Disclaimer 1: While I won’t be totally graphic, this post does include terms that describe various body fluids, pain, and other things that accompany the birthing of a child…
Disclaimer 2: This is long…the complete opposite of my labor…
That was fast. Less than 3 hours to be exact.
Alright labor and delivery newbies (of which I was one until Serafina…), here’s the breakdown. There are a few stages to labor (and everybody has different terms for these but this is what I read/how we talked about them in our birth class): pre-labor (also called false labor), early labor, active labor, pushing (including delivery of the baby), and delivery of the placenta (aka afterbirth). The average first time mom’s (FTMs for you non-pregnancy-acronym savvy folks) labor lasts 14 hours. That’s including the early labor, active labor, pushing, and placenta.
Some moms (Martha Sears of the Sears Parenting Books and I are two of these women) don’t know they’re in labor until we get to active labor.
Yes, I know that labor technically includes the lead up contractions too (deemed “early labor”) but as Martha Sears points out in The Birth Book, she didn’t realize she was in labor until the contractions came on like gangbusters (paraphrased, of course). While she was in labor for several hours prior, she only became aware of this after she was able to look back on her labor.
Same here. Here’s Serafina’s arrival story…
Early early early morning
I woke up around 2:00 am Monday morning, August 20th (her due date). The contraction didn’t hurt that bad; it was more uncomfortable than anything so I decided to get out of bed and take a bath (I love baths). I got another contraction 20 minutes later but I was able to totally relax through this one too, which Ben and I had been practicing after being taught how to do this in our [personal, at-home] birth class with Deana back in July. She gave us a ton of information (obviously) and part of that was how to differentiate prelabor from actually labor. Basically, I spent the next 2 hours trying to rule out prelabor. My contractions didn’t intensify…they stayed 30 seconds long, I could walk and go about my normal activity through them, and they didn’t get closer than 10 minutes apart. I definitely thought these were just Braxton-Hicks contractions which are basically toning exercises for your uterus, meaning that Serafina could have shown up that day or might now show up for several days.
I couldn’t go back to sleep so I woke up Ben and we took Maya for a walk to the local 24 hour donut shop (it was 4:00 am, after all). Walking is supposed to accelerate labor (and suppress prelabor) but in my case, nothing changed. Still 30-60 second contractions ranging from 5 to 20 minutes apart…no consistency, no getting better or worse, etc. Again, these really weren’t that hard and I was able to walk through them and continue conversation with Ben so I definitely thought these were Braxton-Hicks. Maya was so sleepy while we were on our walk…she’s used to sleeping at that hour!
We went back to bed when we got back and the contractions totally went away. I was so frustrated.
I had wanted Serafina to come on her due date or after…those of you that know me know that I always have things on my to do list. Sunday night (August 19th), I checked the last thing off the must-get-done-before-baby-comes to-do list. Canning peaches, sewing roman shades for our bedroom and the nursery, freezing beans from the garden, you get the picture…I was ready.
The rest of the morning (when the rest of the world is awake)
My sister and her husband came over later that morning. We were going to go blackberry picking to pass the time but I decided that it might be a good idea to do something closer to home (stay tuned…this was a very good choice, considering how fast my labor progressed once I realized it had started). Instead, we went on a double date to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Records Office and applied for concealed weapons permits! Ben joked that it will be a great story to tell Serafina’s future suitors that we did this the day she was born…
After the other people in the waiting area gave us a hard time for doing something like this on our due date (which we joked right along with them…I even got a mild contraction while I was being fingerprinted!), we stopped by QFC so my brother-in-law could get his TDaP shot (ya’ll should get yours!) and then came home for lunch.
It was around 1:30 pm by this point. My sister made these really yummy pork loin and cabbage sandwiches for lunch and we ate them in the sunshine on our back deck. I was still having contractions here and there but at 30 minutes apart, I really didn’t think this was it.
I was very wrong.
Early afternoon – when I consider labor actually beginning…
I was sick of these things being so far apart so I did a bunch of stuff around the house for the next hour or so and they sped up to 7 minutes apart. Around 2:30, they were still 7 minutes apart but these ones hit me hard. For the first time, I couldn’t continue on my normal activity when they hit. I had to stop, focus on relaxing, and even have Ben rub my back. They also lasted at least 90 seconds each and some were even 2 minutes long. However, they were still at least 7 minutes apart.
