Ryan's due date was July 22nd. On the 24th, I went in for a checkup and ultrasound to make everything was still looking good.
At that appointment, my doctor told me that based on my fluid levels, he wouldn't want me to go past Sunday the 27th. Matt was there with me, and we talked through all of the options because I really wanted everything to happen on it's own, but my doctor was pretty adamant about me being induced Sunday evening.
Leaving that appointment, I felt pretty anxious. Matt and I had decided that we really wanted a natural birth and had spent many hours preparing for what that would entail. Needless to say, kicking things off with cervidil and pitocin would make "going natural" extra difficult.
Let me stop for a minute and say that I in no way think that being induced or getting an epidural is wrong. The whole idea of "natural childbirth" was something I felt very intrigued by early on in pregnancy, and the more I read about it, the more fascinated I became. I loved reading through other people's birth stories and would literally find myself crying when I got to the actual birth part. There was something so exciting to me about working together with my husband and my baby and mentally working through each contraction and each push until he was able to make his appearance. Crazy, I know.
I also really liked the idea of being able to move around during labor, drink fluids, and eat if I could, rather than being in the bed attached to an IV and heart-rate monitor. I'm
kind of a claustrophobic person- like even clothes make me feel claustrophobic sometimes (just in case you needed another reason to confirm in your mind how crazy I am) so the idea of wearing a hospital gown and laying in a bed with various cords connected to me gave me the heebie jeebies.
I had read a LOT, and was so inspired by the stories I had read and intrigued by the techniques for laboring without medication and mentally overcoming the pain. I also had three sweet friends who had given birth without medication- one of whom was my go-to girl during the week leading up to Ryan's arrival. She was so encouraging and supportive and spent so much time talking with and praying for our little man's arrival. You can read her birth stories here and here. She and Ryan may have been talked about in equal amounts during that week leading up to his arrival. ;) Matt and I were both so thankful for her support!
So that's the basic backstory of why I had decided to have an unmedicated birth. Now flash forward to the night where I told Matt that my desire to go natural had shifted from "I would really like to but we'll see how it goes" to "I really want this and am ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen."
I love Matt. He seriously is the best. Recalling his reaction to me making this announcement while we ate our dinner was classic him. And pretty logical and hilarious at the same time.
He said, "Oh, so like... you don't just want to just give it a go anymore... you really want to go all in... and you'll be disappointed if you end up needing medicine kind of thing?
"Okay, and why are you wanting to do that?"
hahahah... perfectly logical question, right?!
From that point on, we spent many a conversation talking through my various reasons, me reading to him passages from books that I had read, sharing stories that I had read about other people's experiences, and us preparing for the crazy journey we were about to undertake.
That night at dinner was the last time I remember Matt asking why. From that point on, he dove in. Which actually makes me tear up as I type this (hormonal new mom here) because it was an idea that didn't completely make sense to him at first, but once I shared my reasons, he wanted to support me and be ready to do whatever he needed to do to make it happen the way that I was envisioning. Yeah, he's pretty great.
He read a book called The Birth Partner (which I highly recommend!) and would ask me questions about various aspects of the whole process as he read. (I also read Birthing from Within and Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way. All were great for various reasons, but the bulleted writing style of the The Birth Partner and tone of the author made it my favorite.)
I snuck this picture in the hospital room soon after we walked in (when my contractions were pretty mild again... it's the only picture I took, so that period didn't last long!). He was rereading the pages he had marked and prepping for the "go time" when I would need him by my side for every contraction. Love this pic. :)
SO, now that you have the background, flashback to the day we left my appointment on the 24th.
Matt and I went to eat a late lunch and talk through what we had just been told. Over the course of the next few hours, I prayed through all of my thoughts and decided I would give my doctor a call the next day to ask if I could instead come in on Monday the 28th (the day he wanted me to deliver) to be checked again, rather than going in to be induced Sunday night. I just felt like I would feel better at least asking and really didn't want to have a deadline on the time in which Ryan was "allowed" to make his appearance. I had to leave a message and wait for the nurse to get back to me with my doctor's response.
