From Traumatic to Empowering Birth

The birth of my son Felix was an overwhelmingly positive experience. But to really understand why it was a true success and not just a cool story, I need to tell you a little bit about the birth and recovery of my first child, Emma.

When I was pregnant with my first, I had a slew of problems that weren't all "serious", but were more like constant obstacles that I believe ultimately led to a traumatic birth experience, along with being ill-prepared. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and high blood pressure, and had severe anemia. I also had some problems with preterm labor at 32 weeks and was put on bed rest. I didn't take any childbirth classes and refused to even look into hiring a doula (I told myself that I don't even want my mom in the room, why would I want a stranger talking to me and touching me?).

I had scheduled an induction due to the gestational diabetes, but was ultimately admitted even earlier at 38 weeks due to a risk for pre-eclampsia. To make a 26-hour story short, I was at a total loss at what to do, so I pretty much sat around or lay in the bed for a lot of my labor. I was admitted into the hospital at 3 cm, very effaced, and my baby very low. However, for the first 24 hours I labored naturally, I progressed only 2 more cm. I was starving. I was hooked up to an IV for fluids and antibiotics, which prohibited me from getting in the tub in a comfortable position. I hated the fetal monitors which dug deep into my abdomen the whole 26 hours. I felt like I was failing for not making any real progress. After about 18 or so hours I had my membranes ruptured to try to augment my labor even more, and my pain turned to agony. When I reached 24 hours, I gave in and got an epidural.

At that point, not only was I dealing with self-loathing, but my husband withdrew from me out of anger at what we both considered my failure. It was also a dream of his for his wife to have an easy natural birth as his mother had 9 kids natural, and he thought that all births were a standard by-the-book procedure that just hurt. He did apologize about it before my daughter was born, but I was still hurt. After the birth, I had horrible depression that didn't truly set in until after we got home, and it lasted for months. With time, I thankfully recovered, but in hindsight I needed serious help.

A little over a year later, I found out I was pregnant again. It was exciting when I first found out, but a nagging anxiety settled over me the duration of the pregnancy with memories of my past experience and stresses about the future. But, I was also determined for this birth to be better. My goals were no induction, no IV, as minimal fetal monitoring as possible, to labor at home as much as possible, and no epidural. I was working out a lot with weight training, eating healthy, and drinking tons of water. So this time around, I fought and beat gestational diabetes and hypertension! Two big victories that would really help lower my chance of needing an induction!

I had to stop working out at 30 weeks and go on medication for preterm labor until almost 36 weeks, but chasing after my toddler helped keep me at least a little active. My doctor recommended Birth Help for childbirth classes and I'm so glad he did. Through them I developed a peace and confidence that replaced my anxiety about the birth. The classes were awesome and felt like date nights with my husband. With the birth of our baby imminent, they allowed for my husband and me to address and deal with my hurt from our last birth and to be prepared for our upcoming birth. The classes educated us both about what I physically and mentally went through and would go through again, and his expectations and goals, as well as mine, had been brought to a reasonable level. Ultimately, I wanted to reach my goal to have a healthy baby and a healthy mama, with the hope of a natural birth.  We decided to ask Ms. René to be our doula.

On Saturday, June 18th, the day before my due date, I was definitely ready for the baby to come. The prior Thursday, I was 1-2 cm dilated, 80% effaced, and the baby engaged at a +1 station. I did a lot to prepare for labor, especially after 36 weeks, including walking, taking evening primrose oil, eating dates, drinking red raspberry leaf tea, and that weekend I did lots of fast (and bouncy) walking. My true labor contractions started that day and lasted through the night. They hurt, but were very irregular.

When I called Ms. René she let me know that it could be the start of labor and could either pick up or fizzle out. Eventually it fizzled out. The next morning my contractions started again at about 8 a.m. They were hard with lots of pressure, and I had to breathe through many of them and had to pause during a contraction while walking. I still went to church that morning because I couldn't consistently time them, and went to my mom's house with our bags packed in the car. At times during our visit, I wished I could be alone to deal with the pain. I worried that if I wasn't even in "real" labor, how would I make it to the end.

One of my goals was to labor at home as much as possible as to not need the fetal monitor or an IV, but since I was already in pain, I thought it might not be a bad idea to go to the hospital early to get my hands on a birthing ball. But since my contractions were still just as irregular (3-10 minutes apart) and Ms. René told me the same thing as the day before (as my situation was the same), I didn't go to the hospital.

