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Mar 16, 2017

Heidi's Birth Story: Part 2

If you missed Part 1, click here to catch up!
**Another warning: even longer post ahead. I could have broken it into another post, but then I think a few of you might have killed me. No one appreciates a good "to be continued" these days. Gahh. ;)**

Mallorie Owens Photography, June 2016 - 31 weeks

"If you can talk through them, they're not strong enough! This could last days, so hang on!"...the last words the nurse said before she scheduled my 42 week induction and sent D and I sheepishly back to the car for our hour drive back home. I was beyond bummed. I was still contracting, but not hard enough to warrant them keeping me at the birthing center. 4 cm of dilation gets you a room automatically, but I also hadn't been checked whatsoever up to that point...so we still had no clue how close to go time we really were, even with contractions 5-7 minutes apart. That drive back home was the most annoying car ride of my life. I felt defeated, sad, impatient, and quite honestly, in some pretty uncomfortable pain. The nurse's words kept replaying in my mind...this could last DAYS?? I could feel my blood pressure rising, and with it, all the worries of this early labor dragging out beyond Tuesday and my dad and sister missing meeting Heidi at all. D and I talked out all the possible scenarios the next few days could bring and I couldn't hold back the tears. Every bit of this birthing a baby thing was out of my control. I couldn't will my body to contract harder or dilate faster. I couldn't predict the minute she'd be born or how it all would happen. All I could do is what I'd been doing for weeks, pray and wait.

I don't know if it was the flood of emotions or the rise in my blood pressure during that car ride home, but as soon as we walked through our front door, I had to pause. Things felt...stronger. My lower abdomen was cramping hard core. It felt like someone had a vice grip on my uterus, twisting it then slowly letting go. Of course my family was sad to see us walk back inside the house, but after my Mom took one look at me and how I was bracing myself against the door frames just to make it to the living room...she started making me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and verbally prepping my dad and sister to pack things to entertain them at the birthing center. She was instantly convinced Heidi was on her way that day. No, ifs, ands, or buts about it.

I, however, told her the nurse said this could last for days (which being a nurse herself, she knew) and that I was advised to take a warm shower/bath and relax to see if the contractions would continue or stop altogether. If they stopped, that would be my confirmation we were going to have a long wait for baby. Well, I never made it to that warm bath or shower. In fact, I barely made it through eating that PB&J sandwich before I was wholly convinced it was go time myself. 

Here's a quick timeline:
11am - NST
11:45am - left birthing center for home
12:45pm - arrived home and contractions amped up
1:30pm - Made the call (without calling the midwife) to head back to the birthing center
2pm - In the car, off to have this baby!

Our hospital bag, the car seat, and labor bag (full of stuff I thought I might want for a long labor) were already in the car. So, we hatched a plan with the fam, got them loaded up in D's car, then mom, D and I got into my car to head back to the birthing center...just 1.5 hours after being sent home from there. That car ride was BRU-TAL, y'all. D was panicked, Mom was holding my hand from the back seat, and I was in the zone, breathing, contracting, and praying for D to have a lead foot. During the drive, my contractions went from 6 to 4 minutes apart. Things were speeding up and I kept thinking it was probably not our greatest idea to try and have a kid at a facility an hour away from our home. Hindsight is definitely 20/20. As much as I wanted to meet my daughter, I did not want to be one of those women plastered across the evening news for having a baby on I-80.

I'm positive that it was a total God thing that there was zero traffic the entire drive to the birthing center. Hours before, we hit stop and go congestion the whole way...now, nothing. Not even through Sacramento, which is basically unheard of on a holiday weekend. While riding, Mom called my midwife team and let them know we were on our way. The midwife on call wanted to talk to me personally to make sure I was actually in labor, but once she got on the phone with me and all I was able to produce was broken English through guttural moans, she said she'd have a room ready and hung up. I don't remember much else from that car ride except that it hurt to sit and I wanted OUT of the car with every ounce of my being. Once we arrived in the birthing center parking lot, we all breathed a sigh of relief that Heidi wasn't with us yet. I got out, hugged the car through another contraction (now clocking in at 3 minutes apart), and waddled cautiously to the front door. 

