Dana has been featured before in the Bright Birth Story Collection. You can read all about her first birth experience here. Dana and her husband, who live in Texas, reached out to me during their second pregnancy for some Distance Doula support and I was so excited to support them from Cleveland. Distance Doula services sound odd at first, but having a doula in your pocket has proven to be such an asset to many of my clients. I hope you enjoy Dana’s story of sweet Margo’s entrance into the world!
After several long months of a very physically difficult pregnancy, I was more than ready to give birth. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions since about 20 weeks, and they had intensified to prodromal or “false” labor on three occasions in the three weeks leading up to my due date. The last time was in the wee hours of Saturday, November 2, when I called a friend to come stay with Frankie because my contractions—while not extremely intense— had gone on for hours and came every 5-8 minutes. When I checked into triage and said as much to the nurse walking me back, she replied, “Oh, well if they’re not super painful you don’t need to come in.” Thanks, lady. When they checked my progress, I was 1.5cm dilated—the same as I’d been since my 36-week appointment. The feeling of defeat, exhaustion, and embarrassment washed over me and I spent the rest of the time before being discharged ugly-crying. I so badly wanted to be in labor. I very much was not.
Through all this, I was so glad to have a doula. I never had false labor with my first; I had contractions that started and never stopped, slowly intensifying over 40-some hours until I gave birth. This pregnancy had been so different, and I felt betrayed and let down by my body again and again. Mary Susan kept reminding me: Every contraction was preparing my body for labor. It might not be dilating my cervix, but it is all preparation to bring my baby into the world. Her support to trust and work with a body that I felt had failed me over and over throughout my pregnancy—when I felt weak; when I felt scared—was invaluable.
With her encouragement, I had my membranes stripped at my 40-week appointment on the morning of November 5th. Mary Susan described it as the least-invasive form of induction, reassuring me that it would not work if my body wasn’t ready. An hour before my appointment, I began to lose what I was pretty sure was my mucous plug—so I thought it might be. The NP who took my appointment that day said she had probably a 90% success rate of inducing labor with membrane strips, so we were hopeful, but we scheduled an induction for the following Monday, November 11 (my husband’s birthday, by his request) just in case. Later that afternoon, I started feeling pretty crampy, but I wasn’t willing to believe it was labor quite yet.
My first big contractions started around 12:45am (my babies really like to get things going in the middle of the night) and were coming every 5 minutes when I was up and moving around—but they’d slow to every 8-10… sometimes 12 or even 15 minutes if I was sitting or lying down. All the advice from my birthing class saying to sit down, have a glass of water, and see if contractions continue kept echoing in my brain. I still wasn’t willing to believe my baby was coming. But a little after 5am, without having been able to sleep at all, I woke my husband. We went through our morning, taking breaks for contractions… I went ahead and asked my on-call friend to pick up Frankie from preschool. Contractions were painful, but still: Close together while up and moving; pretty spaced out while resting. Terrified of returning to the hospital only to be sent home again, I wasn’t willing to go. Finally around 10:30am I decided to try to take a nap. If I wasn’t in labor, I might as well get some rest.
I woke around 11:40 and immediately began to cry in frustration. If I were in labor, surely I wouldn’t have been able to sleep! I got up and went into the living room where my husband was.
“I slept a little.”
“I’m in so much pain when I’m standing, but it slows to nothing when I’m sitting.”
“Well, sit down.”
“No!” I shouted at him (poor guy), “I don’t WANT the pain to go away. I WANT to be in labor!”
“Will you take a walk with me?”
We went outside; it was a beautiful day. We got halfway down our block and I had stopped every three minutes to hold on to Michael and breathe through a contraction. I could not move or talk through them. “Let’s turn around,” he said.
“We can keep walking without getting so far away from the car.” By the time we made it back to our driveway, my contractions were two minutes apart. “Okay, let’s go to the hospital,” Michael said, a little panicky.
On the 17- minute drive, I was grateful my contractions had such an odd pattern—I only had one in the car. But the walk up to triage was a different story. When I finally made it to triage waiting, two women were ahead of me. The nurse came in to get one of them, and as soon as she saw my face, she said “I’ll be right back for you.” I breathed through two contractions on the short walk from the waiting room to the triage room.
Michael met me in the triage room, where I was answering the questionnaire. When they finally checked my dilation: “Whoo, you’re at six and a half… seven!” I’ve never loved pain more. It was about 2:45pm when I was admitted.
My wonderful labor and delivery nurse, Rhonda, came in shortly later to bring me to the delivery room. She’d been told I wanted to labor naturally, when my actual plan was to eventually get an epidural, but to exhaust other methods of pain relief before doing so. I was so far along already, though, that Rhonda said I needed to ask for the epidural right away if I wanted one, or it may be too late. I had planned on an epidural and by that point needed relief, and the thought of pushing through my exhaustion was scary. So I didn’t have a chance to try nitrous oxide as I’d hoped, but when my contractions continued to intensify, I was grateful relief was coming. The epidural was in place by about 3:30, and I was administered the first dose of penicillin (I was Group B strep positive) shortly thereafter.
My main desire in laboring so long without an epidural was to prevent labor from slowing, which happened with my first. My contractions did not slow, and as with my first, I was grateful to be able to feel each one (though they weren’t painful) and to move my legs. But at the next check, I was still at seven centimeters. I was able to rest for a little bit, updating friends and family. When the OB came in to check on me, she felt the catheter bulb was in a funny place, kind of buoying my uterus. She pushed it out of the way. The nurse with her advised me that if I felt pressure, like an urge to have a bowel movement that wouldn’t go away, to call. I was so glad she’d said that, because not long after I felt that urge—Rhonda couldn’t believe it; I’d JUST been at a seven, but when she checked: “Yep, no cervix.”
The urge to push was nearly unbearable, but they wanted me to wait because it had only been three hours since my first dose of penicillin, and you’re supposed to have four hours before you deliver. The OB was also extremely busy that night—my nurse had paged her, but with each contraction I felt I’d burst if I didn’t push this baby out. I’d never felt that sensation with my first, but it was just as that nurse had described: Like I was trying to hold back a giant poo (sorry)– not exactly painful, but extremely uncomfortable. Finally Rhonda called the room the OB was in and told her to come to me right away. And when that didn’t work, she went into the hallway to flag someone down to go get her and bring her to me bodily.
When the OB FINALLY showed up a little after 7pm and got set up, I got in position and was given the all clear to push. After the first push, Michael confirmed what we’d known all along: “She has lots of dark hair!” The OB said she’d been face up, but she could feel her turning as she came down the canal—as babies should. An affirmation my doula sent earlier came back to me: “Your baby knows how to be born.” With those words in mind, I pushed again. Margo turned as she moved down—what a good girl. One more push and a primal yell, and I was looking at my baby girl, and immediately crying. Margaret Jean was born at 7:15pm; I got to hold her for the first hour after she was born, and I felt euphoric.
All my false labors had prepared me to have the labor I’d wanted—one where I could get my baby and my body most of the way there. The pain was scary, but I also relished it because I had waited for it so long. After a pregnancy where my body felt alien to me, making it difficult to function and hard to feel connected to my baby, I now recognize what a gift my labor and delivery were. I’m so grateful for the immediate connection I felt with Margo as soon as she was born, and (though I still wouldn’t wish false labor on anyone) for the time I had to lean into the process of giving birth.
Congratulations, again to Dana, Michael, and big sister Frankie! You are such a strong, special family and so, so loved!