Ashley's First Birth Story
(Trigger Warning: The end could feel scary. Some might describe it as traumatic. Home-birth hospital transfer, postpartum).
Today is sort of a big day for my family. It’s my daughter’s six birthday and my 6th anniversary of giving birth for the first time. I wanted to take the opportunity to share my birth story with you. This is new for me, but it feels relevant to the history of Birth Smarter.
So many people go into childbirth, or come into our classes, assuming that the birth will just happen. “One way or the other, this baby has to get out,” they say. If you’ve taken class with us you know that we’re about the journey, not about the outcome. While you might not remember every detail of your birth, what you do remember will stay with you forever
I go into the finer details of my first birth story here because I believe strongly in the cumulative wisdom that comes with sharing birth stories, and we have a lot of professional followers who tend to go for all of the juicy details. Skimming totally allowed.
Before I begin. Let me say this.
If I could, I would do it all again tomorrow.
For some people, it’s hard to define the moment when labor begins.
I lost my mucus plug and started having mild contractions on Monday, June 23rd at about 8pm. I got into bed around 10pm and slept soundly, waking up the next morning feeling fine. This happened every night that week, increasing in intensity each time. Thursday was the first time we let Matt’s sister know to get ready. She was a newer doula at the time and, along with my mom, was invited to be at the birth. The contractions fizzled and I got one more sweet night of uninterrupted sleep. By Friday evening, I was ready for the contractions to begin. Unlike the nights before though, I wasn’t able to sleep well. I felt restless. By 5am, I decided to give into the awakeness. I took a long shower and dried my hair.
In class, when we talk about pre-labor signs, we mention that folks may have “an urgent desire to complete a task that is outside of normal behavior.” While normal for some, blow drying my hair at 6am on a hot summer morning was incredibly out of character for me. I let my husband sleep in and called my mom. She was hosting my grandmother’s 75th birthday party down the street and I knew she would be up getting things ready.
Matt got up, and we blew up the birth pool and straightened up a bit. I knew once we left the house we were going to be out all day. We helped my mom set up, stopped into a doula-client’s 1st birthday party, and then circled back and spent the day with my entire family. I felt pretty funny all day, but could not pinpoint contractions until around 8pm. The timing was not terribly surprising, given my pattern the previous nights. I was gracefully excused from cleaning duties, shared a beer with my brother on my mom’s front porch, and by 10pm knew it was time to head home. On the walk back to our apartment, I told Matt we might be able to time the contractions. As a neuroscientist, the opportunity to begin tracking data was thrilling. More thrilling was the fact that my contractions were nearly 1 minute long and coming every 5 minutes before we made it home. This was it!
We attempted an episode of VEEP, but I couldn’t focus. I decided to take a shower and almost immediately upon getting in began having contractions that were 1 minute long and coming every two to three minutes. The rapid increase in intensity shook me up. I felt panicked and scared. Matt called our midwife. I cried. Our midwife told me to get out of the shower and try to rest. It was close to midnight and I had a long road ahead of me.
I tried to lay down. We shut the lights and Matt put on some meditation music. It was maybe 45 minutes, and felt very much like I was not following my instincts. Laying down felt bad. Being still felt bad. By no means were the contractions unbearable, but I was definitely working to get through them.
Have you ever wondered when exactly you became a grown up? What was the moment when you thought, oh this is it! It feels like that with labor, trying to figure out what’s what. I knew from the minute I became pregnant that I was going to benefit from being in water but was clearly waiting for something to get in. I had a lot of that in both of my labors – looking for outside direction and approval. At some point, when the contractions were about 4 minutes apart Matt and I looked at each other and realized no one was going to tell us what to do. Trusting our 26 and 28 year-old selves, we decided to start filling up the pool.
I called our midwife to let her know that things were progressing. She asked me if she should come and I can vividly recall the feeling of complete and utter overwhelm and confusion. Dictating someone’s actions has always been challenging for me, but I was standing in the territory of the unknown. How was I supposed to know? We decided to check in again an hour later. I paced around, moving the birth kit from one place to another. Pausing to lean on something during contractions.
We did call Matt’s sister and my mom and tell them they could make their way over. There’s nothing like hosting an all-day house party, cleaning up that party, and being called around 3 in the morning to come offer labor-support. #Moms. Am I right?
About 30 minutes later, my contractions had picked up enough that I was ready for more support. We called our midwife again and she was already on her way! She said she wasn’t sure I was ever going to ask her to come, so she took it upon herself to make the call. The whole team coincidentally arrived within minutes of each other, just around 4am. Literally the second I got “permission” I slid into the pool and became a new person.
The next few hours were glorious. We shared jokes and popsicles. Baby’s heartbeat sounded great. With every contraction, I would close my eyes and think “my baby is coming.” After a few intense breaths, I ended nearly every contraction with a smile. I can still taste the thrill of that feeling.
After sometime, my midwife suggested I get out of the pool. She wanted to do a cervical exam and wanted me to use the bathroom. The contractions I had outside of the pool were excruciating to say the least. It was like night and day. I had trouble standing up straight. I had trouble sitting on the toilet. Lying on my back for a cervical exam made me nauseous. It was 10 minutes at most but felt like an eternity. I got back in the pool as quickly as I could.
Contractions increased in duration and intensity and my mood shifted. The room quieted. I needed more physical support. I made some real guttural noises. Noticing the shift, my midwife checked my cervix and mentioned a cervical lip. A cervical lip occurs when the cervix does not dilate symmetrically. This typically occurs when a baby is in a suboptimal position. (I did not know that then).
