My birth story is a perfect example of “We planned, God laughed”.
As an engineer, I love data and learning about things. I literally spent the entire pregnancy watching every birth vlog on YouTube (twice), taking multiple birthing classes, and researching every little detail about the labor and delivery process in an effort to be as prepared as possible. I wanted to be informed and ready for any given scenario that could occur.
Obsessive. I know.
My only real desire for labor was to deliver as naturally as possible, with as little intervention as necessary. Ideally, no epidural – I've had kidney stones 3 times before in my life, and it was hard to imagine anything more painful.
That being said, it wasn't really a “birth plan”, just hopeful wishes. As long as we ended up with a healthy baby, I could have cared less how things played out.
Despite all my research and preparations, almost every piece of my labor seemed to fall outside the standard deviation of what was considered normal. My experience left me exhausted, confused, and less in control than I had ever felt in my life – a perfect precursor to motherhood I guess?
Before I begin, I want to preface this story by saying that NO birth is normal. Every labor is unique and might not follow the textbook agenda of what is supposed to happen. Mine certainly didn't. It was frustrating to not find any resources online that resembled my experience, so I wanted to share my story so that others might have reference for a similar situation.
I also want to thank all the nurses and doctors that helped with my labor and delivery. They were very patient during the entire process and allowed me to progress naturally, despite all the stalled labor.
Here's a quick rundown of the story: My contractions never got regular (all the way up through delivery), my early labor contractions were more painful than active labor, the epidural only worked on my left side, it took 14 hours to get through the transition phase of labor (7cm – 10cm), and the total labor spanned 5 days. Ultimately, I delivered a healthy baby boy, weighing 7lb 10oz and 22 inches long.
The full story is below.
It's pretty long, so you might want to grab a cup of tea and get comfortable.
My pregnancy was pretty uneventful. I had no complications, all my tests and measurements came back normal, and aside from a few annoying pregnancy symptoms, everything looked textbook and perfect. I was due on Mother's day, May 13th 2018, a beautiful coincidence for a first pregnancy, although I knew the chances of actually delivering on that day were fairly slim.
Mother's day came and went, and the following Tuesday, May 15th was my 40 week appointment. It is standard procedure per my doctor's practice to receive an NST and AFI once the pregnancy goes overdue to ensure there are no issues that would prevent spontaneous labor from occurring. These tests needed to be done at the hospital, not my local doctor's office. Our apartment is located 1 hour away from the hospital without traffic, but it could be as long as 2 hours or more during rush hour; needless to say, we were really hoping the universe would be kind to us and start labor while we were there.
I had been sitting at 1 cm and 70% effaced since 36 weeks and decided that I would ask for a membrane sweep if I was dilated enough for the procedure to be performed. I tried not to get my hopes up, as I had not felt any Braxton Hicks contractions the entire pregnancy, so there was no reason to believe this appointment would be any different.
Thus, you can imagine my surprise and happiness to find out that I had progressed to 2 cm over the past week; my doctor went ahead and did the sweep. Some people report this procedure being painless, others say it's quite painful. Mine was definitely on the painful side.
The appointment was over around 11 am, and my NST and AFI were not scheduled until 1 pm. My husband wasn't joining me until the afternoon, so I had a few hours to spare by myself. I passed the time by eating lunch at the cafeteria and wandering around the halls of the hospital, hoping to get things started.
After waddling around for about an hour, I started to notice some cramping in my lower abdomen. I tried not to get too excited, as I wasn't sure if they were the beginning of contractions or just aches from being too active while pregnant.
A little while later, my husband joined me for the NST and AFI. I passed both tests with flying colors; I believe my AFI was 9 and we passed all the criteria for the NST within the first 10 minutes, however needed to stay for the full hour anyways.
Just as we were finishing up, those little cramps from earlier began to have noticeable starts and stops. Contractions; without a doubt!
I remember feeling so happy and calm in that moment – things were finally starting to happen. I was prepared and ready for whatever was to come! This was the moment that I had been waiting for my entire pregnancy! Although they were short and very mild, I knew this was the beginning of early labor and it wouldn't be too much longer until our baby was here.
