Nora’s story

It was a little after 2am on Sunday the 12th of February when I woke up to pee, and I got the ‘bloody show’ version of losing my mucus plug.

Once I got over the initial grossness, a very calm, electrifying excitement washed over me.

Sometime in the next few days, I was going to go into labor.

I made a mental note to call my mom in the morning to pick up Magda and went back to bed.

You can imagine my surprise when less than four hours later, I woke up again to my water breaking. It was a small gush, but unmistakable. I ran to the bathroom again to grab a towel and tore off my now-soaked underwear.

‘Holy crap, it’s too soon! I just lost my mucus plug! What do I do now?’

Like any good pregnant woman, I ran back into the bedroom and demanded Brandon wake up this instant and come into the bathroom. He groggily obliged, and we stood there for a moment while I insisted he look at my underwear, sitting there soggily on the counter.

What happened next is how I know those childbirth classes were the best ever.

“Holy crap! My water broke! Oh my gosh, holy crap… (etc.)”

“Did it have any color or odor?”

“Um, no.”

“Are you having contractions?”

“Um, no, not yet.”

“What do you need me to do?”

“Um, I don’t know.”

“Ok, I’m going back to bed.”

It was textbook. He was perfect.

I had texted my my midwife earlier about the plug, so when I called her to let her know about my water breaking, she answered the phone with a very calm ‘what’s going on now?’ I filled her in, and we agreed to meet later to discuss how things were progressing with contractions (or not) and gave me instructions for keeping things clean and myself hydrated to prevent infection or other complication.

Looking back, this is one of those moments where my whole birth experience… my whole life… could have turned out vastly different if I hadn’t been planning a home birth with a midwife. With an OB, I would have had to go immediately to the hospital, and the clock would start ticking. If I didn’t begin contractions soon, they would have to induce them artificially, which by all statistics very often leads to a cesarean section.

But that is not what happened.

At a slightly more reasonable hour, I did call my mom and we made plans for her to come collect the dog after our meeting with the midwife. I tried to rest, focusing on my body and allowing contractions to start. We cleaned house a bit, and waited. And waited. Every so often Brandon would ask if anything was happening, and it was… just not enough.

Finally, early that afternoon, we met with the midwife and went over how things were going. I was getting frustrated and nervous, but she reassured me that we really weren’t in a hurry. She gave us some instructions on ways to stimulate contractions, suggested we call our doula, and if by tomorrow morning I hadn’t started feeling things moving along, she said I could try taking castor oil, which among other unpleasant side effects, would probably get contractions coming.

I was in an exhausted daze by this point. We got some dinner, my mom came, and we talked for a while before they went back home with our beloved puppy. And then I gave Kat, our doula, a call to talk things over. It was already early in the evening, and as we talked, I admitted how increasingly upset I had allowed myself to become. I was starting to feel like a failure somehow, because I just wasn’t having contractions like I had expected. In fact, not much of what had happened so far was according to my mental plan of how I envisioned things might go. I wasn’t married to any sort of rigid time line or anything, but this was definitely not the ‘usual’ progression of things.

She encouraged me to just relax, turn down the lights, spend a couple hours with Brandon working on the massage and stimulation techniques that the midwife had instructed us on, and give her a call back. So that’s what we did. We lit candles, cuddled up, massaged and essential oiled, and I tried my best to just relax. When I called Kat back, I let her know that we still weren’t making any progress, other than I was ready to get some sleep thanks to all the low light and massage. And with that, we called it a night. Sort of.

It was a restless night, for sure. I’m pretty sure I cried a little, still feeling a bit of a failure, and not looking forward to the effects of the castor oil the next day. I just wanted to feel like something was happening, and it wasn’t. Eventually I did manage to get some sleep, and around 5:30 the next morning I got my wish.

It was just a half hour before I was scheduled to dose myself with unpleasantness, and as I laid there in the dark, feeling the crampy contractions starting to come in gentle waves, I was relieved.

My water had been broken for nearly 24 hours, but at last we were getting somewhere. I woke Brandon (much more gently than the day before), texted my midwife and doula, and we lay there in bed cuddled up, half sleeping, half watching the clock as the waves hit me with growing intensity and regularity.

By 8am, I couldn’t sleep through the contractions anymore. We decided to take a shower and then get the birth pool set up. The shower was great, and even though I had to stop every few minutes to hold on to something and breathe, I felt refreshed and excited. Brandon got the pool set up quickly, and we started filling it up. Only the hot water heater seemed to have other plans.

I spent the next couple of hours timing contractions on my phone app (which Brandon was constantly reminding me to quit doing), chatting on Twitter and Facebook, and lying down, sitting, walking, crawling and lying on the balance ball, and labor seemed to agree with me pretty well. We waited for more hot water, filling up the pool a little at a time. Brandon started heating water on the stove between my contractions, asking if it was time to call Kat for help, which I continued to shrug off.

(Of course, after the fact, he informed me that he wanted Kat for help with his efforts of running around getting the pool ready and dealing with me, not because he thought that I needed to be “doula’d”.)

Finally around 11, I realized I’m in no position to call and chat with anyone, so Brandon calls Kat again and lets her know that things are getting serious and to come on over. My morning burst of energy was starting to wear thin, so Brandon made me a little almond butter sandwich (while heating water, and squeezing my hips during the contractions) and I tried to eat and find some way to relax.

