Hence commenced a daily regime of walking, knee lifts, spicy foods, meditating, raspberry leaf tea, and praying.
One evening, we went on a family bike ride, and yes, I rode my bike! I didn’t know if it would be physically possible, but since my mom is always bragging about riding to the hospital to deliver my brother, Ben (it was a scheduled C-section), I figured I should at least give it a try. I thought the rhythmic kneeing of my belly would start off a wave of contractions, but nothing.
Then there was the morning when Bradley was riding his bike in the driveway and didn’t make a narrow enough turn. He rode right off our neighbor’s basement stairs. I leapt off the porch to try to catch him, but I didn’t make it. Luckily, he was wearing his helmet and came through the incident with nothing more than a scratch on his chin. I honestly didn’t know I was physically capable of moving so fast anymore, and afterwards, I was so surprised (and disappointed) that the fear and adrenaline and exertion hadn’t done something in the way of labor.
At 37 weeks, Mike told me I wasn’t going to go into labor because I didn’t want it enough yet. I think he said it just to get me riled up (maybe he thought a little aggravation would be just the labor-inducing trick). However, I think by the time I was out walking in the pouring rain, even he was convinced I was serious about getting the baby out of me.
People kept telling me, “Well, it’s easier to take care of the baby inside than outside,” and I just wanted to sma--, um, politely disagree with them. I had a baby’s head jammed in my pelvis (the midwife’s words, not mine, but very accurate nonetheless). I couldn’t walk or bend over or move. I knew that most likely, even with the demands of a newborn, I would be happier with him out of me.
All along, I had thought if he didn’t come on his own, I would ask to be induced on June 2nd, which was three days after my due date. But when I went into my appointment on May 22nd, my midwife told me she was going out of town from May 29th—June 2nd. She told me she’d be happy to induce me on May 28th or wait until June 3rd, or I could just see if I went into labor on my own somewhere in between. She really didn’t want to pressure me in any way, so I told her I’d talk to Mike about it and give her a call if I wanted to schedule anything.
Even though I would have preferred going into labor on my own, I knew from Bradley’s birth that sometimes it’s not best to leave things to chance. With him, I also had an induction scheduled, but he came on his own three days before. My midwife couldn’t be there, so I just had to have the midwife on call. She and I were not on the same wavelength at all, and there were several things that happened (nothing serious) that I was not happy about.
I looked at the on-call schedule for May 29th—June 2nd, and sure enough, on May 30th, there was the infamous midwife’s name. I just knew if I tried to make it until June 3rd, the baby would decide May 30th was the perfect time to come (Murphy’s law and tempting fate and all that). Plus, at this point, sooner was sounding a lot better than later. I called Gretchen and told her to schedule the induction.
Then all I had to do was wait, right? But no. I still wanted that baby to come on his own. In fact, Thursday night I was adamant that he was on his way. (I taught a piano lesson after my appointment and was feeling quite sick and crampy by the time I got home.) Mike had a four-day weekend, and I just thought going into labor on Thursday night would be perfect. Too perfect, I guess.
As we slowly made our way through the weekend, I began to be so grateful I’d been compelled to schedule the induction for sooner than I’d originally wanted. The baby had always been very active, never giving me a moment’s worry about his whereabouts or wellbeing. But in that week before the 28th, there were two days (Sunday and Tuesday) where he was much more quiet. My anxiety skyrocketed. On Sunday, I almost went to the hospital to make sure he was okay since all my poking and prodding wasn’t yielding the same results it normally did. I just wanted to see him and hold him and know for myself that everything was fine.
On Tuesday, the 27th, I had another appointment. I was 3 cm dilated and 60% effaced. Gretchen stripped my membranes, hoping we could maybe get some contractions going to help along the induction in the morning. As she was doing the examination, she exclaimed, “This baby has hair! Did your other boys have hair?” I was kind of shocked she could feel his head, but then again, not so surprised. He was, after all, jammed in my pelvis. It made me feel like we were so close to meeting him. Surely such a short distance wouldn’t be too long or painful, right? Ha. Haha. Hahahahahaha.
If you’ve made it this far in this narrative, I applaud you. We’re 1000 words in, and I haven’t even had a real contraction yet. Believe it or not, I’ll be grateful I decided to be so detailed in a couple of years when I’m trying to remember the details surrounding Clark’s birth (that, or trying to settle a debate with Mike).
