It was exactly 8 hours from the first timed contraction to Porter’s birth. 8:11pm to 4:11am. The first timed contraction was the third “real” contraction that I’d felt. I understand this is a fast labor & delivery, especially for a first child.
Piper, our crazy little diva hound dog, had assisted Pete, our anxious-nervous bird dog, in stealing and eating some number of raw fish that were thawing in our sink about 5 days earlier. Pete had easily gotten through this irresponsible naughty-dog feat, but Piper was starting to have a seriously rough time. The night I went into labor (at 41 weeks, 5 days) Piper stopped drinking water – a very bad sign. We called the vet around 7pm and they said if we needed to take her in for monitoring we’d have to drive 2-3 hours to the (only?) emergency vet in Sweden. Realizing this was far too risky to do considering just how (frustratingly) far along into my pregnancy I was, we decided to wait until the vet opened the next morning at 9am.
It’s not like I was showing any signs of going into labor, but you have to weigh your options. Piper was having a rough time, but she could wait, and it would be more responsible for us to stay near our hospital here. After that phone call to the vet, I suggested we take her for a short walk. A day earlier she had been drinking water during a longer walk, so I figured maybe we could entice her to drink this night. If she wouldn’t drink at all, I would know she needed to go to that emergency vet (this has happened before).
The moment we left our apartment I felt the first contraction that felt slightly differently from the ones I’d been feeling before. We walked across the street to the lawn of a church, and I felt another – was it more crampy? Maybe. I kind of joked with Matt that “it might be starting!” which he promptly ignored because…at this point I was the boy who cried wolf (the pregnant lady who called labor?!). I decided to whip out my contraction timer app, just for fun and practice. I suggested we walk a few blocks to the train station and loop around and see if that would get Piper to drink water, and after all, she needed to clear out her system still, if you know what I mean… Matt agreed and by the time we left the church I’d clocked two more contractions. They were around 7 minutes apart and about 50 seconds long. These were the first distinct contractions that I could actually time, but no more painful or much different from the Braxton Hicks I’d felt before. I wasn’t really sure where this was going to go, and I certainly wasn’t confident that this was it. Like I said, they only felt slightly differently, but differently was something, and regular was even better.
It had rained a day earlier and there were small puddles of water in the streets and Piper was actually drinking from them! Once we got to the park in front of the train station, it was becoming somewhat obvious that I might be going into labor, and since Piper was doing well, I asked Matt if we could just keep walking. I didn’t want any of this good stuff to stop!
As we walked along, I began predicting when the next contraction would hit, and sure enough, it would be there, and they began to get slightly stronger each time. Still 6-7 minutes apart, and still about 1 minute at a time; I really began getting into it. Being so ready for the real thing, I encouraged each contraction to come and to do its job. I was swaying, praying, smiling, and having a grand old time. Matt and I got a little giddy – this might be it!
We walked from the train station, to Domkyrka, and over to “The Big Park“, when my Mom called. She had been at a concert at the cathedral that evening. When I told her what was happening, she said, “Yeah. This is it. Yeah! Yeah, this is it!” As I was on the phone with her I had a contraction with a slight feeling of bearing down, so it really became real. I didn’t want to stop walking at all, afraid if we stopped the contractions would stop too, and I tried to convince Matt to walk the length of the canal with me. He squeaked out that he hadn’t eaten dinner at all, and it was past 9pm at this point. We made a deal to go to McDonald’s – he could grab some food and I could use the loo. When the bathroom required a 5 kronor coin, which we didn’t have, we decided to just go back home.
I labored at home for an hour or two. We cleaned, rotated laundry, filled all the soap dispensers, etc. The plan was to call the hospital at 11, after three solid hours of contractions. Well, 11pm came and I called my Dad first. This was the second call to him that day, the first being a long whiney call wherein I complained about being SO pregnant and scared that something might go wrong. After the exciting call, I ended up continuing to clean, pack, and shower, and the next thing I knew my Dad was calling me back again to see what the midwives said. I still hadn’t called them, and my contractions were still going strong, so I was urged to get on that.
