I hesitate to call our birth story a battle, but I would be lying if I didn’t share the raw struggle that it truly was, testing me unlike anything I’ve ever done in my 26 years of life. I knew it would be difficult, but I didn’t anticipate just how much of a fighter I would have to become.
Preparing for Battle
Saturday, April 2: I was 39 weeks + 2 days pregnant, and I woke up feeling so fatigued of lugging this baby around. I knew all the wives tales of starting labor naturally and decided to give them a try for fun – not thinking anything would actually happen. I decided to fill our day with plenty of walking, spicy food, red raspberry leaf tea – things that other moms swear have put them into labor.
So Sean drove us about an hour away and we walked the nearest mall with zero intention of actually shopping. We walked all the department stores and shops along the way – stopping for Starbuck’s and Mrs. Fields cookies. That had to be a sight, seeing a giant preggo lady waddling around while catching cookie crumbs on her bump. I didn’t care.
Fast forward through the rest of our Saturday, and no sign of labor. I was more bummed that I had crappy spicy food than anything. Oh well, lights out and off to bed. This baby is going to come late, I remember thinking in my head. Boy was I wrong.
The Wake Up Call
Sunday, April 3: The sun hadn’t even come up yet. I woke up to dampness in my underwear. I thought my water was leaking. That’s when I got out of bed and realized I had my “bloody show” – a sign that labor is coming. I paced our bedroom in the dark wondering if my water was slowly breaking at the same time, in which case I was told to alert my midwife and doula. Playing it safe, I called them. Game plan: continue to monitor at home and call back in a couple hours. If it is my water, it will continue to noticeably leak.
Turns out it was not my water, just extra discharge with the bloody show (pregnancy is beautiful, right?) But I was getting new signs – contractions. At this point it was 5 a.m. I pulled out my contraction timer app on my phone and started logging them. I had 11 contractions in one hour, anywhere from 4 minutes apart to eight, lasting only 30 seconds on average. My care team wanted me to rest as much as possible through these early contractions while it’s still possible to do so, especially since the early phase of labor can last for hours. So, I had a bowl of oatmeal, popped a Benadryl, and went back to bed.
“I think we’re having a baby today, ” I told Sean with a huge smile. We tried to fall back asleep, but only an hour went by until the contractions became too noticeable to sleep through. The battle had begun.
Phase 1: The fight for endurance
And so, there I was in the early phase of labor (going from 0 cm to 3 cm dilated). This was a mix of nervously timing the contractions, resting in between, taking a shower, later followed by a bath, eating another meal, and doing pelvic exercises on my birthing ball. Meanwhile Sean was organizing the hospital bag, taking care of the dog, and helping me as I needed. We labored through this phase at home for 9.5 hours, from 4 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., until I noticed that our contractions were hitting the golden rule of “5:1:1” – five minutes apart, lasting at least one minute for one hour.
Our doula Stacy was on her way over to help us manage the increasing pain I was feeling, but we decided to go into the hospital and asked her to meet us there instead. She waited outside for me at the main entrance, so Sean pulled up and dropped me off. Seeing her was such a relief. I knew I would be in good hands from here on out.
Phase 2: My Natural Childbirth
We checked in with my midwife Brooke, and I felt like I had to be at least 5 cm along in the active phase of labor (4-7 cm), but I was only 3 cm. This is when I realized, I need to buck up and fight for endurance.
Stacy ignited some fire in me – guiding me to walk laps around the hospital to keep baby moving down. I often had to stop and grip the walls , Stacy or Sean – whoever was closer – because I started to experience less common “leg labor,” in which the contractions brought shooting pain down my thighs and quads. This made walking difficult. So we tried a whole roster of other things – “slow dancing” with hubby, leaning against carts, doing squats, and sitting on the birthing ball with thigh massages and essential oils. Another hour or two had passed, and I had only progressed to 4 cm.
I was living the birth I had dreamed of – an active, drug-free birth. I felt confident in my body’s progress, as things were progressing pretty “text book.” But Stacy could sense my discomfort increasing and encouraged me to use the hospital’s bath. This also can speed the process along.
The bath had jets and the lighting was dim, instantly putting me at ease. The sensation of being able to float alleviated the immense pain and pressure I was feeling. But after two hours soaking in the tub, things were really heating up and the pain was no joke. I began vomiting from the pain and shaking uncontrollably. The labor and delivery nurses gave me a dose of anti-nausea medication.
I could no longer breathe calmly and was beginning to moan and yell curse words. My doula continuously reminded me to relax my shoulders and slow my breathing, which really helped in coping with the waves of pain. Good news was on its way though – my next check in with Brooke revealed that I had made serious progress and things were at 8 cm.
It was time to get out of the tub; I had now entered the infamous “transition phase,” which is the final stretch before pushing. It’s supposed to be the shortest phase, lasting 30 minutes to two hours, but it is also notorious for being the most difficult.
