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Saying the birth of Abigail didn’t go according to my perfectly laid birth plan would be quite an understatement. Caleb and I learned everything there is to know about natural childbirth through about 9 weeks of Bradley Method classes. (I highly recommend the Bradley Method, y’all. It was an amazing learning process and incredibly stress-relieving during birth.)
We dedicated ourselves to the goal of a medication-free, intervention-free birth to give Abigail and me the best chance at a quick and simple hospital stay and recovery. (In general, more interventions = greater chance of C-section due to overly cautious hospital policies / doctors who treat childbirth like an emergency.)
All of our plans were shattered when the doctor informed me three weeks early that I had preeclampsia. For the safest childbirth possible, I had to be induced that same day.
Never fear, reader. This story has an excellent ending! I learned a LOT about myself, my coping abilities, and my relationship with my husband through this transformative birth experience. I hope sharing my birth story with you empowers your decisions (natural or otherwise) and gives you courage!
If you’d like a free, single-page birth plan template, check out the one I created below!
Signs of Preeclampsia
On Thursday, July 8th I was a swollen 37.5 weeks pregnant with my first baby, a little girl named Abigail. Caleb and I had just returned to Florida from a couple of weeks of leave to Texas and were entirely exhausted and missing our families.
Before we left, I had scheduled a wellness check with the hospital’s midwives group (I had switched a couple of weeks earlier from an in-town OB-GYN who didn’t pay attention to me, my concerns, or my pregnancy).
At the appointment, I let my midwife know that I was experiencing some blurry / weird vision as well as occasionally seeing little star-like dots. These symptoms along with my super swollen hands and feet and low platelet count prompted her to order some blood work for me.
Headed to Labor and Delivery (This Wasn’t in the Birth Plan)
She ordered the tests to labor and delivery since they get their lab results back faster than the general hospital lab. Unsuspecting, Caleb and I made the trek down to get my blood drawn. It was well past lunchtime by the time we made it to L&D and I was hungry. We decided that after they finished running the tests and told me I was fine, we’d stop by Chick-Fil-A for lunch (I was a nugget FIEND while pregnant).
Once at labor and delivery, I got my blood drawn, almost bought myself some peanut M&Ms (the vending machine was being stubborn, but I should’ve tried harder), and waited for an hour for the doctor to return with my results.
She returned with some positively distressing news:
- We would not be heading to Chick-Fil-A for lunch.
- I had preeclampsia (the only treatment for which is delivery).
- My pregnancy was now too high-risk for the midwives to be in charge of my care. This meant I was assigned to a random hospital OB-GYN (the kind of care I was absolutely trying to avoid by going with the midwives). It also meant I could not give birth in the fancy low-risk suites.
- I would have to be induced with cytotec and pitocin (making my contractions stronger and closer together) and did not have the option of receiving an epidural (due to my low platelet count).
- I was to immediately follow a clear liquids only diet. (If I had a C-section I would have to be put under general anesthesia which is a situation where you’re actually at risk for aspirating food into your lungs.
Naturally, I was incredibly upset. My Bradley-inspired birth plan was to stay home as long as possible, have few-to-no drugs or interventions, and maybe even try out the water tub. Now, it felt like none of this was possible for me.
We asked the doctor to leave so we could talk it through and I immediately broke down sobbing. The news was positively overwhelming.
First Stage of Labor Begins
As the nurse walked Caleb and me to the room in which I would give birth to Abigail, my mind was racing. What would induction feel like? How long would they let me labor before telling me it was too dangerous and I needed a C-section? (Avoiding a C-section is why I was planning a low-intervention, no-drug birth, so this was super concerning to me.) How painful would my contractions be now that they would be driven by artificial oxytocin?
These questions swirling around in my mind nauseated me. It was around 7:00 p.m.
A nurse said “congratulations” to us as we passed her in the hall. It took me a second to realize she was congratulating me on making it to the due date of my baby. “I’m going to meet Abigail tomorrow,” I thought. I told Caleb that I didn’t think I was ready.
When we arrived at the room, a welcome sight greeted us: one of my midwives was waiting for us there in the room. I broke down again when I saw her.
She represented all of my birth plans which were absolutely unraveling and I felt powerless, scared.
She reassured me that though I was not getting the exact birth story I planned on, I did not have to give up on what I still could control: avoiding further interventions and a C-section at all costs. She stayed with me while Caleb hurried home to grab clear liquids and pack the “go-bag” we had put off packing. (Because of my Celiacs, I required gluten-free clear liquids, which for some reason the hospital couldn’t provide.)
Then the nurse introduced herself and told me how the induction would begin: by ripening my cervix with a tiny pill called “Cytotec.” This would start the long process of convincing my body it was time for Abigail to be born! She inserted it next to my cervix (which was absolutely as uncomfortable as it sounds). And so it began.
