I had been meaning to share Sofia’s birth story for a little while now and with Mother’s Day this weekend, what better time than now to finally share my labor and delivery journey with all of you? The 28 loooong hours that led to that unforgettable moment on January 5, 2020 at 5:03am. The moment I officially became a mother.
Before I get into my labor and delivery journey, I want to start off by saying that every birth story is special and unique. There is no right or wrong way to birth a child, or one that makes someone more or less of a mother. Whether your baby was delivered via surrogacy, through adoption, caesarean, or with or without drugs, the end result is all the same. We all became moms.
I chose to have a fully unmedicated birth, or as most call it, a “natural” childbirth. I personally don’t like to use the word natural because I believe birthing a child any way you choose is natural, unless you’re a man of course, birthing a T-Rex, but that’s neither here nor there. Often times you hear “natural” vs. “unnatural” or the “easy” way out. If you’ve ever experienced child birth, then you know that there is nothing easy about it, whichever way you do it. I’ve heard so many people refer to Caesarean delivery, which is surgery, (major surgery), and one that often times leads to hours recovering in the ICU and several weeks of painful recovery at home, as the easy way out. Shame on you if you think that’s an “easy” way out. While I personally haven’t judged anyone for how they chose (or will choose) to give birth, I have been. And surprisingly, quite a bit. “You’re not going to get a medal.” “This isn’t a competition.” “Does she want a cookie?!” “Just get the epidural.” Those were just a few phrases I heard leading up to even just a couple of days before I was supposed to give birth! Why judge a soon-to-be mother for doing the most natural and beautiful thing our bodies are capable of and meant to do without intervention? If there’s anything you take out of reading my labor and delivery journey, I hope you feel more empowered instead of fearful, and have a more positive outlook on the most important, beautiful and life changing event you’ll ever experience. A woman’s body was made to carry and birth babies, no matter your baby’s size. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! And for the record, I don’t have a high pain tolerance. At. All. So if I was able to get through it, I believe you can too, if that’s what you want to do. Now, onto the good stuff.
January 2, 2020 (Due Date)
My EDD (estimated due date) was Jan. 2. Your “due date” is never exact because there’s really no way to calculate the exact moment the egg and sperm meet unless you get pregnant through IVF. A full term pregnancy is between 38-42 weeks, and most of the time, your first baby is always “late” (any day after your EDD). I was busy doing some retail therapy on my due date.
I went into my 40 week appt. on January 2 and I was dilated only 1 cm. 10 cm is show time. I had been dilated 1 cm for almost two weeks at that point so I knew it could happen any day. I had been swaying on my yoga ball whenever I had the chance, eating dates, drinking raspberry tea and walking as much as I could which are all ways that could help induce spontaneous labor. While my provider’s office is very supportive of unmedicated birth and with little or no intervention, my doctor suggested that I schedule an induction at 41 weeks. Typically, most doctors won’t let you go past 42 weeks and some won’t even let you go past 40. There is a lot of conflicting information as to why some doctors don’t want you to go past your due date, but no one can force you to do anything you don’t want to. Find a provider you trust, listen to your body and do what feels right to you.
At the time, John and I both felt comfortable scheduling my induction date because I didn’t want to go too far past my due date, but once I got home, I started to have second thoughts. I really didn’t want to have any intervention and I had mentally prepared to go unmedicated since becoming pregnant, so I had decided that if I didn’t go into spontaneous labor by Saturday, I would call and push back my induction date by at least a few more days. They say on average, you go into labor about 10 days after your due date and I truly believed my body would go into labor when it was time. I was feeling more anxious at the thought of what could go wrong if I got induced over just letting nature take its course. So over the next two days, I hoped and prayed Sofia would come on her own, when she was ready. My prayers were answered as I went into early labor at 1:30am on January 4, two days after my “due date.”
