I went into labor on Friday, December 16th, 2016 in the shower. The first contraction I timed was at 1:45pm and they came about 8 to 10 minutes apart. My husband and I had planned on going to a movie, to see Office Christmas Party, at 2:30pm (I was late getting ready).
We got to the movie a little after it started. At first, I noticed my contractions were more intense than they had been in the last two weeks of pre-labor, leading me up to 1.5 centimeters and 60% effacement. They were definitely coming in waves, and had a more of a definable beginning and end. They kind of felt like strong diarrhea cramping, but lower and stronger – my whole body seemed to be involved.
By the middle to the end of the movie, I had to grab my husband’s leg to get through the peak of the contractions and they took my breath away. They were about 4 minutes apart. I got up before the credits rolled and stood near the door of the theater because I was afraid I would scream or moan they were hurting so bad. I felt a sense of urgency and anxiety. They felt serious. Real.
But at the same time, I was so excited to finally have contractions that continued. I had been experiencing the very beginning stages of labor since two weeks prior, around my estimated due date, December 5th.
I happened to have a prenatal appointment on December 5th, and I saw one of the rotating doctors in the practice. She tried to set up an induction for me that week. I told her no thanks, I wanted to go through a natural labor and delivery like I had in my birth plan, the one I had discussed with her and the other two doctors in the practice. I knew induction increased the risk of c-section, and I told her that was my concern. My mother had two c-sections, and I wanted none of that, especially for my primary birth. She was defensive at my resistance. My husband was in the appointment with me, squished into a corner chair facing my vagina when she did the pelvic check. He said he saw her hackles go up the minute I didn’t just go along with what she said. She felt she was the authority on my body, for sure. She told me, “We want the same thing.” I just stared at her.
She told me sweeping my membranes would make it less likely that I ‘d need an induction. My husband, having worked at the Mayo, trusted in the medical community more than I did. I actually worked in the hospital at the time, myself. I worked in the development office, in charge of the annual events and sponsorships. I literally brought in money to the hospital. It was partly because of this role that I didn’t trust my doctors.
I had been to so many meetings where the bottom line was discussed. I knew they had more money than they knew what to do with and that they’d cut any service, charge any price, to keep it coming in. I also knew they had a major PR problem, and had for about the last 30 years. Locals went down to Carson City – via a tight, curvy road through the mountains – down to a hospital about an hour away, to deliver their babies. Word on the street was that Barton, in South Lake Tahoe, where I was sitting on an exam table for my prenatal appointment, was awful.
Not many people talked about why it was awful though. They had ambiguous explanations, like “bedside manner.” Living in a small town, shit-talking was oblique at best. There were only so many people in town, and most of them stayed. Messing with the core environment could cost a family a job in the future. And Barton was a powerful hospital – it was the only one in the town of 60,000 and it employed many, many people in town. The leadership was corrupt, and always changing.
So there I sat on the table, in crumply paper exposing my ass, while the doctor, a few years younger than my 33, tried to convince me to sweep my membranes to reduce my chances of being induced. She didn’t tell me that it carried with it a risk of infection or of breaking my water. She didn’t tell me it had been studied to only be effective 50% of the time, at best…and those times couldn’t even be absolutely attributed to the sweep. It was possible it wasn’t even effective at all.
But one thing most everyone could agree on, is that a membrane sweep is painful.
My husband said to avoid the induction, it sounded best. Even though he’s my husband, perhaps especially because he’s my husband, and I know he cares, I agreed.
There was part of me that was already annoyed with myself, through my doctor’s eyes. I could sense myself as she sensed me: difficult. I didn’t want that. I knew on an instinctive level, perhaps from my prior history of being abused, that a person in power seeing someone as difficult just heightens the chances that they will push harder, become more aggressive, listen less. It can heighten abuse to resist. It was a delicate dance of power over my body.