At this point, I was back in my morning mindset: let’s figure out if these are real or not by going on another walk. Before doing that, Ben double checked that everything was in the car just in case this was it. Around 3:00 pm, we decided just to walk around the block (nothing crazy). By the time we made it halfway, my contractions got down to 5 minutes apart and still at least 90 seconds long (aka the breaks in between were getting shorter). Once we were almost ready to turn the corner back to our house, they were 3 minutes apart and still at least 90 seconds long – and way harder. One almost too my breath away. Some women across the street asked if I was okay when they saw me leaning into Ben’s back. He replied that I was, “…just in labor.” They offered to call someone but he said I was fine, which I was…for the time being.
By the time we got back to the house, I knew these were real. We went inside for Ben to get the keys and for me to use the bathroom one more time. And bless my wonderful husband, he reminded me to put on my eyeliner and mascara (I just do brown of each…so I don’t look totally wiped out) just as I asked him to a week or so earlier. If people are going to be taking my picture after she’s born, I wanted to look halfway decent!
We got in the car and during the 4 minute drive to the hospital, I had another, really hard, contraction. Ladies, don’t have any contractions in the car if you can help it…they’re awful! We got to the hospital and handed the keys to the valet (love Providence for that!). After grabbing our bags, we headed up to triage to check in. I had another contraction in the elevator but since I could get in a relaxed position (for me, leaning up against Ben or a wall), this one was alright.
The triage intake lady asked if I was in labor and Ben responded with a still-in-a-relaxed-and-joking-mood tone that I was indeed in labor. It turned out that I hadn’t signed some of the HIPAA paperwork so she had me do that; thankfully I had filled out all the insurance stuff beforehand because as I signed the last form, I got a crippling contraction that sent me to the floor in pain. She then asked me to walk over to the bench in front of the doors to triage – a mere 10 feet away – to wait for them to bring me in. I barely made it over there before I had another contraction.
This one was hilarious…in a I almost-threw-up-and-scarred-a-three-year-old-for-life sort of way. On one end of the bench, a 3 year old girl was playing on her mom’s iPhone and her mom and grandma were sitting on the other end. Her mom asked her to move over toward her and I sternly told her to remain where she was so I could take the seat in the middle (what I had been aiming for). I had started having another contraction and was in NO mood to wait for a slow poke 3 year old to move over. I was in so much pain during this contraction I thought I was going to throw up (which has never happened to me before, even in intense athletic endeavors, injuries, etc) so Ben asked for a bucket/bag/etc. I didn’t end up throwing up and by the time the contraction was over, they finally opened the doors to triage and took me back.
After I was on the [fairly comfortable for a hospital] bed on wheels, we waited out another contraction and then I got in a position for the nurse to check my cervix. She declared, in quite a surprised voice, that I was 9 cm dilated. Out of 10. Aka 1 cm from being ready to roll (this is sort of ridiculous since going from 6 cm to 10 cm is considered transition and is often the most painful part of labor). Upon hearing this, nurses from outside our curtained off area ripped the curtains open and rather quickly expedited me out of triage, down the hall, and into an elevator to take me one floor down to our birthing room.
My water broke in the elevator. Honestly, as weird as delivering Serafina was, it might have been a more odd sensation to all of a sudden feel this gush of fluid come out of me. One of my best friends told me her pain intensified when her water broke but thankfully mine did not. I thought I had already maxed out on pain by this point but distracted myself by thinking about all the times I had taught about labor and delivery to my Health or AP Biology students. I kept reminding myself how grateful I was that God designed our bodies to continually up the amount of oxytocin to increase uterine contractions…something I couldn’t express when teaching in a public school but could rest in now…
We finally got to our birthing room and the two nurses got monitors on me to make sure Serafina was alright during the rest of labor/pushing. There wasn’t any time to get anesthesia even if I wanted it. My contractions were still roaring and Ben was doing his best (which was AWESOME!) keeping me calm and getting me to relax through them until I was told I could push. I really wanted to push, however, and Ben asked them to check me again to see if I could.
They paged my doctor (who was wrapping up a day of office visits a few floors up) and we gave the nurses our birth wish list (ha! yeah right…). Please note that we called it a wish list, not a plan, because babies don’t arrive according to plan. And even with our wish list, most of the wishes didn’t apply because we showed up practically done with labor and ready to push.
When my water broke back in the elevator, it had a greenish tinge so there were a few extra people in the room from the NICU just in case something was wrong with Serafina once she was delivered. I kinda started freaking out at this point – definitely wanting to push now – but calmed myself by literally calling out to Jesus each time I had [to relax through] a contraction. We were told that if she came out screaming, they wouldn’t have to take her away so I started praying right then to hear a good set of lungs once she was delivered.
