About You – My name is Dana Hermelin, I’m married to Michael and we live in Seattle, WA. We have one 9-month-old baby girl, hers was our first birth.
How did you find out you were pregnant? The millionth pregnancy test I took, which finally gave me the faintest second pink line. We called her “maybe baby” for several days before the line got solid enough to be sure!
What was your birth philosophy before you gave birth? How were you expecting it to be? I wanted balance. I loved reading stories about natural births, but wanted to have realistic expectations when it came to my own pain tolerance. My husband is a doctor, so we are extremely comfortable in medical settings and wanted to have a hospital birth. I had friends who had great experiences with natural births, all levels of pain management, and c-sections; I also had friends whose births were difficult or scary in all the same scenarios. We chose to educate ourselves as much as possible, then make the best choices we could manage.
How did you approach planning your birth? Did you take classes, read books, meditate, or seek out guidance from someone in particular? We took a birthing class through our hospital– we are lucky to live in a progressive metro area with a wonderful, mom-empowering hospital. Our birthing class was really informative, balanced, and supportive.
How did you plan to deliver? In a hospital with an OB.
What were the most important goals or areas of focus for you in respect to your birth? I wanted to labor naturally as long as I could, but eventually planned to have an epidural. I wanted my husband and my friend Nicole to be the only non-medical people in the room.
Now for the good stuff…here’s Dana’s birth story!
It was Sunday night, May 21st. My due date was Wednesday, and I SO did not want to go to work the next day… being determined to maximize my maternity leave, I had decided to work until I was in labor. My tired, huge body fell asleep that night, resigned to the fact that this baby was probably going to stay put. Then around 2:00 in the morning, I woke up with a start, wide awake, as a tiny gush happened somewhere down there in the nether regions. I got up and went to the bathroom… a little, not a lot of fluid was present. I waddled back to bed, resisting the urge to wake my husband, and focused all my attention on my lower abdomen, where something that felt EXACTLY like period cramps was occurring. (Why had no one told me they felt like period cramps?) Was I imagining it? I tried to remember what my birthing class said. I got a huge glass of water. I lay perfectly still. Definitely still cramping, in what felt like waves over my belly, I finally got out my contraction-timing app. (Contractions! I let myself think the word. It’s happening!) Every 5-10 minutes, another wave. I timed for an hour. I rolled over and woke Michael with a whisper.
“Something’s happening. I think this is it.”
“I think I’m in labor.”
We reviewed all our notes from birthing class. Googled. Was it a gush? A trickle? Had my water broken? Probably not, but maybe? So we called the hospital, and they said to come in. Better to check, just in case, so we would know what we were dealing with. Michael let his program know he wouldn’t be in, signed out all his patients… I checked and double-checked my hospital bag. Away we went! I took a blurry picture of Michael in the car.
We got to triage and it was completely empty. A triage nurse hooked me up to the monitor—definitely contractions! I wasn’t making it up! They checked the fluid. Not amniotic fluid. They checked my cervix. Still at 1.5 centimeters, like it had been for a week. Since my water hadn’t broken and I wasn’t at risk of infection, they sent us home. I was still having contractions, every 12-15 minutes, and they were debilitating enough that I didn’t think I could work. So I texted my boss, and my friend Nicole, who would be my second labor partner, to let them know.
Michael fell asleep on the couch with the dog. I did not. I tried. I paced. I cleaned. Played games on my phone. Tried to believe this was actually happening. The contractions kept coming, every 12-15 minutes, maddeningly the same—never intensifying. I could still talk through them, mostly walk through them. The whole day passed like this. Nicole and her husband came over and ate dinner with us; Nicole and I walked 15 minutes to the grocery store and back for cupcake ingredients, willing the walk to get things moving. We (read: mostly Nicole) made cupcakes for the nurses. 9:30 pm rolled around, then 10:00; contractions still coming every 15 minutes. Nicole and Luke finally went home. A little while later I gave up, too, and got in bed.
Then my back began to ache. I shifted positions. I invited our dog into the bed (a huge breach of protocol) to lie against my back. Michael, who was still awake on the couch, called over when I started making noise… not frustrated, trying-to-sleep noises, but “hey, this actually hurts” noises. Nauseated all of a sudden, I went to the bathroom, but nothing happened. I lay down on the bathroom floor, leaned against the counter, still timing my contractions, petrified of going to the hospital just to be sent home again. Finally, an hour had passed with these stronger, more frequent contractions happening every 3-5 minutes. We called the hospital, and it was my Ob-Gyn on call! “For an hour,” Michael told him. “Yes—she’s crying.” I hadn’t realized I was crying. He told us to come on in.
