Disclaimer – I wrote this story partially for my readers and partially for me. I wanted to have a chance to process what happened during Owen’s birth and so I tried not to hold back. That means you will be left with a lot of details that may get overwhelming. I apologize for that, but it is what it is. Also, if you had a traumatic birth experience of your own or are really fearful about birth, you may want to skip this…
After deciding a hospital transfer was necessary, B helped me to get dressed and they ran to call an ambulance. They chose an ambulance transfer rather than in our car because they didn’t want me to give birth in the car. Remember, I was at 10 cm, had been pushing over three hours, and had pushed him so far down in the birth canal that we could already see his head of hair.
That was the moment everything changed. Remember my peaceful tranquility in the tub? All gone. Suddenly they were putting clothes on me, helping me to breathe calmly, and then the EMT team burst in. This was surreal. It had been so quiet and relaxed in our bubble of focus, and then suddenly these four men in uniforms burst in with a stretcher. Before they showed up, I was feeling strong and capable and in labor. When they entered, I became a patient, someone who was at risk, and there was something wrong. They wouldn’t even let me stand up to get on the stretcher. They picked me up with a sheet and transferred me to a stretcher and I caught glimpses of my mom, sister, and husband – all looking terrified. But I was alone. They said only one person could ride in the ambulance, but then they changed their mind and put B in the front of the ambulance. I was in the back, with these men, who strapped me down, put oxygen in my nose, put an IV in my arm, and kept telling me ”not to push”. How am I not supposed to push when I’ve been pushing for three hours? They kept asking me stupid questions, like my social security number, while I was having a contraction.
The contractions I experienced in the ambulance were the worst ones I had because my body was pushing on its own and the pain was entwisted with fear because I didn’t want to push when I wasn’t supposed to. When we got to the hospital, I was the Hollywood stereotype of a women being wheeled into labor and delivery screaming and yelling, “I’m pushing!!”
This was a low point for me. I felt so scared and alone and didn’t know what would happen when we got there. Before leaving the birthing center I was so relaxed and safe feeling. Suddenly I was shoved into an entirely different sphere. I also had no idea what would happen once they got me into the room. I thought they might rush me into an OR and give me a c-section.
Instead, they got me in a bed (very similar to the one I had been in a week before!), surrounded me with nurses, and said ”Let’s have a baby!” I remember thinking, “Vaginally??”
And then things got better. My mom and sister came in and sat on one side of the room. My midwife and one of the students showed up to act as doulas. B was at my head again, calming me down. And the nurses were convinced I could push the baby out. I think, looking back, that they had some preconceived notions that we likely hadn’t been pushing effectively at the birthing center. They were also seduced by how far down into the birth canal that he already was. My midwife told me later that she was so frustrated when she saw they were going to try all of the same positions we’d already tried, especially when we came to the hospital for further interventions.
But I didn’t know any of this at the time. I just knew that there was a nice nurse willing to help me push my baby out. So I pushed again. And pushed. And pushed. I was hanging from birthing bar, squatting, or laying back with my legs propped against the bar and I was pushing for all that I had.
But it wasn’t good enough. At someu point, I began to apologize over and over because I couldn’t push him out. I felt like I wasn’t good enough or that I wasn’t pushing hard enough and that it was all my fault. Looking back, I don’t know if my own fear that I had had initially was still holding me back. I did feel at times that I would push so hard to a point and then back off, because it felt like too much. But the midwife explained that I was literally turning myself inside out and wasn’t holding back like I thought I was. But at the time I kept feeling “not good enough” or not “strong enough” to push him out.
At this point, the details of the story get fuzzy. I had already been pushing for hours and had totally lost track of time. The doctor showed up eventually and was coaching me through some pushes. But, if you remember, this doctor is not exactly friendly or gentle and her coaching consisted of screaming at me, ”You call that a push? That’s not a push! Don’t you want to have this baby?” while she ripped on my perineum. So we pushed more. And more. I pushed through a shift change of nurses. I pushed through cramps in my back that shot all the way down my legs. I pushed through exhaustion where my eyes were rolling back into my head. I pushed with the oxygen mask on my face that made me feel claustrophobic and scared.