It was no.
This was the first time I felt frustrated with my doctor. He had been so supportive the entire time about me going the natural route, but he was really putting his foot down about the induction. I felt frustrated because his reasoning was based on my fluid levels, which were at a 9.6 at the time of my appointment. I spent hours reading about inductions based on fluid levels, safe and unsafe fluid levels, and what happens to amniotic fluid once you go past your due date. From that, I had learned that fluid levels decrease by an average of 30% each week after the 37 week mark. Which meant mine would still be in the "safe zone" (above 5) the following Tuesday, 9 days after my due date, and my doctor was wanted to induce me 5 days after my due date. I really didn't feel like Ryan would go a full 9 days past his due date, but I also didn't want him to be moved out before he was ready. Particularly for a reason that didn't really make sense to me.
You'll read later the real reason why my doctor was wanting me to go in Sunday night, a reason that makes us now love him and respect him even more than we already did. But in that moment, based on the information we had been given, I had decided that I didn't like his plan of action, and was ready to buck the system and just not go in on Sunday like he had said.
(It's worth stating that while I am stubborn, I am NOT one to go against doctor's orders at ALL! I absolutely did not want to "go natural" at the expense of a healthy baby and safe delivery, but I just didn't feel like the reasons given were justifying me being induced, and really felt like Ryan was so close to coming on his own.)
The whole "going rogue" on my doc ended up being irrelevant since my contractions started on their own late Saturday night, but for those days leading up to Saturday, it gave me peace of mind to know that I wasn't working against a clock.
My visit with my doctor DID however, make me want to take every action to help Ryan along! Because while I talked a big game, I was not really up for going against my doctor and really really hoped Ryan would decide to arrive before the witching Sunday-night hour.
(I also found out from my doctor when he came to visit us in the hospital after Ryan was born that he had planned to call me personally Sunday evening to make sure I was going in... apparently he had a feeling I may try a little no-show stunt. ;) ...and I didn't say a word either way about my plan, but was so glad it didn't come to that!)
So in the days leading up to the weekend, I drank Red Raspberry Leaf Tea and took Evening Primrose Oil three times a day, ate spicy foods, and hiked and hiked some more to help little buddy make his appearance. :)
On Saturday night, we topped off our efforts with a date night at Scalini's- a restaurant whose Eggplant Parmesan is known for inducing over 300 labors since the restaurant's opening 23 years ago. Interestingly enough, eggplant actually does serve as a natural inducer, so it's not just a money maker for the restaurant. ;) But for us, we were going more as a fun "sure why not" attempt at helping Ryan arrive.
Well, we finished our meal at 8:30, and by 12:30am that night, I was timing my contractions.
The upsides were that the eggplant worked, we would get a free meal, Ryan's picture would go up on the wall of Eggplant Babies (because who doesn't want their kid on a wall of Eggplant Babies?), AND we were going to meet him SOON! (well, sort of soon. ...actually it really wasn't soon at all, haha)
The downside? I labored through the night and didn't sleep a wink.
Absolutely worth the tradeoff, obviously, but not the best start to an unmedicated and LONG labor.
I decided not to wake Matt up during the night. In fact, we had both gone to bed around midnight and I just hadn't fallen asleep thinking that things may be starting. So he didn't even know that things had in fact started. I knew I would need him to have full energy once we got to the hospital and my contractions became more intense and closer together.
During those 8 hours of laboring at home, I paced from one room to the next. Our dog, Tally, paced with me for a bit and then decided I had lost my mind and went back to bed with Matt. ;) I bounced on the birthing ball, I laid on the couch, I tried to "rest my eyes" between contractions, but mostly I just walked. And nested. I looked through the hospital bags one too many times, added a few more unnecessary items (a post is coming with all of the things I did NOT use from our hospital bags ;) ), cleaned the counters in our kitchen, organized our refrigerator one last time- all within the 2-6 minute breaks I had between contractions. Cleaning was my "birthing project" of choice I suppose- not surprising if you know me.
