How a high-risk pregnancy became a happy, healthy, hypno-birth.
Elements of my birth story started in 2010, because that’s when I got cancer and a major blood clot. I’m better now. But, it caused some medical complications that put me in the category of “high risk” even though my pregnancy itself was perfectly healthy. The ordeal was the reason that I gave birth under the care of an MFM and OB in a top-notch teaching hospital with a Level III NICU, even though my intention was to have a calm, unmedicated and completely natural birth. This is what I wanted not just because I suspected a midwife would “risk me out.” I did this because I know things can go wrong and I wanted to be among the doctors in case anything unhealthy came up.
My due date, July 26, 2013, came and went. My doctors started to see me every other day and were agitating towards inducing me. I started doing everything I could at home to help bring labor before that 41-and-a-half week induction date came.
When I was a few days past my due date, I started having more regular Braxton Hicks contractions. Maybe they were actual contractions because they were so regular. I went to the hospital at one point when they had been very regular for about 12 hours just in case, but went back home after confirming I was not in active labor (not before declining another offer to induce— why!?). They were painless though, and this reinforced an intuition I was having that labor would be easy. I’m glad I had this intuition because it gave me confidence. I would later find out my intuition was totally wrong. These contractions were continuous for a few days leading up to the real deal.
On July 30, I awoke at 3am with contractions that were unlike the rest. Painful. I don’t remember if I woke Paul, but I got out of bed and leaned over the yoga ball until things felt better. I think I watched some Netflix on the iPad in this dangling position. I tried to rest and let time pass. I tried not to get my hopes up but was pretty sure I was officially in early labor.
A few hours later, it was light out and contractions were too disruptive to allow me to be distracted by television. I started listening to my birthing affirmations, which were wonderful and calming. I started timing contractions, not sure whether birth was within hours or days or another week. Paul started wrapping up work for paternity leave, taking conference calls from the other room and occasionally asking me for contraction times. I eventually saw that according to the numbers, birth was within hours. By some combination of not believing it and not wanting to have to go to the hospital, I stopped timing and started fudging the numbers I gave Paul, telling him that the contractions were not progressing when they actually were. I just remembered that; probably have not told him.
We walked a couple blocks downtown to get lunch. I had planned to eat through labor, to keep up my strength and because I love eating. In this state, though, I could not eat. I also could not really sit in the booth; I had the urge to be in motion and I could not fight it. I had to keep walking and keep moving. Paul took his sandwich to go after seeing me silently get up and walk out of the restaurant. I walked as much as I could but eventually had to go back home and collect myself.
I labored at home for 12 hours, so at around 3pm I became very inwardly-focused in order to stay in control of my pain. The contractions were a fierce jolt that was much more severe than I could have imagined, and more severe than I can figure out how to describe. Each one felt like my body ripping from the inside out, like a tree split apart by lightening. I was trying not to picture it but that was how I felt.
I used everything I had learned in my hypno-birthing classes to breathe calmly through the pain. It was working. I wasn’t panting or holding my breath—just taking very long inhales and longer exhales. I focused on calming mental images and places and it displaced the terror. It felt nourishing although hard. I also invented coping mechanisms on the fly. I counted during every contraction. I wasn’t counting anything specific, just counting up. Usually when I got near 60 it would pass.
I told Paul that I did not want to go to the hospital; I wanted to stay home. Have a home birth, impromptu, just the two of us. He thought that was a bad idea and decided it was time to drive me in.
I lost concentration in the car ride. I could not get comfortable. I lost mental control over my pain and I let it start to panic me. I was a bit of a wreck getting checked in. I don’t really remember it. When I was given my room, I demanded the nurse help me find a way to get comfortable. She suggested things that I tried and they did not work. They did an exam and told me I was 5cm dilated. I had labored for 12 hours and expected to be 8 or 9 or 10. I didn’t plan to labor in the hospital; I wanted to show up just in time to push. I was crushed. Defeated, I asked for an epidural. I figured that at this rate, labor would take days and I wanted an escape.
