How do we choose what we share with others, and what we keep to ourselves, or within a smaller circle? We’re all on a different sharing spectrum, and whether we keep things back out of a sense of privacy, shame, or possessiveness of our own experiences, each of us has secrets and curates her own truth. Social Media is a modern magnifier of that personalized curation of what we’re willing to share vs. what we struggle with quietly. I kept most things to myself when I was young, but as I’ve aged, I’ve witnessed the healing power of telling someone your story. My birth story isn’t super dramatic or surprising, but it’s mine, and I’ve held the truth of it close to me for long enough and for a variety of reasons, not least of which includes the judgment that is immediately placed on our choices as mothers before our babies have exited the womb. For as long as I can remember, my personal choices to stay quiet or keep to myself stem from my desire to block out the noise of other people who think it’s their right to comment, pass judgment, and give opinions. I don’t ask for much advice, consider, or judge how other people do things because I trust my own instincts deeply, and I honestly think that’s unnerving to some people. If I need added wisdom in an area, like breastfeeding, of course I ask, but I lived in a house with 35 girls in college and never once asked someone if they liked my outfit. I don’t share my stories and poems for editing or opinions before I submit them. I think my mom actually pauses to take a deep breath and acknowledge the moment if I ask her for advice, which I do more often these days — like the world has stopped spinning because I’m not so inwardly focused for a second. We all need a reminder of who we are sometimes, though. And the best advice I got during my pregnancy was on a card from my friend Veronica. It’s still on my fridge today: a picture of giant headphones under the words, “Let me listen to me and not to them.” As a Doula and friend, that is my best and only advice. Listen to your doctors for health and safety reasons, obviously, but beyond that, trust yourself more than anyone.
I hope that the act of sharing my story more openly via my blog encourages, lifts, and brings us closer. As a Doula, I thought I had to have a birth story that was blissful, heroic, and full of affirmation and confidence to make it worth sharing. As a woman and mother, I understand that birth is powerful because it can simultaneously be the most terrible and beautiful thing we’ve ever experienced; a sometimes hellish passage that connects us to the tiny people we love most in the world.
I’ve also learned that, regardless of what we personally idealize as the perfect birth scenario, many women do experience trauma in labor and delivery, and sharing that fear and pain doesn’t weaken your connection to your child or make you less of a woman. As a Doula, I want to prevent birth trauma where I can, but in times when it’s not preventable, we have to help other women to pinpoint, define, and heal birth-related fear and pain. We carry so much trauma in that sacral area of our bodies, and we owe it to ourselves to learn the physical and spiritual tools that release that pain and make us whole again. I felt total kinship and freedom when I finally heard two women I respect in the health/wellness/ babymaking field (Wolfe/Mundell) express serious lasting birth trauma that effected their desire for more children. It was in direct opposition to every other person I know telling me that I would soon forget any negative aspects of my birth story. I do want more children, but I have not forgotten, and I am already preparing with my OB and midwives to try to do things a lot differently next time.
My last caveat before I dive into the fun details of my personal experience is a big one. My baby was born beautiful and healthy. She was admitted to the nursery for low blood sugar on day 2, and was put on a bottle regiment until discharge, but I have not experienced the real trauma of my baby not being well. To anyone who has, my heart is with you always, and you may not want to read ahead. You have lived the unimaginable, and that is a completely different and deeper kind of birth trauma than my birth story here. <3
I was induced Friday, December 15th, 2017 for sustained high blood pressure and a below 20th percentile belly circumference. High Blood pressure is, rightfully, taken very seriously in pregnancy. I have always had extremely healthy, low blood pressure, and had a very healthy pregnancy that included daily exercise, so this BP stuff was unavoidable. It was 11 days before my calculated due date and 14 days before my OB “official” due date. Two amazing OBs debated my induction, and it wasn’t unanimous. Nevertheless, to be safe, I was admitted at 7 pm, 50% effaced and 1 cm dilated (could have been worse!) I began the drug cytotec around midnight to efface my cervix, and had a second round Saturday morning at 8 am. Thus began our long wait for Alba—who at this point may also have been Ciara (Irish sp. of Keira).
