Lori posted some pictures from my birth earlier this week (you can see them here!), and reading her thoughts made me feel like it was time to write about the birth from my own perspective. Get ready, everyone. IT'S BIRTH STORY TIME.
In the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I was really looking forward to the day(s) when I would write my birth story. I've read so many of them over the last few years. I thought I knew, more or less, just how mine would go. I thought I'd be writing about a peaceful water birth at my birth center in Bellevue, surrounded by certain people, cradling my son in my arms during those last few minutes when we were still physically connected with umbilical cord and placenta, being able to return home within a matter of hours.
Our birth -- the one that Soren and I made together -- didn't go quite like that. It was still amazing and important and empowering in an unexpected way. I do have some sadness about it that I don't want to ignore or minimize, but that sadness is definitely outweighed by happiness and satisfaction with every decision Craig and I made; there was nothing we could have done differently to make a "better" outcome, and the outcome we had was perfectly fitted to our circumstances.
It's been almost eight weeks since Soren was born. I hope I'll be able to describe it all and remember the hard parts with clarity.
SUNDAY, June 30
It was hot hot hot in our apartment towards the late afternoon and evening. In an attempt to get some relief, my best friend Chelsea and I went to the apartment complex's swimming pool and cooled off a bit. (Chel was in town for the birth, visiting from Texas, and at one day past my due date, I was trying not to fixate too much on the possibility that the baby might not be born before she had to head back.) The pool area was full of families -- little kids in swimming diapers and water wings, learning how to jump in and trust that their moms and dads would catch them. There was simple bliss in the air. Chel and I kicked around in the water for an hour or so before Craig joined us. I was feeling pretty rad with my enormous belly out where all the world could see it.
We headed back to the apartment and started watching Catfish: The TV Show on MTV, followed by the original Catfish (the documentary on which the TV show is based). I was pretty fascinated by the stories I was seeing -- people who had fallen in like or in love with strangers via the internet, wanted to meet them face to face, and usually wound up learning they'd been deceived. Engrossed as I was, I noticed that my contractions were kind of consistent. A quick word about these contractions: I'd been having them for several weeks, and they were completely painless. In fact, they were easy to miss altogether; the only way I could tell I was having one was by the appearance and the outside feel of my belly. It would get significantly harder and more cone-shaped, as opposed to its normal squishy roundness. Anyhow, I started timing these contractions and told Craig and Chelsea that they were somewhat consistent, happening every seven or eight minutes. There was every chance that the contractions could spread out and dissipate, but it was looking more and more like this could be the beginning of the real thing. I should have gone to bed, but the documentary was so interesting! Emotionally, I was feeling really calm and okay, so we finished watching around 1:00 AM. Chelsea took the chance to do a little video interview with us on her phone, and then we all went to bed.
MONDAY, July 1
I woke up around 7:00 and started timing my contractions again. Still seven or eight minutes apart. They were very mild in terms of pain, but I was feeling them slightly more than I had in the past few weeks. When Craig woke up, I filled him in and he decided to call out of work, figuring that we may very well have a baby that day. He did end up going in for an hour or two to tie up some loose ends, during which time I called my midwife, Chris. I updated her on the contractions, and her advice was to rest, eat well, and hydrate throughout the day. "These things usually rev up in the evening, and you'll need as much strength and energy as possible," she said.
After that conversation, Chelsea and I went for a relaxed walk on a path near my apartment. The contractions were picking up steam; I wasn't timing them at that point, but I didn't want to talk while they were happening, preferring to go inward a little more. One contraction started while we were crossing the street, and while I would have preferred to stop and stand still, I had to keep walking to get to the other side, and I noticed that the movement was a welcome distraction from the physical sensation of the contraction. Moving didn't make them hurt less, exactly, but it's like that gave me something else to focus on instead of the pain.
Side note: I told my mom the day after Soren was born that I couldn't remember what these early, non-pushing contractions felt like anymore. I just can't call it to memory. It's very weird to me that I could forget so soon. I remember that there was pain, but where was it located? Was it sharp, dull, pounding, pulsing? I have no idea. What I do remember about those contractions is that they lasted about two minutes and climaxed immediately; I had barely any warning that a contraction was starting before the pain was at its height, and it just gradually lessened from there.