When Kat arrived about noon, I was so glad to see her because I was running out of ways to get comfortable and my contractions were getting so intense. I remember not really being able to ‘let go’ of the pain between contractions, and it was becoming utterly exhausting. It felt like the worst period cramps ever, pain radiating down my legs and through my gut, so I asked for the only thing I could think of… heat.

Kat got a hot rice sock, and I laid on the couch while she coached me to breathe and relax my face, neck and hands. I must have fallen asleep for a few minutes, and when I woke up I felt a little less tired. However, my contractions came on with renewed vigor, and I remember I clearly stated that I needed to be in that pool, like, now.

I don’t remember a lot of what happened next, other than Kat asked me a couple times if we should call the midwife, and around 1pm (according to Kat) she made the call for me. I spent time draped over the ball while Brandon and Kat got the pool ready and put pressure on my back and hips. By 1:30, I got in the pool, which I remember helped immensely. It seemed to help refocus my contractions into a pressure I felt like I could think about using productively, though admittedly, I was beginning to become a little intimidated.

My midwife came just a few minutes later and started checking on me and the baby. After getting the heart rate on the Doppler, Brandon overheard her say to her assistant, “If that baby was any lower, she’d be pushing.”

For the next hour or so, I remember being completely lost in each contraction. I felt a pressure, a growing urge to push, and a little voice in the back of my head saying that this was really going to hurt.

Shortly before 3, I got that ‘go to the bathroom’ feeling, so they got me out of the pool and onto the toilet. I remember Brandon and Kat sitting in the tub across from me, still coaching me through each wave. Of course, there would be no ‘going’ but with one very strong contraction I finally HAD to push, and with one very loud groan I felt the baby starting to move way down. When I told Brandon, I remember the look of slight terror that his baby might be born on the toilet and they helped me get moved back into the pool.

I remember knowing that this was the beginning of the end, and asked Brandon if he would get in the water with me. Contractions were washing over me with waves of nausea and pressure… I screamed, I grunted, I threw up, all the while my midwife, her assistant and my doula telling me how great I was doing. The midwife had me change positions a couple of times, and I remember telling her I didn’t want to because it was uncomfortable. I think we all laughed a bit, since this same discomfort was what was getting my baby out. She asked if I could feel the baby’s head, and I remember being so afraid to check. But I did, and I could feel her and it was so surreal.

Several more contractions passed and around 3:45 they told me she was beginning to crown. I remember trying to hold back, knowing that when she finally came, I might tear, but eventually I had to give in. With the next big contraction I pushed out her head, and felt a moment of relief. As the next contraction came, Brandon told me he watched in awe as she turned to make room for her shoulders, and with a great rush, she was born!

It was a moment of pure bliss. Brandon said that she floated in the water with her eyes wide open as they unwrapped the cord from around her leg. They all helped me get settled into Brandon’s arms and lifted Nora out of the water and onto my chest. I remember just dying to look at her, to see the face I had tried to imagine for so many weeks and months. She was so beautiful.

We sat there for a few moments waiting for the placenta, when my midwife said that I needed to get out of the pool. Slowly they helped us out and got us settled on the floor. I remember sensing that there was some concern and they asked me to try to push a little to try to get it to come out. When that didn’t seem to work, she decided that it was time to cut the cord so I could lie down and nurse. We tried that for a while, but still the placenta didn’t want to budge, and it was time to get serious.

I remember what happened next more like deja vu than reality. Our midwife had gone over her procedures for manually trying to remove a placenta just a few days before during a class, so as she prepared me for what she was doing, I already knew that she was taking steps for my safety, and the pain she was going to put me through was necessary.

It was pretty horrific as I lay there, hoping, willing my body to play along. I remember telling our doula to go check on Brandon, knowing that he was sitting there with our brand new baby, hearing me cry out in pain, and seeing the blood. I felt surprisingly calm, but I was pretty sure he wasn’t. I knew it would be time to go to the hospital soon, since the midwife wasn’t having any success. She told me she didn’t think she could get it out herself, and we got ready to go in.

This part is where a lot of people would call this home birth a failure, but to me it’s just an affirmation of it’s success. There was no panic, no surprise. I was prepared for this possibility, and so were the people supporting us. My midwife continued to monitor my vitals and we got loaded into the car. She said I was doing pretty good, but to her it was important to transfer when things were ‘ok’ and not wait until they got bad.

It was a pretty uncomfortable journey, but we all got to the hospital and got me in the OR and taken care of. I found out that the doctor had managed to remove the placenta manually, but it was in pieces. As I was recovering, they brought Nora to me to nurse again, and we got some food and arranged to get supplies to stay the night. We said goodnight to our midwife, having made plans for her to come over once we got home the next day, and Kat said she’d return in a little while with some of our things.

As we waited for a room to be prepared, Brandon and I talked about all that had happened. We were both exhausted, but very happy. Nora’s birth hadn’t gone exactly as planned, but everything had been done to keep us safe and healthy.

When we got settled in for the night, we knew it had all been right. We talked about how glad we were to have had the home birth, even still, because Nora came on her own terms, and that was the most important thing to us. And a retained placenta is just something that happens sometimes, and just because it happened once doesn’t increase the chance for complications in the future. Our midwife had helped us safely bring a baby into the world, and when we needed more help, she made sure we got it. We were truly blessed.

Our family became three, and a new journey has begun.