Realizing the prize at the end of the road is your child — not how you gave birth

Guest post by Elena Lozano
skin to skin

They say the beauty is in the journey, not the destination. However, I firmly stand by my belief that in the case of childbirth, it is truly the destination, and for many, not the journey. For nine months, I dreamt of a completely unmedicated labor. I took the classes, I read the Bradley Method books. I played out every scenario in my head, and by the time my nine long months came around, I was ready to go to war with the pain I would surely experience. Having been a semi-pro dancer most of my adolescence, stress fractured tailbone and dancing on two broken toes included, I was convinced I could deal with the pain through the power of my mind and breathing. I wanted so badly to do it as women had done for centuries and centuries before me, completely on my own, because my body knew what to do. However, when my due date finally arrived, and Isabella (my one-year-old daughter) made it clear she had no intention of coming out, my plans drastically changed.

I can’t say that my labor was a disaster, because at the end of my 24 hour labor, my beautiful 8 lb 8 oz, 22 inch long baby girl was placed healthy and breathing in my tired arms. When my due date came and passed, the ultrasound measured my baby too big to go on, and an induction was planned. This did not phase me; surely I could still accept the pain as a natural and normal process and talk myself through it.

I arrived at the hospital at 7 am and they administered the pitocin, and offered me an epidural to get me through the pain. I kindly declined and explained I will be delivering my daughter today with no pain medication. Finally after some brutal pelvis cracking contractions and no progress in terms of dilation, they broke my water. It is this point exactly where in my uterus holy hell broke loose. For six hours I was breathing and shaking and vomiting through my back-to-back contractions. I listened to my ambient music on my iPod, I breathed, I pulled deep inside myself.

I had been laboring in back to back contractions for six hours now, I was exhausted… I didn’t know how I was going to get through nine more centimeters.

I had enough time in between contractions for a breath of air in, and a breath of air out, before it overcame me like a shockwave of agony. I thought from all I had read that I must be transitioning — I’m almost there if the pain is this bad now, it means I’m almost there. The nurse checks how far along I am, and devastatingly I am only a centimeter. How could this be? I had been laboring in back-to-back contractions for six hours now, I was exhausted… I didn’t know how I was going to get through nine more centimeters.

They did the routine vitals check and it appeared that I had a high fever. They administered antibiotics through an IV in my other hand. This is a let-down for two reasons: 1) there goes my plan of changing positions for pain management and 2) it’s one more medicine in my system. I had wanted to do this all on my own. My heart sinks, I am sweating, sick, weak and tired. I look into my husband’s face and tell him if it took six hours to get to one centimeter, I don’t think I can do this. Disappointed, and in pain I tell the nurse I need an epidural if I am going to make it. I felt guilty for this for a long time.

Finally after the epidural slowly spreads through my legs and stomach I am able to sleep. The best sleep I had in a very long time. I wake up and now it’s dark, I can’t tell what time it is, but I know that I feel so much pain it jolted me from a deep sleep. The contractions are back, and they are as intense as ever, back-to-back-to-back, just enough time to take a breath in between. I call the nurse, and sure enough my epidural had run out during a shift change.

It is 12:45 AM and there is an hour wait for the anesthesiologist. I think I am going to die. Instead I throw up on my husband. (Poor guy, this makes twice since I’ve been here). I keep breathing in out in out, center myself and let the pain wash over me and through me. Finally the man of the hour with the epidural arrived, and gave me another dose. Something goes wrong though… I could feel every contraction, every Earth-shattering, gut-crushing contraction, but I couldn’t move my legs.

I jolted up in bed: I knew it was time — my body was telling me what to do.

I kept pushing through and pushing through. Luckily this time around I really was almost there. 2:00 AM rolls around and I felt the pressure. I jolted up in bed: I knew it was time — my body was telling me what to do. The nurse checked me and sure enough I was finally a full ten centimeters! I started to push and indescribable pain shoots through my tailbone and up my back. I kept pushing with my inner she-warrior, with all my might. Finally the contraction is over and I fall back into the hospital bed, almost falling asleep between each push. It hurts so bad, but finally the pain feels like it has a purpose, and I know I am almost there.

At this point my daughter was through the pelvic bone, and sunny side up. I had gone through back labor and knew I could go through the rest. I was almost there. They are able to turn her right side up as I keep pushing her out. I could see her head — she had so much hair — and I pushed so hard again. They told me I was doing so great, I was almost there, but then three hours pass. The doctor tells me it is now or never. If I push any longer, the baby will be in great danger. They presented me with two options: an emergency c-section or an episiotomy and vacuum assist — neither of which sounded easy or comforting. I was exhausted from three hours of pushing with all of my might, the incredible pain of back labor and pushing and I broke out into tears of desperation. I told my husband I can’t do this and he held my face and told me how strong I am and that I could.

