It's taken me a year to feel confident and happy in sharing my birth story.
And what better way to celebrate our sweet girl's 1st birthday and my first birth day celebration than to share our story? There is so much power in sharing these stories. So much.
My wish is for every mama out there to know the importance of letting this story out. Whether it be to her husband, a best friend, another mama, a journal, or a broader audience.
It's therapeutic. And healing. And no doubt a mixed bag full of emotions.
And emotions that aren't expressed fester in our body, sometimes getting trapped, which over time is extremely draining. So hopefully in sharing my story I can encourage some of you to share yours as well. Because no matter your story, it's beautiful and perfect just like you!
I hope you enjoy. I wrote this while my birth experience was still fresh in my mind, and decided not to change a word.
I haven’t quite gotten around to writing this story yet and I’ve finally deciphered why: criticism.
Being pregnant and having a baby comes with a whole whirlwind of emotions and vulnerabilities. I know when I write I tend to tell my opinions strongly and my story openly, and when it came to the birth of my baby girl and my pre-and post pregnancy experiences, I wasn’t ready for other people to have opinions or to handle any criticism.
I’m seven and a half weeks postpartum and am feeling stronger everyday. Over the last 4 nights I feel like I have finally been getting some decent rest (which certainly has to do with being able to soak in the hot tub again each night before bed, at long last). I still have a lot to catch up on in terms of sleep, but I feel rested and my body feels pretty dang healed. Our arduous breastfeeding journey is settling down and that also helps with motivation, energy, and less vulnerability.
So here goes!
At 42 weeks and 1 day we left our birth center, The Birth Place Bozeman, and headed for a consult at the hospital. After all our earnest intention setting and work towards a natural, out of hospital birth, we were no longer allowed to legally deliver with our midwives. In Montana, a baby who comes before 36 weeks or after 42 weeks is considered ‘high-risk’ and thus needing the attention of an OB should anything come up. Makes sense. But we still weren’t expecting it.
In fact, we thought we would get our consult and hear ‘you and baby are healthy, go home and let’s have a baby in a few days.’ Instead we heard induction and time to get things going. I must admit, the having a baby part was very welcome to my tired and ready body and mind.
The day before we had tried inducing at home under the supervision and guidance of our midwives with a couple of rounds castor oil and large doses of evening primrose. It helped soften my cervix and started what I thought were the beginning of contractions, but was really only uterine activity. I surely thought these things would work. But alas, no baby.
I had also used gentler methods over the prior 2 weeks: daily 2-3 mile walks; bouncing vigorously on an exercise ball; all out dance parties with friends; spicy food; smaller bouts of Evening Primrose Oil; chiropractor; acupuncture; lots of resting and downtime so that she would know my world was ready for her. I wouldn’t say I was necessarily trying to get her to come out, but I wanted to make sure my body was as ready as could be for when she made her entrance; I didn’t want something off balance with my body to be what was holding her back.
Alas, we made it to the 42 week plus mark and found ourselves in the hospital, a place my partner Dave is truly unfond of unless in emergency situations. I loved the idea of birthing in a more intimate, out of hospital setting, and I worked hard to make that goal a possibility. But as pregnant as I was, when the midwives were in favor of medical induction, I got on board too.
My gut told me to go with it. What else is there, really?
I was given one round of cytotec. I didn’t really know what it was, but what I got from the midwives and doctor was that it was a very gentle way of inducing contractions by softening the cervix. I was pretty against pitocin from many a horror story of moms on it, so this seemed like a good option. I was really hoping to avoid the ‘labor’s not moving along fast enough, let’s do pitocin, it hurts so bad, let’s do an epidural, labor has stalled, let’s do more pitocin, increase the epidural, baby is now in jeopardy, time to do a c-section’ cycle. That is certainly a broad generalization but watch the Business of Being Born and you’ll have a better (and more eloquent) idea of where I am coming from.
After the first round we ate at the cafeteria, we walked around. Four hours in and still the same 1 centimeter dilated that I had been for a couple of days. Another round in, around 8pm and just about 5 hours after beginning induction, contractions came on. And they came on STRONG!