I utilized the Hypnobabies program, which is a wonderful meditation technique to ease labor pain through visualization and affirmation. It was something I had researched thoroughly and been practicing with Matt for months. We enjoyed it and had a lot of faith that it could work for our personality types and birth wishes. I listened to it almost constantly from the time I started Pitocin to induce labor on Saturday afternoon. My birth plan was to use Hypnobabies tracks and meditation/ breathing as pain abatement rather than an epidural. I also wanted to spend most of my laboring time in the tub. Having been privy as Doula to 4 Pitocin inductions at this point, I knew that Pitocin contractions can sometimes make it more difficult to go without an epidural since they can be rapid and strong. I also knew that the constant Pitocin drip and blood pressure monitoring ruled out tub time, so I was bummed, but excited to meet my baby and get labor rolling! I had seen Pitocin turned up to 10 with my 2nd and 3rd Doula births, both of which were 41 week gestations. I was 38 weeks gestation, and after 7 hours, around midnight, my Pitocin was turned up to 20, which is the highest dose my hospital gives. At 2:30 am on Sunday morning, I was dilated 3 cm. (Does anyone else hate cervical checks more than late stage labor?! Minimize your cervical checks to as few as safely possible!)
My OB broke my water just before 3 am. She was the OB who had admitted me before she left at 7 pm on Friday. She was back on Saturday morning at 7 am (after a 12 hour break) and was on for another 24 hour straight shift until 7 am Sunday morning, so we were pretty confident that she would catch for us, which was exciting because I had really bonded with her during the course of my pregnancy. From week 18, she had been the voice in my ear telling me to consider an epidural, which I was always open to, and after she broke my water and I instantly started to feel intense contractions, she came over to me, sat on the bed and said “Natural, unmedicated birth can be beautiful for some people. It can also be very, very traumatic. If you think you might want an epidural, I want you to call for it immediately because it might take a while to arrive.” Another presence I was thankful for was Hali Hemingway, my Doula! Unfortunately, we had such a long, boring 30 hour process of effacement and dilation that we decided to wait until I was 3 cm to call Hali since it was my first baby, and things tend to go slowly. You will see why that was a miscalculation momentarily!
From 1-3 cm, I felt mild cramps while meditating, reading, walking, and hanging out. As soon as my OB broke my waters, I felt totally different, which of course I was expecting, but it hit me like a freight train. Matt called Hali and I went to the bathroom immediately and totally emptied my body in every way possible. Mind you, I’m dragging along my Pitocin fluids, and I had the worst IV placement, bleeding everywhere. After my nightmare bathroom trip broke the ice, my wonderful nurse helped me to undress and change over to a water-proof Pitocin set-up so I could get in the shower and I was SO EXCITED to have that substitution for the tub — I love warm water therapy! By 3:15ish I was in the shower, but continuing to throw up. Matt was helping me to stand and get through my contractions. By this time, my contractions were coming in rapid waves, sometimes a minute long and closer than a minute apart- about every 45 seconds. Contractions or “birthing waves” came regularly after my water was broken, and then they were absolutely on top of each other with little to no space in between. So just as I learned what a real contraction felt like, and how to move my mind and body through it as a first time birther, another would come so quickly that I didn’t have time to catch my breath between them, ask questions, or prepare for the next. Things had progressed SO QUICKLY that my brain just couldn’t catch up with what was happening. The pain and frequency had come on so abruptly and was so unearthly intense that my mind had no space to comprehend what was happening, and I just felt really confused. Many women describe the feeling of full contractions from 7-10 cm as a drowning sensation because you can’t catch your breath or “reach the surface.” This is also how Matt describes his kidney stones, as “totally unrelenting.” All I remember being able to get out between breaths is “why are my contractions coming so fast?” No one answered me because I don’t think Matt or my nurse knew. My nurse said it was just normal labor. I couldn’t process the possibility that my vomiting and spaceless contractions were a sign of transition, which is obvious in retrospect, so I told myself that I was weak, that it had only been a few minutes so I couldn’t POSSIBLY be more than 4-5 centimeters dilated. If I couldn’t cope with this, how would I make it through transition? How would I push and birth my baby if it felt so hard, just minutes into my labor? And when I looked at Matt and my nurse, I saw disappointment in their faces, rather than the deep concern they actually felt.
