I’m really excited to share Llewyn’s birth story. While it’s not graphic, it does contain birth terminology and references to things that happen quite normally in birth. But if you’re not interested in reading about those things, feel free to skip the post and just skim the photos. :) Consider yourself adequately warned! Also, I know it’s long, so if you make it all the way through I’ll be thoroughly impressed!
Llewyn’s birth story actually begins on his due date of June 5th, 2013. I woke up at 4:30 that morning, much to my surprise, having contractions. They weren’t super strong (they felt like period cramps on the worst day), but they were regular – about 10 minutes apart – and so I assumed they’d probably pick up after a while. Because this excited me, and because there were still some household things I wanted to get done before going to the hospital, I decided to get up around 5:00 and finish gathering things for the hospital bag, as well as clean my office. The contractions continued for a few hours, so after a while I woke Aaron up to tell him, and texted my Mom since the plan was for her to be here for the birth. She lives in Indiana, so knowing it was going to be about a 12 hour drive, and labor can sometimes be shorter than that, I figured she’d want to head out. About an hour later she told me she was heading out.
Around 10:30 or 11:00 am, after my Mom had said she was on the road and after it had been several hours of contractions, they started to taper off. I was bummed, and started to worry that this had been “false labor” and I jumped the gun. But my Mom said she was sure it would pick back up, and I assumed this was perhaps a normal part of labor. So, I went and got a pedicure with a friend that afternoon to celebrate my Due Date and since it was also National Donut Day, I grabbed a free donut from Krispy Kreme afterwards – enduring a bunch of ridiculous comments from people about how I looked like I was about to have a baby any minute – which only annoyed me since contractions had stalled. But I headed home with my donut, waited for my Mom to arrive, and for labor to pick back up.
Needless to say, my Mom arrived and I felt really bad because nothing seemed to pick back up and I clearly felt like “that” first-time Mom who fell for false labor. But, in my defense, I’d had early contractions over the past few weeks, but they were milder and much more irregular than the ones that had started that morning, which is why it seemed different. I also had some bloody show, which definitely made me think it was a sign of true labor. But sometime later that night (I don’t remember exactly when, anymore) they started back up again, still not super close together, but giving me hope that things were going to pick back up. They continued that way through the next day, June 6th, and that night, as well. Every time I tried to time them, I would just get depressed because they were anywhere from 6-12 minutes apart, being regular enough to really mess up my sleeping and normal schedule, but not close enough to go to the hospital. At this point, though, I called the Midwife on call to see what I should do. Since it had been 48 hours of “labor signs” she wanted me to come into the hospital to be checked and make sure Llewyn wasn’t in any distress.
So on Sunday June 7th, we headed into Labor & Delivery, knowing we were most likely just getting checked and would be sent home and told it’s not time, yet. When we arrived and she checked me, much to my chagrin, I was only 1 cm dilated and 50% effaced. It was clear I wasn’t in active labor, but it was also clear I was having legit contractions and I didn’t understand why. Still, it had only been two days, so while I had an emotional breakdown here and there, I kept thinking it must be soon.
Well, fast forward 6 more days. This pre-labor, or prodromal labor, continued day after day. What does this mean, exactly? It means I was having intense enough contractions and pressure that I had to breathe or moan through them, that I had terrible back labor (because as we would verify when he was born, he was posterior or “sunny side up” which is what caused the horrible back pain) and that I really couldn’t get comfortable or sleep well. I couldn’t just keep “living life” until he came. Aside from going to two movies (which I had contractions & back pain during) and spending some time in the neighborhood pool (which I also had contractions in) I was holed up in my house just trying to make it through and still believe he was eventually going to really come. As a shoutout to my amazing husband, during this difficult week, he showed me a secret video he had put together of words of encouragement from some of my dearest friends who are Moms themselves, and as I bawled all the way through it, it did help to inspire me that I could make it through this and that it wouldn’t last forever. I will always cherish that video and the sweet friends who took the time to encourage me before they could even know how much I would need it.
