Disclaimer: This is a birth story. There will be talk of fluids and mucous plugs and poop and vaginas. You have been warned.
Thursday, January 16, 2014, approx. 8:30 p.m. 38 weeks and 3 days pregnant.
We finished an episode of “Justified” and I struggled to keep my eyes open despite how much I love the show. So tired. Always so tired. It was almost 10:30 p.m. I’ve got to stop staying up so late, I thought to myself. Gotta conserve my energy because this baby could come any day now (but she probably won’t come for at least three more weeks) and I need to have energy for her birth. Can’t be so tired. Tomorrow night we’ll go to bed early. I swear.
“Bed?” Mike asked.
“Bed. Will you fill the humidifier?”
“If you walk the dogs.”
“Ugh. Okay.” I got up, slipped some shoes on, led the dogs onto the landing to leash them up and promptly pissed myself. I was awfully confused because I had not pissed myself once in my entire pregnancy, and don’t pregnant ladies usually only pee themselves if they laugh or cough or sneeze? And I’d done none of those things. I stood on the landing, the wet spot on my favorite cozy pajama pants spreading, the dogs pulling at their leashes. Could it be my water breaking? It couldn’t be. Only 12% of women break their water before labor starts. But there were butterflies in my tummy. I left the dogs on the landing and went back inside. Sat on the potty to see if I just needed to pee when another gush of fluid came.
“Um, Mike? I either pissed myself or my water broke.”
“Does it smell like pee?”
I sniffed my pajama pants. “I can’t tell! I think it’s probably just pee. It has to be just pee.”
My water was not going to break. I was going to labor at home, peacefully, with no doctors or nurses bothering me, listening to my lovely labor & delivery playlist, while I shampooed the carpets and cleaned the baseboards. I was NOT going to spend my entire labor at L&D with a broken water sac.
“You should probably text Brenda.”*
Over the next half hour I texted back and forth with Brenda about whether or not I’d lost control of my bladder or broken my bag of water. I walked the dogs, fluid dripping between my legs. She suggested a maxi pad to catch the flow. Good call. The fourth or fifth time I gushed, there were two tiny drops of blood. Adrenaline rushed through me. This was not pee. Shit was about to get real.
“Oh. Yeah. This is definitely my water breaking. I guess I should pack my hospital bag?” I’d been meaning to pack it, but was sure I had plenty of time…
I called Brenda and she said she’d come right over. I wasn’t tired at all anymore, but wide awake, adrenaline coursing through my body. I’m having this baby tonight, I thought. And then, but I haven’t washed the dishes! Or shampooed the carpet! Or vacuumed! And the dogs need baths! And I NEED A PEDICURE.
I texted my girlfriend Michelle, “Water broke. I need a pedicure! Come over and paint my toes before we go to the hospital!” That was at 11:30 p.m., but she wouldn’t get the text until after 2 a.m. the next morning. No pre-hospital pedicure for me.
Brenda arrived, and Mike cleaned the kitchen (bless him) while I packed our hospital bag. I changed into the comfy skirt, top, and bra I’d planned to wear during labor. I looked in the mirror and felt truly beautiful for the first time since the Bell’s Palsy came on. Mike loaded our car with the laptop, a giant suitcase full of things we’d never touch during our hospital stay, and a yoga ball I’d borrowed from my parents. The car seat, installed just the day before, was ready with soft blankets to tuck around our girl on the ride home. We hopped in the car and I called and left messages to cancel my acupuncture appointment and pedicure (ugh!) for the next day. We checked into the hospital a few minutes after midnight, January 17, giddy with excitement.
“So… I think my water broke….”
“The theme of the evening. You and every other woman in here. It’s a full moon. Going to be a busy night. Are you having contractions?”
The nurse who checked us in led us to triage room 3 – the same room Mike and I had spent 12 hours in just 10 days earlier, when I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy, which I suddenly couldn’t care less about. I was glad they put us in the same room. It was familiar. We’d be comfortable.
“Go ahead and undress, put this gown on –”
“I was told I could labor in my own clothes.”
“Oh. Well. As long as you don’t mind if we have to cut them off you in an emergency.”
“I don’t care.”
“Fine. Go ahead and give us a urine sample. Then sit bare-bottom on this pad so we can make sure you’re leaking amniotic fluid and not urine.”
I lost my mucous plug in the urine sample. Only I didn’t know what was happening.
“Ummmm…. whoa…. lots of mucous… whoa…. so…. much…. my word! What the…”
“Wahoo! That’s your mucous plug! Good sign!” cheered Brenda.
