Birth Story: #5

It had been weeks. Weeks of that same annoying, sometimes painful sensation. Weeks of the same hope, rising, despite my resolution to not get excited. Weeks of wondering, waiting. Weeks of exhaustion and painfully swollen feet and ankles.

It was September, and I was full-term pregnant with my 5th baby in 8 years. I wanted nothing more than to have that precious little baby out of my body. People said things to me like, "Oh, once she's out, you'll wish she was back in." I just stared at them with dead eyes when they said that. This was not my first rodeo. I hate being pregnant. There's about 27 minutes of the entire pregnancy that I enjoy. I actually enjoy labor and birth more. With labor and birth, the end is nigh. The pain is intense, but it will be over soon. And, every single time, I've told myself, "If you just get through this one, you don't ever have to do this again." This time I meant it. Just as much as I did last time, but this time my husband had a better doctor.

So, on September 18th, when I started feeling that tightening of muscles again, I told myself I wouldn't believe it. I didn't even tell my husband. I told him I was going to bed early because I was tired. He looked at me funny - it wasn't his first rodeo either - and asked if he should start cleaning the house for the midwife.

We were planning to induce the next day. I don't really remember my due date - either because she was my 5th baby, or because I know it's just a wild estimate of one day within a month of possible days, I don't know. I think I was pushing 42 weeks though. Maybe 41+3? Either way, I had no qualms about inducing. My sweet midwife had been putting me off for several days. At the time, I believed her stories, but now, I think she was testing me to see if I could try to wait just one more day, just one more day.

The day before, on September 17th, we were going to induce, and another midwife - who is now a friend - called me and said she hadn't seen Sherry in awhile and wanted to take her out and could I please, please put off trying to induce labor. I said yes, and then hung up and cried and cried.

I don't know for sure, but I think that Sherry knew that I needed to wait, and she wanted to see how badly I wanted to induce. I'm so glad she did. Whether it was Sherry's brilliance, or just that things working out the way they were intended, I'm so thankful.

We couldn't induce on the 18th because that was a Sunday, and my husband was a pastor. Not happening. So, it was supposed to be Monday sometime.

Sunday night, as I had the same contractions, I also had the butterfly feeling that this was really, truly IT. I knew it in my heart, but I refused to believe it. I laid down and tried to sleep.

Of course, I had to pee. 10 minutes later, I had to pee again. I thought, "That's weird. Even for a hugely pregnant girl!" I began to realize that I was "peeing" a little with each contraction. Could my water have broken?

That may sound like a weird question for a mama who's already birthed 4 kids - 3 of them naturally, 2 in her own home, where surely she'd be aware of her water breaking... right?

My water had never broken on its own before. Kids 1, 2, and 4 all had the water broken before going into "real" labor, because I was miserable and wanted to speed things along. Kid 3 had the water broken as he was crowning. He might have been born in the caul (on a full moon! lol), but the midwife asked if she could apply pressure to the bag of waters, in order to make delivering him easier. He still has the world's largest head, and I'm not inclined to believe superstitions, so I'm immensely glad she did that. I had discussed in length with Sherry about how maybe my body just needed my water to be broken. I was ok with that.

Except, looking back, I realize that this time, my body did it all on its own. I needed no help to bring her here, only hands to help catch her. That is something so empowering, so thrilling, I have no words. This body is not broken. It can do things I didn't even believe it could do. To be clear, I did not think my body was broken, not in the least. But to realize its power, its strength, was beyond what I assigned to it, based on my fears, was one of the best lessons I've been given in this life.

Back to that night. I told Scott to call the birth tub lady, and maybe the photographer. I already knew the tub could be set-up for a day or two with no issues, so I felt comfortable with that. I was texting my midwife. I still didn't want to believe that it might really be that I was in labor, and just be disappointed again. I didn't want to call all these people in my house to have them look at me, them patient, but me feeling as if I should be progressing. I believe that's why #4 was born so early (37 weeks). Perhaps, if I had waited to call people, it might have been days or weeks before her birthday. I decided that this is what these birth professionals are paid for, they were used to that aspect of their job, and, moreover, they were women that cared about me, and would not be mad even if they drove all the way to my house for a false alarm. I told Scott to go ahead and call the photographer.