After the walk, we went back to the apartment and I took a nap on the bed. That was around 11:00, I think, and Craig got back home shortly thereafter. After I woke up from my nap, I discovered my preferred laboring position -- on my knees, with my chest and arms draped over the top of my blue exercise ball, resting my head with eyes closed, swaying my hips and butt really slowly from side to side. I was making big-time use of the breathing techniques and calming mantras I got from our Hypnobirthing class, and overall, I still felt really mellow. The house was quiet and focused. I remember having a private conversation with Craig where I told him that he needed to scale back the phone games and computer games because they were making me feel neglected; he was totally compliant. The heat was getting more and more obnoxious, and Chelsea assigned herself the task of keeping me cool with wet cloths, a fan, and lots of watermelon (which I'd been craving since the beginning of my pregnancy). We also spoke with my mom on the phone and made a plan for her to fly in that day (although Craig really took care of all the arrangements and updates over the next several hours). It was around this time that I told Craig I wanted to say a prayer. We sat on the bed and I poured my heart out to God, crying and asking for a sense of guidance and assurance through whatever was about to come.
Around 3:00, I decided it was time to ask my doula, Erica, to come over. I had kept her posted since the night before on the state of my contractions, so she was on alert.
I wasn't really wild about timing my contractions at this point; doing so made me feel kind of antsy and numbers-focused, and I just wanted to let things happen without so much analysis. That said, we would still time the contractions intermittently, and they were roughly two minutes long and every five or six minutes. My midwives' "rule" about coming in to the birth center was a 3-1-1 situation -- contractions every three minutes, lasting one minute each, for one hour. I didn't know what to do with the fact that my contractions were lasting longer than a minute, but I just waited for Erica to arrive and go from there. She arrived around 5:00, and I don't know if it was her presence or just a coincidence of timing, but things started to feel very real when she got there. I started feeling the gravity of what was happening, and I knew I was going to have a baby soon. No turning back.
Craig had been doing a light touch massage thing on my back, which was really soothing, and Erica kind of took over that job; Craig would do it whenever I asked, but Erica seemed to know when I needed that help without me even asking. It was a huge comfort. Craig also made me a turkey sandwich which I couldn't eat; it sounded so delicious, but as soon as he brought it to me, I started feeling nauseated from the contractions and worried that I would throw it all up.
Having read and heard about my fair share of birth stories (actually, about twenty people's fair shares), I was reluctant to head in to the birth center too early; it's somewhat common for women to have consistent contractions that spread out or disappear when they go to the hospital/birth center, leading to a long, frustrating wait or even being sent back home. I didn't want that to be me, obviously. At the same time, I felt like things were picking up and it was getting to the point where we needed to go, and I didn't want to ignore that feeling.
We called Chris, my midwife, again, and she asked to listen to me through a few contractions. Humorously enough, she thought I had hung up on her because I was being so quiet through the first contraction! After we cleared up that confusion and talked a little bit, she said it definitely sounded like "the real thing," but she thought it was still a little early to come in. I was handling the pain well, and I was talking intelligently between the contractions, which led her to think I still had a while longer to go. After that conversation, I felt pretty strongly that, to be blunt, she was wrong. =) Not her fault! Here's what I mean: The hypnobirthing classes we took were really helpful in allowing me to breathe through everything and stay calm, which could be deceiving in terms of making an outsider think that the pain wasn't serious. I also have this self-conscious tendency to want people to think I'm smart and well-spoken, so I think I was really forcing myself into coherent sentences between those contractions when my real desire was to speak in short, disconnected phrases. So anyway, I gave myself a little time after that phone call and then called her back to have her listen to me through a few more contractions while I was leaning up against Craig, and I tried my best not to overdramatize what was happening while also not holding anything back. She agreed that it was time to come in if I felt like it was right, but she also suggested that we might want to wait 15-20 minutes to avoid the tail end of rush hour. We hung up and I told the crew that, no, we needed to go now. Just an intuitive thing. That was at 6:30.
Craig and Chelsea had been collecting all the things we needed, so we were ready. I waited for the next contraction to end, and then we walked out the door. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs (just one flight!), I was already having another contraction. I had to lean up against a concrete retaining wall, and Erica stopped with me to put that same light pressure on my back while Craig and Chel loaded things in the car. Funny moment: just as my contraction was getting underway, the apartment door that I was standing right next to opened up, and this guy came out walking his little curious dog. What a scene: a hugely pregnant, sweaty woman having a contraction, with a doula at her side, interrupted by a man with funny glasses and a dog who wouldn't stop sniffing at the pregnant woman's ankles. High-larious.
At the end of that contraction, I made my way to the car (it was parked right out front, thank the heavens) and got in the back seat with Chelsea. Erica told me I was doing amazing and that she would be right behind us. As we pulled out of the parking lot, I told Craig to drive calmly and avoid bumps (two things that he is really wonderful at, by the way). Even the slight swerving around the roundabout in our apartment complex felt pretty agonizing, but I kept my eyes closed and just tried to endure. Chel took over the light touch/encouraging words job that Erica had been handling back in the apartment.
