M. and I welcomed our son into the world on June 22, eight days past his due date. We’ve now been parents for two weeks, and the experience has covered the emotional gamut. We’ve had high highs and low lows in trying to figure out how to care for this new tiny human around the clock, but we make a great team, and the little one seems to be thriving, so I guess we’re doing something right. He’s also a relaxed baby, and it’s relatively easy to figure out what’s wrong and remedy it within minutes of him starting to cry or get upset, which has made the transition to parenthood mostly smooth.
As for the actual birth, that’s another story… we went into it with a very loose “birth plan,” which essentially meant I wanted as few interventions as possible. But as we are quickly learning, things in baby land don’t always go as planned.
For the majority of a pregnancy in Germany, visits to the doctor happen about once a month, and once the last month rolls around, they’re every week or every other week. Then, when your due date comes along, if the baby still isn’t born, you usually have to go every two or three days.
My due date was June 14, a Sunday, but my gynecologist just so happened to be on vacation that week and the next, so we instead had appointments on Tuesday and Thursday with her practice partner. Thursday morning’s appointment was at 10:30, but I woke up around 5 am with severe back pain; it felt like a back spasm that lasted maybe 30 seconds—enough to rouse me out of sleep for a moment, but not enough to concern me… until it happened again, and again, and again, each one about 30 minutes apart. It was probably the third time this happened when my half-asleep brain thought that maybe I was having contractions, but then they went away.
After the doctor appointment, M. and I decided to take advantage of my gift certificates to The Bowl, so we went off to eat lunch together. Then we went back home, and at 2:33, the contractions came back. At this point, they were maybe 45 seconds each, though some were longer and some were shorter. Sometimes they came every 30 minutes, sometimes every 10 minutes, and sometimes every hour. Since they weren’t getting stronger or longer or closer together, I knew it was early labor, but labor nonetheless.
We watched a movie that evening, “Kingsman,” which provided some distraction, but when we went to bed, the contractions continued, with the longest interval being 45 minutes, but most of them coming every 10. They were also worse and closer together when I was laying down, so I spent most of the night on the birthing ball, which helped with the pain but not with my increasing exhaustion. Finally, at around 8am, I stopped timing them with my app and we called the hospital to ask them what they thought. I knew it wasn’t active labor, but I also couldn’t just sleep or talk through them, so I didn’t know what to do.
At this point, I should probably explain a bit about contractions and what they feel like. It’s different for everyone, and I’d prepared myself for “like menstrual pain, but worse.” Well, most of the labor was felt in my back, and the best I could describe was like when you have the flu and the chills and your back is so sore and aching—like that, but about 50 times worse. Just waves of intense aching. From everything I read on the Internet, it sounded like I had back labor, though one of the midwives at the hospital said all contractions are felt in the back. I am not so certain I believe that—maybe other moms can weigh in on this?
Anyway, the midwife on the phone said I could come in if I wanted, and we needed to have the amniotic fluid checked anyway, so in we went. Over the course of the next few hours I had a couple of CTGs, and an ultrasound, and they checked to see my cervix, which was only 1cm dilated, so clearly not enough. Since there was nothing anyone could do, I was given a couple homeopathic remedies; one was a powder I absorbed in my mouth that was meant to regulate contractions. The other was a suppository to help thin out the cervix even more. The main goal of giving them to me was to give me a “break” from contractions, as I’d been awake 30 hours or so, with only about two hours worth of sleep in that whole timeframe. The midwife also told us to come back on Sunday for another ultrasound, but to call first around 1pm to make sure things weren’t too busy in the Kreißsaal (labor and delivery).
When we arrived home, M. made the brilliant suggestion that I sleep sitting up, since contractions were worse when I was on my side. I was a bit skeptical, but he made this fantastic “pillow fort” on the bed that allowed me to be cushioned and supported while reclining a bit and supporting my head. So after taking a hot bath, I got cozy and settled into bed, while M. went and slept on the couch. And you know what? Thanks to the combination of the powder and his pillow fort, I was able to sleep most of the night. There were a few contractions hitting irregularly, but they were few and far between and sleep finally came.
Saturday was more of the same, with me taking it easy as much as possible, watching “Orange Is The New Black,” reading, and sleeping, while M. ran errands and took care of me. That evening, the contractions came back, so I took more of the powder (which the midwife had sent home with me) so that I could sleep again. Meanwhile, M. moved my pillow arrangement out to the couch; as comfortable as the bed was, it was a struggle to get off the bed when a contraction hit, but I needed to do that, as I could work through them much more easily with my feet touching the ground. With the new arrangement, I was able to sleep at a slight angle so that I could quickly throw my legs over the edge of the couch when something hit.
Sunday morning I woke up feeling relatively rested again, and M. had already called the hospital. They said to come in, so once again we got our things together (two backpacks and the suitcase), fed the cats, and had something to eat before heading out. For some reason, I wasn’t very hungry, so I was only able to eat one English muffin, but we had snacks with us, so I figured we’d be fine if things took longer.
