Ever since the birth of my son, I have found birth stories endlessly fascinating. It is a badge of motherhood and once you have been through it, no matter how it went, it can be so cathartic to share and validating to listen to other’s experiences. When I was pregnant with my first A, I was too apprehensive to listen to these stories. I guess because I already knew every birth is different and I was scared if I started getting the idea of a certain birth experience in my head, I would be disappointed if mine did not turn out that way. I was also scared of all the different scenarios of the birthing process and I felt overwhelmed by all the ways mine might go wrong.
I am glad I did not delve too deeply into all those stories before my first birth. This is not to say I was not educated on the matter. My husband and I read the baby books, took a birthing class, discussed and researched our options, toured the hospital, and wrote a birth plan. And I do not regret taking any of those steps. In fact, I recommend them all. Despite all of that, I still ended up with an ideal experience in my head and I was determined to make it work. And I was still disappointed my plan did not unfold the way I wanted it to. A lot of people will say it does not matter how the baby comes out as long as he is healthy upon arrival. Of course a healthy baby is all any parent wants, but I disagree with that logic. A birth can be traumatic or beautiful, both, and everything in between. It is emotional and raw and unlike anything else you have ever experienced or will ever experience. Maybe this is my Type A personality taking over, but I just wanted to plan my journey and to have it follow the plan.
I knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant I wanted to do a natural unmedicated birth. But I did not know much about the logistics of a natural birth initially. I started by changing my doctor early in my pregnancy (my first one I found to be a little old-fashioned) and that helped. I did a lot of reading, again in the baby books but also online, and I was intrigued by the idea of birthing centers and home births. I read up on doulas, midwives, the Bradly Method, water births, acupuncture, etc. But in the end, it seemed “safer” for my first birth to be in a hospital “just in case” anything went wrong. And let’s be honest, also to have the option of the drugs in case I really got in over my head.
When I finally started having real contractions, I knew right away. I was already on my maternity leave and my parents had come into town to wait for baby. It was the night before my due date but I knew it could take a while, since it was my first. But for me, it got really intense really fast. Within a couple hours of those first real contractions, I started throwing up from the intensity of them to the point where I could not even keep water down. By then the contractions were already less than 5 minutes apart and pretty regular. Initially, we planned to labor at home for as long as possible, but my husband was concerned about my fluids so we went to the hospital right then.
As they say, longest car ride across town EVER.
When we checked in I could barely speak from the intensity of the contractions so they admitted me to a room right away. But when the nurse checked my progress, I was only 3 cm dilated. wha wha. We settled into the room to labor for a while longer.
At this point, we had both been up for nearly 24 hours. The previous night, I thought my water had possibly broken but really was not sure. When I called my doctor’s office, their advice was, “if you are not sure, just go to the hospital to get checked out.” I was not having contractions at that point or any other signs of labor, but we went anyway. After a few hours of waiting around and getting checked, they sent us home. We decided to continue our day’s activities (it was a Sunday) as planned so as not to be bored sitting around staring at my bump wondering when he was actually going to show up.
So back at the hospital at nearly midnight after a full day of golfing (for my husband) and running around (for me with my mom and sister) and labor in full force, we were regretting our decision not to nap earlier. Of course there was no way I would have been able to even think about being tired with all that was going on with my body at this point, but my poor husband was exhausted, willing his eyelids to stay open as he held my hand and tried to help. It was in these moments I realized that a doula would have been a good decision for me. We decided against it because my husband is a coach, and has always been my biggest supporter. We decided he could be my “birth coach” as well and could advocate my desire for a natural birth in a hospital setting (where the vast majority of births are medicated in one form or another). As labor dragged on and continued to intensify, I squeezed my husbands hand with every contraction to keep him up with me. I was in the tub, mostly, with him laying on the floor next to it. All of my energy was focused internally. I could not speak my needs to my husband, and he had no way of knowing what they were, even had he not been exhausted as he was.
Finally I just decided I did not know how much more intense this pain could get. I did not know how much longer it is going to last. I wished someone could have just told me, “you only have to do this for another hour, and then baby will be here.” But again in the moment, I did not even know what I wanted to hear. And I knew no one could tell me how long it would be or how intense it could get. So I bailed on the birth plan. I asked for the epidural.
It was a busy night in the hospital and it took what felt like forever for the anesthesiologist to show up. I have a terrible fear of needles so in my planning phases, I had been more nervous about the epidural than the birthing pain. But with pain that intense, I do not even remember the pain of the needle, if I felt it at all. Another forever stretch of time before it finally kicked in. And then the pain went back down to zero. I could not feel my entire lower half or any contractions whatsoever. They checked my progress again and I was already at 8 centimeters so I thought it would not be much longer.
Labor slowed way down. My husband finally got to sleep. They told me to sleep to, if I could, but the adrenaline was still pumping through my veins, along with the drugs I had just accepted.
At some point, my water finally did break. I regretted not asking for a “walking” (or lesser) epidural so I could at least feel something. I had no idea when to push. Finally the nurse told my I could start pushing and we went off my contractions on the monitor. I felt like I was not making progress at all because I could not really feel what I was doing. After an hour of this ineffective pushing, the epidural wore off. Apparently when you start pushing, they turn it off but no one really tells you that. So now I was exhausted, and suddenly all the pain was back times 100. And I still had to finish with the pushing business.
It was another hour of pushing before he finally came out. And when he did, he had one arm above his head, which is why he was stuck in the same place for so long. Of course he did because thats how he always was in my late-pregnancy ultrasounds.
I vividly remember them putting me on my chest right after he came out. I had kept my expectations about our first meeting really low because I had heard newborns are squishy and not very cute when they first come out. Also I had heard that it is a myth that all women fall in love with their babies at first sight. But for me, it was heart-bursting love at first sight. He just stared at me with his stoic, wide, grey-blue eyes so intensely. Like he had been waiting for forever to meet me. I had certainly been waiting my whole life to meet him. In that moment, I thought he could not be more perfect.
We were able to breastfeed shortly thereafter and had lots of skin to skin time, daddy time, and meeting family time.
Even to this day, I think about what I could have done differently. I could have hired a doula. I could have gone to a midwife. I could have had my baby at home or in a birthing center. I could have rode out that pain longer or asked for more help. But even with all those regrets, I AM so grateful for the birth I had. He was still born the natural way, just with a little help. We still got to breastfeed and be skin to skin. My husband was right there with me the whole time and our families waited for him to arrive in the hospital too. He was perfectly healthy on his birth stats and got to stay with us during our initial recovery.
My tiny little man later did develop jaundice and had to do photo light therapy, which was so hard because he had to then be in the nursery and not with us and we had to leave him in the hospital for a few extra days after I was released. Seeing him in that little clear plastic box with a tiny UV eye shade crushed me. Honestly, that was harder than the birth. I sobbed uncontrollably the whole way home from the hospital with no baby in the back. But I know we are so blessed to have a healthy baby boy. And I know so many families have had much harder experiences than ours. So I do not want to dwell too much on that part. It was a beautiful birth and the best part is, now we get to watch our little man grow and change and become someone for the rest of our lives.