I was one week over due. Seven days tired of reminding myself (and being reminded) that our son’s womb days were numbered. When I woke up on Saturday, I knew our Doctor, William Parker, would be on-call until Monday morning so my labor needed to start as soon as possible. When Saturday’s sun set I took my Doctor’s only advise for natural induction and commanded my body to start producing contractions of significant and regular value. Much to my surprise my attempts worked- contractions started! I resisted sleep and sat up on the couch jotting down the times of each contraction peek in my current read, Omnivore’s Dilemma. At five minutes apart my contractions were lasting anywhere from 30-90 seconds yet I wasn’t entirely sold that I was in labor until I sat, feeling, for nearly two hours. When two hours came and went I decided that I had better start checking off my short list of last minute to-dos: shave legs, put bag by the door, make an ipod playlist…
At 12 pm I joined Cade in bed surrendering to the possibility that this was it- my body actually knew how to invite a baby into the world all by itself and I needed to get some sleep. At 12:30 I was jolted awake by a feeling that a thick senseless balloon in my gut had just been jabbed with a dull knife. No pain, just breaking water. My arm reached across to Cade while my lower half remained motionless, and I said, “My water just broke.” Then with one swift nearly graceful movement I turned my awkward pregnant protrusion and I stood. The gravity flooded water to the carpet and immediately my contractions went from moderate to serious. Water seeped out with every step, every word, every laugh. Laugh? Yes, laugh. Laughs of relief, laugh of joy, and laughs at Cade whose response to my water-broke declaration was, “Should I call the ambulance?”
I sent all appropriate text messages and made one phone call to Buffy who was summoned to help us get out the door and watch Dotter. Buffy arrived, readied us with peanut butter sandwiches, gum and an apparel solution to my water predicament. How does one walk to the parking lot and then to labor and delivery without watering everything in their path? We needed Buffy to help us solve these mysteries.
With Dotter safely sleeping under Buffy’s watch we left. i15 was predictably quiet as we drove to American Fork hospital. We joked about being pulled over and I yelled at Cade every time he hit a bump because really, with all that water gone I could feel every contraction. That intensity is something I will never forget. I walked with excited and confidence through the hospital lobby to the elevator and when we rang Labor and Delivery the nurse asked,
“Can I help you?”
My answer, “I’m here to have a baby!”
We went in and made our room ours. Plugged in the phone, prepped the camera, and sent more texts to alert everyone of our safe arrival. My contractions were intense but not unbearable and we were happy to learn that Dr. Parker had been there all night and would be in soon to see how I was doing. My nurse, though impersonal, had tiny hands and told me I was dilated to a 4 and for that I gave inside hallelujah shouts!
The happenings between 2 and 7 am are blur of emotion and anxiety punctuated by an amazingly long commercial for a Lifetime Collection of classic country music. Because I was attempting a VBAC I needed continual fetal monitoring which meant I couldn’t walk more than 2 feet away from my bed and couldn’t go to the bathroom without a tangle of cords hanging around my neck. Those cords! How I hated them! They were a constant reminder of my failed attempts to have Harper naturally. Around 4:00 am (dilated to a 6) I unplugged the cords, opened my room door and bolted into the hallway. When the nurses caught sight of my escape they commanded me back into my room and then the crying started. Uncontrollable crying- over cords.
“I can’t handle these tangled cords anymore!”
“I could do it if it weren’t for these cords!”
“If I can’t walk around my labor is going to stop! I need to walk!”
“What am I supposed to do? Just walk in circles? Give me a break!”
The nurses, including a midwife named Kathryn tried to hook up a mobile monitor so I could pace the halls with the cords. I had it in my mind that my only control over what was happening was my mobility and I needed that option despite how uncomfortable it was making me. Kathryn was smart, she could see that anxiety was crippling me so she did what I am convinced few people on the planet could do- she spoke into me. She asked me why I was so worried and scared and anxious, so I told her,
“I just want to have this baby naturally and I feel like things are headed for a c-section and I don’t feel like I can do anything about it. I feel totally out of control. I am so tired and these contractions are so painful and I am so worried that you guys are going to tell me I need an epidural or c-section and I don’t want those things.”
Her response was perfect, “Ashley, this is a completely different birth. You can do it! You hired Dr. Parker to advocate for you and read your body. Do you hear him telling you to get an epidural? No. Has anyone even mentioned a c-section? No. You and Cade need to figure out how to calm down. Do whatever you need to do. We are all going to leave the room for a few hours and let you two sleep and rest. Rest and relaxation will not stop your labor. Your body is in labor and it did it all on its own. Calm down and have some faith that things are going to go just the way they need to go.”
