I was convinced that Theo would be a Christmas baby. He was due the 14th of December, but I just KNEW we would be spending the holiday bringing him into this world. His actual story was nothing I could have predicted and took us on a wild 34 hour trip from the start of contractions to actual delivery.
Also, fair warning, this post is LONG. It’s a lot to read in one sitting, but I don’t want to forget even one little bit of what happened or how we felt; so an epic, magnum opus on birthing Theo it is!
The Sweep + Christmas Lights
I spent the day of the 17th sleeping in a little before heading to a morning appointment with my OB for a cervical check and membrane sweep. At the time, I was a depressing 1cm dilated and about 50% effaced. Not much progress, but at least things had gotten started. She performed the sweep (a lot less painful than the check itself!) and I remember afterward, the nurse smiled conspiratorially at me and said that with her first she went into labor a few hours after her membranes were stripped. I SO wanted to drink that koolaid.
After wrapping up the appointment, I headed into the office for a few hours and helped C with a couple final projects we were hoping to wrap up before Theo crashed our work party. I ended up going home about 3:00pm and worked from the couch on some writing until C finished up at the office.
We heated up a tray of the “World’s Best Mac and Cheese” from Beecher’s in Seattle for dinner and ate it in front of the tv like the two sophisticated grown ups we are. As a side note to the pregnant ladies of the world: Get yourself to a Costco and pick up a tray of this stuff. IT IS PREGNANCY FOOD GOALS. Also, ignore the listed serving size of 6-9 they put on the cover. That’s wrong. It’s good for about one serving for you and a half serving for your partner. You’re welcome.
Around 6pm, after finishing off more than my fair share of the mac, I started to feel weird, intermittent menstrual-like cramping low in my belly. This was new. This felt strange. This could mean something.
I told C we should walk it out (pregnant ladies are supposed to walk to bring on labor, right?) to see if it was real, so we decided to head over to our local Christmas lights display that we hadn’t had a chance to visit yet for the year.
We drove to Dovewood Court and as we walked, we chatted about Christmas plans, how fun it would be to have Theo here to join us for all the celebrations we go to and about the very real possibility that this could be one of the last things we do just the two of us. I was using my contraction timer app at this point and found that the cramps were coming every 7-8 minutes and lasting about 45 seconds. They weren’t painful yet, but I was uncomfortable. This was definitely something.
By the time we got home, they were coming a little quicker at every six minutes or so. Being the crazy person that I am, I decided to do some work writing while C drew a bath for me, because why not squeeze in a few more tasks before things got dicey?
The bath was heaven and helped ease the pinch of the cramps (highly recommend if you can labor in the tub a bit at home) which had ramped up in terms of intensity and frequency. They were consistent now and there was no question I was having real contractions. C loaded up the car with our hospital gear and then sat in the bathroom with me as we watched them get closer and closer together and waited for the magic 5-1-1 combo to happen.
At about 10:00 things went south for me. I had a rough pregnancy and threw up at least once every day starting at 9 weeks, so this wasn’t totally unexpected, but I got some serious nausea and started projectile vomiting dinner pretty much everywhere over the side of our tub. It was gross. I felt terrible. The contractions were 5 minutes apart and a minute long.
C thought I was going to have this baby in the tub. SPOILER ALERT: The babe came 30 hours later, no need to worry that this story is taking a turn toward crazy DIY birthing territory.
At that point, we decided it made sense to head to the hospital which was about 20 minutes from home.
When we got to Kaiser, my contractions were pretty painful, but my water was still intact and I hadn’t had my bloody show yet. They admitted me to triage to see how far along I was and if I had progressed enough to be in active labor.
As it turns out, despite the throwing up and painfulness of the contractions, I was only 2-3 cm dilated and about 80% effaced. Typically, this would mean I’m still in early labor and they would send me home BUT I was throwing up a lot and the kicker: my blood pressure was pretty high. I’d had a high BP on and off during the last month and a half of my pregnancy so they didn’t want to mess around with it and I was admitted.
I’m so grateful for this because my labor was slow and needed pitocin at various points to get me to progress and I think the whole process would have been a lot longer if I had to continue laboring at home.
Also, I got an IV of magical Zofran for the vomiting, which really improved things for me and took the edge off.
Our room at the hospital was massive and spa-like. I’m very impressed with how birthing suites have taken a turn toward focusing on the mother’s comfort and orienting the birth to fit her plan for delivery.
Our first midwife + nurse team were wonderful. We were so lucky throughout the entire labor with the professionals who cared for us. I don’t know what we did to deserve such amazing and sensitive people on our team, but we still talk about how blessed we felt to have that experience.
