Our baby boy is here! Axel Engell arrived on October 11th, 2018 at 4:38am, weighing 6 lbs 13 oz and measuring 20 inches long. His arrival was an everyday miracle, an experience that I never want to forget, so I’m sharing my birth story here while it’s still somewhat fresh in my mind.
Signs of Pre-Labour
Axel’s estimated due date was Monday, October 15th, but as of October 8th, at the end of Thanksgiving weekend, I had a feeling that he would be coming before the following weekend. At my 38 week doctor’s appointment (the last appointment I would have) my doctor performed a Stretch and Sweep to help kickstart things, and hubs and I were both ready for baby to come so we were doing what we could on our end to help naturally induce him. On Wednesday, October 10th, the first day of Week 39, I woke up with a feeling that it could be my last chance to take my final weekly bump photo, and sure enough, at 3pm that afternoon, about 20 minutes after I finished taking that picture, I felt some mild abdominal cramping accompanied by very light spotting — a sign that I was in early labour. Since early labour can last for a few days, I didn’t really think much of it and carried on with my day, putting up swatches of paint samples on the wall of my home office and getting the latest batch of baby clothes I had received from a friend washed, sorted and put away. I had dinner plans with friends later that evening and was supposed to meet them at the restaurant at 6:30pm, but I continued to have intermittent cramps (they felt like mild menstrual cramps) so I bailed on dinner at around 4:30. I still didn’t think the cramping meant I would be having a baby later that night, but felt uncomfortable enough to not want to leave the house. Well, it’s a good thing I cancelled!! I finally started thinking, Okay, something could be happening here, so I rushed to get dinner made. By 6:45, I was having significant enough pain that I knew I should start timing and recording my contractions, and that’s the moment that I feel like I officially went into labour. My contractions over the next few hours were very irregular and short, slowly building up in intensity. I had been texting with my doula, Elizabeth, since 7pm and at 10:30 I felt like it was probably time to have her come over. Elizabeth arrived an hour later and was instrumental in helping me get through my contractions and managing my pain.
My Birth Plan
Before I get to the exciting part, I want to share my birth plan. My birth plan consisted of a short list of preferences:
Baby’s father cuts the umbilical cord
Delayed cord clamping (1-3 minutes)
Skin-to-skin immediately after birth
Those last two points weren’t really necessary as part of my plan because they are standard procedure at the hospital I delivered at (they wait to clamp the cord after 1 minute and skin-to-skin is encouraged), and in the moment, Taylor decided he didn’t want to cut the cord. We also didn’t have music playing because there wasn’t even time for it! But I was very happy that I got to have the epidural-free, vaginal birth that I wanted, without needing an episiotomy, and a few things I did during pregnancy contributed to this, like taking prenatal yoga and doing perineal massage, but the most important contributing factor was having a doula. There is no way I could have gotten through labour and delivery without an epidural if it were not for Elizabeth to help me manage the pain. Which brings me back to her arrival at my house at 11:30pm on Wednesday night…
The Labour Process
When Elizabeth arrived, we set ourselves up in the tv room with all the lights out except for a small lamp (the darkness was very soothing). We sat on the sofa calmly and quietly chatting between contractions, and then when I felt a contraction coming on, I got down on my knees on the cozy shag rug and draped arms and upper body over my stability ball. (I also spent some of my time between contractions sitting on the ball, alternately rolling my hips and bouncing on it to keep labour from regressing.) Elizabeth then used both her hands to put pressure on my lower back until the contraction was over. Even though we had gone through a bunch of different possible labouring positions during one of Elizabeth’s previous visits, this one was so effective that it was the only one we used. The magic that she performed with her hands was a life-saver, it really helped me to better cope with the pain of each contraction.
Elizabeth used an app to time and record my contractions, and they steadily increased in frequency and duration for the next three and a half hours. We reached a point where my contractions were about 5 minutes apart and anywhere between 42-55 seconds long, and this had been the pattern for at least an hour (the threshold for knowing when it’s time to go to the hospital is the 3-1-1 rule: when contractions are 3 minutes apart, they last for 1 minute, and that’s been happening for 1 hour, that’s when you know it’s time to go). I felt like I had more time and wanted to labour in the comfort of my home for as long as possible, but then suddenly THINGS GOT INTERESTING. I took a brief 10 minute nap on the couch and when I woke up with my next contraction, the pain of it brought me to my hands and knees on the floor and I couldn’t even make it to my stability ball that was only two feet away from me. I suddenly felt — and heard — a loud pop followed by a gush of fluid. It was my waters breaking (time stamp 3:22am), and I immediately knew it was time to go to the hospital. As of that moment, my contractions went from 5 minutes apart to coming one after another, and the pain intensity level increased drastically. I yelled for Taylor to wake up and he sprung into action, feeding the pets and taking the dog out while I readied myself to go. We had planned on taking a cab to the hospital but I knew there wasn’t time so Taylor drove us. It was the middle of the night so there wasn’t any traffic and I was urgently demanding him to drive through all of the red lights wherever it was safe to do so. I was in so much pain that I couldn’t even sit all the way on the seat and I was sort of just hovering over it, using the door and the centre console to elevate myself. I think I had 3 or 4 contractions on the way to the hospital and they were fist-clenching, knuckle-whitening, vein-popping kind of painful, and Elizabeth couldn’t use her magic hand pressure but she could still coach me to breathe (horse lips!) from the backseat which was extremely helpful. When we arrived at the hospital and I got out of the car, I let out a primal scream and had another contraction, this time feeling the urge to push. I I swear, I thought I was going to deliver my baby in the entryway! A security guard saw us arrive and was waiting inside with a wheelchair that I sat on in a sort of sideways position, and Elizabeth wheeled me as fast as she could towards the Labour and Delivery unit that is conveniently located down a LONG HALLWAY and up an elevator to the 15TH FLOOR where we had to ring a doorbell and WAIT FOREVER for someone to buzz us in, then headed down another long hallway to the nursing station. (Taylor, who went to park the car in the lot across the street, caught up with us by the time we reached the nursing station — time stamp: right around 4am.) The nurses asked all sorts of questions, like how far apart my contractions were and other things I don’t even remember because I was in so much pain. Elizabeth thankfully fielded all their questions and, from that, the nurses learned just how far along I was so I bypassed having to go to triage and they put me into a delivery room right away.
