Nine (or ten) months, even though it went by very quickly, is a long time to anticipate one very important event: the birth of your baby. Especially as a first time mom, I can attest to the fact that I spent a large amount of time contemplating my birth…how it would go, what it would be like, etc. I was completely set on a natural, unmedicated birth. I had done a lot of research and had found a birth center not too far from my house that even participated with my insurance. Midwives at the birth center provided all my prenatal care. I was young, healthy, and active. My pregnancy was easy, textbook, perfect. So, I never could have imagined that the wild, crazy adventure that was my labor and delivery could possibly happen to me.
After reading so many articles and scientific studies and watching documentaries about the “horrific” realities of the traditional medicalized, intervention riddled, hospital-based birth I knew that I didn’t want to give birth in a hospital setting. That of course meant that I would need to have an unmedicated vaginal birth with very few interventions. I became very passionate about having a natural birth experience outside of a hospital. I became so passionate about my desire to have this natural birth experience that I think I became a little judgmental of women who had had “medicalized” births such as c-sections. Even though I didn’t actually think badly of these women or the circumstances surrounding their labor and delivery experiences, my subconscious still seduced me into feeling slightly superior than them because I was going to have a natural birth. I would not have a c-section. I would not need pain medication. I think that fact that so many people scoffed at me when I told them that I was planning on having a natural birth in a birth center that I became even more resolute in my decision and became even more prideful of what I was going to accomplish. Part of me definitely want to be able to brag that I had done it without medication even though I know that that would not make me any better or worse than any other woman who had given birth. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be able to have a successful natural birth. I did not have a plan B; I simply did not feel that I needed one. So, of course life served me a difficult lesson and nothing went according to my plans. I wanted a peaceful, quick, and easy natural birth. What I got was an emotional roller coaster of a 42 hour labor that concluded in an emergency c-section.
t first I was very disappointed in my birth and in myself but after those first few magical days with my newborn baby boy, I was able to process and come to terms with my experience. My birth was a great reminder that you can make all the plans you want but sometimes God has something else in mind. I learned a lot from the whole experience and I feel it is helpful for me and hopefully for other women to share my birth story in all its unpredictable, messy glory. So, without further ado…here it goes:
I started having contractions early Saturday morning on March 28. I was exactly 41 weeks. I had been impatiently waiting to go into labor so I didn’t want to get too excited just yet. The contractions weren’t very intense but the did feel more crampy than the braxton hicks contractions I had been having during the latter part of my pregnancy and I soon realized that they were coming at about 10-15 min intervals. So, clearly it wasn’t go time yet but I was hopeful that that day would be the day. I told my husband I was having contractions when he woke up. We were both up early that morning because he had planned on going surfing and I was going to go with and sit on the beach in case I needed him. He asked if I wanted to stay home instead but I told him that if I was in labor it was very early labor and we should just go about our day for now and see what happens. So we went down to the beach. My husband surfed and I continued to monitor my contractions. Afterwards, we were both hungry so we decided to go to one of our favorite breakfast spots. My contractions were still happening but sometimes they were 10 mins apart and sometimes less but they still weren’t very intense. At this point I noticed I was starting to spot a little bit when I went to the bathroom and I started to think “wow, I might actually be going into labor for real!!!” My husband was so excited. We went home and I decided to take a nap so I could get some rest that I would need later in labor. It was now afternoon and my contractions were picking up a little bit in intensity but still pretty easy. So, my husband and I decided to take our dog to the park so she could get some exercise because we were probably going to have our hands full for the next few days. I told my husband that maybe we should try going for a walk when we got home to see if we could get things moving along but that walk never happened.
Once we got home, my contractions started picking up. I went to take a bath to relax a little bit and to make sure I was all clean before strangers were going to be all up in my business. By about 6 pm my contractions were about a minute long and coming about 5 mins apart! We were so excited!! We were instructed to call the midwifes at the birth center when I had had minute long contractions 5 minutes apart for an hour so I had my husband call. The midwife told us to call back when my contractions were 3 minutes apart or if my water broke. Well, my water broke in my living room at about 7:30 pm. My husband called back the midwife and she said great my contractions should start to get a little more intense now that my water bag had broken. Very quickly my contractions started coming every 2-3 minutes and I was now having to rock my hips and vocalize through the contractions. The midwife said to meet her at the birth center at 9pm so my husband started to get stuff together. Honestly, I think my husband and I both thought the midwife was crazy…we were kind of worried that we wouldn’t make it to the birth center. After all, my contractions were only 2-3 minutes apart and everything I had read said I should be in active labor. I was also sure I was going to have a very quick labor so I was a little anxious to get to the birth center.
