As told by Jessica:
On Thursday, March 1, a winter windstorm carrying 70 mph gusts ripped through Maryland. Stephen and I snuggled up with our two sweet pups, admiring the full moon outside our window, as we watched 10 Cloverfield Lane on Amazon Prime.
Stephen was getting over the tail-end of a cold, and slept in the guest bedroom so as not to wake me with his fits of coughing. I went to bed at 11pm. As I lay on my side, I felt my baby dance around in my belly as I drifted off to sleep. At 12:20am on Friday, March 2, at exactly 39 weeks, I woke in a near-panic, and shot out of bed. I was saturated. I ran to the bathroom, and in a haze, realized my water had broke. The feeling was so incredibly surreal, and dreamlike. I immediately ran to wake Stephen, and let him know what was going on. He jumped out of bed just about as quickly as I did. We luckily lined our brand new mattress with plastic two days prior. We also purchased Depends for my postpartum recovery. These were monumental to have on the drive to the hospital. Once my water broke, it did not stop.
We called the midwives, and spoke with Kelly, who was on call at the time. She let us know that we’d need to make our way to the hospital. She urged us to arrive within two hours of our phone call. Had I not tested positive for Group B Strep (GBS), I would have been able to sleep in my own bed, and labor in the comfort of my home. We hadn’t finished packing our hospital bags, so we did this in a bit of a frenzy. I stood in my walk-in closet, tossing various items into my bag. My voice trembled as I called my dad to let him know we’d be heading to the hospital, and asked that he check in on our two pups when he could. My emotions were all over the place; excited, nervous, scared of the unknown. The dogs were confused as to what was going on, and uncertain why we were leaving them in the middle of the night, in the midst of a very wild windstorm. After hanging up with my dad, I called our doula, Kaylah. I alerted her of the situation, and let her know we would be heading to the hospital. We agreed to check in with her once we arrived and chatted with Kelly.
We drove quickly down 270 to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, as the wind pounded vigorously against our Honda. We arrived at the hospital about 2am. We checked in at Labor & Delivery, and began the triage process. The nurses immediately hooked my swollen belly up to the monitors, and Kelly came to speak with us. They confirmed that my water had indeed broke, and that I would be admitted into the hospital. We were going to have this baby! Contractions began on our drive to the hospital, however, these contractions would become a million times more intense and gut-wrenching over the next several hours. The nurses moved us to our room in Labor & Delivery, where we would spend the next 30 hours or so. Note: this labor was nearly 33 hours from the time my water broke until the time my son was born.
Kelly encouraged Stephen and I to get some rest. I knew I desperately needed to sleep. We had heard all along that labor is a marathon, to which I had been training for, both physically and mentally. I didn’t sleep a wink, though. The anxiety alone kept me awake, as well as the check-ins from my midwife and nurse, and the low beeping and humming of the monitors. Stephen, however, was able to sleep throughout our duration in the hospital. Kudos to him.
GBS positive test results aren’t without implication to the labor process. First, vaginal checks are limited, if done at all, as they can increase risk of infection. Second, every four hours, antibiotics are administered so that baby does not contract GBS. If contracted, this can cause extreme sickness, and even death. Third, it’s important to deliver the baby within 24 hours of the water breaking (again, to limit risk of infection). So, every four hours, precisely, I was administered antibiotics intravenously. Mind you, I hadn’t had antibiotics in six years.
As I lay in my hospital bed, experiencing mild contractions, I alerted my employer that baby was coming. I sent a few emails, and once early morning rolled around, I sent a text to my immediate family that we’d been admitted to the hospital and baby was on his way. Kelly came by bright and early and she let us know if I wasn’t progressing enough on my own by noon, she’d like to administer Cytotec or pitocin to help move things along. I had been texting with Kaylah, and we agreed she should arrive by noon to help us with this decision. I had planned for a natural, vaginal birth. I didn’t want any medications (other than the antibiotic), so I was disappointed when Kelly brought up the induction discussion.
Kelly encouraged me to get up, get ready as I normally would (do my hair, makeup, etc.), and eat a protein-rich breakfast. Stephen left around 8am or so to trek to the local Whole Foods. He brought me the most glorious breakfast; fried plantains, sausage, bacon, Kite Hill yogurt. I’d eat like a queen for the entire duration of our hospital stay, thanks to Stephen’s constant trips to Whole Foods. We walked the halls of the hospital to try to amp up my contractions.
Kaylah arrived at noon, and we began discussing our options. Cytotec is a drug used to treat stomach ulcers, however, is also used to soften the cervix and induce contractions. We opted to try Cytotec. I took the medication orally around 4pm, and contractions became stronger and stronger. I continued to contract, progressing with intensity over the next few hours. Kelly alerted us that her shift would end at 7pm, at which point Tara would takeover. I really connected with Tara throughout my prenatal visits, so I was ecstatic that she’d be the one to deliver our baby.
Contractions became more and more intense, nearly unbearable. Stephen and Kaylah took turns applying heat and counter pressure to my back, and Kaylah guided me through various positional changes to ease the pain. Kelly’s shift ended, and she was pleased to see labor was progressing. At 7pm, I became the patient to a rockstar medical team. Tara came to greet me, as well as our amazing nurse, N. N was a young muslim woman; she was attentive, compassionate, smart, and overall, an incredible nurse.
