The Journey before the Journey
WHEN YOU THINK OF A BIRTH STORY, YOU MIGHT JUST THINK OF THE LABOR AND DELIVERY PART BUT IN THE CASE OF ME AND MY SON, SILAS, GETTING TO THAT PART WAS A WHOLE STORY ON ITS OWN. I WOULDN'T BE DOING EITHER OF US A JUSTICE IF I DIDN'T TALK ABOUT THE HARD WORK IT TOOK JUST TO GET TO THE CONTRACTIONS AND THE PUSHING AND FINALLY, THE BABY. FOR ME, I HAD ENVISIONED GOING THROUGH LABOR, I HAD THOUGHT ABOUT THE LOGISTICS OF BIRTH, AND I HAD TRIED TO IMAGINE HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BECOME A MOM. BUT NOT ONCE DID I THINK ABOUT WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO GET THERE.
Since my diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes, I had been going to a perinatologist every single week to check Baby's weight and size and to make sure that I wasn't having any complications from the GD. On Thursday, April 27th, 2017, the doctor told me that according to the ultrasound, Baby's shoulders were looking really big and was at risk for shoulder dystocia, which is when the baby's shoulders get stuck in the birth canal. It's a pretty serious thing and can cause very serious complications for mom and baby. I knew that Baby was going to be big but I wasn't prepared to be told that he was so big, he might get stuck! What she told me next was devastating - she told me that I should schedule a C-Section FOR THAT DAY!!! I left her office and as soon as I got to the lobby, I started crying. A C-Section was NOT in my birth plan. I called my midwife immediately.
Thank goodness for my midwife, Jocelyn. She listened to how I was feeling, she calmly told me my options, and discussed with me what would be the best route. She suggested that I go back to my perinatologist and ask if she could perform a membrane sweep, which is a procedure where the doctor would insert a finger into the opening of my cervix and gently (but firmly!) separate the amniotic sac from my cervix in an effort to induce labor. I marched right back up to the Dr's office and she was happy to do one for me. I am so thankful Jocelyn suggested getting one done because that first membrane sweep set off a series of events that were an upwards swing for not only my mood but also getting labor started. Upon doing the membrane sweep, the doctor found out that I was already 1.5cm dilated and 80% effaced! She was completely shocked at how far along I was and after the sweep, said I was now a good 3cm dilated. I was ecstatic and immediately called my midwife to figure out what to do next.
My midwife had already been on the phone to the perinatologist negotiating a timetable and had also spoken with the OB/GYN at the hospital. It was decided that I could go until Monday - my actual due date! - before I would need to go to the hospital to be induced or schedule a C-Section. While several days had just been bought, I was still rocked - I had gone from "Oh this is your first baby, you probably won't give birth until 41 weeks!" to "You have 4 days to go into labor."
I was determined to go into labor naturally. I wanted to start natural induction by doing a series of pumping sessions combined with ingesting castor oil but my midwife didn't feel I was at the point where it would be safe to do. Instead, I would continue to pump only once a day for about 20 minutes (which I'd already been doing since 37 weeks), get acupuncture designed to induce labor, do stretches to help open me up, have another membrane sweep in 2 days, and try to have a lot of positive thinking. Since I was in this to win this, I also forced myself to eat spicy food - lots of spicy food! - which if you know me, you know I don't prefer!
Long walks were a must in getting my body ready for labor! Even though I was exhausted and incredibly round, I forced myself to take walks and try to enjoy the last days of being pregnant.
And so it began - the journey just to get to the journey! It was like I'd planned a trip and now all of a sudden I was rushing to book tickets and pack. I was overwhelmed and completely stressed out. I kept thinking about getting cut open and being in a hospital and it was soul crushing. I know some other people might have chosen to schedule that C-Section right away but for me, if that was the end result, I wanted to get there as naturally as possible. I suppose it could be seen as selfish but I felt like my body had already started working on getting Baby out and I needed to honor that.
This was me trying to not be freaked out that I was about to have needles poked into my body and left there!
That same day, I got my first round of acupuncture. I stretched on the stairs and took a bath to relax. I ate spicy food and got lots of rest. On Friday, I got a second round of acupuncture where I felt intense contractions. I made my mom do acupressure on me on all the spots that are supposed to induce labor. I envisioned Baby moving down and my body opening up. Saturday finally came and I was able to get another membrane sweep which opened up my cervix to almost 4cm! My midwife felt now I was a good candidate for the castor oil and pumping method to naturally induce labor. Let's be honest for a minute - if you don't know what castor oil is or what it's supposed to do, let me enlighten you. Castor oil is a thick oil that is mostly used topically because when ingested it REALLY gets your digestive system going. If you're still confused, let me be more frank - it gives you diarrhea...a lot of it. The thought is that the contracting of all those muscles will start your uterus contracting, thus inducing labor. This sounded...well...it sounded fucking horrible. But I was determined. I hadn't come this far to give up now. Plus, I was allowed to mix the castor oil with ice cream to help it go down easier. For someone who hadn't been allowed to eat sweets for 3 months because of my Gestational Diabetes, I was *almost* excited! (PLEASE NOTE - you should not try to induce labor with castor oil without medical supervision!!!) I wasted no time and within the span of 2 hours, I'd done 2 rounds of castor oil and over an hour of pumping. I was exhausted. I still had more castor oil to ingest and more pumping to do but I was spent. I listened to my body and went to sleep...only to be woken 2 hours later to vomit up all that ice cream.
