“To let the circumstances dictate one’s state of mind is human; to let the mind dictate the circumstance is sage.”
I had planned to have a natural child-birth. I had read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I listened to hypnobirth cds. I practiced yoga regularly. Although I had chosen to have an ObGyn and hospital birth, I had hired a doula and had made sure that my doctor and I were on the same page. I had been to workshops about how birth and pregnancy affects the baby on a psycho emotional level. I had become clear as to what I believed to be good and bad with all things surrounding birth.
C-sections: bad (unless an emergency).
Epidural: bad (unless having c-section).
Forceps/vacuums: bad (unless baby at risk of dying).
The list went on. I knew that my high stress grad school program wasn’t ideal for the baby, but I had put that in the neutral category – because it was just what I felt I had to do. I tried to compensate for the stress by getting weekly massages and attending prenatal yoga classes. But honestly I spent a good portion of my pregnancy stressed out. This pregnancy wasn’t planned. The baby’s father and I had agreed to him returning to his cycling travels in South America for my summer semester, and returning 6 weeks before the due date. So I spent a lot of time alone. All the unknowns were overwhelming for me. Until you’re pregnant it’s impossible to fully understand all the things that could go wrong. When you add up pregnancy/birth fears, grad school work load, relationship stuff and strong judgements about how things should go…you’ve got a nervous Nancy.
What is that saying? ‘Man plans, God laughs…’ Yep, that sounds about right.
Fast forward past my due date, to a few days before I’m scheduled for induction. It’s Friday 3 am. I wake up to strong Braxton hicks contractions…or what actually were real contractions. I took a hot bath, which normally relaxed me enough to go back to bed…that didn’t work. I then crawled back into bed and woke up my partner to tell him I thought I was in labor. I remember him asking me with a slight tinge of panic in his voice, “What am I supposed to do?” I honestly didn’t know either. So we just waited until it was a decent enough hour to call my doula. The plan was that I would labor as long as possible at home, before going to the hospital. That would decrease my chances of having any interference with a drug free natural childbirth. We called the doula around 6 am. She said go back to sleep and just relax. I thought she might be crazy. How are you supposed to relax enough to go to sleep?! I did eventually drift off for an hour.
8 am is when the real deal started. My partner was instructed by my doula to time my contractions and to time the space between them. He took this job very seriously. At times, I felt as if I was training for a competition and the we were working together to try to get these contractions to stay longer, so that we could move to the next level. I was grateful for the attention and team spirit in the air. He was an amazing birth partner.
Around noon my doula and my mom came to the house. By this time I was having contractions every 5 minutes, for about 30-60 seconds each. My mom brought snacks, drinks and soup. I couldn’t imagine eating, so just drank coconut water and ate chocolate honey treats. I was starting to get tired. I had only had about 4 hours of sleep and hadn’t really eaten.
By the afternoon things started to get a little blurry. I was having contractions lasting 90 seconds every 5 minutes. I was only able to get through a contraction by wrapping my arms around my partner’s neck and dropping all of my weight out to my lower body. They are not joking when they say a contraction is like a wave. You can feel it coming and then it peaks and then it slowly fades. I had back labor as well, so it kinda felt like awful toothache in my lower back mixed with nails on a chalkboard. But….I was doing it…with the help of everyone else. Sometime around 8pm, my mom (who used to be a labor and delivery nurse) checked to see how dilated I was 4 cm. After 12 hours of active labor in the safety of my own home, I had only dilated 4 cm – 10cm is the point where the baby is pushed out. Honestly, that’s when I began to feel a little over my head.
In the hospital
After that I said I wanted to go to the hospital. I felt as if the past 12 hours was spent on one of those exercise wheels for mice. I didn’t feel as if I had made any progress. Once at the hospital, I labored for another couple of hours in my private room , again with very little progress. Finally, after much deliberation, I decided to get the intravenous narcotic. I justified my decision in that it would wear off before I was to give birth, and it would help relax me a bit in order to dilate quicker.
