When the day started on Thursday, January 16th, we thought it would be a normal day. Get up, go to work and then meet at Sky Ridge for our 39 week appointment at 2:50pm. This was the first time that we would be meeting Dr. Zall as they recommend that you rotate seeing doctors in the practice so that you’ll know whoever is on call when you go into labor. The appointment went mostly as normal - baby’s heartbeat was in the 130s, measuring right on time. I was 2.5cm dilated and 50% effaced. But, she was a little concerned about my blood pressure. It wasn’t crazy high, but higher than is normal for me and higher than they’d like. So, she took it again at the end of my appointment. She sent us over to the emergency room maternity ward for some further monitoring and testing. She said that because I was already 39 weeks, if my blood pressure did not improve they would consider inducing us and that we might start that night. Good luck keeping your blood pressure down when you hear that.
After that completely unexpected news, we headed over to emergency for the testing. Shelly, our nurse, hooked me up to a blood pressure cuff and fetal monitoring device. The cuff took my blood pressure every 10 minutes and we got to listen to Baby’s heartbeat and track contractions. Which I was having without even knowing it. They took a urine sample to test my protein levels (a common sign of pre-eclampsia) and blood to check kidney and liver functions as well. We ended up being there for a couple hours with my blood pressure alternating from kind of high for two times and then just fine two times. This pattern continued most of the time.
My tests came back good - not even enough protein in my urine to run a test and my blood came back within normal range on two tests and the top range of normal on two others. They sent in Diane to do an ultrasound to make sure that I had enough amniotic fluid. Sure enough there was plenty. She did a biophysical profile and saw that Baby was doing practice breaths in preparation for coming into this world. Then she decided that she wanted to check my blood pressure when sitting up instead of laying down on the hospital bed. Sure enough, it shot up. I think that might have been slightly unfair as I was propping myself up on one arm for the test because the bed was all the way back.
Diane spoke with Dr. Zall and they decided that I should be induced that night. Stephen and I wanted to be sure that this was actually necessary, not just because I was far enough along that I could have the baby. Could doesn’t always mean should. They said that at 39 weeks, there was little to gain from waiting until he was due and much more to risk. Since both Baby and I were healthy at that moment, they thought it was better to have him come a week early and not risk pre-eclampsia setting in. I had what they call “gestational hypertension.”
From there, Diane wheeled me up to the Labor and Delivery ward and into my room. Labor & Delivery room 11. They hooked me up to another fetal monitor, contraction monitor and gave me an IV of saline to avoid dehydration. At this point, Stephen and I looked at each other and started to really take in what was happening. We went to work that morning and the next time we were back together we’d be a family of three. Then we realized that we didn’t have anything with us. And I realized that I was hungry and really wanted the doctor to let me eat before they induced me since they may not let me eat once in labor.
Dr. Zall came in to discuss our options. She asked how I felt about everything that was going on. I told her that I had planned on doing everything naturally, so it was all kind of a surprise to me and not something I anticipated having to consider. She said that knowing that information, I had two options. Since I was having regular contractions, they could either break my water and see what my body would do or they could start pitocin to induce labor. She said that since my contractions were so close together, the pitocin might not be a great idea because it would turn those smaller individual contractions into one big contraction, putting stress on the baby. As it was closest to what I wanted, we chose to have them break my water and let my body hopefully do the rest. She gave us the go ahead to eat something first and for Stephen to run home and get us a hospital bag together (yes, I know, I should have already had it packed but I planned to do it the following weekend).
First, Stephen and I called our parents to let them know what was going on. Then we texted various family and close friends. Stephen ran to get Chipotle as my “last meal.” Then he left again to go to the house and get us some essentials. He called me from the house and we had one of the funniest conversations of my life. I had made a list of things that I wanted to pack in a hospital bag. Stephen is going down the list and then stops and asks me, “What is omnipotent underwear?” I was like, “what?” “Your list says omnipotent underwear.” I paused and then realized… “Babe, it says unimportant underwear. You know, underwear that I won’t miss if it gets messed up…it’s in that Target bag right by the dresser.” “Oh, that makes a lot more sense!” I was laughing so hard that poor Ashley, our nurse (who Stephen totally bonded with over a mutual enjoyment of Crossfit), couldn’t adjust my monitors correctly.
