At our 35-week prenatal appointment, my husband, Shaun, and I were not looking forward to the long wait time at the doctor’s office. The pregnancy had been relatively uneventful. The highlights of the pregnancy had been the ultrasounds, from the first trimester one where we got to see our little one growing from a gummy bear-sized tot, to the week 20 one, when we found out we were going to have a son. Shaun and I both deeply desired a boy, a strong young man whom we could raise up to be a leader and a lover of life, who would care about and be kind to women in a world where women are still mistreated. God answered our prayers for a boy, whom we planned to name Adam, and a healthy one at that.
At the appointment, we found out I had high blood pressure, or gestational hypertension. The doctor had me do some tests and come back the next day. The following day, my blood pressure was even higher than the day before, and my doctor was very concerned that my symptoms were ramping up quickly and could turn into preeclampsia. She wanted me to go to the hospital for monitoring. We went home first, had lunch, then packed and went to the hospital. I wasn’t sure if I would come home with a baby or not.
I spent two nights in the hospital. It was a shock to be sitting in a hospital bed suddenly, being poked and prodded with shots and blood draws every few hours. Finally, my tests came back clear, so they let me go home on bed rest. I had to check my blood pressure and take medicine. I had to go to the doctor’s office twice a week for non-stress tests, and once a week for ultrasounds. Thankfully, all signs showed the baby was healthy and ready to go anytime.
At 38 weeks and two days along, after two blood pressure readings were very high while at home, I called the doctor and was told to come into the hospital for monitoring. This time, I felt it was the final time. We packed carefully and ate dinner, then went to the hospital.
In the triage room, I had my cervix checked and it was not dilated – no surprise, considering I was a first-time mom and shy of my due date. But because of the consistently high blood pressure, I decided to be induced at that point. I was admitted on a Sunday evening. I began my first misoprostol dosage at about midnight. Early Monday morning, I received the second dose. I was still only dilated about one centimeter and 30% effaced, so the next step was the Foley bulb, a mechanical dilator. That was painful to insert, so they gave me Fentanyl to cope. It made me see double vision very quickly. I could handle the discomfort of that procedure with the pain med and with Shaun by my side.
While the bulb was in for the max of 24 hours, the nurse also administered Pitocin in hopes that the contractions would help speed things along. On Monday night, I had painful contractions in my back. The night nurse was kind enough to make me hot pads, and each one eased the pain just enough so that I could sleep for a couple hours. Otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten any sleep on Monday night. On Tuesday morning, the bulb was taken out and I got another cervical check – this one was very disheartening. I had made no progress. The bulb had done nothing to help. The nurse took me off Pitocin. She gave me two more misoprostol pills over the course of Tuesday. I was getting discouraged, and Katie, our doula, recommended that we consider going home, resting, and coming back in a day or two. But I didn’t really want to go home without a baby. Shaun liked the idea though, and my doctor suggested we might be able to do that if my cervix still hadn’t progressed. But then, late Tuesday, she checked my cervix and it was four centimeters dilated and 50% effaced! I remember that cervical check felt very different from the previous ones, which had been uncomfortable. During this one, I knew before she even said anything that my cervix had progressed. This told us that my labor was starting to pick up speed. So, we decided to stay.
Katie came that night to do some positions and rub some calming salve, clary sage, on my round ligaments. We tried a few different positions, some of which I used later while in labor. That night, I must have slept ok.
The next morning, Wednesday, was the calm before the storm. Shaun and I ordered breakfast, read a devotional, and chatted while we looked out over the east-facing view towards the Cascades. My doctor came in, checked my cervix, and I had made more progress. I was at 6 centimeters and almost completely effaced. The Pitocin was turned on then. In the first hour, I tried to sleep before the contractions kicked in. I woke up to more powerful contractions, and had to start really focusing. I tried different positions, with Shaun’s help and the nurse’s advice. The contractions got more intense very quickly. Shaun and I slow danced, I climbed onto the bed and he pressed into my back and hips, I lay down on my side, and I also tried sitting on the exercise ball and the rocking chair. Nothing really seemed to relieve the pressure. I cried out, “what can make this easier?” and the nurse suggested a bath. The nurse drew up a bath, and I got in, but I could feel the contractions, and they were building in intensity. I had a difficult time staying on top of them, through breathing or visualization techniques. I became scared to get out of the tub because I thought the contractions would feel even worse out of the tub. Shaun said I looked like a boxer in the corner of the boxing ring, with my elbows up in the corner of the tub. That was my lowest moment.
I finally got out and got dressed, while the doctors came in for another cervical check. My cervix had made a bit more progress. Soon after, I asked for an epidural. As soon as I said the word, the nurse called in the anesthesiologist, who came rather quickly and before I knew it, she was telling me to sit on the side of the bed and bend over and stay still. Shaun held my hand and the nurse held the other. I said I was scared. The nurse and the anesthesiologist talked me through the whole process. It went quickly and I didn’t feel any pain or needle. I just felt a warm, tingling sensation travel down my shoulders and in my left foot. I felt much better, calmer, after that.
Later, our doula arrived. I told her I felt like a wimp for getting an epidural, even before she arrived. She said not to feel that way, because Pitocin is very intense and very hard to cope with. Katie and my nurse helped me change positions every half hour to “bring the baby down.”
At some point, my doctor and the resident doctor came in and they recommended an intrauterine catheter, and I agreed to it. I sort of just resigned myself to my fate and thought, sure, why not another intervention? But Katie asked good questions and I felt like the catheter would be helpful for monitoring the baby more accurately.