I will never understand why our first inclination is to doubt ourselves- how does that serve evolution? The memory of what turned out to be my transition while standing in the shower is one of the saddest and hardest memories from my birth. I coach and train women to trust and honor themselves through the sacred birth journey, and I hated myself in my deepest and most heroic moments of birthing. I couldn’t have been in the shower for more than 30 minutes because Hali, my Doula angel, was standing in my room as I got out and dried off, and I know she got there quickly. I was doubled over, grasping the end of the bed, no strength left to stand after being hit again, and again, and again with these birthing waves. The next day I couldn’t lift my arms or hold Alba without support because my arms were stiff and useless from squeezing the bar in the shower and the end of the bed with my full power. Hali’s presence made me feel instantly more relaxed, and I confided in her that I wanted to order the epidural because it had only been 45 minutes and I felt like my body was about to give out, so I needed to conserve energy for pushing. It must have been close to 3:45 am when the anesthesiologist walked in (ie not long at all) and he was immediately put off by the intensity and frequency of my contractions. The nurse told him I was 3 cm at my last measurement and had only been laboring for about 45 minutes. He said it looked more like 10 cm and instead of interpreting this as his concern for placing an epidural, I interpreted it as failure on my part—God, I made labor look harder than it was! I wondered how I could have overestimated myself to such a degree. As I sat on the side of the hospital bed, and Matt held my hands down between my legs in order to arch my back and keep me from moving for the epidural placement, my contractions were back to back, and I was blacking out. I apparently signed an epidural release, talked to Matt, but remember none of it. All I remember from this time is the most insane, primal urge to slip off the side of the bed, squat, and PUSH. I felt like Alba was just going to slip out of me and I was flexing my thigh muscles to hold her in. After some fierce animal-like mouth breathing through clenched teeth (that I think scared Matt a little) I could finally find the breath to articulate that I HAD. TO. PUSH. My mind, again, dealing with all that pain, couldn’t comprehend the possibility that I was actually 10 cm and ready to have my baby after just 45 minutes of labor, so I panicked, wondering why I felt the pressure. Luckily, Matt was calm and stepped in, telling the STILL reluctant (and equally confused) nurse to check my dilation. She did, and Alba was crowning with a head full of dark hair!
Matt called Hali in, the anesthesiologist grabbed nurses from across the hall to make the table for my birth, and I got to push which was THE. BEST. FEELING. after what I had been going through from 3-4 am. The nurses did an overview of optimal pushing techniques for me and adrenaline kicked in– pushing was my thing! I thought. I liked being able to feel the pressure and relief, which were great for guiding me on how to bare down and maneuver her out. I did feel her favoring the left side as she came out, but overall, pushing was a heavenly experience after birthing waves. Alba was in a perfect anterior position, but that slight angle at which she descended, my quick dilation, and my first-timer anatomy did cause quite the exit wound from my little bullet baby! I pushed for about 20 minutes, holding Hali’s hand. Matt was holding an oxygen mask to my face, and the new nurses who didn’t get the memo about my “quiet birthing vibe” were cheering me on and encouraging me to push as hard and fast as I wanted. Their noisy cheering was rubbing off on Matt, and I remember just focusing on Hali, who seemed to be giving off a nimbus of light, and being so relieved when my OB arrived after being awakened (also surprised I progressed so quickly). She looked into my eyes, just like she did when she broke my water, and told me to listen to my body, and focus on her and me, and no one else. Alba was out and on my chest, pink and squealing at 4:21 am. I tell everyone this, but the first thing I thought was how insanely beautiful she was. I did also notice my doctor really focused on my placenta birth followed by my stitches for close to an hour, which is a really long time! I asked about what had happened several times, wondering to what degree I tore, etc. I was pretty much ignored and told to focus on baby. In retrospect, that was not really the way to handle it. Their response to my very normal, contained concern made me feel like I was over-worrying about nothing, and that I didn’t need to know. The OBs who looked in on me after birth didn’t even check me or acknowledge my borderline 3rd degree front to back tear. It upset me at the time and still does now, because I didn’t heal for the first 14 weeks postpartum, I’m still not fully healed 11 months later, and I may never be.