Paul, very gently, reminded me that for several months I had been planning to forgo the epidural and that it was not what I said I wanted. The nurse said if that was the case, maybe I could wait an hour and if I still wanted it, I could have it. They were brilliant and I am so grateful. Paul suggested I get into the tub—another stroke of genius because in my condition I had completely forgotten that my room came with a private jacuzzi. Once I got off of the horrible hospital bed and into the warm tub, everything became manageable again.
By this time, even the birthing affirmations and my relaxation script were too distracting. Instead, I had this very quiet relaxation music playing. I counted every time a contraction seized me, and usually got to 100. Paul sat nearby and was quiet and hit play whenever the music stopped. I think he played Angry Birds on his phone and I was grateful for his close proximity while leaving me alone.
The deal with the hospital was that I was allowed to have no IV and not be hooked up to anything, as long as they could measure Felix’s heart rate and do other non-intrusive monitoring once per hour. So every 45 minutes, Paul helped me out of the tub, onto the bed or near enough the bed to be strapped up. Then they found Felix’s strong little heartbeat, a new bath was run and I went back in. I kept declining cervical exams because I did not want to be discouraged like I was at check-in, and because I did not want them to have cause to intervene. The doctor was a resident, younger than me, and it was easy to tell her no every time she came in and asked. I found her to be a distraction and I wanted her gone every time I encountered her.
I labored through a nurse shift change, which was excellent because I believe the first shift told the second shift to assign me the crunchiest, birthiest nurse they had. My nurse was a mama who four months earlier successfully used the hypnobirth method to deliver her little boy. She told me this and that I was doing a great job. She helped Paul help me—told him ways to encourage me, dimmed the lights a little more for me, and helped keep things quiet. She read my birth plan and I think she was responsible for making sure all of my various staff (it was a teaching hospital so I had many) did as well. She could sense that I wanted to deal with no person but Paul and she respected that.
Eventually my poor hapless resident came back in and asked to please let her measure my progress. I think there was mention of some policy and I was an hour or two past it. I was so scared, but Paul told me it was ok and so did my trusted nurse, so I consented. I also did not want to be evicted from my wonderful room with the dim lights and tub for violating policy. That resident had excellent news for me—I was fully dilated after only 5 hours—which as it happens is what the hospital wants and I think is generally an unrealistic expectation. I think I got there because— with help— I was able to stay calm enough to keep labor from stalling.
Paul said he expected me to not have dilated much because he could see this seismograph thing showing my contractions running alongside six others (corresponding to the six other women in labor on the floor.) Mine were gentle waves compared with all others’ spiky cliffs and he assumed it meant no progress. Paul also said that I did not appear to be in pain. Let me tell you, I was. I was completely wrecked. But he does a funny impression of me having a contraction, where he basically calmly turns his head, exhales, and in a monotone voice, says, “That was painful.” All of this I attribute to hypno-birthing.
Even though I was fully dilated, little Felix’s head wasn’t all the way down yet so it wasn’t time to push. The doctors told me they’d be back in an hour. Once they were gone, the nurse told me to do what my body felt like doing and to push if I felt the urge—but to tell her. This is where hypno-birthing failed me. It described pushing as “breathing the baby down.” So for an hour I did this thing that I thought was pushing (it wasn’t) and pretty much fully exhausted myself. I’m sure it would look hilarious to anyone who knows what a push is supposed to look like—I was pushing air out my nose which of course was pretty much the wrong hemisphere to be pushing out of. At the end of the hour, Felix’s head was engaged for birth (yay!) but I was so fully, completely exhausted that I could barely speak. Maybe my non-pushing engaged his head and was good, maybe it was completely pointless; I’m not sure.
