Wednesday, September 27th, 2017
I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I can’t think of anything else I’ve ever been more sure of.
When I found out I was pregnant on March 31st, 2016, I immediately began dreaming. Dreaming of what my pregnancy would be like (would I be sick?! Would my belly get huge?! Would lots of strangers touch me in the grocery store?!). Dreaming of what the birth would be like (would it be after my due date? Would it be long or short? Would I get to have the water birth I was hoping for?). Dreaming of what being a parent to this tiny person would be like (will breastfeeding go well? Will his first word be Mama? Will I cry the first time he gets a split lip learning to crawl? The answer to that one is yes. I definitely cried.). So many thoughts racing through my mind and all of them came from a place of a different kind of love I’d never felt before.
My pregnancy was fantastic. I wasn’t sick at all, I could still work and exercise, I loved having a big (BIG) belly, and I loved daydreaming about the birth. I wasn’t afraid or nervous, I felt calm and confident. I hired a doula, Morgan, and a birth photographer, Christi (both of whom just happen to be two of my very best friends) and my amazing husband, Joseph, who was probably the most enthusiastic and supportive birth partner a person could have. An absolute dream team that would be by my side. Together we all planned for an unmedicated birth at an out of hospital birth center, Baby + Company, in Cary, NC.
Joseph and I decided we wanted an unmedicated birth before we conceived; I completed my doula training and was SOLD. I was going to let that beautiful cocktail of hormones work together with my muscles to bring baby down, I was going to stay upright and allow gravity to help me, I was going to move freely and utilize the tub and birth ball, I was going to eat and drink as I felt I needed to keep up my energy, and of course I was counting on everything going according to plan because… well, I planned it! Even though I knew that, of course, birth is totally unpredictable and flexibility is crucial. Not being attached to any outcome but the safety and health (mental, physical, emotional) of mother and baby. I was going to learn how important this was.
38 weeks, 4 days pregnant I’m woken at 2:15am to some fluid trickling down my leg. “CRAP I’m peeing myself, how embarrassing!” I thought as I walked to the bathroom. Then the rest of my water broke on the bathroom floor. The doula in me knew that I should let Joseph keep sleeping and I should go back to sleep myself as I wasn’t having any contractions, and it’s wise to get as much rest as possible in early labor to have energy for what’s to come. Of course, as many first time moms would do, I did the EXACT opposite and wake Joseph and ask him to come evaluate this puddle for me because I have to be sure it’s not pee before I call the midwife.
I called the midwife on call and she was the only midwife I’d never met in the practice. I nervously stuttered for a minute and then finally blurted “uhhhhhh MY WATER BROKE AND THE PAPER SAID TO CALL YOU.” Smooth. She asked me a few questions and then told me to try to go back to sleep because I’d have some hard work to do the next day! Joseph and I tried to go back to sleep but our nerves and excitement got the best of us so after a couple hours of staring at the ceiling we turned on The Office and snuggled and talked about how crazy it was that we’d be meeting our baby soon.
No contractions started all night, and the next morning the midwife called to check on me and said that she wanted me resting but doing some light walking and that she’d call around noon to check in. All morning: no contractions. We got the rest of our things packed in our birth bag and let our birth team know what was going on. Around noon the midwife called and recommended that if no contractions had begun at 2pm I drink a castor oil cocktail in a glass of orange juice (definitely can’t drink orange juice ever again after that) to try to get things moving since it’d been 12 hours since my water broke.
The castor oil got some things moving (spoiler alert: castor oil makes you poop, y’all) and I started having some very mild contractions that felt like period cramps. By now Morgan and Christi were at our house and Christi was taking pictures while Morgan baked a birthday cake for Beckham (how cute is she?!). By about 4pm the midwife wanted us to come to the birth center to be checked.
When I got to the birth center I was 3 centimeters. Not too shabby! I was happy with that since I hadn’t really had many contractions and I felt like it was a little head start before labor really got started. She hooked me up to the breast pump to bring on more contractions, 30 minutes on, 3o minutes off. During our time off the pump Morgan suggested we play Simon Says and we did squats, lunges, jogging in place, and dancing. With our Birth Playlist playing in the background, some of my favorite people around me, in the gorgeous birth center, I felt so ready to do this.
About three hours later I was dilated to 5cm, contractions were finally regular and coming a couple minutes a part lasting at least a minute long. The contractions were strong, but I didn’t feel discouraged. My team was phenomenal at helping me stay focused and positive! Morgan suggested different positions to try and Joseph and I were so connected during this time. He was right there during every contraction; rubbing my back, holding me steady, telling me how much he loved me and how great I was doing (so dreamy). We used the shower and let the warm water run over my belly during contractions and that helped me relax and felt wonderful.