Stephen returned and we let Ashley know that we were ready for the deck doc (physician who is always on call in the L&D ward) to come break my water. The doctor checked me and I was at 3.5cm when she broke my water at 11:45pm. I spent the next few hours trying to sleep knowing that labor would be coming soon. Having to lay on my side for long periods of time in a hospital bed made my hips sore but otherwise I wasn’t really in any pain. Ashley kept an eye on me over this time.
Around 5:00am I started to experience some significant back labor. I was finally able to feel the contractions that I saw on the monitor. They didn’t feel so bad from the front but when they hit my back it was pretty intense. I started to focus on breathing through them using deep breaths and an open mouth (thanks to Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth I was totally up on sphincter theory). Eventually I gave in and asked Stephen to come use counter pressure on my lower back when the contractions hit. He did great and supported me through it so well.
At about 6:30am I asked Ashley if it would be okay for me to go lay in a warm bath to help with the pain. She called Dr. Zall and she said that I could. They gave me a 40 minute window to be in the bath as it would require me to be off-monitor. From 6:40-7:10 I laid in the bath tub. The contractions continued to intensify as I laid there so Stephen would apply counter pressure for me and help me breathe through them.
Once I got back to the bed, my new nurse Lonnie came in to reattach the monitors. She asked how I was doing and I told her that I was having back labor. When I got some contractions she helped to position my body through them. They were pretty intense at this time and I was starting to wonder if I would be strong enough to proceed without pain medication. Lonnie asked me what my plan was for pain management. I told her that I had planned to do everything naturally but that I wanted to hear my options one more time. She talked about systemic medications and epidurals. Then she decided it would be a good idea to check me, so we never finished that conversation. When she did, I was at 8cm and effaced. Baby was also at a +2 station.
Lonnie looked at me and said “this baby is coming soon, I’m going to let Dr. Agner know to come straight in.” We had met Dr. Agner twice before at the office and she came on call at 7am. Lonnie began to prep the room for delivery and a baby while we waited for Dr. Agner to arrive. She came and checked on me and asked if I had any urges to push. I told her I didn’t know what that felt like, but then just moments later I was given the answer.
I began to push at 8:15am. Stephen was amazingly encouraging through the entire process. He was standing to the side of me and so could both see how things were progressing and be close enough to my head to help me through. Once I was in position, Stephen helped with my left leg and Lonnie with my right as I brought my knees to my chest and ears to my knees during each contraction. Dr. Agner and Lonnie kept going on and on about how “nobody does this, I can’t believe this is happening. You just don’t see this.” Tina, the nurse who put in my IV, said that 90% of women who deliver at Sky Ridge do so using an epidural. Dr. Agner coached me through each set of pushes and let me know how much of Baby’s head she could see after I had pushed.
I was starting to get tired and looked up and said “Lord Jesus, please let this be the last push.” Two pushes later, at 8:54am, I felt all the pressure vanish as our baby was born into this world. The doctor turned to Stephen and asked if he wanted to tell me what we had. He turned to me and said, “We have a boy.” The look on his face was priceless as we both realized that we have a son. He was placed on my chest and I got a good look at the face of the most perfect person that I have ever laid eyes on. There aren’t words to describe that moment. Realizing we had our baby and then learning that he was our son was better than I could have ever imagined.
At that point I was in such awe of what had just happened. Apparently Dr. Agner and Lonnie were too because they went on and on about how amazing it was to be part of a natural birth and that they couldn’t believe how well I handled everything. She said that she was going to go back to the office and brag about me like she had something to do with it.
Stephen cut the umbilical cord and we just sat back in awe of the little miracle I held and the miracle of what just happened. Dr. Agner told me that I had a small tear and proceeded to sew me up with some local anesthesia. I asked her when the placenta would come and she said that it should be there by the time she was done. They gave me a little pitocin to encourage my uterus to expel the placenta, but honestly I can’t remember a single contraction after Jonathan was born.
The nurses came and weighed and measured him. He was 6 lbs. 3 oz. and 18 3/4 inches long, which I have since learned put him squarely in the 25th percentile.
