Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Benjamin's Birth Story

This post is long. And fairly graphic. Consider yourself warned, my dears!

I originally wrote down this account of Benjamin’s birth because I didn’t want to forget the details, or more accurately, the snippets of details that I remember from that day. 

Here is my account of Ben’s birth:

Our official due date was Feb. 5th, a Saturday.

It was the week before, on a Thursday (Jan 27th), that things began: I puttered around the house, went for a swim at the pool, and, in the early evening, started to make dinner. That’s when my water broke.

I initially didn't realize that my water had broken; I'd just gotten out of the shower a few minutes earlier and it was nothing like the "big gush" I was expecting. Frankly, (and I cringe as I say this), it wasn’t like how it happens in the movies. Or how it happened back in 6th grade, when my best friend’s aunt’s water broke on the little train at Remlinger Farms. That was one heck of a gush.

Mine was a tiny trickle that lasted a few seconds and then stopped. As all sorts of weird things happen to your body during pregnancy, I didn’t make much of it, besides mentioning it to Chris that night at dinner.

It wasn't until the next morning (Friday) when I started having pre-labor contractions that we clued in on what had actually occurred. The contractions were very manageable (about 45-60 seconds long, every 5-6 minutes) so we went for a long walk around the neighborhood. I stopped every few minutes to take a few deep breaths and then we’d continue to amble along. No big deal. Chris had stayed home that morning due to the contractions but we both agreed that he should trundle into work later in the afternoon as I didn’t seem to be progressing.
All smiles during our morning walk

 We left the house around 10:30 AM for a previously scheduled midwife appointment at our hospital (Group Health). My contractions had tapered back by the time we got to the appointment but we explained what we were experiencing and our midwife did a quick swab and stuck the sample under the microscope. It came back positive for amniotic fluid, confirming a tear in the sac. We were sent upstairs for a non-stress test (baby was in good shape) and an ultrasound (to measure the amount of fluid remaining). Our midwife theorized that the rip was very small and that baby had probably inadvertently plugged it quickly with his body, hence the absence of a dramatic gush.  Unfortunately, even a very small tear still means that the sac had been breached and was consequently vulnerable to infection, so our birth options became limited in fairly short order.

Because my water had broken around 5 PM the previous day, we had two options: start induction immediately or wait a few hours to see if my natural labor would get going on its own, thereby avoiding the need for an induction. Due to the increased risk of infection, they didn't want to wait much beyond that 24 hour mark.  We elected to go home and see if my labor would progress on its own.

Once home, we finished packing, took a nap, and called family. We got back to the hospital around 6pm on Friday and learned that my labor had progressed, but not enough. We started a pitocin drip after getting checked in and settled into the room. Because my water had broken, our midwife didn't do any internal checks; I had no idea if my cervix was dilated.
Watching (and feeling) my contractions. Still smiling. Notice that we have the blog up on the ipad. I wanted to see who had picked Jan 29th in the baby pool contest (FYI: I’ve yet to announce the winners…give me a few more days)

Chris’ mom Cherie arrived from Anchorage and we were able to say hello to her and Megan that evening, and check in with both my parents. Our midwife and nurse popped in every once in a while to check our progress and offer encouragement. We settled in for the night around 10 PM.

Things were progressing well and I wasn’t in too much pain; Chris even managed to grab an hour of sleep on the pull-out chair beside me.

The pitocin was begun at a very low level and was initially quite manageable with breathing and counting techniques. As part of our birth plan we had requested no IVs and intermittent monitoring but that was made impossible due to the pitocin. As I'd planned on being fairly mobile during labor, it was a pain to be hooked up to multiple monitors and two IV drips. Going to the bathroom becomes a much bigger deal when you are trailed by an entourage of equipment.

No longer quite so happy
I woke Chris up shortly after midnight. I needed something else besides breathing exercises. We decided that a bath might be in order.

The bath was pure heaven. The warm water seemed to take a bit of the edge off the pain and I splashed around for a few hours, with Chris counting from a chair placed beside the tub.

Around 2 AM, I headed back to the bed for our first measurement: 4.5 centimeters. Ugh. Not very far.

I got back in the bath.

A few hours later it was back to the bed: 6.5 centimeters. And here I’m convinced that our midwife was fudging, just a bit. She wanted it to be good news, to tell me that I was progressing rapidly.

Not rapidly enough, as far as I was concerned.

