Doula’s Disclosure: This is the year, 2015, that reminds me the most of my first birth. Ignore the fact thats it’s been over a decade and it’s taken me this long to process it all. Birth can be traumatic, wild, joyful and wonder-filled all in the same event. It takes time to process the births of our babies; not a process to be rushed or shoved aside. No matter what your first experience looked like with birth, believe it can be better.
It was Thanksgiving weekend and all of the turkey and stuffing had been packaged into Pyrex containers. Jesse and I had been married for about 3 years and were very active in our church. We went to church that morning and I remember having a nudge during worship. I was standing, swaying and worshipping Jesus and felt my baby move a lot more than normal. It was like she was participating in the worship service as well. And as I look back, all of that hip swaying and gravity helped to bring her into the optimum position; head down and engaged into the pelvis. We went home and had the traditional lunch and post church nap. When I woke up, my back was sore, but I kind of brushed that off as a normal, third trimester issue. As the afternoon wore on, I began having light contractions. I thought they were “Braxton Hicks” because at the time, I was uneducated about the birth process and didn’t really believe a baby could be born 10 days early. These were just “practice” in my mind. My husband was invited to go to the mall to go shopping with his friend. I jokingly teased him that he was going to leave me here, alone, with contractions and I was going to have to drive myself to the hospital. This was before the days iPhones, and even though we had a cell phone, I’m not even sure he took it with him to the mall. (In his defense, I think he was getting my Christmas present.) Contractions started getting more painful after he left and I decided laying down was not going to help with the pain so I decided to sit at our computer desk and play solitaire.
Distraction is one of the best pain management options in early labor. I was following my gut at the time, but now I can look back and see the stages clearly.
I’m not sure what time the mall closes on a Sunday evening, but that was around the time my husband came home. I’m sure he expected to find me passed out on the couch from exhaustion because I am an early bird at bed time, but instead he found me on the computer, timing my contractions on a notepad. He knew things were getting serious. He started packing bags and I got up to empty my bowels. Another instinctual decision at the time, I just knew I had to go every hour, but my body was making more room for the baby to descend. During this last trip to the bathroom, the contractions picked up and the pain was more intense. I had no idea how intense they were supposed to be, and so I decided it was time to go to the hospital. I think one of my husband’s greatest fears was and still is, catching a baby at home without support. He was all in.
As I was checked in and hooked up, I probably arrived at the hospital at 4 centimeters dilated. I had no clue what effacement was and my birth class at the hospital never covered the station of the baby. All I knew was that I needed to get to 10 centimeters and I had no idea how to do that. My goal for this birth was to be drug free, intervention free and deliver vaginally. My preparation towards that goal was minimal at best and I didn’t train for the marathon ahead. I’m not even sure I ate dinner that evening.
Jesse and I tried everything the nurses suggested. Walking down the hallway, leaning on the railings, rocking in a chair and on the birth ball. There was no way I was going to stay in the bed and I found it really helpful to kneel on the hospital floor. This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy and so does his. We were sleep deprived and not at all prepared for the all-nighter. We could have used a doula but in 2004, I had never even heard the word doula. Funny how God works things into our lives.
Around 7 centimeters I began to go through transition. I was shaking and cold and nauseas. I was scared because I felt like I had the flu and had no idea what transition was until I began throwing up and the nurse might have mentioned the word to me. Still clueless and exhausted, hungry and scared, I asked for something to help with the pain. I was given Demerol through my IV and that made me care a little bit less that I was in pain. I still felt the peak of the contraction, but I was able to relax more in-between them. After that wore off, I had progressed to 9 1/2 centimeters. I felt like I could be pushing at any moment and that scared me.
I didn’t feel prepared for what THAT was like and I mentally and emotionally stalled myself for 4 hours. Stalled. Still having contractions but not fully dilated.
Looking back as a doula, I wonder if I was dilating to 10 centimeters with every contraction and could have tried a few practice pushes. My on-call Doctor was at a loss and called in the Midwife who was attending to another patient down the hall. I should have recognized her as my knight in shining armor, but I had never experienced the midwifery model of care and she scared me more than the rest of the team in my room. I’m an introvert and it takes me awhile to feel like I can trust people and for the exception of my husband, I didn’t trust anyone in that room. The midwife asked me to get on my hands and knees, IN FRONT of all those strangers. She recognized that I was having back labor and my baby was sunny side up, (OP). I flatly told her no and she walked away realizing that I wasn’t going to trust her.
Looking back I wish I had been coachable in that moment.
I wish I could have taken the leap and trusted that she was trying to help me deliver my baby. The last resort, and the only piece of advice my doctors were giving me was that I needed the epidural. It was the only thing going to help my body relax. I gave in, feeling defeated and promptly dilated.
I have seen this scenario play out as a doula in women who have been extremely in shape and physically fit. Their pelvic floor is tone and not used to being stretched or relaxed. This may or may not have played a part in my lack of dilation, but I think it was more mental and emotional in my case.
My epidural was awful; it was so heavy that I couldn’t wiggle my toes or hold my own legs up in the stirrups. They have come a long way in dosing epidurals and have figured out the formula for making them lighter. I had a terrible time figuring out how to push, and then figuring out how to push numb was hard. It’s difficult enough as a newbie birther, but the epidural added a layer of challenge. A non- consented episiotomy was preformed and at 8:05 am my daughter was born.
She was a feisty little girl, all 6lbs 7oz. of her. They immediately whisked her to the warming bed and began “treating” her. The golden hour was not such a big deal back then, but I wished I would have advocated for it. One of Jesse and I’s strongest memories is of her crying in the warmer. She would cry when the nurses would touch her but whenever Jesse would touch her, she was fine. She heard my voice from afar, but I felt helpless laying on that bed, with numb legs, to get up and soothe my baby. I remember wanting someone to bring her over to me so badly. While she was being weighed and measured, I promptly called my co-worker at Child Saving Institute to let her know I wouldn’t be in the office today. I look back and laugh at myself, and I think I surprised Wendy as well. All I remember thinking is that it was past 8:00 am and I was late for work! I hate to be tardy.
In the hours following Ainsley’s birth, she had low blood sugar and also had a hard time maintaining her body temp. One of the nurses suggested skin to skin, which to this day I am so thankful for. Jesse and I rotated our kangaroo care while we waited to be discharged form the hospital. Ainsley wasn’t nursing well and after a few visits from the lactation consultant I was prescribed a nipple shield.
As I look back at the newborn days and months to follow, I can see how the progression of issues built up from the decisions made at birth and the hours following. At the time, I was just making decisions on the fly, without the proper research and prayer they require. As a first time mom, I was just feeling my way through the darkness. Christmas was a blur and I remember thinking to myself during those long, late night nursing sessions that all I wanted for Christmas was my two hours of sleep. I learned so much from this birth that I took into my next two labors. I think the oldest child is always an experiment of sorts; where we as parents try to figure it out and then we do better the next time. “Know better, do better” has brought me a lot of comfort and someday I will sit down with my daughter and pass down the birthing wisdom and support that I needed.