If you’re anything like me, you are visiting this page because you typed “birth story” into your search bar, and with a protruding belly and half squeezed shut eyes you are gazing through what may seem like the scariest corner of the internet. The day ahead may seem full of both the joy and anticipation of a child’s Christmas while also shadowed with the ominous gloom that hovers around Doomsday.
You may have read from women who declare this moment as the ultimate feminine experience and others who may have made you feel as though you should crawl under your bed and never come out. I will forewarn you before I go any farther, I am somewhere in the middle.
On certain days, when I see a friend who has a delirious, but dreamy smile propped up in bed with a swaddled baby donning that sweet orange little beanie, I actually crave to be back in her shoes. I know, insane, right? I actually miss it. I want to be 9 months pregnant again, waddling, terrified into the delivery room full of scary implements and cruel machines that monitor your pain. All so that I can experience that insane level of excitement, the unfathomable high of presenting the single most beautiful thing you have ever done to the world. I have a bit of a nostalgic streak, it’s true, but I am being completely honest when I say that in a certain far-off way, you may someday miss it too.
But then, there are other moments when I think of me squatting then sitting then standing…then squatting again—basically wriggling in any strange pose possible in hopes that it will diminish the pain. I think of the kind of pain that makes your eyes squeeze shut, the kind of pain that makes you try things like getting in and out of hot water or walking laps and laps around sterile hallways. The kind of pain that makes you completely forget about the effortless braid you had hoped would be in your hair or the natural makeup you had wanted on your face. The kind of pain that makes you forget about the calming music you wanted playing and the dimmed lights you had hoped for. And then I think… maybe a few more years before we give that another go.
Okay, moving away from the scary stuff for a bit, in all honesty, preparing you for labor is a lot like trying to prepare you for the sight of your sweet baby’s face.
I can tell you exactly what mine looked like. I can tell you how my sweet Jayne had the most flushed, pink cheeks, and ruby red little angel-winged lips (like her daddy). How her hair was thick and dark and stuck up in all directions. I can describe the puffiness of her darling cheeks, and the perfect way she fit on my chest, but none of those things are indicative of what your baby will look like. None of those perfectly elaborated features will prepare you for the moment that the doctor will thrust your sticky (slightly icky) child into your arms. (Yes, I will forewarn you that it will be kind of icky, despite the movies, they don’t come out looking fresh from a bath). But, I suppose if you had never seen a baby, and my description of one was the only thing to go off of, it would serve as somewhat of a guide. You would be able to visualize your own baby through my description, knowing that while they may not share the same shade of eyes or hair color, that the similarities may outweigh the differences.
So, with this in mind, know that while my birth story may be different from the one you experience in a hundred different ways, it also might ring with the universal truth that comes from a shared but also absolutely singular experience.
Nearly all of the expectations I had for the terrifying and thrilling event that laid before me were more cut and paste reflections of the birth stories I had read over the internet than anything I could have come up with on my own.
In the months leading up to January 24, the night my daughter was born, I was too frantic to really let my fear sink in. As you may have read, I was busy trying to get my family moved into a habitable home before my stress sent me into preterm labor then to allow the panic of labor to completely sink in. I didn’t have that moment of sitting in a finished nursery with everything “just so” where my fears could corner and pounce on me. But, based on the 50+ blogs I had read pre-pregnancy and in the quieter moments before crunch time, I had a fair idea of what to expect, and I would say it was reasonably realistic.
Based off of the birth stories I had skimmed through, I wanted to go in as open minded as I could, I knew that labor was not something that could be predictable, but I definitely had some preconceived notions that were more firmly planted than I may have realized.
The idea of going drug free became pretty important to me. I imagined how proud I would be of myself if I was able to endure all the pain without intervention, and while most of my reasoning for this was logical, no risk of complications, more flexibility when it came to other ways of pain management, not being tied to the bed, not risking my baby being drowsy when she was born, etc., I think there may have been one reason a bit more tied to my pride than I was willing to admit. I wanted to be able to say I did it MYSELF—that I was strong. That I didn’t need those drugs. I wanted to be able to sail into motherhood knowing that I hadn’t needed to rely or lean on anyone for any help. HA! Epidural or no epidural, I definitely leaned on A LOT of people for help.
