Hello friends. So today I actually have some rare kid free time to write, so I thought I would take advantage of that and finally write down Bobby’s birth story. Considering it’s been almost three months, this is a little on the late side, but I figure better late than never. I love everything about birth stories. I think they’re such a great narrative tradition for moms to share their experiences, for the purposes of their own memories, and with each other. If you want to read Ryland’s, you can find it here. Bobby’s is a little less exciting, but no less important of course 🙂
So let’s go back to November 16, 2017 (just insert that little squiggly flashback sequence animation here). I was 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant, and had a checkup with my OB in the morning. At this point I had been having Braxton Hicks for weeks and weeks (like they seriously started around 20 weeks with Bobby). I had also been having some more legitimate contractions for a couple of weeks, and at my last check-up was dilated to 3cm and 80% effaced.
I felt enormous and felt that all of the baby’s weight was insanely low in my pelvis. There was so much pain and pressure in my lower back, sacrum, and entire pelvic region that I knew things were probably close. Every movement hurt. Rolling over in bed was almost impossible because of the pain. I was peeing about every 30 seconds. I usually felt the urge to pee again while I was still peeing. Things were certainly in motion, but I also knew that the last thing you want to do with childbirth is try to predict it, because inevitably you end up being wrong.
I went to my OB appointment and she told me that I was now 4cm and 100% effaced, and that this could mean labor was hours away, or still weeks away. (I resisted the urge to throw something at her when she said “weeks away”) She did say that my cervix (if talk of cervixes bothers you or makes you uncomfortable, clearly you are reading the wrong blog entirely but also really should not read the rest of this post) felt very “favorable” for baby. She went on and on about how favorable my cervix was. To which I didn’t really know how to respond. Being complemented on your cervix is one of the many strange things that happens when you are pregnant. And I mean what do you really say to that? Thank you? My cervix thanks you? We’ve been working on it together?
But anyways she sent me and my favorable cervix on our way. I stopped in the hallway bathroom to use the restroom (because 10 minutes had passed since I last went), and felt some pretty strong contractions. At this point they were still menstrual cramp like, along with a tightening of my entire stomach, but they were really strong, enough to take my breath away. I wasn’t too surprised though, because this had happened after my last cervical check as well. (Sidebar, with my first pregnancy at VCU they didn’t do routine cervical checks at the end of pregnancy, because they don’t really predict anything and can make women think they are either farther away or closer to labor than they really are. And also because ouch. Now, based on the fact that I’m pretty sure this cervical check sent me straight into labor, I think it’s probably a really good idea to just skip these entirely).
I drove home, cramping on and off, but nothing too crazy. I stopped and got a ginormous egg and cheese biscuit for lunch from Rise (these are better than McDonald’s biscuits, which from me, there is no higher praise). I called my mom and told her she should probably be more or less ready to come over, because of my insanely favorable cervix (at this point obviously it had gone straight to my head and now I couldn’t stop bragging about my cervical superiority).
I went home and ate lunch with Rob and Ryland, and all the while I was having contractions. But they weren’t really regular. They would come in clusters and then peter out, then come back. And so it went for the early part of the afternoon.
I tried to nap while Ryland was napping, but the contractions were strong and regular enough at this point to keep me awake. She woke up and we went outside, because it was a warm November day. And I remember that as she was playing, I noticed a change. This was around 3-4pm. I glanced at my phone whenever a contraction came and noticed they were pretty darn regular, about every 10 minutes or so. I also started to panic because I realized that last time I did this whole shebang, I never actually went into labor (they induced me because my water broke). There was never any of the “Am I in labor? Am I not in labor?” uncertainty with Ryland. There was just a big old gush of amniotic fluid while I was vacuuming the house that made it pretty crystal clear a baby would be arriving post haste.
It dawned on me that most people have to do some critical thinking when they have babies. You don’t want to be the nervous Nellie who runs to the hospital when she’s days away from labor. But you also don’t want to like have your kid in the garage on the way to the car.
I hemmed and hawed for a while, called my mom and said she should be on even higher alert. And then (warning, things start to get a little more graphic now, so again, if that bothers you, wrong blog entirely, but especially don’t read the rest of this post), I went to the bathroom and there was some blood. Which is pretty normal, especially after a cervical check, but things just felt different. I called the OB triage number and left a message explaining what was happening. I also told them what my OB told me, that because of my extraordinary, incredible, extremely “favorable” cervix, I shouldn’t dilly dally or fart around (okay she may have not used those exact words) when it came to getting to the hospital.
