Theodore Joseph : A Birth Story

At my 40 week appointment on November 6th 2015 the ultrasound tech guessed Theo to weigh 9 pounds 11 ounces. After getting that estimate and seeing that I was 70% effaced, though only 1 centimeter dilated, the midwife I met with guessed that I would probably respond really well to an induction and offered to schedule one for the following Monday, November 9, when I would be 41 weeks pregnant. Justin and I had never really talked about an induction, but I went ahead and scheduled it with the midwife in case we decided we wanted to try it, while also with the freedom to cancel if at any point we decided to forgo. We seriously considered the option because we didn’t want me to get to 42 weeks and end up being more likely to be sent to have a c-section only due to Theo’s size. After a weekend of back and forth and back and forth on the option, working through feelings of wanting to try the induction just to see if I would indeed respond and we could finally get labor going, but also feeling selfish for maybe trying to force Theo out before he seemed to be ready, we ended up deciding to go in for the induction and just take it one step at a time with hopes that because both Theo and I were healthy we would have more control over the steps taken in the process instead of possibly going in at 42 weeks pregnant there being more of a problem and a c-section being deemed as a necessity. The weekend was full of labor inducing tactics that we hoped might start labor naturally, but ended up doing no good, so we went to bed Sunday night with our minds prepped for induction the following morning.

On the morning of November 9th 2015 I woke up at 6:00am ready for the planned induction at 7:30am with bags packed, all house chores done and a tightly worked morning plan in place. At 6:30am I called labor and delivery to make sure they would have a room for us at our scheduled time to come in that morning but the minute the woman on the other end of the line had to ask me to hold my stomach sank with dread that there was going to be a problem with our plan. Sure enough I was told that the induction had been mis-scheduled to be happening on the morning of the 10th and not the 9th as my paperwork stated. She suggested I call at 8:00am to speak with the midwife I scheduled with and try to see what had happened. I hung up the phone and every part of my weary 41 weeks pregnant body melted down and I cried. I had worked so hard to make the induction as efficient a process as possible, prepare my mind for the start of labor and get excited to hopefully, finally get to meet Theo and in that moment I was just weary of everything, of being pregnant, of mistakes, of changes in plans and I just sat and cried. 8:00am came around I was so broken down that Justin had to call for me to see what had happened. My absolute appreciation and admiration of him throughout the entire birth process began in that moment. I was so weary from crying that I couldn’t express to him at that point how grateful I was that he took the reins and began coordinating things for us from that point.

It turned out to have just been a mistake in communication between the midwife and labor and delivery. The midwife apologized and said she would absolutely try to get us in that day she would just have to call back at a later point to let us know what time we could possibly come in.

So, more waiting.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. The knowledge that we could just have to sit for hours waiting for a call to come in ended up being just as hard for me to cope with as the scheduling mistake and with more tears that I felt like I just couldn’t stop I sat and tried to wrap my mind around more waiting. Justin gently talked me through the tears, encouraging me and reminding me that the plan was still in place and that the time had merely been shifted. At that moment we got a call from the midwife saying that we were free to come in whenever we were able and just like that the waiting ended and suddenly we were free to move on our plan again.

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We finished getting ready as quickly as possible, doing the last minute preps that we had planned to do at 7:00 but were now doing at 8:30. We arrived at the hospital around 9:30am running, or for me more like waddling, with our bags in the pouring rain to the emergency room entrance where we would get pointed in the right direction for labor and delivery. It was all surreal, down to the person sitting outside the entrance door wishing me luck as I passed by, this was really happening, we were going to have a baby.  We made it to labor and delivery and they showed us to our room, we organized the bags and looked at all the parts of the room, walking slowly from area to area trying to grasp the reality that this would be the room that Theo was to be born in. I changed into the hospital gown holding the back closed to preserve some modesty, something, that in just a few hours, I would care less about then I ever thought possible, and climbed into the bed to await the starting of Pitocin.

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I have never ever stayed in the hospital before. Never broken a bone, never been seriously sick, never stayed a night, only ever visited others and even that for never longer than maybe 2 hours, so suddenly interacting with all the details of a hospital stay only solidified how surreal everything still felt for me. I was given an IV, blood pressure cuff, hooked up to the contraction monitors and started on Pitocin by 1pm and then we sat. We looked at the contractions I was having on the screen and though I couldn’t feel them it was encouraging to see the rise and fall of them. We stayed that way until 5pm, talking with the doula who was on call that night, talking with each other, playing some games and hoping for stronger contractions to start. After 5+ hours on Pitocin though and no progress the midwife suggested we stop the Pitocin and I rest for the night and that we would do a cervical ripening pill at 10pm to see if that might help and then restart Pitocin again in the morning.

