It was really important to me that Rory’s birth be as natural and intervention-free as possible. That didn’t happen. I still believe 100% in the power and beauty of natural birth, but not every birth is like that. Mine was discouraging and exhausting. A wolf materialized. It was scary. But stork-like, it still brought me a precious baby and I wouldn’t change a thing.
My pregnancy was really great. I didn’t have any serious health issues and my little guy kicked along, growing and developing organs and (best of all) beating his tiny heart every time we listened.
I read hundreds of birth stories. Some were about mothers who also wanted natural births but had to settle for interventions and c-sections. In fact, one pretentious author went so far as to argue that a baby born via cesarean section could not celebrate a birthday, just a delivery day.
That wasn’t going to be me. The pregnancy had been so healthy, and my mom had fast labors. Plus, Rory had been head downward and facing my spine for weeks –the perfect position. I studied everything I could about natural birth.
My October 5 due date arrived, sans baby. The midwife tactfully explained that their policy was to only wait for one more week. Begging for a little extra time, I made the induction appointment for 41 weeks and 2 days.
Kyle and I went for long walks every evening. I tried climbing stairs and hills, and curb stepping. The fall weather was perfect.
When we finally had to head to the hospital early in the morning on Friday, October 14, I was still really optimistic. We took a Snapchat with huge smiles. “It’s baby day!”
After changing into my hospital gown, I marveled over the baby equipment. Soon, my baby would be wearing that tiny diaper and striped knit cap.
My wonderful nurse cheerfully placed my IV and set up the belly monitors. Chatting with her put me at ease. The entire hospital staff was amazing. They talked through every new procedure with me and I felt so comfortable with every decision they made.
The first midwife on duty arrived around 9am. I was 0.5 cm dilated, just like I had been at my last appointment, and the baby was at -2 station, but I was 70% effaced, so that was good! She said that they would be giving me prostaglandins in order to try and soften my cervix to get it ready for labor. It would take about 12 hours.
“Could the baby be born earlier than that, though?” I asked her. “Well, anything is possible, but it’s not likely,” she answered, adding that her shift would end that afternoon and she wouldn’t be back at the hospital until Sunday. “Hopefully there will be a baby by then!”
This was my first clue that it was not in fact “baby day”.
Kyle and I chilled. We watched Parks and Recreation, ordered surprisingly good hospital meals, played Portal, and texted our loved ones updates. I was barely feeling anything more than mild period-like cramps.
They set up a portable baby monitor so I could wander up and down the halls of L&D, trying to give myself a boost. Annoyingly, the monitors would often slip out of position or Rory would roll over, sending a nurse straight to our room and me straight to bed so they could keep a close eye on his (very steady) heartbeat.
At 10pm, the Cervadil was removed. I had dilated to 1cm. I was contracting on my own every couple of minutes, so they decided to wait a couple of hours and see if I went into labor on my own. I was excited and hopeful! We watched a mini Harry Potter marathon.
Nothing was happening by 2am, so we started a slow drip of Pitocin. Around 6am, I lost part of my mucous plug and they started me on Penicillin because I was GBS+ and they wanted to be ready to potentially break my water soon. I dozed on and off.
At 9:30am on Saturday, I was put on a clear liquid diet. The occasional graham cracker the nurse pretended not to see was not enough to keep my spirits up.
Some friends arrived with La Croix for me and an invitation out to lunch for Kyle. I was glad he got to go enjoy himself and eat some good burgers. Being in the hospital for over 24 hours with nothing happening was no fun for either of us.
That afternoon, I tried walking around some more. Still nothing happened.
Eventually, they decided to take me off of Pitocin because it wasn’t working, and too much can desensitize the body’s receptors. This meant I could unhook from the baby monitors and IV drip, take a luxurious-feeling shower, and eat a proper meal.
“I feel soooooo good and I haven’t even eaten the grilled cheese and tomato soup I ordered,” I texted my family. “It’s fabulous to not have any monitors or cords hooked up.”
The hospital staff told me that they were hoping that after a few hours off, re-starting Pitocin would have a stronger effect. Everyone was very reassuring that sometimes, these kinds of inductions could just take a long time.
