Here goes the story of Lance coming into this world, and of my husband Louie and me becoming parents. I’m writing this blog post to share how he made his grand entrance into our lives and also to inspire all those women experiencing a preterm labor, winding up stuck in bed, and struggling with a high-risk pregnancy. I hope this piece gives you the strength, courage, and hope to keep moving forward.
Our Birth Story: Surviving Preterm Labor, Bed Rest, and Other Pregnancy Challenges
My Roller Coaster Pregnancy Journey
Going through labor and delivery was seriously one of my biggest fears. Blood, pain, needles, surgery, stitches, and complications are all part of the equation. To feel relieved, I like rehearsing the process of labor and delivery over and over in my mind so I’d be more prepared when the day finally comes.
I spent hours nightly doing heaps of research to arm myself with as much information as possible regarding labor, various childbirth practices, recommendations of healthcare providers, and personal stories of mothers. After stressing over what-ifs, expectations, and checklists, I realized there was one thing that couldn’t be controlled: our son’s birth.
As mentioned in my previous post, I felt totally fine during the first two trimesters of pregnancy except for the fact that I suffered from heartburn after every meal. I still drove to work every day and did my job as usual. And then I woke up one day a little past midnight having sharp abdominal pains which I thought were merely caused by indigestion, constipation, or a stomach virus.
The cramps went steadily as the morning progressed. By phone, our OB said that the cramps (contractions) could be a sign of early labor (premature labor). She instructed us to head immediately to the Labor Room of the hospital so my condition could be further assessed.
Preterm Labor at 30 Weeks, Confined in the Hospital for 2 Weeks
We arrived mid-morning at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. A resident doctor asked me interview questions (medical history) and checked to see if my cervix was dilated through an internal exam (IE). I also had a transvaginal ultrasound to have a more accurate measurement of the cervical length. The findings? At 30 weeks, I was already 2-3 centimeters dilated and 70% effaced. My heart sank. I quickly panicked since I wasn’t yet ready and I knew the consequences of a preterm delivery. I’ve never been so terrified!
On the other hand, I was happy to find out that the amniotic fluid was still normal, the baby was already head down (and not anymore in breech) in posterior position, and the fetal height and weight were okay. There could still be a chance to slow down labor and delay a premature birth or an early delivery.
Upon admission, two doses of steroids, 12 hours apart, were injected to me to speed up the development of the baby’s lungs. Different tocolytic drugs were provided via the IV and orally to help stop labor from progressing. Out of the many, magnesium sulfate gave me the worst headache, blurry vision, and the urge to vomit. I also took antibiotics in case the labor was brought on by infection.
My belly was strapped with wide stretchy bands, which held against two electronic disks connected to a machine called an electronic fetal monitor. The first disk monitored my contractions, and the other kept track of the baby’s heart rate. The machine recorded the information onto paper, and the resident nurses and doctors would periodically come to review the document and report to my OB.
Every day felt like torture. No technical gadgets (tablet, laptop, mobile phone), no food, and no guests were allowed inside the labor room. I felt helpless with the desire to talk and share my feelings with my family, eat food I like (instead of hospital food), and know more. Why is this happening to me? What are the causes of preterm labor? What are the risks? What are the treatments available? Can I actually have a healthy baby?
Also, since I was in the labor room beside other pregnant women in labor (separated only by curtains), I could hear their screams and strains that were all very traumatizing. Some were pretty intense which heightened my worries about labor pain and my fear of childbirth. For sure, I had plenty of sleepless nights that led to mental and physical fatigue and greatly elaborated on increased anxiety.
Looking at the positive side of the situation, I began to have a clearer view and imagination of what it’s like to go through labor, with about 4-6 women going in and out of the labor room daily. It was like being fully immersed in different pregnancy and labor cases live and in real time (not only learning about them online).
The right combination and dose of tocolytic agents (nifedipine and terbutaline sulfate) decreased the frequency and intensity of contractions on the 13th day. I just had to stay one more day for observation and was finally released from the hospital the next day. However, I had to remain on absolute bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy.
Surviving Bed Rest
A bed rest sounds like a dream, particularly to a busy and tired pregnant woman. But when reality hits, it means being stranded for weeks and weeks while having high risks of a preemie. Following my doctor’s advice, I stayed on bed all day at home with limited movements (except when going to the bathroom) and took on medications on time as prescribed to prevent labor contractions and the advancement of cervical length.
Being on bed rest for a month is not an easy vacation; it can take a toll on both emotional and mental well-being. Sleepless nights continued since the baby was becoming more active inside the womb. I felt uncomfortable whenever he wriggled around. Sometimes the pain was constant and powerful as if he’s practicing acrobatics. My OB reassured me that the pains associated with kicks, jabs, and baby movements were perfectly normal sensations.
Meals were also a challenge since I still experienced heartburn and had the pressure of gaining more weight after losing seven pounds during my confinement in the hospital. Eating a lot and taking in more food and calories than my stomach and appetite could manage are my least favorite things to do.
The first time I went out again was for a quick checkup with the OB. My doctor and I were already thankful that I reached 34 weeks without having a bloody show, my waters breaking, or a premature rupture of membranes. We discussed our birth plan, and the doctor advised me to stop the medications. All we had to do was wait.
