In honor of Arlo's birthday, here is our birth story.
On the Wednesday of my 39th week, I went to bed with the fleeting notion that my water might have been leaking. Not wanting to get too amped about the potential of going into labor, I squashed the thought and trudged off to bed.
Thursday morning I woke up and as I got out of bed I could tell my water was definitely leaking. No doubt whatsoever thankyouverymuch. I called in sick to work, not wanting to admit I was in labor. That day was a slow one. Nothing was happening. I went on a walk with my husband down our little country road, rested and got an adjustment at the chiropractor. All the while I am leaking fluid. Leaking fluid like a pricked balloon leaks air; slow and consistent minus the high pitched squeaking. I know! Too much information, but I must paint the full picture!
Out of a very desperate fear of feeling like all eyes were on me, we kept the news of my early labor to a small group of people. That evening I began taking black and blue cohosh tincture to start labor since I was having a little difficulty getting it started on my own.
Friday morning, contractions started in earnest! They were slow and weak, but they were steadily building. Under the advisement of birthing professionals I tried castor oil and used the breast pump to stimulate and intensify contractions. Oof do I regret the castor oil now. Since the premature rupture of membranes (aka water breaking) is the not the most ideal start to labor, and because it had been a while since the leak started, I felt anxious to get things a-movin’.
My contractions were picking up, and for a couple of hours they were 4-5 minutes apart. I labored at home for this portion, as was the plan. It was a gorgeous day and I remember laying over my birthing ball in the living room with the porch door open. There was lots of pre-rainstorm light filtering in a beautiful breeze flowing into the room- it was like a dream. It didn't feel real!
I texted my sister Megan to let her know she could start making her way over to the farm. She was going to be accompanying us to the hospital and I had a feeling that was going to be soon. Megan was with Jeff and I when we delivered our still born, and it felt redemptive to have her there for this one as well. Plus, she is a kick-ass momma who has delivered two babies naturally and is a nurse.
Around one o'clock things started to heat up. Contractions were 3 minutes apart and I had to stop for each of them. My chiropractor, who happens to be my brother-in-law, came to my house to adjust me. After the adjustment I just wanted to be at the hospital. Looking back I think I feared laboring at home in the dark. Don't ask me why. I just needed to be where I was going to birth. So at 6:00 we started to head to the car. I sat in the back on a towel (SO done with constantly wetting myself, I tell you) and Jeff drove over our pothole ridden country roads with care.
Upon arrival we had to stop a few times for contractions, but when we finally made it to labor and delivery, we were checked in. As they walked me to the room, I glanced down the hall to see the room I had been in just one year ago exactly. I was so thankful to be where I was on 4/10/15 instead of where I was on 4/10/14. Same physical place, completely different place emotionally. While the pain with both labors was similar, the emotions for this labor were vastly different. I could not help but feel sorry for the 'us' of one year ago. Delivering a baby I knew would never live, was the hardest thing I have ever done. I said a quick prayer of gratitude and thanksgiving and settled into our delivery room.
Since I was visibly in active labor, they delayed checking my progress. I was fine with this, as I had declined pelvic exams at my last few weekly checkups for the same reason. OF COURSE I wanted to know how far along I was at those last few appointments, but the risk of over exciting myself, and the physical risks were not worth it. Eventually the midwife did check me (I am not sure when this was) and she timidly asked me if I wanted to know. I had been in labor long enough that I was going to be shocked if I was not at the VERY least 5cms, so I said yes. She asked me again, are you sure you want to know? I said yes again, knowing it couldn’t be good. The woman said three centimeters. 3 CENTIMETERS? Blarg. I was pissed. I had put on a brave face until that point, but I began to mentally melt and doubt my ability to birth naturally.
I labored without grace from that point. I was moody and in the wrong headspace. Luckily I had practiced breathing and relaxing every day for months, so I was able to continue to use those coping mechanisms even though I was an unholy grouch.
For the next several hours of labor I paced around the room and when a contraction began I would find the closest thing to lean on and ride it out. I would not leave the room even though I would have had ample room to walk. I am sure it was driving my birth team crazy. My most vivid memories are of me having contraction after contraction leaning over my open suitcase with my face in my clean clothes. I think this is because it was next to the sink, and that was necessary because I could NOT STOP PUKING. I attempted the bathtub at one point but it slowed my labor to a halt, so I was very gently cajoled out of there!
