My whole life, I knew I wanted to experience a natural childbirth. I grew up hearing my mother's birth stories....2 home births (one unassisted and breach, no less) and 2 birthing center births. I think she had all four of us kids in a grand total of about 18 hours of labor. I just assumed I would have a similar experience. I figured it was a mind over matter thing and that if you really wanted a natural and peaceful (and easy!) childbirth, by golly, you could have it!
I (we) took The Bradley Method classes....which were interesting (all 12 weeks of them....pretty sure B still hasn't forgiven me for that haha). I read books like crazy. I met with doulas, interviewed hospital employees, quizzed my doctor, wrote a birth plan, took other birthing classes, toured birthing centers, yadda freaking yadda.
Thanks to my most excellent research, I decided to switch care from my doctor (whom I love and respect to no end) to the midwifes at a local birthing center that was located within a hospital...because I thought that environment would fit my idea of what a birthing experience should look like (and because there was only a 1/6 chance I would even have my doctor on call if I were to stay with her).
So there I was on August 15, 2005, almost two weeks past his due date. I was going in for daily stress tests and amniotic fluid level checks. The baby looked big, the hair was getting long, and it was time for him/her (we didn't yet know the sex) to come out. Otherwise, I was looking at pitocin city and I figured that meant I would surely end up with a c-section. I was very all-or-nothing, you see.
Someone referred me to an acupuncturist to get labor started and I went in at about 11 a.m. as I recall. That afternoon at about 3:30, as I was walking out of the old courthouse downtown, next to all the crazy guys with signs yelling about god-knows-what, my water broke. I was wearing a skirt, so it went right down my leg and I am fairly certain no one heard me gasp (thanks super loud yelling crazy guys!). Of course, I called B and the doula and family right away and everyone else on the "short list" and went home. And waited. And checked my bag for the umpteenth time (yep, the organic cotton baby gown was there, just as it had been for weeks!). Ate and drank a little, as my doula instructed. But no contractions. At about 8 that night, B put in a favorite movie of ours (Before Sunrise) and opened a very special bottle of wine we had brought back from our honeymoon in France (I only had a sip!).
Around 9:30, I started to feel some small contractions, but they weren't painful and I could still watch the movie without a problem. We decided we should try to get some sleep, and B proceeded to crash right out (how do dudes do that??). I couldn't sleep, AREYOUKIDDINGME??? By 11, the contractions were hurting, I took a shower, a bath, walked around the house, etc. At 1, I wake B up and tell him he needs to start timing my contractions. He does and writes everything down on a yellow legal pad (which he still has to this day.....so cute). By 5:30 in the morning, we decide to head in. My contractions are about 2 minutes apart and are lasting almost a minute. Plus I am in pain. Plus, I could be getting close....did you hear about my mom's one hour and a half labor? Total?
We drive the half mile to the birthing center (which I am sure is the longest car ride I have ever taken) and I have to make a couple stops walking from the car to the door of the hospital because the contractions are that intense. We finally manage to get up to the fourth floor where the birthing center is and I am relieved to find out it is pretty empty. I get one of the biggest and nicest rooms all to myself and they begin preparing the birthing pool for me. They ask me if I want them to check my dilation and I'm like "Hell yeah, give me the good news!" I don't know if I was more shocked or disappointed when they told me I was at a giant three and a half centimeters. I was sure I was almost in transition! I had been laboring for almost 9 hours! And this had to go on for another six and a half centimeters??
I got over it I guess and got in the pool, which felt fantastic. It was there that I really got into that "zone" that women will sometimes talk about. I didn't hear or see anyone else, I didn't want anything or anyone, I know I was making weird, loud, primal sounds, and I couldn't care less. It was then that the midwife on call said they had tested my amniotic fluid and the teensiest, tiniest amount of meconium was present and I would therefore have to be transferred to the Labor and Delivery floor of the hospital for the remainder of my labor.
WHAT? I went through all that effort to switch from the doctor I love to come here, only to be transferred to a hospital with a doctor I have never met? The irony was about to make me cry. Actually, it DID make me cry. Like a lot. But the good news? I was told the midwife on call would stay with me for the duration of my labor. But do you want to know the terrible news? The midwife on call happened to be a man named Steve who almost never even worked in births anymore (apparently a bunch of midwives were sick or something).
Now, I don't want to ever be accused of being a sexist, but I just don't understand why a man would become a midwife. Especially a short, pudgy one with stringy hair and bad breath. Yep, that was my "midwife" that day as luck would have it. My first encounter with him was him trying to get me out of the tub and transfer me to Labor and Delivery. If you have ever been in active labor and someone tells you you need to do something like this, you may as well be told you have to climb Mt. Everest on your hands and knees in the middle of a blizzard. There was NO WAY I could get out of that tub, dry off, put some sort of robe on, then make the trek down two hospital floors. I was having crazy contractions every 2 minutes (or less!). So Steve pulls me up out of the water (I'm sure I looked like a drowned rat....with a huge belly) and faces my naked wet self to him, holds my hands and says "Just breathe" (as if I hand't heard that's what you're supposed to do) and then started taking exaggerated breaths in and blowing his onion/coffee breath in my face. Like his demonstration was going to somehow help me.
