Hi friends! We welcomed Kaiden Sean Shallal at 11:37 AM on May 16th, a full 8 days after his due date!
I wanted to get this typed up for you guys because I know that many of you enjoyed reading KJ’s Birth Story, and I LOVED reading birth stories when I was pregnant. That being said, my disclaimer is grammar has never been a strong suit of mine, especially on an extreme lack of sleep, so hopefully, it’s readable!
Before I get started, there is some back story you should know. If you haven’t read or don’t remember KJ’s Birth Story, then you may not know that I had some unexpected complications with my epidural with him.
You can go back and read the story if interested. While I’ve always said that I would not change anything about KJ’s birth, I would do it all again the same way for him (I was anxious to meet him and elected an induction at 40 weeks and six days). I said I wouldn’t be so ready to jump to induction or epidural again. So, I wanted three things from this birth, to go into labor on my own, to try the best I could to go without an epidural and to deliver at a hospital with more baby-friendly practices.
To prepare for birth, I did the Hypnobabies home study program (started around the second trimester, but it was time-consuming, so I re-started it around 30 weeks pregnant.) I also read some of Ina May’s guide to natural childbirth and all of the hypnobirthing book. Okay, so here we go.
Waddling into the Doctor’s office at 40 weeks and six days (a Friday) was not my idea of fun. I had heard (aka googled seven hundred times) second babies come earlier, and I couldn’t believe I was still pregnant. I’d lost my mucus plug at 37 weeks, had a bloody show and cramping after membrane stripping the week before, all signs pointed to go without the go.
My doctor stripped my membranes again and encouraged me that I’d probably go into labor on my own in the next day or two, but if not, we had scheduled an induction for Sunday morning. All weekend I had bouts of regular contractions that felt like strong period cramps that would come and go about 7-10 minutes apart, especially Friday night, but they weren’t very painful, just enough to count them as contractions, not enough to do anything about. So, when I woke up to contractions again on Saturday night around 2:15 AM, I didn’t think much of it until I realized they were stronger, and once I was standing and walking around, they went from 7 minutes apart to 2 minutes apart. I anticipated things were picking up and started getting ready. Mr. Hungry woke up and Informed him I think it might be time to go soon. These felt more similar to what I had experienced at the beginning of labor with KJ.
(I’m counting this as the start of labor about 2:15 AM.) When they kept coming for 45 minutes at 1-3 minutes apart, we called my Aunt to come over to be with KJ.
It’s a 25-minute drive to the hospital, so I figured it would be better to call her. Even if the contractions fizzled out, she would need to come over for us to leave for the induction just a few hours later anyway.
The contractions were now close together but still not as strong as I remembered they were after my water broke with KJ, so I wasn’t sure if I should go. I didn’t want to go in too early, but I’d also heard that second babies could come FAST, and Mr. Hungry was especially worried about delivering a baby in the car, so we headed out. I remember getting into the car and having to breathe through the contractions a bit for the first time.
I’m guessing we arrived at the hospital around 345AM, my Doctor was already there, and the consensus was that we would be admitted regardless of how far along I was since I was scheduled for an induction 3 hours later anyway. My pre-registration paperwork did not go through, so I spent 30-45 minutes answering questions while breathing through contractions while the baby was being monitored. Ugh, nothing I hate worse in labor than being tethered to the bed. At this point, contractions had slowed to 3-5 minutes apart, giving me plenty of rest in between as they picked up intensity.
(With KJ, my water broke, and contractions were 1-2 minutes apart for 8 hours while I barely progressed to 3cms before I got the epidural. So having the break in between contractions felt manageable compared to my previous experience.)
The triage nurse tried to insert a saline lock into both arms with no luck before she gave up and said she’d leave it to my actual nurse to figure out. My Doctor came in to chat and check my progress. I was about 4.5 centimeters dilated at this point, which I was both excited about and disappointed. It would always be nice to be further along, right? But after taking 8 hours to get to 3 cms with KJ, 4.5 centimeters start seemed like a great start. (Plus, I’d only been 1.5 cms at my appointment where he stripped my membranes.) We discussed breaking my water at this point but opted to see how I progressed without that. At this point, I was allowed to get in the tub, which was the most fantastic thing I’ve ever experienced. I was surprised how warm the nurse made the water. It felt AMAZING. For the next 3- 3.5 hours, my contractions were 5-10 minutes apart, an average of every 7 minutes, definitely very strong (could not talk through them), but I was listening to my tapes and breathing through them. Mr. Hungry slept, talked with me, and ordered a washer since ours broke the night before.
Every 30 minutes, the nurse came in with the doppler to check on the baby, and each time they said the baby was doing great and let me be. Around 730 AM my mom joined us at the hospital, and I barely acknowledged her entrance. I was in the zone.