Once I was situated bare-bottomed on the pad on the bed in the triage room, we met the nurse who would be taking care of us until the morning shift change. Her name was Bethany and she was lovely. She went over our birth preferences and wrote them on the white board in the room. She hooked me up to the baby monitor and chatted with us about what my ideal birth would be like. My contractions were steady every 7-10 minutes, mild enough that I could talk and laugh through them. I leaked all over the pad on the bed so she let me get up and put my skirt back on, gave me some awesome mesh panties and a maxi pad the size of a canoe to soak up new leaks.
A little while later the doctor on call came in. I walked across the room and shook his hand, I think it put him off a little. He wanted to examine me to check my progress, but I said no. I wanted as few vaginal exams as possible. The prednisone for the Bell’s Palsy was screwing with my immune system and I didn’t want to risk infection. He confirmed I was gushing amniotic fluid and not just pissing myself. He confirmed that the baby was doing fabulously and that my contractions were regular, but that I still had a long way to go.
Brenda suggested we walk the halls to see if my labor would kick up a notch, so we did. We walked and we walked and we walked in circles all over the L&D floor, outside, around, back again. The night air was cool and lovely, the full moon shone bright. Mike or Brenda, I can’t remember who, challenged me to start walking the stairs, and I took that idea and ran with it. Over the next twelve hours we’d hike up and down five flights of stairs dozens of times. Up, up, up, up, up. Down, down, down, down, down. Again. Again. Again. Every 45 minutes we headed back to the triage room so Bethany could monitor Niblet’s heart rate and my contractions, but I refused to get into bed. I’d sit on the yoga ball, opening my hips, telling the baby to move down! Patting my belly and saying, “Listen kid. You started this. I was happy to let you stay put for a few more weeks, but you broke the water sac, so now you need to get out. Let’s get this party started.” The night turned to dawn, to early morning. We tried to nap but no one slept. We walked some more. My contractions grew further apart, not closer together. They got weaker, not stronger. Brenda and I walked to the cafe outside the hospital so Mike could get some sleep and she could get some coffee. We went for breakfast in the hospital cafeteria. The hospital staff changed shifts, the night doc introduced the day staff and I was delighted that there was a midwife on call who I knew and liked. She wanted to check my progress and again I declined.
We kept walking, left the hospital grounds and walked down Burbank Boulevard in the hot morning sun. I sent Mike home to get my running shoes so I could walk harder and faster, and because my flip flops were giving me blisters. I took a shower, tried twiddling my nips because nipple stimulation can kick up contractions. Michelle came by, brought coffees and gave me a pedicure while I kept my hands up my shirt, futzing with my now very sore nipples, praying my contractions would get stronger. Mike came back with my running shoes and with my toes painted and dry, I tied them on and we hit the stairs again. An hour had passed since my last contraction. I was starting to worry.
Around noon the midwife, Pat, came in to see us. Talked me into an exam. It had been more than twelve hours since my water broke and she needed to see what kind of progress I’d made. I was certain that I was dilating, so I was crushed to find out I hadn’t dilated at all. Not even one centimeter. I was 40% effaced, but that’s it. And my contractions had stopped all together.
“What are my options?”
“We aren’t going to make you do anything you don’t want to do. You can hang out as long as you’d like. Your baby is doing great, you’re welcome to keep walking the halls and going up and down stairs as long as you want to. But in all honesty, if labor was going to kick in on its own, it would have by now. So I don’t think it’s going to. I recommend a drug called Cytotec. It’s an oral medication that causes contractions. You might only need one dose, you might need four, we’ll have to see. But the nice thing is you won’t need an IV, you’ll be able to keep walking the halls, you can stay out of bed, it’s nothing like Pitocin. Your other option is, of course, Pitocin, but I don’t think you want that.”
“Can you give us a minute to talk together, in private?”
Mike and Brenda started googling “Cytotec” on their phones. We learned it’s an ulcer medication which (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) causes pregnant women to go into labor.
“Pat’s right,” Brenda told me. “You’ve done everything you can do to try to start labor naturally. The Cytotec is a great option.” Mike and I agreed. Pat came back in.
“I’ll take the Cytotec.”
“Excellent! How do you feel about an enema? An enema irritates the bowels which can also bring on contractions.”
“Um… I don’t want an enema, but I’ll try it. I’ll try anything.”
They brought the Cytotec with my meal tray. My mother came to visit and brought Mike and Brenda lunch. We filled her in on my progress, or lack thereof. I ate lunch and afterwards, enjoyed (HA) a lovely enema dessert. Then I sat on the potty and shit my brains out. And then we hit the stairs again.
*Brenda is a dear friend I’ve known for 17 years, who is also my doula.
To be continued…