Nothing I ever write will ever be able to accurately capture the fourty-four hours that I spent in the hospital laboring for Penelope. While the day of her birth was only a short week ago, it’s already a blur except for a few moments that are cemented in my brain more vividly than I can explain. I’ll try to do the best in this birth story to explain Penny’s story, and I forewarn you in advance that I will likely get very weepy and very spiritual when I discuss this experience – the pinnacle of my life thus far.
For those who know me well or have followed this blog for some time, you will know that I chose to use midwives because of their hands-off approach to labor and delivery. I very much wanted a natural vaginal delivery with as few interventions as possible. The biggest challenge of my pregnancy was to reconcile myself with the fact that my all-powerful God had a plan that very well might differ from the plan that I had for Penny’s birth. Ultimately, He was in control, and with the strength he equipped me, I was able to face my greatest fears and accept the many interventions that were necessary for Penny’s health and wellbeing.
I will take this moment to say that I still believe a woman’s body is meant to deliver a baby without medical induction and intervention, and that nine times out of ten that is the best thing for mama and baby. I believe that Penny’s birth was the exception to the rule, and never once have I been disappointed in the way things played out because I believe we only chose those interventions for her safety when everything else had been tried. While I wound up having a C-section, I will adamantly state that there are far too many C-sections being performed in America. After experiencing every possible intervention myself, I would encourage women everywhere to try to avoid them unless your child is at risk. It’s neither fun, nor the way your body was meant to deliver a baby. As for me, I am hopeful that next time around I will be given the gift of a natural vaginal delivery, and am thankful for the health practitioners who made it possible for me to hope for a VBAC in the future.
And I’ll say what I have believed all along, just altered a bit now. Friends don’t let friends use OBs. Unless they’re young, quirky Jewish OBs.
Monday, June 28th
9:45 am – We arrived at the Imaging Center for an ultrasound to check Penny’s fluid levels. Before heading out for the test, I noticed my bloody show had arrived, and excitedly called my doula with hopes that I would naturally go into labor that day, twelve days late, and not need to be induced. Unfortunately while Penny looked great in the ultrasound, her fluid levels were low, so we were sent to the midwife’s office to discuss options.
At the office, our midwife informed us that yes, we would need an induction for Penny’s overall well-being. She was very flexible with us about the time of day when we should head to the hospital, but wanted us to go that day as we needed to “get this baby out.” We scheduled the induction for 7:30 that evening.
Matt and I went home to prepare ourselves for the hospital. We spent a few hours finishing our packing, feeding the cat, calling our relatives and bringing the dog to the boarder. We lay down for one last nap where we both had a very necessary breakdown. I was so disappointed with the induction and very scared of the road ahead of us. We spent a good bit of time in prayer, and I called a dear friend to pray with me. Then we tried to sleep – a hard thing to do with such a big event looming in front of you. We threw together one last dinner, scrambled eggs and toast for me – the one thing I had craved throughout my whole pregnancy – and we headed to the hospital.
7:30 pm – We arrived at the hospital and registered in Labor & Delivery. The midwife on duty, Elaine, came out to tell us that they did not have enough beds for us yet. It would be a bit of a wait, and we should grab dinner if we hadn’t eaten yet. As we had already eaten, we stared vacantly at the people walking in and out of the L&D lounge. I don’t know how else to describe the wait other than totally surreal. Like waiting on death row.
8:30 pm – Finally we were brought back to our L&D room to prep for induction. I was hooked up to the fetal monitor so the nurses could watch Penny’s heartrate and get our vitals. I was given an IV, which for me is always an event. It felt like the IV took about a half an hour since they had to stick me twice, what with my bum veins and all. During this time Penny’s heartrate was higher than Midwife Elaine would have liked, and there was concern that Penny might not be able to handle induction.