So she started the pelvic check, determined that I was still 1.5 centimeters, and then dug her fingers further into my body without warning. I made an uncomfortable gasp, surprised more than anything that she didn’t warn me, while conscious of the ring of burning inside me, like she had dragged a burning match around my cervix.
She laughed as she said, “Are you okay?”
I was embarrassed. If I couldn’t take a membrane sweep with grace, maybe I wouldn’t be able to tolerate a natural birth. I imagined she was thinking the same thing.
As we left the appointment, I told my husband it had hurt, but not as much as I was led to believe, reading online. He rubbed my back and said he was sorry.
That afternoon, about two hours after the sweep, I had strong contractions. I got on my birthing ball and bounced and did figure eights. I was excited. I wouldn’t be induced! I texted my doula at the same time. I hope these work. I felt cajoled into the sweep. She sent me facts from Evidence Based Birth that talked about the sweep not being proven as effective. I sighed. My distrust for my doctors, for OBs in general, already ran deep. It was the main reason I had hired a doula. That, and I didn’t trust my husband to say the right thing while I was in the throes of labor. How could he? It was so far from any experience he had or ever would have.
We went out to dinner, plans with friends and my parents, who had flown in from across the country to be there before and after my birth, that we had made the week prior. Make plans and you’ll go into labor, was the saying. After a big, spicy BBQ meal, at around 8pm, my contractions stopped.
They picked up and continued for a couple weeks after that, always dying down eventually, even through what became desperate nipple stimulation toward my two week mark.
One week after my due date, I had another prenatal appointment. Another doctor, the lesser evil of the three, told me that I should schedule my induction for this week. She told me stillborn rates double toward the end of pregnancy. But I had researched inductions and their stillbirth speech, and the truth is, a study showed at more than two weeks past a woman’s due date that the stillborn rate went from .3% to .7%. That’s right, less than one percent. I knew this, and told her I’d rather not, and again stressed my preference to avoid a c-section, to avoid being induced. I told her I knew Pitocin brought on unnaturally strong contractions that would make it hard if not impossible for me to resist an epidural. I wanted to give birth squatting or on hands and knees. I didn’t want to be lying on my back – a trigger from my past sexual abuse and because I knew it increased tearing, pain, and difficulty in pushing a baby out. She told me she had gone into labor naturally and had been induced and that “they both hurt.” I knew being induced was proven to hurt worse, and I knew she was lying. She said how about for two weeks out, then, I could schedule the induction for then.
Okay, I said.
She told me if I gave birth between Wednesday and Sunday anyway that she wouldn’t be there to deliver, if I cared about that sort of thing, she added. She said if I was induced the day after, that next Monday, that she could deliver my baby. If I went into labor naturally any time between now and Sunday, the locum doctor from Southern California would be on call those days to deliver, as all three rotating doctors in the practice were going out of town Wednesday through Sunday. I thought this was twisted logic, since I couldn’t control when I went into labor. I also thought it was ridiculous that all three OBs were out of town for an extended weekend.
I left the appointment without making another, without scheduling the induction.
The OB scheduler left a chipper message with me the morning of the Friday I went into labor, telling me she had scheduled my induction for Monday. I felt rage.
That’s why I felt so incredibly lucky and excited when the painful contractions kept getting more and more painful and intense. It’s happening! was all I could think. I was so grateful. I thanked God, the universe.
I texted my doula in the movie theater. I think this is it. They’re getting stronger, and they have for the past couple of hours.
My doula told me to text her in about an hour or two more if they were still going, and that she would rally up her husband and young son to travel up the hill. They lived in Reno, about an hour and a half away, and had to scale the hills past Carson City, in December, to get to me. Luckily, the storm had come the night before. It was still and cold outside, with snow only about half a foot high on the ground.
For her part, I had had a false alarm just the night before. I had gotten out of the shower, dressed, and suddenly about a cup of water broke through my leggings. I had checked into the hospital a few hours after, extremely anxious that I was now on the clock to get the baby out.