At 7pm, they decided to try Cytotec, hoping it would be more effective than Cervadil, and encouraged me to try and sleep. The snack station for the patients didn’t have any calming teas so a nurse snuck me some chamomile and lavender from the nurses’ station. She joked that a nurse on duty shouldn’t try and relax, anyway.
After four hours, the first dose of Cytotec hadn’t done much so I took another. At this point, I had been in the hospital for almost 48 hours, taking different drugs to start labor with next to no results. It was really discouraging. Finally, by 6:30 Sunday morning, I had dilated just enough for the midwife to break my water.
It finally worked.
Immediately, I began having strong contractions. My perfect, natural labor was here! I could finally use all the techniques I had been studying and mentally picturing. We called our doula, Ashley, and my hero Kyle began helping me through each contraction.
They were strong enough that I was proud of having worked through them, but mild enough for me to feel incredibly chipper about it. Kyle kissed me during each one and put counter pressure on my hips as oxytocin flooded through me. Labor ain’t no thang!
A nurse popped her head in and asked if we would like to have Communion. We eagerly accepted.
With perfect timing between contractions, a Eucharistic minister from Blessed Sacrament arrived and prayed the Our Father with us as Kyle and I received. This was such a meaningful part of my labor. I briefly meditated on the Body of Christ entering my own and bringing me His strength and peace for whatever lay ahead of us that day. Then another contraction started.
I sat on yoga balls, spooned with peanut balls, and schlepped back and forth between the bed and the cool toilet seat.
Contractions continued to get stronger and stronger, and Ashley helped Kyle put pressure on my back and hips. For a while, I was able to work with them and tell them exactly the right places, but eventually the contractions were too strong. I remember slapping Ashley’s hands away during one because she was pressing about a smidge too high on my back and that was worse than not at all. I felt bad. It was probably one of the more high-maintenance moments of my life.
Screaming tenses up your muscles and hinders progress. You want to stay relaxed. So I worked on moaning through each contraction, trying to loosen my body. I thought I was doing well, until they checked me for dilation again around 10am and I hadn’t made any progress.
That was really hard to hear. My contractions were about 1 minute long every 2-3 minutes, and not only were they absolutely miserable, they weren’t even working. I was wearing down.
By noon, I was reallyyyy hoping for some better news. There wasn’t any.
I made a deal with myself. If I still hadn’t made any progress the next time they checked me, I would get an epidural. I couldn’t continue to labor without the motivation of knowing that I was getting closer to meeting my baby.
Looking back, my story reads like I was becoming discouraged too quickly, but remember that I had already been in the hospital for more than two days. At some point I found out that they had also been supplementing my contractions with Pitocin to make them more effective, and laboring unmedicated with the unnatural strengthening of Pitocin was never on my bucket list.
As contractions got stronger and stronger, I found myself vocalizing through each one. Sometimes I would start to lose my grip and it would become a wail, but my doula and the midwife would remind me to keep it low and relaxed.
I had heard of women having mental pictures appear to help them focus through contractions. They are beautiful, such the thought of a flower opening, or the pulsing waves of an ocean. I liked the idea, but I’m not a very dreamy or dramatic person so I didn’t expect it to happen to me. But it did, and it wasn’t a blossom or a beach.
My labor was a wolf.
Despite everything I had read and pictured about natural birth, I could not see my contractions as friendly “rushes”, working to bring my baby into my arms. They were a vicious beast, ceaselessly charging at me. In my mind, the only thing protecting me was my own howling, so I moaned as loudly and deeply as I could, keeping it at bay.
In my mind, I was in a dark forest with the moon filling the sky above it and the wolf somewhere in the trees, stalking me. It was getting stronger, and my voice couldn’t save me anymore.
This was, in hindsight, an obvious sign that I was not laboring successfully, I think. I was trying keep my hands relaxed, to cooperate as the nurses helped me switch positions, and to follow my doula’s suggestions, but my body was beginning to shake uncontrollably and I was really tense.
