My labor story: An 81 hour + 9 minute journey into motherhood
Every mother has a labor story (and often, more than one). I heard at least 50 of them throughout my pregnancy, and probably a lot more before I ever even got pregnant. But I wasn’t listening. I mean, I was listening. Or rather, I was hearing the words without really listening, you know what I mean? I wasn’t really understanding the gravity of each story. It wasn’t landing. And now, after having gone through my own experience, I understand that I could never have possibly grasped the weight of each birth story until I did it myself. One thing I did know for sure, though, was that every story was different. Seriously. There were no two alike. Some were easy. Some were hard. Others were somewhere in between. Happily, though, no matter the experience, every story ended with a common sentiment: it was all worth it. As soon as baby was in their arms, the pain was forgotten, and the real adventure began.
When they placed Madison in my arms for the first time, I felt the same way. The pain of the previous 80 hours were erased just as quickly as they had come on.
Yes, I said 80 hours. Actually, it was 81 hours and 9 minutes.
But who’s counting?
Though the pain of it all magically disappeared when she came out, it was quite the story, quite the experience, quite the journey that led to the birth of my baby girl.
Hello. My name is Lauren Lobley and this is my birth story.
I went into labor on Tuesday February 16th at 1:30pm. My daughter, Madison Grace McDonald, was born at 10:39pm on Friday February 19th.
If you’re calculating that correctly, then you might realize that the last time I had a full night sleep (well, as full of a night as you can get at 9 ½ months pregnant, which isn’t full, let me tell you) was Monday February 15th, 2016.
Nine days overdue and feeling frustrated (as per my previous post), I went to an appointment with our midwife at 10:30am on Tuesday February 16th. I hadn’t been checked to see how dilated or effaced I was up to that point (I was avoiding vaginal check ups in lieu of letting nature take its course), but since I was so far past my due date and there were threats of inducing me by the following Monday, I decided to let her check. She asked me if she could “stretch” me a little if I wasn’t far along. I figured why not?
When she checked me, I was about 50% effaced and 1 centimeter dilated. So she “stretched” me a little (in case you’re wondering, it didn’t feel good). She told me to expect some slight cramping and maybe some bleeding throughout the rest of the day. She scheduled me for induction the following Monday, but she didn’t think I would make it until then.
She was right.
But she could never have predicted what the following days would have in store for us.
Ted and I drove home from that appointment and innocently went about our day. Ted drove to see a client in the Palisades, and I cozied up on the couch with my new adult coloring book (my new favorite mindless activity), coloring pencils (one cannot color without them. Duh.), and an episode of How I Met Your Mother on in the background (one of my many guilty pleasures). Not long after I sat down, I started to feel the cramping the midwife had warned me about (they feel like bad period cramps for those who are wondering). Around 1:30pm, I started to notice something:
The “cramps” were coming every 3 minutes, almost to the second. And the “cramps” were lasting 40-60 seconds each. They weren’t terribly painful, though, so I tried to just ignore them. I thought, “This can’t be it…can it?” You’re actually supposed to go to the hospital when contractions are 4 minutes apart and lasting for 60 seconds each for longer than an hour. But these couldn’t be contractions…could they?
When the “cramps” had continued in their rhythmic 3 minute pattern for another hour, I decided to call Ted.
“I don’t think this is it, but I think I’m having contractions. They don’t hurt that much, though. And everyone says that if you’re in labor, you’ll know,” I said to him on the phone.
“Do you want me to come home?” he asked me with a mixture of excitement and concern.
“No, I don’t think so,” I said with a small amount of certainty (and a lot of denial), “I will just call Romy (our doula) and see what she says, but I’m sure it’s fine.”
I hung up with Ted and called Romy.
“It sounds like things are starting, Lauren. Yay!” she said, “Do you want me to come over?” she asked.
“No,” I told her, “I’ll be ok!”
She said ok, but told me her schedule was cleared and wanted me to keep her updated. She told me to just relax and breath.
An hour later, nothing had changed, though the “cramps” were getting more intense, to the point where I couldn’t really speak during them.
“I’m coming home,” Ted said when I called him with the update. Apparently he had approached a group of moms at Starbucks in the Palisades and described my symptoms to them.
“Where is your wife?” they asked.
“At home,” he told them.
“You need to go home then,” they said urgently, “your wife is in labor!”
“Dude! We’re having a baby!” Ted shouted into the phone to me as he got in his car to drive home.
By 7:30pm, each contraction (I finally believed it at that point) was still coming every 3 minutes, and they were quite literally taking me to my knees. That’s when Romy arrived. By 9:30pm, she suggested we go to the hospital.
They put me in a triage room and checked me.
“You’re about 3 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced,” the nurse said, “So we will admit you.”