At check-in we were asked if we preferred care by an OB, midwife or had no preference. At that point, pretty much anyone could have delivered this babe for me and I wouldn’t have cared, so I told them whoever was available. This was one of the best decisions I made because I ended up going through shift changes with three different midwives during my labor and they were all AMAZING. If we ever have another kiddo, I’m specifically requesting the midwives because their approach was so focused on care, comfort and coaching (look at that, 3 C’s!) that I felt made the experience a really beautiful one, despite a lot of pain and a lot of time spent laboring.
9 Hours of Natural Labor
The first 9 hours at the hospital are a bit of a blur. The midwife and nurse asked me my plans for pain management and when I wanted to have the epidural. I knew from the start that while I have a decently high pain tolerance, a natural birth wasn’t the right fit for me.
They didn’t push me one way or another and I felt a little unprepared to make the decision about when to get it. My first reaction is to tough things out, even painful things, so I decided to hold off even though I was really feeling it. C was by my side through every contraction, which I was fielding from the bed. Eventually, we moved to a birthing ball and C helped apply pressure to my back during each one at the direction of the midwife to help ease some of the pain.
The 9 hours before the epidural consisted of a lot of ball bouncing, contractions, pressure and slow progress. I don’t remember it very clearly now, but I know at some point early on we agreed to start small doses of pitocin at a 2 to help me progress and it eventually went up to 6. I wasn’t really dilating much on my own.
I did try some alternative pain relief options that I didn’t know ANYTHING about prior to this experience. I’ll share my thoughts on both in case you’re considering different pain relief in place of or in combination with the epidural.
I’m so thankful for our nurse at the time, Tiffany, who recommended them to me and gave me so much relief. She really helped me understand that I had more options than just epidural or no epidural.
Fentanyl – This is a narcotic administered via an IV (much like morphine) to provide pain relief during labor. For me, I felt near immediate easing of the contraction pain when I had the Fentanyl and it made them bearable, though I could still feel them. It took them down to the level of slightly more severe period cramping. I had it administered twice and while it didn’t really touch the pain the way the epidural did, it gave me enough relief to rest.
TENS Machine – I also got to try a nifty little gadget called a TENS machine. Basically, it is a small, handheld device connected by wires to your lower back that delivers continuous, but very mild doses of electrical current. When the contraction starts, you press the button and the amount of current increases and you feel a moving pressure that distracts and redirects your focus from the pain caused by the contraction. To me, it felt like tons of little spiders moving in a circle on your back that went into a frenzy that wasn’t quite painful when the button was pressed. It wasn’t as effective at overall pain reduction as the Fentanyl, but it was helpful and I’d recommend it to anyone not planning on using the epidural.
During this period, I think I threw up 2 more times and had two more doses of Zofran through the IV. I also had some crazy acid reflux so they gave me a lot of Tums. I was really getting the shakes from all the meds and the pain, which were a bit tough because I have a reflex to clench my teeth through them which started to really hurt my jaw. Overall, I was having a pretty rough go of the natural laboring.
Eventually, I started throwing up again while on the ball, which was at hour 14 for labor total and hour 10 at the hospital. My nurse at the time, Claren, who was a total angel and had just started her shift with us, looked at me while holding my puke bag and asked if I was planning on having a natural labor. I told her definitely no and she asked when I was planning to get the epidural. I told her I wasn’t sure if I should wait and she looked me in the eyes and gave me the best advice of my life. She told me she got the epidural when she was 1cm with her child, that I was about 4cm, and that if I wanted it, I should get it now. Pretty sure she was totally confused as to why I was going through all of that for no real reason.
I think at that point I just needed someone else to give me permission to accept the epidural and stop trying to tough it out. C was also SO ready at this point to stop seeing me in pain, which I could tell was hard for him to watch while not being able to really do much to help me.
So we were ready for the big E, bring on the anesthesiologist!
Our anesthesiologist was awesome. He had a dry sense of humor, talked incessantly and warned us about 13 year olds. He also brought me relief. I loved him.
He was very clear about some important epidural facts: 1) The needle isn’t going anywhere near the spinal cord, which is quite a few inches higher than the insertion point, 2) This would not paralyze me, 3) I would feel the local anesthetic more than the needle for the epidural. He also prepared all of the tools, needles, whatever he used behind me and narrated every step of the process so I knew what to expect but didn’t have to have a visual of the giant, scary needle. At this point, I was so worn out from trying to control my pain that he could have done literally anything as long as it would give me some relief.
