On November 1st, we finally welcomed Baby Izzy into this world. Since then, our lives have been a whirlwind as we do our best to get a hang of this new parent thing.
As a first time parent, I was not prepared for childbirth. Sure, I thought I had done my research and had a pretty good sense of how crazy and unpredictable it could be. I downloaded the apps, took the classes, read every article I could get my hands on, you name it. By the time my due date came around, I felt ready.
Six days after my due date, when D-Day finally arrived, I couldn’t believe how much it was unlike my expectations. I’ve shared with you my plans for a natural, birthing center birth. I find it almost funny to admit that my birth experience, due to a series of circumstances, was nothing like the ideal birth I described in this past article.
Before active labor: The signs were there
Two days before my active labor started, I began to experience irregular contractions (I’d later learn that the medical term for this is prodromal labor). Past my due date, I was eager to get things moving. The contractions were strong enough to keep me awake at night, but not frequent or consistent enough to be considered “true” labor. I decided against calling the midwife since I had a checkup coming soon.
Two days after contractions started, we went to our appointment with the midwife. While I was not yet in real labor, a modified Bio Physical Profile (BPP) confirmed that I was having contractions, and an exam revealed I was already 80% effaced and 3-4cm dilated. As she performed an ultrasound, the midwife brought up the possibility that I had meconium (baby’s first poop) in my amniotic fluid, but that it would be a non-issue unless my water broke.
Being past my due date, my midwife advised me to get a cervical sweep and drink 2 oz of castor oil. I agreed to the sweep (ouch!) and immediately after our appointment, we bought a bottle of castor oil.
As I drank the oil with my lunch, my contractions were already getting stronger, closer together, and more painful. We timed them as being two minutes apart. I was sure that this was the real thing. After lunch, and about two hours after our original appointment, we went back to the birth center and I got checked again. I still measured 3-4cm, no change, so we decided to go home.
Active labor: How many disasters does a birth make?
Through the evening and night, my contractions did not let up. For hours, I tried in vain to sleep. At around 1 AM, I gave up and instead filled our bathtub, hoping to get some relief from the warm water. I felt calmed as soon as I got in, and relaxed a bit through each rush. At this point, I was vocalizing through my contractions so my husband called our birthing center to update them on my situation. They told us we could head on over. Finally!
We arrived at the birthing center at around 3 AM. We went into an exam room, and the second we walked in, my water broke. The greenish tint of the fluid confirmed that there was meconium – and a great deal of it. This meant the baby was possibly in distress. I had been a low-risk pregnancy for the past nine months, and in an instant I had to be transferred to the hospital across the parking lot. It became immediately clear that my birth would not be as I envisioned.
This was the first incident in a series that would eventually cause my birth plan to unravel completely.
After getting checked in, the midwife on duty measured me at 4-5 cm. She looked over my birth plan and assured me they would do their best to follow it. It almost makes me laugh to remember that moment. By the end of the birth, I ended up letting go of virtually every aspect of my plan.
Once the nurse checked the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions, I was told I would need to be continuously hooked up to the fetal monitor because our baby was not moving as much as he should. So much for having the freedom to move around.
To relieve some of my pain, I labored in the birthing suite tub for a few minutes. Sadly I couldn’t stay in for long because the monitors couldn’t detect the fetal heartbeat in the water. Back to the bed I went.
No one forbade me to leave my bed, but with an IV in my arm for Group B Strep antibiotics and an oxygen mask on my face, moving around wasn’t easy, especially as the pain intensified.
And wow, was it painful. I can best describe it as extreme pressure radiating from my insides down to my pelvis. As the contractions grew stronger (and the midwife still described them as “mild to moderate” – how?!) it felt like my insides were getting forced out of me.
In these hours, all I could remember was curling up and vocalizing loudly whenever a contraction came on. I needed to relax in order to bring our baby down, but couldn’t help tightening every muscle with the onset of each contraction. I would need Pitocin if I didn’t progress quickly enough, which would make my contractions more intense (I couldn’t imagine how agonizing this would be).
As the hours went on, my idealized image of a calm and natural birth fell apart. I became frustrated with a lot of things – being hooked up to so many machines, not utilizing the comfort measures I had prepared ahead of time (my husband apparently forgot about all of these too), going through three days of increasingly intense labor, and not sleeping for two nights in a row, to name a few.
There seemed to be no end in sight. Misery and exhaustion overrode what little control I had left of my body. I was vomiting from the intense and relentless pain. Mostly, I wanted the baby to be born before anything else could go wrong. So I agreed to get an epidural.
Given how obsessed I was with the idea of a natural birth during pregnancy, I almost feel guilty admitting how much I enjoyed getting that epidural. Within minutes, every gut-wrenching sensation faded away. I could finally breathe long and deep and relax my muscles. I could even catch a few precious moments of sleep! At some point, I began to receive Pitocin and I didn’t even realize any change in my contractions.
In the end, I endured about 18 hours of active labor without intervention. Considering the average for a first time mom is about 8 hours, I consider this to be an accomplishment. Had I been closer to “average,” perhaps I would have made it all the way without medication. We would soon discover the reason for my prolonged labor.
