Arlo's Birth Part 1: Labor and Delivery

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Hello everyone!  I feel so out of the loop right now but I'm slowly getting back into the swing of things and wanted to update you all with all the craziness of the past three weeks.  Also wanted to get Arlo's birth story written down while it's fresh in my mind so that I can always have this to look back on.  The reason I made this a two parter is because the drama was far from over when he was finally born.  I had some complications with birth that I'm still trying to heal from and I wanted that to be a separate story.  Also, way too long to read all at once, unless you really want to. So here's part 1 for ya.  The story of my labor and delivery of our sweet boy.

At 39 weeks I was super ready to have this baby!  Our birthing center only takes normal, low risk pregnancies between 37-42 weeks.  I was terrified of somehow going over and missing that window!  I was determined that he would come early or at least on time.  I was due November 26th, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  We had plans to do Thanksgiving with our close friends and I had already bought all the supplies to make my favorite dishes.  At that point I said, ok let's just make it through Thanksgiving then you can come on little guy!  Monday night, the 20th we starting getting all our ducks in a row before the busy week took over.  We finished packing our bag for the birthing center, I washed and blow dried my hair, actually shaved my legs, and downloaded a contraction timing app.  

I'd been having Braxton Hicks contractions pretty regularly for the past few months.  It was normal to have them all night and for them to feel pretty strong.  Tonight didn't feel any different but I pulled out my new contraction timer just to test it out.  My Braxton Hicks were consistently 10 minutes apart for the whole evening.  Still, this felt like most other nights recently.  But I remember telling Ryan "I don't think we have to worry about this baby being late.  I feel like it could be soon."  He said "Like before Thanksgiving soon."  I didn't think so.  "Nah, we will get through Thanksgiving."

I finally put my app down and went to bed, Braxton Hicks still going.  Every hour or so throughout the night a contraction would wake me up.  This had never happened before.  They felt the same, but with a little crampy feeling, kinda like period cramps, or like you really need to poop!  I told myself I probably had gas.  That morning Ryan got up and left for work around 6:30 am as always.  I usually slept a couple more hours before leaving for work at 9:15.  But this morning I couldn't go back to sleep.  So crampy!  Around 7am I started timing again.  These contractions were about 6-7 minutes apart.  I called Ryan and let him know, but still didn't want him to panic or rush home.  I had a full book of clients and even still planned on going to work at this point! haha. I knew that these were contractions, but that didn't mean I was in labor or progressing in any way.  I'd had two friends recently having painful contractions on and off days and even weeks before giving birth.  Not going to get myself or anyone else excited.  I called my midwife and she said it sounded like I could be in early labor but to keep her updated and get ready to come in to the birthing center when my contractions had been 3 minutes apart for at least an hour.

By 8:30 I called Ryan and told him to come home. I still wouldn't say "This is it!" but they were getting more painful and I at least needed someone with me to keep me calm.  I also called into work and advised them to start moving my morning clients while I "got this under control" lol. Ryan got home and we tried to watch tv to stay distracted.  That didn't work.  I tried bouncing on my ball.  Nope!  Laying down.  Nope!  Standing is all that felt ok.  We called our parents and let them know what was happening but not to head this way just yet.  They are 5 hours away in AR and I didn't want them half way here just to have this fizzle out. I still wouldn't admit that I was in real labor but I remember thinking this better freaking be it because this hurts!  I thought early labor(if that's what this was) would be a breeze.  Something I wouldn't have to focus on.  Ryan reminded me to not use all my coping skills I'd learned right now, and to save them for when it was more intense.  But this was intense! Finally he convinced me to go on a walk.  That was great!  We walked around the block a few times, stopping for each contraction and hanging onto each other.  The weather was beautiful that day.  60's and sunny, not a cloud in the sky.  After a few rounds I wanted to keep going but we decided to go back inside because I didn't want to waste any more energy.  It was now early afternoon and at that point my legs were already getting weak from standing all morning.  