C sat in front of me and held my hands and the anesthesiologist waited until just after a contraction to start the local and then insert the epidural. It was pretty painless and smooth and I think a lot of it had to do with his skill and his narration of what he was doing. Claren stayed during this process and truly it was comforting having her there.
Within about 15 minutes, the epidural was done, I started feeling relief and was ready for a nap. I lost all concept of time during this whole process but it was somewhere around 11:00am on the 18th. Claren recommended C get himself something to eat and take a nap while I slept so he made a quick burrito and coffee run.
I dozed for the next few hours. My legs were numb but I could still wiggle my toes and feet and had a general feeling of pressure, though I couldn’t really move them. The second midwife was also amazing and helped position me on my sides with a peanut ball between my legs to relieve some of the pressure and also help get Theo into the right position in the birth canal. At the time he was low, but a little crooked. He ended up coming out pretty swiftly and right side up, so I assume the ball helped with this!
I’ve read that not everyone is a fan of the peanut ball, but for me it really worked well and I would absolutely use it again. It was while I was positioned like this that my water finally broke on its own (I couldn’t feel it AT ALL) and I eventually lost my mucous plug and had my bloody show, which was pretty gross but also cool.
I threw up again somewhere in here and had some more Zofran via the IV.
Back Labor + The Bolus
The epidural was glorious and incredibly effective for a long time. My pain was in check for about 10 hours and I was able to sleep intermittently, eat some jello and sip on juice boxes (only clear foods). There was another shift change so we said goodbye to Claren.
After about 10 hours, things started to change and I began to feel a lot of contracting back pain on my left side. I couldn’t find a comfortable position to relieve it. The most relief I got was sitting up almost vertically, but even this wasn’t doing much. The pain started to increase in intensity and the contractions were coming strong. I got checked and was still only at a 5, despite the pitocin drip. I realized I was having back labor and the epidural was just not managing it.
I worked through the pain for a few hours, but I was really struggling. It was at this point that I hit a wall. I was scared, exhausted and just felt defeated. I was talking to C about all of this and he could tell I wasn’t in a good place anymore.
Back Labor is by far THE WORST labor pain I’ve experienced and it really broke me down. I don’t know how women work through that in a natural labor, I really don’t, because that’s where I hit my limit. I have so much respect for anyone who handles that kind of pain because I’ve never felt anything like it.
I think I even looked C in the eyes at this point and told him I was scared that if it kept going like this I wouldn’t have enough energy to push when it was time. That’s pretty much when he called the nurse in and told her we needed another option.
This is where the epidural bolus makes its grand entrance. In case you’re not familiar with this term (I wasn’t!), a bolus dose is a strengthened dose of the epidural delivered all at once. I had a continuous epidural that I could press a button for a little boost when needed but this was different.
The anesthesiologist came in and strengthened the epidural in the bag and it was delivered all at once. And holy wow it was STRONG. So strong that the back labor was gone within minutes, but the lower half of my body also totally disappeared off my radar. It was a really strange feeling, I felt much less connected to my legs than I did with the original epidural dose and I think at one point I asked Craig to grab my legs because I thought they were falling off.
I couldn’t move them even an inch and while it was worth it to dull down the back labor, I also had to be moved by C and the nurse (Annette at this point), if I wanted to switch positions. I was uncomfortable, but not in major pain, so this was a definite improvement.
While the bolus was fun, it was pretty short lived. About 2 hours after they administered it, the back labor pain returned. The numb feeling went away. It was almost like it never even happened.
The intensity of the pain was just as bad as before, maybe even worse, which had the midwife and nurse really confused because that wasn’t supposed to happen.
I didn’t have much energy left, so when they suggested that perhaps my epidural slipped or wasn’t inserted perfectly, I agreed instantly to have it reset.
An epidural reset means the anesthesiologist comes back and basically redoes the whole process: local anesthetic, sitting really still through the pain, the main needle to set it, the little aftershock, and then finally, relief.
C held onto me through the whole crazy thing while I focused every single part of me on relaxing, not moving and just blocking out the pain I was feeling.
The relief came fast, within about 5 minutes, and this time it felt wholly different from the bolus and the first epidural. I actually had quite a bit of feeling in the lower half of my body, could even move my legs a bit, but zero pain. Just pressure. I think that’s how it is supposed to feel in an ideal situation.
After the epidural was reset, the nurse (this was nurse #4, Tsering, who was wonderful, like Claren, because we made it through another shift change) told me my contractions just totally stopped for awhile. I think it was my body giving me time to rest because I was so tapped out. I had thrown up again a few more times before the bolus and after despite the IV updates of Zofran along with everything else.
