It took me almost six months to get this story out. I would claim all the (very valid) new mom excuses but really, I think I needed to keep it to myself for a while. Zuri’s birth was magical and terrifying. It’s both heart-warming and gut-wrenching to relive it. I’m also putting a LOT of pride aside to share these photos. I did not feel beautiful – or even just comfortable – in my body during my last few weeks of pregnancy but I think it’s important that we celebrate what a woman’s body can do and part of that process just happens to include zits and stretch marks and face swelling. So, here we go.
First, let me just say how cruel a “due date” is. I know that it’s just an estimate but I am incapable of not seeing it as definitive. My due date was June 13th and I wanted my baby on June 12th. Actually, if we’re choosing, May 13th. Anyway.
I woke up on Sunday June 17th, flopped over to get my feet on the floor and said out loud, through tears, “I cannot be pregnant anymore.” I was so incredibly uncomfortable. The heartburn, the back ache, the insomnia, the fatigue, the sore feet. I was done. I had been having contractions for weeks but knew they weren’t real. Still, each time they’d begin, I’d watch the clock, hoping another would begin in less than 5 minutes. They would amp up, I’d get my hopes up, and they’d fade away in half an hour or so. Mental torture.
This day was no different. Still, I was dying to know if I was progressing at all so I called my midwife and asked (begged) for a labor check. I expressed that I had been having contractions for a while but I wasn’t sure if they were real. Looking back, I realize how silly this is. Obviously you know when they’re real. First time mom over here. 🙋 Kaitie was in town for a few days hoping to be able to photograph Zuri’s birth so I was anxious to get the show on the road for more reason than one. My midwife agreed to do the check but suggested that we not rush in. The three of us went out to breakfast and it was such a sweet “last supper” – unbeknownst to us. Jon and I went to the hospital and Kaitie explored around the city until we called with an update.
I waddled into the labor and delivery unit around 9am and was checked into triage. This was my first sign that it was not the real thing. Even the nurses didn’t believe me. Again, looking back, I realize the fact that I was able to eloquently express my distaste for these last long days of pregnancy were indicative of a woman not in labor. My cervix had been posterior for weeks and when the midwife checked, it hadn’t moved. I was 1cm dilated, 70% effaced, and 100% furious. She gave us a moment, came back and gently said, “this baby does not want to be born on Father’s Day” and suggested I go home and try to rest. HA! OKAY. My midwife team will not induce until 42 weeks (which I am grateful for even though the me on that day was begging for it) so we compromised with a bath, Tylenol PM, and a long nap.
I waddled out of the labor and delivery unit around 11am. I am sure I was a delight to ride home with.
We gave Kaitie an update and I went upstairs to lay down and hopefully sleep away my impatience. Since it didn’t seem like Zuri was in any hurry, Kaitie decided to head to the coast to take some photos and give Jon and I some time together. I laid down around 11:30 while Jon went to the grocery to grab the Tylenol PM. I never fell asleep. By noon, I was having what I was sure were contractions, 7 minutes apart. We called labor and delivery and the same nurse who had just seen me very much not in labor answered the phone. I opened with “This is Mattie Tiegreen. I know you think I’m crazy but I really do think I’m in labor now.” We didn’t make it one minute on the phone together before I had to put the phone down to breathe through a contraction. She responded with, “THIS is the real thing!”
Our plan had been to labor at home for as long as possible so we waited until my contractions were 1 minute long and 5 minutes apart for an hour. By 12:30, they were over a minute long and 4 minutes apart. Jon fed the dogs, held me as I hunched over the kitchen table during a contraction, and then took Knox on what I’m sure was the shortest and most disappointing walk and was back before another contraction started. We repeated this for Kaylee, threw some treats at them and headed to the car. I had been warned that the ride to the hospital would be incredibly painful because the sitting position is not ideal for labor. This proved true but I remember saying to Jon after each contraction that it hurt like hell but if this was as bad as it got, I could do it without an epidural. We pulled into the parking deck and I felt another one coming on so we waited that one out in the car before walking into the hospital. They were closer together at this point (around 3 minutes) so I knew I’d have another one before actually getting to the labor and delivery unit. Jon pressed the elevator button and another contraction started. I grabbed his shoulder and leaned over to breathe through it while stomping my foot over and over (getting into a rhythm really helped me) but before I put my head down, I saw a little boy walking by holding his mom’s hand and staring at me like he was looking at an alien. I am positive that I scarred him forever.
I had to stop several more times in the hospital hallway to stomp and breathe through contractions before making it to triage again. This time was different. The same midwife checked me again and I was 95% effaced and 3cm dilated in just over 3 hours. I was officially admitted – and thrilled. We called Kaitie to turn around and come on up to the hospital.
For pain management, my “plan” (haha) was to use nitrous oxide and the birth tub as a first resort to see if I could move forward with a natural birth. I was not opposed to an epidural but just wanted to see and appreciate what my body could do before intervening.
Let me pause to say that there is no right or wrong way to give birth. Medicated vs. unmedicated can be a sticky topic in mom circles. The bottom line is that our bodies made a human. That’s amazing no matter how it comes out. Okay? Okay.