In the car, things became a lot more difficult, and at the time, I though that it was just because we were in the car, which was uncomfortable, and because I didn't have my same comfort measures that I'd had at home. In hindsight, though, it became apparent that I was actually transitioning into the final stage of labor. My body was making that final expansion into full dilation and the time to actually push out a baby. It was a rough drive, but I really was pleasantly surprised at how quickly we reached the birth center (thank you, carpool lane, and thank you, skilled driver). Erica stayed right behind us the whole time and even kept timing my contractions; she could see me through the back window and knew by my body language that they were getting more intense and frequent.
We pulled up to Eastside Birth Center at 7:10 and walked in to find we were the first ones there. I curled up on the bed like a sad little cat and just waited. It was only a matter of minutes before I had two midwife assistants (Brittany and Marja) and Chris with me, along with my original crew of three. Lots of support to be had. Someone started filling up the birth tub with warm water, and I just kept laboring on the bed until it was ready. Five minutes after we arrived, I was throwing up all the watermelon I'd eaten that day, which was embarrassing but ultimately okay; bodily functions of all kinds are welcome at the birth center, and throwing up is a textbook indicator of transition. When the tub was ready (7:30), I changed into my swimsuit top (the same one I'd worn to the pool the night before -- nice symmetry there) and got into the water. I expected it to be really soothing, which it was, but the main sensation I felt was an INSTANT need to pee as soon as my butt hit the water. So annoying -- I didn't want to get out and use the toilet, but I felt like I needed to, so I did, but then I had absolutely nothing to squeeze out. Blerg. But being out of the tub did give me a chance to brush my teeth and recover from the earlier vomiting episode, so ... win?
Back in the tub, I knelt down and rested my head on the edge, cushioned by some towels. The midwife crew was bustling to record information and gather supplies, while my support team of Craig, Erica, and Chelsea were stationed really close by. I felt my water break and noticed that some brown stuff came out of my body and into the water, which I figured was blood or my poop or the baby's poop (called meconium) or some combination thereof. I asked if it was okay that that had happened, but I don't think my question was really clear; it seemed like people were trying to reassure me that there was nothing to be embarrassed about, when really my question was whether or not this particular stuff was normal or if it signaled a problem. Chris did eventually say that some of what I had released was meconium, which indicated that the baby was stressed. I knew from my past research that this could be a problem but wasn't necessarily something to worry about without more information, and Chris seemed like she had everything well in hand, and I honestly didn't feel uneasy at all about the baby's safety or mine. I was starting to feel a mounting sense of fear, though, just about my mental/emotional fortitude. I was afraid that the next part was going to completely overwhelm my senses and that I wouldn't be emotionally strong enough to persevere. I had this fear inside of me for several contractions before I finally felt humble enough to say it out loud (at 8:20, according to Erica's notes). I believe my exact words were, "Guys, I'm so scared." I know all three of them responded, but Erica's voice was what stood out. She said, "What are you scared of, Sara?" And she said it in the most sincere and honest tone of voice; it made me feel really safe. I told her pretty much the same thing as above about fearing the emotional intensity. I can't remember exactly how she responded, but honestly, I think just saying it out loud was enough to make me feel okay about things. Oh, I'm scared? Of course. This is a really big deal. It's normal to be scared. Let's keep going.
According to Erica's notes, it was two minutes after my scared confession that I said, "I feel like I need to push." And thus began a whole new stage. I had heard from different sources that the urge to push can be really strong or completely absent or somewhere inbetween. For me, the urge was quite strong right from that initial pushing contraction, and it just mounted as time went on. Chris checked me at 8:30 and found that while I was fully dilated, I had a little lip of cervix that was still in the way, so she tried pushing it out of the way over the next few contractions and coached me into effective pushing. She was able to move the lip out of the way and we carried on. It was about this time that my friend and birth photographer, Lori, showed up and started clicking away, but I literally never acknowledged her presence until after the baby was born. I was too inside my own mind and body to even look up and say hello.
Marja, one of the midwife assistants, started checking Soren's heartbeat after each contraction with her little doppler machine. It was usually totally fine, but every four or five contractions, his heart rate would come up a little slower and they would give me an oxygen mask to breathe from in an effort to get it back to a healthy level. He always recovered just fine, but between that pattern and the meconium, it seemed like there was a little more pressure to get things moving and make sure that the pushing was effective. The tone from the midwifery crew became a little more urgent. Chris started prompting me to get into different positions that might help his body move down in my pelvis. Craig and I tried to remember after the fact, and as best we can figure, I changed positions at least ten times at the birth center. I started out in the tub and tried two or three positions there, then moved to the bed, then moved to a birthing stool, then moved to a squatting thing at the foot of the bed, then moved to what is apparently called "The Seattle Straddle" (love that name) where Craig essentially held me between his knees, then moved to two more positions on the bed ... and we switched inbetween these positions at various times, doing some of them more than once. Marja was still checking out Soren's vitals inbetween every contraction, and the same pattern was holding steady where his heart would occasionally slow down and they would fix it by giving me the oxygen mask.