The nurses didn’t hear from my doctor so they paged the on-call doctor since I was completely dilated and effaced and therefore ready to push. He was quite a jovial fellow but after the initial impression, I was wholly immersed back in the pain of contraction after contraction.
Back to the birth wish list…one of the few wishes left to be requested involved only letting Ben touch me (especially my legs) if at all possible. Long, long, long story, I really didn’t want anyone else touching me than was absolutely necessary. One of the nurses – who apparently hadn’t read the wish list – started holding my left leg in place…at which point Ben asked her to let go of my leg. She didn’t so he reached across the bed (he was on my right side) and removed her hand from my leg with a firm, “Stop touching her,” accompanying his physical request. The doctor then informed Ben to not touch the nurses and before Ben could tell them what he really thought (I love my husband!), I had a whammy of a contraction so he focused back on me and keeping me relaxed and breathing.
I don’t know how women push for hours. I have a friend who pushed for 4 hours…I was blessed (and cursed; see below) to push for 18 minutes.
I have never, ever heard myself, nor anyone else in this world, scream louder than I did during those 18 minutes. Granted, it was off and on and only during the actual pushing but goodness sakes, I was noisy. Every other push was either a swear word or a prayer, Ben in my face the entire time encouraging me and reminding me to breathe.
It was at this point that I started to get scared. Contractions, yeah, I could handle those. But pushing and getting a baby out? It all happened so fast I was terrified. The pain upped to a level I had never experienced and I got really scared I wouldn’t be able to handle it. God in His mercy designed us, however, to stop feeling pain at a certain point once the baby’s head is pressing down on our perineum (the skin right at the opening before the baby’s head crowns) since the pressure stops the nerves from sending the pain information to the brain. I knew all this ahead of time, reflecting again on my science teaching background, but I still was very scared the pain would increase beyond what I could handle (hence the prayers every other contraction…I swear words on the others…whoops!).
This entire time, Ben has totally kept his cool, stayed in my face and told me to keep breathing, reminded me how great of a job I was doing, and generally kept me going. I cannot begin to explain how thankful I was/am that God would bless me with such an amazing husband, especially one who would stick by me and get me through the most physically painful thing know to [wo]man (re: our consequence of original sin). I was told to push again, her head came out, and I pushed 2 or 3 more times until her shoulders and the rest of her body cleared.
Serafina came out screaming. The NICU nurses left with their incubator cart (praise the Lord!) and I got to hold her right away (part of our birth wish list). As soon as I was holding her, I got very, very quiet and couldn’t stop saying, “Oh my gosh,” over and over again.
I was completely in awe.
The next hour was quite a blur as she found her way to my breast, I got stitched up down there (3 lovely tears), and we shared a few fluttering moments of eye contact. Ben got in on the fun once the meconium (aka baby poop that she’d been brewing in the womb) was cleaned off of both of us; she let loose all over me while I was holding her.
Having her torso to torso, skin to skin right away – delaying newborn procedures such as a vitamin K shot, eye creme to prevent infections from normal vaginal bacteria, and a bath – was on our birth wish list and I was extremely grateful they got that one right. It made getting stitches for the next 45 minutes a lot more bearable (yes, I had a local anesthetic but it was still uncomfortable).
He delivered my placenta and the science teacher in me took over for a moment when I asked the doctor to show it to me and describe each part of it/which part performed which function/etc. Ben was grateful when a nurse took it away…he’s a dry science teacher (physical science, physics, etc) whereas I’m a wet science teacher (biology, anatomy and physiology, etc).
After I finally got to the point I wanted to get cleaned up (an hour later), I let them take Serafina to the sink to have her bath, then to the little warmer table to get weighed and measured, get her shot and eye goop, and get swaddled up (all in our room, which was wonderful!). The nurse helped me get into the shower and I [very carefully] got cleaned up. There was so much adrenaline coursing through my system I was really shaky so a shower was intimidating…though I knew I really needed one.
After I was out of the shower, clothed, and back in bed, we invited our family in to meet Serafina. The rest of the night was super fun with my dad going to get us celebratory milkshakes and Ben’s folks making the drive over from Wenatchee (3 hours away).
Like I said, it was fast. And hard. And scary. But so worth it. Would I want to do it again so fast? No way. As one of my coworkers remarked after hearing the account, I need to be careful of sneezing at the grocery store next time I am full term. Am I glad she’s here, safe, and healthy? Absolutely. God blessed us with a safe delivery and though it didn’t go exactly how we planned (does God ever let us have our plan exactly our way? 😉 ), it was perfect.
There will be many, many more posts about Little Miss Serafina, but that is pretty much her birth story.