Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Baby #3 Birth Story

Okay folks, here it is. Birth story #3. It's a novel, but believe it or not this is the edited version. I hope it makes sense (I'm pretty sleep deprived these days, so no guarantees). Also, just a note for any readers who happen to not be fellow mothers, I use a ton of pregnancy-related lingo (pitocin, VBAC, dilated, etc.). If you don't know what I'm talking about, just Google it. And finally, for any new readers around here, if you want some more context, here's Baby #2's Birth Story, and some more background on Baby #1's traumatic C-section.

Jan. 10, her due date, and one day shy of two weeks old.

I don’t remember when I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth—it was at some point in one of my earlier pregnancies—but there is a sentiment expressed in that book that haunts me. Ina May describes a woman attending her childbirth courses who was surrounded by relatives, mothers and sisters and aunts, with highly dramatic birth stories. While this particular woman expressed the wish to experience a calmer and more natural birth experience, Ina May noted that she was too caught up in the competition factor of her family’s birth stories, and indeed ended up having a highly dramatic birth story of her own. Ina May’s point was that, even if it is unconsciously done, we write our own birth stories before they happen.

This sentiment haunts me because, if it is true, what does that mean for my birth stories? Particularly this one? Did I write this one before it happened? Because I don’t even know how I could’ve predicted this story, even unconsciously.

Where does this birth story even start? It certainly doesn’t start on December 28th, although gratefully that is the day it ends. It doesn’t even quite start on December 10th, which is the day I would pinpoint as the onset of contractions that actually caused dilation. It probably doesn’t even begin on April 21st, the day I knew I was pregnant even though I was still two weeks away from my period being late and three weeks away from the miserable haze of generally-feeling-like-I-want-to-die that marked the rest of this pregnancy.

No, this birth story begins with my two previous pregnancies, both induced with pitocin--one a traumatic and miserable labor with a horrible epidural experience that ended in a surprise C-section, the other a successful, epidural-free, and entirely positive VBAC experience. It probably even begins more generally, with the collective story of the ten pregnancies between my mom, my older sister and me, where not a single labor and delivery happened without the intervention of medical induction.

I’m very much drawn to the idea of peaceful, natural labor free from medical interventions. I read all the literature on natural labor, and I was extremely proud of myself for being able to deliver Baby #2 without an epidural or any other pain medications. But even so, my family history and my two first pregnancies led me to believe that my body was not capable of going into active labor on its own. I knew I was capable of pre-labor. With both my previous pregnancies I experienced irregular, crampy contractions that lasted over the space of several days and weeks causing dilation up to a four or five. But it seemed that after reaching this point, my body was incapable of kickstarting active labor. My uterus just never sustained contractions. They never got strong enough, they never became regular. I would get to the verge, and my body would stall, peter out, and just exist in a sort of painful, exhausting, constant state of pre-labor. Then eventually I would get to 39 weeks (the magic number), my doctor would offer an elective induction, I’d take it, and voila, a baby.

So when I started to feel those familiar, crampy contractions on December 10th, just shy of 36 weeks, I suspected they were beginning the familiar pattern of drawn-out pre-labor. Sure enough, at my appointment a few days later I was dilated to a 3 and 60% effaced. “You are having the baby this week!” my doctor exclaimed. I told her my personal and family history. “I’ll be back next week,” I told her. “I’m not going to have this baby without pitocin.”

But of course, when your doctor tells you you’re going to have a baby within the week, you get a little bit hopeful. After all, these contractions were for real. They kept me up all night. They wouldn’t let me stand, or sit, or maintain any one position for too long. They exhausted me. I felt nauseous. I felt weak. I felt like I couldn’t handle living like this for three more weeks. So we scrambled to get ready for a baby, hoping it would happen soon, hoping that this whole, miserable pregnancy would come to an end naturally.

But the week came and went. My husband took over the lion’s share of housework and childcare while I struggled on in my state of nearly constant contractions. Most days I couldn’t even manage to make it out to pick up the mail, but other days were better. I hobbled to my son’s violin recital. I made it to church on Sunday. I tried my best to continue on with life, while constantly battling the fatigue, exhaustion, and discomfort of being in semi-constant labor. At times it was unbearable. Other times I felt a renewed sense of energy, as if my body were adjusting to this state and could function here indefinitely. Neither state was particularly encouraging.

More than the physical fatigue was the mental fatigue of analyzing, judging, questioning, and critiquing everything about my body. My uterus was weak, I thought, incapable of sustaining the powerful contractions needed to push a baby out. My body was exhausted in this never-ending state of limbo, and even when I got to induction, I thought I was going to be too worn out to push a baby out. I was broken. I was broken.

