This is part 6 of our Birth & Parenting Series. Part 1 (Thoughts From a Mother of Four) is here, part 2 (Mother of Seven Shares Her Empowering Birth Stories) is here, part 3 (First-Time Mother of Twins) is here, part 4 (How First-Time Parents Braved a Placental Abruption) is here, and part 5 (Childbirth Collective Doula Film Premiere) is here.
This first-time mama shares her story about how she approached natural labor, how she and her husband worked hard through incredibly difficult environmental circumstances, and how she knew to trust her body (maternal instincts win out!). I am blown away by what she endured at the hospital, and really inspired by her positivity and honesty. We all think we can “handle” things, but it takes a real woman to know what she can and cannot control. Great example, great article.
I am no expert when it comes to giving birth. Unlike many of the other impressive women who have shared their story on this blog, I have only done it one time. And other than the fact that it resulted in a healthy baby, the labor and delivery process wasn’t exactly a smashing success for me.
To be brutally honest, I went into the birthing experience a little overconfidently. I assumed that giving birth would be difficult, but manageable. After all, I had: (a) read a lot of birthing books; (b) taken all of the recommended labor workshops; (c) compiled a killer I-Pod mix; and (d) had diligently maintained an active pregnancy, replete with regular sessions of swimming and prenatal yoga. Hey, I’ve run a marathon and passed the Bar Exam. How hard could the birthing process be?
After experiencing false labor for several days and then “real” contractions for about eight hours, my water finally broke at 11:58 p.m. on the eve of my due date. Gotta love a punctual baby! With eyes like saucers, I stared down the clock and labored at home until 6 a.m. I found the early stages of labor to be pretty easy—maybe even a little enjoyable. (Don’t hate me. Keep reading.)
I wanted to try for a natural birth, but had also taken note of the many women (for whom I have great admiration) that admonished me that the most important thing is to simply get the baby out! The inconclusive advice I had received leading up to my due date had ranged from very helpful insights from friends about trusted palliative measures to demands from total strangers that I MUST have an epidural. Hmm . . . .
Ultimately, I labored for about 16 hours after my water broke with no pain medication. Due to a busy maternity ward, I was stuck in a triage room for that entire period, so I spent most of the time walking the ward circuit with my husband (a route I would become even more familiar with in the week that followed). There were portions of that experience that are a fond memory: seeing my parents; laughing with my husband; a foot massage; and the breathless anticipation of knowing I would be holding my son soon. There are also not-so-positive memories: vomiting; experiencing the claustrophobia of being holed up in a room the size of a closet; and of course, the all-consuming, explanation-defying pain.
At 4 p.m., there was no amount of lavender massage oil or counter-pressure that would alleviate the pain or the knowledge that my contractions were coming every 30 seconds and I was only dilated to a three. A three! With gritted teeth, I rolled the balance ball back to my nurse and firmly demanded the epidural. I will admit that at that point I felt no regret—only extreme relief. For the next four hours, I rested and laughed with my family. Success! I was dilated to a 10 and ready to push.
I am an athlete and LOVED the pushing phase. I was a “champion” pusher, in the words of my nurses and ultimately reduced the epidural all the way down to the point where I was standing, squatting, on all fours, etc. But as the hours passed, and my nurse stopped paying attention to me, the fear set in. What was going on? Why couldn’t my baby get out? I knew something was wrong.
Finally, after four hours of pushing, the doctor appeared. (Yes, this was the first time I had seen a doctor!) An emergency cesarean was ordered, and I was prepped for surgery. I won’t go into the gory details, but the pain medication failed, and it had to be removed and reinserted. Scared, tired, shaking and strapped to a table, I felt the baby continuing to try to push his way out unsuccessfully. This was not a highlight—for me or my husband, who was inexplicably left sitting on a folding chair outside the operating room for 45 minutes.
At 2:05 a.m., my perfect little baby boy was born (although I wasn’t able to see or hold him for two more hours). So much for skin-to-skin contact—the one thing I was not willing to compromise on! Insult to injury. But my husband was able to assure me that he was healthy and beautiful, and I finally relax when sweet Dominick is placed in my arms at 4:30 a.m. All’s well that ends well.
In retrospect, I probably should have had a little more fear leading up to the birth. I probably shouldn’t have skipped the cesarean section in all of the birthing books. I definitely should have had more clothing in my hospital suitcase! But we bonded as a family in that little, uncomfortable hospital room for the next five days.
The doctor informed us that my baby was turned sideways and wouldn’t have made it out the natural way. So we made the right decision (my first lesson in learning to trust my maternal intuition!). Although to this day, I still wonder if a midwife would have been able to intercede more effectively. Live and learn. I will definitely be opting for a midwife in a hospital environment for my next birth.
I don’t share my story as a cautionary tale. I share it because overachieving women like me don’t like to admit when they don’t have control over a situation. The good news is I do have the ability to control how I nourish, support, teach, discipline and, most importantly, love my child.
Being a mother has taught me that it isn’t one moment that defines us as a parent. As they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Fear is an integral part of the entire experience. The amount of love you feel for your child can be particularly terrifying. But what could be more worth it? I’d do it all again tomorrow.