So throughout all this pushing, I was completely oblivious to the passage of time. I know it was light outside when I started pushing and that it eventually was dark outside, but other than that, it didn't seem like things were taking a long time at all. I've since figured out that I was pushing in all these positions at the birth center for around 2.5 hours, which is a long time as these things go, especially since I was making almost no progress at all. I know logically that it is a long time, especially given my long-standing fascination with birth stories and my general sense of how long women are usually in that pushing stage. The thing was, though, that it honestly didn't feel like a long time. I was tired and in pain, but inbetween contractions, I felt completely wrapped up inside myself, and I never felt like the strain was pushing me over the edge or like I couldn't do it anymore (at least not while I was at the birth center). Everyone who was present just gave me a ton of encouragement and specific directions and didn't reveal the passage of time to me in any way. If someone had asked me how long I'd been pushing by the end of that, I would have guessed a half an hour, which makes no sense at all. The relativity of time is real.
Eventually, though, I realized that what was happening was outside the norm. Chris told us that even though I was pushing effectively, the actual bones of Soren's head weren't moving down as well as they should be. She could see the skin of his head being pushed through, but the bones themselves were not. She didn't know what was causing that exactly, but given the amount of time I'd been working and the many positions we had tried to correct the problem, at 10:15, she said it was time to transfer to a hospital (it would be another 45 minutes-ish until we actually left, during which time I kept pushing). Soren was still doing okay and we weren't in an emergency situation, which meant we could go to the University of Washington Medical Center; there was a closer hospital we could have gone to, but Chris's past experience at UW had shown her that they would treat her midwifery patients with more care, so that was her preference (and I am so very happy that she made that call). I kept pushing for a while longer with Marja taking Chris's place while Chris went to contact UW and make arrangements for us.
I didn't process this at the time, but really, transferring to a hospital was heartbreaking for me. I of course wanted to do whatever was safest and best for Soren and me, and I trusted Chris's guidance wholeheartedly; there was no hesitation whatsoever about going to the hospital in the moment, and there's no regret. But I can feel the disappointment of not having the birth I desired and the frustration of how this might impact any future births of mine. There was something so peaceful and homey and intimate about the way I imagined Soren's birth, and this wasn't a passing fancy or frivolous wish; it was very important to me, and I had done everything I could to ensure that result. I wish it could have happened that way. In the last half hour or so at the birth center, while Chris was out arranging the transfer, I felt this huge wish to make things different. I tried to dig deeper and push longer and fix whatever was wrong. I wanted what ultimately wasn't going to happen, to make enough progress that Chris would come back in the room and say, "Oh, never mind! We can do this here!" Craig was being the most amazing person through this. I had had my eyes closed for hours at that point, and I'm sure everyone was doing important work that I couldn't see (and in fact, the pictures I've seen since the birth show me that everyone in the room was right in the thick of it, literally supporting the weight of my body at times), but all I could acknowledge in the moment was what I could hear rather than see. Craig was whispering all kinds of love and strength and hope into my ear. That man. I love him so.
The time came when we really were leaving for the hospital. Some combination of people helped me into some "fancy" underpants that would soak up any blood and pee and such that may come out, and I slowly made my way to Chris's car. I remember some confusion over who was going in the car with us, but it was eventually cleared up; Chris was driving, I was in the front passenger seat, and Marja and Craig were in the back seat. Brittany stayed to clean up the room. Erica and Lori each drove their own cars to the hospital, and Chelsea drove mine and Craig's car after she gathered up all of our stuff from the birthing center. (Side note: that ended up being a tough part of the equation, since Chelsea was the only one among us who didn't live in the area and therefore didn't know her way to the hospital. Since she was leaving several minutes behind the rest of us, she didn't have anyone to follow and she ended up getting lost. And then when she did get to the right place, they wouldn't let her up to our room without an ID, and she didn't have her wallet -- such an ordeal! She eventually found an old forgotten student ID from the University of Utah in the bottom of her backpack, which was either a lucky coincidence or a total miracle, and the hospital folks said it was okay since it was issued by a state school, and they finally let her up to our room. I was going through hard stuff, but Chel was going through her own brand of struggle in being stranded and worrying that she would miss the birth that she had come all that way to be a part of. She was so hands-on and IN IT while we were at the birth center; it would have been almost tragic if she had been separated from everything that was about to happen.)
