Every time I am pregnant, I have this deep, visceral need to read ALL THE BIRTH STORIES! It’s like an emotional pregnancy craving.
This pregnancy was no different. I especially craved stories about “Third births” or “third labors” because, ye old wives tell us that the third birth/labor is notoriously unpredictable.
But, Brittany (you ask) this is your fifth child. So…third birth? Has pregnancy addled your brain that much? (probably so). But this was my third birth/labor because my first two kids are twins and they were delivered via c-section.
Silas and Eli (babies 3 and 4) were VBAC, or Vaginal Birth After Cesarean.
I fully expected to have another successful VBAC for baby number 5. In fact, I was highly annoyed that I was required to take a “VBAC Class” (cue eyeroll) at the military hospital where I was receiving prenatal care.
I even had to fill out this “What is my success rate for delivering VBAC?” form. Uhh….100%, I scoffed (silently).
My actual score was a 96% success rate. So yeah, 100%. Pish! Of course!
This was not my first rodeo.
But it was my third labor so, apparently, I had to expect the unexpected. Or so all those birth stories told me.
But, maybe, I thought, the “unpredictable birth” was related to child number 3—after all, with Silas, my third child, I was in labor for 60 hours because I wouldn’t dilate for some strange reason. After an agonizing 2.5 days, I pushed that child into the world—with a
But with baby number 5, what I fully expected was this: To go into labor in the middle of the night (like I did with Silas and Eli), to labor at home as long as possible (but not for too long!) and to go to the hospital for a smooth, quick delivery. My labor with Eli was 11 hours from
They get you every time, don’t they?
My labor with Grace started at 2am on Saturday April 20, like I expected, but in a completely different way than her brothers. I woke up feeling a small gush—My water is breaking!
I put on a pad and went back to bed, sleeping intermittently between irregular contractions, which were slightly stronger than the Braxton Hicks contractions that I had been having constantly for weeks.
As the sun rose, my
husband Aaron rolled over and said, “Good morning.”
“Good day to have a baby?” I quipped.
“You’re doing this? For real?!” He asked, wide eyed.
“I think my water is leaking and I’ve been having contractions since two.”
I texted my doula, Mariah, around 6am and told her what was going on, that I didn’t need her yet, but to stand by.
At 8am, 11am, and 2ish she checked in with me: “How’s it going?”
But not consistent, not straight-forward. My water hadn’t fully broken (was I leaking?); the contractions were getting stronger but were not strong by any means, and they were all over the place—5 minutes apart, 7 minutes apart, 12 minutes apart.
Around 3 I asked her to come over to try some of her doula magic to see if we could kick this labor into gear.
So for the next 6 hours, we did so many things: The Miles Circuit, inversions, rebozzo, side-lying, exercise ball bouncing. And repeat.
And the contractions definitely got stronger. I needed to breathe through them, and as the sun went down, vocalize through them.
But they still weren’t consistent, nor did I have that “we-need-to-go-to-the-hospital-this-is-it” feeling.
“What is taking so long? What is going on? Why is this not
I was getting discouraged.
Mariah suggested that I go to bed and try to sleep for a while. She left to get some rest too but told me to call as soon as anything changed.
Aaron and I went to bed around 9pm and I slept.
I don’t know exactly what time it was but my contractions kicked into gear. I couldn’t talk through them; I was moaning and having to concentrate hard on my breathing; they were coming 3-5 minutes apart; and I had that “we-need-to-go-now” feeling.
Aaron called our friend Stacy around midnight to come stay with the boys and Mariah said she would meet us at the hospital.
I leaned heavily on Aaron has he helped me to the car, gripping his arms as another contraction came. I was shaking and thinking I was probably in transition. With Eli, I was 6cm dilated when we got to the hospital.
We got to the hospital and I had contraction after
contraction while we walked to the elevator and into triage.
“We have to check you before we put you in a room to see if you are really in labor.”
Good Lord! I thought, doubled over in pain. Just put me in a room!!
I hate being checked for dilation but hoped it would be the first and last time before I gave birth. The nurse was kind and gentle.
“You’re around 3 centimeters, maybe 4,” she reported.
It was midnight on April 21, Easter Sunday and I had been having contractions at this point for 15 hours.
Aaron and Mariah saw my face and saw me shake my head. I couldn’t believe it.
I felt stunned as I sat on the exercise ball in triage, hooked to the monitor, gripping the hands of my husband and doula—moaning—as the line on the graph soared sky-high.
“I’ll check back with you in a few hours. If you are in active labor then, we can admit you,” the nurse said and then left.
Mariah reminded me that my contractions were stronger and more consistent when I was upright and walking around so we walked the silent halls of the labor ward (I think I was the only woman who was laboring that night). Every 2-3 minutes, I grabbed Aaron’s hands while Mariah gripped my hips and provided counter pressure to my back.
Two hours. I can make it two hours, I thought as I took a break from walking on the triage bed.
But the results of the next check? 3-4 centimeters.
“We usually only let women do one ‘trial’ in triage before sending them home to labor if they aren’t dilating,” the nurse said sympathetically. “But I’ll let you stay until 6am—that’s when my shift ends.
I had wanted an all-natural, med-free labor, to use the birth pool perhaps, but all I wanted at 3am was an epidural. I just had to dilate 1—maybe 2!–centimeters and I could get in a room and get a freakin’ epidural.
I was fighting panic and discouragement—this labor was like bad, bad deja vu from Silas’s labor, where I went to the hospital twice (24 hours apart) and was still “a 3, maybe a 4.”
