Disclaimer: Despite my best efforts to “contain” this story to its essence, it is still really long—like epic long. Also, if you don’t like reading words like “cervix” or “vagina” just stop reading now. You’ve been warned. This post was written a month after C’s birth.
When we made the decision to do a home birth, both Tom and I envisioned a peaceful and energizing experience. Throughout my pregnancy I never really found myself worried about the actual labor process. I was definitely more concerned about the recovery and postpartum period following the labor. In fact, I secretly wished for a labor so quick that I would have to deliver the baby myself. I felt confident in my ability to trust my body to “do its thing.”
I believe that birth is normal—that it is something that the female body is designed for. I spent a lot of time researching pregnancy and birth long before I ever considered having children. As someone who loves the human body, and particularly human development, I’ve spent a lot of time looking at those early beginnings of life in the womb and labor as part of that development. And while I do believe there are instances where interventions, induction, surgery, and other common practices in obstetrics are not only useful, but essential, I also believe that we far too often ignore the complex workings of the pregnant body, often at the expense of giving up some of the most powerful “helpers” nature gave us to deal with such a dramatic experience.
I should be clear that I’m definitely not anti-hospital or anti-modern medicine. I am very grateful for skilled doctors and physicians that save lives on a daily basis. But in the same way that I don’t live in a hospital “just in case” I get sick, I didn’t see any reason to give birth in a hospital “just in case” something went wrong. Of course this decision was made on a week by week basis. Every prenatal appointment with my midwife was a chance to confirm that my body was doing what it needed to do. After all, there are obviously some pregnancies that are (or become) high risk and should be monitored by a skilled physician. However, I was blessed with a very easy and “model” pregnancy, making my decision for a home birth an easy one.
And so it begins…
While I had been having contractions on and off for several weeks, I could tell that things were finally “different” and moving in the right direction the night of March 23rd. My contractions were getting more intense and more regular, and I was excited to finally be feeling some pain. (My due date was on the 22nd so I was ready to get the baby out!) By 12:00 A.M on the 24th I finally began timing my contractions. They were about 10 – 15 minutes apart and intense enough that I wasn’t able to sleep much that night.
The next day was pretty much “text book” as my contractions slowly continued to get closer together and more intense. I figured the baby was still taking her time, so I told Tom to go to work but be prepared to get called home early. I continued with my day—cleaning a bit, making some black bean brownies, and timing contractions. I called Tom around four that afternoon and told him he should make his way home. Once home he began setting up the tub in our living room.
The contractions kept getting closer and more painful. Around five we called the midwives, ate a little bit of dinner, and tried to relax as much as possible as we knew there was a good chance we’d have another long night ahead of us.
The midwives showed up around eight (I had an awesome team of two midwives and two students). The tub was really helpful for easing some of the back pain, but I found myself getting restless being in the water so long that I kept moving back and forth between the tub and leaning on a birth ball. I definitely found myself getting tired, but I was overall in good spirits. And while labor is not something I’d like to experience on a daily basis, I found myself really okay with the pain because I knew that it had a purpose.
When we finally got to a point where I felt the urge to push I was hopeful that the end was near. It was sometime between 10 and 11 P.M., and I had a glimmer of hope that the baby would come before midnight and that maybe some sleep was in my near future.
Sadly, it didn’t quite go that way.
I really didn’t mind the pushing phase to begin with. I enjoyed feeling like I was getting closer to actually holding my baby. Contractions were still intense, but I knew that I would get a break in between each one. However, I had a harder time once my body started shaking. Even though I was told it was normal, I hated the intense shaking/shivering thing that started early on and only got worse for the remaining hours of labor. But probably the hardest part up to this point was some intense pain I was feeling in my lower abdominal area.
The midwives checked me to see how I was doing, and check on the baby’s position. As I had suspected, the baby was posterior. My midwives suggested we change positions to help rotate the baby. They also suggested I move back into the tub to help with the pain. While the tub was great for back relief, I found that sitting back in the tub made my abdominal pains more intense. I mentioned this to the midwives and they told me it could be a cervical lip—part of the cervix that isn’t fully dilated which was getting stretched down with the baby as the head was trying to move past it.
The midwives were great about trying to get the baby to turn and thin out that last bit of cervix. (Although both required more hands up in my lady parts than I’d like to remember). As painful and awkward as those moments were, their actions really helped ease the pain I was feeling. They told me that once the baby moved past the lip that it wouldn’t come back. I continued to push, but I was getting really exhausted. My hopes of having the baby that day were gone as we moved into the early hours of the 25th.
