I feel the need to preface this by saying, I am in complete support of any amazing heroin that informs herself of her birth options, cares for and nurtures her baby in utero, and makes the best decision for the safety and health of her and the baby.
This is simply our story.
Everything about pregnancy was different than I imagined. My whole life I have been in awe of pregnancy and babies. I thought it was simply beautiful and empowering. But from the moment I became pregnant, it was somehow just different than what I anticipated for myself. I suppose it is safe to say that that feeling carried on to the very end. Even though my pregnancy was less fun than in my dreams, I was quite certain that I would get through the labor and delivery part with a fair amount of ease. I was strong. I do yoga. Oh how naive…
Long before getting pregnant, I knew that I would want to give birth at our local birth center. It felt much more inline with my beliefs about women, health, and birth. I get that it might not be for everyone, but there are multiple reasons why it was the best choice for me. Some of my reasons are simple: I don’t like hospitals, have never been a fan of going to the doctor, and have fairly poor reactions to medication; I am a wellness professional and always prefer preventive medicine. Others might be more complicated: my core values are about women’s empowerment and I believe that women have been equipped to deliver babies naturally, forever. I also wanted my sweet infant to have the most healthful “welcome to the world experience” that she could, and again, for me, that’s drug-free. It was a simple choice to deliver there and my care throughout was great!
At 39 weeks, 1 day, I began experiencing labor contractions at about 11:45pm on Thursday, October 24. I had three intense contractions about 5 minutes apart when I woke my husband and told him to started timing. About two minutes later, my water broke. We called the midwife and she instructed that we continue to labor at home, try to get some rest and call back when the contractions picked up to every four minutes, lasting a minute, and to the point where I was not able to talk through them. That took about all of two minutes. They began to pick up in time and intensity. Some were coming every four minutes, others were coming every two minutes, all lasting about 45 seconds to over a minute and a half. We called back about 45 minutes later and she encouraged us to come in. So we packed up the car and I began to prepare myself mentally for what was about to happen. I don’t think there is any amount of mental preparation that could have equipped me for what was ahead.
We arrived at the birth center somewhere around 2am (all of my times could be completely off but these are the best of my recollection to give some point of reference). I measured in at 1cm. Ugh. The contractions were still intense and frequent enough where I didn’t see myself getting sleep so we just turned on some meditation music and chilled. In that time, I labored on a birthing ball both in the shower and out. Somewhere around 5ish, measuring at 1.5cm, the midwife asked if I would like a small dose of morphine just to help me sleep. She encouraged that I had a long process ahead of me (most first births average 12-24 hours) and I needed rest. I asked to delay it an hour to see if any progress would be made. I really believed that I would be a woman that would hit some speed and pop this kiddo out. An hour later at 2cm, I took the morphine and took a nap. Nearly 3 plus hours later, in a morphine hangover, I was only at 3 cm.
I was still incredibly hopeful. Bummed, but hopeful, thinking at any moment it was going to pick up. No problem. One of the birth center perks is that you can eat and drink as frequently as you want, so I nibbled on my groaning cakes, Formula 1 shakes, and H30. My contractions remained inconsistent. They continued to go back and forth between every 2-4 minutes, lasting 1-3+ minutes. It was getting exhausting to cope with the pain. In the beginning I was grabbing my husband’s hand and squeezing tightly, but soon learned that I had to conserve that energy. By mid-afternoon, I was coping with a gentle moan. I continued to labor trying different things- walking outside, another shower, side-lying. The contractions were moving from back to front and back again. We determined that my lil munchkin was posterior (aka, sunny side-up or her back to my back). This was causing the intense back labor that literally felt like my tailbone was going to break in half. The tricky part about all of the changing contractions was learning how to cope with the new pain. Just as soon as there would be some sort of pattern in time or location and I could hone in on, then it would change.
Now I was really starting to get worn down. 15 hours + and I was starting to feel lost. I was praying and encouraged my team to do so to whatever they believed. I wasn’t sure why this was happening to me or what the outcome would be. I was starting to lose some faith, but still held on that at any moment, I would be a ten and then surely, it would be an easy push.
At this point, I started a homeopathic regimen to increase energy and something else ( I think to manage the pain). I climbed in the tub and labored there. My mom and Chuck were there and we had the best nurse keeping us company. The problem was, the contractions slowed way down. A welcomed break for me but dismay for the midwives and our goal of progression. So now they wanted to try an herb cocktail that would both speed up and intensify the contractions. I was game. It worked. Dreadfully. Besides tasting like the nastiest version of absinthe, I was in so much pain and my contractions were lasting 3 minutes! I was so exhausted from the pain and only dilating at a 7.