In all the things I had read, the photos I had floated through, it all seemed so magical. Like maybe, before you had children, you were timid and uncertain of your strength, but when faced with the nearly impossible, you realized that you were this fierce woman who could and would do anything for your child, including undergoing all the pain and torture of labor, back labor, episiotomies, vacuums, C-Sections, and all the other scary things that can be contained in the birthing room. I knew that facing all of these things made women amazing, no matter if there were drugs or no drugs, BUT I also had it in my head that those who didn’t have drugs maybe got a golden star?
Well, I haven’t talked to every woman who has undergone a natural birth, but as far as I know there are no golden stars included in the deal. They got the same trophy that I did WITH my epidural, a beautiful baby that is all theirs.
With that said, there are certainly aspects of labor that I had seen going a lot more smoothly in my head. For instance, I had seen massages that would calm me down, breathing that would make me feel more in control. I thought there would be hushed music, low lights, and a peaceful room filled with just my husband and me and our midwife. I thought the less people, the less commotion, the more at ease I would feel.
I could practically see my little family’s first photo in my head. In it, I looked…I don’t know. I guess, the kind of pretty I had seen all the other mom’s be moments after expelling their little human. I suppose that’s really all you can do when you have nothing to go off of, substitute your own face in place of someone else’s
Unlike other aspects of my life, labor was not something that I spent a lot of time dreaming about. To be honest, I wanted to spend as little time thinking about it as possible, so I would say of all things motherhood, the shock of things going differently than I thought, in this scenario was not as surprising as some of the others that came afterwards.
With that said, let’s jump ahead to the real story.
January 23rd around 10 AM
The bedsheets were messy and a rounded mold of my ever-expanding body was left in them as evidence that I had indeed crawled into bed the night before, no matter how sleepless and exhausted I felt. Warm steam rose from the shower as pitiful complaints poured out of me. The ache of wanting to see and hold my child was almost as tangible as the ache that coursed through my taut shoulders and swollen legs and feet.
Across the house, a mostly completed nursery lay in wait for the small bundle curled in my belly. The only room in the house that was completely unpacked and put together. The fact that it was complete allowed my nerves to finally settle and permitted a moment of reprieve. Hot breath left my mouth as I began to mentally move on to the next task. I stepped out of the shower, probably voicing my to-do list to my husband when I felt it.
Just as I stepped onto the new, soft carpet reaching for my robe, a slow, but steady, warm trickle began to run down my leg.
“Hm?” he asked walking towards me.
“I think my water just broke. I don’t know.” I rushed by him to reach the toilet, “Yeah. No. Yeah, I think my water just broke. It’s still coming.”
The panic and excitement rose out of me like boiling water, flaring bubbles to the top. Finally! It was time. We slowly rummaged through our things, got dressed, grabbed our bags, fed the dogs and eventually waddled out the door.
Calls were made, texts were sent, and buckled in the backseat, a car seat quietly whispered that it would never be just the two of us again.
We walked into the hospital, and the little old women at their station at the front door looked at me as though I was a ticking bomb, quickly calling the maternity wing to warn them that a very pregnant lady was waddling towards them at a high rate of speed. As we briskly walked the halls, I quietly prayed that my water had really broke and I wouldn’t be announcing to the nursing staff that I had actually just peed myself on my brand new carpet. It had definitely been a steady trickle, but nothing close to the gush that you see on TV.
Please, please, please be my water breaking.
Well, they did a quick test, and HALLELUJAH, I hadn’t peed myself. It was amniotic fluid. WE WERE HAVING OUR BABY. We were shrieking with excitement. Our families would be on their way to the hospital to sit in the waiting room, and within hours we would be staring into the face of the little angel we had been dreaming of all this time.
Except, I wasn’t having big contractions. In fact, I was barely dilated and they announced that they would not be checking my progress regularly due to the risk of infection that could occur because my water had already broken. Super.
It was a waiting game. I was having very mild contractions, and because I didn’t want to be induced, there was nothing that I could do besides walk, squat… and walk some more.
Nothing worked, we spent all day in the hospital. Our family and friends lingering in the hallway watching as I made lap after lap around the halls. Eventually, we told everyone to go home. Today was not the day. I felt so defeated. I was tired and disappointed. My body was supposed to know what to do. I thought my water breaking was a sign that we were halfway there, not lingering in the doorway to spend 12 hours locked in the hospital with nothing but hurricane warnings and the lights flickering as forms of excitement. The nickname, Hurricane Jayne was born but nothing else. Why wasn’t the next step happening naturally?