The drive to UW was where things actually got difficult. The birth center was this haven of peace and sisterhood and power. Chris's car was completely different, and the drive from Bellevue to the University District was really and truly hellish. Trying to restrain the pushing brought a whole new level of pain, because -- and here's what I never could have fully understood beforehand -- my body was in charge of everything. Keeping my uterus from pushing was like keeping a cut from bleeding. I didn't have the choice to not push; my body was going to push whether I wanted it to or not. I could either help it or fight it, but fighting it was a losing battle. I was trying not to push, though, because Soren was still getting distressed from time to time (Marja kept monitoring me on the drive), and I wanted to hold back the cause of that stress as much as possible. My genitals were also hugely swollen from the hours of pushing, so I couldn't even fully sit down inbetween the contractions. We were making turns and changing lanes, and there was no position I could get into that helped me cope even remotely. My only outlets were to hold on to the hand support above be and one of Craig's hands behind me. It was the beginning of the hardest, worst thing I've ever experienced. I'd describe it as a huge heaviness in my vagina (which is exactly what it was, I guess).
A little Seattle area geography for you: Bellevue and Seattle are separated by Lake Washington, and there are two bridges across. The most direct route for us was over the 520 bridge, which takes you right into the University District (where our destination hospital was located). We took our exit onto Montlake Boulevard, where we needed to cross another short bridge. This was at around 11:00 at night, and -- oy vey -- THE DRAWBRIDGE WAS UP. This blocked our progress for 5-10 minutes where we were just stopped in a sea of other cars. No one told me the drawbridge was up, and because I had my eyes closed almost constantly, I didn't see it, but I eventually figured it out. It was one of those man this sucks, but complaining won't make it better moments for all of us, and we didn't mention the situation directly until Craig said, "Okay, hun, the drawbridge is coming down."
Chris drove us into UW Medical Center's underground parking garage, where Marja, Craig and I exited so she could park. I got into a wheelchair and we made our way to the elevator. My clearest memory of this was approaching a certain part of the sidewalk that was made of bricks, sort of in a cobblestone pattern, and I. WAS. FURIOUS. with whomever had made the decision to put those bricks there instead of regular sidewalk. That was my literal thought process: "I hate whoever did this, I hate them, I hate them." Because going over even those small bumps in the wheelchair hurt my undercarriage so badly.
Once inside the hospital, I was wheeled through a waiting room full of people, and while I didn't want to scare them or cause a scene, I didn't feel like I could play it cool even a little bit, so they got to hear whatever noises I was making at that point. I made it to my room and got onto the bed that they had ready for me. My hospital records show that we checked in at 11:15 pm.
Things for the next hour are a huge blur to me. The pain was nigh unto unbearable, and my only safe place was inside my own head, so I was shutting out everything I could. I knelt down on the bed, buried my face in the pillow, and tried not to see or hear anything that I didn't have to; I followed simple instructions just to get by. It was like I was trying to create a little cave for myself. I know there are big gaps in my understanding of what happened, but here's what I remember:
The nurses and doctors who attended to me at UW were beyond amazing. They respected me. They respected Craig. They respected my midwife. They read my birth plan and talked to me about it. They were as gentle as possible. They helped us make hard decisions. My nurse, Jenny, was incredible. That said, even being in a hospital room was a huge departure from what I wanted, and making the mental transition was tough. I felt very vulnerable and sad and just in such tremendous pain.
I didn't need to change out of my clothes and into a hospital gown (hooray for a staff that wasn't going to harp on trivial things like clothes!), but I did need to take off my shorts and the underwear so that they could figure out what was happening in the birth canal. This meant that I was naked from the waist down for a bit. Craig maintains that it was a matter of ten seconds or less before they had me covered up with a sheet, and I'm sure he's right, but remember the time relativity thing? It worked in reverse at this point. I was kneeling with my naked bum in the air in front of all these strangers in scrubs, and I felt like I was exposed like that for ten minutes. It was the height of my sadness, being in a place where I didn't want to be, feeling things I was bone-tired of feeling, having people I didn't know and couldn't see look at my bare butt and vagina. It was the worst, the absolute low point of the whole birth.
I remember looking up at the clock on the wall and remembering that my mom was arriving at the airport sometime soon. I knew Chelsea wasn't in the hospital room, and I asked Craig if she had gone to pick up my mom; he just told me not to worry about anything and that she was on her way. (Side note: it turns out that a woman from church was picking her up and driving her to the hospital, totally out of the goodness of her heart. People can be so nice.)
Erica's notes are really my only guide to how things progressed after that. At 11:30, I got hooked up to an IV and started receiving fluids; I believe I also had a catheter put in around this time. At 11:40, they placed a fetal scalp monitor in/on Soren. At 12:00, I received my epidural. It all happened pretty quick, evidently (definitely didn't feel so quick at the time). All of these things were thoroughly discussed with Craig and me, and what was really wonderful is that by this time, our entire birth center crew (minus Brittany, as previously mentioned) was in the room with us. Chris was regarded by the hospital staff as the total professional that she is, so she was able to be right in the thick of things -- not administering any medical care, but advising us and giving needed insight on my medical history to the team. There were so many times when the doctors would suggest something and explain it through my pain, and I would look at Chris for her blessing, and when I received it, I knew it was the right decision. She was a guiding force for me. I trusted her entirely.