Taylor helped me get undressed and I lay down on the bed on my side. I remember there were 4 nurses/residents in the room and the on-call doctor was on his way (my OB/GYN wasn’t on call that night). I was asked if I wanted an epidural and I declined. I went in telling the staff that I didn’t want to know how many centimetres dilated I was, because I read that finding out you’re less dilated that you had thought or hoped can actually cause labour to regress and I didn’t want that. They checked me, and then one of the nurses asked me how much I wanted to know. The way she asked me made it seem like her question was hinting at something, so I said okay, just tell me. Turns out I was at 10cm — fully dilated!!! Good thing we got to the hospital when we did! I had 2 or 3 contractions while laying on my side as the staff prepped for delivery and I remember calling out for Elizabeth to come and do that amazing thing she did with her hands on my back. (I later learned that she asked Taylor if he wanted to “take the next one” but he declined, since she was so effective at it and he didn’t want to mess with what was working. That’s the amazing thing about having a doula — they are there to support both the mom and the dad/spouse/birth partner, and Taylor was just as thankful to have Elizabeth there as I was.) Everything was quickly prepped and it was time for me to roll onto my back and get into position. I was already crowning and ready to push with the next contraction. (By this point in time, it felt like I was going to “poop the baby out of me” and I even said that aloud a few times, ha!) When the baby is coming down the birth canal, it’s a “two steps forward, one step backward” sort of process, so you push during a contraction and baby comes down, he slides back up a little when you stop pushing. By the third (or maybe it was the fourth) contraction that I pushed through, I felt like I was losing energy and I really didn’t want him to slip back in and have to push all over again, so I used that as motivation to keep pushing even after the contraction ended. Plus, I had the doctors and nurses telling me he was almost out and to keep pushing, and sure enough, there he was! It’s hard to describe the pain of childbirth, but I’ll try: Contractions feel like menstrual cramps times 1,000; pushing baby down the birth canal is a whole mess of sharp yet short bursts of allover burning pain; and once the head is out, the rest of the baby’s body coming out feels like a corkscrew twisting in reverse. But once Axel was out and he was placed on my chest, all pain went away and I was intensely focused on the little baby that was in my belly only moments ago. I fell in love with him instantly! He lay on my chest for about half an hour before creeping towards my breast for his first feeding. One of the practitioners stitched me up while Axel and I were having our bonding skin-to-skin time — I tore very minimally and required only two stitches (I’m so glad I did perineal massage in the two weeks leading up to the birth). The entire birth experience while at the hospital happened so fast — it took place in only about a half an hour. I’m very happy that I got to labour in the comfort of my own home for as long as possible. Even though the hospital portion was only half an hour, I laboured over the course of 9 hours.
Why I Decided Against an Epidural
First of all, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with epidurals and I don’t think that women who chose to have one are making a bad decision. In fact, I was open to having one if I decided in the moment that I couldn’t handle the pain. The reason I chose to have a natural birth was because I didn’t want all the medical interventions that come along with it, and because its one benefit (reduced pain) outweighed its many disadvantages (for both myself and for baby). Getting an epidural means having 6 medical interventions: First, there’s the obvious, the epidural itself (1), which consists of getting a needle in your spine and a tube inserted for the pain medication to be administered. Because the epidural numbs you from the waist down, you can’t get up to pee (nor can you feel the urge to go) so you have to be given a catheter (2) to drain your bladder. Since having an epidural causes your blood pressure to drop, this puts baby at risk, so internal and external fetal monitoring (3 & 4) are required, plus you have to wear a blood pressure cuff (5). You’re also required to have an IV (6) inserted in the back of your hand to provide fluids. I didn’t want to be hooked up to all this equipment, and I wanted to be free to move around during labour. Having an epidural also slows labour down and I certainly didn’t want to prolong the experience. An epidural increases the risk of having a C-section and I had my heart set on having a vaginal birth. Despite the intense pain I endured, I’m happy with my decision to refuse an epidural and I have no regrets.
We spent the next few days in the hospital but I’ll talk more about that and about bringing baby home in an upcoming post.
I really enjoyed being pregnant but I’m happy that phase is over, and I’m grateful to have had the birth experience that I hoped for and that a healthy baby was the result. Now on to the next phase — raising our son!