Zion Mack: A Birth Story
A Passed Due Date & The Start of a Three-Day Labor
Zion’s due date, Sunday, October 25, came and went with only some Braxton Hicks contractions throughout the weekend. Up until that day I had told myself and Adam that I was okay waiting – that there was still plenty to prepare, work to be done at my job, and I didn’t know if I was really “ready” for labor! But once the 25th passed, I think that changed. My discomfort level got to the, “let’s have this baby.” And besides, My pregnant self definitely wasn’t sleeping through the night.
Wednesday morning at three, I awoke with more Braxton Hicks contractions and this time they were trackable–about 10 minutes apart. So I laid awake until morning, keeping time on my Google document, excited to see if it would be the beginning.
It was the beginning. But the beginning of a 3-day affair. I do wish I could’ve given myself that heads-up! I decided to stay home from work to see what would happen. Contractions stayed steady all day, but really didn’t get more intense or closer together until evening. I relaxed most of the day, did a few things around the house. I made broccoli cheese soup. We watched Skyfall. You know, the usual.
It was about 6:30pm, when Adam started to help me time the contractions through an app. They were getting closer together, 7 minutes, then 6. We figured we should call Abigail, our doula, and then the nurse at the hospital to gauge when we ought to head to Mary Greeley in Ames. To our surprise, the nurse on the phone responded to me with “How soon can you get here?” Since this was our first labor and we were coming from Ankeny (about a 30 minute drive), they wanted us to head up soon.
We got off the phone, and started to move. I called Abigail back to have her head over. Adam jumped in the shower. I packed a few last minute items. By 8:30p, we were en route to the hospital! Anxious and excited. And so naive!
20 Hours, 4 Centimeters
We checked in around 9:00p and we were, literally, the only ones on the maternity floor. It was strangely quiet and peaceful. Although contractions were steady, they checked me to find I was only at a 2. Definitely a little bit discouraging to know we weren’t further along, but we settled in with my pre-made birth playlist and diffusing of essential oils. The environment really was exactly what I wanted and hoped for and I had the best team alongside me – my husband, Adam, and my doula, Abigail. My nurse determined (after chatting over the phone with one of my midwives) that it wasn’t necessary to call her in until we were much further along, but agreed it made sense to stay at the hospital since we drove from Ankeny. Her advice was to rest as much as possible for the journey ahead.
Excited and experiencing contractions for the first time, rest was pretty hard to come by. I moved around, got in and out of the tub or shower, walked the hallways and ate snacks & drank fluids. One thing I learned from my preparation was that I needed protein & energy to labor (after all labor is just that – work). To sum up the first 20 hours of my labor at the hospital, it was slow, steady and hard. Even the toughest contractions for hours and hours just nudged me barely forward.
By Thursday afternoon, we’d had a few nurse shift-changes, my Midwife had come in multiple times and my progress had only reached a 6. I think we were all calculating the fact that I had only progressed 4 centimeters in just under 20 hours, and wondering how I could possibly go another 20 or more hours at this pace. After checking me, my Midwife suggested breaking my water. We had specified in our birth plan that we really wanted to avoid any interventions, and my midwives were of that same philosophy from the get-go. But from her perspective it seemed that the bag of waters was right in the way of the cervix continuing to dilate. Her theory was that upon breaking my water, baby’s head could continue to push down and push my cervix towards full dilation, instead of just resting on the bag of waters like a comfortable pillow. After some discussion, we agreed to this, and moved forward with the breaking of waters.
Breaking Steady Waters
To break my water, I had to be hooked up to a monitoring system to be sure they could see how baby was doing through the process – which also meant I needed to be on the bed. By this time I was very exhausted, so laying down was definitely okay with me. After the preparations were made, they broke my water, which was such an odd and uncomfortable feeling. I will spare the details, but afterwards, I began throwing up and baby’s heart rate went down and was then unable to be detected. It was a very scary few minutes. What I remember is many people entering the room, moving quickly. They flipped me back and forth into different positions trying to find his heartbeat and an oxygen mask was immediately secured to my face. I think I was crying and from the fear on the faces I could see, it was clear that things were not going as usual.
Thankfully, they were able to find his heart rate and it stabilized. The oxygen helped both of us and it appeared we were out of the woods and in a steadier place to continue laboring. The nurse I had at this point was so sweet and encouraging, pushing me to press on and keep being strong – that we were getting close. It seemed like each nurse we had thought they’d be there for the final moments and to witness the delivery, but each one would introduce me to my new nurse upon shift-change, wish me luck and tell me goodbye. After the eventful afternoon and continued contractions, I finally reached an 8. It seemed like we were getting close.
By 6:00p that night, it was almost time for a shift-change in midwives. There were four total on my team, and I have to admit, the one coming on was my least favorite and I was sort of dreading the fact that she would be the one to help me deliver. It felt like a race against the clock, hoping that Donna might stay and be the one.