So we did, we calmed down. The nurses left after they drew the blinds, turned off the lights, and quieted the wooshing of our monitor. Cade gave me an ipod filled with music (Sufjan Stevens, Damien Jurardo and The National) and then he took his place on the pull-out couch beside me. Once I was calmed I had the labor I wanted. I stretched and breathed and even slept in short naps between contractions which grew in their intensity. I had, what Alex Caldiero, calls an in body experience. I was there. I felt everything. I did what my body told me to do and I rested.
At 6 am Doctor Parker came into our room and sat with us in the dark. He told me he wanted to check the intensity of the contractions with a uterine catheter. I resisted the idea of yet another cord but I was tired and trusting. After 20 minutes of uncomfortable monitoring Dr. Parker told me that the contractions were not sufficient to continue dilation and that he wanted to introduce a low dose of pitocin to create greater intensity. At that moment I knew that I wanted an epidural. Pitocin + exhaustion + cords (oh the dreaded cords!) = epidural.
It was so hard for me to ask for an epidural. I have a very low opinion of epidurals to begin with and had completely forgotten the numb bliss I felt with Dotter. It should also be mentioned that I am a control freak and probably the most prideful person I know. I wanted to do it! I wanted to triumph over a VBAC sans spinal meds. I would tell my son about it. I wanted the “delivery to chest” experience that I had hoped for. I wanted to blaze the VBAC trail for all women who had been frightened by statistics and premature diagnosis by impatient doctors! But after all that, the greatest labor gift I gave myself was the decision to let them prick my spine. My epidural was heavenly. Like, as I said more than once, “taking a bath from the inside”. In fact I made Dr. Parker promise to never, ever let me labor without an epidural again!
The next 8 hours were a blur of visitors and relaxation. Though I felt my contractions, the pain was gone and the cords were no longer noticeable. I was in heaven. Jody came, Dad came, Buffy came. I progressed slowly but surely and rested. Rested while my body worked. Let it be known that while I am still a huge supporter of all things natural I am also a huge admirer of science!
Around 2 o clock Jody and Dad decided to get some food. While they were gone my nurse Pamela came in to check me and found that I had dilated to an 8. Hurrah! I was so excited… until Dr. Parker wanted to check too. He always measured me about half a centimeter smaller than Pam but, to my utter amazement, Dr. Parker said I was a 9.5! Boom! Time to start pushing. I was so excited to push!
Cade quickly called Kiera and told her to make the mad hospital dash with her camera and before I knew it I was pushing. I pushed and pushed and I felt nothing. I felt no progress or pain, no contractions. Nothing. But I pushed. I pushed and pushed and pushed. Then Jody walked in and her jaw dropped. Turn your back for one second and….your sister goes through transition!
With the help of Jody and Kiera I swear I could do anything. Within an hour I dilated to a 10 and the baby dropped 2 stations. Kiera’s calm, kind voice guided me and gave me confidence, Jody’s reassurance and constant care (and a heavy dose of back tickling) helped me relax and work. Having women with me this time around was exactly what I needed as I was reminded of the power of femininity and the power of sisterhood. As for Cade lets just say my nurse told him to leave once his face lost its color. Once he recovered he mingled with our family waiting in the hall.
I pushed longer than I have ever heard of people pushing. I pushed from 2:40 until 5:45. I am so glad Jody was a dedicated and detailed text messenger so that I have accurate time records of my adventure. Three hours is a really, really long time. Thankfully Dr. Parker employed rest and descend techniques which allowed me to rest from the work of pushing. The theory is that rest will encourage the baby to descend making pushing more effective. It worked and it allowed me time to really muster up the strength and the determination necessary to push.
At around 5 pm Dr. Parker suggested that I push on all fours. At first I welcomed the change in position and loved the support of the bed but those 45 minutes of pushing can only be explained by saying that I experienced shadows of death and frustration. I was so vulnerable and tired, immodest and exposed…and then the epidural wore off. The cords were tangling, tears were streaming, pain exploding and progress slow. Dr. Parker worked with me for those three hours trying every employable technique to coax our baby down and my cervix away from his tiny descending head.
After three hours of push! push! push! Our son needed to come out. We knew that my body can start labor on its own (albeit a week late) but it would not finish the job without harm to our son so Dr. Parker helped us make the decision, after 20 hours of labor that a C-section (yes, another one) would be our best option. With great relief, confidence, and comfort in the knowledge of what would come next I entered the cold, sterile operating room ready to meet the son I had grown.
Once I was settled and stable in the operating room there was a considerable debate about what kind of anesthesia to use. Local? Spinal block? General? Dr. Parker was just as no-go about a general (which would have required intubation) as we were, and insisted that the anesthesiologist try to use the worn-out epidural space. Isn’t it great to have a Dr. who works for you? Who exhausts every option to eliminate unnecessary medical traps and complications? Yes, it is.
