I believe the more we share about our experiences, the better. Birthing, breastfeeding, postpartum emotions and motherhood are all things I've struggled with and I find more often than not, we all do. I'm sharing my story not to persuade you one way or another, or to scare new mamas, but to simply put my story out to the world. In a way, it's healing to see on paper.
I also believe the dialogue surrounding labor needs to shift. Movies and TV shows provide inaccurate theatrical displays of such. In addition, as a nation, we've heightened our interventions and C-section rates so much so, anything else feels out of the norm.
And before we go any further, I fully support every single mother’s decisions and preferences. To each their own. This is my own...
When I woke on the morning of February 17th, I was shocked to feel something trickling down my leg. Our due date was still 2 weeks away. I’m not even sure when my water broke but our bed and my pjs were soaked. Surely, I thought, water breaking was something that would have woken me but alas, it hadn’t.
I yelled from the bathroom once the shock gave way, “babe, my water broke!” and my husband, Joe, jumped out of bed still asleep. Like a fire alarm went off, he sprung from flat to standing in less than a second.
I knew from our natural birthing class and from the books I read not to rush to the birthing center. That laboring 75% at home was our goal to avoid unnecessary interventions but, when I looked down, the toilet paper was full of blood. Since this was our rainbow baby, the view sent an unwelcomed jolt through my body. With angst I phoned my midwife, it was 6am. She assured me everything was OK but that we should come in right away to assess the bleeding.
We left empty handed, believing we’d be home later until active labor began. Most first-time mamas labor for well over 24 hours…. or so they say.
On the ride we called our family. Just by happenstance, my Mom and sister were already scheduled to arrive that day. My sister was starting a 2-week internship at a Veterinary Hospital and my Mom was bringing her RV to Charleston in anticipation of her first grandchild entering the world.
I remember feeling oddly calm yet, excited. My midwife was not on call, so another met us at the door. She had been helping a soon-to-be mama labor throughout the night. As she hooked my belly up to monitor the heartbeat, she took a look at the bleeding. Heartrate was perfect, but I was bleeding just enough that she wouldn’t send me home, and not enough to send me to the hospital. I had yet to have any signs of labor outside of the trickle of water and blood, so Joe and I sat together to in the office…. waiting.
I don’t remember our conversation, although I assure you it was about how our lives were on the brink of changing forever.
After some time, as my contractions never began, the midwife gave me a cocktail to stimulate the start of labor. It tasted like an orange smoothie and the only ingredients I remember her mentioning were castor oil and champagne. She told Joe it’d be a good time to run home and take care of things - grab our overnight bag, tend to Teddy. He was to grab me fruit and juice because at the birthing center, they recommend eating and drinking throughout labor.
He left. I was alone, with our baby in my belly.
While he was gone I was moved into the birthing room. The woman in the room next to me, who had been laboring all night, was sent to the hospital to finish her labor. She had had enough and needed interventions. This news felt defeating, but I was still dedicated and willing to take this experience as far as I could.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted a natural, unmedicated birth. The reasons are vast. Mostly, although I’m not a religious person, I feel a woman’s body was made to birth. That this sacred and age-old honor should be experienced. Of course, I believe in Western Medicine and know it saves lives when needed but, a low-risk birth, in my opinion, doesn’t need a hospital, an IV or a needle.
The birthing room had a king size bed, large garden tub, full shower and bathroom. The lights were always dim, candles lit, Pandora on the speakers. Midwives believe, when no risks are pending, that less interaction and intervention are best for mama and baby. Birthing is a process, not a procedure.
I was as comfortable as could be.
While Joe was gone, the cocktail had begun working its magic. The contractions started small and far apart. Unfortunately, the cocktail had also triggered diarrhea. In what felt like zero seconds, both intensified.
I undressed quickly and shot Joe a text, “where the fuck are you? I need you.”
It felt like he was gone for days when he finally arrived. At this point, all sense of time and inhibition were lost. A good sign to a midwife, means labor is progressing. I knew this too. I remember looking at myself in the mirror at one point and I noticed the baby had dropped, and the tightness of my belly lessened. Another sign our baby was soon to be in our arms.
In what could have been a minute or 90, the contractions were closer, longer and more intense. I felt nothing in my belly and everything in my low back. Back labor was not something I anticipated and when met with its pain, this was the time I started to doubt myself. I moved around the room -- pacing, squatting, all fours. I got into the shower and let hot water hit my back. At some point I eventually made it back to the bed and my midwife, who had arrived while I was in the shower, had me go through a serious of movements to relieve the back pain. During these movements I told her and Joe that I didn’t think I could do it, I needed an epidural.