Silas's Birth Story - Part Two: Finally Meeting Baby
I worked so hard just to get to the point where I could start laboring and I'm so proud of myself for never losing faith that I would get there. The contractions were only just starting though, the castor oil ice cream was all vomited up, and the hard work was far from over.
It was about 1:30am on April 30th when I ran from my bed to the bathroom to throw up all the castor oil I'd consumed. Despite only getting 3 hours of sleep, I didn't want to go back to bed. The Hubs had only just gotten home from work a couple hours prior and I wanted him to sleep so I headed into the living room. Thank goodness my mother is a night owl because she was up and ready to sit with me. It wasn't until about an hour later that she suggested she start timing my contractions. Oh my goodness - it was happening! I had worked and prayed and sent so many good vibes to get to this point and suddenly, I was there...I was in labor.
Contractions started getting longer and closer together. I knew I shouldn't call my midwife, Jocelyn until contractions were 5 minutes apart and at least 1 minute long over the course of a full hour. After several contractions I would request an update from my mother. With every contraction the intensity grew but I reminded myself it was one step closer to meeting Baby. With every contraction I rose to my feet off the couch and swayed and moaned and allowed my body to open up. Upon it finishing, I would drop back down onto the couch, exhausted. The stronger the contraction, the louder I got and at some point the Hubs came to see how I was doing. To his credit, my husband is a champ. I had warned him that I probably wouldn't want much interaction once things really started going and he honored that so well. It must have been tough to see me in pain and not being able to reach out and console me but for me, knowing that he was there was enough.
When my contractions had finally gotten strong and long enough, we called Jocelyn. I honestly have no idea who talked to her or what was said. I just remember that we needed to call her again once contractions got stronger. Maybe it was when they were only 2 minutes apart or maybe just 1 minute, I don't remember and at that point I didn't care. It was nice to know that someone else was taking care of the logistics of timing the contractions and calling the midwife because I was so focused on myself and on Baby I never would have been able to. Looking back, I had such extreme tunnel vision on the task at hand. With every contraction, I focused on envisioning Baby moving down and sometimes I would bear down a bit and feel like I was helping Baby along.
At some point, I moved from the living room to the bathroom. I liked laboring on the toilet - I was by myself and the white noise of the fan going was actually comforting. It felt more normal to have a deeper contraction, a deeper pull when I was sitting on the toilet as opposed to the couch. My mom had taken a break from tracking contractions and my dad had taken over. Despite me being in the bathroom, he could hear me all the way in the living room! Around 6am, I wanted Jocelyn to come. I didn't even know how far apart my contractions were but I knew that they were close enough. When the Hubs told me Midwife Jocelyn would be coming in an hour, my first thought was "Holy Shit, I have to do this for another whole hour?!" To be honest though, that hour passed in a blink of an eye and before I knew it, I heard a gentle knock on the bathroom door and Jocelyn's calming voice asking if she could come in. It was so nice to see her. This is the part where I'm so thankful I chose to have a midwife. I knew Jocelyn, I trusted Jocelyn, and most of all she gave me the space to labor the way my body needed to.
At this point, I was ready to have a baby. Going over the birth notes, it was even recorded that I wanted this baby "out"! Baby's heartbeat would slow down when I contracted on the toilet so Jocelyn suggested I try moving to the bed to see if the heart rate would go up. I didn't want to move. I would have had Baby right there on the toilet if given the opportunity but somehow I managed to make my way to the bedroom. At some point during my labor, the sun had risen and I remember thinking how bright it was in the bedroom and how everyone was going to see EVERYTHING. Then a contraction hit and I didn't care who saw what - it was Go Time.
I was ready to push. I asked that my parents be told to come in so they could be present for the birth. My dad is a professional photographer and before him and my mom came to visit, I had asked if he would want to be our Birth Photographer. I feel so incredibly lucky to have such amazing photos from that day (all the photos on this post are ones that he took!) and I think it'll be incredibly special to share them with my son when he gets older and tell him Grandpa took them. So in came Mom and dad with dad snapping away, capturing the whole thing. I was later told that our pup, Cornelius, faithfully stood at the door and watched the whole thing!