I used my time of lounging on the couch to read all the birth stories I could, especially those in my favorite pregnancy book, The Gift of Giving Life. Those stories run heavily in favor of hippie-dippie, crunchy-granola home-births. I personally would never choose a home-birth, not because I think they’re unsafe, but because please, let some else clean up that mess, thank-you-very-much. Besides, I need pitocin, and that doesn’t come with a home-birth (unless you have some crazy connections). Still, I love these stories for the collective wisdom they share about this incredible process of bringing life into this world.

Then, right there on page 267, I read another line that troubled me deeply: “I feel sad that women don’t have faith in their bodies anymore. Where is their faith?” That line made me pause. Was I one of those women? Had I lost faith in my body?


I knew my body was capable of becoming pregnant, carrying a healthy baby to term (although at the cost of great discomfort to myself), and achieving the dilation of pre-labor. But I did not believe my body was capable of going into active labor on its own. As much as I hoped and prayed for deliverance from my unbearably uncomfortable state, I simply believed that my body needed pitocin. I just had to wait it out to 39 weeks.

“Under what circumstances would your doctor induce you earlier than 39 weeks?” my husband asked.

“There would have to be some sort of medical need: low amniotic fluid, baby in distress, something like that.”

“Should we start praying for a medical problem?”

“No,” rolling my eyes, “obviously we should not start praying for a medical problem. Oh! They’d induce me if my water broke and the contractions didn’t start on their own. But that’s not very likely to happen. Despite Hollywood portrayals, very few women actually have their water break before labor starts.”

“Well, I guess we can pray for your water to break.”

“Okay, but don’t count on it. It’s never broken on its own before, it’s not likely to this time.”

The following Tuesday, at 37 weeks, I waddled back to my doctor’s office, dilated to a 4 and 70% effaced. “You are definitely having the baby this week!” my doctor declared.

“Okay, but will you induce me at 39 weeks if I don’t?” I asked.

“There’s no way you’re making it that long!”

“You don’t know my body like I do.”

“Yes, I will induce you at 39 weeks, but how about I strip your membranes today and see if we can’t get this baby to come on out this week?” So I let her strip my membranes, and spent the rest of the day immobile on the couch cursing the decision that made the cramps worse, but offered no relief in the form of labor.

I continued on through the week. My sister flew in for a surprise visit to spend the holidays with us and be around “just in case.” We celebrated my son’s fifth birthday, even managed to make him a cake. We celebrated Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, quiet and low-key affairs because that’s about all I could handle.

The following Tuesday, at 38 weeks, I was back in my doctor’s office, still dilated to a 4. “I just can’t believe you haven’t gone into labor yet! This baby is so ready to come,” my doctor declared again.

“Will you induce me next week?”

And she finally handed over the elective induction orders with the date set. January 3rd, 2017. At last, the end was in sight. I just had one more week to endure. We took my sister to the airport that afternoon and she flew out, disappointed she couldn’t stay long enough to help during the induction.

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016

It started out like any other morning. I’d actually slept surprisingly well during the night, no contractions strong enough to wake me, so I got up and started breakfast with the boys letting my husband sleep in a little bit. Henry wanted oatmeal, Josh wanted Raisin Bran, I decided I wanted muffins. So I got the boys settled and started making muffins. As would happen any time I stayed on my feet too long in the kitchen, my cramps started up again. This morning they were accompanied with some sharper pains. Gas, I thought. The cramps became increasingly uncomfortable, so when my husband finally got up, I asked him to take over mixing the muffin batter while I settled on the couch. He popped the muffins in the oven and got the boys cleaned up and dressed for the day. I made some hot chocolate and settled down at the table with my fresh-out-of-the-oven muffins. It was a delicious breakfast.

“These cramps are pretty bad,” I remarked to my husband. “There’s kind of a stabbing pain, like I have some gas bubbles trapped, but it’s kind of in front.”

“Hm,” my husband remarked over his own plate of muffins. The details of my current state of pain were common enough conversation, they barely registered as noteworthy. I finished breakfast and hobbled back to my familiar home on the couch, hoping a little nap would help dissipate the pain so I could get on with my day. I wanted to take a shower, then help take down Christmas decorations so we could get our home cleaned and in order before welcoming a new baby home. If I was really ambitious, later I would try navigating around my ridiculous bump to fix up my rather pathetic looking pedicure. It would be nice to have pretty painted toes while my legs were up in those stirrup things next week at my induction. Such were my plans for the day.