In terms of my pain management, I had told myself early on that I could handle anything for an limited period of time. But as the labor continued I began feeling really frustrated and completely worn out as it seemed the baby wasn’t really progressing. My team kept telling me that I was doing great, and that I was pushing well. I would feel the baby’s head move down giving me hope that she was closer. But in the back of my mind I was worried because I kept feeling that cervical lip again, and that pain was beginning to wear on my resolve.
I told my midwives what I was feeling so they checked me another time. They didn’t understand why the lip kept coming back. On top of that, the baby kept rotating back to a posterior position despite countless attempts to turn her. For what seemed like an eternity (probably 3 – 4 hours was more accurate), a pattern continued to repeat itself: I’d feel the abdominal pain, tell my midwives, and then endure their hands trying to rotate the baby and thin the cervix in the middle of a contraction which was followed by small relief so I could push the baby further only to feel the baby move back once the contraction was over. Rest. Repeat.
The midwives continued to monitor the baby’s heartbeat, which luckily was always strong. We tried different positions, a birthing stool, and all sorts of things to try and get this baby to move down. I was feeling extremely drained at this point. Despite the amazing support I felt from the midwives and Tom, in my mind I knew that this baby hadn’t made much progress—or that any progress we made was always followed by a retraction. I was pushing with everything I had, and I’d feel her move, but then I’d feel her move back up.
That was the frustrating part—feeling stuck. The contractions were almost on top of each other at this point and I was a complete mess. On top of the pain of the contractions, the “shakes” (as I called them) made even the rests in between contractions exhausting. Pushing was no longer an instinct. It was a reflex that toppled me over each time a contraction came. I felt completely out of control, and I just wanted to stop, but there is no turning back when it comes to labor. I kept hearing the words “I can’t” come out of my mouth—something I hate hearing. The only thing that was keeping me going was the support from Tom and the encouraging words from the midwives. Every time I said “I can’t do this” they told me that I was doing it. They reassured me that I was strong.
Finally, a little after 3:00 A.M., after using up every ounce of energy and still being in the same place we were hours ago, the midwives suggested we transfer to the hospital.
Their suggestion was both a shattering disappointment as well as a ray of hope. After pushing so intensely for so many hours and working harder than I’ve ever worked on so little sleep, I had been having doubts and thoughts in my mind for a while. In my head I just kept thinking “this baby is not coming. I should go to the hospital.” But I didn’t have the nerve to speak my mind—I wanted my home birth! I was waiting for the midwives to make the decision for me—a decision that I finally accepted and appreciated.
The next twenty minutes I was trying to get some shoes on, get down three flights of stairs, get into the car, and get to the hospital all the while dealing with the most intense contractions. I was slightly amused (in those brief moments of in-between-contraction-agony) as my husband ran a stop sign and a red light. It was just like the movies, which was funny to me because real birth usually is nothing like what is portrayed on screen. Getting to the hospital was painful. But luckily, it was only a two minute drive to get there.
Once at the hospital they got me in a wheelchair and wheeled me up to the delivery floor. Jeanetta, my main midwife came with us. She had such a calming presence throughout the whole night and I was so grateful she came to be my voice for the doctor.
The doctor came in and checked me. He was surprised by how far along I was and confidently said, “Oh, we can still deliver this baby vaginally!” Thankfully, at that point I was too exhausted to say a whole lot, but in my head I was screaming: “How in the world will you get this baby out vaginally!? Don’t you think I’ve tried! She’s stuck! She’s not coming! Let’s just get this over with. Cut me up and get her out!”
At that point there were all sorts of “theories” on the table as to why this baby wasn’t coming: Her head was too big, my pelvis was too small, I was too tight, her position was making it hard, the cervical lip was holding her back, etc, etc, etc. The doctors and my midwife suggested I get an epidural to give me some rest and hopefully relax and loosen me up. And while I had gone into this whole birthing process with the intent to go as natural as possible, I welcomed any sort of relief from this now 28 hour labor process.
Getting the epidural was probably the most difficult part of the whole labor. Having to hold completely still during the three incredible intense and painful contractions that I had while they were giving it to me was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Tom was great as he allowed me to squeeze the life out of his hands as each contraction hit me. But once they gave me the epidural I finally felt my body release a bit. As much as I needed that break from the intensity of it all, I found myself a little sad that I was all of a sudden so disconnected from my body. I no longer could feel what was going on, and I felt a little helpless in delivering the baby. All of a sudden it seemed like the doctor was the one delivering my child, instead of me.
