Before reading my story I just want to share an introductory word. I don’t usually share my WHOLE birth story and I want to tell you why. I don’t unusually share my birth story because mine is a kind of a scary story. My birth did not go great. I had a lot of problems develop and I ended up with a cesarean. My birth was abnormal. I repeat, my birth was abnormal, and I don’t want any mother to feel like this is the way birth always is for everyone. Birth is more often than not can be a completely organic and natural experience. A woman’s body is designed by nature to birth and most women can birth safely in their home with a skilled midwife, in a birth center in a tub, or in a hospital with no pain killers. Birth is beautiful and normal. Sometimes things happen during a birth that are not normal and it is important to recognize them and understand how to handle them. That is why informing yourself is so important.
Now I want to tell you why I am sharing my story now. I am sharing now because I also want women to see that cesareans, epidurals, and inductions are not an easy way out. They carry risks. They often inflict pain and cause more harm than good. They also can be lifesaving treatments when used for legitimate reasons. For those who have to have them, it doesn’t mean they are lucky and have been spared any suffering. In fact in many cases the opposite is true. I also want to expose the negative feelings I had to wade through after my birth. It took me at least a good six months to feel at peace and empowered by my birth. It is ok to be angry about it, sad about it, even if it was necessarily for your health and the health of your child. Your feelings about your birth always matter and it is possible to be happy about having a healthy baby and still hurt by your birth. Its ok, it’s valid, don’t ever let others make you feel down about it.
In the early part of 2010, I was living in Baltimore MD with my spouse. Baltimore experienced record breaking blizzards that winter. With the blizzards came an unusually high amount of pregnancies, fondly nicknamed Snow Babies by the local press. I too got my very own Snow Baby, she would come the following winter, a short time before Thanksgiving.
I was an incredibly studious pregnant woman. I didn’t just get a pregnancy book, What to Expect When You Are Expecting just wouldn’t do. I got a midwives book, from THE MIDWIFE herself, Ina May Gaskin.
I couldn’t have asked for a better pregnancy, not a problem to be had. I never even threw up in my first trimester. I just knew when I reached my final month that I was home free and could expect a smooth natural delivery with my supportive midwife…until…
At what was to be my last appointment before my estimated due date I was greeted with a very flustered midwife. My last ultrasound showed amniotic fluid levels on the low end of normal. She was distraught that the radiology center hadn’t made it a point to alert her of this. It wasn’t so much that it may be an immediate catastrophe but it was definitely something they like to keep a closer eye on. She strongly recommended I get a fetal assessment to see if my fluid levels had gotten any lower. I wasn’t scared, but I was annoyed. Here I had the picture perfect pregnancy and two days before my due day I get thrown this monkey wrench. On top of that it was snowing again, it was freezing and I had to wade through salt and snow mush to get anywhere. To say I was annoyed would be an understatement. I was miserable!
About an hour later I had a detailed ultrasound. My levels had decreased further. They were very low. My midwife and I then had to have that long hard conversation…I hate long hard conversations. In retrospect I was incredibly lucky. Some doctors at this point would foster panic but my midwife didn’t do that. She didn’t try to intimidate me into anything. She knew I was smart and logical. She said I had three options. One was to do nothing which she didn’t recommend because of x,y,z, one was to induce now which she knew I wasn’t really keen on doing, and the other was to do fetal assessment every two days. I didn’t want to rush into an induction but it wasn’t off the table, I asked for some time to think about it, because for one, I had been sitting in this facility all morning and I was STARVING! I did some research while I inhaled a salad in the hospitals cafeteria. My findings were so mixed. Some sources made it out to be a precarious development while others said it was no big deal. My research, for once, wasn’t very reassuring. As I looked outside into the cool, white courtyard I knew that based on the way I felt this very day, that coming back to this hospital every other day for possibly two more weeks was not happening. I knew the risks of induction and I had heard Pitocin contractions were more painful, but I decided that it was probably the best option for me. I went with my gut.
That night I checked myself into Labor and Delivery. Sarcastic and defensive, I was determined that the rest of this was going to go my way come hell or high water. I refused hospital clothes, I detest hospital clothes. I refused to adhere to an ice chip diet. My mother was irritated that I couldn’t just do things the ‘normal way.’ My midwife was supportive of my decisions though and didn’t even protest them. What I needed was a doula not my mother, but I am glad and thankful she at least tried to be helpful. She was doing the best she could with what she knew. Cervidil was placed to soften my cervix, I was encouraged to rest up, for the pit drip sleeps for no one and the morning was coming fast.