The triage nurse said, “Yup, go to the hospital.” And I had a brief moment of pure and total panic. It’s amazing that you can grow a baby inside of you for almost a year, and yet I don’t think you ever fully process the end result until it actually happens. Like darn, I’m not just getting super fat, I do in fact have to push a child out of my womb now. It’s terrifying, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how many baby books you read. It’s terrifying the first time and actually more terrifying the second time, because you don’t have the mercy of ignorance. You KNOW how this all happens. The curtain has been drawn back. There are no illusions, no gentle ideas of what labor really looks and feels like. You have been there before, and you know what your body is about to go through.
As much as I would have liked to pretend it wasn’t happening, I knew we did need to go to the hospital if I didn’t want to give birth on the side of the highway. I called my mom to come over and then went around the house, showering and making sure everything was in my hospital bag that I needed. I made Ryland a pancake for dinner. I tried to breathe and act totally cool and relaxed. My parents got there around 5pm, and I gave Ryland a big kiss and hug and tried not to think too much about the fact that the next time I saw her she wouldn’t be my only baby (Because if I had I would have legit ugly cried, there’s a lot of anticipatory guilt with a second child that you are completely ruining your first child’s life, and maybe you are? I am the youngest child so I would not be able to speak to this. Ask my brother and sister. They may tell you that I did, in fact, ruin their lives. If so, this is 32 years late, but my apologies).
And then we set off into the evening. It almost felt like a date night, only a really terrible one that involves a lot of screaming. We got to the hospital, parked, and walked inside. It felt very surreal. In the movies, having a baby is this big dramatic event, with everyone running around and shouting and rushing women in wheelchairs up to the L&D suite, but in real life, at least in my experience, until you get to the business end of things, the lead up is pretty anti-climactic. You literally walk yourself to the labor and delivery floor, ring a doorbell, and say “hey guys, here to have a baby.”
We got into the room, and I put on a gown and was checked out by the triage nurse. I was only dilated 5cm at this point and my contractions were still not crazy or any closer together. Whomp whomp. Was I one of those nervous women who went to the hospital way too early? I kept wanting to tell everyone about my favorable cervix as a way of explanation, but then thought better of it, because normal people don’t talk incessantly about their cervixes. The nurse told us that basically they’d check me again in like 2-3 hours, and decide then if I would stay or not. Until then I was welcome to put on normal clothes, walk around and eat.
So we headed to Starbucks and I chowed down on a bagel with cream cheese. About half way through the bagel, as we were sitting outside the Starbucks in the hospital lobby, I noticed a change in my contractions. Where before I could talk and joke through them, I felt one that made me go silent. And again, that moment of panic, like oh yeah, labor really, really HURTS.
So we headed back up to the L&D suite and by the time I got back and changed into my gown again, I knew that things were on. An OB from my practice came to check me and I still wasn’t dilated much further, but everyone could tell that things were moving. The nurse said there was a noticeable difference in my demeanor, and I would have told her I agreed with her, but I was having a contraction and trying not to let out a string of expletives.
So now I was “officially” checked in. At this point I was still on the fence about an epidural. I was still pretty sure I wanted one (had one with Ryland, best decision I could have made), but I was also curious what labor was like without Pitocin, and if I would better be able to go epidural free with this kind of labor. And for the first few hours I did fine. The contractions hurt, like really, really, really hurt, but there were breaks between them.
This, my friends, is the BIGGEST difference between labor with pitocin versus labor without, at least for me. When I was induced, there were no breaks. As soon as one contraction was fading, another one would ramp back up. It was like being smacked in the face with waves, over and over again. The pain wasn’t so much different, but without breaks, that pain is literally unendurable (or again, at least for me). The pain with non-induced labor was awful, but I could catch my breath in the lulls between contractions. I wasn’t drowning in it.
Our nurse was awesome and showed Rob some techniques to help with the contractions. (I think she took pity on us because clearly we had not prepared one iota for this labor, or with Ryland’s to be honest, no childbirth classes, no Lamaze, no visualization, no playlists, none of it. We are at best like D+ students when it comes to laboring) The best one was literally him just kind of using his knuckles to squeeze my palms really hard. I think he thought it would hurt, but I told him the harder he squeezed the better it felt. I tried to sit on the big bouncy labor ball, but I didn’t love that. I preferred to sit cross legged in the bed (which I know, I know, is like the worst position, “natural” childbirth proponents encourage you to walk or bounce or stand in the shower or do cartwheels down the hallways versus sitting in a bed, but I’ve done this twice now, and both times the only positions I could tolerate were either sitting upright in bed or lying sideways and squeezing on to the handrails with a death grip).
It went like this for a while. The nurse came in and out, but mostly we were by ourselves in the room. The TV was on, and I watched House Hunters in between contractions. I put on some music from my phone. It was near midnight when I finally made the decision to get the epidural.
