My Great Big Disgusting Birth Story
Around Henry’s first birthday, I sat down and started to reflect on how large he was. He was nearly triple his birthweight and naturally my brain went back in time to my labor and I felt a sense of relief that I didn’t give birth to a 22-pound child. However, the moment did force me to relive my entire labor, remembering each fine detail and what better a time than that to capitalize on the moment with ceremonial writing?
If you are squeamish, unready to read the gory details of a birth story, or find such a thing inordinately boring, feel free to sit this one out. It’s okay. I understand. Prior to Henry, I don’t think I’d want to read a birth story either.
Most of my pregnancy with Henry was textbook normal. He was a rainbow pregnancy following a twin miscarriage, so I was expectedly anxious for most of the pregnancy, unable to separate my loss from a healthy pregnancy. Henry was head-down the entire pregnancy and I felt his first kicks surprisingly early, at around 14 weeks. I had an anterior placenta and was told not to expect to feel much movement until close to the third trimester. These were my first clues about what kind of baby I was having, and the doctor didn’t fail to deliver on jokes about how active and strong she thought he’d be.
My LMP due date was January 3, 2017, but January 6 by ovulation date. It was adjusted to January 1, 2017 at my anatomy scan. I really had no idea when I was going to deliver and with both Joel and I both being born premature, I wasn’t even sure if I would make it to any of the aforementioned due dates. Joel guessed that Henry would be born on December 29. I was less optimistic and guessed January 8. Not only had Henry not come by his due date, but I also had absolutely no signs of impending labor to show for it either. On January 1, Joel and I went to the movies and saw the movie Passengers, a movie about 2 people being isolated in a space ship for 90 years… that truly felt like a metaphor for my never-ending pregnancy. On January 3, Joel and I went for a run at night. By then, Henry had dropped to 0 station so my run was a comically cliche penguin waddle, but I was a real trooper about it, having fantasized for the past 4-5 months about exercise.
On January 4, I was long past the feeling of being on pins and needles “omg it could happen at any moment!” and resigned myself to the belief that I truly would be the first person to be 20 years pregnant. An online friend, Emily, who was also pregnant and past due, shared a recipe for this famous eggplant parmigiana that was known for sending women into labor. I made it. She made it. It didn’t work for either of us (although it was really good!)
Labor Day, January 6
Finally, in the middle of the night on January 6 (amazing, my ovulation-based due date that no doctor would recognize as legit), I woke up feeling some cramping. It was extremely mild. Nonetheless, I opened the contraction timer on my phone and laid there trying to time it. I didn’t bother waking Joel up. And I couldn’t even consistently time the contractions because I kept falling asleep. It seemed like they were about 15 minutes apart, so I knew I had a while to go and decided to go back to sleep.
I had my 40.5-week OB appointment that morning, and shared with my doctor the news about the contractions. Prior to this appointment, all of my cervical checks going back to 37 weeks had noted that my cervix was still high and completely closed, albeit increasingly effaced (upwards of 50%). My doula, Diana, said this was great news because effacement meant the dilation would probably go quickly. I had no personal experience with labor to know whether to believe that or not. At this appointment, I was 2 centimeters dilated. The doctor scheduled an induction for January 9th (a Monday), but remarked that she thought I would probably have the baby sometime in the next 48 hours.
My OB wanted to do an AFI scan to check Henry’s size and whether he had enough fluid in there still. It was one of those small portable low-quality ultrasound machines and when she turned it on, the first–and really only–thing we saw was a humongous glance at Henry’s scrotum. “Well, that’s definitely a male infant in there,” she casually threw out. I considered the possibility that my son’s ball sack might possibly be the size of a standard basketball.
I called Diana and she came over to our house. Joel and I went for a walk around our neighborhood. It was frigidly cold outside and the ground was icy. I honestly don’t really remember doing much at home that day. We ate spaghetti for dinner. My contractions were getting closer and closer together, but they didn’t hurt at all, and I was skeptical that I was actually in labor. It kind of felt like someone had wrapped a belt around my abdomen that was tied at my back and started squeezing it tighter… the tightness would start at my back and wrap around to my front, yet it was completely painless. Diana started logging the contractions for me. They went from 7-8 minutes apart to 2-3 minutes apart in about 7 hours.
