I wasn't originally planning to write a birth story--when I was pregnant I found them to be really stressful and anxiety-inducing to read. Then I gave birth and found myself almost obsessively reading any that I could find--I think it's because I had my own experience now and could look back on it happily instead of anticipating it with uncertainty. (Plus, a lot of you asked me to share mine.)
So here I am today, writing the story of Sophie's birth. It was long and hard but I looked back on it almost immediately with nothing but joy and gratitude.
By the time the last two weeks of my pregnancy rolled around I was so ready to go--I had finished all the work I had set out to finish, I taught my last Pure Barre class, the house was clean, our hospital bag was more or less packed, and I was getting more uncomfortable by the hour.
Rob's team at work threw him a surprise shower on Thursday the 16th of November, and his last day before paternity leave was that Friday. My left hip was bothering me so much that I was limping around, but I drove to his office, hobbled to the party, and then dragged myself around the house all weekend in between naps. On Saturday the 18th of November I woke up with some slight cramping, but it wasn't anything intense enough to get excited about. They felt like period cramps that went away after a few minutes, and they came and went every few hours.
We had a couple's massage scheduled for that afternoon so we went to that and I tried to relax. We came home and went to our favorite pizza place for dinner, which we can walk to from our house. We got our usual order--pepperoni and a chicken tikka (it's an Indian pizza place and it's the best), and I remember wondering if the spiciness of the tikka pizza might bring on more contractions. I think I had a root beer, too.
I went to bed that night and woke up really early Sunday morning with more "cramps." I figured they were contractions since they were coming and going with some regularity, but there was this big part of me that was in denial that I could actually be in labor--the whole thing felt too surreal. I texted my aunt Joanne to give her an update (she was going to be our doula support so I was trying to give her a heads up of when she might want to come over) and mentioned that they were coming every 20 minutes or so, but I kept calling them cramps instead of contractions.
I got in my car and went to Whole Foods because Rob and I had decided the night before that we wanted to make peppermint mochas, but we didn't have any peppermint syrup; I also wanted to get some brewers yeast for the no-bake lactation bites that I now eat all the time, as well as some witch hazel and aloe to make frozen pads for when I got home from the hospital. I laugh now looking back at the guy who had to help me find everything--I was this super pregnant woman waddling around with a limp, stopping every few minutes in between contractions, trying to find the weirdest combination of products.
I don't remember what I had for lunch but I do remember being in enough pain that I was starting to lose my appetite before dinner--we went to Target for one of those big balls you sit on (I thought it would be great for labor at home--really I just wanted to get out of the house as much as possible, even though getting in and out of the car was kind of brutal). I barely remember walking around the aisles of Target, but after that we stopped at a bakery nearby to pick up some bagels (which we ended up throwing away when we got home from the hospital because they were totally stale) and then got fried chicken from Popeyes, which I've only had two times--both very late in my third trimester.
I don't think I ate much of my dinner, and around 8:00 or 9:00 PM I asked my aunt when she thought she should come over. I think I was watching The Office or Friends or Parks & Rec on Netflix, lying down through contractions because I wasn't really sure what else to do. They were super painful and I remember taking big, slow, deep breaths through each one. I was using an app to time them and at one point it told me to go to the hospital, then a few minutes later said I might be in false labor, so after a while I stopped using the app. I knew my aunt would be there soon and she'd have a better idea of how I was progressing and when it was time to leave the house.
Joanne got to our place around 10, and I was having a huge contraction right as she walked in. Rob was holding me up and I was breathing deeply and immediately she sprang into action, telling us how awesome we were doing already. She came over to me and said "you look just like my mom!" which I'll always remember--I never really got to know my grandma Eileen but I always love hearing about her. From there we did a lot of hanging out--she recommended we keep using heat on my back, which was really starting to bother me. The night before I had filled up one of Rob's socks with rice and was heating it up in the microwave every hour or so. She gave me back massages while Rob held my hands and I tried to sit on the ball we bought at Target (maybe this works for some people but I found the lower I sat during contractions, the worse they felt). I paced around my house, got in and out of the tub, napped for a few minutes here and there in one of our armchairs, and tried to drink as much water as I could. I spent a lot of time in our hallway with my arms up against the wall, trying to rock back and forth between contractions. I quickly learned that the length of each contraction was enough time to take 10 big breaths in and out, so I'd breathe and count them out, which helped a lot. I also loved the thought that there were only so many contractions I would have before Sophie was born, and each time I had one there was one less to go.
