Finding beauty in the birth of my daughter even though she was born ill

January 2 2013 | Guest post by P
Holding hands
By: Robert FreibergerCC BY 2.0

My daughter didn't arrive into this world kicking and screaming. She was silent and still. Within seconds, she was whisked away from me to the emergency table in the corner of the delivery room. My husband followed, but was unable to do anything but watch as she was surrounded by medical staff. My doula finally told me that she was a girl — I hadn't thought to ask. I'd only seen a glimpse of her little body.

I lay there, waiting for her to cry, for them to bring her back saying everything was ok, but it never happened. Instead, she was transported to the NICU. For 2.5 agonizing hours, I recovered in the delivery room, while they got my bleeding under control and stitched me up. And then, thanks to a determined nurse, I was wheeled into the NICU to see her for one quick moment before she was transported to another hospital for treatment. A NICU transport person took our first family picture: my husband and I holding hands and looking down at our brand new daughter, alone in an isolet with oxygen pumping into her nose, dressed in tubes, wires and monitors. I wouldn't see her for almost 12 more hours or hold her until she was 9 days old.

My daughter is now four months old now and doing great. Looking at her today, you wouldn't know that she was critically ill due to meconium aspiration and spent three weeks in the hospital fighting for her life. As I have some space from the terror of those weeks in the hospital, and my husband rocks my incredible girl to sleep in the bedroom, I am determined to tell her birth story. And be proud of her birth even though it didn't turn out how I had expected. Because it was beautiful and I worked hard to bring her into this world.

My husband and I struggled to get pregnant, and while we did eventually conceive naturally, it wasn't without significant effort (surgery, acupuncture, etc.) and time. Our baby was wanted so very much and we spent countless hours preparing for her birth and to be parents. We took a wonderful birth class and read lots of books on having a natural birth in a hospital. We hired a doula-in-training, taped mantras around the house and did lots of perineal massage. When I was nearly one week overdue, after days of thinking it was starting, I finally went into labor. I was ready. And excited. I had never been scared of giving birth — I was meant to do it. Of course I could do it.

Mild contractions started around 2:30am on a Monday morning. I told my husband what was going on, but let him sleep. I lay in bed, awake, imagining meeting my baby. Finally, when neither of us could pretend to sleep any longer, we got up in the early morning. We ate breakfast and called our parents. We went on walks around the neighborhood. This is my clearest and best memory of my labor. It was sunny out and with each contraction my husband held me close.

We were both conscious of the fact that this was our last real time together just the two of us. We talked about our relationship of 9 years and our transition to being a family of three. We took only three photos of me during my entire labor — all three on one of these walks. This wasn't on purpose, we just didn't think to take more pictures.

I am sometimes still haunted by those photos. Following a picture of me smiling and pointing at my belly is a picture of my daughter hooked up to machines and intubated. But, as time goes on, I feel more positive about those photos and see them as reminders of the transformation I was undergoing — leaving behind my role of baby home and becoming a mom.

Back home, my parents arrived and I labored on the birth ball for awhile. I remember my mom bringing me a nursing top (that I didn't wear until my baby came home). My doula arrived late morning and contractions started to get more intense. She did some massage and I started to fret about the car ride a bit. We ate an odd lunch of PB & honey on toast with tomato, avocado and crackers. My doula worked hard to fill me up — she believed it critical that I have energy for labor. I am thankful for her insistence about this.

After stalling several of my requests to leave for the hospital, we loaded the car and left around 1 or 2 in the afternoon. I sat in the backseat, semi-reclined, and the forty minute ride to the facility where we had chosen to deliver was not as bad as I had expected. During each contraction, I would grip the door handle or the back of the seat. My husband drove and would occasionally reach back and squeeze my leg . He was the most incredible support throughout the entire labor and beyond. I knew I had married a good one, but each day that he is a father I am reminded of how amazing he is.

We arrived at the hospital and I remember having a contraction while leaning over this large stone statue in the entry way. A labor and delivery nurse asked if I was OK and I responded, "I'm fine, just having a baby here!" She showed us to admitting and I somehow managed to check us in through contractions. How bizarre that even with filling out pre-admission paperwork, you still have to try and talk normally to a admitting person while you are deep in labor!

In triage, they discovered I was only 3 cm dilated even though my contractions were 2 to 3 minutes apart. They decided to admit me anyways and we were shortly moved to a delivery room. Our very matter-of-fact nurse told me that I was going to use up all of my energy if I kept making the noises I was making during each contraction. She thought I was working too hard and talked to me about going inward. While she was not an advocate for natural labor, I am thankful for this suggestion as I believe it did help slow down my contractions.

The baby's heart rate was fine, but they wanted to see more accelerations so they put me on an IV because they thought I might be dehydrated. My husband and doula protested a bit, but it was ok with me. I could get up and go the bathroom and walk around with my husband while on the IV. I remember spending quite a bit of time on the monitor (more than we had hoped), but that also didn't seem to bother me too much in the moment. I found that I couldn't move during contractions anyways so staying in a position (it didn't have to be laying down) to keep the monitor on was not such a burden.

Time passed in the weird labor land way in that room. At some point I was checked again and had progressed to 5 cm. Contractions were extremely painful, but at no time did I consider or request pain meds. I never once thought that I couldn't deliver my baby.