I was hurting. Really hurting.  I was tensing up my entire body when I felt a contraction approaching. Dreading its arrival. Throwing up. Shaking uncontrollably. Losing my concentration and mental focus, despite the counting and breathing with Chris.

It was no fun.

It was at this point that I told our midwife that I needed some assistance.  I could tell that my mental focus was shot.

Originally, when I’d told our nurse that we were going to try and avoid an epidural, she’d cautioned us that the pitocin, while good for speeding up labor, also makes the contractions more forceful.

Forceful = painful. Reason #1 why we’d wanted to avoid an induced labor.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure I could get through natural labor without an epidural, never mind my ability to do it while on piton. But we wanted to try.

But it was at this point, when I was hurting so badly, that both our nurse and midwife became my body’s biggest advocates. Our midwife suggested that instead of an epidural, we consider a 1-hour narcotic. It wouldn’t make the pain go away, but it might take the edge off, make me drowsy, and give me a short rest.

Sign me up.

And, frankly, the most important thing the narcotic did was do allow me to regroup, mentally. Once the pain eased, even slightly, I could refocus my efforts from only thinking about the hurt to coping [a little more gracefully] with the pain.

The narcotics lasted for an hour and I went back for a second round. Around 5 AM I trundled off to the bath, once again. Loved the bath. My mom and mother-in-law had long since arrived and my mom was able to spell Chris for short portions of breathing exercises.

Around 7 AM I decided that it was time. I’ll admit that I didn’t have an overwhelming urges to push yet but I’d decided that I couldn’t last much longer, despite the linger effects of the narcotics and the bath.

Back to the bed.

And from the midwife? 9.5 centimeters.

Good enough, baby!

Time, indeed.

So I should note here that I was operating under the assumption that the pain was going to cease and desist once I started pushing. In all the accounts I read, pain never really seemed to be a big factor at this stage of the game.

Except for me. Yowza.

I had a small lip that the midwife held back while I did my first push. Big time ouch.

And despite my cheering squad (nurses (2), midwife, mother, mother-in-law, Chris), it wasn’t until they brought the mirror up so I could actually see Benjamin’s head that I actually made much progress. I work best with incentives, clearly.

It helped that either the midwife or one of the nurses said something along the lines of: "Ok, remember that this stage can take up to three hours”.

Three hours?! Heck no.

Those hospital folk, they make effective uses of both carrots and sticks.

30 seconds old

Benjamin was born at 7:50 AM on Jan 29th, 2011 after about 50 minutes of pushing. Exactly a week early.

I cried. Chris cried. Benjamin cried (but for different reasons than his parents).

Covered in goo, squalling, and still attached to the umbilical cord, of course we loved him immediately.

After Chris cut the cord, things were stitched back into place, I was cleaned up a bit, and the rest of the family came in for hellos.
Benjamin with Grandpa Tom
And with his grandmothers

Later, Chris gave Benjamin his first bath, a baby massage (he loved it), and Ben was plopped on the scale for weigh-in.
First bath

Eventually we moved up a floor to the recovery room where we had a chance to look over our new baby, count his toes, and wonder at his existence.
First diaper

Initially, it wasn’t the birth we planned on having, but it turned out to be just right for us: healthy baby, proud parents.

Things might have been quite different, had a few factors had been tweaked, just a bit. When I described our birth earlier in the week as a team effort, I was completely serious. My job would have been far more painful if it hadn’t been for our nurses, midwife, family cheerleaders, and most importantly, Chris. He was by my side for just about every minute of labor. Counting, soothing, encouraging, rubbing my back. I couldn’t acknowledge at the time just how much his presence was getting me through those small hours of the night. He was the one that I appealed to when I hurt, when I needed help. I’m lucky to have him and for Benjamin to have him as a father.

