Today is International Women’s Day. For the last few years, I’ve celebrated this day but not really known exactly what it was or where it came from. According to its website, International Women’s Day 2019 is all about celebrating women’s achievement, raising awareness against bias, and taking action for equality. The theme is #BalanceforBetter. The past few years have been a build up of campaigns in the United States, particularly the #MeToo Movement and Time’s Up. The issue of the treatment of women has been under more scrutiny than at any time during my life, and I want to focus on how that treatment extends to healthcare. Maternal healthcare, empowered decision making and informed consent, pregnancy and childbirth, and other similar topics are passion projects of mine.
In celebration of this day, I thought I might share an experience that is inherently woman and fitting for celebration on International Women’s Day (although one not need give birth to a child to be a fearless and powerful woman)- the birth of my second child. It may not play in to the theme precisely this year, but it certainly celebrates what I consider to be one of the biggest achievements of my life thus far, the natural hospital birth of my daughter!
Let’s dive in!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional, and nothing I say in this story or otherwise on my blog should be construed as medical advice. Choices I made, in consultation with my midwives, were made after extensive research and applicable to my individual birth only. Please consult with your medical professionals for any questions, concerns, or strategies you may wish to use in your pregnancy or labor and delivery experience.
On Sunday, February 11th I woke up feeling a little strange. Nonetheless, as mom’s do- I got ready and my family and I left for the 9:30am service at Orchard Hill Church in Wexford, PA. I was a bit nauseous during the service, and remember stepping out into the lobby for some air. When we returned home, I took this adorable photo of my son, which would become the last picture I took of him as an only child! He was SO excited to become a big brother, and took practicing very seriously.
I can’t remember exactly what was going on at the time, but my partner was dealing with some things and acting in a way that had me very on guard and generally unable to just relax. Like my son, I am an empath, and pick up on what everyone else is feeling and thinking. This is exceptionally heightened during pregnancy. I had been experiencing prodromal labor for the better part of ten days that point. If you’re not familiar with prodromal labor, it’s basically very real labor surges, but unproductive ones. Surges are hard enough when they’re doing something; it’s simply maddening when they are not! It’s not “fake” labor pains like Braxton Hicks, but it doesn’t help your cervix dilate either. Fun stuff. Really great way to mess with your mind and exhaust you before labor actually even begins!
Having extensively researched birth and having read about 500 birth stories during this pregnancy alone (thank you to Ina May for everything you’ve ever written, especially Spiritual Midwifery), I knew that whatever was going on with my partner was causing my body to be on the defensive, and a body that is in a guarded or fight or flight mode is not conducive to labor. I was having a mental block that would affect my ability to labor the way I wanted.
When I got home, I remember sitting down on the couch with my partner and saying- whatever it is, we need to let it go. We need to be completely here and ready for this baby, and I have to be able to relax so that my body can do what it needs to do. I’m so glad I read about mental blocks and that we had that conversation, because within an hour , I could feel my entire body begin to relax. I had no prodromal labor that night and slept pretty well; that is, for a full term pregnant woman!
I worked a shorter day on Monday, maybe 6 hours or so. I remember getting a Venti Coffee Frappuccino from Starbucks that morning (yes, I drink caffeine in limited quantities; I had an 18 month old. Do what you gotta do!), and the day going by pretty quickly. I made a big shrimp linguini dinner (which I might make tonight too, it’s been on my mind all day thanks to my bff Krystina) and it was delicious.
That night we were watching Anderson Cooper in the master bedroom and I remember surges starting. Taking my midwives advice, I had a glass of red wine and got in the bath. An hour later I was ecstatic that the waves hadn’t stopped (if you experience prodromal labor, a good way to distinguish between that and real labor is to try to flush it out by relaxing your body – my midwives suggested taking a hot bath or shower, trying one benadryl or even a glass of wine to see if it continues).
I went downstairs to get a little more food in me, knowing that I would need the energy if this really was the real deal! I texted my doula around 11pm (the great and mighty Bethany Brown of Birth Doulas of Pittsburgh), and she informed me she was at a 42 week induction at Magee-Women’s Hospital. Of course, I told her I was going to try to rest and see what happened.
I woke up at 2:30am, about 2.5 hours after going to sleep, and knew that this was the real deal. I was so excited (yes, I get excited about childbirth. I think it is incredible!)! I texted Bethany again, at which point she let me know that she would contact her backup- Becky. She reached out to Becky, and I got back in my glorious whirlpool jet tub. I got out my Mama Tens machine, and connected with Becky. I let her know how I was feeling, and we decided to check in around 4:30am to see how things were going.
I got in touch with my mom asking if she could come out to take care of Nico in the morning and get him to school; she happily obliged and arrived within the hour. I took out my Spiritual Midwifery book and read some more birth stories in between the surges, and read the notes that I had made myself on my iPhone (relax your jaw, laugh, keep your eyes open, etc…). I”m so glad I did that, because most of what I read really helped once I was in transition! I think I stayed in that amazing jetted tub until about 6:45am! I loved laboring in the tub – what an amazing way to experience labor. I was feeling so much intensity, but was not in pain. I had candles lit, and was letting my body work through the surges without fighting them.
Around 6:30am I told my partner that if I didn’t get out of that tub soon, I wasn’t going to. I knew the intensity was really picking up. Around the same time I texted my backup doula- Becky- that we were going to head to the hospital. We were going to have a baby today!
