While Laurel was with my in-laws during February vacation, Jon and I saw 127 Hours, which — aside from the whole sawing off the hand thing (through which I had to close my eyes) — was phenomenal.
And while I didn’t have to saw off my own hand, I endured my own arduous journey last week, when I labored for 58 hours en route to delivering Violet. Similar to when I wrote about Laurel’s birth story for Gabrielle, I wanted to write Violet’s story. Because as challenging as it was, it was a remarkable experience that I never want to forget.
Not too long after publishing my 40 week post, I had a lovely check in with my midwife. We were excited that pre-labor contractions had started (around 3:30am that morning) and that my mucous plug revealed itself during my examination (I never thought I’d be so excited to see mucous, btw). And though I was not dilated, my cervix was thinning. Since contractions eluded me before Laurel’s birth, I was giddy with the sense that we were finally getting the show on the road.
Jon and I enjoyed lunch together and then not too long after that (around 3:30pm), early labor began. The contractions got stronger, and instead of the mild sensation I felt in my abdomen during the pre-labor contractions, the early labor contractions hurt a lot in my back. But I just kept breathing through them (thank you yoga, for all of that preparation) and kept my eye on the clock — waiting to transition into the 1:5:1 active labor contraction zone — as afternoon turned into evening and then into morning.
By the next morning, my contractions were pretty much the same so Jon took Laurel to school and I encouraged him to go to the clinic and see clients…waiting around was not going to accelerate things. I continued on with the contractions, which were uncomfortable (again, the back pain was the worst of it) but tolerable, and by late afternoon/early evening, I thought that I was entering active labor — the contractions were about 5 minutes apart and definitely stronger (though not stop dead in your tracks painful). Jon and I had already talked to the midwife on call earlier in the evening and she told us to stay put. Around 8pm things definitely felt more intense so we called again and she suggested we come in. We called my mom, and once she arrived, Jon and I headed out, cursing our crappy suspension and the bajillion potholes en route.
By this point it was 9 or 10pm. I was examined and though my cervix was thinning I still wasn’t dilated. My contractions had also spaced out to 7-8 minutes apart, though the pain was really, really bad in my back. It was completely deflating, but after talking to the team about our options, we headed back home, after which point I endured probably the most miserable evening of “sleep” ever. My contractions intensified in strength and frequency, the pain in my back was searing, and I couldn’t find a position to offer a modicum of relief. Jon was with me but he conked out pretty hard so at first I struggled on my own, trying to decide whether to martyr through on my own or wake him up. And then he woke up and proved the most amazing partner ever — helping me through the breaths, encouraging me along, easing my fears. It was a long, long night but being together through it helped me keep it together.
After continued painful laboring in the wee hours, Jon called the midwife on call at 4:30am — we were now about 37 hours into labor and I was pretty miserable, but they still advised us to stay home. I labored in the tub for about two hours — intermittently dozing between contractions and Jon’s replenishing of the hot water. I also wished about 8,000 times that the tub was bigger and that I had thought to get a bath pillow.
After I got out of the tub I endured a long morning/afternoon of increasingly excruciating contractions and feeling completely demoralized. I was exhausted, sad, and knew I should be eating to keep up my strength but had zero appetite.
And then that afternoon, I had an emotional break through. Jon and my spirits were both pretty down, but as we tried to figure out how to get through to the next phase, he offered to do a little therapy. We talked about whether there was something I was holding on to that was preventing the labor from progressing. And as we talked between contractions it became clear to me that I still had a hang up about the natural birth thing. Intellectually, yes, I had adopted a whatever happens will happen type attitude but ultimately, I’m someone who is used to identifying a goal and getting the job done. And now, as I closed in on 48 hours of labor, I actually found myself speaking the words that I never thought I would say — that if things didn’t progress really soon, I was ready for intervention. And that I would just have to come to terms with the fact that that was OK and that it didn’t represent personal failure. Jon and I agreed that we would ride things out a little longer, see what transpired, and be OK with whatever outcome resulted. We reminded ourselves of how 180 degrees Laurel’s emergency C-section was from our birth plan, and that despite that experience, we were blessed with an amazingly sweet, thoughtful, and wonderful child.