I felt like I was trapped and that it would never end. I told them to do the episiotomy and do it right then — I needed to be done. The pain was so immense that in hindsight, I felt as if I was looking down on myself in the bed. It was so amazingly painful and joyful at the same time as they pulled her from my body with my one last push. I felt as if my insides collapsed and my soul had been pulled from my body as I fell back and breathed in.

They placed my daughter on my chest and my emotions spilled over; the joy, the exhaustion and the wonder took hold as I realized the tiny thing kicking me in the ribs for so long is a real-life baby and I was finally holding her. My husband grabbed me and kissed me, so much love and emotion: it’s a second in time I’ll never forget. As fast as they handed her to me, they whisked her away to be assessed by the NICU team to ensure there are no complications from the vacuum assist. I stared at her across the room, my gigantic beautiful little girl… with the little breath I have left, I said “Hi baby” in absolute wonder that she was actually here. She turned her head to look at me, her dark gray eyes wide open and staring at the direction of my voice.

…I was in such euphoria and was so stunned that I didn’t feel the hour of stitches it took to fix me. I suffered a fourth degree tear that day, but it did not matter.

This moment will be the one I remember as I lay on my deathbed. This is the moment my reason for living and I, her mother, looked at each other for the first time. I was so in awe and in love, that I didn’t feel any pain anymore. I looked down in shock to see a giant sewing needle and thread and my doctor’s hands covered in blood. I don’t feel it because my girl is here. Finally they place her in my arms, and I was in such euphoria and was so stunned that I didn’t feel the hour of stitches it took to fix me. I suffered a fourth degree tear that day, but it did not matter. The 24 hours of horrific pain — I would do it again, in a heartbeat.

Now, as she is my best buddy, my better half, my partner in crime, my everything, I realize, it didn’t matter how she got here — but what matters is that she IS here. Birth plan aside, nothing went “right,” everything went “wrong.” But the minute she got here, I knew that nothing was wrong with the situation because she is with me now. Lesson learned: the journey kind of sucked, but the destination was the utmost beautiful gift that changed my life forever. That day I learned to let go a little, and to forgive myself when things outside of my control did, and will still, happen. The important thing is: no matter how you get there, where you get is what matters when it comes to the birth of your child.

Comments on Realizing the prize at the end of the road is your child — not how you gave birth

  1. What a beautiful birth story! I have 5 myself each one different and none that followed by birth plans. Ty for writing this…it took my first baby and her loooong scarry birth for me to see that it didn’t matter if i had done it with or without help or even who offered the help…

  2. My parenting philosophy is this: If at the end of the day everyone is alive and well, then you were a successful parent that day.
    As moms, we put (as do others) so much pressure on ourselves to do things a certain way, because we truly believe is best for our kids. But it’s not ALWAYS best and/or not always achievable.

  3. My due date is tomorrow. The next day, I have a doctor’s appointment, where an induction will be scheduled if I do not deliver by then.

    I, like you, am very physically active. I am accustomed to pain. I have been suffering nightly panic attacks at the thought of needing to deliver without being able to get up and move around. I started crying my eyes out around your third paragraph.

    Thank you for your story. Today, I needed the reminder that all hell can break loose during childbirth and I will still end up holding my beloved child at the end of it.

  4. WOOT for the epidural! I didn’t have one at my son’s birth, but it doesn’t mean I’m against them. I just wanted to see how things went and take everything as it came. It turns out I only laboured for 13 hours and pushed for about 5 minutes and didn’t need the epidural. But if you need some help coping, it’s really the best and least risky intervention. Ladies, go for it!

    I highly recommend the “see how it goes” labour plan. I really feel like anything could have happened and I wouldn’t have felt like I “failed”.

  5. my labor was 24 hours with 3 1/2 hours of pushing. my son was 10 lbs 1 oz, 22 1/2 inches long,17 1/2 inch shoulders, and a 15 1/2 inch head. i had 22 stitches after he was born. your birth reminds me so much of mine! after five kids i learned that it never goes how you want or how you expect and to never be disappointed because the end result is all that matters… that first time you look in your baby’s eyes and they look at you back is the most magical moment ever. the journey isn’t important , it is the end destination… motherhood.

    i did have an epidural with my fourth. i was induced and it was the most painful thing ever. i thought i was going to jump out the window or go crazy, they were that bad! pitocin makes the contractions unbearable! your next one will be better and faster.

