Vanessa’s Version

I waited several days after my due date for active labor to start spontaneously. It felt like purgatory. I knew I was on the edge of a cliff waiting to cross over but I felt stuck; unable to fully enjoy the final days of just the two of us and anxious for when it would be the three of us.

As my due date approached I told everyone I was feeling great. I had stopped working in my 37th week and spent time organizing, meditating, enjoying nature, seeing friends, reading books, doing yoga. I was thriving. Even as my belly swelled to max capacity and my back started to hurt a little, I kept making plans. I was sure the baby would come right around its due date.

Right after my due date, I received a lot of texts: “Hey, how’s it going? Baby yet?” “Still nothing?! Oh man this baby just ain’t ready” My anxiety grew. I had started feeling a lot of early labor signs including rhythmic contractions that would increase with intensity and then just disappear. I was so excited to learn I was 3 cm dilated during a membrane sweep but then after a bunch of cramping, my body seemed to regress and I felt zero movement. It was like I had gotten lost on the way to the start of a marathon.

When I crossed over the 41st week mark, I called the midwives and demanded to know what the plan was. Everyday we were closer to having to go to the hospital for a scheduled induction and after all the months of preparation at the birth center and hoping for a low intervention birth, I was desperate to control the situation. I knew it was a lesson in surrender, but I wasn’t ready to learn it quite yet. The midwives reassured me over and over again that this was completely normal. The starting and stopping was my body’s way of getting ready. “Labor will come, you’ll see.”

At 41 weeks and 4 days I felt a steady stream of fluid that I couldn’t ignore. I tried not to get excited that something real was finally happening. We went to the birth center and Nancy told us it was definitely amniotic fluid. Nancy gave us a 72 hour window and suggested one final way we could try to get labor going: castor oil. I resisted the castor oil mostly because the bottle says ‘for external use only,’ but I also didn’t want to go into labor after having severe diarrhea. Daniel advised me to give it a shot so we’d feel like we’d done everything we could.

The next morning I prepared a mango smoothie with castor oil. I kept diluting it and ended up drinking about 3 oz. And then nothing happened. Throughout the night I’d been feeling the same annoying contractions as the previous week and a half so assumed nothing would come of it after all. Just as I was resigned to being pregnant forever and relaxing into a binge worthy tv show, some cramping got my attention. It was tough to ignore so I paced our one bedroom apartment. Pretty quickly a contraction would come and I’d have to stop and hold on to the wall, take some deep breaths and let it pass. Daniel was working from home and at 10am I insisted he get off his calls.

Labor had suddenly kicked into gear and had my full attention. The contractions just kept coming on their own in a rhythmic pattern. It was like my body was on its own train going full speed ahead and my mind was along for the ride. I had heard the contractions would rise and fall like waves and this was true for me. I could feel one coming, it would build and build in intensity, peak, and then dissipate. I coped by focusing on the sounds I was making and my breath. In between there would be a glorious peaceful break where I felt some pressure in my pelvis but mostly a complete respite.

My doula, Shannon, sat in our bathroom while I was moaning through surges in the shower. Right when I got out, she held my hand through a particularly long back to back contraction and then suggested it was time to head to the birth center. I put on the only maternity dress that still fit and put my wet uncombed hair into a bun and started walking out of the apartment. Daniel was frantically collecting items to carry down to the car while I was deadset on getting downstairs. A contraction came on my way to the elevator and then when I walked out of the building into the bright sunshine I felt another one coming. Our garage is the last one halfway down the hill on Franklin St, a one way four lane street. I grabbed my knee and Shannon’s shoulder and half bent over, I moaned in front of all the traffic to get through another surge.

Thankfully the birth center is only one mile from our apartment. It was just far enough for me to have a couple more surges in the car. Nancy walked off the elevator just as we got there. I walked into the clinic room thinking about the couple dozen other times I’d been in that room while I was just pregnant. This time I was thinking “holy shit I’m in labor.”

Nancy checked me and reported that I was 7 cm dilated! I wanted to be excited but tried to stay focused on the present. I didn’t want labor to stop or stall as suddenly as it had started. Someone filled the tub with warm water and as soon as I was in it I felt so much lighter. The contractions kept coming; each one slightly more intense than the previous one. I kept telling myself my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. It won’t make me endure more than I can handle.

When I reached 9 cm, Nancy coached me to keep my moans low and think about softening and opening with each surge. My body was on the verge of being ready to push and it was excruciating to hold back from pushing. Everyone was very excited when I reached 10cm and Nancy said I could push freely. I felt such relief with those first few pushes.

Daniel and Shannon helped me get out of the tub and transition to sitting on the birth stool. After a couple contractions there I was tired and wanted to lie down on the bed. While on my side, Nancy coached me again to reach down and feel the baby’s head during a push. She encouraged me to use this feedback to more effectively push. As soon as I felt the head it seemed like it was very far from getting the whole baby out so I decided I wanted to stand up. There was a bit of a scramble getting everyone positioned under and behind me to fulfill my request.

