A “due date” is kind of a cruel joke.
Lorelei’s due date is December 3rd (or December 5th depending on which doctor I saw)…
…And that’s as far as I got in writing this article before I gave birth to an adorable, chubby-cheeked baby girl. If you’ve been following me on Instagram (@kaitpearl) or Tumblr, you know what she looks like and are probably tired of seeing her little face every few hours as it slowly takes over your newsfeeds. But I will never, ever tire of her silly smiles (even if they are a result of gas) because I worked hard to get her out of my uterus and into the real world.
In order to prepare for the experience of giving birth, my fiancé, Ryan, and I took a natural childbirth class that promoted a drug-free labor and delivery. But, my birth experience was nothing like what they said it would be pain-wise in the childbirth class I took, and that really sucked. That’s not to say I was told it would be easy-peasy and completely un-messy, but I was given a general timeline in which events should/would occur, and I had planned accordingly. Little did I know that not one bit of my birth plan would be used, and what I had done as a means of preparation was really just a way of making myself feel like I had a little bit of control over something that is impossible to control at all.
On December 4th, I decided to start trying some of the tricks I’d heard could bring on labor. I held off on doing so until my initial due date passed because I wanted to make sure I had as full-term of a baby as possible. The longer they cook in your belly, the smarter they’ll supposedly be, and I wasn’t going to jeopardize my baby’s chance of getting a full ride to a four-year university one day in her not-so-immediate future. So, I spent the day adding Tapatio hot sauce to every meal I ate, substituting pineapple juice in my smoothies and walking as long as my little legs could bear to walk (seriously though, my knees would buckle every time I walked for the last few months of my pregnancy). Once the sun went down, I spent the evening drinking red raspberry leaf tea and watching movies with Ryan.
The downside about actually going into labor the next morning? I have no idea which of the tricks I tried brought on the labor, if it was a trick at all. Nevertheless, my labor started on December 5th at 6:30 a.m. I woke up because of what felt like really intense period cramps that lasted for about a minute, and happened every seven or eight minutes. I was excited, but, let’s be honest for a second. I’m 23 years old and have never had a baby before. While most women are anxious for their contractions to start and think any tiny ache or pain is just that, a contraction starting, I was in denial. The crampy feeling was strange, but how could I be sure they were real contractions? I didn’t want to wake Ryan up early if there wasn’t any reason to, so I decided to time the cramps for an hour to see if they let up with position changes and constant bladder-emptying. They didn’t. So I woke Ryan up at 7:30 with a big smile on my face, and told him that my contractions finally started.
After we decided to try and sleep a little longer to build up as much energy as possible, it was impossible for me to relax. I knew that I could have a baby in my arms within the next 24 hours, and I couldn’t help but analyze the hell out of each and every contraction. I referenced my nifty Bradley Method book (which is all about how to give birth naturally), trying my best to find similarities between what the labor-phase chart said would happen and what was actually happening. But I was confused. My contractions were now five minutes apart, but not very painful or consistent in their length. According to the book (and every pregnancy website), I was supposed to go to the hospital once they were five minutes apart, because once they were five minutes apart I wasn’t supposed to be able to talk through them and I wasn’t supposed to want to eat anything. But I could definitely talk, and I was definitely hungry. So I told the book to suck it and got ready for my pre-scheduled doctors appointment.
To my disappointment, I was barely dilated to one centimeter (a cervix needs to be dilated to 10 centimeters in order to push a baby out). They hooked me up to a monitor that was supposed to detect contractions, but it didn’t detect any. Of course they stopped as soon as I needed a professional to check them out! Though the doctor told me it could be days before I had my baby, I knew in my heart that my erratic contractions were the real thing, and I would have my baby before the end of the week. So I did what I did best at that point, and spent the day walking and putting hot sauce on my food (spicy mac ‘n cheese was becoming my new favorite). My contractions would stop for periods of time and my excitement would turn into disappointment until they started up again. Frustrated, I watched Sons of Anarchy while bouncing on an exercise ball (another labor tactic), and went to bed with hopes of sleeping away my anxiety.
