One of the primary reasons I wanted to start this blog was to share my birth story. What I was able to accomplish and how I achieved my goal of an un-medicated birth – despite facing barrier after barrier – made me feel an incredible amount of power. And I wanted to share that power with other women. So here is my story.
On September 19th, 2017, we had a Non-Stress Test (NST) scheduled for 2pm because Charlie was now five days late. Despite the hospital being less than 10 minutes from our house, we were late. So Phil dropped me off at the door and I ran/waddled up to the NST room and sat down in one of the recliners surrounded by curtains. I answered all of the nurse's questions as she strapped me up to the fetal monitor. She watched the screen and asked me how I was feeling and I said I was fine. But I wasn’t fine – I was feeling really irritated about being late and about her questions! She told me that the NST showed that Charlie was doing fine but my blood pressure was elevated. I asked if she could check it again after I relaxed a little because we were late and I thought maybe that was causing it. We waited and she checked it again – still high.
I started to feel a sinking sensation in my gut that my decision to not yet pack my hospital bag was not a sound one (it was on the list of things I wanted to do as I pre-labored at home, right after watch our wedding video and paint my belly cast). The nurse looked me straight in the eye and told me that I needed to go to OB triage so they could monitor my blood pressure. I felt hot tears accumulating in the corners of my eyes as I left the NST room and walked over to the OB triage desk. This was not my plan. This was not what I wanted. My plans of the natural birth in the natural birth center without any monitors beeping and with free movement to the bed and bath were being ripped away from me.
But I kept the tears at bay as I checked in and they escorted me to a triage bed, handed me a hospital gown and strapped me up to a blood pressure monitor. I declined to put on the gown or lay in the bed. I sat upright on the edge of the bed, not planning to be there for long. I called my doula, Kristin, to let her know what was going on. She encouraged me to relax and keep asking questions so that I could get all the information I needed and to keep her updated. I took deep breaths and tried to meditate, hoping it would help to lower my blood pressure.
Finally, around 8pm, the hospital sent in a nurse midwife to chat with me and explain that it seemed my blood pressure wasn’t going to go down and I was going to have to be admitted…and they were likely going to have to induce me. As soon as I heard the word ‘induce’ I felt livid; this was the number one thing that I did not want to have happen. My thoughts went immediately to my unpacked hospital bag and the stats – 44% of women who are induced have a C-Section – and I did NOT want a C-Section. I dutifully did what I was taught to do in our natural childbirth class and through all the books I had read and asked, “What if we wait? Do we have to do this right now? What does my midwife say?” No matter the question, the answer was still, “You have to be admitted and you have to be induced”.
Flooded with emotion, I sent Phil home with my list of items to pack my bag. I was angry and frustrated that this was the way I was starting my birth: sad and disappointed that I would not be able to work on my birth project or watch our wedding video as I labored at home. Terrified about how little control I had over this. Nervous that all that was about to happen would lead to what I dreaded most – a C-Section. But at the same time, I was also excited that I would finally get to meet my little girl – my Charlie. This excitement was what ultimately helped me to accept that this forced admission, forced induction, was the best thing for me and for her. I held onto the hope that I would get over the elevated blood pressure and be able to transition to the natural childbirth center. We made a point to get the room with a tub to use during the labor. I was going to do everything in my power to move around and make sure I had my baby naturally – without medication.
When I got to my labor and delivery room, I looked around and saw everything that I hated about a hospital birth – the hospital bed; the blinking, beeping monitors; the bright neon lights, the awful bench couch that Phil was supposed to sleep on. As I felt the dread creep up, I reminded myself that I was going to meet Charlie very soon and thought of one of my birth mantras: “this is exactly where we were supposed to be.” So I sat down on the hospital bed. The nurse came in and offered me a hospital gown. Again, I declined; I was not sick, I was not a patient. I was a powerful woman about to experience the most incredible and transformative experience of my life. I put on a black tube dress instead.
