My first pregnancy was surreal.
Or, at least, what I can recall of it 12 years later. I had already been a nurse for 4 years at the time with a good knowledge base, but I was constantly in awe of the physical and emotional process. I just felt deeply moved by the magic of it all. I followed the blogs and had the apps and read the books. I asked every mom I knew what her experience was like. I even tried to enjoy my numb hips, puffy face and ever changing body, because it was all a sign of the higher purpose. I definitely faced some challenges (including markers for down syndrome at my 20 week ultrasound and a nasty fall down the stairs,) but it was fairly easy for me to keep perspective. I took birthing classes at the hospital I intended to deliver at, but I didn’t feel like they helped, or like I really learned anything. I understood the mechanics of birth, but I had no idea how little I knew about actually coping with it. I also did not realize how much confidence I lacked in myself and my abilities. How difficult it would be to speak up for myself when in pain. It turns out there was a lot I was unprepared for.
My labor began like a movie.
I was reading in bed on the morning of my due date and decided it was time to get ready for the day. When I stood up at 8:30, I heard a tiny pop and my water broke. A huge gush of clear fluid covered my feet and the floor around me. I couldn’t believe it! I was in shock, I was so excited, and instantly terrified. I called my husband and told him that while there was no rush, labor had begun, and he should make his way home from work. I knew I should eat something so I made cream of wheat and downed a soda. Strange I know.. Not exactly a healthy meal, but I needed comfort. I took my time, showering and making sure our bags were packed. I sat in the living room making calls. I asked my mom to come, my best friend, my mother in law, and my bestie cousin who was about 4 hours away. My support team.
I didn’t experience my first contraction until we pulled into the hospital parking lot.
Perfect timing. It felt like a strong menstrual cramp, but everywhere. I thought, okay, I can handle this. Triage was a whirlwind of blood pressures and an IV placement, monitors, cervical checks, and repetitive questions. They told me I was only 1 centimeter dilated, but they sent me to a nice private room. They instructed me to walk… a lot. For many hours, I roamed the hospital halls, the cafeteria, the sidewalks outside. I wasn’t drinking enough, they kept telling me. The intensity of my contractions grew, and I found myself breathing through them and worn out by 1pm. I went back to my room for an ongoing rotation of the shower, the birth ball, the bed, and far too many visitors. This was the first grandchild for a few extensions of our family and it was apparently a big deal! The part I always remember most clearly is leaning over the hospital bed with a contraction more painful than anything I had yet experienced, with my father reclined on the couch, watching me while he talked to one of his customers on the phone. My grandmother sat emotionless on a chair. My husband paced, my friends cheered me on, my mother was a ball of nerves. My mother in law tried to offer logical words. The nurses came and went. I worried about my other grandmother, who I feared was fretting in the hall. I felt so grateful for the support, but it began to take a toll.
The hours passed and I was not permitted to eat.
I had a much harder time tolerating the contractions. They were coming every 4 minutes for what felt like forever. It was now 9:00pm and I’d been in labor for over 12 hours. They finally agreed to check my cervix again… still 1 centimeter! I could not believe it, and I felt so defeated. They informed me that they would be starting a Pitocin drip. Within a few minutes, I could feel the contractions strengthening even more and I was beginning to crack. I felt overwhelmed and unprepared. It occurred to me that I did not consent to Pitocin, that I wasn’t given an explanation for things, and that I had no courage to ask. When they offered me an epidural around 11pm, I just quietly nodded, though that had never been the plan. As we all know, births rarely go to plan. The placement of the epidural was uncomfortable, but my contractions hurt so much I didn’t care. After that I was able to sleep for a little while.