With the right words and supportive touch, they both assured me that I could do this, I was doing this and that I was closer and closer with each wave, to meeting our baby.
At my midwife’s request, I got into the warm bath. It was heavenly to feel buoyant.
I had little breaks between the contractions but during, it was all consuming. The sensation so intense it took every inch of me to a depth I didn’t know I had. During each contraction I would uncontrollably give out a throaty moan. With this primal and intrinsic tool, I was reminded that my body knew what it needed to do.
5 hours after the contractions began and most likely 10 hours after my water broke, as I was laboring in the tub, I had the natural sensation to push. This shocked me! I knew from my readings that the body will tell you when to push and when it does, you’re ready.
It’s important to note that I did not have fetal monitoring and did not get vaginal exams during labor. I was going by instinct and gut. And with the guidance of my midwife. At 4:30 pm she performed my first and only vaginal exam to confirm I was 10 cm dilated and that I could push when I felt I needed to.
My midwife told Joe to get into the tub, that the baby would be here soon. He sat behind me and held me during the contractions, then we’d rest in silence as the wave passed. When my midwife said she saw the head crowning, this surprised me. It was happening fast.
I pushed for 30 minutes with the warm water swirling around our bodies. I felt the ring of fire which a midwife explains is the moment the head is pushing through, before you go numb. The pain of this moment was like nothing else I’ve ever felt yet, it only lasted a few seconds and at 5:10 pm, Boone Christopher Cunningham was thrust onto my chest.
Joe, Boone and I were able to calmly meet each other in the warmth of the tub as we delayed cord clamping. When ready, Joe was guided to lay on the bed with Boone, skin to skin, while I was escorted next to them to deliver my placenta.
When the contractions stopped, and the placenta wasn’t budging, things took a turn.
I’m going to drastically shorten this part of the story, even though it’s the part that still haunts me. It’s deserving of its own blog one day.
The placenta needs to leave the body 45-60 minutes after birth. When mine wasn’t budging, my midwife asked if she could retrieve it manually. While I did give consent, I wasn’t necessarily in the state of mind to be informed or fully aware of what this meant.
As the midwife’s hand, wrist and portion of her forearm entered me, I thrust myself into the headboard, stunned.
She was grabbing for the placenta and trying to release it from my body. Put bluntly, she was tugging at an organ and trying to pull it out of me, while I was completely sober. In a normal scenario, the placenta would release and slide out. What we didn’t know then, or the next 2 times her and another midwife attempted this procedure, is that my placenta had grown attached to my body and would have never released without surgery.
These attempts left me in shock and hemorrhaging.
The average human body has 8 to 12 pints of blood, given our size. I lost 4-5 pints of my blood in the 60 minutes that followed our son’s birth.
I passed out and remember waking to EMTs placing me on a gurney. They were to rush me to the hospital for an emergency DNC and blood transfusions. Joe, thrust into fatherhood, had to care for our hour-old son solo. I can’t imagine how he felt.
I remember being in transit, the EMT was trying to keep me awake. It was the first time I felt afraid, as I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I asked her if I could go to sleep and she said she’d rather we talk until we got to the hospital. I tried but, drifted off.
Everything happened so fast. Lights, questions, doctors. And then I was out.
I woke in a brightly-lit OR with nurses and doctors all around. I’ve been in surgery before so this waking up from anesthesia was not something new to me. However, as they pulled the breathing tube from my throat, my trachea collapsed. I was gasping for air and for the second time in a few hours, thought I was going to die as I couldn’t bring oxygen in. I’m not sure what happened next but, again, I was out.
The birth of my son was amazing and I would definitely have a water birth again. The events that followed had nothing to do with the style in which I brought Boone into the world, and everything to do with a rare spiral of unfortunate circumstances. And while I feel robbed of those moments other women talk about, the minutes and hours after their baby is born, my final memory from that night is this...
I woke in a quiet and dark hospital room in the middle of the night. When I looked at my chest, my baby was sleeping across it. At the very same moment, he lifted his head and our eyes met. It was the first time I was able to see him, and him me. It's a moment I want to put in a locket and wear forever. That was the very second I became a mama, and our love began to grow.