Birth Story: A Forty Hour Labor

Waiting is hard to do.

It’s especially hard when you’re waiting for labor to start so you can finally meet your baby. At 38 weeks, I was DONE with inhabiting a pregnant body, and I wanted to see my son. I did not particularly enjoy the pregnancy experience, especially since I had had six months of morning sickness that required medication in order for me to function. Month seven was great, and then by month eight I was starting to feel like a blimpy hippopotamus in a slow motion movie. So yeah, I was over being pregnant. I was looking forward to labor because I’d much rather be DOING something about a particular situation than being a passive participant. Even though it’s not really like this, pregnancy felt like a very passive thing to me. I looked forward to labor because I felt things would finally start HAPPENING that I could participate in. Plus, it would mean that I wouldn’t have to be pregnant much longer. But I had to wait some more, had to dig deeper into practicing patience, which as it turns out, is what motherhood is all about. It wasn’t time for my body to go into labor yet, so despite whatever I wished for, my uterus remained relatively quiet and my cervix steadfastly closed.

In week 39, I started having BH contractions that came at steady intervals. They were painless but noticeable, and coming every 5-7 minutes. I thought (of course) that maybe this was the beginning of the real thing, but really my uterus was just doing a little pre-game trial run. I had 48 hours of this 5-7 minute pattern and then whoosh they vanished. It wasn’t until ten days later at 40 weeks 5 days that labor actually started. The nice thing about that was that it gave my mom time to get here for the birth, which I was so glad about. She arrived from 3,000 miles away on July 16. We spent the 17th relaxing, and on the 18th we took a longish car trip, hoping superstitiously that it might get things moving along because we had gone to the beach for a day trip the day before Beth went into labor with James. Worked for her, might as well try it again, right? Mom cooked one of my favorite meals that night (gf chicken and vegetable lo mein) and I gobbled it up. Nobody said so, but we all had the feeling that “tonight’s the night.”

The evening was the time of day that my BH contractions would come back, so Beth and I took a walk around the neighborhood, and I took up a pace that was brisker than usual (although I’m sure I was still just moving like a waddly puddle.) I went to bed having contractions that felt stronger (squeezy) but still painless (not crampy or sharp) and slept well. I got up to pee at 4am, and when I got back in bed I felt a twinge-cramp thing that got my attention, and a flick-pop on the lower right side of my belly (assumed it was the baby kicking). Ten seconds later, warm fluid poured out and I said “Oh!” I was excited to have a clear signal that things were finally rolling. I woke B up and went to the bathroom to check the fluid– it was clear. Real contractions started immediately, but I could still talk through them. After calling my midwife and doula, I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep through the contractions anymore. Since the amniotic fluid was clear, my midwife said I could stay at home for as long as I wanted before coming into the hospital. I knew that laboring at home for as long as possible would help things progress, but I also was apprehensive about transitioning to the hospital when already in active, intense labor. I decided it was time to go a few hours later, and we made our way to the maternity ward.

I was just 2cm, and the contractions were INTENSE. (I’m going to write a later post in which I’ll try my best to describe what labor actually felt like to me, since that’s the question on the mind of every woman whose facing labor for the first time). They strapped the monitors on my belly for the initial 20 minute strip, which I hated. They encouraged me to sit down in the rocking chair, which I HATED. No, I don’t want to sit down. No, not even between contractions to rest. Don’t you understand, there is a baby skull pushing on my cervix, trying to get out! It doesn’t want to get pushed back up by a chair!

After the strip was finished, I was free to walk the halls, with the help of Beth and my doula. I have no idea how long I was walking– in real time it probably was not much more than an hour. All I know is that when I started, I could still keep walking during the contractions, albeit very slowly, as long as I kept breathing deeply. When I said I wanted to head back to the room, I was grabbing whoever was closest to me and latching them into a slow dance, moaning into their shoulder, and thinking about how nice it would feel to crawl back to the room rather than stay upright.