Around 11:30/midnight I spoke to a midwife who told me to continuing to labor at home for as long as I was comfortable. I was advised to take 2 Panodil (Tylenol) and call back when the contractions were 3-4 mins apart or if I was in pain. At 1am, I gave Matt the go ahead to get some sleep. I tried to lay down but that hurt way too much. I labored alone in the living room watching some Arrested Development, when I realized…oh, these are less than 4 minutes apart and, yeaaaah, starting to hurt a little now. At 1:15am: “Matt! Get up! We’re going in!” Matt sprung out of bed, we called my Mom to come over and watch the dogs for the night, left some instructions for our neighbor who kindly agreed to take Piper to the vet the next morning, threw our bags in the car and left.
When you are in labor and you get to the hospital you usually meet the midwives at the Förlossningen entrance. Since our hospital is under construction we ring a bell inside the Akuten (emergency) entrance. The midwife who greeted us was a very pretty young woman named Emma. She had a perfectly coiffed blonde ponytail, better than I could ever do on myself, and a quiet voice. She kind of watched me as we went up, as I was having more contractions. She showed us into a delivery room, hooked me up to a CTG monitor and left me semi-reclined on the bed; she was going to watch the monitor from their office across the hall. I really didn’t want to complain about how uncomfortable I figured this position was going to be, so I didn’t, I just tried to make the best of it. It really sucked though.
After a few minutes trying to resist getting into a more comfortable position, I just stood up. It dropped the heartbeat, since the monitor was no longer on the correct spot, but I couldn’t have cared less. Over 10 minutes or so, I tried standing and leaning on Matt, “slow-dancing” with him, having him rub my back, and leaning over him as he sat on the bed. Nothing was helping and the poor guy ended up getting bit at one point during a particularly rough contraction that also brought me to the floor in a very low squat. At about that point, I was like, epidural. Now!
Emma came back in after only 20 or so minutes, I assume since the baby’s heartbeat was in and out on the monitor. She didn’t say anything, except that as she watched all looked fine, Dad you can go move the car (out of emergency parking), and asked if she could check to see how far along I am? I agreed, and a minute later she shocked both Matt and I by saying I was at 10 cm. Fully dilated! Dad, turn around and don’t leave yet! I was like…”Do I push now? What do I do?” Emma and another nurse quickly suited up into their battle gear – delivery ready scrubs and what not. They got the room all ready with tools and towels and liners and whatever else. Emma hooked up an IV port on my arm, which I more than happily accepted in case something was to go wrong. I was changed out of the maxi dress I had on and into a hospital gown that opened in the front. Matt made sure of this, so that I could definitely have the skin-to-skin contact I emphasized throughout the pregnancy. Good husband! Things were happening now! Emma told me to stay in a semi-reclined position on the bed because it would be easiest for her to delivery the baby that way. I was a little surprised at this, since most midwives don’t really suggest that as a delivery position…but I wasn’t going to fight her on it, she knows more than I do. I’d have to tough it out.
From what I remember, Emma didn’t really guide me on what to do. I asked if she would tell me when to push and she said to just do what my body told me to do. Push when it wanted to. So…I guess I just did that. After a few pushes, she told me the baby’s head was still up high, I needed to bring it down. She had me sit on the edge of the bed for a contraction, then stand for a contraction or two, where I pushed him down a bit. From there on out, I was reclined on the bed, legs held by Matt and another nurse, and pushing through each contraction.
It really took me quite a few contractions to figure out how to ride them out. It’s definitely like surfing a wave (not that I’ve ever done that…), you feel it coming, taking you higher, and you’ve got to control yourself and concentrate on getting over and through it. I wasn’t able to start pushing right away, at the beginning of the contraction, but I was able to push a couple of times during each one. Emma suggested (very nicely) I stop making so much noise (I had an incredibly annoying, embarrassing, high-pitched whine going on), and to channel all my energy into the push. She told me to hold on to my thighs, and put my chin down. Matt held the nitrous oxide gas mask to my face when I couldn’t do it myself, but when I could, I took comfort in concentrating on the smell of the plastic mouthpiece and in trying to see if the gas did a damn thing when I breathed in (and I don’t even think I was really breathing it in because I wasn’t holding it all the way on to my face). My conclusion: it did not. I think gas is really used just to keep women breathing evenly…and in that aspect, it works really nicely.