As they got closer together, the pain started to dial up a tiny bit. Like the night before, it felt like mild cramps. At around 8, Diana suggested I go lay down and try to take a nap because who knows when I would get to sleep again? I went upstairs and attempted to nap but couldn’t. I wasn’t tired. As I walked back downstairs, I was trying to explain this to both Diana and Joel, when suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “WOAH.” I felt a gush.
Concerned that it was my water breaking, I ran into our downstairs bathroom to check. It was clearly not my water, but rather my mucus plug dislodging itself in one gigantic chunk. If you have never seen a mucus plug before and were thinking about googling it, let me advise you to not do that. Instead, imagine you had a really nasty head cold or sinus infection. And then imagine that the biggest booger you’ve ever seen in your life came out. Except instead of coming out of your nose, it came out of your vagina.
At this point, the concept of oversharing was out the window and I showed Diana the wad of toilet paper to let her confirm. She agreed. The contractions started to get a little bit more intense from here. I was now trying to do rhythmic breathing through them with Joel as my aid. We listened to a playlist I had curated, titled “Labor Day! 1/1/2017”, not knowing when I would actually go into labor. Diana sat at our dining room table reading some of our recipe books and writing down recipes that interested her. I cross-stitched between contractions.
Labor & Delivery, Take 1
At around 9PM, I started to bleed a little bit. My contractions were 2-3 minutes apart, and Diana was getting concerned that maybe my water had broken. I called L&D to get their opinion, but they were extremely busy and 30 minutes went by without a callback from the on-call OB. I called back again and was advised to come in. By now, I was in some definite pain, but given the timing of my contractions, I had no idea whether I was still 2 centimeters dilated or 9-10.
Joel and I loaded the car with our stuff quickly and as we were about to close the back door, I remember commenting to him, “Holy crap, the next time we come back here… a baby will live here.” It just kind of hit me all at once.
Everyone talks about how painful the ride home from the hospital is. No one talks about how painful the ride to the hospital is when you’re in labor. Every bump in the road feels excruciatingly bad. And it was only a 3-minute drive. We went into L&D at about 11PM. It was the coldest night of the year and the outside temperature was -9F. Joel dropped me off at the front of the hospital where someone got me in a wheelchair to get me upstairs. They thought, based on my contraction timing, that I was close.
The L&D triage was packed. It was extremely hot inside. A resident stopped in to collect info from me. I suspected it was his first time doing this with a woman in labor because he couldn’t seem to comprehend that I needed to stop talking and breathe through my contractions. A woman in one of the other bays was measured at 3 centimeters dilated and was screaming. Another doctor stepped in and checked me. I was 3.5cm dilated. I remember feeling very apprehensive about my labor given that news in combination with my contraction timing. I thought, “If they’re already this close together, how much closer together can they get? How much longer is this going to take?” I wasn’t concerned with pain at the time because it felt manageable still. I’d had worse pain during periods when I was a teenager.
The doctors did a rupture-of-membrane test and saw blood in the test. The test came back positive, but I was told that sometimes the test can return a false positive when blood is present. They decided to do an amniotic fluid index check just to be certain. We saw Henry one final time on the screen and were reassured that the sac was still intact. I was given either the option of staying in the triage until I could be admitted or going home. Given how uncomfortable the triage was with all the screaming and dry heat, I decided to go home and labor some more there.
Crackers and Vomiting and The Birth Ball
This is the one part of my labor that Joel doesn’t really know much about. When we got home, Diana told Joel to go to sleep, after he got me some crackers to snack on. He slept on the couch in our living room and Diana went upstairs with me. She hung out on our bed. I was in too much pain at that point to be able to even attempt to get any sleep.