I can’t remember why I stood up, why I was in the boys’ bathroom. Maybe I needed to grab something? Maybe I was washing my hands? All I remember was the stabbing pain intensifying for one quick moment, causing me to double over and cry out, clutching the door frame for support. The pain felt like a knife, stabbing up inside me, twisting around, and then it happened—a sudden gush of liquid streaming down my legs.

I looked up in complete and utter shock, and met my husband’s worried eyes. “My water just broke!” I glanced at the kitchen clock. 9:17 AM. My baby was coming today!

My husband jumped up from the table and immediately sprang into action, calling in our back-up babysitter (my cousin’s wife, Jenny, who lives about twenty minutes away and immediately offered to drive over and pick up the boys), packing a day bag for the boys and the hospital bag for me before he jumped in the shower. Meanwhile I called my doctor’s office to let them know my water had broken, then called my mom to let her know, then hobbled to my bathroom to clean myself up a bit (water breaking is a messy affair).

We knew we needed to act quickly and get to the hospital, but for some reason (I’ll blame Hollywood) we were under the delusion that we had time. There was time for my husband to take a shower, time to get all packed and ready, time to get to the hospital and leisurely be assessed before likely needing pitocin to really jump start things. I was amazed my water had broken on its own, but I still didn’t quite believe my body could generate the active labor contractions. If we’d known then what we know now, we would’ve skipped all that minimal preparation. I would’ve used those precious five minutes that I was still a coherent human being to simply walk out the door and get into our car.

But instead there I was, trying to clean myself up in the bathroom, when it hit. The most intense pain of my life. I didn’t even recognize it as a contraction, because all I was aware of was the blinding, blinding pain. I sank to the floor, where my husband found me a few minutes later, completely unable to move. He had to find dry underwear and pants and put them on me, then slide flip flops on my feet. He was trying to convince me to stand up and get to the car when Jenny showed up with a couple of her kids. She immediately jumped into action, shooing all the kids out of the room so no one got too traumatized by my prostrate form, helping pack things up, and brainstorming with my husband about how to get me to the car.

“Maybe you hold one arm and one leg and I’ll hold the other, we carry her out that way,” she suggested.

“Don’t touch me!” I breathed out from my place on the floor.

“Or we could rig up a stretcher of some kind?” she offered again.

“I cannot move. I am having this baby here.” I was deadly serious.

My husband and Jenny looked at me. “I think you need to call an ambulance,” she finally said.

Here’s the thing. Everyone says that contractions on pitocin are more painful than natural labor contractions. In my, admittedly limited, experience, this is not true. With induction, I walked into the hospital under my own power, changed into a hospital gown in the privacy of a bathroom, then waited comfortably on a bed, mentally steeling myself for the pain that was about to come but fully expecting it.

When I experienced natural labor, I was so utterly surprised that I didn’t even recognize it as labor. I was so mentally unprepared to face the pain that I completely broke down. But mostly, I was completely unprepared for the trauma of movement. Every single little movement caused a new contraction, which meant that as my dear sweet husband tried to lift me from the floor to carry me to the car, I experienced wave after wave of contraction, coming so fast and quickly on top of each other that I had zero downtime in between. It was pointless to wait for a contraction to “end” because as soon as I moved (or worse yet, the baby moved, which she was doing constantly) a new contraction would crash down on me.

And these were not the uncomfortable tight contractions I remember from my first two labors on pitocin. No, the best way I can describe this pain is that someone took a knife and was trying to pry my uterus open the way one would open a clam, tearing apart bone and cartilage and flesh. And what do you do when you have a knife shoved up your abdomen? Do you get up and walk to the car? No you do not. You STOP MOVING. You hold as still as you possibly can.

So eventually the ambulance shows up. Lights blazing, sirens blaring. These two big burly EMTs roll a stretcher into our small apartment. They must physically lift me onto it, and I direct them through clenched teeth whispers:

“WAIT! WAIT! ... Okay, lift me. NOT on my back! NOT on my back! Put me on my side!”

Oh look, my sweet husband thought to stop and take a picture of this photogenic moment.

They strap me in, and roll me out to the ambulance. With every jostle, every rumble, I am sure I am going to die. Jenny loads the kids in her van and whisks them off while Nathan climbs in the ambulance beside me. The EMT peppers me with questions, but I have not the mental space to deal with them. My husband answers instead. “Female, 30 years old, third pregnancy, her water broke about an hour ago.”

