*Just so you know, you might want to grab a protein bar or something before you read this post. It's crazy long, not especially well written, and probably includes lots of info you don't even care to know. But it's the way I want to remember Elliot's story, so it's what's getting posted.*
On the morning of July 11 (which just so happened to be our 9th anniversary) I went to an early appointment at my OB's office. She determined that I was still dilated to a 4, 70% effaced, and Mr. E was hanging out at -2 station. At my previous appointment, we had decided that if I still hadn't gone into labor at this point she'd go ahead and strip my membranes. So she did. And it wasn't fun. But, apparently, it worked!
Throughout the day I noticed that my contractions were coming more frequently and a bit stronger than normal. But there was no real pattern to them so I tried not to get too excited. By the time Katelyn and I were heading into church that evening, though, I noticed that they were definitely coming with more regularity.
As soon as I was settled into our weekly Young Adult Bible Study I started timing the contraction frequency and was suprised to realize that they were coming every six minutes and lasting for at least one minute. They were definitely stronger than the Braxton Hicks contractions I'd had since being about 17 weeks pregnant, but they weren't anything I really had to focus on or work through.
Once I was back home and had put Katelyn to bed, I called our doula, Joanna to let her know what was going on. She offered to come on over right then if I wanted her to (she lives about an hour away from us, but was just happened to be about 10 minutes away when I called). She was more than willing to camp out on our couch all night long. Knowing that the contractions could remain the same all night long (or even stop all together), I told her to go on home and that I'd let her know as soon as they started coming closer together or ramped up in difficulty.
I headed to bed...knowing full well that we could be in for a very long night. My contractions were strong enough that they woke me up throughout the night, but they never came closer together. At about 5 o'clock, I decided to head out to the couch so that I could sleep in a more upright position and ease a bit of the discomfort. That ended up being a good idea because it enabled me to get in 3 solid hours of sleep.
When I woke up at 8 o'clock I decided that it was time to go ahead and get ready for the day. I was slightly amazed that Katelyn was still sleeping (she is quite the early riser), but knew it was an answer to prayer! She ended up sleeping until 9 o'clock...which meant that I was able to eat breakfast, take a shower, shave my legs, do my hair (for some reason, I really wanted to labor with my natural curls...not the slicked back pony tail that I've been rocking on a regular basis due to it's quickness and ease), and finish packing my toiletries for the hospital.
By the time all of that was finished, the contractions were coming about 4 minutes apart and I had noticed some "bloody show". I have never in my life been so excited to see blood! It was a pretty sure sign to me that I would be meeting Elliot that day.
I talked to Joanna again and told her where things stood. She had one errand to run on our side of town and then headed straight to our place. I called my mom (well, she probably called me first...she's another early riser) and told her to come on over to pick up Katelyn, then called Jer's mom and asked her to pick up Lex (our dog).
The first thing Joanna did when she got to the house was ask me what I'd had to eat so far, told me that wasn't enough, and gave me a cheese stick and fruit bowl that she'd brought over. She and Jer also made sure that I kept sipping on water all morning. We chatted in our living room, took a walk around the block, and chatted some more. By this time, the contractions were getting a little more serious and I was having to give them more of my attention.
Since Joanna has had some midwife training, she was able to check me at this point and determined that I had progressed to a 6. That sure was music to my ears! I knew that Jer and Joanna were probably getting hungry (and that I should eat something even though I didn't feel hungry at all), so we started making lunch plans. We decided that since I was handling the contractions so well we'd hit up one of my favorite restaurants, Sweet Tomatoes (if you don't have one near you, I am very sorry).
After lunch, we headed to a nearby mall so we could do some more walking. Jer needed to buy a couple of new dress shirts from Express, too, so it was really a twofer! We weren't at the mall for long, though, when the contractions got to the point that I couldn't really talk or walk through them. Joanna suggested heading on to the hospital since it was about a twenty minute ride. She wanted to make sure that the contractions weren't too unbearable during that little trek.
Even though one of my biggest concerns was getting to the hospital too soon (I would have been perfectly happy to arrive there just as Elliot was crowning), I decided that I really didn't want to endure a miserable car ride. It was a good decision, too, because getting into a comfortable laboring position in the backseat of a smallish sedan sure wasn't easy!
When we got to the triage room of the L&D wing, I was feeling a little side-eyed by our initial nurse. I'm pretty sure she did not peg me as someone who needed to be admitted...she looked less than trilled when Jer told her we had a doula...and she seemed annoyed by my request to stay in my own clothing (which my OB had told me would be fine). Thankfully, it was another nurse who actually checked and admitted me. She was suprised to find that I was a 6 and 100% effaced, and she quickly started making calls to get me into a room.
We were admitted to our room at about 4:50. The nurse assigned to us was fabulous and very supportive of my desire to labor and deliver naturally. She was very accomodating when I asked for a hep-lock instead of an IV...didn't give me any trouble about wanting to get out of the hospital gown and into the clothes I'd chosen to wear for delivery...and didn't even flinch when I told her that I preferred to tear naturally instead of having an episiotomy.