Caleb returned around 8:30 p.m. and the nurse started the IV magnesium sulfate drip. I had high blood pressure due to the preeclampsia and this nasty drip regulated it (so I didn’t have seizures during delivery a la Sybil from Downton Abbey–a scene I was trying really, really hard not to think about my entire delivery).
Unfortunately, magnesium sulfate makes you feel like you have the flu, gives you hot flashes, and is a muscle relaxant. As you can imagine, when your body is trying its best to contract and push out a baby, a muscle relaxant isn’t exactly helping anything out.
At this point, I was already feeling sick and defeated–and the contractions hadn’t even started.
A Long, Crampy, and Sleepless Night
A couple of hours later, the nurse came in and inserted another Cytotec. At this point, my contractions were relatively infrequent and felt like light period cramps. For years, I have experienced very painful period cramps when I don’t take ibuprofen to mitigate them, so it wasn’t hard for me to eventually get to sleep.
What wasn’t easy to sleep through were the every-30-minute potty breaks. The IV fluids pumping into my body were absolutely over-hydrating me. Earlier, the doctor had said this would happen and that I would not be allowed out of bed the entire time and needed a catheter. This was a no-go for me because I knew that I wanted to be moving around as much as possible during the more painful stages of labor (and I was absolutely correct).
I begged her for walking permission and assured her that I would not get up without Caleb’s assistance. She agreed. The IV definitely was not a part of my birth plan, but I had secured another part of my birth plan: freedom of movement.
Caleb and I hobbling to the bathroom was an absolute spectacle.
Every time, we had to unhook my finger monitor from the machine, take my blood pressure cuff off, and remove the fetal monitoring cords from the machine. Then, Caleb had to hold onto me and drag the IV tree behind me like some strange shackle.
Once we got back, we had to re-hook everything up, have the machine yell at us for being gone, and the nurse had to come in to reconnect the fetal monitor (until I got good enough at replacing it where it could sense Abigail’s heartbeat).
Throughout the night, the contractions got a bit more painful. Eventually in the night, the nurse checked my cervix. If I had to choose the second-worst thing about giving birth, it would be the cervical exams. They were unbearably uncomfortable for me every time. Limiting the number of cervical exams is definitely going on next time’s birth plan! To add insult to injury, the first exam showed no dilation.
It was extremely discouraging!
The worst part (at this point) was still the flu-like symptoms from the IV drip.
I will say, it was very pleasant to hear the screams of new babies and nurses rushing down the hallway saying “she’s pushing!” Every time somebody left the labor and delivery unit with their new baby, they played “Happy Birthday” in the hallway. I was already impatient to hear “Happy Birthday” played for me and I wasn’t even to the fun part!
Hours and Hours and Hours Go By
After about 2 hours total of sleep, Caleb and I decided it was morning (our room had no windows). Once we woke up, around 10 a.m., they started me on Pitocin. At about 11:30 a.m., they were upping my dosage of Pitocin because I was 3 cm dilated and 75% effaced.
Now that felt like progress! By now, though, the contractions were feeling like my really bad honey-go-grab-the-heating-pad period cramps. Getting up to pee helped and I continued to watch TV to try to ignore the pain.
Caleb was great at helping keep the mood light. We played with the dramatic ‘birthing lighting’ in our room and exchanged jokes and talked about how cute Abigail would be.
As soon as my mom, dad, and sister heard I was to be induced, they decided to fly in to see the baby. We made bets as to how big and tall Abigail would be (my guess was the closest at 7 lbs 2 oz and 19 in) as well as what color her hair would be (we were all gunning for red!).
At 2 p.m. I tried to nap through the pain and nausea and hot flashes. Unfortunately, sleep would not come. My family, however, did come to visit! First, my sister and mom gave Caleb a break to go try and forage some food and coffee for himself. My sister was shocked that we hadn’t been timing my contractions (we were already at the hospital so we figured, why stress?). She promptly downloaded an app and timed some.
I don’t think we got any good measurements, though, because the contractions were beginning to bleed into one another. At this point, I needed to focus and breathe through the contractions (I didn’t know it yet, but I was entering the transition phase of labor).
They began in my uterus and radiated into my thighs. Then after a rise and fall of pain in the front, the contractions immediately rose and fell in my lower back (the latter took my breath away).
Caleb massaged my back a bit during these contractions, but I was mostly distracted by my mother and sister, so the time passed a bit faster.
At 3:40 p.m., my dad came up to see me. We visited for a couple of minutes and Claire decided it was time to braid my hair (I was very grateful for her help because my low ponytail just wasn’t cutting it for keeping my wispies out of my face).
