By Hannah Pierson
The Tuesday of my first week off work (9 days overdue) Zach and I went into the midwife for a non-stress test which the baby eventually passed , but took his sweet time to do so. I had a cervical exam and I wasn’t dilated at all. Then we got an ultrasound to make sure that the baby was still doing well. Since Merritt passed everything, we went back home and scheduled another appointment for Wednesday.
On Wednesday we went back to the birth center and I had a Foley catheter inserted. A Foley catheter is a type of intervention to try to induce labor where they insert a catheter and then fill it with small balloons full of water (one balloon on the inside of your cervix and one on the outside). The objective is to use the catheter to slowly stretch your cervix open over the next 24 hours. Getting the cervix to begin to dilate is a way to jumpstart labor and can sometimes even begin contractions. The hope was that this would begin my labor or at the very least dilate me so that labor would be easier once it began.
Getting the catheter inserted was painful and uncomfortable, but Zach was there which made it much easier. We went home with Jimmy Johns as a treat and Zach returned to work and I was pretty much bed bound. As the day wore on I got more used to the catheter (the most annoying part is that it’s taped to your thigh) and in the afternoon Zach and I even took a very slow walk around the block.
As we were getting ready for bed, I went to the bathroom and started to feel the catheter falling out of me. I screamed for Zach, as it was a weird sensation, and then it just sort of plopped in the toilet with my mucus plug attached to it. It was much larger than Zach and I had thought so that was a bit of a shock. We were so excited that the catheter had dilated me and we called the midwife who told us to come in the next day. We then proceeded to call our moms who were very excited for us as well (we had to stave off Zach’s mom from jumping in the car and heading up right then). We calmed ourselves down and were able to go to bed.
The next day (Thursday, 11 days overdue) we went in to meet with the midwives. The catheter had indeed done its job and I was now 4 cm dilated. We formulated a plan. That Monday I was going to be two weeks overdue and would have to be induced at a hospital. After the catheter, the midwives still had one more thing to try to make the baby come: an herbal induction. An herbal induction begins with taking castor oil and then every 15 minutes taking a homeopathic or tincture. All of these are meant to make your uterus contract and begin labor. We decided that we would give my body one more day to go into labor naturally and then do the herbal induction on Friday.
We spent the rest of the day on Thursday (Valentine’s Day) doing absolutely everything that we could to make the baby come. I got acupuncture for the first time, went to the chiropractor and got an adjustment, at the spiciest food that I could handle at Everest on Grand, had chocolate cake at home and then went for an epic walk at night in the snow. Nothing happened.
The next day (Friday, February 15th), worried and feeling super unenthused about the herbal induction; I got up and did my prenatal exercise video one last time. Then I ate a big meal and chugged the half cup of castor oil in orange juice. It wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. The worst part was the oily residue that it left on my lips and tongue. As the morning passed I hung out in bed and followed the herbal induction regimen (the tincture was very foul tasting). At first I felt just fine, but then by mid-morning I was on the toilet miserable. At one point I cried to Zach, “This is horrible and I bet the baby won’t even come and I’ll still have to be induced!”
In the afternoon I repeated the castor oil again and was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I was lying down in bed when suddenly I felt what can only be described as a gunshot go off from my uterus to my vagina. I screamed to Zach downstairs and rushed to the bathroom. When I sat on the toilet I could feel liquid falling out me. I told Zach that I thought that my water had broken. He kept saying, “Are you sure?” and I kept saying, “Well, I know what peeing feels like and I know I’m not peeing!” It was 3:00pm.
At the same time I was still experiencing the unpleasant side effects of the castor oil and shooed Zach out of the bathroom. I then started to feel contractions and I was screaming out the bathroom door to Zach, letting him know when they started and stopped so he could time them on his phone. He desperately wanted to be in the bathroom but I wouldn’t let him come in. At one point I saw him peeking through the door and yelled at him to get away. Even later, I could hear a swooshing sound coming from the hall and I realized that Zach was “sharking” (steam mopping) our floors. He said that he felt so helpless and needed to do something.
It was all very intense between my water breaking, the contractions, and the after effects of the castor oil and I eventually let Zach in for support. He called the midwife and they told us to come in to get checked and see how I was progressing. Zach began to fly around the house packing our things for the birthcenter. He also made a frantic call to our friend, Alex, who was going to watch Juneau for us while we were gone. Later she said that she had never heard him sound so out of control.
On the way to the birth center, Zach began calling family to tell them to come up. Funny story though, just a couple hours earlier, he had actually told them to stay home. Earlier in the week Natalie, my mom, and his mom had told him that they planned to come up to the cities on Friday and stay until Monday. They explained that they wouldn’t need to bother us and they would stay in a hotel. Zach let this little detail slip to me and I completely flipped! I already felt like the whole world was breathing down my neck to have this baby and now my family would be in the cities the entire weekend! I felt like a watched pot. So Zach kindly asked all of them to please wait to come up. Natalie decided to go ahead with coming to the cities anyway. My mom and dad decided to go visit my Grandmas in Manchester and then head up afterward. Only Kim and Dick actually listened to Zach and they decided to go to the movies to get their minds off waiting for the phone to ring. Just as they were about to leave is when Zach called them and told them to come up right away. Kim says that she never would have forgiven him if she would have missed the birth.
