When I hit week 41 of pregnancy I started to get very anxious and impatient for baby to arrive. I was also huge and uncomfortable most of the time by then. And I knew that if I went one more week past the due date I would not be able to have my home birth like I had planned due to a Tennessee law for midwives that says they are not allowed to perform home births after week 42. So I was determined to have this baby before that happened.
During week 41 I started natural induction techniques that I had heard about or read about and that my midwife had suggested: nipple stimulation, intercourse, herbs, oils and teas, acupuncture, and anything else I could try. When Daniel came home from work that Friday, almost one week exactly past our due date of June 20th, we were both in “let’s get this baby out” mode and spent the entire evening devoted to this task, whether with our actions or just our minds. We lit some candles and did a little meditation talking to our baby and telling him/her that if he or she was ready, that we were ready too. Daniel said he had a feeling that when he left work on Friday he would not be back on Monday. He felt, as did I, that baby was coming that weekend.
It was a full moon lunar eclipse that Saturday, June 26th so I knew if nothing else worked, the planets and the lunar energy would get things going. Lots of babies are born during full moons. I went to bed that Friday night feeling expectant and anxious, but also very excited.
When I awoke at 4:00 a.m. Saturday with a pretty strong cramp and then water gushing down my leg, I knew this was the day we’d been waiting for. I woke Daniel up and we were both just very excited to get this birth underway, not knowing what kinds of surprises lay ahead of us. I did have a thought about the water breaking, knowing from my research that only about 10% of women going into labor have this happen, despite the fact that they always show this in the movies. It actually is not that common. But for me, it happened just like in the movies. At the back of my mind I also knew that this would put some kind of time limit on my labor because you can only labor so long with the amniotic sac broken before things get risky for the baby due to infections and lack of fluid. But still, I was determined to have him/her before that deadline approached.
We tried to do as we were told by Mary Anne, our midwife, and go back to sleep, but we were just too excited and that was not going to happen. So we spent the early morning hours readying the bed, getting out the supplies like were instructed, and generally just getting ready as the contractions rolled in but were still manageable. We took a walk at one point and I barely made it back home before a strong contraction came on and I had to hurry up and get inside so I could get myself comfortable. It was amazing how quickly things progressed in early labor, so that contractions that started out an hour and a half apart, pretty quickly became about 20 minutes apart. I thought, “This is good. We are in good shape to have this baby well before the 24 hour deadline.”
Mary Anne had said that early labor could take a very long time, especially for first time moms, so we were just supposed to labor along until the contractions got closer together, as in 4-5 minutes apart before active labor would begin. She said she would wait to come over because otherwise it could be a very long day and still we’d have to wait. But I had this feeling that that would not be the case, that things would get rolling quickly and I wanted her to come sooner. I called Judy, our good friend and support person and asked her to come when she could, and I called my Aunt Alice who was in Kentucky only 3 hours away and was planning to come down for the birth. She is a Sister of Loretto, a nurse, and even a midwife, having spent time in Nicaragua where she delivered many babies. I also felt comforted knowing that a member of the family -a female–would be there. It somehow seemed very traditional and nice. Aunt Alice called me from the road saying she was on her way.
By 11:00 the whole birth team was there and I went from feeling a little scared and alone to feeling supported and in good hands. Daniel was doing a great job too. He used the techniques we had learned in our birthing classes and massage class and just held my hand and rocked me when things got intense. I don’t know really what time anything happened after that, as time became irrelevant and all I could do was make it from one contraction to the next. The birth tub somehow got filled with warm water and was in our living room where we moved furniture and created a nice, dark and cool place with music playing. I got in the tub and immediately felt relief. But then a contraction would come and the pain would start all over again. I really went into a trance-like state at one point and don’t remember much, except that I had to get through it in order to rest a little bit in between. But the in-between got shorter and shorter.
I had to have an IV inserted during labor to receive antibiotics due to a bacteria called Group B Strep being present in my system -something that’s quite common in women, 30-40% walk around with it every day and don’t know it–but when in labor if passed on to the baby it could be very serious, even life-threatening. So the solution is to test every pregnant woman for GBS at week 37 and if positive, automatically offer antibiotics to avoid infection in the baby. This was an early indication to me that perhaps things would not be exactly as I wanted them, but my need to control everything else and my attachment to the outcome of the birth that I had wanted so badly was still intact.
