Birth is a beautiful thing – our bodies work for months on creating a life, and once the baby is ready to be born, our body knows exactly what to do. The process is difficult, long, and painful, and varies for each individual woman. But a woman’s birth experience, I believe, frames how the baby is brought into this world, and will always be a part of the mother’s personal history, as it is her ultimate journey into motherhood. For that reason, it’s always interesting to know how a woman puts herself into that equation – some want an active role, while others prefer to let their body work pain-free. Some maintain full control, while others give in and let the baby lead the way. Once we experience this intense life event, we are forever changed. But in the end, the birth of a baby is all that really matters.
Having just celebrated 2 years since the birth to my son, and 2 weeks since the birth of my daughter, and as someone who has always loved birth stories, it seems like the appropriate moment to reflect on my own. I had two vastly different experiences – something I only partly anticipated. After my son was born, I relived that night several times – in part to process the whole experience, and in part to tell the story to other interested parties. To this day, it is a night I remember quite well, and when comparing to it the birth of my daughter, one thing has rung quite true: one was the birth that I wanted, while the other was ultimately the birth that I needed. Both are valid, both are a part of my history, and each had the same perfect outcome – a happy and healthy baby. Here is my story – both rolled into one. While they are completely different, they somehow compliment each other, and each hold a powerful place in my heart. I don’t think I could have had one without the other, and for that reason, I’m grateful.
I brought my son into this world with a lot of preparation, focus and determination. My husband and I spent months in an amazing childbirth class, focused on natural birth, and when the time came we found a wonderful doula to help us through the journey. We felt completely ready for whatever this experience would bring, and I brought to it my firm belief that both my mind and my body are blessedly able – this is what I was born to do.
When my labor didn’t start as expected, we experienced our first (and fortunately only) moment of unexpected disruption. Due to a small leak (but not a full water break), with no consistent contractions, my doctor suggested pitocin to get things moving. Needless to say, after all we had learned of pitocin, its negative effects, and the very intense contractions it induces, I was terrified. However, for the safety of my baby, I needed to let go of all preconceived ideas and plans, and simply go with it. I did not for one moment let this hinder my focus and determination. If there was one big takeaway from our birth class it was that with all the planning that can go into birth, the most important thing is to simply let go. I knew there was only so much I could control at this point, but my outlook and my drive still stood for something. So with the help of my amazing doctor and incredible support team, I took on the challenge. There were moments of levity, moments of intense focus, and moments my husband compares me to a caged wild animal – roaming and moaning and moving with complete abandon – anything to get me from one contraction to the next. And finally a moment of pure, unadulterated happiness and laughter when the nurse told me I was 10 cm, almost ready to push (and I was expecting to be only 6). Don’t let that laughter part fool you – this was by far the most difficult thing I had done to date. I guess I just have killer coping skills. While the whole experience was extremely difficult – I never once doubted my strength or ability in that situation. And, most importantly, I never ever suffered – I simply did every ounce of hard work necessary to achieve what I set out to do, and bring life into the world in the very way I had hoped.
After 15 hours of true labor, my beautiful son was born, healthy and perfect, without any further intervention. I had at that point accomplished something considered by many to be so unlikely, that it even inspired my experienced doula to write a thing or two about my completely natural (pitocin induced) labor.
When it came time to plan for my daughter’s birth exactly 2 years later, I carried with me much of the same determination and focus. As it were, my son’s birth WAS, by all accounts the birth that I wanted. My husband will always roll his eyes whenever I tell people the birth went well – because he saw it through his eyes (things he will surely never un-see). But in my mind – it was uncomplicated, baby was happy and healthy, and it was exactly what I wanted. Considering few births could be described as “a walk in the park”, I consider this a win. That said, it did bring with it what I can only refer to as some trauma. However, I do think birth, no matter how you spin it, is in some way always a traumatic experience. It could be the most incredible orgasmic birth in the world, but your body goes through such a great transformation that I believe there is a lot to process and understand after experiencing the intensity of childbirth for the first time – especially with no drugs involved. This “trauma” is not necessarily bad, but it’s something you will always carry with you and something cannot un-know. So back to baby #2…
I knew in my gut that I could and wanted to do this again. I could only hope that things would progress differently, more naturally this time, and that the use of pitocin would never come into play. Matt and I opted to go this alone, without the aid of a doula, but we still carried with us everything we learned from the classes we took and the wisdom our doula gave us during our last go round.