I decided to get in the tub to try to relax more as the contractions were getting very strong and I was tired (this was around 2am, 24 hours after my water broke). While I was in the tub I started to feel pressure like I needed to bear down, but when the midwife checked me I was only dilated to 8cm. For the first time during the labor I thought “uh oh… this isn’t good.” I knew that pushing before complete dilation can lead to cervical tears and swelling, which can both lead to a cesarean.
At this point I was only having about a 30 second break between contractions, and the ONLY way I was able to avoid pushing was if Morgan was in my face breathing with me and making eye contact with me. I couldn’t have done it without her. Try telling a woman who feels the urge to push NOT to push and it’s like telling someone not to sneeze or not to vomit. It’s such an involuntary sensation it was so challenging to avoid pushing.
We did this for about four hours. We tried different positions but they didn’t help.The midwife told us that I was still at an 8 but my cervix was starting to swell a bit, and it looked like only part of my cervix was dilating so it seemed like baby wasn’t in an optimal position. I particularly hated lying on my side, but a new nurse arrived (I LOVED her; she was incredibly sweet and held my hand and encouraged me) and asked me to lay on my side for a while with a peanut ball between my knees to help baby turn. I started getting emotional and saying I couldn’t continue like this. The urge to push was so great that I didn’t even care about the intensity of the contractions, I just needed the urge to push to go away. I started to feel afraid of tearing my cervix and I felt like what we were trying wasn’t working since every time she checked me I was still 8cm.
At about 6am I started to develop a fever so they gave me an IV so I could receive some fluids and that’s when we began discussing transferring to the hospital. The midwife told me that she suspected that, due to baby’s less than optimal position, I was having regular, strong contractions, but they weren’t effective enough to dilate me anymore and my cervix was still swelling. She told me that she thought I would need some pitocin at the hospital if I still had hopes of a vaginal birth.
I felt disappointed but not defeated. I felt like we had tried EVERYTHING the birth center had to offer and now it was time to utilize other options. Of course, I let myself be sad for a few minutes because I wouldn’t get the dreamy water birth at the birth center that I had visualized and prayed for for the entire pregnancy, and I knew that things weren’t looking great (fever, swelling cervix, poorly positioned baby, urge to push before complete dilation… yikes).
It was about 8am. Joseph and I didn’t say much in the car on the way to the hospital, but thank God it was only about a five minute drive because I couldn’t cope with contractions in the car. At this point contractions were pretty much back to back and I had to vocalize LOUDLY and breathe with Morgan’s help to fight against the urge to push. The check-in guys in the hospital lobby looked super uncomfortable which made us chuckle later looking back on it.
We got settled into a room and our midwife from the birth center just sort of dropped us off and then left. I haven’t said too much about her because I didn’t feel like we meshed very well, but I will say that I loved our new midwife, Margaret. She was previously a midwife at our birth center so I recognized her immediately as she was the one who led our tour of the birth center and helped us make our decision to (try to) deliver there. Seeing her face gave me new energy and a sense of hope. She checked me and I had gone BACKWARD to 7cm. She read through my chart and said “okay. You’ve been through A LOT so far. You’ve been trying not to push for how long now..?! I don’t normally suggest that an epidural will help a persons’ labor, but for you I really think an epidural will help you. You’ve been up for about 30 hours now and you need to rest, and the epidural will take away that urge to push.” I enthusiastically agreed with her and she put the order in. I had a moment where I looked at my birth team who had labored with me for so long and supported me in my desire for a natural birth and I got so upset thinking that I had let them down. All of them told me how silly that was and that I needed to rest so that labor could progress and I could meet my baby!
After I got the epidural Joseph and I were able to nap for about two hours (it was glorious). They started pitocin pretty soon after I got the epidural and very soon after I was feeling this painful pressure in my butt, which never went away.
At about 3pm I called my mom to fill her in and she told me that she and my dad were actually at the hospital (my dad is a surgical PA and had a case at the same hospital that day) so I invited them up for a short visit.
Things started picking up again and I kept hitting the button for more pain medication from my epidural but it wasn’t touching the painful rectal pressure AT ALL. Margaret checked me and I was at 9cm with an anterior lip. She upped my pitocin again and told me that if we didn’t see changes soon it may be time to discuss a cesarean since my water had been broken for a day and a half, I still had a fever, and you need a fully dilated cervix to be able to push out a baby. I understood, and felt at peace because I knew we were trying everything we could, and if he was supposed to be born via cesarean, I’d do what was needed to get him here safely.
