Those of you who’ve come to Offbeat Mama via Offbeat Bride know Princess Lasertron — Meg makes those amazing felt bouquets that we’ve been swooning over for years, and at this point is an official Friend Of The Empire. She gave birth to her daughter Alice Elfie last month, and gave me permission to share her birth story here. -Ariel
On Thursday, I started having regular contractions. I had been having them every day so I ignored them and kept working. I sewed, worked on some blog posts, and scheduled meetings for the weekend with my graphic designer and planned to go visit CAMP to take photos of the buildout progress. As I sat here at the computer, the contractions started to distract me and I began to focus on relaxing through them.
My mom logged on that night and messaged me that she woke up because she suddenly had a feeling that I had gone into labor. My contractions didn’t feel jarringly painful enough to me, so I had still been ignoring them as false labor. When I started timing them at the encouragement of my mother, they were six minutes apart.
When Dave noticed me slowing down and asked how long the contractions were, he did not agree that it was false labor. He did not agree so much that he frantically ran through the house throwing food and clothes into a bag and ran outside through the rain with unwieldy car seat parts, struggling to install them quickly then just tossing them in the backseat to figure out later. I was just waddling around the house thinking “all of this fuss over false labor.”
Dave and I worked hard to bring Alice into the world in what we thought was the best possible way. After a lot of research and reading about anesthesia, pain management techniques, and post-partum care and recovery, we decided to use the Bradley Method to prepare for Alice’s birthday.
The Bradley Method is a natural childbirth philosophy that emphasizes pain management through relaxation and relies on a husband or coach to support the mother through labor. We took a 12-week class with a wonderful certified instructor named Kristen Treat and learned so much from her and the other couples. It was so much more than Lamaze or any other birth class I had looked into and we were totally prepared for a natural Bradley birth yet very informed about any medical interventions that could possibly take place.
Dave and I wanted to stay at home for as long as possible during labor, but because our hospital was about 35 minutes away (in my hometown, the same place where I was born), we also planned to leave early to ride out most of the labor at my parents house. So on Thursday night when my contractions were six minutes apart, we packed up the Little Red Car and hit 80,000,000 potholes on the way to my mom and dad’s. (I know, because I felt every one.)
All through Friday, Dave rested and I focused. After about 12 hours, the contractions decreased to about 12 minutes apart. I went for a long walk outside trying to make them pick up again. I chopped some vegetables and helped Dave make dinner. I drank pineapple juice. We were really doing everything right–not rushing it and focusing on relaxing the pain away. The hard labor had returned.
Suddenly Friday evening, I felt several huge gushes of fluid. I thought “This is it!! This is the day!” Unfortunately my water hadn’t broken. It was blood. It just kept streaming. I knew that during labor I should expect some blood–”pink-tinged mucus” is the delicate language I had read over and over. But this was abnormal and I couldn’t feel Alice moving. There was so much blood.
Dave rushed through red lights to get to the small hospital, and within 15 minutes my room was full of nurses, technicians, an anesthesiologist, and my doctor. He explained to me that we would likely have to do an emergency cesarean and I burst into tears. I knew there was little hope left for the natural birth I had been dreaming of and I felt like a failure. I felt like my body had failed me. I wondered what I had done wrong to ruin my chances for what I thought was my best birth. Would everyone think I gave up? I was filled with regret and I was essentially mourning the loss of the empowering birth experience I had planned for. This early time at the hospital on Friday night was so traumatic. I had never cried harder or louder–I felt a true personal loss.
This is where I still feel very sensitive. I hate it when people say things like, “At least you have a healthy baby.” Or, “That’s why you shouldn’t make plans for birth–it never goes according to plan.” It’s very hurtful. I don’t think it’s fair to imply that I am not grateful for my child or that I am selfish for wanting birth to be more than a “get the baby out” exercise. It is okay that I wanted to be treated as more than a baby-bearing vessel. I am not out to prove something and I’m not trying to be a martyr or get a medal. I just wanted a positive, empowering birth experience and I felt fully educated and aware of my options.