When Cade came in dressed in O.R. white with a huge relieved smile on his face I knew we were on familiar birthing ground and being together was wonderful. We were about to welcome our little boy. Our hearts were full and spent and his time had finally come.
All of that numbing debate worried me. Will I feel it? Will our tiny be okay? Keep in mind that I was rather insane at this point. My epidural had worn off while pushing and Crazy Ashley had completely taken over. Well, almost completely- I still had the sense to feel guilty when I was too pushy, too demanding or too sarcastic. Nevermind, Crazy Ashley really did take over 100% because my guilty apologies initiated sobs that, combined with contractions, sent me over sanity’s edge. Sanity’s edge is a complicated precipice.
When Cade told me that the cutting had begun I set to explaining every sensation I felt to my dry, humorless anesthesiologist who was less than thrilled about my narrative and let me know by saying, “Just tell me about pain”. Really Brian? Only pain? What about the moment I realized that my legs were extremely warm, or that my toes felt like they were being pulled? What about the sensation that Dr. Parker was cutting chicken breasts embedded on my abdomen with dull scissors? (See how amazing I am at explaining things?!) What about the tingling that borderlined on pain? What about all of that? “No Ashley, just pain.”
And then we heard it. Dr. Parker’s assistant Claudia said,
“Oh my goodness!”
I knew the baby was not out, I knew I was okay, and I knew her exclamation was not positive. Oh my goodness? Oh my goodness?! Who says that? Why would someone say that? I did everything I could not to cross from insane to hysterical so I focused on Dr. Parker’s calm voice that told me,
“Your cesarean scar is very very thin so we are just going to pull the baby out.”
And then he did. Our son’s first voiced cry was so sweet. A completely different, and yet equally lovely sound as his sister’s. I felt love and relief as Cade narrated,
“Oh Ashley! He is so cute! He looks just like you, he has your mouth! He looks just like Harper! Oh he is so cute!”
Cade’s excitement is the last thing I remember before versed drifted me into a land of absolute nothingness, nada. No dreams, no memories. My Versed experience, though prescribed, was awful. It was so hard not be alert, active, and conscious of my son’s first minutes. But Cade was alert, active and conscious and he stayed with the baby until I met him, nearly two hours later. He was a proud Father as our first born son peed across the OR, dazzled the nurses and technicians by registering 22″ tall and 8 lbs 8 oz heavy. Cade was given the most sincere, spontaneous and miraculous gift a father could have for Father’s day- fatherhood, again.
Our first born son was and is a little tiny dream. His face is perfect and his demeanor is so calm and warm. I love him so much and, like Dotter, I loved him instantly. Love takes on new meanings in motherhood. This love feels less epic and more assured and steady. With Dotter I was not only giving birth to a child, but I was giving birth to my mother-self, to a part of myself that would never be the same. My first birth experience stripped me of pride and expectation and prized me with love and sacrifice in my arms. My second also stripped me of pride while assuring me that I am exactly who I need to be- Dotter and Sonshine’s mom.
So now for the “thin” details…
When Dr. Parker said “very thin” he mean torn, and by torn he meant ruptured. My rupture was moderate but a rupture nonetheless. There really are so many words for what happened and I was grateful that Dr. Parker used the words that he did. When he came to check on me Monday morning he expressed gratitude that thing happened the way they did. Had the baby dropped to a +1 station, had my cervix pushed away from his head, had I succeeded at a vaginal delivery we could have been, in his words, “serious trouble”. But we weren’t. He said that I am now a scheduled c-section mom. Contractions could equal catastrophe so scheduled cesarean we will be, and gladly. In fact, next time I will stroll into the hospital having just had a facial with fresh makeup applied and perhaps even a lovely hair-do. Embrace, embrace.
I have always felt very strongly about the benefits and miracles of natural child birth. During Dotter’s pregnancy I studied for it, prayed for it, worked for it, meditated, asked for help, and, feeling like a failure I eventually submitted to a c-section. I walked away from that experience with more fuel on my “natural” fire so I hired the best OBGYN in the state of Utah with the most steady hand, assuring voice and the best reputation for patience. I kept myself healthy and happy throughout my pregnancy, I slept, I swam, I laid in the sunshine and I loved this little boy from the inside out.
I am thrilled that I got to feel my water break, to experience the late night hospital rush, the calls to family and friends, the slow dilation but in another time, or another place where medical technology is not adequate to assist women in similar circumstances I would likely not be blessed enough to be a mom and I love being a mom.
From Ashley of Ashley Thalman Photography.
P.S. — Find another beautiful birth story from Vanessa here.
Note from Design Mom: throughout my pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. My baby has now arrived — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at email@example.com.