Laboring the Haun-ly Way: Our Experience (Part 2 of 3)

(Continued from Part 1)

After a calm 10-minute drive, we arrived at the hospital and proceeded (slowly) to triage and registration. William filled out the paperwork as I leaned on the counter trying to relax. I mentioned to the nurse that I desired to use the water-birth room. She checked on its availability and then said: “first we have to check you to make sure you are indeed in labor.” After spending the entire day contracting, those were not the most comforting words, but I decided to just laugh it off.

In triage, another nurse strapped the fetal heart monitor and the tocodynamometer (which measures contractions) around my giant belly. All day, I had been deliberately relaxing and moving slowly. Twisting and turning and lying on my back as the monitors were properly placed made my pain seem much worse. Remembering back to my days on the labor and delivery ward, I never thought that applying those belts could be so uncomfortable. The nurse then checked my cervix. It was 4 cm dilated and 100% effaced. At this news, I began to cry. I hit the moment of self-doubt. I had been hoping that my labor to that point had brought me farther than 4 cm. If the entire day had only gotten me thus far, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it through to delivery without any pain medication. William took the optimistic approach, saying “Heidi, your 40% there! You’re doing great!” I then realized (my med school information coming in handy) that I was nearing the end of latent labor, and beginning the active, more accelerated phase. I took some solace in that knowledge. Triage was the least comfortable location for labor. It was loud, bright and sterile. William turned off the lights. I worked my way back onto my side and William returned his hand to my back for rubs and counter pressure. I rested as I listened to the gentle heartbeat of my little boy.

Just a few days before, I was talking to my friend Robin about her birth experience at the same hospital about a year ago. Her labor nurse was a graduate of our high school. “If you go in at night, you might get her.” Shortly after midnight, my labor nurse came with a wheelchair to transfer me to the water-birth room. She introduced herself as “Amy.” I asked about her last name and told her my maiden name. It was the same nurse. When you stay in your hometown, you’re bound to run into people you know. Amy wheeled me up to the tub room. The lights were dimmed and the room was filled with the sound of running water filling up the jacuzzi tub. The walls were decorated with a panoramic beach scene mural. Already, it was a much welcomed change from the sterility of triage.

I first lay down on the bed in the corner of the room and was hooked up to the monitors once again. The nurse put an IV in my hand to give me a dose of penicillin. (In my first trimester, I had a urinary tract infection in which Group Beta Strep (GBS) was the bacterial culprit. About 40-50% of women have GBS as a part of their natural intestinal flora. However, it is one of the top three offenders for neonatal meningitis and pneumonia, picked up by the infant during the birthing process. The treatment is intravenous penicillin during labor given at 4 hour intervals.) As I lay in the bed laboring, the burning of the penicillin entering my arm seemed worse than the contractions. I had prepared myself to relax and breathe as my uterus worked, but deep breathing seemed to do nothing to alleviate the burning. Yet with time, just like the temporary pain of contractions, the burning finally subsided.

Once the IV was established, I waddled to the bathroom then crawled into the birthing tub. The warm water soothed my skin and tired muscles, a comforting relief to my laboring body. I will admit that it was difficult to find a comfortable position in the tub. The right angles and the hard fiberglass were not as accommodating as I had anticipated. One of the best positions I found was to recline sideways with my head propped against a pillow on the side of the tub as William leaned in to massage my back. I also used a floating pillow to keep my face above water as I allowed the rest of my body to hang. I felt a bit like Rose from Titanic as Leo is whispering “never let go…” Surprisingly, this was a very comfortable position. I continued laboring in the tub for about an hour and a half. The Buddha machine quietly droned the same ambient loop. William provided me with encouragement, backrubs, and water to drink. I almost felt sorry for the nurse and midwife who seemed a bit bored in these wee hours of the morning. William and I had found a rhythm that worked. He was my coach.