How do you choose an opening line for a birth story? What is the perfect sentence to begin describing what was the hardest and most beautiful experience of your life? There isn’t really one perfect opening line. Women give birth every day, every minute...they have been having babies since the beginning of man. But when it happens to you, it is intensely personal. It's life changing. How can a woman describe this? How many women are given the opportunity to describe it? I've had three people ask me Olivia's birth story..three. A hundred of "how is the baby?" from friends and relatives, even strangers. But no one asks "how did it feel to bring life from your body?" .... "how was the delivery?". It's just not something people really ask. Until I was pregnant and had a selfish desire to know what lay ahead, I rarely asked either. But once I started asking, I couldn't get enough. Each woman has an entirely different story. I love hearing them, and feel so honored to listen, to be told such a special story. In our society, people just don't ask.
But if they did ask , we might jump right in, begin with a description of the first contraction, maybe when the pushing started, or the moment when you were told it would have to be a cesarean birth, or a natural birth...or maybe we start at the very beginning. For me, Olivia’s birth story began the day we knew she was coming, with those first thoughts of her.
The moment I knew that Olivia was growing in my belly I began to dream about the day we’d meet her. I fantasized about an all-natural birth, how I’d spend the next nine months maintaining my health and strength in order to go drug free for her delivery. It was a personal choice. I had nothing against drug-aided births, especially when it was necessary, but it was something that was important to me. I hoped to come out of the delivery room, clutching my baby, thinking “I did that all on my own. I am strong.” Our midwives prepared us, explaining that they fully supported our natural birth plan and would do everything they could to make it a reality but that we should “keep an open mind”, just in case. Set a goal, but don’t be heartbroken if things don’t go exactly as planned. Throughout our amazing birth classes with Lisa Rubin of The Good Birth Project (done online, through video chat from the comfort of our couch –AWESOME) we learned a ton. Most importantly, we learned that sometimes, often times, things may not go exactly as you’d planned. That we would be prepared with knowledge and choices, and most importantly- to “keep an open mind”.
So as the weeks went by and my belly swelled, I kept my mind open. In my heart, though, I was sure..I could do this, I will not need the epidural. And I prayed that I would not need a C-section. Nick gently reminded me weekly…we have a plan, but “keep an open mind”. It was a wonderful pregnancy, with extra attention for our high risk status. I can genuinely say that I loved being pregnant. Aches, pains, weight gain, none of that was fun, but I loved that belly ...I was growing a beautiful and healthy girl. It felt like magic.
The baby was in a Right Occiput Transverse position at my last sonogram, which meant she was facing my right side, so I spent the last few weeks side lying and trying other techniques to get her spin and align, hoping for a shift before labor began. I ignored advice for physical therapy or a trip to the chiropractor to aid in turning the baby. I didn't want to mess with anything. The shift never came, she never did turn, but she was healthy and I was healthy, and things were going great. I was not really concerned. I felt tired and heavy, but I felt strong.
I danced at my brother’s wedding the week before my due date, stood at the edge of the ocean with Nick that weekend, the wind on our faces, hardly able to contain our nerves and excitement. The last days of pregnancy, the “it could happen any moment” days were by far the hardest for me, for us, we couldn’t wait and we didn't know what to expect. Nervous impatience arose. I ate spicy food, pineapple, I walked, we had sex, tried massages. No baby. I watched the midwives’ rotation schedule, praying that my water would break on the day our favorite midwife was on call. That “open mind”, I had it …but… This particular midwife was the one who had to deliver our girl, it was meant to be, I just knew it. I didn't want anyone else. We waited.
On October 19th, three days past my due date, Nick and I went to the diner and I ate a huge cheeseburger for dinner. It was great. That night, a Thursday night, the start of the last 24hrs of our favorite midwife’s shift, we went to bed. Around 11pm I felt a contraction. Not unlike the Braxton Hicks contractions I’d been feeling for several months now, it was tight and mild and didn’t last long but I could have sworn I felt a little bit of something odd in my lower back. I lay still. It was nothing. Maybe 15 minutes later, another….I was definitely feeling something different in my lower back. I felt like I was having mild menstrual back ache. Hm, weird. I lay still. Was it starting?? Everyone had warned to try and sleep, just in case – to save up energy, sleep. I tried to sleep. By midnight I had butterflies in my stomach and was out in the living room quietly rocking and walking back and forth, timing these contractions. They were sporadic. 5 minutes here, 15 minutes there. But the feeling was different. Nick had worked all day, and if this was false labor, he’d be up early for work again so I waited to wake him. I drank water, peed, walked, lay on the couch, drank water, peed.