Tuesday, June 29th
12 am – 50% effaced, 0 dilation
For a few hours we watched and waited to see if Penny’s heartrate would lower to the 140s or 150s. Eventually it did, but only when our doula arrived at the hospital, and I started to calm down and lay on my side instead of my back. Late in the evening Elaine decided to do a Pitocin test to see how Penny would do with the drug. After 30 minutes of handling Pitocin well, I was taken off of it, and they prepped for cervical ripening.
3:30 am – Induction with Cytotec was begun. All I have to say here is Google Cytotec. It’s the drug for cervical ripening that you DON’T want your practitioner to use. It’s also the “cheaper” option, and the only one that is used at my hospital. All said and done, this is the only beef I had with the entire hospital in my week-long stay there, and I intend to write a letter to the hospital administrator begging that they switch to Cervidil for the sake of women and their uteruses everwhere.
7:40 am – 80% effaced, 1 cm dilated. Cervical ripening requires that the mother remain horizontal, so during these hours Matt, Doula Annie, and I were able to rest and try to catch some Z’s. At this point, my cervix was soft enough that it was determined I wouldn’t need another dose of Cytotec and that we would move on with the induction. It was also time for Midwife Elaine to switch shifts, so we said hello to Midwife Linda.
10:30 am – 80% effaced, 1 cm dilated. Before starting a Pitocin drip, Midwife Linda decided we should attempt a Foley bulb which manually dilates the cervix. Linda inserted the Foley bulb, a rather uncomfortable procedure, and while they were adding the sterile water to inflate the bulb, Penny’s heartrate started to drop. She clearly was not a fan of our friend Foley, so Linda set me free to walk around the L&D floor in hopes that contractions would start naturally.
Of course because my body was not ready for this labor, contractions did not start naturally, so we headed back into our room for a second try at the Foley bulb. This time, Penny handled it well, so Matt and I got back up to waddle around the L&D floor, now with the bulb in place and the first sign of contractions. I will say that my nurse, the lovely and gracious Mary, mentioned to me that she had never seen a woman get a Foley bulb without an epidural. I found this preposterous. Let me tell you now, if you ever need a Foley bulb inserted, you can do it without an epidural. It’s really not that bad. IVs are worse. So that’s just an aside…
1:00 pm – 80% effaced, 5 cm dilated. After a few hours of walking with Mr. Foley, I burst into exuberant tears when I heard Midwife Linda tell me that I was 5 centimeters dilated. Now it was time to get my body up to the labor level that the Foley bulb had gotten me to. I was high as a kite and very certain that I would be able to have this baby, and have her as naturally as is possible… with Pitocin that is.
1:30 pm – Pitocin induction started. It took hours for the contractions to get to a level that Midwife Linda felt was strong enough to make progress. Because of the Pitocin, I needed to stay in my L&D room hooked up to a fetal monitor and blood pressure cuff. I shifted positions every half hour and tried a number of things to deal with the pain. I found the pain easiest to manage while upright, although I spent some time on my side to try to get some rest.
6:00 pm – 80% effaced, 6 cm dilated – as in five and a half hours laboring on Pitocin and only once centimeter of progress.
6:30 pm – Midwife Linda breaks my water. I was very nervous about this because I had heard it was a painful experience to have your water broken without an epidural. I honestly can’t remember what it felt like. It was painful, but the contractions were pretty darn bad at the time, and because Penny was posterior I was having intense pain in my back which kinda took away from the pain of having my water broken. It really wasn’t any worse than just getting checked to see how far dilated you are, I guess.
For the next five and a half hours I continued to labor on Pitocin without pain medication. Everyone says these contractions are worse than normal labor contractions, but I obviously have no other experience to compare them to. Doula Annie, Matt, nurse Mary, and the newest midwife, Margaret did tremendous work to help me deal with the pain. They gave me water, jello, cold washcloths and stood around me praying through the contractions. Laboring naturally is everything that I read it would be – hard work. I felt myself get into a zone where I could focus and groan through the pain and envision Penelope in my arms. I also remember finding great relief in repeating over and over again in my head “Put it on Me” and visualizing passing the pain I was feeling off to Christ on the cross. His pain was so much greater than my own, and knowing that I could pass that off to him really took the edge off. I also asked Matt to repeat the lyrics to a song that I love, “Land me safe on Canaan’s side, bid my anxious fears, bid my anxious fears goodbye.”