As I reclined in the bed, they strapped me up to an automated blood pressure cuff that went off every ten minutes, as well as a fetal monitor. A nurse wheeled over an IV bag and I asked her if that was really necessary since ‘I was not sick after all’, and she gave me a half smile and said ‘yes’. With each additional device hooked up to my body, I took a deep breath and mentally crossed them off of the “Interventions to Avoid” section of my birth plan. Again, rather than let the dread creep into my head, I reminded myself that I was OK, Charlie was OK, and we were exactly where we were supposed to be.
By this time, I was starving, and asked the L&D nurses if I could eat. Their response was a non-convincing, “maybe; let me ask the attending”. Of course the attending said, “No, because that would be problematic if you need anesthesia for a C-Section.” To which I responded that I was ‘not going to have a C-Section and I’d like them to call my midwife and see what she said’. The attending reluctantly had the nurse call my midwife and she returned with the after-hours hospital menu.
At 9pm, I was given a Mistoprostol tablet to start the induction. I ate the most unremarkable, unmemorable food and watched TV in an attempt to drown out the incessant beeping of the monitors. The nurses returned at midnight to give me the second dose. After I took it I was determined to get some sleep so I could be strong for the next day. I decided to do a deep sleep meditation, which I had been doing on a regular basis, as it never failed to get me down. As I was in the middle of the body scan portion of the meditation, the fetal monitor started beeping like crazy; I looked over and saw the numbers dropping drastically and the screen blinking out.
My first thought was panic, but then my brain tried to rationalize it by saying ‘the monitor or Charlie just moved – this is nothing major’. However, the change in the numbers prompted the attending and a batch of nurses I’d never met to rush into our room. They all stood around watching the monitor for what felt like hours without speaking to me at all. Slowly, we watched the numbers grow and return to normal. Finally, the attending looked at me and said, “the baby had a deceleration in her heart rate but her heart rate is stable now. We aren’t sure what caused it but it may have been the Mistoprostol. So we’re starting you on a pitocin drip.” A pitocin drip? I screamed in my head. I felt my face flush and the tears begin to form in the corners of my eyes again. This was the number one thing on the “Interventions to Avoid” section. Again, I asked, “What if we wait? Do we have to do this right now? What does my midwife say?” Again, I got an answer I didn’t want to hear: “We have to do a pitocin drip.”
Then a nurse came in with two IV bags and the attending added, “Oh, and we need to put you on magnesium because your blood pressure is increasing. And when you’re on magnesium, you need to be on bedrest.” A lump formed in the back of my throat and I couldn’t keep the tears from falling as my plans to move around and use the tub were flushed down the drain. I squeezed my eyes tight, swallowed the lump and opened my eyes to a nurse standing next to my bed holding a bag and saying, “Now I’m going to insert the catheter.” By this time, it was 4 in the morning and I was too tired to react or ask the questions again. I just laid back, let it happen and tried to rest.
Finding My Power
At 8am, I started to feel pressure come and go. It wasn’t painful but it definitely wasn’t like anything I’d felt before. I woke Phil up and told him that I thought something was starting to happen. We began to watch the monitor and realized these were contractions. But they weren’t incredibly painful yet. I could handle them, and I thought I should just handle them on my own. But then I looked at Phil and he asked, “Why don’t you call Kristin and have her come?” I called her and told her that I was starting to have contractions and I needed her help. It felt weird as I was saying it, but as soon as I did I actually felt powerful and not at all weak like I was anticipating. Kristin arrived quickly and so did the more painful contractions.
With each contraction, Kristin was able to help me breathe through it. She helped me move around as much as I could in the bed – with the catheter and IV. It seemed like things were moving along well. At 10:30am I was 3 cm dilated and 90% effaced. I remember at some point early in the day, Kristin whispered into my ear that she knew I didn’t want an epidural so this was the only time she would bring it up. She said that with everything that was going on, it would make sense if I felt like I needed it – I could ask for it. I was so appreciative of the way she brought it up, but adamant in my decision to remain drug free through the labor and said ‘no’. She nodded and said she would not ask again but I could ask if I changed my mind. The contractions kept coming – stronger and more frequently.
