As we prepare to welcome our third baby into our family, it seems timely to write about my first labor and birth story. When we got pregnant with Gabriel I never imagined I would live to experience the kind of labor and delivery story I'm about to share with you. It was extremely long, emotional, traumatic, and amazing, all at the same time. It took me a good year to come to terms with the experience, where I learned that labor and delivery is a thing to be respected and can be one of the most deeply emotional, soul-searching events of a woman's life. I had to allow myself to grieve over what I wanted but didn't get, and make peace with what did.
Kevin (the hubby) and I spent two years having the times of our lives in France right after we married, but halfway into the second year, we got the baby bug. We moved back to the states to settle down and start a family. Little did we know, we were already pregnant! Unfortunately, the day after I discovered I was pregnant (7 weeks along), I had a miscarriage. I grieved for several months, surprised by the sadness over a baby I had only known about for a day. I am now thankful for that experience because it has allowed me to understand (at least a little) what other parents feel when they miscarry.
No Epidural? Are You Freaking Nuts?
Just a few months later, we got pregnant again! We were very excited. I got busy looking for an OB, getting recommendations from the few people I knew in our new town. I found one with twelve doctors and made an appointment. Just before the first appointment, my boss (I was working at a dance studio) shared with me how she gave birth to her twin boys naturally, with no epidural. I had never in my life heard of natural birth before and didn't even know it was an option. I was in awe of her story, but also kept thinking, “Well, good for her, but I don't mind one bit having an epidural! She's crazy!” To my own surprise, her story sparked my curiosity and I scoured the internet looking for information.
What I found amazed and shocked me – I learned about all the wonderful benefits of natural birth like the quick recovery time, the ability to move around and push in different positions, the connection you develop with your own body's amazing natural abilities, your own strength to endure the pain, and the powerful and important role the father can play in helping with labor, among others.
To my own shock, I found myself totally hooked and obsessed with natural birth. I read Dr. Bradley's book, “Husband-Coached Childbirth” cover to cover and shared every bit of it with Kevin. He was behind me one-hundred-percent and just as excited as me.
I Prepared Myself For Natural Birth
I had just come off of two years of intense dancing in France, so I was in the best shape of my life and weighed the least I'd ever had (well, before getting pregnant, that is!), so I felt fully prepared to labor naturally. I bought a prenatal yoga DVD and practiced on a regular basis, staying very physically active as I taught dance. I also watched my diet, although wasn't perfectly healthy, but ate a balanced diet. And Kevin and I had a doula come to our house to teach us all about natural birth (it wasn't a true Bradley class, but it was close enough). I also left the OB practice (disgruntled with doctors) and went with a midwife, a decision about which I was so excited since they fully supported natural birth. Basically, I dotted all my T's and did all the things one is supposed to do to prepare for natural childbirth.
D-Day – The Contractions Started
Then, D-Day came. I thought contractions were never going to come, as they didn't start until Gabe was a week late (although, if you're into natural birth, you know we don't put much stock into exact due dates). My sister's wedding was just six weeks after Gabe's due date, so I was very anxious to have him so I could make it to the wedding. Plus, I was just freaking miserable – huge, felt fat, and couldn't sleep any more.
One a.m. Sunday morning, tiny contractions began. By Sunday night they had intensified, but still weren't regular or very strong. My mom, Kevin and I spent the day walking, walking, and more walking to get labor moving. Monday rolled around and not much was different, so more walking was in order. Finally, by five p.m. the contractions really intensified and became regular. My midwife said to stay at home until they were 3 to 5 minutes apart for 2 hours, so with the help of Kevin and my mom, I breathed and worked through each contraction on my exercise ball for the rest of the night.
Off to the Hospital
Long story short, my water finally broke after I had practically given up hope (still nothing regular for two hours) and we rushed to the hospital as I was in intense pain and what felt like transition labor. When I arrived at 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning (Did you catch that? Labor had started at 1 a.m. Sunday morning and it was now 5 a.m. Tuesday – that's 51 hours later!!), I received great news – I was 8 c.m. dilated and could start pushing within an hour!
Transition Labor – OMG
That last hour I experienced extremely intense pain that I wouldn't blame any woman in the entire universe for begging for an epidural – it HURT. My husband deserves a medal of honor for the way he supported me and helped me through each contraction. He was my rock. And as hell-bent as I was on doing it naturally, I crumpled and begged my midwife for an epidural in a vulnerable moment, standing naked in the shower to try and relieve the pain. She suggested I didn't because I had come this far and it was only a little farther, so I pulled what very little energy I had left together, and trudged on, and started pushing.
