When I was 3 months pregnant, I asked my 3 year old what we should name the new baby:
“Captain? What if it’s a girl?”
“Still should name the baby Captain. Captain Sullivan.”
And since then, we’ve called our third child Captain.
At six months pregnant, Captain had a major growth spurt. I went from looking “oh, you’re pregnant?” to “are you having twins?” This made me think that Captain might be farther along than we originally thought—maybe we miscalculated the due date somehow. And when I felt contractions and labor pains early in December, I figured I was right—this baby was coming early.
Well, I had labor pains for days. And days. And weeks. Joseph and I even made the trek to the hospital in mid-December, thinking that surely these contractions were the beginning of labor. They were over a minute in length and 3-5 minutes apart which is supposedly an indication of active labor. My dear friend Ashlie took our two older boys home with her and Joseph and I hung out at the hospital, waiting for Captain.
After five hours of no progress, we went back home.
Any mom who has experienced pre-labor—also called “prodromal” or “false labor”—can tell you there’s nothing quite as frustrating as being teased with the impending birth only to have a nurse or midwife say, “Looks like a false alarm. Go on home.”
The last month of pregnancy is pretty miserable with back aches, heart burn and general pain and discomfort. Coupled with two active little boys and the stress of Christmas right around the corner and maybe you can imagine how discouraged I felt as we headed home from the hospital, with Captain still stubbornly in utero.
At some point that week, Joe II and Benjamin were sitting at the table, waiting for lunch. They whined and complained when I didn’t get it to them soon enough, and then whined and complained about what was on the menu. At one point, I looked at Joe II and said, “Have I ever not fed you? Do you think I’m just going to let you starve? Just be patient!” And I suddenly felt God ask me the same question—“Do you really think I’ll let you stay pregnant forever? You’re complaining and whining to me just like these children are whining to you.” Sufficiently chastised by the Spirit, I dropped my whiny attitude and rejoiced in the last few days I had to devote to my two older children and my husband.
Christmas Day, we welcomed my family to our home to celebrate, opened presents, and ate a lot. Early the next morning, I woke up with contractions and noticed I lost my mucus plug when I went to the bathroom. I went back to bed anyhow, but woke up again an hour and a half later to find my water had broken. It was about 4:30am and I woke Joseph and called the doctor to see if I should go to the hospital or wait a while. At the recommendation of the doctor, we were at the hospital within an hour.
When we arrived, the nurse set up the fetal monitor and checked my cervix to estimate the progress. At this time, the contractions were regular—3-5 minutes apart—but not very painful, and I could talk and walk through them. Even so, the nurse estimated I was 7 centimeters dilated. I was really pleased to hear this, because it meant Captain was only a few hours away from being born.
We moved into our delivery room, and the nurse hooked up an IV with antibiotics, but I was only attached to the bag for about 30 minutes for the first round of Penicillin. This was a precaution because I had tested positive for a common bacteria found in about 40% of pregnant women which, in rare cases, can lead to a dangerous infection in the newborn.
My contractions maintained their intensity and spacing, and I wondered if I was still progressing. Every 30 minutes or so, the nurse would use the fetal monitor to check the baby’s heart rate, and check my cervix for progression. Captain’s heartbeat remained strong, and I continued to widen with each contraction.
At 9 centimeters, the contractions became very uncomfortable and I began to feel tired. It was about 8:00am. Joseph supported me as I stood, leaned on him, leaned on a chair, squatted, or knelt as I felt my body lead me to do. Even though the contractions were painful, a soon as one stopped, I was still in high spirits and happy knowing that Captain was quickly coming.
At 8:45, I reached 10 centimeters. I started to feel fed up with this whole labor thing and wished Captain would just get a move on. With Benjamin’s birth, contractions stopped and I had a little rest until the urge to push came. I pushed just four or five times with Benjamin and out he came. I was scared for a couple minutes, but with a final push, Benjamin’s head and shoulders came out and relief washed over me. It hardly took 10 minutes.
Captain took his time. I was kneeling in front of a chair, a towel spread over the chair seat cushion, and my body flopped down against it. When the urge to push came, I grabbed the back of the chair and strained until I heard Joseph say “Relax, drop your jaw” and I’d remember that tension would only cause me to tear more during crowning. So I released and relaxed my face and my body and tried to let the pushes come naturally. As I pushed, I felt Captain’s body move down, and then the pushing urge would release and I’d feel him slide back up a little. Push, slide down, slide up. Push, slide down, slide up.
The nurse asked “Where do you want to deliver?”
“Right here.” I was too annoyed and tired at this point to move or care whether it was a convenient spot, leaned against a chair, kneeling on the floor. The doctor came in.
“Where does she want to deliver?”
“Right there? Ok.” He sounded a little perplexed, but to his credit, he did not ask a woman in the throes of pushing to move.
When I got a strong urge to push, I gave a “rebel yell” (Joseph’s words) and I heard the doctor and the nurse hustle to get their gear to the floor near me. After the pain subsided from that push, I chuckled a little knowing that my primal grunts apparently sounded serious enough for them to drop whatever else they were doing and get over here.
With each push, it was very painful to feel Captain crown, and each push exhausted me a bit more. I was tempted to “purple push” him on several occasions—which means to bare down beyond the urge to push and shove the baby out through brute force. But I also didn’t want to tear, so even though it was hard, I was patient and allowed my body to work instinctually.
Captain’s head finally crowned, but in front of his head was a bubble of amniotic sack and fluid.
“There’s a sack of fluid in front of his head, do you want me to break it?”
Again, remember I was really tired at this point and frustrated that the baby was still not out, even though I felt like I was splitting wide open.
“What the hell is that? Yes, yes, get it out of the way.” I said to the doctor.
