I realize now the impact of birth and your birth story. It’s been almost a year and I still have not written the post I planned on writing about Birth Plans and Labor. I think in a way, it’s just been more comfortable to not go back and think about it again. After I finally felt like it was done and dealt with, going back to thinking about it and writing about it, was more than I wanted to handle. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not traumatized, nor do I regret anything. And above all, the most important thing, was a healthy baby and healthy mommy, which fortunately we were blessed with. However, being in labor, having a baby, and becoming a mother is one of the most powerful things that will ever happen in your life. And rightfully so, you have expectations about how it will happen. And the reality of what DID happen, are the memories that will stay. In between, is where the difficult emotions lie. In between are the dreams that you did not see come true. In between are the feelings of frustration, sadness, and grief. In between are thoughts, doubts, feelings of incompetence, and what ifs. In between, lies the difficult reality that is hard to accept: you can not control everything in your life; you can not do everything the way you would like for your child and for yourself, from the get-go.
Like I mentioned in my last couple of posts, throughout my pregnancy I gave a lot of thought to what my ideal labor and delivery would look like. As many wise people advised: you should have a plan of preferences and be prepared to change it. And so that is what I did. I knew very well that everything I was planning might not happen the way I wanted it to. But until you are living it, it’s hard to realize how difficult that actually is.
We prepared for labor with a Hypnobirthing class at Newton-Wellelsey Hospital. My husband enjoyed getting to know all the facts and what to expect and I enjoyed a perspective that made me feel more confident about my decision in choosing natural childbirth. Plus, we both enjoyed our mini-naps during the relaxation exercises after a long day at work. I have to say, though, from the beginning, I thought their perspective of feeling NO pain, was too exaggerated and a far stretch for everyone to achieve… but, maybe I would be one of the lucky ones? Everyone said Hypnobirthing required daily practice and I was not religious about it. I would practice the relaxation exercises now and then, I would hear the positive affirmations on my way to work, and I read the book from top to bottom. But was it a daily exercise for me? Not really.
We hired a great doula. This was one of the best things we could have done. Please read more about this in the prior post: On the decision of hiring a doula.
So what was in our birth plan exactly? We wanted a natural childbirth, with the least medical interventions necessary. We would not be offered pain medication, but would ask for it if we decided to go that route. We would not have continuous monitoring, unless medically necessary and not be constricted to the hospital bed. We would be able to move around, use the birthing ball, the tub (if available). We could labor and give birth in whatever position was more comfortable. An episiotomy was to be avoided and only used if necessary. Once the baby was born, she would be put on my chest and allowed to latch on. We would delay cord clamping and cleaning and weighing the baby for more skin-on-skin time after birth. Vitamin K shots and any other procedure for the baby would be done while the baby was with me. Obviously, all of this if everything went well health wise with the baby and I.
That was my plan. That’s what I was hoping for. And rationally, I was prepared to alter the plan at any given moment if the circumstances made me do so. But emotionally… oh that’s a whole other story! So what actually happened? It’s such a long story. But I will try to summarize the important parts. But let’s just say it probably couldn’t have ended up being more medicalized, to my disappointment.
Tuesday afternoon I started having contractions. They were regular, but tolerable. I ended my work day (working from home) in a breeze. When I went to bed the contractions were getting further apart and I thought it might have just been another false alarm. After midnight the intensity picked up and by 4am they were 5 minutes apart. By 6am we reached our 5-1-1 protocol and called the hospital. We arrived at 8am and our doula met us there. When we were told I was only 1cm we could not believe it! We were sent back home with some recommendations to try to shift the baby’s position, which was not ideal either.
So I labored at home, trying to rest and eat (not very successfully). The intensity was getting higher but the timings were irregular. I laid on my couch, I was in the shower for a good hour, I did a bunch of positions to try to shift the baby to a better position with the help of Nancy (our doula) and my husband. By 4pm, after eating some homemade chicken soup my lovely mother made, they were 3 minutes apart and back to the hospital we went. Now, 24 hours later, I was tired. At intake we were told we were at 5cm and could be admitted. They even had a room with a tub. So, I labored in the tub for another hour, but was struggling. At that point, I struggled with my first decision: to get or not to get the epidural. I had made it to 5cm but 24 hours had passed and my energy was disappearing. Maybe if I just got the epidural I could sleep and relax a bit and feel better for when the baby arrived? Still, I was worried about the pushing the baby with an epidural among other things. My wonderful midwife and nurse made me feel comfortable with my decision. So after I got out the tub, I was 7cm and got the epidural. After that, things just did not go as planned.
The epidural wasn’t working well and I needed to get more very often. My progression stalled. Since my water had not broken, I got pitocin. Nothing happened. Decided then to rupture membranes. Finally reached 10cm. At this point it was already 2am. Pushed for 1 hour. Nothing. Pushed for another hour. Nothing. Tried different positions. Remember thinking, “this baby is coming out!!!”. But I was completely depleted. In labor for almost 40 hours, more than half of that without an epidural, and the rest with an epidural that wasn’t working. Pushing for 2 hours and NO progress at all. So, we ended up in the OR with a diagnosis of “failure to progress” (which the name of the diagnosis alone makes you feel like the word itself – a failure!) and a cesarean. It wasn’t an emergency. It was the last resort. To top it off, with all the medication I was given due to the probably badly done epidural, I don’t remember a thing. I remember thinking “why is he (the Dr.) already cutting? My husband’s not here yet” and next thing, I see my husband brining our bundled up baby to me and emotionally saying “she’s beautiful!“. What?! What just happened? I couldn’t believe I didn’t even get to hear her be born! Then I looked at her. At that point I forgot everything about the whole journey! I couldn’t believe she was here! I loved her immediately. I could not stop crying and just wanted to hold her!
I have to say that Newton-Wellesley did a wonderful job with trying to make a C-section be the best experience possible. I had a wonderful uncomplicated C-section and scar. The baby NEVER left our sight. As soon as we got to the recovery room she was put on my chest to latch and she was skin-to-skin with me even while my bed was taken to our room in the Maternity ward. All our postpartum wishes were respected and attended to: no formula, sleeping in my room, etc.
I was in the hospital for 5 days. I think it was a blessing. For 3 days the midwives came and spoke to us about my labor and delivery and tried help us process all the feelings. They knew things had not gone as planned and they knew how emotional that could be. We cried, we laughed, we hoped it had been different, we accepted the reality of what had happened. Besides, staying in the hospital was critical for establishing breastfeeding. I am not sure if I would have been successful at home had I been discharged after 2 days (more on that in a future post).
After all most a year, the part that still makes me tear up is remembering that I didn’t hear her be born. It hurts. Some people don’t get it. But I think you need to go through it to really understand. What makes me feel better? Of course, having a healthy child. But also, a wonderful video that my husband captured of that bright-eyed girl looking straight at the camera after being in this world for only 1 minute. She was ready to steal our hearts and take this world by storm. Our journeys began that day. That Thursday morning at 8:08am. And I have some reassurance knowing that she was born when and how she had to be born, even though it was not as I had planned.