I moved through transition as the sun was coming up. It was depressing for me to see the sun in my apartement. We had started timing contractions at 10pm and there was definitely a dream that labor would be short and sweet. I’m not complaining, though. My whole labor was only 12.5 hours.
Have you ever heard of a “rest and be grateful”? The possible phase of labor after a cervix is fully dilated but before a baby has completed their rotation through the pelvis. A period where contractions pause. The calm before the storm. I had one!!! It was morning, the energy was changing and all of a sudden, I fell asleep. It was out of body.
I can’t quite remember what happened next but sometime later my contractions came back and almost immediately I lost my cool. These were entirely different from earlier contractions. All I could think was that my leg was going to break. It felt like as much of a non sequitur in my body as it likely does to read it. Why would someone’s leg start hurting in the middle of labor? It was not my pelvis or my back. It was my hip, my thigh, down my chin to my ankle.
I spent a good deal of time leaning forward over the tub. Every time a contraction would hit, I’d kick out my left leg. Looking back it was very much as though something, or someone was stuck. Close to 9am, my midwife asked me to get out of the pool. I refused. I knew what those contractions felt like when I had been out of the pool earlier and I didnt want them. I had no relief out there. She explained that she was worried the pool would start leaking. I think because we had placed the pool in a corner and were leaning on one side all night she started to see it dropping. Honestly, I don’t know. And, it’s so interesting to notice how quickly you can lose trust in your medical providers. Even one’s who you know have your best interest at heart.
We had set up our pull-out couch as a birthing area. I tried laying down but it was unbearable. I wound up standing in the corner of my living room right on the edge of the sofa. Matt sat on the back of the sofa so he was higher than me and with each contraction I would lean / pull / squat down leaning over his neck. It was not a glamorous birth squat. Not an intentional birth squat. It was the result of a feeling that something very large was trying to get out of me and pulling me downward. I was working hard to keep myself up. I was sure my leg was going to give out. I don’t know if it was the pain or the fear but my birth had officially changed course. I was that person - screaming during contractions. Being forcefully asked to breathe and stay calm. My midwife told me that having a baby is hard and pushing is even harder. About an hour and half in, my mom got down on her knees and, during every contraction, squeezed my left leg with her entire body. It was shaking so hard, I could barely stand without the support.
The pressure of a baby’s head is a real thing.
The ring of fire is a real thing.
I imagine if I didn’t have this other, weird f-ing leg pain, I would remember those sensations more. Instead all of that pales in comparison to my specific version of complicated.
When my daughter sort of fell out at 10:28am (on her due date), she was the most perfect looking baby in the world. It was clear she had been a bit tangled up in the umbilical cord. I think of it like a bungee cord pulling her back up, every time I was trying to push her out. Days later, we also pieced together that she was born with her right hand up next to her head, which made for a much larger circumference.
The sweet relief of holding a baby in your arms the first minute after birth, was (both times) and remains, the greatest moments of my life. We had a blissful few moments in a room flooded with sunlight and oxytocin. I delivered a healthy placenta and had a baby who latched right away.
After a few minutes, I went to use the bathroom and fainted. And, while that’s not atypical after an intense labor, it was unfortunately the first of many times I would lose consciousness over the next four hours. Luckily, after the first time, I could feel them coming and was able to pass my daughter to someone stable. Despite what would become a bumpy few hours (to say the least) I invited my brother and sister-in-law in to meet her. My father and in-laws we’re waiting outside.
I had a small labial tear which my midwife stitched, and fairly typical postpartum bleeding, but I was not clearly hemorrhaging (bleeding out). With each episode we upped the ante of care. My mom started feeding me scrambled eggs and electrolyte beverages. We moved to IV fluids. The midwife called on a collaborating OB. Before he could make it down, we called an ambulance.
Although there was no clear diagnosis, everyone knew something was wrong. We made the decision to leave my daughter at home, with my mom. If we brought her to the hospital, they would have admitted her as a patient and made things quite complicated. There was some hope I’d be in and out. She’d nursed at least four times and peed quite a bit before I left so I knew we were ok for a few hours.
It was an incredibly beautiful early summer day with bright blue skies and the sightest breeze. The trip from the backdoor of the building to the ambulance was short, but I do not think I will ever forget the feeling of being outside in that moment.
Up until this point in my life I had never been hospitalized. No broken bones, surgeries, or illnesses. Being wheeled into a hospital, on a stretcher and having a team of doctors and nurses waiting for you when you get there was unreal. Matt and I were quickly separated which was the worst moment of the whole experience. He had to fill out paperwork on my behalf while I was prepped for the OR. They asked me to sign a consent form for general anesthesia which I tried to decline. “I’m breastfeeding,” I said! It quickly became clear I didn’t really have an option and I signed the form. I passed Matt in the hallway heading into the OR (he valiantly asked to come in as was rudely asked if he was a doctor). Then, I met a very nice anesthesiologist. I don’t remember his name, or what he looked like, but I know I asked him if he could please tell me what was happening. He smiled and began to tell me everyone’s name in the OR.
And then I woke up in the PACU.
Somehow, at some point in labor, I developed a hematoma, or a pool of internal bleeding on the left side of my vaginal wall. This is incredibly rare. After a full D&C where they confirmed I had no retained placenta, they went on an “exploratory mission.” They were able to successfully extract the hematoma. I needed a few blood transfusions and was left with a lengthy scar on the inside of my vaginal wall but, I went on to exclusively breastfeed and have an uneventful home birth with baby number two. My leg sometimes still hurts, a lot.
This birth story is long and ripe with discussion points. For those of you with questions, I’m happy to talk about it almost anytime. But for now, I’ll just say this. I am so happy I had a homebirth.