Our birth stories don’t all begin the moment we bring our children into the world. For me, it began in high school with a moment imprinted on my heart forever: staring at my doctor’s face as she said, “You have endometriosis. Having children will be very, very difficult for you.” From that moment on, I had resolved in my heart that I would never be the one thing I always wanted to be…a mother.
Fast-forward five years later after only two months of marriage and seeing those two pink lines, it was instant amazement, awe, wonder, and excitement. With my first pregnancy, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum, sporadic bleeding, gestational diabetes, preterm labor at 28 weeks, and prodromal labor that led to constant clockwork contractions from 32 weeks on. I was beyond blessed to have the medical team I had. Nurses who didn’t mind the frequent questioning calls, an OB who was patient and kind when I was basically begging her to just do something, and on-call doctors who were there for my frequent (once to twice weekly) overnight hospitalizations to monitor labor progress.
My labor stories don’t begin with a gush of waters breaking in the middle of the night like I always dreamed. In fact, after three babies, I am resigned to the fact that this is just the way my body works. With my first it was too hard for me to actually trust my body and to feel comfortable with the process, so I begged for an induction. Luckily, my OB patiently reminded me that I had to grow this baby as long as possible and I had to settle with being calmed by monitoring his size, watching his practice breathing, and seeing his development weekly knowing that he wasn’t quite ready yet. I did eventually get my induction at 39 weeks, although now it is a decision I wish I had thought through more carefully.
Throughout my pregnancy I had wanted a natural birth. I had done hypnobirthing, listened to my mom recount her natural birth stories, etc. Here I was in pain with contractions every single moment, 2cm dilated and going crazy from hearing “any day now”, yet making no progress and watching friends who had been 1/2cm dilated go into labor overnight! I gave up on my body; I was defeated before my birth even began. I didn’t have a support system telling me, “This is just the way labor is. Everything you are experiencing is natural. Even if it isn’t what happens to everyone, it is normal. You are doing it even if it feels like you aren’t.” The first thing I would have done differently would be addressing my lack of support beyond my family and my OB. Birthing groups, a doula, there are so many options; but I was one of the first of my friends to have a baby, so I had no idea. This led to me not having the natural birth I wanted.
I was the one who made the decision to be induced. Shortly after, when my baby’s heart rate dropped, I got the epidural (something I desperately wanted to avoid) just in case a c-section was needed. I needed oxygen, something I had read was a common fix for a baby’s decelerated heart rate; but I was too afraid to mention it. I figured if they thought that would help they’d try it first. I found my voice after the epi. Immediately after receiving the oxygen, my baby’s heart rate went back to normal. All it would have taken to possibly avoid the epidural would have been to ask, “Can I have some oxygen, please?” a few minutes earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the epi. In fact, I loved it! After months of constant contractions, it was the first time I couldn’t feel anything. It was a bit wonderful, but it wasn’t what I had wanted. I had discounted how strongly that would impact me. That birth set the tone for each birth that followed.
Even though it wasn’t the birth I “imagined”, I still loved my first birth experience. It was mine after all. It was a very quick birth, and as I watched him enter the world on the mirror at the foot of the bed. I was still left in awe of what my body had just accomplished. I didn’t, however, love the 4th degree tearing and the stitching up as the epi wore off; but I won’t go into that! The recovery was so tough, breastfeeding was not natural for us. I suffered from postpartum psychosis and hallucinations, and I pretty much went through the list of “negative post-birth experiences” which leaves me wishing again that I’d had a doula to help with my postpartum needs.
My next birth, 17 short months later, had the same pre-labor dramas, but ended with no induction, spontaneous water breakage, and a much more comfortable recovery. I was much more comfortable asking for what I wanted and answering questions with “no” instead of just “ok”. In fact, I was up and walking immediately after (even after an epi since it had worn off by the end). I was breastfeeding like a champ and actually enjoyed my experience. I did get the epi with all of my labors, because after the first one I felt I couldn’t labor without it again (although, now, I’m desperate to at least try and praying I get a chance!) I know I had an easier time with my later births because, even though I still didn’t trust my body 100%, I trusted myself more. That confidence made all the difference, and with each birth I realized more and more about myself (like the fact that I can walk around at 4cm having contractions every 5 minutes for a month like I did with #3… I truly never would have thought that was possible!) Maybe next time, if there is a next time, I can finally try for that natural birth!