This plan worked for the first hour or so. At first, bouncing on the ball (gotta have my rhythm) and using nitrous was taking the edge off enough that I could focus through each contraction and trust that it would be over in a few seconds. As the contractions intensified though, I started to feel like I might actually black out. The pain would get to what I thought was “as bad as it would get” based on previous contractions … and then it would get worse. I could actually visualize the pain. After three of these types of contractions, I remember bursting into tears, shaking my head, and asking for the epidural. My midwife (who was just so incredible; I can’t say enough good things about my birth team) suggested that I try another position in the birth tub. This sounded like a good fit so we made the switch. The tub felt amazing and really helped my back labor pain but the relief was short-lived. I wasn’t expecting to be so uncomfortable sitting on my bottom (I mean, it makes sense…) but couldn’t manage even one contraction sitting in the tub. I ended up leaning over the side and laboring there for a few minutes before the worst pain from the previous contractions got … you guessed it … worse.
My nurse and midwife suggested that we check my cervix because if I was far enough along, it might make sense to just power through and start to push without the epidural. A sort of “maybe it can’t get worse” mentality. I was 7cm and not ready so I opted for the epidural. I remember feeling disappointed but also very sure that this was the right decision. I knew that if I kept going, I would have no energy left to push and this might actually prolong the labor. Looking back, I am so proud of my body but also of my mind for knowing my limits. I almost feel like I got the best of both types of birth experiences: one that was incredibly painful but very raw and empowering, and one that was medicated and allowed me to actually enjoy the process. Again – and I can’t stress this enough – there is no right way to give birth.
I had always heard that it takes almost an hour for the anesthesiologist to come do the epidural so to ask for it early. I (like most laboring mothers) had no concept of time and wanted it when I wanted it. Luckily our hospital has a dedicated labor and delivery anesthesiologist so he arrived just minutes after I asked for it. I scribbled my name on the form, said all the “yes”es and tried to sit still through two contractions while they put in the epidural. I remember being nervous about the pain but after several hours of labor, the “bee sting” he told me to prepare for felt like an elbow nudge. Best bee sting I’ve ever gotten.
After a few contractions, the pain started to ease, but only on the right side. My left side was still unbearable. My nurse allowed me to keep using the nitrous oxide while the left side caught up but after several more minutes, it wasn’t any better. The anesthesiologist came back in to assess and deduced that the epidural had slipped more to one side than the other. The pain was more manageable by this time but he kept insisting that I shouldn’t feel anything. That I should be able to take a nap and not notice the pain at all. That was definitely not the case so we decided to take it out and re-insert. The second time was a breeze and worked like a charm.
At one of my baby showers, my older sister had all my girlfriends write me letters to save and open during labor since none of them could be with us in Portland. I think it’s the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. I completely forgot about them in my hospital bag until I got the epidural and was able to think about something other than the pain. It was such a treat to read so many encouraging words from women I love. Instead of writing to me, my sister wrote a prayer that I still can’t read without ugly crying.
Fun fact: Kaitie and I see 11:11 all the time on signs, addresses, and order numbers (it’s even the name of my now-favorite perfume). She saw it while I was laboring and snapped a photo. It was also the call number for room service in my recovery room!
I still wasn’t quite ready to push, but after almost 2 hours of rest (I tried to take a nap but was too anxious and excited), my water broke and it was go-time. Then things got scary.
I had been wearing the fetal heart rate monitor since being admitted and all of Zuri’s vitals looked great. But, once my water broke and she dropped into the birth canal, she began having decelerations (a decrease in heart rate) during each contraction. She recovered well from each one at first but it didn’t stay that way for long. My midwife had me turn over to push on my hands and knees instead of on my back to see if we could help her recover quicker after each deceleration. This worked for several contractions but as she went further into the birth canal, she stopped recovering as well. We decided the best bet was to set a goal number of pushes, give it my all, and get her out quickly.
After several more contractions, she was moving well and on her way out but my birth team was very concerned about her heart rate and she wasn’t coming quickly enough. We had talked extensively in our birth classes about emergency situations and what questions to ask in the moment but of course, all of this information escaped me and I was filled with panic. I wanted her out but also wanted to avoid a c-section if possible. (Again, there is nothing wrong with a c-section, I just wanted to avoid surgery and recovery if I could.) Our team decided the best next step was a vacuum-assisted birth and that they would allow two attempts before heading to the operating room to get her out. I have never been more motivated in my life.
I’m not going to share the photos of the next phase but they are so, so special to me. Our bodies are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. I’ll never get over it.
The OB team came in to assist my midwife with the delivery since we needed to act quickly and I had a few minutes to rest before the next contraction with the vacuum. I pushed harder than I knew my body could and mentally went to a different place. I don’t know how to describe it but I have never been that focused. The vacuum came off after a few seconds of pushing but she did move down significantly. I had one more shot or we were off for a c-section.
At 2:14am on June 18, with my whole team cheering me on, I pushed out a beautiful little girl with a full head of hair and – just as expected – her cord wrapped around her neck, causing her heart rate to drop with every contraction that compressed it. She was very blue and not crying so I only got to hold her for a few quick seconds before Jon quickly cut the cord and the NICU team intervened. I have never known a love so deep so quickly and I have never prayed like I did that night.
After an intense few minutes, she pinked up and cried and then I cried and Jon cried and we all cried.
I’m honored to have carried and birthed her and to get to shepherd her towards the God who made her. I have never been more sure of God’s love and it boggles my mind that the love I have for Zuri is just a fraction of what He feels for me. My cup runneth over.
I hope I’m always this in awe of life. For now, here are a zillion pictures of us snuggling and sniffing and smooching our girl.