***Note: This post contains images of labor and a Cesarean birth that some may consider graphic.***
There’s a physiological phenomenon called disassociation; it’s a protective mechanism enabled by the nervous system when it reaches its maximum capacity to process stimulation. It’s that zoned out feeling when you’re driving and suddenly arrive at your destination with no idea how you got there. A state somewhere on the cusp of sleeping and waking, or perhaps a little of both, simultaneously.
Apparently I spent the past 365 days in a dissociative state, because I blinked and between the sleepless nights and baby snuggles, here we are at my sweet Preston’s first birthday. Just like that.
Our lives were changed in dramatic fashion after Preston was born, and I can’t think of his birth without thinking about the pain, fear and uncertainty about my own health and his future that would follow. But today for his birthday, I want to remember his birth and everything that was so special about it.
I knew when I got pregnant that I wanted a VBAC (vaginal birth after a Cesarean), and I set out a plan to make it happen. My first baby weighed in at 9 pounds 10 ounces, which I know was my biggest obstacle in having her naturally. I labored for 32 hours before deciding to have a Cesarean because I was stalled at 5 centimeters and was completely exhausted and ready to meet my baby.
With this pregnancy, I joined the YMCA so I could exercise more and hopefully gain less than the 50 pounds I gained the first time. I did yoga, Bodyflow, Zumba and walked on the treadmill four or five times a week. I carefully watched my diet and ate dairy and grains sparingly and drank tons of water.
I practiced Spinning Babies techniques starting at about 24 weeks including a nightly 30-minute regimen of stretches and exercises designed to encourage proper positioning for the baby. I followed a protocol of herbs and homeopathics including drinking red raspberry leaf tea several times daily during the third trimester. I began acupuncture at 36 weeks in hopes of getting labor to start on its own before 40 weeks. I saw a Webster-certified chiropractor to ensure there was plenty of room for baby to be in the correct position.
I practiced Hypnobabies childbirth hypnosis daily and listened to positive birthing affirmations several times a day. I believed in myself, had a positive attitude and was surrounded by people who supported me and my desires.
I’ve learned through parenting that nothing ever goes as plans, and little Preston was trying to keep me on my toes by kicking me into prodromal labor around 34 weeks. In the weeks that followed, I thought I was in labor several times. Contractions would start up in the afternoon, increase in intensity and duration until I went to bed and then I’d wake up still fully pregnant with no sign of a baby the next morning.
My contractions picked up one Friday evening while we were having dinner at Whole Foods. They were coming about eight minutes apart and were consistent and timeable. We walked around Whole Foods and Target, and I thought the real thing was finally happening, which was exciting except for one missing piece to my birth plan. My mom was flying in the following Monday as we never expected I’d go into labor much earlier than my due date. I couldn’t imagine having a baby without her there by my side.
After Friday night’s adventure, I thought we’d definitely be having a baby over the weekend before my mom could get there, so we decided to hire a doula. We hadn’t considered a doula before because my mom is a licensed midwife and doula and had planned on her being there. I called a doula that came highly recommended by several friends and arranged for her to come over to meet us Saturday morning. Nikki carries a sense of peace and calmness with her, and she was exactly what we needed with the uncertainty of whether my mom would make it or not.
The weekend passed uneventfully and my mom arrived Monday afternoon just as I was headed to my weekly appointment with my midwives. I also had an acupuncture appointment scheduled because now that my mom was in town, I felt an overwhelming sense of readiness. I had my membranes stripped and did a session of labor-inducing acupuncture (technically, it’s not labor-inducing, but will help labor begin if the body is ready). I went straight to the gym after my appointments and walked five miles.
Tuesday, Gabriella went to Mother’s Day Out and I went to the gym to walk three miles and came home to do some cooking and cleaning. Just before I went to pick up Gabriella around noon, I went to the bathroom and discovered I was spotting. I called Brian to tell him that it was maybe baby time and gave Nikki a head’s up too.
The afternoon was strangely ordinary and relaxed and sometime around 4 p.m. I started to think that this could finally be real labor starting up. My cousin came and picked up Gabriella after she woke up from her nap, and we called Nikki to come over. She arrived just as I was serving up tostadas for dinner between contractions.
The four of us ate, laughed, told stories and had what would be like a typical gathering of friends except for the waves of contractions coming every so often. Just before dark, I had a thought that I wanted one last pregnancy picture. I’m a tad photography obsessed, so this was very in-character for me. I went and put on a real shirt, a little makeup and straightened my hair, and we had an impromptu photo shoot in the backyard.