Pushing: Zero steps forward, zero steps back
As I “labored” with my epidural, my nurse helped me into various side-lying positions to try to help the baby down. Between sleeping and exhaustion, I don’t know how much time passed between each checkup. After a few hours’ wait, I measured 8 cm and fully effaced. The end was so close! Hours after that, my nurse told me I could start to push – a moment I thought might never arrive!
Pushing was an awkward, messy business. Numb from the epidural, I laid on my back as my husband and nurse helped me to hoist up my heavy, useless legs. The midwife yelled “push!” and I gave it all I had. I felt like the star of a corny Lifetime movie.
This stage of labor brought me back into misery. I wanted control of my body back. I wished I could get up, squat, or get on my hands and knees. Worst of all, no matter how long I pushed, my baby remained lodged above my pelvic bone.
With each push, the baby’s head got close enough to where the midwife was able to feel where he was. He didn’t feel like a very large baby; in fact, he had “plenty of room” to move down. No, the reason my labor had been so prolonged and difficult was his position – he was posterior!
A posterior positioning meant his head pushed against my backbone instead of facing out toward my abdomen. We finally had our answer for why my labor played out the way it did – the on-and-off contractions, longer duration of labor, the incredible pain, and now, his failure to descend were all likely due to his position.
I had been pushing for two hours with no end in sight when we reached another bump in the road. Our baby’s heart rate was speeding up and I now had a fever. My nurse informed me that I had developed an infection called chorioamnionitis (chorio for short). If I didn’t get the baby out in the next few pushes, I would need a C-section to prevent him from further harm.
As much as I’d like to say I triumphed in this moment, miraculously pushing him out with everything I had, that was not what happened. I gave it a few more tries, but knew it wasn’t going to work out. Afraid for the baby, I wanted to get the C-section as soon as possible.
The C-section delivery: Free at last!
To prep for surgery, a flurry of new doctors and nurses entered the already-hectic delivery suite. (So much for limiting people in the room on my birth plan). The doctor who would perform the operation explained what would happen in a consoling tone; I could tell he had presented this news to many a disappointed mother in the past. I signed a permission form (Yes, you may cut me open and pull my baby out) and the nurses wheeled me out to the operating room.
At this stage, I was thoroughly drugged up and not completely “with it.” I remember being spread on the operating table, warm inflatable bags covering my chest and arms. It almost felt like receiving a much-needed hug. I remember the staff drawing the curtain above my midsection, and my husband coming into the room wearing scrubs a few minutes later.
In about ten minutes, with some tugging sensations in my lower stomach, it was all over. I hadn’t even realized I had been cut open when my doctor lifted a crying, red baby over the curtain. Through the fog of morphine I felt disbelief. Was this really our baby – living and breathing?
I had hoped for immediate skin-to-skin after the birth, even in case of a C-section. Unfortunately I had to strike this from my birth plan as well. My baby was low on oxygen and needed antibiotics for the chorio infection, so he needed to spend some time in infant care. After a quick kiss to his cheek, the infant care staff whisked him away. As I lay shaking from the after-effects of the drugs, the nurses returned me to my room.
After about an hour, the nurses wheeled Baby Izzy into our room. Exhausted, half-numb, starved, and unshowered, I immediately forgot about my pitiful state and wasted no time getting him skin-to-skin. In my first moments holding him, I didn’t feel any rush of overwhelming emotion. It was a peaceful, quiet departure from the past few days of chaos. And it was perfect.
In the days following the birth, I interacted with a lot of personnel from the hospital as well as my original birthing center – midwives, nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, to name a few. Many of them seemed to approach the topic of my unexpected birth experience with sensitivity, as if expecting that I must have felt disappointed with how the birth played out.
Had you asked me during my pregnancy how I would feel if I needed a C-section, I would have lots of answers for you – anxious, guilty, ashamed, frightened, to name some. When a birth doesn’t follow the plan, I’m sure a lot of new moms feel the same way.
In the end, though, I didn’t feel any of these things. I was grateful that baby Izzy and I were able to come out of the ordeal in perfect health. All the complications we ran into during labor could be resolved. We could finally meet the fully formed human I carried since he was a poppyseed-sized speck.
I thought that, by signing up for a natural birth experience, I would leave it feeling empowered. While my birth ended up being far from natural, it was still empowering. I accessed a reservoir of strength I never knew I had. I made it through many long hours of painful labor, an excruciating pushing process, and a major surgery.
As I recover now, I am in awe of my body’s ability to repair itself while nourishing our baby. I’m also terrified, because I have mentally and physically crossed over to a place of no return. I am and will always be a mom.
The process of labor and birth, all the work and pain and love that goes into it, is nothing short of amazing. I have seriously underestimated my own mom and every other mother in the world. You have my respect, no matter your plan, lack thereof, or how much your plan changed. No matter how we bring our children into the world, we are incredible.
Did you have a birth plan?
If so, were you able to follow it, or like me, did you have to deal with changes to your plan? Let me know in a comment!
Know a fellow mom who is struggling with a birth that didn’t match her expectations? Share this article and let her know she’s not alone!