I had a hard time getting comfortable enough to fall asleep on Wednesday, the 20th. I got no more than an hour and a half of sleep before I woke up with uncomfortable contractions at 1:30 am on the 21st, which was my due date. After determining that the contractions kept coming every 3-5 minutes whether I was lying down, sitting, or standing up, I figured I was really in labor and told Don it was time. While I called the hospital to let them know we were coming, he went out to our RV to tell his mom (who was sleeping there) that we were leaving. It was a warm and muggy night when we left at a quarter to 3.
We got to the hospital at 3 am and they wheeled me up to the birthing center. As I previously wrote, I was hoping to have a water birth, so I was disappointed when they put me in a room without the tub. I knew that the hospital only had one tub, so it wasn’t guaranteed that I’d be able to use it, but they only have 12-15 births a month and not everyone uses the tub, so I figured that the odds were that it would be available for me when the time came. Within the first fifteen minutes after we arrived, we heard a woman screaming. It was quiet for a while, then we heard her scream again, followed shortly after by a baby crying. We learned later that the baby was a girl, the fifth girl in her family.
My midwife had told me previously that the hospital would want me to be hooked up to a fetal monitor for 20 minutes when I arrived. With all the activity going on with the other delivery, it took them about half an hour before they hooked me up, and they kept it hooked up more like 30 minutes. They also hooked me up to an IV, because I had tested positive for Group B strep and needed IV antibiotics for that. It was bad enough being stuck on the bed, with two straps on my belly hooked up to one machine, with an IV in my arm, not able to move into a more comfortable position during my contractions, and not able to look forward to getting in the tub. Then my water broke in a huge gush and I was stuck there lying in the warm wetness. I was so miserable, I cried. I wanted my midwife to come—I trusted her, whereas the hospital staff were preoccupied, didn’t know me, and didn’t have a sense of urgency in dealing with me (getting the monitor off, getting the antibiotics started)—when I knew that my previous labors had gone quickly and expected the same again. I kept thinking about how much better my home birth experience was.
Finally, they got the monitor straps off. I still had the IV, but at least I could get up and move around. I stood next to the bed for a while, then went to the bathroom. Finally, the midwife came. She offered me a birthing ball (a big inflatable exercise ball) with a cloth pad on it. It was comfortable to sit on between contractions, but I preferred standing during contractions, and after a few contractions I gave up on the ball and just stood. The IV antibiotic finished and they unhooked me, leaving the port in my arm.
They moved the other woman from the room with the birth tub and were cleaning the room so I could use it. Because my labor was moving right along, they were trying to get the cleaning person to hurry up. When the tub was cleaned and re-filled, we were told we could move over there, even though the room wasn’t entirely ready (the bed wasn’t made).
As I started walking, another contraction started and I grabbed onto the edge of the door to the room I was in. I knew I had to be getting pretty close to delivering. The midwife told me I had to make a decision—either get to the tub or go back to the bed. I really didn’t want to go back to the bed, but I wasn’t sure I could make it to the tub. One of the nurses offered to grab a wheelchair, so I got a quick ride to the next room. As I stood up from the wheelchair and the midwife was pulling my hospital gown off, I could feel another contraction starting, so I climbed into the tub as quickly as I was capable of. I knelt, leaned forward, and gripped the sides of the tub (the tub was sort of triangular and I was facing one of the points of the triangle); I didn’t put any thought into my position, I just did what I could as the contraction hit. When it was over, the midwife told me the baby’s head was out. With the next contraction, I felt the baby come out. The midwife told me to get ready to reach down and pick up my baby. I looked down, saw my baby in the water below me, reached down, picked up the baby, and held it on my chest. I sat down, holding the baby. As the midwife was doing something, I looked down and realized that I couldn’t see if the baby was a boy or a girl, because of the way I was holding it. I wasn’t up to trying to look; I knew I would find out soon enough. The baby was purple and quiet. The midwife announced that she was going to cut the umbilical cord and prepared to do so, then turned to Don and asked if he wanted to. Don told her no, go ahead; both he and I had picked up the note of urgency in her voice. The midwife cut the cord and took a moment to turn the baby towards first me and then Don so that we could see that it was a girl. Then she took the baby to a table with bright lights over it, where she and the nurses rubbed the baby, suctioned out her mouth and nose, and gave her oxygen. After a few tense moments, she came around and started crying. I relaxed in the warm water while they were focusing on her. Then they helped me to the bed, where the midwife delivered the placenta and stitched me up. They brought Clara to me and we spent some time snuggling and initiating breastfeeding.
As we were hanging out in that room, a thunderstorm hit. I couldn’t see out the window because of the position of the bed, but Don could. There was thunder, lightning, torrential rain, and high winds (the airport recorded gusts up to 47 miles per hour and over an inch of rain in just one hour). Then the power went out. Although we expected that the hospital would have emergency power, something malfunctioned and the emergency power didn’t work on our hallway. It reminded me of when the power went out in a thunderstorm during the Navy flag ceremony at my grandfather’s funeral; it was dramatic. Clara was the name of my grandfather’s mother, so I thought that was an interesting coincidence. I did get to see out the window after they moved us to back to the first room we had been in, and it was quite the storm. The entire Keweenaw Peninsula (and more) lost power for the majority of the day; our power at home didn’t come on until around 6 pm. They moved us out of the birthing center to a part of the hospital where the emergency power was working, but we still had no lights, telephone, or air conditioning for several hours. The nurses kept commenting how good it was that both babies were delivered before the power went out.
I’ll end her birth story there and add a few comments.
I can’t speak to whether or not laboring in the tub provides pain relief, as I didn’t really get that opportunity. According to what I heard when one nurse was filling in another at shift change, I got in the tub at 4:59 and Clara was born at 5:02, so I had all of 3 minutes in the tub before she was born.
Each of the three times I’ve given birth, it has felt like a new accomplishment. With Peter, it was my first time having a baby. With Simon, it was my first unmedicated birth and a successful home birth. This time, it was a water birth (though barely), but my real sense of accomplishment was that I wasn’t coached through pushing the baby out. My body just did it. I really believe that it helped that my midwife let me be noisy (and I know I was loud!), rather than telling me to be quiet and focus, like when Simon was born (after pushing for 58 minutes and changing positions multiple times).
It was a successful birth and I’m satisfied overall, despite the disappointment of not getting to use the tub right away and the extra stresses of the hospital environment. It was just my rotten luck that someone else was already in labor when I got there; I suspect it would have been a better experience if I’d gotten the tub room right away and the nurses weren’t trying to care for another woman at the same time. In any case, it will have to do; we’re not planning to have any more babies so I don’t expect to have another opportunity to see how it goes.