Our sweet little 18.5 inch and 5 pound 9 oz Chloé Marie Griffo came into the world three weeks early at 8:25 in the morning on January 31st, 2018. We couldn't be happier and are so completely obsessed with her. What follows is her birth story. It wasn't anything like I'd planned or imagined (really is it ever though?). But I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat just for her.
Mark and I had been taking Hypno Birthing classes from a lovely doula in San Diego named Chris beginning in early January. I was concerned that our class schedule (Tuesday evenings January 9th through February 6th) would cut it pretty close with my due date being February 17th, but some classes are better than none, and Hypno Birthing (intuitive and peaceful birthing without fear, and accepting whatever turn your birthing takes) was the only birthing method that I was interested in doing so we took them anyway.
I'd been having Braxton Hicks on the daily since November and since my siblings and I all came early, told myself Chloé might too - but for some reason didn't apparently actually believe or prepare for it since her room wasn't ready or my hospital bag fully packed the week she decided to come. My sister in law Amber was going to be our doula for Chloé's birth, so I was constantly texting her any changes in my body or the way I felt and she was letting me know what different sensations or things meant. I'm ridiculously in tune with body and crazy sensitive to changes in it, so everything was a potentially new thing to text her about. Beginning around January 22nd, I started feeling different and a few times when I went to the bathroom, I noticed the toilet paper was super faintly (as in barely noticeably) pink when I'd wipe. I texted Amber and she said she had been feeling like Chloé would come in the next week or so, so I knew I should start preparing a little more seriously since Amber is really in tune with Holy Spirit and never wrong about these things (we hadn't told anyone Chloé's name or sex, and the night we announced we were having a girl, she told me she already knew and knew her name too). I gradually lost parts of my mucus plug that week and focused on running errands to get some final things to have at home postpartum and to have in my hospital bag (but for some reason still never actually finished packing my hospital bag).
On the afternoon of Saturday the 27th, Mark and I decided we needed to get out of the house and went to In-n-Out to grab some burgers and eat them by the lake near our house. We ate our burgers and had just started to go for a little walk when I felt my first surge (the Hypno Birthing term for a contraction). It wasn't very intense, but I breathed through it the way our birthing classes had taught me anyway, just to practice. I had a few more while on our now very short walk, and we headed home where I texted Amber to see if what I thought I was feeling was what I was actually feeling. She confirmed. Mark was supposed to be setting up / tearing down, leading worship, and speaking at our church the next morning so I started to worry about who would take over for him if I were to go into full on labor. I continued to have surges irregularly and with varying intensity or pressure (the Hypno Birthing word to use instead of pain) throughout the rest of the evening and night.
Sunday morning the 28th rolled around, and Mark was gone setting up at church. I was feeling crampy and tight but wasn't having any more surges, so I got ready like I did every Sunday and left for church. As I pulled into the parking garage my parents and sister were walking to the elevators and saw me, so they waited for me to park and catch up to them. As we walked up to church together, suddenly I felt a gush of fluid. I paused and quietly said, "Whoah". "Whoah?" my mom questioned, "What is whoah?".
"I think my water just broke."
"Do you need us to go back to the car with you and take you home?" my mom asked.
"No, I think I'm okay. Let's keep going and I'll check it out in the bathroom."
Once in the bathroom we confirmed that my water had broken. I told my family that I wanted to stay through worship and then I'd leave, but that they should stay so as not to cause a scene with all of us leaving mid-service. I texted Amber to update her and let her know what was happening. During worship I kept mouthing, "Membranes released" - the Hypno Birthing term for water breaking - and smiling at Mark who was on stage leading. He's really good at many things but truly awful at lip reading and just kept looking very confused and smiling back.
After worship I went down onto the stage and quickly told him that my membranes had released or leaked and that I was going home to finish packing my hospital bag. He looked dazed and I wondered how on earth he was going to preach knowing that I might be in labor. My sister Audrey offered to come home with me and help me pick up the house and get ready, and at first I said I'd be fine but then accepted. We got back to my house and launched into getting things ready. Audrey helped with cleaning while I finished packing my hospital bag. I had a few more surges but still nothing regular, and another gush of fluid. When church was over my parents came and helped with cleaning the house, and picked us all up some lunch. Mark came home and we ate and said goodbye to my parents.
That afternoon around 4 we headed in to the Kaiser hospital we were planning on birthing at, 40 minutes away. They started the labor and delivery triage process and began monitoring my surges and Chloé's heart rate. Shortly thereafter a midwife came in and gave me a rather rough pelvic exam (ouch) and tested me for amniotic fluid. The test came back negative, and I was 1 cm, 50% effaced, and baby was at -2 station., so after several more hours of monitoring (since Chloé's heart rate would sporadically plummet during some surges) and an AFI test (measures the amount of amniotic fluid around baby) that came back in the low end of normal, they sent us home and ordered twice weekly NST / AFI testing beginning the next day. We got home around 9 that night, and after a very fitful night of sleep interrupted by more surges, it was Monday morning.
