I used to think reading about birth stories were weird…that is, of course, until I got pregnant and then wanted to learn as much as possible about what my body was about to go through. And, I guess if we’re being honest here: I used to think the whole concept of pregnancy was bizarre: growing a human INSIDE OF YOUR BODY, pushing it out through a small orifice, and then having that living being live off homegrown (grass-fed?) milk until you decide it’s time to transition him/her to solid food.
But then I got pregnant myself. And I saw a real flickering heartbeat in my own body. And then at the anatomy scan, around 19 weeks, I saw my son’s entire skeletal body for the first time. Seeing the illuminated spine and rib cage made the whole thing so real and incredible. Somehow, after months and years of trying, I was growing a miracle baby.
Pregnancy was fantastic and uncomplicated. I was able to work out through the entire term and even found myself liking the experience. I’ve actually found myself missing the kicks and squirms in my belly – and in the days immediately following the birth, I even caught myself feeling phantom kicks, which of course brought on all of the emotions.
The birth itself was also mostly seamless, which is something I’m very happy about, especially considering my nerves leading up to it. The complications happened after the birth; but by that time, I was already in a postnatal hazy blur, so I didn’t even realize how significant they were until after the fact.
Elijah (Eli) Law Johnson was born at 4:36 in the afternoon on Tuesday, July 9th. (If you want to zip right to the birth story, go ahead and skip this next part and zoom right to “How it went down”)
The weekend leading up to his birth was the weekend of the 4th, so we had stayed at our shore house from Thursday through Sunday. I spent the weekend feeling like a beached whale, but also had zero anticipation of a baby coming anytime soon, based on his lack of progression. At my 39 week appointment, my doctor told me I wasn’t dilated and my cervix was still really high…BUT I did have some effacement. We discussed what would happen if I went over my due date and we also discussed an elective c-section, which was something I was keen on because I was terrified of induction. My doctor was open to all options, even though she tried to dissuade me from the c-section route (spoiler: he was right on time and I’m really happy I ended up having a vaginal birth!! It was a lesson to me to just.let.go and a reminder that childbirth, just like parenting, cannot be controlled.)
Having the doctor tell me I was nowhere close to being ready made me chill out. I realized there was nothing I could do to make this baby come early…so I stopped trying to force it. I was, however, doing SOME things to try to throw myself into labor:
-aggressive walking. I went on a SOLID 3 mile walk a few days prior, and I was continuing with walking/hiking/elliptiGOing/lifting until the very end of pregnancy.
-eating pineapple core. I doubt this did anything but, hey – I tried it.
-raspberry leaf tea. I had just made a huge batch of iced tea of THIS (which I also chugged on the way to the hospital)
-a foot rub! A good friend grabbed my swollen, pregnant feet the day before I went into labor. We have joked ever since that this is what put me over the edge.
-eating dates. I had purchased an economy bag of dates and was eating 6 a day (I now love dates…)
How it went down.
OK so if you didn’t care about all the pre-labor stuff, this is where things get exciting.
It was 2:30am Tuesday the 9th and my water broke. We had decided THAT EVENING to sleep at home and not our shore house, thank god. I had gotten up from bed to pee, which was par for the course at almost-40-weeks-pregnant. I also was feeling a little crampy (aka contractions) which is what I think initially woke me up. As I went to lie back down after peeing, I felt a sudden gush of water, and I thought I was peeing my pants. I waddled to the bathroom to assess the damage and was super confused/excited. I was so hoping this was my water breaking, but there wasn’t very much liquid, so I wasn’t sure. I spent the next 10 minutes debating whether or not I should wake up Gabe…and finally decided to get him up, just as more water was coming out (which convinced us that it definitely was my water breaking.) He mumbled, “let’s just deal with it when we wake up…” and I jolted him awake in saying, “uh, that’s not going to work, this kid has to come out in 24 hours…”
I put on a pad because the water was intermittently still coming out, which I didn’t expect would happen. We took our sweet time getting our stuff together for the hospital. My hospital bag was semi-packed, but I was a frantic mess trying to remember toiletries and the final items we’d need. While we missed out on a night of sleep, it was so sweet to drive to the hospital in the middle of the night while the rest of the world was sleeping. It was like our little secret that we were about to become a family of 3.