The Waiting Game, Overcoming My Fear of Childbirth
The few weeks leading to a baby’s due date are usually the most exciting. Days felt longer with less to do, so I kept myself busy preparing my mind for childbirth. My favorite pastime then was reading through even more similar experiences of moms-to-be and stories of moms in online forums and Facebook groups. With this routine, my fear of labor and delivery had somewhat diminished. Instead of worrying about pain and possible complications, I chose to nix negativity and prayed and hoped that everything will be okay.
Two days before the 37th week, we visited our OB for another checkup. I was screened for Group B streptococcus (GBS), a type of bacterial infection that can be found in a pregnant woman’s vagina or rectum. Although GBS is said to be generally harmless to healthy adults, it may cause stillbirth and serious infections in babies. If found positive, being treated with antibiotics during labor if necessary greatly reduces the baby’s risk of becoming infected. Results would be out five days later.
Per usual during prenatal visits, our OB checked the fundal height and said the fetal growth was just right. Then, she inspected my cervix through an internal examination to check the cervical dilation. We were surprised when she said my cervix was already 5 centimeters dilated and we would need to deliver our baby on the same day. What?! She asked if I had been feeling the contractions, and I said no—only baby movements. I did not feel any labor pain all this time; I must be so used to having contractions at that point. 😛
I researched online about how long or how fast it takes pregnant women to progress from 6cm to 10cm. Most answered pretty quickly—baby is usually out within 12 hours. Convinced, we returned home to grab our hospital bags and told our families…it’s game time!
Painless Normal Delivery Achieved
When I knew it was actual labor, I became “out-of-my-mind” excited! I couldn’t believe it was really happening on that day and that we would meet our baby in a matter of hours.
We drove to Providence Hospital in Quezon Avenue for admission. At 7:30pm, I was moved to the labor room, 7 centimeters dilated. I started feeling the contractions becoming stronger and closer together, but they weren’t painful as I was expecting. I did not need to indulge in a gentle massage, soothing music, or a warm or cold compress to relieve the pain. The nurses and doctors made me realize I have a high pain tolerance. My husband was on my side for support, regularly reading the fetal heart rate and contractions monitor.
After an hour, my OB arrived in the labor room and checked my cervix for dilation. I was 8 centimeters. The anesthesiologist followed suit and administered a standard diluted epinephrine infusion on epidural anesthesia for a vaginal birth in the delivery room. I was surprised the injection did not hurt even a bit, far from what I was mentally and physically prepared for! The procedure took only 5 minutes and I started feeling a mild numb sensation from waist down in 30 minutes.
At 10pm, our OB came in to examine me again. My cervix was fully dilated at 10 centimeters, and the doctor could already feel the baby’s head. Great, I didn’t have to be induced, have a membrane sweep, put to sleep, or walk to speed up labor. A great support team of nurses helped me practice patterned breathing and pushing techniques for labor. Whenever I felt the contractions, they counted to ten, while I pushed as hard as I could for those ten seconds. I tried three times and the doctor said we were ready. They transferred me to the table in the delivery room. I was ecstatic and felt more than ready.
Everyone gave a hearty cheer and tons of encouragement. I was silent and my eyes were closed the entire time as I focused solely on my breathing and pushing. After three more pushes, something warm was put on my stomach. The baby was out so fast (in 10 minutes or less)! I thought we were just continuing to practice some more breathing and pushing exercises. I opened my eyes and saw the baby wet and crying. The anesthesiologist took our first family photo. It was such a touching and thrilling moment. 🙂 I couldn’t be happier. Life is good. God is good.
The nurse took Lance to weigh and clean him, while our OB did some stitching on me as I had a third-degree laceration after vaginal delivery. I felt some pressure but there was no pain at all! Our family waited outside the delivery room and welcomed the baby once he was out. We were sent back to our private room after two hours.
I was able to walk and pee in the next 24 hours. A lactation nurse taught me different positions to hold my baby while breastfeeding, what a proper latch looks like, and also how to express milk in a laid-back style. Every two hours, a resident nurse checked on us to make sure we were doing it right. Our relatives came to visit us in the hospital and showed their support. We went home after two days.
Recovery: I took pain relievers and antibiotics for a week, and my physical body has recovered remarkably well. I was back at my pre-pregnancy weight and there’s not a stretch mark on my belly. Amazing! Right now, I’m practicing po ge lai (Chinese postpartum recovery).
Our baby Lance’s birth story is one I really enjoy telling, partially because I’m still in shock (over 2 weeks later) with how it all happened. I’m often told before that lightening quick deliveries are hardly the norm, especially for first-time moms; in real life, progression of labor is much slower with a whole lot of screaming. Well, I guess I’m one of the lucky first-time moms to have a stress-free, pain-free, worry-free labor and delivery. We were so blessed that it all worked out and that we now have a beautiful and healthy son. 🙂
To expecting moms: Pregnancy may be a long, rough road, but this road can end in happiness, in the form of a healthy child. Every birth story has its own beauty, and much of that beauty comes in the strength pregnancy challenges give us as women and as mothers.