Read my unmedicated, natural hospital birth story of Harper. It was one of the hardest and most painful days of my life, but it was so rewarding!
January 14th was one of the hardest and best days of my life. It was the hardest day because labor was honestly the most painful thing I've ever had to go through; but it was the best day because I finally got to meet my daughter Harper Lynn!
I've loved sharing my pregnancy journey with you guys these last 39 weeks. It's been so fun for me to document different parts of my pregnancy journey, the good and bad. I'm excited to share with you all the details of Harper's arrival today!
If you have been following along on my pregnancy updates then you would already know that an induction was a definitely possibility for us, despite my hopes of having a completely natural childbirth. Friday, January 12th, after another ultrasound which confirmed some concerns about our daughters development in the womb, Brett and I decided to schedule our induction.
As you'd expect, I didn't sleep too well the night before getting induced. I was still worried that Harper wasn't thriving in my womb so I was waking up often to make sure she was still moving inside of me. I was also super excited to finally meet her after waiting so long. I was also oddly excited to experience what giving birth would feel like.
The morning of the induction, Saturday, January 13th, started early as we were supposed to arrive at the hospital at 8 AM and we had to prepare some last minute things before leaving. I took a shower and made sure to eat a hearty breakfast, not knowing if they would allow me to eat once I was in the hospital. The night before, sleet and snow had started falling and we woke up to a winter wonderland. The roads leaving our neighborhood were icy and slick, so we had to leave an extra half hour early to make sure we could drive really slow and still arrive on time.
We checked into the hospital at 8 AM and the long process began. We were told that the induction from start to finish could very well take up to 48 hours, so we went in with the mindset that we could still be 2 days away from meeting our girl. We were definitely apprehensive and scared to start the process considering the health concerns Harper had been showing in the womb.
The induction process started really slowly. Because Harper was measuring small and had previously showed signs of stress in the womb, they hooked me up to monitors as soon as we got to our birthing room. Lots of initial things had to happen before we could start the official induction process. My vitals were taken. An IV tube was put in my arm. Harper and my contractions were monitored for a while. Paper work was filled out. Anesthesiologists and surgeons were met with in case of an emergency or if I decided I wanted pain medications. Options were discussed.
Our first nurse was Rheda and our first midwife was Mavis. They were on shift from 7 AM that morning until 7 PM that evening. They were with us during the initial phases of the induction and they were both so encouraging and friendly and great at explaining the different options we had. After checking me, Mavis said that I was about a fingertip dilated and 70% effaced. I'm not gonna lie. I had no idea vaginal checks were so painful and they were one of the things I dreaded most during the entire process. But they had to be done occasionally so that we could make informed decisions on what next steps to take.
After checking me for the first time, they decided on first administering a small dosage of Cytotec to ripen my cervix. I would place a small portion of a pill inside my cheek, allow it to dissolve and then wait 4 hours to see how I progressed. Since cytotec is a pill and can't be controlled or adjusted through IV, they wanted to see how Harper would hold up under stronger contractions before they gave me the drug. So even before I took the Cytotec pill, they gave me a small dose of Pitocin to cause me to have at least 3 contractions in the course of 10 minutes to see how Harper would do. I was expecting a lot of pain, but I barely felt the contractions and they said Harper held up great under the contractions. So at about 1:30 PM I took my first dose of Cytotec.
During the first 3 hours after taking the Cytotec I had to lay down on my side on the bed while they monitored my contractions and Harper's heart rate. In fact, the entire morning even before I took the Cytotec I had to be continuously monitored. This made getting comfortable and going to the bathroom annoying, but I also didn't mind knowing that Harper was doing fine inside my womb.
About 3 hours after taking the Cytotec I was experiencing more consistent, crampy contractions as if I was on my period. They were happy with how Harper was doing and allowed me to switch to intermittent monitoring so that I could walk around the halls and move around more easily. What a gift!
Up until this point I had also not eaten anything since breakfast that morning at 6 AM. I had been told previously by our midwives that they would allow me to eat despite the hospital nurses not allowing it. But since my natural childbirth plan turned into an induction, Mavis said I should try not to eat anything incase things went wrong during the induction and led to a C-section. I couldn't imagine having enough energy to deliver naturally after over 24 hours of not eating, so I just tried to eat lots of popsicles and jello--which were allowed--and drink the coconut water that I brought.
Four hours after taking the Cytotec, Mavis checked me again and I had thankfully dialated to 2 centimeters and was now 80% effacted. They were encouraged by how my body was reacting to the Cytotec and wanted to allow my body to continue laboring naturally before giving me another dose of Cytotec or starting Pitocin. Sometimes one dose of Cytotec is all it takes to send a body into labor, so they thought waiting a while longer would be best. Harper's heart rate continued to be monitored every hour and I walked in circles around the halls a lot and watched random shows on TV while we passed the time.