When we got back inside things seemed to pick up even more and I decided to get in the shower.  Contractions were even more intense and getting closer together but still sporadic.  Some 2 minutes apart, some 6, but on average 3-4. I couldn't focus anymore.  I was already feeling tired.  How on earth could I keep going?  How on earth is this going to get more intense and can I really handle this?  By this point I was already making some kind of noises during each contraction, trying to keep my sounds to low groans, trying to breathe while bracing myself against the shower wall.  I begged Ryan to call the midwife again and see if we could go ahead and come in.  I couldn't imagine getting in a car like this but definitely didn't want to wait till it was any worse.  Since I had tested positive for GBS and would need antibiotics in an IV during labor, she told me to come on in just to be safe.  Also it was 3:30 in Nashville which means we had about 30 minutes before we'd get stuck in traffic for an hour.

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Between contractions Ryan helped me get dressed and get into the car.  I felt like I might die if I did anything but stand during each contraction so the car ride was TORTURE!  I lifted myself as far out of that seat as possible with each one.  About 20 minutes and 5 contractions later, we pulled up at Baby+Co and were taken to our room.  After I let another contraction pass the midwife checked me(which hurt like hell!) and I was dilated to a 3.  I had mixed emotions.  It would have been great to be further along but at least I knew I was getting somewhere. This was real. This was it!  But 3 down, 7 to go was something I did not want to think about at this point.  She confirmed that I was in early labor but told me it was early enough I could go home for a while and come back later if I wanted to.  OH HELL NO!  There was no way I was getting back in that car.  

So Ryan and I got "comfortable" in our birthing suite.  I tried to get in the shower but the water wouldn't get hot!  I tried to lay down in the big comfy queen sized bed but that wasn't happening.  I just wanted to stand but my legs were shaking and giving out already from doing that all day. I think at that point I ended up on the toilet for quite a while.  At least it was a lovely heated toilet. After we got to the birthing center I really lost all track of time.  I don't think I looked at a clock or my phone the whole time, which I'd highly recommend.  While each contraction was it's own challenge, and in a way there was a feeling of "omg how long can this go on!?!?!", looking back, it really flew by.  We did nothing else but focus on getting through laboring together and at least now, looking back, all that time kind of runs together.  Ryan was so calm and comforting and kept me fed(chocolate chip cliff bars), hydrated(a sip of water between every contraction), and motivated with his kind and encouraging words.  

For a few hours it was just me and Ryan in the room but at some point once things progressed a bit more, they hooked me up to my IV of antibiotics and either our midwife Heather, or our nurse Grace, were in the room with us the whole time.  Once I was in a good active labor I moved to the tub.  That felt great!  And by "great" I mean "I think I can survive a little longer here." It's crazy how different it was than I expected.  How much harder.  But I was doing it!  Somehow it just got more and more intense, but very gradually, to where I almost didn't notice or have a chance to panic.  All I could do is focus on getting through each contraction.  Low groans and moans turned into something much louder, but I tried my best to keep my sounds productive and remain in control of them.  This is probably the only thing I remembered from birth class in the moment.  One thing that became very clear is that all the coping skills that we'd learned(essential oils, massage, breathing, using the tub or shower...) served a different purpose than I'd expected.  There is nothing in the world that was going to ease the feeling of a contraction.  I just had to survive them, one at a time.  But all of those other things were very important tools to help me relax between each contraction, which I did very well for a while.  While I still had 2-3 minutes between contractions I would lay in the tub and relax every muscle in my body.  I actually don't think I've ever felt better in my life than I did in those 2-3 minute breaks.  So relieved for a contraction to be over, in an amazing warm bath, breathing in lavender, with my husband saying nice things and massaging my head.  Haha, amazing!  And it was 100% necessary to have the physical and emotional strength to handle the next contraction.

At a certain point I started to get too tired to relax.  Contractions were too close together and my body wouldn't stop shaking long enough to calm down.  Enter: nitrous oxide.  When all the tricks we had up our sleeves stopped working, I was given the nitrous mask to hold and breath during contractions and to relax in between.  This worked wonders when it comes to getting me to calm down a little longer. 

Of course all good things come to an end, and there was a point where the nitrous stopping working as well.  Contractions were so intense and so close together, I was just about over it.  Honestly ready to give up.  But there's no off button you can suddenly push.  This was happening whether I liked it or not!  It was around 11:30 and our parent's had arrived and were in the lobby.  This gave me a little comfort to know I had even more cheerleaders just in the other room. My midwife asked to check me again.  I actually said no at first because I didn't think I could mentally handle it if it wasn't good news.  She insisted and when she checked me I was at a 7.  I tried to shut off my brain and just go into survival mode.  I have no choice, I have to get through this.  At this point she could tell I was fading.  I cried and said I don't want to do this anymore! She told me that she did not want me to look back at this experience as a traumatic one, and if I was in too much pain they could call an ambulance to take me to Vanderbilt to get an epidural.  I said no!  Even though that sounded great, I wanted to have my baby at the birthing center and bottom line, I wanted immediate relief and there was no way I was getting back in any kind of car like this! 