TUESDAY, July 2
When they placed the epidural at midnight, everyone had to clear the room except for Craig and the official hospital folk. I sat on the edge of the bed and put my weight on Craig and Jenny (the aforementioned nurse -- again, she was so great!) while two anesthesiologists did their thang. I don't think I ever saw their faces (I was still in all the pain and had my eyes closed as much as possible), but one of them had a French accent, which prompted Craig to start a conversation with him in French. That was fun (translation: no it wasn't. I was like, "Craig, stop talking." But not out loud, unfortunately). If the epidural was painful to receive, I don't remember it. The vagina pain was still front and center.
How did things unfurl after that ... let's see ... after the epidural was in, all of my other people came back in the room. One of the nurses gave me a little button that I could push to up the medication, and Craig apparently pushed it right away, which prompted the nurses to get slightly mad at him because only I was authorized to push it. Not too much later, I asked the nurse if it was supposed to have taken effect yet. She said that yes, I should be experiencing a lot of relief at that point, but I wasn't. A short conversation with her revealed the following (and this is my understanding of what she said, so don't take this as medically accurate info necessarily): an epidural is meant to help with earlier contractions, the ones you feel high up in the uterus, the ones I was experiencing at home. The contractions I was experiencing at this point were felt down in the actual birth canal, and the nurse explained to me that the epidural doesn't really alleviate that pain; it's important for the woman to be able to feel that at least somewhat so that she knows when it's time to push and where to direct that pushing. So, if you're keeping up, that meant that the epidural I'd just received was kind of worthless. I literally laughed like a movie villain at the nurse and said something along the lines of, "Yeah, that doesn't help me."
Weirdly enough, this was the moment when things turned around for me and I started to feel a little more mentally and emotionally okay. Learning that the epidural wasn't going to help me in any way and knowing that the hours of pushing hadn't gotten me very far ... somehow it all came together and I knew with certainty that I was going to have a cesaerean. I didn't have to resign myself to that fact; I just suddenly knew that it was going to happen, that it was always going to happen this way, that this was how Soren was going to be born (and maybe even how he was supposed to be born). And I felt total peace about it. I am so grateful for that moment of clarity. It put a beautiful glow on everything that was about to happen, so that I could appreciate it and feel empowered in something so different from what I'd originally planned. Once I let go of something that wasn't to be (ie having a vaginal birth), I was able to think clearly and feel pretty okay between the contractions
So I knew I was going to have a c-section, but I didn't say anything about it at that point. It wasn't as though I decided to keep it to myself; it just really didn't occur to me to mention it. Not too much later, my main doctor (whose name I don't know -- I'm sure she told it to me when I wasn't listening to anything that wasn't essential) sat down by the bed, right next to Craig. Chris was standing immediately behind her, and we had ourselves a heart-to-heart. I think it was at this point that the doctor told us that Soren was coming out forehead first, which is why we were having so much trouble. (I learned later that this is called a brow presentation; you can look it up and learn more, if you want, but suffice it to say that it occurs very rarely and that it's nigh unto impossible to deliver a baby vaginally this way.) Soren's heartrate was also getting into a dangerous zone more frequently. In between contractions, the doctor explained our options.
The first was to labor a little longer and use pitocin to strengthen the contractions. In doing that, the doctors would try to reposition Soren in such a way that he could be delivered. She told us that we could try this for another half hour or so, but if things weren't coming along at that point, she'd feel best about a c-section so that Soren wouldn't be in distress any longer. There was also the possibility that the umbilical cord could be pinched in that attempt. Either of those two situations would probably result in an emergency c-section, which are really hard on a woman's body and not at all ideal.
After she explained this option, I said as firmly as possible, "I want to discuss the option of a cesaerean." Craig told me later that he was shocked I brought it up; he was still under the impression that I wanted to do everything we could to avoid surgery. I didn't want to play around anymore with making a gentle suggestion or whatever; it was time to cut to the chase. I also didn't have much time between contractions to say whatever I needed to say, so everything had to be quick and clear.
The doctor told me that, yes, the other option she was going to bring up was a c-section. She told me what the preparation process would be for that and also conveyed to me that this was serious abdominal surgery and not something to be taken lightly.
With all our facts and options on the table, Craig spoke first. He said something like, "Here's what I think: let's try the labor for a little longer and see how it goes." He told me later that, really, he thought an immediate c-section was the best call, but he knew how much I didn't want that, so he wanted to give me time to come around to the idea. He also didn't want me to feel pressured into something so huge. Little did he know that my mind was already made up.