  6. This is such a beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes. As a mom who went through a similar experience with each of my boys, I know exactly what you mean. They were worth every agonizing minute.

  7. My son is almost 3 weeks old now, and nothing went according to my ‘plan’ either. He ended up at 11 lbs 6 oz and I had a t shaped incision c section to get him here safely. Although the process was far from what I envisioned, you’ll love your child just the same. Take it as it comes, and think about those tiny fingers and toes. Thanks for sharing your story!

  8. I’ve learned that birth plans are more like ‘guidelines’ and we can not completely control what happens and how we birth.

    I had planned to bring my music, the camera, my big bouncy ball to sit on and my special pillows. I wasn’t going to do it with medications. I expected to not have the cord cut until it was done with what it was doing and for my husband to do the cutting. I wanted skin to skin contact after the birth. I had two pages of stuff on my ‘birth plan’ that I expected the nurses to follow.

    What I ended up with was being rushed to the hospital with the clothing on my back for an emergency c-section at 3am because I was in danger of dying and losing my son. I didn’t get to touch him for a couple of hours after the birth because they were working on keeping me alive.

    In the end we were alive. It was then that I realized that’s all that mattered. The birth plan waving fiend that I had become after watching all the movies and reading the posts online had been nothing but wasted energy.

    I did get my gluten-free meal request for the 5 days I was at the hospital, that was on my birth plan. So I guess mine wasn’t a complete failure 🙂

    The mother and child surviving birth is the plan. Having caring and supportive people around you is nice too. Most of the rest is up to nature, having picked the right doctor and intervention when necessary.

  9. I have heard that pitocin causes more intense contractions but I know for a fact that breaking the water makes the pain nearly unmanagable! I’ve had two unmedicated births and with the second one I did have my water broken at about 8 cen to speed up the transition. They increased in intensity from about a 5-6 on the pain scale to a 10! It did speed it along. I had her 20 mins later, but it was a rough 20 mins. Congrats on making it through this and on your baby girl!

  10. I had my i pod playlist, oil burner, affirmations, hyipnobirthing cd and boook at the ready for my unmedicated birth.
    at 10 days overdue my baby girl was perfectly comfortable and with high blood preassure they were pushing induction and I was refusing.
    on day 11 I finally went into labour. after being in early labour for 48hrs (trying to sleep in bed through contractions was the worst) and only getting to 4cm by myself I was induced and forced to have an epidural for my sky high blood preassure. I had a very long and detailed birthplan that went out the window! I got to 9cm and started to finally get excited that my baby was almost here. got to 10cm and she wasn’t decending and her heart rate was dropping so off I went for an emergency c section.
    It has been really hard not to beat myself up because I feel like I failed, I told myself I wouldn’t be one of those people that gets upset if their birth didn’t go to plan but when you have this perfect birth planned that you have gotten yourself readdy for that does’t play out the way that you think, you’re setting yourself up for failure!
    If I saw giving birth as “getting the baby out healthily” and not a battle for Xena worrior princess then I may not have been as dissapointed. when I ask any mum about their labour their answer is always “it wasn’t anything like I thought it would be”
    always research everything. no one wants to have an emergency c section but at least if you know a bit about the process and recovery it will help a lot if that is where your birth has to go.

  11. I appreciate your viewpoint, but some of us still mourn the journey. More than a year later, I still cry regularly over the birth trauma both my child and I sustained – all of which was completely unnecessary.

    • Yeah, I just wanted to speak up about this, too. I think this story is BEAUTIFUL and I think it’s great that you have come to peace with how things went differently than you’d hoped. The way so many people are shamed about how their birth went or didn’t go sickens me, and I’m glad you don’t let those kinds of attitudes affect you, but birth is such an important and powerful thing for so many women, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that it is OKAY to be upset about how the birth went, that it’s okay to mourn the loss of the birth you wanted, and that none of that changes your real joy over the wonderful child you have now.

      I know this is your story and your perspective, but a lot of the work I do as a doula is helping women process their births (good or bad), so I wanted to make sure to voice this opinion in the comment for the sake of others reading this.

      Again, thank you for sharing your story!

