Birth Story II: Welcome Leo Hart
It took twenty-four hours after my first contraction… an intense back labor with non-working epidural, but it was all worth it to experience love at first sight, again.
We found out I was pregnant about a month after Ryan's first birthday. Our second baby was due on Valentine's Day 2017. It was a boy!
It was a typical night at home on February 4th. It was 8pm and Art had just put Ryan to bed and we were on the couch watching TV. I started cramping and then the severity of the cramps escalated and I knew from experience that I was having contractions. It felt a little different this time, though. The pain was concentrated in my lower back. I thought there was no way I could be in labor since my due date was Valentine’s Day (remember the thing about dates?), still ten days away. I rested on the couch on my side thinking it might stall things or make the contractions go away. I knew I was considered full term at 37 weeks, I was almost at 39 weeks and lost my mucus plug five days earlier, but I was still scared of going into labor. I felt my baby should grow and be nourished inside of me for a while longer. The contractions got worse. I decided to take a shower and sure enough, as soon as I was out of the shower there was no question, it was time to go to the hospital. We called our parents to come stay with a sleeping Ryan and headed out.
We got to the hospital around midnight. I was in intense pain. I couldn’t walk through my contractions anymore. I was three centimeters dilated and admitted. I got out of triage and to my room in labor and delivery a couple of hours later. The nurse checked and I was four centimeters dilated. She asked when I wanted my epidural. I decided to labor for two more hours until the pain was intolerable. I had the nurse check my progress and I was still at four centimeters. With some convincing, I reluctantly got my epidural then. It felt amazing. It did its job. I napped for several hours after. I woke up and it was now around 6am on Sunday, February 5th. I was excited to have the nurse check my progress, but then quickly disappointed when I learned I was still only four centimeters dilated. Wtf? I immediately regretted getting the epidural when I did. I should have waited.
I knew I had to get active to progress. My epidural was mild so there was no reason I couldn’t change positions or move around. I asked the nurse if she could help me get active. She recommended I lay on my back and rest instead “to prepare for what was to come.” She was talking about active labor. I knew in my heart that if I didn’t get moving I might not make it to active labor. Nonetheless, she was the professional so I listened to her. I napped for an hour before I anxiously woke and asked to be checked. I wasn’t surprised, I was still only four centimeters dilated. I panicked.
She started to offer Pitocin. I declined. As long as my baby was healthy and safe there was no reason things couldn’t progress naturally. Who cares if I had been laboring for hours, right? A half hour later the doctor on duty walked into my room and also offered Pitocin. He and the nurse spent some time trying to convince me that it would help my labor progress and avoid going into an emergency C-section. Why were they talking about a C-section? I was feeling vulnerable and out of control. They wanted to see me progress and fast. Art precariously asked the doctor, “what are the chances she will progress naturally without Pitocin?” The doctor’s response was, “very slim.” I knew in my heart I was stalled because of the epidural. I knew I needed to move to get things going. I asked the only question that mattered, “Are my baby and I ok?” The response was yes, and that was enough for me to say absolutely no to Pitocin.
My nurse wasn’t keen on helping me get active since she would have to stay on top of monitoring me and the baby with everything that was strapped to my belly. (Labor tip: whoever is by your side during labor can make all the difference. Having support is essential, whether it's from your spouse or significant other, nurses or your doula. Have support on hand.)
Thankfully, there was a shift change and a nurse named Alicia walked into my life at the perfect time. It was 7:30am on February 5th. Alicia embodied everything a nurse should be like in my mind: truly caring, nurturing, and had a sense of urgency yet was able to keep her cool during the crazy times. She understood my goals and was ready and eager to help me. She held me up as I bounced on the exercise ball, hunched over the bed rail, and swayed my hips side to side on all fours. Two (active) hours later I was six centimeters dilated! My arms were exhausted from being on all fours but I had progressed and without Pitocin! I was so happy I trusted my gut and took control of my labor experience. After that, I decided I was going to be active in my labor to the end. No more laying around and letting things just happen. I was going to help my baby make his way!