After 30 minutes, the placenta still had not been delivered. Dr. Agner said that she would need to try to get it out manually. She gave me some pain medication and proceeded to try to get it to come out. This was definitely painful for me. Seeing that she would be unable to detach it, she sprung into immediate action. Though very rare, sometimes a placenta will not detach on its own. This can lead to a lot of bleeding, possibility of hemorrhaging and risks of infection. Worst case scenario, it can lead to a hysterectomy. Before I knew it, an anesthesiologist was in the room telling me that he would be giving me a spinal block to allow Dr. Agner to try to remove my placenta manually and then, if unsuccessful, using instruments. This would be extremely painful for me if not for the spinal block.
She apologized that I was able to go through labor naturally but that she would have to give me these interventions to do the procedure.
Before I knew it I was being wheeled to the OR for my operation. I don’t remember any of this as I was given a sedative and slept through the entire procedure. Stephen said that Dr. Agner came back and spoke to him after my operation. She said that she was able to successfully remove the placenta. She also scraped the walls of my uterus to be sure that there weren’t any pieces of placenta left. Any place where they may have been attached would become a risk for infection. An ultrasound showed that she was able to get everything. In all, she said that I only lost the amount of blood that people who get C-sections lose and that I would not need a blood transfusion.
When I returned to the L&D room, Stephen was there waiting for me and so was this perfect little baby. He’d been bathed and was ready for some cuddling.
My parents arrived shortly after I came back from the OR. We were just basking in the reality that we were parents, that we had this perfect little baby boy and that we were now a family of three.
Though labor didn’t go exactly according to my birth plan, and I had a rare complication that I don’t fit any of the criteria for, I couldn’t be more proud of the way I handled everything. From the moment we were told that we might be having a baby that night to the moment I was wheeled into the OR, God gave me peace to roll with whatever came our way. I couldn’t be more thankful for the many ways that Stephen supported me through the craziest day of our lives. He truly is my rock. I also couldn’t be more thankful for the staff at the hospital, especially Dr. Agner and Lonnie, who made the entire process that much better by being exactly what we needed when we needed it. They were encouraging and supportive during labor & delivery, calm when we were waiting for my placenta to come out and then all business when they saw that something was wrong.
There aren’t words to describe what it feels like to be a parent. It’s amazing as you watch your husband interacting with your child how much you fall in love with him all over again.
We are blessed and we are thankful.
How did the difficulty level meet your expectations?
Honestly... I think that labor wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, up until the back labor kicked in. The back labor is what made me question whether I could do it naturally. That said, having lived to tell the tale, I definitely think that it's doable again. As far as the delivery portion, the "ring of fire" is definitely real and uncomfortable but since it's the last bad thing before the baby comes out, it's a sign of good to come.
What was the best thing you did to prepare?
Honestly, I just assumed that this would be the worst pain of my entire life and hurt more than I thought possible and then it didn't live up to the expectation (somehow this works in my weird brain). Also, reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth was the most helpful resource that I used knowing that I wanted to do things naturally. I felt that her book was very positive about the experience of labor and I felt like remaining positive myself during labor helped make it go so much more smoothly. Knowing that this is what women's bodies were designed to do and feeling throughout pregnancy that my body instinctively did the work gave me confidence about labor.
What was your most effective form of pain control?
Counter-pressure from my husband and the nurse who attended my labor was a God-send during the back labor. Also, breathing deeply and through an open mouth (not pursed lips) helped a lot.
Would you do anything differently?
No, there's nothing that I could have controlled that I would change. I would have liked to go into labor without help and I would have liked to have no interventions, but semi-emergency surgery didn't allow for that. Hopefully next time!
Do you have any advice for pregnant moms?
Don't feel like you've failed if things don't go exactly according to your birth plan. Sometimes there are factors outside of your control that can cause your labor to take an unexpected turn. The most important thing is to have a healthy baby at the end of it all. That said, don't be afraid to push back if you think that the doctor (or midwife or whomever) is suggesting something that you don't want. There was definitely a time during our process that I was thinking "this must be why people hire doulas." But thankfully my husband and I were in sync with how we wanted labor to go and questioned the doctor until we were satisfied that this was the right choice for us and our baby.