I was a little bummed to find out that my OB was not on call, though. The attending OB arrived while I was in the midst of a contraction, so I didn't notice her until it was over. The first thing she said to me was, "So, can I check you and break your water?" No introduction. No questions about how I was doing. Nothing cordial at all!
Everything I'd read on natural birth said not to have your bag of waters artificially ruptured since that makes contractions so much more painful...so I wasn't about to have her do that just yet. At this point, I rated my pain level at a 5 (on a scale of 1-10) and I was hoping to hang out at that level for as long as possible. The OB seemed a bit peeved, asked if I was wanting to make things last longer, then let me be. When she left the room, my nurse gave me a really sympathetic look and said, "It's going to be okay. We'll be just fine."
Joanna, Jeremy, and I walked the hallways for a little bit and talked about our options. Joanna had told me earlier that many women stall for a bit once they get to a 6. She said it's like your body takes a rest before it heads into the tough work of transition. When Joanna checked me 4 hours before, she noticed that my bag of waters was still very tight. She said she didn't think it'd be breaking on its own any time soon.
With this in mind, she suggested that I either take a nap to get rested up for transition/pushing or go ahead and let the OB artificially rupture my membranes (AROM). She knew I was concerned about how that would impact my ability to labor without pain meds, but she assured me that once the water was broken I should progress very quickly to a 10.
At this point, I was still feeling great and had a lot of energy. I didn't think I could take a nap even if I tried...and I didn't want to wait too much longer for further dilation and the possibility of having to fight a pitocin drip. So, I decided to go ahead and let the OB break my water.
While we were waiting for the OB to make it back to my room, I labored on the peanut birthing ball. As each contraction came, I'd sway from side to side while Joanna or Jeremy squeezed my hips and I rested my head on pillows stacked on the hospital bed. This position was really helpful and enabled me to relax quite a bit.
By the time the OB arrived to break my water (5:45 pm) I had progressed to 7 centimeters, but my pain level was only about a 6. Immediately after AROM, the level of pain I experienced with contractions went up to about a 9. We stuck with our peanut ball routine for a while, but after a bit it wasn't really working for me anymore. In fact, the last contraction I experienced on the peanut ball was the only time I actually thought "I want an epidural".
Joanna suggested elevating the head of the hospital bed and getting into a modified "all fours" positon. This way, I could drape my torso over the head of the bed so that I didn't have to expend any energy supporting it. Jer got in the bed behind me so that he could keep squeezing my hips through each contraction. He did such a great job! After a while, I could feel his arms start to get shakey and knew he was probably worn out, but he never quit or complained...for which I am very thankful!
After laboring this way for a few contractions, I started to feel the urge to push. Once I gave even a tiny push, my body pretty much took over and the pushing became involuntary. It felt a lot like dry heaving after you've already lost everything in your stomach!
In the months and weeks before labor, any time I visualized myself pushing it included the birthing bar, being on all fours, squatting...just about anything but sitting in an inclined bed. Yet, low and behold, that actually was what felt the most natural to me! I completely ignored the birthing bar and instead grabbed onto mini handlebar thingies that were on the side of the bed.
I had read over and over that even though most people think pushing will be the worst part of L&D, it is actually usually a huge relief to begin pushing. I found this to be absolutely true for me! Once I was declared a 10, I was so ready to push with every ounce of energy in me.
At 7:00 I officially started the pushing phase. Mr. Elliot's head began crowning almost immediately, and I definitely felt the famous "ring of fire". As much as it hurt, reminding myself that it meant Elliot was almost here and all of the pain would be over soon made it incredibly less painful.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I was aware of additional people in the room and a nurse calling someone to ask them to page the OB. My eyes had been almost exclusively closed since AROM, though, so I wasn't really all that much aware of what was happening around me. After a few pushes I heard a swirl of voices telling me to stop pushing to give my perineum an opportunity to stretch...but none of the voices registered until I heard Jer say "stop pushing". (I had at least a 3rd degree tear with Katelyn, and Jer knew more than anybody how much I wanted to avoid that this time.) I told him that I was trying to stop, but my body was still really in control.
I honestly don't know if I stopped pushing or not. What I do know is that at 7:08 a warm body was laid on my chest and I opened my eyes to see a beautiful baby boy! I can still feel his squishy, vernix coated little body on my chest and in my arms.
The hospital staff allowed us to delay all of the routine newborn "stuff" so that we could spend Elliot's first bit of life outside of the womb bonding. In fact, Elliot was never away from us for the first 24 hours of his life. We really appreciated that about the Methodist Mansfield hospital.
I could really go on and on about what a different experience this birth, this hospital, and my OB were over my birth, hospital, and OB with Katelyn. It really was night and day. In fact (at the risk of sounding too crunchy or corny) it really has been a healing experience for me. I haven't stopped thanking the Father for leading and guiding us through these last 9 months!