As soon as we reached the intake desk around 3pm, a nurse confirmed I'd called the midwife and lead us to our temporary room. I say temporary because if I wasn't at least 4 cm dilated, they wouldn't admit me. The midwife was held up taking care of another mom in the last stages of pushing, so the nurse decided to hook me up to the monitor (once again) and finally checked me. Lo and behold my contractions were bouncing all over that screen (duh) and by the grace of God, I was a solid 4 cm & completely effaced. I was immediately admitted, changed into the gown I brought (hospital gowns skeeve me out), and another set of nurses came in to place my IV to start my GBS meds. At least one dose (preferably 2) of that medicine needed to be in my system before Heidi was born, so time was of the essence. Much to my dismay, the first nurse blew my vein in the middle of a contraction, but thankfully the second placed it with ease. I had a nice black and blue bruise the entire length of my right forearm for 2 weeks as a consolation prize. Super fun! After the IV was placed, I tried sitting on the bed to work through the contractions, which were still coming strong in 1 minute long waves every 3 minutes. Sitting was a total no-go. Every ounce of my body want to stand or be on my knees. Laying down felt foreign and painful for the first time in my life. Not something I ever expected to feel in labor. Being attached to an IV made standing and walking a bit troublesome, but D took the lead and pushed the poll around while I paced the floor. Walking helped, but I needed another distraction. 

Prior to going into labor, D and I had taken a birthing class (best decision of my life, y'all). They taught us all sorts of ways to breathe, optimal labor positions, what to expect with epidurals, what to expect in unmedicated births...yadda yadda. When it came to coping mechanisms through unmedicated labor, I'd always been intrigued by labor tubs. I didn't necessarily want a water birth, but laboring in a tub of warm water sounded heavenly. My midwife kept reminding me that laboring in warm water was like a dose of morphine. At this point in my labor, I needed that "dose of morphine." BAD. Unfortunately, the birthing center only had 2 labor tubs and both were occupied by other moms. The nurse knew this was something I really wanted to use to stave off an epidural, so she suggested I strip down and hop in the shower. The warm water from the shower head would help until a tub was free. D helped me into the shower with the IV poll in tow, and while I held onto the shower rails, he sprayed warm water over my back and belly. At the time, it was just what my body needed to relax and focus on. Post-labor, we both sort laughed at it. D said he felt like he was water boarding me, what with all the moaning and groaning I was doing. Oh, to be a fly on that shower wall!

After about 20 minutes of "water boarding" in the shower, I needed another change of scenery. Thus began my toggling between standing up and bracing myself beside the bed and kneeling down across a bench along the wall of the room. At one point, stuff started falling out of me while standing up and I sheepishly groaned "SOMETHING'S FALLING OUT OF ME--OH MY GOD--WHAT IS THAT?!?" Just my mucus plug and bloody show, that's all (sorry for saying mucus). That couldn't have happened while I was IN the shower? It was late to the party. Meanwhile, my mom and D took turns hold my hand and massaging my back. Thank God for those two labor angels. I was amazed at how D became a quick expert at timing my contractions. The moment I began quick breathing, he started timing. He was on point with telling me when I could expect the peak of a contraction and its fall. We were totally in sync...it's like he was inside my head (or my uterus, rather). He was the ultimate labor coach and did whatever I needed the very moment I needed it. Mom, too. She was my calm. Always has been. Having a mom who has conveniently also been a mother/baby nurse for 30 years, well, I won the labor team jackpot. I couldn't have asked for two more perfect souls to go through the labor experience with!

At this point in time, my contractions were almost unbearable. I had no clue what time it was or how long we'd been at the birthing center. It's as if time was standing still. The only thing I could do was be in the contraction. Work through the wave and brace myself for the next. They were coming 1-2 minutes apart, barely enough time for a reprieve, and I was starting to waver on my plan to avoid that epidural. In our easy breezy birth plan (I say "easy breezy" because our birth plan was to get Heidi out as safe and as naturally as possible, but I was open to most interventions if it was medically necessary--keeping an open mind was important to us both), we'd created a "safe word" that I could use if I was reaching my pain limit and felt I needed the epidural STAT. According to D, I said the safe word (FISHSTICKS--don't ask) around 5pm, which is where I like to think transition started for me. Nothing was comforting me and I was starting to panic. I could feel everything and my natural instinct was to stand, moan, and rock back and forth. Moments later, the midwife on call came in to ask how I was feeling. I basically told her I felt like I was dying, I couldn't do this anymore, and everything inside of me was trying to come out ferociously. She asked if I felt the need to bear down and the moment she said it, that's what I felt like I needed to do. 

