From the tiniest speck of stardust, I grew and birthed a baby. A whole freaking human with fingernails, long limbs, her dad’s sticky-outy ears, and a personality. Like, out of my vagina. What!? This rather common life experience seems like a mind boggling feat of science and strength to me. The human body, MY BODY, is astonishing in what it can accomplish. Growing our family is something that Nate and I desperately wanted for the longest time. After 2 years of infertility and subsequently calling it quits/accepting our DINK lifestyle forever, Penelope willed herself into existence. I have never been more surprised than when I saw the positive pregnancy test. Fast forward through nine months of pregnancy hell, and we arrive at Penelope’s birth story!
Checking on baby girl at 41 weeks and 2 days
On Tuesday February 22, 2022, I had a biophysical profile (BPP) ultrasound to make sure baby girl was healthy. The plan was a home induction later in the week if our exams gave us the all clear. All was well with baby’s anatomy, muscle movement, her measurements, my amniotic fluid levels and my placenta. Unfortunately the tech couldn’t capture her practice breathing, which would show her diaphragm moving up and down. I drank orange juice and ate a jolly rancher to give baby a jolt of energy, but no such luck. At the same exam, we learned that her weight estimate was 9lb 10oz, give or take 1lb 7oz, yikes!
Our midwife Bella requested that I get a non-stress test (NST) to check on baby’s heart rate. We ate dinner, left the hospital bags behind, and headed to the hospital. We made plans to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and eat ice cream when we got home, yay!
I got strapped into the fetal heart rate monitor and started the exam around 7:25pm. An exam that typically takes 20 min turned into almost an hour and a half because they couldn’t establish an average heart rate. Baby girl’s heart rate showed a lot of spikes but not a lot of rest. I tried lying in different positions and drinking a bunch of water, but baby still moved inconsistently. The nurses updated Bella on our status and shortly after, she arrived at the hospital. I wondered if something was wrong.
After reviewing the NST results, Bella recommended an immediate induction. She couldn’t confidently say that all was well with baby after the BPP and NST. Panic set in and my anxiety skyrocketed. Our birth preference was a home induction and a water pool birth. An IV induction would take those options away. The hospital bags!!! We left them behind! I wanted to watch RuPaul and eat ice cream! Nate looked pale and shook. It was not what we expected at all.
Bella consulted with the doctor on shift and we got a few induction options. The first was inserting a foley balloon to slowly dilate me to 3cm. With the balloon I could go home! The second was an IV oxytocin induction, and I would stay at the hospital. My vaginal exam revealed that I was dilated 2cm and my cervix was still quite high. We moved forward with an oxytocin induction rather than attempting the foley balloon. I also knew that trying to go home and come back to the hospital would be catastrophic for my anxiety.
With no idea how things would progress we called Aislin, our doula. We decided to have her come and be my designated support person in my tiny Labour & Assessment curtained-off room. Nate would go home and pack up what was left for the hospital bag. Then he would bring a few essentials for early labour to the hospital for me. Then he’d go home again to sleep since he’d support me through the rest of labour. Driving galore! Hooray for spontaneous birth! Bella let us know she’d be back around 5am for a cervical check and to break my water.
The induction begins
Aislin arrived around 10:15pm and Nate headed home. At 10:30pm, a nurse started my penicillin drip through an IV for my positive Group B Strep. The oxytocin drip for the induction followed quickly afterwards. The doctor on shift predicted a long, slow labour (dammit). Aislin helped manage my anxiety because constant fetal monitoring meant no more water pool birth. I was so sad and disappointed, but just wanted baby to be born safely.
Labour pains started as sporadic low level period cramping, and Aislin and I chatted about random things to keep my mind off of it. Nate brought snacks, my yoga ball, and a few comforts like my glasses and toiletries. Watching him leave was so hard, but having Aislin with me was a huge relief. Once he left, early labour continued slowly. The fetal monitors made it hard to get comfy in certain positions because then the nurses couldn’t hear baby. Every half hour they upped my oxytocin levels by a few points to help the contractions get stronger. I tried to snooze for a few hours around midnight and surprisingly got a bit of sleep!
At one point the pain seemed similar to passing a kidney stone – more intense lower flank pain. I had a split second thought that my asshole kidneys were choosing the most inopportune time to pass a stone. I was always curious how kidney stone and labour pain compared, and for me labour pain wins as the worst! Aislin broke out the tens machine so that I could figure out how to distract myself from the building pain. She also popped a few cups on my back to relieve some tension. I was shifting positions from on my back to my sides, and then off the bed and onto to my yoga ball, curled over some pillows.
Moving to labour & delivery
Bella showed up around 5am, and moved us to a labour & delivery room so she could break my water. Aislin called Nate at 5:30am and let him know it was time to rejoin us. I was put into a wheelchair and we moved down the hall to our spacious birth room! I shed a few tears, thinking “this is where we’ll meet our daughter, in this room!” Such a surreal moment.
Bella did another check and I was still only 1-2cm dilated, but my cervix had moved down slightly. At the same time as the cervical check, she broke my water at 6:15am and I felt a huge gush. I was discouraged that I hadn’t dilated further after laboring overnight. Damn that doctor and his accurate prediction. The nurses continued to increase my oxytocin dose to keep things moving along.