In the early morning hours I was greeted with breakfast and an excited nurse. “You’re contracting on your own!” she exclaimed, “you’re in labor!” “Does this mean no Pitocin for me?” I asked. To my extreme pleasure that did mean no Pitocin unless of course I wanted Pitocin. I said confidently, “NO WAY!” This is when that law of no good deed goes unpunished takes its sorry place in my birth experience. My midwife offered me an artificial rupture of membranes. It wasn’t a requirement and something I had intended on not doing, but if it meant a faster labor and no Pitocin I was willing to augment my stance. Bad idea. Probably the biggest regret I have about my birth because it very well may have been the scalpel in my uterus. I knew the risks. No one made me do it. It seemed like a better compromise then a full on induction. I will never fully know if not doing it would have prevented things going south. You can get a uterine infection regardless, but AROM doesn’t help matters.
I labored for 16 hours approximately. It didn’t really hurt at all, my natural labor that is. It was my back mostly that had some soreness. I wasn’t progressing very fast but no worries. I could labor like this for 36 hours if I had to. I walked the halls, bounced on a birthing ball, took a shower. I did all the things I had studied about. Then they checked my temperature…
Fevers in labor are not unheard of but like the low fluid before it, are really not something you want to have happen. Fevers mean your body is fighting off a pathogen of some kind. The clock began loudly ticking in my ear. I could not labor like this 36 hours with a fever. I needed to get this show on the road. I decided to start the Pitocin. The contractions were somewhat more uncomfortable but not excruciating. They turned up the dose very slowly and always asked me if I was ready to up it. I made pathetic progress. I was very tense, very irritated.
Sometime later, my midwife and I had to have yet another uncomfortable conversation, the epidural conversation. At this point I was feeling emotionally defeated. I’ll admit it. I didn’t take kindly to this abrupt change in plan, how dare I develop a complication. The epidural wasn’t forced upon me, but the midwife said it may help my body relax and speed the process. She said I was handling the contractions beautifully but felt that I was very tense. It was like that scene from Lemony Snickets where the little boy had a vision of these different books he had read in his head. I had read that before. Fine, let’s rock and roll. We will go all out, give me the epidural, no sense in tip toeing around this any longer.
The epidural was by far the most horrendous experience of my whole birth. I kid you not. How women the world over actually beg for these is actually kind hard for me to grasp. It hurt SO bad, it was way worse than the contractions. After being rigged up, I tried to get some sleep.
I awoke in excruciating pain. Not sure why it was not numbing the pain of my contractions or the increasing pressure of Elizabeth pushing on my cervix but it wasn’t. Yet, I couldn’t move at all to cope with them. I was burning from the inside. I was also delirious from a fever that only got higher. Everything felt out of control and it was not at all the experience I had imagined or hoped for. The nice OB that I saw early in my pregnancy came in for the final long hard conversation. Before she even could ask, I had said yes. Something was wrong. I wasn’t winning this one today. No amount of research could fix this situation, but all my research helped me say “yes.”
Time moves slower somehow when you’re about to be cut open. It is an eerie, cold place. I realize being awake for your child’s birth is important but really, the OR is a special kind of frightening. The OR team came in to prep me before my OB. As they were, they decided it was a good time to talk about their lunch plans. This made me absolutely sick! It is my one complaint about any of the staff or my experience with the hospital itself. Don’t ever talk about your lunch while prepping a mom for a cesarean. It may just another day at the office for you, but for me this is the birth of a child and I am angry and sad and frightened and happy all at the same time. Do not talk about your lunch! Even better don’t talk at all! The last thing I remember clearly was my petite midwife walking in, shoes clicking on the solid floor with every step. She snapped for a stool on which to stand. It skidded loudly across the concrete and then the rest is pretty hazy. I remember then seeing my little girl’s grumpy scowl. She looked pissed at me. She was never a morning person and still isn’t. I would have been granted uninterrupted time with her but as they put my body back together again I began to feel it. It was like a dull throb accompanied by constant tugging. I uttered that it hurt some and then I was out. They didn’t even count me down. I didn’t dream. I had no awareness of time. It was just black and in what seemed like just a few minutes I was awaking in a hospital room. I felt so empty, so hollow. For a split second it felt like my whole pregnancy was a really long elaborate dream that never happened. In a few minutes of me opening my eyes they brought me Elizabeth, still angry looking, but real. It felt so natural to hold her and I immediately offered my breast. She slowly latched and started to nurse. Thank God for it too. In that moment it was the only thing that made me feel like a mom at all.