39 weeks four days, the evening before the induction
On the morning of the 28th, I woke up before my alarm, which was set for 6:00. I was supposed to call the hospital then to confirm that I should come in at 7:30. When I called, the nurse told me there had been an explosion of pregnant women overnight (sadly, I was not one of them) and to hold off coming in. She told me I could call again at 9:00 to see if there was room for me.
I hung up the phone feeling disheartened. Mike welcomed the chance to sleep in. I felt restless and anxious. I was at the starting block, ready to begin the race, but no one was giving me the go ahead. So I went on a walk instead. Then I ate a bowl of Cheerios.
All of the boys slowly woke up, and we spent our time getting ready for the day. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley were disappointed by the late start time as well since it meant a delay to their fun plans with Grandma Jill.
I debated what we should do. Should Mike go to work? Should Aaron go to school? Was I going to call back at 9:00 just to hear them tell me to call back at noon?
In the end, we just decided to go ahead and drop off the boys with Mike’s mom. By this point, we were all feeling a little jittery, and it was just annoying everyone to be cooped up in our house. When we got to Mike’s parents’ house, it was 9:00, so I called the hospital. The nurse cheerfully told me I could come in at 10:00. I had to make sure I’d heard correctly: “You mean I can come to the hospital at 10:00? Or I should call again at 10:00.” “No, be here at 10:00.” Wa-hoo! The party was back on.
I told Mike I wanted him to keep a timeline of the important events. He kicked things off at 10:10 when he recorded that we were officially admitted into the hospital. Going in for an induction feels a little surreal—almost like you’re volunteering for torture: Go ahead, start the pain. Anytime now. The more intense, the better.
I changed into the hospital gown, and then we met Aleisha, a nurse-in-training. At 10:25, the monitors were in place, although the baby was determined not to make it easy for us and moved as much as possible.
Soon after, my nurse, Melissa, came in. Since I was positive for Group B Strep, they needed to put in an IV so I could get a dose of penicillin before the baby was delivered. I was positive for Group B Strep with my other boys as well, so I was used to the process. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that between the monitors and the IV, there was nothing “natural” about my natural delivery. There’s nothing like carting around an IV pole to make you feel like you’re trapped inside a hospital.
At 11:30, Melissa came in to discuss the plan for the rest of the day. Ideally, the antibiotics needed to be in my system for four hours before the delivery, which meant we wanted to hold off on anything too drastic until close to 3:00. Gretchen wanted to start a low dose of Pitocin, but I wanted her to try breaking my water first. She didn’t want to break my water until the four-hour mark, and she wanted me to be having regular contractions. Melissa said I could try kick starting the contractions naturally through nipple stimulation and walking.
Mike wanted them to start the Pitocin immediately. He tried to convince Melissa that that’s what I wanted as well, but I think she could tell I wasn’t totally on board. It’s not that I was scared of Pitocin. I had to have a little with Aaron and Maxwell (and Mike was adamant they gave it to me with Bradley’s birth as well, but Melissa was easily able to look at my record and settle that argument on the spot: no Pitocin with Bradley).
We debated the pros and cons for a good twenty minutes. My argument: if they don’t want me to have the baby until at least 3:00, why shouldn’t I try naturally inducing labor? We have plenty of time. Then Gretchen can break my water, and he’ll be here in fifty minutes, just like Bradley’s birth. Mike: haven’t you been trying the “natural induction method” for the last two weeks? Maybe with the Pitocin, you’ll actually have him before 3:00 (which Mike thought would be super duper fabulous).
In the end, I won, but Mike wanted to go on record as saying that he is “a fan of artificial hormones.” So there you go.
For the next two hours, I paced around my room like a caged animal. The nurse put warm towels on my chest, and I tried nipple stimulation while I pushed the IV pole in front of me. The contractions obeyed the command and began coming fast and regular. Mike started timing them, and they were coming every 4-6 minutes. Melissa and I were triumphant. Every forty minutes, I had to get back in the bed so the baby could be monitored for twenty minutes (even though it was pretty obvious to me from his movements and hiccups that he was just fine). I actually welcomed the breaks in bed. It was exhausting to keep up the pace. Unfortunately, when I slowed down, so did the contractions, but I started welcoming breaks from them as well.
During all of this, I became more and more hungry. I knew this would happen. And I had come prepared. I packed a suitcase full of snacks, which I planned to consume on the sly during labor. After reading Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, I didn’t see any reason why I shouldn’t eat. Honestly, the chances of a problem arising because I didn’t eat were far greater than if I did. So I was ready, and Mike was behind me 100%.