Around 2am I sat on the edge of our bed and gently squeezed his shoulder, “I need you, I’m sorry, something is happening… I think”.
We sat in the living room together, he with the timer and a pad of paper, and me with my water, now on all fours rocking through the contractions because for some reason they were killing my back. I called the midwife. “Wait until they are almost five minutes apart” she said, “It’s your first, we have time..”
By 3;30 we were getting our bags ready, I was making peanut butter sandwiches in the kitchen and packing our snack bag with cartons of coconut water, eating whatever I could find just in case this was it, and leaning on counters through each contraction. Breathing, Breathing. They were totally bearable; it was just the ache in my lower back. We called the midwife. “We’re heading down” we said, “it will take us 45 minutes, so we’re heading down now, the contractions are 5-8 minutes apart”. She said she’d meet us there. I remember I was still worried it was just a false alarm.
The roads were silent. It was pitch black and so quiet. We made some small talk. Was this it? Maybe not. We’re going just in case. Maybe this isn’t it. More small talk. Nick tried to take the bumps easy, no potholes. I gripped the door handle with each contraction. We're just getting checked out, to be on the safe side.
We got to the hospital and I remember thinking how quiet it was, it seemed deserted. The midwife was there…they showed us our room and she did an exam. "This is my favorite delivery room " she said and smiled.
This was it. It was not false labor, I was one centimeter dilated. Nick and I grinned at each other, my heart pounded. “Settle in” she said, “order some breakfast, something easy on the stomach, with proteins”. We ordered breakfast, I got scrambled eggs and toast and sipped my water. So exciting. I called my Mom, I said there was no rush but here was the room number, etc. The contractions were getting stronger but still bearable. I had my yoga ball, I rocked or leaned on the bed rail and Nick would rub my lower back. My mom came and they took turns massaging where it hurt. The midwife came in and out, checking on us and the nurses monitored the baby. We waited. Rested, rocked, massaged. The sun came up. There was a beautiful Jacuzzi tub in the corner and a bassinet under lamps and other equipment for the baby. I kept staring at that bassinet; it made everything feel very real. More nervous butterflies.
We watched a young girl come in and prepare a long steel table with every little surgical tool and piece of equipment you could imagine. With gloved hands and precise methods, she carefully unwrapped each item from its hermetic plastic seal and set them out in rows on the clean paper. There was no rush to her careful movements, but a definite method and precision. She didn't say one word. When she was finished, she laid a giant sheet of clear plastic over the whole thing and walked out. I nibbled at my eggs and toast.
Midmorning, the midwife brought the enema. Prior to the day, like a lot of women I know, I spent more than a few minutes worrying about the whole bathroom/delivery table scenario, I was petrified. Even though any labor and delivery nurse will tell you it’s "no big deal and you won’t even know it happened", it was still awful to worry about. So"hello enema" nice to meet you. How wise. I would recommend this to all women in labor, we’ll leave it at that.
As the hours passed the contractions grew stronger and I marveled at how I was feeling almost nothing in my front, aside from muscle contraction across my abdomen, yet I was feeling everything intensely in my back. It was as though the baby was in my back instead of my belly and was making her decent through my rear. I remember thinking how different this felt from anything that had been described to me. I try, now, to remember when the words “back labor” were first spoken, but it was then that I realized this was indeed a bit different. I later learned that Olivia had had an arm or an elbow perhaps, something pushing on my spine. It hurt. Wow, it hurt. But the baby was fine, I was fine. A little more dilated, but still a ways to go.
By midday, rocking and massaging weren’t cutting it anymore and the midwife began filling the tub with hot water. They lowered me in. Glorious. My mom and Nick sat on either side of my head, squeezing warm water over me, feeding me bits of fruit and orange sherbet. Had I not been in labor this would have been the loveliest scenario ever. Actually, it was lovely, and I felt extremely grateful. The tub, my mom, nick and our midwife were wonderful but the pain was getting worse and worse, and I asked the midwife if we were getting close. I felt myself getting tired. This was very painful, “how much longer, do you think?” I tried to calmly ask. She knew, “I’d say you’re in a good stage of active labor right now...” which meant, "I’d rather not say that you still have quite a ways to go". She rubbed lavender oil on my forehead and neck, across my shoulders. She squeezed my hips together, two hands on either side causing a compression that offered the only possible relief from the deep pain in my back. I floated, then kneeled, switching positions every few minutes, pillows in under the water for my knees and one sopping wet behind my back. tape over my IV port to keep the water out.