Around 8 AM, the Doctor wanted to check me and, depending on how far along we were, probably break my water.
At this point, there was a shift change in nurses, and this wonderfully bright and bubbly nurse entered the room.
Immediately you could tell she was one of the people that just oozed positive energy. We had a quick convo about my desire to avoid an epidural and swapped rare heart rate-related epidural complication stories to get to know each other.
The new nurse wanted a saline lock in before they broke the water in case the baby didn’t tolerate the water breaking. At this point, she called the SWAT nurse to come in with an ultrasound to place the saline lock. This was a godsend. It took about 5 seconds for the SWAT nurse to flawlessly set the needle with zero pain. I’m still bruised liked crazy where the triage nurse attempted to insert the saline lock on both arms, but no bruise where it ended up being placed by the SWAT nurse.
Later on, the nurse said if I usually have problems with blood draws, etc. (I do), ask for the SWAT nurse. Once the saline lock was placed, my At 8:30 AM, my Doctor came in to check me and break my water. Sadly, I was only 5cms, 100% effaced, station 2 (according to my notes.) So that three-ish hours in the tub resulted in .5 cm progress, whomp whomp. Funny enough, I wasn’t discouraged. I was in the moment thinking, “Okay, that’s fine, break my water then so I can get back in the tub where it’s nice. “
Surprisingly, breaking my water didn’t hurt and wasn’t as gross as when my water broke with KJ (and just gushed continuously and uncontrollably for hours).
Again I had to stay hooked up and, even worse, laying down because when you change positions, that can cause the baby to come off the monitor. You need 20 minutes of continuous monitoring after your water breaks to get cleared to get off the monitor and go back in the tub. I kept saying tub good, outside bad. No one thought that was as funny as I did. Anyways, the nurse encouraged both Mr. Hungry and me to eat at this point.
I’d been snacking on pita chips and sipping water, but I thought she was probably right, so I ate a banana off my breakfast tray. Before I got back in the tub, the nurse asked how I was feeling. Honestly, I didn’t feel that different. The contractions weren’t feeling any stronger or more frequent to me while I had been lying in the bed on the monitor. She said that was GREAT news because they were registering stronger on the monitor and were much closer together, about 3-5 minutes apart. So if I didn’t perceive a change in intensity, then that meant my body was working harder without my conscious awareness, which is always good.
After this point, time gets a little dicey. I don’t know how long I was in the tub at this point, but I remember having to keep my arm outside the tub (since I now had the saline lock) was highly uncomfortable. And I also kept draining and filling up the tub with hot water, but I started to feel nauseous from the heat at some point. I also felt like my contractions, although much stronger and a lot harder to breathe through, even with my tapes, were slowed down again.
I remember thinking to myself, “I could do this forever, and if I can do this forever, things are not moving along.” So the next time the nurse came in to check on the baby with the doppler, I asked her if the tub could slow things down. She said, yes, sometimes, and in general, in labor, it’s good to move around every 20-30 minutes. She suggested trying the shower for 30 minutes, then maybe the exercise ball for 20-30 minutes, then back in the tub to rest.
I got out and went into the shower with Mr. Hungry’s help, and that’s when things got more intense.
Just the sheer pressure was so intense, but I was still listening to my tapes. Mr. Hungry was sitting right outside the bathroom, probably because I made the water and steam blazing hot. Placing the shower stream right on my abdomen during a contraction helped, but they were coming fast, and they were so intense I had to brace with both hands on rails. After Mr. Hungry said I’d been in there for 30 minutes, I opted to get back in the tub.
My nurse offered to check me at this point, but I wanted to avoid checks since my water had broken, and I knew it wasn’t quite time yet. (Risk of infection increases with the number of checks you have post water breaking, and an infection is what I had with KJ.) Walking was hard because the pressure on my pelvis made it feel like I was having one prolonged contraction, but I made it back to the tub.
I had my tapes going, but this is where things picked up. The tub no longer felt good. Every contraction had me squirming all around the tub. Mr. Hungry kept telling me to get out, and I have no idea when I finally did, but when I did, I wanted a check. I’d say this is the point where I started to lose control of my breathing, relaxation, wits, etc. She said I was about 8.5 cms, but she could see the panic rising in my eyes and called my Doctor to check as well. I remember her saying something about being a very stretchy 8.5 cms, and sometimes doctors can help finish the dilation. When my Doctor came in, he said I was about 8 cms long, and it could be 20 minutes or 2 hours. (I guess no stretching ha ha)
And that was the point of complete panic and loss of control. If it was going to be 2 hours, I was going to need an epidural, shit if it was going to be 20 seconds, I was going to need an epidural. (I recounted this story to a friend who had four natural births recently and her exact words “who doesn’t ask for an epidural at 8cms?” Which made me feel better about the whole thing because at the time, if the windows hadn’t been locked shut, I might have jumped kind of intense pain.) I was saying I needed an epidural, but also, at the same time, I didn’t want one. Mr. Hungry kept saying, “you’re so close, you said you didn’t want one, Kelli are you sure?!?!” But I was gone, totally panicking, probably yelling and freaking out. While the Doctor was still in the room, I remembered Demerol and promptly asked for some.