Actually, at 2 o’clock my husband and I decided to take my daughter home and go to my sister-in-law's Father's Day BBQ as my contractions seemed to fizzle to every 10-15 minutes. We got home and about 10 minutes later as we were getting ready to leave again, I went to the bathroom. When I sat down, I felt a hard pop in my lower abdomen. I had no idea what had just happened, but before I could react or freak out, my contractions returned with a vengeance. They were so strong, I had to vocalize and use the breathing techniques I learned to get through them. Even though my water had broken, I didn't feel any fluid, but there was a lot of bloody discharge. I weakly, yet somehow also forcefully told my husband to get me my phone because I was having the baby!

I called Ms. René and she strongly advised me to head to the hospital as I had 3 intense contractions within the 8 minute phone call, and after my mother-in-law arrived to watch my daughter (thank God she lives in our neighborhood), we were off. By this point, my focus shifted more inward as I breathed and moaned through the contractions. My contractions very quickly got incredibly intense, and I was now positive my water had broken.

As we approached the hospital, I was worried because I felt like my "real" labor had only just started but I was already in a lot of pain. I remember thinking that I didn't know if I would be able to last hours and hours of this, and how could I wimp out already if this was just the beginning? It took us 15 minutes to get to the hospital from our house. As we pulled into the assessment area at 5:19, Ms. René was there to meet us. I grabbed the cookies I had baked for the nurses and tried to get out of the car and felt myself nearly crumple to the ground into a squat, and Ms. René helped me lean on her and get through the contraction. She asked me if I felt pressure on my bottom as if I needed to go to the bathroom, and I replied "no".

They quickly wheeled me inside and hurried me into a room. As I sat up and tried to get out of the wheel-chair and onto the table for them to check me, I felt the baby crowning. I was afraid because I had no idea that I was this far along and screamed "the baby's coming out!"  I'm so thankful Ms. René was there because evidently the assessment staff are not used to women delivering babies there. All I can vaguely remember was the chaos of about 20 nurses trying to get in and out of this tiny room. I don't really remember the specifics of what was happening around me because when you're in that much pain, you are incredibly inwardly focused. I can remember that they tried to get me on my back, but there was just no way that was going to happen. I was already on my hands and knees and could barely move, but somehow I managed to get on my side. But I do clearly remember someone telling me I needed to push for the sake of my baby. That got through to me and I pushed just a few times, maybe two or three, and my baby was born at 5:25, just six minutes after we pulled up to the hospital. The intense pain stopped and they took the baby to take care of him because the cord was wrapped around his neck and his face was blue. Ms. René encouraged Stephen to go with the baby to the warmer, just outside of the room.  It turned out my baby was completely fine, and they returned him to me after a few minutes and helped to get him on my chest.

I couldn't believe what had just happened! I tried to comprehend that I just had my baby, but it really took a few days to process. So much had just happened so fast! As the next day or so passed, I began to understand what a miracle it was that we even made it to the hospital. Thankfully Ms. René encouraged me to go to the hospital because I was actually on the fence on what to do. Even though this was my second birth experience, everything about it was so vastly different than my first induction, including the way the actual contractions felt. I thought my labor was only starting with 21 minutes to go! 

Another thing I realized for myself was something Ms. René told me while I was still pregnant after I told her about my first birth: There is a difference between pain and suffering. With my first birth, during and after, I suffered a lot. Seemingly unending and non-progressing physical pain, emotional hurt, and the fear of not knowing how to help myself or what was going to happen meant a lot of suffering for me. But even though my second birth obviously still physically hurt, I was able to help myself progress and stay in control through my pain, which made this birth a positive experience instead of traumatic.

Something else I realized as I took time to process this birth was how strong and capable my body is. My first birth I felt like a failure and so weak, but all of that was just circumstantial. There were so many medical interventions, albeit some of them necessary, I'm just lucky I didn't end up with a C-section. But this birth I labored through almost all of it on my own thanks to the resources and knowledge Birth Help had given me. I didn't need anyone else to help me get through it until the very end, and I didn't need any drugs either. I proved to myself and to the world that I am strong and powerful, body and mind, and this will always be something I look back on with pride. Thank you so much, Ms. René!