Stages of Labor
There are three stages of labor: early, active and transitional. If you count early labor (the longest part of labor), when contractions are mild, you can still talk through them, you lose your mucus plug and you dilate from 1-4 cm, then I labored for 28 hours total. Active labor (second stage) is when things really get going. Your contractions get much more intense and come on more frequently and you dilate from 4-7 cm, and then the final stage is transitional labor. Transitional labor is when you dilate from 7-10 cm and a woman’s body makes the shift from opening the cervix to the beginning of the baby’s descent. This is usually the time when most women give up and ask for pain medication. This stage of labor lasted 10 hours for me. Yes, 10. 10 of the most intense, painful, exhausting, “Why am I doing this?” “How much longer?” “I hate you” “God help me!” longest hours of my life.
January 4, 2020
I got woken up by light cramping that felt like menstrual cramps at around 1:00am early Saturday morning. There had been a few instances in the weeks prior where I had some minor cramping that went away after drinking water or switching positions, so I thought it could very well be a false alarm and just my body getting closer to going into labor. John and I had downloaded an app that could time your contractions so I logged in to see how often they were coming on before waking him up. After about 45 minutes or so of these mild, consistent “contractions,” I woke John up and told him I was officially in labor.
Since it was still so early on, I tried to fall back asleep because I knew we had a long day ahead of us. I was in and out of sleep and the contractions were pretty consistent from the moment they began so I definitely knew it was the real thing. I text my doulas around 3:30am letting them know early labor had begun and they reiterated to just try to get as much sleep as I could because it would only get more intense as the day progressed. Easier said than done.
Throughout the day I walked around the house, took a shower, made a few phone calls to distract myself, ate lunch, attempted to take a nap (which didn’t happen) and tried different breathing techniques and positions that we learned about in our HypnoBirthing class. By 5:30pm, my contractions felt pretty intense and I was hunching over often, my breathing was getting heavier, and I just couldn’t get myself to relax or feel comfortable so we decided to head over to the hospital. My doulas suggested that I stay home longer if I could, but because we lived 30 minutes away from the hospital, I wanted to head out. In the event that it was still too early and the hospital didn’t want to admit me, the plan was to go over to my in-laws who lived only 10 minutes away from the hospital and labor there until I was farther along.
We checked into the hospital at about 6pm and they admitted me right away. One of the triage nurses checked me upon arrival to see how far along I was dilated. At that point, I had already been in “labor” for about 18 hours so I for sure thought I was farther along than I was, but I was only 3.5 cm dilated. I still had 6.5 cm to go!! They offered me an epidural which I declined and I gave the nurse my written birth plan so everyone was on the same page. Upon check in, I had requested one of their laboring rooms with a tub which is given out on a first come, first serve basis since there are only a few. As soon I stepped into my room, my delivery nurse took over and tried to make me as comfortable as possible.
For the next few hours, I went back and forth between the shower and tub because the warm water pressure on my skin felt really good and helped ease some of my contractions. My doctor on call came in to see me at about 7:30pm to check my progress and thankfully, I had progressed from 3.5 cm to 6 cm in the short amount of time we were at the hospital as opposed to the 16 hours it took me to dilate from 1-3 cm. We called my doula and asked her to meet us and she came to the hospital at about 9:00pm which is around the time I transitioned to the final stage of labor. The most intense and difficult part of labor.
My nurse and my doctor checked my progress every hour or so, per my request, which I don’t recommend doing. I was only progressing about .5 cm every hour, or sometimes nothing at all. Every time they checked my progress, I only got more discouraged that I wasn’t progressing along farther. If I knew how long it was going to take, I would’ve labored at home longer. My doctor offered me the epidural several times and to break my water which of course I declined. Some women’s water breaks before contractions start, but ideally, you want labor to start before your water breaks because once the water breaks, doctors typically want the baby out within 24 hours. My doula and I were both annoyed at my doctor for trying to sway me away from my birth plan by offering to break my water. Of the five doctors in the practice, she was the one I knew the least and the one I had only met once during my pregnancy. If your provider has more than one doctor, you’re expected to meet with all of them at least once during your pregnancy because you won’t know who’s going to be on call the day you deliver. As impatient and rushed as I felt she was, she really is a good doctor and I’ll always be grateful to her for delivering Sofia safely and quickly.