My aunt stayed up with me and around midnight or 1:00 AM we told Rob to go to bed and get some sleep. He and Ender went into our bedroom and Joanne and I did more of the same--walking, talking, breathing--until about 6:00 AM. I was so glad to have her there with us so that at least one of us could get some rest--if we had been alone I definitely would have gone to the hospital too early just because I didn't know if what was happening was normal or not. It was amazing to have her there, especially because she was there when I was born.
It was a long night but it also felt like it went by in a pretty quick blur. The sun was coming up slowly and we made some tea and I tried to eat one of the gluten-free pumpkin muffins I had made earlier that weekend, but it was making me feel worse. At one point in the night I had a contraction that made me puke and I managed to pull a muscle in my side or throw out a rib or something, so on top of labor pains and what we found out later was back labor, I had pretty excruciating rib pain as well. I can't remember if it was before or after Rob had gone to bed but I think he was there--I started crying because I was mad about my rib and he held me while Joanne sweetly reminded me that it was okay to cry, so I really cried for a few minutes.
My contractions were every 5 minutes or so and had been for hours, but they weren't getting any closer together or stronger. I was starting to get a little antsy so we decided to wake Rob up, take Ender for a walk, and head to the hospital. Rob called our midwife to let her know what was going on and that we were planning to come in soon and she said she'd be there (she only works in L&D a few times a week, which we knew going in). After our walk we fed Ender and said bye to him before putting him in his crate and I got absolutely overwhelmed at the thought that this was our last moment as a family of three. I kissed his face and pet him and told him I loved him, and from there I was super emotional the whole way to the hospital. I texted my cousins who were going to stay at our house with the pup and a few people back home to tell them we were on our way to the hospital, and we drove to Stanford listening to the birth playlist I had put together, which I had already listened to the night before.
I felt like I had worked pretty hard all night, and I was nervous that when they got me admitted I'd only be a few centimeters dilated or less, but our midwife checked me and said I was 4 1/2 or 5 centimeters, which was music to my ears. It was between 9:00 and 10:00 on Monday morning, November 20th. They got me in a room and hooked me up to some monitors and an IV and from there we did a lot more waiting, walking, and breathing. I never really had a birth plan other than to just see how it went and possibly deliver without meds, but I wanted to be open to an epidural later if things got too hard. The nurses and doctors were really supportive (although our first nurse annoyed the hell out of me because she was super chatty and seemed to only have a question when I was in the middle of a contraction--I think at one point I said "I just need you to not talk to me right now."), and I enjoyed being able to get up and move around, go to the bathroom, and walk around the L&D floor with Rob and my aunt.
I don't remember when I started really going downhill but after quite a few hours my rib and lower back were hurting so much I was starting to panic. They gave me a lidocaine patch for the rib and it helped a little, but Sophie was posterior so every time I had a contraction I was having really sharp pain in my lower back. I was about 7 centimeters at this point (probably 7:00 or 8:00 PM--it starts getting hazy from here) and really feeling overwhelmed. My water hadn't broken so they went ahead and broke it for me, and at one point they came in and wanted to put a monitor on the baby's head because her heart rate was dropping and they wanted to keep an eye on it. I don't remember when this happened (it might have all been one visit with the water breaking and the moitor) but at one point a bunch of doctors came in and were putting oxygen on me and messing with the monitor that was on Sophie and not doing a great job explaining what was going on. I had a bit of a fever and my blood pressure was higher than they wanted, so they re-hooked me to the IV and pushed fluids, which helped. The oxygen mask was really bugging me and I was pretty upset that they had freaked me out so much when really it turned out that I was just dehydrated, but I forgot about it before long.