As is common with induction, the contractions went from about 0-60. I quite honestly had no idea how to handle them. All the birth class and yoga breath in the world hadn’t prepared me for that. Dave called the midwives to let them know contractions had really started coming along. They asked if we wanted them there. Luckily for me Dave could read the situation better than I could and gave them a resounding yes.
Jazmin (one of our midwives) came about an hour later, I was in the tub hoping for some relief. What a welcome presence she was. She reminded me how to breath and really sink into a contraction. Easier said than done, but still when my voice got high pitched and somewhat desperate as I was going through a surge, she was able to remind me to keep it low and moaning. This provides a much more grounded feeling of sinking into it rather than getting caught up in a more panicky, out of body state.
I tried getting out of the tub to walk around and see if that would help. Unfortunately pretty much nothing did. I was ready to throw in the towel. We were about six hours in. I was desperate. Dave was able to talk me into sticking to it though and we decided I would get back into the tub and try for more.
Six hours later, a whole lot of wailing, bath tub refills, small bites of yogurt, and what felt like an eternity, it was time to be checked again. I definitely had fallen into some sort of a trance different than I anything I had ever come close to experiencing through all my yoga, meditation and breathwork (moaning Aum as loudly as possible did help though). I think of Jazmin and Dave there on the bathroom floor for the duration of it; they were my heroes.
I was sure we were getting close. How could we not be? The contractions were so intense and so often; I was sure I had to be at 8cm or more. Not the case. After 12 hours of highly active and incredible labor, I was at 5 cm (out of a total of 10).
The doctor also wanted to break my water, to further encourage things along; another act that is meant to enhance contractions but can make them feel even more intense.
‘Four whole centimeters!,’ they said; ‘how far we have come!,’ they said.
I believe myself to be exceedingly positive (if there is such a thing). In this case, all I could think was ‘are you effing kidding me?’.
I couldn’t do it. The epidural I had wanted at 6 hours was now imperative for my sanity. Dave tried to talk me out of it. He held the space for the birth experience we had been aiming for. It broke my heart, but I knew in the bottom of my being that I needed help. I was getting no rest between or during contractions and if things kept going this way I knew baby and I would both end up in the bad kind of distress.
It was so hard for me to make that decision, not because of what I wanted for myself, but because of feeling like I was letting down the rest of my team. More to come on that later.
For now, I’ll just tell you I was so eager for that epidural (shocking to me, even now!) and incredibly grateful that the anesthesiologist was able to place it within a half hour of me asking for it. He had a little trouble getting it in and let’s just say having someone place an epidural in your back in the middle of gut wrenching contractions is definitely not a walk in the park. Knowing relief would come soon made it worthwhile. I told them to not even think about breaking my water until I was feeling its affects.
Relief. How bizarre. Sleep. How welcome. Rest, ease, relief. Thank you.
I off and on slept for about 8 hours. Stacey (our other midwife) came to relieve Jazmin in supporting us. I felt sheepish when I saw her. Like I couldn’t handle it, like I had taken the easy way out. But regardless I was happy to be resting, confident in my body and my decisions.
I spent that time grateful that our baby’s heart rate had remained steady (sometimes after an epidural is placed baby or mom can go into duress), trying to talk Dave into giving me real food instead of jello or ice chips (hello hunger), and resting peacefully. As a side note, I think it is important to eat during labor, but with an epidural food is more limited.
About eight hours later, they checked me again and it was music to my ears. 9.5 centimeters dilated! Probably the best news I have received in my entire life! It blows my mind when I think about it, my body still contracting, but with absolutely zero sensation of it.
So lucky me, I didn’t need to be induced more, the epidural had done its job in helping me to relax and allowed my body to fully dilate. Baby and I were in good condition. Hurrah.
It was time to push.
I had read once that one shouldn’t really have to ‘push.’ Maybe I misinterpreted it, but I was under the impression that if you surrendered into it then your body really did all the work and its wise wisdom took over, bringing the baby out to you.
I laugh now at that. Oh, it makes sense that there is no pushing until the body is ready. But let me tell you, it is one of the most active, participatory things I have done in my entire life.
Pushing on an epidural can be even harder as there is less sensation and natural inclination as to what to do. Often more coaching is involved in the process. Luckily at that point I had gained sensation again. Not fully, but enough to feel the contractions and work with them.