The time between our photo shoot and leaving for the hospital is a little murky in my memory. I know I labored in my room some and at one point we timed the contractions at 4 or 5 minutes apart. My mom kept saying she thought it would be a good idea to head to the hospital, but in my head I still wasn’t sure if this was the real thing. I think I was fully expecting the contractions to wear off in the night again as they had done many times before. But I trust my mom and we all agreed that I would take a shower and then head to the hospital. I think we left around 10 p.m.
We got to the hospital and I was escorted to the triage area. I was taken to a tiny, curtained cubicle so they could check if I was in labor. I’m not sure how long I waited in there, but it felt like an eternity. Every contraction that came while I was alone, in silence, waiting on a hard hospital bed was torture. Finally, a nurse checked me and I was 8 centimeters. Good enough to earn a ticket to stay.
Our favorite midwife Lauren, who was there for Gabriella’s labor and the birth of our angel baby, was on call and just who I needed to see after exiting the triage torture chamber. When I heard I was 8 centimeters, I felt excited, relieved and at peace. I was further along than I got in 32 hours of labor with Gabriella and that felt good enough to me. I had nothing to more to prove to myself or anyone else and before I had finished walking in the labor and delivery room I asked, maybe begged, for an epidural.
I’ve had two previous epidural experiences that were not pleasant so I spoke with the anesthesiologist and told him that I wanted to be able to feel my legs. He did an awesome job, and I was pain free but able to feel and even move my legs on my own. After the epidural, I was able to rest and relax for a while until sometime around 3 a.m., I was ready to push.
When I walked into the hospital at 8 cm, I felt like I had won half of the battle. Getting to the point of actually pushing felt completely surreal. I was so excited and motivated to push my baby out. My birth team didn’t quite have the same enthusiasm at 3 a.m. and my mom, Nikki and Brian were all catching some well-deserved Zs. I’m thankful my legs were able to move because I could lift and lower myself into a squat position using the squat bar by myself to push with each contraction. I needed help with my lazier left leg, and I remember yelling at Brian to wake after he had fallen asleep during a break.
After almost three hours of pushing, but little progress in bringing the baby down, Lauren brought in a doctor to see if we could use a vacuum or try anything else. She checked me and said he was still way too high and even though my pushes were strong and effective, they just weren’t budging him. Then she said the word I dreaded and most wanted to keep out of my birth experience. Cesarean.
I cried so many tears. I felt the sting of knowing I may not have any more children. I felt hopeless.
Through the tears, I listened to Nikki’s soothing voice as she told me exactly what I needed to hear. “It’s ok to cry. Let out all the tears. And then get ready to meet your baby.”
I worked so hard to avoid a Cesarean, but ultimately it was the way my babies needed to enter this world. After the tears, I was ready. Although I didn’t get to push my baby out the way I expected, Preston’s birth was still so beautiful.
Our midwife Lauren was finished with her shift, but stayed to take photos for us in the OR. We were able to see Preston pulled from my belly and hold him without delay. I was able to touch him and feel his breath and be physically close to him throughout the surgery.
Once Preston’s head was out, the collective reaction was, “Those cheeks!” It was immediately clear that this was no small baby, and the scale proved it with a weight of 10 pounds 3 ounces. Three hours of pushing on a posterior baby resulted in some bruising and a busted lip, but I could tell he would clean up nicely and be as cute as ever.
In recovery, Preston latched and began nursing all on his own and I felt great. The whole experience was in stark contrast to Gabriella’s birth where I was so drugged after my Cesarean that I cannot even remember the rest of the day she was born. We had family come visit in the recovery room, and Gabriella got to meet her little brother for the first time. The sadness and the tears about having to travel a different path to birth my babies was all but forgotten at this point and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
The rest of our first day was relaxing and wonderful. Breastfeeding was a breeze, and my physical recovery was immensely easier than the first time. I was up and walking around within hours and was showered and back in my own clothes by the end of the day.
Our second day at the hospital was filled with visitors and getting to know Preston. I pushed hard to be discharged that afternoon and had all of the paperwork ready to go, but at the last minute my doctor insisted on keeping me overnight because one of my blood counts was a tiny bit low. I wasn’t happy about it, but we had friends bring over some delicious homemade lasagna and decided to enjoy the evening.
How I wish I could go back to that moment of bliss and soak it up for a bit longer. As we sat in our hospital room, nibbling lasagna and inhaling that new baby smell, we had no idea that our lives would be turned upside down just a few hours later.