Part of me really just wanted to stay at the hospital for a little bit longer and see if things would progress quickly, but since both of our cars were in paid hospital parking lots, and it was still early enough to beat rush hour traffic, we decided it was best to go home. I was a little nervous about driving my car for so long, in case the contractions got intense quickly, but that was not the case and we arrived home in the late afternoon.
Over the next couple of hours, the contractions got more well defined, although still extremely mild and irregular. I believe they were about 30 seconds long and anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes apart. They were only a 2 - 3 on the pain scale.
Just as we headed to bed around 10 pm, the contractions suddenly got much more intense! Out of nowhere they began happening every 3 - 4 minutes apart and lasting for around 45 seconds. They were not unbearable, but certainly present and increasing in intensity from around a 4 to a 6 on the pain scale. I needed to breathe through some of them, but most were pretty tolerable. We started to wonder if we should head to the hospital, as we practically met the active labor 5-1-1 rule of being 3-5 minutes apart, lasting 1 minute in length, and have been occurring as such for at least one hour. Being so far from the hospital, we wanted to make sure we gave ourselves some leeway too.
We sat up in bed to talk about what we should do. One of the birth classes said the best thing you can do when you think you are in labor is to try and sleep, especially if you want to have a medication free experience. The instructor said it would be impossible to sleep through real labor contractions, and also that the number one reason people end up getting epidurals is actually due to exhaustion, not pain; so feeling rested before the big day is important.
Up until this point, everything seemed to be going as it should.
However, as we were sitting up in bed talking about what to do, I noticed the contractions suddenly felt less painful and started to slowly decrease in frequency!
After 20 or 30 minutes of watching the contractions slowly fizzle out, we realized it might be due to my position of sitting instead of laying down. I laid back down in bed and sure enough the contractions almost instantly felt stronger again.
In retrospect, I probably should have just laid down and see if the contractions continued to increase, but per the birth instructor's words, I should try to sleep. It was 1 o'clock in the morning and I was pretty tired. I already had not been sleeping the best for several weeks now due to terrible pregnancy related hip pain and frequent trips to the restroom, so I propped myself up in bed to ease the stronger contractions and tried to sleep.
For weeks I had been waking about every 40 minutes or so either in pain and needing to switch sides, or needing to get up and use the restroom. The added contractions, although relatively mild, made it all the more difficult to fall back asleep after my wakings. This led to a night of very little sleep. I'm pretty sure I spent most of the night just resting with my eyes closed, although I'm sure I dozed off a few times unknowingly too.
The next morning, Wednesday May 16th, my contractions were fairly light, about a 2 - 3 on the pain scale, occurring about every 10-15 minutes apart. It was pretty discouraging to have regressed so much from the very strong and frequent contractions of last night, but I was generally happy that things were still happening.
I also felt quite groggy and tired, but I had the whole day to relax and rest. I am not one to take naps, but looking back I wish I would have at least tried!
My husband and I spent the day resting and taking short walks around the neighborhood in an effort to kick start labor. Walking didn't do anything. In fact, at one point, my contractions stopped completely while on the walk! They started again once we got back home and I sat down.
In general, the entire day was pretty disappointing.
Around 8 o'clock that night, however, things started to change. The contractions started to pick up again and become more regular; averaging somewhere between 5 – 8 minutes apart. As we headed to bed and laid down for a bit, again, they got more intense and frequent.
The previous night I felt that I could at least try to sleep through the contractions, especially when sitting up. These contractions though were a step higher than before, consistently a solid 6 – 7 on the pain scale. I had to breathe through almost all of them, and I knew there was no way I would be able to sleep through these.
We timed them for about 3 hours, as they increased to 3 – 5 minutes apart, lasting about 45 seconds – 1 minute in length.
I'm sure it seems like I was ready to head to the hospital from those stats, but the problem was the contractions never really got to be like clockwork. The intervals listed are intervals for a reason – some contractions would be 5 minutes apart, then the next one 8, then the next 3, then 5 again. It varied a lot, although there was a general trend of them getting closer together, longer, and stronger.
Yet again we found ourselves at 1 o'clock in the morning not sure what to do.
I was very tired from not sleeping almost at all the previous night and I was dreading the thought of having another sleepless evening. I wanted to be rested enough to feel confident in attempting an unmedicated birth, and in my current status, I was not sure if I had the energy to do so.