We arrived at the birth center and I was still having contractions and my water was slowly breaking. As it was February in Minnesota, it had snowed recently and there were huge mounds of snow in front of thebirth center. Worst of all people had parked in front of the plowed sidewalk entrances to the building. Zach was about to yell at someone to move their car when I grabbed his hand and climbed over the pile of snow. The situation seemed much too urgent for waiting for a car to move.
Once inside the birth center we went upstairs and Jill (the nurse) checked my cervix to see how dilated I was. She asked if I wanted to know and what would be a “good” number to me. I told her that on Wednesday, after the catheter had fallen out, I was four centimeters and I would like to still be there our more. She told me I was looking “great”. Later I learned that “great” was still four centimeters. Jill also tested to make sure that the fluid I was leaking was amniotic fluid and it was.
Afterwards Jill told us to go downstairs to one of the birthing suites. Although a lot had happened, Zach and I had it so ingrained in our minds that labor would take many hours and we would spend many of those hours at home, that we thought that we would probably still be sent back home. When we got downstairs, I asked, “Are we staying now?” and it was confirmed that we were. That’s when I allowed myself to finally register that I was in active labor. For the next few hours, even as the contractions intensified, I was just so grateful that I was in labor and finally having my baby.
At the beginning of labor I was walking around between contractions and then leaning on the counter in the birth suite during contractions, making big hip movements. Zach began to squeeze my hips during each contraction and although I had him try other types of massage, hip squeezes were the best for me and that’s what he did through each contraction throughout the entire labor. I often thought, “Ugh, I’m so glad I have a strong husband,” because at one point Natalie tried to do the hip squeezes and she simply couldn’t do them.
Speaking of Natalie, she came early in my labor and we asked her to begin to photograph the birth. She was wonderful throughout my labor and, pregnant herself, acted as our doula providing encouragement and fetching things.
After a while I changed positions and labored sitting on a small stool, bracing myself against the bathtub. Afterwards I moved to the toilet facing backwards. Then Amanda (our midwife) suggested that I might enjoy laboring in the shower. Amanda helped me in and I sat on a birth stool facing the support bars of the shower. As I moved to the shower, Zach raced to change into his swimsuit. There were people in thebirth suite and Amanda was in the bathroom. Zach started to take off his pants and Amy (our other midwife) noticed and closed the door. Zach said to Amanda, “Amanda, I’m changing now. I’m like the least modest person on the planet” and Amanda said back, “Don’t worry, I’m not exactly modest either.”
For the next while, I labored in the shower, leaning forward and having Zach press my hips during a contraction, while the water ran on my back. In between contractions, I would lean back and let the water run over my face, it felt so good, like a reward for a well done contraction.
During each contraction I would try to deeply breathe in and out and stay as relaxed and limp as possible. Zach would remind me when I would unconsciously tense up parts of my body to stay relaxed and loose.
When I came out of the shower, completely naked, there were two girls about my age in the room who I had never met before. They were birth assistants, RNs who the midwives bring in for extra medical support. We had been told that they would be coming to the birth during one of our prenatal appointments, but I completely forgotten about that fact so when I came out I very snottily said, “WHO ARE YOU?” In the end both of the assistants were wonderful and so helpful.
After the shower, Amanda suggested that maybe I should walk around upstairs in the yoga studio and do some big hip movements to help my labor along. As we walked upstairs I remember looking out the big uncovered windows at the birth center and thinking, “Well, there we go, I’m in a bathrobe for all of Grand to see!” although I really didn’t care very much by that time. I had a contraction on the front desk of thebirth center and then walked upstairs, slowly taking the stairs two at a time and doing lunges to help open me up.
In the yoga studio I did hip circles sitting on a yoga ball, then kneeled and leaned over the ball as I did hip circles. Zach and I also slow danced together while I did big hip movements. During this time is when my mom and dad came. My mom came up to the studio and looked like she felt really bad for me, like her heart was ripping apart seeing me in pain.
After awhile, my legs began to get tired and I asked Amanda if it would be okay for me to lie down and labor on the bed for awhile. As I went back downstairs, I passed my dad, who was fiddling on his phone in the lobby. I remember I said, “Hi Daddy,” and he said, “Hey, Honey” and I was thinking, “I can’t believe that other people are on their phones right now!” It was the first reminder that I had that life was going on outside my labor, which seemed crazy.
When I got back into the birth suite, I got into bed and Amanda left Zach and me alone to labor together. My contractions on the bed were excruciatingly painful. I think it might have had to do with the fact that I had nothing to brace myself on and was unconsciously tensing up during each contraction. Zach helped me to get through about five in that position and then I moved back to the toilet and finally back into the shower.
