I went into my first pregnancy pretty unaware of what was to ahead of me. It wasn’t exactly planned, but I have a feeling no matter when we had a baby, it wouldn’t hit me until I was pregnant that there is so much that I didn’t know about pregnancy. I wasn’t even really sure exactly what happened during birth. Besides the movie version of birth which starts exactly the same way- woman is at her job, or dinner, or asleep, and all of the sudden has water flowing EVERYWHERE. She immediately goes to the hospital in whatever position she is in and gives birth hours later.
Turns out, that’s not what happens at all. Or at least, it wasn’t what happened for me.
I started reading lots of books on natural birthing and pregnancy. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was practically my blueprint for how I envisioned my birth. I knew that I wanted to attempt natural birth, and chose to do Hypnobabies. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a program you do either at-home or in class, I chose at-home. You practice different hypno-tracks to prepare you mentally for childbirth alongside childbirth education. The purpose is to use different language to reframe the experience, all positive, use hypnosis and to listen to affirmations track daily to see the experience as beautiful, pain-free and powerful.
I spent months doing this course. I felt empowered some days, and closer to the end annoyed as hell. The affirmation track had this cloyingly positive woman who would tell me endlessly how healthy my pregnancy was, and how much I “enjoyed” being pregnant. For the record, I didn’t. I didn’t hate it, but I become as huge as a house by the end and I was so swollen I had one pair of shoes I could wear. Everything was painful.
I went to appointments at a nurse-midwife clinic and somehow ended up at Maternal Fetal Specialists for the baby’s arrhythmia that ended up being benign. However, during these visits, they decided to tell me that because of that baby’s size I should continue to go because my baby at the rate of growth my baby was at he would eventually be considered dangerous to deliver- 5000g- 11lbs. At my last visit, a week before my “due” date, they told me the baby was measuring 10lbs, 15 ounces and at birth would be well above that “limit.” They called the OB that ran my nurse-midwife group, and recommended a primary C-section. I expected the doctor to say he disagreed, but my holistic doctor, said he agreed. I had chosen a very holistic nurse-midwife group and all of the sudden I was being confronted with the fact that a C-Section could be pushed on me before I even had a chance to birth. I went ahead and scheduled the C-section for the following Wednesday, and cried the rest of the day. And then I cried for crying because I didn’t want to stress out the baby. I texted my doula, unable to talk, and asked for non-medical advice.
In the end, I decided to try to birth my baby first. I figured I was in a hospital and if I needed a cesarean, then I would have at least tried. After all, ultrasounds are not accurate and even then many women have birthed extremely large babies.
I did opt for getting my membranes stripped. Luckily my midwives were on board with my plan, and my favorite, Beverly, was especially so. The next day after my membranes were stripped, 2am on a Thursday, I started feeling very intense contractions (hypnobabies taught us to say “waves”). These kept coming. I knew that it would be hours for them to be strong enough to go to a hospital, so I labored all day (once again, not hypnobabies proper language) before heading to the hospital around 8pm. My contractions were 1-2 minutes apart and right on top of each other.
When I got to the hospital, they told me I was only 3cm dilated, but 75% effaced. I was so disappointed. I had been dealing with contractions for 24 hours and in the last four or five they had gotten so intense. They told me I could be experiencing prodromal labor, and that my body was contracting but not doing the “work.” I was sent home after given a shot of morphine for “therapeutic sleep.” Well, that night was anything but therapeutic. I spent most of the evening in the shower moaning through each contraction. I was listening to my hypnobabies tracks with my headband headphones, but they were ceasing to do much except force me to try to focus with every fiber of my being.
At a certain point, I just could not listen to them anymore. I kept a positive mindset, so in that regard, hypnobabies remained helpful. I finally went back in early the next morning. It was pouring rain and I had to hobble my way in huge puddles of murky water. I pleaded my way to a room. I told them I couldn’t do this at home anymore and needed help. I was exhausted. I had hardly eaten a thing. Eight hours prior I think I managed to down a noodle miso soup from a cup I had gotten from Trader Joe’s. It probably had 100 calories. I was nauseous and felt so much intensity I could barely function, let alone, eat.
I realized when they said I had barely made any progress all night long, that I wasn’t able to do this for potentially another 24 hours. I couldn’t sleep, I could barely rest and I needed some relief. I asked for an epidural around 32 hours. The epidural was a dream come true. Rob and I both slept for four hours and it was possibly the greatest sleep of my life. When I woke, my nurse-midwife checked me and although she normally wouldn’t suggest breaking waters, she told me it was probably my best chance of things progressing at all. I had dilated to 5cm during my epidural sleep and my body was finally looking ready.
Water gushed everywhere. It was the strangest sensation I have ever felt. Well, besides a baby kicking me from the inside. From then on, it got excruciating. My hips felt agonizing. They were expanding at a rate that felt unnatural, although since it was happening, it had to have been. They started me on Pitocin, a very slow drip, but I felt every drip of it. I begged for another epidural and at this point, completely forgot anything hypnobabies prepared me to do. This was survival. I was begging every single person that came into the room, “PLEASE HELP ME” as if anyone could help me in that situation except myself.
The next epidural didn’t work. And the third didn’t either. I was pressing my pain killer button, and absolutely nothing worked. It was like throwing spoonfuls of water at a raging fire. The placebo effect of doing something seemed to at least distract me. Near the end, I swore I wasn’t able to do it. At 40 hours in, I was finally ready to push. I used a sheet held by my midwife to bear down. I pushed with everything in mine. I wasn’t afraid of tearing or pooping. I knew I had to give it everything in me.
My doula was starting to look nervous and suggested I push with everything in me. I knew then that the situation was turning dire. I had worked so hard to get to this point, and while I had no shame in receiving an emergency c-section, I had spent so many hours laboring and it was almost painful to think they were for nothing. In the moment, those were my only thoughts. In retrospect, those hours would never have been for “nothing” but it was my only resolve in that moment to move forward.
As the baby came close to coming out, the doctor came in to do a vacuum assist. This was my last chance. I had three pushes before they would stop using it and wheel me into the OR. Rob looked to me and said, “Push like it means everything to you. This is it.” And in three pushes, Shepard came flying out of me. He had his head out the first push, and second he wriggled, and third he slipped right out. He knew exactly what to do. I sobbed and sobbed. I held this foreign yet so familiar child close to me and felt so whole. All the pain subsided entirely.
Shepard wasn’t 11lbs either, he was 21 1/4 inches and 9lbs 12 ounces. A large baby, but one I was able to birth. It wasn’t the “natural” drug-free birth I imagined, but it was the exact birth I needed to have to have my baby. Shepard is now 7 months, and I look at those beautiful birth photos and am so grateful for the experience I had. A healthy mother and a healthy baby is a beautiful and perfect birth, no matter what happens.