While this blog isn’t really about my journey as a mother, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass by to share my son’s birth story. When I was pregnant, I loved reading birth stories and using them to gain knowledge and inspiration for my own birth experience. So, hopefully, this is helpful for someone else, too!
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The entire experience played out so differently than I imagined, but in some of the best ways possible. (Hint: I felt absolutely no pain until I was more than 8cm dilated (crazy!)) And I’m so grateful for every moment of the 24-hour journey that brought my son to me so safely!
What I Did to Prepare for Labor
I guess I’ll start by sharing a little of what I did prior to labor to help prep me for the birth. I’m the type of person that wants to know it ALL, so I read basically every book and did every exercise to be as prepared as possible for the big day.
Going into it, I knew that I didn’t want to use any pain medications, if possible. I have nothing against getting an epidural and totally understand that decision, but I also really felt strongly about having the full natural experience and doing it in solidarity with the women all around the world who don’t have an epidural available to them. I wanted to know what it was like in order to better understand what other women experience.
(For those that don’t know, I have my MA in International Development, and maternal health is one problem that really affects less developed countries. It really weighed heavy on my heart during my pregnancy and was in large part why I decided to forgo the epidural.)
I also knew, though, that I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain without learning how to manage my mindset during birth. I am such a baby when it comes to pain, so I had a long road ahead of me to prepare for the level of pain I knew I would experience.
After doing a ton of research, I actually decided to mostly rely on hypnobirthing techniques to help with my mindset. No, there are no swinging watches involved. No, you don’t go into a trance. It’s more about memorizing helpful saying and using repetition to make it through each contraction.
Believe me, I’m about the least hippy-ish person you’ll find, so I needed a resource that wouldn’t focus on “the universe” or “energies”. I also read a few books that were super negative about hospital births and it really rubbed me the wrong way.
After some digging around, though, I found the perfect book and highly recommend it. “Your Baby, Your Birth” is written by someone similar to me who was totally skeptical about hypnobirthing techniques but wanted a system for managing pain without medication during birth. While I didn’t use everything in the book and I traded out many of the mantras for Bible verses, the information the book provided about hormones and how we process fear and feel pain was so incredibly helpful. I read several books about birth and this was by far the best.
When thinking about labor and birth, I had always imagined that I would go into labor naturally while at home. Then I would labor calmly at home until the contractions became unbearable and head into the hospital for transition and pushing. But that really wasn’t how it played out.
When I went for my 37 week checkup, I was 3cm dilated and little man was very low. The doctor let me know that I would probably have him sooner than later, just based on how low he was. However, 3 more weeks went by with no changes. Those 3 weeks felt like an eternity, with each doctor confirming that they thought I would go into labor soon but nothing actually happening.
(During this time, I was required to have a COVID test at 39 weeks to ensure that I didn’t have the virus during labor, more on this further down.)
At one of my appointments, the doctor guessed that the baby would be about 8.5 pounds, which was what I had expected all along, given a history of slightly larger babies in both my family and my husband’s.
At 40 weeks, I was measuring 4cm dilated, but still no contractions or other signs of labor. However, the nurse practitioner who examined me said that she believed I was likely in early labor due to the extent of my dilation. Because of that, I opted to have my membranes swept in order to help move things along. The doctor told me later (after he was born) that she had been sure he would be born within 24 hours after the sweep because of how long I had been dilated and how far along I was.
I was also caught off guard at my 40 week appointment when the doctor started discussing scheduling an induction. Because of the repeated claims by doctors that my body was ready and it would happen any day now, I never foresaw needing an induction. We went ahead and scheduled one anyways for 41 weeks on the dot, just in case he didn’t come sooner.
(I want to add here that I would have gladly gone until 41w3d, which is the longest my doctor would allow, but my mom had booked her flights for 41 weeks based off of the information we received at my 37 week appointment. I wanted her to be able to help and spend time with the baby as much as possible, so I opted for a slightly earlier induction than I would have otherwise.)
The final week rolled by with no sign of baby, so here we were facing the induction I never expected to have.
They had told us to call at 5am that morning to make sure the hospital had space for us that day. They did and we headed in around 7am.
Arriving at the hospital, we went through the necessary COVID screenings (temp check and questions) and then were directed straight to our delivery room. I had brought my own deliver gown for more privacy and changed into that before answering a number of questions for paperwork reasons.
Once I realized the induction would be required, I did a little research and decided that I wanted to avoid Pitocin, if possible. I had heard that Pitocin makes the pain worse and would make having a non-medicated birth very difficult. So, at 9:30am, they inserted Cytotec and we started the waiting game.
Because I wasn’t using any pain medications, I was free to walk around the halls and bounce on the birthing ball and eat and generally just hang out. My husband was there with me and we watched a movie and did a million laps around the labor and delivery wing. But, throughout the entire day, I felt absolutely no pain. We kept waiting for the contractions to become painful (they were registering on the monitor, but I couldn’t feel them), but they just didn’t. Finally, at 7pm, I asked to be checked and I had dilated to 8cm.
Everyone was in complete shock that I had dilated so far without feeling anything. But we were also happy that I was moving into transition and things the baby would be there soon (I thought). We decided to break my water, thinking everything would move very quickly from there.
Over the next four hours, I slowly started to feel the contractions. At this point, they felt like bad food poisoning – highly uncomfortable but not deathly painful. I bounced on the ball and watched another movie with my husband. Then I got in the tub and chatted with my husband, hoping the intensifying pain meant the baby would be there soon.