Well, it did work in dilating me – but did nothing for my pain. It took away the worry lines on my face but I still felt every contraction with the same intensity. Once that wore off, I felt panicked. I was still only 6 cm dilated. It was somewhere around midnight. I had been in active labor for 16 hrs. I hadn’t eaten or really slept. I was exhausted.
Sometime around 2 a.m. on Saturday, I decided I wanted the epidural. It wasnt’ so much that I wanted the epidural, but I was just tired of feeling this intense raw nerve pain. I wanted to relax for a moment. Being educated in its possible adverse effects, I felt intense guilt around my decision to have an epidural. I felt I had failed the baby, myself, and those who had supported me up until this point. I believed that epidurals were ‘bad’, so in my choice to have one, it felt like I had gone to the dark side, with all the feeble people who just can’t hack it… I kept apologizing to my partner. Luckily, everyone could see my internal struggle and was supportive. My doula pointed out that I was grasping for external validation and that this was my birth…no rights or wrongs. I still felt a tinge of guilt.
So – I had the epidural and it didn’t hurt at all. As I had come to realize, being poked and prodded by needles is nothing compared to strong back labor. It was such a relief. Finally, I was able to relax my body… I felt happy in my decision until about an hour later, when I realized I was paralyzed from the chest down. I kept telling the nurses that something was wrong, but they assured me there wasn’t. I laid in my hospital bed unable to move, without any sensation from the contractions, and obsessed about whether or not I was going to be a paraplegic the rest of my life.
Yes, this is how evil I am to myself. I obsessed for hours about whether or not this was a choice I would later regret. I didn’t sleep or rest like I was supposed to, so that I would have enough energy to push my baby out. I laid there in a mental panic. Finally, sometime in the early hours, the anesthesiologist returned and she said that she could turn it off to see what would happen. I gladly agreed to this because I was so worried I may never walk again.
It took a couple of hours for the epidural to wear off. A new anesthesiologist came in and told me that he didn’t feel comfortable turning that epidural back on, because it was in the wrong space. He told me I should’ve had feeling and movement in my legs. I felt relieved by his validation. I wasn’t crazy for thinking something was wrong. It wasn’t ‘wrong’ in the sense that I was going to die…it was just too strong. So I was given time to decide whether or not to push drug free or have a second epidural.
It took me about 5 seconds to make that decision once I began to feel the contractions again. I had lost my mental strength the day before and jumping in full force was too much. I chose to have a second epidural. By then my contractions had also become weaker, so I had to have an injection of pitocin soon after.
At about 1 pm on Saturday (34 hours after this all began), I started to push. I had my mom holding one leg, my doula holding another, and my partner holding my head. Pushing is hard. And having an epidural doesn’t take away the pain of the baby coming down the birth canal. I was so exhausted I felt like maybe I wasn’t going to be able to do it. They kept telling me that I was so close. That they could see the baby’s head. I thought they were lying to me! At one point they told me to reach down and touch the baby’s head… it was squishy…I still didn’t believe it was the baby. After an hour of pushing, my baby was born.
I can still remember the feeling of his wet warm body on my chest. Seeing his little face for the first time. In disbelief that this little person had just come out of my body. It was a magical experience. It was the first time I had seen tears come from my partner’s eyes.
Sage McKenzie Gilbert, a healthy baby boy, was born 7 lbs 11 oz and 22in long, on November 10, 2012. He had a funny worble to his cry. He has his papa’s ears and a cute button nose. He is the most beautiful baby and I am totally in love.
I know that every woman has her own unique birth experience. I feel that the stress that I felt leading up to the birth could have been one of the reasons it was so challenging for me… that, and the fact that Sage’s head circumference was in the 90th percentile! But I am grateful for the experience, even with all the suffering attached and despite how different I had anticipated it to be.
Sage’s birth showed me there is no black and white…no good or bad. You can aim for something but rigidity only causes more suffering. I became aware of my self limiting beliefs. I no longer judge a woman in her choice in birth; the way she enters motherhood. It doesn’t make you a better mother if you have a home birth vs. a forceps delivery. You’re not a better mother if you use cloth diapers vs. Pampers. This world is already hard enough for us to create more separation on such matters. Sage’s birth has softened me and I am sure he will continue to be my mirror helping me grow.