Anyway, needless to say, I made it down to my new room eventually. It was a little after nine in the morning. The room was probably about 15 feet square with no windows and there was construction going on what seemed to be next door (BAM BAM BAM BAM). And guess what happened then? I stopped dilating. I'm sure it had everything to do with the fact that I didn't feel comfortable or safe or peaceful. I had been at about 5 and half (I think) and then I stayed there for what seemed like forever. At one point Steve comes in and says they need to put an intrauterine device to monitor my contractions because my "contractions just weren't working." Hint: don't say that to a woman who has been laboring hard for hours and hours. It will make her feel like a failure. He then places the device inside, I start having a contraction and then Jora loses her mind for the one and only time during any of her labors. It hurt so F$%#(&% bad I screamed to TAKE IT OUT AND TAKE IT OUT NOW. And his response? "Where I put that, there aren't any nerves, so that couldn't have hurt." Men: take note. Do not become a midwife.
After that he made one very off-color remark that I don't even want to share here and my doula begged me to let her go demand that another midwife be called in. Thank goodness she thought to do that because I was in no place to even think of that option. Happily, another midwife came in sometime thereafter and eventually, after one very long afternoon, at about 6 p.m., I made it to 10 centimeters. When that finally happened, I almost couldn't believe it. I had spent hours that afternoon in a haze (I still had had no sleep) going in and out of contractions, almost in and out of consciousness, not believing that I could take a moment more. The baby's heart rate was dropping too.....something everyone else seemed more concerned about than I was (which is unusual because I am normally such the worry wart about health issues). I was told several times that I needed a c-section, but I would beg for more time and each time, the doctor agreed for some reason.
Somehow, SOMEHOW, I got through that pain and uncertainty and not believing I could do it (but I WAS doing it, I just didn't know!) and got to the other side (and by other side, I mean the point that I could finally start pushing).
So then, I start pushing. I was sooooo happy to be doing something besides laying there through contractions wondering if anything was even working. And I pushed and I pushed and I pushed. I was given a mirror so that I could see the baby's pretty brown hair. I am still in Labor Land as it turns out because I have no concept of time or what is being talked about in the room. Finally, the midwife that had been called in to replace Steve, who I like very, very much, takes my hand, looks in my eyes and says, "I'm sorry, but you are going to have to have a c-section now." It turns out I had been pushing for 3 hours (I had no idea) and the baby's heart rate kept dropping each time I had a contraction.
Then the tears came again. I believe my words were: "Now? After all this? 21 hours of labor? Pushing for 3 hours? And I can see my baby's head? Can't you just pull the baby out? Don't you have forceps or something?" And with that I was told that they would try the vacuum. As if they hadn't thought of that option? Still not sure about that....
So, the fluorescent lights go on, the pediatric specialists come in to wait at the side "just in case", the resident doctor, the attending doctor (it is a teaching hospital), a bunch of nurses, a couple of midwives at that point, plus others. Not the intimate, personal birth I had imagined, that's for sure! The doctors put on these goggle/face mask things and then they go to work...I guess suctioning the baby's head. I am given the green light and on the next contraction I push like crazy and then I hear the whole room gasp, blood sprays on the the doctors' masks (I am not exaggerating) and the two of them almost fall back. At this point, poor B, who is not squeamish one bit and had been by my side the whole time (except when I didn't want him there HA) ran to hide in the corner. He was convinced the baby's head had come off or something like that. The doctors had lost suction, but I suppose they didn't really know what else had happened (if anything). They got the suction back in place and my midwife tells me this is it. My last chance. I have to give it everything I have.
And you know what? I don't think there was a woman in the last million years who pushed harder than I pushed at that moment, and finally, praise everything, my little babe slipped out at 9:30 p.m. on August 16, 1005. He was pink and round and screamed almost right away. And the awesome thing was the doctors and nurses and everyone remembered to not announce the sex but to let B and I see it first. I remember crying "It's a boy, it's a boy....." because that is what B secretly wanted and I wanted that for him because I didn't care if it was a boy or girl. C-Man was perfect and healthy in every way (but for a very sore spot on the top of his poor head!).
And I remember this feeling of exhilaration and energy and connection and strength and power washing over me (which is what I see in that picture above). I wanted to hold my baby and chat with everyone in the room about everything that had happened and I'm pretty sure I asked my brother-in-law if he would please go get me some In-n-Out. It was not the birth I had planned, or even hoped for, but the end result was spectacular. A beautiful baby and new connection to all the other powerful moms that have ever gone through childbirth.....especially challenging ones.
I read this quote tonight and wanted to share it because it perfectly expresses how I feel about childbirth:
"Birth is not only about making babies. Birth is about making mothers -- strong, competent, capable mothers who trust themselves and know their strength." (Barbara Katz Rothman)
(If you're in the mood, Little E's birth story is here and here!)