On Wednesday night, September 28, I started having mild contractions/surges while Austin and I were watching tv. I had been having warm up labor off and on for over a week, so it didn’t mean too much at the time, especially since I still wasn’t due for another week. Even so, we timed them, and for two hours they were 10 minutes apart, which was our OB Dr. Martinez’s bare minimum for when you’re supposed to notify him that labor might be active. Austin kept telling me, “You just have to make it through this episode of Designated Survivor!” Seriously, we love that show.
By 11, it still didn’t feel like much was happening, so we decided to get some sleep and see where the night took us. The other two times we did this, I slept through the night just fine — unless you count the night earlier that week where we both had insomnia and ended up in the McDonald’s drive thru at 3:30 am. What can I say? The sleepless pregnant heart wants what the sleepless pregnant heart wants.
I woke up at 1:30 am on September 29 with a very strong surge that felt different from anything I had experienced before. This was definitely happening. From this moment to Harrison’s birth, less than four hours passed. From here on out, the experience is mostly an intense blur for me, but here are the pieces I remember — with the blanks filled in by Austin and our amazing doula April.
After a few strong surges, Austin called Dr. Martinez and April. My water hadn’t broken, so both suggested we labor at home as long as we were comfortable. We were told to let them know if my water did break or if I reached the point where I needed to move to the hospital for comfort. Both Dr. Martinez and April said they’d call us in a few hours if they hadn’t heard any news.
For months I had been taking hypnobirthing classes and practicing relaxing meditations to help me prepare for birth. I thought going in that I would be the sort of woman who would want to labor in the shower, in a bath, walking around the house, trying out multiple positions for comfort. But when the time came, I was mostly just kicking it in bed with the lights low and moaning like an actual cow during my surges, which were relatively far apart but really, really intense. I focused on my breathing and felt myself turn inward. Because of my practice, I don’t have many memories from this period, and my concept of time is very fuzzy. I thought only about 20 minutes passed during a time when a couple hours went by. Luckily, to the untrained eye, it didn’t look like much was going on, so there’s very little to report from our time at home.
At some point, April got a feeling she needed to join us, and thank God she did (more on why in just a moment)! She called Austin and asked if she could go ahead and come over to help because she couldn’t sleep. As she put it, her “spidey senses were tingling.” Austin has said he was so grateful she offered because he didn’t feel like he could leave my side and for some time he had desperately needed to go pee. April arrived (around 4 am?), swapped places with Austin, and he got some necessary relief.
Around 4:30, April suggested I get up and try to head to the bathroom. While there, I threw up. This is usually a sign someone is transitioning (meaning they are in the later phases of active labor, nearing the time when they will push). She told me, “We’re not in a hurry, but it’s not going to get any easier or more comfortable from here on out to get to the hospital, so we should go now.” My surges were still over four minutes apart, and we all thought we still had several hours of laboring ahead. Austin loaded our bags into the car and notified his brother that he would need to come pick up Brillo. He also called Dr. Martinez, who said he would take a shower and make his way to the hospital to meet us. We drove to the hospital, a three to five minute drive from our house, with April following in her van.
This is where everything changes. Make note of the time stamps!
We got to the ER parking lot at 4:40 am. Before I could make it up to the triage area in the maternity ward, I had to stop for several incredibly strong contractions in the lot and then again in the ER entrance. At first I didn’t want to sit or be wheeled to triage, but it became immediately apparent that walking was becoming too difficult, so a chair it was. We made it to triage at 4:48. Usually triage is where you complete your paperwork while the nurses monitor you and the baby for 20–30 minutes before transferring you to a private room [insert laugh track here].
When we arrived in triage, the nurse asked me if my water had broken (no) and if I had been having any urges to push (also no). But just as she was trying to hook me up to the fetal monitor, my body began to push involuntarily. I cried out and yelled that I needed to push really badly. And, I’m not proud to admit this next piece, but Austin insists it’s integral to the story, I yelled at the nurse that I felt like I was about to poop everywhere. And this was a problem because I was still wearing my underwear. Like I said, I’m not proud, but birth makes you feel very frantic about unusual things.
