Writing out my birth story has always been cathartic for me, helping me to process the experience and to document the labor and birth while they’re still fresh in my mind. If I could sum up each of my births in a general statement, my first would be my “natural birth attempt + a terrible hospital experience,” my second would be my “powerfully healing natural birth,” and this third birth would be my “smoothest birth with a unplanned, yet deliberate epidural.” Strange title, huh? Let’s begin.
[And as usual, in case you missed it this is a birth story and yes, I go into the details so stop reading if that is not your thing. ;)]
My last month of pregnancy coincided with Advent, and it was both beautiful and frustrating. It was meaningful awaiting the birth of our child and the birth of Christ, however part of me was so tired of waiting and I greatly desired to just have the baby before Christmas. It didn’t help that it seemed like everyone I knew that was pregnant and due that month (or even after me) were all having their babies before me. After going 41 weeks with the other two, I should have been used to that by then, right?
By the time my due date rolled around, I was still pregnant as usual. Two days after my due date was a Saturday. We had received an Audobon family pass from my in-laws for Christmas, so in an effort to get in some family time and get my mind off labor we drove into New Orleans to spend the morning at the aquarium. It ended up being more trouble than what it was worth, since it was incredibly crowded from all the New Year’s tourists. The aquarium was mostly hot and stuffy with people everywhere, so needless to say we basically visited all the exhibits swiftly and left for home before lunchtime.
Later that night, Ross and I hung out watching the Durrells in Corfu on Amazon Prime and eventually went to bed around 11. Barely thinking about it, as I got ready for bed I put my birth plan on the kitchen counter along with my checkbook and phone charger as if I would need them the next morning (heh heh).
At 4:15am I woke up with regular contractions coming at around every 6-7 minutes. To avoid waking up Ross, I moved into the living room to labor by the light of our Christmas tree. Compared to my previous two births, things were picking up much more quickly. Pretty soon I moved back into the bedroom and woke up Ross. Contractions were every 5 minutes and I began feeling the need to moan through them. By then it was probably about 5:30am. Ross texted his dad (who happened to be in the middle of his weekly adoration hour) to give him a heads up that they should probably pick up the kids soon.
Around this point, I began to have a lot of anxiety about the birth. I knew that I wasn’t in transition and that I still had a while to go, but for the first time ever in my life I began to think, “I want an epidural.”
As we began to slowly pack things up and get dressed to leave, there was a strange 20 minutes where my contractions all of a sudden decreased to 30 seconds in length and to 2 minutes apart. We called my doctor and the hospital, alerted my in-laws, and around 6:30am we were ready to head out the door. Before we left contractions began to calm back down to being a minute long and 5 minutes apart.
After saying goodbye to the kids and leaving them with their Mimi and Pawpaw at our house, we went out into the chilly and wet dawn (where I discovered that contractions totally up their game when your body’s cold). Eventually we got to the hospital and inside my room. It was quiet on the delivery floor much like last time, and the nurses were even sweeter.
Once we were settled in, and I was free to labor around the room, I vocalized to Ross for the second time about how I was considering an epidural. Though my body remembered how to let go and loosen up during contractions from my labor with Rainer, the problem was that I honestly didn’t feel like I was in a good place mentally and emotionally.
While laboring on my feet and on the yoga ball, I allowed myself time to ruminate on the epidural decision. I knew that no matter what, especially if I were to get an epidural, I still needed to help get baby into a good position. Ross and I talked about it for a while off and on, and eventually I made my decision knowing that he would support me in whatever I chose. Around maybe 9 or 10am, I told my nurse my final decision with peace – that I would get the epidural. I waited as long as I could because I knew there was a limited window of time left. By this time, I had moved to the bed to labor leaning back. It was honestly the most comfortable position to labor in strangely enough.
Around maybe 11am, the epidural was put in, and then…we relaxed. The quiet and the peace was so comforting. It really was what I needed at the time. Beforehand my anxiety was really tensing me up, and it was a relief to have that quiet time with Ross to reflect. We talked about name ideas, I listened to Bishop Barron’s homily for that Sunday morning, I read the Mass readings. Around 12pm I requested a peanut ball because baby was sort of up bunched up on my left side. (It’s basically a huge foam peanut shaped ball that you put in between your legs while side-lying to help open up your pelvis).
Praise God throughout this entire time my contractions didn’t slow down from the epidural. Instead they seemed to have picked up with intensity, and as time passed I could feel baby get into a better position. Ross and I drifted in and out of sleep. At some point my nurse checked me after I said that baby felt much lower. My water bag broke as she was checking me and she announced that I was at 8-9cm. Pretty soon after that, I began to feel the urge to push and I could feel baby move down on her own with each contraction. By this time the other nurses were in the room getting things ready, and I was worried my doctor wouldn’t get in on time because baby was really ready to get out. Once he did arrive, they helped Ross get ready as well (he was going to catch her, like he did with Rainer). I pushed once until baby was crowning, and then I pushed again and there she was in my arms in her newborn glory of vernix along with that sweet, sweet relief and wave of peace. After just 13 hours of labor (short for me, since I’m usually laboring for a day and a half), our Ruth Siobhán was born at 3:13pm on New Year’s Eve 2017 on the Feast of the Holy Family, weighing at around the same birth weight and length as her siblings, 8lbs, 6oz and 20in.
Everything immediately following the birth was wonderfully seamless and non disruptive. For the first time, I was actually able to keep my baby skin to skin with me from birth until hours later. I had never been able to experience that before (Lúthien swallowed meconium and had to go to the NICU, while Rainer swallowed a lot of amniotic fluid and had to be checked out in the nursery for a couple hours). Our pediatric nurse was lovely and encouraged me to take my time with Ruth. In fact every single one of our nurses was wonderful.
I rang in the new year that night while she was nursing with Ross dozing on the hospital couch nearby while fireworks went off from a few miles away.
Reflecting back on the birth, especially after discussing everything together with my husband, we agreed that while the epidural was not “planned,” it was a decision made with careful thought that gave me peace. My pregnancy with Ruth was an overwhelming time for the both of us for several reasons, and the stress and anxiety seemed to carry into the birth. And while I still highly value the experience of natural and non medicated birth, I am also learning the importance of giving yourself grace.