Once I stood, gravity helped a lot. Within a couple pushes, the head started to come out and it really burned just like the ring of fire I’d heard people talk about. There was a pause after the head was out. Nancy guided me to lean back and support myself with Daniel’s knees. Then she encouraged me to give a big push. I pushed hard and the baby slid out very fast. I immediately felt a huge sense of relief from the enormous pressure. Nancy placed her on me with a blanket. At first I was so happy that labor was over and then I felt a mixture of shock and joy to be holding my baby in my arms.

Those first few moments after she was born were peaceful and chaotic at the same time. The midwives were moving around a lot below my waist and pushing on my stomach while I was fully engrossed in studying my newborn. I barely noticed when Julie gave me a shot of pitocin to help stop the bleeding and wasn’t totally aware that I had major tearing until both Nancy and Julie recommended I travel to St. Luke’s to see a surgeon for stitching.

I had dreaded the decision to leave my baby behind in the event that I needed to go to the hospital and this was what we were facing. Nancy coordinated with the doctor there directly to make sure it would be as quick as possible. I trusted I’d be back to hold and feed my baby within a couple hours so I left her with Daniel for some daddy daughter bonding.

Adelina was born at 2:25pm and the 3 of us arrived home together at 7pm. We all crawled into bed together, fed each other, and reminisced in the day’s events. It was a whirlwind but a wonderful experience.

Daniel’s Version

Adelina took her time coming into the world, and then came all at once.

Vanessa’s due date of Monday 7/17/17 was set at our first ultrasound appointment. This date had a special appeal given it was my dad’s birthday and a palindrome replete with 7’s. As we approached that date, Vanessa had been having mild contraction starting around 39 weeks of pregnancy. They were typically light and didn’t really get our attention until the day we went to buy a car on July 15th. After wrapping things up with the bozos at Shift, we decided it was wise not to make the trip up to Sonoma and take it easy at home. We hung around the apartment the rest of the day and did the things we heard people talk about doing to encourage labor, like go on walks, watch movies for distraction and eat spicy food. We went to bed early that night thinking that we might be awoken any time to head to the birth center. Alas, the contractions subsided overnight and we went back to our normal routine the next day.

For the next week, contractions continued in the same start-stop fashion with no clear direction. V went to the birth center on Tuesday for a standard check-up and found out she was 4 cm dilated! After calling me to tell me the news, I remember biking home from work on Tuesday night and the distinct thought hit me that I might be a dad that night. Contractions tapered again that night – the wait for Adelina continued…

The 41st week was a tough one, mostly from an emotional standpoint. Initially it was Vanessa who expressed things like “Is he/she ever going to get out of here”? At the beginning, I hadn’t been touched by similar feelings anxiousness, but by Monday of the 41st week the uncertainty of the whole deal was taking a toll on me as well. I decided to stay home from work that day given V had decent contractions in the morning. We made a picnic, hung out at the park and spent a good chunk of the day napping. I continued working the following day, but decided to work from home the rest of the week given all the emotions and doctor appointments. Despite our consternation, Adelina wasn’t ready yet.

On Wednesday, Vanessa was calmly sitting on the couch reading a book when she released the half-question, half-declaration that “I think my water just broke!?”. It felt like an acknowledgement that something novel had happened that we’d heard was an encouraging sign rather than a triumphant initiation of labor. We gathered ourselves and headed to the birth center with a hope of validation that some milestone had been hit. As I waited in the car, I got a text from V – “you’d better come up here – it’s amniotic fluid”. From this point on, the labor and the plot thickened rapidly.

Nancy the midwife passed on the news that we also had some light meconium in the amniotic fluid, which she was still comfortable with. Although this didn’t really change our calculations fundamentally, it placed a huge weight on us psychologically. We could wait up to 72 hours after the bag opened to go into labor naturally, but this meconium issue added gravity to the considerations as we considered when to use the “big guns” like castor oil. Vanessa was really opposed to the idea of using castor oil to induce, so wanted to avoid it as long as possible. There was a good chance that labor would start naturally, so it might not be necessary to endure the messiness of castor oil. I felt like we shouldn’t add to our psychological angst by leaving it up to chance and that we should bring out the big guns ASAP (easy for me to say…). We let things soak in for the afternoon and ultimately decided that we should go big in the morning.

On Thursday morning, we woke up, had breakfast together and then got to business. Vanessa forced down a shake with two ounces of castor oil as I tried to crank out the last few work calls. At around 9am, contractions started kicking and it seemed like we had some momentum this time. Vanessa spent the next hour doing laps around the apartment. I suggested taking the next dose of castor oil, which Vanessa rejected without much consideration.