At one point there was a glitch in my IV where the Pit came flooding in all at once creating back to back contractions with very little break in between. Suddenly Penny’s heartrate dropped drastically and the room filled with nurses who flipped me on my side, turned off the Pit and wound up giving me a shot into my uterus to instantly stop the contractions. As agonizing as the pain of those back to back contractions was, nothing was as scary as hearing Penny’s heartrate halve. That moment was the first time that I really understood I might need to have a C-section, should the situation arise again, and I braced myself for that out of concern for Penny’s safety.
At one point the contractions were very intense and I wound up vomiting. I remember saying to the people in the room, “Someone please tell me I’m in transition!” After being checked, I heard the devastating news that no, I was still at 6 cm. So it was time to discuss…
Wednesday, June 30th
12:00 am – Epidural. After nearly 10 1/2 hours laboring on Pitocin and only dilating one centimeter, Midwife Margaret recommended that I get an epidural. She thought that it would relax me enough to dilate the rest of the way, and would also give me some time to rest. After discussing it with Matt and Doula Annie, we decided to go ahead with the epidural.
Y’all know how petrified I am of needles, and yet I was absolutely ready for not only the pain to end, but also a chance at progressing farther in labor and the possibility of getting to push soon. One of the hardest parts of labor was waiting the fifteen or so minutes for the anesthesiologists to show up and numb me. I can’t say enough great things about the staff over at Vanderbilt. These guys somehow gently knocked out the feeling in the belly and legs of a woman who would rather die than ever see the needle they used. Matt was a trooper and sat in front of me holding my hands. At one point he had to take off his wedding ring because I was cutting his hands by squeezing them so tightly. I heart you, Matt.
With the epidural and spinal in, I was able to lay on my side for a few hours and sleep through the contractions. Midwife Margaret noticed that my water was not completely broken, so she re-broke my water. We knew that Penny was posterior and so I did the “pretzel” flipping from side to side every few hours. Matt and Doula Annie were able to rest as well, although they were always quick to jump up and help me when I needed some water or someone to move my totally limp legs.
10:30 am – 100% effaced, 10 cm dilated. When I woke up Midwife Lauren, my all-time favorite midwife, was there for her shift. She was my fourth midwife as they take 12 hour shifts. She checked me and saw that I was fully dilated and ready to push. I was so excited to get the pushing underway, to meet my daughter, and for Lauren to be the midwife to deliver her. We pushed for two and a half hours. The highlight was Matt being able to see Penny’s full head of dark hair while I was pushing. The lowest moment was finding out that Penny was unable to turn and had only moved a centimeter down the birth canal in those two and a half hours. My proudest moment, perhaps of the entire labor and delivery was when my doula suggested I push on hands and knees. Lauren didn’t think I could do it as I had no feeling in my legs from the epidural. But I pulled myself up and pushed for a half an hour on hands and knees. When asked how I was able to do it, I remember responding, “I AM NOT HAVING A C-SECTION!” About an hour later, it was time to discuss surgery.
1:00 pm – Midwife Lauren and the Obstetrician on call advised a Cesarean section. I cried. Matt cried. And then we started praying harder than we’ve ever prayed before. I asked to speak with Anesthesiologist Shane who assured me that he could give me a little something to take the edge off, although he was concerned I might forget some important moments of the surgery, such as seeing my daughter for the first time.
1:36 pm – We opted for the C-section. I opted for Shane’s cocktail to take the edge off, despite the warning that I might not remember much of the experience. Matt prepped for surgery. I felt an overwhelming calm come over me – the prayers of my family and friends, the presence of the Almighty who was bidding my anxious fears goodbye.