In the early afternoon, I hit a point where I felt like my body was breaking and I began to sob. Phil had left for the first time to get lunch, so it was just Kristin there with me, and she thought I may be transitioning. I was tired. It hurt so much. And I wanted to get the baby out. Kristin called for the nurse, and my midwife, but she thought they were taking too long and that she may have to catch the baby herself, so she got her gloves on. My midwife appeared, examined me, and found that I was still just 3 cm.
My heart dropped. I thought I was ready for the next step – ready to get this over with. I had a brief moment where I felt like giving up – getting the epidural. But just as quickly as this feeling came, I felt a stronger, more powerful force within me say, “NO!! You are stronger than this. You do not need the medication. You do not want a C-Section. You can do this. You can open up.” I vaguely remember looking at Kristin and saying weakly, “I can do this.” And she smiled and nodded in agreement: “You can do this.”
It’s difficult to find words to explain what happened next. But I remember consciously making the decision to let myself go. I found my animal self. I breathed deeper and longer. I made more noise. I remembered my birth mantras. I went within and willed myself to open. Within a few hours, I opened to 6cm. I breathed out the pain, and breathed in light and strength. I moaned louder, lower, more guttural. I kept my mouth open and I could feel my cervix dilate more as I asked myself to open. There were moments where I was free from pain but full of power. There were also a few moments where I didn't think I could keep going. It was all too much. Too much pain, too much energy, too much I couldn’t control. But Phil and Kristin were right there with me. Believing in me, telling me I could do it, reminding me that this was all to be able to meet Charlie.
I was finally fully dilated and ready to push at 6pm. A calm washed over me as I thought I had gotten through the hard part. I became more conscious of the room I was in and what I was doing. I asked if I could have a mirror to watch as I pushed. And then I started to push. It was excruciating. I remember thinking, “I can’t do this.” I looked at Kristin and it was as if she read my mind and said, “You can do this. Only you can do this.” I watched in the mirror as I pushed; I’d see a tiny sliver of a head and then it would disappear again. I made noise as I pushed like I had before and everyone told me to put that energy into my pushes. I felt defeated, like I had no idea what I was doing and that I couldn’t do it. I looked at Phil and he read my mind and said it might be easier if I stopped watching. I nodded and they took the mirror away.
I kept pushing for 2.5 hours and hated every painful minute of it. But everyone kept telling me about the progress I was making, and that they could see Charlie, and if I just kept pushing I could see her too. Finally as I was crowning I stopped focusing on the pain and I reached down and felt her head for an instant. I was amazed at myself and that this moment was real. I knew I was in the final stretch, and I breathed deeply and pushed. Her head popped out and before I could even realize it, her body just slipped out too.
A Mother Is Born
Charlie was immediately put on my chest, which I loved. I felt a little bit in shock because of what I’d just gone through: totally relieved it was over, grateful that we were both healthy and thoroughly exhausted. I remember looking at Phil as he gave both me and Charlie kisses, tears falling down his cheeks and the most radiant smile I’ve ever seen. I vaguely remember saying something like ‘I did it’, and him smiling and nodding.
As Charlie was on my chest and began to nurse, I hemorrhaged and lost about a liter of blood. I didn't know it at the time but I did feel the rushes of liquid; I just didn't think much of it because it simply felt like my water passing. Phil has told me that it was surreal to see the top half of my body a celebration of pure joy and the bottom half like a horror film. But no one worried me in the moment; they let me focus on the most beautiful tiny little creature I’d ever seen.
