Nothing about either of my pregnancies or births can be considered boring. Although, my first experience with pregnancy and birth can be, in today’s birth culture, considered routine. I had every prenatal test imaginable from the pap to the amniocentesis. Some numbers on some tests came back normal, some indicated there may or may not be something brewing inside my belly, but of course only further, more invasive testing would tell us for sure. After forty weeks of guessing what may or may not be wrong, my first daughter was born after a chemical induction, followed by an artificial rupture of my membranes, followed by an epidural, followed by a drop in heart rate/missing heart rate that lead to the big cut (c-section). Tada…your baby is here at 5:00 P.M and your doc is going to make it home in time for dinner. And of course, my daughter, besides being stoned out of her head, was perfectly healthy. Still is four years later. My first story, unfortunately, is a story that many women listen to and shake their head telling me things like, “yup, that happened to me,” or “you know, I wondered why they did that at the time too.”
BUT, my second birth story is all my own from start to finish and I wouldn’t change a day of it. After three years of researching exactly what went so wrong with my first experience that I was the one in three that had the c-section, and about ten months before we were due to move back to the United States from Italy (we are Navy), a delightfully dirty sentence uttered by my husband in the heat of the moment would have the condom left in the box in the closet and wam bam baby number two was on the way.
We went into planning overload trying to figure out if we could travel to Germany, (Army VBAC friendly hospital) for the birth or if we could get back to the states early enough for baby’s arrival. Two months into my pregnancy we had to do an abrupt about face when my husband was accepted to Legalman Ascension School and his class date was then changed to boot meaning we would be back in the states early. However, he would be in Rhode Island for the last three months of my pregnancy and I would be in Virginia. Literally, my husband was due to graduate the week I was due to deliver.
I knew that truly VBAC friendly stateside hospitals are few and far between. Also, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t stomach another birth consisting of me being hooked up to monitors with tubes coming out of places I prefer only my family to see. There were also the questions of who would watch my daughter and what if my husband was not allowed to leave school for baby two’s birth as we would be far away from our families and I really couldn’t see myself with many people around me at birth anyway.
I was very lucky that I found Tammi over the internet. She and I corresponded via email until we moved to the States in my twenty eighth week. Throughout my entire pregnancy, she had no problems with my indecisiveness concerning who would attend my birth (I invited and uninvited a few people). She also believed me when I told her in an email that my “high” blood pressure was only high at the hospital (White Coat Syndrome). She was always very polite and friendly to my daughter and told me countless times that she understood how hard it was to finish a pregnancy, be a parent, get to know my way around the DC area, and set up an entire new house while my husband was in school in another state. Half of my prenatal appointment on any given day was spent playing with baby and assessing my health, the other half consisted of me venting my week’s mini-crisis and my daughter playing with the dogs. I loved it!
I started taking alfalfa and drinking pregnancy tea and had a wonderfully healthy last trimester despite the ongoing change and Daddy being gone. Then…two weeks before my due date and hubbie’s grad. date…at 11:00 Thursday night, my water broke. Everyone had been telling baby “just stay in there,” and I believed she was listening, but baby decided she needed to come out. I called Tammi immediately in a panic as of course Daddy was not home, I had yet to decide on a concrete sitter for my daughter, and lets not forget that once the water breaks, there is no going back, baby was coming. I called Daddy to fill him in and Tammi and her assistant sat with me all night as I had very strong contractions every three minutes.
Unfortunately, or thankfully (you’ll see in a minute), my contractions died out at about 4:30 in the morning so the ladies instructed me to take vitamin C every four hours and call when things changed. They went home for some much needed sleep and Tammi told me right before leaving, “Daddy needs to get here.” At about 8:00 A.M. my husband called and very quickly, as he was rushing to his car, said he had been given special liberty for the weekend so that he could come home. (Guess it pays to drive your drunk instructor home from the dinner theatre the weekend before. Something I was very angry about at the time as said instructor has breasts but I guess God was setting up something for us.) I spent the rest of Friday quietly contracting every ten to twenty minutes and not moving very much because Daddy was coming home and I was going to wait.
