It has taken me a long time to write the birth story of our daughter. It was such a deeply moving and meaningful experience, that for awhile it felt like it was impossible to write about. I mean, how can anyone find the words to describe something so beautiful and life-altering?
And then the busyness of motherhood took over, and now that J is almost a year old, I am filled with this deep fear that if I don’t write about it soon, I will forget it.
So here goes…
From the very beginning, Erik and I knew that we wanted to have a natural childbirth. It was paramount to us. So we signed up for the Mama Natural Online Birth Class. One of our first assignments was to write down our “why.” Why did we want a natural childbirth? For us, it was so that our daughter would have the best possible start in this world. You only get one entrance, and we wanted her to be wide awake and alert for it.
But to be honest, even though we had our why written down, I was scared. As a first time mom, I didn’t know what to expect, but I kept hearing and reading in various places the affirmation that a woman’s body was designed to give birth. That my body was designed to give birth, and I tried to remember that at all times.
J’s due date was November 8th. Everyone, and I mean everyone, thought that she was going to come early, including me. But November 8th came and went with no baby. I began to get desperate. I’d had a great pregnancy, but my feet were swollen and I was definitely feeling ready! So I began to do everything I could to induce labor naturally. I bounced on my birthing ball every night, took evening primrose oil vaginally, and drank LOTS of red raspberry leaf tea. I went to the acupuncturist twice and had my massage therapist perform acupressure once. Before each and every appointment, they guaranteed me that I would go into labor before the end of the day. But nothing happened. There’s even a restaurant in town that serves a salad called “The Salad,” (original, I know!). It has supposedly caused many, many women to go into labor upon consumption. I ate the salad, hoping it would work. Still, nothing.
Finally, on November 13th, I went to the Ob-Gyn to have my weekly check-up. Let me pause here and quickly say that initially, Erik and I had wanted to give birth at a birthing center, but none of them worked with insurance companies (What is up with that?). We are blessed to have truly fantastic insurance, and we wanted to be able to use it. Lucky for us, we heard about an Ob-Gyn who performed natural births in a hospital alongside a midwife. So Dr. Francis Chang became my Ob-Gyn and delivery doctor. He is seriously the greatest doctor I have ever know.
On with the story…
So when I went to see Dr. Chang on November 13th, I was expecting him to tell me that everything looked fine and to remember to be patient. But instead, he said that my fluid levels were low and that I needed to go home and drink lots of water. He also told me that I had to go to the hospital at noon the next day to have my fluid levels checked again.
And he stripped my membranes at that appointment. Now, I had heard some women say that membrane stripping isn’t a big deal and that it didn’t hurt when they had it done, but uh… that wasn’t my experience:/ I about came off the table!! But it worked! He stripped them around noon; I went home, and by 6:00 pm, I began having very mild contractions.
That evening, I drank water at a frenzied pace and tried bouncing on my birthing ball, but eventually, the contractions became so intense that the only place I felt comfortable was in the bathtub. I wanted Erik to be well-rested for the actual birth, so I told him to go on to bed, and I continued to sit there in the tub. At one point, I decided to get up and try to sleep in the bed next to him, but the contractions were too painful lying down, so I ended up spending the night in the tub and accidentally falling asleep there.
When I woke up the next morning, I was devastated! Before dozing off, my contractions had been about 10 minutes apart. I had thought for sure that they would be closer together by now. But instead, they were farther apart and much less intense. So I texted my doula, Jen. She told me not to worry, saying that contradictions fade sometimes; I would have my baby soon enough.
I continued to drink a ton of water and tried to force myself to eat something. Noon rolled around, and Erik told me that it was time to go to the hospital. I replied, “Thanks but no thanks.” I had been counting how much water I had been drinking, and I knew that I had consumed 176 Fl. Oz. I felt sure that my fluid levels had to be back up. Besides, my birth plan was to labor at my home for as long as possible. No hospital visit was necessary!
Erik kept insisting that we had promised to have my fluid levels checked, and therefore, we had to go. I got in the car, and we drove to the hospital. As soon as we arrived, Dr. Chang walked in. It turns out that he had seen us driving down the street, headed towards the hospital, so he had turned his car around and followed us there. He checked my fluid levels, and even with drinking all that water, the were even lower than they had been the day before! Because of this, he was unable to release me to go back home. I was sad and anxious.
But, there was good news! I was 2 cm dilated and 90% effaced. So Dr. Chang suggested inserting a balloon as a natural means of progressing labor faster. I asked him how long it would take for the balloon to do its job. He said, “An hour and a half.” I agreed to the balloon; he inserted it, and I told Erik it was time to call Jen, the doula.
To help the balloon along, I began walking the halls so that gravity would be on my side. The contractions grew stronger, and I began having intense pain shoot down the outer sides of both legs. It was so incredible that each time I would drop to my knees, and hold onto the handrail, placing my forehead on it. Erik was with me as I walked, helping me through it. Jen quickly arrived, and the two of them then teamed up to help me with each contraction. Erik would firmly push on the small of my back because it seemed to ease the pain, and Jen would place her fingers on my forehead and talk me through a visualization. Her hands smelled like essential oil, although I couldn’t place which one. And even though each contraction was intense, I was able to be mentally transported elsewhere, by focusing on her words and the smell of her hands.
We kept walking the halls. Periodically, I would get tired and ask to go to the room and lie down, but each time we went to the room it wasshort-livedd. I always found myself feeling much more comfortable just walking back and forth. At some point, Erik went to get Thai food because I said I wanted Thai food, but once it arrived, I couldn’t eat it.