Right after she checked me and we had this conversation I had a massive contraction, I stood up off the bed where'd she'd been checking me, hung onto Ryan's shoulders and in that moment my water broke.  All over Ryan!  As soon as that happened the contractions changed.  Even the very short space between them was hurting and I felt the urge to push.  Was this transition?  Had I already been through transition?  Heather immediately checked me again and I was at 10!  I'd gone from 7 to 10 in that one contraction and was ready to push!  I don't want to say pushing felt good, but it was doable.  It was crazy intense but it was progress, it was a light at the end of the tunnel, it was knowing that this is almost over that gave me the mental energy to push with all the strength in my body.  Between each push they checked the baby's heart rate.  After just one or two rounds of pushing the baby's heart rate had dropped low enough for concern.  They calmly told us that just to be safe they were calling 911 to get an ambulance to take me to Vanderbilt just in case he ended up needing help.  The ambulance was minutes away but she told me we could try and get the baby out before they pulled up.  With the next contraction I pushed with all I had in me and definitely made some progress but the EMT's were ready for me and we had to go.  Not a stitch of clothing on, Ryan helped me into a nightgown and onto the stretcher.  Forced to lay down(my least favorite position) and legs literally strapped down to the stretcher, I was wheeled out through the lobby, past my parents, and into the ambulance, all while trying not to push and making some pretty scary noises I'm sure.  

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My midwife hopped in the ambulance with me but Ryan and my family had to drive there separately.  I found out later that Ryan had gotten lost and ended up at the VA emergency room instead of Vandy!  Thank God he found it after that and made it on time, and thank God I didn't know about that until after the fact!  One excruciating ambulance ride later, I was being wheeled into a labor and delivery room at Vanderbilt and lifted onto the bed.  Minutes later Ryan was by my side again and I was pushing.  Baby's heart rate had returned to normal even before we arrived so we weren't super worried anymore, just ready to get him out.  One more round of pushing and he was almost out.  My midwife was still running the show and helping me every step of the way.  At that point she pulled out a scary looking device and started talking about how they needed to cut me to allow him enough room to come out, at that moment I had another contraction and pushed him right out!  Close call with the almost episiotemy, but ended up with my perineum fully intact!  Only a few minor tears inside.  

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I thought I'd cry when I saw him.  Ryan thought he would too.  But we didn't.  They put him straight on my chest and I just looked at him in shock and relief.  I just remember saying "I did it! I did it!" and "It's over!!!"  I've never felt so much relief in my life. Ryan was all smiles as we looked in amazement at what had just shot out of my body. There he was, all slippery and writhing on my chest.  I didn't even think to look at what color hair he had or anything like that.  I was just shocked.  This actually happened.  I actually did it, all naturally, and we were all ok, and there was a tiny person here that wasn't here before. 

I was so thankful the pushing went so fast.  Our parent's on the other side of the wall said they heard it happen.  A giant scream from me, then a tiny cry from Arlo.  Arlo Simon Hart was born at 1:08am on Wednesday, November 22nd, the day before Thanksgiving.  He was 6 pounds 15 ounces, and 20 inches long.  

Even after all that, I'm so happy I made it through an all natural birth.  One thing I took away though is that I really don't think I could have done it in a hospital setting.  It was hard enough at baby+co where I had a whole beautiful suite to move around in, try out different positions and had every tool for relaxation at my disposal. In that small hospital birthing room, there's no way. And with drugs so readily available, I would have given in for sure in the moment, even though that's not what I wanted for us. 

At first I had so much relief.  Everyone kept telling me, it's almost over, once he's out, all this goes away.  I was so glad I'd made it.  But unfortunately it was not even close to being over for me.  That's why there's a part 2 to this thing!  Details of my rather dramatic postpartum experience coming soon.

Much love,

Caitlin