The IV situation got a little hairy as Mary Anne struggled to insert it and I hate needles! I hated that part almost more than the contractions! My veins are apparently small and hard to find and she tried twice before asking my Aunt Alice to try. She was hesitant at first, saying that it had been 25 years since she had inserted an IV tube (!) but she took over and got it in on the very first try. I was immediately put at ease.
After that, it all becomes even more of a blur. I had to be hooked up to the IV every four hours for my meds, and other than that I was free to move all over the house, in and out of the tub, just wherever I wanted and could get comfortable. I remember it being very difficult and painful for me to lie down anywhere and the thought of being forced to lie down prostrate in a hospital bed during all of labor as they do in the hospital setting just seemed cruel. I liked being able to move, to walk, to hug Daniel and sit on my birthing ball. This was how I’d always imaged a home birth to be like. But after a while, Mary Anne decided I should lie down on the bed so she could check me and see how far along I was. It was early evening by then I think, and she said I was almost completely there. In fact, I could start pushing if I wanted to. Wow! This meant that we would soon meet our baby -or so we thought. But when it came time for another contraction and she told me to push I could not feel the urge to push that you’re supposed to feel at 10 centimeters dilated, I could not feel the baby’s head at all. After several unsuccessful attempts in a few different positions using gravity whenever possible rather than lying down in a bed, Mary Anne started to think that the baby’s head just wasn’t down far enough and it should have been descending into the birth canal by now. She checked me again, even trying to rotate the baby by hand so it could come down further, and when that happened I lost everything -meaning the pain was so intense I threw up what little I had left in me.
At about this same time, I remember the darkness of the sky as I looked out the windows and the trees starting to blow and a fierce thunderstorm getting underway outside. There was very loud thunder and lightening with no separation. It was the scariest lightening storm Daniel said he had ever seen. It poured rain and he went outside for a minute and got soaked. He said the lightening was so close to the house you could see it hitting on all sides and I could only hear how loud the thunder was, remarking that it was quite dramatic. In my trance I didn’t even realize until they all told me later how dramatic it really was. Looking back, it seems like it was the external manifestation of all that was going on inside my body.
More unsuccessful attempts at pushing and Mary Anne started to think about our options. She said that I had been in labor now -with my waters broken–for 18 hours. It must have been about 10:00 pm. She said that we could go to the deadline of 24 hours and then if nothing happened, we’d be forced to rush to the hospital and there probably would not be a chance to deliver this baby vaginally like I’d wanted. At that moment I knew that maybe my perfect plan for this birth was starting to unravel but I was getting so exhausted that I could only think about getting some rest so that I could start to push again and maybe things could still go as planned, sort of. (I was even then still attached to my perfect plan!) But if we went to the hospital now, she said, I could get something for the pain so that I could rest a little while, then wake up and push and deliver the baby. She said she’d seen it happen before after a woman labors for so long and just needs a break before getting the second wind to get to the finish line.
So we packed our bag and went to the hospital at around 10:30 pm. Mary Anne has a back-up plan in place long before her clients go into labor. We had even met the doctor who is her backup doctor of record. We knew which hospital we’d be going to and we knew that Mary Anne would be able to stay with us throughout the birth. My aunt and Judy came along in a separate car. They had been with me and supported me for this long, I didn’t want them to miss the birth.
We got to the hospital and were immediately greeted by friendly nurses who knew Mary Anne well and they told us the doctor we were expecting to see was not in that night but that Dr. Stags would be our doctor. When Mary Anne heard this she whispered to us that she was happy because this was actually her favorite of all the doctors there and he was the head of OB. She also said we were lucky that it was a weekend because the nurses were all great and experienced on the weekends and they weren’t that busy so could devote a lot of time to us. (I guess most people schedule their inductions and their C-sections, and they are generally not scheduled for the weekends). Weird.
I was greeted by the doctor in the middle of a contraction and the first thing he said to me was “Are you a dancer?” I thought how funny that was, but that yes, I had been a dancer most of my life. He didn’t say anything more about that. Then they hooked me up to a fetal monitor to make sure the baby was ok, and to a monitor to check all my vital signs, and then I was taken to the room where I would get some rest and then wake up and try to push again. They gave me meds so that I could sleep through the contractions. Daniel was lying on a little bed right next to me, and Mary Anne on a mat on the floor. Aunt Alice and Judy were out in the waiting room, hopefully sleeping. By then it must have been midnight or later.
