Thirty weeks and you look beautiful.
My beautiful daughter is 17 months old today, and I am finally ready to sit and write a more honest story of her birth. My labor began in true-to-Hollywood form with my water breaking at 3 am. It wasn’t a gush, just a small trickle that continued when I got up to go to the bathroom. I check the leaking fluid with the strips my midwife had given me and watched it turn the long awaited blue. I went into the bedroom to nuzzle my husband “Sweetheart, you need to call work. You’re not going in today.” “Why not?” I giggled, kissed his neck, and sent my midwife a text. I tried to get some rest, but was far too excited. I went to the computer to play some games, hoping to tire myself out looking at the screen. To say the cramps were mild would be an understatement, but there was a little something going on.
I know it’s hard to believe, especially in a culture that teaches women to be terrified of birth, but I had no fear going into my labor. I read books by Carol Leonard and Ina May Gaskin like they were my bible, watched countless births online, and followed the natural birthing blogs. I trusted the process, trusted my body, and trusted my support team. I was genuinely excited for the chance to labor and bring my baby into the world naturally. And besides I was a doula attending births until my 8th month of pregnancy, I would know what to do…right?
I was able to get a few hours of sleep and cuddling with the hubby in, then ate a healthy breakfast, and drank some tea. Still some mild cramping, but nothing I would even pay attention to had I not known what it portended. I enjoyed looking through the nursery, made sure everything was in place, and then grew bored. It was a beautiful day out, so we decided to go for a walk by the river. I had a few good ones while we were out, but I was concerned they seemed to only hurt in my back. It was at this point I got a taste of what to expect from my midwife. She called to see how I was doing and I told her things weren’t strong yet and I was still having a very easy time so not to worry. Her response was “well don’t get too excited, this is going to get a lot harder.“ I found this lack of confidence slightly irritating but quickly forgot it. After our walk we stopped by my in laws house because I had to pee “Like now!” My father in law was home and noticed something was up, so we told him that we thought labor would be starting soon. Then, logically, we went and got fried clams. I had been craving seafood my entire pregnancy and wanted to enjoy it the way only a pregnant woman could one more time before having the baby. We went home to get some more rest and things finally began picking up. Contractions were every 5 minutes or so, but still very manageable and my doula was on her way.
When she arrived around 5 o’clock things were clearly starting to happen, but I was comfortable. She gave me a Luna bar to eat and we went for a quick walk around the block because I was feeling restless. While we were out I got another call from the midwife. I told her I was feeling restless and went for a walk, then I would be going home to relax. She asked how strong my contractions were and I told her they were still very easy to handle she then warned me again not to be too confident because my work hadn’t begun yet. I was annoyed and decided I wasn’t going to talk to her again until I knew things were really going. I didn’t need someone telling me how weak I was going to be. Her seeming lack of faith in me and my ability to birth was disheartening since she had never said anything like that through my entire pregnancy. It wasn’t that I thought this was going to be easy, I knew birthing was a lot of work, but I was looking forward to it and felt like she was trying to take that from me.
When we got back I decided I wanted to laugh and open myself that way, so we put in a Kat Williams DVD. Near the end of that things got much more intense. I was on hands and knees now through most rushes and my doula was putting pressure on my back. At some point we switched over to Dennis Leary, but I was unable to pay any attention to it. I stood up after a very strong rush and began pacing, telling my doula I have no idea what to do. I had expected from my training and trust in my body that I would just know what to do with myself to make the contractions hurt less, and my body was not telling me anything I could understand. We called the midwife to let her know that things were getting intense and I was having a good, strong, minute-long rush every 3 minutes . She said she had just gotten home from another birth and was very tired, so I should try to get some rest and to call her when things picked up more. I began feeling more panic, these contractions were HARD and close and she had said when I got to the magic 3-1-1 (3 minutes apart, lasting a minute, for an hour) she would come. This sudden deviation from the plan sent me whirling.