And then they hit me. At 12:30 a.m. on December 6th, I woke up to some extremely intense contractions that were a lot different than the ones I’d been having throughout the day. I tried my best to power through them and get some sleep, but at three in the morning I had to get out of bed and bounce on my exercise ball to get through the pain, while Ryan put the final touches on packing our bags for the hospital. He then told his parents to plan on driving from Orange County to Ventura because we were probably going to have a baby by the end of the day.
All of the commotion woke up my parents (Ryan and I are currently living with them), who tried to stay calm while they made coffee and asked us what our plans were. Because my contractions were really close together and significantly more unbearable than they were the day before, we decided to go to the hospital as soon as the main entrance was open at 5 in the morning. Come 4:30, I couldn’t wait anymore. I wanted to know how much I had dilated since the doctor had last checked me, and wanted to get some sense of when I would finally meet the little baby girl that had been growing inside me for the last nine months. So we went in through the emergency room doors, totally prepared for anything to happen.
So, how far was I dilated? I couldn’t believe it. I was still stuck at one centimeter, “Maybe two…,” as the nurse described it upon seeing the disappointment on my face. My contractions were so annoyingly painful and sleep-preventing that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how much further I had to go. The nurse suggested that I go home if I wasn’t planning on having an epidural (I wasn’t) because it could be a while before I went into “true labor.” They hinted that it could even be a week before I gave birth. So I headed back home to labor in the comfort of my bedroom. I was pissed. If this wasn’t “true labor” as the nurses liked to call it, then why did it hurt so bad? Did they seriously think I could deal with this pain for another week?
Once I got home, my labor really intensified. I tried to eat my favorite California Pizza Kitchen meal but couldn’t, I tried to sit but couldn’t, I tried to sleep but couldn’t. I couldn’t do anything but try to breathe through contractions that made me feel like I was going to (this is kind of graphic) poop out all of my organs. I felt like my body was ripping open from the inside out, and that if I sat down I would explode, but if I didn’t sit I would still explode. It was so uncomfortable (obviously) that I started to cry because I was overwhelmed by the reality of what was going to happen. My confidence in my ability to give birth without the assistance of an epidural was dwindling, and I was terrified. Not only did I spend nearly $200 on a class whose sole purpose was to prepare moms-to-be to give birth “naturally,” but I also spent months reading up on why epidurals were so dangerous. Did I really want to expose my baby and myself to the possibility of being unable to bond with each other because an epidural took away our ability to produce the right hormones? Did I really want them to stick a needle in my back? I didn’t want either of those, so I tried to think about other things, like how to keep all of my organs inside of my body.
Around 2:30 in the afternoon, I went to my OB’s office to get checked again. Long story short, in a matter of about four hours I progressed from “maybe two” centimeters to five-and-a-half centimeters! I was so incredibly relieved that all of the pain I was experiencing was because my cervix was actually doing something, but I was one million times more scared than I was before. Not only had I reached the “there’s no turning back now” moment, but the contractions had become significantly more unbearable and more frequent.
Let me further explain.
When we arrived at the hospital, I had a contraction as soon as I got out of the car, another when I took a few steps toward the door, another when I walked into the building, another as I waited for the elevator and denied a wheelchair (I could no longer handle sitting down), another on the elevator in front of a strange man who probably really regretted his timing, another when I got off the elevator and waited to be assigned to a room, two or three as I changed into my Pretty Pushers gown (I was also shaking uncontrollably at this time, which made the task of changing outfits nearly impossible and required the help of my mother), two or three when they made me sit on the hospital bed to hook me up to the monitor (which kept track of my contractions and my baby’s heart rate), another when they drew a few vials of blood, and a few more as I waited to get the epidural I so badly didn’t want to give in to.