We also loved our hospital. We briefly considered other options (birth center, home delivery) but were completely won over by the midwife team at Group Health - Family Beginnings Unit on Capital Hill in Seattle. It might have helped that I was born into the same program, nearly 30 years ago. From the very beginning we found the midwives to be helpful, professional, and best of all, very relaxed and not rushed for time. We’d head to our appointments with a laundry list of discussion items and they always took the time to fully discuss the issues and ease our concerns.  Our midwives were continually reminding us that we needed to put together a birth plan so we could discuss our wishes, together, as a team. I am fully convinced that every staff member read the birth plan before coming into our room, because they all commented on the fact that I was a GH midwife baby. They loved that. During labor and delivery, our midwife was focused, attentive, and always accessible.
Tired but happy

The other thing we liked about GH (and perhaps this is the case everywhere, I don’t know) is that we had a dedicated nurse for the entire duration of our labor. Kristy worked her tail off. She was always checking and replacing my monitors (after I moved or disengaged them), helping me to the bathroom, filling the bath, giving us status reports, reminding me to focus on breathing. She was on her feet, continuously, for her entire 12 hour shift and she remains, in my mind, the unsung hero of the night. Our morning nurse, Kathryn, was also phenomenal. Overall, we found the staff to be incredibly helpful, caring, and professional.

It was a good team that we had behind us and I am so grateful of their efforts on our behalf.
Going Home

We had a day and half in the hospital, much of it to ourselves. We huddled up in a little cocoon of a room and focused on the task of learning all about our baby. Food was delivered, nurses came in to offer advice on nursing, and Benjamin was checked out by the rounding pediatricians. It was a much needed break.

And then, it was time to go home, also a good thing. We’re slowing adjusting to having a new baby in our midst: seeing him become more alert, keep his eyes open for longer periods, and learn to pick up on hunger and sleep cues. What an adventure we have before us!

And that, my dears, is the end of Benjamin’s Birth Story. Thanks for reading.

Benjamin 7 lbs 1 oz, 19.5 inches


  1. Wait how much did Ben weigh? :-) I hate pitocin! I am happy to hear you were able to do it without the epidural. I always needed the epidural to help my body not fight against it's self. Weird I know but true. You're birth story is wonderful and never beat yourself up for not having it the way you thought it "should be". That's just silly.

  2. What a lovely birth story. :) Thanks for sharing. Sorry it was so painful for you! For myself I was a strong believer in epidural. lol I did labor a long time with Lorelai (3-4 days) at home before going to the hospital and again laboring many hours into the morning before getting the epi, but oh man am I glad I had it.

    But, I'm glad you had a birth as close to the one as you wanted.

    And to answer you sorta, not all hospitals have a dedicated nurse, but I had one that was mine alone and she stayed with me the entire time. During L's birth the nurse and I watched Gilmore Girls DVDs all night long while Brian slept. :)

    Wish we could meet little Benjamin!

  3. Oh...and I don't know one person's labor who has ever stuck to their birth plan. So like Luna said...don't beat yourself up over that at all.

    I didn't even bother making one and packed minutes for leaving for the hospital with both kids. That's how I roll. ;)

  4. I am a firm believer in tailoring your birth to suit your needs as a mom, to the best of one’s ability. For some that’s an epidural, for others, it’s not. It is such an intensely personal decision and there is definitely no ‘right' or 'wrong’ way to go about it. For us, we wanted to try without but felt very firmly that if I crossed the line between pain and painful suffering then we would be happy to turn to the epidural. It was a small but important distinction. Also, it helped me mentally, knowing that I had options. We are fans of modern medicine in this here house. :)

  5. Felicia7:44 PM

    Sonja, I think that the birth you need to best prepare you for motherhood is the one you will most likely get. We'd planned a home birth for our twins, but at 39 weeks our plans changed and I ended up with a scheduled c-section. That decision was one of the most heart-wrenching decisions I'd ever had to make. While I was left with an extended recovery (it was a month before I could make it once around a grocery store), I think the humility I learned in those first few days as a mother was an incredible lesson.

    I could barely walk, my abs were so weak I couldn't stand to wash my hair, I couldn't lift a baby (let alone two), I needed help rolling over in bed and I couldn't sit up without support. And you know, that has turned out to be small potatoes compared to the helplessness I sometimes feel when I can't meet both of their intense needs and desires.

    It sounds like you and Chris both did great. I'm so glad that you were able to welcome Benjamin to this world in such a warm and loving atmosphere!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing, Sonja! It might be my baby fever but I got all choked up when I read it. I know I'm not going to say this right, but I'm so impressed with your 'mental focus'...I'm afraid that is the one part that would slip on me the quickest. The more serious we get about having children, the more we're reading up on it, and hearing experiences like yours helps us to understand what to expect. We appreciate it!

  7. Andrew8:31 AM

    Wow, what a great read. I'm all choked up. Cam and I think of you guys every day and can't wait for Benjamin and Henry to meet :)