My husband suggested we go into the bedroom to relax and listen to our hypnobaby CD since the midwife had said to relax and rest. I tried, I did, but it was no use. Every time I would start to relax with the CD a wave would rush over me and nothing I was doing would relax it away. He rubbed my back, I relaxed my muscles and did my breathing exercises, and I listened to the CD. I don’t know how long I laid there struggling to hypnotize myself but eventually I bolted upright when another strong one hit and yelled “This is bullshit! This isn’t doing anything. I don’t feel like I’m on a fucking cloud…it HURTS!” I yelled for Cari, my doula and told her “I don’t know what to do. It hurts, bad and I thought I would know what to do but I don’t. What do I do?” She said something comforting enough to calm me down, and I began kissing my husband through each rush. It was a wonderful distraction, and it worked for a while. We called the midwife and were again told to wait. This is where the beautiful oxytocin must have really started kicking in, because things get a little fuzzy from here, but I’ll do my best to tell you what I remember. Eventually she said she was on her way, but she sounded very hesitant and annoyed. She said I only had an hour or two until she would be with us. There is a blurry period of a few hours where I was in and out of sleep and pain, waiting for the midwife to come. I remember laying in bed, seeing my doula’s face, and feeling my husband next to me, but the details are lost.
I went into the shower to try find relief and my wonderful doula got soaked while putting pressure on my lower back. I remember staring at the horrible pink tiles and thinking the lines in them looked like elephants, I may have shared this observation with Cari, I can’t recall. I moaned through some, hit the wall through some, and wiggled, stood, or laid down through others. I remember thinking before I went into labor that if I got into water I would try to keep my hair dry so I wouldn’t look awful in any pictures, but as I watched the drops run down my bangs I honestly could not have cared less.
When the midwife arrived 4 or 5 hours later I was still in the shower with poor sopping Cari by my side. Cari told her I was active and vocalizing well, so she asked me to get out so she could check me. Part of me thrilled at the idea and part of me cowered, but I went. It was painful, and I remember moaning loudly, staring into my husbands face. The pain was quickly replaced by the Earth shattering news that I was only two to three centimeters dilated. It hit me like a blow to the gut. My doula had to tell me later that what she said was two to three centimeters, because my memory was only that she had said two. That was the number I was clinging to. She did this Clingon-like motion with her fingers to show me how big that was and my stomach nearly turned over at the sight. I was crushed and her seeming annoyance at being right did nothing to make me feel better. I couldn’t understand how I could have been in so much pain for so long, with contractions so close together and only have reached 2 cm’s. I had been sure I would be at least at a 5 and the news knocked the wind out of me. At this point, I cried. I wasn’t balling, but I felt a few tears stream down my face as I tried to focus on the midwifes assistants face. All I could think was that it had taken me at hours of intense pain to get those 2 centimeters and I still had 8 more to go. I couldn’t fathom how I would go on for that long. All of my knowledge about how the first 4 cm’s are the hardest and longest was gone from me. To me each centimeter was going to take just as long, and be just as awful as the 2 I already had, or worse. I heard my voice repeating “I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can do this.“ I searched the faces in the room for understanding, but I saw only annoyance in my midwife and her assistant. I was told once again I needed to rest and was left alone in the bedroom with my husband. I shut up, feeling now like a weakling and a failure. How could all of these other women do this and describe it so beautifully and never loose hope? What was wrong with me? I tried to rest, I even succeeded a few times, glimpsing sleep for a minute or two before waking up at the peak of a rush with no way out. I tried to remain calm and listen to my body. I focused on each limb and asked it how it wanted to be moved, not daring to take on my whole body at once. I made the in and out movement of my breath my whole world, each rush a wave to be ridden, and I still felt everything.
