Portia Charles Mercer- A Birth Story
If I ever needed proof that every pregnancy, delivery and baby is different I got it with baby Portia. My pregnancy was incredibly easy until about week 38. I had no swelling in my legs like I did with Hermione and felt pretty good in general. Since Hermione arrived at 38 weeks I was expecting Portia to come a bit early as well (that's what they say about second babies). I could not have been more wrong! 38 weeks came and went with no sign of a baby. At this point I was developing sciatica from Portia's position on my nerves and started having trouble walking. I somehow managed to spin right up to my due date and do (hot, power) yoga until the day before she was born. Yes, I know I am a bit crazy. Doug and I went out for "one last" date night multiple times, each time thinking it would be our last before baby. In an effort to get things moving, at 38 weeks I also started acupuncture several times a week, massage focusing on labor points, and reflexology. With Hermione one massage and one acupuncture treatment was all it took-not so much with Portia. I ate my weight in dates and pineapple, I loaded up on Evening Primrose Oil. I even had my postpartum doula come over and make me a vegan version of an Eggplant Parmesan recipe famous for inducing labor. No luck.
My due date came and went and still no sign of baby girl. I kept up my regime of natural labor inducers but was starting to lose hope I would EVER have this baby. I was so sick of being pregnant. My back hurt. My hips hurt. I was over it.
41 weeks came and went and still no sign of labor. My wonderful OB was willing to let me go right up until 42 weeks but I was starting to lose hope that this baby was going to come on her own. The "I" word ( induction) was keeping me up at night and freaking me out.
At 41 weeks and three days my doctor suggested I come in for a membrane sweep. She had a feeling that it just might get things going and help us avoid having to do a hospital induction at 42 weeks. Trusting her judgement Doug and I scheduled the appointment for the end of the day on a Friday. We made arrangements for our nanny to spend the night with Hermione in case the sweep got things going fast, booked a hotel room uptown close to the hospital for the night to labor in to avoid driving the length of Manhattan several times, and drove to my doc's office on the Upper East Side. After the sweep (which was full on painful) my doctor said she felt it was only "medium effective." My cervix was only at 2cm and was quite firm. She was no longer convinced it would put me into labor quickly but said it still might.
Feeling defeated Doug and I cancelled our uptown hotel and drove home. If I wasn't going into labor I wanted to spend the night in my own bed and wake up to my daughter in the morning. I called my doctor later that night to check in and tell her that there were no signs of labor, no contractions, nada. She and I began to discuss a plan for induction the following night ( 41 weeks and 4 days). We could have waited to induce until Monday at midnight but if I was going to have to be in the hospital laboring for a prolonged time I would prefer it to be on a Saturday night when things are quite instead of a busy Monday. At each word she said "foley ballon" "pitocin" "IV" I became more and more shut down, defeated and sad. I had such an amazing natural birth with Hermione the thought of a medical induction was everything I didn't want my second birth to be. But I knew I was about to have no choice as hospitals won't let babies stay inside for more than 42 weeks. I hung up with my OB and called my birth coach. We had the same conversation about the "medium effective" sweep and the plan for an induction the following night. She kept reminding me that I could still have my baby before that but I just didn't believe her anymore. I was in a pretty negative headspace.
I went to bed that night and woke up Saturday morning at 5am with what felt like mild cramps. I had read that cramping can be a side effect of a membrane sweep so I thought nothing of it. I was convinced this baby was never coming. At 6am the cramps got more consistent and felt more like what I remembered of contractions so I woke up Doug and told him I thought something might be happening. We called my OB to let her know what was going on. She was so thrilled that I had gone into labor and that we wouldn't have to induce. She urged us to get up to the hospital asap as she thought this labor might be fast. My gut told me we had some time, I just didn't feel like this was going to be a super fast labor. Next we called my birth coach, Amy and asked her to head over to be with me and help us decide when it was time to head to the hospital. I had tested Group B Strep positive this pregnancy which meant that we had to get to the hospital at lest four hours before I delivered so that they could give me an IV dose of antibiotics. So it was a juggling act of not leaving home too soon ( I didn't want to labor too long at the hospital) or too late (I didn't want to miss the time frame to get the full antibiotic dose and have to spend an extra night in the hospital while the monitored the baby).
The next few hours my contractions continued steadily but were bearable. I was able to do some yoga, take a shower, and play with Hermione. It was the perfect way to spend my last morning as a mom of one, playing with my first baby girl and having a few final moments alone with her. Around 9:00 am I felt my contractions get stronger. I could no longer just breathe through them on my own and needed hip squeezes from Amy or Doug in order to cope. We told Eva (Hermione's nanny who had come over a little bit earlier) that it might be a good time to take her out for the day, and we started to get ready to head to the hospital. Around 10am we were getting into our car after passing a few neighbors and my mom in our lobby. I had been pregnant for so long that everyone was thrilled to hear that it was finally "time."