I stood in the shower, still unsure if my water had actually broken, despite gushes of water with each contraction. I couldn't stand anywhere else, even, except in the shower. Thankfully, it was the perfect place. I laid my arms on the bathroom counter, my head on my crossed arms and swayed my hips from side to side to get through the contractions. Scott mostly left me alone, which was what I wanted. I eventually moved to the bedroom floor, on hands and knees, no longer worrying about amniotic fluid on the carpet. At some point, Naomi (the birth tub lady, and also a doula, and midwife-in-training), asked if she could set up the birth kit. She put one of the chux pads (they look exactly like puppy house training pads), under my knees. I continued to sway, and continued to text Sherry. She asked if she needed to come now, I wasn't sure, but I couldn't text her back because a contraction was coming. After that contraction, I figured, if I couldn't text through the contraction, it was probably a safe time for the midwife to come over. It was about 11:30 , I believe, and I had finally accepted that I was in labor.

Naomi came in my room and said that the tub was set-up, but it didn't have much water in it. I could still get in, because at least it would be warm, and maybe provide some comfort. Scott helped me walk out to the living room where it was set up. As I walked out, I said, "Hi" to the photographer, who was mostly a Facebook friend. It was awkward for about 13 seconds, and then it was just fine. I'm so glad she got these pictures for us.

I took one look at that tub, with its walls as high as my hipbones and told Scott simply, "There's no way." before leaning on something in front of me for another contraction. I knew Scott was starting to get nervous, but Naomi just continued about her business, and cooed things like, "You're doing great, mama." "Gooooood." "Good breaths. Just breathe that baby out." Naomi was not even my doula, but I will forever love her for those words of encouragement. (Ladies, you want a doula. I promise. They will be so much more level-headed than your husband, and often, know exactly what to say, by some gift of womanly intuition.) Scott rubbed my back, and put the icepack on my lower back, where I always feel the brunt of contractions.
I have photos somewhere without the watermark. But, I don't know where they are, and I don't mind giving a shout-out to my amazing birth photographer! 

After awhile of this, I told Scott, "You're going to have to catch her, because she's coooooooooommmmiiinnng." That last word was caught up in a contraction-starting-to-push-moan. I heard him say, "uhh... uhh..." and I could tell he was frantic, and looking around, for what, I don't know. Maybe Sherry, who lived a good 45 minutes from our house.

Let me pause again to say, my husband was 100% on board with my homebirths. But, he had told me he had no interest in catching, and no interest in cutting the cord. He was absolutely fine with that. My best friend cut the cord with #4.

I just said over and over to myself, "Naomi is here. She's a doula. She's experienced. She won't let my baby fall on the floor. She won't let my baby fall on the floor."

My body started to push on its own. I moaned through the contractions. Some part of my brain said, "I can't do this." A louder part of my brain responded, "Of course you can." It was at that moment that I fully understood the power of my thoughts for the first time.

As I was pushing, I was aware of Scott behind me. Next, Tiffanie, the other midwife, arrived, and I began to feel more comfortable starting to push. I was trying to push slowly, because I always tear, after that first episiotomy. Then, I heard my front door opening, and Sherry's voice behind me almost immediately. She arrived just in time to catch the baby. She held her through to me, and said, "Meet your baby." I picked her up, and just like all the others, said, "Hi! Oh! Hi baby! It's so good to see you!" and then to the people around me, "I did it! I did it!" I remember Tiffanie being closest, and her warm smile as she said, "Yes! You did!"
  This time, we had only just barely chosen a name, so I looked at her, and asked her what her name should be. She confirmed that the name we had chosen hours earlier was the perfect one. It was one I had liked since we first started thinking about names.
#1 had asked us to see #5's birth. She had seen #4 be born. She was upset we didn't wake her until after baby girl was born, but she immediately fell in love. 
As I've mentioned, I feel like all my births have taught me things. This birth taught me to trust my body, and at the same time, that I have control over my thoughts. I can't even imagine my life without those important lessons. Thank you baby girl!
Happy 2nd birthday!
Taken the night before her birthday. (Her sister cut her hair a few weeks ago.) 