Once the bleeding stopped, Chris let me know that I did have a second-degree tear and she stitched it up. I could feel tiny pinpricks of burning, but compared to what I’d just made it through, it was nothing. I just watched Charlie happily nursing, which was incredible. Pure instinct and immediate connection. Thinking back, I realize this was the moment that I checked two items off of my ultimate life list: natural childbirth and breastfeeding. Truly incredible.
What happened next is foggy but I know I had to stay in the labor and delivery room for another 24 hours because of the magnesium and the hemorrhage. I don’t remember much of that time except feeling frustrated because I was still confined to the bed with a catheter and the blood pressure cuff going off every 10 minutes. Which meant I missed Charlie’s first bath and Phil got the pleasure of changing every meconium poop diaper. When the nurse came into the room in the evening to take out the catheter and unhook me from the monitor, all I wanted to do was hug her. She was incredibly kind, gentle and understanding, and I so wish I remembered her name. She slowly escorted me to the bathroom to pee on my own in the toilet.
As I sat there terrified to see what would come out, she busied herself changing the bed linens. And then, suddenly, I felt something the size of Charlie’s head plop out of me. I calmly called her back into the bathroom and she said it was probably just a small clot. I was adamant that it was huge. She helped me back off the toilet; we both looked in and I distinctly remember her face as she acknowledged that I had passed the largest clot she’d ever seen – like the size of a softball. I felt vindicated that I was not oversensitive and that thing that came out of me was as mammoth as it felt. She helped me back into bed as she went to call my midwife. By now they knew better than to call the attending – the power of asking questions!
I sat on the bed, taking in my surroundings for what felt like the first time. I could not believe this was the room I had been in through the whole thing. Throughout my labor, I felt like I was in a ball of white light pulsating with power and love, but in reality, I was here in a hospital room with Phil and an incredibly supportive team of my doula, midwife and nurses. I experienced something so much bigger than myself in that room, and I felt like I was one with everything around me. I didn’t end at the end of my body; I went on forever and ever.
But then I suddenly remembered that I had a body that was wearing a black tube dress that was now covered in a variety of bodily fluids and hair that had come to resemble a giant dreaded knot on the back of my head, and all I wanted was a shower. The nurse came back and said that I needed to wait a few hours to move to the recovery floor because of the clot, and that I should rest now and shower when I got to recovery. If I couldn’t have a shower, then all I could think of was eating a hamburger. I sent Phil on the hunt for one.
At about 2 or 3 in the morning, my midwife explained to me that because of the hemorrhage, my hemoglobin was 6.9, and typically they recommend a transfusion for anyone under 7. I declined; I was not sick and I did not want to become a patient. So they cleared me for recovery with an iron prescription. They set me up in a wheelchair and I tightly held on to Charlie as Phil struggled with our bags. We made our way up to the recovery room.
I remember feeling incredibly weak as I laid down on this new bed, but I tried to push the feeling away; I was a powerful woman who had just birthed my baby. I quickly fell asleep but awoke just a few hours later to Charlie needing to nurse. And as she did, I tried to fight off sleep until she was done. When she stopped, I laid her in her bassinet and dozed off, only to be immediately woken up again as the lactation consultant said I needed to feed her every 2 hours from the start of a feeding. By the time morning came, I was desperate for a shower but adamant that Charlie not spend a moment in the nursery. I asked for help. My mother-in-law came to be with Charlie, and Phil helped me in the shower. As I sat in the shower and Phil so attentively helped me with everything, I was in awe of his love for me.
As I got out of the shower and finally put on a hospital gown, I felt incredibly weak. At first I was upset that I could feel weak just a day after being so powerful, but then I realized my first Secret of Motherhood – you have to ask for help. Not only is it OK, it's the only way you can be your best self for your baby. I spent the next three days in the hospital and the next 12 weeks at home admitting my weaknesses, asking for help, recovering and discovering my new identity as a mom. And I continue to discover it anew every day.
I hope you enjoyed reading my story. If you are interested in sharing yours with me, I’d love to hear it!