I remember briefly looking at the clock and noticing it was 6:03pm. I looked to the window and saw it was still light outside. I thought, had we really only been at the birthing center for 3 hours? It felt quick, yet incredibly long at the same time. Again, time was moving oddly in my world in those moments. Then, like a switch went off in my head, I shouted at the midwife to check me. DEAR GOD, PLEASE CHECK ME. That urge to bear down was beginning to overpower me. She had me lie down on the bed and I was sure this was where I was going to die. Laying down intensified the pain times a thousand. But from somewhere deep in the hollows of my psyche, I mustered up the will to lay there (with my arms fused to the bed rails in pain) and wait for her to check me. Then she said the three most wonderful words I'd ever heard..."You're at 9!" I cried. Dave rejoiced. Mom said, "You're almost there!" And suddenly I was renewed. I'd gone from a 4 to a 9 in 2.5-ish hours. I could do this epidural free. I could push through the pain (pushing's the best part, right?). I was about to meet my little girl.

At this moment, I don't remember much but wishing I wasn't still laying down. However, I also couldn't stand anymore. My legs were jello and my body was telling me it was time to push and push NOW. The midwife asked me again if I felt the need to bear down, and when I told her yes, she told me to do whatever my body felt it needed to do and that last centimeter would work itself open (and it did). My mom was flanked to my right, D on my left. A nurse and the midwife at my feet. The room was dim and the only noise was the sound of my moans and encouragement from D. To be honest, as badly as my body wanted to push, I was a bit scared to. The pain I was in was already bad enough, would pushing really be the relief everyone says it is...or just add to my agony? The next contraction came and I gave it a try. My moans and rhythmic breathing quickly turned to screams with that first push. It hurt, but I also felt relief, if that makes any sort of sense. Three pushes with that first contraction and a small rest. At that pause, I had to remind myself to breathe while pushing. As I'd read over and over in Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (READ IT, MAMAS!), I needed to breathe my baby out. Sounds beyond dorky and so much easier said than done, but it works. Too bad all I wanted to do was scream! Not like a high pitched I'm being chased by an ax murderer-type scream....more like a low, heavy chested roar. Labor is such an out of body experience. Animalistic, even. At a certain point, you don't give a bleep what happens or who hears/sees it. After all was said and done, I asked D how loud I really was (in my head, I was loud). He said not loud at all. I still don't know if he's lying to me. ;)

With the next contraction, I began pushing again. This time, breathing AND screaming (I couldn't choose, ha!). On my second push, my bag of water burst. I'd sort of forgotten it was still intact. Poor nurse. She wasn't ready for it. I apologized profusely later, as if I had any control over it! Once the room calmed down from the water works, everyone shouted, "HAIR! She's got hair!!" My midwife grabbed my hand and I felt her tiny scalp. We were almost there.

The next contraction took what seemed like 5 years to happen. It's as if my body was telling me to stop and take in these last moments, because in mere minutes our lives would be forever changed. I vaguely remember looking at D and seeing pure exhaustion in his face. In the next blink of my eyes, he was smiling. I thought, this is the face of our next year of life...exhaustion and bliss. 3 minutes had passed, then the contraction came.

In my next to final push, the Ring of Fire happened. If you don't know what I'm talking about (and I sure didn't until those last few months of pregnancy), it's basically the moment the baby begins to crown. Hence the FIRE. And sure enough, that's exactly what it felt like...hell raging fire of the loins. I knew if I stopped pushing in those seconds, I'd lose momentum and all the will to birth this kid, so I pushed through the fire. I've never felt pain like that in my life. Blinding, mind-numbing, drain the life right out of you pain. But her head was out (her tiny left hand along with it --uhh, ouch!). I could feel the relief of pressure wearing off for a brief moment, but I didn't even wait for the next contraction...it was taking too damn long and my body had just about enough, so I pushed a half push more. Shoulders, bum, legs, feet and boom...Heidi was born. 