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The next nine or so hours I was deep in Laborland. The nurses couldn’t find a fetal heartbeat distinguishable from my own, so I consented to an internal fetal monitor (the kind that is inserted just under the skin on the baby’s scalp.) Count that as Plastic Thing Number One connected to me. Every hour (or thirty minutes? Who would know the difference? Certainly not a woman in labor), they put my finger in a heart rate monitor and took my temperature. Thing 2, Thing 3. I hated the Things. Then I needed IV fluid, the reason I cannot recall now, but I know at the time I fully agreed it was a good idea. But it was another Thing connected to me.

All during this time I was trying out the full spectrum of “labor comfort measures”– birthing ball (No), squatting on the bed using the squat bar (YESSSS), massage on my lower back (YESSS!), counter pressure on my hips (NOOOO!!!), drinking water (YESSSSS), getting in the bathtub (NOOOO), sitting on the toilet (no), sitting in a rocking chair (no), laying on my side in the bed (FUCK NO), hanging from the squat bar and the foot of the bed (OH YES), kneeling and leaning on the raised head of the bed (No, yes, no, yes, NO). Finally I got to five centimeters and they could get the birthing tub ready. About an hour (two hours?) later, I got in the deep warm water and it felt soooooo good. Beth got in the tub with me and we had some really beautiful cuddles and kisses in between contractions. She tirelessly dug her knuckles into my sacrum during Every. Single. Contraction.

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The warm water helped me relax enough to be sleep a little in between every contraction. It also made me nauseous, so I asked for some Zofran because I knew that if I started vomiting, I would lose my rhythm, my calm, and my confidence. The physical sensations would just be too much. The feeling of pressure started to increase, and I started feeling pushy and grunty. The midwife came in to check me and I was only 7cm but she said I could follow my body’s signals and push if I felt like it. I pushed a little with each contraction, but not with full force because I knew I wasn’t fully dilated. That went on for a couple hours, and I started losing all sense of time. The span between contractions seemed to me to last twenty minutes, and I started to worry that labor was stopping. I talked to my mom between contractions, asking her over and over again if it really had been twenty minutes since the last contraction, and if I was doing ok. I needed her constant reassurance that it had only been three minutes since the last contraction, not twenty, and that I was doing everything right for my baby. I needed her to say these things to me between every contraction, and she did. Time stopped for me. I was deep in Laborland with no concept of how long I had been in labor. I was only aware of the previous contraction that had just ended and the one that was approaching. It was quiet and dark. There was nothing to do but just ride the wave.

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Around 2 or 3 in the morning, the midwife checked me again, and I had not progressed past 7cm, and my cervix was a bit inflamed, so she recommended that I get out of the water to get things moving again. In retrospect, when I had started to get worried that labor was slowing down an hour or two before, I should have listened to that inner voice and gotten out of the tub then. But “should” is a useless word, so let’s move on.

As soon as my body lost the buoyancy of the water, the contractions came right on top of each other and I felt like I could barely catch my breath between them. I think I labored on all fours on the bed for a while, and at some point the baby’s meconium started coming out, which is a possible sign on distress. I also had a fever over 100 at this point, and my water had been broken for 24 hours– all concerning signs for the medical professionals.

The midwife sat down on the meconium stained sheet and talked calmly about our options.  In the 60 seconds between each contraction, she said 1. The contractions seemed to have plateaued. 2. I had a fever (probably fighting infection), and a fevered uterus cannot work as efficiently as a non-fevered one. 3. I had been laboring like a champ for more than 24 hours, and I seemed very tired to her. 4. In her opinion, we were at the point of doing things to avoid needing an emergency c-section. 5. I could continue laboring naturally, and it was possible that I might continue to progress, but she felt it would go very slowly, and she was concerned about how little energy I would have left when it came time to push if we went that route. 6. I could use some pitocin to “re-establish a regular pattern of contractions” and an epidural so that I could try to rest for a few hours before it was time to push.

