Tuesday, October 18, 2011

our birth story

disclaimer: i used to think birth stories were silly.  but then i got pregnant and read ina may's guide to childbirth, the first 100 pages of which are filled with different women's birth stories.  i found it incredibly helpful to read and get a better understanding of the wide range of things that can happen during a normal birth.

so i present to you here our birth story.  i pray that it will be an encouragement to you wherever you are at in life, whether or not you have ever given birth or hope to.

to give you some background to my pregnancy, around 30 weeks my midwife expressed concern about the size of my stomach, which led to tests and eventually my pregnancy being labeled "high risk" when our baby appeared to be significantly smaller than she should have been.  the last 3 months of pregnancy i had to get non-stress tests twice a week to make sure she was doing ok (which i disliked and tried to get out of doing, but the doctor who ordered them wouldn't change his mind :/ ).  a few weeks before the due date, i started to suspect that the due date i had been given was probably a little off (too early) which would have explained her small size.  unfortunately, the doctor who works with my midwife wasn't willing to change the due date (my midwife seemed to also suspect the due date was wrong, but it wasn't in her power to change it).

some other important background to know was that we had decided very early on to try to have a natural birth: no epidural, no pitocin, and definitely no cesarean section, Lord willing.  i always said "Lord willing" because i do realize that there are situations in which all of these things are helpful and necessary, but i believe that they are vastly over-used in our country, and they should in general be a last resort because of the risks to mother and baby.  the diagnosis of the pregnancy as being high risk gave me some concern because i knew it made it much more likely that i would have to get one of these interventions but i also had assurance knowing that my midwife is a big advocate of natural birth and would be key in making the type of birth that we wanted possible.

how it all went down...

my due date came and went, with no signs of our baby wanting to come out to the "real world".  fortunately, neither alex or i were too antsy for her to come, and it even worked out well because he was able to be a groomsman in our friend's wedding that we weren't sure we would be able to attend (the wedding was a week after the due date).  after the wedding the wait became a little harder because we were in a bit of a crunch: she had to come before i hit 42 weeks or my midwife would be forced to hand my case over to a doctor (because i would be considered really high risk at that point).  the hard thing about that was the fact that i felt like the due date was wrong, so it was uncomfortable to be under such an arbitrary (and possibly inaccurate) deadline.

two days before the deadline, i finally started to have regular birth rushes, about 2 every hour (a term coined by ina may, i prefer "birth rushes" over contractions, but i use them interchangeably in this story).  but they were really light and didn't seem to be progressing towards anything.  the next day i had my last appointment with my midwife, where she did two things to hopefully naturally kick-start labor: sweeping the membranes and prescribing a high dose of castor oil (which releases oxytocin in the body, the hormone that increases during labor).  then i sent a message to pretty much every christian i know asking for prayer that labor would start, so that i wouldn't have to be artificially induced the next morning.

God answered pretty quickly.  that morning right after the appointment the birth rushes started coming about every 10 minutes.  they weren't too intense to start out, and i was able to run some errands.  after lunch they were a bit more serious, and i needed to lie down for a bit.  at that point, they were coming every five minutes and lasting about a minute each.  this is usually about the time they tell you to head to the hospital, but i wanted to stay at home as long as possible, and i doubted that i was very far along in labor anyways since it had just started a few hours previous.  to relax better and ease the intensity, i took a long bath which felt amazing (makes me highly consider a water birth for our next!).

after getting out, alex asked me how it was going.  in my head, i was realizing that we needed to start thinking about going to the hospital, but was hoping to wait til after dinner.  when i told him the frequency and intensity of the rushes, he got concerned and said that we should consider leaving sooner.  at that point, they were just under a minute long, but coming every 3-4 minutes.

i didn't want to get hungry at the hospital (since they wont let you eat during labor) because that would make having a natural birth more difficult, so i insisted that we eat a light dinner before leaving.  i made smoothies and toast, which was a light but nourishing meal to power me through the last part of labor.  after we ate, we finished packing the car and headed out for the hospital.