Around 8:30, I woke Matt up and told him I thought it was time to get ready to head to the hospital.
He asked how long I had been having contractions and I told him since 12:30 that night.
To which he asked if I had slept at all.
To which I answered no.
But we were gonna meet our baby that day, so I didn't care!
Then I called my mom to tell her she could start heading our way (she lives a little over an hour from us), and called my sister to tell her things were happening! I was having contractions during each of their phone calls and remember trying to sound normal and peppy so that I didn't worry them, haha. I don't think it worked.
Matt and I got our things together and made sure everything was good with Tally until my mom and stepdad arrived to be with him while we were gone.
Then we made our drive to the hospital!
Matt checking us in :)
My contractions were between 2-3 minutes at this point, so I was hoping to be at least 5 centimeters by the time we made it to the labor and delivery room.
But when they checked me upon arrival in our room, I was at a ONE.
I was at a one at 36 weeks!
Not to mention that I had already labored for 10 hours and my contractions were pretty close together.
I'm pretty sure I asked the nurse at this point how that was even possible. Ha.
She was so sweet and supportive though and assured me that I would most likely progress quickly with the frequency of my contractions and said that I should not feel discouraged by my progress (or lack there of).
Let me pause here for a second and say that every nurse and doctor who entered our room was SO supportive of our hopes to deliver without medication. Never once did we feel like they thought we were crazy or were judging us for our decision. In fact, it was quite the opposite experience for us. They let us move around the room, use the tub, use our birthing ball... they even gave suggestions for different positions to try when I could feel a strong contraction coming and was having trouble breathing through it.
But for the most part, they really left us alone in the room to work through the tougher contractions on our own. If they came in during a tough stretch to check on something, they would either stand behind the curtain, or just leave all together and come back in a couple of minutes so that Matt and I could focus. They were SO thoughtful, so respectful, and so so encouraging.
Over the next two hours, Matt and I found a rhythm that worked. We switched between swaying/rocking side to side, almost like a slow dance, when the contractions were occurring, to me sitting on the birthing ball and leaning back on him so I could rest in between them.
He was AWESOME.
A lot of the moments are a bit of a blur, but I know that he was right by my side for every single contraction. He had the perfect balance of acting like he knew exactly what to do while still following my lead, and his quiet confidence made me feel like we were going to see this whole non-medicated birth thing through to the end.
Around 3:00, the contractions started coming even faster and stronger, and the lack of breaks in between each one was really starting to wear on me. While the tub helped to relax me early on, trying it again at this point made each contraction feel stronger and harder. I realized I had to stand and I had to keep moving, but the combination of not sleeping the night before and the intensity of the contractions was really starting to take its toll.
I remember I kept repeating to Matt, "I'm just so tired! Why can't I get a break between them?! They're just coming so fast!"
(Yes, this is what I will call the whining stage of delivery. I believe the technical term in "transition," but for me, it was a whole lot of "why's" and cries.
I remember I kept thinking that I just wanted to sleep. And believe it or not, I would actually fall asleep for 30 seconds to a minute in between contractions. But falling asleep each time made it hard to gear up for the next contraction, so when they would hit, I was having a harder time breathing like I was supposed to because the pain was so quick and so strong.
At this point, I decided I had to keep standing and swaying. I could rest my head on Matt's chest in between, but sitting was no longer an option.
Right around 3:30, I felt a very big contraction come on, and rather than push my breath out, I strained hard, held Matt's arms tight, and started moving him across the room as I groaned through the back half of the contraction. He just walked backwards almost across the whole room until I stopped moving him.
And that was when my water broke.
One more long, moving-across-the-room contraction came right after it, and I lost the rest of my water.
I remember feeling nervous at this point because I felt like I had lost my rhythm of controlled breathing and knew that the pain would now be much stronger without the extra cushion of the bag of waters.
I told Matt I had to sleep and that I wanted to get the epidural.