Technically, our stats for contractions matched the 5-1-1 rule again, and although a little inconsistent, we didn't want to wait until morning rush hour traffic in case things picked up. It had been 24+ hours of having contractions, several of those hours being quite intense ones, so we felt justified in going to the hospital and seeing if I was in labor.
Plus, it's not like we had anything else to do but lay in bed miserable.
Thus, we put the hospital bags in the car and made the long late night drive into the city.
The hospital was calm and quiet at 2 am. We made our way to the labor and delivery unit and were admitted for observation. It was pretty exciting being hooked up to the monitors; although we were tired, the hope that things were happening and that we could be having a baby soon kept moral high.
I remember the nurse asking if I was having contractions, and shortly after hooking me up making the comment “Oh yeah... there's some nice strong ones!”
After an hour of monitoring, the doctor came in and checked me for progress.
...I was still at 2 cm and 70% effaced.
There was literally no progress in the past 2 days.
Although I was indeed having some strong contractions, they said they were not as consistent as they needed to be in order to be admitted. I was diagnosed with Prodromal Labor; essentially real contractions and real labor that simply does not progress all the way to delivery; it starts and stops. Sometimes it can be misdiagnosed as a stalled labor.
At this point, although disappointed that the past 24+ hours of painful contractions were all for naught, I still felt like I could tough them out for a good while longer, provided I was able to sleep. I was going on 48+ hours of practically no sleep and I was beginning to feel delirious.
I expressed my concern to the nurse and she suggested that I “take a Tylenol and go to bed”.
Words cannot describe how I felt in reaction to that comment.
I know the nurse was just giving the best advice she could, but I felt some strange combination of annoyance, frustration, and hopelessness. Not at the nurse, but inwards towards myself; because I knew there was no way that a Tylenol (and Benedryl) would take the pain away or that I would be able to sleep.
The thought of no sleep tonight or for the next several nights was literally dreadful. Alas, we didn't have any other choice but to drive home at 4 am, run to a drugstore to grab the medicines, and at least try.
By the time we drove the hour home and found an open drugstore, my contractions actually picked up in intensity and were a clockwork 5 minutes apart, probably the most consistent they had ever been. They were a steady 6 on the pain scale, and I was seriously wondering if this was the real thing. I timed them for 30 minutes while we were out and about, watching them go from a clockwork 5 minutes to 4 minutes.
We weren't about to go back to the hospital so quickly though, so I took the medications anyways and to my surprise was actually able to sleep for a much needed 4 uninterrupted hours. I think I was just so incredibly tired at that point that the combination of drugs drowned out not only the contractions, but also the hip pain and bathroom usage.
Thursday May 17th played out similarly to the day before. I woke up to fairly mild contractions around 3 - 6 on the pain scale, averaging 8 – 10 minutes apart, inconsistent.
Again, we tried going on walks around the neighborhood and resting. I also had an exercise ball at home that I sat and gently bounced on. Nothing seemed to help. Overall, it felt like we were reliving yesterday, just with the notch turned up slightly. Contractions followed the same pattern of starting light in the morning and generally increasing as the evening drew near.
Suddenly, at 3 pm, I felt a sudden, sharp increase in the intensity of contractions. I rated them as a solid 8 on the pain scale.
I couldn't walk through them, and I found myself moaning at times against my will. I was breathing through most contractions today, but these really demanded my full concentration.
This was obviously an exciting development, but even more so because the sudden surge hit while I was standing. All the contractions thus far followed the pattern of being more intense while laying down, and tended to slow down while standing or walking.
The rest of the day, contractions did not seem to be different based on my position.
We watched a move that night, and right around 8pm, again there was another sudden increase in the intensity and intervals of contractions. We timed them consistently from 8 pm to 1 am, watching them go from 5+ minutes apart to 3 minutes apart.
At 1 am, almost every contraction was a strong 7 or 8 on the pain scale. While contractions averaged 3 minutes apart for the past 3 hours, with a duration of 45 seconds – 1 minute, occasionally we had outliers of 8 minutes, or only lasting 30 seconds.
These inconsistencies made it feel like we were stuck living the same day over and over again. Here were yet again at 1 o'clock in the morning for the third night in a row, not sure whether to go to the hospital or not.