At about 5pm the contractions felt different to me and I felt the urge to push again. I thought “oh noooo, it’s happening again!!” and started to feel panicked. But when Margaret checked me again I only had a small lip on my cervix that she was able to push out of the way and I was fully dilated! It was time to push!
I pushed for about an hour. Margaret was so encouraging to me and told me to reach down and feel his head. He had hair! (Which is hilarious to me because now he’s 10 months old and is pretty bald). We were making great progress but Margaret told me that baby’s heartbeat wasn’t doing well. It was very slow, especially during contractions, and he wasn’t recovering well in between contractions. She had her supervising OB standing behind her and she kept suggesting an episiotomy. I did NOT want an episiotomy; I had written specifically on my birth preferences list that I would like to avoid one if at all possible. I know that natural tears heal better than an incision, that sometimes after they cut an episiotomy you can tear WORSE, that if I tore on my own I had a chance of it being very minor whereas with an episiotomy it was automatically a second degree laceration because they cut through skin, tissue, and muscle. NO THANKS. That was the first moment in the entire labor that I felt afraid and out of control; I felt like I was supposed to have more strength to advocate for myself and ask questions but I was so exhausted the words just didn’t come. All I could manage was looking at Joseph with tears in my eyes saying “but I don’t want them to cut me.” Joseph reassured me that we were in great hands and that they would help us get baby out safely, and if an episiotomy was necessary that I would be okay. Margaret gave me a few more contractions before discussing that option with me. She finally told me that we really needed to get this baby out since his heartrate would almost disappear during each push, and so she gave me a small episiotomy. With the next push his head was out, and all of a sudden our nurse, Heather, hopped on top of my shoulder and pushed on my belly HARD and they pulled Beckham out. They had a short moment where he felt stuck, so they acted quickly in case he had a more severe case of shoulder distocia. Thankfully it was very mild and he came right out! His cord was wrapped around his neck and he came out looking a little floppy.
Thankfully, as soon as they laid him on my belly he coughed and started crying and turning pink. They whisked him off to the bassinet where they’d check him out, and I was so shocked it was over and our baby was finally here that Joseph and I just cried together for a couple minutes. Then I snapped out of it and said “go with him!!” so Morgan stood by me and told me what they were doing and how beautiful Beckham was. I still feel guilty because I responded “well, I wouldn’t know because I can’t see him!” (oops, sorry Morgan xoxoxo) Looking back on this part, I feel very frustrated that, even though Beckham was breathing well and was perfectly fine, they did all of his newborn assessments before handing him back to me. Next time I’ll be asking for my baby right away.
When they handed him to me time stood still. I finally got to look into his eyes, count his fingers and toes, kiss his (chunky) cheeks, and breastfeed for the first time. It was absolutely incredible; one of the most profound moments of my life! And I was SHOCKED that he looked like me!
He weighed 8lbs 14oz and was 21 inches long. He had light brown, fuzzy hair, and nursed like we’d been doing it forever. I immediately felt a bond with him and I would do it ALL over again for him. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to us and I’m so very grateful to be his mother!
I think it’d be easy to focus on all of the things that didn’t go the way we were hoping. Because literally nothing went the way we were hoping. I did take some time at about 6 months postpartum to process through some sad feelings about his birth, but I’m not dwelling on those things. His birth unfolded exactly the way it was supposed to, all of us are healthy, and Joseph and I made it through that experience stronger people than we were before. I know more now about the reality that birth is unpredictable. So much of it is out of our control. But we made it through. I had my unwavering birth team: Joseph who never left my side and never stopped believing in me and supporting me, Morgan who gave me tips, tricks, positions, words of encouragement, held my hand, squeezed my hips, made sure I stayed hydrated, helped me breathe, and was a crucial part of my team, and Christi who was a calm, quiet presence and captured the most significant day(s) of my life. Not to mention Margaret who advocated for us to her supervising OB and believed that my body could birth my baby vaginally and gave me way more time that anyone else probably would have, and Heather, our sweet nurse at the hospital who was the bomb and gave me jello AND a popsicle (the way to my heart is food).
40 hours from when my water broke, Beckham Grey Jarmon was born. I’ll never forget his birth and each day gets better with him! I’m so grateful I get to be his mom.