I have two different stories. The one I wrote right after my birth and the one I write now.
I do need to say that at the time I was happy with my experience. I even made a point to go back after one week postpartum to bring the L&D department flowers because I really felt supported during the entire process by the hospital staff. All my midwives and nurses were very supportive of my desire for a natural birth. They were excited about my essential oils I had diffusing in my room, they were friendly, sweet and supportive, but they didn’t know what I needed, because honestly I didn’t either. Hindsight is always clear and the what if’s will always be there. But it doesn’t make this story any less valid or any less true to what I was feeling below the surface.
This story is everything in between the lines of the first one. This one is as long as the birth itself. This one is not as neat and tidy and it doesn’t fit nicely on one page in her baby book. But this one is real, this one is raw. This one is written by a woman who has had time to process, time to learn, and time to heal. I know the woman I was then navigated a difficult journey the best she could. I give her grace for not knowing what to expect, not knowing what she would need, or what she wouldn’t. I write this as a way to process the experience for myself, for my future self to remember what I learned, and hopefully for someone who reads this to know that it’s all ok...
All week I was an emotional rollercoaster. I was calm, I was at peace, I was content and I was simultaneously stressed, nervous, and annoyed by the world. So I hibernated, did yoga, meditated, danced, hugged cam, walked, enjoyed every minute with Michael, sat in the sunshine and did everything I could to stay calm and in my body. At 41 weeks though I knew the days were coming to an end that they would “let me” stay pregnant. I knew the words induction were coming and being made to feel like I didn’t have a choice in the matter was such a sickening feeling of dread. I always knew she would be late, I knew she would come when she was ready, but that didn’t matter. The induction was scheduled for Friday at 8:30am.
Thursday night I went to bed feeling defeated. A sense of doom that I was going to wake up to face the music and have a medical procedure done that I did not want. But it was “for the health of the baby” so we just fall in line don’t we?
2:30am - I woke up to a wet feeling and thought that maybe my water broke. I’d been having mild contractions all week that would go away when I went to bed, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up that this was just another false alarm or a sign I was misreading, so I didn’t wake Michael. I sat in the bathroom for a while and after being pretty sure that’s what was happening, I was full of so many emotions. Relief, excitement, nerves, all of the feelings at once. This girl was just waiting until the last minute, just like her momma! I went back to bed and woke Michael up to tell him the news. We tried to go back to bed after that and got another 3 or so restless hours in before I couldn’t sleep any longer.
The night before the L&D nurse had called me to say they were having power outages and they needed me to come in later on Friday for my induction. Which I of course told them, “great take all the time you need!” So once I got up I called them to check in and when I told them my water broke they said “oh well if your water broke then you need to come in now.” I was a little caught off guard by this since I had always planned on laboring at home until things started to progress and then going in, but once again you just do as your told and be a good patient. So I slowly showered, had breakfast, packed our things and we drove to the hospital.
Entering the hospital, it felt like I was there to get a treatment or procedure done. Like you have a condition that they need to get you medical care for. You feel like you are on their turf and you’re playing by their rules. You don’t get choices about things like which room would you like to labor in (crazy thing was we got the very last room in the place), which direction do you want the bed to face in the room (a strange thing that mattered to me in the moment), do you want the windows open to get fresh air in so you can feel a part of the natural world (no they definitely do not), do you want anyone to talk to you (no I didn’t, but the first nurse we had just wanted to tell us her life story), I could go on, but my point is is that I felt so out of my element, so out of my comfort zone, so many things out of my control that I really feel like my body felt that too and shut down.
Once I got there they came in to get me all hooked up to the monitors, which threw me off again. What do you mean I have to have this thing on me at all times and attached to the bed? That was not how I wanted to labor. I wanted to walk, I wanted to be able to move without getting tangled in cords. The nurse seemed a little surprised, but went off to find out what my options were. She came back with a wireless monitor that she then proceeded to painfully scrape away at my stomach to get it to stick with what was basically sandpaper. I gathered from conversations later that happened that she actually did this wrong and did not need to scrape as deep as she did, but I was just grateful for the mobility so I didn’t ask questions.
