I became pregnant with my first child sometime around February or March 1992, when I was 29 years old. I was working full-time in Algonquin Illinois, about 35 miles from home in downtown in Chicago at the time and actually worked right up until the night before I went into labor.
A typical day during my pregnancy included rising at 600am, showering, having breakfast and getting dressed, and getting a ride to the commuter train by 700am. I rode the train to work most days and would arrive at the office around 830am or so. Other days I would have sales appointments and would drive to my client's offices directly from the house. I usually got home around 630pm, had a quick something to eat for dinner, then settled on the couch to read or watch TV with my dog, Ares. On the weekends I was very active throughout my pregnancy and would take the dog to the lakefront, ride my bike or just wander around the neighborhood visiting friends and doing the laundry at the laundromat.
I had given up smoking and drinking alcohol immediately when I found out I was pregnant, at about six weeks. Giving up coffee and caffeine in general came later, when I discovered that coffee and even the thought of coffee gave me morning sickness during the first three months. I had participated in a regular exercise program since the age of 17, including aerobic activity like jogging, rollerblading or biking and non-aerobic activity like weight-lifting and stretching into my almost-daily routine. Generally you could say I was a very healthy woman and geared to a healthy lifestyle, both of which I think helped me have a completely uneventful pregnancy (at least from my perspective - keep reading!).
Looking back now, I should have expanded my horizons a bit, gotten more reading in, and taken more birthing classes. The only book that I had to read and prepare for pregnancy and childbirth was What to Expect When You're Expecting, a decidedly "take no position but everything is good if it results in a healthy baby" book that offered little in the area of practical labor advice and help. The book does not take any position on drugs and interventions during labor, stating that decisions should be left to the mother and her doctor. I had definitely started to decide early on (in keeping with my healthy lifestyle and confidence in nature) that I wanted to go the distance without drugs or interventions of any kind. Unfortunately I was to find that the book was woefully inadequate in preparing me for labor; had I known then what I know now I would have done a lot more on my own to prepare for a natural labor and childbirth.
It was at about the mid-point of the pregnancy that my doctor told me that she was concerned that the baby was "small for date". I didn't know what this meant exactly but had a sneaking suspicion that it had something to do with the fact that the doctor's office had refused to take my long cycles (35+ days) into account when they dated my pregnancy and announced my estimated due date as December 10, 1992. Of course I came to find out later that what they call an estimate is actually written in stone as far as the doctors and the rest of the medical community is concerned.
The doctor recommended that we get an ultrasound and a series of non-stress tests to confirm that all was well with the baby and that our dates were correct. Not having come to any position one way or the other about ultrasounds and stress tests, we agreed and everything was scheduled with the hospital. We went to the ultrasound and the technician working with us stated that everything looked fine but that the specialist who had been requested by our doctor would go over them with us in detail later. Then the next day I began the non-stress tests, once per week for six weeks. This test included me sitting in a hospital room for two hours, strapped to an electronic fetal monitor, which output the baby's heartbeat response to its own movements. I never actually saw a doctor but I was told that there was one who was analyzing the output of the machine and would make a determination of whether the baby was responding appropriately. Then he would get that information back to my doctor who would discuss the results with me.
During the six-week course of tests, I had two more regular visits with my ob/gyn. During these visits I wanted to discuss the ultrasound results and the non-stress test results. She offhandedly told me that it all looked fine but that we could not be too sure. She said that we should continue the tests and that she was scheduling another ultrasound and round of non-stress tests to compare with the first. I agreed and we began to go through a second round of ultrasound and non-stress tests.
We had gotten about three weeks through the second six-week round of tests when I realized that out of all of these tests, no one had told me that anything was wrong with the baby. There appeared to be only a suspicion that was not being confirmed by any of the tests that were being performed. The doctor would not say that just because the baby was a little smaller than expected, the baby was in danger. I felt completely detached from the entire process as I attended the required test dates and was told nothing. I didn't see what continuing the tests would accomplish since it had become obvious that we were not going to get any concrete results.