A Labor of Love: Persisting with Birth Support
But sure enough, shift-change came and went and my new midwife, Susan, came to check on me. More bad news when she checked my cervix and said matter-of-factly that I was at at 6. (Mind you, I had previously been at an 8 just hours ago.) We were all shocked and questioning how this could even be. She explained that one side of my cervix was dilating while the other was holding up, due to the direction and facing of baby’s head. Basically, it was as if I was dilating unevenly, so there wasn’t a perfect circle for baby to push out through. Talk about discouraging. The water-breaking was definitely the scariest part up to this point, but this news had me at the lowest point. I felt like giving up, but I couldn’t – there was no way out except to keep going forward. I was so incredibly exhausted as we were coming up on 24 hours of labor (not counting the laboring at-home, which by now seemed like nothing compared to what I was experiencing). Abigail and Adam took turns taking care of me and trying to raise my spirits.
My midwife, Susan, pulled me through with incredible hands-on coaching. I was so wrong about her. She was amazing, and I instantly regretted my initial first impression I’d made of her and was so thankful for her experience and wisdom. Talking me through breathing, she gave me a new technique to work through my contractions that focused on relaxing each muscle – not tensing up – during the waves of pain. She also gave me very specific positions to rotate through during each contraction that would help turn baby’s head to then progress and dilate evenly. The next few hours, with a new-found strategy & plan, I worked hard and pushed through the contractions with purpose.
It was sometime after midnight, when I was finally back to an 8. Susan checked me and although I had progressed, we still had work to do to get to the 10. As she watched the contractions I was feeling in the monitor, she commented that they were further apart than she’d like to be seeing. In short, my body was taking a VERY long time to dilate and was so worn out. Her suggestion was pitocin, in order to kick the contractions up a notch and make them do more. Unfortunately, pitocin increased the pain too. We pressed on and I eventually made it to a 9, sometime in the early hours of Friday morning.
Pushing to Victory
It was then that I felt the strong urge to push. I would describe it as involuntary. My body would go for it during the height of a contraction. My nurse & midwife didn’t want me to push since I wasn’t fully dilated. Close but not close enough. Without getting too detailed here, I’ll just say that with some help from the midwife and pushing, she was able to help me get that final bit to the 10. We cheered and I felt such victory. We were almost there. Finally, it was time to push.
Each contraction, I would push with all I had. And I have to say, these contractions – although strong – were my favorite. I felt pushing was the best way to fight with the pain. It was better to get to DO something. But, an hour of pushing passed, and my midwife said he hadn’t moved down at all. We knew that you can potentially push for hours and tried to mentally prepare for that knowing that pushing is a “two steps forward, one step back” process. Susan upped the pitocin to try to give my pushing more power. My doula, Abigail, returned home to her family (after being away for 2 nights!) and wished us luck for the final hours.
After 3 hours of pushing and going on 35 hours of labor, the word I had feared was spoken. A c-section. Susan mentioned it first, explaining that after 3 hours of pushing and no progress, she just didn’t know if a vaginal birth was going to be possible. She wanted to get a second opinion from the OB who was on call. After Dr. Swanson’s examination, he reached the same conclusion. At that point, between contractions, Adam and I discussed, both fearful yet knowing we needed to get to the end of this exhausting journey. We talked about who we could call for a second opinion, asked the doctor & midwife if there were any other options, and what were the risks here… to mother, to baby?
Another option – keep pushing and maybe use a vacuum extractor. But only if I was able to push him down further. She sounded doubtful. By the end of the conversation we heard what we needed to, the risks of the c-section were to the mother, not the baby. We agreed.
A Long and Hard-Fought Introduction
At that point, releases needed signed and I needed prepped for the section. It seemed like an eternity waiting once the decision had been made. Because now I had to endure labor pains and contractions that were no longer purposeful. My nurse told me I didn’t need to keep pushing, but it felt impossible to stop. I also kept trying to get off of the bed, claiming I was ready to head to the Operating Room. My poor nurse had to keep sitting me back down asking me to wait- that it wasn’t quite time -we were waiting on the anesthesiologist who would give me a spinal tap.
The time came to go to the Operating Room. In the OR, I received the spinal tap, and finally the labor pain subsided. Dr. Swanson was performing the C-section with my midwife, Susan, assisting. They assured me that I wouldn’t feel pain but I would feel a tugging sensation. My body continued to shake, from the hormones and probably the fear, too. My arms were laid out to my right and left and a curtain blocked my view from the surgery just below. Then, we heard a cry. Our baby was born.
Pulled from my cut uterus, he was taken across the room to the table. I could hear him and just make him out across the room. I remember thinking I wished I had my glasses on so I could see more clearly. But immediately, my fear was replaced by pure joy and relief. Adam went to him right away, and with my prompting, pulled his shirt off right there in the OR, so he could do skin-to-skin. Our son had arrived and was meeting his dad.
Zion Mack White was born at 10:37am, weighing 7lbs 9oz, 21″ in height, with a head circumference of 38.5cm.
I needed stitched up, so Adam assured me he wouldn’t leave Zion’s side. The father + son pair met me back in our hospital room where I was able to finally meet and hold Zi. We studied one another. I was trying to take in every feature, and the boy didn’t take his eyes off of me either — wide-eyed and aware. I’m not sure I’ll remember any other introduction more.