I heard voices from the other room and began straining to hear. Even in labor, I was being nosey. I believe I heard Cari ask if she should (or could) come in to see me, but it’s what I heard next that shattered any confidence I may have been clinging to. My midwife who had only been with me through a handful of contractions, most of which with her hand inside me cause me more extreme pain, angrily retaliated “This is just ridiculous, I’m not going to coddle her through every contraction!” John started talking to me, pulling me back to lay down and I wanted to hit him. I wanted to hear what else was being said, but he had heard it too and was trying to distract me. I angrily pulled away, but by the time I got him to shut up they were quiet. So that was it, I was failing. I was weak and I was a bad birther. I was suddenly flooded with memories of my midwife and her assistant telling me about other women whose births they had just attended. Some they would describe as beautiful, but others they would roll their eyes at and even laugh while telling me about the noises they made, or the way they acted. I hadn’t liked it at the time, but it was near the end of my pregnancy and I still really liked my midwife, and I had always assumed she was telling me these stories as a peer, being a doula. Now I wondered what mean things they would say about me and what a bad birther I was. Cry baby? Complainer? Drama queen? And of course the two words that would now haunt the rest of my labor: Weak and Failure.
I was mad now, but not at the right people. I was mad at myself. I had tried so, so hard not to be a complainer. I didn’t want to speak negatively about my birth because I wanted to remember it in a positive way. I had thought I had been controlling myself well, I had thought I was coping the way I had seen other women cope, but now I felt less-than, and I was mad at myself for it. I got back into the shower, not knowing what else I could possibly do. I decided to try a visualization we were taught in Hypnobabies to help us work with the pain to open for the baby, but when I tried to focus on my uterus or where the pain was coming from during a contraction I would get lost. The pain didn’t seem to be coming from anywhere near my belly, it was everywhere. The only way I can describe it is like trying to focus on the part of your body that has water on it while getting thrown around under a wave searching for the surface; it was everywhere and it was all encompassing. Pain became the force singing through every cell of my body. The pinnacle, if anywhere, was not my uterus it was radiating from my back.
The midwife said she was going to set the tub up in my living room, so I had to get out of the shower. At this point modesty was not a concern of mine, so I stood leaning my head against the towel rod while Cari sat on the toilet and put pressure on my lower back. Something about the angle was pure perfection. I could still feel the rushes, and they were still intense, but they were manageable. This I could do. When I told Cari how much better things were this way she told me she thought I was having back labor. My thinking brain turned on again momentarily and everything made sense. I wasn’t as weak as I thought, I was having back labor! These contractions, these manageable, no-so-bad ones were what most women felt and what I was feeling before was what women described as hell. This made me feel strong again, and it restored some of my faith in my body. I was even able to joke with Cari and promised not to leak anything on her while she rubbed by back. I continued vocalizing on a lower scale until the midwife came in to say the tub was done. I mustered a smile and told her I would go in the tub when I needed it, but I was very happy leaning against the wall. She looked irritated again and my smile faltered. “What do you mean they feel better?” I told her it was back labor and Cari was making it bearable for me. Something in her face made me think this was the wrong answer. “If you were really in that much pain in the first place then nothing would be helping you.” I spent my next contraction visualizing bouncing her face off the door jam and momentarily wondered if labor counted for a temporary insanity plea. I then relinquished myself to try out the living room.
The birth ball helped for a few contractions, but there were knives in my back and my nerves were pulled taunt so it wasn’t enough. At some point I was checked again and found to be at 4 or 5 cm’s. I have no memory of this check, but it convinced her I was really in labor so I was allowed to go into the tub. John, my husband, came in and sat behind me. He rubbed my back for a while and the water helped. It wasn’t the ‘natural epidural’ so many women had praised it as being, but it was help. I tried to get up to go to the bathroom and was told I didn’t really have to go, it was just the babies head. I remember saying “I don’t care, I don’t want to poop in my tub.” I remember being in the bathroom briefly but am told I was actually in there for a very long time. Every few minutes I would come to the door, open it, shut it, and disappear again. I remember doing this twice because I would think I was ready to go back to the tub, but as soon as a new rush would come I would sit back down. Eventually I called out that I felt sick and someone brought bag to puke it. I didn‘t need it right away, but took it with me back to the living room. I tried leaning on hands and knees over the birth ball again. The rushes seemed to be coming so quickly they were colliding into each other. Cari had been rubbing my shoulders and encouraging me when I looked up at her with tears in my eyes and said “I don’t know if I can do this. This is so awful I don’t know if I can take transition.” There was a faint smile when she told me “I think you are.” The thought was amazing to me. I got back into the tub and was finally able to rest between rushes while leaning against John. Every once in a while a rush would be so intense it would make me call out for my puke bag and every time the midwife would ask me if I had ever been abused. All my knowledge of birth was gone at this point, so I couldn’t understand why she was asking and I was annoyed at her for it. She also kept asking if I was sure my water had broke earlier, even though I had told her what color the strip had been.