Monday I had my regular OBGYN appointment, where I was once again only 50% effaced, and nothing else was new, so we proceeded to the NST / AFI testing. Where once again, nothing was new. Chloé's heart rate was still dropping during some of my surges, and her amniotic fluid was still on the low side of normal. After the appointments we went about our day as planned, getting lunch and coffee out, running a couple errands, and just enjoying the day.
Around the early evening I felt another gush of fluid, and the surges picked up in strength to where I could feel them a bit more. Amber came over that night, and over the next few hours my surges intensified in strength and frequency until they were 2-3 minutes apart for an hour or two. At that point we called the hospital and they told us to come in. Our car was out of gas from our afternoon out so we had to stop at the gas station where I was breathing and humming through surges. Once we were out on the freeway though, my surges (at least the ones I could feel) slowed and nearly stopped altogether. Upon arriving at the hospital at 1 in the morning, they picked up again a bit. But after another pelvic exam (thankfully this midwife was far more gentle than the first and did not make me nearly cry) and more monitoring for Chloé's heart rate and an AFI test, they once again sent us home since I was still only at 1 cm, 50% effaced, and baby was at -2 station. Poor Amber had had to stay out in the waiting room the whole time they triaged me to no avail, and we all headed back to Mark and my house at 3 am.
Amber spent the night and she and Mark were able to get a solid night of sleep until 9 in the morning, unlike me. I felt like I didn't even sleep all night since I was constantly being jerked awake by surges, and I was exhausted. Mark and I made coffee and breakfast and we were standing around eating it when at 10 am, I felt the largest gush of fluid I'd felt yet. I went to the bathroom to suss it out. Amber asked me what it smelled like, and I gave it a sniff and responded, "salty". She confirmed that it was definitely amniotic fluid. As I stood up from the toilet, even more gushed out, and that was when my surges started in earnest. Amber headed home to take care of a few things and we promised to text her when we headed in to the hospital again later to let her know if we'd be staying this time. I rolled out my yoga mat and began marching up and down the stairs (we have three flights of them in our townhouse) for the rest of the afternoon to try and move things along. During surges I would drop onto my hands and knees and sway while humming to help with the pressure. There was pain in my lower back / upper butt that was intensifying, and I began to rely on Mark to come and compress my hips / low back during surges to help with it.
I was feeling hungry again around 2 pm, so in between surges I made some salmon that was going to go bad if we'd be gone for a few days. I felt a little ridiculous making my own lunch while in labor, but I'm sure glad I did because they don't let you eat while you're laboring at the hospital. After lunch we got the rest of our stuff together and the car loaded up again - we'd loaded it twice already for our previous two hospital trips by this point. I labored a bit more at home, and around 4 pm we headed to the Palomar hospital nearby that was only 15 minutes away. By this time my contractions were what felt like 30 seconds apart when you're sitting in traffic and everything is slow, but were in actuality only 5 minutes.
We got to Palomar hospital and began the triage process once again (thankfully the triage rooms at Palomar were so much nicer and actually had windows). They tested me for amniotic fluid and this time the test was instantly positive. I nearly cried with relief. The sweetest triage nurse then performed a very gentle pelvic exam and said I was at 3 cm and that she could feel hair! I teared up and was so excited because I knew I was going to meet my sweet girl so so soon and I couldn't wait. They finished checking me in around 5:30 pm and moved me to a labor and delivery room shortly thereafter. Amber showed up around 6:30, and Mark went down to our car to get our bags and started setting up our room: dimming the lights, putting on our instrumental worship music, and getting some essential oils going. I changed into a long T-shirt and my socks and Birks to be comfortable and settled in to continue laboring.
Our nurse's name was Alex, and she was the sweetest almost doula like nurse. She brought me a birthing ball to labor on and helped lower the bed so that I could easily get in and out and onto my hands and knees in it. The next hours seemed so long. I watched the sun set over the mountains, and the city lights come on as my labor and surges progressed. I was so hungry but very talkative and optimistic. I ate a banana to help a bit and drank some coconut water for electrolytes and to get a least a few calories in me. I didn't understand why they didn't want me to eat until after my banana (the most they'd let me eat) I felt horribly nauseous. My surges were getting stronger, and so was what I by that time knew was called back labor (Chloé was head down but facing towards my front instead of my back - sunny side up they called it). With every surge it not only felt like the worst and most intense period cramps of my life that grew stronger surge by surge, it also felt like a freight train was rolling over and going to break my lower back at any moment. I wasn't talking anymore and I wasn't perky and cheerful. With every surge I was on my hands and knees, swaying and humming "mmmmmm" (literally the most sound I made apart from the grunting later when I pushed) while Mark compressed my hips and Amber light touch massaged my arms to help manage the pain.