(Funny side note: During one contraction they had me hold my left leg to push, which still has some feeling to it. It seemed strange to me that they wouldn’t have both legs up to help push. I asked them, “what about my right leg?” Tom said, “I have it.” I looked over to see Tom holding my leg. It was the strangest sensation because I had no idea my leg was in his arms in the position it was in.)
They continued to monitor the heartbeat, and they were getting a little concerned when her heart rate slowed during one of my contractions. The doctor, very calmly, looked at me and said, “We can only do this for a little longer. If the baby doesn’t come soon we will have to do a C-Section. What would you like us to do?” I appreciated how much this doctor asked me about what I wanted, but I didn’t feel well enough to answer. I just wanted the baby out. I was so tired, so overwhelmed, and so worried this would go on forever. I turned to Tom and told him to make the decision for me. Tom looked at the doctor and said, “What do you think?” The doctor said, “I think we can still get this baby out vaginally.”
After more than 29 hours of labor, and two contractions later, at 4:59 A.M. our little girl finally made her appearance. The doctor had to vacuum her out, but she made it. With the extra suction of the vacuum her body was able to get out, but just barely. We finally had an answer to all of the nights problems: the umbilical cord was only about 9” long (unusually short). It had acted like a little bungee cord. It kept pulling her back (which explained why she kept rotating back to a posterior position and why that blasted cervical lip kept returning). There was no chance for delayed cord clamping as I had hoped. To get her out it had to be cut immediately. But she was out. And she was healthy. And perfect. 6 lbs 15 oz, 18” long.
By the time we finally got cleaned up, the baby fed (thankfully she had no problem latching on), and moved into a recovery room I was able to call my parents. They were freaking out when we didn’t call them bright and early. They were glad to hear everyone was okay.
I’ve had a really hard time writing up this birth story (and not just because it feels like a novel! Sorry about that). It was hard for me to let go of my vision of a peaceful home birth. On the surface the whole story seemed like some sort of mean joke where my fears of a hospital birth and interventions came true. No home birth. No delayed cord clamping. Epidurals, episiotomy, vacuums. All these things that I tried to avoid were shoved into my face, and I had no choice but to accept them.
When we called my mom that morning I could tell that she was worried by how I might react to the whole situation. We had talked so enthusiastically about our hopeful home birth, that I’m sure she thought I would be disappointed and frustrated.
But that’s not how I felt at all.
Truthfully, that next day as I sat next to my beautiful sleeping baby, all I felt was extreme gratitude, love, and joy.
It’s true that the birth went nothing like I had hoped, but I also knew that I did everything I could to bring this child into the world as peacefully and naturally as possible. I didn’t have to wonder about whether or not the interventions were necessary. I was grateful for each aspect of the birth because it helped all of us come out of the experience alive and well.
But beyond the “all that matters is that the baby is healthy” mentality, the experience was truly beautiful and life changing.
Probably one of the most vivid memories of that day was the kinesthetic support from the many hands that helped me bring this child into the world. Those hands saved me during each and every contractions. All I had to do was reach my hand out, and someone was there to take it. Sometimes it was my midwife, a student, later a nurse, and of course Tom was always by my side to take one of my hands. That literal support gave me the confidence to move on. Overall I found myself stronger for having experienced what I did, and that strength was a direct result from the many hands that supported me.
My relationship with my husband grew stronger. I was overwhelmed with his ability to support me through the whole process. Words can’t describe how much his strength helped me. My love for him grew, and I can tell by the way he looks at me now that his love for me has grown, too. His compassion and concern for my wellbeing brought us even closer together. His respect for all mothers has deepened.
I learned that my little girl has a strong heart. She was able to withstand the hours of strain on her own little body. She is a fighter from the womb. Determined, strong, and beautiful.
I left the experience grateful for the many options we woman have to give birth. While I hope I never have to live this particular experience again, I was grateful for modern medicine and a caring doctor (who I had never met) who was able to intervene when it was necessary, but did his best to give me the most empowering birth possible. And despite how this experience went, I am still hopeful for my home birth in the future.
Overall, I consider myself pretty lucky. I had an easy pregnancy, a surprisingly easy recovery, and so much outpouring love to make me feel like the luckiest woman alive. And yet, it is those hours of labor that stand as the defining mark of the whole experience—those 29 hours did more to prepare me for the road ahead of parenthood than any of the books I read or videos I watched.
Thinking back to my hopeful vision of delivering this baby quickly and alone, I am so grateful that I got nothing that I hope for. Instead, I learned how much stronger I am when I have helping hands nearby. This labor was a lesson in courage, strength, letting go of what I can’t control, and remembering that life is ultimately about our relationships with those around us.
I now know what they mean by a “labor of love.”