There have been few times in my life that have over whelmed me to tears, but that phone call from my husband and him coming through the door later that afternoon with me still pregnant did it. My mother-in-law was also able to catch an early flight and would be in the next morning. This meant everyone was accounted for; now we could have a baby. We checked in with Tammi, to double check what we could do to keep labor going, put my daughter to bed, and got to work getting baby out.
We spent a few hours Friday night cuddling, kissing, and doing other grown up things which got my contractions going pretty strong again for the rest of the night. So strong that I had to just lay cuddled up next to hubby and breath as best I could; no more romance, my uterus was working too hard. Unfortunately, by morning my belly was again quietly doing it’s thing with no sign of wanting to work any harder without being prodded into it.
Saturday morning, everyone knew it was crunch time. Daddy had one full day at home before he had to turn around and drive back, my water had been broken for quite some time, and I was getting a little annoyed and sleepy as my contractions had died down /again/. Tammi suggested caster oil to get things moving. We had breakfast and I managed to get the oil down without throwing it back up (it doesn’t have a taste, but feels like you’re drinking slightly melted Vaseline). At about noon, Grandma arrived, the oil kicked in, and hubby and I got in the shower.
From 1:00 P.M to about 3:00 was my favorite part of labor. I had already discovered I did in fact need a very private enclosed labor environment. My first night of contractions, I spent most of my time on the floor between my couch and coffee table while Tammi and her assistant kept their distance bringing me things that I asked for or holding my hand if I needed. My second night I spent under the covers in bed. I needed things so private that I even periodically touched up my makeup as not to show my real face. Now in the shower with my husband and my daughter safely with grandma, I finally felt comfortable and my body knew it. We had a wonderful time together and my contractions took off….really…took off!! By 3:00 I was screaming through, not breathing through, but screaming through them “Get Tammi on the phone, these are not going to stop.”
Now, I had read the hypnobirthing book three times by this point, read both of Ina May’s childbirth books over and over, practiced my breathing and imagery techniques, fallen asleep to my hypnobirthing CD, and gone to my hypnotherapy session. BUT… for me to cope with the sensations of hard labor I needed to either be kneeling on the floor at the foot of my bed moaning or screaming into a bunched up towel on the bed with my husband right there beside me, or in the tub moving so that the water was moving quite a bit during my contractions.
I was absolutely not the serine picture of a hypnobirthing momma, nor was I the stoned women with the epidural. From 3:00 P.M. on, I was the real, animalistic women, in full out labor. For me, labor was as real as life had ever been and that brought great excitement and very much fear. (And I had thought moving my family to Italy for three years had been rough. Nope, labor trumps military obligation!)
I had my husband start packing my bag for the hospital I think three times because, although I knew statistically I was in good shape (I have read Bruce Flamm’s research) and I had taken great care of myself throughout pregnancy, I also knew that the dreaded “catastrophic” uterine rupture that was always a remote possibility for any laboring woman was for a VBAC momma most certain to cause great social backlash if it happened; and I could not tell if the constant pain in my lower stomach was sore muscles or something more serious. I also feared, very wrongly so, that being overconfident would seal my fate.
I didn’t get it at the time, but Tammi was telling me I was fine every time she checked the baby after a contraction and told me “baby’s heart is great.” Laboring women can be dense. Thank God Tammi also kept telling me that getting checked into the hospital would take at least and hour and a half and the baby may be born by then. So I mustered strength and told myself to keep going. As she told me after, and I absolutely believe her, if she would have seen a sign that something was actually wrong she would not have hesitated to transfer.
That is the most precious thing about Tammi. At no time, during my pregnancy or labor, did she tell me I “needed” to do anything. There were times during labor when I was wishing she would tell me what to do, but in retrospect I’m glad that she didn’t. Every decision was mine. I could ask as many questions as I needed but ultimately, it was my responsibility to hire a care provider, trust myself, and do what I thought was right. Tammi helped me remember that I was a parent to my child and protector of myself from conception.
The biggest labor shocker, however, actually came when I asked Tammi to check me quite late into the night. She told me I was at NINE centimeters!!! with a lip, but NINE! Oh my God, I was at NINE! I wasn’t being a wuss, whining too much, or being overdramatic, (all horrible things I had been thinking about myself during labor. Note to self, be nicer to self from now on). I had done what I needed to do to get to nine. She offered to hold back the lip while I tried pushing past it. Having never pushed before I did a so so job, however, was not able to push baby past.
