Emma's birth story

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“The best way I know to counter the effects of frightening [birth] stories is to hear or read empowering ones... Stories teach us in ways we can remember.  They teach us that each woman responds to birth in her unique way and how very wide-ranging that way can be.” - Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

When Jared and I decided to start a family, I dove head first into researching and educating myself about reproduction and fertility.  I pored over Taking Charge of Your Fertility (the “bible” for women with fertility issues, or - in my case - super Type A wannabe mamas) before we even started trying.  I wanted to know everything I could... I thought that the more I knew about my cycle and the “ideal” time to conceive, the faster I would get pregnant. Seriously - this is how my brain works. So by the time we’d gotten through 3 months of trying and charting and negative pregnancy tests, I had convinced myself that there was something wrong with me. (Don’t worry, looking back I fully realize how ridiculous my thinking was. I don’t regret learning as much as I could, but I wish I had been more patient in applying what I learned.) When the 4th month of trying rolled around, we were pretty burned out on the charting and fertility talk so we decided to take a break from all that, went on an amazing anniversary trip to Hawaii, and - lo and behold - a week after we got back we found out I was pregnant.

My first trimester was filled with excitement, disbelief, and a whole lot of getting sick. Thankfully, my second trimester was the blissful time everyone said it would be. Now that I was feeling better, we started thinking about birth options and, once again, I began learning everything I could. I was pretty sure I wanted to try for a natural birth, and after watching the documentary, “The Business of Being Born”, Jared and I were both convinced that natural birth was the best fit for us and the safest, least stressful option for our baby. At that point, I dedicated the rest of my pregnancy to “training” for a natural birth. I started taking an amazing prenatal yoga class (if you are pregnant, I HIGHLY recommend any type of class or activity that includes open discussion with a group of other pregnant women... it was so invaluable for me), we took 5 weeks of hypnobirthing classes, practiced the hypnobirthing exercises daily, and read multiple books on natural childbirth.  I felt empowered by what I was learning, and so completely supported by Jared - who was a true partner throughout both my pregnancy and birth.

Once I hit 39 weeks, I started getting pretty impatient. Thankfully, the day after Emma’s due date, I went into labor. It was around 9:30 at night and Jared and I were sitting on the couch watching TV. I started secretly timing the contractions, not wanting to make a big deal of it if it wasn’t for real.  After about a half an hour of contractions that were 10 minutes apart, I said something to Jared along the lines of “so... I’m pretty sure I’m labor.”  We decided to try to go to bed, knowing that if this was for real we’d need our rest for what was to come. Needless to say, neither of us slept very well that night.  I got some sleep between contractions, but 8 minutes at a time is hardly restful.

My contractions were about 6 minutes apart by the next morning, but by the time I had finished a light breakfast, my labor had pretty much stalled.  I knew this was normal, especially with a first baby, so I tried not to get too discouraged.  I called the midwife who said to go about my day as normal, and that labor would probably start back up again later that day.  We went for walks, took a nap, and started working on a puzzle to help pass the time.  I had random contractions throughout the day, but nothing consistent.  Around 7 that evening the contractions picked back up, and were even more intense.  They were anywhere from 10-20 minutes apart, but much stronger and more focused in my lower back and tailbone.  We tried to sleep again that night, but it was even harder than the night before.  I got maybe a half an hour of sleep total that night.

My contractions were still pretty far apart by the next morning, so I called the midwife again who told me that based on the pattern and type of labor I was having it sounded like Emma was likely posterior and my body was slowing the labor to try to give her time to move into a better position. I’d been in labor for a day and a half at this point, so this was not welcome news. She gave me some techniques to try to get her to turn, which I spent all day doing without much progress or relief.

By that evening, my contractions were just as intense, but still stuck at 10 minutes apart.  I checked in with the midwife again, who was starting to get concerned about my exhaustion.  She instructed me to take some Benadryl, take a bath, and hopefully that combo would knock me out enough to sleep through the contractions. If that didn’t work, she said I could come into the hospital and they would give me a sleeping pill and some morphine and really knock me out.  After my bath, I got into bed and tried to fall asleep.  About 5 minutes after getting into bed, my contractions picked up.  They were 7 minutes apart and way too strong to sleep through.  I decided it was finally time to go to the hospital... either this thing was actually happening, or they’d give me a sleeping pill and I’d be able to get some rest.

When we got to the hospital, the nurse who got me set up in maternity triage was clearly skeptical about my labor having progressed enough to justify coming to the hospital. We got the definite sense that if the nursing staff placed bets on who was going to get sent home for not being far enough along, she would have bet A LOT of money on us going home.  After about 20 minutes of fetal monitoring, one of the midwives, Maggie, came in to examine me.  This was the moment of truth... had I actually been making progress during the past 50 hours of labor?  She asked me how dilated I wanted to be, to which I responded “More than 1... please just let it be more than 1.”  She replied, “How about more than 5?”  I’ve never been so relieved. It turns out I was 6-7 centimeters dilated. This was really happening.  Hallelujah. I heard the nurse say under her breath that I wasn’t acting like I was 6-7 centimeters dilated.  Ha!  Thanks, hypnobirthing.