But then, wouldn’t you know it, almost as soon as we got to the hospital, the nurse said, “Only ice chips or popsicles from here on out. We’ll see what Gretchen says about clear liquids,” and my resolve instantly crumbled. My rule-loving self just couldn’t look the other way while chomping away on a granola bar. Mike tried to convince me: you need food . . . just a couple of crackers . . . they’ll never know . . . you knew going in they wouldn’t give you permission. Then he tried to talk the nurse into it, but of course she didn’t have the authority to change hospital policy.
So finally we settled on the popsicle option (which, thank goodness, was an option). “Okay,” I told the nurses, “I need calories to keep me going, so do you mind if I just keep ordering popsicles? Is there a limit? No? Okay then.” And so that’s what I did. Cherry, orange, grape. I tried them all. I lost track of how many I ate. But they saved me. I could be a rule-follower and stay alive.
By 2:00, the contractions were inching their way up the pain scale. They weren’t anything I couldn’t walk through, but they were making their presence known. I was happy with the progress, but I was also beginning to feel a little hopeless. I was losing all sense of time. It felt like I’d been in the hospital forever and that I would be trapped there for the rest of my life. Even though I tried to focus on the baby and what it would be like to hold him, I couldn’t imagine it actually happening. It felt like I had wandered into some enchanted maze and that I would be wandering around attached to an IV pole until the end of time. Turns out, I’m not that awesome at positive thinking.
At 2:45, Gretchen arrived. She checked my progress (4 cm, 70% effaced) and broke my water. Things didn’t take off the way I hoped. I continued to walk (which, turns out, is even more miserable once your water is broken and you’re still attached to the cursed IV pole). The contractions did pick up in intensity (at 3:07, Mike recorded me stopping mid-stride and saying, “Oh, boy . . . “ He recognized that as entering a new level of pain), but I could tell we weren’t making any dramatic leaps toward delivery.
Overall, my morale was plummeting . . . and fast. Now instead of feeling trapped in a maze, I felt like I had come to a brick wall. Try as I might, I couldn’t picture what was on the other side, and I couldn’t see any way to get over there. I had tried to prepare myself to be patient, but I could feel my energy depleting with every lap around the room.
The next time I had to be monitored, Melissa could tell that my attitude was slipping. She asked if I wanted to start a low dose of Pitocin, and this time, I didn’t have to think about: Yes. Do it. I’m ready. (Mike was maybe a little smug at this point since he had wanted the Pitocin all along, but he knew I wasn’t in the mood for smugness.)
The Pitocin started dripping through the IV at 4:20. I like to think that it was all of my hard work from the previous five hours that made the lowest dose kick those contractions into high gear.
It was about that time I wanted to backpedal. I was still at the brick wall. I still couldn’t see what was on the other side. But now my body was trying to bulldoze through it. And it felt fruitless, pointless. I couldn’t see any damage to the wall, but I was intensely feeling every slam into it.
I have to preface this next part by saying that with my other three kids, I gave very little thought towards epidurals. In the beginning stages of labor, I didn’t think about an epidural because I didn’t want one. And once I was to the transitional stage of labor, I was just so focused on getting through each contraction without dying that I didn’t have any room left over to think about wanting an epidural.
But for some reason, this time, and just about at this point, I became obsessed with the possibility of an epidural. And I mean obsessed. At 4:30, Mike recorded, “Depressed. Wants epidural.” That summed it up pretty well. I was begging everyone for an epidural. Mike told me he didn’t think I really wanted one (he was probably right). Gretchen kept stalling: “Well, the anesthesiologist is busy right now. He’s down the hall helping someone who’s delivering twins.” I’m still not sure if that was true or if she just thought reminding me that I wasn’t having twins would boost my morale a bit.
The labor literally felt endless to me. As in, I literally thought it would never end. With every contraction, Mike and Gretchen told me, “You’re getting closer,” and I countered with, “No, he’s not coming. He will never get here.” And I believed it.
And it’s for this reason that after he was born (spoiler! In spite of my intense belief that he wasn’t coming, he did!), I felt so disappointed in myself. Gretchen and Mike and the nurses were congratulating me on a job well done, and I couldn’t bask in any of it. Why? Because during all of those contractions piling up on top of one another and stretching out for such a long time, I wanted to give up. And I’m afraid that if my body hadn’t taken over and barreled toward the finish line, I would have. And it hurts me to think that for all my preparation, I’m that weak that I can’t willingly endure pain for a couple of hours.