Once I got checked I was already at 3cm. I was excited and proud of my body since I had been doubting myself and my ability to birth for weeks. They said great we don’t have to worry about induction at all, let’s just see how I progress. So they left. And I was just left to I don’t know “progress”? I felt excited like ok my body can do this, but my mind took over and was like well we can’t just sit here so let’s make things happen! I’m a do-er. I’m a people pleaser. I’m all the things I shouldn’t have been in that moment. I shouldn’t have cared about the checklist of things I went through to get labor going. I shouldn’t have cared about how long it was taking me. I shouldn’t have walked the cold sterile halls to look longingly outside the windows. I shouldn’t have cared about making small talk with the nurses. Checking in on my family. Worrying about when exactly I should have my doula arrive. Even worrying about Michael. I should’ve checked in with myself, my body, my baby and that’s it. I should’ve tried harder to get to go outside. To sit in the sun and feel the breeze that my body was dying for. I should’ve tried getting in the bath. I should’ve done a million things, but I did what I did and that is ok too.
So needless to say all day Friday I didn’t progress. Really at all. So Friday night they came in to talk about induction and at that point I’d already become disconnected from my body and discouraged. All along they always said they can start the pitocin and stop it if my body takes over. So I thought sure this will just kickstart things. There I go thinking again though and not feeling. I’m also a feeler, an ISFP. Introverted, sensing, feeling, and perceiving is my true nature and I had lost touch with all of those things while trying to go through one of the most magical and powerful moments of my life.
So we started pitocin. And it sucked. I progressed all night, but the intensity of pitocin contractions really do suck. (Although to be fair I don’t have non medicated contractions to compare it too) I started with nitrous oxide to help with the pain, but I found that the way you had to breathe into the mask really messed up how I wanted to be breathing. Also it didn’t really do much in terms of pain management, just really a few seconds of helping me to get to the next one. I started to feel like I was on a beach getting knocked over endlessly by waves. As soon as I would stand up to catch my breath another one would come and knock me over. I don’t remember exactly how this whole evening went, but when I think back to it I remember a sense of panic and fear.
All I kept thinking was how much further I had to go. I was still progressing fairly slow and I just knew I could only take so much more. I felt like I was just barely surviving every contraction and to think about hours more of it and then the pushing stage after that, it was just such an overwhelming thought. What was my next option? Fentanyl? Sure let’s try it.
My pregnant self would have never believed that I would be open to trying fentanyl. My post partum self is not a fan of the fact that I exposed her to a narcotic during a moment where I wanted to keep her as protected as I could from any harm. But my birthing self couldn’t see any other options.
Like you often hear with these kinds of stories, it snowballed. Fentanyl was worthless and soon I was begging for the anesthesiologist to get there so I could throw my natural birth plan out the window and get the dreaded E word. Epidural. Now. My nurses were so supportive of my birth plan they stopped me and asked me if I was sure. They knew I wanted a natural birth and they wanted me to think about the reasons I wanted it. They wanted to make sure I was making the right choice, which I appreciated, but in that moment I didn’t need them to help me think, I needed them to help me reconnect. But by that point it was too late, I needed that epidural and I needed it about 5 minutes ago.
I then took the best 2 hour nap of my life since I had barely slept Thursday night. Now I only had two hours of sleep since then and little did I know but I had another rough 24 hours ahead of me. So when they say sleep in early labor, trust me, sleep!
I woke up feeling refreshed, but then I stared to process my epidural and was overwhelmed with anxiety. I like to have control over my body so the reality of being numb from the waist down really freaked me out. Thankfully I realized I still had a lot of feeling in my legs and was still pretty mobile so I calmed down with some focused breathing. I hated being on my back so as much as I could I wanted to change positions. Being on all 4’s with a pillow was my favorite way to be comfortable. So that’s how I stayed for much of the day.
At some point on Saturday I was finally ready to start pushing. I pushed on and off for 6 hours. After hours of this I was running on empty. I didn’t think there was any way I could find the energy or strength left to push one more time, and then somehow I would do it again. The only way I was able to get through this day was from the support I had. Michael was right there holding my hand or leg and encouraging me with every push. He was the strength I was lacking and the safe place I needed. My doula was so helpful with getting me into positions and kept encouraging me. She always believed in me. The nursing staff and my midwives too all gave me so much positivity through the whole process, I felt lucky that with every shift change and new face I met, I was still supported along the way.