Four hours later, there was no change. I was still at 8cm. By this point, it was almost midnight and I had been up since 5am. I was more tired than I was hurting and I remember being so incredibly discouraged.
Around this time, the doctor began guessing that the baby was much larger than anyone had guessed. The fact that it was taking so long for things to progress made her think he would likely be closer to 9.5 pounds.
Because I had been in active labor for almost 15 hours and was so tired, we decided to start Pitocin. They started it on the lowest dose and never moved it up much further than that.
Once the Pitocin was started, contractions became very painful, very quickly. I got back into the tub and spent a few hours rocking back and forth and deep breathing through contractions. I never used the mantras or Bible verses that I had memorized, but the repetition of the rocking motion was what I found to be most helpful. Sitting in the tub, I would extend one leg at a time and turn my head toward that side as I did it, breathing at the same slow pace. I also had a playlist of worship music that I used between contractions to focus on overcoming fear and, instead, embracing joy.
At 3:30am, I got out of the tub and was checked again. At that point, I was sick and shaking and was so sure that I must be ready to push. But, when they checked, I was only 9cm dilated. Again, I was so discouraged. I was also terrified that it would take another 4 hours of contractions to go the final centimeter. But, somewhere around an hour later, I was ready to push.
The doctor came in the room and I pushed on my hands and knees. As I pushed, the doctor warned me that the baby was definitely larger than we had thought, and that I may need to stop pushing after the head was out to make sure he didn’t have shoulder dysplasia. Despite knowing the risks of shoulder dysplasia, I never felt anything but peace about his birth, even as I was pushing.
Little man was finally born at 5:42am. I turned over and he was placed on my chest. I never had to stop pushing and there was no shoulder dysplasia (hallelujah!).
My husband’s first words when little man was born were “He’s huge!”, which he definitely was.
Because he was so large, I had a third degree tear and it took about half an hour for the doctor to stitch the tear while I did skin-to-skin. The nurses asked if I wanted to breastfeed him, but it was difficult to focus on the baby while the stitching was happening, because it was painful despite the local anesthetic. Once the stitches were done, I was able to breastfeed him easily.
We spent the next hour or two just cuddling and enjoying our first moments together as a family.
About two hours after the birth, the doctor came back in with the nurse and said she was ending her shift but wanted to watch the baby be weighed. Even at that point, she guessed he would be “close to 10 pounds”. When the scale read 11 pounds 6 ounces, we all laughed in astonishment. He was the second largest baby the doctor had ever delivered. Who knew I would create a massive baby?!
Overall, it was an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I know that my experience was unique because I didn’t feel any pain until I was essentially in transition, but the decision to forgo pain medication was 100% worth it. I’m so glad that I was able to experience the birth so fully, and I feel so strong and confident knowing that I did it.
What It Was Like to Give Birth During COVID
What is it like to have a baby during COVID? This is a question I got a lot after the birth. Many people wanted to know how the experience differed because of COVID and if it was negatively impacted in any way. So, I thought I’d share a little on that here for those who are curious.
Overall, COVID had very little impact on the birth itself. The most difficult part of COVID for me was in March when things first started shutting down. I had a monthly checkup scheduled for the week that things got bad, and the office called me the morning of to ask if I would be willing to reschedule so that my appointments were 6 weeks apart. I told them I wanted to come in because I had already taken time off work and planned my day around the appointment and had a few things that I wanted to discuss in person.
That appointment was by far the scariest and most traumatizing moment of COVID for me this year. The fear in the nurses was tangible and my checkup, which should have been joyful, celebrating the little life in me, was cold and harsh. I was denied services that I would have had access to otherwise and was left wondering just how much my pregnancy and birth would be affected by COVID.
From there, things got considerably better. As people got used to wearing masks and adjusted to the uncertainty of the moment, the atmosphere of the doctor’s office lightened considerably.
My appointments were switched to 6 weeks apart, but were quickly switched back to 2 weeks apart as I entered my final trimester. And I received all of the same care I would have otherwise.
I was required to have a COVID test done at 39 weeks to help mitigate the possibility that I have undiagnosed COVID at the time of the birth. The test was easy to schedule and receive and went very smoothly.
For the birth itself, I was only allowed to have one support person and no visitors. It had been my plan all along to only have my husband with me, and I was actually relieved to not have the pressure of turning away unwanted visitors. I treasured the 3 days that we were able to spend at the hospital as a family.
I had been told prior to the birth that I would be required to wear a mask every time a provider was in the room, including during pushing. This made me very nervous because I had struggled to breathe with the mask on at times during my pregnancy. However, this rule wasn’t enforced and the nurses and doctors were all very understanding when I took my mask off towards the end of my labor.
While this didn’t affect me, I also would not have been able to use one of the typical pain medication options because of the delivery form. So, if you are expecting soon, just make sure to ask your doctor about what medications are not available right now.
Overall, COVID played a very minor role in affecting my pregnancy and birth. The small adjustments that I had to make were more than made up for by the incredible support that I received from the doctors and nurses present at the birth.
One Last Note
Before I got married, I had always said that I wanted to adopt all of my children. We still plan to adopt, but it was very important to my husband that we also have a biological child (only because he wanted the experience of going through the pregnancy and birth together).
The idea of pregnancy and birth terrified me, but now I am so glad that I made that leap of faith with my husband. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I feel more empowered than ever before.
The memory of this day with my husband and son will always be one of my nearest and dearest memories, and I’m so grateful for my healthy, beautiful baby boy and his birth story!