I was still having hard contractions and still gushing blood as the ultrasound technician carefully checked my placenta for any rupturing and tried to find the source of the bleeding. Alice’s heart was beating at a healthy pace and the tech found no ablation or rupturing.
I love my doctor–he has been my physician since I was young and throughout my pregnancy he fully supported all of my wishes. He never advised me to get an epidural, or scoffed at my plans to avoid induction. I think that in the “natural birth” community culture, there is some hostility toward the mainstream medical system. I understand why many women feel that way, but I love my doctor and my hospital. I feel heard, understood, and respected by everyone there.
My doctor understood my pain. He was rooting for me. When the reason for my bleeding wasn’t found, he agreed that we should just watch for a while rather than do a cesarean.
So I continued with hard labor throughout Friday night. Some of you who follow me on Twitter read as my husband and I posted throughout the weekend. It started out fun keeping everyone updated, but as hours and hours passed and I was not progressing, there was really little to say except “Hour 24. No news yet,” “Hour 36, no news yet,” “Hour 45, still in labor,” “Hour 50. Still no baby.”
On Saturday, our birth instructor Kristen came to serve as a doula for Dave and I. Dave was able to take a much-needed nap and Kristen continued to encourage me and help me relax the pain away. She stayed with us for almost 24 hours. If she had not been there, Dave and I would have felt like giving up. It got to the point where I felt so mentally foggy–not just because of the pain, but mostly because of the exhaustion–that I couldn’t hear what people were saying, I couldn’t understand the questions the nurses were asking me, and I felt completely detached from my own body. The contractions were double and triple-peaking, and with my eyes closed I felt surrounded by gray haze, floating down an endless foggy tunnel before me.
Hour 55. Sunday morning. My birthday. Mother’s day.
I had not progressed past 4cm although I had the emotional signposts of someone at 7 or 8cm. I felt like I was unconscious, floating down that tunnel, and Dave kept waking me because I would stop breathing. My doctor and nurses had a realistic concern that I would not be able to push Alice out unless I got some rest. It was the most intense feeling I have ever had, but I know I could have withstood the pain until delivery. It was the exhaustion I could not endure. I had not had food or rest in almost three days.
Dave supported me as I lay in his arms on the edge of the delivery table. My contractions came, double and triple-peaking. Dave and Kristen really gave me what I needed at this time–they knew my wishes and helped me advocate for myself and consent to have an epidural. It was completely painless to me and Dave carefully lowered my body onto the bed where I slept for the next three hours.
Three hours later, a nurse woke me up and told me I was at 10cm and they could see Alice’s head. I sat up feeling alert, calm, and determined. I could feel the waves of contractions but I could not feel my legs or bottom. I felt the pressure increase, and I felt the instinct to push. In the mirror I saw my daughter’s birth.
The end of my labor was so bizarre–I was completely out of my body. I was somewhere else, and the woman everyone was supporting and helping was just a shell. And then at the end, it was all over so quickly. It was over as fast as the rest of the labor had been slow.
I no longer felt any regret about having an epidural. Do I want to have one next time? No, I want to try again to have a normal, natural birth. I don’t feel like Alice’s birth was normal–the heavy unexplained bleeding, 55 hours at 3cm while my contractions triple-peaked–and maybe a natural birth expert would disagree with me. But Dave, my doula Kristen, and the nurses and doctors were right–I could not have pushed Alice out without getting some rest. I knew that the epidural could have led to a cesarean section. I knew it could affect Alice’s alertness at birth and lead to other adverse outcomes. But I was lucky to have a brilliant anesthesiologist who helped me reach my goal instead of disempowering me after all of the work I had put in.
It was my entire support team–Dave, Kristen, my mom, the doctor and nurses, the anesthesiologist, even the friends I made in the birth class–who gave me the strength to succeed. Without them I think I would have submitted to my own discouragement, which I never did.
I truly had my best birth and everything I did led to the best outcome for me. I am so proud of myself. And the best moment of my entire life was when the doctor lifted her onto my chest and I saw the tears streaming down Dave’s smiling face as he placed his hand on her back. My entire life. There was no way I could have prepared for how beautiful that moment was.
I love my little family. We are going to have so much fun.