I pushed in various different squatting positions, I pushed on my back, sitting up, did I try on all fours? I can’t even remember. I just know I kept coming back to the squat bar. All those yogi squats I taught in prenatal yoga helped! I had people holding my legs, I held my own legs. I got very vocal. I wished for contractions to come closer together so that I could just keep pushing and it would be over. My team encouraged me to take advantage of the breaks as they came.
At one point they handed me a mirror to see the head. Again with the ‘are you effing kidding me?’. That is all that has come out after all this pushing? It was like an apple slice, smaller even. ‘That’s as far as I’ve gotten?” I had them get rid of the mirror immediately, that wasn’t helping, Feeling down there and feeling her head emerging was pretty incredible, though, and I appreciated that more.
At one point I remember exclaiming ‘there has got to be something you can do to help me.’ Everyone reminded me that I didn’t want help and I was grateful for their response. I knew at this point it was up to me and that if they used forceps or a vacuum (or whatever I imagined they could use to help me) it would only be worse.
About 30 minutes before Bella was born I cried that I couldn’t do it anymore. ‘I CAN’T DO THIS.’ Which apparently is on cue for baby being just about here. It was received with a resounding ‘YES YOU CAN!’
Overall I pushed for 3 hours and 45 minutes. Holy wow. So much for just letting the body do its thing and a baby pops out. I didn’t know it at the time as I was so immersed in the experience, but I guess there was plenty of concern with the pushing stage taking so long.
Lucky for me I had one of my meditation students Theresa as my nurses and she really held the space for me to get this baby out. She coached me through all the pushing and was the most encouraging person in the world. Our doctor also held the space for me to do this without pushing surgery. My biggest intention going into the birth was that my baby be delivered vaginally, and delivered vaginally she was.
I feel incredibly thankful for the staff and support. It was really important to us for Dave to receive the baby. And while we didn’t have the water birth we had envisioned, our OB was very open to Dave receiving baby. Once the head was out (finally) the doctor unwrapped the umbilical cord from around her neck (which was why pushing was taking so long, every time I pushed the umbilical cord pulled her back up), rotated her body so that her shoulders would fit, and out into Dave’s hand she went.
They were also open to our request that the placenta empty completely before any clamping and cutting was done. This was very important to me as I believe the baby should receive all the blood and nutrients that the placenta holds and empties back into the newborn. Part of that agreement meant Dave had to hold her down low with him while the placenta emptied and she would be placed on my chest after, rather than immediately.
Once she was out I remember crying and asking for my baby. The doctor said ‘do you want me to clamp the cord?’. I did not and I waited, grateful she was with Dave. In all honesty it was only a minute or two until Dave cut the cord and our baby was placed on my chest.
I cried with relief, as I knew I would. She is here. She is okay. She is healthy and whole. She is a real human person and a soul that has just entered into this world, through me.
It took me about ten minutes to even verify that she was indeed a girl. I didn’t care to check anything on her, just hold her in my arms, bare skin to bare skin, and love on her.
I will always remember the relief of her tiny body finally making its way out after 10.5 months of pregnancy, just about 4 hours of pushing, and right under 23 hours of labor, all of it active.
I cherish the way it felt to hold her on my chest, knowing everything from this moment on would always be different.
I mourned certain parts of my birth experience. What if I had waited just a couple more days, would my natural birth have been possible? I had to grapple with feeling like I had let Dave down and the idea of my body not being able to handle birthing as capably as I had truly thought it would. It took a lot of talking it out and expressing how I felt to not cry when I relayed my experience, to feel at peace with it all.
My body handled birth beautifully. Our heart rates remained steady the entire time. I got to feel medicated and unmedicated laboring. I now have way more compassion than I did for all sorts of birth experiences. Truth be told, I think I would’ve been a little self-righteous had I had the Birth Place natural birth I planned for. I’m glad I can now have more empathy and less ‘this is the way it should be’ attitude about labor and birth for all women.
I birthed a beautiful baby girl, 10 fingers, 10 toes, gorgeous smile and a smathering of red hair mixed with a well of indigo eyes. We did it. She made her way to the breast a mere half hour later.
Every decision I made was supported and not once did I feel disempowered. I got to call all the shots, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, world.
7lbs, 11 oz
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