I felt I could finally rest a bit and regain some strength because I WAS going to push that baby out when I woke up. No question. I told the nurses when they came in to wake me up. They were incredibly nice, helpful and encouraging. It could have been so different. They understood how hard I had worked for this and how badly I wanted this delivery, even if it would now be in the hospital. They woke me and sat with me and coached me on how and when to push, Daniel holding my hand and Mary Anne at my side. They said nothing but positive things to me and each time I tried, they made it sound like there was a small improvement in the baby’s head getting lower. They said the doctor had said we could try for an hour and then he would come in and assess the situation.
Although they could see the baby’s head (“It has so much black hair!” That made us laugh), it still was not down far enough and we were starting to think that its position was not a good one but it would not rotate no matter what we did. They even put me in “the pretzel” – a position lying on my side with my knees bent that was supposed to help the baby to rotate naturally. It didn’t work either. They were starting to wonder if maybe we would just not be able to rotate this baby and would need some help now. They called in the doctor.
He was very nice to let me try this hard and the nurses told me that if it had been any other doctor they would have wheeled me in for a C-section as soon as I was in the door without letting me try for this long. He was really sensitive to my desire to have a vaginal birth and was willing to try everything he could as long as the baby’s signs did not worsen. The baby -still didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl, though we all laughed that it had to be a boy if it was giving me this much trouble–was being a trooper and the vitals all still looked good after nearly 24 hours of labor and contractions and hardly any water in there. (A feisty one who must take after her mother).
By this time we really were on the last resort. The doctor would try to rotate the baby’s head using a little vacuum. I was assured by the nurses that this would not harm the baby and that Dr. Stags was really good at this so not to worry. But of course, I still worried. What had happened to my perfect home birth where the baby slides out and onto my chest with one big natural push and we all lived happily ever after? What had happened to the PLAN? My plan. The one I had worked so hard for not just all the previous day in labor but for the previous nine months? I had done everything right, taken really good care of myself and the baby inside me, read up on every aspect of childbirth and did my research. That’s what I do. I was more prepared than anyone and nobody was more committed than I was to having a natural home birth no matter what. As much as I knew I could not really control something like childbirth and that there inevitably would be surprises and obstacles, I still could not believe that it was not happening as planned.
Needless to say, the vacuum did not work. No matter how hard I pushed that baby’s head was not coming down into the birth canal. At this point I think the doctor was convinced that the baby’s position, combined with my pelvis structure (thus the question about being a dancer) made for an impossible vaginal delivery. Not to mention, the fact that now I had been in labor for 24 hours -with my waters broken. It was now critical that we get the baby out before it became dangerous. I cried hard when he told me that the only option left was a C-section. I cried for the birth I thought I would have, for the image of what I thought was a perfect childbirth. I cried for the seemingly cruel twist of fate that had allowed so many women who didn’t need to try as hard as I did to have a vaginal delivery and for all the effort in the world it was not going to happen for me. I cried for Daniel too because he wanted this birth experience as much as I did, although by then all he wanted was what was best for me and for our baby. I cried as they wheeled me into the operating room. Aunt Alice and Judy came to see me right before they took me and they cried too. Aunt Alice said a prayer with me. And then Daniel was put into scrubs -and so was Mary Anne (another abnormal procedure since usually only the father is allowed into the O.R. but this doctor was allowing her to go with us to continue to be our advocate until the very end).
After that, it all seemed to go very quickly. I had a chat with the anesthesiologist about how long she had had to go to school to become one (?) and then Daniel was at my side and so was Mary Anne and the operation had begun. I told Daniel not to look and just to talk to me and hold my hand. I did not want to focus on what was happening to my body until it was time for the baby to come out. One funny thing is that the doctor said I had “beautiful organs” and that he had always thought that beauty was not only skin deep. That made me laugh.
And the next thing I knew, I heard a baby crying out and Daniel yelled, “It’s a girl!”