But they confirmed it wasn’t my water. The baby must’ve kicked me in the bladder.
I went home at about 11pm, that Thursday, only to return almost exactly 24 hours later in active labor.
My doula didn’t arrive at my apartment until 8pm. I had been laboring on my own for almost six hours. For a primary birth of course, that wasn’t a very long time. My doula’s birth, only a little over a year prior, had been nearly four days. I knew the average labor for a primary birth was around 24 to 30 hours.
I was in my bedroom, holding onto my husband when she let herself in. As soon as she walked in the room, I felt safer. She had done it before and she knew what to look for. My fears of having my baby on the toilet diminished a thousand-fold.
We had had plans with my parents that night. They had booked three weeks in town – a week before my estimated due date through two weeks after. In their minds, I suppose, I would go into labor before or by my due date, and they would be around for a couple weeks to help. But as it happened, I went into labor 12 days past my estimated due date, on the day they had planned to drive down to the Bay Area to my aunt’s to stay before Christmas, and two days before my induction had been scheduled automatically by the hospital.
The week before my labor had been fraught with anxiety and boredom. My parents asked me every day since they arrived “when are you going to have that baby?” at first jokingly, then a little incredulously. I started to think something was wrong with me. As when I was a child, I absorbed their anxiety.
My husband had decided to work up until when I went into labor. He decided that would be the most frugal way to spend his time, so that he didn’t waste time and Paid Family Leave funds on staying home with me before labor. I somewhat anxiously agreed.
My father was very worried that my husband would be at work when I went into labor and wouldn’t make it back in time to make it to the birth, as he worked up a mountain pass about an hour and half away on the north side of the Lake Tahoe.
I knew that the average birth would be much longer, but his anxiety tugged at my base fears. Of course I was afraid to labor without my husband. Who else could be with me before my doula would get there? My parents?
And it turned out, they were.
A few days before I went into labor, I was disappointed that my parents were most likely going to miss the birth of their granddaughter. I was more upset that my mother wouldn’t be around to help me emotionally and physically afterward. She kept telling me they planned to drive down to my aunt’s to stay for Christmas. My anxiety and disappointment in my body grew. Hurry up, they thought. Hurry up, I started to think. I was also angry at her. How hard was it to just add on another week’s stay to witness their grandbaby’s birth? But my mom acted like it would be a huge inconvenience. A huge expense. I felt guilty. My body was failing me, and messing up my parents’ plans. The ultimate parent-pleaser, this upset me.
But two days before I went into labor, my mother told me she had found another hotel to stay in so they could be in town one more week. I felt instantly guilty, instead of grateful. My mom had a tone that I had better hurry up, I was messing up everyone’s plans. Your baby is so stubborn, she said. Just like you.
Since they were staying an extra week, we had planned to celebrate Christmas the Friday I went into labor. We might as well, I said, since at that point I didn’t expect to make it down to the San Francisco Bay Area, four hours away through the mountains, after having given birth. I wasn’t sure how I would feel, but from what I had read online, I wasn’t going to feel amazing, especially for hour in the sitting position on a bumpy, pot hole-ridden road.
We planned to open presents and have a salmon and asparagus dinner. My husband would cook. My parents came over at about 5pm. I was having contractions that were bringing me to my knees. About a half hour after they arrived, the contractions started coming farther apart. I went into my bedroom and did nipple stimulation, and they kicked back in, hard.
I tried to choke down some dinner, although food, and especially seafood, seemed wholly unappetizing. I managed to get a bit of rice and salmon down. My mom furrowed her brow at me as I breathed on my birthing ball. My dad looked massively uncomfortable and tried not to look at me.
At about 6:30 or 7pm, they left, uncomfortable. My mom said, “Call me after you’ve had the baby!” and they shuffled out of my apartment.
Next, Part II: Active Labor/Sh*t Gets Real