Once at the hospital, we had the routine CTG, which showed the contractions as stronger. The cervix was completely thinned but still at 1cm, so again, not much could be done. We met with a doctor and had an ultrasound which showed that the amniotic fluid levels were still good, and then we went over options. I could either go home again, or, because I’d been in a slow-moving pre-labor phase for three days, we could try to induce. The latter meant I’d have to stay overnight in the hospital, and I told them I would only do that if they had a private family room available for me and M., as I didn’t want to be alone, so they made some calls and secured one for us.
At this point, the midwife from Friday suggested a “cocktail” first, meaning a drink with castor oil, to see if that would kickstart things. I was hooked up to the CTG machine and given the cocktail, with 30 minutes or so to drink it all. Surprisingly, it didn’t taste so bad. Not surprisingly, mere minutes after I finished it, I threw up the whole thing.
The next step was induction with pills. I was told this sometimes doesn’t work, so they have to give doses every four hours or so and see what happens. But before they were ready, they sent us up to secure our room and drop off our belongings, and said to hang out up there until they sent for us to come down for another CTG. We got semi-settled in our room, and I continued to have contractions like before, and then because of some miscommunication (we thought they’d send for us and they thought we’d come down on our own), they had a nurse do a CTG on me in the room. Again, no real change from before.
Eventually, they sent us back downstairs again, and then I was told to pick a room for labor. All of a sudden it hit me: “Wow, I am having this baby today!” Each room had its own color theme, so we picked the green room for its calming atmosphere, and because green is my favorite color. They got us settled in and then gave me the pill and some water, and this is where things get blurry for me…
Suddenly, the contractions started coming hard and fast. I hadn’t expected this, and there were still some things I wanted/needed with me, like my phone and snacks and socks, etc., so I sent M. upstairs to get them quickly before things progressed too quickly. But the contractions waited for no one, and all of a sudden they were hitting one on top of another with no breaks in between. “So this is active labor,” I would have thought, had I any moment to think. But it’s true what they say, that when labor gets hard, women go into a sort of trance, and that’s exactly what I did. I remember I started vocalizing a lot, moaning through the contractions along with my breathing, and my eyes must have stayed close the entire time, because I don’t remember people coming in and out or anything else. I remember occasionally hearing M. encouraging me with my breathing, but I don’t know anything else he might have been doing because I was so in another zone.
After something like three hours had passed, the contractions began to subside a bit. I am not sure what made that happen, but it was like having a break in labor. At this point, the head doctor came in with paperwork about the epidural, which I was supposed to read over and sign so that if/when I decided to have it, they’d be able to administer it quickly. Well, I told them right then that I wanted it. M. questioned me briefly, asking if I really wanted it, because we’d talk a lot before about how I wanted a natural birth. And had it been only a day and not nearly four days of pre-labor, I would have tried to go longer without it. But I was so exhausted and so overcome with pain and nausea that I knew it was the right option for me.
In the process of going over the paperwork, I had more contractions, and then ended up throwing up all the water I’d had to drink, and that only reaffirmed my decision to get the epidural. So they called the anesthesiologist, and he and his assistant arrived relatively quickly. While we waited, they transferred me out of my hospital bed and into the birthing bed and made me change into a hospital gown, while also hooking up an IV of liquids to replenish everything I’d lost.
When they arrived, things suddenly got chaotic for me, and I started to panic a little. I was so scared that they would try to give me the epidural right as a contraction would hit and it would paralyze me; add to that the fact that the lights were bright, and so many people were moving around me, and right at that moment liquid just started gushing out of me and I felt like I was peeing my pants all over the bed, and I was just overwhelmed and terrified. M. did a great job communicating with the team and calming me down, and told me that if I felt something coming to yell STOP!
So of course a contraction started to come as soon as they were ready, so I yelled that out, and they did stop, and after 2-3 minutes they anesthesiologist was like “OK, can we go?” And I said “NO, it’s still coming!”
But eventually it did end, and they were able to get everything going, and within 15 minutes I felt amazing. Later M. would tell me that up until this point, he was still worried I would regret my decision for the epidural, but as soon as I told him “I feel the best I have since Thursday,” he too knew that it was the right decision.
Now that I wasn’t feeling any pain, things calmed down quite a bit. The gushing I’d felt earlier had been my water breaking, and it had a slight greenish color, but it still wasn’t enough to worry anyone just yet. Meanwhile, I was checked and found to be dilated to 8cm. That pill really did a number on me!
I had been given a “walking epidural,” which means I could walk with assistance if necessary, but there was no reason. The midwife had the CTG hooked up but told me to sleep… a funny thing to say since people were coming in the room every 5-10 minutes to do something, making it kind of impossible to sleep. But I was able to at least close my eyes and rest a bit. They also brought some food for M., who was practically starving, considering he’d eaten only slightly more than me all day.