This time though, even the warm water wasn’t enough to relieve the pain. My contractions were beginning to become unbearable and in between I began to say, “This is so hard,” to Zach many times. I also began to think in my head that I couldn’t go on any more. I thought that I could get through a few more contractions like these, but if I would have to continue for hours and hours I simply couldn’t do it. I longed for a plan of action and even told Amanda, “Amanda, if you could just tell me that I only had to do ten more of these I could get through it”.
Amanda could hear that my contractions were intensifying and beginning to change by the fact that my breathing was harder to control. She also could hear that I was beginning to push before I even knew that I was. She and I developed a plan that I would do two more contractions in the shower and then move to the bed to get checked and to ensure that my cervix was fully dilated with no lip.
Now, with this plan, I had a renewed confidence that I could carry on. We moved to the bed and Amanda checked me. At this point I was almost dilated although there was a lip on my cervix. She manually had to push it back (which I really don’t remember as being very painful) because I was so focused on the fact that I had a plan.
After she pushed my cervix back, I got in a pushing position sitting on a birthing stool facing the bed. Amanda originally suggested that I face away but when I said that I wanted to brace myself on the bed she was fine with it although she had to use a mirror and flashlight to check me in what was a more awkward position for her. Amy was lying on the bed in front of me (I remember thinking that she looked so comfortable) and she began coaching me through pushing contractions.
Now, no one ever really told me how incredibly different pushing contractions are from the rest of contractions during labor. I found regular contractions to be painful, like the most intense menstrual cramps you can imagine. But pushing contractions, I barely even remember what they felt like because I was doing such intense work during each one.
At the beginning of each contraction I would tell Amy that I thought one was coming (they were actually harder for me to identify than regular contractions) and then I would take a big breath and bear down through the contraction as long as I possibly could. I would breathe in and repeat and then do it again as the contraction faded away.
It felt like the most intense exercise of my life and there was so much pressure on my bottom that it was shaking, but I really enjoyed it. Instead of just breathing through pain I was an active participant with a task and everyone was so encouraging. By this time Kim was also in the room and in front of me were four mothers who had birthed a total of 13 children and they were encouraging me and cheering me on through each contraction. They would all say, “Good job, Hannah! Great pushing! You are an awesome pusher!” which felt so good to hear. In between contractions, I would say, “Thank you, thank you,” which everyone thought was kind of funny.
I also felt extremely loving at this point and kept telling Zach (who was still behind me, squeezing my hips) how much I loved him over and over. I almost even told Amy that I loved her and then realized that was a little weird and held it in.
After pushing on the stool for awhile, I was making good progress. I asked Amanda if she could see the head and although I wasn’t that far, I could reach up and feel his head inside me (it was squishy). Amanda suggested that I could move to the tub and although I was fine on the stool, I took her suggestion. Everyone helped me move and position myself in a way that I was wedged perpendicularly in the tub, pressing my feet and back against the sides. As I got in I saw that Zach still had his shirt on and immediately told him to take it off as I thought he looked so weird.
I pushed Merritt out in the tub. With each contraction I could feel my vagina opening more and more. It burned a little around the edges but instead of experiencing a lot of pain, I mostly just couldn’t believe how weird the feeling was. I kept saying, “This is craziness!” because it absolutely was.
During this time everyone was gathered around the tub, watching. I talked to Amanda and asked her to please help me to slow down when he was crowning because I wanted to make sure that I didn’t push too hard and hurt myself. She did just that and while Merritt was crowning she had me make “puh puh” noises like The Little Engine that Could to slow down my pushing. Eventually Merritt’s head came out and then his body came out in a large gurgle afterwards. It was the most insane feeling I’ve ever experienced!
He was placed right on my chest. It was 10:55pm. Zach and I cried and smiled. I opened his legs and announced that he was a boy to everyone. Then I double checked just to make sure. I always deep down felt that he was a boy and I told everyone that. Zach felt a little deceived because I had even kept that from him, I was worried that if Merritt was a girl, she would have a complex because her mom always thought she was a boy.
After announcing that he was a boy, I remember that everyone was talking a lot and I almost had to yell to tell them his name and explain why we picked it. Then we hung out with Merritt for awhile longer and eventually Zach cut his cord.
I stepped out and delivered the placenta without even pushing, which was wonderful because at that point I just wanted to be done with the whole birth part and snuggle Merritt. We hung out in bed for awhile and Merritt latched on right away. In the next couple of hours the Grandpas visited, I got stitches (not fun) and ate a Jimmy John’s #9. Then Natalie left to get some much needed sleep and so did my parents. Kim stayed with us and we made the journey home. Zach drove so slowly to not hurt me on the bumpy, snowy roads but it didn’t matter because no one was out at that time of night. I remember looking at the clock at 3:30am as I snuggled in bed. Merritt was in his cradle next to me and I reached over and touched him. I couldn’t believe that he was ours and what I had just done. I was so grateful to God.