After a while I couldn’t enjoy the water any longer, there was no more relief. The contractions were wracking me. I moved to the yoga ball, and then to short wooden stool, Nick seated in front of me, my forehead on his knees, my arms around his waist. He reminded me for the millionth time to breathe. ”Count” ,he said, “like running, like a gallop, 1-2-3, 1-2-3”. I cried and counted “1-2-3, 1-2-3”.
The pain that came through my body with each contraction was unbelievable. Everything I'd learned about not letting the pain take the upper hand went out the window. I vomited. I wondered how so many women do this. It felt like knives twisting into my back. The pain weakened my legs, took my breath away. It shook my whole body. I couldn't stand. Where my mother had been able to switch in and out with Nick to hold me when they came, I needed Nick now to hold me up. I had to wrap my arms around his neck so he could keep me from crumpling to the floor with each wave. I could feel my thighs, rear and belly shaking through the open back of the gown. I was exhausted, and the pain was getting worse. The pressure in my backside was insane. I cried. This was hard. I knew it was going to be hard, but this was really, really hard.
Around 2pm, 12hours later, I broke. I knew I wasn't even close to push time and I had given all I had. I was completely spent. My mind, which had been told over and over to stay open, had been totally closed to the idea of an aided birth. I had secretly thought, deep in my heart that natural was the only way for me. But now there was no question in mind as to whether I was about to make the right decision. I needed to do what was necessary to go further with the delivery. I asked for the epidural. I knew that I had reached my limit, physically and mentally and that if I was going to push our girl out, something had to give. I needed help.
I sat on the edge of the bed with my arms around the chest of a nurse named Annie, my legs wrapped around her waist with my feet hooked in back, braced for the contractions that would come while I had to hold perfectly still as the needle was inserted. "Don't move. Do. not. move", they said. The anesthesiologist was impossibly young. I looked at Nick sitting across the room on one of those weird plastic couches, my mom squeezing his hand. We locked eyes and then he turned his head. That nurse held me with all her strength, I remember feeling so much appreciation for what she was doing for me in that moment. I squeezed her so hard, trembling.
And then they laid me gently down and slowly different parts of my body began to feel relief. As the epidural took over, nurse and midwife brought warm blankets and set me up for side lying with an hourglass shaped yoga ball between my legs, trying to get Olivia to turn in those last hours. The pain was mostly numbed but my rear end still felt this heaviness, the discomfort an enormous pressure. It still felt like she was descending down the wrong side.
Some pitocin to get the contractions back on track, they had slowed with the introduction of the epidural.They darkened the room. I tried to sleep. I think I slept.
They say when it's time to push, you feel it. The overwhelming need to bear down. It hit me, just like that. I called out. The midwife was attending an emergency situation, but she was on her way. "Hold on" they said. "Breathe" my mom coached, "don't push yet, just breathe". It felt impossible to wait, the need to push was reflexive, uncontrollable, muscles taking on a mind of their own...
And then we were all in position. 4:50pm, ten minutes before the end of our midwife's rotation. The nurse held my left hand and Nick held my right, while my mom and the midwife each took a knee, a foot. It happened fast. I tucked my chin and pushed. Breathed. Chin tuck, push, breathe. It felt like five seconds and five years all at once. In reality it took twenty minutes. Just when I felt like I couldn't push any harder, my mom cried out "There she is!! I see her head! Oh Sarah, she has dark hair!!".
It was the most amazing thing to hear and gave me so much strength, she was almost here...
And there she was with a final push!! Laid on my chest, so warm and all wet. Nick and I looked at each other, beaming. All the pain was gone and here was our beautiful girl. Right to the breast...all that hair!!
The rest was a blur, our families came. My sister in law, my best friend, brought me a huge Italian wedge and lemonade. I was starving. My father held the baby, grinning ear to ear, wearing his nicest suit....This was the best day of my life. I kept touching my lips to our baby's head.
I have no regrets about the decisions I made in the delivery room. I do not feel the disappointment that I feared I might feel. I truly believe that I didn't have much of a choice anyway, that the reason the decision was so clear to me in that moment was because it was the right one. I gave it my all, I lasted almost 13 hours drug-free, I just needed help to go the last 2.5. I know what I endured and I feel great pride. I feel pride for every woman who has had a baby, any which way. I feel grateful to my mom, to my husband who held me up and was my strength when I couldn't find it myself.
If you asked me if I'd do it again I'd say "a thousand times.... for my daughter I would do it again and again."
8lbs, 11 ounces and 19.5 inches long. Olivia Ann, with a full head of beautiful, dark hair and eyes like the ocean. Delivered by the wonderful Michelle Chiafullio of Full Circle Family Health.
The best day of my life.
Happy First Birthday Olivia!