For the next 9 and ½ hours, hooked up to monitors and sporting a delightful baby blue hospital gown, I labored. Every 3 minutes, I braced myself for and breathed through a contraction. By 7am, I was exhausted (in case you weren’t sure, there was no sleeping during those contractions). Surely it was time to start pushing, no?
Unfortunately…no. To my surprise, I still hadn’t progressed since I was admitted. Not. One. Gosh. Darn. Centimeter.
Exhausted and frustrated, Romy suggested we go for a walk. Reluctantly, I agreed. During the walk around the hospital, something strange began to happen:
The contractions began to slow down.
After 30 minutes, we got back to my room. The new shift of nurses and midwives had started. The new midwife checked me. I wasn’t prepared for what she was about to tell me.
“Look, I know everyone has been telling you that you are 3 centimeters and 70% effaced, but you are actually only a centimeter dilated and maybe 50% effaced. If I were you, I would go home. Don’t come back until you are in active labor. You shouldn’t be able to walk, speak or breathe through your contractions, and they should be at least 3 minutes apart,” she said to me with so much condescension that I would have punched her had I been closer to her (and if I was more of a bad ass).
“The contractions were 3 minutes apart,” I said through an angry, sleepless haze that was quickly turning into tears.
But she was already on her way out the door, ignoring me. And just to add further insult to injury, she turned back to me and said, “And by the way, I would never let one of my patients go past 41 weeks.”
I was 41 weeks and 2 days, but my birth plan stipulated that I didn’t want to be induced unless I or the baby was in danger.
Ah, the birth plan, the birth plan. You make plans and God laughs, yes?
We’ll get to that later.
I was so tired and so upset at that point, all I could do was cry. I came to the hospital expecting to leave with a baby. And now all I was leaving with was a sour taste in my mouth from the midwife who made me feel like an idiot who may or may not have been putting my baby’s life at risk.
Completely sleep deprived, Ted and I drove home. My contractions were still slow, but not slow enough that I could sleep (and cruelly, lying down seemed to make them worse). I can’t recall how I spent the rest of that day, but by the time 8:30pm rolled around, we decided to try to sleep. We went to bed at 9:30pm. By 10:13pm, I had been up to go to the bathroom 8 times (as baby moved down, she pushed on my bladder). The contractions were getting worse again.
Rather than disturb Ted, I grabbed my pillow and tip toed downstairs. I figured one of us should catch up on sleep. There was nothing he could do anyway, and I needed him rested if this labor thing was going to go full throttle. I kept in touch with my doula all night via text, and labored alone in the living room (I figured Romy should sleep too).
By sunrise, I must have had another 100+ contractions (they were averaging 5 an hour). When Ted came out of our room at 6:30am, I broke down and cried. I was going on two nights and two days of no sleep, so as you can imagine, I was beyond emotional. It’s easy to comprehend why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.
Concerned and feeling helpless, Ted called Romy. She suggested I have a bath since water acts like a natural epidural. Then she told Ted to help me sleep in between contractions. I tried that, but it was damn near impossible.
We had a non stress test previously scheduled for that afternoon, so we went to it. Baby was perfect, and I still had a lot of amniotic fluid, so all was well. From there, I went straight to see my acupuncturist (she had been treating me to help get baby down the birth canal). She told me a story about another couple who kept going in and out of labor for two weeks. Tatiana (my acupuncturist) kept having a dream that the baby wasn’t sure if there was a place for her in her parents’ lives yet, and Tatiana kept getting a vision of some kind of rock formation. The couple were super conservative, so Tatiana was reluctant to share the dream lest they think she was a wackadoo. But after 2 weeks, she decided it was time to share. To her surprise, the couple agreed that they should heed the warning signs from the dream. They proceeded to make a shrine out of rocks in their backyard, and within 2 hours, the baby was born.
Did the shrine cause the labor, or was it merely coincidence?
No one can really know for sure, but I don’t really believe in coincidences, so when Ted and I got home, we built a shrine out of the rocks from our front yard. Actually, we built 2 for good measure.
Romy came over and gave me a little massage. She told me to relax, and even have a glass of wine (funnily enough, it was national wine day). My friend, Diana, came over, and we had a glass of wine and a cupcake (because, why not?).
At 9pm, Ted drew me a bath. As I was stepping into the bath, I heard something. Ted was already looking at the source of the noise (I won’t show you those pictures, haha).
“Ted, am I leaking?” I asked him.
“Yes. Well, something is coming out!” he said.
We called Romy and asked her if it might be my water breaking.
She said it could be. Just keep watching it.
I got into the bath and things continued leaking, but ever so slowly. Not enough to be sure.
