My son, Noah, is turning 3 years old a month from now. He is my joy.
His birth shaped who I am and changed my life. This story may be full of inaccuracies and I'm sure it looked different to others who were there but this is my memory of it and I'm hoping that writing it down (finally) will help me heal and process it more fully.
I'm embarking on a journey to become a doula and attending my first two births at the end of the month. As I prepare to support these women in the same hospital where my son was born three years ago, I'm reminded of his birth. As I've dwelled on what doula-ing will be like, possible issues that could arise, how to best to offer support, I realize that I have unresolved trauma from that birth experience.
The happiest moment of my life was also very frightening and overwhelming. This is how it began.
My pregnancy had been picture perfect. My belly large, my skin clear, a healthy round woman I was. Childbirth education classes had been over for a while and I knew that I wanted to have a natural birth. I figured if women could do it for thousands of years, couldn't I? Bryan, my sister and my mom would be with me- I had a bag full of labor support items- I'd be okay.
I knew who that Noah was a boy before anyone else and we kept it a secret until his birth. I dreamt of his little fingers and toes and was excited to meet him.
Labor started on Tuesday morning, December 2nd. Early labor lasted all day. I vacuumed, I sang, I washed dishes. My body was alive with energy and excitement. Each contraction came and I reveled in its coming. I felt like I was soaring- I was going to meet my baby boy!
Morning made way into afternoon- I called Bryan to come home a little early from work. He hung out with me while I worked through the contractions, still not too strong or close together. Around 6 they became 5 minutes apart for over an hour. I felt good but I wanted to get to the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital in the dark winter evening, walking into a bright and busy environment. The nurses were short with us and announced that their were no available rooms. I felt like bursting into tears. Feeling like I had no place to go to have my baby was horrible. We sat in a makeshift curtain room in the hall as they hooked my belly up to the monitor. Fear and nervousness was surging through me and my contractions had basically stopped. The nurse seemed to think I was lying about them being 5 minutes apart earlier. I felt judged but I knew that sometimes labor slowed down so I tried not to worry too much.
We were given a sleeping pill and sent home. I was convinced that my labor would start right back up so we went to my sisters house nearby. Bryan and my sister and brother in law watched a movie and I labored. After only an hour or so, I wanted to just go home and sleep. I felt discouraged but hoped that if I could just go to bed, things might get back to normal. The car ride home was difficult and my contractions were becoming more painful. I took the sleeping pill and fell asleep with Bryan.
Around 1 am, I woke up to a incredibly strong contraction that made me sing standing over the bed. I waddled into the bathroom feeling as if Noah had dropped even more during the night. As I sat to pee, my water broke everywhere. FINALLY. Know I knew they couldn't send me home. The contractions were intense at this point but irregular. We called the midwives and made our way out the door.
Everything felt rushed and intense. We parked at the ER entrance and I was wheeled in because my pants were soaking wet from the fluid. I felt embarrassed in a way and just wanted to get to the birthing room.
We got up there and were given a room and immediately I felt better. The contractions were intensifying and the nurse offered us a couple of birthing balls and helped me get into a clean, dry johnny. This nurse was really nice and calm and the room felt quiet and good. At this point, my contractions were really strong and all of my pain was in my back and hips. I made my way into the shower over the hours of laboring and stayed in there for what seemed like an eternity. Nurses came in to listen to the heart rate, Bryan stayed by my side. I sat on a chair with the hot water hitting my back and was able to really focus through them.
At some point, I ended up laying in the bath. Staring at the bath faucet just moaning through each one. Completely gone into labor land - I was sleeping in between contractions. They must have been 3 minutes apart or so. Maybe less... or more. I'm not sure.
It was morning now. Each surge was becoming more unbearable and I would lean over to Bryan and whisper that I felt like I was dying and then immediately fall asleep again once it was over. Moaning through them helped. Bryan didn't know what to do to help me- he was afraid and so was I. They started coming more quickly and I needed to move out of the bath to pee. My mother came into the room and mentioned an epidural - it was all I needed to become unfocused and start to feel panicked. It must have been hard to hear me in pain and I don't blame her for mentioning it however, I hadn't been considering pain meds until this point.
This is where I remember my labor changing significantly. I stood up with my midwife and Bryan's help to step out of the tub and my contraction became SO strong. I felt like my back was splitting in two. I started to yell and cry and shake. I peed on the floor and I remember feeling embarrassed and just ANGRY that this labor was so horrible. I took two steps to the toilet and another contraction hit me. I felt like I wanted to throw up and scream and cry at the same time. My hips and body felt totally surreal and insane.
I wanted to be checked and NOW. Being checked while in back labor in transition may be the worst feeling ever- oh wait, no, that's coming. I think it was 9 am now... or around this time. Marti, my midwife, came into the room and worked with me through the contractions and we tried a couple of different positions. Each one made my contractions worse and I think I sounded like a dying cow. I FELT like a dying cow. Bryan was terrified at this point and I felt as if I were suffering. Marti checked me and I was 7 cm. I asked her how long it could be until Noah would be born- she said it could be three hours or so...
Sitting on the bed between contractions, Marti massaged my feet. In this moment I could feel her compassion over me and my stress and humiliation and fear were melting away. I began to cry huge tears. I didn't know if I could go on but I didn't want the epidural. She reassured me that it was OKAY to take it if I wanted and it wasn't a competition or race and I wasn't measured by whether I took drugs or not. She mentioned she had an epidural with her child and one without. I felt secure with her by my side and wished she could have been with me for the past 24+ hours.
