I was planning a peaceful home water birth.
Years ago, a dear friend told me the story about having her son at home in her bath tub. My first reaction was disbelief, and then curiosity, and then amazement. After prodding her with questions and going down a few internet rabbit holes about out-of-hospital birth, I knew when it came time to have a baby of my own, that it would be at home.
The first thing I did after seeing those two little pink lines on my at-home pregnancy test was celebrate. And the second thing I did was hire a home birth midwife. I enjoyed each prenatal appointment from the comfort of my couch, usually accompanied by my two dogs. As the months passed, my belly grew larger and my once debilitating nausea began to subside. I collected the supplies for a home water birth: a birth pool, extra sheets and towels, postpartum necessities, and more. The final weeks of my pregnancy were met with a nervous yet excited anticipation to meet my daughter.
Two days before my due date, I noticed that my arms felt heavy and tingly. I had a chiropractic appointment that afternoon, and asked that my chiropractor take my blood pressure to make sure everything looked okay. Sure enough, the number had creeped up from the week before. My midwife advised that I go into the labor and delivery unit of the hospital for blood pressure monitoring. She also said to be prepared to stay and have my baby if the monitoring revealed any issues.
I was devastated. I knew that if I stepped foot in a hospital, I would be having my baby in there.
A close friend always tells me: "You can plan a pretty picnic, but you can't predict the weather."
The beautiful home birth I'd been planning for nine months became a distant dream as we frantically packed our bags and headed to the hospital. We arrived around 6 pm. Once there, I was admitted, hooked up to countless monitors, and sat watching as both my blood pressure and my babies heart rate continued to climb. Because of both these factors, the CNM recommended I be induced.
For the best interest of both me and my baby, I agreed.
Although I wasn't feeling them, the contraction monitor strapped to my belly revealed that I was having regular contractions. An internal exam also revealed that I was already dilated to 3 centimeters. To start the induction process, the midwife inserted a Foley Bulb into my cervix. The bulb would manually dilate me and would fall out when I reached 6 centimeters. To our surprise, it fell out about 45 short minutes later!
Around 11:00pm , the midwife started me on Pitocin to ramp up the contractions. Every 30 minutes, it was turned up, which increased the intensity of my labor. I wanted so badly to move around the room, or bounce on the birth ball, or find relief in the tub, but my nurse insisted that I labor lying in the bed. She said my baby's heart rate would spike whenever I wasn't laying down, so I was not allowed to get up and move.
The contractions were becoming relentless.
By 5 am, I couldn't lay still anymore. Labor had become intense, and it was all in my back due to my daughter's posterior positioning. The midwife returned for the day, and after seeing my discomfort, suggested I labor in the whirlpool tub. I was SO relieved to hear these words, I could have kissed her. Patrick helped me into the water and stayed by my side as my world was rocked by one contraction after another.
The water felt great, but my desire to move around was greater.
I got out of the water and onto the birth ball. By this time my doula had arrived, and she worked together with Patrick to provide words of encouragement through the surges. I was beginning to doubt my ability to continue laboring on Pitocin without pain relief. At 7:00am, I decided to have my midwife check my cervical dilation. If I was close to completion, I would push through without an epidural. But if I hadn't made much progress, I knew I would need pain relief so I could get some rest and recharge for the pushing stage.
I was only at 7 centimeters.
After laboring All. Damn. Night. on Pitocin, I had only progressed one more centimeter. As you can see on my face in the images below, I was not handling the pain well anymore. I knew I wasn't going to make it 3 more centimeters and pushing without help. After a teary, weeping conversation with Patrick and my midwife, I opted to get an epidural. The anesthesiologist administered it 30 minutes later and I soon reveled in the sweet, sweet relief. The best nap of my life followed shortly afterwards.
Around 12:30pm, I awoke from my nap feeling relaxed and restored. I remember asking the nurse "I am still in labor?" because I could no longer feel my contractions at all. "Oh yes!" she said, as she pointed to the continuous slopes and valleys shown on the contraction monitor.
Now, all I had to do was wait until I felt pressure or an urge to push. In the meantime, I hydrated. We laughed. I threw up (a lot).
I began feeling pressure around 3:00pm. The midwife checked me again and determined I was at 9.5 cm with a small cervical lip. She told me if I wanted to start pushing, she would be able to reduce the lip manually. I was so ready to get this show on the road, I agreed to start pushing. My epidural was turned down so I could feel contractions and push more effectively.
I underestimated the intensity of birthing with an epidural.
I thought because I had an epidural, I wouldn't feel too much pressure or pain. Oof, was I wrong. The pressure I felt as my baby moved down the birth canal was shockingly intense. My brain was taken over by the urge to bear down. I became desperate to relieve the pressure and to get my daughter out. My body began to push even when I wasn't contracting, against the advice of the midwife.
The experience turned into a chaotic blur. At one point I realized there was an oxygen mask over my face because I was hyperventilating. I was on my back with people holding my legs as I pushed. Eventually, Patrick excitedly exclaimed that he was able to see her head.
I had been pushing for 2 hours.
My baby's head was crowning, and her emergence was close. But she began showing signs of distress, and the midwife gently told me that if I couldn't get her out in the next 1-2 contractions, she would have to perform an episiotomy.
Let me tell you: when a person hears the word "episiotomy" during childbirth, it adds a level of motivation beyond all other. Apparently it was much needed motivation, because I pushed with every once of energy that was left in my body. I heard the midwife say "Head is out.... and we have shoulders, torso, legs..."
And Charlotte Faye was born. With help from the midwife, Patrick caught her and brought her immediately to my chest. (Well, he actually brought her to my belly because her cord was too short to reach my chest!)
In an instant, the extreme pressure disappeared and was replaced with feelings of relief. I looked down at her. Somehow this screaming, bloody, slippery creature was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Holding her for the first time was the most euphoric, heart wrenching, blissful moment of my life.
Because she was showing signs of distress previously, Patrick cut her cord 60 seconds later and she was brought to the warmer to be examined by the pediatric team. While she and her father were over there, I quickly and easily delivered my placenta. Once Charlotte was cleared, she was returned to me for skin to skin and nursing.
Charlotte was 8 lbs 2 oz and 21 inches long. Her head was 35 cm and in the 95th percentile (!)
After nursing, Patrick held her for the first time. I fell in love with him all over again as I watched him embrace his first moments of fatherhood.
As the hustle and bustle died down, we enjoyed our first moments as a family of three.
So, that is the story of how Charlotte came earth side.
Our hospital stay was 5 days total because Charlotte developed jaundice and needed to spend a few days under the bilirubin light. We brought her home on Christmas Eve. 10 days after she was born, I was readmitted due to postpartum pre-eclampsia... but that's another story for another day!
Here's a huge THANK YOU to Emily June Photography for staying by my side for 16 hours and photographing my story, and to Allison of The Birth Economist LLC for being the best doula I could have asked for!