At 5:05, Gretchen checked me again. I was dilated to a six and 100% effaced. I should have been happy with the progress, but I wasn’t. I could only focus on the 4 cm barrier left to cross, and it felt insurmountable. I tried to keep the image of a wave in my mind. I breathed against the contraction while I rode the wave to the top, and then let it out as the wave crashed over. The problem was it was taking longer and longer to get to the top of each wave. And it hurt. Like crazy. I don’t get mad during labor. I don’t lash out at people or yell or swear. But I do whimper and moan a lot. Oh, and I beg for help.
I was so hot, so I chewed on some ice chips, and then I asked for another popsicle. I ate this one much more slowly though because the contractions didn’t care that I wanted a snack break, and before I had finished it, I was shivering. My teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I laid down, and they put a warm blanket over me. Mike was happy about the shivering because I did that with our other kids too just before pushing.
At 5:41, Gretchen checked me again, but I was only dilated to a 7. Because I hadn’t made much progress in the last forty minutes and because I had begun to feel the contractions in my back, Gretchen determined that the baby must be posterior and was having trouble making his way down. So she asked me to get on my arms and knees for the next contraction. That felt like an almost impossible request, but I knew from my reading that the hands and knees position can do wonders during labor, so I willing to try it.
There’s nothing quite like getting on your hands and knees in a revealing hospital gown during the final stages of labor to make you feel like you’ve lost all dignity. But it worked. I had one, two, three contractions in that position. With each one, I could feel the progression of the baby. Those were some productive contractions, I tell you. I begged for an epidural. “There’s no time! The baby’s coming!” they told me. Before the third one, Gretchen said, “I’m only going to let you do one more, and then we’ll move you back to your side.”
As I turned back to my side, the delivery room became a whirlwind of activity: plastic sheets and tools and carts and lights and a cluster of people. Someone was holding up my left leg. Someone was sitting at the foot of the bed. And I just remember feeling so confused: They act like I’m about to have a baby. Why are they all rushing around like that? They act like I’m going to push. Whoa, I feel like I need to push. I am pushing.
And then Mike was saying, “I can see his head.” And Gretchen was saying, “Slow down, Amy.” And I could hear the gut-wrenching cries coming out of myself. And then they were all saying, “His head is out!” And then, miraculously, unbelievably, at 5:51, the rest of him arrived in a rush, and his soft, warm little body was in my arms. I was pressing my lips to his wet hair and looking at his watery eyes. And I kept saying, “I can’t believe he’s here. I can’t believe I’m holding him. I didn’t think he’d ever come. I love him. I’m so happy. I can’t believe it.” The tears pricked at my eyes, and I trembled with happiness. Suddenly, I was on the other side. I’d somehow made it over or under or through the wall, and the reward was more wonderful than I could have imagined. Even though it was my fourth baby, the joy, the relief, and the awe were just as beautiful and miraculous as the very first time.
And now, just a few thoughts in retrospect:
First, did you catch how long it took to go from a 7, flipping over on hands and knees, enduring three contractions, flipping back to side, and pushing to holding a baby? Ten minutes. Ten. Most productive ten minutes of my life.
Second, Mike cut the cord. He didn’t have any interest in cutting it. But Gretchen handed him the scissors, so he did it.
Third, there was no drama with the delivery of the placenta like there was when Bradley was born.
Fourth, I had just a little itty bitty tear. I hardly even remember being stitched up. I was distracted by a bundle of baby.
Fifth, my support team was amazing (Mike, Aleisha, Melissa, and Gretchen). They stayed positive even when I was a black cloud of despair.
Sixth, Melissa took Clark from me for just a minute to get a good cry out of him. After that, I tried nursing him. It took him a bit to figure it out.
Seventh, I’m so glad I didn’t get an epidural. Not just glad. Incredibly grateful. I have replayed the birth a million times. I have thought about little Clark in that posterior position unable to make it the final 3 centimeters. I have thought about the wisdom of Gretchen in telling me to get on my hands and knees so Clark would have room to turn himself around. A few days after his birth, I read someone else’s birth story. Her baby was also posterior. She pushed for over two hours, and finally the doctor used a vacuum to help the baby out. If I’d had an epidural, I wouldn’t have been able to get on my hands and knees. I wouldn’t have been able to feel the progression of the baby. I might have pushed and pushed without any results. I am so grateful no one listened to my pleas for an epidural.