Phase 3: Bye bye perfect birth plan
Sitting on the birthing ball, breathing through the pain, essential oils, massages, cooling wet rags, changing positions – I was doing all of it with my care team. My water abruptly broke and it gave me a boost of confidence, thinking I must be close to pushing.
Only problem was, my body’s natural progression that had been pretty “text book” up to this point started to stall. And now the pain of contractions was even worse without the cushion of the water.
“I can’t do this anymore, I can’t do this anymore!” I began to shout with tears. I felt stuck, defeated and terrified.
It was going on 6 p.m. Fourteen hours of labor had passed with no interventions or drugs. The fear and fatigue hit me like a tidal wave when another check showed no progress. “Get me the fucking epidural!” I decided. Thankfully, my platelet count was high enough to receive one. Only problem now was I had to receive an IV of fluids before getting one, which created a wait. So I asked for another form of pain management while I waited, and it took the edge off.
A swoop of relief hit me when the anesthesiologist finally came in. It was at this point when I knew that my perfect birth plan was no longer applicable in a situation that was beginning to spiral out of my control. My baby was no longer in the optimal birthing position, I had a cervical lip that was preventing him from properly making his way down, and my contractions were beginning to spread further apart. It was an uphill battle that had defeated me, and I was desperate to find strength through any avenue I could.
As I felt the needle going into my spine, and the pain go numb thereafter, I felt like I could re-engage with my labor and be a better warrior for my baby. I was able to rest and recuperate as the day came to an end.
Phase 4: Finding strength from defeat
The epidural brought on the need for pitocin, and the looming threat of a vacuum assisted delivery or C-section was a possibility I had to prepare for. Fortunately, my midwife believed in me and she believed in my body. She promised me that we were going to do everything we could to safely get this baby out vaginally before jumping to further intervention, but doing so meant finding patience and strength from my current state of defeat.
So, I spent the night in and out of sleep in the most uncomfortable position. I had to lie on my side with my top leg propped up on a “peanut ball,” or an exercise ball shaped like a peanut. The plan was to get this baby in a better position so we could effectively start pushing when the time was right. Water was placed back in Ivan’s comfy womb since my water had broken hours ago. He was handling everything beautifully in there and didn’t get distressed. Phew.
Sean and Stacy remained by my side the whole night, ensuring I stayed well hydrated with apple juice and water.
When I could see the sun and realized it was now Monday morning, I was determined to get this baby out. Good news would come my way when my midwife noted that my cervix was favorable for pushing and I was fully dilated. We tried a few pushes, but I was too numb from the epidural to really work with the ebb and flow of the contractions. We decided to wait, turn my dosage down and continue with the side-lying and peanut ball for a little longer. I hated that damn peanut ball.
I felt like this was never going to end, and while my physical pain had subsided I was now battling my sanity as I tried to muster any ounce of optimism I could find.
Push, push, push, push, push!
“Are you ready to push?” It was music to my ears. I can still hear my care team coaching me through this long-awaited part. I was naive in thinking I could push a few times and he would be here. It was several hours of pushing. I would not have been able to reach this point without the epidural and the sleep it provided me overnight. Even so, I was drained and hadn’t eaten anything in over 24 hours.
My doula was holding my right leg, nurse holding my left, while Sean was cooling me down with wet rags and encouraging me to stay strong. The epidural had faded just enough so that I could feel the contractions coming and going, which helped me effectively get through the series of pushes as they were being coached to me.
Finally, my midwife said that she could see his head and asked if I wanted to see in a mirror. I was hesitant because I had been nauseated and vomiting, worried that whatever sight there was to see would only add to my anxiety. It didn’t. It was surreal seeing that I had finally gotten to this point – that I was strong enough to overcome this battle.
As time passed, I began to get the hang of pushing. He was making his way down, but decided to give me one more hurdle before making his debut – a shoulder dystocia, or specific case of obstructed labor. This baby was stuck. An alarm sounded and nurses suddenly flood into the room. All I remember was being punched and elbowed on my pubic bone/womb during my remaining pushes and it made me scream in anger that I wasn’t briefed that this would happen (I didn’t know that this wasn’t typical, but rather the quick response to move Ivan out of his stuck position).
I felt pressure and before I knew it, a slippery, wiggly baby had been placed on my stomach. I immediately started crying out of immense relief and couldn’t even look at him as he was taken from me just as quickly as he was placed on me – he needed to go to the nursery for what Sean later told me were respiratory issues/concerns over meconium. I delivered the placenta and received stitches for a second-degree tear while lying there speechless in tears, holding my doula’s hand. Sean, also in tears, had kissed me and told me how proud he was of me before quickly following Ivan to the nursery. He came back and showed me a picture of Ivan being monitored and the tears came heavier as I laughed, “Oh my god. He is huge!”
Ivan James Wawrzyniec – 8 pounds, 8.8 ounces, 21 inches long, born at 11:32 a.m. on April 4, 2016. Also the day that I became a warrior.