(This is the conclusion of Charlie’s birth story. Head here to read Part One.) The twenty-minute drive from South Coast Midwifery to the obstetrician’s office at Hoag Hospital was not a pleasant one: my contractions remained regular and fairly intense, but beyond the physical pain, I was overwhelmed by feelings of fear and uncertainty. I had no idea whether or not my baby was healthy, or even when and where he would be born. More than anything, I hoped that the ultrasound would show Charlie was a decent size; if he was still too small, I prayed that everything I was currently experiencing would prove to be false labor so that he could have a few more weeks to fully develop. I was still adamantly opposed to giving birth in a hospital—something we were not at all prepared to do—but I knew my baby’s health was a priority and I would do whatever was necessary to bring him safely into the world.
It was around 2:30 when we arrived at the office of Dr. Moniak, the obstetrician. Since I hadn’t seen him before and didn’t have an appointment, we had to spend some time in the waiting room, where Luke filled out paperwork and I did my best to labor inconspicuously in a waiting room chair. I felt bad for the expectant mothers in the room who were getting a hard glimpse of what awaited them! Eventually we were shown into an exam room where a tech performed a quick ultrasound. I watched as she took Charlie’s measurements and could tell things weren’t looking good: he was measuring around four pounds, about the size of a baby that was only 32 weeks. When Dr. Moniak came in to review the ultrasound with us, he said that if Charlie chose to arrive today, it was definitely not safe to give birth to him at the midwifery because he would almost certainly need to be admitted to NICU after birth. Dr. Moniak recommended that we check in to triage to be monitored for a bit and see whether or not my labor was going to progress; there was still a possibility that this would prove to be false labor, but if it was indeed the real thing, I would be admitted into labor & delivery.
When we checked into triage at 4:00, we went in without our bags, still hopeful that this would all wind up being just a blip in my pregnancy. We were able to get in pretty quickly, and they put us in a room and had me change into a hospital gown. The nurse that was with us was NOT my favorite: she seemed to think we were ridiculous for having been under the care of a midwife, and when we gave her a copy of my birth plan, she began pointing out the many aspects of it that, in her opinion, were unrealistic expectations. She won me over a bit, though, when she saw me trying to push through a contraction and said I needed to relax. Luke and Kimberly had been trying to help me with that all day, but I was still tensing up with each contraction and expending a lot of energy resisting the pain instead of easing into it. The nurse reminded me of what I’d known all along, but had been forgetting to do: breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, and simply open up to the contractions. I don’t know why her coaching was so effective—I suppose I was finally just ready to accept that advice—but her tips helped me make it through the rest of the day.
Once I was settled into bed, and finally coping a bit better with the contractions, the nurse did a cervical check and said I was only dilated to 2 centimeters (meaning that either my labor had regressed, or that she and Nancy measured differently, because I had been measuring 3 centimeters hours earlier). They hooked me up to fetal and contraction monitor and said they’d watch to see what would happen. At that point, Luke texted Kimberly and told her to come to the hospital. He also asked if I wanted him to text my mom and ask her to join us. I cannot begin to express how much it meant to me when Luke made that suggestion: we had not planned for anyone other than ourselves, our midwife, and our doula to attend our birth, but at that point, there was nobody I wanted to see more than my Mom! Not only would she be an immense comfort, but because she is a pediatric nurse, I felt like she could help us navigate this unfamiliar hospital territory. Despite the fact that Charlie’s birth story was riddled with disappointments, I am thankful for the fact that this series of unexpected events led to my mom getting to be present for the birth of her first grandchild.
When my mom arrived (and I, of course, burst into tears), the nurse was checking me again and said I was between 3 and 4 centimeters dilated. Dr. Moniac came in and confirmed that I was definitely in labor, so they had me put my clothes back on and sent us up to labor and delivery. It was around 6:00 at that time, and even though it was dark, I could tell that our room had an amazing view of the ocean. I was still not too happy about being in a hospital, but as far as hospitals go, this seemed like a pretty good one to deliver a baby! I really liked the delivery nurse, who was more than willing to accommodate our birth plan to the best of her ability. I appreciated that she was willing to let me labor on my own, without staff coming in and out of the room, and without offering any sort of pain medication.
Once we were settled into our room, Luke went down to the car to get all our stuff, and when he came back, Kimberly and my dad were with him. (My dad didn’t stay long, just said hi and then went down to hang out in the cafeteria.) Kimberly had brought Luke some food, and the two of them ate while I changed into my own green gown (I’d ordered this pretty pushers labor gown—definitely a good purchase!). We dimmed the lights and put on my labor playlist, an eclectic assortment of show tunes, Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, and Christmas songs. The nurse hooked me up to monitors, though she said we could go on “mobile” ones if I wanted to get up and walk around. My birth plan had specified that I did NOT want consistent monitoring because I felt it would keep me from laboring in different positions, and that watching the monitor would be too anxiety-promoting for me. At that point, though, I was over caring: all I wanted to do was lie in bed and just endure those contractions, and it turned out that the monitors were actually comforting for me—it was reassuring to know that Charlie’s heartbeat was consistent, and I liked getting to see when my contractions were coming and how big they had been.
The next few hours were long, and definitely a blur. I was exhausted and tried to sleep between contractions, which led to some pretty unpleasant awakenings. The contractions gradually grew more intense, and they remained mostly in my back, but I started to feel them in my abdomen as well. Kimberly, Luke, and my Mom took turns sitting with me and rubbing my back and playing with my hair. I tried to get up and walk around a few times, but mostly I was just in that bed; so much for all of the labor positions we’d been practicing! Our recent meditation practice did prove to be effective, though: I tried to breathe through the contractions, to visualize my cervix opening like a flower, and to totally relax. When the pain was bad, I mentally recited the scripture verse Luke and I had decided would be our birth mantra (Isaiah 41:10), and that helped a lot.