Eventually I was checked and I was five centimeters. I wish I knew when these checks were done, but no one in the room was keeping track of the time any more. For the most part the nurses left us alone since we were under the care of the midwives, and they knew that would be our preference. It was so nice not to be pestered. I was one of the only women in labor that day, so I got extra attention from the midwife, which was a plus. She was the last midwife I had to meet at the practice and I had only met her a few days before, but she was a perfect fit for us! Add it to the list of blessings in this very strange birth story.
All this time I was never able to get comfortable. I HATED laying down and hated sitting even more. Every time I would sit it would send me into another contraction, even if I had just finished one. It was the oddest thing. Silly occiput posterior baby.
Friday morning I was checked again and was at 7cms. I had been in active labor (read: painful labor) since Thursday afternoon, so you would think I would be thrilled to hear 7cm, but I was so out of it that it hardly registered. During this check it was quite obvious to the new midwife that the baby was still sunny side up and even may be facing my right side. This new midwife would be with us to the end. She was a God-send as well. I was not 100% effaced so during a contraction I pushed to help move the effacement along.
Through this whole labor Jeff and Megan were amazing. Megan was making sure all of the staff were working towards our best birth and Jeff was making sure I was cared for. He was reassuring, strong, and just kept giving back scratches after back scratches or NO DONT TOUCH ME. Whichever I needed at the time.
As I continued to labor, I could not get the back pain off of my mind. It was so unrelenting honestly more uncomfortable than a contraction. Contractions end, which is when most moms catch their breath, but with the back pain I never felt like I had moment of calm. I would like to think I would have labored with more presence of mind if I had not been experiencing the back labor.
When I finally got to 10cm, I hopped in the shower to give myself a boost of energy before pushing. This was also the first time my birth team ate! I had no idea that they had not eaten this whole time. Poor things! They had been so busy helping me to the toilet (OUCH, sitting hurt) putting counter pressure on my back, or rubbing clary sage essential oil on my feet that they had not taken even a minute for themselves.
I began the pushing phase with my knees on the bed, and my body draped over the elevated back of the bed. [I’ll keep the visuals coming, don’t worry]. I had read that there would be an undeniable need to push so I was waiting for the urge. I ended up pushing for a total of three hours, but never felt that urge. I pushed in a squat position, pushed on all fours, pushed on my side; I pushed every way imaginable. My midwife would check me and say nothing, which felt like a pretty clear indicator that things were not going well. What I didn’t know is that the baby had not budged. At this point I could feel things getting desperate. The energy in the room had shifted. We tried everything to get him to flip into the proper position and move down the ole birth canal.
At one point I held onto one end of a sheet that had been draped over a door and alternated single leg squats during contractions. Hardest workout of my life. No leg day has ever compared.
It was getting seriously wild in there. The OB called the midwife to see how I was progressing. He was not pleased that I had been pushing for 3 hours and the baby was not there yet. My midwife came back in and asked me if I would consider taking a drop of pitocin to help my uterus contract with more power. I agreed. A drop of pitocin was not the end of the world. Healthy baby, healthy mom. That was the end goal.
I was given the pitocin and in a whirlwind of events (isn't it always so?), I was then asked if I would take an epidural, rest and then wake up and push. This was hour 26 of labor and hour 3 of pushing. My sister and my husband were on board with this idea and since they were 100% on the same page as me as far as not wanting interventions (if not more so!), I figured it was best.
I would do anything to deliver my baby safely and avoid a C-section. In the moment I mourned the decision to get the epidural, because it was not what I wanted. With the pitocin dripping away (having given me more than we agreed on), the epidural was administered and I received absolutely no numbing from it. The nurses tested and tested and tested, but it was a dud.
The OB eventually decided to come see what was going on and his rather rigorous exam determined that the baby was at zero station. This meant the baby had not dropped at all and that those three hours of pushing sans urge finally made sense. He told me that he did not think the baby would ever drop. The baby was shoved far into my right hip and there was nothing we could do to get him to move. I was in disbelief. My body is not a lemon, my body can delivery my baby, I screamed in my head! but nothing came out. No words, and certainly no baby.
