Heather and Gabe’s Birth Story

Another birth story! Goodness, it’s raining babies. yay! Thank you, Heather and Gabe, for sharing your awesome (and action packed!) story.

When it came time for my first yearly exam after moving to New Jersey, I went looking for a new obstetrician. My husband and I were hoping to have a second child in the near future. I picked a doctor based on location and some advice from my mom. She said, “Go with a male gynecologist, and you’ll never be kept waiting in the office.” I liked him instantly. He said, “I don’t like to tell women what to do. And I especially don’t tell women what to do when it is their second pregnancy.”

With my first baby, I was induced because I was overdue. Although overall it was a positive experience, I was frustrated by how immobile and uncomfortable I was as a result of the induction and the monitoring. The automatic blood pressure cuff bruised me horribly, as did the disc on the contraction monitor, which my daughter kept kicking. The IV drove me crazy. It hurt. The fluids made me have to pee constantly, while making it nearly impossible for me to get to the toilet.

My new obstetrician was very sensitive to my wishes, and had great advice on avoiding monitoring. First, he advised me to stop by the office if I went into labor on a weekday, rather than going directly to the hospital. Next, he said, if I didn’t want to get strapped to everything at the hospital, I should stay out of the hospital bed. Instead, I could walk the halls. The labor and delivery rooms at the hospital have a shower, a wide couch, and a rocking chair, so he recommended that I take advantage of them.

One lesson I learned from being overdue with my first baby was that, not only does a pregnant woman need to have a plan for labor, but she also needs a plan for not going into labor. At 40 weeks pregnant, I was still working my somewhat physically demanding job. I do research in geomicrobiology, which means I am on my feet all day, and I often have to lift heavy things. I had been frivolously borrowing items out of my spartan hospital bag, using the chapstick with wild abandon and drinking and replacing all my Gatorade. We had a series of out of town houseguests staying in our apartment to take care of our older daughter, and we took these houseguests to fishing, hiking, and to museums in New York City.

I was due on a Tuesday, and the Sunday before, we took my father out for strombolis and beer. I felt terrible when we got home. I was crampy and cranky, and I thought I was having some contractions. I let my father and my husband do all the housework, while I went to bed early. On Monday, I awoke feeling no better. I was having contractions about every six to ten minutes, but they seemed pretty weak. I asked my husband to stay home from work.

My doctor has another younger doctor to cover for him on Mondays, and I went to see him in the early afternoon. He hooked me up to the monitors, and determined that, indeed, I was having weak contractions about six minutes apart. I wasn’t dilated or effaced, though. He said, “The only thing I can promise you is that you won’t have the baby before dinner time.” I didn’t have the baby by dinner, nor by breakfast on Tuesday. I felt the same on Tuesday, but both my husband and I went to work anyhow.

Wednesday morning, I felt much better, which was a good thing because I had set up a very demanding experiment. Nonetheless, I asked my husband go to work late, and help me load my 2 year old into the car for the ride to daycare. He planned to go right from the car to the train, but as we buckled my daughter into her car seat, we saw his train pulling into the station. He had missed it. Because the next train wasn’t for 40 minutes, I asked him to go with me to daycare and help me drop her off. What luck! I had two strong but painless contractions on the way to daycare. It is an eight minute drive! Then I had three contractions while dropping her off, and three more on the way home.

At 9:50, we began timing contractions while I put the finishing touches on a job application. I was very comfortable, so we weren’t too excited by the fact that the contractions were 2 to 2 and a half minutes apart, and lasted a minute. After an hour of timing (and 26 contractions), we called my doctor. He asked me to come by the office. My dad, my husband, and I loaded into our very uncomfortable Saturn for the 20 minute drive to my doctor’s office. My husband is too tall to drive with a car seat behind him, so the toddler seat is in the middle and the infant seat is on the passenger’s side. To accommodate the infant seat, the front passenger seat must to be in the most forward setting and can’t recline. I rode there. Could you ever imagine writing into your birth plan, “I would like to spend half of my labor wedged into a little tiny car like a clown”?

I got to my doctor’s office at 12:00. He determined that I was 2 cm dilated. Because I was still so comfortable, he guessed that the dilation was more due to the two days of weak contractions, and that I probably had a long way to go. He didn’t think it was time to go to the hospital just yet. Since it was my second baby, though, he acknowledged that I could progress very quickly. He told me to go home, eat lightly, and drink plenty of water. He wanted me to call the office at 2:00, when he stopped seeing patients, and let him know how I felt.

We crammed back into the Saturn and drove home. By the time we got to my apartment, my contractions were starting to get a little painful. My husband set to work cooking lunch for everyone. My dad suggested that we finish watching the movie he and I had rented, Vanilla Sky. We had just gotten to super violent point in the movie, where Tom Cruise beats and strangles both Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz, then does it again and again in his mind while he tries to remember which woman he actually killed. Every laboring woman should have the right to witness surreal acts of domestic violence. Doctor Bradley would have been horrified.

My contractions were getting more painful, and at 1:30, I went to the bathroom and discovered a lot of brown stuff in the toilet. I had my husband call the doctor to tell him that I wanted to go to the hospital, but my doctor insisted that I come by the office first. So back we went into the Saturn for another 20 minute drive. My dad was starting to get very anxious. He was alternately barking orders at people and then begging people to give orders to him. Perhaps because it evoked feelings from my own childhood, I found his behavior very comforting.