Then Tammi suggested, of all things you want to do at nine, walking. I’m pretty sure by this time it was after midnight. I had been in the shower twice, the tub twice, yelling into a towel for quite a while, but I was close and I really wanted to finish. So hubby helped me get dressed, and we went walking. Not wanting to do the three flights of stairs to the ground we walked my apartment’s outdoor hallway. I would stop every couple minutes and have the quietist contraction I could while leaning against my husband. (Other people were sleeping and I didn’t want to scare the, excuse me, shit out of them.) It was actually so nice I wanted to cry /again/. We were outside, in the dark, just the two of us, so close to having our baby. I thought, “pain aside, this sure beats the bright lights of an operating room.”
That one thought did it! I had a flash back to my daughter’s birth and how scared both of us had been in the operating room. I also remembered my husband’s face when I sent him with our daughter while I was being sewn up. This time we were so close, we were together, and we were at home. No separation, no tubes, no lights, no radio playing, no male resident seeing my bits and pieces . Just US.
We came back into the bedroom at about 12:45 A.M., I think I had a couple more contractions while standing, and then boom I was on the floor, again at the foot of my bed, but pushing!! My body gave me the hint I needed, I followed my cue, and I pushed as hard as I could. Tammi came into the room quickly and asked “are you pushing?” I have no idea if either myself or husband answered but it was time!!
I ended up sitting on my knees, upright, with my hands on my thighs. My husband was directly in front of me, Tammi and her assistant behind me with the mirror under me. Every few pushes I would ask “do you see her?” It didn’t take long at all and I heard “Becky, reach down and feel your baby.” Now that is something you will never forget. You reach down between your legs, territory that is so familiar to you, and there is a rock hard sliver of head coming out of you…WOW! A few more pushes and my husband could see my baby’s head and said “You’re doing it, oh my God, I can see her, you’re doing it.” Tammi told me to slow down as she was watching my perineum, but I just had to see baby right then and there so I kept going. At 1:19 A.M. Sunday morning, baby Katherine’s head came through and the rest of her shot out. Tammi caught her, thank God, and guided her up through my legs so that I could see her, touch her, and pick her up when I wanted. I knew right away that my daughter was there but it took me a few seconds of being wide eyed and happily shocked before I lifted her slippery, warm body. She made nice soft noises right away and nursed as soon as she wanted.
There was still the placenta and a small tear to be repaired but I just held my baby, leaned back against my husband as they moved him behind me and happily followed instructions and complained more about my sore muscles. The major pain was over and although my stomach, back and leg muscles were excruciatingly sore, I had had my HBAC and it was worth any pain that wasn’t going to take six weeks and three years of contemplation to heal.
I gotta tell ya, my bottom was very sore for four or five days, I did have a low grade fever pop up after about a week (I most likely contracted something when we ventured out on day two for my Rhogam shot), and of course sore nipples without percocet, as I had had after my c-section, was a little uncomfortable. My husband leaving later Sunday afternoon was also very hard. However, I shaved my legs twice the week after birth, could get out of bed by myself, was able to make my older daughter breakfast from day one, and every time something has come up that normally would stress a new mom out, I can happily think about how much more difficult it could have been if I had opted for a second surgical birth or even the separation from family that a hospital birth still requires.
Katherine Grace is a very relaxed, trusting, easy to read baby. She is a hearty eater and a great sleeper. I have read much about how things like epidurals and c-section births can affect babies’ temperaments and after seeing both a c-section born baby and a truly naturally born baby in their first weeks of life, I agree. My older daughter, Evelynn, was very untrusting and nervous for quite some time after she was born; I feel in part because of the way she was born and because I was not able to care for her properly as I was recovering from major abdominal surgery. I am so grateful for my husband’s unending support, for Tammi’s knowledge and strength, and for myself for venturing outside the norm. I did not force Katherine through a medicalized birth, did not force Evelynn through a second medicalized birth and my entire family is benefiting from my speedy recovery.