We checked into our birthing room, and everyone seemed confident that I’d labor for a few more hours and then be ready to push.  They started setting up the water birth tub, and I walked the halls trying to encourage the labor to keep progressing.  My contractions were intense, and Jared had to apply strong pressure to my lower back during each one, but they weren’t unbearable.  I focused on my breathing, stayed relaxed, and never got to a point with my contractions that I felt like I needed drugs - which was a relief because despite my determination to have a natural birth, I was never certain that I’d be able to bear the pain.  The way the pain built up then eased off made it manageable... it was only super intense for less than a minute at a time.

By the time the tub was ready, my contractions hadn’t gotten much closer, but I got the green light to get in and holy moly did that water feel good.  I’d been looking forward to getting into that tub for 2 days and it was everything I’d hoped for.  Unfortunately, after 40 minutes or so in the tub, it was clear that it had started to slow my labor a bit.  So I got out, walked some more, got back in, and again, it slowed my labor.  Bummer.  The water felt amazing, but pain relief took a back seat to moving this labor along so we went back to walking the halls.  By 7 the next morning, about 8 hours after hearing the wonderful news that I was dilated 6-7 centimeters, I’d only progressed to 8 centimeters.  We were so tired, and so frustrated, and it was starting to feel like I was going to be in labor forever.  Women who’d gone the drug route came and went, and we were still walking the halls.  Every time we passed the nurses station we’d get looks of pity, or comments like “you’re an inspiration.”  I didn’t feel like it.  I felt defeated and exhausted.

Maggie’s shift ended and a new midwife (Penni) and nurse (Jackie) took over.  I was approaching nearly 60 hours of labor, and we started discussing next steps for trying to progress my labor.  We tried stimulation, but that actually slowed my contractions.  Penni sat down with us and discussed our remaining options, including pitocin, but I was determined to try every natural option possible before I would consider drugs.  The baby’s heartbeat was still normal and she wasn’t showing any signs of stress.  I’d come so far and I was so close.  Why make Emma’s journey so much more intense and stressful with pitocin if it wasn’t medically necessary?  I was 9 centimeters dilated... only one more to go.  But at the pace my labor was going, it could take hours more before I was fully dilated.  Both Penni and Jared were very concerned about my exhaustion - would I have any energy left to push?  My bag of waters was still intact, so I decided to have Penni break it as a last ditch effort to speed up my labor.  (I can’t say enough about how supportive and reassuring Penni and Jackie were about my desire to avoid drugs.  I never once felt pressured to do something I wasn’t comfortable with.) About 20 minutes after Penni broke my water, I started feeling the urge to push.  It had worked!  I got a rush of adrenaline knowing we were so close to finally meeting our daughter.

I ended up pushing for about an hour and a half... it was the most intense, painful, challenging experience of my life.  I pushed in a couple of different squatting positions before settling on a sitting position in which I locked forearms with Jackie and we pulled against each other with each push.  This is apparently Jackie’s special technique and it worked fantastically for me. (Jared even took Jackie’s place for a period of time and we pulled against each other as he saw way way more than he ever signed up for. The man is a saint, I tell ya!)  My exhaustion really caught up with me about halfway through pushing.  I hadn’t slept in 3 days.  Emma still hadn’t turned fully anterior, making the pushing that much more difficult. I started seriously doubting my ability to keep going.  It was too hard, too painful, the pressure was too intense.  But somehow with each contraction I went deeper inside myself and mustered the strength to push longer and harder than I thought I was capable of. Finally, her head came out, and shortly after that came the rest of her body. They immediately put her on my chest and I felt a million things all at once - love, relief, curiosity, disbelief that I was finally holding our beautiful daughter in my arms. I wanted to lay there with Emma and Jared and soak in this amazing moment, but Jackie was putting an IV in my arm and hooking me up to a pitocin drip as both she and Penni were working furiously to stop the bleeding I was having.  (The irony of needing pitocin immediately AFTER a 63 hour labor is not lost on me.)  I also had some superficial tearing that Penni had to stitch up.  It was not the post-birth experience I’d imagined, but that was kind of the theme of my whole labor and birth - the journey was so different than I thought it would be... I had this crazy 63 hour labor, barely used the tub much less birthed in it, but the outcome was exactly what I’d hoped for - Emma was amazingly healthy (she scored a 9 on both her Apgar tests), alert, and took immediately to breastfeeding.  We spent the hours after her birth just holding her and taking it all in.

My birth experience taught me so much... I learned that I’m capable of enduring an immense amount of physical pain for a really long amount of time, that even in the most trying situations I can stick to the things I really believe in, that I’m insanely lucky to have Jared as my partner (I already knew that but this experience was a big reminder), and that no matter how much planning and preparing I do some things just happen how they need to happen.