Tessa Freeman’s Birth Story
I was checked into Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, Florida to be induced on September 9. I was at 1 centimeter and 50% effaced. Tessa was snugly head down, having dropped almost two full weeks before.
My amniotic fluid was low and fluctuating wildly. I’d been leaking fluid and my placenta wasn’t being awesome. The doctors were pushing and offering induction at every checkup and ultrasound. I’d been declining since they released me from the hospital at 36 weeks. But a combination of the discomfort of Tessa pushing my hips apart, the uncertainty of her fluid levels keeping her safe and her moving in my belly less and less causing me to worry and stress over her health CONSTANTLY, prompted me to finally accept the induction at 38 ½ weeks. I felt a lot better with induction knowing that she was already considered full term, even without the steroids they’d put her on to mature her lungs a couple of weeks before.
So anyway, back to the 9th! They started me on Cervidil at 3:45pm. I sat in the hospital bed, watching Dodgeball on my laptop with my husband, letting my cervix marinate for four hours. At 7:45pm they checked me – dilated to 2 centimeters and 80% effaced. So in went another Cervidil. My husband and I tried to catch some sleep, which proved to be near impossible. If it wasn’t the staff coming in to check my vitals every half hour, it was me barely moving and bumping the fetal monitors hooked up to my belly and knocking them loose, causing alarms to sound and making some poor nurse have to rush in and fidget with them.
At around midnight I was still at 2 centimeters, but was now 100% effaced. Another Cervidil was shoved into my lady parts. After another round of cervix checking and pill popping, my water broke. I had gotten up to use the restroom, and noticed that things were really… wet. I chalked it up to the pills being shoved up my hoohaw over the past 12 hours, and shrugged it off. But with my next cervix check, the nurse asked me, “When did your water break?!” Oh. So that’s what all that moisture was. When she moved her hand, I felt a warm gush. It felt like peeing in a pool. But, there was no pool. After that, I kept feeling small gushes of fluid with every little movement. I felt like I was gonna flood the whole room, but the nurse commented that it was a tiny amount of fluid in relation to a normal pregnancy. So at this point the nurse hooked Tessa up to a fetal monitor on her scalp – or tried to anyway, she had so much hair the monitor was having trouble sticking. So that was fun, having a mouth breathing nurse repeatedly shoving a hooked wire monitor up me till it stuck, as I was gushing fluid with every movement.
Once they had the wire strung up and attached to Tessa, they finally decided to start me on the Pitocin. This was around 6am on September 10th – with me being dilated to 3 centimeters and 100% effaced.
I was mentally preparing myself for the pain of a Pitocin induced labor. I’d heard all of the horror stories. I knew that my chances of having the epidural free, natural birth I’d been envisioning was a lot less likely to occur with Pitocin intensified labor contractions. While I kept telling myself that I could handle the pain and was emotionally psyching myself up for the approaching torture, I was irritated that I was strapped to a bed by two fetal monitors, an IV, a heart rate monitor, an arm cuff and a the scalp fetal monitor that they would not let me take off. I literally had six different cords strung from every angle of my body, limiting my movement – even my ability to roll over in bed. Everything I’d read about natural pain management during active labor included me NOT laying on my back, helpless and immobile. So I felt like my ability to cope with the pain was even more limited.
Anyway, the nurses informed me that once the Pitocin was administered, I should expect a progress of roughly 1 centimeter per hour. But since I’d taken so long to get from 1 to 3, they kept warning that it would most likely take me longer than the average centimeter an hour rate. They wouldn’t make any promises or guesses regarding Tessa’s imminent debut, but I was led to understand that the time frame was most likely in the 1pm to 5pm range for her delivery.
Almost immediately after the first dose of Pitocin, I started noticing what felt like dull menstrual cramps. Not painful, but not comfortable either. The monitors were picking up regular contractions, but I wasn’t aware of anything I’d have recognized as a contraction. It was just… aching. And it was slowly increasing, but still not registering on a pain level. My husband and mother in law hadn’t had anything to eat yet, so I insisted they go down and get breakfast at the cafeteria while they could. I decided I’d try to get some sleep and rest up, so I reclined my bed back for a quick nap as my hubby walked out the door.