So who knows if it was this emotional breakthrough, my body finally shifting, or a combination of the two, but a couple of hours later, after we had sent my mom home and while I was attempting to be present with Laurel between contractions, things started to kick into high gear. My contractions came on even harder and more frequently. Jon pointed out earlier that I have a pretty high pain tolerance and for the most point I had been able to breathe my way through everything up to that point, but these contractions actually made me cry out…my back was on fire and I couldn’t find a single position that offered relief. We didn’t want to call the midwives again because every time we called we felt demoralized by being told to stay put so I held on — it wasn’t until about 3 hours later (now 52 hours into labor) that we finally went in. My poor Mom — who had arrived on the scene again to stay with Laurel — looked sick with worry and the pain of watching her daughter suffer. And the other memory that stays with me from those final moments of labor at home is that my contractions were accompanied by the Sound of Music, which we had turned on for Laurel and also to serve as distraction for me. The movie is a Koh family tradition; we even sang Edelweiss at my father’s funeral.
Once again, Jon and I headed to the hospital, but this time when I was examined, it turned out I was about 80% effaced and 4 cm dilated so they admitted me. YES! Even the midwife and nurse (who actually was the same nurse we saw the evening before) cheered. It was like that adrenaline rush you feel when you’re exhausted and running a race and finally see (or think you see) the end in sight. It was even St. Patrick’s Day, the official due date and date that Laurel wanted the baby to be born.
While we were still high off the euphoria of being admitted, the next turning point was back relief. When I told the midwife about my back pain she immediately concluded that the baby was in an awkward position (we apparently were spine to spine) and suggested these sterile saline water shots (not the technical term) to relieve the pressure. She said she had never seen them not work and they were this miraculous thing — just water shots (i.e., they wouldn’t interfere with my natural birth plan) that appeared to block pain receptors or put the right pressure against the nerves (again, I can’t remember the technical details). Only downfall? They are excruciatingly painful when injected.
But whatever, I was willing to try anything. And she was totally right. I couldn’t see what was happening but Jon said it sort of looked like getting a TB test. Four hands were on deck to administer the four saline shots simultaneously (since it would have been tortuous to do them one at a time) and ironically, getting these shots ultimately was the most painful part of the entire labor and delivery process — I actually screamed. But after that? UTTER RELIEF. I actually didn’t even initially realize that my first contraction post saline was a contraction because it was not accompanied with searing lower back pain.
Thursday into Friday
I continued to work through contractions but they had slowed down a bit so the midwife asked about breaking my water and we consented. And after she did that, everything accelerated. My contractions ramped up in frequency and intensity, I entered the transition phase (holy hell that was intense), and then it was time to push.
Even having re-read about the labor process in advance, it was hard to reconcile reality with what you see in the movies, particularly having undergone a C-section previously. But the things that stood out as most remarkable to me were: 1) how incredibly lucky I am to have as caring and supportive a partner as Jon — we were truly in it together the whole way; 2) how much love and caring there was from a group of complete strangers — in addition to the (phenomenal) hospital staff, the midwife on call was not the midwife I had seen during prenatal care, and because I dropped the ball time-wise, we had not had a chance to meet our doula in advance…regardless, all of these people created the most supportive environment I could ever have hoped for; and 3) how pushing (the part conveyed as the end all be all of suffering on TV and in movies) is not really the hardest part. As I said, the water shots were actually the worst for me pain-wise (it was the only time I screamed during the entire 58 hours of labor), and otherwise the intensity of the transition phase was next in line. The pushing was mostly filled with uncertainty because I had no idea what they meant when they said, “You’re almost there” because I couldn’t see anything. Throughout, though, I was able to breathe my way through the entire process, and the midwife did say that my body was incredibly strong — I really think all of the yoga I did right up until the very end served me enormously well, both mentally and physically.
And throughout the entire process, I was so moved by how supportive the hospital team was of my desire for a natural birth — it was all so different from how I experienced things when I went through my prenatal care (where, for example, a doctor who was subbing in for my regular doctor stripped my membrane without even asking for my consent first) and delivery (where it felt as if I was simply a body being done to) with Laurel.
And so, after 58 hours of labor, Violet emerged into the world — pink and screaming and full of life. Jon and I both wept with joy and relief as they quickly wiped her down and put her right up on my chest. And it was amazing how much laughter and lightheartedness there was in the room as we all chatted and cracked jokes while they cleaned me up.
And while we missed St. Patrick’s Day by about an hour and a half, that little detail has been long forgotten by Laurel. She adores Violet and I cannot say enough how different things are this time around. Jon and I are happily rolling with things, we feel closer than ever, and our family of four feels as if it was meant to be.