I think it knew what I needed to make sure this baby was eventually delivered and that if I didn’t get a break, I just I wouldn’t have the energy to push. It’s not a scientific explanation, but it’s how C and I remember it. My dilation was around a 7 at this point, which still felt SO far away from push time.
I slept for 4 hours or so after the second epidural, pretty continuously, and my contractions did start again while I was out. When they came back, I think my body was really ready to do this thing because I started dilating much more rapidly until the midwife checked me again and said, “I think we should give pushing a try, you look pretty close to 10.”
I asked her if she was sure because after everything we had been through, I couldn’t believe we were finally there, that I would meet Theo soon, and that it was time to bring him into the world.
Push Time aka The Best Time
Pushing was something I was really afraid of. I’d heard all about the “ring of fire” (Ladies, if you don’t know about it, don’t look it up, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life) and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. I also wasn’t sure how much feeling I would have since I could really move my legs after the second epidural.
BUT I was ready to be done with laboring and beyond ready to hold our little babe.
So they got me into position, told me to hold my legs behind the knees, lean forward, chin to my chest and then just PUSH with everything I had. On the next contraction they said “Go” and that’s what I did. And it worked because the midwife smiled, got excited and said she could see his head. WTF, that was a trip.
On the next contraction, I pushed again. This was really working out well because the midwife, after coaching me through it and telling me to push harder and that it was almost over (she was AWESOME, by the way), said we are having this baby now and started suiting up in some kind of plastic apron/coat, more nurses were called in to do delivery things and Tsering did some stuff that I just don’t remember.
C stood on my left, held my hand and told me we were so close, that the baby was right there, that I was strong and that he would be here soon. I couldn’t have picked better people to be surrounded with. Again, we were so lucky.
The midwife came back and it was time to make this happen. I pushed the same way through three more contractions and then all of a sudden, I felt him slide out, heard a tiny cry and then he was right up on my chest. His face was by my face, the whole thing was over, and just like that Theo was real.
I cried, looking at him right next to me was so freaking magnificent (there’s no better word for it) and overwhelming. C cried, having watched me spend a day and a half trying to bring him to us and then seeing HIS baby for the first time. The midwife was teary, she told us that even though she does this every day, each one is special and each one means something to her. Tsering smiled at us and said she was so happy Theo came during her shift and that she got to see us through to the end. Again, these people were really something special.
I ended up feeling only pressure the whole time I was pushing (no ring of fire!) and the entire process took less than 15 minutes. Theo came out at 6.5 lbs and 20 inches so I think that made it easier on me to actually deliver him. And round of applause, the second epidural was totally effective! Yay!
I don’t remember too much after that, I was in a haze of baby magic, exhaustion and meds and all I wanted to do was stare at him, hold him and then sleep knowing he was safe.
I do remember C cutting the cord, the midwife asking if I wanted to check out my placenta (I didn’t, I just wanted to stare at Theo) and then at some point I was stitched up from a second degree tear, shown how to use the bathroom and popped into a wheelchair to head to recovery.
I could never have predicted any bit of how this labor would go. Each part of the process was a surprise to me and I don’t feel like there’s much that would have prepared me for how to deal with it. I know that breathing classes are recommended and that you can bring in a doula for extra coaching, but for me, working through the pain in the moment was the best approach and the one that gave me a birth I was happy with.
I don’t think Theo’s labor and delivery would have been nearly as special to me or that I even would have made it through without the 3 midwives and 4 nurses that guided us and took care of us while we figured out how to handle what was happening.
C was also the very best partner during all 34 hours and after. He was wholly unselfish and at times told me that if he could take the pain and do this for me, he would. The look on his face watching Theo being born is probably my favorite moment of the entire experience and something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. Seeing him fill this role of Dad to Theo is an incredible transformation and I feel lucky to get a front row seat. It’s like there’s this whole other side to him that I didn’t know what there, just waiting to come out for this little babe. I told my mom that I fall in love with him again every single day watching him do the parent thing with me. It’s absolutely life-changing and a total gift I wasn’t expecting.
Theo is about 2 weeks old now and he is everything to us. We are still learning how to be parents to him and he is still learning how to live in the world outside my uterus, but it’s been blissful as much as it has been hard. Babies are crazy, but we’re crazy about ours.
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Creative Entrepreneur // New Mama // I’m an elder millennial in my early 30s, have a JD from Berkeley Law, and drink more than my fair share of coffee. This site is for the working mamas looking for tips and reviews from someone who shares their busy lifestyle, preference for quality products and isn’t into Instagram-perfect photos of the baby life.