Moments later, I decided to get out of the bath. Within 30 seconds of standing up, it was like someone had turned on a faucet in me. I was gushing water (aka amniotic fluid). There was no mistaking it: my water had broken.
The water just kept coming. We called the hospital.
“How far do you live from here?” They asked.
“About 30 minutes,” Ted said.
“You need to come in right away,” they said.
Oh sure. Now you want me back? I thought to myself.
So I took my time. I showered. I washed my hair. I got dressed. All the while, I continued gushing water. We had to put a garbage bag on the seat in the car so I didn’t soak through.
By time time we got to the hospital, I was absolutely soaked. I waddled into the entrance making squishing sounds with each step. When I got to the maternity ward, the nurse was pacing the floor.
“Where have you been?” He asked.
I didn’t answer. He led me to a triage room where I sloshed my soaking wet pants and undergarments into a plastic bag and changed back into the attractive baby blue hospital gown.
They checked me, and found that I was 5 cm dilated and 100% effaced!
“We’re going to have a baby tonight!” the nurse, Krystal said.
“Be careful what you say!” I said, “This baby has fooled us once before!”
But Krystal was so sure I would be delivering on her shift that they cut me in front of all the other women who had arrived before me and gave me the best delivery room. Hardwood floors. Dim lighting. Huge bathroom. Huge room, for that matter. It was perfect.
Thankfully I liked it, because I would remain in it well through and beyond Krystal’s shift.
I labored in my fancy digs all night. By morning, baby still hadn’t arrived. The new shift of nurses and midwives eagerly checked me when they arrived, surely expecting me to be at 10 cm.
I was at 7cm.
7cm???? I labored all night and I’m still only at 7cm???
No one could believe it.
Beyond exhausted and going on 3 nights and 3 days without sleep, I continued laboring all morning. By 11am, the nurse suggested I lay on my side.
“We have to get this baby to come down, Lauren,” she said, “And laying you on your side will be the best position to help do this.”
Laying on my side had been the most painful position in which to experience a contraction up to that point, so I was reluctant. But I also wanted to see my baby soon, so I agreed.
Within a few seconds of being on my side, a contraction started. Tracking it on the monitor, it immediately escalated off the charts (literally). Ted was spooning me from behind, and I was making noises I’ve never heard come out of my mouth. The contraction lasted 20 minutes.
Yes, I said 20 minutes.
For reference, contractions aren’t supposed to last for longer than 60 seconds, 90 at most.
I was in agony. And unfortunately, just as soon as the contraction ended, before I could get up, another one came on. Just as intense, and just as long.
By the time it ended and I could finally get up, my body was in shock. I couldn’t speak in a voice louder than a whisper, and my back was now in a complete spasm literally from the top of my spine to the top of my butt and from side to side.
“Call Mel,” I said to Ted, referring to my friend and chiropractor, “See if she can come and adjust me. If she can’t, I’m going to have to have an epidural. Because even if they told me I was dilated to 10cm right now, I don’t have anything left in me to push.”
Mel was there within 30 minutes, but after 10 minutes, it was clear that the first item on my birth plan was going to have to give:
I needed to sleep if I was going to stand any chance of pushing the baby out. And at that point, the only way to sleep would be to numb the pain. I was going to need an epidural.
(Just a note to you first time expectant moms out there: make your birth plan, yes. But don’t expect any of it to go according to plan. It almost certainly won’t, and you need to be ok with that. The only thing that will go according to plan is the assurance that you will do anything it takes to get baby out safely, all the while keeping you safe at the same time).
The anesthesiologist couldn’t have been nicer, and once the drugs kicked in, I felt the first relief I had in since Tuesday morning. The nurses ordered everyone out of the room so I could sleep, and I happily drifted in and out of slumber for the next 2 hours.
By the time I woke up, it was about 4pm. The nurses and midwives shifts were soon coming to an end, and they excitedly checked me again.
I was at 8cm.
Feeling dejected again, they started talking to me about pitocin (a drug that increases contractions thus speeding up labor). I originally wanted a drug free birth, so I wasn’t too pleased with the suggestion. But they told me they needed to do something to speed this along, so I finally relented.
What happened from there was a series of events that inevitably knocked everything I had wanted in the my birth plan off the charts:
- Drugs I didn’t want (epidural, pitocin)
- Antibiotics I didn’t want (penicillin and 2 other kinds because I spiked a fever)
- Cord cutting and clamping I wanted delayed that could no longer be delayed because of the meconium in my water when it broke (which means she pooped in my womb – totally Ted’s child)
- Skin to skin contact as soon as she came out (instead she would have to be immediately transferred to the NICU team to check that she was ok because the meconium may have caused infection)
Without getting into detail, the epidural caused me to spike a fever. This is totally normal, according to Romy, but because I was in a hospital setting, the staff took this to mean that I must have a uterine infection. So they had to order a round of 2 more antibiotics, none of which I wanted. But when you’re laying on a hospital bed with your legs splayed open, and a bunch of doctors and nurses are telling you to think about the wellbeing of your daughter, you relent. Or at least, I did. Her health and safety were obviously my number one priority (next to mine).