We were also going into this with the following understandings:
- Second births are usually shorter than firsts. This was said by my doctor, friends, online resources and books, alike. This is essentially a universal truth.
- I’ve done this before, I can do this again.
- Once again, this is what my body is built for – I am strong and completely able. We know what to expect, and we know how to deal with anything thrown our way.
It was also comforting to know that, even though there would be no doula present this time, we were at the same hospital and had the same doctor, who we both trusted 100% and knew we had her 100% trust and support, as well. By no means did we expect this to be a breeze, but we were completely geared up to take it on with as much a smile and a laugh as possible, considering the circumstances.
The thing we also knew going in, however, was that every birth story is different. Just as every child is different, the way he or she chooses to come into this world can have little to do with which number child he/she is. And so the story begins…
When I woke up on Tuesday July 4th (my exact due date) with consistent and trackable contractions from 9am forward, I was elated. As this was not my experience with the first, I was so thrilled that the spontaneity of labor was successful with the onset of the second. Our plan, as it was with the first, was to labor at home as long as possible. Assuming no further intervention was necessary, and no water breakage, there was no reason, according to us or to my doctor, that this couldn’t happen. So it did. We stayed home with our son all day on this beautiful holiday and went about our beautiful holiday activities. The whole time, my contractions grew longer, stronger and closer together. I maintained my focus, but allowed myself to be present with my family as much as possible, as I sensed this great change was well on its way. I looked at my son through different eyes that day – he was soon to be a big brother and he had no idea! He would likely wake up the next morning assuming a new life-long role. While this was obviously something for which we had been prepping both him and ourselves for some time, the imminence of the moment made these emotions that much more potent. (Well, that and my raging hormones). Throughout the day, each time he called “mama” or wanted me to play, I did everything in my power to be there at his request. Until I simply couldn’t. There was a point when rest and breathing had to take over, and my ability to be a mom was put on hold. Fortunately, Daddy was there to take over all parental duties, and eventually he went along with Nana to the family Independence Day party so that we could continue on our merry laboring way.
It was about 5:30pm when we decided to head to the hospital. Things seemed to be happening quickly enough that we thought it best to stay ahead of the progress, especially on this heavy traffic holiday. We arrived to the hospital and got all checked in by 6:30pm – and we and all the nurses were pumped to have a Firework Baby! When they did their initial check upon my arrival, I was measured at 4, almost 5cm, 80% effaced, and baby was at -2 station. Overall, not as far as I would have liked to be already in the hospital, but still decent stats to feel like I was off to a good start. As I was planning a natural birth, as long as the baby was doing well and I was handling it, there was no need for frequent checks. Checks were actually something I put off as much as possible to avoid messing up my mental state. But again, 2nd baby = faster delivery, right? So I was just riding the train at this point, and ready for as long or short a night as was ahead of us.
Well, midnight came and went. Our room was dark, fireworks randomly exploding around us, our playlist was on its second or third loop, and Matt was in and out of snores while I simply labored along – breathing, moaning, moving as best I could to keep things progressing. About every hour (or so), I felt a shift in my body. Either contractions amped up, or I would feel a particular movement inside that kept me charged that the end was growing closer. So when the 4th became the 5th and still no baby, I can’t say I wasn’t surprised, but I didn’t let it get me down – I was still on my feet and as determined and focused as ever. When the next check came at 1am, I was ready. I set myself up for disappointment, but was hoping for a better outcome (just like the first time around). Unfortunately, my setup was important; I was only at 6cm, still 80%, still -2. So on we go. We continue through the night and well into the morning.