She was halfway through braiding my hair when a particularly strong contraction came on. And kept on coming! I panicked, felt like I was going to throw up, yelled at Caleb to bring me the trash can, and collapsed in front of it.
As if that wasn’t traumatizing enough, I felt something give way ‘down there’ and liquid rushed out. My waters broke! This is when things started getting intense.
All the Birth Planning in the World Couldn’t Have Prepared Me For This!
I let Caleb know that I thought my water broke, and he suggested I get back into bed. Feeling that intense contraction absolutely broke my focus. Everything had been progressing steadily, but this pain came on all of a sudden and didn’t seem to stop. (At this point, I said “adios” to my sister and dad. They went back to the house to clean it up and feed the cats).
I laid back in the hospital bed hoping that this contraction wasn’t the new normal. It was. I tried to relax and breathe and all of the other things I learned in my Bradley classes, but toward the peak of each contraction, my brain got fuzzy. Each time, I would panic.
The nurse checked my cervix (ugh), but I was still only about 4 cm dilated. That’s a 4 out of 10, people! Not exactly what I wanted to hear. At this point, Caleb was rocking his role as my birth coach.
Husband Coached Childbirth (This Was Part of the Birth Plan)
Caleb went to the Bradley Birth classes with me to learn how to be my birth coach. And boy, was he a Godsend! Between contractions, he helped me relax from my eyebrows to my toes.
He gave me sips of water (I loved chewing the ice chips, but couldn’t quite focus on them at this point.)
He held my hand and comforted me in between. When he could see the next contraction was coming on, he urged me to relax relax relax (which did help me manage the pain at the beginning of the contractions). At the peak of my contractions when I couldn’t handle the pain, he prayed with me. He prayed many ‘Hail Holy Queens’ and ‘Hail Marys’ with me and over me.
As he prayed for me, I focused on the intentions for which I was offering my pain. This is something I highly recommend folks think about before giving birth.
Because “only those who are absolutely pure, without any stain of sin, without any attachments to sin and this world, and who have been totally purified of their past sins can have access to the Kingdom of heaven” it’s incredibly potent to offer our suffering on earth for their purification in Purgatory .
Offering up our suffering for those in Purgatory is an incredibly hopeful act.
“All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (CCC # 1030)
I offered my personal suffering and prayers during labor for the souls of loved ones I’ve lost. Though it didn’t take away the pain of my contractions, it helped me feel like they meant something (other than bringing me closer to the birth of Abigail, of course). More on this in the future!
Birthing Positions Are Super Important
The entire day, the nurse was checking my blood pressure and my platelet count. By 4:45 p.m. I was absolutely begging for an epidural (even though they scare me and it was not what I wanted for Abigail– none of these drugs were!).
They could not give me one, though, because my platelet count was below 100, and an epidural when your blood is not clotting properly risks dangerous levels of bleeding. So, they gave me fentanyl and told me the anesthesiologist on call at 7 p.m. might consider giving me an epidural.
Things started looking up for about 10 minutes after getting the fentanyl. My contractions returned to being manageable and I was able to get my head cleared up a bit. The nurse checked my cervix again, and I was 6 cm dilated and very effaced.
Too soon, the unbearable contractions began again. A nurse came in and adjusted the bed to a sitting up position. She coached me through a contraction, encouraging me to stay calm and breathe through the pain–but it just wasn’t helping.
My mind was in fight or flight mode. Never in my life have I felt so incredibly desperate and scared. (I couldn’t have done this without Caleb!!)
In my desperation, I prayed. It was the only thing I could do. I prayed ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Our Fathers.’
I vividly remember begging Our Lord for relief from the pain. I prayed that the pain I was going through might help the souls in purgatory. I remember praying a mantra that goes through my head often: ‘Jesus, I trust in you.’
It was an absolute turning point in my labor.
The nurse came in and said I could have another dose of fentanyl–a boon which I gladly accepted. Then, my midwife came in to save the day. She was very comforting and no-nonsense about my need to relax and be in a better position (I had resigned myself to laying on my back, which was not helping).
She goaded me to get on my hands and knees on the bed and rock my hips back and forth during the contractions. (I absolutely argued with her, but she insisted and I’m so glad she did.)
The change of position was a welcome distraction and helped me breathe more. Caleb was right there continuing to comfort me and pray for me. (I’m glad my family had left, because I was barely dressed in a hospital gown. Any nurse who walked into that room was in for an immodest surprise!)
After hands and knees for a while, she had me turn on my left side and put my right leg up on a peanut ball (like a yoga bouncy ball but in the shape of a figure eight). I had about 3 contractions while in that position and suddenly felt a bit of pressure ‘down there’ that I hadn’t before.
I laughed a little and suggested to everyone there that I needed to push. Actually, I think I told them, “I feel like I need to push!” (It’s amazing to me that I instinctively knew when my water broke and when I needed to push.)