And bless him, he did exactly what I told him to do when we had talked through each stage of the birthing process. I had told him that at some point I would probably ask for the epidural, and that I wanted him to do everything he could to remind me of what I wanted and help me keep pushing on.
And so he did.
He started asking me how much more I thought I could give.
If I wanted to be checked.
How many contractions I thought I could breathe through.
Being checked resonated as a good idea and I opted for that option.
I honestly don't even remember much of this other than them telling me I had progressed to 7cm.
At this point I was 16 hours in, and I felt like I did not have the energy to make it to 10cm and THEN push. I was afraid that I would get to the point where they needed my 100% for the safety of Ryan's arrival in that pushing stage, and I just wouldn't be able to give it.
I told Matt I didn't think I could do it. That I thought I needed the epidural so that I could sleep and store up some energy for the pushing phase.
He asked if I was sure.
And I knew that I was the reason he was asking me if I was sure, and that he was doing everything we had talked about, so I looked him in the eye and said,
"I am 150% sure. I won't be mad at you. I just need to sleep."
haha... "I won't be mad at you"...so funny now remembering this.
I did however want to talk with my great nurses and get their opinion on whether there was a chance the epidural may slow my progress at all. I felt like I could maybe get a 7th wind (or whatever number I was up to at that point) and keep going if there was any chance that the epidural would cause me to go backwards.
I knew I had been in labor a long time already, and didn't want anything to prolong it even more and potentially cause stress for Ryan (stress caused from the labor going even longer, not from the medicine).
My nurses, in their sweet and gentle voices said that they really felt like the frequency of my contractions (which were occurring about every 30-60 seconds) would continue and that I would continue to progress if I decided to get an epidural.
But even then, I didn't feel like they were encouraging me to get it, which looking back, I really appreciate because it showed how much they supported my decision to continue without medicine even in that moment of me asking for it. My main nurse asked if I was sure I wanted to get the epidural and explained what would change if I decided to go that route: no more water, no more walking, constant fetal heart rate monitoring and constant monitoring of my contractions, sitting or laying in the bed, and IV fluids).
But I knew I had to sleep. And I knew that getting the epidural would let me sleep. And as long as I could rest, I could re-energize myself for the most important final stage where Ryan would need me to be at my best to help him enter the world as safely and quickly as possible.
So I gave them the go-ahead to call the anesthesiologist and they started prepping me in the bed.
The good news was that I knew relief and sleep were close.
The bad news was that right after I was all attached and ready for the juice, the anesthesiologist called and said he would be another 20 minutes.
Matt said I called out, "20 mintues?! I can't wait 20 minutes!"
This is what I will call the "low point" (remember Kate Winslet from The Holiday?) of my labor.
I pretty much cried like a baby when the next contraction hit.
And one of my nurses looked at me straight in the eyes, held my shoulders, and said,
"Heather, I'm gonna need you to hold it together. Breathe. Breathe. You can do this."
hahah... Matt was right by her side and I know he was so glad that he was not the one who had to say it. But I needed to hear it.
I looked at Matt with big eyes and said, "Breathe with me. I need you to breathe with me," and proceeded to blow all the breath I had inside me into his face as I waited for the contraction to pass.
Gah he was a saint.
My nurse let me stand right next to the bed and either lean on her or on Matt because sitting was way too painful. And she called the doctor again and asked if there was anyway he could come faster. Bless her.
He did come faster than 20 minutes and it didn't take me long to pass out, sound asleep, once the pain was gone. I slept for 2+ hours and was at 8cm when they came back to check me again. It was 6:30pm.
This was after my 2+ hour nap. Oh what a difference the epidural made. ;)
Since I was rested and pain free, we had some of our family come back so we could say hello and thank them for enduring the long day in the waiting room.
Two of my favorite visitors, our sweet nephews, brought us lucky coins. ;) Maddox said he was going to throw them into the fountain in the waiting area and make two wishes: one for our baby to come and one for him to be a "major baseball" player. ;) ;)
At 8:30 they came to check me again, and it wasn't good news.