She left the room, and I talked it over (semi-deliriously) with Beth, with my mom, and with the doula.  They all felt like the interventions made sense, and they reassured me that this was the kind of instance where those interventions were important and appropriate.  I was at the point that I couldn’t really think well enough to make a decision on my own, so I was grateful for the birth support team–who knew what my priorities and wishes were–to help me make the decisions I needed to make.  The idea of an epidural scared me.  The needle, the paralysis, the poking around in my spine.  I didn’t really want one, but I knew at that point it was the best decision for me and my baby.

Nobody knew I was trying to get a TEN POUND BABY out of my body.  Hindsight is not really very useful when considering birth because there’s no going back and doing it a different way, but knowing now that I DID have a ten pound baby inside, I know I did everything I could to have a “totally natural” birth, and that I did everything I needed to do to have a vaginal birth, which was important to me.  Could I have kept laboring without the pitocin and the epidural? Probably.  Could I still have had the energy and the wherewithal to push out the mammoth two hours, seven hours, ten hours later?  I don’t know, and I never will, and in the end it doesn’t matter. I don’t believe I’m any less strong for deciding to have these interventions, or any less of a mother.  I did get an epidural at 4am, the pitocin did establish a regular pattern of contractions which I SLEPT THROUGH for a few hours, thanks to the epidural.

The midwives’ shift changed at 7am (I used a practice instead of an individual midwife, so you get whoever is on call) and the midwife came in before she left. Claire said she didn’t want to check me yet, since I was already fighting infection, and she wanted to give me a couple more hours of pitocin contractions before doing another assessment.  This was the same midwife that delivered our first son when Beth was pregnant, so it was really beautiful that she was the midwife on call for me, too.  We hadn’t talked about it beforehand, but knowing that Claire was going off duty, and that by freak occurrence we had found ourselves in the hospital on one of the few days per year where they only have an OB on call and no midwife, Beth asked Claire if she would come back to check me.  She didn’t make any promises, but she said she would see what she could do.  She had a few things she needed to do, but she might be able to “swing by later on.”

In the company of the automated blood pressure cuff and my IV drips, I got a few more hours of sleep. Beth and my mom found places to doze, and the doula and the photographer had both gone home when I got the epidural, with plans to return when I started pushing, or if there were other developments.

Nurses started stirring in the room around 10:30 or 11, and Claire walked back into the room!  She sat on the bed next to my paralyzed legs and said 1. She was going to check me. 2. If I was fully dilated and effaced, I would start pushing. 3. If I wasn’t fully dilated and effaced, we would need to talk about a c-section. I said OK, check me. On the next contraction, she slid her hand in and bumped into my baby’s head, and she said with a smile, “Whoa, we’ve got a major conehead coming!”  He was already at +1 (in the birth canal) so she said, “OK, let’s push!”  Click here to read the rest of my birth story.

What Labor Really Feels Like

Labor is different for every woman.  Some people have painless births, some people want medication at the first sign of a contraction.  Some people experience great pleasure during labor. What is true for nearly every woman is that as vivid as childbirth is in the moment, you start forgetting what it was really like very quickly after birth.  Try to remember the feeling of a contraction a few days or weeks afterwards and you’ll realize that your memory has become quite fuzzy.  Wait a few more months and you might not have any recollection at all of this experience that was so all-consuming while it was happening.  These are a few of my thoughts on what labor felt like for me, mostly written down a few weeks postpartum. Ready my full birth story here.

On the one hand, it’s the worst thing you’ll ever go through. On the other hand, it’s just PAIN.  Pain that is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal. It hurts a lot, but it passes, and then it doesn’t hurt anymore. And, if all goes well, you get to hold your baby at the end, which is an amazing motivator.

**If you don’t actually want to know what labor really felt like for me, you can stop reading now, cause I’m really going to tell you truthfully. Fair warning.**

Labor contractions felt like my insides were turning to stone, extremely heavy stone, and the force of gravity pushed that heavy stone inside me down with immense pressure onto everything—my cervix, pelvis, bladder, sacrum, spine, rectum.  Sharp. Hard-Edged. Solid. The most pressure my body has ever sensed. Not pressure like a blood pressure cuff–more like pinned-under-a-boulder pressure. I’m not saying this to scare people–I’m just trying to be accurate. I got through it, you can too.  There’s actually quite a number of sensations at the same time. Now, seven months postpartum, I don’t have a body memory of how contractions felt in terms of musculature (as in, I can’t remember what it felt like in my uterus, specifically), but I can recall the bone-on-bone crushing sensation on the inside of my sit bones.