The drive uptown was brutal. Laboring in a car is no fun at all. Like the last time I draped myself over the backseat and had Amy sit with me so she could do hip squeezes during my contractions. The thirty minute drive seemed to last forever and I was so relived when we pulled up in front of the hospital. Amy and I got out of the car with what felt like a million bags and went inside while Doug parked.
When we got upstairs to triage we were checked in pretty quickly and sent to a labor and delivery room. I changed into my gown that I had brought, Amy put my sheets on the bed and the nurse started my IV of antibiotics for the Strep B. For the first hour or maybe even two my contractions were still not too terrible. The varied between three and six minutes apart and I could talk and even eat in between them. This was very different from what I remember with Hermione where they started right on top of each other and did not let up until she was born.
My doctor came in every so often to check on me and to look at the pattern of contractions on the monitor. The first time she checked my cervix I was only 3cm and still firm. WTF?!!?!? I was convinced I would be much further along than that. I was already getting tired and it seemed like I might have a long way to go. The next time she checked me which was after another hour or so I was only 5cm, still not much progress. Although my contractions we not unbearable they were tiring me out and I was starting to have a searing pain in my back which eliminated any break I was getting in between. At some point... I think it was between 5cm and 7cm my doc manually opened my cervix a bit more with her fingers hoping it would move things along. She is known as the "birth ninja" for good reason- she employs old school obstetrical tactics and techniques long before any mention of medical intervention.
Even though I was now slightly more dilated my labor was still not really progressing as much as she would have liked. At this point she made the suggestion of breaking my water as that would likely speed things up and help me deliver asap. Before leaving me to talk the decision over with Doug and Amy she mentioned that although breaking my water would make things go much faster it would also ramp up the intensity and the pain. I asked her what my alternatives are and she said if I really wanted we could go the piton/epidural route but she knew me and knew that medicine was not the answer I wanted. To be honest I was so tired at this point I was actually considering just going the conventional route but at everyone's urging and knowing that I really wanted another unmedicated birth I agreed to let her break my water and take it from there.
The actual act of having my water broken was painless. Luckily my fluid was totally clear so there was no worry about the baby ingesting meconium. Almost immediately after my water was broken I felt a contraction that was 1000x worse than anything I had felt all day. I was in agony. And thanks to what we had now realized was back labor from the baby's posterior position I was still getting no break in between contractions. I felt like someone was trying to kill me. I began begging for drugs. Anything. I remember saying "I have already done this once before. I know I can do it but I have nothing to prove. Please give me the drugs! I want a spa birth!" My doctor urged me to try and hand on for 30 minutes, and promised that if I still couldn't handle it then she would get me an epidural. However, she was convinced I would deliver sooner than later and that an epidural would only slow things down.
After half an hour of agonizing contractions where I was screaming and biting Doug's neck just to cope my doc came back and checked me. I was almost there but not quite ready to push. She asked if I could make it 15 more minutes. I said "no" I was in so much pain I just wanted to quit. Unlike with Hermione's birth I couldn't seem to get into a positive headspace. I was just hurting and I wanted it to end. I didn't believe anyone when they told me I was so close. I was connived I had hours more of this horrifying labor to go and then at lease two hours of pushing ahead of me. Despite my lack of drive I agreed to keep going another 15 minutes thinking that relief might be on the other side. Once those 15 minutes were up she checked me again and said we could start pushing if I felt ready. At this point I got very silent and internal and just decided to get it done. After a few huge pushes I got her head out. I reached down and felt her little head and knew I was almost there. I could do it. Then all of a sudden my doc told me to stop pushing. Stop?!?! Her hand was up by head and my doc had to pull it out before I could keep going or her elbow would have torn me to shreds on it way out. Once her hand was cleared out of the way it only took a few more pushes and she was out! Unlike Hermione where I pushed for 2.5 hours this time it took less than 30 minutes. Phew!
After quickly clearing some blood out of her mouth my doc put her on my chest. I was still in a great deal of pain and shaking a bit so I wasn't as overjoyed as I had hoped to be finally holding my baby. Don't get me wrong it was love at first sight all over again, I was just still a bit shell shocked from the insane pain of the last 1.5 hours of labor.
After Portia and I bonded the nurse took her to weigh her and informed me she was 8lbs 2oz. Well, that explains some of it! Pushing out such a big girl was hugely different than Hermione who was just 6lbs 9oz. The nurse quickly gave her back to me and she latched on and began nursing right away. She seemed so big and sturdy! She nursed like a champ, had long fingernails, and did not have any vernix left on her. I guess those extra two weeks inside really made a difference!
As I replay Portia's birth in my head I still sometimes can't believe she is actually here. Knowing she is my last baby and that pregnancy, labor and delivery and forever behind me I am very proud of the way I was able to bring her into this world.