But as the excitement died, the determination in me flared with life, the realization that she wasn’t coming hit me so hard that I wanted to cry. In retaliation, I bounced on the birthing ball, squatted, lunged, and kept my husband chasing after me as I angrily stomped the hallways, but to no avail.
Eventually, I was laying back in bed pouting when my midwife called. She had been out of town when she got our call, and knowing that it would be a long and probably uneventful day, she hadn’t rushed back, but would be in in the morning to check on me. By this point, I was asking about Pitocin— could we do something to get the ball rolling? Natural, shmatural, I wanted my baby NOW. I didn’t want to go to sleep without having her in my arms.
Sadly, I was informed that they didn’t administer Pitocin at night and I would have to wait until morning when Sally came in, but they offered me a pill that could possibly get things moving. I swallowed it hopefully, but again, nothing happened.
After an extremely uncomfortable night where I was woken up often either by a nurse or alarms or my pinching IV, morning slowly came and I was no more rested than I had been the night before.
January 24th 7 AM:
Pitocin. Menacing, sweet, Pitocin. She took no time making herself at home in my body and simultaneously doing all she could to kick Jayne out. These were contractions. Holy moly. All of the idle, thumb twiddling of yesterday was now filled with the fist clenched pain of today. The pain I had been practically begging for had sucked the air right out of me. My breath was coming quick and jagged, sending me into a panic to get a grasp on it. Walking helped my pain tremendously, but also slowed my progress down. Everything seemed to be a step forward and two steps back.
In the weeks leading up to delivery day, Jayne had been both breech and posterior, and though at my last doctor’s visit, she had corrected herself and was head down and face down, I was informed that she had become posterior (face up) again. My midwife warned that this would make labor harder and more painful, but that I could do it. Just like that, the strong, willful, I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR voice that had been chanting in my head all this time cracked. I could practically hear her voice coming out hoarse and dry, turning into a scared whimper.
I can do this.. I can do this.. can I do this?
Eventually the contractions became close enough that I was moved to the birthing room. The shower was on and I held tightly to my husband’s hand as I walked painfully into the tiny bathroom. I was having urges to push, I didn’t know what that meant, because no one had checked how far I was dilated in hours. I squatted then stood then sat then stood. Nothing I did gave any reprieve. I got into the shower, waiting for that serenity that women had talked about to wash over me. For healing waters to pour down and ease some of my pain, but it didn’t help. The right side of my back and hip bone ached with a foreign pain I couldn’t identify, and I could feel myself crumbling.
My amazing nurses and midwife could see how badly I was struggling and offered kind words, my husband offered understanding and loving eyes, and in that moment I felt defeat. I can’t do this. I need an epidural. I am not one of those mothers that will throw their fist in the air. I am not a mother who can handle this. The wave of disappointment washed over me again, but it was quickly flushed out by the wave of pain caused by another contraction. I was ushered to the bed and while I squeezed hands and prayed that I could hold still, an enormous needle containing all things heavenly was pushed into my back, which allowed me the most graceful gift anyone could have offered—an hour’s sleep.
When I woke up, groggy, but immensely refreshed, I was dilated to 10 cm.
Sally came in with a grin and what I can only assume was her “game face” on. She told me it could be anywhere from minutes to 4 hours, but soon we would have our baby. The news washed over me, and that with the combination of the magical powers of my epidural, I felt euphoric. Let’s do this.
I pushed. And I pushed. And I PUSHED. They could see her hair and the top of her head, but she was stuck under my pelvic bone. Her head was pointed towards my right hip, explaining that foreign pain I mentioned previously, and she was very, very stuck.
But we pushed on, literally.
My active labor began at 5:25 and I pushed for about 3 1/2 hours before Sally looked at me with a sad smile that whispered what I was doing was not going to be enough. My sweet baby’s head was being squeezed out and back up every time I pushed and released. She wasn’t able to make it under my pelvic bone. Tears pricked my eyes, and I looked at Derek. Instantly, I recognized the fear on his face. This had not been part of the plan. None of this had been part of the plan. My body wasn’t doing any of the things I had been told that it would do. It wasn’t capable of the thing that it was supposedly designed to do.