I decided that since my contractions were one on top of the other and I was only at five-and-a-half centimeters, an epidural was pretty much 100 percent necessary if I intended to push this baby out with my own strength. From what I had been taught, my contractions weren’t supposed to be one on top of the other until I was going through the final stages of labor around the eight-centimeter mark, which is called transition. Transition is supposed to be the most painful phase of labor, and I hadn’t even reached it yet according to the numbers. So I decided to pretend I never created a birth plan and do what felt right. Trusting my emerging “mother’s intuition” worked in my favor – thanks to this amazing new level of relaxation, I progressed to 10 centimeters within two hours, and my water finally broke on its own. Yes, that’s right. I had been experiencing all of the contractions (and other true-labor signs that are a little too gross to write about here) without my water ever having broken. As interesting as that was, I’m happy to say that everything that was supposed to happen did, even if it did happen in an order we don’t typically see on T.V.
Unfortunately, when my water broke the nurse noticed that meconium was present in the amniotic fluid. Meconium is a tar-like substance that is excreted by newborns when they have their first bowel movement. Some babies have their first bowel movement inside their mother’s womb (myself included). This is often caused when the baby is distressed during labor, especially if their due date has passed. When there is meconium, it is necessary for the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) team to be present so they can ensure that your baby’s lungs are clear. Babies breathe in the amniotic fluid when they are in the womb, so if there is meconium in the amniotic fluid they breathe that in too, and their lungs can be negatively impacted. All of this meant that once Lorelei emerged she’d have to be immediately handed over to the NICU team rather than placed on my chest. I was sad about this because immediate skin-to-skin contact was the most important part of my birth plan, as well as the simplest, and it wasn’t going to happen.
Rather than dwell on my disappointment regarding Lorelei’s first few moments of life outside of my uterus, I rejoiced that my water broke on its own, that I was going to be able to avoid a C-section and that I was finally going to meet my sweet baby girl. Throughout my pregnancy I would have dreams that Lorelei and I would hold hands through my skin, like she would push her hand against my skin from the inside and I would grasp it from the outside. As strange as that sounds, it was extremely comforting to me during those nine months, and knowing that I was finally going to be able to hold her hand in real life was…I don’t even know what word to use to describe it. It was surreal, but extremely motivating, and I was ready to push.
Before I get into the pushing, I’d like to talk about epidurals. Epidurals have been given a bad rap by people who are very into the idea of a natural birth. But, is a natural birth any more spectacular than a birth that involves an epidural? In my case, I don’t think I would have had a very positive birth experience if I hadn’t opted for an epidural. When I was told I was at five-and-a-half centimeters, I was already shaking, sweating, crying and unable to relax or get comfortable. When I was checked about two hours later and told I was still at five-and-a-half centimeters, it seemed that the pain level and my inability to relax were preventing my body from doing what it needed to do to get my baby out. So I listened to my gut and got the epidural, much to the pleasure of the nurses and my uncle who is a retired surgeon.
When, as discussed earlier, I had progressed to 10 centimeters in two hours, the nurses told me that it was because my body was finally relaxed. The epidural allowed my body to do what it knew it needed to do without my brain and emotions getting in the way. I seriously just laid on the hospital bed, texting my friends and laughing with Ryan, while my cervix dilated another four-and-a-half centimeters. It was incredible and such a relief, and I felt like I had made the best decision for my body and my particular situation. The weirdest part of the epidural (which was kind of painful but nowhere near as painful as my contractions were) was that I could still feel my contractions radiating through my left leg. The pain was definitely subdued, but I knew that a contraction was happening because my leg would feel like it was buzzing and my muscles would tighten. I continually thought to myself, if I can feel the pain throughout my leg even though I’ve had an epidural, I can’t even imagine what the rest of my body would be going through if I hadn’t gotten the epidural. The thought made me sick, so I focused on what was about to happen and tried my best to rest so I could have enough energy to push.
