And I’m back! Sorry to make you wait, I just couldn’t finish the whole story in time. Plus, labor is all about waiting, so feel free to consider it, in some small way, experiencing childbirth with me.
Back to the wee hours of Monday morning. All my helpers were still there, except for my very pregnant (and adventurous world-traveler) sister who left for a job interview for a couple hours later in the morning but came back right after. This whole time we had been timing my contractions- I would signal when each one would start, and they were every 2 minutes since before midnight. I remember feeling split- a mental awareness of my body was one part of me, and a very separate part of me was my body itself. The awareness of my body working on it’s own, from the very autonomic and base level of consciousness, was a curiosity to my conscious mind. The weave of my whole self, usually knit so close that I never noticed the difference between body and spirit, would unravel with the intensity of the contractions. Nuances were no longer vague and indistinguishable. I experienced pain, exertion, exhaustion, determination, breathing, and being, all concurrently timed yet completely independent of each other. It was an strange yet natural experience, like I was watching myself from the outside while still feeling everything more clearly internally than I ever had before. Between contractions I would feel my wholeness but during contractions everything suddenly had space, like the danger one might feel when suddenly and violently liberated from a dark small space. Perhaps what this baby might sense without having the conscious ability to describe.
Medical alert! This next section may not be for those with queasy stomachs. If you dare, read on.
About 4 am I started throwing up because I was nauseous from the pain. Because my water broke hours earlier and I was still losing fluid that way (Fun fact-did you know that a woman’s body continues to make amniotic fluid even after the water breaks?). In addition to the vomiting, by 8am I was getting dehydrated. I got an IV placed and started getting IV fluids. I thought, “This can’t be much longer, maybe in the next couple hours I will have the baby…”
By 10am the pain started to become unbearable- I couldn’t tell when a contraction was starting or stopping- it felt like one long contraction with no break. I could barely talk and my strength was beginning to fail. I remember the dulla holding up lavender essential oils for me to smell and showing me the newborn clothes I brought to encourage me and all I could do was push it away from my face and say “I know you are trying to distract me from the pain but I am way beyond that point.”
By noon there was still no progression in the labor and I requested an epidural, something I didn’t think I would ever ask for. I was in a smaller hospital and all the anesthesiologists who were on call were already called into surgeries and couldn’t leave so I waited 4- yes FOUR whole hours before I finally got it. Every breath was either a moan in or a moan out. The goal was no longer labor, it was escape. I was wanting to find a way to leave my body. I ended up taking a narcotic derivative IV medication, another thing I had never imagined I would have to ask for, during this time. I can remember asking for a half dose and then 30 minutes later asking for the rest of it because it literally made no difference. Finally, an anesthesiologist came and in one try put in the epidural and I immediately felt energized, and so, so grateful. I’m pretty sure I said something to the effect of “I know everyone probably tells you this but I love you so much!” At this point I got a urinary catheter so I wouldn’t pee on myself as all bladder control is gone with an epidural.
After the epidural and catheter I was checked again and there was still no further progression so the doctor ordered pitocin, a medication that increases the strength of contractions. The doctor also noticed that the baby’s head wasn’t in the right position and suggested I get on my elbows and knees to try to use gravity to float the baby away from the birth canal so the head would be able to reposition back in the birth canal at the correct angle for birth.
It looked like a profane version of this cute yoga pose. I was literally naked with my behind in the air with tubes and monitors hanging out from pretty much every part of me, front, back, sides, and errr-ryyy-where. Modesty didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t care who saw all my business or how ridiculous I looked. I didn’t care because at this point the doctor said “Let’s do this position for about 30 minutes and then flip you and if it works you should be ready to push and have this baby!” I felt determined now more than ever. “I will have this baby soon! The beginning of the end will start in 30 minutes!” What I was anticipating for days was so close and I had worked so hard.
30 minutes passed and I flipped on my back and as she checked me the doctor fell quiet. The tissue in the birth canal was swelling so much that I was closing up, indicating some sort of damage. The doctor informed me that although there was no rush because the baby was still fine, I would need a cesarean due to the swelling. After a few quiet moments with my husband we agreed to a medical procedure I truly thought I would never ever need.