I kept moving but my progress slowed down. It was around noon and I was dilated one more centimeter, so at seven. Two more hours passed and I was at eight. I was ok with my slow and steady progress but it seemed to be too slow for everyone else involved (i.e. hospital staff). Alicia offered Pitocin. I said no. Around 5pm my doctor showed up and I was at nine centimeters. She seemed shocked that I wasn’t pushing already. I asked her to be patient with me and allow me to labor. I could feel the tension and worry in the room. I reminded her that my labor went down very similarly with Ryan, my first baby. “It shouldn’t be taking as long this second time,” she said. My doctor, who I trust very much, recommended a dose of Pitocin. She said she had allowed me to pass on it before but that now in this phase of labor she was confident a little bit of Pitocin would go a long way. After some discussion, I said ok to the lowest dose. She called it “a level one”, which would be lower than the typical lowest dose. I started to feel my contractions intensify, even with an epidural I was in excruciating pain. Within the hour I was at ten centimeters and ready to push.
Fuck, but, the epidural wasn’t working. I could feel everything! It was as if I wasn’t medicated at all. Alicia kept reminding me that I could push the button for an additional dose of the epidural. I swear I pushed that fucking button more than ten times, and I still felt everything! I wasn’t losing my shit, I was experiencing back labor, which meant my baby was “sunny side up” so the back of his head was down by my cervix but he was facing my stomach instead of my back, and the hardest part of his head, the back, was pushing down on my spine and tailbone which was causing unbearable pain. And apparently, the epidural sometimes does not alleviate back labor pain, something I didn't know then but know now. The only time I felt a little relief is when I would get on all fours which kept my baby’s head off my spine. But in the pushing phase, my doctor preferred to have me lay on my back. I wanted to give up. It felt like someone was taking a sledgehammer to my tailbone. I couldn’t figure out how to manage the pain. Art tried massaging my lower back which provided some relief. I was weak. As strongly as I felt about delivering vaginally, I couldn’t go on. I turned to Art with tears in my eyes and said, “I don’t know if I could do this anymore. Maybe I should have a C-section.”
In that moment, I was so thankful to have Art by my side. He didn’t let me give up. He held my hand and reminded me of my birth plan. He pushed me to push through because he knew how devastated I would be in the end if I didn’t give it everything. I remember a feeling coming over me where I felt connected to all women who had been in my shoes before me. I leaned on these imaginary women I had never met before for support. I thought if they could do it so could I. I closed my eyes tightly and pushed and during every contraction the only thing that kept me going is telling myself “you will meet your baby after this next push.” After three long hours of pushing, just like in my labor with Ryan, on February 5th at 8:04 pm, a minute before his big brother was born, we welcomed our second boy to the world. I held him and the first thing I noticed was his mane. He looked like a lion. I knew he would be called Leo.
It was a labor of love, and I was so relieved it was over and I could hold my healthy, happy lion to my chest and experience the “golden hour” with him. Nursing him right after he was born was such an amazing, unforgettable feeling.
PS. Everyone said labor would be easier and shorter the second time. My two labor experiences were similar in that they were twenty-four hours long and had start and end times just minutes apart, I pushed for about three hours, and I ran a slight fever both times… but OMG was it different to experience back labor. Although I didn’t have the perfect ending with my first labor with Ryan having to go to the NICU, it was a comfortable labor overall as the epidural did its job all the way through. With Leo, labor was excruciatingly painful in the last hours but the ending was perfect with him in my arms to keep. Remember, every labor is unique and special. Go in with an open mind and heart.
Ryan captured my heart and Leo grew it to capture his half. I never thought I could love another like I love Ryan, but it's truly true what they say about your heart expanding and not dividing when you have your second. My boys are my world.