The doctor broke protocol again and let the nurse hand the baby to Daniel who then brought her to my shoulder so I could see and touch her immediately. No, it was not the perfect scenario of the baby just out of my body and lying on my bare chest, all three of us in bed at home, but it was still a special moment. We were overjoyed that it was a little girl. Our little “Junebug” is what we had been calling her for months and she had finally graced us with her presence. Then what is usually supposed to happen is that the neonatal nurses roll the baby out to the nursery and away from us to do their tests and make sure she’s okay. But Mary Anne intervened and said we wanted no separation according to our birth plan. The doctor made the nurses stay in the room and check her right next to us where we could see her. This, according to Mary Anne, was all very special and the first time she had seen things happen this way. This was the first of a series of “lucky” events that started as soon as we got to the hospital and would follow us over the next few days.
I soon forgot about my perfect vision for the birth when I laid eyes on that perfect little baby girl. She was without a flaw – healthy at 8 lbs, 2 oz (even kind of big), a very good color and yes, with lots of black hair. She was absolutely beautiful. Of course, I still grieved for the childbirth experience I didn’t get to have, and still am grieving. It’s hard to talk about it without crying. But in my heart I know I did everything I could and it was not meant to be. The doctor came to my room later and told me that on top of everything else, my pelvis and hips did not widen and open like they are supposed to during labor, possibly due to the strong muscular nature of my pelvis from having used it so much over the years. He also said that the baby’s position was turned face up and that without the water in there to make it easy to turn, it was impossible for her to rotate like she should have naturally. Oh, and then there was the fact that she was an 8 lb baby and I am rather small (though that part I’m not buying). In any case, in conversations with my midwife since then I know that it was a combination of factors: the water breaking so early, the very long labor, the position of baby, and my physical stature that all together made for a very complicated birth. She assured me that we did try everything we could and in the end we made the decision that was best for the baby. She told me to be proud of what I had done and that it was still okay to grieve for the birth I didn’t have.
We stayed 3 days in the hospital that were a pleasant blur in which Daniel and I were together with our baby for long uninterrupted stretches, bonding and learning the ropes, hanging out with our new baby in our room and getting well taken care of. We napped, we ate, we had a few visitors, but mainly we made a calm and beautiful transition from that dramatic birth to going home with our baby. The nurses were all exceptional -there were so many I can’t begin to remember all their names, but they were all so sweet, caring and good at their jobs. It was not at all what I had emblazoned in my mind as what a hospital stay would be like. The doctors came–three or four of them in all – to check on us and tell jokes, even the anesthesiologist came to see how I was doing. But perhaps the most helpful and amazing thing about this hospital were the lactation consultants -militant breast feeders, I joked, all amazing women who came to our room twice a day to see if we needed help and to guide us through the early days of learning how to breastfeed and working out all the little issues that arise. (It’s not as easy as I thought!) They were a godsend. We don’t know if we would have freaked out or quit out of frustration already in the first few days if it had not been for them. They even sent us home with lots of nursing accessories, a rented $2,000 breast pump and all kinds of information to help us through the first few weeks. They invited us to come back soon for a follow-up consultation to see how we are doing.
It may sound corny, but now I believe that everything happened for a reason. The birth of baby June may not have gone as planned, but it went exactly as it should have. It was not a coincidence that Aunt Alice had been there: she helped us so much, staying in town to clean our house and take care of our dog while we were in the hospital. It was not a coincidence that we got the best doctor possible and all the ‘weekend’ nurses that Sat. night. It was not a coincidence that we ended up in the city’s only “women- centered” hospital with the best lactation support unit in the whole region. They’re famous for that. And it was not a coincidence that the world’s most opinionated, dogmatic, exceedingly well-prepared person (me) would have a birth that was totally out of control, unpredictable and the extreme opposite of what I imagined it would be. Maybe it’s poetic justice. It’s definitely ironic. I have learned that despite all that I had going for me: my health and knowledge and preparations, the one thing I was lacking was the flexibility to allow for the unexpected to happen. The ability to let go of my attachment to the outcome while making room for the unknown was something I had not prepared for. I never did let go. And I’m still working on it.
I have to believe that God, or someone, was watching over us throughout the entire thing and especially in the gift of this tiny perfect little baby girl. God, Providence, the Universe… it doesn’t matter. But I also like to think it was an angel named Marilyn.