Breathing doesn’t take away the pain, it just give your mind something to focus on to get through the contraction. Breathing and “sounding out” are things that can increase in volume and intensity as the sensations of the contractions peak, so it’s a helpful focal point to “stay on top” of the contraction.

Around four centimeters my doula asked me something like “What image or metaphor do you indentify your contractions with?”  Even though she asked me this in between contractions, I was already in Laborland, and she was speaking a foreign language, one that I only understood a few words of, and could speak even fewer words of myself.  The question was too complex for me to both process and answer, so I had to wait until after the next contraction to answer. “Wave” was the only word I could get out. No more complete sentences or complicated syntax for me. I had a baby to push out, and that was enough work for me to do. I didn’t have ANY extra attention for her question, which seemed pointless at the time.  Don’t ask me anymore stupid questions I can’t answer, I thought.

Two times between 2 and 5 centimeters, I entered a contraction and my doula was still chatting or joking with someone else in the room, as if she hadn’t noticed that another contraction was starting. I needed silence during the contractions because any other voices was too distracting and would throw me off my breathing and rocking rhythm.  The first time I said “Stop talking” as I continued my labor breathing and swaying.  The second time it happened I shouted “Shut the fuck up!” and went right on with breathing and moaning through the contraction. Once it was over, I apologized for swearing at her, and she apologized for talking.  It didn’t happen again.

The sensation of needing to push is a lot like having to poop. You probably will poop in the process. That’s ok.

Pushing your baby out of your vagina is a wild, unbelievable, seemingly impossible feat. But women do it everyday.  Yes, there is a “ring of fire” feeling during crowning, and I felt that even though I had an epidural at that point. My baby was ten pounds, so I tore really bad, which I will write about in a different post.

Make as much noise as you need. Move in the ways that feel right. Trust your body. Don’t think about it too much. This is the time to let your mind take a back seat and let your body just do what it’s going to do. You do not have control over this process, and that is ok. Let go and breathe. Then breathe again. And again. And again.

Queer Conception: The DIY Nitty Gritty


I know a lot of queer folks who are looking to make babies. I also know the internet is not as helpful, inclusive, and/or supportive in this quest as we would hope. I know because I looked. There are lots of “trying to conceive” message boards and websites (TTC is the shorthand that everyone on those boards uses) but those sites are VERY heterocentric, and not every queer individual is going to feel comfortable there. There’s also not a whole lot of helpful technical advice, which is important especially if you are going for DIY conception (not going through a sperm bank but finding your own donor and inseminating in the comfort of your home.)

Side note: To be thorough, I will mention that queer families are also created with the help of fertility clinics, adoption agencies, surrogate mothers, and of course sex, too. I’m not as familiar with these methods of conception, but I hope to have some guest posts here someday to cover all these areas.

DIY conception is what I’m most familiar with because it is what we did, and the route that quite a few other families I know are taking. I’ll get into why we made that choice, and the pros and cons of DIY vs. clinic, in a later post. In this post I’m sharing the steps of our process in a lot of detail, and I hope this will be helpful to other folks.

1. Decide what kind of donor you are looking for, what relationship you seek to have with them, and what relationship you seek your child to have with them (present as well as future). In DIY conception, you know the donor, so decide whether you want that individual to be someone you are very close to, or someone who is more of an acquaintance and won’t be in your life much after the donation. Other factors to consider: age, general health, maturity level, reliability/ timeliness (you are going to be depending on this person to be available to do a very specific thing at a designated time. He needs to be able to keep his appointments.)

