Stephen Gabriel's birth story (part two)

Monday, August 25, 2014

You can read part one here.

Between 5 am and 7 am was kind of a blur, but I remember doing a lot of the "dancing" pose that we had learned in our childbirth class. I would stand up and grab on to Stephen's neck during contractions, bury my head in his shoulder, and sway back and forth. Stephen was such a great labor coach, comforting me and encouraging me. I'll never forget at one point during a particularly painful contraction Stephen whispering into my ear "You're the best thing that ever happened to me." I also vaguely remember my mom praying out loud during some of the contractions. I got back in the tub for a short period of time, but that was when some particularly painful contractions hit and I started vomiting again. Then I started wondering if I was going to make it. The night shift nurse traded out for the dayshift nurse sometime around then, and she told me when she came back on later that night that she was worried about me when she left because she saw "panic" in my eyes (panic was a good word for it). After a particularly bad contraction and more vomiting, I sent my mom to get the nurse. Stephen came in the bathroom then with some cheerios and I started yelling at him to "Get those out of here NOW" (I don't think I've ever seen him run so fast). The new nurse came in, who had worked in Haiti (she and my mom tried to distract me by talking about my time in Haiti but I was beyond the point of distraction) and I asked her to check me. In my head I was thinking that unless I were really, really close to the end I couldn't stand the contraction pain much longer.

I was 4-5 cm. Sigh. I remember sitting on the edge of the bed and "dancing" with Stephen through the next couple of contractions until a really painful one hit. Stephen says it went something like this: Hard contraction. Me: "I need Staydol!" Next hard contraction. "Nope, epidural, epidural!" (emphasizing that I did NOT yell but I did convey a strong sense of urgency in my voice). At that point my mom (who went through 8 natural labors) said "Ok, Ok honey!! Let me get the nurse and tell her!" and Stephen proceeded to ask me three times "Are you sure you want the epidural?" He knew how much research I'd done, all my opinions on epidurals, all my talk of not wanting one. I looked him and my mom straight in the eye and said defeatedly, "I'm sorry, but I want it. I know I do." The sweet nurse told me that I didn't did to apologize to anyone and I remember thinking vaguely that it would be slightly embarrassing to get the epidural after my soapbox against them but pride was definitely not enough to stop me, ha. I guess I could take this moment to say that labor pain was nothing like I imagined it. I have fairly painful periods and never really feared contractions, mostly I feared the pushing and the potential tearing. But the contractions were horrific. At times it felt like my body was ripping in two...(annnnd I'm so sorry for any pregnant ladies reading this...every labor is different).

The nurse had to call the doctor to see if I could still get the epidural and when the on-call doctor came in, I was laying in a ball on my right side. I was hoping she could check me just like that because the pain of the contractions felt like too much to move at all. She couldn't, and laying on my back was the.worst. She checked me...8 cm. Well, I knew what that meant. I still had to ask if it was too late for the epidural...which it was. She agreed to give me a small dose of Staydol though.

The next chunk of time was a blur of pain. I remember having a couple contractions in the bed and crying out. Stephen said that at one point I yelled "Please God, help me!" (I don't remember that) and he said it was just awful being in the room and feeling so powerless to help. I wouldn't look at anyone in between contractions, keeping my eyes closed most of the time, and continuing to say Memorares silently and desperately. I got a small dose of Staydol at 9:30 a.m. (which didn't seem to affect the pain but did help me to rest/relax between contractions) and at 9:50 I was complete and ready to start pushing (sidenote that I dilated from 3 cm to 10 cm in only a little over three hours, which I'm sure contributed to the pain).

If the contractions were nothing like what I expected, neither was the pushing. My contractions suddenly spaced apart, which meant that they had to start Pitocin. I had expected (from Ina May, among others) that pushing would feel right and almost good in a way, but instead I felt like I didn't know when to push or how to I just pushed and cried and pushed and cried with every contraction. I had tried to be stoic at first and internalize the contractions, and I remember the nurse giving me 'permission' to yell - afterward I was slightly embarrassed about whatever doctors/medical students/nurses heard me carrying on, although Stephen insists I wasn't that loud and even if I was, it was labor! People always reference the "ring of fire" when the baby's head comes out, which was my greatest fear going into labor, and it honestly felt like a "ring of fire" with just about every single push. In between pushes, I was almost able to sleep (maybe the Staydol or maybe not) and then I would feel another contraction coming on and push, push with all my might through the pain.

I wasn't really aware of much during the pushing, but I do remember saying that I didn't think I could do it...and asking again and again if he was almost out (no he wasn't). The on-call doctor (mine unfortunately didn't make it back in time from the clinic because of how fast I progressed) had a perfectly calm polker face but the baby was firmly wedged and occiput posterior (sunny side up) in my pelvis. She told me later that she was getting ready to get out the vacuum and had Stephen Jr. not been so tiny, she thinks I would have needed a C section (I'm so very glad I was spared that end to my hours of labor).

