On September 14th at 4:55am I clutched a new little creature to my chest after 33 hours of labor. She seemed so foreign. It was so strange that just moments before she’d been inside me, faceless. Then that little face lit up! She opened her eyes, she cried, she latched onto my breast and as cliche as it sounds, I fell totally in love.
I don’t have to convince anyone who’s ever given birth that the journey to get her there was not easy. I had read plenty about the birth process and most sources warned that while having a birth plan is important, it’s equally important to acknowledge that births don’t always go as planned. I had planned on having a home birth in water. We’d rented a big house by a lake with a master bathroom featuring a deep tub that would be perfect for a water birth. We hired a midwife with experience with water births. I read everything I could about fearless births, hypnobirthing, and how hospitals are greedy money-making machines to be avoided at all costs. I watched home water birth videos. I visualized the perfect birth. I was ready. But, Luna ended up being caught in a hospital.
Flashback to two days earlier… On the morning of September 12th, I lost my mucus plug. While I’d read that it could still be days before I went into labor, it seemed a good sign that things were progressing and I was excited. My good friend had given birth two weeks before and while we sat together around the pool – her nursing her beautiful baby, and me still anticipating the big day – I was ready to move forward.
That morning, my husband and I went on a 2 hour walk around the lake with the dogs. I was hoping the long walk would help jump-start labor. The midwife suggested we bring a phone with us just in case. We were all getting excited. After the walk, nothing had changed so we drove into Managua to do some shopping, thinking it would be the last chance before baby came.
We lingered over passion fruit mousse and chocolate bon bon desserts after lunch at our favorite restaurant in Managua. By bedtime, nothing had happened and I passed a restless night anticipating labor.
Around noon on September 13th my water broke. More progress but still no contractions. I walked up and down stairs, threw a stick for the dogs to chase, had a big bowl of my husband’s delicious spicy Thai curry for dinner, and still nothing. Our midwife suggested I use a breast pump and made me a strong cup of raspberry leaf tea – both known to stimulate labor. About 20 minutes later I experienced my first real contraction. I was so excited that the process had begun! We set up all the birth supplies and settled in to wait. I encouraged my husband to go to sleep so he’d be rested when I needed him later in labor. I bounced on an exercise ball while looking out the window at the moon over the lake. I danced around the room, eagerly inviting our baby to come into the world. I breathed upwards during the contractions, visualizing my cervix opening. The contractions were regular – about every 3-4 minutes – and not painful. I felt great – strong and happy.
My friend had warned me not to get into the tub too early. She felt that sitting in the tub slowed her contractions and resulted in a 20 hour labor. So I moved around the bedroom instead. But by about 3am I was starting to get a little tired and soaking in the tub sounded so relaxing. I woke my husband to help fill the tub then encouraged him to go back to sleep. Once in the tub, I felt sleepy and it seemed that the contractions slowed down, so I got back out and bounced on the ball in front of the nearly floor-to-ceiling open window, watching as the sun rose over the crater of the volcanic lake. A hummingbird sat still on a branch at eye level and sang a song of the morning. It flew away, only to return and continue its song. I had never seen a hummingbird sit still and just sing. I felt it was singing directly to me and the baby. All was right with the world. I spoke to our little one and asked her to join us.
At 7am, I went down stairs, had some yogurt and fruit and walked to the lake with my husband and the dogs. The contractions were coming every 3 minutes and I felt strong. I soaked in the lake, then sat in the shade by the pool and admired the view.
After an hour or so I went back upstairs and allowed the midwife to check me. It was disheartening to hear that after 13 hours I was only 2cm dilated. The baby was in the perfect position, really low and ready, but my cervix was not cooperating.
By 3pm 27 hours had passed since my water broke and I’d been through 19 hours of labor, but my cervix refused to open. I was getting tired and with the fatigue and frustration came some pain. Since it had been more than 24 hours since my water had broken, there was a risk of infection and the midwife began taking my temperature every few hours. By 5pm it was slightly elevated. By 8pm it was at 99.3. I had a fever.
The midwife checked me again. I was still only about 4cm dilated. She started working on my cervix, massaging with her fingers and coaxing it to open. She got it progress to 5cm but in the process noticed that the amniotic fluid that was leaking out was tinged with brown. The baby’s heart rate was consistent and strong, but there appeared to be meconium in the fluid – a sign that the baby could be stressed. I would have been too. She was ready, it was me that wasn’t cooperating!
Our midwife said that if I was fully or close to fully dilated we’d carry on, but since I had so far to go, was already really tired and with a fever, added to the fact that the baby seemed stressed, we decided to make the trip to the hospital.
It was a holiday in Nicaragua – a celebration of independence from Spain – and about that time a band had started up next door playing the loudest music you could imagine – one more sign that a change of venue was in order. We loaded up quickly and set off for the hospital. That 40 minute ride over super bumpy roads deep into labor and with a fever was probably the least comfortable experience of my life. I went deep inside myself, staying connected to the baby and telling her and myself that “we can do this, it’s going to be ok.” I moaned through contractions, winced at every pothole and speed bump, and did my best to stay calm.
We showed up in the air conditioned emergency room and I was freezing. By then my temperature was 102 and my cervix open to 6cm. I was shivering and shaking and, for the first time, scared. The emergency doctor in attendance was asking all kinds of questions in Spanish. The midwife only knew a few words in the language and my husband was too freaked out to understand the question and respond with his newly acquired Spanish so I did the answering between contractions. They kept asking why we’d waited so long to come to the hospital. Luckily, my doctor was on call that night. I felt some relief to look over and see him smiling at me. I was wheeled into a private room and given a low dose of pitocin, an antibiotic, and a fever reducer. He asked if I wanted an epidural and I said no.
I have a high pain tolerance. I rarely take Advil. I don’t feel like I need pain medications and I had planned to give birth completely naturally. But the fever and exhaustion combined had weakened me. The pitocin made the contractions unnaturally strong and all three of my supporters – midwife, doctor, and husband – convinced me to accept the epidural. It didn’t take effect until 40 minutes later and once it did, I was so relieved. They gave me a really low dose and I still felt some of the pain of the contractions. My legs weren’t numb. I could walk to the bathroom. But it was enough to take the edge off and I was even able to get about an hour of sleep.
At 4am I was finally fully dilated and wheeled into the delivery room. The midwife was a big help as my advocate and kept the doctor from giving me an episiotomy. She was also a gentler coach than the doctor, guiding me through the pushing and encouraging me. My husband was right by my side, holding my hand and giving me smiles. 55 minutes later, the little wet creature was plopped onto my chest and I was overcome with relief. My little girl was born with the same fever that I had, so we stayed in the hospital for three days to be sure that we were both ok. We were both put on antibiotics as a safety precaution but neither of us ever had an elevated temperature after that first measurement.
A lot of what I feared would happen in a hospital turned out to be unfounded. The dreaded words “c-section” were never mentioned. The nurses were friendly and helpful – they encouraged exclusive breast feeding – the food was actually pretty good, and the most important factor – we felt safe and supported.
The birth clearly didn’t go as planned, but in the end we left happy and healthy and grateful for modern medicine. I’m especially grateful for the strong support of my husband who was by my side through all of it, keeping calm, feeding me, and offering just the right amount of cheerful advice.
In the end I feel like I had both a home birth and a hospital birth, though neither turned out as I expected. Going through the whole process of pregnancy and delivery again sounds like the worst thing ever right now, but I do want to have another and am looking forward to the opportunity to try again for a home water birth. Our midwife assures me it’ll be easier next time!