I probably rested too much in the last two hours.
I was determined to walk and walk and walk until 6am and then surely, surely I would dilate and then I could get the epidural and then I could rest, then I could get a break from this pain, this pain, this pain…oh God, here comes another one!
The night wore on and on until the hallway windows turned gray with early morning light. I had to go to the bathroom again and I dreaded it because the I-have-to-go-to-the-bathroom contractions came one on top of each other, overlapping each other as I groaned and moaned and shook and reminded myself to breathe, breathe, don’t-hold-your-breath-don’t scream, BREATHE!
It was almost 6am and I had to pee again and then, it was more than that and thank-goodness-I-think-my water-is-breaking!
It wasn’t like a movie-scene but I was so relieved! Finally! We were getting somewhere.
The nurse came back to triage right at that moment and I excitedly told her that I thought my water was leaking. My underwear was soaked and there was a little fluid on the floor. She had to test the fluid under a microscope and she collected a sample from the floor.
But a few contractions later, she came back and said it was unclear whether or not it was amniotic fluid.
“I can put a speculum in and test…” she said, but I made a face and shook my head. She went on. “If your water has broken, we will defiantly admit you. But the thing is, if I check for dilation, I can’t check to see if your water broke because the gel mimics amniotic fluid on the slides when we put them under the microscope. What do you want me to do?”
I sucked in a huge breath, puffing out my cheeks and letting it all out at once. I didn’t want the speculum check (UGG NO!) but I didn’t want to be sent home either. But surely, surely I had dilated. I had been having 10
“Just go ahead and check me,” I said. I was confident that I had done the work and it was enough to finally get me in a room and get an epidural and hopefully get this baby out soon.
She checked me. And then she paused.
“Still the same. 3, maybe 4.”
I don’t even know how to describe how I felt. Saying I was discouraged feels like saying a hurricane is a stiff breeze.
But under that soul-crushing news, in the middle of all that pain, another feeling was growing: Resolve.
I remember at that stupid VBAC class that they told us, as VBAC moms, at any time during our labor, if we felt like we didn’t want to VBAC anymore, we could slap down the “I’m done” card and request a c-section.
“What do you want to do?” The nurse asked me. I knew she was asking if I wanted to go home or stay in triage.
“I want to talk to a provider,” I said firmly and calmly.
I was not going home. I remember going home when I was in labor with Silas and then, 24 hours later, coming back to the hospital without having made any progress. I was not doing that again.
An hour and 40 minutes passed. Mariah asked me if I wanted to try any more of the labor techniques that we had done at home and throughout the night at the hospital. But I said no. I just wanted to rest.
I think I slept a bit but the contractions kept coming, wave after wave.
I clung to my husband and cried.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I whispered to him, tears streaming down my face.
“Brittany, you can do whatever you set your mind to. There is nothing you can’t do,” he said, his voice matter-of-fact.
I looked up at him, swiping at my tears, smiling cynically at his encouraging words. “Ok, true.”
He smiled as I paused.
Then: “I don’t know if I want
to do this.”
“Well, that’s something different,” he said, pushing the hair back from my face. “I will support you in whatever decision you make.”
At 7:40am the doctor came in. Utter sympathy was written all over her kind face as contraction after contraction interrupted our conversation.
“What do you want to do?” she asked.
We talked about getting the epidural, breaking my water, but all I could think about was that I still had 6 centimeters to do, transition to endure, and then I had to push the baby out. I didn’t know if I had the energy.
But did I want a c-section? I knew what I was in for. I had
been there before and choosing a major abdominal surgery was a huge decision but
one that was looking more and more appealing.
“I just want to know that it’s okay…!” I wept.
Everyone around me murmured their encouragement and the doctor said, “Will this decision matter when she is 3 years old?”
“No,” I sniffed.
“It’s okay,” the OB gripped my hand. “It’s okay.”
And it was. It was okay for me to have a c-section.
It was okay for me to choose a c-section after 24+ hours of labor and no progress.
It was okay for me to be done.
And I was done. I was DONE.
“I want a c-section,” I said, my voice clear and my eyes clear. I was totally at peace. In fact, it was the first time I felt autonomous during the entire 9 months of my pregnancy.
“Okay,” the doctor said. “Let’s do it.”
And we did. We did all the bloodwork and washing and prep and then, after 9 hours in triage, they wheeled me into the operating room.
My new, awesome nurse asked me if I wanted to listen to Hamilton in the OR (since we were listening to it while I labored) and I whole-heartedly agreed.
After the blessed spinal kicked in (those contractions in the OR were brutal—so thankful for the nurses and doctors who encouraged me through them while I waited for Aaron and Mariah to come into the OR).
While I was shaking from nerves and emotion, the atmosphere in the room was calm and celebratory. It was made extra special because the midwife I saw at my very first prenatal appointment, when I was severely depressed about this pregnancy, was coming off the night shift and decided to stay and help with my surgery.
“It just felt very appropriate,” she smiled at me. Tears filled my eyes. Yes, so, so appropriate. She was there at the beginning when I was struggling. It was so very appropriate that she was here now to celebrate the birth of our daughter.
And she was born, on Easter Morning at 9:36am, our Grace Eleanor.
She bawled her lungs out as they lifted her from my womb and
I was so thankful. Aaron brought her over to me and we hugged and kissed and
were in awe over her. She heard our voices and was calm at once.
It was a beautiful birth.
And definitely not what I expected.