Sometime around midnight (I'm assuming, honestly everything is a blurry time warp), I was so exhausted that could hardly hold up my body during surges and in between them would lie in a limp puddle in the bed to try to rest and catch my breath. My surges were 2 minutes apart at this time. The only thing I can equate the feeling to is like when you have the flu, and you so badly do not want to throw up but you do anyways because you have no control over it, and the whole time you are throwing up your body is tense with the heaving. There is nothing you can do to relax, and as soon as it's over you feel weak and like a limp spaghetti of a human being. At this time I stopped even timing my surges because I was so out of it. Mark would try and talk to me but my eyes refused to focus and were rolling around in my head when I would try to look at him.
Shortly thereafter, Alex came in to see where I was at again. I had high hopes that I'd have progressed pretty far and that it would be almost time to push, but they were shattered when she reported that I was only at 5 cm. Where is the have a baby instantly button, because this back labor is really wrecking me; and dear Lord, I don't know how much more of this I can take I thought to myself. Alex left and came back in with another nurse or doctor (I certainly don't know which, because I was basically delirious) and they said that I wasn't as far along as they were hoping, and that my water was nearing being broken for 24 hours so they wanted to give me pitocin to strengthen my contractions and speed things along. Good gracious, stronger surges with this intense back labor?! No thank you, I thought. My brain decided to chime in, "If you take that without something to help with the pain, you'll die". Kind of dramatic, but I agree with you at this time brain, I conceded.
Amber and Mark and I had agreed when we wrote my birth plan together, to not give me any pain management drugs. I wanted to do this thing alllll natural (which as a woman who yells with pain when she stubs her toe, is rather impressive if I say so myself). I had said even if I begin to beg for them in delirium, do not give them to me. With one caveat - if they could tell that I actually needed them and wasn't just being a baby and we were all in agreement, I should be given them as a very last resort. Amber and Mark and I discussed what to do (me with not so many words because I was so delirious) and strangely enough, they were actually more down with the idea of me taking something to manage the pain than I was. Since I'm such an all or nothing person, I was super resistant to the idea even though I felt like I needed it if I were going to be given pitocin. I finally gave in to the idea and asked Alex what my options were. I let her know that I wanted to feel Chloé coming and the pushing, and I didn't want to be out of it or want Chloé to be out of it either when she was born. Alex said that my best option would be an epidural at a very low dosage. I had the hardest time, but agreed to the epidural after talking it over some more with Amber and Mark and deciding that it would be the best course of action since I needed the pitocin to get my sweet girl into the world safely. Honestly, I truly believe that Hypno Birthing got me this far without anything for pain, and that I could've gone all the way if I hadn't been having back labor and wasn't going to be given pitocin. One of the tenets of Hypno Birthing is "I will accept whatever turn my birthing takes" though, and I was ready to do just that.
They pumped me up with two bags of saline (I felt like a human water balloon and legit could not bend my ankles or knees comfortably by the end of it, I thought I was going to pop) and then around 2 am the anesthesiologist came in the administer the epidural. My (and probably every laboring woman who is about to be given an epidural's) fear was that I'd have a surge during him inserting the needle and be paralyzed because I'd be unable to stay still, but man their timing is so good! They watched my surges on the monitor and inserted it during the down time between them perfectly.
Once I was back in place in bed, I took three clicks of the epidural drip and they gave me 1 of pitocin and I tried to get some rest. Mark and Amber completely passed out for the next 3 hours, but between the pressure (but thankfully no more pain) from the surges and the nurses coming in to monitor me and Chloé's heart rate constantly I wasn't able to actually sleep. The relief from the epidural did give me some rest though, which felt so wonderful to my exhausted brain and body which were still running on about 9 hours of sleep across the past half a week. At some point during the 3 hours Amber woke up and asked how I was doing and I began rambling to her about needing to get out a package that was in my car and had to be shipped to a friend, and could she drop it off for me (hilarious the things I seem to think are important during times of intensity)? She said yes and drifted back off to sleep. Towards the end of the three hours I could feel the pressure of my surges getting stronger, and some of the pain was starting to seep into my body again.The 1 of pitocin (they upped it to 2 at one point and brought it back down) had done it's work, and when Alex came in to check me again around 5 am and I was at 9 cm and might be about ready to push in an hour or so, she said.
"Do you feel almost ready?," she asked.
"What does ready feel like?", I responded.
"Like you need to poop out a football."