I laid on my bed with my butt in the air. It was the only position I could sit that helped with the pain. I would shake my butt from side to side. It really did help mitigate some of the pain. Eventually I put the birthing ball on the bed as well and hugged it as I attempted to nibble on crackers.
I started having what are called cluster contractions. This means while one contraction is ending… another is already starting. I’d have about 2-3 contractions per cluster, meaning my contraction was lasting about 3-4.5 minutes each. Again, the pain–although pretty awful–was not the worst pain I have ever felt, but the clustering was a brutal test of my endurance.
I got off the bed, went into the bathroom and tried to let hot water from the shower help. It didn’t help. I then started throwing up a little bit. And I had an urgency to push. Diana was now concerned that I was in transition, and I decided it was time to head back to the hospital. I was not looking forward to going out to the car a second time after the previous trip and how cold it was, but I really knew it was time by then.
Labor and Delivery, Take 2
At 3AM (seriously, I don’t know how it was suddenly 3AM!), L&D had cleared out entirely since we were last there, and the room temperature went down with it. I knew at this point that I was going to be admitted so I went ahead and rolled with it and put on the hideous hospital gown along with a hospital “jacket” and horrible brown non-skid socks that they handed out to everyone. My lips were also extremely chapped and even though I packed 2 different tubes of chapstick and Diana brought some as well, there was no chapstick to be found. I had failed the “hospital bag packing checklist!” test with the number one item everyone implores you to have.
I also want to point out that Joel brought in like, literally every single thing we packed, it felt like. It was like the Grapes of Wrath up in my triage bay.
I was checked once again. I really had no idea what they were going to tell me. They could have told me my cervix was as wide as a football field and I’d have believed them at this point. Not shockingly, I was only at 5cm. Commence eye-rolling, but I really was handling it all pretty well. I breathed and moaned my way through the contractions peacefully and Joel and I walked the halls of the triage ward slowly, hand-in-hand. Occasionally I would lean on him and slow dance my way through a contraction. He was very present and supportive and, save actually brunting the pain, as much a part of the labor as I was.
I was admitted to the hospital finally around 5AM (after a bit of a wait because I had requested one of the four labor rooms with a birthing tub). I remember walking through a quiet interior L&D. No one was giving birth at the time and it was very dull. A couple of night nurses sat at their post as I was directed to my room. It was a very large room.
The entrance to the room had a mirror. I stopped and snapped my last pregnant selfie, holding my hand on my bump. I also took a photo of the clock for some reason–I’m not sure why. The time was not relevant, other than the fact that it was now January 7–I was officially past all of my assorted due dates.
I was also now at the point of pain where I was struggling to do anything. I had packed this labor bag with a cute robe in it and funny labor socks… they were at the very top of the bag and I still could not manage to get them out because everything was so intense.
Two nurses got the birthing tub ready. It was a really involved process. Aside from pushing Henry out, being in the tub is one of the parts of my labor I remember most intensely. I was advised to get on all fours and do the cat/cow yoga pose, moaning my way through the contraction. It wasn’t helping me very much, so I chose to ignore what everyone was telling me and to lean over the edge of the tub. Diana and one of the nurses were talking and the nurse commented on how stoic and calm I was and how she doesn’t see that very often. Moments later, Joel stood over the tub and tried to massage my back to help. He wasn’t doing it in a way that helped at all, and so I snapped at him and yelled, “JUST FUCKING STOP. YOU’RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT.” I felt really bad because internally I did not mean that at all, it was just Labor Aimee lashing out against my heart’s will.
After about 2 hours in the tub, I got out so they could do some bloodwork. This was necessary for the cord blood banking we were doing for Henry (and for other common reasons). I was offered another cervical check and was really hesitant, afraid of what they’d tell me. Sure enough, I was only 6.5cm, bordering on 7. I broke down in tears.
It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the pain. The pain was one thing. It really hurt, but I’ve felt worse pain in my life than it. It was that, after 24 hours of laboring, I was so exhausted by then. I couldn’t imagine doing this for another 24 hours. I took a little bit of time to think about what steps I wanted to happen next, but I ultimately decided it was the right choice to get an epidural. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give birth vaginally if I didn’t have the energy to push.