Around 8:30 p.m., my nurse decided to check me before having me lay on my other side (they switch the side you’re laying on so that the epidural is distributed evenly to both sides of your body). She was shocked because she could already feel my baby’s head in the birth canal. I was shocked because I couldn’t feel anything in my birth canal thanks to the epidural. She announced that it was time to push. I remember telling the nurse, Ryan and my mom that I was scared. However, I wasn’t scared of the pushing, because pushing is pushing. I was scared of meeting my baby. I was scared of what her birth meant for me and the rest of my life, and I was scared that something would be wrong with her. But nobody let me dwell on those feelings for very long. Instead, my mom grabbed my left leg, Ryan grabbed my right, my sister stood to the left of my head and my future mother-in-law stood by her son. The nurse put a mirror in front of me so I could see everything that was happening “down there,” and I highly recommend that any woman who gives birth does the same, unless blood and other bodily fluids make them queasy. Pushing with an epidural is challenging because you can’t really feel how hard or not hard you’re body is working. Being able to see everything in a mirror, however, gives you an idea of how much energy you need to exert at certain times and made things a whole lot easier for me.
So, what’s it like to give birth? It is the most insane thing you will ever experience. Your sense of modesty disappears and you feel the most human you’ve ever felt in your life. You feel like you’re capable of anything; you feel incredibly close to everybody in the room; you feel special and important because your body, energy and patience are the only things that will get your baby out of your womb and into the world. But most of all, you feel this intense connection with your son or daughter; a connection stronger than any connection you’ve ever felt with anybody in your entire life. Both of you are working for the same end result. He or she can feel your pushes from the inside, and with each inch of movement, their world gets brighter and brighter. Breathing starts to feel different for him or her, and noises are louder and less muffled. And then they feel the sense of being touched for the first time. In my case, the doctor had to insert his hand to help pull my daughter’s head and shoulders out. This hurt like a motherf*cker (there’s really no appropriate way to put it) and no epidural could cover up that kind of pain. According to everyone who was in the room, I screamed the “F” word at least three times when this was happening. But seconds later, at 9:36 p.m., my baby was born, the umbilical cord was cut and she was whisked to my right so the NICU team could work their magic and make sure she could breathe okay.
Hearing that first cry after an hour of pushing was incredible, and I felt like a pretty awesome person. Even though my body was shaking uncontrollably and my doctor was cleaning me up down under, I couldn’t help but stare at my fiancé standing next to our baby girl as she was experiencing the outside world for the first time. Even though she had a tube down her throat for that first minute, she was healthy, strong and a good size (seven pounds, six ounces and 20.5 inches long). Everything was perfect in that moment, and everything about life as I knew it was changing right before my eyes.
A few minutes later, when Lorelei was put in my arms, I felt a sense of contentment that I had never felt before. I didn’t really feel like a mom, but I knew that I was now complete and ready to take on my new role in life. I also felt extremely proud of myself for pushing a seven-pound baby out of my vagina after being in labor for 36 hours. And before that, I spent nine months growing that baby in my uterus. I nourished her, talked to her, quit cigarettes and alcohol for her. I was a champ, and delivered a healthy baby girl as a result.
The hospital I delivered in partakes in Kangaroo Care, which allows the mother and father to enjoy their baby’s first hour of life alone – which literally means no doctors and no family members. Just mom, dad and baby. So for that first hour, we stared at our new daughter and reflected on the long day. It was gloriously peaceful and exciting, though time went by much too fast. As I munched on a very dry hospital sandwich and attempted breastfeeding for the first time, my baby calmly took in her surroundings and grasped my finger. Finally, all seemed right in my world.
While these first six weeks of parenthood haven’t been easy in the least, seeing Lorelei grow and discover the world around her has given Ryan and me a new sense of purpose, and for that we are forever grateful.
If you have any questions about the whole childbirth process, feel free to ask away in the comments section and I’ll be sure to answer based on my personal experience.
Photos by myself, my sister, my mom and my friend Ali Nelson.