3:00 pm – We went in to surgery. Midwife Lauren sat next to me while Anesthesiologist Shane hooked me up phat. Lauren put in my ear buds and turned on Ben Harper’s “Live From Mars” (Disc 2) and I wafted into a blurry haze listening to “Waiting On An Angel.” I had waited and labored so long for my angel, and she was right around the corner.
This is what I remember. I remember groaning during the pressure of the initial incision. I remember the feeling as the fiesty Jewish female OB in her thirties tugged forward and backward to dislodge Penny’s head from my pelvic bone. I remember hearing a nurse say “Baby is out.” I remember hearing Penelope cry after they fixed her up. I remember Matt carrying her to my side and asking for my glasses so that I could see her. I remember how beat up her face looked and thinking she was far more beautiful than I had dreamed. I remember thinking how undeserving I was. I remember saying, “Oh my God” over and over and over again. I remember telling everyone in the operating room that they were incredible, and I would kiss them all if I could. I remember Midwife Lauren holding my hand and praying for me while they put my insides back inside of me. I remember when Matt had to leave to be with Penny and asking for my nurse Mary who came to hold my hand.
And then I was wheeled back into the L&D room and saw my beautiful doula. Shortly after my daughter was brought in and placed on my chest and doula Annie helped me nurse her for the very first time. And even though I felt like I had been beaten, raped, and left for dead in an alleyway, I looked at Penelope and all of the pain was totally gone.
Penelope Caitlyn was born at 3:42 in the afternoon. She was so stunned from her difficult journey that she scored a 1 on her one minute Apgar but later a 9 on her five minute Apgar.
She was and is a miracle. Her arrival was proof that my God exists, that He lives, that He dwells with me, that He comes when I call out for him, that He provides strength to the weary, and that He can bid my anxious fears goodbye.
Today is July 7, 2010. A year ago today I lost my first baby. It is only fitting that I celebrate the life of my second baby, my beautiful Penelope Caitlyn who has taught me so much about the grace of God, on this day which to me will always be a reminder of the fragility of life. Her birth has shown me that the best things in life come through the greatest hardships.
Priscilla! I have read this birth story a couple of times over the years ... and I wish I could just copy and paste onto a new blog and call it Isaac's story. lol Literally.... the laboring starting on 7/24/2002.... and not ending until 3:17p on 7/26/02. From the whole not dilating thing to the needing the drugs to try and relax my cervix (didn't work( to the upteen hours of pitocin. One diff is that I didn't do the midwife thing, I was a hospital person b/c I was 19 and didn't have the right coverage and expenses to do the natural way. I wasn't trying to do it "natural" but I totally didn't want the c-section ... only b/c I had known women who had c-section and it took them forever to get their bodies back b/c they didn't get all that "gunk" flushed outta them from the vaginal birth. LOL That was my reason for wanting to push and why I pushed so hard. I was 19 and apparently kinda vain. lol But our other diff is that ... after 3 hours of pushing ... on all fours and every other position ... I finally got that kid outta me! We didn't have to go to surgery but we talked an awful lot about as each hour of pushing passed and his heart rate actually started dropping during contractions b/c his head was lodged so far. Nonetheless, out he came 44 hours later, 2 weeks early on a Friday afternoon. Almost 11 years later, my teeny 5lb16oz (as his med record actually states) baby caused me to still have a muffin top anyways b/c I was sooooo huge (55lb weight gain all in my baby belly) that my stomach muscles split and my tummy droops anyways. lol So, a surgery mighta been the easier route to go after all! Plus, I could barely sit or stand for more than 5 minutes for the first month or two anyways b/c my pelvic floor was so bruised and battered and tortured that it felt like a bowling ball was trying to come outta me everytime I was upright! Man, the things we do for these kids!!! You are an awesome mom. XO ~Sara