I don’t know if it was the lack of distractions, or my reclining into a laying position or what, but suddenly I realized I could detect a rhythm to the “dull ache” in my lower stomach. And it was starting to hurt. So I started breathing through the cramps. Then the cramps were suddenly recognizable as contractions. And they were suddenly getting very very unpleasant. I was breathing through them, and forcing myself to keep my face stoic and grimace free, even though no one was in the room with me. I was very proud of myself. I got this! Then abruptly, the relaxing breaths were accompanied by grunts and whimpers, against my will. I glanced at my phone. I’d only sent the husband downstairs for food about 30 minutes ago. I didn’t want to call him back so soon, but the cramps were getting intense. It suddenly became very clear to me that I was having a baby. So I sent him a text, and Jonathan rushed back to my side and the hand holding labor officially began.
Things get a little fuzzy after this point. I just remember it did not feel comfortable lying in bed. All I wanted to do was sit on the toilet. Whenever the contractions would roll around I’d bear down and leak fluid, and it felt uncomfortable soiling my bed with fluid and gunk and blood and God knows what else. So straining over the toilet just felt comfortable. And safe. But every time I’d get up and hide in the bathroom to wince over contractions – enjoying the freedom to spread my legs and lean over and alleviate some of the pressure in my hips – the hospital staff would hunt me down and demand that I get back into bed and hooked back up to the monitors.
So two hours into the contractions, as I found myself practically biting my pillow and audibly grunting, wincing and sobbing my way through what were becoming very frequent and mind numbingly intense contractions, I kept reasoning with myself: If you’re going to do this epidural free, you have to man up. You’ve only been at this for three hours. You’re only at a 5, if even that! The pain was threatening to become overwhelming, but at the moment the idea of an epidural was still terrifying to me and something I wanted to avoid at all costs. For those of you who don’t know, I am SO. SCARED. OF NEEDLES. Seriously. I actually set the heart rate monitor alarms off when they were administering my IV when I checked in. I freak the eff out when it comes to sharp pokey things. But even with my fear of an epidural, I was beginning to think that another two plus hours of these contractions would make me start to seriously reconsider a tube being strung into my spinal column.
I kept reminding myself that the pain I was currently feeling would pale in comparison to the pain that was to come later on in the day. By 9am my lower back started hurting SO BAD. All I wanted was for Jonathan to rub it. So he did. Then all of a sudden his touch was just shredding my nerves and his rubbing was torture. He had to stop touching my back or I’d explode. Then all I wanted was to sing worship songs. I kept trying to sing, “Better Is One Day” and “I Will Not Forget You”, but couldn’t remember the lyrics for the life of me. So I kept whimpering one line over and over and then demanded that my mother in law start looking up the lyrics online. So she did. But by the time she pulled up the music, singing and listening to music was the LAST thing I wanted. In fact, the music was chaos in my head. So I pleaded that she turn it off. Like, right now. Then it just seemed like there were so many people in the room. They just needed to all go away. But when my mother in law asked if I’d like her to leave I panicked. Don’t go! Why would you even suggest that?! Don’t leave me alone!
Jonathan tried to read me an article on “active labor” to encourage me that I was “there”, but it just pissed me off and made me snap, “I KNOW WHAT ACTIVE LABOR IS JONATHAN.” Then I made him rub my feet.
Now, I’d been feeling pressure in my hips for weeks. And throughout my hospital stay the pressure continued to increase. It felt like I had to poop, constantly. Every ounce of my being wanted to just sit on the toilet in an exaggerated squat and strain with each contraction. In fact, I decided I had to do just that. Every natural birth book, article and mommy I’d talked to had stressed doing what feels natural. Trust your body. Do what it wants. And my body really wanted to go strain over the toilet. Pooping just sounded so magical in those moments. So, ignoring the nurses telling me I couldn’t go back to the bathroom anymore (I kept disconnecting the monitors and hiding in there), we waited for the coast to clear and then Jonathan helped me go sit at the only spot on the planet that promised me a shred of relief. As I sat on the toilet, pushing and gasping through waves of contractions, I asked Jonathan what time it was. A little past 9am. Oh God. I am in so much pain. I have to do this for 6 more hours?! And the pain is going to get worse?! How much longer could I go without an epidural? Maybe an hour? Possibly two?
Just then the nurse rushed into the bathroom. She took one look at me, got a very interesting look on her face and demanded that I stop pushing and get back into bed immediately. It wasn’t a suggestion. Did she not understand?! I needed to poop. I’d rather dooky myself now, on the toilet, than end up pooping up my bed during delivery. But she got me back on the bed, shoved her hand up me and then said, “Sweetheart, stop pushing. That’s not poop, that’s a baby. You’re at 9 centimeters. DO NOT PUSH TILL THE DOCTOR GETS HERE.”