Additionally, the epidural slowed down my contractions, so they had to continue increasing the amount of pitocin they were giving me. Originally they told me they would give me the lowest amount possible. Without telling me – by the end of it all – they had increased it to the maximum allowable amount! Yet still, nothing was working.
When it seemed like we had uncovered every rock, feeling completely exasperated, we feared that a C-section was inevitable (yet another X on my birth plan). The midwife decided to check me around 8:30pm.
I wasn’t expecting what came out of her mouth:
“Hurray! You are 10cm and 100% effaced!” she said.
“Huh?” I replied with disbelief and relief.
But wait! My excitement was soon replaced with dejection as they told me I couldn’t start pushing until I felt the urge to push.
Well, I never did, so finally at 9pm, the midwife said, “You know what? Let’s just try pushing on the next contraction.”
“No problem!” I said.
When the next contraction came, I pushed so hard I almost popped a blood vessel (Ted said he’s never seen my face so red).
“Wow!” the midwife said, “You’re strong! I think we can get things started! Let’s just wait for the antibiotics and then let’s start pushing for real!”
After some more mild confusion – and antibiotics (ugh), I finally started pushing around 9:45pm. It was like an episode of ER in my room. The NICU team was there, ready to catch the baby, the nurses from that shift – as well as from the previous shift who still couldn’t believe I hadn’t given birth yet – surrounded me, along with the midwife, her assistant, Ted, Romy, and Mel (my chiropractor) who had stayed for moral support. Thank goodness she did, because when it was time to catch baby and Ted was needed at the “business” end of things, Mel held one of my legs as I pushed baby McD out!
The pushing itself was quite hysterical. In between pushes, surrounded by about 8 people, we just chatted like we were old friends chatting over a dinner table.
“You were in P90X?” the midwife asked, “I love that program!”
“You ran Machu Picchu? I’ve always wanted to do that!”
The conversation went on like that for the entire process, to the point that I was the only one looking at the monitor to see when the next contraction came so I could push!
“Um…guys? I hate to interrupt, but I think I’m having another contraction?!” I interjected.
“Oh…yup!” said the midwife as she confirmed my suspicions, “Ok – push!”
After each push, everyone went back to their conversations! It was hilarious! And so typical of us. We may as well have all been seated around a dining room table enjoying conversations over food with good friends.
Of course, once baby’s head finally started to show, everyone really got down to business. Ted moved from holding my left leg to the business end of things. He gave me the play by play as Madison’s head started to appear. The midwife asked me if I wanted a mirror to see what was going on down there.
Some things are better left to the imagination (or not – the miracle of life would have to remain a mystery for me, thank you very much!).
After a few more pushes, at 10:39pm on that fateful Friday night, Ted’s were the first set of hands that made contact with our daughter as she eased out of the birth canal and into our hearts.
Unfortunately, she had to be whisked away by the NICU team to make sure she was OK on account of the meconium in my water. But low and behold, she got an Apgar score of 9 and then a perfect 10 (they do one score at 1 minute and another score at 5 minutes)! That’s my girl
When they finally put Madison on my chest, it was surreal, to say the least. When you’re pregnant, you understand that at the end of the journey, there will be a baby. Well, you understand it in theory. But when it actually happens – when you are no longer pregnant but actually have a human being lying on your chest, it’s quite unbelievable. Incomprehensible, even. At least, that’s how it was for me. The miracle of life will continue to fascinate me, even though I got to experience it first hand. It’s just so…unfathomable. Even now. I’m looking at my daughter, sleeping on my chest as I type this post with my one free hand, and I can’t believe I made her. I can’t believe she’s mine.
At 10:39pm on Friday February 19, as you can imagine, our lives were forever changed. There is no more Ted and Lauren – there is only Ted, Lauren and Madison. There is no more sleeping when we feel like it, eating when we’re hungry, going to the bathroom when the feeling strikes. There is only Madison.
And despite the adjustment period it took us to understand who now rules our roost (ahem…Madison), now we wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is life after baby, and despite the 81 hour and 9 minute journey it took to get her here, the pain is forgotten and has been replaced with so much love, so much joy, so much fascination. And oh how sweet it is.
I am Lauren. And that was my birth story. Join me as I head into the next chapter of my life:
Your crazy friend – and new mom,