After a little over an hour of pushing, it became clear that sweet little Stephen wasn't coming out on without some sort of intervention. It's funny because I was worried about the fear of knowing too much as a physician and being in labor, but the searing pain and exhaustion had caused me to retreat to a place inside myself where I don't think I could feel that fear. I was vulnerable, and as traumatic as I felt like the labor/delivery experience was, I did feel secure in the hands of my doctor, my mom, and Stephen. Even when I heard a faint slow beeping that I knew in my mind was the baby having a deceleration, it didn't cause me to fear. At that point though, I heard (or at least I thought I heard) the doctor get out the episiotomy was on my list of "please God no" things for my delivery, but I knew that something had to be done and I really, really wanted him to come out. I couldn't keep pushing through so much intense pain. She cut the episiotomy (a second degree) and two pushes later, he arrived.

This is the part that I still have to reconcile in my mind, because in Ina May's book and a lot of the birth stories I've read, the baby arrives and a powerful rush of endorphins happens, taking away a lot of the residual pain and causing a strong and immediate bond with the baby. I didn't feel much of anything though at first. I was exhausted and I felt sort of stunned from all the pain, and it still wasn't comfortable with the episiotomy and the placenta still inside (it didn't feel anywhere nearly as painful as before, but just like a lot of pressure). I remember looking down at little Stephen Gabriel...he came out screaming and squirmy and healthy looking, despite his cone head...and then looking over at Stephen and seeing his chin quivering and his eyes tearing up and his whole face just full of so much love for his son. And that's when I looked down at our baby and knew in my heart of hearts how much I loved him and how blessed we were.

We were able to do skin to skin right after birth, which I'm so happy we were able to do even if I don't remember much about it now. Also, I just have to mention that probably my favorite part of the afterbirth was them bringing in the birth certificate and Stephen looking my straight in the eye and saying "After that, you can name him whatever you want" despite our many months of deliberating over the baby's name. We stuck with Stephen Gabriel (although now I wish that I would have said Juan Pablo just to see his reaction).

So that is the long and drawn out saga of Stephen Gabriel's birth. So different from what I thought, such an experience, and so gloriously worth it.


  1. just beautiful. I love birth stories. And this sounds word-for-word like my first labor with my very stubborn, very large occiput posterior firstborn son, even down to the dreaded e-word. I did manage to score my epidural in the 11th hour though, which I praise to the highest of heavens.

  2. Thank you for sharing your birth story! While my birthing experience was different than yours, I can relate to not feeling an instant bond with the baby. It took me awhile to process everything that had just happened...

  3. you were not the only to *not feel the intense love for your newborn right away. Must be the natural labor and delivery. I, too, was just so tired and stunned. I was more relieved to see a healthy baby instead of overpouring love and kisses to my newborn. Certainly, once the shock went away, I was never the same. I fell in love.

  4. Wow!!!! Now THAT is a birth story! Whew, I feel exhausted just reading it!!! And I say that as a veteran mom of three!!! Fabulous job, mama! You did awesome!!!

  5. My last two births were exactly like that. Aimed for natural (because I was doing Vbacs), broke down from the pain and asked for an epidural, both times it was too late so I got a little pain med through the IV, pushed a lot, episodomy and two healthy baby boys. And both times I was majority exhausted too and there wasn't instant bonding (though they both nursed right away). I considered them "good" labors because they were good enough compared to the emergency c-section I had with my first. Loved your honesty and birth story. Very well written and personal. And baby Stephen is so beautiful!

  6. What a wonderfully honest story. I did a natural birth as well and it progressed very quickly and I felt bad afterward that I didn't have the rush of endorphins and instant connection to my baby, but I was exhausted and very much in shock for a little while. It doesn't mean that I love my baby any less though! Birth is hard!

  7. Omg I don't think I'm ever going to have kids!! This sounds so awful and scary, no thank you But wow congrats on getting through all that pain :)

  8. This is definitely the perfect example of something all moms know: that births can't really be planned per se, and that you can NEVER predict how a labor/birth will go. My first was sunny-side up too, and I had a 58-hour back labor (the worst, I know!), with 3-1/2 hours of pushing, after which she was delivered via vacuum and I suffered a 4th degree tear. Because of that trauma/damage to my pelvic floor etc, my second was born via planned C-section. Never would have predicted/planned any of that! But who cares? I have 2 gorgeous girls who have been the very best part of my whole life. :) Congrats on your hard work!!!

  9. Gahhhhh! I can't believe all you went through - and it makes me feel seriously lucky to have gotten to the hospital at 8cm so it was a much shorter process. How is it that that progression can be so much worse/more painful in one delivery than in another? I'm starting to wonder if it's all just luck, which makes me nervous for next time....

    But you did it!! You are amazing. And you have one darn sweet little boy as your amazing prize.


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