I did not take a picture of Michael in the car on this trip. Being buckled into a car on the move is probably the worst place for a woman in labor. Thankfully, we were only five minutes from the hospital. When we entered triage this time again in the wee hours of the morning, the same nurse was there—she had gone home and returned again for the same overnight shift! We were shown to the same triage room. Lots of women had gone into labor that Monday night—the triage rooms were almost full. There were so many noises going on… We heard the nurses talking about one particularly loud woman, who was laboring naturally with a breech baby. My baby had been breech, too, but was turned down successfully with an external cephalic version two and a half weeks previous. I was terrified that she would flip back. The other woman’s groanings quickened my heart a little. We heard the nurses again, this time talking about me… saying that it was my first, and things would move slowly. Essentially, that I was low priority, with their busy service. No one came to see me for a long time. Thankfully, that was the only poor experience I had at the hospital—and they were right! My baby wasn’t coming anytime soon.
My contractions were, though! Now, unable to talk through the pain, we watched them happening on the monitor. Long, tall mounds that resembled Mt. Rainier on the horizon. We had called Nicole, who hadn’t gotten much sleep. She showed up to the hospital around 3:00 am, and we were still in triage. She and Michael each held either of my hands as I struggled to breathe through each contraction, my back aching like it would break in two. A nurse offered a heat pack for me, which I accepted gratefully. It helped so much, I barely noticed that the pack was too hot—later we’d discover it left second-degree burns on the skin on my lower back—I still have scars, but at the moment I didn’t care at all. When they finally checked my progress, I was at 5, almost 6 centimeters, and was admitted.
My birth plan was loosely this: Labor naturally as long as possible. Then get an epidural. Have minimal interventions, but do what’s needed to have the safest delivery for our little one. When we got to my birthing suite and got settled in, they wrapped the wireless monitor around my belly, and I immediately asked to get in the tub. Since the heat pack had helped so much, I imagined the tub would feel amazing. So the nurse prepped the tub, Michael helped me over, and I climbed in. My back pain immediately intensified, and I wanted to throw up. I stood up, but I couldn’t move. Michael helped me out and I stood there, half bent over, through contraction after contraction—not even a minute apart, with no breaks. I couldn’t breathe or talk or move. Michael asked if I wanted to get the epidural now. I couldn’t even get enough breath to answer. I thought back to our birthing class, where the instructor told us it can take up to an hour after they put in the order for the anesthesiologist to come, depending on how busy they are. I didn’t think I could wait more than an hour if things continued as they were, so I nodded.
I was a little disappointed when, after I finally made it back to the bed and perched on the edge, the anesthesiologist immediately walked in. I was handling my contractions much better out of the water and back in a more comfortable position. But I was scared I wouldn’t be able to sit still later if we told her to wait, so she went ahead and explained the procedure. I held Michael’s hands, closed my eyes, and pretended to be a statue. I don’t remember being in pain at all from the numbing shot or the line placement, but I did sit through two contractions while it was happening. She didn’t realize I’d had one at all—looking back, I know I could have labored a bit longer without it, but ultimately I am glad I had an epidural, for so many reasons! The main downside, in my eyes, is that it did slow my labor down—which has a domino effect of adding one intervention after another.
I had hoped, and was pleasantly surprised, that I could control the pain medicine delivered through the line. I managed to keep it at a level where I could still feel and move my legs, and I felt each contraction—though they were not painful. I wanted to still feel like I was in my own body, and I did. After the epidural, the nurse encouraged me to sleep. Fat chance of that. My baby was on the way! Michael and Nicole took naps while I watched and felt my contractions, and sent messages to my sisters and close friends.
The shift change happened, and our wonderful labor and delivery nurse, Lauren, came on board. She was amazing, always making sure that I knew exactly what was happening and why, and that each decision was finalized with my “yes” and no one else’s. On the next check, I have no idea how many centimeters I had dilated, but they confirmed what we all suspected—baby was “sunny-side up,” pushing against my spine as she moved down—which is why my back hurt so bad. They had me lie on my side with a “peanut” (humongous, kind of phallic-shaped yoga ball) between my legs to try to encourage her to roll over.