Meanwhile, I had developed a growing confidence that the baby was just fine and that my body was ready to nourish him or her securely and safely till birth. I had years of healthy living behind me, I was strong. I was having a great pregnancy with no illness, lots of energy and a positive attitude. Millions of women less healthy than I had safely carried babies to term without ultrasounds and non-stress tests - the odds were 100% on my side. Aside from all of the tests, my pregnancy was moving along smoothly and without effort. I worked every day as usual although sometimes I was little more tired than others. I caught a cold once or twice but never had any pregnancy-related illnesses like morning sickness, high blood pressure, puffiness or high sugar. My diet was reasonable and I had gained about 25 pounds from my starting weight of 120 pounds by six months along. Honestly, I felt great and loved being pregnant.
I was worried too that continuing the tests without results might even get me labeled high-risk, no matter how well I seemed to be doing otherwise. A high-risk label would mean that I would not be allowed to use the birthing center at the hospital but would instead have to succumb to an "actively managed birth" in the labor and delivery area. Labor and delivery would require electronic fetal monitoring in a back-laying position starting at 5cm, an IV, no food, no drink, and an episiotomy. Probably an epidural, too. All of the interventions I had decided I was going to do my best to avoid. The alternative birthing center, in contrast, had no requirements other than least 5cm dilation before checking in. I would be able to drink and eat, to move around, and to labor any way I liked without the encumbrances of EFM. I knew that the low-intervention birth would be best for me and the baby and I was determined to have it, unconfirmed suspicions or no.
I spoke to my doctor on my next visit and announced that if she and the other doctors could find nothing wrong with the baby specifically and that if everything but the baby's size looked ok, that I was finished with tests. She asked if I was sure and I think she may have even asked me to sign a waiver for the rest of the tests. I told her of my suspicion once again that the dates were wrong and that my due date should be pushed back a week or maybe even two. We discussed the fact that the baby would not seem so "small for date" if his/her gestational age was actually two weeks off, but she refused to move the date this late in my pregnancy - the estimated due date was written in stone. I was about six months pregnant at this point.
After that visit, my doctor's attitude and behavior toward me was decidedly cooler. I could tell that she was not pleased that I had gone against her recommendations. Everything in her manner suggested that her single concern was a healthy baby at any cost, and that her knowledgeable and experienced invention would best result in that healthy baby. I stuck to my guns and became more confident with every passing week that I had made the right decision.
I started having bi-weekly and then weekly maternity visits in October of 1992, since the established due date was December 10, 1992. I was still very suspicious of the date and brought it up every time I got the chance. I needed to take control of the pregnancy or I knew that they would do it for me. I created a detailed birth plan for the hospital and I had the doctor sign and date it. It excluded all interventions including EFM, IV, drugs, epidural, episiotomy and back-lying positions. I knew that all of these things were within the allowed procedures for the birthing center but my doctor was hesitant. I was determined and sure enough for both of us that the natural way would be the healthy way for me and for the baby.
On my December 16 visit, the doctor expressed concern that I had gone past the estimated due date. I reiterated again that I didn't think that the dates were right and that I was going to wait until the baby was ready to be born. I reminded her that they call it an "estimate" for a reason! On my December 20 visit, the doctor expressed her concern again and this time I told her that I was very sure my body would go into labor when it was good and ready and that we would all wait until that time came.
On my December 27 visit, I saw another doctor. As usual, I submitted to an internal exam and she stated that I was 1cm dilated and 100% effaced. The baby could come at any time! Then she added that since I was over two weeks past due, that they would like to induce. I said "sure, so ahead and schedule it. I won't be there!" I pointed to my chart and advised her that I had had this discussion with my regular doctor more than once or twice and that I didn't believe that the due date was accurate in any case. I was going to wait for labor. This is when she told me that she had stripped my membranes during her internal exam, a procedure which is basically used to speed along the start of labor by separating the amniotic sac from the cervix - the resulting irritation causes labor to begin usually within 48 hours. At the time, I guess I didn't have a feeling about it one way or the other but today I realize that I was violated. I harbor no ill will towards the doctor, I realize that she thought she was doing something to help, but it was done without my knowledge or consent. I would have refused had she asked me for permission.
Finally on December 28, 1992, I knew it was a different kind of day. I stayed home from work and relaxed but went to the office at the end of the day to collect some things from my desk and a printer that I could use after the baby was born for my home office. That night, labor started.
I remember it was about midnight or 1am December 29 when I awoke to my first labor pain. I was so excited. I was immediately wide-awake and thrilled that today would be the day that I would finally meet the baby. I paced around the house and couldn't sit down. I busied myself with whatever I could find and was exhausted by the next morning. I had been up all night. I went to the hospital to be checked and I was told after my first internal exam that I was only 2cm dilated and to go home. I was so disappointed to find after all of the hours I had already put in that I was not even halfway there yet.