We finally arrived at Yale around 4am and Gabe joked that it was like checking into a hotel. Everything was calm, low-key, and quiet. My contractions were getting a little more uncomfortable and coming every 5 minutes…but they just felt like light period cramps. The on-call resident did a check to see how far along I was, which was RIDICULOUSLY uncomfortable and I whimpered like a baby while getting checked because I was barely dilated and my cervix was still really high. She also confirmed that my water had, indeed broken (as it gushed more in her face. cute.) which meant I had to stay. This baby was coming!
I was moved to a L&D room around 6am and continued to labor for a few more hours, which still didn’t feel too painful. I was starting to get exhausted from not getting any sleep the night before. Then, at some point in the morning, I was put on a low dose of pitocin, which seemed to make the contractions a bit more intense. The turning point was around 8am – contractions went from being bearable to being VERY strong, and definitely the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. A cervical check put me only around 2-3cm (but almost 100% effaced!) so my doctor highly recommended staying away from the epidural for a few more hours. Feeling somewhat discouraged, I bought some time by using nitrous oxide and using gravity/a birthing ball to try to get this baby to drop lower. At one point in my nitrous oxide high, I actually told Gabe I thought I could deliver the baby without any other drugs (LOL). That thought quickly dissipated as soon as I barfed after my next contraction. 🙂
Finally after 45 minutes of the laughing gas, my angel nurse, Carrie, told me she was concerned I would miss my window for receiving the epidural…so I followed her lead and asked for the epidural, which took another 20 minutes of waiting. The most difficult thing about receiving the it was staying still for what felt like FOREVER – but as soon as the drug started flowing, I had instant relief. At this point, the pitocin was upped to almost maximal levels. Party time.
Carrie helped me lie back down in bed and instructed me to shift my hips and straddle a peanut ball so the medicine would go to equal sides of my body. The only issue was that the meds had already gone down the left side of my body, and I still was feeling contractions on the right. Carrie left the room for 45-60 minutes to let Gabe and I rest…but I was still having trouble resting because I was still in pain. When she came back to us, Carrie scolded me for not saying something earlier (she wanted me in zero pain) and had the anesthesiologist come back in to give me an epidural booster. This booster was a game changer, and I was finally in no pain whatsoever.
After about an hour of the most glorious sleep I’ve ever slept, Carrie came back, took one look at me, said, “WOW he has dropped, let me grab the doctor!!” I was hopeful that maybe I had progressed a little bit, but I was NOT expecting the doc to check and immediately say, “ok! You’re at 10, let’s prep everyone and get ready to push in 15 minutes!”
The only issue was that there was a misunderstanding about who would be in the room for the pushing. My doctor didn’t communicate that he didn’t need to be in the room…so while he left for 45 minutes, myself, Gabe, Carrie, and a resident just hung out. When he came back in, he seemed frustrated that we hadn’t started pushing yet, and left again so we could get on with the show. (I later found out it was probably a good thing I had more time to wait, to allow the baby to descend a little more.)
The pushing begun around 3PM! At this point, the epidural booster had worn off enough on one side that I had SOME feeling of the contractions…so as I started to learn how to push, I was able to correlate the feeling of a contraction with pushing, which was helpful. My only issue was that it was SO DRY in the hospital and my stomach was full of popsicles, ice, and water…so pushing was incredibly nauseating until I was able to throw up for a second time, all over sweet nurse Carrie.
Once my stomach was empty, things moved very quickly because I could finally push with all my effort. Having Gabe right next to me (at Ground Zero) was great, because I knew he wouldn’t BS me with motivational cheers if it wasn’t warranted. The first 60 minutes of pushing went SO quickly and it seemed like no time had passed at all before everyone was shouting how they could see his head. The final 30 minutes were a blur, as my doc was finally back in the room and my baby came flying out (Gabe said the doctor literally had to catch him). At the last minute, the cord got wrapped around the baby’s neck, but it didn’t cause any issues, and my sweet babe was placed on my chest as I sobbed hysterically, welcoming him into the world.
