As I write this, it’s early evening. I just poured myself a glass of Pinot Noir, the baby is sleeping and the house is quiet. It’s at times like these where I stop to reflect on what happened just 12 days ago now. It’s in the still of the mornings when I’m feeding my daughter and looking down on her for the millionth time with absolute wonder. When the busyness of early new parenthood slows down and I’m left with my own thoughts, I revisit the night we went to the hospital and the sequence of events that happened after we entered those hospital doors. My life changed forever, yes – but it’s the way that it all happened that still has me looking back and feeling my head swimming trying to reconcile how I imagined labor would be versus how it actually all went down.
If you follow my blog on Instagram, you know that for months leading up to the big event, I was training for unmedicated birth. I had hired a personal trainer and was in the gym anywhere from 2 to 4 times a week working on staying healthy and strong with lifting/floor work but also incorporating Pilates to work on specific movements for toning and stretching the muscles I would use for labor. We worked on hip flexors, my pelvic floor, breathing techniques…the whole nine yards. Outside of the gym I was soaking up everything I could. I did research constantly. Basing our plan off of the Bradley Method, my husband and I would discuss how he would actively support and coach me through labor and I worked on mental affirmations to tell myself.
Your body was created to do this. Your contractions cannot be stronger than you because they are you. Women have given birth unmedicated for centuries – this is hard but it is not impossible. Relax your muscles. Unclench your jaw and fists. Allow the contractions to come and don’t fight them; they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. This is such a beautiful and supernatural process – a woman’s body would instinctively give birth even if she was in a coma. Your body knows how to do this so let it do its job.
I would take long neighborhood walks to continue being active outside of the gym and on these walks I would listen to podcast after podcast after podcast; anything I could find on natural, unmedicated birth. I listened to them in the car on the way to work. I listened to them at work. I listened to them while doing my makeup. I read blogs and birth stories. I was diligent about drinking one cup of red raspberry leaf tea once a day starting at 36 weeks and eventually working up to two cups a day towards the end. I ate 2-4 dates a day. I did everything I could to prepare. I equated it to training for any other physical event. I wouldn’t show up to run a marathon with no training done beforehand so I considered everything I was doing – physically and mentally – as training for labor.
One of the biggest things a woman can do, in my opinion, to train for a natural, unmedicated birth is to find her WHY. And I knew from the start what mine was. It goes without saying that birthing unmedicated is an absolute beast. It’s a pain like I’ve never felt before. And when you’re in the thick of it and you want out, it is absolutely essential to know the reason why you wanted to do it in the first place. And it’s got to be a pretty strong driving force. For me, it was because of what it took to get there in the first place. Our daughter is a product of IVF and it took 3 long years to get pregnant with her. I put my body through so much physically (and mentally) and I considered the pain of labor to be a privilege. I knew that I had already journeyed this far and that I could finish strong. That I would take on the pain of labor and bring my girl into this world feeling every bit of it. It was the last hurdle of a long and weary road. And it felt like an honor to get to labor for her.
But…as you might have guessed by now, things took a turn. While my heart and my mind knew exactly what I wanted and how I was going to achieve it, my body was just not on the same page.
I’ll start at the beginning and tell this story in three chunks. I keep saying that I experienced the ‘trifecta” because my labor/delivery had three distinct stages. So, here it is. The story of the night(s) that changed my life for forever. The good, the bad and the beautiful.