The ride in the car to the birth center was horrible. A car is a very uncomfortable place in which to have to deal with contractions. Moving my body during contractions felt the most natural to me so having to be relatively still because there was no room was very frustrating. I was kneeling on the ground in the passenger seat facing towards the seat and hugging a pillow the whole way. Luckily, it was only about a 20 min drive. As I mentioned already, I was sure that I was in active labor and that my baby would be coming that night or in the early morning hours so, I was extremely disappointed and scared to hear that I was only 3cm dilated when the midwife checked me when I arrived at the birth center. That was not what I wanted to hear. The midwife told us we could either go home and come back when contractions got more intense (wtf!? more intense!? my contractions were already only 2-3 mins apart!!) or we could stay and walk around, do some squats and try to get things to progress and she would check me in 2 hours. Well, I did not like the car ride at all so the thought of driving home and then having to drive back later did not sound appealing so my husband and I decided to stay. We spent the next 2 hours walking around outside the building or attempting to relax in one of the birthing rooms hoping things would move along. Subjectively, I was sure that my contractions were even more intense so I was hopeful when 2 hours had past and it was time for the midwife to check me again. But, I was still only 3 cm. Hearing that news for the second time was devastating. I definitely took a huge blow to my confidence and I began to get worried about how I was going to make it through the rest of my labor…it was definitely going to be harder and longer than I had planned on (little did I know how much longer and harder it would be!).
At this point it was around 11pm and the midwife sent us home instructing me to relax and try to get some rest to allow my cervix to open. Well, relaxing was pretty much impossible as my contractions were coming every 5 mins but I spent the rest of the night trying my best to sleep/cope with my contractions. That night was extremely challenging physically and emotionally. I tried taking a hot bath but that didn’t work because I couldn’t get comfy in my small tub. I tried relaxing in bed but I just felt better when I was moving or in a partial squat. At some point my husband fell asleep and I decided to let him get some rest since it clearly wasn’t go time and I really didn’t know what he could do to help me at that point. The only thing that seemed to feel somewhat comfortable was sitting backwards on the toilet. I placed my pillow on the top of the toilet and for the rest of the night attempted to sleep on my pillow during the short break between contractions. So, basically I got no sleep that night. By morning I was delirious both from the lack of sleep and the emotional and physical exhaustion of dealing with the contractions. I was literally out of my mind at this point and I was so defeated. When my husband woke up I begged him to take me to the hospital. I just wanted to sleep and to get a break from the contractions so badly. I wish I could have put them on pause just for a few hours so I could get some rest and then come back to labor when I was ready to go again. Instead of listening to my pleas, my husband kept reminding me that I really wanted a natural birth and how passionate I was about having my birth at a birth center and not a hospital (not to mention that we had already paid for the birth center and going to the hospital would just add to the cost of the birth).
My husband checked in with the midwife and after again trying to find ways to relax and get some sleep to no avail, the midwife decided to prescribe an ambien so that I could get some sleep. So, my husband filled the prescription and I took the pill. From my perspective, I did not sleep at all but apparently I would sleep for about 20-30 mins at a time getting up occasionally to move through contractions. I felt so weird on the drugs and did not feel very rested even though I did get a few naps. Now, it was late Sunday morning. After having a couple hours of on again off again rest, the midwife told us to come back to the birth center to check me and see if we could get my labor moving again (my contractions had slowed down to every 15 mins or so at this point). The midwife checked me when we arrived at about 1pm and this time I was at 5cm. Still not very much progress for how long I had been in labor, but I felt a little more hopeful about being able to have the birth I wanted at the birth center. My husband had convinced me to stick it out and I was willing to try a few more things before we would consider going to the hospital.
The midwife decided we should try castor oil to stimulate my contractions. I rested for a bit while my husband went to get some snacks and some rootbeer to mask the flavor of the castor oil. I took it and we waited for it to work. You don’t want to take too much castor oil right away because castor oil can cause pretty severe nausea and diarrhea so we waited with anticipation for my contractions to pick up again. But, my contractions seemed to slow down even more. Part of me really wanted my labor to get going but part of me was also very thankful that I was getting breaks from the contractions. This whole time my husband really did his best to be supportive and to try to encourage me to stick it out and have the natural birth we had planned on but I was getting more and more doubtful as time went on. The hope I had had when we learned I was 5 cm has started to fade again and I just felt like I was done. I was so worried about letting my husband, the midwife, and especially myself down by thinking about transferring to the hospital but we were actually quickly approaching the time when we wouldn’t have a choice. Because my water had broken at 7:30 pm on Saturday evening and it was now around 5 pm on Sunday evening, we were closing in on the 24 hour mark that meant that we would have to transfer to the hospital because of the increased risk of infection. We still technically had a couple of hours in which to try to get my labor going but, as disappointed as I was that I wouldn’t be giving birth at the birth center, I thought it would be best to move to the hospital now. The midwife and my husband were supportive of my decision even though I was worried I was letting them down. But, the midwife assured me that failure to progress is a common reason for hospital transfers from the birth center and that sometimes women’s bodies and their babies just don’t sync up. Hearing that made me feel a little better and we were running out of time at the birth center anyway.