7:05pm, September 4th, 2016. Just 4-ish hours after arriving at the birthing center (the second time). Just 8 hours after the non-stress test. Basically, if I ever had another baby, I best live at the hospital those last few weeks. Girlfriend might have stayed snug an extra week, but when she was ready, she came out like a ball of fury! Here's where things become a blissful blur for me. I remember her leaving my body and being placed on my bare chest for skin to skin. I remember the sound of her cries and looking into her wide open eyes. Yep, wiiiidde open. I remember D cutting her umbilical cord shortly after it stopped pulsating. I remember her dark hair was swirled with vernix on her small head, her soft body pink and warm. I remember looking up to see D, tears in his eyes, a smile on his face. He kissed my head and we both just looked at one another in total wonder. My mom, fumbling for her phone, teary-eyed and beaming by the window. I thought I would cry. I started to, but for some reason I held back the tears. I don't think I wanted to watch those moments through watery eyes. I wanted to see her, my family, as clear as possible. I was on some sort of adrenaline high, for sure. Everything felt euphoric (aside from my downstairs region, which was getting a small stitch from a tiny labial tear from Heidi's left hand exiting with her head).

I couldn't believe I was finally holding my daughter. I'd imagined that moment so many times, but nothing I imagined compared to how it truly felt. I was in awe of her. I was in awe of my body and what it just did. She was just inside and now she was outside. Surreal hardly begins to describe it. We were all blissed out...bliss on top of bliss on top of rainbows. For real! THEN...she only spent about 30 minutes on my chest before she pooped lovely black tar meconium all over us both and I thought it best not to bask in her business, so the nurse gently took her to be weighed and toweled off. She's been a poop queen ever since! ;) Her first sponge bath wasn't given until the next morning so as to let that sweet vernix continue nourishing her delicate skin. My mom got to bathe her. It was beyond special. While I was finishing being cleaned up, my midwife inspected my placenta (it was fascinating, healthy, and HUGE) and D supervised while they weighed and measured Heidi. She clocked in at healthy 7 lbs 7 oz and 21 inches long! We had ourselves a long skinny babe (not so much nowadays!). They wrapped her back up and D handed her back to me for more snuggles. About this time, my Dad and sister came into the room to meet Heidi. Such a sweet moment! It's safe to say we were all instantly smitten with her. Hearing my Dad call her "punkin" melted me to my core. 

I'm not sure how long we stayed in that dimly lit labor room, but that room holds so many incredible memories for me. I wish I'd had someone take more photos during our time there, but things happened so fast, I'm not sure a photographer could have gotten there quick enough with such short notice. Maybe next baby? TOO SOON, Y'ALL. Too soon. ;)

When it was time to move to our postpartum room for our 48 hour stay, the nurse asked if I wanted to be wheeled to it in a wheelchair or if I wanted to walk there myself. This is one soul hugging thing that stands out in my mind from my unmedicated labor. I felt well enough to walk, so I got to push Heidi in her rolling bassinet to our room. Sure, I was sore and tired and probably would have enjoyed the ride, but nothing felt more like a badge of honor than walking those halls pushing my tiny baby trophy. Might seem stupid. Might be a bit over the top. But in that moment, I finally teared up. I did something I NEVER thought I was capable of doing...and at the end of all the waiting, the worry, and the pain...my sweet baby girl was finally here and as perfect as can be. 

Lastly, I just want to point out that an unmedicated labor was NOT my original plan when my prenatal care began in Florida. I was almost certain I'd go for the epidural. But the more research I did and when the opportunity to choose a midwife and birthing center presented itself because of our move to California, my mind totally changed. I was still very open to an epidural (and still am --shoot, had my labor not been so quick or had Heidi been a bigger babe, I might have gotten one!), but mamas, make sure to know all your options before going into that labor room. Know the risks and complications that can arise with every intervention as well. BE EDUCATED. That's your best labor weapon. And a good doc or midwife who is happy to let you do you unless your health or your baby's health is compromised. No matter how you birth a tiny human, ladies...you're AWESOME. Your body is a total powerhouse of unimaginable strength. The gift of childbirth is exactly that...a gift. Don't take a moment of it for granted. Be as present as possible. And don't beat yourself up if things don't go exactly how you planned. Heidi's birth was about as perfect as I could have ever hoped, but her first 2 months of life were anything but. Maybe I'll share more about that someday (when I can talk about it without gobs of tears), but for now, I'll just end her sweet birth story here. More photos from our sweet Fresh 48 session to come!

Kirsten's Captured Moments Photography, Sept 2016
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