Well, it’s time for me to put this down to paper. It’s been seven weeks since my third child was born. I like to wait a little bit before completely reflecting on that time. I talk to my husband about it all. I talk to my doctor at my six-week appointment. I look at how I’m left feeling physically and emotionally before I decide exactly how I feel about a birth. Right after it just feels too raw. I make bold statements like “I’m never having children again” when I might, or “I’m fine,” when it turns out I am really not fine. So, here we go, almost two months later, and I can say I really am fine. While this birth was the most aggressive and primal as I’ll describe later, it didn’t leave me with unanswered questions or any confusion. This was also my first experience giving birth in a rural area, as opposed to another country (England), another city (London and New York City), and again on a private healthcare system instead of public (the UK’s NHS). This was my first pandemic, too. My first delivery experience was classified as a traumatic birth, which I significantly healed from after baby number two. To first read about my first two journeys, and the public to private experience, check out my birth comparisons “Pregnancy Around the Pond,” and “Labor & Delivery Around the Pond,” as well as my second child’s birth comparison story “A Healing Birth.” Now, onto Baby Three’s Birth Story:
After a few days of contractions here and there, they started up again right on my due date: 6/11/21. After two prior labors, I knew enough to wait them out until they got very consistent and extremely severe. I’ve always had long labors, so waiting it out might not be for everyone. Even when they get close enough time-wise, my body could still be days or hours away from getting me over the line. I called and updated my doctor throughout the waiting game, to be sure she was supportive of my preference to labor at home.
My contractions started Friday night, just after my girls went to bed when I was relaxing on the couch watching Ted Lasso with my sister (who was in from California to be on babysitting duty) and my husband. I had a night of incomplete sleep, partially because of the pain, and partially because I could not stop checking the time and the bed to see if my water had broken. In the morning, I was still contracting, and made the mission of the day to chill. I wanted the hormones to flow and labor to progress in order to get this baby out before my sister had to catch a flight back home. After my second child was five days early, she front loaded her vacation time for prior to my due date instead of after. As usual, babies are unpredictable.
The Saturday was a nice day. I stayed on the couch, eating as much and as often as I desired, hugging and snuggling my girls, but letting my husband and my sister do the heavy lifting. I breathed through contractions and got pretty close to completing the Here & Now Puzzle that I will forever save and maybe work on every year on my baby’s birthday. I was able to put my girls to bed, watch the season finale of Ted Lasso, season one (a show that will now always hold a special place in my heart), and then it was go time. My contractions were becoming very strong. I called the doctor to tell her we were headed to the hospital, loaded up the car, and we were off.
We arrived at the hospital around 8:30PM that night on Saturday, June 12, 2021. The main hospital entrance was closed for the evening (not in a city anymore!) so we had to go through the ER entrance. Due to the pandemic, and the labor unit being a locked unit, we had to wait for an attendant to walk us up to that floor. I was in a lot of pain and extremely agitated pacing, just longing to be admitted into a room. I did not feel safe being exposed to the people that might be visiting the ER, despite both my husband and I being vaccinated and wearing masks. Finally, the woman came to walk us up and I breathed heavily in silence through some contractions.
The ward was dark. Two women sat at a desk and walked us to the room where I would have my baby and stay for the 30 hours following. In New York and London, I was immediately transferred to other areas after delivery, so it was a nice change to truly be able to settle in.
Well, as settled as you could be in active labor. I’ve always packed a huge bag, and made a playlist, but never seem to have time or attention to focus on any of it. I’ve decided that when you wait to go to the hospital until the very end of your labor, and you do not get an epidural, so you’re without that quiet, chill time, you truly don’t have time to worry about candles.
This brings me to my birth plan. Not having an epidural was extremely important to me. I brought it all in writing so every nurse knew exactly what I was trying to achieve. After having one with my first, and not having one with my second, I noticed a huge difference in the length of my labor and the way I felt physically immediately after AND months later. I was disappointed, however, that despite my drug-free wishes, the Mount Sinai West team in New York City asked me about an epidural over and over and over. This time, I had to make sure it was extremely clear. I did not want one and I did not want to be asked. That was pretty much the only thing on my birth plan, though. No drugs, but nothing mattered to me more than a safe delivery and a healthy mom and baby.