The room quickly started filling up, and the somewhat lighthearted words spoken earlier by Sally to comfort us, now came back to haunt, “No, no. Everything is fine, you’ll know when something is wrong when there are 7 or 8 of us in here and I become really bossy..”. Fear welled up inside me.
As the last resort before a C-Section, I was offered the assistance of a vacuum. A vaccum? A visual of my Kirby sitting at home made me wince and look at my husband again. Disturbed, and extremely nervous, I nodded. In response, a scary tray was brought closer and wary smiles came from unfamiliar faces that lined the room.
I squeezed my eyes shut, and tried not to think about how wrong this all was. I wasn’t in a room with quiet music. The lights were very bright, illuminating what could only be a very, very ugly scene. My epidural was still in effect but the numbness was diminishing. The room was filled with a lot more people than just my husband, my midwife and I, and all of their titles made me want to cry– all doctors and nurses with specialties I can’t remember. Absolutely nothing I had foreseen had come to fruition, but I knew that I had to keep going and keep visualizing the only part that mattered. My baby making her way to my arms.
When the doctor had come into the room and talked with my midwife, he had a less than optimistic look on his face. He was given the details and his words were, “I’ll give it a shot”. These are not the words a woman who has been pushing for nearly four hours wants to hear. Very far from it. I had envisioned my sweet baby in my arms hours ago. Instead, I was lying in bed for the fourth hour with my hands wrenching at the back of my knees, pushing with everything that I had left— which at this point, could not have been much. Three tries that ended unsuccessfully with the vacuum meant there was only one left.
Despite the shock of the loud snip and the instant knowledge that that’s what an episiotomy feels like, every square inch that remained of my will reverberated with the word push as it pulsated from the chant coming from every mouth in the room. The words, this is the last push echoing in my mind. This was my last chance. After this push, I would be wheeled into a sterile surgery room to have a C-Section. No pressure. Everything in me screamed with exhaustion, panic and frustration, but my body kept going. Pushing. Breathing. Grunting in anguish as I heaved air into my lungs and thrust it out with my final push.
The relief came as such a shock when I finally felt her go under my pelvis that when she was tossed on my chest, I nearly forgot what I was here for. A baby—MY baby.
And she was here. She was crying. She was pink. She was covered in goo. And she was perfect.
I don’t really know how to sum this all up, other than to admit that I was really nervous to post my birth story. Not only because it is extremely personal, but also because I didn’t want it to ever deter or scare a woman who is thinking of having babies or preparing to have her own very soon, but because it’s kind of a vital part of the motherhood story, I decided I would leave it here in hopes that it would speak to someone.
My labor challenged every part of me. It was hard physically, but it also cast a lot of doubt on what I could handle mentally. There are people that cast shame on using epidurals or getting C-Sections, on episiotomies or even in-hospital deliveries, they will compare and contrast and say things that are so ignorant that it makes you cringe. But if you take nothing else away from this story, I hope it is this. There is no right or wrong way to give birth to your baby– there is only YOUR way. The way that worked for you. After the initial shock of the whole event wore off, I realized that. By loosening my grip on the things I thought I really wanted/needed for my delivery, I ended up getting out of my own way. I know that if I had not had that epidural that I so badly didn’t want, that revitalizing hour nap would have never happened, and the ability to get through a four hour labor and an episiotomy also probably wouldn’t have happened. Some people might say that I gave in too easily or that I could have done it without, and maybe I could have, but looking back, when I let go and allowed myself to have limitations, and listened to them, I lessened my burden, and really didn’t compromise anything but maybe my pride in the process.
My healthy baby came despite the change in plans, and when it was time for that family photoshoot, my exhausted, swollen face did not exactly look photo ready. I did not look effortless. I did not have makeup to cover the hormone induced acne on my face. My hair was not freshly washed, and I look pudgier than I would like to think that I actually was, but that’s okay. Labor is real and raw and the photos that are taken will reflect that, but they will also reflect love. The kind of love that cannot be posed or diminished by bad angles or poor lighting nor overshadowed by unkempt hair or flawed skin.
There are so many ways I could try and wrap this up with a pretty bow and say something Hallmark worthy, but the truth is that labor is hard and terrifying and will bring out questions and doubts that you quite possibly didn’t know you had, but the insanely lovely thing about it is that no matter the story or circumstance of yours, the only thing you really need to know and one thing no one can refute: It is so incredibly and irrevocably worth it.