I felt like the head was crowning, push after push after push. I might’ve pushed for around an hour total. During the beginning of those pushing contractions, I started to feel afraid. The thought of pushing a human outside of your own body is trippy and almost too much to comprehend. The fear of what that’s going to feel like is worse than how it actually feels. I mean, it still hurts, but I wanted to ask for a c-section just because the thought of it all was too much for me, really. But I bucked up and got through it. Emma was so professional, and helped that baby out so quick once he was coming, that the pain didn’t have time to be a focus. I just kept telling myself that however much it hurts, it will stop immediately after he’s born. Once his head was actually coming out, Emma got a hold of him and pulled his body out in the same contraction. Hallelujah!
I looked up once I knew he was out, and through my tired eyes saw this pink baby being brought to me. They laid him on me and threw a couple of towels over him, rolled a gauzy hat over his head, and started cleaning me and the room up. Matt immediately looked up at the clock and called out the time, 4:11am. I was just relieved that he was pink! Not blue or purple, but a healthy pink. Then he let out a couple strong wails, which I encouraged, telling him I was so happy to hear him cry. That means you’re breathing, baby! This slippery, wet, warm little human was laying on me, I was clutching him, and all I could think about was how small his hands looked. I was so happy. Matt was so happy.
A couple of minutes later, Emma helped me easily deliver the placenta, no problems or complications there. I didn’t have any tearing at all, and less than a pint of blood loss total, according to the birth journal. They showed us the placenta as they inspected it, whoa man. They cleaned everything up quickly. Emma asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink, and a half an hour later she was back with two sandwiches, two coffees, and two juices on a platter with a flower and a wooden Swedish flag. Not only was the presentation so nice it almost brought me to tears, but the coffee was some of the best I’ve ever had in my life.
After she brought the food in for us, she got me started breastfeeding the baby. The baby who I delivered, who was immediately put on my chest, and who stayed there under the towels until that moment, when he was simply adjusted to start feeding. After another hour or so, Emma came back in to clear the food tray and take the baby’s measurements. She weighed him, measured him, and gave Matt a hat and little robe to dress him in. He was back in our arms in just a few minutes. Emma gave me two Panodil and instructed me to take a shower and then we’d be moved into BB – a recovery room. By 8am or so we were resting comfortably in a private room, left mostly alone for the entire day except for a couple midwives coming in to explain a little bit about what to expect, and to advise on breastfeeding.
I give credit to these Swedish midwives for what I consider an amazing experience. A lot of people have said it was me, and that I would have a positive experience no matter where I gave birth, but I don’t know about that.
I was able to go into spontaneous labor, which led to a quick delivery, with no medical intervention, resulting in a beautifully, perfectly, healthy child. In my weak moments, Emma ignored my requests for an epidural (it was too late anyway I guess), she let me freak out a little, but I didn’t feel like that behavior was accepted. I simply had to be stronger. She was gentle and patient in voice and touch, and I really think that makes a huge difference in how well your body performs when delivering a child. The baby was extremely alert and able to nurse right away. This was, like, everything I could have asked for. Everyone said, “Yeah, OK natural delivery. HA! You’ll see. Get the epidural.” And I’m kind of not-so-secretly happy that I was able to, not so much “prove them wrong”, but carry out this goal of mine to the best of my ability. It was incredible.
Thank you Sweden, thank you Emma, thank you to all my midwives!
And Piper, she made it just fine!
Our neighbor took her into the vet who monitored her over night and made sure there was nothing more to worry about. She was given an IV and a prescription of antibiotics, and Matt picked her up just after we brought baby home from the hospital. Poor Pete had every bit of his family taken away from him within a few hours the night of the birth, but he had my Mom to snuggle, watch over, and walk him to his heart’s content the whole next day. I think maybe Piper was feeling some sympathetic pains with/for me. Our dogs are definitely the “older siblings” for sure, and I credit them for a happy baby as well.
It is such a positive experience giving birth in Sweden. It literally revolves around the woman and the baby, and the midwives are there to support and help you out. They get to know you, remember you, have time for you, and care about you having a wonderful birth. I want to shout it from the rooftops how much of a midwifery fan I am, how much of a natural birth fan I am. I want to tell women that it’s OK to trust their bodies more than an OB/GYN who wants to push for drugs and intervention. I want to help make the natural birth experience the norm in America, not the heavily induced, medicated experience that it is now. I don’t want to say it was my state of mind and big ol’ hips that allowed me such an easy delivery…that might help, but these midwives…they are a gift to women and should be celebrated as such.