For the most part, the delivery nurses left us alone and let us do our thing. We had them come in a couple of times to check me, and when the nurse said I was only at about 6 centimeters at almost 9:00, I was super worried that we were in for a very long night. At close to midnight, I felt some liquid between my legs. Luke was sleeping at that point, but I looked over at my mom and told her that either my water had broken or I’d peed myself. We called the nurse in, and she said yes, my water had leaked but not totally broken. We knew it wouldn’t be long now, though. Charlie would definitely be born soon!
Shortly after midnight, the nurse came in to check me again and said that I was dilated to 9 centimeters, with only a tiny lip left because my water hadn’t completely broken. She said she would be calling Dr. Moniak in and that I was ready to push! I wasn’t sure I believed her, because I still wasn’t feeling that “intense need to push” that everyone talks about experiencing toward the end of labor. I was also experiencing very mixed feelings: I was relieved that labor was almost over, but also scared of what was to come, and especially of the prospect that Charlie might not be okay.
From there, things moved quickly. My dad came up to say hi and wish us luck while Luke set up the video camera and Kimberly got ready to take pictures with Luke’s camera. The nurses turned off my music, turned on the lights, and placed my feet into stirrups: these were all aspects of labor I’d been hoping to avoid by giving birth in a birth center, but at this point all I cared about was delivering a healthy baby. A team of NICU nurses came in and was ready to take care of Charlie when he came out. Then Dr. Moniak entered the room and started prepping me. I was frustrated that I couldn’t see what was going on “down there,” but I felt him pour disinfectant all over me and begin stretching and massaging me to help prevent tearing. (It worked; I didn’t tear at all!)
Finally, we were ready to go: Luke was on one side of me, stroking my hair, and the delivery nurse to my other side told me that when the next contraction came I could start pushing. I had no idea what I was doing, but when I felt a contraction coming on, I just bore down and grunted out. It definitely wasn’t ideal, but now I knew what pushing felt like; it was painful, but I enjoyed the proactive aspect to pushing as opposed to the passiveness needed to endure contractions. I asked the nurses if I was “doing this right,” and they coached me through the next ones. They pulled out handles on the bed so I would have something to pull up on, and they told me not to grunt but to hold my breath in 10-second increments and use all my energy to push. After that, my labor was pretty silent, and I was totally in the zone, committed to bringing my baby into the world. After a few minutes of pushing, Dr. Moniak broke my water, and the nurses told me Charlie would be coming out any minute. I was pretty exhausted between contractions, so the nurse hooked me up to an oxygen mask which I did NOT like, but probably needed.
With each push, the nurses told me that I was “almost there” (I was starting to doubt them; how long could I be “almost there”?), but then Luke said that they could see Charlie’s head. . . and that he had hair! I was shocked: since Luke and I were both bald babies, and I’d had no heartburn during my pregnancy, I’d been sure Charlie would be a baldy! Hearing that his head was in view, I was more motivated than ever to GET HIM OUT! Finally, at 1:43—after about thirty minutes of pushing and almost a full day of labor—I gave one final push and my son was born! They immediately put Charlie on my chest, and it was the most amazing experience of my life. He was warm and slimy, but the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen, and I was overcome with a previously unfathomable level of love for this tiny human being. He hadn’t made much noise when he came out, but when they placed him on my chest he made a few of the most precious little grunts. When he gave those little whimpers I just knew that he was going to be okay. I was relieved to be done with labor, but more than that, I was ecstatic to finally be meeting my son.
Because there were still concerns about Charlie’s size, we were not able to delay clamping his cord as we’d hoped. The nurses quickly guided Luke in cutting the cord, then the NICU nurses whisked him over to their station to check him out. Meanwhile, I (very quickly) delivered my placenta. I didn’t even realize it had happened, I was so curious about what was going on with Charlie. They weighed him and he was 5 pounds, 8.4 ounces—pretty tiny, but not as small as that ultrasound had led us to believe. And he had an Apgar score of 8! I was so proud of him for being so big and so healthy! He had us all fooled! Since he seemed to be doing well, the nurses didn’t keep Charlie long, and soon he was back on my chest for some quality bonding time. As I held my son, I knew that he had captured my heart, and that I never wanted to let him go. His birth might not have been ideal, but he was absolutely perfect; I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.
Today, Charlie is one week old, and being his mother is even more amazing than I could have dreamed. Reflecting back on his birth story, there are many things that did not go according to plan, but given the circumstances, I couldn’t have hoped for a better experience. Though it was pretty painful at the time, labor wasn’t nearly as rough as I had anticipated and I’m actually looking forward to doing it again! (Pregnancy, on the other hand, is something I’m not so eager to jump back into. . . .) Our hospital birth also proved to be a pleasant surprise: it was far less clinical than I would have predicted, and I was able to deliver completely naturally, with zero complications. I don’t regret attempting to give birth at the birth center, and still hope to make that happen for my next baby, but I know that transferring to the hospital was the smartest decision for Charlie; I’m thankful for Dr. Moniak and the Hoag nurses who made our experience a positive one.
Most importantly, our birth story had a beautiful outcome: despite being small and early, Charlie far surpassed everyone’s expectations. We were able to leave the hospital the day after he was born, and though his pediatrician is keeping an eye on his weight, he is healthy, is breastfeeding like a pro, and seems to be adjusting well to life “on the outside.” I am thrilled that I have the chance to be his mom, and can’t wait for all of the wonderful moments we have ahead of us!