On Thursday, May 26, I was resting on the couch after work waiting for my husband to get home from work himself. I had been pretty impatient for a while knowing we were almost at our due date (June 3) and I had been trying to induce labor naturally. That morning while doing Pilates with my trainer, we had joked about making my water break and had done deep, opening stretches. By evening, I thought about trying the the old wives tale that spicy foods induce labor. Well, one of the spiciest things I could think of was a specific salsa at a local restaurant called 1492. So I texted my husband that I was craving it, he picked me up and we went to dinner. In the car on the way home, I felt something trickle out *down there* but honestly did not think it was my water breaking. I thought maybe it was the rest of my mucus plug since a good chunk of that had come out a few nights prior. In fact, I remember thinking to myself, “Don’t say anything to Adam and get his hopes up. This is not labor.” But as we kept driving, I continued to feel a small trickle. Finally – and still feeling skeptic – I looked at Adam and said, “Um, are you ready to meet your daughter?” He stepped on that gas pedal and got us home as soon as possible and I went to the bathroom to see if what had come out was liquid or mucus. And it was definitely liquid. And TMI, but when I pulled my pants down to look, more spilled out LOL. There was no mistaking it – my water was breaking. I say “breaking” instead of “broke” because it didn’t break all at once, it just kind of kept breaking again and again…all over the house. Everywhere I would go, I would leave a little puddle behind as it just kept falling out of my body. Honestly it felt more like a Hollywood movie than real life. It felt so surreal that I was actually in labor! I was a crying mess and a mixed bag of emotion – scared, excited, anxious, frantic. Adam started calling family to let them know it was happening and he got the bags packed in the car while I jumped in the shower, shaved my legs and then applied self tanner. Yeah. That really happened. I sat on a chair in our room breaking amniotic fluid allll over it while tanning my legs. Honestly, not a bad game time decision.
When we got to the hospital, we were sent to labor and delivery triage to confirm that my water had broken (something that I found hilarious considering the circumstances) and then to check my cervix to determine my stage of labor. On Monday of that week, I had gone to my OB who had done a check and told me I was 1 cm dilated. So in triage I was so excited, I knew I had probably dilated a few more cms and it would be a short wait until real labor set in. Imagine my surprise when the nurse said I was till at 1 cm. I was a little confused, but I decided that was probably normal and that it would start ramping up soon. Even though I wasn’t that dilated, they still admitted me to the hospital just by the sheer fact that my water had broken. When that happens, they don’t send you home. I didn’t know this previously, but when your water breaks, you’re kind of on a clock from that moment because things become unsafe as time goes on. We were taken to our labor and delivery room, we unpacked our essentials, I changed into my labor gown that I had brought and got all settled and then we prayed. I remember just feeling a sense of calmness. Initially I had felt a little panicked at home since it came out of nowhere and a week early, but standing in our hospital room with my husband praying over me, I began to feel rooted. I took deep breaths and readied myself for what was to come.
I wasn’t wrong necessarily about things ramping up from there; contractions did start soon after we got to our room. They were small at first and totally manageable, but progressed in strength as the night wore on. I don’t know how long I thought labor would take, but as the clock ticked on and contractions ramped up, I really began to wonder. After several hours went by, a nurse came in to do another cervix check. I was hoping they’d tell me I was at a 3 or 4. But the verdict was that I had only progressed to being 2 cm dilated. This was extremely slow progress – only 1 cm in about 4 hours. But I thought something would kick into high gear any minute so I just kept going. I labored overnight. Things continued to progress at a snail’s pace. Hours and hours would go by and my contractions would get stronger and stronger only to discover I was just one more centimeter dilated. My OB was getting nervous. Because my water had broken, every hour that went by was a risk. She told me that I could labor until 7 am and then we’d have to re-evaluate. I appreciated so much that she granted me time to get there on my own. I was dealt blow after blow after blow of contractions and told myself that I just had to hold on until 7 am. But 7 am came and I was nowhere near where I needed to be. Thankfully, after assessing the baby and seeing that she wasn’t in distress, my OB allowed me to keep going. I had been laboring unmedicated at this point for 11 hours. My body was tired. I hadn’t slept. But I kept going. I would sit upright in bed until it became unbearable and then I would walk around until that became unbearable and then I would get back in the bed on my side with a peanut ball between my legs as contractions racked my body. I would flip sides. I sat the hospital bed up as far as it could go and turned around to hold on to the top of it and let my body hang in a frog position – this was by far the WORST position possible in terms of managing pain, but getting into these positions was supposed to open my cervix more and encourage dilation and I was desperate. The contractions would come and I would cry through them, but still actively release and relax my muscles as I felt like I was being torn in two. Adam was there coaching and supporting me and my mom would also massage my back, hold my water up to my mouth so I could drink and stroke my hair. I was delirious with pain. Finally, after 17 hours of unmedicated labor, the nurse came into my room. She said she’d been watching my contractions at the nurse’s station and that this was it – I was in the transition! She said I was probably dilated to 8 cm and it wouldn’t be long now until I could push. It renewed my strength. I knew I could keep going – I was going to get my little girl here all on my own after all! She did a cervix check and the look on her face said it all before she spoke a word.