My contractions had slowed to the point where labor wasn’t progressing fast enough, so they asked if they could break my water, which I agreed to. I’m glad they did this somewhat early on, because they found quite a lot of meconium (baby poop) in the amniotic fluid—knowing this, they knew baby was at risk of an infection if she was stuck in the birth canal too long, or if her airways weren’t cleared quickly after delivery. For what seemed like a long time, we were just waiting. We ordered gummy bears for me to munch on, and I drank apple juice and water. When labor still wasn’t progressing very fast, we decided to have Pitocin administered. Shortly after this, a lot of things happened…
I had forgotten to push my “pain” button for a long time. My back started aching, unbearable pain at a spot next to my spine. A nurse came in and pressed hard against my back. The pressure didn’t touch the pain. Michael and Nicole tried, too, I think—at this point, I’m not sure what all went on around me. I believe what happened was this: My epidural had begun to wear off, exactly at the moment I entered the transition phase of labor. I had tunnel vision. I threw up all the gummy bears. They called an anesthesiologist back, who worked on catching my pain management up with the pain I was experiencing. I DO remember him! He painstakingly and sweetly explained what was going on with my body, while I hated him with every fiber of my being for not SHUTTING UP and letting me PUKE IN PEACE. Michael also was trying to speak encouraging words to me, and while I wanted to curse him out, I managed to say something like, “I know you’re trying to help, but please don’t talk to me.”
After the extreme nausea faded and I was a little more coherent, they checked my progress again, and I was ready! Ten centimeters, okay to push! The Ob-Gyn on call (no longer mine, but really wonderful) and a fantastic resident physician came to deliver the baby. A team of nurses stood by to clear baby’s airways and intervene quickly if she had breathed any meconium. Lauren, Michael, and Nicole stood by my side. On the next contraction, I pushed! And pushed. And pushed.
I was grateful again that I could feel my legs, and my contractions. I could feel each push, and I could feel my baby getting closer. But towards the end, I kept pushing, and pushing, and baby wasn’t moving at all. They could see her head (“She has hair!” Michael said. “Of course she does!” I answered—I knew she’d have hair; I had a ton when I was born) but I just couldn’t push her past the pubic bone. My coaches and doctors were fantastic, cheering me and encouraging at each push, but later Michael said he thought I could have pushed for several more hours and not have moved her a millimeter. After almost two hours of pushing, the doctor asked if she might try vacuum extraction, only because of the presence of meconium. Baby wasn’t distressed, but the chance of infection grew the longer she spent right there at the end of the birth canal. I consented—the vacuum extractor is not nearly as scary as it sounds, a small contraption that honestly looks like a little plunger with a handle on the end. She got ready, and with one push… then two, I felt something baby-shaped come out with amazing ease.
She was born with an extra-large head, just like her dad and me, and had decided to stick her arm up behind her head to boot—which was why I had such a hard time at the end of pushing. They held her up and in the split second before they went to clean out her mouth and nose, I saw my daughter for the first time, purple and wet, and super angry! And extremely beautiful. I couldn’t believe that tiny human had just, seconds ago, been inside me. Her little arm was still up by her ear; she looked like Superman. Before I knew it, they had the meconium cleaned out from around her nose and mouth, and had confirmed she didn’t breath it in. She was back on my chest. “I know you,” I told her.
And that’s how Frances Jo was born, at 5:23 on 5/23.
What was the advice that you found to be most helpful in preparing to give birth? When my baby was breech, and I was struggling to come to terms with the possibility of having a c-section when I had badly desired to have a natural birth, my sister’s friend who’d had the same experience wrote these words to me: “… this is your path to a baby, and it’s such a wonderful path because it’s the path to you becoming a mom.” That has stuck with me… All births, all ways of entering parenthood, are beautiful and wonderful paths. I think my experience having a baby that was stubbornly breech allowed me to let go of any control I thought I had over my birth experience and just let it happen how God intended.
What was the most surprising thing about birth for you? Looking back now, probably how separate it feels from pregnancy. Pregnancy was about me. Labor and birth were about my baby. That’s an oversimplification, but hopefully you get what I mean!
What was the most challenging part of birth for you? The most challenging part was timing. I didn’t know how my body would react to different parts of the process, and I think we could have timed different steps better.
What was your favorite part of your birth? The whole process was so peaceful and positive. I think the people I had with me made it that way. My husband, who is super chill; my friend Nicole, who could not have been more supportive; and my wonderful nurse.
What do you wish someone had told you before you gave birth? I don’t have an answer for this. When I got married, my cousin told me, “You will get lots of advice, but only you know your marriage. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t.” I think the same applies to birth and parenthood.
How did your perception of birth change after you experienced this birth? I think, and hope, I am far less judgmental of moms. It’s impossible to step into someone’s shoes and experience their pain.