This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SSM Health St. Mary’s. The opinions and text are all mine.
I always knew this baby would be early. My husband and I even took bets on which week—before my due date—our little one would arrive, with his guess predicting two weeks before and mine on the exact day I would give birth. I never felt nervous, never unprepared, never worried about how difficult labor might be or how I would cope with bringing home a new baby. After our tour of SSM Health St. Mary’s, I was actually getting excited about coming back for the birth. What’s more, I’ve spent six years as the editor of a parenting magazine, interviewing moms about their own experiences and filing away tips for how to keep all of the balls in the air. I just felt ready.
In the days leading up to the birth, I watched (and re-watched) dozens of episodes of One Born Every Minute trying to imagine how it all might begin, I read birth stories galore, and scrubbed my house from top to bottom. I vacuumed the nursery over and over, shut the door to keep it as clean as possible, folded tiny clothes, and even wiped down baseboards (yes, really). My bag had been packed for weeks and my husband and I had driven the route to SSM Health St. Mary’s at numerous times of day to check for traffic.
But nothing could prepare me for how this first baby’s birthday would unfold.
On Wednesday morning, I went to my almost-39-week appointment and as we discussed at our previous meeting, my doctor agreed to do a membrane sweep to see if we could get things moving. She reassured me that this was by no means an inducement technique, so we’d just have to wait to see how it all played out. When I left the doctor’s office, I called my husband to let him know I was only one centimeter dilated and fifty percent effaced (“OK, and what does that mean?,” he asked). We laughed and I went home to put my feet up which, in the past few weeks, had taken to swelling if I stood too long.
Somewhere around 3 PM, I started to feel a dull ache in my back, but chalked it up to sporting a full-term belly on a very small frame. This continued on throughout the evening and by the time I climbed into bed, the ache was much stronger and a new, soft cramping sensation started in my pelvic area. My husband went to sleep and I passed the time on my phone, downloading a contraction timing app which quickly came in handy.
At 11 PM, I opened the app and started timing the small cramps I was feeling. Was this what a contraction felt like? Or was my body simply getting ready for the main event that could come days, even weeks from now? The timer clocked the pains first at six and seven minutes apart, some sporadically lasting eight and even pushing farther to ten. I started to wonder if I was jumping the gun on the whole labor thing.
A few hours passed and the timer began clocking five minutes, then four minutes, between pains. I nudged my husband and asked him what he thought I should do. I remembered that my doctor told me when contractions are between five and seven minutes apart to get ready to head for the hospital, but we were less than a ten minute drive away, so I held out a little longer. I got dressed, grinning excitedly thinking about the idea of being so close to meeting our baby, and called Labor and Delivery to ask if it would be smart to come in. It was now 3 AM.
Call it nerves, call it anxiety, call it excitement, but I wanted to go. It’s saying something when you love your hospital so much that you look forward to going. My husband packed the car with the bags that had been waiting in the nursery for this very moment and I crossed my fingers we wouldn’t be coming back without a baby.
There was no one on the road as we made the short trek to the hospital and I could feel the butterflies dancing in my stomach as we got closer. When we arrived at the check-in desk, I was printed a bracelet and led to a small room where I changed into a gown and waited for a nurse.
A nurse named Rachael entered the room. Her voice was raspy and she had that no-nonsense-no-topic-is-off-limits attitude that I love; I was grateful she was the first nurse to watch over me that morning. I filled her in on my one centimeter position at my appointment before she checked again.
“I can maybe call you two, but I’d definitely say you’re sixty to seventy percent effaced, so something’s happening.”
I met the resident on call and we made a plan for me to stay on the fetal monitors for another hour, when they would check again, and in the meantime, I could walk the halls; I didn’t. I’ll never forget the selfie I snapped in the triage room—hair down, lipstick on (why did I do that?), smiling—as it was anything but the way I looked when the whole song and dance was through.
After the hour had passed, Rachael let me know I was still at two centimeters and I could either go back home to kill time, eat some normal food and rest in my own bed or I could stay and see what happens. She warned me that all of the delivery rooms were currently full, so I could be in triage for a while if I decided to stay.
My husband and I agreed to go home and if things picked up, we’d head right back. It was 6 AM when we left the hospital and my pain was stronger, contractions timing around three minutes apart, with a quick one minute contraction in between— something I would later learn is known as “coupling.”