There was a blessed relief as things began to slow down slightly and my contractions spaced out a bit. This seemed to just annoy my midwife further and she began making me panic that I was somehow failing again. I was again asked to leave my comfort zone and go get checked again. This check brought the very unexpected and welcome news that I was dilated fully to 10 centimeters. I found a sudden rush of energy with this news and dared to smile again. I was told there was a slight cervical lip, but it was okay to push. I didn’t have the urge at the time, and not pushing before my body told me to had been something we discussed at my prenatal appointments, but I had been awake for 24 hours now, my thinking brain was MIA, and I wanted this to be over, so I began to push. This is when things began to go wrong.
Despite being exhausted in every sense of the word, I pushed with all I had. I have no idea what order they went in, but positions ranged from laying down, squatting, standing, kneeling, and being on a birthing stool. John was my constant support, often literally and Cari was always within reach and giving me water. Thirst was a constant. At some point while I sort of hung off the end of the bed between Johns legs my midwife began giving me little cliff bar energy packets that tasted awful but I forced them down. I kept thinking that this was the home stretch and I wanted to be alert when my baby came.
We were back in the bedroom when she did yet another check and told me that the anterior lip (part of my cervix that wasn’t fully open) had swollen and was blocking my daughter from descending. I didn’t have energy to get upset, I just asked what to do. Her solution was for me to continue pushing while she attempted to move the lip back and around the babies head. I thought I knew pain before this, and I was wrong. I screamed now. There was no attempting to maintain dignity. There was no desire to impress her, or anyone else. I screamed and I begged her to stop, I tried to wiggle away and may have even tried to kick her. It was torture. I have no other word. I begged her to stop, to get out of my body, and she refused saying it was for my own good. I couldn’t see how this was good. Even in the now dense fog of pain relievers my body was attempting to give me I knew something wasn’t right and felt there had to be a better way. John, who had been awake with me for most of the past 30 hours or so without food said he wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t think of it until later, but I imagine seeing his wife in that state may have led to his stomach upset. When he asked me if he looked pale the midwife snapped “It’s not about you right now!” Cari spoke up that he didn’t look well, and hadn’t eaten and convinced him to go get something to eat. I was too tired to speak or argue and thankful that someone was looking out for him as well. It may have been me birthing, but it was his child as well and I wanted him ready to receive her happy and healthy.
After her trying to move the lip back by force some more, and getting very annoyed with me screaming and pleading with her to stop, I was allowed to return to the tub to try to stop my pushing. I had moved the baby down just enough that now every contraction forced me to push. The only way to describe it would be vomiting in reverse. I had no more control over my body trying to push the baby out than you do over not blinking if someone claps in your face. My doula had hung a quote up for me that said ‘the power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.‘ It had helped in the middle of my labor, but now I felt like the power might tear me to shreds. I refused to take Unisom so we opened a bottle of mead I had been saving for after the baby was born and I drank a glass. It was delicious but I had to choke it back and I can’t say it did anything to calm me. I figured everyone else in the house was most likely frayed at this point and offered for them to each have a glass as well. I may not have been very coherent, but I still had some manners left.
When it was clear nothing was going to stop my body from trying to move the baby down we went back to trying every position we could think of to wiggle her around the edge of my cervix. I could hear my voice, far-far away, roaring. For a moment I was proud of myself for being able to make such a noise. While I was pushing on the bed the midwife announced she could finally see my daughters head and had Cari take a look. Her beaming smile gave me hope and a small measure of strength to keep pushing. I would find out later that the amount of head she could see was the size of a dime and largely obscured by my cervix, which resembled a blood sausage. The midwifes assistant suggested we try stairs and lunges to open me and move my hips around. Few things are as annoying as trying to remember how the hell to do a lunge after thirty something hours of labor. We decided I should put some pants on and try walking up and down the stairs outside my apartment. When she tried to convince me to put a depends on for any bleeding I flat out refused. I had to hold on to some part of my dignity and that would be it. We went out to the stairs and a small part of me hoped someone would come out of their apartment. I was beginning to wonder if the outside world still existed at all. I lunged up and down the stairs with John by my side. When a contraction would come, forcing me to push, I would practically climb up him trying to escape the pain. There were scratches and bruises to attest to the strength with which I tried to escape for days afterward.
