able to move around, the contractions were awful to deal with.
Even though I chose a natural birth, I had to have an IV
We arrived at the hospital at 2 AM and by then I had already been awake for 18+ hours. When asked what type of pain management I was planning on using, I told them I wanted to try it all natural (that definitely changed and not because of the pain but more of the exhaustion). I was put in the room that had a hydrotherapy tub so I had that as a choice of pain management. The nurses had to start an antibiotic IV because I tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS), which sucked because I hate needles. The IV also keep moving a lot and later had to be redone so the machine continuously went off. Now, I guess I could have vetoed the antibiotics but then there is a higher risk of a still birth, so to play it safe we opted for the IV.
The nurses you have matter more than the doctor or the hospital
The first nurse I had was by far my favorite. If your labor is long, then you will rotate through a few nurses. When a contraction would start, she would warn me that the contraction was approaching so I could prepare myself mentally. Then, she would press inwardly on my hips throughout the contraction. This helped tremendously. Unfortunately, this nurses shift ended about an hour or so after I had arrived. My husband tried to do the same hip pressure trick but it didn’t work as well because he didn’t have a lot of experience.
Time goes by differently and you are kind of in an alternate state
As time progressed, I started to become unaware of time and this was something I didn’t understand until going through the experience. You kind of enter an alternate state of consciousness, especially as you really get into the thick of labor. After my favorite nurse left and I was stuck with one that just checked the monitors and offered no support, I found I was most comfortable curled up in a ball with my knees tucked under me. I guess I was like this for around 3+ hours and thought it had only been around 15 minutes. At this point, the midwife checked on me and gently tried to coax me into trying something else as my legs were completely numb, and by this point and my body was getting really sore. The idea of warm water sounded very appealing so I switched to the shower, wanting to save the hydrotherapy tub for when contractions got really bad.
I tried the shower and the tub…
The shower definitely helped for a while, but the problem was I had to stand the whole time and by this point it was around 7 AM. I was so tired. I had been up since 7 AM the day before so a full 24 hours, with some of those hours being in labor. By not choosing an epidural when I arrived at the hospital, I couldn’t really rest at all. So finally, I switched from the shower to the tub. Initially switching to the tub was much better because I wasn’t standing anymore. However, I think L had moved and now whenever a contraction hit, my left leg would cause me more pain than the contraction itself. I tried moving around and massage to relieve the pain but neither really helped. A nurse reminded Cole that it might be a good idea for me to eat something as it was now almost 10 AM. I had a few bites of a bagel but couldn’t stomach any more. I finally decided to get out of the tub at 11 AM, because by this point I had spent way too many hours in water and my skin was starting to itch like crazy. The midwife checked me at this point and told me I was about 5 cm.
I was slowly running out of pain management options and was exhausted at this point. The midwife suggested that not only should I try the nitrous oxide, but also that it would be beneficial to break my water to keep things moving. Now originally, I didn’t want to have my water broken as I had heard that it makes contractions much more painful, but I needed things to keep progressing. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep going.
The nitrous oxide…
The nitrous oxide was a very strange experience. You essentially breathe in as much as you can when you start to feel a contraction and then before you pass out, your hand falls away from your face so you quit breathing in nitrous and get oxygen. Once you reach a certain level of nitrous oxide in your system, you kind of feel all numb and tingly. You still feel the contraction but the nitrous oxide definitely dulls it. I hated the nitrous oxide because if I didn’t time it well and missed the contraction then I felt it a lot. Secondly, I like feeling in control and this made me feel the opposite. I felt super drugged. Thirdly, when you breathe in a lot of nitrous oxide, which you do to try to help with the pain, you almost pass out and then breathe really panicky as a result.
I also managed to pass out with it as my hand was propped up by the post on the bed. I remember coming back into consciousness and being very disoriented and confused. The very worst thing about the nitrous oxide was that if the tank ran out (which it did), then I had nothing. The tank ran out for me when I was at 9 cm. This was horrible for me. I had been in a disoriented, drugged state for a significant time and when the tank ran out I was suddenly and abruptly without anything. I didn’t know how to handle the pain.
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are on a hospital tour and you want to use nitrous oxide, ask about tanks running out and if a spare can already be in the room before the first one runs out.
…and finally an epidural
The midwife who checked me at 9 cm told me that if I wanted to, I could try to push, which I did. However, I was not ready which was really disappointing. I was so very ready to be done and was beyond exhausted. It was about 1 or 2 PM now. I hadn’t slept in almost 30 hours. I also hadn’t eaten anything since arriving at the hospital besides a few bites of a breakfast. At this point, I actually asked the midwife for a C-section because I was so done. Instead, I decided on an epidural because I was informed voluntary C-sections aren’t actually a thing. However, it took the anesthesiologist about an hour to arrive and during that time, they finally set me up with another nitrous oxide tank. I also had to get my IV redone at this point, which unfortunately took them at least five tries to find a vein. However, I was so exhausted I don’t remember a single IV stick or even really using nitrous oxide at this point.
If you really want help with pain, you might want to hire a doula
I told Cole before labor that I did not want an epidural and to not let me get one. When I asked for one, he was so distraught because he felt that he had failed me in some way. However, the real issue was that I had no idea what my labor was going to be like and I just truly needed an epidural. It was the correct choice for me at the correct time. If not getting an epidural is something that matters a lot to you, I highly suggest looking into a doula. I recommend this because it is both your first time and your partner’s first time going through the experience.
A doula is a trained professional who will be able to not only help you convey to medical staff the birth experience you want, but also will support you, physically and emotionally. For example, a doula probably could have used a lot of maneuvers and techniques to reduce my pain that my husband couldn’t have done for me, simply because he isn’t in the field.