We got to my doctor’s office at 2:15. He determined that the brown stuff was meconium, and I was 7 cm dilated. My family piled quickly into the Saturn. My doctor was not far behind; his teenage children were visiting the office, and in addition to calling the hospital, he had to make arrangements for them. The drive to the hospital should have been five minutes, but we got stuck behind trucks and it took 20 minutes. I was screaming, terrified that I was going to have the baby in the front seat of the car, not that there was any room for her there. When I got to the emergency room, the receptionist called labor and delivery and asked them to send someone down. However, the triage nurse wisely realized that they shouldn’t wait. An ER nurse literally ran me up… without my father, my husband, my bag, or a hospital band.

Two shocked looking nurses greeted me in the room. One sent me into the bathroom to put a hospital gown on in privacy, but changed her mind and joined me in there. Seconds later, I was in the bed, with one nurse starting an IV and the other attaching the blood pressure cuff. I tried to argue with them because I had wanted neither. I tried to get out of bed. I didn’t realize that the game was over; the time to labor unobserved and without intervention had already happened, when I was discussing swimming lessons with another mom at day care, getting a mocha at Starbucks, riding in the car, and slurping Udon noodles while Tom Cruise abused beautiful women.

The room began to fill with people carrying clipboards. Naively, I had assumed that, since I had pre-registered at the hospital, all my information had been beamed up to labor and delivery. I should have known better about medical records. The nurse told the people with the clipboards, “I know absolutely nothing about this patient! The ER just tossed her in here two minutes ago!” Oh! I began rapidly spitting out facts that I thought they might need to know. “Second baby! 40 weeks! AB+! No allergies or medical conditions!” “Thank you!” But the clipboards kept coming. I was initially furious that I was being asked to sign papers without reading them, but I soon realized that I had already read and signed these papers when I pre-registered. The quickest way to get them to leave was to sign. I thought I was going to give birth to a filing cabinet.

Behind the fracas, I saw my husband and my doctor arrive. Some idiot tried to get me to sign a paper while blood was being drawn from my right arm. They said I could start pushing, but there was one more form to sign – a consent form for anesthesia, which had not been part of my pre-registration packet. “Are you serious?” I screamed, “You have absolutely no time to provide me with anesthesia. You just want consent to bill me for being on call!” But they told me I was also consenting to have the baby anesthetized, so I relented. And they did bill my insurance company – $540 for zero services!

Now that I had finished all the homework, they decided to let me have a baby. The nurses tried to get me into the “normal” pushing positions, but I am too petite to use the supports, and I flopped around. A nurse handed me one end of a twisted up sheet, and held the other end behind my doctor. We both pulled when I had a contraction. After three pushes, I was in terrible pain and I wanted to stop. I screamed, “I don’t want to have a baby anymore!” Everyone in the crowd started laughing, including my husband. Apparently, my daughter’s head was out to the nose. One more push, and Ingrid was born at 3:11 PM, after about a half hour at the hospital, and three short hours after my first trip to the doctor.

She had inhaled meconium, and was breathing too rapidly. I got to hold her for a couple of minutes in the delivery room, but they had to take her to the special care nursery for supplemental oxygen and chest X-rays. The room began to empty. Then it was me, my husband, and our unopened hospital bag. He rummaged through the bag. “Chapstick? Gatorade? Want anything? Mind if I eat these snacks?”

Two hours later, I had eaten dinner, showered, checked into the postpartum ward, and was by my daughter’s side in the special care nursery. One happy consequence of the unmedicated delivery was that I was on my feet very quickly after the birth. With my first daughter, I received spinal anesthesia late in labor, which made me unsteady for about six hours after delivery.

The neonatologist explained to me that babies that inhaled meconium could be very sick and even die. Happily, our daughter appeared to be doing very well. She was weaned off of supplemental oxygen the next morning, I was allowed to nurse her in the early afternoon, and I was able to have her in my room for our second night in the hospital. Although she had to spend one more night in the hospital than I did, the nurses worked with me so that I only had to miss one feeding.

With my first pregnancy, we took a childbirth class that taught the Lamaze method. Although we benefited greatly from the general education and hospital tour, the coping techniques didn’t help me at all. Perhaps because I am so small, the rhythmic breathing prompted painful kicking and squirming sprees from both of my children. Some new friends of mine in New Jersey spoke highly of a local Bradley class. To see if that was something we were interested in, we read “Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way” by Susan McCutcheon. But my husband and I both realized that all the relaxation and laying in the bed was not well suited to my personality. As much as we could have prepared, my husband was more chauffer than coach, and we didn’t even open my hospital bag until it was all over. What prepared us most of all was a bit of wisdom my doctor passed down. He said that women like me, who had a short and easy first labor, typically don’t get a chance to exercise many options with their subsequent labors. We drop our older children off with caregivers, and show up at the hospital with no time for aromatherapy back rubs, continuous fetal monitoring, birth balls, or anesthesia. In the end, I wasn’t too surprised when the utilitarian aspects of my daughter’s birth made our birth plan obsolete.

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