“We need to get her to a hospital quick. Memorial City is the closest one, we’re going there,” says the burly EMT, the one I don’t even know what he looks like because I could not open my eyes the entire time I was in his company. But I am coherent enough to know that I do not want to go to Memorial City. My doctor is on call at my hospital, and I want her at my delivery. I need at least that bit of comfort and familiarity on this crazy day, so I insist again in my clenched teeth whisper:

“No! We are going to my hospital!”

“You are about to have this baby, we need to get you to the closest hospital,” the faceless EMT insists. He is obviously terrified of the possibility that I will deliver this baby in the back of this ambulance, with no one but him to catch it. I certainly don’t want him to be the one to catch my baby either, but I’m not pushing yet, and my hospital isn't that much further away. We have time, so I whisper shout:

“My hospital!”

You do not argue with a pregnant lady. Especially not one about to give birth and in this much pain. Sirens blaring, they got me to my hospital in about ten minutes. Every bump in the road, every jostle of the stretcher, I thought I was going to die.

Through the whole ride, all I could think about was an epidural. I knew, somewhere inside me, that I was far enough along and things were progressing quickly enough that I could make it without an epidural. But I also knew that I was not mentally prepared to face that. It is one thing entirely to be calmly and patiently waiting in a hospital bed for the pain of pitocin-induced contractions, and I was able to mentally focus then and handle it without an epidural. But it is another thing entirely to experience the unimaginable: my water breaking, natural contractions so painful I couldn’t move, and arriving at the hospital in an ambulance. It was all so traumatic for me that I knew I needed some relief.

I dreamed of getting to that hospital bed and finally being able to stop moving. But alas, it was not so. The EMTs rolled me into my room and onto my bed, and the nurse immediately began prodding me, struggling to undress me and slip on a hospital gown, strapping me with monitors, setting up my IV, then checking my dilation (I was an 8). Every single touch caused contractions that felt like they were ripping me open. I suppose to an outside observer, I looked incredibly calm and in control. I was not screaming. I was not clutching at my husband’s hand until I cut off his circulation. In fact, I gave very little outward sign I was experiencing contractions at all. All I can say is that the pain I experienced was so intense that I had absolutely nothing left over for any other exertion. I physically could not cry or scream because that would’ve required extra energy, not to mention movement. All of my energy and focus went to holding every part of my body as still as possible so the knife would stop trying to pry me open.

I kept asking, through my clenched teeth whisper, for an epidural. Please, someone give me an epidural. For the love, can’t someone give me an epidural in this place?!?!? And the nurse kept responding with completely annoying answers like, “We have to get you on the monitors first,” and “We still haven’t finished your registration,” and “You have to sign all of the release forms before I can page the anesthesiologist.” Can I just take a moment here to state that it is a cruel form of torture to make a pregnant lady with a knife up her abdomen sign 10,000 release forms before they will treat you? I barely had control of my arm, most of my signatures were faint scribbles. It was utterly ridiculous.

At one point, the nurse actually said, “You know, you’re far enough along that you’ll probably get to pushing before we can get you the epidural.” I actually knew this. I could feel where the baby was, I could feel that if I pushed she was ready to come. I’ve never actually felt that super strong urge to push that many women talk about. Instead, I just feel that I’m ready to push if I happen to want to. And I was there and ready and knew it could all be over very quickly and I would survive without the epidural.

But because of the trauma of the this whole ordeal, I also knew that I would be happier if I gave myself a break and didn’t demand natural perfection. When the nurse informed me I would have to physically sit up to receive the epidural injection in my back, I almost decided it wasn’t worth it. I nearly passed out from the pain of getting into position; my body was shaking so badly I couldn’t sit up without the nurse physically holding me upright. And even when the anesthesiologist had finished, it still took a few contractions before the knife pain went away.

But oh! Then came the relief! For the first time in over two hours, I was able to relax my deathly clenched muscles, open my eyes, and ENJOY the fact that my little girl was about to be in my arms. I smiled, I started joking with my husband about Baby #4. “Wow, that epidural must really be working if you’re talking about Baby #4” was his response. And finally, I announced I was ready to push. My doctor was there and ready to go, I had just enough feeling to know when and where I needed to push (a vastly different epidural experience than with my first baby), and after three sets of pushes, she came sliding out, covered in vernix yet still the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 12:08, just under three hours since my water had broken.