After that, my memory gets REALLY muddled. I don’t remember a lot of things happening. Suddenly the room was full of people and I had my legs up in stirrups, with half the bed gone. I don’t remember any of that transition. Everyone was shouting at me to do things. I heard everything from push, grab your legs, breathe, don’t breathe, count, stop screaming… at one point I had to sob, “I don’t understand what you want me to do.” I could FEEL Tessa spreading me, trying to make her great escape and it hurt SO MUCH. I felt a sharp rip and realized I had just had a natural perineal tear. I’d never felt such pain in my life. I’d decide that I wouldn’t scream anymore, then I would hear myself screaming from a distance, like I was listening to someone else. I’d see an oxygen mask being placed over my mouth like I was watching a cheesy movie with a first person camera view of a mask being placed on someone.
And then I’d have little lucid moments. Like at one point, Jonathan said, “Did you want to say your line?” One of our running jokes is that I would shout, “You did this to me!” at Jonathan while pushing Tessa out. So I whimpered / gasped out, “You did this to me!” It was pitiful, and nowhere near as funny of a moment as I’d imagined it would be. But I was still able to share inside jokes and silliness with my husband, even while in the midst of the most excruciating pain I’d ever experienced in my life.
Toward the end, things got intense, and I could sense a change in the atmosphere of the room. The doctor and staff got URGENT in their demands that I push. Apparently Tessa’s heart rate was not looking good. I kept locking onto Jonathan’s voice, telling me that I was so close, Tessa was almost there. Just one more push. On my final shove (they had to use a vacuum suction to help pull her out), I felt Tessa slip out, and they placed her on my stomach. All of a sudden there was a small child screaming on my tummy, with my husband holding her steady, with so much joy in his voice and face. I started sobbing uncontrollably from relief and joy and residual pain and probably just a dash of shock.
Then I heard the doctor urgently asking Jonathan to cut the cord. Jonathan started to protest, since we were hoping to do delayed cord clamping, but the doctor insisted Jonathan cut the cord NOW. Her little heart rate was putting the staff into emergency mode. Once the cord was cut she was rushed off into another room. Then the doctor got to work delivering the placenta, pushing excess fluid out of me and stitching me up. All very unpleasant and painful and gross. I kept straining to see my baby in the other room while wincing over stitches.
The tone in the room lightened up. Tessa was fine, though it took a couple minutes for her heart rate to regulate. She was born at 9:34am, weighing 7 pounds 3 ounces and measuring 20 inches long. Jonathan put her first diaper and outfit on. She was eventually returned to me and I was able to spend skin to skin time with my daughter, with my husband by my side, stroking and staring at our precious baby girl. She was calmly looking up at us, impossibly chill and relaxed, just watching us, nuzzling against my chest and being the most gorgeous creature I’ve ever seen.
She has the most expressive eyes. And the cutest little round face, with a tiny button nose and a perfect little cupid bow mouth. I feel like I’ve always known her. Words really cannot describe how this child makes me feel. Really, I’ve been tapping at this blog post ever since I got home from the hospital two days ago. I keep feeling like every attempt I make to put my emotions to words pales in comparison to what I actually feel. I am just so very very blessed.
I don’t really know how to wrap this birth story up. There are so many details and aspects of my hospital stay that I could go on and on about – and that I intend to in later blog posts. Like our amazing experience feeding Tessa at my breast, nursing her with donor breast milk with the Lact-Aid. And our first night sleeping with Tessa in the bassinet in our hospital room, emphatically refusing every offer from the nursery to take her for the night. And how every time Tessa would cry, Jonathan would lean over her, whispering love into her ear, and she’d quiet down immediately, listening to her poppa’s voice with raised eyebrows.
As I write this, sitting in my nursing rocking chair in my bedroom with my laptop, my handsome husband is sitting on the bed with our cat Wraith on his legs and Tessa laying on his tummy, tucked under a fuzzy pink blanket sharing skin to skin time with her poppa, who keeps kissing her tiny head and asking me to, “Look at our little princess!” whenever she moves or yawns or sucks on her fingers in her sleep.
We are so blessed. Tessa isn’t even a week old and already I cannot fathom a life without this tiny princess in our home. Thank you to everyone who kept us in your thoughts and prayers during my pregnancy and delivery. Thank you to those who helped us obtain breast milk here in Pensacola so my daughter has not had to have a drop of formula since her birth. And thank you to those who have gathered milk and shipping funds to send Tessa more milk – including some colostrum heavy early milk – all the way from California. I am overwhelmed with the generosity, kindness and love that has been shown to me and my young family through every step of this pregnancy.
I don’t know what else to say, but thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone.