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When I gave birth to David, my water had broken a few hours earlier, and we walked into L&D full of nervous energy and an occasional contraction. We handed the nurse my detailed birth plan that we had written months in advance, edited and polished, gotten approved by my OB, notarized, and chiseled into stone just in case. We waited as she read every detail, then asked if she had questions.
When I gave birth to Anna I walked into the room and figured they must know me by now.
The nurses were prepping, and one of them had a big bag of medical supplies that I didn’t pay attention to because I was busy taking off my boots between contractions. Someone said something about an epidural, and Tom clarified that I wasn’t planning to have an epidural. No epidural, not even a saline lock, thank you. And one of the nurses said, “Ok then we don’t have to rush!”
Tom locked eyes with the nurse, “NO YOU STILL HAVE TO RUSH!”
I changed into my very, very fancy hospital gown, answered intake questions, and briefed them on my labor with Thomas — that it went from zero to baby very, very fast.
We also told them that I wanted a low intervention delivery, and that’s all we had to say. Birth plans are awesome, and if I had to do it all over again I’d still write one, but in retrospect, I think maybe they’re more for the mom than the health care providers.
The nurse did mention something about a saline lock, a suggestion Tom quickly shut down. No, we do not want a saline lock. The nurse looked confused, because I think saline locks are standard procedure — placing an IV incase something happens and you need medicine quickly.
Something came over me and I was oddly ambivalent about the saline lock. The nurse wasn’t even pushing it, she just wanted to make sure I understood what the saline lock was, and that I’d have to have an injection of Pitocin after the delivery to help control uterine bleeding. And, weirdly, I acquiesced.
“Eh, I’d rather not have a saline lock. But let’s just go for it, YOLO!”
Tom put his foot down immediately, because the great saline lock stand-off of 2011 during Mary Virginia’s birth, wherein I cried and panicked and told them I’d have a saline lock over my dead body, was still fresh in his mind. #neverforget
Tom just said, “No. She doesn’t want that.”
And it was no big deal. The nurse said she’d tell the doctor, and that was that.
Once I was checked in Tom relaxed. In fact, he relaxed so much that he started streaming a Virginia Tech basketball game on his phone. I wouldn’t tell you that, that Tom was watching a game while I was BRINGING HIS FOURTH CHILD INTO THE WORLD, except that everyone already knows Tom is a devoted husband and father. Also, he asked me for permission, and I said YES! You sure can! See how reasonable and not about to give birth I am!?
With Tom happily watching the game, the nurse checked my progress. I was a six. Maybe that sounds acceptable to you. It’s legit progress and I wasn’t in hard labor; I was still in “not irritated by my husband watching a basketball game” labor. But for some reason I had it in my head that I was an eight. And the truth is, when you’re wondering how dilated you are there is only one answer. TEN.
She also said that my bag was “bulging,” so much that she couldn’t perform a complete exam. It was a visual I didn’t need, but I’m happy to give to you, dear reader. You’re welcome.
Yet I still had the urge to ask, “I’m in labor, right? You’re not going to send me home?” Because I still didn’t completely believe it. What is that? Since I wrote part one, several women have told me they were also in denial about labor even when they were so, so obviously in labor. Part of my denial was that I hadn’t reached my due date, and I had been SURE she would be late. But the other part? The denial that so many of my friends can relate to? Where does that come from?
Let’s digress and talk about the timeline for a second, because everyone asks me how long my labor was. Whelp, I had my first contraction around 1 a.m. the night before, that continued in prodromal style through the entire next day, that picked up around 3 p.m., became regular around 6 p.m. We left for the hospital around 6:45, and were likely admitted around 7:15. When did labor start? I have no idea. It was either fast or will go down as my longest labor.
The nurse told me that after they had a chance to monitor my contractions and the baby’s heart rate, I could get up and walk around. My contractions were picking up, and during one I heard her tell another nurse, “She Lamazes through the contractions perfectly.”
Oh, thank you, experienced labor and delivery professional, who has seen hundreds of women Lamaze through contractions. I took her compliment very, very seriously, and for the rest of my labor I was focused on maintaining my reputation as The Most Perfect Lamaze-r, available for autographs in about an hour or so.
As contractions picked up (and I continued to Lamaze like an actual professional), I realized I had certain expectations for this labor. I figured it would be fast, but I also expected that it’d hit me out of no where; I wouldn’t have time to really experience all that blinding pain and discomfort, and after a few contractions I’d sneeze and give a good push and then BAM! Baby!
Now that my contractions were intensifying to “actually, maybe I am annoyed by the basketball game,” and since I knew I was a six, I calculated progress at the rate of one centimeter an hour, I could be at this for a while. That wasn’t what I expected.
Expectations are everything. I learned that the hard way when I tried on my pre-pregnancy jeans ONE WEEK after giving birth to David.
Seeing my expectations fade into a long, slow labor, I started complaining to Tom about how labor was terrible and I hated it and I never wanted to do it again. Then a contraction would hit and I would immediately start Lamaze breathing with the focus of Mary Lou Retton, about to perform the final vault of her career.
My nurse (who was WONDERFUL) must have heard me complaining and moaning about my terrible long labor (go ahead, roll your eyes. Especially if you’ve had one of those epic, 36-hour labors. I hadn’t even been in the hospital for an hour and was considering getting my mail forwarded to my hospital bed). She gave me a few suggestions to get things moving. She told me that if I wanted, they could break my water, and things would progress quickly. But if I wasn’t ready for that, walking around or using the birthing ball would work, too.