She told me to hold on, checked my cervix, and announced I was super dilated–like 12 cm or something.
Second Stage of Labor and The Birth of Abigail!
The midwife helped me turn on my back and called over the nurse. Since I was technically under the OB-GYN’s care, they had to call her–but I wasn’t waiting for her!
My nurse and midwife held my feet stirrup-style and told me I was okay to push. It was pretty strange to not even feel the contractions anymore as I tested out my pushing muscles. In the back of my mind, I knew they were still coming and waited to work with them to push, but it was no longer the panic-inducing pain I had experienced for the past couple hours.
I looked over at Caleb who was still holding my hand. For the first time since my contractions had gotten crazy, I knew and told him, “I can do this.” This was an incredibly empowering moment.
I knew I was about to be in for a lot of pain and strange sensations, but I felt brave for the first time during the birth.
A contraction came on and I looked back to my nurse who told me to push. I gave a little push (not knowing what she meant) and she told me to keep pushing for longer. I gave it a bit more umph and she counted 10 seconds for me. I rested and pushed like this a couple more times before I could start to feel the uncomfy stretching begin.
But I honestly didn’t care–my contractions didn’t hurt anymore and I felt like a new woman!
I pushed and pushed through the feeling of stretching and soon her little head popped out (apparently)!
I was gearing up for another push, but the midwife told me to hold off. I was confused and asked her why and then a couple of people started rushing around in the room. I later learned that Abigail’s shoulder was stuck, and they had to adjust her before I pushed more. Waiting to birth the rest of her body was also a welcome break from the stretching sensation, so I didn’t mind!
Once they finessed her little shoulder, they told me to keep pushing. And, after a total of 15 minutes of pushing, Abigail was free from her 8ish month home at 6:10 p.m.!
She was 7 lbs 5 oz (due to the excess of IV fluids in her) and 21 inches. WITH RED HAIR!
Placenta, Where Are You?
I was so relieved. She started crying and I looked over to Caleb and laughed. Those contractions sucked, but I knew the hard part was over.
The nurse wiped Abigail off (my birth plan stated that she shouldn’t have her vernix caseosa wiped off, but oh well) and handed her to me. I put her on my chest and just looked at her. I really could not believe it. I didn’t cry (possibly because of how exhausted I was), but my heart felt so full. Here was Abigail, my tiny baby. A little eternal soul!
Then the OB-GYN arrived! Her entrance was comically timed as she really had missed all of the baby excitement. But she was very helpful 30 minutes later when my placenta was being stubborn and not vacating the premises. She said she could either get it out here in the room or take me to the OR to get it out.
I asked for another dose of fentanyl and let her get it out right there while I held little Abigail. (This was pretty uncomfy, by the way, but my brain had a lot of happy hormones going at this point, so I didn’t mind).
Post-Delivery Decisions (Finally Following the Birth Plan!)
And just like that, I was simply a mom being watched for postpartum preeclampsia. And on an IV magnesium drip and clear liquid diet. And with an asleep bladder (due to the magnesium), so I had to get a catheter (which is super unglamorous but it let me sleep through the night, so it was worth it).
For my first act as a mama bear following her meticulously researched birth plan, I denied the eye ointment and the Hep B shot.
We let them give Abigail the Vitamin K shot because we weren’t sure if my blood problems would affect her.
I tried my luck at breastfeeding her and she suckled a bit (more on that in another post!) which was a weird thing for sure. Honestly, just knowing that this little person that grew inside of me was out was weird and exciting and wonderful. Aaaaand as I’m typing this she’s on my tummy and just had a really big poop. Nice.
Anyway, my mom brought me a big can of gluten-free soup and I scarfed it down. Once I was off the IV in 24 hours (and allowed to eat solid foods again), she promised me a chocolate chip cookie pizookie from BJ’s.
The nurse even brought me some orange juice. It really felt like quite the feast! Eventually, the nurses took Abigail to the nursery to do her tests and Caleb went with her.
They inserted another Cytotec to help my uterus contract and close up the bleeding spot left by my placenta. And then I knocked out. Sometime soon after, Caleb came back with Abigail and they cuddled. The first lullaby I sang to her was “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” because that was her favorite when I was still pregnant and the first that Caleb sang to her was “Wichita Lineman.”
I will share more about the unexpected things that happened postpartum in another post. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my birth experience! Even though most of it didn’t go according to my birth plan, I was able to give birth to Abigail safely and avoid a long recovery time from a C-section (my two main goals)!
If you’d like to create a birth plan (only to have it thwarted!) there are tons of them online. Or you can download my free template!
: Catholic Exchange; Let Us Help the Souls in Purgatory
: Bradley Birth