Birth Story, A Decade Later

I woke up early. I wasn't feeling anything other than jitters. I was supposed to go in for an induction that day! The day before, they told me that because my induction was "elective" and they had a full floor, I would have to wait. I told the nurse, "No. Mine's not elective. My doctor said I had to have an induction as soon as possible." She politely told me that mine was considered elective, and I asked if my insurance would still cover it, knowing that they didn't cover many "elective" procedures. She said they would. I was so confused at my non-elective-elective induction, but I trusted my doctor, and did what she said. I called again, on September 3rd, 3 days before my due date. They weren't sure if they'd have room, they'd call me. I hung up disappointed and upset. How could they just tell me to wait? My doctor said it was urgent to have the baby!

I know now that I was in no danger. I was dilated to 3cm, and my water was unbroken. She told me I was at risk of an infection. The risk of infection increases with every dilation-check they do, but to limit those was never brought up as an option. I was never told of my Bishop's Score - an indication of how likely it is that an induction will work, based on several different factors - or even that such a thing existed, probably because mine would have been so low to recommend no induction. 

I signed in to the hospital, got hooked up to all the machines that go ping! at about 9am, and settled in. My contractions weren't strong. My back hurt a lot, but I thought it was the bed and my huge belly. My family all came to the hospital, someone picked up my mother-in-law from the airport, who happened to be flying in that day. Around 5 o'clock, the doctor said that I was finally at 5cm, far enough along that they could break my water and speed up the process. So we did.

Immediately, I started to feel those contractions that I hadn't been feeling. I was unprepared for the pain, and although I had planned to go "as long as possible" without pain medications, I asked for the epidural within the hour.

This is why I highly recommend childbirth classes and a doula to every new mom. You need to be prepared. You need to have an idea of what to expect, and what to do when the pain comes. Even if you plan on asking for the epidural the moment you're in the hospital room, you should have something in your back pocket in case you do get to experience natural labor. Yes, I said "get to" - it is one of the most empowering experiences of my life. 

The anesthesiologist joked about how he was about to head out, but his wife would have made him turn around and come back if she knew he'd left me there, asking for him. What's funny is, while I was waiting for him, I did what I did in all my other births - I took it one contraction at a time. I told myself to just deal with that one, and not worry about the next. It never occurred to me that I could do that all the way through labor - until I did it with my second-born.

The next few hours were somewhat boring. We all hung out in the hospital room. I kept asking my dad to lift my foot up for me and set it right. I could feel enough that it was slightly uncomfortable when my toe pointed forward, but not enough that I could move it. At about 9 or 10 pm, I realized I was snapping at people, and they were all seriously annoying me. My sweet daddy came close, patted my leg, and gently asked if maybe it was time for all these people to get out of my room. A lightbulb formed above my head. OH! Maybe that's why I want all these people to Just. Shut. UP. Maybe that's why I want to hit some of them in the face. Maybe I'm in the middle of birthing a baby, and my body needs to focus! haha! Having been through several more births now, I know that when I get to transition (the part of labor right before pushing, the most intense part), that when I'm in a contraction, I want everyone in the room to Just. Shut. UP.