When my legs felt like they could not carry me any further we went back inside. I was on the birthing stool again, and still roaring. I had been pleading for hours now for someone to let me go. Something didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t seem to get anyone to hear me and help me leave. I knew Cari couldn’t, it is outside of what we’re allowed to do. And I don’t think John had realized I was serious. Finally my midwife looked at me and said “I can’t watch you do this anymore.” It was what I needed. I had wanted a homebirth more than anything, and I believed in natural birth and my ability to birth, but something had gone wrong and I did not believe it was going to happen with this child. Someone saying it, and finally saying it was okay for me not to do this, was a relief. The feeling of failure set in immediately and I just wanted this all to be over. While everyone scurried to get things together, find a hospital, and alert the hospital that we were coming I was lost in my failure. The ride to the hospital was the worst of my life, but I think I was able to get a bit of rest.
When we got to the hospital everything went into fast forward. I was put into a wheel chair, which I was too tired to refuse, and rushed up to somewhere. I was told I could only have two people in the room with me and momentarily became frantic. I wanted Cari, but I knew the laws and knew she couldn’t speak for me the way a midwife could, so I chose John and my midwife. I instantly regretted my decision but didn’t know what else to do. John and midwife stayed out to talk to the doctor while I was taken into the room. I went into the bathroom even though I knew I didn’t have to go and when I came out a nurse was there. I asked her what we could do to stop me pushing and she held up a hospital gown and told me “we can’t do anything until you’re wearing this.” I knew she was full of shit, and I knew my rights, but I could feel a contraction coming on so I quickly pulled my shirt over my head and my pants and shoes off just in time to fall to my knees and yell “There! Now DO something!” as another contraction took hold. She was shocked for just a moment before handing over the gown. She said there was paper work, and fluids, and blah blah blah before anything could be done. I forced myself to pay attention and only signed papers I was 100% sure on. I asked for my water and she told me I wasn’t allowed to have it, my fluids bag would give me all I needed. I told her if I was going to aspirate something I would rather water than bile and ordered John to give me my water bottle, daring her to take it from me. She left the room in a hissy fit and never came back. The doctor came in and checked me and said she couldn’t see how the baby would get past the lip. She asked a lot of questions about how long I had been pushing, how long my water had been broken, and about my midwife. Eventually I was told I was becoming exhausted and would need a c-section. My midwife briefly came in to see what the doctor said, and that was the last I saw of her. She had given up on me and again I regretting not choosing Cari.
My next nurse was lovely. I told her right away that I wanted to go to the bathroom, and even though she knew I didn’t really have to go she said that whatever made me comfortable was just fine with her. She told me that the woman in the room next to me needed an emergency c-section so I was going to have to wait for the anesthesiologist to come give me an epidural. Before helping me walk my I.V pole over she told me she wished she could give me something to help me stop pushing, but she knew I wanted a natural labor. I didn’t remember saying this until John told me the next day, but I replied “that’s pretty much out the fucking window now isn’t it! Please…just make it stop.” She helped me to the bathroom and left to get me drugs. It was at this point I told John I wanted to die. He laughed it off a bit saying “of course you don’t honey.” but at the time the pain coupled with failure was more than I thought I could bare, and I meant it. We were in a hospital, and the baby would survive, but I didn’t know how much more I had in me; and at that point the baby seemed like an impossible dream.