When my doctor finally came in around 11 am that morning, that’s when the day began to take on a new tone. I was still going, still moving, still working through each contraction, and still maintaining the “just one more” mentality as best I could (though this was tested each time, as my contractions were long, close and very painful by this point). These contractions were noticeably more intense than anything I had experienced on pitocin, and while I felt progress, I was also quite exhausted. This had now been over 24 hours of consistent contractions – no rest, no baby, and not much progress.
When my doctor checked me at 7cm close to 8, this broke me. The uncontrollable tears just started flowing. Only 3-4 cm progress in over 24 hours – I felt so deflated, I felt so tired, and I felt so frustrated. This was vastly different from what I had expected – and vastly different from anything I had experienced before. Yet, I was still determined and still committed. That’s when her pep talk became my single motivator.
“This is what you want, and you can do it – you are doing it” she said. “What you’re doing is completely natural, and it’s hard work – that’s why it’s called labor. But you’re in such control, and you’re doing a great job. You’ve come a long way – it’s completely understandable to be disappointed and frustrated, but you need to get that out of your system, let it flow, and then refocus to continue forward.”
She said, “this is just how your body labors – and everybody is different. But you CAN do it.”
Baby was still too high for her to break my water. She said while it would likely move quickly, the intensity of the contractions would become so great she didn’t want to put me over the edge. My new goal: work for a couple more hours to move baby down to a lower point and have her break my water. At this point, my yearning to meet my baby was beginning to outweigh the way in which I finished my labor – but I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. 4 more hours passed, and I was still crying – those tears had NEVER stopped.
At this point, the tears became my fuel, and they represented everything. The disappointment and frustration, the pain, the exhaustion, and even the joy of meeting my baby girl. At one clear moment, I felt her shift downward and suddenly I was happy. Those tears became my light at the end of the tunnel and recommitted me to continue through the motions of each excruciating contraction. I did this as best I could — until I simply couldn’t do it any more. My doctor had not yet been back, and I was, quite honestly, suffering. I asked the nurse to check me – I knew I couldn’t wait any longer, and I had to know if I was getting closer. She checked me at a solid 8cm. The disappointment had already come and gone, so this is what I was expecting at this point. An epidural was the only option I saw. Before my last and final check, I made a deal with myself: still at 8cm – epidural, 10 or close to – I could stick it out. Once she checked me at 8, I still had to take a moment to consider my options. But as soon as that next contraction hit, I knew I had to take a different path. Again, at this point ALL I wanted was to meet my baby girl.
Within an hour, the anesthesiologist was in the room and prepping. I was terrified, but also curious about how this could change my process. I was terrified of a needle in my back, terrified of an even longer labor, terrified it would not work and/or lead to complications, terrified of being tied to the bed. But at this point, I’d have a long labor either in pain or not… and I simply couldn’t suffer any more. The difference was, I never felt as though I suffered during my first labor. This was something wildly different that had taken over my body. And the moment the epidural hit, I knew I was in better hands.
Within minutes of it setting in, my water broke. Something I had been waiting on for so many hours, but my body simply needed a moment of pure relaxation. And almost immediately the urge to push started to grow. We were now in business. Within 2 hours, I was pushing and my perfectly beautiful and healthy baby was born at 6:35 the evening of July 5th – after 36 hours of true, constant labor.
I know there are many people (including myself in my first labor) that would have been disappointed with “succumbing” to an epidural after persevering for so long. But I never felt this way one bit. I made it so far, and was so strong – I pushed my body to it’s absolute limits because it’s something I knew I could do. And I did it as long as I physically and mentally could. I was in control the entire time, my baby was healthy and happy, and the decision to receive the drugs was 100% mine, and mine alone. It was the best decision for that moment, and what I needed became exactly what I wanted – it brought me to meet my baby which was the ONLY thing that mattered to me anymore.
Birth is not something you need to suffer through. It is something to experience. It’s a transformative time for your body, mind and soul – and it’s a beautiful moment that produces the most beautiful gift. We all can plan the birth we want to have, but then must be ready for life to happen, and for your baby to decide how he/she wants to come into this world. At the end of the day, sometimes getting what you want means simply getting what you NEED.