After 20 or 30 minutes of being at the hospital, Melissa came in and checked me and told me I was at a 5. She repeatedly told me that I was in active labor and not early labor anymore, but I didn't really believe her. It seemed too easy to be active labor because I was used to the crunch of pitocin, which had previously caused me three-minute contractions with one-minute rests in between. What I was experiencing this time was totally manageable--contractions that lasted 60-90 seconds and afforded me approximately three minutes of rest in between. With that much time to rest, I kept regrouping easily; plus, the contractions really weren't too bad yet. I remember laughing about a bumper sticker that we had seen on the drive to the hospital ("Jesus is coming. Look busy.") and talking with Melissa and the other ladies in the room about their own birth experiences. BJ was well-rested and relaxed, and he was a huge encouragement to me as the morning wore on. Melissa told me that progression is typically about a centimeter of dilation per hour, which would have put me at delivering around 2PM. Her estimate was accurate, though thankfully a bit long. I requested a birthing ball and then for some reason balked about getting on it, but somewhere when I was around 6.5cm Melissa strongly suggested I get on the ball because she thought I would progress faster that way. So I did.
On the birthing ball. Ignore the fact that my smile is a little maniacal.
Here's me during a contraction and my support team cheesing it up. You can tell where their priorities were at the moment.
A couple of hours passed and contractions were still about three to four minutes apart, but they had definitely intensified by that point. By 11:00 or so I was occasionally cursing during contractions and I was experiencing some back labor. Melissa showed Christa and BJ how to dig their fists into my lower back during contractions, and it was amazing how much that alleviated the pain. I could not have done it without an epidural if it hadn't been for those two taking shifts and frantically pummeling my lower back for the duration of each contraction. At one point BJ's hand cramped up and he temporarily stopped (realistically he probably only stopped for two or three seconds), but I delivered him an earful in that brief moment about how him stopping was not an option and how he had the easy job here. There was little mincing of words during the contractions from about a 7 on, followed by my profuse apologies during break time. Once my mom's phone rang and she began updating my dad on the status of my condition on the phone since he wasn't at the hospital yet. Bear in mind that my mom was not idly gossiping away to a random friend here--but still I barked at her during a contraction, "PLEASE STOP TALKING ON THE PHONE!" She quickly made her quiet exit. My poor mom. All throughout the later half of the morning I had the insane notion that I was not progressing at all with my labor. In fact, I kept bemoaning this fact to Melissa, tearfully making dramatic statements like, "We're not getting any closer!" and "This isn't working!" Everyone assured me that of course I was progressing, and sure enough I was. I don't know why I didn't believe it.
I think I began losing it for real when I was at a 9. It was the only point of the labor that I truly debated getting an epidural, and my mother and sister were all too quick to offer to get the anesthesiologist. I think this was because they were weary of seeing me suffering. BJ, on the other hand, got in my face and convinced me that I was so close to the end and didn't need no stinkin' epidural at that point. Even though the pain was extremely intense during contractions, I realized that he was right. The idea of calling the anesthesiologist and then having that needle put into my back was so unpalatable to me that I quickly called out to NOT bring him in, and at that point my decision to go natural was ultimately made. I knew I would not revisit the decision in the remainder of the labor process. In the meantime, Dr. Brown was supposed to have checked in during the noon hour to break my water (he had not, in fact, kept his word on this), and so I kept laboring away at a 9 with water intact, shrieking obscenities and then apologizing for it in the following moment. It was during this point that I got back up onto the edge of the bed and abandoned the birthing ball for good. I may have called it a son of a bitch on my way up to the bed.
Somewhere along the way I began experiencing nausea during the peak of contractions, and so Melissa gave me some IV Zofran. The med didn't really seem to touch the nausea so I requested a little vomit baggy to hold during contractions. Only I could hold this baggy though, and I became seriously irritated if anyone else tried to hold it for me. Once my friend Sara did her best to stick it under my mouth when I started dry-heaving during a contraction, and I barked something at her and ripped it out from under my face, if I remember correctly. Oh, if only someone had been ballsy enough to take a video...I would never have noticed at the time, and it would be so hilarious to look at now! Christa and BJ were continuing to take turns with digging their fists into my back, and even though my skin was beginning to feel raw, I didn't care because the pain of the rawness was so much less than the pain of the back labor. Why none of us considered lotion is beyond me, but truly I can say that some of my skin was gone by the time it was all said and done.
