The story of Harper’s delivery begins weeks ago as I began to notice the Braxton Hicks contractions I had been having were becoming stronger. Still very irregular, we didn’t fuss about the false contractions and concentrated on detecting the “real thing.” We walked all over Anchorage trying to kick start the process and indulged in many spicy dishes. Our excitement peaked on October 5th about 3pm when Jonah realized the contractions had a pattern, they were 20 minutes apart. Knowing that we didn’t have to call the birth center until 4 minutes apart, Jonah and I headed over to Mary and Weston’s for dinner. On the way we stopped by La Bodega, a mircobrew lover in Anchorage’s paradise. In line buying an array of 22s, I felt another contraction? Weird, there was only 10 minutes sine the last one.
While enjoying ourselves at the Hopkins, not only did the timing between contractions reach 6 minutes between, the intensity went from mild to medium. (We were monitoring the contractions on a very handy app on the iPad.) After a slice delicious lasagna and some toasts to Harper’s arrival, we headed back to the apartment to await more contractions and watch the finale of Project Runway All Stars. Wouldn’t it be terrible to go into labor without knowing who won?!?
Nearing the end of the finale, the show began. I started having strong contractions 3-5 minutes apart. Jonah called Trina, the midwife on call, at 11:30pm. Since the contractions still had a variance of time between, Trina told me to keep timing the contractions and get in the bath for 40 minutes then lie in bed for 20, then call her back. Being in the bath was a really nice place to have contractions, if you’re water hasn’t broken and you’re waiting your time out, I highly suggest this. It was easier to figure out where the pain was starting (important thing for the midwife to know) and helps you relax. After my time lying in bed, we called Trina back only to hear from Laura instead (Trina was already assisting in births) and she told us to pull our bags together and come in.
We arrived at Geneva Woods at 1:30am on October 6th. Laura examined me and I measured in at 3cm dilated and 99% effaced. The birth center doesn’t like to admit patients until they’ve 4cm dilated to prevent them from timing out (after 24 hours of labor at the birth center, you get transferred to the hospital). Laura didn’t want to send us home though, so Jonah and I walked all over the office building working on that last centimeter.
Around 3am I was 4-4.5cm dilated and we moved into the birthing suite. This is where the idealistic notions of labor to go die, along with any pleasantness that’s in your personality. I will skip over the description of what I was like during this portion, stage 1 of child birth; although I will say that this was the time when I realized the great man my husband is. I always knew he was wonderful but the great support, strength, and caring he brought to me in this room and the many others we would visit that night is incalculable. I know it’s a great cliche, but I couldn’t have done it without him, he was a hero in every way to me that night.
By 5am I was fully dilated to 10 cm and Laura checked for Harper’s head, making sure it was in place. However, my bag of waters (which still hadn’t broken) was very large and in the way, so Harper’s head wasn’t found. Hoping to change this, I was told to start pushing. First on the bed, on my side, I pushed for I can’t remember how long and nothing changed. Then we switched to a U-shaped seat and I tried pushing, again Laura could not see around the bag of waters. This is when my labor changed from normal to complicated; Laura suggested we go to the hospital.
Around 6:30 (the timeline gets a little fuzzy), we arrive at the hospital. The contractions are much closer together and I had already experienced the great relief of pushing during contractions. This made not pushing very hard. All the labor and delivery rooms were occupied (I guess October is a busy baby month!), so we were brought to an emergency suite instead. The nurses started checking my and Harper’s vital. The OB doctor came into check me and GUSH my water broke. Now to answer the big question, where was Harper? It turned out my enormous bag of waters did most of the dilation of my cervix and Harper had not gotten into position yet. She was face-up with her head arched back instead of forward and my cervix had shrunk back to a 9.5cm dilation. Not the greatest news.
Next step was to wait to see if she would make the move. The next couple hours were the physically hardest of my life, having to not push when I knew how great pushing felt was intense. Jonah held my hand and chanted “Do Not Push” with me during the peaks of each contraction. Trina and Laura, my midwives, checked me regularly to see if Harper was making any progress. On the contrary, the stress from when I couldn’t stop from pushing during a contraction was making my cervix swell and close a little more. Trina suggested an epidural. With an epidural the contractions would keep coming but by not feeling the extent of them, I could rest for the pushing later. As soon as we said yes, Trina rushed us over to an newly opened room in Labor and Delivery in hopes that the anesthesiologist could sneak us in before she went into surgery.
We got to the L&D room around 9am and the contractions seemed to intensify. Sometimes it seemed that the next would start before the previous one ended. Although I only had to wait about 15 minutes for the anesthesiologist, it felt like a lifetime. I was not a happy camper, hollering about how long it was taking just to read my chart and bellowing “Do Not Push” during the contractions. For the last few hours I had been existing in a world concentrated on contractions and holding Jonah’s hand, ignoring most everyone else in the room, letting things happen around me. Once the epidural was in place, my whole perspective changed. I introduced myself to the hospital staff and took an uncalculated breath for the first time that morning.
The next few hours allowed us to nap and Jonah to update those anxiously awaiting in the Lower 48. Our dozing was interrupted suddenly when the midwives and nurses came rushing into the room. My blood pressure had suddenly dropped and Harper wasn’t taking it well. They injected me with some medication to counteract the drop and turned off the pitocin. Harper’s heartbeat went back up with a great sigh of relief. After checking me again, Harper still hadn’t advanced and my cervix was unchanged. Then we heard the scariest word so far, c-section. Trina was concerned that Harper wasn’t going to make the big move into position and I had already been in labor for 8+ hours. The OB surgeon, Dr. Murray came into the room to introduce herself and explain what would happen. It was no use trying to hold back the tears, it was a good chance I wasn’t going to be able to deliver my baby instead had to be cut open. I had lost the birth I wanted. Dr. Murray waited for the tears to to subside and continued to explain. It was 12:15pm, we were going to wait one more hour for a change before making a decision unless Harper went into stress again.
An emotional hour passed, as Jonah and I talked about the c-section and many other topics to distract ourselves from the situation. At the hour, Dr. Murray was still in another c-section and Harper’s stats were great so Laura waited until 1:45pm to check me again. No progress, the decision had been made. It wasn’t for another hour that the nurse wheeled me into the OR, Harper staying strong the entire time.
Harper Joyce Dart-Mclean was born at 3:17pm on October 6th, Jonah’s birthday. As they sewed me back up, Jonah brought her to me. I got to touch her little hands and admire the black curly hair she inherited from her father. Everything else melted away, the fear and pain didn’t matter anymore. Feeding her for the first time in recovery, I knew I would go through anything for this darling little girl in my arms. Even though it wasn’t the birth I planned, it was the birth that got me this and I am forever thankful:
Thank you Jonah for being such an amazing couch and supporter. You make the hardest easier and the most joyful sublime.