Once I was in the room, I changed into my own Frida Mom gown and got the few items out of the bag that were truly important to me: my misting spray water bottle, my boob-shaped stress ball, and a framed picture of my girls. The room was terrible to look at, but large enough. Seriously, like a scene out of All in the Family. Strange wallpaper, too many oak accents, and a very old-fashioned wooden rocker my husband was forced to sit in. It did not seem appropriate or all that sanitary. Then, it was time to get acquainted with the nurses.
The nurses were the low point of my entire experience. I had never met with one in particular that was so incompetent. I hate to say that, as she was a very nice woman, but when it comes to such an emotional, intense, important health experience, you want someone on their A-game. I later found out that my experience was the straw that broke the camel’s back and the nurse I had a problem with was let go. The other one moved away.
The woman seemed completely unfamiliar with the computer system, she collapsed a vein and then stuck me two additional times before being able to successfully set up my IV and draw blood to check my platelets. (I have a history of low platelets, but they were not concerning at the time of labor.) Once that housekeeping was completed, I was given a PCR which, my God, was painful. I don’t know if they are all that bad, or if it was just the nurse’s angle, but that was my first and I was surprised! That Covid test came back negative and I was able to remove my mask at that time. My husband wore his mask the entire time in the hospital. I never put mine on again. Had I not been vaccinated, I would have felt much differently. (Remember, this was for the most part pre-Delta.)
Next, it was time to check how dilated I was. The nurse tried to check, but said she couldn’t tell. The next nurse was about to try and check when my doctor came in the room. She came in like a boss, asked the nurse to step aside, and I finally felt like I was in good hands. My doctor was actually a Major in the Air Force which really showed with her strong, but calm and collected demeanor. She was someone I really trusted throughout the experience, and found myself VERY lucky that she was the one (out of at least five doctors) on call that weekend.
I was 4 centimeters dilated. She broke my water and within minutes I was at 6 centimeters. Things were moving quickly and the pain was getting more and more intense. Intense isn’t even the right word. Strong, extreme, acute–none of them do it justice. I say primal because I felt like a wounded animal dying in the woods wailing. It was an uncivilized, out-of-body, in another realm, form of torture. Prior to that level with my first, I had gotten an epidural. With my second, I saw the pain through, but it still wasn’t as severe as with this experience. As per my wishes, no one mentioned medication to me, and I was afraid to say the words. I wanted to make it without. I didn’t want to go there. The doctor could tell I was caving, something that didn’t happen to me with my second, and she helped me achieve my goal by reassuring me there wouldn’t be time and we were almost there anyway. I trusted her.
She begged me to move around, though. Something you see on Instagram is the idea of how women should be allowed to move during childbirth. As if they are being held back from doing so. And, in some cases with some doctors, I’m sure they are. Not me, though. They wanted me to move, and I did not want to budge. I wanted to lay down and lock my legs and cry and vomit and scream through the pain. Anything beyond that was far too much for my body to handle. The doctor kept coming in and out, allowing me to labor with the very unhelpful nurses. I was about to throw something at the next person that said “Just try to breathe through it.” When the doctor came back and found out that I hadn’t moved, she got serious with me. She needed me on all fours and promised it would make things go faster. The contraction on all fours was probably the most painful moment of my life. I immediately collapsed, sobbed, vomited, and peed all at the same time. The baby had descended as far as he could, I had fully transitioned, it was time. As I cried and screamed and threw up, I shouted at the nurse that she needed to get the doctor. She agreed it was probably a good idea and in came my white knight to help me get to the other side.
The hardest part of pushing without an epidural is typically when they make you stop. You’re in so much pain, and you want it to end and your body is telling you to get it out, yet your doctor is saying you need to hold it. You need to hold the baby in and prolong the whole experience. This is usually to prevent tearing, but this time, it was something else. We were dealing with a compound presentation. This meant that the baby’s arm was sticking out alongside the shoulders (something that occurs in about 1 out of every 1500 births). Once the head was out, the doctor had me pause, while she manually rotated the baby’s arm and shoulders. This was extremely painful. You’ve heard of the “ring of fire”? Well this felt like the ring of fire was on fire. After the baby was rotated, he came out just fine and was handed straight to me (which did not happen in New York City). My body shook uncontrollably as I was cleaned up and minimally stitched. I didn’t mind, though, my placenta came out which is always a huge worry for me after my first, and the worst of the pain was over.