Over the next two and a half hours, contractions became excruciatingly painful. I was trying desperately to ride each wave; one at a time. Kaylah turned off the bright fluorescent hospital lights and placed flameless candles and string lights about my room, and bathroom. This was calming and helped to increase oxytocin levels. By this point, we had boycotted our own musical preferences and opted for Kaylah’s relaxing and mellow playlist. There were moments where I questioned why I ever got pregnant in the first place; moments where I truly thought I might die. Moments where the only place I was comfortable was straddling the backside of the toilet.
The windstorm progressed; the hospital lost power. The lights flickered, as the generator kicked on. Snow slowly fell outside. The moon was full and bright. Nature was working with me to birth my child.
Around 9:30pm, I was in so much pain, I was certain I was fully dilated and ready to birth this baby. We finally decided it was time to do a vaginal check. Tara had me lay back in bed, and determined that I was 2cm dilated. Defeat overcame me as I broke into tears. I had been working for nearly 24 hours; I hadn’t slept in 48 hours. I was exhausted. I couldn’t go on. At this point, Tara, Kaylah, Stephen, and N decided an epidural was in my best interest. Throughout childbirth education, and birth planning, I had chosen to avoid the epidural. However, my doula’s words that an epidural is neither good nor bad, but simply a tool, stuck with me. I agreed that it was time to use this tool.
Around 10:30pm, the anesthesiologist came to administer the epidural. Stephen had stepped out, however, my rockstar team was with me. I sat up in bed, facing Tara, N and Kaylah. N gently wiped the tears from my eyes with a tissue, Tara and Kaylah gripped me tight. As the anesthesiologist asked me not to move, I began contracting. At this point, the pain from the contraction was worse than the needle entering my spine. Once the epidural was administered, my team had me laying in bed, hooked up intravenously. Relief slowly set in, and the lower half of my body went limp. In addition to the epidural, Tara began administering pitocin. The epidural caused me to have the shakes; I was shaking and shivering uncontrollably, and though uncomfortable, I was assured this was normal.
Shortly after the epidural, I started to feel very strange. Before I could even report the feeling, N was already in my room, administering epinephrine. The epidural caused my blood pressure to drop very low. After two doses of epinephrine, I started to feel a bit better. N repositioned me every hour so as to get this baby in optimal position. Left side, right side, left side, right side, back. In between the position changes, I finally dozed in and out of sleep. Kaylah slept in the waiting room. Stephen slept on the cushions by the windows.
This process continued throughout the night. Baby wasn’t reacting well to the pitocin, however, with some positional changes, and oxygen, I was assured that he was just fine. Kaylah texted around 5:45am. I let her know that I had dozed off, and gotten some rest. Stephen was still asleep. She came to my bedside to check in, and then went to grab some coffee and coconut water. In these quiet moments, I spoke softly to my pregnant belly. Let’s work together, little man. I need your help.
Tara came in about 7:20am and did another vaginal check. This time, I was fully dilated. I texted Kaylah the awesome news, and she received my message as she was in the elevator on her way back to my room.
Tara advised that I relax for a couple of hours, as she wanted me to have the urge to push this baby out on my own. At this point, I was laying on my back, propped upright. My belly became increasingly more uncomfortable. I called my nurse, and finally, around 8:30am I asked for Tara to come see me. I couldn’t stand the discomfort any longer, so Tara suggested that we try a couple of “practice pushes.” As Tara suited up, she walked me through the process of pushing. Legs back, chin to chest, deep breath, push for 10 seconds.
On my first push, Tara exclaimed that we weren’t practicing. She could see this baby boy’s head, and this baby was coming. I opted not to use a mirror, as I felt in tune with my body, and didn’t think it was necessary. In retrospect, it would have been pretty amazing to see the birth of my son. In the beginning, Tara was telling me when to push, however, after the second or third push, my instincts kicked in, and my body knew exactly when and how to birth this baby. Baby and I were working together. I told Tara when I was ready, and this process continued. Push, push, push. Tara exclaimed that he had a head full of dark hair. Stephen and Kaylah encouraged and cheered me on, each of them on either side of me, supporting my legs. I continued to listen to my body, and this baby’s head was out. He began crying as soon as his head emerged. More pushes and his little body slipped out from mine.
This tiny little human that Stephen and I created was placed on my belly as he made his welcome into this world. He was tiny, and perfect, and he was finally here. Giving birth was a magical, miraculous, and nearly hallucinogenic experience. Apollo Walker Gulliford came into this world at 8:59am on March 3, 2018. In that very instant, my whole universe changed. My heart grew, exponentially. My soul was connected with his. His tiny hands grasped my finger, and I had never felt more complete.
Stephen kissed me on the forehead as Tara and our nurse toweled off Apollo. After several moments of awe, and after the cord had stopped pulsing entirely, Stephen cut the umbilical cord. I could now have a better view of my son. His skin was perfectly pink, his hair was dark and wavy (which would later change), and I was amazed by how much he resembled me. Wide-eyed and alert, he locked eyes with me and my heart melted a bit deeper. This was the little man who I’d gotten to know so well for the last 39 weeks, moving and grooving in my belly. I looked at this beautiful new human, and felt such profound gratitude. Thank you for choosing us, sweet boy. I love you more than I’ll ever know how to express.
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