Here’s ANOTHER instance of me not behaving logically. I wanted labor to progress. I was ready for labor to be over, but I didn’t want to be the one to pull the trigger. I knew the intensity of delivery was coming, and I didn’t want to be the instigator. That felt scary to me. No, no thank you. I’ll just stay here in bed, impressing everyone with my Lamaze skillz.
The contractions kept rolling in, one after another, and despite my GOLD MEDAL Lamazing, the nurse could tell I was getting more uncomfortable and, once again, suggested I maybe try another position.
FINE. I’ll try the birthing ball.
They brought the ball in and my nurse told me to get her IMMEDIATELY if I felt pressure, or if my water broke. Because either of those things meant, um, show time. And she’d gathered from Tom that he didn’t want to be alone with me at that particular moment.
I had a really, really hard time getting comfortable one the birthing ball. I labored with Mary Virginia on the birthing ball, but I couldn’t quite replicate that experience. I stood above the birthing ball, never really sitting on it. We can all agree that that renders the ball unnecessary, yes?
I had a few contractions, followed by a few more, followed by MY WATER BROKE! MY WATER JUST BROKE!
As soon as my water broke I felt panic. I screamed MY WATER BROKE! at the nurse, who was right next to me and already aware of the breaking news.
With my water came unbelievable pressure, which I associated with the need to push.
I’m not sure if Anna was crowning or if I was even having a contraction, but I had decided I was going to have the baby RIGHT THEN. I started bearing down and pushing and my nurse started telling me to stop! Get in the bed!
I ignored her and kept pushing, but she kept urging me to get in bed, and we had this weird conversation of me grunting and hollering and her sweetly urging me into the bed. Eventually I shouted, “I’M NOT GETTING IN THE BED!” Because getting into bed sounded like an impossible feat, an insurmountable physical challenge, even though the bed was right in front of me. I could perhaps perform a triple salchow in a sparkly body suit? How does that sound? But the bed? Out of the question.
My nurse maintained composure and suggested, “You can get on all fours in the bed.”
That suddenly sounded completely logical, and without a word I got in bed. (I later learned that she wanted me in bed because if the baby is accidentally dropped — which is especially risky if you deliver quickly — the baby lands on the bed instead of the floor.)
Once I was in bed, I started pushing, and because I’ve done this before, I knew this was the home stretch. I pushed, and screamed, and shouted at the top of my lungs, “THISSSSS! IIIIIIIS! AAAAWWWWFFFFUUULLLL!”
In hindsight I wish I’d screamed something different. Not because it was the first thing my daughter heard as she came into the world, but because couldn’t I have come up with something more colorful? Something more…specific?
The wild pressure, the blinding pain — first the head and then the shoulders, and Anna was born. She had a single nuchal, and her umbilical cord was tied in a true knot.
The doctor seemed interested, but not alarmed by the knot. She showed it to Tom, who was still catching his breath from the delivery. (If you’ve never heard of a true umbilical knot, Google it.)
The doctor asked Tom if he wanted to cut the cord and Tom said no. He was a little stunned from the rapid turn of events. Plus, he was holding his phone to watch basketball, he couldn’t spare a hand to cut the cord. JKJKJK!
The doctor urged me to lay down so I could hold Anna, but I was still in a lot of pain, and honestly a little stunned by her rapid arrival. I told the doctor that I needed a second before I could even lay down. I asked about the knot. “She’s ok, right?”
“Yes, yes,” the doctor assured me, never again mentioning the knot. “She’s perfect, a nine 1-minute Apgar.”
I finally settled in bed, and they handed me my daughter. And then we fell in love. The doctor was right. Completely perfect.
I held Anna while the doctor did repairs, something I wouldn’t mention except that I’ve never needed repairs, so I didn’t know what I was in for. As a woman who has had four unmedicated births, I am here to tell you that that part might be worse than childbirth.
I KID! I KID!
But it was really painful, so painful that not even Anna’s sweet face could distract me from the discomfort. I’ve read a hundred birth stories, and talked to as many women about their labors, and NO ONE prepared me. So this is my PSA to any women planning to have an unmedicated labor. Ask for an epidural after the baby is born. Trust me.
Anna Leigh Krieger, born four days early, on November 12, 2017. 8 pounds, 5 ounces, 20 inches.
The labor was fast, especially at the end. In fact, at 8:40 p.m., Tom (who was listening to me complain about the long the labor) texted his brother and said labor was “not going fast.”
Anna was born four minutes later.
Was it a fast labor? Or a slow labor?
I’m still not sure.
All I know is, it was a labor I never expected. I expected rushing, worrying, stress; a close call. When we found out I was pregnant, Tom and I were processing the news of a surprise pregnancy together and Tom reminded me that this was a surprise for us, but it wasn’t for God. That God is sovereign over our family and he had ordained this child’s birth. I’ll never forget him say that, because the truth is so reassuring. We will be fine. God is caring for us.
Then for nine months I worried about her arrival. Sure, I believe that God is providing for us, but what about this? Has he thought about this?
God provided abundantly. He answered my prayers about labor and delivery, and he protected Anna from potentially catastrophic complications with her umbilical cord — a risk I wasn’t even aware of, but God knew.
Anna is sleeping beside me. She has a hard time sleeping if she isn’t being held — curled up on my chest, nestled in her daddy’s arms. Every time I look at her I’m overwhelmed with love and gratitude. Just look at this baby girl! God is so good.
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