I took a Tylenol and Benedryl in an effort to sleep like last night, but the medications didn't do anything this time.
Seeing as we wouldn't be getting any sleep tonight, my husband and I contemplated back and forth on whether we should go in or not. We were 100% convinced that we would just be sent back home, as the inconsistencies made us certain that this was probably just extra painful prodromal labor.
I was leaning towards staying home, or in the very least waiting it out for a couple hours longer, when in the midst of decision making a very strong contraction struck me all at once. I remember telling my husband very cold and piercingly, “take me to the hospital RIGHT NOW”, almost in a trance-like state.
After the contraction ended, I went back to convincing my husband we should just stay home.
My husband was like, nope, we're going, right now.
I don't remember all the details in the midst of the really strong contractions, but apparently I had been pretty vocal over the past hour, moaning and yelling – looking back, my husband said he was surprised no one called the cops.
We almost didn't grab the hospital bags, convinced that we'd be sent home, but decided it would be silly not to take them.
I remember sitting in the car during that long drive to the hospital. The moment I had sat down and we began moving, contractions completely stopped.
It was 20 minutes into the ride and I suggested we turn around and just go back home. I went from contractions that I couldn't walk or talk through at 3 minutes apart for 3 hours, to suddenly not having a single one in 20 minutes.
My husband convinced me that we should just keep going. We weren't going to be sleeping anyways, and we had the full day of contractions, so maybe something changed.
I had just one contraction the entire ride there.
We parked the car and headed again to labor and delivery.
Some of the same nurses were working there tonight as last night, and I'm pretty sure they thought I was just paranoid or being dramatic. I didn't have a single contraction while checking in, or in the presence of the nurses, so I certainly didn't look like I was in labor.
This time, they did not even bother monitoring us. They simply checked for progress.
I was still at 2 cm and 70% effaced.
We didn't really expect to be in labor, but to have so many hours of painful contractions and have nothing to show for it really left us feeling hopeless beyond belief. How much longer were we going to have to deal with this?
Again I expressed my concern for the lack of sleep and the fact that I already took a Tylenol and Benedryl and they did nothing this time around. I was yelling through contractions at home for hours, goodness sake, so there was no way I was going to bed.
I was running on about 4 hours of sleep since Monday morning (~80 hours) and I felt close to my breaking point. I had never been so tired in my life.
After some reluctant deliberation among the hospital staff, the doctor came back and said that they'd give me some pain mediation via IV so that I can get some sleep until 7 am, just to get through the night. I was so relieved and thankful to be able to get some rest. It was 2 am and the thought of 5 hours of sleep was glorious.
The IV went in and the medication was administered. It was blissful to fall asleep pain-free for the first time in 3 days (since the end of the 2nd trimester, really).
I woke up in intense pain. Contractions we happening at full force, 8's on the pain scale again. My husband was still sleeping peacefully on the couch and I gazed up at the clock. 4 o'clock in the morning.
It had only been 2 hours.
The medication wore off after only 2 hours.
I was told I could sleep until 7 am and here I was waking up after only 2 hours of sleep.
Again, words could not describe the level of disappointment and hopeless I felt. Surely it was a mistake in the dosage. I pressed the nurse call button and asked if I could have more. The intercom on the call button said someone would be in.
5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes passed and no one came.
We pressed the call button again, was told someone would be coming again, but another 30 minutes later and still nothing. I was having very strong contractions this entire time and I'm sure my husband was concerned from all the moaning and yelling that I apparently was doing.
At one point my husband went into the hallway to try and flag someone down. The nurse he found said something along the lines of “We can hear your wife yelling, but it's a busy night so she's just going to have to wait”. Apparently there were a lot of emergency C-Sections and issues that night, and not really having anything wrong with me, I was at the bottom of the list.
It took until 7 am for someone to come in, at which point my contractions had lightened up a bit, as they had done every morning. They were around a 5 – 6 on the pain scale and happening about 5 minutes apart, still inconsistent.
The doctor checked me as planned, and to my surprise...
I was at 3 cm and 90% effaced!
The doctor said since we made progress that they could keep us and we were admitted! Hooray!
To continue reading Part 2, click HERE.