Pushing felt like a bridge that kept getting longer. I had labored and pushed on my side for a bit with Hubs holding up one of my legs but I hated that position. Midwife Jocelyn suggested I lay on my back and try pushing. At this point, I felt so weak and exhausted. I would push and push and push and feel Baby moving down only to feel Baby slip back in once I stopped. Now, I know this is normal. I know that Baby comes out and slips back in then comes out a little farther the next time. But in the moment, it feels so incredibly discouraging. I was getting frustrated! My husband had been instructed to make sure I got water in between contractions and dutifully he would ask if I wanted some in between each contraction. It was around this time that when he asked if I wanted water, I shouted "I don't want any more fucking water!" Luckily, he didn't take it personally but he never asked if I wanted water again! Sometimes my pushes were so intense that my moans turned into screams. I knew I sounded unhinged but it was like I was listening to someone else. Jocelyn kindly reminded me that I needed to stop screaming and pull all that energy into a push. I was given an oxygen mask and told to relax after each push session to allow my body to rest up for the next one. It was feeling like an uphill battle. I would push and push and push and surely Baby was almost out but when I asked someone, they would say they could just see the top of Baby's head! At one point, I asked Jocelyn if she could just pull the Baby out. She kindly said that no, she could not.
Suddenly, Baby was crowning and it wouldn't be long before Baby would be out. From the birth notes, I know that Baby crowned only 7 minutes before the whole head came out but oh my goodness, it felt like days. The intense burning feeling made me feel like my whole vagina was about to fall off. Jocelyn would assist in helping my body stretch a bit but it felt like I was being ripped in half. The Hubs was on the bed with me, holding my head and shoulders so I could crunch down into the push because I was still on my back. I was focused on holding my legs up and in and pushing as intensely as I could muster. There were moments were I would break down and insist that I couldn't go on, I would insist that I just can't do it. Jocelyn would calmly remind that I could, that Baby wasn't far away from being in my arms. Finally, Baby's head was out. One more push - I could do it! Jocelyn told me to reach down and oh my stars, there was my Baby! I pulled Baby onto my chest and started ugly crying "My baby! My baby!" I turned towards Hubs and proudly told him "We have a baby! I did it!"
The insane feeling of giving birth is indescribable. But I'll try anyways! I felt so incredibly proud of myself. I had felt all the pain and continued through it. I had felt like I couldn't go on but I had. I had felt so incredibly weak but I was really so powerfully strong. Holding my baby, feeling the warmth of our bodies together clicked a switch in me and I knew I would never be the same. I was so incredibly happy, I had forgotten to ask if it was a boy or a girl! It was a boy...our little Silas had been born in our home at 9:26 am and was healthy and absolutely perfect. He weighed 8 pounds and 12 ounces and was 21 inches long. I later learned that Silas's arm had emerged first and Jocelyn helped pull it out a bit so nothing would get stuck. My mom told me that the most insane moment was after his head was out. It was turned to the side and all by himself, Silas rotated so he would be face up. Hearing that, I couldn't help but think about what Jocelyn had told me several times throughout my pregnancy - "Trust Baby."
Silas stayed on my chest with his umbilical cord intact until I delivered the placenta about 15 minutes later. My placenta was huge - at least a pound - and beautiful, juicy red, and healthy. The Hubs cut the cord and Silas was his own person. He had bravely emerged from his watery world to come join us Earthside. Him and I did skin to skin for about an hour or so and then it was Hubs turn to do skin to skin while I took a shower. Jocelyn examined me and decided that despite me tearing a bit, stitches weren't necessary. Then our tiny family got to relax and nap all together and Silas got to latch and start feeding before Jocelyn took Silas's height and weight. I am so grateful for that time together where we could become acquainted with each other as a family.
Silas's birth story wasn't at all how I had envisioned it would be. No birth playlist was played despite me making one. It was early morning despite me thinking he would be born at night. I didn't even remember to put on the bra I had specially bought just for the birth! Most of all, despite having originally planned a water birth, I never once got in the bathtub or shower. Yet, I wouldn't change it for the world. I feel so lucky that my parents were able to witness the birth of their first grandchild and despite the incredibly personal nature of the photos, I'm so happy my dad put on his photographer hat and snapped the most beautiful photos. I'm so fortunate I have a husband that supported me and never made me feel selfish or out of control despite me crying out once "Get this fucking baby out of me!" And I am so grateful to Jocelyn and her assistant, Johanna, for taking such good care of me. Their calmness and confidence anchored the birth in a way that I don't think would have been possible without them.
Together Silas and I worked incredibly hard to bring him Earthside. We share his birth story and it's special and unique and totally ours.
Written by Lauren Archer @loveofalittleone