I alternated between my bed and a hot bath until the pain became so harsh I found myself repeating “No, no, no” as I felt one returning. There was now an immense pressure in my bottom that solidified my decision to go back to the hospital before it might be too late. We were back in the car by 9 AM and this ride was much different, with me squeezing the overhead handle as hard as I could and yelling at my husband every time we hit a bump.
I could barely stand straight as we walked back down the skywalk to the St. Mary’s Family Birth Suites. We had to stop every few minutes so I could hunch over and breathe through each contraction. A few scrub-clad nurses passed us along the way and smiled empathetically; they knew.
Once we reached check-in, I leaned over the desk, exhaling loudly and rocking back and forth as they printed me another bracelet. “What baby is this for you?” a voice boomed behind me, a hand touching my back.
“First,” I answered, continuing to stare down at the tiled floor.
We were led back to triage and this time while laying in the bed, I couldn’t help but try to find a comfortable position to cut through each contraction. Oddly enough, that meant holding my right ankle above my head. My delivery team would laugh about this again later.
We met an older nurse named Mattie who was stern, but sweet, and seemed to have quite the reputation around Labor and Delivery. She showed my husband how to apply counter pressure to my hip to help relieve the pain of each contraction and when she caught me holding my breath, she’d snap, “DON’T DO THAT!” Her voice was strong and serious, but I still found her entertaining.
A young resident arrived to check my cervix and by now, each exam was painful. He had to remind me to relax so he could get a proper read and while I was worried I hadn’t progressed much, I was now at four centimeters. A small improvement, but enough to stay and enough for Mattie to radio someone to begin getting my room ready.
We remained in triage for another hour before I was wheeled into the elevator and up to the third floor birth suites. I was transferred to a new fetal monitor and met by a kind nurse named Ghada who strangely calmed my fear of an IV. She filled up the large jacuzzi tub where I would labor until the hot water no longer seemed to soothe and I was ready for my first dose of pain medication.
I had heard horror stories about epidurals slowing down labor and wearing off too soon, so I was hesitant to opt in right away. The first dose of IV medication provided enough relief that I could speak through contractions, even smile, before the young resident returned for another exam. The second dose, until my doctor arrived. Whether it was the medication or I was just more relaxed with her in the room, the exams were no longer painful. I was a good six centimeters dilated now and ready for the epidural.
Hearsay had also done me in on what the epidural might entail, but much to my surprise, it was no more than a bee sting. The anesthesiologist and I joked as the initial poke may have prompted a bit of profanity—much more would come later—and before I knew it, it was over and seemingly smooth sailing for much of the evening.
A few shift changes came and went before I couldn’t feel the epidural pump working anymore. The nurse called the anesthesiologist to my room, but warned me that it could be thirty minutes before he would make it back. By then, the pressure in my pelvic area was so intense, I was in tears. Even the re-dose did little for this newfound pressure—which I then learned was baby’s head—and he filled me in that the epidural would likely not take that sensation away. Perfect.
I was back to my odd series of yoga positions—the same from triage earlier—to help with the pain, grabbing my right ankle and holding my leg in the air. My doctor laughed that it was the most movement she’d ever seen any of her patients make with an epidural. Still in tears, the pressure built as baby made its way down, so much so that I needed to throw up. The pain was radiating my entire lower half and I even told the nurses a few times that I didn’t think I could do it.
My doctor checked me again and I was holding steady at a 9. That gutted me. I had been in labor for a total of 24 hours and was exhausted. She wondered if she could try to sweep again, uncomfortable at that stage of the game, but effective. The tall nurse who would be with me for the rest of the delivery asked if I would feel better pushing and I didn’t even hesitate. Let’s go.
I moved to my back and as each contraction built, I was surprised at how much better it felt to push through them. The relief of counteracting each one with pushing and the excitement of knowing we were so close seemed to help me power through. But when I started to get into the throes of pushing, I noticed I really had no feeling in where I was directing the force.
“All in your butt!” my doctor would say.
“I don’t know where my butt is right now!” I told her.
We continued on, but after noticing the coupling of my contractions, we decided to move to a “sheet pull” method as she worried I would tire out too quickly the rate I was going. More effective than the traditional “legs up, knees out” position, the sheet pull gave me more leverage to work with and made me feel like I was really getting somewhere. That was, until I moved into a squat.