The hospital was busy and we weren’t moved to mother baby recovery until about 12 hours after Alba’s birth. Unfortunately, no one from the hospital Lactation group visited us in Labor and Deliver. As a first time breastfeeder, and mother to a small “early term” baby, lactation help was a huge priority for me and I was disappointed. The very busy L&D nurses did their absolute best to help me nurse Alba in between babies being born down the hall, and some of their advice really helped. However, I didn’t have a lot of colostrum, Alba’s mouth was especially tiny, even for a 6 pounder, and her blood sugar wobbled, so she was pricked for her levels every hour. I finally saw Lactation for the first time at noon, 32 hours after Alba was born. They were not able to help latch her, but did remove the little colostrum I had made with a syringe and I fed her. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough after Alba’s luge ride through the birth canal, and her blood sugar continued to dip. We started giving Alba supplemental bottles with our lovely baby nurse on Monday, but by nighttime, after many more attempts at breastfeeding, she started to tremble in her swaddles, and was whisked off to the nursery. I was told she may need to be given an IV and the thought of needles in her tiny, delicate body tore my very hormonal heart out. Matt was at home walking our dogs when all of this happened, of course, and when he returned, I promptly fell to pieces and pumped as much as they would let me. I actually ended up only ever making 2 oz of colostrum total. My milk came in with a fever and hard breast lumps on Day 3 (probably from the insane amount of pumping I did), but I continued to fight hard for supply with Alba’s latching issues throughout the months ahead. Alba ended up only needing to be bottlefed by nurses, and not needing an IV. Her blood sugar stabilized quickly since she was otherwise healthy, and we were able to go home on Tuesday, December 19th!
Those first two weeks at home learning to breastfeed and trying to physically recover were a hormonal blur. My Doulas encapsulated my placenta, and I’m so glad I took all 130 pills because I really struggled with waves of self-scrutiny, -hatred, -doubt, as my hormones evened out. Alba gained weight, but very slowly, and that is hard on any mother. We were referred to an IBCLC, and only left the house for those appointments since walking, lifting, and normal activities were tough on my healing body. The weeks after giving birth were possibly a harder “labor” than we had at the hospital, as we learned and struggled and never slept when my Mom was away, driven in determination by sheer force of LOVE for this beautiful girl and our world that she had totally turned upside down. Matt took weeks off of work, learned how to do everything but breastfeed perfectly, and was my Beacon when I felt adrift at sea at times. We literally shared shifts so that one of us was always awake with Alba (even when she was sleeping) for the first 2 months! We just had to be staring at her at all times. Guessing we won’t do that with #2. My experience has made me extremely passionate about postpartum doula work, and the emphasis that society places on getting mothers through pregnancy and delivery, rather than the initial days and weeks at home. I’m planning on getting licensed for placenta encapsulation, and I’m compiling some special postpartum recipes for my future doula clients. Looking back, I have achieved a lot of peace after my birth experience, but that is largely because of working through it, talking through it, and sharing my story. I hope I can bring peace to others through my Doula work. Most of all, I hope I can share this story with Alba one day, so she knows that her Mama is tough and fought hard to get her here, fought hard to breastfeed her, and will always, always fight hard for her. The only thing more transformative than my birthing experience is the daily bliss of being your Mama, Alba!