I was mentally and physically done and so making the decision felt like such a relief. I reasoned that even if we were able to get my labor going again at the birth center, I doubt that I would have had the energy required to make it through the rest of the labor and have the energy to push anyway. My plan B became that I would get an epidural at the hospital despite my desire to have a pain med free birth, so that I could get the rest I felt I needed to have a vaginal delivery. As much as I wanted a natural delivery, having a vaginal birth was the priority, so I decided that after being in labor so long I would get an epidural at the hospital especially because I knew I was going to be given pitocin to augment my contractions. Contractions are usually more painful with pitocin and I had already been in labor for over 36 hours so I wasn’t worried about being a hero at this point.
Anyway, we got to the hospital and of course it was a very different experience than the birth center. I was given an i.v., hooked up to monitors, and had blood work taken. Fortunately, I had educated myself about common labor and delivery procedures and my nurses were very good about explaining everything they were doing so I never felt like I was being forced to do anything that I didn’t want to do or that I didn’t know what was happening. Our midwife also came with us to the hospital to help us and support us through the transition. Soon after they started the pitocin, my contractions started back up and I got an epidural after the contractions got to about 5 mins apart. It was instantly such a relief to get a break from the contractions. I’m not gonna lie, after all those hours of laboring with no pain meds, the epidural was so nice. I was finally able to rest and get some sleep…but not for long…..
Of course as I was trying to sleep and prepare myself to hopefully push my baby out in a couple of hours, nurses kept coming in to check my monitors, check on the baby, check my cervix etc At some point they told me that they were noticing an irregularity with the baby’s heartbeat but that it might be nothing and that they were just going to monitor it carefully and take me off the pitocin temporarily to be sure. They were still very calm so I didn’t feel like there was any need to worry at this point. After a while they come back in and tell me that my baby is getting a little stressed by my contractions because there is so little fluid left in my uterus to cushion him so they wanted to try inserting an artificial amniotic fluid basically saline into my uterus. So, they start this procedure and then the dialogue between the nurses seems to take on a more serious note. The nurses keep asking me to switch the side I am laying on because my baby is not happy. Then all of a sudden the head nurse says that the baby’s heartbeat had dropped and that he decided he wants to be born right now. She starts calling out codes and lowering my bed and things got very scary. She throws a pair of scrubs at my half asleep husband and tells him that we are going to the OR. We were both so scared at this point. I was just in shock as I was soon being wheeled down the hall. The next few minutes were chaos as I was brought into the operating room and prepped for an emergency c-section. All I could think of was that I hope my baby is ok. I could hear the clanging of metal instruments and the nurses calling for the anesthesiologist and then I was put under. They wouldn’t let m husband in during the surgery just in case something happened but I guess he got to go in right after they got my baby out. Thankfully, this story has a happy ending and both baby and I were fine. My baby was born at 12:37 am on Monday after about 42 hours of labor. As soon as I came to the first thing I asked is where is my baby. My husband brought him over to me and then the head nurse assisted me in breastfeeding him. After such a scary experience I was just overwhelmed at how beautiful my son was and how thankful I was that we were both healthy. I could not have ever predicted the crazy roller coaster of events that led up to that point, but it didn’t matter anymore.
Never would I have imagined that I would end up having an emergency c-section and, of course, that is the last thing that I wanted but that is how my baby decided that he needed to be born. At first I was really sad that I did not get to have my natural birth center experience mostly because I felt that I had failed. But then I realized that I actually had had a natural labor for 36 hours and that I can be proud of that! I did my best and in the end it just wasn’t meant to be for this particular delivery and this particular baby and that things happened the way they needed to to get my baby here safely. As I said in the beginning, I learned a lot from this experience and reflecting on it and sharing my story has helped me to process the events of that day and not feel like I disappointed anyone including myself. The only thing I am a little bummed about is that the birth center I used (and, in fact, most birth centers) do not allow VBAC patients which means that because my first birth was a c-section, the rest of my births will probably need to be hospital births. But my new doctor is very supportive of VBAC’s and I will definitely try for one when the time comes. Until then, I am going to continue to focus all my energy into loving and caring for my little man as best as I can and into continuing to take care of myself by exercising and eating well so that I can be the best mom that I can be!