Austin and the nurse quickly undressed me (I did NOT poop everywhere, thankyouverymuch), and she took the opportunity to give me a brief cervical exam. Somehow, in the three minute drive to the hospital and eight minute ascent from the parking lot to triage, I had progressed the rest of the way and our baby was coming, like, right then and there.
Our nurse immediately called for help, and a team started to race me down the hallway in my bed with Austin and April running beside me. I tried to focus on breathing my baby down (a hypnobirthing alternative to traditional pushing), but I was mostly just yelling and writhing around in my bed. It wasn’t painful, but it was intense to feel so out of control. And, to be fair, you don’t feel very zen when you’re fairly confident you’re about to give birth while flying through a hallway on a cot. At this time, the nurse warned Austin that they called Dr. Martinez, but he probably wouldn’t make it to the hospital in time to deliver the baby.
When we reached our private room, everything was incredibly bright and frantic. The room was full of nurses and two separate OBs trying to prep as fast as they could to have everything ready for the suddenly imminent delivery. One person was trying to insert my IV while a separate group lifted me from my cot to a more permanent bed while one OB introduced herself and said she’d be delivering our baby… then another OB introduced himself and said HE’D be delivering our baby… it was chaotic to say the least.
One of the nurses placed a fetal monitor on me, and they quickly discovered the baby’s heart beat had dropped dramatically and to an unsafe and abnormal degree. As if the speed of these final moments wasn’t enough, everyone was suddenly in crisis mode. They placed an oxygen mask on me and prepared for the worst. Luckily, right then, Dr. Martinez literally ran into the room, still in his glasses from sleeping and with bed head. At least we knew who’d be delivering our baby!
Dr. Martinez immediately informed me I was allowed to continue pushing, but they were simultaneously prepping forceps and a vacuum to get to the baby because he was no longer safe. Things had been so busy and so many people had been talking to me and touching me at once that I still didn’t fully grasp the gravity of our circumstances. I yelled “NO VACUUM!” like an insane person in Dr. Martinez’s face, and proceeded to push as hard as I have ever done anything in my whole life. Never underestimate the power and determination of a woman in labor — in about three pushes, Harrison was born and placed on my chest. He cried out for the first time before he was even completely birthed, giving us a big yell while still in my birth canal from the waist down (a visual you were just dying for when you first started this story, I know).
He weighed 7 lbs 15 oz, was 20 inches long, and he was perfect in every way. I was so overwhelmed by our environment, so I don’t remember our first few moments very clearly, but Austin tells me I kept saying, “Hi baby, Hi baby, Hi baby!” over and over while everyone else worked around me. When Harrison was placed on my chest, it was 5:12 am. Austin and I had only been at the hospital for about 20 minutes, and in the end, I pushed for four minutes total.
With Harrison on my chest, we all discovered together what had caused his heart to nearly stop: he had developed a true knot in his cord sometime during my pregnancy. The knot had been slack in the womb, but as he descended, it pulled taut and cut off all his blood and oxygen. Cord knots are pretty rare, but they can be very dangerous. If my body hadn’t been progressing so fast and if I hadn’t pushed so fast — and if, bless her, April hadn’t gotten us to the hospital when she did — it could have actually been a nightmare, fatal even. But because my body did everything exactly right and because I had an awesome team helping me, Harrison was (and is!) perfectly healthy.
It took Austin and I several days to reconcile the labor we had envisioned (quiet and peaceful, with a gentle delivery) with the one we had. We look back on the whole experience with shock and awe. Reading this post, it sounds like it was such a long night, but so much was happening simultaneously that by the time we learned how much danger we were in, the danger itself had passed. Everyone on our medical team has stressed to us many times just how lucky the three of us are, and the nurses my mom works with have all called Harrison a miracle.
Even with all that in mind, I was able to labor almost completely in the dark at home using hypnobirthing techniques; I gave birth to our boy without any major medical intervention; and Harrison arrived earth side safe, sound, and as healthy as can be. For that alone, it was a perfect birth.