My nemesis the resident came back in and told me to push and I said no. I couldn’t. She offered me an epidural at this point. (Incase you don’t know, this would be the absolute dumbest time to get an epidural even if I wanted one because it negates the ability to push and is meant to get a woman through the pain of dilating, which I had done.) I told her no, I was tired, not in pain. If I could have rolled my neck and snapped my fingers at her to underline my point, I would have. I wanted her gone. She left.
In his third brilliant move of the day, Paul picked up a small foil-lidded cup of fluorescent juice drink and informed me that I must drink it immediately. I was nearing 24 hours of labor and had not had anything to eat or drink in about 10 hours—he kept gently offering and I kept strongly refusing. I drank it and it was sugary and I was immediately infused with a second wind. The resident came back, this time with a reinforcement. She was the chief resident—a woman who I believe is either secretly a midwife or some sort of medical dominatrix.
She got me in line. I told her I could not push and she told me not only could I push, but I had to. She asked me about Felix, what his name was, and told me that I was almost done. I told her that maybe at this point a cesarean would be best and she told me that even though I was saying I wanted that, she knew I really did not. She told me she knew what I wanted, and that it was to finish this process I started and to see Felix. I kind of pushed and she told me, in so many words, that I was lousy at pushing. It was the truth. I told her I couldn’t and she looked me in the eye and commanded me to push harder. I wanted to keep arguing with her but she scared me so I listened to her. I pushed correctly and she congratulated me. She said she was seeing his head and Paul confirmed.
I pushed with slow progress for longer than they were supposed to let me, but with every contraction, little Felix’s heart rate was strong and regular like they wanted and I think my nurse was helping me violate protocol here and there.
The chief resident, in her infinite wisdom, had the nurse bring out a mirror so that I could see the smallest bit of Felix’s head emerging at the apex of each push, before going back in. My water still had not broken but I pushed and saw his little head through this bizarre white membrane. I was lying on the bed to push because I was too tired to be anywhere but on a bed. She adjusted the bed to a good squatting angle, installed a squatting bar, and had me hang on to a towel wrapped around that bar. In this most absurd position everything felt—not great—but correct. I could feel that birth was imminent.
When I really saw his head I suddenly had an incredibly productive push and his head was halfway out. This broke my water. I was told to hold off and not push more because, despite the fact that I had approximately a soccer team in my room, none of them were the attending physician and he had to be there for the delivery. My guardian chief resident also told me that I needed to give my body a minute to stretch before I pushed all the way. I had by this time learned to fear and obey her. The next period of time—a minute or maybe a half hour— was truly odd. I just waited, staring at the crown of Felix’s head in that mirror, halfway in and halfway out. The attending came in—a complete stranger, and gave me permission to deliver. In one push I did, and Felix came fully out, started crying, was put immediately on my chest.
The attending went for the cord clamp. In unison, all of us—me, Paul, my nurse, abused lackey resident, and my hero the chief resident said “delayed cord clamping!” And the attending grumbled and set the clamp aside. Felix was pink and cried and I brought him to my breast and he latched on (the wrong way, oh well) and I stopped observing anything else. Paul cut the cord once the pulsing had stopped, and I remember being a little sad at the disconnection. He said it was like cutting through an alien garden hose. The nurse let me keep him there well past that first hour, but did eventually ask to weigh and measure him because she said she might get in trouble if she waited much longer. Who knows what time that was. Paul followed Felix, and Felix cried, but quieted down when Paul spoke, I think because he recognized the sound. The attending collected blood from the umbilical cord, as well as the cord itself, so that we could bank the stem cells that we will hopefully never need. He complained that collecting the sample was very hard to do after delayed cord clamping. I have a whole mental list of things I wish I would have said to him in that moment, complaining to me about his task being hard. I had no response in the moment.
Felix was born at 3:11 a.m., after 24 hours of labor and 2.5 hours of pushing (3.5 if you count my extra rogue hour.) His head was kind of pointy and he was a perfect, chubby 8-plus pounds.