He was born at 11:53PM, making June 12th his birthday with seven minutes to spare. After 28 hours of steady contractions, he was here. It took another couple of hours for the nurse to GTFO of our room. She had to put together our cord blood collection kit which was ultimately rejected from the company due to a poor quality sample. Hard to say who’s to blame for that one. She took an unreasonably long time to do the paperwork on her end and completely forgot everything she needed to do for the baby. After an hour and a half of my constant reminders and her repeatedly saying “Oh, I still have a wet towel on him,” “Oh, I still have the scissor cord clamp on him,” (poking his skin) “Oh, I didn’t weigh him yet,” finally we started to get somewhere. I didn’t trust the nurse whatsoever to clean him up or give him a vaccine that I made my husband stand close with a watchful eye. I just wished I could take over!
But, we finally got him his to-go umbilical clamp and got that baby on a scale. To all of our surprise, he weighed a whopping 9 lbs., 3 oz. Between his compound presentation and giant body, I understood just why this birth was so raw and painful. Don’t get me wrong, my previous birth without an epidural was excruciating and definitely a 10+ on the pain scale, but this was like a 15.
I find the inability to predict birth weights frustrating. I was told my baby was going to be in the 7lb.-range repeatedly. Even while the doctor checked me that very night, she said “This baby isn’t that big. Maybe 7.5?” With my second baby, in New York City, I even had to go for an additional ultrasound as they were concerned she was measuring small. She was 8lbs., 3 oz. at five days early! I did like how there I got to see the baby at every single appointment as there was an ultrasound machine in each room, but in Connecticut I only got to see the baby at the three traditional ultrasounds. (Still more than the two in London, though, and here I did finally get my first 3D ultrasound!) But, all I can focus on is that it didn’t matter. His surprise weight didn’t mean I ended up in the operating room. I was still able to achieve my unmedicated, vaginal birth. He was healthy, and so was I.
After having a retained placenta, hemorrhaging two liters of blood, and experiencing some very uncomfortable life-saving measures after my first delivery, any birth where I can be awake, alert, and not even take a Motrin after, is one I am beyond grateful for. The nurse finally left around 2:30AM. I had pounded about five strawberry cereal bars, breastfed the baby who latched beautifully, said goodbye to my husband (who we wanted home to be there for the girls when they woke up), and got some rest with my babe.
The next day was probably the best day of my life. Recovery was hard after my first child, and I had a shared room with my second, but in Connecticut, a private room was standard and it was just a day of cuddling with my dude. The nurses totally left me alone which I GREATLY appreciated. It was calm, and quiet, with my husband popping in here and there during the girls’ sleep times to bring me coffee and pastries. I had the day after delivery that I longed to have after each baby prior. It felt like a vacation. I wore my new nightgowns, watched Vanderpump Rules, and stared at my baby for hours. Perfection.
In Connecticut, you’re required to stay in the hospital for a minimum of thirty hours. This was bringing us to Monday morning at around 6:00AM. My sister had to leave my house at 10:45AM to get to LaGuardia Airport in time for her flight. This would be close as we would have to wait for the OB and pediatrician to check us out that morning before we would be allowed to leave. The great day nurses were so understanding about our situation, they were determined to get us out of there. We were checked out and headed home just in time for my sister to meet the babe and get on her way with TEN minutes to spare. Yes, I really missed having the additional help that she provided after baby number two, but she was there for the most important part which was making sure my girls felt safe and secure when Mommy and Daddy were getting their baby. And they did. They FaceTimed me a bunch, and were over the moon to meet their new little brother (and open the presents he got for them)! It was just such a blessed experience.
So, my takeaways. I still prefer private healthcare over public for a birthing experience. The familiar doctor, the continuity of care, the nicer facilities (Did I mention we both got filet mignon dinners for our “Celebration” meal?! And they were actually quite tasty!), made me feel much more safe and comfortable. I enjoyed the rural experience because I had more space and more quiet. New York City felt like a zoo. People everywhere, a loud nurses station, and cramped quarters unless you wanted to pay up. I think people in London are lovely and caring and take more of an interest in you from a wellness perspective, especially when it comes to breastfeeding, but no one was really all that bad. Just the forgetful and off night nurses. But I can’t let a couple bad apples ruin the whole bunch. Connecticut is the winner if I were to pick out of the three and do it again! Next time, preferably not in a pandemic, but, then again, it wasn’t too bad not having to entertain visitors…
Now, to decide if we’re having a next baby and where that one should be born! Asia? California? Time will tell…