At 7 PM the nurses and midwives switched shifts and Jessica became our next nurse and Margaret was our next midwife. We had actually met Margaret before at one of our prenatal appointments and she was a spunky, older lady who we were glad to see would be taking care of us over the next 12 hours. The best part was she practically commanded me to eat a large meal before we continued with the induction process. She knew that giving birth vaginally without pain medications was my desire and that I wouldn't be able to do that without any energy in my system. So at around 8 PM, with Brett's parents in our hospital room visiting, I scarfed down a random dinner of a PB and banana sandwich, an apple, some vegetable sushi, pretzels and hummus and an energy bite. I felt like I could keep eating, but I didn't want to make myself sick or too uncomfortable before labor got more intense. I truly believe this meal gave me the energy I needed to give birth without pain medication!
Around 9 PM, after Brett's parents left to go home, Margaret checked me again to see if I had progressed on my own since earlier that afternoon. Margaret's vaginal checks were even more painful due to how low Harper's head was and I barely was able to let her finish them. Thankfully I had progressed even more and was now 4 centimeters dilated and Harper's head was even lower down than before.
It was now 10 PM and Margaret still didn't want to start more Cytotec or Pitocin until she was sure that my labor wouldn't continue to progress naturally. We decided to let me rest for about 4 hours so I could regain some energy before more active labor began. So from 10 PM until 2 AM I slept on and off while Jessica came in every hour to monitor Harper. My contractions were still crampy, but bearable and came about every 4 minutes. At 1 AM I decided to get up and walk the hallways a little in hopes that I could cause my labor to continue to progress naturally. At 2 AM, I was still only 4 centimeters dilated so the next step was to start Pitocin, a synthetic form of the hormone Oxytocin which causes contractions.
So at around 2:30 AM they started me on a level 2 dose of Pitocin. At this point I had to start being continuously monitored and thankfully they had found a bluetooth monitor which could be attached to my stomach, still allowing me to move around without cords attached. Brett was still trying to sleep on a cot beside me when they started Pitocin and I was still trying to rest between contractions on the bed while they were still manageable. Eventually I got off the bed and sat on the birthing ball. Soon they bumped up my dose to 4 and the contractions quickly got noticeably more intense and closer together, but they were still manageable. I continued to sit on the birthing ball and would lean over on the bed and breath through contractions one at a time. At one point I even listened to worship music and that was nice and calming. After a while on level 4 I noticed that my upper thighs and lower back started to ache.
Around 4:30 AM they bumped up the Pitocin to level 5 and that's when thing really started to progress. I soon felt super weak and dizzy, which made laying on my side on the bed sound best, which isn't at all what I expected I would do! Once on the bed they gave me some fluids through my IV and gave me a grape flavored popsicle to help with dehydrations and dizziness. The popsicle tasted so good and I remember joking in between contractions that I never thought I would say I liked a grape flavored popsicle. Someone also placed a cold, wet washcloth on my forehead which helped so much. Soon other side effects started to happen which showed things were progressing and that my cervix was dilating. The contractions started getting longer, stronger and closer together. They moved from my lower abdomen to very lowest and side parts of my groin. I had to breath through every contraction and concentrate on staying loose and not clenching my body. Soon my body started to shake uncontrollably and the pain spread to my lower back. My back was so achy that it felt like it was breaking.
I soon couldn't help but vocalizing through each contraction. This meant that I moaned out in a low pitch voice in hopes of keeping my body loose and easing the pain. It was so hard to calm my body down as it was uncontrollably shaking. I kept saying out loud, "Calm down Faith. Calm down Faith." I had read so many times that if you fight contractions it's more painful and causes your labor to last longer, so I was trying so hard to stay loose and calm.
It was around this time that Brett woke up. Our room definitely wasn't quiet anymore with me moaning and all the nurses and midwives coming in and out of the room.
In regards to dealing with the pain, I found out quickly that I liked to deal with the contractions mostly on my own and internally. People touching me often distracted me from remaining calm and didn't feel good or comforting. But occasionally Margaret would say or do something that helped. I just never knew what I needed or what sounded good at the time. Brett was amazing at trying different things to comfort and sooth me and didn't get offended when I would ask him to stop. Labor was new to both of us!
Around 6:15 AM I was in the midst of active labor but had to use the bathroom so badly due to the IV fluids being pumped into my body. I managed to get up and wheel my IV stand to the bathroom to relieve myself. Just as I feared I had another contraction on the toilet and just had to get through it before walking back to the bed.
I didn't feel like myself as I dealt with contractions. I never thought I'd be a "moaner" or be unable to control my body, but Pitocin is no joke and I quickly stopped caring about how I looked or what I sounded like and just dealt with each contraction in a way that felt best. I tried my best to remain loose and allow my body to expand and Harper to move down (it's crazy the sensations you feel during active labor), but after a while the contractions seemed to control me instead of me controlling them. I would dread each one, suffer through it in agony, and often doze off in between contractions due to how intense they were. At the time, I honestly felt like I was living in a horror film.