Midway through this long day, my doula had a worried look on her face. I knew something was wrong and she said that she couldn’t believe she would have to say this, but she had to leave. She was the only attendant for a birth that wasn’t supposed to happen this soon, but babies don’t operate according to our well planned out calendar do they? She told me that my backup doula that I picked was also supposed to be at a birth but that I was her priority, so if I wanted her to be there she would come. When I met with all the doulas to select who I’d want to be there, i couldn’t decide between two of them. I felt a connection with both but I choose based on experience for my first choice, but I always had a strong feeling that my backup doula would be at my birth somehow too. Strangely enough at our post partum visit, she told me that she had the exact same feeling. I knew I needed her to come, I knew I needed to feel confident with my team, as I was losing confidence in myself, so I asked her to make my birth the priority. This shift change, so to speak, with the doulas actually brought a renewed sense of energy into the room. I think this change really helped me get through several more hours of pushing. Especially once we got to the hard parts.
There was always one thing about the pushing stage that I will always wonder if it would’ve changed things. In the weeks leading up to her birth I found a Hypnobirthing video that talked about J breathing. A type of breath that you take down your spine and push out that I found so helpful while dealing with constipation in late pregnancy. (Sorry TMI, but this is a birth story..) So there were several points where I remember asking my midwife if I could try it. She told me that she had never heard of it and to just continue pushing how they were instructing me to do it, which honestly never felt natural. I remember feeling like I was pushing and giving all my energy towards it but it felt forced. It didn’t feel like I was working with my body, I was just forcing it to do something. Over and over again for hours. It wasn’t my body giving it everything it had, it was my mind. My mind was listening to how I was told to do things and just kept on forcing my body to fall in line.
When we came to the hospital we thought oh her birthday will be May 25th, but soon even the idea of having her on the 26th was slowly fading. We had watched another sunrise and sunset and as the night came we we finally got to about +1. and my midwife told me that we could see her hair. This felt so great that I had come so far and we were getting so close! I was hopeful and found renewed energy thinking we were almost to the finish line. Then things stayed the same. No progress for a while. I could feel the energy in the room deflating. My midwife had to leave to go another room for a woman who was actually about to give birth and her leaving right at that point made me feel a little given up on. I know she was just doing her job and she actually had to go to the other room, but I felt like I was not doing a good enough job and a part of me gave up at this point too.
I continued pushing because If I didn’t push it would hurt so much worse. So I just kept at it and I figured maybe I’d make some progress if I continued. Having Michael on one leg, my doula on the other and nurses around me giving me everything they had alongside me was the only way I even made through.
When the midwife came back she said that she was getting concerned about her hand possibly being up by her face or her cord being wrapped around her neck. Once she talked about her hand being by her face I remembered back to our ultrasounds and during every single one she always had her hand up by her face, so that did seem to make sense to me. I couldn’t believe that after this long and this much effort we were now talking about a C-section though. She told me that right now I had options, I could still make decisions about how this could go, with an emergency c-section I would not. I was still in shock, but at that point I was honestly a little relieved, I was so exhausted and didn’t know how much more I could possibly take.
Thankfully at this point my doula was there to remind me of the wishes I had included on my birth plan for a C-section. Because strangely enough throughout my whole pregnancy I never wanted to think about that as a possibility. I would avoid C-section birth stories, I didn’t do any research about it, up until the very end. It was around her due date and I just had a feeling that I might have to have one. That thought made me go through the mental process of how I would feel if that was our story. I did some research and found some interesting ideas that I added to my birth plan that made all the difference!
I am very claustrophobic so I requested to have a clear sheet up over me on the table so I could see what was happening and honestly I would’ve really struggled had this not been done! It was hard enough for me to not be able to drink water, since I was drinking sips of water after every push for hours and still felt so thirsty. It was hard for me to have to leave my arms straight out in a T position for the rude and brisk anesthesiologist, when all I wanted was to have my body back in my control. It was hard to have him inject me with a stronger epidural so I would lose all that mobility in my legs I had been so happy for. I had to take off the robe and clothes I brought to labor in and get into a hospital robe. I had to take off my jewelry that was made for me to wear during labor. I had to lose everything. While I understand the necessity of all of these things for the process that is modern surgery, it felt like the final stripping away of control over my body and my birth.