"Not quite, but I'm getting close."
"Okay, hold it for a bit and then you can push soon", she said.
I held my football baby for what seemed like an eternity, and then around 6:45 Alex checked me again and told me I could now push if I wanted to. Alex asked me how I wanted to be positioned, and then she and Amber and Mark helped get me into a sitting up position, and Alex showed me where to push. Just when I was about to start and was in the middle of a massive surge the wasn't even registering the true height of how strong it was on the monitor (because it only went as high at 150 and this was definitely still getting stronger after already hitting that 150), a new nurse came in because it was 7 am and time for the shifts to change. The new nurse was very by the book and strict, and I do not do well with change at all once I'm already in a rhythm, and I really don't do well with change during moments of intensity. She immediately questioned what was going on and told me that I was not ready to push and would probably have to wait several more hours, and said something to the room about that I would "have to push for at least two hours". She began reclining the bed again and made me lay down and I just lost it. In between trying to breathe, I started loudly sobbing that I wanted Alex and did not want this new nurse here, and "would someone bring me back Alex". Of course that wasn't possible, because hospital rules and protocol, but it didn't stop me from wailing and being extremely distraught regarding the change and the new nurse's brusque and rather abrasive bedside manner (especially when compared to Alex's).
By this time I knew the new nurse's name was Lylah. She grabbed a peanut ball (if you don't know what that is, it's literally a type of birthing ball that is shaped like a peanut), and laid me on my side with the narrow part of the peanut in between my thighs. Every 10 to 15 minutes or so she would flip me on my other side, and all this was to try and move Chloé lower and more into position. Chloé's heart rate was still dropping off the monitor during surges. As the surges intensified even more I called on Mark to once again distract me and help manage the pain and pressure by scratching my arms and pushing on my lower back. The flip flopping kept up until just before 8 am, when a team of people came in and started turning the room over. They turned on all the lights and turned off my music and essential oils, once again I was not happy and began protesting the change, but my protest had zero effect and they still carried on. They set up some tools and at that point the OBGYN on call came in and checked me. He glanced at what was going on with my surges and Chloé's heart rate and announced that "we were having this baby right now". Of course I am I thought to myself, because I legit can't hold her any longer.
I was so completely exhausted and drained once again from the force of the surges ripping through my body and using all my self control not to push, that I was out of it and pretty much delirious once again. The team of people laid the bed down even lower and pushed me onto my back while I protested and told them I wanted to be upright to push, but once again no one listened to the woman who was actually giving birth. At this point I was disappointed and frustrated by the lack of listening to my wishes, but I told myself that Chloé was coming no matter what position I was on or how the room was set up, so I gave up fighting everything. The OBGYN once again showed me where to push, and I grabbed Mark and Amber's hands and pulled them close and told them that they needed to pray for strength for me in between surges because I was so exhausted and felt like I didn't have the strength left in me to push this baby out. The OBGYN yelled push and I held their hands tighter than I've ever held any human being's and used what felt like all the strength left in my body to push. The surge ended and they all told me to breathe in deep through my nose, but since my nose has been broken a few times and my septum is deviated I couldn't get a breath in and was lightheaded from the lack of oxygen. Another surge came and I pushed through it, albeit rather weakly because I was still under oxygenated. During the second surge someone grabbed an oxygen mask for me, and I held it to my face afterwards. I pulled it away and told Amber and Mark to pray for strength again as the next surge mounted and the OBGYN once again yelled push. I again used all my strength and repeated the cycle of pushing, then oxygen mask during the downtime, and telling Mark and Amber to pray just as I headed into another surge about three or four more times.
After 8 minutes total of pushing (gosh how that made me feel like superwoman!) and a surprise episiotomy (which my permission was unfortunately not asked for) my sweet girl was out and in the world. Her cord was so short (the now apparent cause of all the decelerations in her heart rate) that they were initially only able to lay her on my stomach while we waited for it to stop pulsing since I wanted delayed cord cutting. As soon as it stopped, Mark cut the cord and they laid my darling Chloé girl on my chest.
I hadn't been able to see her really until that point, because of all the people gathered around. I was mesmerized. My very first thought was how chic she was with her birthmark, and how wonderfully her name fit her. She was oh so tiny and absolutely perfect. Her sweet bow lips, her tiny button nose, her precious little beauty mark birthmark next to her nose, her dark hair, and her slate blue eyes. She didn't even cry, just blinked up at me with her big eyes. So seemingly aware of who I was, and so at peace to be snuggled on my skin. She had blood in her hair and I ended up with blood on my chin from nuzzling her, but my mama heart didn't care. Chloé Marie was the most delicious thing I'd ever seen, and I was smitten. Our girl was finally here on the outside and we were Griffo, family of three.