I was only 5 cm dilated. I wasn’t near transition and by the way things were going, it would be hours and hours longer before I could reach it on my own. And we simply did not have that kind of time. My resolve came crashing down. The push of strength I had when I was told I was probably 8 cm was extinguished in a matter of seconds. I felt so helpless – weak, tired, exhausted, spent, desperate.
My OB came to my room. She was extremely kind and thoughtful, she was considerate of all that I had worked for and she had tried to let me have the labor I wanted, but she finally had to look at me and tell me that I couldn’t go on any further. I needed pitocin to open my cervix because my body wasn’t doing it on its own. I had to rely on medication to get my baby out safely. I was able to talk to Adam and my mom and dad alone and we talked through the situation. I sat in my hospital bed so limp and so defeated, still feeling waves of contractions. I cried as I told my family that this was not what I wanted; that I felt like I had to admit defeat and that I had failed. I had worked SO hard to achieve natural labor but my body was failing me just as it had failed me again and again over the years as I worked to conceive. It was admittedly hard to come around to the idea of medicated labor – but it only took me a few minutes and some moping to realize how ridiculous I was being. I started to realize that I had done my absolute best. I had done everything right and I had used all of my training to labor for SEVENTEEN HOURS but that what was happening was now out of my control. It was no longer important to stick to my guns on unmedicated labor just for the sake of completing some kind of physical challenge. What was important was birthing my daughter – safely! I had gotten to the point where I just wanted to meet her. I just wanted to have her in my arms. And if medication was going to be the thing that made that happen, then give me the juice, Doc. I threw the towel in and I did it with the peace of knowing I was doing the right thing. I had tried, I absolutely had not failed, but I did need to redirect.
I got pitocin (if you’re not familiar, it’s a medication that opens your cervix for you so you dilate faster) and because pitocin causes even stronger contractions, I got the epidural. That sucker kicked in fast and let me tell you, the relief I felt was EPIC! I actually puked in a bag several times in response to the meds but other than that, yeah the relief was epic. I labored another 8 hours medicated at which point a nurse checked my cervix and told me I had only progressed to a 6, maybe a 7, but that “cervix checks were subjective so she didn’t really know.” I literally looked at her and said, “No. Call my OB. I want her to look.” And thank God I did. She came in, checked, confirmed I was actually at a 9 and then *manually stretched* me to a 10 – another reason I’m glad I was numb LOL. It was finally time to push!
Pushing started off pretty calm but quickly escalated to my husband turning on my workout playlist and listening to screamo and explicit rap as my OB yelled, “GET ANGRY!” After 30 minutes of pushing, my OB had to deliver the final blow. She told me that while I was doing everything right, baby wasn’t budging. On top of that, I had spiked a fever and baby was in distress. I was told I could push for another 2 or 3 hours but it wouldn’t change anything and it would only put both of us at even higher risk. I wasn’t going to be able to deliver vaginally. It was time to head to the operating room.