Bits and pieces I remember during that afternoon and into evening: a new nurse coming on; taking a long shower with my husband that was nice but sadly did not ease the pain; my mom coming in at one point and cheering me on; my doula and my husband trying to press on the part of my back that hurt like hell and not being able to get the right spot no matter how much I yelled at them to move their hands; doing a lot of 5th grade dancing with my husband in the middle of the room; leaning over the birth ball; waiting for my water to break—it didn't; telling people to hold on because I needed to wait until the contraction was over before I could move/talk/think; my doula making me eat part of a Mojo bar and honey sticks on her quest to keep me energized; getting pee and blood on my husband's shoes (no one ever said labor was pretty); breathing a lot; hurting a lot; thinking that my birth class teacher lied about there being breaks between the contractions; believing in myself even as others thought it was taking too long and I was getting too tired.

It was sometime later in the night when, according to recollections from my husband and the doula, when they started suggesting an epidural to give me rest, that I told them to break my waters. I did not want any interventions, but I much preferred that to an epidural. Truth be told, I was terrified of an epidural and the possible side effects. The pain of labor was normal, natural and temporary — I could do it!

The midwife broke my waters and found meconium. However, apparently that's quite common and she wasn't very worried. After that things progressed quickly. My body desperately wanted to push and I went through by far the worst part of the labor (probably transition). I wanted to push so badly!

Every time a contraction came on my husband would grip my hand and count 1, 2, 3, 4 so that I would do little tiny candle-blowing-out breaths to try to keep from pushing. Needless to say, it didn't always work, but oh how I tried to keep from pushing! During this time they also gave me oxygen between contractions. This time was a blur of breathing and shuddering.

Pushing was incredibly taxing. I've never done anything so hard. I pushed for over two hours in probably four different positions. Strangely, lying back in the classic legs up position that isn't supposed to be good for pushing worked best for me. I think it helped me save and garner energy during the short breaks, whereas the other positions required juice I didn't have after nearly 24 hours of labor.

Eventually we determined that I needed directed pushing and some folks (I don't remember who) instructed me to hold my breath and push 3 times with each contraction (PUSH HARD!).There was a lot of encouragement. It felt like it took absolutely forever to get her head out. I should note that my daughter's heart rate remained fine during this entire time and it was a surprise to everyone that she slid out of me so ill.

Things I remember thinking during pushing: Where is that head? Yes, there it is! Wow, look at all that hair! I can do this, I am incredible. I am strong. I can do this! I am a woman. Oh, they're setting stuff up, she must be close. I can do this! Oh my god, a baby is coming out of me!

Well, you already know the rest of this story. After accomplishing the hardest task of my life, without pain meds, over 24 hours, my baby was born early Tuesday morning. She would go on to undertake a massive struggle I would never have imagined. But she did it. And her birth was beautiful in spite of it. My husband and I are on this road of life with her and we wouldn't have it any other way. Because any other way and she wouldn't be her.

I made her. I birthed her. I love her.

  1. I love this post. It speaks to me. I had a similar experience at the birth of my son and it has taken me so much longer to see what you see, that there is beauty around what became so "wrong" from the original vision. Thank you for sharing your feelings and the words you've matched to them. I love that you find the beauty, and your strength bolsters my own. 🙂 You have a BEAUTIFUL birth story, and I love and admire your strength.

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  2. Beautiful birth story. My babies were born premature, with heart defects and had many complications. It took me over a year to get to a place of acceptance. Now that I am pregnant again I've moved one step forward and see the beauty and strength from our first birth experience. Thank you for sharing your story.

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  3. this is SO beautiful. Thank you for sharing all your hard work and the emotions surrounding it. I love that you're embracing her story (YOUR story) even though it wasn't the fantasy you hoped it would be.

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  4. Thanks all for the kind words about the post. I definitely still struggle with accepting what happened, but I try and think of her birth and what happened after as two different events. My daughter is actually almost 7 months old now and she is so much fun. Being her mom is my reality now–the hospital time is turning into a memory.

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  5. we're currently in a difficult space right now. worried about every day she spends in my tummy. praying that we're making the right decisions as we go. trusting and hoping is the best we can do right now.

    aside from learning more about ourselves and figuring out how to cope with the worry and stress, the biggest lesson i'm taking is to never underestimate the value of family and friendships in these situations.

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  6. What a beautiful telling of a heroic story, with a heart wrenching part but happy ending. Nobody can know when aspiration will happen, and I am thankful that you had such good care available and your daughter was so tough that she battled through the illness. There IS so much beauty in her birth story, and in all of your strength, and I am so happy that you have found it.

  7. My oldest daughter will be 18 years old in just a little over two months. Her birth was very similar to your daughter's except for the stay in the hospital. Reading your story took me back to my own story. Beautifully written and congratulations on a wonderful family!

  8. This was really interesting for me to read as I was a baby that had meconium aspiration and when the techs came to suction out my lung they popped them and I immediately was whisked away from my parents into surgery and the nicu for two weeks following my birth. Thank you for sharing!

  9. P, You are one amazing woman and mother. I appreciate this glimpse into the intimate process of your sweet daughter's birth. You were super brave in her birth, and incredibly brave to articulate and share this story to inspire others. <3

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  10. what a moving story, thank you for sharing it with us! Glad to hear your daughter is doing well. My son`s birth was also very difficult, he was in the hospital for months – isn`t it nice when those awful memories gently fade, leaving you with the happy glow of a laughing, beautiful child.

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  11. Thanks for this post. It's really nice to learn about an unmedicated birth in a hospital setting. Happy that your family is doing well!

  12. I literally had to ask myself if I had submitted my birth story without remembering I had. Your story is my story and I'm so amazed at how you've found peace with it. I'm still struggling to do so, feeling somehow cheated out of those first moments with my babe, waiting a week to hold her, etc… Your strength shows and is inspiring!

    1 agrees

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