As much as I hated the aforementioned nausea, it ultimately is what caused my water to break. This was much needed. So I was sitting on the edge of the bed at a 9, shouting at Melissa that Dr. Brown needed to get here NOW and occasionally emphasizing that point by pounding a fist into the mattress, and during one of these contractions I dry-heaved violently from the nausea and the impact popped my water bag. Melissa, for her part, was amazing. She always stayed calm, always offered her hand for squeezing, and kept repeating something I needed to hear for some reason, which was "I know. I know." She'd been in labor before, and I knew she knew what I was feeling at that exact point. Well, once my water was broken, any hell that hadn't broken loose was officially unleashed at that point. I immediately progressed to a 10 and was ready to push, and Dr. Brown still wasn't there. I repeated my screaming at Melissa that it was time for the baby, and the doctor better get his ass here right now, and Melissa surprised me by telling me what we would deliver without the doctor. This was music to my ears! In that moment I cared about nothing at all except getting Van out of me, and if it had just been Melissa, BJ, and me, I had full confidence that we would be just fine. She called in another nurse, who incidentally asked Christa on the way into the room how she was doing. Christa responded with, "Better than the lady in the bed!" which sadly for her was remarked smack-dab in the middle of a contraction. No one really remembers what was screamed in that exact moment: my mom and I seem to remember that I shrieked at her, "NO JOKING!" Christa specifically recalls, "SHUT UUPPPP!" and BJ thinks we're both wrong but can't remember what was bellowed. In any case, Christa earned her rite of passage and also quickly closed her mouth. By this point most things were a haze to me. I can tell you where a couple of people were in the room; Melissa was directly to my right, BJ directly to my left, Susan maybe off somewhere to the left, and Sara floating around the room doing her helpful thing. I don't have any recollection of anyone else, except that my dad had long since left the room because he couldn't stand to hear my pain. As my friend Amber, who delivered without meds and WITH pitocin, later remarked, "There could have been a crew filming a documentary and I wouldn't have cared." I must agree; a camera pointed at my business end would not have fazed me in that moment. I got situated back on the bed, everything was set up to catch the baby, and we would soon be pushing. The on-call doctor came into the room right about that time, a friendly man as I recall, and then about two minutes after he came in my doctor finally arrived. He said he never got a page, and I'm not sure that anyone reminded him that he had said he would come in around noon to break my water anyway. It was about 1:35PM at that point in time. Melissa instructed me to "bear down and push," and I did.
Inwardly I began panicking at that point. It was way too late for an epidural and I finally realized my lot here: I was about to push a baby out of a hole in my body with no pain meds. What if it took hours? I knew I would die if it took hours because no one could bear this pain for hours (I'm sure people can; this is just what I was thinking). But BJ hugged me and held me from the left side, Melissa was with me on the right, Dr. Brown was there to catch him, and all was going to be right very soon. I was surprised at the guttural noises coming out of my mouth during my pushes; I don't remember making them, but there they were. I could feel Van coming out, and he was swirling and turning as he did so. My first thought was that Dr. Brown was sticking his hands in me and twirling my child, but then I realized that Van was doing this on his own. I had no idea that babies turn circles as they come out of you, but indeed they do. Then an intense burning sensation, a tear (which I didn't specifically feel but was probably part of all of the pain), and gasps of happiness from everyone in the room. Though I hadn't seen him yet, I knew Van was here at last.
My first moment seeing him
That's Melissa in the red. Cool, calm, and collected. I seriously love her.
Dr. Brown clamping the cord
One thing that people who have birthed naturally have told me is how immediately the pain stops after the baby comes out. In one sense, yes, the contractions are gone and the aptly-named "ring of fire" that happens during pushing is also over; however, once the afterbirth came flying out of me (about two seconds after Van did), I was left with the sense of a giant gaping wound where a big baby just pushed his way out. Dr. Brown needed to stitch a relatively small tear and I was quite jumpy. I was also still trembling uncontrollably (not from cold), which had started at about the point that Melissa measured me at a 6.5 earlier that morning. I felt ridiculously tired all of the sudden, and I'm pretty sure I dozed off as Van was passed around to loving arms in the room before coming back to me to breastfeed a few moments later. What was noticeable was how alert Van remained for many hours, and I attribute this to not having epidural meds in his little system. I was tired, but thankfully Van was wide awake. I asked for Motrin only once and then did Tylenol only after that; I didn't want Percocet in my breast milk and I also didn't want to be conked out in the coming days when I needed to be alert. Dr. Brown, obviously a man of little faith, told me he doubted my ability to recover without Percocet, and I asked him why he thought I would need it if I didn't need meds during labor and delivery itself? I was right. Dr. Brown= 0, Jenny= 1. Heck yeah!
I couldn't have made it through without my team. I negotiated with Van aloud during the entire labor, telling him that I needed him to help me so that I could help him, and that we could do this together. We did. We had help from BJ, who never doubted me for a second and then bragged about me incessantly afterward (I smile as I type this just thinking about him announcing to everyone that I did it without meds!); my mom, who stayed right by my side during the hard parts and didn't fight TOO hard for the epidural; my sister Christa, who encouraged me all along by reminding me of the "sweet cheeks" I would be kissing soon, forcing me to remember the endpoint of all of this, and also sacrificing her fists for my back's sake; Susan, who was total encouragement all along; my friend Sara (who is also my boys' godmother), who came in when I was at about a 7 and helped out in every way while staying perfectly calm; and of course Melissa, nurse extraordinaire. Calls and texts from friends and family were also so encouraging.
If you're considering a natural birth, let me say this: I went in with a flexible state of mind, and it served me well I believe. I never forced myself to do anything, and I always felt like I was in control until the very end, at which point I felt like Melissa was in control so ultimately I was okay. You don't have to go in completely determined that you'll do it naturally in order to succeed in doing it naturally. I kind of surprised even myself. Afterward the nurses announced in total surprise that Van was a heavyweight...9 pounds, 5 ounces! I was so excited! I mean, now that the kid was out of me, he may as well be huge so that I have eternal bragging rights! Although I must say that if someone told me my baby weighed 9-1/2 pounds BEFORE I pushed him out, I may have opted for the epidural out of fear! But ultimately I didn't, and it all went as it should have. By the end of it I had a bleeding opening that needed to heal, a small tear that required six stitches, a raw and bruised lower back, hemorrhoids, a uterus contracting back to size during feeding sessions, and blistered, cracked nipples from the beginning stages of breastfeeding. All of it, though, was for him and so it was totally worth it. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I am woman. Hear me roar.
Van Owen: born December 17, 2013 at 1:41PM. 9lbs, 5oz, 22 inches. Roar.