At about midnight, my water broke on its own, as I had expected it to. I was lying sideways on the bed with the peanut ball in-between my legs when a powerful contraction came on and we heard what sounded like a champagne bottle pop, followed by a gush of fluid that poured out of me. I seriously thought it was the baby and I even yelled out “is that the baby?!” lol. By then, I had been in labor for almost 24 hours and I was EXHAUSTED!! There were many times I had turned to John to ask him what I should do and if I should continue without the epidural or just give in. John never pressured me do anything I didn’t want to do and this was my decision to make. He supported whatever I wanted to do and if you ask him, he’ll tell you it was really painful and emotional for him to see me struggling as he felt so helpless and didn’t want to see me in any pain.
When I put my mind to something, I go all in and I do it. I had already gotten this far so there was no way I wanted to quit now. Honestly though, if it wasn’t for John, our doula and my nurse’s support and encouragement, I wouldn’t have been able to continue on my own. I was just so discouraged that it was taking me so long to progress and I felt like there was no end in sight. The contractions after my water broke were so intense and sometimes unbearable. With each contraction, I felt this intense amount of pressure through my hips pushing the baby (and what felt like every organ in the lower half of my body) farther down. Getting through those last few hours of contractions took every ounce of strength and will power to get through. I hugged my doula so tight that at one point, one of her ribs which was already out of place, shifted even more and she had to go to her chiropracter the following week.
In between contractions, I was totally fine. I would calmly turn to John and ask him for water or juice and some crackers. He refers to those moments in-between contractions as my Dr. Jeckll and Mr. Hyde moments because one minute I was yelling out loud while the next I was softly and politely asking for water.
At about 4:30 am, I had finally reached 10 cm (Hallelujah!!) and it was time for me to push. As John remembers it (because I was so out of it at this point and it was all a blur because of how tired I was), my doctor came in, suited up and got her instruments ready as if he was at Universal Studios. *Note* Your delivery nurse and whoever else you have with you, such as your partner and/or doula, are the ones who are by your side from beginning to end and who ultimately get you through the worst of it all. The doctor only comes in to check your progress and when it’s time to push.
I pushed for about 30 minutes before having an episiotomy to avoid tearing and because my doctor had to use a vacuum to pull Sofia out ASAP since her heart rate had started to drop. I pushed with all my might as she pulled her out, and I didn’t care what she had to do at that point to get her out. They asked if I wanted a mirror and to help pull her out myself, but I was too tired and couldn’t think straight. I just wanted her out and didn’t care how it happened. Sofia was born at 5:03am weighing 7lbs, 1oz. and 20 in. long. As soon as she was born, they handed her over to me. We had requested to delay cord clamping and her bath because that first hour after birth which is considered “the golden hour,” is the most essential and special time with your baby. Sofia was able to wiggle onto my chest on her own and latch onto my breast immediately which made breastfeeding seamless for both of us.
So why did I choose to go unmedicated? Because the benefits of a drug-free birth and without intervention outweigh the “short” amount of time you’re in labor. We spent a lot of time researching, taking a class and gathering all the information we needed to make the decision that we thought was best for us.
I’m so thankful for the support I received from my husband and our doula(s), Leah and Robin of Blissful Births (even though there was nothing blissful about mine), our nurse, my doctors, and the hospital I delivered at that supports moms who want an unmedicated birth. I recovered rather quickly and had no negative side effects or postpartum depression. Within 2 weeks, my bleeding stopped (you can bleed up to 6 weeks after childbirth). Motrin, ice and witch-hazel pads were my saving grace the few days and couple of weeks after, and when I went in for my six week postpartum check up, I had healed completely.
Will I have another unmedicated birth? More than likely, yes. Do I think other moms should too? I think you should do what feels right to you, but I do believe that with the right mindset and support, you can and will be able get through it.
P.s. John took these photos without me knowing. He actually didn’t even tell me he took these until a month later because he felt bad taking them in the state that I was in, but thought I might want to have them. I’m so glad he took them for me!