Here’s the thing. Kudos to the women who birth children without epidurals. Y’all have my admiration. I think it’s great. I understand the impetus to do so for some women.
But for me, with both of my labors, I’ve reached a point where the drawbacks of the pain start to eclipse any benefits I feel like I would gain from continuing to labor in that way. I also reach a point where I know, deep down in my soul, that I just don’t have the commitment, or frankly desire, to have a drug free childbirth. And make no mistake, if you are going to have a drug free labor, it needs to be a HUGE commitment. You need to prepare. You need to take those classes and do the exercises and breathing and affirmations and trust falls and whatever else they tell you to do. You cannot just wing labor without an epidural. It would be like just deciding out of the blue to run a marathon and then finishing it without a day of training. Not. gonna. happen.
I know this is a statement some will disagree with, but I think epidurals are fantastic. If you really look into current, quality, evidence based research, there are not a lot of downsides (I know a lot of people will disagree with this as well, but I really don’t want to debate the pros and cons of epidurals, I’m just speaking for my own experience). Maybe because I’m a nurse, I just have a hard time with the idea of suffering when there are fabulous, safe interventions that reduce that suffering. And again, that’s my personal view point. I know there are very different opinions on the matter, and that is awesome and totally fine too. Every woman should just do her own thing, and anyone who wants to judge needs to really evaluate why they feel the need to do so.
Okay, off soap box. So by the time the anesthesiologist gets into the room I’ve reached the bad place, the place where I almost choked my husband last time, the place where you can’t talk or move or really even breathe during contractions.
I did manage to hold still for the anesthesiologist, and my God, this man was a hero amongst men (and no, this has nothing at all to do with the fact that he pumped my epidural space full of sweet, sweet Fentanyl, how dare you suggest that!). He did his work quickly and efficiently (R, who is a physician himself, commented on how lovely his work was). By the time he finished cleaning up his space, the epidural had kicked in.
And I cannot adequately describe what this is like, to go from pretty much the worst pain you’ve ever experienced in your life, pain that feels like your uterus is trying to rip itself out of your body, pain that you feel explode inside of your stomach and radiate to every muscle and nerve fiber you have, to sweet, blissful relief.
It is like someone turns off a switch, and that someone is God and the switch changes your surroundings from hell to heaven (this may also have been the fentanyl talking, but only slightly). I could breathe. I could talk. I could smile. I could move. Most importantly, I could focus on House Hunters again (priorities people!).
The anesthesiologist left the room and I told R that if we hadn’t already picked out Bobby’s name, we would have been naming him after that man.
And so for a few hours after this, I was seriously just chilling. Like at a cocktail party. Hanging. Life was good. Life was beautiful.
My legs were numb, but much less so than with my previous epidural. I could still move and shift my weight pretty easily. Also, the last epidural I got definitely was a little one-sided (this can happen if the drug doesn’t distribute evenly), but this one was perfectly balanced (because the man who did it was an angel on this earth, and no I am not exaggerating, and if you ever get an epidural during labor, you will probably feel the same irrational and completely inappropriate love for your anesthesiologist).
It was early morning around this point, 2-3ish, so we figured we should try to get some rest (another AMAZING thing about an epidural, you can sleep, or at least try to sleep, and your body will just keep on laboring without you). Basically you’ll know when you’re close to pushing because you’ll start to feel a lot of pressure down there. And as I learned last time, even with an epidural, that pressure is still very noticeable and VERY uncomfortable.
And it was this pressure I started to feel as soon as I closed my eyes to try to sleep.
I also still hadn’t broken my water at this point (pretty much the opposite of my first labor experience). And accompanied by one of these pressure surges was what sounded like a massive water balloon popping. I literally looked around the room for a second, like what was that sound? But then I realized my bed was soaking wet. And there was my water breaking. It was just like it happens in the movies, like a big comical explosion of water. Thank goodness that didn’t happen at the hospital Starbucks! Those poor baristas would have been scarred for life.
The nurse came in, checked everything out, and helped change the bed. And then she checked me and said I was fully dilated. The baby wasn’t quite far enough down though so it wasn’t pushing time. So she did what they had done with Ryland, which is basically put a giant foam peanut thing between your legs. I found an image on Google of one, because it’s kind of hard to imagine if you haven’t seen it.
And then she inverted the bed so that my head was lower than the rest of my body. And I hung out in this bizarre position with a giant peanut between my legs for a little while. The pressure was definitely growing and growing, to the point where it was pretty uncomfortable (although nowhere near as bad as contractions). I still kind of had to breathe through it though and do a little bed rail clutching.