So now, finally, the beginning of the end. Completely different than I expected and wanted and planned for. Nothing happened perfectly, yet in the moment I felt relief.
As I watched the ceiling above, lights flashing by as I rolled down the hall, I felt a flash of panic. I thought of this little child inside of me and how I even though I planned and tried my absolute hardest for what I considered a perfect labor, I completely failed. I wondered how many other times in this child’s future I would try so hard to be perfect, to make things perfect, and how I would inevitably fail. I saw this picture of my own hands trying so hard to hold this child, keep him or her safe, control everything so he or she wouldn’t ever be hurt, and my stomach dropped because I knew I couldn’t do it.
By then I was in the operating suite. I felt the panic surge in my system as I realized I received more medication in my epidural. A common side effect of this is low blood pressure and in those moments I could feel symptoms of my blood pressure dropping. I felt anxious, I couldn’t feel if I was breathing in or not, I felt nauseous. I frantically informed a surgical tech “I am about to throw up and I don’t want to aspirate or ruin the sterile field!” They took forever (probably 10 seconds, now that I stop and think about it) and as I turned my head to the side to throw up they began surgery.
As they started to cut, reality faded to the background. I saw these huge hands, God-sized hands- palms up and wide open, offering to be the one who holds this new life.
In this moment I knew I was given a choice, an option to position my heart towards my child with faith and trust as opposed to control and fear. I imagine myself peeling my fingers open and placing this child in those strong warm hands and as I did reality came back into the forefront.
Soon after I heard the soft mewing cry of my baby, and Joseph said “It’s a girl!” and placed her right over my heart. She curled in close. I finally held my baby.
I am so grateful for that experience, even though it wasn’t what I dreamed it would be. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish to have a fully natural labor experience, but I do recognize the other gifts I have been given because I didn’t. I have a much deeper sense of compassion for multiple types of childbirth. I had subconsciously judged moms who used epidurals or had cesareans as weak or afraid, which isn’t fair or compassionate at all. I thought that education and planning would prevent me from needing medical intervention yet neither did. I thought I would be a great example and encouragement to my sister who was in the room pretty much the whole time, but I ended up exhausting her for more than 30 hrs, not having anything really work out perfectly, my physical body not able to complete labor fully. By the way, my sister ended up having her kiddo less than 2 weeks later (with no epidural or cesarean) and I am not sure if being there with me helped or freaked her out. (Krista- If you read this, let me know!) Even after the baby was born I felt bad because my family was exhausted and ended up going back home without even seeing the baby because she was back in the recovery room with me where they weren’t allowed to go. For some reason the surgical staff let my dulla in but not my mom, and I didn’t realize it till later.
Also, a couple years later when I was pregnant with my second child I switched doctors and planned for a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). When my new doctor got the medical records he read that I had some uterine/cervical tearing which had to be repaired during the first cesarean. Not only was this cause of the swelling and needing a cesarean in the first place, it also meant that I was high risk for it happening again during labor so I could only have cesareans from here on out. I know for some people this might not seem like a big deal but for me it was like training to run a marathon but after months of training being banned from participating.
Still, I am grateful. I can empathize with others’ pain and frustration and heartache and waiting like never before. I am learning that this is life, and all parts, both easy and difficult, positive and negative, can be experienced and embraced. I am settling into discomfort and learning to be more flexible. Oh but it’s so hard. But it’s so important. I never knew how important it was, and I am only just learning now.
I was thinking about why I write and I believe it’s to invite you into my journey. I am not sharing from a place of expertise or perfection, but as I go this direction. Away from ideals and flawlessness and towards wholeness and freedom. Thanks again for walking with me.
Tired but happy,
OH! I wanted to say- I will work on adding more pictures and making things more pretty soon! My primary goal is to write consistently and anything else is a bonus. But who doesn’t like bonuses, right? So I’ll work on that! But don’t expect it to be perfect! Ha!