As 10:25am rolled around, Vanessa gave me the clear orders – “time to get off your calls.” From there, it was obvious that we were entering a whole new world of labor contractions and leaving false labor behind. Vanessa was managing the contractions well, but she now needed her full attention to get through each one. She decided to move to the shower. By the time we started timing the contractions, each one was lasting around 45 seconds and was coming every two minutes. Given the rapid movement, I called both the midwives and our doula Shannon. Shannon headed over right away and the midwives texted that “it might be getting close to time to come in…it might…”

Shannon arrived at our apartment, listened to Vanessa’s animalistic moans in the shower and suggested to me that we might consider going to the birth center soon given the tone of Vanessa’s moans and that she was already 4 centimeters dilated. When Vanessa was coaxed from the shower at around 11:15am, we made the decision to head to the birth center. I scrambled around the apartment and threw whatever I could get my hands on into the bag – Vanessa’s glasses eluded me, but I decided that wouldn’t hold up the birth. Vanessa’s contractions were coming fast and kicking hard, so Shannon was essential in getting Vanessa to our garage. She endured two contractions on the walk down the car and two more on the drive to the birth center.

Nancy checked Vanessa upon our arrival at the birth center and confirmed that she was now 7 cm dilated – all those contractions had been doing quite a job on V’s cervix! Vanessa started out laboring on the bed, but quickly wanted to move to the tub. The momentum of the surges was building and Vanessa was becoming increasingly focused with each one. I sat next to her at the tub and held her hand through each one. She was amazing in her ability to manage each surge, respond to instructions from Nancy and prepare for the following one.

After around 30 minutes in the tub, Nancy confirmed Vanessa was now 9cm dilated, with only a bit of cervix remaining. This seemed like one of the most challenging parts of the birth. Every cell is Vanessa’s body was urging her to push, but she needed to find a way to avoid pushing so that the cervix could completely recede from the baby’s head. As I held Vanessa’s hand in the tub, Nancy would periodically deliver targeted instructions like “make sure you tuck your chin through contractions”.

This phase of birth was intense, peaceful and focused on Vanessa and Adelina – just the way birth should be! Each surge would appear, build in strength, reach a climax and then drift away. Following each surge was a tranquil period of resting, comforting and re-centering. Despite the overwhelming power of the surges, Vanessa remained centered and confident in her power to birth the little nugget naturally. She was an incredible bastion of strength and determination amidst a storm of uncertainty.

Vanessa was now fully dilated and left the tub to try squatting on the birth stool. Things were progressing quickly and Vanessa was in full push mode. After about 15 minutes on the stool, she asked to move to the bed to push lying on her side. The intensity of labor and crispness of the sequence of events picked up. As Vanessa pushed through each surge, I watched the baby’s head emerge and recede. Following nine months of seeing the baby’s growth in ultrasound photos, it was amazing to finally see a glimpse of her wrinkled noggin with healthy tuft of hair. We were close, although fitting her head through that small crevice would still be require a minor miracle!

Vanessa declared she wanted to move to a standing position. Once there, she squatted and supported herself on my thighs as I sat behind her. With each push, Nancy and Amanda patiently shined a flashlight on a mirror on the floor and admired the progress. After a couple contractions, Nancy barked for help in passing her gloves, which were still on the bed. As she scrambled to get her gloves on, Vanessa’s pushing momentum picked up noticeably with the help of gravity. With only a few contractions in the standing position, Adelina emerged in a hurry! Nancy barely managed to catch her and exclaimed “grab your baby!”.

Vanessa grabbed Adelina in her arms, leaned back on the bed and admired our wrinkly little nugget. We spent a the first few seconds in a mix of joy, amazement and wonder at finally laying our eyes on Adelina. It took her a full minute to belt out her first cry, which brought relief given the lingering thought of meconium.

We spent the next half hour laying on the bed admiring Adelina and allowing the midwives to check Vanessa. She had more bleeding than hoped, so Nancy searched to identify its source. She reported that Vanessa had a decent tear, which was caused as Adelina came out with a hand next to her head. I was struggling to interpret the divergent emotions – I was overjoyed with Adelina’s healthy arrival but apprehensive about Vanessa’s condition.

Following a few checks by both Nancy and Julie, they told us that we’d need to go to the hospital so that Vanessa could be sewn up. Nancy thought this would be a quick procedure, so after some back and forth, we decided that Vanessa and Nancy would go to the hospital and I’d stay with Adelina. At around 4:30pm, everyone disappeared abruptly and Adelina and I were left to do some skin-to-skin bonding time. Everything around us stopped and I listened to her breathe on my chest for over an hour. In a day of remarkable moments, this was an extended moment that I’ll cherish from that day.

Vanessa called me from the hospital while the doctor was in the process of placing the stitches. It was obvious that she wasn’t in a great place, but that everything still felt right in the world. Within the hour, Vanessa was back at the birth center, we’d swaddled Adelina up, put her in the car seat and the three of us were headed home. We had a beautiful, empowering birth that we shared with an intimate set of friends where everyone was happy and healthy. Life would never be the same again!