When I got home, I finally got some sense and tried to relax or sleep but couldn't as labor seemed to demand all of my attention. I didn't know what to expect, I didn't know how long it was going to take, and I was pretty unprepared, but I knew that labor at 2-3cm should not demand all of my attention. I had all of the confidence in the world that my body could get through this, but I didn't know how to help it. I spent the entire day in pain. I didn't know how to deal with labor and had no techniques to help me through it. I didn't have enough knowledge about what was happening inside my body to cope with it. I was a wreck by 5pm and insisted on going back to the hospital.
I was checked for dilation again at the hospital and was found to be only 5cm, just within the window to be admitted to the birthing center. Not knowing what else to do and having no one nearby to give me practical coping advice, I decided to stay. I walked around the hospital aimlessly for an hour or two and spent an hour or two lying in the bed. I was so tired at this point that I was almost at the end of my rope, I had not had sleep or rest in almost 24 hours. The nurse came in and asked did I want something to help me sleep? At this point I knew that would be the best thing for me and I was given a shot of Stadol in my arm. Almost immediately I was snoozing and resting and the next hour flew by. It was, I hate to admit, the best hour of my labor up to this point.
I started being wakeful around 10pm and the nurse came to check me again. She announced that I was at 7cm and that it would not be long now. She left to call the doctor and I started to really wake up and get involved again. I knew that there were only 3cm left to go and that they would go quickly. The doctor had arrived around 11pm and was positioned in the familiar position at the bottom of the bed. Finally at 1130pm I was at 10cm and started to push. I sat up in the bed against the pillows and held my legs up in the air and pushed hard with every contraction. The Stadol had worn off and I was alert and focused.
Pushing was a lot more work than labor had been but somehow I understood it better, or coped with it better because I could actually DO something. I felt no pain, just a lot of pressure and a lot of tiredness as my sleep-deprived body tried to work up energy for the effort. Finally after an hour and three-quarters of pushing, the baby's head appeared and her little body quickly followed.
She was 6 pounds at birth and pink. She was whisked to the warmers on the other side of the room and had her fingers and toes counted by the nurses and the doctor. Meanwhile I sat alone on the bed watching as blood continued to pump from the umbilical cord hanging from the birth canal. Finally after a few minutes, I asked "is this what is supposed to happen?" and pointed to the blood on the bed. The doctor gasped and said "where's the placenta?" I indicated that it had not yet arrived. She got a panicked look on her face and started pulling on the cord. It hurt and I shrunk away from her, backwards into the wall. Before I knew it, I was being propelled at top speed down the corridor toward the operating room where the doctor successfully withdrew the reluctant placenta. I still ask myself today whether we gave it enough time to come out on its own and had I concentrated, could I have pushed it out? I will never know the answer to these questions, but with baby #2 I remembered to make the effort and had no problems whatsoever.
I woke up in recovery at 5am and asked for the baby. I had to ask for her five or six times before they realized how serious I was and the baby was brought to me. I am nothing if not persistent. We were moved to a room upstairs as the doctor thought I should be observed for a day or two because of the retained placenta and the pints of blood that I had lost because of it. The pediatrician came by to do his assessment of the baby and he stated that she appeared to be about a week early (a week premature). It was a very good thing I had not allowed the doctor to induce me three weeks before.
This was my first time alone for an extended period of time with a small baby and I embraced the opportunity right away. I cuddled the baby and started to nurse the minute we were settled in our room. We spent a lot of time looking at each other, although mostly it was me looking at her while she slept peacefully. She didn't eat much the first day and the nurses, trying to be helpful, kept leaving bottles of formula even though I repeatedly told them that I was breastfeeding exclusively. One of them actually had the nerve to ask, "do you have enough milk? If you don't have enough milk, then you'll need this formula" - to which I replied that milk doesn't come in for two or three days and what the baby really needed now was the colostrum that my body was making especially for her. This did not impress her and she left the formula anyway.
By the time I left the hospital, all of the nurses were happy to stay well away from our room. Thankfully, we were released two days later, January 2, 1993. It was 80 degrees below zero with the wind chill and snowing. It was a beautiful day. We named her Elaine Linell.