I looked at him and said, "I want to do the cesaerean." (Craig said afterward that, metaphorically speaking, his jaw hit the floor when he heard this.) He asked me if I was sure, and I quickly ran through all these persuasive reasons in my head, trying to figure out how to explain my change of heart, but what I landed on was the simple truth: "I just think it's the right choice." I looked at Chris again, looking for that confirmation from her, and I got it. "It's time, sweetie. You've done so well, and this is the way to go." We made the decision at around 12:30 and I signed some paperwork (my signature looked pretty jacked up, by the way).
I assume they switched some new medicine into my IV or epidural or whatever. I started numbing up a bit and said goodbye to everyone in the room -- Lori, Erica, Chelsea, Marja, Chris, and finally Craig (the protocol was to wheel me into the operating room first and get me prepped, then to bring Craig in once he was all dressed in his awesome scrubs). Everyone gave me love and support; it was truly beautiful.
As I left the room, I saw a new guest right at the door -- my mom! I realize now how silly this was, but my first assumption was that she had been there for a while but that Craig and Chelsea had told her to wait outside as a special surprise for me. Obviously, that was not the case. It was just a magic coincidence that she got to my door at the exact moment when I was being wheeled away. I told her I loved her and proceeded down the hall; she didn't even know what was happening until she went in the room and everyone inside told her that I was going in for surgery. Craig apparently had a huge emotional release once I was out of the room, finally feeling like it was okay to cry a little bit, and being that he was the lone man in a room full of very caring women, there were lots of people to offer him a shoulder to do that crying on.
A crew of surgeons and nurses were waiting for me in the operating room. As the medicine took hold more and more, I became sort of loopy but a lot more aware than I had been before. For example, I'd been wearing a headband throughout the entire labor to keep my hair out of my face, and once I was in the OR, I noticed that it felt a little funny. I moved to readjust it and discovered that I actually had one of those hospital caps on, similar to a hairnet. I have no idea who put it on my head or when; I hadn't been paying attention to anything that wasn't totally vital. The pain of the contractions went away, and I eventually became numb from my chest down (they tested lots of places on my body multiple times to make sure). I was shivering a lot, which led the nurses to put some warm towels over my arms (that felt awesome). My t-shirt was still on; it was this really lame work t-shirt of Craig's, and I actually asked the nurses to cut it off of me, but I don't think they wanted to remove any layers with as shivery as I was. I was laying on the table with my arms straight out on each side, and just before Craig came in, they hung a blue curtain up right over my chest so that we couldn't see anything. He arrived dressed in blue scrubs with a little mask over his mouth and sat down on my left side. Everyone was bustling around, preparing tools and whatever else, and Craig and I had a chance to just be together and stare at each other and wonder at the total craziness that had been the past 12 hours.
It was finally time for the surgery to start. It's tough to explain the way it all felt, because while I was numb to what was happening, I could still feel it ... I know that doesn't make sense. There wasn't pain from being cut open, but there was plenty else to experience. The surgeons were pulling and moving and shaking and pushing my body a lot, tugging me around, enough that my head and arms were jerking in response. I was being seriously man-handled (or woman-handled -- I think all my surgeons were women ... although I really don't know). It was pretty tough to take; I had to employ my hypnobirthing breathing techniques as much as I could, and Craig tried to keep me calm and focused by telling me to look into his eyes. I wouldn't have expected it to be so violent, nor to take as long as it did (and again, I don't know how long it actually took; it just felt longer than I thought it would). I could feel that the surgeons were working on me from the incision site, but I could also feel that someone's hand was in my vagina, pushing on Soren's head from there in order to dislodge him from the birth canal. It was pretty intense. I asked the nurses who were at the top of my body if everything was okay, and they confirmed that the baby and I were both fine, that everything was going smoothly. As things wound down and they pulled the baby out, Craig was asked if he wanted to look over the curtain or cut the umbilical cord; he refused, and I was glad -- I wanted him to stay with me. Soren was born at 1:22 AM.
And finally -- finally, finally -- we heard Soren's first cry. It was mild and wonderful, and Craig and I both cried a little bit in response. He was moved to another part of the room to be taken care of; with the decelerating heartrate issue and the presence of meconium, the team needed to make sure that he was healthy and safe as a first priority. Once he was in the clear, a nurse asked Craig if he wanted to come over and say hello. Soren had been keeping up a strong cry throughout, and I told Craig that he was welcome to go and comfort him. Once he stepped away, though, I felt really alone; I was still being jostled quite a bit as the doctors started sewing me up. I said, "Umm, can someone else come hold my hand?" And one of the nurses (who was five months pregnant and looked a lot like a character from "Juno," as Craig told me later) came and took Craig's place, holding my hand and comforting me.