My Doctor said it would make the baby too sleepy, and he wouldn’t give me that this far along. I remember thinking, what the fuck? There’s an expiration on that? Someone should have told me that! It would have been NICE to know!
He exited, leaving the poor nurse to deal with me next level freaking out. But if my blessed bubbly nurse was phased, I wouldn’t have known. She pulled off her mask, made eye contact with me, and helped center me. She said, “let’s get the IV in you. It will take 10-15 minutes to administer with the pressure bag to make it go faster. Just because we do the IV does not mean you have to get the epidural, but you have to have fluids if you want the epidural.” I agreed as long as I didn’t have to be chained to the bed. As soon as the fluids were going, that’s where things got INTENSE.
I felt like I needed to use the bathroom, and I’m pretty sure I was yelling, “I NEED to POOP!” She kept trying to tell me that she guaranteed it was the baby, and I did not need to poop. I heard about this, and I’d felt a little bit with KJ, even with the epidural. What I was confused about is how I could be feeling this when I wasn’t fully dilated. I thought the order of progression went first you dilate to 10 centimeters, then feel like you are ready to push. It turns out it doesn’t always work like that. Didn’t know that ever happened.
Finally, after me yelling x amount of times, the nurse said, okay, let’s sit on the toilet. She grabbed the doppler and followed me, showing me she couldn’t even find the heartbeat until she got basically to my vagina. She was showing me and telling me that the baby was super low, but my body wasn’t ready yet, I had to hold on a little longer. Surprisingly though, with her coaching, I was able to control the need to push on the toilet. I remember her saying, “little pushes are okay, just don’t give in full force” at this point, the goal was to get the IV fluids fully administered then check again.
As the bag emptied, my contractions gave up just a little bit. Instead of feeling continuous pressure and pain, they started to peak and drop. The nurse held my attention, coaching me through each one, she was my unofficial doula, and she was amazing. I later found out she only works TWO SHIFTS A MONTH, and I 100% think God sent her to me for Kaiden’s birth. Not a doubt in my mind about that.
She mentioned that the IV fluids could help ease the contractions because a dehydrated uterus will kind of spasm, and whether that was a placebo effect from her saying that or not, that’s how I felt. Just a tiny tiny tiny bit more in control, but still totally out of control. (She also later told me that sitting on the toilet is an old midwife trick that can get you through that intense stage of labor as well. I definitely believe that.)
And then, the IV fluids were basically done, and the question of the epidural remained. I knew I couldn’t sit through an epidural, no way in hell.
But, also, I couldn’t fathom withstanding the feeling for one more minute. So I started yelling, I need to push because that was the only thing that would get me out of the current predicament. So the nurse checked me and said she didn’t feel any cervix and called my Doctor again. When the Doctor walked in, she said she didn’t feel any cervix, and I was yelling at him I need to push. I don’t remember this, but Mr. Hungry said he said, “well, go ahead then.”
He was gowning up, and people were moving around. I expected five thousand people to enter the room as they did with KJ, but no, just one more nurse for a total of two nurses and one Doctor. It was so much calmer. I felt a little ring of fire the first push, but I mostly felt that I’d pushed wrong. I wasn’t directing it right, I wasn’t effective, and I knew it. They said they could see the baby’s hair, but that he’d slipped back a bit. The second push was long and hard, it seemed like it lasted forever, but I knew I was doing it right this time. I could feel him moving down. And since I could feel him moving, there was no reason to stop. I just kept on pushing into the pressure, like coming up from a one-rep max squat. Pushing felt a hell of a lot better than all those painful contractions did. Pushing felt like a relief, the best drug I could have ever asked for. And according to Mr. Hungry, I said that it “felt so much better.” The third push, I felt the Doctor rotate the baby’s shoulders to help him out as I pushed, and then he was here and on my chest almost immediately at 11:37 AM. I couldn’t believe it was over.
Unlike with KJ, there were not a thousand people in the room, and once the baby was put on my chest, he stayed there for over two hours before they did anything with him. I remember I was scared for placenta delivery – something I hadn’t noticed with KJ but knew I would notice without the epidural. It was okay, zero pain, just a lot of pressure and more relief when it was over.