I was scared of the epidural. Not the part where it was a giant needle. Because you don’t see that. I was afraid of accidentally moving and ending up with a spinal headache. I sat perfectly still for so much longer than was necessary and the anesthesiologist laughed at me when I asked him, nearly 5 minutes after he was done, if I could move. He was just like, “Huh? Oh yeah, we’ve been done.”
I was thankful. The epidural worked fine for me. I could still feel my legs but they just felt very heavy. I preferred this. I wanted to be able to feel things enough that I knew when I was having contractions. I called my mom and let her know that I was in the hospital.
I was unable to fall asleep with the epidural though. Diana harped on me that I needed to sleep. My brain was just racing though. And eventually the epidural made me extremely itchy, so I requested they give me something for that. They put Benadryl in my IV, which actually did make me extremely sleepy, but at that point, I felt so sleepy and simultaneously paralyzed that I was scared to go to sleep, thinking I’d never wake up again.
As time progressed, I grew more and more delirious. It felt alarmingly similar to the way I felt when I got high in Amsterdam.
My mom showed up and came in the labor room. I really did not want my mom in the labor room. In a drug-induced stupor, I had agreed to let her visit early on and it was a really huge mistake because it gave her the idea that she could come back in later as she pleased. I absolutely did not want anyone in the delivery room with me other than the doctor, Joel, and our doula.
Unfortunately, my mom decided to basically live-stream my whole labor on Facebook, without telling me, with TMI text updates. I was mortified to find this out later and then angry when she announced Henry’s birth on social media (including his name, which we hadn’t shared with anyone yet) before we could.
She also showed up in the delivery room as I was pushing and Diana had to escort her out. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. In hindsight, I wish I had taken steps to prevent these things from happening, because I felt absolutely emotionally robbed by it and it took a lot of time to let go of how angry it made me.
Stalled labor and Insatiable Hunger
After the epidural, I pretty much stopped progressing. By 2PM, I was starving, having not had any food since the evening before, but the nurses refused to let me have anything due to the epidural. The epidural was also starting to wear off a little bit. Again, this didn’t bother me at all because my contraction pain was bearable to me for the most part. At 4PM, a doctor came in and offered to break my water. I was in a mindset of, “I don’t even care anymore, I’m in no control of my labor because I’m high as balls.”
The water broke, I progressed a little bit more. My memory of the next hour was hazy. A doctor came in to inform me that there was meconium in the amniotic fluid and that NICU was going to be present for the delivery, given that news. I freaked out a little bit until Diana reminded me how common that is and that everything would most likely be okay.
At some point, Joel’s parents arrived. They came in briefly to say hello and I’m not really sure what they expected, but they seemed a bit startled by how delirious and out of it I was after close to 48 hours of labor.
The Never-Ending Ring of Fire
Around 5, I was told I was ready to push. Pushing was the nightmare part of my labor. My epidural was completely worn off at that point so I felt every single contraction in full force. Since my labor had stalled earlier, they were no longer stacking the way they had earlier in the day, thankfully. But, unfortunately, despite the epidural having worn off, I was still not able to stand or squat to let gravity help with the delivery. Instead, they gave me a freaking towel.
Joel, Diana, and a doctor who I had never met in my life (my OB was not present for any of my labor. I suspected this would be the case the entire pregnancy and sure enough she delivered on not delivering my child) stood at the end of the table. Joel and Diana took turns playing tug-of-war with me. Between contractions, I was so exhausted that I would fall asleep. I kept my eyes closed even during the contractions because I was struggling to stay awake through them. Joel told me afterwards that he was almost certain they were going to have to take me to the OR for a C-section given how little energy I had.
I had a different memory though. I was angry with both Joel and Diana and continuously “yelled” (not really) at them for having such poor grip at tug-of-war because I kept pulling the towel from them. You’d think I’d be more humble given that I was constantly pooping right in front of them. Joel said I pooped at least 8 times and yes, he saw it all. He likes to remind me of this occasionally still, over a year later.