I could see out the windows of my hospital room that the sky was turning dark. Eventually, Dr. Chang appeared in my room. He had been at the hospital the whole time but had given me space to labor with just Erik and Jen. He told me that he was going to dinner, and once he got back, if I hadn’t progressed further, we would have to reassess the situation. This whole time my contractions had remained six minutes apart, and the balloon had never fallen.
He was gone for about two hours. Right before he came back, a nurse entered my room to check the balloon. She tugged on it, and out it came. Yay! This had to be good news! But, it turns out that it wasn’t, or at least not as good of news as I had hoped. Overall, I was still the same. Periodically, they had put the fetal monitor on my belly to make sure J was fine. She was, but Dr. Chang was still worried because my contractions weren’t growing closer together. And then he said the magic words, that I was still in early labor. I was devastated. No way was I in early labor! At least, I didn’t think so. My contractions were painful, and I had been laboring for over 24 hours now. I began to get increasingly worried because I didn’t know how much longer I could keep this up. I wanted to rest but couldn’t.
Dr. Chang suggested that I take a hit of Pitocin. I didn’t want to do it. My contractions were painful enough as it was, and I was afraid that the Pitocin would make them even worse. I didn’t tell anyone this until months later, but I remember thinking at this point, “Well, I guess I am not going to have a baby after all. It’s time to pack up and go home!” As if that was a possibility!
I keep weighing the pros and cons, and I could not make up my mind, so I told Dr. Chang that I needed some time to think. He agreed to let me sleep on it, so he left to rest in the other room. It was 10:something at night. I tried to sleep, but every 6 minutes, I would have a contraction and have to get on my hands and knees while Erik and Jen helped me through it. Then, we would all doze off for five minutes only to wake up and do it again. At 3:something, I began to feel really bad for Jen and Erik. They hadn’t really slept at all either. So I decided to let them rest while I labored by myself for a while. I went into the bathroom and took a hot shower, with the water running down my back as I knelt down on all fours.
After an hour, I had come to a decision. I decided to do the Pitocin, but I was soooooo exhausted and tired: I didn’t think I could manage the pain if it grew any worse, so I decided to ask for an epidural too. No, I didn’t feel like I gave up or gave in. At this point, I had been in labor for 34 hours, and more than anything else, I was worried about J and the low fluid levels.
So the anesthesiologist came in and hooked up the epidural while a nurse hooked up the Pitocin. The nurse also checked my progress, and that’s when they discovered something unbelievable. I was 9 cm dilated and fully effaced! Apparently, all this time, I should have had my eyes rolled into the back of my head and been unable to speak during my contractions, but instead, there I had been talking up a storm– cracking jokes and laughing, even while in incredible pain. That’s why they thought I was still in early labor.
The discovery didn’t change the fact that the contractions were still too far apart, so they proceeded with the Pitocin and epidural. With it, I was finally able to sleep, really sleep. So I went to bed for 4 1/2 hours.
When I woke up, I was ready to start pushing.
Luckily, I was able to get up and walk around even with the epidural. So we tried pushing in every conceivable position- on my left side, on my right side, on my back, on all fours, squatting, sitting,… you name it. Dr. Chang would tell me where he wanted me to push, and I would. We could see the top of her head; she had a big mop of black hair, but one corner of her head was stuck on my pelvic bone. After 5 1/2 hours of pushing, Dr. Chang said that we needed to use the vacuum. I remember saying, “I need time to think about it,” and he paused to talk to me about the pros and cons, but he also explained that I didn’t have time to wait and think like I did last night. So he called for the vacuum.
That’s when “stuff got real.” (That’s what Erik always says at this point when he’s recounting the story.) Suddenly, the room was filled with people covered in scrubs that looked more like hazmat suits, and this huge thing came down from the ceiling. I have no idea what it was for, but I am pretty sure I had seen one before in a sci-fi movie. You know, in the scene where the aliens are conducting their medical experiments on a human. It was pretty scary to see the room transform in such a dramatic way, but luckily, Dr. Chang verbally announced each part of the vacuum procedure as he did it. He used the vacuum one time, and whoosh, out she came!
He threw her on my stomach long enough to have the cord stop pulsing, and then they whisked her away to check her. This was one of the cons of the vacuum- they had to check her for hemorrhaging. While they were checking her over in the corner of the room, Erik went to be with her, and I laid there in shock. It felt so surreal. I remember my very first thought when I saw her was, “That’s a baby!” I know that might sound crazy. Yes, I knew this whole time that I was having a baby. But my thought was more of a simple articulation of, “Wow! It’s a human being with a personality. I gave birth to an individual!”
Once they announced she was fine, they gave her back to me for skin to skin. Jen came alongside me and helped her to latch on for the first time. Meanwhile, Dr. Chang was busy sewing me up, because yes, I tore. With the vacuum, I had second-degree tearing. But it didn’t bother me. I had such a release of hormones; I felt like I was on Cloud 9 or could run a marathon. Once J was busy nursing, Jen left. And Erik, J, and I spent an hour alone together, her dad and I each taking turns holding her up to our bare chests.
Then they wheeled me and J down the hall to our recovery room as Erik walked next to us. Erik’s dad, stepmom, and sister were all there waiting for us, ready to meet J. They also had the world’s biggest bag of sushi with them which I then devoured. (Because I might have told everyone countless times that I wanted sushi the moment I gave birth!)
And so that’s the story of Baby J’s birth. Even though it is a long story, it was the shortest 44 hours of my life! And despite some twist and turns, and us not having the all natural birth we had hoped and dreamt about, I am grateful for the beautiful experience that I did have. I believe that it worked out for the best. There was no way I could have known that J’s head would be stuck or that they would need to use the vacuum, and I am grateful that I had an epidural to ease the pain of that. I felt like God was guiding and directing things in order to have the best possible outcome– our little girl.
I want to hear from you! What is your birth story? Did it go as planned?
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