I had no fight left in me. I tearfully consented.
From what I have gathered after the fact, he did not think the distance between my pubic bone and tail bone were far enough apart to accommodate the baby, and given the amount of time since my water starting breaking they decided C-section was the way to go.
[Personal aside: Had I been of my right mind, I would have fought for more time. I could honestly get up on my soapbox here and tell you about my feelings towards modern obstetrics and hospital C-section rates, but instead I will just tell you the rest of Arlo’s beautiful birth story.]
Luckily my natural birth class had prepared us for this possibility and I was able to talk to the OB, before going in for surgery. I wanted the baby handed to me immediately, to be breast feed in the OR, and the baby to not leave me once he was born. This is what is commonly referred to as a “gentle cesarean”. The doctor agreed, and after what felt like hours, we were wheeled to the OR. At this point I was given a spinal because the epidural had provided no numbing whatsoever.
The surgery took much longer than I had anticipated, but Jeff was with me and what was one more hour after 29+ in labor? Our midwife also joined us because she was amazing. She even took Jeff’s phone and got some amazing photos of Arlo’s birth for us!
Once the doctor made his announcement that the baby was almost out, the midwife asked us what we thought it was. We both said "girl, for sure". The OB yanked one last time and held the baby over the curtain.
I looked back at Jeff and he told me we had a BOY! I was shocked. We were both so excited that he was finally here! So much heartache, so much pain, so much waiting and wondering. And he was here! Born the day before his due date, one year to the exact day we delivered our stillborn baby. Phew. Still gives me chills.
We were pretty set on the boy name, so we started calling him by it immediately. Arlo James was placed on my chest and then he latched and fed. Eventually a nurse had to step in and help because my arms were so numb I could not hold him properly. When Arlo was done nursing, Jeff put his hand over one of mine so we could hold him simultaneously. Jeff put his other hand on Arlo's head to keep him warm. The nurses in recovery commented that he was the warmest c-section baby they had seen, and Arlo did not have to be placed in a warmer. Tiny mercies.
As I was being rolled to our recovery room, I saw a sea of familiar faces. My mother, step-father, father-in-law, mother-in-law, sister-in-law, sisters, brothers-in-law, father, step-mother... holy cow it was a ton of people. They were bursting at the seams to know the gender of the tiny being my chest. I announced- you've got another grandson! It was so fun to see their reactions!
During the one-hour recovery I was sponge bathed (I'll never forget that experience), and the baby was eventually weighed/measured. 8lbs 3 oz and 20 inches! Arlo and I were able to do skin to skin for over an hour. What a blessing!
When recovery hour was up, we brought the family back in batches since our room was the size of a shoebox. It was amazing getting to introduce our baby to everyone. It was a sharp contrast to our experience the year before. Since that baby had passed several weeks before delivery, we made the choice not to introduce him to anyone. Just one year later in the same hospital, we were so thankful to be on the other end of the story, and so thankful for our boy Arlo.
I struggled big time with the fact that I had a C-section. I still have days where I am frustrated and even embarrassed at how his birth ended. Its hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I got to 10cm naturally and then still have to get a C-section. If I'm honest, I feel cheated. I did everything I could to ensure good positioning and a natural birth, and still ended up with a C-section. I’m coming around to owning this birth story and truly believing that all birth is beautiful. I can say that sharing his birth story is one way I am attempting to heal from the experience and really consider the joy instead of the sorrow of his coming.
After all we have been through, I should be uniquely aware of how lucky we are, and his birth shouldn't matter, right? Well, sort of. The birth of a baby is such an intimate and bonding experience with your baby. It can shape so much for a woman mentally. I wish I had the empowering birth I know every woman deserves, but I didn't. That does not make me any less thankful for our sweet little boy. We are truly lucky to have such our son here, even if the hole he came out of was man made… ;)
Arlo- your birth was long, uncomfortable and fretful. I pray none of that was transferred to you. For you I pray for wisdom, kindness, strength, and a relationship with Christ. I love you sweet boy and am so lucky to be your mom. We have a lot of amazing times ahead of us, and I can't wait!