Finally after I’m not sure how long, it was decided the baby was far enough down to start pushing. So here’s another way that an epidural makes for a very different labor experience. I imagine that pushing without an epidural is very much like it looks in the movies. Lots of screaming and yelling. Very intense and dramatic and red faced and sweaty. But when you have an epidural, you just sort of shrug, let the nurse and your husband hold your legs, and push, at least in the early stages.
There were fewer acrobatics involved with pushing Bobby versus Ryland. With Ryland I feel like it was literally a pilates class (a pilates class from hell that is) with the amount of positions we tried and equipment used. There were bars brought out at some point. I pushed on my side for a while (granted that was when she was showing fetal distress so that was a medical necessity).
This time was a little more relaxed and old fashioned. A contraction would start and I would push three times. For the first 20 minutes or so it was just me, R, and two nurses. This was also very different from my first labor, when literally 567 people were in the room. Between the residents, the nurses, the NICU team, and all the assorted students of different disciplines, pretty much the entire staff of VCU witnessed Ryland’s birth. I’m pretty sure the housekeeping and nutrition staff were in there at some point. Random stragglers from the street may have wandered in. We must have exceeded the fire martial’s maximum capacity for that room. It was like a rave minus the drugs. And with a lot more fluids. Things were crowded.
The room at St. Mary’s felt empty by comparison, but it was nice not to expose my lady parts to half of Richmond. I felt like I was making zero progress but the nurses and R kept telling me they could see more and more of Bobby’s head. I didn’t believe them because I know for a fact that I was blatantly lied to with Ryland’s five hour marathon pushing session (and I needed to be lied to, because otherwise I may have just quit and decided Ryland was going to stay inside my uterus until she turned 18).
I do remember feeling really, really tired, somehow more tired than I had felt during Ryland’s pushing session, partly because it was 3 in the morning but mostly I think because I had been having serious contractions for almost 24 hours at that point (btw, in case you weren’t sure, contractions are exhausting). With Ryland I didn’t start contracting until the pitocin, versus with Bobby I had been having natural contractions for a while. So I know my pushing with him kind of was a C effort, just because even with the epidural my body was totally exhausted.
At VCU there had been multiple doctors in the rooms most of the time (because there are residents all over the place), but at a private hospital the nurse doesn’t call the doctor in until the very, very end of the whole process (unless something is wrong of course). So I knew when the doctor came in, that things really were at the business end.
The doctor set up and put on her gown, mask, goggles, shoe covers, and hazmat suit (I barely exaggerate, they really get prepared, but in fairness labor is really, really gross and messy). R and the nurses encouraged me with each push that the baby was right there. There was a lot more pain and pressure at this point (an epidural can only do so much when a human is coming out of you).
Everyone kept saying that he was there, only one more really good push and he’d be out. I thought they were all bold face liars, but I pushed anyways.
There was a big surge of pain and I knew he was out in the world before I could see him. And then he was on my chest like he’d been there all along, blue (not in a scary way, they’re all a little blue) and gunky and warm. There is no weight you will ever feel like the weight of your new baby on your chest. You feel the physical weight and presence of their little bodies, but it also imprints on your soul, fills a space that you didn’t know existed but now couldn’t imagine being empty again, a space made specifically for that tiny little person. I held him and cried tears of relief and joy and gratitude.
Like with Ryland, there was a lot of activity that continued after delivering him (another upside to an epidural, you don’t have to feel all of the stitching and placenta delivering and can just enjoy your baby instead). I tried to memorize Bobby’s face, his huge eyes, his little lips and nose and chin. I let him rise up and down with my breaths and knew that any fear I had about not loving him as much as Ryland was completely unfounded. After one child it seems impossible that your heart could love another baby as much as you love your first, because that love is so powerful and cracks you so wide open it seems impossible you could be so lucky twice.
But then you have a second and realize that your heart grows and adapts instantly, and you can love a second baby just as fiercely and completely.
I am so lucky and grateful to have had two healthy pregnancies, two relatively straightforward childbirths, and two perfect, healthy babies. Both times I’ve given birth I’ve never, not even for a moment, taken for granted how privileged I am to give birth safely, with all of the tools of modern medicine at my disposal.
I am so thankful for the wonderful nurses and doctors (especially certain tall, mustachioed anesthesiologists, kidding! kind of…) who helped bring Bobby into the world. I don’t think any woman ever forgets her L&D or Mother Infant nurses, and I know I won’t forget mine.
Nearly three months have passed, and it is hard to remember a time before my Robert Boyer Becker. I know that in a blink of an eye he will be running around with his sister. But no matter how much time passes or how long I live, I will never forget the moment I first held him, and how I learned for a second time what it feels like to fall into a love greater than yourself, a love that rearranges every fiber of your being and fills your entire universe with dazzling light.