We wanted someone who was not in our inner circle of friends so as to avoid any complications in the relationship this person has with our family. We were looking for a donation of sperm, not a co-parent and we knew that B would be doing a second-parent adoption of the child, so we had no desire to establish legal paternity. Yet we wanted someone who would be open to the possibility of a relationship of some sort with the child at a later time when and if the child had a desire to know their biological donor.

2. Find your donor. Come up with a list if your three top choices for donors, and broach the subject. Tell them exactly what you are looking for and what you are not looking for. Ask if they might be willing to consider filling this role for you. Give them time to think about it. Include their partners in the discussion, too, because they have a stake in this as well.

3. Once you and your donor have agreed to move forward, agree on your agreements. Be clear about what is going to happen. We wrote up the things we had talked about, and all involved parties signed and dated the document. It was a covenant. We knew what we were signing up for, and where the boundaries were. Things to discuss and agree on: duration of said agreement (are you going to try just once? Six months? A year?), mode and frequency of communication (we agreed that we would tell our donor when I got my period, so he would know that in about a week and a half we would need to meet up for a donation. Then we would text around day 8 of my cycle to figure out a specific day and time for the donation), method of delivery (make sure you and the donor are on the same page about timing between ejaculation and insemination, what kind of vessel will be used, and keeping the sample warm, etc.), and location (Your place? His place? Will the donor bring the sample to you, or will you go get it? Will you already be in the same place when he produces a sample, or will you coordinate to meet up right after?). Lots to think about…

Also decide whether you want to have a legally binding agreement about donation, or not. I’ll write about this in another post, but for now I’ll just say that this may or may not be necessary or desired, depending on what state you live in. We did not make a legally binding agreement, just a written agreement between us. With our donor and in our state, we were comfortable with that.

4. Track your ovulation, and do the deed. I had been tracking the length of my cycle for several months before we started trying. I also tracked my cervical mucus for signs of ovulation. With this information, I was fairly certain I was ovulating on day 11 of my cycle. Because sperm can live for up to 5 days but an egg is only viable for 24-48 hours after ovulation, we got a sample on day 9 and day 11. The sample was provided to us in a glass jar within 15-20 minutes of it being produced, and it had been kept at body temperature the whole time. We drew the sample into a medication syringe and inserted it just like a tampon. Then for good measure we inserted an Instead Soft Cup to trap the sperm up close to my cervix, which I kept in overnight.

5. Relax, Wait, Persevere.
I know a couple for whom this method worked on the first try. For us it worked on the second try (although I’m fairly certain I had a chemical pregnancy the first try, it just didn’t stick). For other couples it will take much longer, and for some it may never happen. Those TTC sites that I mentioned can be a good source of support for you during the waiting game, but it’s also very easy to over-obsess about the process. What is meant to happen will, so try to give yourself some grace. When a child is supposed to join your family, it will come to you!

Birth Story: First Moments

This is really Part 2 of my birth story, the last moments of A’s birth, but I wrote this part first. Click Here to read the beginning of my birth story– A Forty Hour Labor

The lights were turned bright and directed toward the foot of the bed.  I was in a rhythm of pushing, and I could see Aran’s dark hair reflected in the mirror the midwife had put at the end of the bed.  The nurse was putting an oxygen mask over my face in between contractions. My doula was by my head, ready to support my head and shoulders during the next push, my mom and Beth each held one of my knees against their belly, my feet in the air. After 41 hours of labor, I was tired, but calm and excited. My baby would be here soon. The question of whether I was heading for a C-section was no longer a concern. He was definitely going to be coming out through the birth canal.  Through the numbness of the epidural, I could feel the pressure of the next contraction coming on. My doula coached me through a push of ten counts, and I saw in the mirror that Aran’s head had emerged fully.  I took a deep breath and pushed again, screaming out like a banshee as I felt a burning, stretching sensation, then a warm, slippery whoosh of liquid and slimy baby, and he was out.
“Whoah! That’s a big baby!” said the midwife. “He ‘s huge!” said the doula. He let out a cry and everyone cheered.  The cord was clamped quickly and B cut it, then Aran was whisked over to the warmer and a whole slew of pediatric nurses and doctors.  The midwife said, “How’s the baby doing, is he ok?”  She got an answer in the affirmative and she said, “Good, cause we have a problem over here.” Someone ran out to get the OB and returned to say she was finishing up a delivery and would be in as soon as she could.  Whatever they were talking about was inconsequential–my full attention was on my baby, ten feet away surrounded by a gang in yellow scrubs and masks. He looked like the sunset, like dusk after it rains– pinky gray and purple, wet and shiny.  His cry kept me from worrying too much, but I needed to see him. I needed to touch him.  He needed to be on my belly. Right. Now. I couldn’t tell what they were doing for a few minutes, but Beth was shouting out periodic reports. “Ten toes!”  “Ten fingers!”  “He’s beautiful!” “He just has some fluid in his lungs and they’re helping him breathe!”