The numbing agent for my second-degree tear (same as I had with KJ) hurt worse than I thought, given what I had just been through. It took my Doctor about half the time to repair as my previous Doctor. But, overall, the atmosphere was so calm, quiet, and comforting minus the intense shaking. I remember shaking with KJ, but not like that and not for so long. Mr. Hungry said it was probably about 20 minutes of intense convulsions. And when they finally took him to weigh him, and I found out he was 9lbs 7ounces, I couldn’t believe it. KJ had been a week late too, and he wasn’t that big! I felt like an imposter like I couldn’t possibly be the woman who gave birth to a nine-and-a-half-pound baby without meds. Nope, not me. It took a long time for that to sink in and feel real.
He nursed for about 20-30 minutes on each side almost right away! Little champ! With KJ it was almost an hour before I had a chance to nurse him, so this was so different in a wonderful way.
After I used the restroom, so nice to be able to get up and walk around right away. We were wheeled just down the hallway to postpartum, and the baby never left my arms for more than 5 minutes. We ended up staying two days as the baby was a bit congested and needed a few rounds of prescription drops. But overall, I felt blessed to have him with me at all times. I didn’t even let them take him to bathe him. We did it at home. After having KJ sent to the NICU seven towers away, I cherished every minute of our first moments together. And while by day two we were more than ready to go home, I was grateful for the extra day we spent bonding with Kaiden before bringing him home.
This is where the story ends, but since I’ve now had a birth with an epidural and natural unmedicated, I wanted to share some of my thoughts! Read on if interested or stop if not!
My Thoughts On An Unmedicated Birth Vs. Epidural
A lot of natural birth stories say how empowered the woman felt after giving birth naturally. Overall the story in the birthing world seems to be that natural birth is always so much better for everyone and less traumatic. In my case, I feel a bit of trauma in each case differently. With the epidural birth, I felt great about the delivery but, in hindsight, had understandable anxiety about the emergency c section forms I signed, the antibiotics we received (for prolonged membrane rupture), and the stay in the NICU. It’s hard to compare because comparing the first birth to a second is apples to oranges, as are the two hospitals I gave birth at.
The more recent hospital had L and D about ten steps from the postpartum unit and five steps from the NICU (as it should be.) At the first hospital, we were seven years away from the NICU, constantly wheeling me back and forth because it was so far. All that said, the natural birth left me a similar amount of trauma to work through. That last hour was difficult enough to make me think the benefits of a natural birth don’t always exactly outweigh the benefits of a medicated birth.
In other words, putting yourself through that much pain might not always be worth the benefits. I felt just as much lack of control of the situation and over my body in that last hour as I did when I had an epidural and couldn’t feel the lower half of my body while I watched my heart rate climb to over 200 in between contractions. There was no difference. In both scenarios, I was without control of what was happening. In fact, in the epidural situation, I rolled over, did some deep breathing, and went to sleep. I knew I’d be okay even I’d I ended up in a c section. In the natural/unmedicated birth scenario, there was a complete loss of control (again, thank God for the best nurse on the planet), who was literally my saving grace.
What I’m trying to say is if you feel a certain way about your birth plan, was, or will be, just keep an open mind. You just never know if the grass is in fact, greener on the other side. You may think if one thing had gone different, things would have been different, or you would have felt different. But you never really know, except that however your birth goes, that’s how it was supposed to go.
There is a ton of conversation about how anyway to give birth is amazing in the media, and you do what’s best for you at the moment with the cards your birth experience is dealing you. But, when my friends found out I went without meds, I’ll tell you the text messages I received were nothing like my medicated first birth. People were so impressed and so encouraging and fantastic. But, I guess I’m trying to say that I’ve done it both ways, and I’m still the same person with the same level of “warriorness” or “badassness” I was when I gave birth to my first. I just experienced a different path, a different set of circumstances, and a lot of luck from mother nature this time around, for which I’m incredibly grateful. But, every mother is a badass and deserves all the props no matter how she gives birth, from unmedicated to c-section. So from now on, no matter how my friends give birth, I’m going to make a point of saying all the amazing things that were said to me after this birth to them. I won’t just say congrats. I’ll tell her she’s a badass, a warrior, and amazing because she is.
Would I do another unmedicated birth? If you had asked me right after Kaiden’s birth, I would have said it’s a 50/50 toss-up. Someone I know had two births without an epidural (some pain meds) and then finally had an epidural on the last one. I always thought that was strange, like why opt for the epidural if you know you can do it? But, now, I get it 100%. Anyways, mother nature has a way of removing the trauma of an unmedicated birth from memory. If I hadn’t written the words above on a note on my phone while in the hospital, I might have forgotten how intense the experience was. So now, as the experience fades I see the benefits of the unmedicated route far more than I remember the intensity. So who knows what I would do, cross the bridge if we ever come to it.
I’ll leave you with a few sneak previews from our newborn photoshoot! (Photos by Nerissa Lowicki)