When Soren was all bundled up in a blanket and cap, Craig brought him over to me. I remember a nurse asking me if I wanted her to clean some poop off of Soren's bum before I held him (I'm not sure if that happened at this point or later on ... but I think it was here), and I told her not to; I just wanted to see him immediately, and I didn't care about anything you might normally think of as gross. Craig brought him over and we stared at him and talked about him while the doctors proceeded to sew me up (every so often, I'd hear them update each other on the progress - "Sewing up the uterus," "Sewing up the skin layer," etc.). It was so very very bright in that room; Craig was shading Soren's face as best he could to encourage him to open his eyes. It was just a beautiful time. Soren was a very good-looking baby, right from the start. He was with us and we were fully in love.
When I was all in one piece again, they moved me from the surgery table to a bed with wheels, and OH MAN. That felt pretty bonkers. Here's how I explain it: imagine your body is encased in a block of ice. The ice isn't cold; it's just heavy all around you and keeps you completely still. Then imagine that people on all sides of you start to move you by lifting and shifting the block of ice. You feel and see that your body is moving, but you don't feel anyone touching you and you can't move your body even slightly in response. That's pretty much how it felt. It was honestly pretty fun.
Whoever was holding Soren at that point placed him face down on my chest as we left the room. He was naked for some skin-to-skin time with me, with just a blanket covering his back, and he started to cry a little more fiercely. It was time to whip out the mom magic by singing a song to him that I'd been singing throughout the pregnancy ("All About Your Heart" by Mindy Gledhill). My voice was not in a good way at that point, and I didn't sing loud enough that anyone else could hear me, but it totally worked to calm him down. It was insanely cute and gratifying.
We went back to the room. Everyone was still there except for Chris; there were actually two other moms in labor back at the birth center (two! that never happens! good thing I cleared out of there...), and they needed her more. The following two hours were lovely; everyone met Soren and shared their thoughts, I started breastfeeding, Lori took pictures. People were telling me I was a warrior princess, which felt pretty nice. I felt total relief and happiness. Marja, Erica, and Lori trickled out as they needed to, and then my mom, Chelsea, Craig, Soren, and I were taken to a recovery room, where I'd stay for the next two days.
Mom stayed with me and Soren that first night, and Craig and Chelsea went back to our apartment to get some rest (they were pretty much as tired as I was). There were some really sweet moments and some really tough moments to follow; that first week was all over the place in terms of my emotions. But that's a totally different story, isn't it? To sum that up: I went home Wednesday evening. Soren was and is a wonderfully easy baby to take care of. Breastfeeding hurt at first, but it's great and super-easy now. My hormones were nuttsy, then pretty good, then kinda nuttsy again, and now totally fine. Motherhood has been pretty kind to me so far.
All in all, I am satisfied. No, I didn't want a C-section, and if I could go back in time and do something to prevent it and still get Soren here safely, I would. That said, on an emotional level, I still ended up with the birth I wanted. I wanted to challenge myself and dig deep -- check. I wanted to go into labor on my own -- check. I wanted to labor without medication and draw from my inner strength and the support of the people around me -- check (I dilated fully and pushed for several hours without any intervention; if it hadn't been for the brow presentation issue, I definitely would have been able to have him without pain meds). I wanted to trust myself and trust the knowledge of my care providers -- check. I'm happy with every decision we made from the beginning to now, from when we first found out we were pregnant to this very day. We picked the right midwives, we prepared ourselves with research and hypnobirth training, we enlisted the right help from the right people, we called Erica at the right time, we went to the birth center at the right time, we tried a lot of different positions for pushing, we went to the best hospital ever at the right time, we evaluated our options correctly and made the best decisions that were available to us. And Soren is here, healthy, lovely, wonderful. He is seriously the love of our lives now. We love love love love him.
I want my final paragraph to be this: a few days after we got home, Erica came over for a post-partum visit and, in the course of our conversation, she told us about another client's birth that she went to just the day after ours (she must have been so tired!). That birth isn't my business and isn't my story to tell, but suffice it to say that Erica was still visibly bothered by how that birth went. She put it pretty bluntly and said, "There wasn't a lot of love in that birth. It wasn't like yours." I am fully grateful for the amazing love that encompassed Soren's birth. It bonded Craig and me like nothing else ever has (and, in my estimation, like nothing else ever could). I felt total support from everyone who was with me in the process, and I felt it from my Heavenly Parents as well. The biggest thing I learned was this: where love is, God is. No matter where this had happened or how it had happened, if love was in the room, then God would have been there. God is love. I always believed that and figured it was true, but now I know it. I'm going to take that lesson and that love with me wherever I go.