Everyone left. I leaned into Bryan and just cried. I was exhausted and in so much pain. Another contraction hit me and I just yelled into him. We decided to get the epidural. The anesthesiologist came in around 11 am to give the epidural. I was yelling and crying and moaning through each contraction and just writhing with pain. The pain felt disorganized and choatic, my hips felt like they were ripping apart. They tried to ask me questions and I just kept saying yes yes yes WHATEVER YOU SAY YES>JUST GIVE ME THE FING EPIDURAL>>>!! They told me to bend over as far as I could while sitting on the back- to make my back a C and not move an inch. Contractions hit me during this process and it was literally the WORST experience of my life. Tears pouring down my face, I was breaking skin with my nails.
When the spinal/epidural hit, it was INSTANT relief. I cried huge tears of relief and laughed hysterically. I didn't know then but I know now that all the endorphins I was producing to combat the pain were making me high as a kite (a reason most women LOVED their epidural- even though it was the endorphin rush right away that they felt). I felt completely normal and weird after. I sat in the bed, calm as can be, asking for my makeup and brush. Feeling awkward and watched, I just sat. It was bizarre. The midwife encouraged me to rest but I was wide awake. I did rest off and on until 2:30 or so when she came in to see how I was doing.
She checked me and I was at 10 cm. She said I could push. Strangely, I didn't want to. I felt like I wasn't ready and I asked to wait. She said, okay. and I waited almost 40 minutes. She then had a talk with me and was like, "Sarah, you have to push this baby out. It needs to happen sooner or later." I felt ready, so we started. Having no idea when I was having contractions, I didn't know when or how to push. I couldn't tell on the monitor and couldn't focus during the pushes. We tried sitting upright, squatting over the birth bar, laying back, etc....I pushed and pushed and pushed. My IV was placed weirdly and was causing me a lot of pain in my right arm. I felt unable to use to support myself and kept telling the nurse it wasn't right. My nurse had changed by this point and she was kind of short with me and just kept tripping over my epidural and IV lines... I felt so frustrating and annoyed. After 3 hours of pushing, I was starting to feel pressure and some pain. I was utterly exhausted and had NO idea it had been so long. We kept at it and finally we could see hair. I just wanted to be done but was so tired... Bryan was excited and kept telling me what we could see and encouraging me. Marti looked at me and told me that she might have to do an episiotomy, and I shouted NO and pushed and out he came.
He came out sunny side up (face up/posterior) and Marti said, "so that's why it was so hard!!" I was crying and shaking and kept saying "my poor baby, my poor baby". Noah's head looked as if someone had placed another small head on top of it- it was horrible. I cried and cried and Bryan announced his name and gender to the room, we both just were so relieved it was over. Noah held my hand and just cried..I couldn't believe how long and skinny his legs were!! I remember my whole heart just opening and God making me a mother right then and there. I couldn't believe my overwhelming love and joy for this little boy! It's like my heart ripped open and wrapped up around him and I became a totally NEW person. Welcome to the world my love . 6:31pm on Wednesday, December 3rd
They took him to the warmer and measured and weighed him and I laid there exhausted. Noah peed on his daddy and we laughed. I was bleeding a lot right away and was given pitocin and another drug (not sure which) to stop the bleeding. I felt weak and tired. My placenta was delivered and unfortunately I didn't really get to see it although I remember Marti mentioning that it was unique for some reason. She stitched me up a little because I had a third degree tear and I just held my baby boy. We tried to nurse but mostly just cuddled skin to skin. I remember Bryan leaving the room and I felt really alone and scared. My mom was there and others but I don't really remember. Family came in right away before I even left the birthing room and while I was happy for the good wishes, I felt really invaded on.
I WAS happy to see my dad but not very happy to see others.
I wanted privacy and rest so when they wheeled me and Noah down to the recovery room, I was relieved. Bryan helped me get settled with Noah and our night nurse was AMAZING. She snuggled us in tight together and was so sweet and gentle. I remember her like an angel. The next couple of days reovering were filled with trouble nursing, feeling overwhelmed and scared and not being sure that I could do this thing called motherhood. We had a rough start but Noah and I had a wonderful nursing relationship and he nursed till 20 months with the help of a lactation consultant and nipple shield at first as well as the support of my amazing husband.
This birth experience was full of uncertainty and pain and fear. I learned a lot from this birth and became a different person after it. The way I experienced my birth wasn't any one persons fault but just my being unprepared, others around not knowing how to support a woman having back labor and my own fears regarding birth. My epidural was not a failure or a triumph but what was needed at the time. It may have protected me from more suffering that could have further traumatized me or it could have hindered my birth experience- either way, I don't know and I am letting go of it. My goal as a doula is to provide the labor support that I didn't have during Noah's birth and really just make sure each women is supported physically and emotionally during her labor. I will support each woman to make the best decisions for her labor and birth and encourage her to be empowered by her birth, intervention free or not.
As most of you know, I went on to have my second baby at home and feel that it is really important to birth where you feel safe emotionally and physically. The day your baby is born will be remembered for the rest of your life and will impact you more than your wedding or any other big event. Birth trauma is real and isn't something to be ashamed of. It's OKAY to be both the happiest you've ever been but also incredibly wounded.
Check out this website if you have been negatively impacted by your birth experience.
Solace for Mothers