Around 1am the nurses woke me for another cervical check and I was fully dilated! The Pitocin helped, but my belief is that the bigger help was my ability to finally relax. I had my body in such constant tension, it’s no wonder I couldn’t progress. I allowed 5 people in the room with me for pushing, which looking back, was not the best idea. I was so concerned with what everyone else was thinking or feeling. I pushed for a few hours, stressed and uncomfortable, and my baby wasn’t descending. His heart rate began to drop and they flipped me over, placed and internal monitor and adjusted the Pitocin. They told me he was asynclitic, or improperly positioned, and they started me on oxygen.
Each time I pushed his heart rate would dip even more.
100, 70, 40. “That’s it” the nurse said. Suddenly everyone was asked to leave the room and they prepped me for surgery. Nurses gave me medicines and new monitors and rushed to get me ready without explanation. The doctor told me simply that my baby was in distress and to prepare myself for the possibility of the worst, but, that hopefully, getting him out quickly would correct the problem. I lost it, crying harder than I had in my entire life. A nurse handed me my quartz crystal that I had brought in with me, and it provided a little peace. I was able to say a quick goodbye to everyone, and I had this deep fear in my soul that maybe I really was saying goodbye.
Off to surgery I went, no time to panic any more, laying flat on the table, staring at the bright ceiling with a drape just below my chin to prevent me from seeing what was going on below. I recall my husband finally being allowed to come back in, and telling him that I didn’t think I was breathing. I couldn’t feel it. The anesthesiologist nearby assured me that what I was experiencing was normal, and that I was breathing fine. It only took a few minutes and suddenly I felt this intense pressure in my ribs with a very strong yanking feeling. I was about to yell out in pain, but that quickly, the feeling was gone – and there was this sweet, perfectly pink little boy being held up above the drape for me to see. 7:04am. Hi, my love, my little Jax. He breathed in deep and began crying.
It was the most beautiful, magical, and relieving moment of my life.
I was shaking and crying, thanking everyone in the room, thanking the gods maybe. Just releasing this gratitude to the universe for giving me this boy who I needed. He was brought over to us, wrapped up in a blanket and hat, wide eyed and now calm. He was held next to me, his cheek touching mine. I told him that I was his mom, that I felt so honored to meet him. That I would love him and keep him close forever. I hardly remember what came next, but I assume they stitched me back up and rolled me to a recovery room. My blood pressure was low, so I had to stay in recovery for longer than planned. But eventually I was wheeled to my postpartum room where I would stay until we left three days later on Easter Sunday.
I cannot believe that my support team of loved ones stayed for the whole ordeal, but they did. They slept on the floor in the chapel and in chairs by my bed. I am immensely lucky to have had them, even if it felt overwhelming at times, because I dealt with a lot in those few days, as well as over the next few weeks. A lot of swelling and pain, depression mixed with bliss, anxiety wrapped up in overflowing love, adjusting to nursing and missed sleep and changed routines. Taking stock of this new responsibility I had and how important it felt to me. It was comforting each time I sat up nursing at 3am and remembered how many other parents were doing the same thing at the same time. The mental health issues I faced in that time period are likely worth another blog post down the road. It was so dark and also the closest I have ever felt to enlightenment. I cannot quickly define it any better than that.
A few years later I had my second sweet boy and began working in home birth.
Assisting with deliveries for all kinds of families alongside lovely midwives, teaching private childbirth and breastfeeding classes in a way that felt personal in comparison to those I had received at the hospital. I spent years listening to moms and pouring over textbooks, learning everything I could. My favorite part now is holding the hands of so many struggling mothers, be it during labor or the part that comes after, seeing my former (and current) self in their eyes. Connecting with them over this bond we never knew we would have, and helping them find their strength inside. Helping them to restore any lost faith in themselves. Guiding them to the hardest, most beautiful place in life.. Being a mom. I look back on Jax’s story and realize that it was the most life altering event, affecting my personal and professional life forever. So here I sit, much more confident, still deeply moved by the magic of it all. Working with WomanKind Midwifery on this journey to care for women at their most magnificent juncture in life. Humbled by the experience of raising this beautiful 12 year old boy and his equally beautiful brother, both of whom I fought so hard for.