Finally on Saturday morning, June 13, when I was 41 weeks and 1 day, after a long night of intense contractions and no sleep I called Meghann, the Midwife who was on call, to see what my options were. I just honestly could not take another full week of this labor, so I was ready to discuss what could be done to get these contractions close enough to get this baby out. She told me I could do the Caster Oil recipe, but she was concerned that if my body still wasn’t ready it would just intensify the contractions without actually sending me into labor. But ultimately, she said it was up to me. Hearing that totally psyched me out, again, and I was afraid of having even worse contractions for several more days. So as I stood in the kitchen crying, not knowing what to do, Aaron suggested that I just go ahead and do the Caster Oil because “how could it really get much worse?”. I decided he was right, and so I took one dose at 8:15 am, but was fully prepared that it wasn’t going to do anything. In the meantime I contacted my doula, Colleen, who said she could connect me with another doula who does acupressure, because at this point I was willing to try anything. Maybe an hour or two later I was on the phone with that doula trying to set up an appointment with her, but couldn’t even make it through the few minutes of talking without having to stop and go through contractions. She sweetly talked me through them, listening and saying encouraging things. When I finished them, she said she honestly didn’t think I needed an appointment with her because she said this sounded like real, active labor. Unwilling to believe her, because of all the times throughout the week that I was SURE it must be real, I hung up and continued contracting without calling the midwife or Colleen. But a little while later Colleen called to check in because she said that the other doula had told her how intense my labor was sounding and that it was probably kicking into high gear. I was so focused on my contractions, that were now just a few minutes apart, that when she called Aaron had to answer and put her on speaker phone. When she tried to ask me questions I just felt annoyed and couldn’t concentrate on them, and the next thing I know, I’m hearing her say, “I think you guys are really ready to go to the hospital!” Even as we gathered our last few things and headed out, I was so sure this was somehow going to stall and not be real. But I tried to remain calm and concentrate on just making it through each contraction.
The 20 minute drive to the hospital felt like an hour-long trek on back roads in the jungle. Every single bump made me want to curse construction workers and yell at every car to get out of our way so we could get there faster. But don’t worry, I didn’t. We finally got to the hospital, parked, and did the I’m-in-labor-don’t-look-at-or-talk-to-me walk to get to the Labor & Delivery floor, and got settled in around 12:30 pm. Much to my delight, when Meghann checked me upon my arrival, I was 5 cm and 100% effaced. I could not have felt more relieved to know that this was actually real and I would for sure not be leaving this hospital without my baby being born.
Labor stalled a little bit once getting settled into our labor room, which I understand is normal, and after an hour or two of contractions here and there I was only at 6 cm. So, Meghann said we needed to do something to speed things up a little and she suggested breaking my bag of water, or Pitocin. Since I wanted to avoid any drugs that weren’t necessary, I opted to break my water. As soon as she did it, she commented on how much water I’d had in there, and that very likely it was too big and actually in the way all week as my body was contracting and trying to turn the baby (since he was turned the wrong way) and that those two factors together were probably why I was in active labor for a week, but not actually progressing on my own. It was nice to at least have some answers and have my experience validated, since I knew my contractions all week were legit.
After she broke my water, I went back into the shower (which was my favorite place to labor throughout the week and at the hospital, since it especially helped with the back pain). Meghann & Colleen both took turns running the hot water on my back and when a contraction would come I would lean my hands down on the seating part of the shower, sway back and forth and moan lowly. They would gently say “Let it come…” which always helped to trigger me to try to relax my muscles instead of tensing with the pain. In between I usually sat down on the birth ball, which was also a godsend throughout all of my laboring. The whole bathroom was completely dark except for a few LED candles that Colleen brought, and occasionally she would bring some lavender essential oil near me to just help me relax. In what seemed like no time at all – maybe 40 minutes or so? – Meghann was asking me if I wanted to get into the tub, and knowing that they always reserve that for right before you’re ready to push….I was surprised. Honestly, the contractions that I had at the hospital weren’t much worse than what I’d been having all week, so I never really knew when I hit Transition or got to 10 cm. I had expected it to be some big, crazy, painful moment that I freaked out during…but for whatever reason that didn’t happen to me. And truthfully, I can say there was never a moment in any of the laboring that I thought to myself “I can’t do this, I just need drugs”. While I don’t say that to brag, I’m just really proud of myself and that the amazing thing about labor is that it generally eases you into the worst parts of pain. So, you hardly even notice it getting worse, because each phase isn’t much different than the previous. I just stayed really internally focused through it all and tried to take one moment at a time. I would close my eyes, breathe or moan, and focus on relaxing. As I got closer to the end I would say in my mind “I’m going to meet him soon…I can do this…” but I rarely spoke any words out lout or even looked at those around me. (And I had been afraid I’d be one of those really mean people yelling at everyone!)
