Lucien’s birth story begins the evening of Wednesday, September 7. I made the drive up to Madison and picked Nick up from law school, and then we went together to our first birthing class. Our instructor was a very nice woman who has been teaching birthing class for about 15 years, is also a doula, and just happens to live on a farm and raise free-range chickens. We talked with her about chicken tractors and Joel Salatin. During the class she talked about the typical TV and movie portrayals of birth that we see so often, the emergency situation where a woman’s water spontaneously breaks, how such scenarios are highly unrealistic, and how most labors begin slowly and gradually, with contractions that get progressively stronger and an amniotic sac that breaks somewhere in the middle of things – only about 10% of births begin with ruptured membranes. We ended the class with some relaxation techniques, and then I drove Nick the 45 minutes home.
I got home and stepped out of the car, and I felt that I had to go to the bathroom very badly. And then – irony of ironies – before I could even make it in the house my jeans were soaked. I went to the bathroom, stuck in a maxi pad, changed my pants, said nothing to Nick, and prayed that it was some sort of freak urinary incontinence. I was 34 ½ weeks along – 5 ½ weeks early – and I knew that if I was in labor it would mean a hospital birth and a stay in the NICU for my baby.
Nick had been up for about 18 hours at this point, so he went to bed. Meanwhile, I soaked through the maxi pad and three washcloths. So I woke him up and we called our midwife. She verified my suspicions, that nothing besides amniotic fluid could really be responsible for that much leaking, then de-briefed us about what would happen at the hospital when we arrived, and faxed over all of my medical and insurance records to facilitate a quick check-in.
Nick and I had never thought to pack a hospital bag – I was so early and we were going to birth at home anyway! – so we had to rush to get everything together. We remembered changes of clothes for me and an outfit for Lucien, and we forgot a bunch of important things like toothbrushes and our camera. Then we got back in the car and drove back up to Madison, joking that we might as well just have stayed in town.
When we got to the hospital we were not quite sure about where to park and how to get to labor and delivery, so I got out of the car to ask a security guard. He was a very nice man. I was extremely pregnant, dripping (more) amniotic fluid all over the pavement, and asking him for directions to labor and delivery, and he was telling me stories about how he has been working at the hospital for a very long time and how the labor ward would be very busy because it was a full moon, and there are always lots of babies born when there is a full moon . . . .
It was very humorous. And I was not really feeling contractions yet, so I was amused. Nick was slightly more worried and impatient. We parked the car and found our way to L&D, where my medical and insurance records were waiting for us. I went directly to triage where the nurses hooked me up to monitors and took a sample to make sure I was leaking amniotic fluid. I was.
It was the first time during my whole pregnancy that I felt people were treating me like a patient, or like I was sick. It was a rather disempowering feeling, sitting there in my hospital gown with all those wires, and very different from anything I had experienced with my midwives.
At this time (about 11pm) I was starting to feel contractions, and they were starting to show up clearly on my monitor. The doctors came in and the first thing that they suggested was pitocin to speed up my labor. Really? I told them that I was contracting just fine by myself, thank you very much, and that they were not going to give me any drugs. They agreed to let me labor naturally overnight, and check me in the morning before the end of their shift.
We got our room and met the overnight nurse, and we both tried to get a bit of sleep. Nick got a nap on the couch, but I was starting to contract regularly enough and strongly enough that sleep was out of the question for me. After a few hours I was starting to feel rather uncomfortable and Nick woke up. We walked around the hospital for a while, I tried laboring on all fours (which provided a lot of relief, I must say), and we got out a birthing ball, which was also a great help. I did some Ina Mae Gaskin-style visualization of my uterus pulling upward and my cervix opening and relaxing, and I think that mental picture was very helpful in expediting labor and making it less painful for me.
Somewhere around five in the morning Nick left the room and called our midwife to let her know I was getting closer to delivering this baby. I did not hear their conversation, but later my midwife told me that she had asked Nick about the length of my contractions and the amount of time between them, and Nick’s response was something like “I have no idea, all I know is that Ellen is not having any fun anymore.” Too funny. So she headed over to the hospital.
In the meantime, the doctor stopped by to check my dilation. She said with this shocked expression “You’re over six centimeters.” Six centimeters in six hours – way to go, Mother Nature! I guess that I had quite the oxytocin feedback loop going, and certainly no need of any of the synthetic stuff.
My two midwives arrived and, along with one very awesome nurse who was sympathetic to natural birth, they helped me through transition and the pushing phase. During transition I felt rather nauseous and started having some terrible back labor – I think that Lucien was probably in there a little catsywise. The pushing stage took a bit longer than usual, partially because of Lucien’s position and partially because I got the urge to push before I was completely dilated.
The pushing stage was very interesting for me psychologically. Apparently some women are unable to control the urge to push, but I was entirely able to control it. That meant with each contraction there was this moment of decision: I knew that I had to push in order to get him out, but I also knew that pushing was going to cause me more pain. I got a huge surge or motivation, though, when I could feel Lucien’s head. After that it seemed to me that the whole process picked up.
They called the doctor to come in to catch him (although I do not ever remember her being in the room), and Lucien was born at 9:02 am – only 11 hours after the spontaneous rupture of his amniotic sac. Pretty speedy delivery, if I do say so.
He was 5 ½ weeks early, but already 6lbs 6oz and 18 inches long, with a head circumference the size of an average full-term baby. I was glad to learn that tidbit. I remember thinking when he was crowning “If this is what it feels like to birth a preemie, there is no way I would ever be able to birth a full-term baby.” But apparently no need for me to worry.
I was extremely lucky because the NICU doctors were down the hall at another birth, so I got to hold Lucien skin to skin for a good ten minutes or so before they arrived to examine him. (My awesome nurse took pictures with the L&D camera and later gave them to me on a CD, which is the only reason I have photo documentation to share with you.) He came out screaming, which reassured me that he had good, strong, mature lungs, but he quieted down when he was on my chest. I held him, looked into his eyes, fell totally in love with him, introduced him to his father.
The birth and immediate post-partum period were wonderful, natural, drug-free, and beautiful – almost like a home birth away from home, in the presence of my loving husband and with the assistance of three experienced and supportive women whom I knew I could trust. Then of course the NICU doctors came in and all hell broke loose. But that is another story for another day. Now it is just about time for me to feed and cuddle with my son.