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So the Pitocin ended, we ordered burgers and fries from the hospital cafeteria and settled in to watch some Baby Daddy on Netflix. 10pm rolled around and the midwife came in with the cervical pill after which I decided to get some sleep so I could be rested for, hopefully, labor in the morning although I was beginning to feel some doubt that my body would actually respond to the induction efforts. Around midnight though I began to feel uncomfortable and unable to sleep and realized that I was finally starting to feel the contractions. I was a little bit surprised because I wasn’t on Pitocin anymore and didn’t expect to really start feeling the contractions until we had started it back up. The contractions were mild pressure and not so much pain at that point, but I could finally begin to tell when they would start and finish. I was pretty excited to finally feel like we were making progress! By 3am the contractions had gotten much closer together and much more painful. I breathed through each one as they gripped my lower back and cinched tighter and tighter before they would release. I was feeling tired at that point having cried so much the morning before and only having gotten about an hour of sleep before contractions had started up, but there was no time to rest as the contractions were growing much stronger and much more painful and I began to moan/groan through them in an attempt to cope. They continued to get stronger and I got louder. Justin held my hand and talked me through each of them. I remember in the process of getting through the contractions being unbelievably grateful for his quiet presence and his body to hold as I tried different positions to see if they would help relieve some of the pain of the contractions. The midwife and nurses came back in around 10:00am to check to see if I was ready to start up the Pitocin again, but by that time I was very much in labor and in so much pain through each contraction I was crying out almost every time to try to make it through them. Groaning, breathing, and crying no matter who was around or who was in the room I began to feel myself losing the ability to cope with the pain as each contraction rose and fall gripping my core so tightly it felt like I had lost all my breath. The reality of labor was dawning on my very weary body and my mind raced with each contraction searching for ways to cope with the prospect of hours more of them. The plan had been to start Pitocin again at 10:30am and around that time they checked my cervix again hoping that, due to the strength of the contractions already, some substantial progress would have been made, but after almost 10 hours of what felt like hard labor I was only 3 centimeters dilated. I continued to struggle under the pain of the contractions, as well as fight the fatigue, by that point thoroughly unable to talk through them and loudly exhaling and groaning each time they would come. It was then that talk of an epidural began.

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My original plan was to go all natural, although I hadn’t tied myself to anything solid because I really didn’t know what labor would feel like or how I would cope with it. An epidural was suggested because I was already in so much pain and was very tense through each contraction possibly making it harder for my body to progress and at only 3 centimeters dilated it was seeming like I was in for up to 24 more hours of hard labor and all of it with only having gotten an hour of sleep the night before. The midwife suggested I could try the epidural and we could start the Pitocin again slowly and actually be able to rest my body and see if it would progress once I was relaxed. After talking through it with Justin in between contractions and considering the possibility that I could be sent for a c-section if I wasn’t able to progress after hours more of labor, I made up my mind, I wanted a vaginal delivery more than a natural delivery, I wanted the epidural.

The worst part of getting the epidural was the contractions I had while I was getting it because I had to stay in one position and couldn’t rock or move at all. Justin had to leave while I got the epidural so I held onto the doula as she talked me through each one. I am very very grateful to have had such a good doula through the whole labor process. We ended up having two different doula’s, one the night before and one during labor. I am grateful for them both, but utterly grateful to Sue, the one we had during actual labor. It’s interesting because I can’t actually remember her face. She ended up arriving to our room in the morning after I was already into labor pretty far and I was so out of it that all I really remember is her voice talking me through the contractions and reminding me to breathe. She was so incredibly helpful, kind, and encouraging through the entire labor and delivery process and I am truly glad for her knowledge and aid as both Justin and I experienced labor for the first time.

Throughout the entire labor process all family had been so incredibly supportive from my brother and sister-in-law visiting me in the hospital during the very early stages of Pitocin and bringing me flowers to encourage me in what was to come, many texts of excitement and encouragement, prayers from many, and right at the end of getting the epidural flowers arriving from my brother and sister-in-law who live in VA! The arrival of those flowers marks a turning point in my head of labor becoming more manageable and restful.