The doctor that came in to do the surgery was one from my practice that I had never had an appointment with. I had been adamant about only wanting to meet with the midwives since I wanted a natural birth, but she was one of the kindest, sweetest people I could have ever asked for to be my doctor at that point. She set up a Bluetooth speaker for me to be able to play a playlist on. She let Michael take video of the whole thing, which is incredible to have a video of her first moments into the world. She was kind when the anesthesiologist was rude. She even sang Happy Birthday to her when she was born! Her presence helped us get through this last major hurdle we had before we could meet our little girl.
As they took her out and sang happy birthday to her I realized how disconnected I had been to the whole process. For a while I didn’t even think we would ever get to meet her. In the video when I rewatch it I hear me say the words, “you do exist”! It felt really surreal to finally be meeting her.
Right now we are pretty sure we are only wanting one child, but if the future does ever hold another birth for me, I will do everything I possibly can to VBAC. I say that because looking back the part that makes me the most sad is what happened after they took her out. I was thankfully able to see her as they lifted her out, but she was then taken across the room from me to get her vitals checked and do what felt like a million other things to her. All I wanted was to hold my baby. To have her in my arms. To have my voice and my face be the one she was seeing as she tried to understand this new reality. We had been connected for so long and to have her feel like she was just ripped away was something I’ll never forget.
When they finally brought her over so we could do skin to skin she was cleaned off, wrapped up, and placed practically on my neck since there was not much room as I was still on the operating table. I was having a hard time feeling like I could breathe but I didn’t care. I was so happy to see her and have her in my arms, I said hi baby and when she lifted her face towards mine and looked into my eyes, nothing else mattered. That is the moment I became a mother. It all clicked and I will never forget what that moment of connection felt like.
Sadly I really started to feel like I couldn’t breathe. It was so difficult to hold her like that I asked Michael to take her, even though all I wanted was to never let her go. They said they were going to take her to the nursery so Michael went with them and I was left alone while they finished my surgery.
I was then taken to a post- op room, which felt a little bit like a dark closet in my memories, and was told I needed to be in there for what felt like forever. I was so thankful that my doula could be in there with me so I wasn’t alone, but all I wanted was my baby and my husband by my side. I finally got a hold of Michael and asked how it was going and he sent me so many beautiful pictures of her and was just gushing over her. He was in love. It was so beautiful, but the fact that I didn’t get to experience that time with them right after she was born. That she wasn’t right on our chests while they checked her vitals. That she only got several minutes of skin to skin. That I was tucked away in a dark room watching the clock tick by until I could be with them, these are all heartbreaking parts of my story to me.
When they finally brought her into the room they put me in, she was all bundled up already. So being a new mom I didn’t even think twice about it. They said she needed to eat so I awkwardly tried to hold this little bundle up to start breastfeeding and thankfully she was a pro at it right from the beginning, but it all felt so unnatural and I kept feeling like I was doing something wrong. When I look back now I want to scream at myself to unwrap her. Get her skin to skin, hold her little body close to yours and it will all feel better. To listen to yourself when something feels wrong, because it probably is.
For example, I hated her being in the bassinet they had her in. I wanted to hold her hand, i wanted to have her close to me. To at least be able to see her at all times, but the bed I was in would automatically adjust every time I would move to try and look at her and her bassinet was up just high enough that it was hard to see her clearly from. After deciding to cosleep with her as she got older I understand now why that time felt strange to me then, because it is. As a mammal and as a mother, we’re not designed to keep our babies away from us. We’re meant to stay close to each other. These are all things that I have learned though and without having those strong uncomfortable feelings, I never would’ve thought to start trying to learn more about why I felt that way.
This story could go on forever, because our story doesn’t end at birth, it is just the beginning. But these feelings that I was left with after the birth process, good and bad, were a part of my birthing process of turning me into a mother. They were opening doors in my heart and my mind as I walked into this next chapter of my life and I will forever be thankful for it.