Everyone left, except Scott. The nurses came to check me, and said, Yay, you're at 10cm! Time to push! I remember asking what to do, how to push, when to push. The nurse kept saying to do what my body told me to. That would have been fantastic advice. Except, I couldn't hear my body. I felt like I had put a muzzle on it. It couldn't send messages into my brain to tell me when to push or how. I would ask the nurses, one who was holding my leg up towards my chest, "Now?" as they watched the machine that goes ping! contraction monitor. I tried to read their faces and guess when the right time was. I tried to find a rhythm that felt like it was what I was supposed to do.

I feel now, like we've done ourselves a terrible disservice by not watching our mothers, sisters, aunts, friends labor and birth (and breastfeed). We have no idea what it looks like. No idea of the wide variation of normal, and we - at least, I - try to do what we think it should be like, based on a few scripted scenes. 

Over and over again, the doc would come in. She would ask how we were doing, tell me "twenty more minutes" until she'd have to do a c-section. After an hour or so, it became "ten more minutes" every time she came in. I still have no idea why I escaped a c-section that day. She is still one of the local docs with one of the highest c-sec rates in town (right at 50%, I believe - if half the women that come into your general obstetrics office are not capable of birthing on their own, there's something wrong). It was late, she'd been on-call, she'd been waiting on me all day. I couldn't even tell you why I didn't want one. I knew the recovery was a bit harder, but it seemed very normal to me.I had friends who told me they preferred it, even. Their opinions made sense to me. But I knew I didn't want one.

After hours of pushing, the doc came in to deliver the baby. She gave me an episiotomy, which is the exact place I tore with every baby after that, even my gentlest births. She had to use the vacuum to suction the baby's head and pull her out.

At the moment her head was delivered, Scott said, "WHOA! There's her face!"

Babies are usually born face-down. This allows them easier passage through the birth canal. A face-up baby usually causes painful back labor, which would explain why I didn't think my contractions were very strong at first, and why, when my water was broken and they intensified on top of the pitocin, when I had no plan to deal with pain, I so quickly wanted an epidural.  

They whisked her over to the pediatrician, because she had passed meconium. She didn't cry. I distinctly remember the OB telling me, "That's ok. We don't want her to cry yet." I heard her cry a few moments later. I asked Scott to go check on her while they stitched me up. I had no idea that she had been in danger, and asked Scott if she had red hair. While the doc spent 45 minutes stitching up some wicked tears, I also distinctly remember the OB asking the pediatrician how the baby was. They were married, and the pediatrician was one of my Starbucks regulars. He said, "She's fine. We had to baggy-baggy a little," while making a squeezing motion in front of his face, like the breathing mask, "but she's fine now." They never mentioned to me or my husband that she was in any danger.

I can't decide if that was harmful or beneficial. It was only a short time, and it might have worried us unnecessarily. Maybe they didn't even have time to say anything, but just reacted quickly, and handled the situation. I still felt somewhat deceived by the whole thing. They never explained her Apgar scores, or that she was not doing well right off the bat. Was that to protect us? Or protect them? 

I finally held my baby at least an hour after she was born. I hadn't even laid eyes on her until that point. Thankfully, that was one of many things that I never experienced again. I would have told you then that her birth was fine. I even defended it vehemently once to a doula, and had to go back and apologize. I knew though. I think I knew even then that something was off. I had a blind faith in that doctor. In her goodness, in her knowledge, in her abilities and experience. I will never have that kind of blind faith again. Yes, we turned out fine. But that birth story is filled with anxiety, fear, and frustration. It is so different from my other birth stories. I used to wonder if it affected my relationship with her, and I worked very hard to be sure that I didn't treat her or look at her any differently than the children whose birth stories I love.

While I don't love her story, I do love my journey. This experience led me to look for something more. It led me to doulas, and then to midwives, and to homebirth, and waterbirth. It led me to want to share in that experience with other women. It led me to the woman I am today. There is a point in my life, somewhere between the births of my first two children, that I chose to walk an unconventional path. Without any one of my births, I would be different. Even aside from each of my beautiful, lovely children, I cherish their births for what they did in me.

Happy tenth birthday sweet baby girl!