The contractions continued to get worse and closer together. The hardest and scariest part was not knowing how much longer I would have to be in labor. Margaret said at one point that it could still be an hour or even a few hours before I was ready to push. That really discouraged me because I couldn't imagine even lasting another hour under so much pain. This is when I started to ask about different pain medications. I honestly wanted an epidural so badly but I knew that it would take a full 40 minutes to get everything set up, administer the shot and to allow the pain medication to start working. Since I wanted something quick I decided to try out the nitrous oxide, which doesn't help with the pain but may help you care less about the pain. It took awhile for the anesthesiologists to get everything set up and I tried breathing in the gas for all of one contraction before basically throwing the mask aside. I didn't like it at all. It just made me feel light headed and didn't help me deal with the pain.
Since the nitrous oxide didn't work, my mind started to wonder if I should ask for an epidural. It was hard to imagine putting up with so much pain for any longer. The pain had even spread to my hips and they felt like they were being ripped apart. I kept yelling to make the pain stop. I even asked if they could turn the Pitocin off, thinking that if they just lowered the dosage the labor would stop. But there was no escaping the pain and that was a really hard reality to grasp.
Knowing that a natural, vaginal birth was my goal, the midwives suggested that I get checked one last time to see how far along I was before jumping straight to having an epidural. The thought of being checked again sounded horrible, but I knew I would regret going straight to an epidural without giving a natural, unmedicated childbirth my all. When Margaret checked me I was 9 centimeters dilated and my water bag was bulging. Harper's head was so low and they said I couldn't be any closer to pushing. Margaret soon asked for the delivery table to be set up, which confirmed to me that I was getting close.
It was also at this time, 7 AM, that the nurses and midwives were supposed to change shifts. Jessica and Margaret were supposed to go home, but knowing that I was about to start pushing they both stayed late. I was so thankful that they stayed, as having a random stranger deliver my baby wouldn't have been the same. Even though they stayed, the next nurses and midwives entered the room and also started to encourage and support me to continue naturally as I was so close to being done.
After being checked I remember thinking that I had to either pee or poop. I kept calling out saying, "I need to pee, or poop or push!" The midwives nonchalantly told me it was okay if I did. Soon my body started to push on its own in an intense, convulsion sort of way. I knew that pushing too hard and too fast could cause tears, so I tried to calm my body down, but all it wanted to do was push. Not long after pushing started my water bag burst and sprayed on Margaret, who was stationed to deliver Harper once she arrived. That was so empowering as I knew my water breaking meant I was about to meet our daughter. It also randomly reminded me to take the tank top off that I was wearing because I didn't want it to get dirty during skin-to-skin time!
Once my water broke the pushing really began. Margaret and the other midwife who just started her shift helped coach me on when and how hard to push. I had heard that the pushing phase feels good for a lot of women, but not for me. It was just as painful as the end of active labor, but in a completely different way. The ring of fire is real and it was hard to tell if I was making any progress. It just burned and I could feel her head barely starting to emerge. The midwives kept encouraging me along and said they could see her head. Brett was at the end of the bed watching as well and kept telling me how close I was.
After pushing a few times, the midwives noticed that Harper's heart rate was starting to drop. They told me that I needed to push as hard and as long as I could so that we could get her out, and that's exactly what I did. So after 15 minutes total of pushing, Harper's head emerged and her body followed quickly after.
They immediately placed Harper up on my chest. She was covered in a thick, white substance called vernix and was so so tiny. It was such a relief to be done with labor and delivery and I was amazed at how quickly I forgot the pain once Harper was in my arms. She was the cutest, littlest bundle of joy and I remember look up and seeing Brett with tears in his eyes.
They put a hat on Harper's head and had Brett cut the cord. Just a couple minutes after Harper was born, my placenta was ready to come out and I didn't feel a thing when that happened. I remember my legs would still randomly shake uncontrollably for a while after the delivery. My body was still in shock from what had just happened.
I had a first degree tear that had to be stitched up, but I didn't care because the birthing process was over and Harper was in my arms. Both Brett and I got skin-to-skin time over the course of an hour. Then a nurse came in the weight and measure Harper. She was 5 lbs. 11.5 ounces and 18 inches long!
I won't go into the details of the afterbirth and recovery, but Brett, Harper and I stayed 2 full days in the postpartum wing at the hospitaland that was the best gift we could have asked for! Food was brought to our room, nurses and midwives were constantly in and out of our room checking on us and Harper and bringing us anything we needed. I had 2 days to basically sit and recover and sleep when I could. At night, we were able to place Harper in the nursery to be watched so that we could get chunks of sleep in between feedings. I also met with the best lactation consultant who helped me so much and allowed me to go home with confidence that I would be able to feed Harper well.
We are so grateful that God watched over Harper during the 39 weeks in my womb and that he brought her to us happy and healthy. We love our little family of three!
I appreciate all your comments and encouragement throughout the course of my pregnancy. Thanks for following along on the journey of meeting Harper Lynn VanderMolen!