Finally the pediatrician held Aran up above the yellow bodies around him for me to get a glimpse. My mom, my doula, and me all let out a joyful squeal, a sigh of relief, and a gasp of breathless wonder to finally see him from head to toe.

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Somewhere in the same span of time the OB got there and the midwife came up to the head of the bed. “We need to get the placenta out as fast as we can because you’re bleeding quite a bit,” she said .
“Did I tear?” I ask, pretty sure of the answer, and not surprised after seeing how big Aran was. “Yeah, you tore pretty bad, a fourth degree, which means through four layers of tissue and muscle, all the way to your rectum. I only repair first and second degree tears, so Dr. Wagner is here to do the repair.”

While Dr. Wagner was stitching me up, the pediatricians were getting Aran ready for transport to the NICU.  His lungs were having trouble fully opening, and he needed more monitoring and assistance.  As they were leaving, they wheeled him to my bed and finally, FINALLY, we touched.

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Beth stayed with Aran in the NICU while my mom and doula stayed with me, and our wonderful friend and photographer went back and forth, bringing news from the other room, and documenting Aran’s first moments, which he spent in Beth’s constant and reassuring presence while he was poked and prodded and wired to more than one machine.

After the baby crew left the delivery room, Dr. Wagner was finishing up the repair.  I started feeling VERY tired, and my mom noticed something was wrong.  She asked me how I was feeling, and all I could say was “I feel tired,” but what I was really feeling was a sense of doom, that I had to stay awake because if I fell asleep I wouldn’t be waking up again.

My blood pressure went down to 60/30, I blacked out, and they opened my IV lines to raise my blood pressure back up. After that, they suggested I get a blood transfusion.  I agreed that that sounded like an excellent idea.

Six hours later, I finally got to hold my sweet bundle in my arms.  He sniffed and licked my breast, latched on and fell asleep.  I cried with relief that we had made it through and were finally, perfectly, together.

Waiting Room

I’m sitting in the lab waiting to get bloodwork done for hypothyroidism and to check my iron levels. The last time I was in this office was in my 39th week, to get an ultrasound to check baby’s estimated weight. The midwives were concerned that baby might be big so they wanted me to have a late-term ultrasound to make sure I wasn’t growing a 13 pound baby. The day of the ultrasound I was having what I thought was early labor- BH contractions very steadily 5-7 minutes apart. I went to the ultrasound (it was a conditional requirement in order to be cleared for a water birth at the hospital) thinking that I’d probably be at the hospital before the radiologist even had a chance to make his/her report. The contractions cooled off when I got back home and rested, and didn’t return again for ten days when I FINALLY went into true labor. My mother had the same pattern when she was pregnant with me; 48 hours of steady but painless BH contractions, then nothing but a few hours of BH in the evening for ten days, then labor finally arriving. I’ve heard lots of women say that their labor was very similar to their mother’s labor for their birth.

Back in the waiting room for my blood draw, Aran is asleep on my chest in his sling, resting his full weight on my ribs and belly. He was on the inside the last time I was in this room and now he ‘s on the outside. Simple, obvious, but still miraculous.

Did you have a similar pattern of labor as your mother?

Are there certain places, foods, or images that trigger strong memories of pregnancy and birth for you?