I was only in the tub for a little bit when Meghann had me get out and start to push. Llewyn’s heartbeat was starting to dip a little bit when contractions would come, and it was concerning her so she wanted to get things going, but I didn’t quite have the natural urge to push, yet. So she had me sit on the birth stool and when a contraction would come, she tried to explain to me how to connect mentally with the right muscles and how to push. I tried a few times on the stool, but just got really frustrated because I couldn’t seem to do it right and it just felt awkward to me. So, we ended up moving to the bed in somewhat of a sitting position, with my legs pulled up high (Colleen, Aaron and/or the nurse would hold/push them when I would push) and a bar that I could pull. His heartbeat came back up at some point, so that concern left and so I was able to just work on pushing. It still took me a few more attempts to really connect with the right feeling when it came to pushing, but I eventually got it. However, I was not accurately prepared for what pushing really is. I’d somehow thought you’d get the natural urge, and then like 3-5 good pushes later the head would come out. Oh how wrong I was. I didn’t realize how long it could take just to get the head worked down so it could be in position to come out. Unfortunately, with each contraction, I had about 3 good pushes and it always seemed like I came one short. After a while I was totally in my own time warp and had no idea how much time had passed. I would lay my head back between pushes and rest and shake my head saying “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I can’t do it”. I felt as if I was letting the midwife, and everyone down because they would be saying “You’re doing it! Come on Tori, one more push! He’s coming!” and so I kept expecting to feel his head come out. But time after time it wouldn’t. Even in my zoned out state of mind, I started to wonder if he was ever actually going to come out. Aaron and Colleen would both lean in and whisper encouraging words and tell me I was doing great. When anyone wasn’t right near me talking to me, I had no idea what was going on in the room. I was just so exhausted, but giving it everything I could, yet seemed to keep falling short. We did this for 4 hours when finally Meghann decided to reach inside and try to turn him. THAT, by the way, was the worst pain of the whole experience. It was horrible, even though it didn’t last long, I remember thinking or saying “WHYYYY!?!”. Though she wasn’t able to turn him, when she did that it released more fluid and they also discovered meconium (which meant he pooped in there) which made it a lot more urgent to get him out. While I don’t remember being really aware of that when it happened, the next thing I knew was Aaron, Colleen, Meghann and now a doctor were all looking at me explaining to me that I had tissue on the left side that just wasn’t softening and allowing his head to come through, and that since it had been so long and there was meconium we needed to do something to assist getting him out. I was told my options were an episiotomy with possible vacuum use in addition, or a c-section. I definitely didn’t want the c-section, and I didn’t even want the vacuum. The thought of something on my baby’s head sounded awful. So, we opted for the episiotomy. Before doing it, the doctor ALSO tried to reach in and turn him. So, I got THAT pleasant experience for a second time. It still didn’t work, so the doctor swiftly did the cut (and unfortunately I felt the snip because it wasn’t fully numbed – not super pleasant). As soon as the next contraction came they all started saying “Push, Tori! You can do this! He’s almost here!” and though I felt like I had nothing left, I gave it everything I had and then some, and praise the Lord he came out without having to use the vacuum! I almost couldn’t believe he actually came out and I’d really made it through this.