Everything moved at lightning speed after the decision was made to do a c-section. All kinds of medical staff were in an out of the room, prepping me and throwing scrubs at Adam. I was whisked away to the OR in no time flat and next thing I knew I was on the table and prepped for surgery with a divider up between my chest and my abdomen. They started pushing anesthesia and liquids and I’m still not sure whether this was due to the meds, my fever or if I had just gone into total shock after 25 hours of laboring but I started throwing up (again) and shaking uncontrollably. I’ve been joking that it was exorcism-level convulsing, but honestly that’s not that much of an exaggeration. It was the most uncontrollable shaking I’ve ever felt.
Between that and the puking, I wasn’t aware of much going on. I remember someone saying, “Ok, we’re ready to cut” and that’s when Adam was brought in and sat down next to me. I remember hearing my OB’s voice saying something about needing to manipulate a shoulder to get her out and then next thing I knew I heard crying and someone saying, “Here she is!!” And in that moment I became a mother and my eyes landed on the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life as they held up my daughter for me to see her. I looked at her and my heart exploded into a million pieces. Then I looked at my husband and could find no words to say so I just cried. In the blink of an eye she was swept away to get cleaned up, measured and checked. Adam was able to go watch and be with her and I laid on the table continuing to puke and shake even worse than before. I could barely make out anything anyone was saying, but I remember turning my head toward Adam at one point and saying, “Is she pretty?” Later he showed me a picture he took of the look on my face when he told me she was the most beautiful thing in the world. This picture still stuns me; it looks like I’m at total peace and I have no recollection of looking at him like that or of this picture being taken. I just remember turning my head back to the other side (to my puke bag) while more waves of nausea hit.
The next moment I remember – and that I will NEVER forget – is when Adam came back over to sit down and I knew he was holding her. I could hear her crying and I knew he was talking to her, although I couldn’t tell you what he was saying. I was so sick and felt so far away that everything around me seemed miles off and I didn’t know what was happening or who was saying what. I remember thinking, “Thessali…your daughter was just born, you have to pull yourself together. She’s right there, all you need to do is turn your head and you can see her!” I somehow turned my head towards Adam, who was trying to comfort this swaddled and crying baby and I don’t remember what I said, but I said something to him. And at the sound of my voice, our baby immediately stopped crying and turned her head towards me with this face of absolute recognition like, “There she is. There’s my mom.” I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live.
That night, I held my daughter in my arms and I just cried and thanked God for her. I couldn’t stop staring at her and memorizing her every detail. Actually I haven’t been able to stop doing that since haha! Walking in the hospital doors the night before, I would have never ever guessed what would happen over the course of the night and the next day. It was the exact opposite of what I thought I would experience, but life is funny like that isn’t it? And what an apropos introduction to motherhood, right? As much as I wanted to plan it out and control my labor and delivery experience, I quickly learned that becoming a parent throws some massive curveballs and it’s up to me to decide whether I’m going to fight it for my own selfish interest, or take the hits with grace and navigate getting through them in a way that is best not just for me now, but for my daughter. It’s ironic that I went into labor thinking the pain of going unmedicated would be an honor and privilege to experience to bring my daughter here and not only did I absolutely get that, but I was also cut open, resulting in much more pain that I had bargained for…not exactly what I had in mind, but it was a sacrifice I’m willing to make (in a very long line of sacrifices) nevertheless.
I’ll think about my labor and delivery experience for a very long time and I’ll share it with my daughter when she’s older. Over the past 12 days since she was born, I’ve revisited it several times just processing how it all went down. I’ve gone from confusion (how the heck did that even happen?!) to acceptance and ultimately now to pride. I feel so very proud of what my body put itself through; all I was able to bear. And the pride I feel when I look at her is…well, there’s not a word that exists that accurately covers it.
And you know what’s funny? For as long and arduous and, quite frankly, horrifically painful the whole thing was…the other side of it is so sweet and holding my daughter in my arms I can’t help but go a little fuzzy on all of the bad parts. Almost like looking at her makes me totally forget how bad it all was…almost like, I don’t know, I’d want to do it all again pretty soon 🙂