The nurse gave me a shot of Stadol and the pushing stopped. I was asleep nearly instantly. I woke up once and saw my mother standing over me. I asked how she had gotten there and if she was okay, then apologized for not being able to keep my eyes open. She brushed my hair back from my face while staring at me with a look I didn’t recognize and told me it was okay and I should get some rest. I said I was sorry one more time and slipped back into sleep. I woke up about half an hour later dully aware of my body beginning to push again and became very alert. I saw John sleeping on the desk in the corner and called out to him. A minute later I was back to full on pushing, writhing in my bed without the blessed oxytocin to help me.
John must have done something because people were quickly back in the room. My nurse was checking my machines to see how I was doing, John was putting on his scrubs, and the doctor was explaining what would happen next. She told me she wanted to check me one more time before letting me get an epidural. I told her I appreciated it, but I did not want another check. I was amazed when she told me that it was important to her that I had wanted a natural birth and she wasn’t comfortable giving me an epidural until she knew I couldn’t have one. I trusted her because of this and allowed her to check me. A huge smile crossed her face and she told me “I can see the head!” John and I simultaneously responded that we’ve been able to see the head for hours and it didn’t matter. She made John turn and look and I’ve never seen such happiness on his face as I did then.
The little bit of rest from the Stadol had allowed me to relax my muscles and stop forcing the babies head the wrong way, she had shifted while I slept and was now much further down the birth canal. That was all I needed to start really enjoying my pushing. I could feeling her making slow and steady progress now and it was exhilarating! I could feel her head about to come out, but something was stopping her. I heard the doctor say to a nurse that she hates episiotomies (a cut to widen the opening for the baby), but thought she would have to do one on me. I told her I didn’t want one and she was okay with this. But a few minutes later I could feel that I wasn’t making progress. Something wasn’t moving correctly and I told her it was okay. I was trusting my instincts this time. I felt the ‘ring of fire’ when her head began to crown and heard the lovely nurse telling me to ‘push through the pain honey’ but I smiled and told her it didn’t hurt. I could feel it yes, but I was too happy to care. My daughter was coming and I would see her soon and nothing else mattered. I remember the feeling of her head coming out being intense, but I wouldn’t call it bad. After her body came out I heard the doctor ask for something to clamp the cord and yelled “No don’t!“ I told her I wanted them to wait until it stopped pulsing and she looked bemused, but not annoyed. The man waiting to weigh and score my baby was clearly impatient and told her he had to go. She told him I had been through enough and deserved this, he could wait. The placenta came quickly and I was handed my beautiful and bruised baby girl. The video of her birth shows me asking “did anyone even check to make sure she’s a girl?“ and then lifting her leg to be sure. Very soon after I began holding her I could hear frantic noises next to me. I listened and heard someone ask where all the blood was coming from. The doctor ordered pitocin and a nervous voice said that they had already given me some. Two women began frantically pressing on my belly. I knew they were trying to get my uterus to contract, and I knew I was hemorrhaging. There were snippets “I don’t know where it’s coming from,“ “there’s so much,“ “can we give her more,“ all I could think was there was no way I was leaving this beautiful girl now that I finally had her and then I heard “okay…she’s okay.“ The cord eventually stopped pulsing and my husband cut it, then my not wrapped or cleaned baby was allowed to lay on my chest with clear eyes. We were still in triage. I quickly went into the bathroom to shower and rinse off and came out to a dimly lit room full of my family and loved ones, and saw my father holding my sweet girl with tears in his eyes. I laid down with her and luxuriated in her scent and feel, and felt deeply connected to everyone in the room. I birthed my daughter at 6:05 pm, after 37 hours of labor, 23 hours of active labor, and 12 hours of pushing, to the cheers and smiles of a hospital room full of strangers who believed in me, with my husband still in surgical scrubs and an IV in my arm, and it was perfect.
I would later learn that my midwife had lied to the doctors and that is why there were so many questions when I arrived. I had also become big news in the hospital and everyone seemed to want to meet us and talk to the woman who transferred from home. I am still struggling with what happened and with my feelings of inadequacy, but I realize how much worse things could have been, and I know we were saved in the end and amazingly lucky.
I think Mama Birth said it perfectly when she said “No, I don't need to see the world to know that I am both strong and weak, powerful and frail; labor has taught me that already.”