At 3pm, after over 8 hours of intensity, my cervix actually regressed. It was beyond time for an epidural.
I was a little scared, having heard horror stories about needles slightly off-center causing spinal damage, and my uncontrollable shaking made me worried that I couldn’t hold still enough. I had also been told that if I decided I wanted an epidural, it could take up to an hour, between calling the anesthesiologist, prepping, and waiting for it to take effect. Mercifully, it felt like things happened incredibly fast at that point and I soon had incredible relief.
My epidural felt like I was wearing the coziest, fluffiest pair of tights and was toasting my toes by a fireplace, but for once my restless legs were calm. They were content to lie there in the most comfort I have ever experienced. I was SO happy with my decision.
“Glorious epidural saves the day,” my poor traumatized husband texted our loved ones. “Gonna nap for a few hours.” We sent Ashley home for a break, promising to update her with any news.
Within an hour, I had shot up to 7cm dilated. I was thrilled. The midwife promised that they could turn down the epidural when it came time to push so I had more feeling. We were so excited. It felt like the baby could be here any minute.
Then everything stalled again.
A few hours later, I was still at 7cm. I was once more shaking uncontrollably. The doctor came in and ordered that I be given an oxygen mask. Rory’s heartbeat started to drop. At 10:30 pm, my sweet OB/GYN named Dr. Kimberly Kongkasuwan explained that we couldn’t wait any longer.
Someone commented that Rory had shifted positions and even if I did finish dilating, it would be “a hard push”. I had no energy left for even an easy push. Somehow, I had known for a while that my dream of vaginal delivery had gone a long time ago. Snatched by the wolf.
Crying a little, I clutched my rosary as the doctor reassured me that this would by no means prevent me from having more babies in the future. I really appreciated that she would take a moment to say something so calming.
Suddenly, the room was full of people prepping me for surgery. Kyle was instructed to gather our belongings and dress in paper scrubs. Although he had to wait for them to come get him, someone joked that they hadn’t ever forgotten a husband yet.
I was wheeled to the OR. So many new people began working to help me birth my baby, and every single one was so nice and comforting.
They put up a tent so I couldn’t see my stomach, and Kyle was brought in and seated by my head. He had been warned not to peek behind the screen lest he pass out, a warning he obeyed carefully.
I was warned that I might feel some tugging. They were prepping my stomach, perhaps pushing around to properly position the baby. The tugging got more intense, but I was still waiting for a warning when, at 11:18pm on October 16, 2016, a baby cried.
Kyle and I looked at each other, stunned. A smushy, pink face was held over the tent for a brief second so we could see him and then he disappeared again, swept away by the NICU team to the table just behind my head. “We’ve got a cute one!” declared Kyle, excited and relieved.
I gave myself a crick straining my neck to watch as they wiped him down, suctioned his mouth, weighed him, and measured him. 8lbs, 11oz. APGAR 9/10. On the table, he was practically doing pushups. “He’s so strong!” commented one doctor.
Then he was bundled onto Kyle’s chest for kangaroo care, right next to me.
“Hi,” I told him, over and over. “You’re here. You’re so beautiful.” It was the most unbelievable moment of my life. “Does he have all his fingers and toes?” I asked Kyle. He did.
Rory was rooting around, wanting to nurse. I watched Kyle hold him as they closed my stomach. Then I was finally able to hold my baby. After 62 hours of labor, the wolf was defeated, gone.
We were wheeled into the dimly lighted recovery room where Ashley was waiting for us. She helped me try and nurse Rory, but he wasn’t interested anymore. We snuggled and took pictures. I got to drink some juice and eat some graham crackers while I tried to wiggle my toes.
Eventually it was time to move into our new hospital room. Kyle and Ashley carried our stuff and I held Rory. I was worried that the brilliant lights of the hallways would hurt his eyes, open and bright since birth, but he twisted and fought my shielding hand away.
There is so much to see out here and I’m not missing one bit of it.
Rory Nathaniel Helmick, we love you so much.
Thank you for reading! I would love to hear about your birth, especially if you also had a c-section. What was it like? Let’s chat in the comments!