And I thought the pain couldn't be worse. It became unbearable and the worst part was that nothing was happening. An hour passed, two hours. And my midwife started to worry that I would bruise my tailbone from pushing on the bed and she suggested I take a break. She brought in the specialist on-call and he did an ultrasound to see why no progress was being made, but it revealed nothing. Several doctors checked me and determined the only way the baby was coming out was by forceps, vacuum or C-section. I refused to hear the last one, and pushed forward with the other two options. But, by that time, I was suffering from a kind of extreme exhaustion I imagined only POW's might experience when kept up all night and beaten.
There was no way I could endure more pain, so they gave me a spinal epidural and I'll never forget the utter happiness I felt as all my pain was relieved. I took a nap, and the doctors came back with what looked like torture devices and tried to get Gabriel out. After an hour, yes, an entire hour of sucking on his tiny little head with a vacuum and grabbing it with forceps, the specialist stopped, sat down beside me on the bed, and very gently explained that they had tried everything and I had to have an emergency C-section.
No Natural Birth, Not Even Vaginal – Emergency C-Section
In the moment, I was dumbfounded, shocked and then completely devastated. I cried the whole way to the OR and cried while on the table. I hated the way I felt – I couldn't feel anything from the chest down and I felt so out of control and vulnerable. I was scared and exhausted.
After a very long hour surgery, Gabriel was born! Thankfully, he was perfectly healthy and beautiful, but they showed him to me for about 3 seconds, then gave him to Kevin to be taken to the nursery. They finished the surgery and then I had to wait for an hour all by myself in the recovery room. I just laid there and cried. I couldn't believe that after all I had been through I couldn't even hold my baby until the spinal wore off. I felt like I'd been tortured.
Gabe Had Been Stuck
Finally, Gabe, Kevin and my whole family arrived and I was surrounded by love again, and held Gabriel. He was an amazing newborn – he barely cried and just looked around the room with his huge eyes. I was in total love, but also too exhausted to really connect with him yet (first wave of the guilt us mothers are good at giving ourselves!). Turns out, he had gotten stuck in a little pocket of my uterus and the surgery had taken so long because the three hours of pushing had damaged the wall of my uterus and it had to be repaired.The funny part is I ended up adoring the OB specialist who did the surgery because he treated me with such respect and explained every detail before he did it. He knew my wishes and tried his best to make them happen. The midwife? She was in and out during labor as she had three other patients, so it was the nurses I connected with, and they were wonderful. The midwife was just beyond her realm of expertise, and we all think she let me labor and push far too long.
Postpartum – Recovery
The reality of everything that had and had not happened really hit me hard over the next few days and months. It was a year before I could just let it go and make peace with my own body and desires and accept that there was nothing anyone could've done, especially me, to change the circumstances. It is what it is.
It's Okay To Get Support
If I could do it again, I would've joined the hospital breastfeeding support group my midwife recommended, as breastfeeding was very difficult for me and I really could've used the friendship and general support. It was very difficult to live so far away from my family and live in a place where I had no friends yet while dealing with postpartum hormones and some depression. I did finally join a mom's club when Gabe was three months old and found a surprising need to share my birth story (as did many of the other moms). The more I shared it and discussed it, the better I felt and I began to heal.By the time I was pregnant with Grayson, I had decided I wanted to shoot for a VBAC (go ahead, call me crazy!), but there was no way in hades I was going to do it naturally, since for all I knew, I could end up with another C-section. Grayson's birth lasted 12 hours and progressed quickly and I had a very successful VBAC with a wonderful doctor. I was so very happy I stuck to my guns because it was a magical, magical moment when he was born and I could hold him in my arms right away. Both Kevin and I cried, because we knew how hard it can be, and now know how beautiful it is.
I share this not to scare new moms or other pregnant women, but to share a very powerful, life-changing time in my life that made me stronger and taught me to respect labor and delivery. It is so important to be educated on giving birth and to explore your options. Prepare yourself for what you would like, but I do suggest to go with the flow of your body and to not allow guilt or shame to creep in if you are not able to have the birth experience you so desire. There are just times, like in my story, where we are completely out of control and have to allow the experts to take care of us. Then, get some postpartum support and enjoy every minute with your precious baby, while doing your best to take care of yourself.
And before too long, you'll be knee-deep in toys, poop, and a toddler with a huge smile and fantastic giggle who won't stop talking and you couldn't imagine life without. And you'll be truly happy that a C-section allowed your baby to be born perfectly healthy, and that really is what matters most in the end.