The rest of the story is, as they say, history. My husband cut the cord and I snuggled with my squishy and very chubby baby (she was the smallest of my three, but at 8 lbs. 3 oz she was no featherweight, and came with the cheeks to prove it). She was calm and alert and as sweet as could be. The placenta delivered very soon after, I only needed a little bit of stitching, and then the staff cleared out leaving my husband and me alone with the baby. On her way out, the nurse left the hospital menu on the table and told me I was free to order whatever I wanted for lunch. I looked at my husband in amazement. “Three hours ago I was eating muffins for breakfast, now I’m ordering lunch. And in the meantime, I had a baby!”

“Yes, it was very considerate of her not to make you miss a meal,” was his reply. Very considerate indeed!

In the week plus since she joined us, I’ve been reflecting over and over again about the question raised by Ina May. Did I write this birth story? Did I, subconsciously, actually know my body was capable of going into labor on its own? Did I know my uterus was capable of contractions so strong I’d need an ambulance ride and an epidural to deal with them? Did I have faith in my body all along?

I don’t know. At any rate, does it matter? My three pregnancies have all ended in very different experiences, and all three have taught me something new about myself. As much as I wanted to experience natural labor, I’m still in shock that it actually happened (and have now decided that I never want to experience natural labor again). And despite the fact that I originally wanted an epidural-free natural labor, I have no regrets about how this labor happened. I’m amazed to know just how strong and capable my body is. I’m grateful for that experience (even if I would rather not live through it again). I’m grateful for the timing, which was perfect in every way (guys, huge financial boon to have a 2016 baby). I’m grateful my baby is so healthy and strong and wonderfully perfect. I’m grateful to not be pregnant any more. Whether I wrote this story or not, it is the perfect story for this birth. 

But wait, now there's three of them! Oh boy.


  1. Wow, this is an amazing story...definitely not what I was expecting to hear and I literally couldn't stop reading until I got to the end. I related to a lot of what you were saying (not the ambulance part, of course, but your leading up feelings of thinking your body wasn't capable of going into labor on its own). It's funny because in spite of my four labors without epidurals (that have all followed very much the same course), I'm highly considering getting an epidural this time. I don't know why. I've been reading a ton of birth stories lately, but instead of making me want to go natural, they seem to be having the opposite effect. Or maybe I just want to see what it would be like so I can judge for myself if all those natural labors have really been worth it. At any rate, I loved hearing about how you ended up getting an epidural and what a positive experience it was. (Oh, also, hearing you say that natural contractions were actually worse than pitocin contractions confirmed what I have long told people who act like it's so amazing that I've gone without an epidural while on pitocin: the contractions are actually very predictable and if you're on a low dose and already pretty much in labor, they're not unmanageable.) Wow, apparently when it comes to birth stories, I have a lot to say (and if I wasn't writing this on my phone, I'd probably have a lot more!). I'm so happy for you and very happy that she came early! She's beautiful, and you're a rock star!

    1. Okay, I should totally call you so we can chat about this in real life, but basically here's what I think on the difference between my two epidural experiences: I realize now that my first epidural experience was terrible because a.) I delivered at a teaching hospital, and b.) it was the middle of the night two days before Christmas, so basically I had the bottom of the totem pole brand-new interns performing the procedure, and I think that was a big part of the problem. My latest experience, I was at a much better hospital on a Wednesday morning three days after Christmas (thus real anesthesiologists on shift), and it really was a very positive experience. So, just take where and when you deliver into consideration. Also, real contractions are terrible! Go for a fifth induction if you can!

  2. Suzanne, so glad you all made it through that! Your sweet baby is so kissable! Every birth story is unique, and whether or not we somehow unconsciously write our baby's birth stories--though like you I think, how could I ever have predicted this?--I am grateful for medical help when it is needed. Hugs!

    1. Thanks so much Linnae! I am also so grateful for modern medicine, even with completely healthy and normal deliveries.

  3. Wow. I cannot imagine! I'm amazed you had time for an epidural--but glad it worked out!!! She's precious :)

    1. Yep, kind of a crazy story, but she's worth it!

  4. Suzanne
    Congratulations!! Your baby girl is here!! :-) and all so dramatic in the end! And such a wearying time waiting for her to arrive {{}} Yes the mind plays an incredible part in our story, I've experienced the same.

    Enjoy your babymoon xxx

  5. Even though I knew the story, I was actually crying reading it through. You really are an amazing writer! With Tanner, I had a "best case scenario" for timing and how I would like everything to go. But I was still surprised when his birth went exactly as I had hoped for! Each birth is unique and miraculous!

    1. Hm, I don't remember Tanner's birth story, you'll have to tell me again some time.