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Once the epidural had kicked in the midwife broke my water, which was absolutely one of my favorite parts of labor. You could actually hear the pop and then it was just a gush of warm water, craziest and greatest thing ever! After they broke my water they started the Pitocin again and got what is called a peanut pillow, I wish we had gotten a picture of it on its own, but it was just like a birthing ball, but one shaped like a giant peanut that you put between your legs when you lay on your side and it supposed to open up your pelvis. They situated me on my side with the peanut ball and then there was a time of quiet, I think I actually slept for a little while, although all the time runs together quite a bit. The epidural was working and I was feeling more pressure and WAY less pain, I don’t think I was ever so grateful for an opportunity to rest my mind and body. It didn’t last forever though, after a little while I began to feel the contractions again, especially in my back, and I had to start moaning through them like before. They ended up getting me some other drug to actually get the epidural working again and at that point, I will admit, I wanted every drug they wanted to offer to help with the pain! At this point it was around 2:15pm and the nurse came in to check my cervix which was at 6cm! Music to my ears!! I was so glad to actually be progressing and actually not at all surprised that all my body needed to do was relax a bit more to actually move things along.

It was around this time that my sister Sarah arrived unexpectedly. I wasn’t planning on having anyone else there for the birth accept for Justin, mostly because I had no idea when I would actually give birth and everyone had work, but Sarah ended up being able to get off early and came to see how I was doing and because I was moving along so well I asked if she wanted to stay for the birth. It was quite last minute and not what I was expecting, but I was so excited that she was going to end up being able to be there for the birth, something I never had thought could actually be a possibility! She really did arrive at the perfect time because at 3:10 the midwife came back in to check my cervix at which point she announced that I was 9cm, I had progressed 3cm in less than an hour and it was in that moment that I realized I was actually going to get to have a vaginal birth. I think I always wondered if I would actually be able to do it. It had always been my preferred plan, but a possible c-section had been talked about so much because of how big Theo was expected to be and how I had been laboring that I had made my peace with the possibility of it so that if it did happen I wouldn’t be disappointed, but after hearing that my body had actually responded to the induction and was preparing itself for delivery, a sense of resolve and thankfulness washed over me, something I had never had during all the hours of labor before, and suddenly I fully realized it was in my power to birth Theo and I was ready for him and ready for the final stage of labor.

Nurses began prepping the room for delivery and I felt a renewed sense of purpose for the contractions as they came and went. I continued to feel all the pressure of them and still some pain, though far less than before. The doula began talking me through what I would begin feeling now, telling me I should start feeling less pressure in my back and more in my pelvis and it was crazy to me how with each contraction I actually felt what was supposed to be happening. It was so amazing to really start feeling Theo moving down. Finally my mind and body were in synch and they began working together in a seamless union all with one goal in mind. Theo.

About an hour and a half later the midwife returned and didn’t even bother checking my cervix but instead got me moved on my back and people positioned to hold my legs to start pushing.

And at 4:59pm I started pushing with the contractions.

It felt amazing. I loved the sense that the contractions were actually an encouragement at that point and not simply a burden to bear while they lasted. I wanted the contractions to never end so that I could keep pushing and when they upped the Pitocin just a little bit to get the contractions more consistent I was so glad! I would hold my breath and push for 10 seconds 3 times per contraction, though many times I just didn’t want to stop and tried to do 4 or 5 times per contraction. I hated the feeling of running out of breath and having to take a rest between pushing and in that moment loved every time I could feel a contraction coming back because I knew it was what I needed to birth Theo. I remember when I actually began to feel Theo’s head and everyone around was saying how much hair he had. I felt incredibly empowered and strong in that time of pushing. I knew what my job was and I was going to give my entire body up to the task to achieve my goal. Pushing and pushing, I remember hearing the midwife tell me ‘just a few more’ or to ‘keep going’ and with everything I had I pushed until I felt his head and then with another push his entire body come out. It was unlike anything I have ever known to actually birth him. I heard him cry and it dawned on me in the most surreal and yet with absolute reality that I had done it. I had given birth, Theo was here, and we were finally done waiting.

They guessed I would probably push for 2 hours because of Theo’s size and it being my first birth, but I ended up only pushing for 49 minutes, which really only felt like 10 to me. They never actually laid Theo on my chest, there had been some meconium when they broke my water and so they swept him away to the little bed in the corner where they cleaned him up and checked him to make sure he was alright. Thinking about it now I would have loved to have held him right away, but in the moment I felt completely at peace just being able to hear him and know he was there.