Buddy was stuck in my pelvis and his attempts to move to where he needed to be were causing my cervix to swell, which meant that I was back at 70-80% effacement instead of 100% and I was measuring between 7-8cm.
The doctor who was delivering me (since mine was not on call) said that we could either do a C-section right then, or we could wait two more hours to see if anything changed.
Matt and I obviously wanted to do whatever we could to deliver without a C-section as long as it was safe for Ryan, and since they were giving us an option to wait, we knew it wasn't an emergency situation.
So we asked what we could do in the interim to help his position change.
Our new nurse was AWESOME. She jumped right in with suggestions to help him along and the doctor agreed to all of her ideas.
So for the next two hours, I received the lowest dose of pitocin, lowered the dose of the epidural, and sat in an almost upright position. I also laid on my side with one leg up on a stirrup to help open up my pelvis.
We sent out an email to friends and family asking them to pray for Ryan's safe delivery and waited.
When my doctor came back two hours later, it was obvious that she was totally surprised as she was checking me. When she finished, she told us the news we were praying to hear:
"Wow, you're 10cm, fully dilated, and ready to push!"
Matt and I were beside ourselves!
We started the pushing process minutes later, and one hour later, at 12:30am our sweet baby boy was born!!!
Experiencing him being born was the most incredible moment of my life so far.
Considering everything we went through in the 24 hours leading up to his birth, I would still be ready to do it all again tomorrow. That's how amazing it was.
The doses of medication prescribed and the suggestions from our nurses and doctors all did exactly what they were supposed to do to aid in Ryan's safe delivery. Our little guy came out alert as ever- eyes wide open, looking right at me, and ready to nurse.
He actually latched on in less than a minute of them putting him on my chest, and I decided to announce (remember, 24 hours of labor),
"He latched on right away! He's just like his daddy!"
And then Matt said I looked up at him like, "I don't think I meant for it to come out that way... was that as awkward as I think it was?"
And he looked back at me with a look that said, "Yep, sure was."
I tried to explain myself in my groggy state, saying that Matt's mom always talked about him being such a good eater as a baby. hahah... maybe they've heard worse?!
This picture is from the second time they laid him on my chest.
The first time was right after he was born. In the excitement of his birth, I felt such an overwhelming peace, but could also tell that he was a little white and bluish and was not crying as much as he should have been.
I mentioned this to the doctor and she told us then that Ryan's cord had been wrapped around his neck. She said that usually they could lift it over their heads without a problem, but his was wrapped tightly, so she had to cut it right away.
Apparently both she and Dr. Graham knew this. Dr. Graham knew it from my ultrasound and did not want to tell us because he knew we would worry (honestly, I probably would have left his office and elected to have a C-section that afternoon).
But that was why he was so adamant about me being induced- he didn't want to risk my fluid dropping anymore than it had because then the lack of "cushion" would be dangerous.
That was also why the doctor who was delivering us suggested the C-section when Ryan was stuck.
I remember telling her that my water hadn't broken until 3:30 and that I would like to go the full 24 hours before considering a C-section. She told me then that "for various reasons" she would not feel comfortable with us waiting more than the two hours she suggested.
Looking back, I am SO thankful for their decisions and amazing ability to keep things safe and under control without worrying us or even letting on about what they knew.
I'm also thankful that we weren't overly stubborn about our wishes and deferred to them for the ultimate call on what to do.
The doctor ended up taking Ryan back from me after giving me a minute or so with him, and a team of nurses and doctors came in to make sure he was breathing correctly. Even then, Matt and I felt such a peace and knew that he was being taken care of. Hearing his loud cries come from across our room minutes after they were working with him were the sweetest sounds we could hear.
We feel so thankful for God's protection over our sweet boy, for the wisdom of our doctors and nurses who encouraged us through the entire labor and delivery, and for our family and friends who waited at the hospital and prayed from home for his safe arrival.
We are beyond blessed by the gift of life and the opportunity to be parents to this sweet, sweet love.
For more pictures from Ryan's arrival, click here.