I was in such a hazy, love-infused bliss through the post-baby stitch-up (second-degree) and I also confirmed with nurse Carrie that I did not poop. And, most importantly, Gabe and I had our new baby boy. Finally.
I was not prepared for the overwhelming amount of love I would immediately have for him. He was (is) the most perfect thing I had ever seen in my life – and he was ours. Having him finally in my arms made it so real and I can honestly say meeting him was the best moment of my life.
Healing went as expected in the hospital and at home. My nether regions were sore, and it freaked me out that I had lost the ability to do a simple Kegel. As my friend and Pelvic Floor PT, Abby Bales, reminded me: trying to do a Kegel immediately after birth is like trying to flex a torn hamstring. Let the tissues heal.
So I did a lot of sitting on my inflatable hospital pad and kept my feet up for much of the first week. Staying still was difficult, but Gabe was a huge help around the house. Also: as much as I loved the infamous mesh undies in the hospital, I actually transitioned to pads and regular undies as soon as I got home because I felt like they made me feel a little more human.
A couple things that surprised me about the immediate days postpartum:
-I think I anticipated feeling better sooner – in the days immediately following delivery, each day felt significantly better than the one before…but I’m 4 weeks postpartum now, and I can still tell things are healing, particularly when I do things that stress the pelvic floor, like sneezing/coughing, going downstairs, and walking quickly.
-The constipation. Holy Jesus. I feel like I was living on stool softeners and constantly making a desperate attempt to eat as much fibrous foods as possible.
-How quickly swelling went down. I’ve had zero diet/exercise goals (except eating plenty and drinking tons of water to have a good milk supply) – and it has been really interesting to watch my uterus deflate over the past few weeks.
-The hormones. Sweet Lord the hormones. The term “Baby Blues” does not do them justice. 3 days post-delivery, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I found myself crying over EVERYTHING and being insanely emotional about every.single.thing. I also started experiencing panic and anxiety attacks over old life stresses (more on this later).
-I had heard about PP hair loss, but I didn’t realize it would happen THE DAY AFTER delivery.
-My HR was 10-15 bpm higher than average throughout the entire pregnancy…yet I noticed things went right back to normal within hours of delivering the baby, which totally surprised me.
-The first shower after delivery was glorious, BUT, I still maintain that post-marathon showers are more heavenly.
It wasn’t until a week after delivery that the complications arose. 5 days postpartum, I passed a large clot. Two days and an ultrasound later (“you’re probably fine, but we want to make sure!”) my OB called me, sounding worried, letting me know I still had “something” left in my uterus (a piece of the placenta that had deeply rooted itself into my uterus) and I’d need to get a D&C to remove it.
The procedure was scheduled for 8:30am, but since I was going under general anesthesia, I needed to arrive at 7am. When I asked how long the procedure would take, my doc answered with, “you’ll be home sipping coffee by 10:30!”
…but when I came out of anesthesia, I immediately felt uncomfortable, like I had to pee (they had inserted a catheter) and I was told I’d have to stay overnight for observation. Awesome.
It took a while for me to sober up from the drugs to understand what was going on. Apparently during the procedure, I started hemorrhaging and didn’t respond to the meds that were supposed to stop it…and ultimately, had to get “packed” to form a clot and make the bleeding stop. Yes, it’s as sexy as it sounds.
Staying over in the hospital without my baby 10 days after delivery was sad and devastating and lonely, but nothing I could do about the situation. Thankfully I was cleared to leave by 11 the next morning, otherwise, I think I would’ve completely lost my shit.
The day after I returned from the hospital, I noticed an IMMEDIATE change with my mood and felt so much less emotionally distressed. Yes, I was still weepy and tired…but the anxiety and panic attacks were completely gone. It was as if the remaining placenta was wreaking havoc in my body and removing it completely shifted my hormone levels. So these days, I’m just taking one day at a time…doing my best to acclimate to this new way of life. I’m eager to get back to running and fitness, but also want to recover the right way, and am not looking to push anything.
This process has given me a whole new perspective on love, patience, and humility. It’s the experience I never knew I wanted but have been ready for all along. Most importantly: I’ve never been prouder to have the new title of “mama” and have the privilege to watch this sweet baby grow up.