I remember timing it so that as soon as I got out of the tub, I had my partner affix the tens unit beneath my bra line and on my lower back, and wow- was that a great distraction for the intensity I was otherwise feeling; particularly without the assistance of the water. I got dressed and went downstairs, where my mom and Nico were playing in the living room, for some final hugs before leaving. I had a few surges during that time, and I know I was making some gutteral sounds through them, which caused my son to look at me quite strangely. He was only 18 months old and was slightly concerned with the sounds I as making! He hugged me. I picked him up for a photo and the surges calmed for a few minutes, probably in the excitement of knowing I was going to have a baby and the emotion I was feeling hugging my first baby one last time as an only child!
About five minutes into the car ride, I got a text from the backup doula that she was exhausted, and was going to contact her backup. I’m not going to sugar coat this; this sent me into a full on RAGE and I got out of my headspace for a little bit. The next 45 minutes were definitely the most difficult part of my labor. I have realistic expectations for doulas- they are miracle workers, underpaid, and just provide incredible support for laboring women. I was fully aware that there is an overlap in guess dates between the 37-42 week mark, and that’s why they arrange for backups. However, this didn’t change the fact that I was now going to be on my third doula, who I had never met or didn’t even know the name of, wasn’t sure how to contact her, and didn’t know if she would be able to meet me and assist with my birth, since my doula and the backup were otherwise occupied and presumably not able to communicate much about my history. Plus, because I insisted on birthing with midwives, I was in the middle of a SEVENTY minute drive to the hospital. During (what I later found out) was transition. I was MAD.
I called my original doula Bethany, who was so kind to step out of her induction for a few minutes to speak with me.. I was experiencing INTENSE labor. Thankfully, she helped me get back to where I needed to be to continue on with the labor and delivery I had been dreaming about.
I’m going to be honest, it doesn’t take much to take you out of the space you worked to get in. Everything is exaggerated during labor, and the slightest thing can throw you off. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that you’re physically and mentally prepared for curve balls, because you don’t want to lose what you worked so hard for. I’m so glad Bethany knew me well enough to get me back on track, and was able to do so.
I got myself back in my head space as we got closer to the hospital. Looking back, I definitely can recognize now that I was in transition, but I think I was distracted from the combination of rage and experience with my first labor. I was certain I would arrive and simply be 2-3 cm dilated.
We rolled up to the valet at the hospital at 8:33am and left everything except my cell phone in the car. We figured we’d get it later after we saw how much time we had. It took about 15 minutes for me to get to the labor and delivery room; I was experiencing intense surges of about 45 seconds each, with at most 15 second breaks in between. The hospital attendant working at the Emergency Room entrance tried to put me in a wheelchair which I found hysterical. The thought of trying to sit down through what I was experiencing was comical.
When we got into the labor room at Jefferson Hospital, the nurses wanted me to get into the bed to put me on the fetal monitor and put an IV in my arm, as would be normal protocol for an L&D triage.. My birth plan of course said no IV, but I was okay with a hep lock. Unfortunately for them and fortunately for me, I was having no parts of following any instructions. I didn’t get on the bed, I didn’t get the fetal monitor on (yet), and I didn’t have a hep lock inserted or even attempted. I didn’t sign any consent forms, and I sure as heck did not put on a hospital gown. I asked my midwife Diana to check my cervix dilation while I was standing up leaning over the couch in the delivery room, because that’s how I felt comfortable. And she happily obliged (thank you, amazing midwives, who are flexible, supportive, and generally awesome). Much to my surprise, I was 9cm dilated!
I remember happily shouting an expletive, and then seeing a look of panic on my partner’s face. Knowing the baby was coming soon, he wanted to run back to the car to get the cord blood kit that we had purchase (we bank privately through CBR– more about that another time!). Collecting cord blood for banking is extremely time sensitive; it can only be done in the first 3-5 minutes after birth, and we had left everything in the car. He started to take off to get it when I hollered at him to get his a** back here! He was doing great counterpressure work on my hips, which I was certain were about to explode, and I was terrified of losing that pressure when the next surge came.
We had no idea where the third doula was — we knew she was coming from an hour away too. I’m not even sure I knew what her name was at that point. A very kind nurse in training offered to run to the car to get the cord blood kit- I wish I could remember her name because I’d love to send her a thank you present. Diana suggested breaking my waters right around 9:00am, certain that the baby would just be minutes away, but I wanted to wait until the student nurse returned with the cord blood kit.
It’s a good thing I did, because after she returned, my waters were broken at 9:15am, my backup to the backup doula (Amanda) arrived at 9:16am, and Gabriella was born at 9:17am! I remember Amanda walking in the room right before Gabriella was born, and shouting- “Okay, we’re delivering! Let’s go!” I can’t remember if I laughed or if I even had any idea who she was, but I didn’t necessarily care at that moment either.
I never in my life felt anything so exhilarating as catching my own child after delivering naturally. I birthed leaning over the back of the hospital bed, while on my knees. I did not push (which is crazy considering I “pushed” for two hours with my first).. My body knew exactly what it was doing and it was incredible to just be there and let it. I learned to trust my body by listening to my body. I worked HARD to have the natural birth experience that I wanted, and I am damn proud of myself for the effort I made and the result it achieved.
I don’t believe there is any one way to birth or become a mom; birth is birth is birth, and it should be celebrated equally. And today, on International Women’s Day, I am celebrating the birth of my daughter Gabriella, and my birth as a mom of two.
Tomorrow I’m 23 weeks pregnant with my third, and I cannot tell you how excited I am to have one more chance to give birth. I have arranged a completely different birth plan this time – and I can’t wait to share it at some later point. Thank you for reading my story!