  12. What a beautiful story, thank you for sharing it with us!

    What I learned from my own birth story – everything is a matter of perspective indeed. Without getting into all of the melodrama, at 24 weeks I went to a routine exam, only to be told that I was being hospitalized immediately and my son would be born within 2 weeks (!). We finally reached 27 weeks but he was so tiny and fragile his survival odds were 25%. I had a T-shaped c-section, he was immediately whisked away to the (aptly named) ressuscitation room. I didn`t see him for 2 days because they couldn`t stabilize him. I didn`t hold him for over a month. I will forego the hellish weeks that followed but we came close to losing him many times.

    Birth plan? pff I didn`t even have time to think of one, or names, buy anything or even envision the birth really.

    It`s been almost two years and I *still* have trouble hearing of other`s disapointments with birth plans. I tried very, very hard to find some sympathy, forcing myself to say the right things when friends complained to me that their birth didn`t go as planned; I was reeling with such burning resentment and envy. Their complaints seemed so petty and egotistical!

    At a doctor`s appointment the (very pregnant) lady sitting by me complained for 30 minutes of her swollen feet and how ugly they were. I would have given my right arm to reach 32 weeks! I felt so physically angry I had to move to a different waiting room. My son will have serious health problems his whole life and she couldn`t wear her favorite red shoes.

    I think now I`m finally letting go of some of the negative emotions and am (finally) seeing things in a better light – how we are very blessed to have our son with us, how amazing he is and how wonderful motherhood really is. Having a birth go not quite as planned reorganizes our priorities I think, in a good way!

    Yep definitely the destination is what matters.

  13. I so admire your mindset. I think after the journey going off course it can be really hard to get to a place where you appreciate it nonetheless, or accept it rather because where you ended up was so fantastic. I am still not there 17 months after the fact, but I had an entirely different set of circumstances. I look forward to the day when I can be at peace with it all. 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for writing this. I still have not come to terms with my daughter’s birth, even after 10 months. After a hard labor and c-section, she went straight to NICU and I did not get to hold her for three days. Every time I think about it, I have to remind myself of the gorgeous, smiling girl I have at home now.

  15. Dude. You make my bloggy birth story look like a walk in the park. Unlike you, I was SO VERY CERTAIN that I was going to have a drug-fuelled, pain free birth experience. And then shit hit the fan, and I did it all 100% natural.

    I don’t resent the natural birth, but I do resent the incompetence of the midwives and other medical staff I encountered (this extends through to my post-birth hospital stay, though I don’t want to rage about that here). But then, I look at my daughter Aubrey, and I remember why I did it all. And it’s hard to be mad after that.

    That being said, the theory that you “forget” the pain of child birth? Utter bullshit. I still have phantom contractions sometimes. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.

    • I also have a little resentment towards the midwives for not being albe to tell my son was breech the whole time. The midwife who was on duty at the hospital could tell right away. Things could have been a LOT worse though. I know what you mean about looking into your childs face and just being happy that it all turned out ok…

  16. Thank you for this post! I’d say it applies to pregnancy as well. I am 12 weeks along and after 3 days of herbal tea, honey etc had to take antibiotics which probably make me the worse mother in the world but between not being able to breathe (probably harmful for the baby as well?) and a little chemistry a choice had to be made… I suspect it will be the same all along the pregnancy, and for the birth… Man (well womand…) plans god laughs…

  17. Thanks for sharing this! The whole idea of an episiotomy scares the shit out of me. Knowing that there’s even a chance I could be in a euphoric state while receiving stitches comforts me.

  18. I couldn’t agree more! I had been determined to have an unmedicated birth but eventually had a ‘walking’ epidural. 72 hours after I first went into labour, my adorable son was placed on my belly (aided by a suction cup…never thought I’d see a Dr putting his foot on the bed and pulling like he was catching a whale during labour…)
    There were times throughout the whole experience that I seriously wanted an emergency cesarean – I was so tired and at times disheartened by hearing other babies’ first cried but not mine.
    I realised that in the end, it doesn’t really matter how you give birth; on hands and knees, medicated, in water, by C-section…it is hard work (physically, emotionally) either way. What’s important is that you are as comfortable as possible, that you and the baby are healthy, and that you feel you are listened to and supported and guided as best as possible.
    Here’s a big congratulations to all those who have experienced the incredible journey of bringing a child into the world, however you may have done so.

  19. I went for a checkup in my 27th week. Because of complications I had was admitted in the hospital immediately and had to have a C-section about five days later. My son had to stay in NICU for 2 months. It was a very hard time for me and my husband.

    Now, at 4 months old, my son is doing wonderful. He’s eats a lot, is happy and healthy. I really wanted a natural birth. The most important thing is that my Jacob is here and fine.

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