My face and eyes were so puffy from all the hours of pushing (and some saline that they apparently gave me while I was pushing to help with dehydration) that I could barely focus on him when he came out. But the first thing I saw was the full head of hair before hey quickly cut the cord and took him over to clean him up and make sure the meconium was all out of his lungs, etc. It was probably only a minute or so before they brought him back over to me, and in that time the midwife and doctor were pushing on my stomach and seemed to have concerns about how much I was bleeding. I don’t even know what it was, but they called for some sort of medication. I felt a little bit concerned, but as soon as they brought Llewyn over to me and laid him on me skin-to-skin, nothing else seemed to matter. I was finally holding my baby, and it was the most amazing and surreal moment of my life. I have never been so exhausted, with literal blurred vision, but it didn’t matter. He was finally here, and he was mine. And I had been able to survive it all. The only downside was how weak I was when all was said and done. I lost a good amount of blood, and my hemoglobin level went from 14 to 8.5, which is apparently a pretty significant drop. For the next several days, I really couldn’t walk without Aaron’s assistance or move around much without fear of passing out. But, once I got some iron in me I started to improve and definitely felt more energized by the end of that first week.
I had been really worried about my own pain tolerance going into this experience. When you have nothing to compare labor to, you just don’t know how to fully prepare for it, and therefore you don’t know how to be completely confident that you CAN do it, especially if you’re planning to go natural. I had done a lot to prepare mentally, emotionally and physically, but I had no way of knowing if it was enough to help me get through. While I’m not Superwoman by any means, and while the whole labor process was MUCH different than I would have ever hoped or expected, I’m so proud of myself for making it through and not even questioning if I was capable. The biggest mental breakdowns were during the week of prodromal labor, because it just felt like there was no end in sight. But even through the horrible back labor, the hours of pushing, having them reach inside of me, and the episiotomy…I can definitely say I know that I could do it all again. While I certainly HOPE the next time around will be easier, shorter and smoother, I now know what I’m capable of, and there’s something so amazing and empowering about that. I don’t want to do it again anytime soon, but it really is true what they say, the pain fades so quickly and when it’s over it’s over. Once that baby is in your arms, you realize you would go through anything for them. The whole miraculously beautiful design of pregnancy and birth really is unlike anything else and I’m still amazed, sometimes, that this precious baby actually grew inside of me and that my body was able to bring him into the world. What an incredible gift that I will cherish forever.
I know that was really long-winded, and if you made it through, I’m truly impressed! I think writing it all out was as much for me to look back on and remember as anything else. But I’ve really enjoyed reading my friends birth stories, so I wanted to share mine, as well. If you have any questions, or want to link to your own story and experience, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Huge thanks to Colleen for taking these photos for me right after he was born!
This one just melts my heart. Holding Daddy’s finger….
Puffy-faced and a little delirious, but oh-so-happy.
I truly could not have done it without such an incredible team of support. Firstly, to my amazing husband who not only was there for me in the way I needed at the hospital, but who helped me physically go through contractions for a whole week, and encouraged me when I was emotionally and mentally broken down. He continues to be the most amazing life partner I could ask for, and Llewyn is so, so blessed to have him for a Dad. Secondly, to Colleen who was a total life-saver in this whole experience. Her gentle encouragement, upbeat spirit, and expertise throughout all the laboring as well as so much support in these last few weeks since he’s been born has just been invaluable. If you’re considering getting a doula, but are on the fence, I cannot encourage you ENOUGH to do it. The support they provide is so vital. (And if you’re in the Richmond area in particular, I cannot recommend Colleen highly enough! Just contact me and I’ll totally pass on her info to you). Thirdly, to Meghann, all of the midwives and the whole team at MCV, I could not have felt better cared for or in more capable hands throughout the whole process. I have nothing but positive things to say about all of the Midwives at MCV, and Meghann’s gentle, chill approach I think was just what I needed after such a long, drawn out experience. She was fantastic. I felt like I had a say at every step of the process, and everyone who card for us during our stay at the hospital was so kind, informative and helpful.
I’m so grateful for such a positive experience overall, and of course, most of all, for the handsomest little man that arrived safely and made quite the first impression. I will never forget Llewyn Monroe’s entrance into this world, and how very much he’s changed our lives forever. <3