For the next 4-6 hours (I can’t remember how long exactly), they kept monitoring me, but the heartbeat was too fast. Normally, it was between 140 and 160 when the baby was sleeping, but it was at 170 and above for hours, which can indicate fetal distress. And while he’d been against my cervix before labor started, over the course of those few hours, the baby had changed positions, with his head further up.
During this time, they tried rotating me every 10 minutes from side to side to get him to move, but it didn’t work. So then they took a blood sample from the baby’s head, to see that he was OK. The first result was inconclusive, so they had to do it again, and it showed that he was OK and not suffering from too little or too much oxygen. But just to be safe, they started a drip of antibiotics. In this time period, the epidural also wore off enough that I could walk to the bathroom assisted to try and pee (since that sometimes slows labor). After I got back, I started feeling contractions again, so they gave me more painkiller.
Sometime around 2am on Monday morning, they decided to start a Pitocin drip to try and make contractions push the baby down. After 30 or so minutes of that, nothing was happening, and eventually the doctor came in to talk with me about the real possibility of a c-section. His reasoning was that although the baby was OK, the heartbeat was still too high, and nothing was really happening. Plus, considering his head size (37cm), it would be difficult though not impossible to have a vaginal birth.
Surprisingly, I was relatively OK with everything. I knew they’d tried everything possible, and as much as I wanted a vaginal birth, I also just really want to meet our baby. I also trusted the midwife and doctors, that they knew what was best. And since I’d already read about the c-section experience months before when the baby was breech, I knew what to expect.
Next thing I knew, M. was putting on scrubs and I was being taken down the hall to prep for operation. Of the seven or so people in the OR, I knew five of them, which made it less scary for me, and once everything was set up and I was pumped full of more drugs to numb me completely, M. was let back in the room and they started the surgery. Everyone was talking to me, reassuring me, asking me questions, etc., and it made me feel much more “involved” in the process. I also remember that I started speaking a lot of German at this point with the doctors, though I am not sure why that happened.
I felt all the pressure and tugging that I’d been told I would feel, and then at one point I heard a weird kind of gurgle-y cry, and then some suction, and then another cry, and I knew that our son had been born. Moments later, they took him out, and I can’t remember if they showed him to us over the top of the “divider” or not, but then the midwife wrapped him up and quickly brought him over for me to kiss on his goopy head, and then took him away to get cleaned up.
I don’t know if he was down the hall in our labor room, or if he was just on the other end of the OR, but we could hear him crying, and then in a few minutes he was brought over to us, cleaned up and wrapped in a towel. M. held on to him, holding his face near mine, and we both remember how quiet and alert he was, with open eyes, looking around. I put my hand out and he grasped my finger with his tiny fingers, and we just talked to him while we waited for the doctors to finish putting me back together. My eyes were so heavy and my neck hurt so much but I couldn’t stop looking at him.
“What’s his name?” asked the doctor.
Then, M. and Björn left the OR and went back to our delivery room, while the doctors did the final touches with me. There, the boys had skin-to-skin snuggles, and once I was returned to the room, the midwife brought Björn over to me to breastfeed. It was 4:55am, and he had been born at 4:06am. After he finished feeding, she took him back over to M. and he slept on his chest while I was able to try and get some real sleep for the three hours before I’d be released upstairs. During that time, I kept drifting in and out of sleep, and I heard Björn sucking loudly on his fists and fingers, trying to find a nipple.
Finally, at 8am, they brought my baby back to me and took us upstairs to our room, where we stayed from Monday to Thursday. It was rough being in the hospital, because we didn’t have the comforts of home, but it was also great to have around-the-clock care, both for the baby and for me; I hadn’t anticipated how difficult the recovery period of a c-section would be, physically as well as emotionally. On the latter note, I mourn the planned birth I didn’t get to have, but it all seems to be so minor of a complaint compared to the fact that I am healthy and Björn is healthy.
Now it’s two weeks later and my scar is healing well, and the pain is mostly gone, though I feel it in my lower belly. I still have four more weeks before I am allowed to do any heavy lifting, etc., so I am trying to take things easy, though it’s hard to limit myself. Then again, caring for a newborn is work enough on its own, so I’m trying to throw myself into that 100%, and luckily M. is a superstar, running errands, making me food, fetching things for me, changing diapers, and more, while I am basically glued to Björn 24/7. The hormone level readjustment was a huge shocker for me in the first few days back home, but I am already feeling better in that respect. Breastfeeding is going well overall, though not without its frustrating moments, but I trust that things will improve over time. I’ve been drinking liquids like crazy, and of the 35 pounds I gained during pregnancy, I only have 5 left to go before I am at my pre-pregnancy weight. Of course my body is still totally different than when I started out on this journey, but I am slowly coming to terms with it, and when I really think about it, I am amazed at how much it is capable of doing and has done.
More than anything else though, I am amazed at this sweet little baby boy who has totally transformed our lives over the course of the past two weeks. And to think, this is only just the beginning.