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With a few more pushes the placenta was out and I was being stitched up after getting a small episiotomy, though not tearing at all, much to the surprise of the midwives and nurses around. Justin was by Theo and Sarah and I were talking and thinking back on it now it amazes me how incredible normal it all suddenly felt. The induction and labor had all felt so surreal, but as soon as he arrived everything just felt right and in place and I felt incredibly aware and stable, such a huge shift from how I felt during the contractions.

After they cleaned Theo up and stitched me up they brought him to me and all I can remember is feeling his little face rest on my chest, his skin against mine, and deeply sighing to myself, so thankful for his safe arrival and so happy to finally meet him. I was ready to try breastfeeding first thing and we had grand success with Theo latching on well right off the bat. My concern with modesty had drastically declined throughout the labor process, while not caring who heard me moan and groan through contractions I also thoroughly stopped caring about covering up, the lack of concern continued to grow as I nursed. My body at that point was not something to cover like something indecent, but something that had just performed an amazing feat and was going to continue to do so with breastfeeding without the concern of covering up for any reason.

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I have to say again that Justin during the entire labor and delivery was beyond anything I could have ever hoped for. He was such a gentle and calming presence for me, always encouraging and always reminding me to breathe, holding my body during some of the worst contractions, getting ice chips, holding my hand, and updating me on all the progress. He was everything I needed from him and more and the experience only solidifies more in my mind that I am very blessed to have him for a husband and so very happy to be walking through all these experiences of life alongside him.

At this point in the story I debated whether or not to record in detail our next few days at the hospital. In the end I’ve decided to highlight a few things, but let most of the details simply settle into history as there are too many to really write all out. The following days in the hospital after his birth were full of breastfeeding, sleeping, eating and healing. We had our favorite nurse of our stay during those days, Nurse Bonnie, who was always so kind and helpful throughout all the details of postpartum from baby to my body.

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The part I was least looking forward to with the entire process was the healing after giving birth and it certainly hasn’t disappointed in its unique and uncomfortable nature. Even just shifting in bed, let alone getting in and out of bed, took so much effort and adjustment in the beginning. And even though those hospital beds look comfortable, I swear my butt has never fallen asleep so many times because of the tilt of them. bluh.

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One of my favorite memories was taking my first shower after giving birth. It was 5am and I had gotten out of bed and didn’t want to waste the effort so I decided to take a shower. I was low on iron though, prone to shaking and barely even able to walk at that point, so Justin actually had to help me quite a bit. It was just him and I at that point together in the recovery room and despite it being so difficult just to take a shower, I remember being so glad to just be with him and begin taking steps back towards normality.

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Another favorite memory is when family came to visit Theo in the hospital. My brother and sister-in-law came with their daughter Naemi who loved on baby Theo with so many sweet kisses, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law came to visit with a balloon to celebrate and my mom, dad, sister Sarah, brother Andrew and friend Kate came to visit with a balloon and my favorite chocolate cake! Sitting in the hospital bed watching them pass Theo around I couldn’t help but think how crazy it was that when they were done holding him they would give Theo back to Justin or I. I have held so many babies that I’ve always had to give back to a parent, it was so crazy to really realize in that moment that we were the parents now and Theo really was ours.

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As a side note on the whole modesty issue I discussed earlier, my concern continued to dissipate once I realized that after nursing for a while my hospital gown did NOT feel good against my chest and that it just kept getting turned around each time I would unsnap it to nurse anyway, so I just took it off and spent the rest of the time in my room with nothing more on than the ever so stylish mesh underwear. If you had told me before I had a baby that I would ever be comfortable doing that at any point in my life with the amount of nurses coming in and out of the room all the time I would have absolutely laughed, but having a baby will make you do crazy things, and apparently converting to near nudist was something I ended up finding necessary. 😀

All of my other favorite parts during our time in the hospital was when the three of us would be alone in the room. The last day we spent in the hospital was so quiet because they were pretty much done with all tests and checkups at that point, so we were interrupted far less than the days before. It was very special to simply rest together for a little bit before heading back out into reality and I will treasure those simple hours together forever.