This is the low point in the process. I began to ask about my options because I had started to lose my mind. I was so tired, I was becoming delirious. I felt an out-of-body experience. The scariest thoughts I had ever had started to come into my head: I truly think I may die. I have gotten myself pregnant, and I absolutely have no clue how to get this baby out. That might sound crazy to you because some of you might be thinking, “Just go to the frickin hospital, get a c-section” and while I was asking about what a hospital transfer would look like, I had two different thoughts: 1) I DON’T WANT TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL. I’VE COME SO FAR! 2) I don’t even have the energy to go to the hospital… to pack up, change scenes, get checked in, get a late stage, heavy duty epidural and still continue to labor for God knows how long. I will probably die in the meantime. In my head, hospitalization truly meant there was something wrong, because prior to labor, I had processed the potential of having to go to the hospital and to me that meant that my baby and I were at serious risk and in that case, I accepted that doing whatever necessary for the safety of us would be ok. But, I never believed that I would come remotely close to having to make that decision. And in my state of delirium, at that moment, it equivocated death. Dramatic, maybe? But I knew that given the length of my labor, my water already broken, and a late-stage epidural would mean an even longer labor, and with the great amount of birth stories I have heard, knew that I would end in a cesarian. Again, I have no judgment for anyone that has gone that route, whether elected or not, it simply was the opposite of my birth plan.
What kept me rational were our vitals. They were checked frequently (like every 10-15 minutes) and both me and the baby were stable. I looked to my team for guidance and while my mom and my husband both looked scared (probably from seeing me in such distress) no one was pressing for me to go to the hospital. The birth team continued to give me options. The director of the birth center was called in for a consult and my birth team seemed very optimistic that if I didn’t want to be transferred that I could continue on.
So I did. I ended up resting on the toilet, facing the back with my head propped on pillows. After I got off, I was recommitted. I started another round of herbs, drinking more H30 and pressed on. My cervix continued to inch along, but would not wear through. At some points there was talk about scarred cervical tissue from a LEEP procedure I had 10 years ago, but I am not sure if that was the ending culprit or not. My munchkin also couldn’t make up her mind as to her position. She kept turning her head and going from her side to her back, she had a hand up by her head, changing the contractions. Many variables played into this labor process and we never hit the ground running.
FINALLY, around 10pm, after manual assistance (immensely painful manual assistance) of getting the last piece of cervix out of the way, we hit a 10 and I could PUSH! My hope returned and again, I asked the whole room to pray that this is where it would get easy! An average push for first babies was 90-120 minutes. I could totally do this!!
But just like the entire labor, this proved to be more challenging than expected. My contractions continued to space apart up to 5 minutes, probably losing ground. They were so intense in the back that it made pushing a challenge. My birth team now consisted of my mom and husband, the main midwife on duty, the nurse on duty, the midwife director of the center, and the back-up midwife!! Every single one of them was in the room supporting me. We changed positions several times, someone helping with two legs or supporting me on each side while I squat, manual assistance opening my cervix, someone massaging me through the contractions, someone else feeding me water, maybe another wiping sweat.
FInally we could see the head, which they pulled out a mirror for me to see, giving me determination. As long as I could focus on my baby and the progress, we had a visible goal, and I was committed. Several pushes and 4 hours later, my most precious baby girl arrived on my belly and WE DID IT. The only feeling I can describe at that point was relief. I don’t think I had tears or euphoria (maybe I did), just utter relief. It was over. We were alive.
I am sure that anyone that knows the story will immediately wonder if I regret my decision of the birth center and my answer is 100% NO. If there was any possible way that I would have known that that would be my experience, would I have opted differently? Maybe. And I say maybe simply for the thoughts that passed through my mind were the most scared I have ever been in my entire life. But then when I think about the incredible support that I had, I am completely blown away. It brings tears to my eyes to know of the roomful of committed people that were there for our success.
Prior to the labor, I never dreamed that I would stop at 1 baby, but I said several times throughout the 27 hours that this very likely would be the only one. I was reassured about the amnesia that would accompany the baby, but I thought that there was no way that I would forget this. I was traumatized. Amnesia was for the 8-18 hour labors. Probably for the epidural labors. Not for the agony that I endured. But it’s funny, being home, feeling healthy, recovering without complications (not even stitches or hemorrhoids) and having the most beautiful, healthy, precious angel makes it all worth it. Processing the experience with friends and family and through writing has given me so much perspective and taught me great life lessons on patience and faith. I’m sure she will have a sibling at some point. And more than likely, I will opt for the same birth plan. Because in the end, it’s all about surrounding yourself with people that make you feel strong, loved, and positive. And I am not sure I have ever felt more of that than I do right now.