They decided to give me pitocin to make my contractions stronger and closer together to see if I'd dilate those final few centimeters. It was a lot without pain meds and I was exhausted and felt really overwhelmed about the thought of pushing--the contractions were really difficult but I knew that the really hard work was still ahead of me. My aunt asked if there was anything they could give me for pain and our nurse (a new one at this point, thankfully) offered fentanyl, which is a narcotic given through the IV. I jumped at the chance for some relief, so they gave me my first dose and I immediately started dozing off. It only lasts about an hour so I rested during that time and asked for more as soon as it wore off. They can only give you three doses and I gladly took all three--for three hours or so I was relaxed and managed to nap a bit and even at one point told Rob "I can understand how people get hooked on this stuff," which I'm sure any nurse or doctor nearby didn't appreciate.
I should mention at this point that I only avoided an epidural because I'm terrified of needles (like, top 3 biggest fears in my life) and the thought of the procedure totally freaked me out. I'm a little crunchy and loved the thought that my body was made for labor and that I had every ability to birth this baby, but doing it unmedicated for the sake of being able to say I did it wasn't a huge priority of mine. A few more hours passed without much change and I told Rob I was really scared. My back and rib pain was back and the drugs had worn off and I still wasn't dilated enough to start pushing, so I started to panic. Joanne came over to me and said "maybe now is a good time to revisit the idea of an epidural," which was all I needed to change my mind. I asked if they numbed you first (silliest priority ever looking back at how much pain I was already in) and asked Rob if he thought I should do it or not. Within five minutes of deciding I wanted it, the anesthesiologists were in the room getting everything ready. They asked my aunt to leave the room and Rob and I had little hair nets on and I was sitting on the side of the bed with my feet on Rob's lap as he held my hands. It was 11:30 PM and we looked at the clock and laughed thinking about how Sophie was going to be born on her due date after all (I had spent the whole weekend in labor thinking she'd be at least a day or two early).
I felt them giving me a few shots to numb the area on my back but it was nothing worth freaking out over, and they told me I might feel some pressure but I didn't even feel a thing. Once everything was placed I said "okay I'm about to have another contraction" and braced myself for it but it never came, and they lay me back down and I fell asleep right away. My aunt and Rob also took a nap and about an hour later they came in to check me again and I was 10 centimeters and it was time to get her out of there. I was actually more proud of myself for getting the epidural than I would have been for forcing myself to push through simply because I was afraid of it. Such a sweet surprise. (And SO WORTH IT, my goodness.)
The nurse came in with a bar for me to hold onto and she told me what to do. I pushed a few times but didn't really feel like anything was happening. The epidural was doing a great job and I really only felt pressure with each contraction, but it was still kind of hard to tell what was going on down there. The next two hours flew by and a doctor came in to talk to me about a C-section. They said she wasn't progressing enough and they were concerned about her heart rate and my temperature, but I remember the nurse telling me her head was right there. The resident who was talking to me said she'd be back in with papers to sign and I felt really defeated in that moment--I had no idea it wasn't going well. Another doctor came in (I later learned that she was an attending who I think had to sign off on the C-section that the resident had suggested), basically stuck her hand inside me and said "Megan! She is right here, I can feel her--you can do this let's do it!" and the entire vibe of the room changed. People started moving things around and the doctor sat down like she had no intentions of wheeling me into an OR, and I pushed for two more hours (which only felt like 10 minutes) before Sophie finally came out.
Rob cut the cord and they handed her to me and I was just absolutely blown away by how real she was. I will never forget having our daughter in my arms, looking up at Rob with tears in his eyes, and hearing him say "I am so proud of you." I knew I was exhausted but finally being done with all of it felt so good, and I was basically just running on adrenaline the entire time. They took her away for a few minutes to check her out and clean her off, and the amazing doctor who delivered her gave me a few stitches. My aunt pulled her aside before she left and basically said "You changed this woman's life today," which couldn't be more true.
It was a long labor and there were times where I didn't know what was going on, but overall I left the delivery room feeling strong and happy and like I had been taken care of. I would have been upset if I had to have a C-section, but it wouldn't have mattered at the end of the day as long as Sophie was healthy--but I was so incredibly relieved that it wasn't an intervention we ended up needing to make. Rob was incredible, my aunt was incredible, and I'll forever look back on those two and a half days of contractions and four hours of pushing as something magical.
Sophie was born on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 5:30 AM and weighed 8 pounds exactly. She was 21 inches long and had a full head of hair, just like I did. She changed my life and I'm so glad she's ours.