Nate arrived at 6:43am after stopping for coffee for our birth team, and I was so relieved to see him. Aislin set up the room with my birth mantra artwork taped up, overhead lights turned down and twinkle lights on, and I tucked my malachite stone into my bra. Those small things from my original birth preferences helped ground me in the moment. Bella left to take care of some clinic work, and the next few hours of labour were a blur.
8am – I labored in bed on my side because I typically feel most comfortable in this position. It definitely intensified the pain.
9:30am – I labored on my yoga exercise ball and practicing “lion’s breath” breathing to help my body stop shaking. It shook sporadically all throughout labour.
It’s incredibly hard to describe labour. At first I felt confident in breathing through the waves of pain, using techniques like counting my breathing, repeating my mantra, imagining an incline/decline, low pitch moaning, and focusing on the sensation of the electric pulses on my back as I drifted up and down through the pain. Nate and Aislin provided counter pressure with hip squeezes, sacral pressure, and a ton of quiet encouragement along the way. I rotated my hips a lot, rocked through it, put my head down into my arms, and let go. Time lost all meaning and it really didn’t feel like I laboured for hours. After every handful of contractions I shifted positions with Aislin’s gentle guidance, taking the moments in between to sip apple juice on ice.
10:00am – I reached 4cm dilated…I don’t remember this cervical check AT ALL.
10:08am – I labored on the toilet, facing backwards.
10:30am – I labored while standing up and swaying, then hanging over the bed, then in Nate’s arms.
Active labour…I think
11:15am – I labored in the tub, with hot water spraying onto my lower back which felt glorious! The pain was pretty intense at this point, and I mourned my water birth the most in this moment. I didn’t want to leave the tub.
At first I was aware of my surroundings, even though I kept my eyes closed for the majority of labour. I could hear Nate and Aislin chatting. It was comforting! We put some music on but eventually that became distracting. Chatting became distracting. People asked me questions and I couldn’t find the energy to answer vocally. Nurses came and went with shift changes and I didn’t even notice. I went so far into myself, almost like meditation. I didn’t really feel conscious. Then, visualization stopped working, counting breaths stopped working, and the pain ramped up to the point where I felt like I couldn’t catch up.
12:17pm – I labored while sitting on the side of the bed and felt an immense amount of pain and overwhelm. I asked for the epidural at this point. I remember basically sleeping between contractions, that feeling like you’re falling into a dream.
12:33pm – My epidural was administered and the anesthesiologist commented that I was the stillest patient he’d had in 6 years. I don’t really remember this happening. I didn’t feel a thing.
12:50pm – I think this is when the vomiting started. With almost every contraction, a quick throw up. Labor pains were still intense on my left side, so they rolled me onto my side to try and even out the epidural.
1:15pm – After placing my foley catheter, the nurse Katy checked my cervix. I was at 9cm, 95% effaced, and baby’s head at -1 station! I had basically laboured to 9cm without the help of the epidural, in the span of a few hours. We called Bella, who was completely surprised at my progress, and she said she’d be on her way for 2:05pm.
1:44pm – The anesthesiologist returned to adjust my epidural because I was still feeling immense pain and pressure. I remember thinking epidurals were bullshit at this point haha.
2:00pm – All of a sudden, I felt like pushing! My body knew it was time. The nurses told me to wait for Bella, otherwise they’d need to transfer my care to the doctor on shift. The next 15 minutes of waiting felt like the longest of my life.
2:15pm – Bella arrived! It was GO TIME. Time to get this baby out of me and meet our daughter!
2:30pm – I start pushing with contractions, first on my left side with Aislin and Bella supporting my right leg. I eventually ended up on my back which worked better for bearing down and was less painful for contractions. It’s the one position I swore I wouldn’t birth in and yet it’s where I felt the most in control. I could still feel pain and pressure, but it helped me work with the rhythm of my body. A warm compress on my perineum helped me visualize where to bear down. I almost didn’t feel strong enough for the act of pushing because, y’know, large baby through a less large space. The only positive was a renewed sense of purpose and immediacy after the lengthy intensity of early and active labour. Pushing meant I was so close to the end!
3:44pm – After the longest test of endurance of my life, Penelope’s head arrived!
3:45pm – With one final push, Penelope Anna Noella Winski was born. Seeing her face for the first time was indescribable. We MADE HER.
4:05pm – While Penelope was having skin to skin time with dad, I delivered my placenta, which was apparently ginormous.
Penelope weighed 9 pounds, 5 ounces, and was 21 inches long. I had second degree tearing, which my midwife described as a beautiful tear. So imagine a nice clean tear in your vagina…that’s what I had. Shudder. All in all, I don’t feel traumatized by her birth. Even though it’s not how I wanted to experience birth, she arrived safely! She passed every newborn exam with flying colours.
McDonald’s for dinner…obviously
We had our first breastfeed while I was being stitched up. Our whole feeding journey is a post for another time! Once she latched and fed, we moved to another room for recovery and overnight observation. We settled in around 6:25pm and I decided that my first postpartum meal should be McDonald’s! I worked on breastfeeding Penelope, and Nate ordered food. Chicken nuggets have never ever tasted so good. I have also never been so tired in all my life. Deliriously tired, deliriously happy. We video called both our parents, and settled in for a night of zero sleep.
And that, my friends, is Penelope’s birth story, or how I gained a little sidekick. We are obsessed with her. She has changed our whole world. In this phase of life, I’m a new version of myself and I can’t wait to share all about it.