Finally, they checked my cervix, and I was fully dilated to 10 centimeters! The doctors said they were coming back in one hour, giving me some time to rest and for the baby to bear down before the pushing began. “You’re going to need every last bit of your energy for pushing,” the doctor said.
Katie prepared some basins with water to put washcloths on my head, and filled my water pitcher. I pushed during my first contraction, and then the doctor gave me some feedback on how to push better: don’t blow air into my cheeks, bend my upper body up and around my uterus, relax the perineum muscles. Soon I got into a rhythm. Everyone helping me would watch the monitors intently, like sports fans watching a final match, or like commuters waiting for their train. Except this train was exceptionally slow-moving. Each time the monitor showed I was starting a contraction, one person held up each of my legs, and Shaun held my hand and counted to 10 while I pushed, then breathed, then pushed again, then breathed again, and then pushed one last time through the contraction. The pushing and contractions slowly progressed baby to a +2 station, but his head was slightly turned, making it difficult to slide through the birth canal. The minutes turned into hours. I started pushing around 10:00 pm on Wednesday night, and I looked at the clock a few times, wondering if the baby would be born before midnight. Soon it was well past midnight. During each resting period between contractions, I focused on resting my legs, catching my breath, taking a sip of water. I remember I stayed very polite the whole time, saying please and thank you. Thanks to that epidural, I was on my best behavior.
After about four hours of pushing, my energy was waning. The pain was creeping up too, as the epidural wore off a little. A more experienced specialist doctor came in to evaluate me to see whether I would be a good candidate for a vacuum-assisted delivery. She took one look at me and said the baby was not far enough along for her to attempt it. She said we could wait for me to rest and then keep pushing before trying a vacuum. She also brought up the possibility of a C-section if the vacuum didn’t work. We decided to let me rest for one hour, then push some more and try vacuum-assist if necessary.
Everyone cleared out of the room during that hour while I rested, except for Shaun, Katie, and my nurse. I had a “top off” of anesthesia at the beginning of the hour, which helped me to rest. But during that hour, I kept feeling an immense pressure building between my legs, coming and going with each contraction, and the pressure felt different, much lower, than before. I felt as though the baby were sliding down on his own, and was threatening to slide right out.
At the end of the hour, everyone came back in, and I said I felt like I had enough energy for about ten more contractions – 30 pushes. I felt like even that was ambitious. But I labored through those somehow, and then the specialist came in again and told me I need to do another ten to get the baby into a better position. I said, “I can’t, I’m too tired.” She said, “We all waited an hour while you rested, now here we are waiting for you. Don’t tell me you can’t. You can do it and you’re going to do it.” I said ok. I just needed someone to be stern with me, I guess. I pushed another ten, and then I cried out, “I need help.” As soon as I agreed to the vacuum-assist, the room changed – more doctors and nurses, some from the NICU, came in and set up additional equipment.
The specialist got the vacuum in place, and then said, “With the next contraction, push with all your might. These really need to count.” I gathered my breath and pushed as hard as I could through those pushes. Nothing seemed to happen. She said the same thing, that with this next contraction, I needed to push with everything I had. I pushed to the count of ten, breathed, pushed again, and breathed, then pushed again for the last one of the contraction, and during the last push, the doctor must have been pulling hard with that vacuum because my insides suddenly let loose and I felt everything I had been storing up inside me for the past nine months slide out of me in one incredible motion. My eyes were closed shut, but I felt my body be transfigured in a gushing, warm moment as Adam’s head, shoulders, and the rest of him were born in an instant. I opened my eyes and saw a gray-blue squirming body placed on my belly. The primitive, disembodied cry that let loose from my throat when the baby was being pulled out of me became cries of astonishment. It took a moment to process the reality that my baby was born. I heard Shaun’s voice crying, “There he is! There he is!” before I understood what had happened. I kept saying, “Oh my God, oh my God,” in disbelief.
Here he was. The baby I dreamed about, prayed for, sung to, and whispered to in the quiet of my heart for so long. Not just for the past nine months of my pregnancy, but for many years, whenever I thought of my future children, who would be so important in my life, I wondered what they would be like. I read once that having a child is like having your heart go walking around without you. Here was the one who was to steal my heart, charm me out of sleep, and give me indescribable joy.
They only let him stay on my belly for about a minute before they took him to the crib nearby for his exam. Shaun went with him and stood over him, rubbing in the vernix coating. I heard Shaun sing to him while the baby cried. I held Katie’s hand and asked her what she felt after giving birth. She said she felt like the most powerful woman in the world. I said yes, powerful, and also fragile. I felt both powerful and fragile.
As the doctor worked on expelling the placenta and stitching me up, I watched the sunrise over the eastern view of the Cascades; the dark blue sky and clouds were slowly drained to light blue and then white. They put the baby back on my belly at some point. And soon everyone cleared out. It was just me, Shaun, and our new baby.
I want to stay so close to the tender, transcendent feeling surrounding the moment of Adam’s birth. As these early newborn days and nights go by, I feel as though writing about it has kept it close. The quiet and lonely hours with my warm baby resting on my chest have given me the time to reflect and journal about all I’ve been through with the birth – such a beautiful succession of moments, both powerful and fragile.
by Kaitlin McMichael
Check out my blog, https://www.kaitlinandshaun.com