Once the anesthesiologist arrived, I was so ready for the epidural that I didn’t even think twice. I grabbed the paper to sign and didn’t even wait to hear what the details on the form were. I didn’t feel the needle and was so impatient for it to work. I kept telling him over and over again that it didn’t work. He replied that he was working on it and hadn’t started the medicine yet. Once it kicked in, I finally felt human again and immense relief sailed through my entire body. I told Cole I was SO HAPPY. He was a wreck from dealing with this stressful part of the labor. I on the other hand, wasn’t really there for it. Like I mentioned before, once you become so exhausted and are in pain for so long, you enter a different type of consciousness.
Pushing to me felt like 5 minutes when it was more like 2 hours
I finally was able to sleep and slept for about three hours. When I woke we were in a different room. I guess they moved me but I have no recollection of this. Eventually, at about 6:30 PM, I finally felt pressure, which according to the nurse was my cue to know when I could start pushing. Now, even though I had an epidural which allowed me to sleep, it wasn’t a restful sleep because while I couldn’t feel the contractions, my body was still going through them. I was still very tired when I started to push.
In fact, I kid you not, I was under the impression that I pushed maybe 3-5 times and baby was on my chest. Instead, as I learned after the fact from Cole, I pushed for around 2 hours. However, because I was so fatigued, I would push and then go right back to sleep. The next contraction would wake me and I would push and then go back to sleep. I repeated this until L was born at 8:40pm.
I delayed all procedures to bond and breastfeed my baby
Once L was born, the midwife placed her on my stomach and allowed the cord to fully drain. Delayed cord clamping results in baby getting all of the blood circulating in the cord at delivery (nearly one-third of their total blood) and has many benefits to baby. Once the cord stopped pulsating, Cole cut the cord and the nurse helped get L in position to nurse in the biological position, which means laying on her tummy on my chest. After nursing, L and I slept, while an OB on the floor stitched up my tear. My tear was 3rd degree.
Partner Roles: Birth Photos you want and updating family
At this point, while L slept on me. Cole was in charge of updating family. He also was the only one capable of taking photos. I told him before the pictures I wanted such as: one of the three of us, one of me and L, him and L, L being weighed, etc.
Next, L was weighed and went through the normal procedures. After that, Cole held L while the nurse helped me with recovery. She showed me how to use witch hazel pads lined on a maternity pad and how to use a squirt bottle to clean with. I highly recommend buying witch hazel pads and maternity pads before delivery so you have a supply at home. Also remember to bring home the squirt bottle they give you at the hospital. Another random item I brought home that was really useful was the plastic water bottle they gave me. It really helped me to stay hydrated in those first months breastfeeding.
The first night was rough because I needed to sleep but also had to get up with baby
When we finally got squared away in our recovery room, it was around 1 am. We finally got in to bed and slept… for two hours. Then L woke and I nursed her but it took a while because I was new at it. We finally all got back to sleep and two hours later, a nurse came in to check on L’s vitals, which woke us. Our night continued like this. The next day was spent in similar fashion, medical staff in and out, while we all tried to rest and learn to breastfeed. I am not sure how breastfeeding would have gone personally if I hadn’t had an amazing lactation consultant. Try to find a birth center that has lactation consultants on staff who work with you after birth.
They provided me with food but not my partner
The policy at the hospital where I delivered is that the birthing parent gets meals during their stay but not the partner. This meant that we had to make sure we packed plenty of food and snacks for Cole. I would add that you should also pack yourself your favorite go-to snacks. I didn’t feel super great so I only wanted my snacks and had little interest in the food the hospital provided. A strange item I suggest packing if you are picky on sleep is your pillows. We both packed ours and Cole grabbed them out of the car that night, which helped me sleep more easily.
I would have rather saved L’s first bath for home
I didn’t want L to be bathed after birth because when a baby is born, they are coated with a layer of bacteria from the vaginal canal that is critical in not only helping baby digest breastmilk but also starts to establish a healthy layer of bacteria on their skin that will eventually protect baby from pathogens. Delaying a first bath for at least a few days is an excellent way to give the bacteria time to become established. The vernix that coats baby when they are born is the perfect moisturizer in addition to protecting baby from bad bacteria. There are even antibodies in this coating which help baby stave off infections.
However, on the last day before we left the hospital, everyone kept hassling us about giving baby a bath so I let the nurse bathe L. It was horrible, she just scrubbed baby with a wash cloth. L screamed the whole time because she was cold. If I could redo this whole experience, I would have resisted and did L’s bath at home after another few days to give the vernix the 5-6 days it needs to fully absorb into the skin.
After our two days in the hospital, L passed all the necessary tests and we were sent home. From there, we started our journey of being a family of three and learning to care for our new baby. Our dog was beyond excited for his new friend. They have been best friends from day one.
NOTE: Postpartum is rough. I cried like crazy and fell apart over nothing. For example, I was so upset because L was 3 days old and I felt that I had missed it all, when in reality I had spent 24/7 with her since she was born.
Overall, my best advice, and why I share my birth story, is so you can see that every birth is unique and it usually isn’t the one you plan for. So prepare for your birth and all that might not go according to plan and prepare for the aftermath of recovery. Most importantly, know that at the end of the day, your birth story is amazing no matter what happened because at the end you got someone who is more precious to you than life itself.
For more information and strategies to prepare to process the birth you have read the article, How to Process Your Birth and New Identity.
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Dr. Trina Fitzpatrick is a wife, mom, blogger, and a breastfeeding advocate. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children into toddlerhood with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.