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What I will not treasure however, is our discharge from the hospital. I had imagined a pleasant and picturesque exit into the Fall sunshine, Theo dressed in his going home outfit I had carefully chosen, Justin and I strolling side by side excited to get to take our son home and truly begin our lives together. This however did not happen, what actually happened goes as follows. When Theo was born both he and I had a slight fever, because of this they had done more tests than usual to be sure that Theo didn’t have an infection. All the tests came back normal accept for one that was very slightly elevated, because of this though they ran more tests to be sure. The tests ended up taking until 8:30pm, at which point we were still unsure if we were going to be able to go home that day or not, though Justin had packed up the car with our things because I had already officially been discharged we were just waiting for the clear on Theo. Around 8:45pm a nurse came into the room and said that because it was so late and they would be unable to contact insurance to see if it would be covered, if we were to stay another night at the hospital we would have to pay out of pocket to do so. They still didn’t have all the results back on Theo, though it was still just that one test that was slightly elevated, but because there was no way we would be paying out of pocket to stay a night that would essentially be useless because no doctor would be available to check on Theo until the next morning anyway we decided, basically by default, that it was time to go home. Earlier that day Justin had gone to the nearby CVS to get some prescriptions filled for me that were now waiting to be picked up. Hospital policy is to also have bracelets on both parents and the baby that aren’t removed until we would literally walk out of the hospital, an incredibly efficient safety precaution, but one that turned into a major hassle because the going home outfit I had chosen for Theo was a full sleeper that wouldn’t leave his ankles free for his bracelet to be shown. With that in mind, and with a mad rush to officially get everything together in the hospital room that we needed to bring home with us, we half-dressed Theo in his going home outfit and put him in his car seat, all the time with him crying because he was hungry, and us stressed because we weren’t sure if the straps were adjusted correctly and were concerned about making sure he could breath. And so with a half-dressed, hungry baby, myself, who could only just barely walk at this point still, and with Justin carrying Theo in the car seat and the rest of the bags from the room we made our hospital exit at 9:00pm into the wind and dark of outside. Far from picture perfect. The entire experience goes into my top ten most stressful times of my life. We were both exhausted and I was still very much in the healing process, but there we were rushing to get home to be able to feed Theo and actually finish getting him dressed while also being slightly overwhelmed by concern for Theo’s safety. We ran by CVS to pick up the prescriptions, a stop that tore me up because I was so concerned about Theo and just wanted to get home to be able to feed him. The drive felt so long, but eventually we made it and got Theo inside. Justin unloaded the entire car and thus began our first night at home. We had been instructed by the nurse to take Theo’s temperature throughout the night to make sure he wasn’t running a fever anymore, a task that only made us that much more stressed out on our first night as we attempted to care for our tiny little son while being so nervous and tired ourselves. In the end we made it through the night, although it already feels like such a haze I can barely recall specific memories from it. The next morning we brought Theo to the pediatrician to be checked, another stressful and less then picturesque experience that I expected to happen completely differently than it turned out to, and he was completely healthy, a huge relief to our weary minds and hearts. After that, which ended up being our first real trip out together as a family, we headed home to finally settle in together like I had hoped for the day before. Now, though just days later, I realize how far we’ve already come as parents in both our understanding and our bravery in caring for Theo. Parenthood really does just happen in one sweeping motion when suddenly you are faced with every possibility and simply have to handle what comes your way, even if you don’t feel fully prepared. Something we learned to be true very early as we exited the hospital in a flourish of anxiety and concern that night.

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Really at this point the entire labor and birth experience already feels very dream like to me. It’s hard to imagine Justin and I back at the hospital, laboring feels like something that I should remember well, but just can’t seem to get total clarity on how it actually felt, and I still can’t believe that I actually birthed a child, our child, our son. It’s interesting to me how the labor, delivery, and hospital memories already feel a bit foggy and yet having Theo at home feels so normal and never really felt surreal at all, even on that first night.

In the end I remember labor being very ‘one step at a time’ decision making, delivery being one of the most empowering moments I’ve ever felt as a woman, and recovery being one big mix of joy and stress. I am truly grateful to have been able to give birth where I gave birth, surrounded by some really wonderful nurses, midwives and doulas, and for the chance to recover for as long as we did in the hospital, but there is never any replacement for just being able to be home with Theo. Every day we learn more about one another and what this actually means to be a family and I am grateful to have each new day together and each new experience together as we continue to move further along through life together starting that day in the hospital at 5:48pm when it all began.

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