Photos by Kelly Contreras (www.mydoulakelly.com)
“I want the epidural!”
I sometimes picture these words still hanging in the air in the delivery room at the hospital. The words I had wanted to say for hours while my labor failed to progress. I had done all the “right things” - I hired an amazing doula, I chose an incredibly supportive nurse midwife team, my husband was ready to be an active participant. I curb walked, ate dates, sat on a ball for hours on end, talked my husband into sex when I was grumpy and a week past my due date (which REALLY set the mood). I even tried castor oil against my better judgment (which I would not recommend). In a lot of ways, my approach to pregnancy and delivery was a summary of my approach to life - try hard and you can manifest an outcome out of sheer willpower. But what I’ve learned through therapy, coaching and recent experiences is that at some point, that’s just not how it works. The birthing process is humbling that way. That’s why every wise provider or support person will tell you to write your birth wishes, not your birth plan.
My little Finn showed up when I wasn’t quite ready for him. I know I’m fortunate - that I didn’t have to do fertility treatments even in my late 30s. But I also felt 10 steps behind my entire pregnancy, as said pregnancy was miserable and prevented me from having energy or motivation. According to my usual approach, I tried hard to overcome. I lifted, I stayed active, I did what I could when I could. But pregnancy always won. I was basically in a fog - what I imagine some people experience with postpartum depression.
Still, I had high hopes for delivery. Ever since going through nursing school and learning about the delivery process from an amazing midwife professor, I have wanted to have an unmedicated birth. I wanted to go through the process as naturally as possible, because I felt this was best for myself (no needles, no numbness, staying active) and my baby. I would never have prescribed this for others though (there are so many beautiful ways to navigate this process) - this was a deeply personal conviction.
I had to pivot. Starting with the baby refusing to acknowledge my many attempts at getting labor started. This should have been a sign of what was coming. When all my attempts failed and I approached 42 weeks, I tried a gentle* induction (balloon and Cytotec) which seemed to help me make slow progress. I had some trouble staying focused on the stacked contractions, but was managing them with nitrous oxide and a TENS unit, as well as the incredible support of my husband and doula. At just shy of 24 hours of labor we decided to get the pool ready for the water birth, and I got in. My water broke. Then things went downhill. If I’m honest with myself, I had been feeling like I wasn’t quite managing for a while. I was becoming more and more panicked. I had trouble calming down. I felt like nothing was helping, nothing was moving. I felt hot and nauseous, and felt like I was failing. If I had listened to my inner voice, I wouldn’t have gotten in that pool. I was wavering in my birth wishes, but hoped I was close enough to the end that I could tough it out. A water birth was the epitome of my birth wishes - and something that most people don’t have as an option. So I felt like I SHOULD do it.
My nausea, fatigue and panic came to a head and I declared I wanted an epidural - which signaled an end to my dreams. My team quickly pivoted without judgment and after what felt like an eternity, I got my epidural, my husband holding me in his arms during the procedure. My labor then slowed down. I had to get Pitocin, as well as more medication because my epidural wasn’t working well enough for me to rest. The progress was painfully slow. I got my epidural at 7cm, and I took many hours to finish dilating. In the meantime I got a fever (and antibiotics), and I had a concerning amount of meconium draining, which made us worry about the baby. There were questions about his position (was he facing the wrong way?) and my tailbone possibly being in the way, and for some reason my cervix was swollen. The baby was still ridiculously high (-2 station!!). We talked seriously about a C-section, and I finally broke down in tears.
Then came shift change. The new midwife had a much sunnier view on things (although she had a hard time convincing me). No, he was in a fine position, I was finally fully dilated with her check and she believed my tailbone wasn’t an issue. C section wasn’t an option for many hours so I might as well try to push. We bargained about when we would call it if it wasn’t working (and I asked for a nap first and they said no), and I decided to try pushing for a short period. I finally felt the urge to push after almost 36 hours and the sun was rising, so why not?
My husband got the playlist of my favorite songs started, I drank some juice, and we began the process to push. We even smiled and laughed. All of a sudden the mood was optimistic and empowered. He was out in just over an hour. It all came together after every twist and turn. After hanging out so high and refusing to descend, he shot out into the world so fast that it even shocked the midwife. I still remember the surprised looks on everyone’s faces when he went from “I see hair” to in the midwife’s hands in what felt like a moment. They handed him to me briefly before taking him to get suctioned (he had lots of thick meconium to remove). After a short delay, he was on my chest, and we got to try to breastfeed. It wasn’t the perfect golden hour, but it was the best we could do given the circumstances. He was tiny and perfect and somehow mine.
At the end of the day, I realize that the process was less under my control than I could have ever imagined. So it is with life. Control is an illusion, and all we can do is appreciate the good and ride the waves as well as we can. And when we let go, we allow ourselves to find unexpected joy in the chaos.
*For those of you considering a balloon induction, it was very unpleasant, and not exactly “gentle”. I declined the fentanyl for the balloon insertion, which (as with many things in my story) I do not recommend
*I CAN enthusiastically recommend having a birth doula. Kelly Contreras was wonderful at every twist and turn, and I can't thank her enough for her support and beautiful photos. (www.mydoulakelly.com)