the car ride was brutal.  the birth rushes moved from being really intense to actually painful, and i had nothing else to turn my attention toward (at home i was doing housework, the bath, making dinner, etc to distract myself).  i also couldn't find a comfortable position to sit or lay down.  on top of all this, one of my labor nightmares had come true: we were driving to the hospital during the heaviest hour of LA traffic (5pm on a weekday).  eventually (about an hour later) we got there, and i couldn't have been more relieved.

after parking and getting checked in (which probably lasted about 10 minutes but felt much longer) we finally got into the labor/delivery room.  i was eager to find out how far along i was, because it would give me an idea of how "close" we were, especially since i felt like i had to be pretty far along (at least over five centimeters i was guessing).  after doing some vital signs, the nurse reported to me that i was three centimeters dilated.  my heart sunk (ten centimeters is full dilation, at which point you can start pushing).  if i was only three centimeters at that point, it meant that i probably had a very long time to go before i could even start pushing.  i was beginning to highly doubt that i could go through the whole labor without an epidural.

my midwife got there soon after that, and i expressed my disappointment with my progress.  she suggested that we try breaking the bag of waters to speed things up and i agreed.  she broke it, and left to go home for a short time just to have dinner and change clothes, and then she would be back with plenty of time before i would need to start pushing.

after about 15 more minutes of labor, i started to feel an urge to push with the contractions, which i have read means that you are fully dilated and your body is ready for you to start pushing.  at first i ignored the feeling, thinking that there is no way i could actually be fully dilated at that point.  but after a few rushes that i was sure were pushing contractions, i called the nurse back into the room.  she checked me, reported that i was nine centimeters dilated, told me to make sure that i was NOT pushing with the contractions and rushed out to call my midwife to come back to the hospital ASAP.

the next 20 minutes or so were some of the longest, hardest minutes of my life.  when you have a pushing contraction it feels great to push with it.  it is torture to try to relax or fight against the urge to push.  at this point, the rushes were lasting about a minute each with only about 30 seconds to rest in between.  i felt like i was being hit by wave after wave of contractions with almost no rest in between, and without the luxury of pushing when i needed to.  the only thing that got me through was to concentrate on breathing, which distracted me a bit from wanting to push, because i knew that if my oxygen got low, they would have to perform a c-section.  to my embarassment i was in so much pain i was yelling, and i felt bad because i could tell i was scaring alex.

finally my midwife got back to the hospital, and i was allowed to start pushing.  during the first push her heart rate dropped very low, and they were concerned that the cord may be around her neck.  i was concerned because i thought that it might mean that i would need a c-section.  they put me on oxygen and continued to monitor her vital signs.

fortunately, she was out so quickly there was almost no time to consider anything like a c-section.  i cant remember exactly how many times i pushed before she was out, but it was something like four or five pushing contractions.  in other words, it was really fast.  all i remember is that they kept saying "she is coming!" but i didn't want to look and be disappointed if she wasn't as far along as i was hoping.  but before i knew it i felt her head slide out, then her body, and then they laid her on my stomach.

i was too weak/dazed to turn her, so i just stared at the grey-brown hair on the top of her head for a couple minutes.  i was a little bit in shock to actually see the little being that had been inside of me for so many months.

after she laid on me for a while and they cut the umbilical cord, they weighed her and she was 6 lb 15.5oz, which was my exact weight at birth!  the day before my mom said that she hoped esther would be the same birth weight as me, and it actually happened.  a few minutes later my midwife confirmed our suspicions: because of esther's weight and the amount of vernix she was born with, she was likely a 38 week old baby.  so she wasn't overdue after all!

the biggest thing i have felt about esther's birth is gratefulness.  despite various issues that came up, the delivery was unmedicated and fairly easy (even though the very last part of it was much harder than i anticipated!).  and now we have beautiful baby esther.

thank you Lord for your kindness to us. :)


  1. Congratulations Sarah, Alex & Esther! A great story of God's grace that despite some human calculation errors (due date) he allowed it go so naturally! Awesome! Great story to read as we prepare for our 2nd natural birth (Lord willing :)). -Jessica Darling

  2. Congrats! I am so excited for you both!! She is beautiful! --Heather Slagle

  3. I'm so happy that everything worked so well! I agree that I never liked birth stories until I was pregnant (and I think it was Ina May's book that my prenatal yoga instructor read birth stories from that made me really appreciate them!) Thanks for sharing Sarah!