He broke the sack and I got another urge to push and another.
I thought I had reached the worse point, that I was stretched as far as I was going to have to stretch and then all the sudden it got twice as bad. Lord, I didn’t know how I could possibly push any harder or open any further.
I screamed and pushed and FINALLY I felt Captain’s head birth. For an agonizing 3 minutes, the rest of his body stayed in the birth canal.
“I can’t do it. I can’t do it. It’s too big. I can’t, I can’t.” I screamed and cried at this point and the nurse and Joseph kept saying, “Yes you can, he’s almost out. You’re doing great. You’re stretching just fine. One more push.”
And sure enough, I pushed again and Captain’s body slid out, a sensation both bizarre and welcome as it brings instant relief to the burning pain of a baby crowning through the perineum. He was born at 9:13 AM, not even 5 hours after my water broke.
I collapsed against the chair again, and for a moment, didn’t have the energy to turn and look at him. But I heard him cry, big grown up sounding wails, and looked at him behind me, laying on the floor in a puddle of birth goo. I reached down to hold his leg and feel his hands. After a few minutes, I had the strength to pick up my child and stand up. I hobbled a few feet over to the bed, and laid down to the deliver the placenta and hold Captain against my body for a few minutes.
It looked like a murder scene. Since Captain had laid in the birth goo, he was covered in blood. When I stood up to walk to the bed, the gush of blood from the placenta detaching came out on the floor, so my legs and feet were also covered. It was gross, and we were a mess until the placenta was born.
“So how bad did I tear?” I asked the doc. I was sure that I was split from top to bottom, never to be the same.
“Actually, you didn’t tear very much. But after the placenta is born, I can tell you exactly how much.” Said the doctor. I couldn’t believe it, but maybe, after all that waiting, and the frustratingly slow pushes, maybe I hadn’t torn too big.
They took Captain over to the baby station to check his vitals and wrap him up. Soon, they placed him back on my chest so that I could get him to latch on to the breast, which speeds up the delivery of the placenta.
I kept asking “How much does he weigh? How long is he?” Because he felt like a daggum watermelon coming out, so I was really curious to know how big he was.
“9 pounds, 1.76 ounces. 19.5 inches. 14” chest and….” Well, I don’t remember how big around she said his head was. But that explained why it was so much harder to push him out than Benjamin! Ben weighed 7 pounds, 4 ounces, so Captain was considerably bigger than him.
After the placenta came out, the doctor had a better look at my perineum (ouch. It was sore.)
“You might need one stitch, but actually you could do without it if you wanted to. A stitch will help it heal up a little better. Would you like me to stitch it or just leave it?”
Props to this doctor for treating me with such respect and patience. I was really impressed with his bedside manner!
“Go ahead and stitch it up but PLEASE use lots of lidocaine.” He was super fast and done with the stitching in about 30 seconds. Thank goodness.
I started shaking and shaking. Afterpains.
“God, really, why was this necessary in childbirth? Oh, I hate this part. Can I get some Motrin? Lots and lots Motrin, please?”
That nurse got me the pills and after a while I wasn’t shaking so bad or in nearly so much pain from my uterus contracting. The doctor massaged my belly a couple times to encourage the blood vessels to close up so the bleeding would slow down. Finally, I was able to get out of the bed and have a shower.
I was really happy with this birth. The nurses and doctor were so supportive and so respectful. I was uneasy about birthing in a hospital after having a home birth, but this experience turned out to be just what we wanted for the birth. It was low key, low stress, and the doctor was there to reassure me during the difficult crowning stage and to stitch me up afterwards. Captain was marvelous and so healthy. Althought the biggest baby, and not quite as quite and easy as Benjamin, his birth went smoothly with only a few minutes of genuine pain and fear. He’s snoozing in my lap right now, making snuffly newborn noises and being warm and cuddly. We even picked out a real name: Captain McGuire Smith Sullivan, or Big Mack.
Several people have asked why we chose to have a hospital birth after having a homebirth. These are the reasons we went to a hospital:
- Our current insurance doesn’t cover a homebirth midwife, in part or in whole.
- Midwives aren’t as practiced in suturing as doctors or nurse-midwives. They also don’t legally have access to lidocaine in Virginia, so they either don’t have it in their kits or have a very limited supply. Since I tore with both of my first two births, I suspected I would need a stitch or two with this birth as well.
- Midwives offer a limited level of care. If you have a normal birth, they can offer reassurance and help with certain minor complications. If there are serious complications, you transfer to the hospital and a doctor. Benjamin was born very quickly, and arrived about 10 minutes before the midwife came. After that experience, Joseph and I started to rethink our position on midwives, since we knew first hand that we could handle a normal birth alone. When we realized that it would cost to $3000-$5000 hire a midwife, we decided that we did not think that the level of care that a midwife could provide was worth the out-of-pocket cost.
- I wanted my husband to be able to leave me in the care of the nurses during postpartum if necessary. With a toddler and a preschooler at home—and no way of knowing if Captain would arrive before, during, or after the Christmas holidays when our family was available to help–I thought it would be helpful for Joseph to be able to take care of our boys during the 2 days of post partum recovery and the hospital nurses to take care of me.
- I didn’t really care. Some women have very strong feelings concerning the bond they form with their birth care provider, but honestly, the only strong bond I was concerned about was with Joseph and my other 2 children. With my previous 2 births, my relationship was unstable and downright hostile with the birth care providers. (Don’t get me started on the nurse-midwife that delivered Joe II in the hospital. She was a nightmare.) The home midwife was nice, but she was going through a lot of troubles at home and also in her first year of business. She had the potential to be a good midwife, but wasn’t as professional as I had hoped she would be. After those 2 experiences, I just didn’t care what doctor showed up at the birth.