The doctor noted that Henry was facing upwards (most babies face back) and was stuck behind my pubic bone, hence the difficulty I was having getting him out. About an hour into pushing, she suggested we take a half hour break. The half hour turned into close to an hour. I fell asleep during it and would occasionally awake to people quietly talking about me. I don’t remember what they were saying.
Finally, we resumed pushing again and had to push for 10 seconds at a time each contraction, holding my breath. The doctor kept telling me I needed to do better and I was livid with her over it, yelling, “I AM DOING THE BEST I CAN, BITCH.” She left for a bit and a nurse took over. As Henry got to +1 station, I felt the unmistakable ring of fire. I was appalled to find out that once you have the ring of fire, it lasts until the baby is out, regardless of whether you are contracting or not.
Everyone was commenting that they could see his head and how much hair he had. I didn’t care.
After 20 minutes of feeling the ring of fire, I was absolutely tired of feeling it and decided to take matters into my own hands and ignored the nurse’s cues to push. Instead, I just started randomly pushing as much as I could. The nurse made the remark to another delivery nurse, “We need to get the doctor back in here immediately. She’s about to deliver. Get NICU too.” This only egged me on to muster whatever little strength I had left in me to push, push, push, and push.
Out at Last
Henry finally worked himself out in one push, which honestly felt like I had just taken the biggest shit of my life. I opened my eyes for the first time in nearly half an hour and laid eyes on Henry, now dangling in the air in low lighting. My first thought was, “That kid has weird looking frog eyes.” His eyes were massive. And because of that, I knew he was mine. And I know that’s a ridiculous sentiment given that I had just spent 3 hours pushing him out of my vagina, but seriously, for all I knew, I was pushing a bowling ball out until I actually saw him.
The moments following that were a blur for me. I don’t remember the NICU team actually coming in, but they did and Henry was scored a 9/9 on the APGAR. Joel said the room was flooded with tons of people when this happened. I feel like my focus was solely on Henry. Henry was placed on my chest after Joel cut the cord. Henry was crying the entire time I held him and I felt very out of sorts. I didn’t think, as a parent, I would feel so helpless so soon. I attempted to breastfeed but he wasn’t latching despite my best efforts. I was told not to be concerned and try again later.
As soon as I delivered the placenta, which was not painful at all for me, the surgical team came in to do the repair. I had second degree perinneal tearing. Someone stood at my side near the head of the bed asking me questions. I remarked, “I would love to answer you, and I will as soon as they finish with the stitches, because it really, really hurts.” The surgeon looked up and said, “Oh my god. I didn’t realize you didn’t have any anesthetic. You just looked so zen that I assumed. I’m almost done.”
Finally, family came in to meet Henry. I was left alone for a while. Someone very kindly brought me the hugest spread of hospital food imaginable. I don’t know where Henry was. I didn’t care. All I cared about was shoving all of this awful food down my gullet as fast as I could. I inhaled it.
The Terrible Catheter experience
I asked a nurse to help me get to the bathroom after the delivery. Two nurses and Diana stood in the bathroom with me as I failed to pee. One nurse said it was very common, but I was really upset because the urgency I had to go was very intense. They suggested using a catheter to drain the urine, which I agreed to, asking Diana to get any family in the delivery room to leave so this could happen.
The nurse drained over 950ml of urine out of me. The pee hat was completely full. She said it was one of the most impressive catheter urine drains she’d ever seen and that my kidneys must have done an amazing job getting all the fluid out so quickly. I’m not going to lie: when I envisioned all the compliments I could get in my L&D experience, I don’t really think any of the “she’s so graceful” or “she cares about her baby and it’s obvious” thoughts trumps the idea that I peed an impressive amount of pee into a plastic pee hat.
Shortly after, we finally left to go over to the recovery room. From here on out, the experience was unremarkable and boring, which is generally what you want in a L&D experience. I was released in a timely matter and naturally, when we arrived home, Henry pooped and peed in places we never imagined he could poop or pee. And that’s how my life as a parent began.