Baby had moved down significantly with all of the effort, but since the epidural took away the feeling in my legs, my doctor worried the squatting would be too stressful on my joints. I moved onto my back yet again and with another half hour of pushing, baby was crowning— and there baby would stay for quite some time. I remember them finally telling me to reach down and feel the head, yet I was so determined to get the baby out, that I ignored them and continued on. I felt as though I was having an out of body experience as I heard the encouragement in the room get louder. Once the head was out, the rest of baby easily followed. I looked down and the resident standing next to my doctor was holding a tiny, somewhat-gray-colored little person over the side of his arm.
“What is it?” I asked as his arm was hiding a very obvious signal.
“What is it, dad?” the nurse asked my husband, knowing he could see.
“It’s a boy, isn’t it?” I was convinced that it was going to be a boy my entire pregnancy.
My husband shook his head.
“It’s a girl?” I shouted.
Her fist was under her chin, as if she was posing, and the umbilical cord was tightly wrapped around her ankle. She was whisked off quickly before being placed on my chest, screaming with her arms stretched out wide. I grabbed her with one hand around the middle and I will never forget how she smelled so sweet. “Hi baby,” was all I could get out before the resident had me push slightly to deliver the placenta and the mind-numbing pain set in.
I yelled for my husband to take the baby and instantly noticed my doctor’s expression change. Before I knew it, there was another curly-haired resident at my bottom who shouted to get me something for pain. I think I was throwing out every swear word in the book at this point. It wasn’t a few minutes before I felt her place a pad between my legs and very loudly announce to the room, “We have to go NOW!” I’m certain that she gave me a brief explanation of what was happening, but all that stuck with me was “hysterectomy” if they didn’t get it handled in time.
I remember my doctor holding my hand as the bed wheeled down the hallway into the operating room and as crazy as it sounds, looking up at the ceiling as the doors opened, I thought for a minute that that was it. Like it, it. Everything seemed to move so quickly until that moment.
The lights were so bright and I could see the chaotic blur of more and more staff flooding into the room around me. They urgently kept calling for the head of OBGYN. I could sense the minute he got there as the activity inside the OR got more intense.
The same anesthesiologist from earlier towered over me. “Me again. Here to put you under.”
I remember telling the nurse from the delivery room, who was now standing next to me affixing an oxygen mask to my face, that I couldn’t breathe. The next thing I knew I woke up in the recovery room, my husband’s tear-streaked face looking at me over the side of the bed.
Apparently he had waited for an hour to hear about the outcome, my doctor running back and forth between OR and birth suite with updates and reassurance. The verdict was uterine inversion, a potentially fatal childbirth complication that occurs 1 in every 3,000 births. I lost over half of my blood volume and as my uterus was virtually turned inside out, I needed a balloon placed inside to not only hold it in place, but to stop the bleeding. There were tubes and needles running in and out of my arms and I had virtually no color in my face (and wouldn’t for some time), but my baby was healthy and happy and a perfect 6 pounds, 8 ounces, 20 and 3/4 inches long.
“Do you remember what you had?” my delivery nurse asked as she sat next to my bed.
“Yes!” I answered her as if it was the strangest thing in the world that I wouldn’t remember.
The situation was far more serious than I understood at that moment and as we sat in recovery as a new family of three, it really didn’t matter. I was grateful that St. Mary’s was set up to deal with such unexpected issues as mine, ready to provide the right care at the right time, and I couldn’t have been in better hands. Doctors would pop in and out over the next few hours to see how I was doing, explaining more of what happened, and I finally felt strong enough to hold her— my Penelope Plum.
Her cheeks were so kissably chubby and her lips sported the same full pout I recognized from my last ultrasound. The tuft of hair that rested on the nape of her neck was a surprising strawberry blond and her eyelashes were so long, just like her dad’s. We spent the rest of the morning cuddling and resting and staring at each other, with the chaotic series of events from just a few hours earlier, thankfully feeling like a very distant memory.
Every journey to motherhood is truly unique and the same sense of ease and comfort that I felt on my very first tour at SSM Health St. Mary’s never faded, even after the whirlwind of my daughter’s birth. Every nurse, every doctor was so attentive, supportive, and understanding, which made calming the nerves that come with birth so much easier. Choosing the right hospital from the beginning is key to a smooth and beautiful transition into this new, exciting phase of life and I cannot thank SSM Health St. Mary’s enough.
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