Finally, the doctor came back and decided it was time to use the vacuum. Later, my team of people (the midwife, my mom and husband) told me they had wanted them to use this intervention earlier. I was so exhausted I could hardly stay awake anymore and just kept repeating, “I’m sorry” after every contraction. So, she put the vacuum in. And then….things went to hell again. The vacuum hurt SO badly. Remember, no pain meds at all. I didn’t feel the need for meds until she inserted the vacuum. Then, when I began to push, the pain became excruciating. She was pulling and stretching my skin, while rotating the vacuum inside of me, turning his head, and yelling at me to push harder. All of the nurses kept screaming at me to pull my legs wide open and back and I…. just panicked. There were so many people staring at me and it felt like they were all yelling and the pain from whatever the doctor was doing was so intense that I just couldn’t hold my own legs open to allow her to continue. I know it was irrational, but I began to push my legs forward and down, trying to force her out of me. The screaming from the nurses intensified. One nurse told me I couldn't do that or I would hurt my baby. I began to cry and scream back at them to “Take it out, take it out. I can’t do this.” Eventually they did. I could feel their disappointment, judgment and frustration.
Through tears, I looked up at B and saw that he was crying too. This broke my heart. I thought he was crying because I had let us down. I had let our baby down. Because I was hurting our baby and because we were going to have to have a cesarean. Later he told me that he was crying because I was in so much pain and everyone was being so mean to me. But at that moment, I projected my own self judgment onto him. I thought for sure at this point we were going to that OR, but the doctor said it would be really hard to get him out at this point because he had been so far down into the birth canal for so long. So, she left and I had no idea what the plan was.
And guess what? More pushing! Oh my god. Again, I didn’t have a concept of time or pain or fear, I just went contraction to contraction, pushing again and again and each time feeling like I was failing somehow. The only thing that kept me going was B. Without him, I would have begged to be put under completely and had the baby cut out of me. He the perfect mixture of steadiness, sternness, strength and comfort. He could read me through a contraction and tell me when to breathe, when to relax my face, and where to focus my pushes. I felt like he was inside of me, coaching me through it. I loved him so much and yet felt so badly for letting him down.
Finally, the doctor came back and things got intense. It seemed as if the number of people in the room suddenly multiplied by three. The doctor was back, the nurses were telling me that I needed to push the baby out while the doctor was here, because she had other patients to see to, and everyone was energized. Except me. I was exhausted. Finally, my midwife (who has no medical privileges at the hospital), suggested an episiotomy. I was terrified, but agreed.
Each stage becomes blurrier and blurrier. At the end, it all happened at once. An episiotomy equivalent to a level 2 tear, the vacuum going back in, and the most intense pushing yet. And then…the second heart deceleration of the night. (We later learned it was because I was hyperventilating and as soon as I got oxygen, it came back up). I could hear everyone responding to his heart rate dropping and I felt myself raising up out of the dark trap I had been in and I just – pushed right into the pain of the vacuum. And suddenly, I felt it. His head slid out of me. Everyone told me to stop pushing and I just felt a moment of peace. I wasn’t worried about the baby, wasn’t worried about anything. I felt like I had emerged out of somewhere dark and the feeling – the feeling I had been so afraid of of his head sliding out – was so amazing and so beautiful and I was so goddamn grateful. And then, the rest of him. He just slid out. After NINE hours of pushing and not believing if I would ever get out of this limbo of pain and fear, he slid out of me and was suddenly here.
I cannot tell you how relieved and grateful I was that I got to have the experience of feeling him come out of me in that way. I was amazed by that moment.
He was born at 8:49 pm on October 29th, 2013, after 21 hours of labor, nine hours of pushing. Those are the details. The important part is that he was born.
Then the doctor lifted him up and I saw a crying (strong and alive!) baby between my legs. Suddenly here in this world. B quickly cut the cord and then the NICU people whisked him away into the corner of the room to check on him because it had been so long since my water broke. B went with Owen into the corner. My mom stepped up and took my hand for the stitches and placenta delivery.
Owen had swallowed a lot of meconium and they were initially worried about him. But his Apgar scores went up from an initial of 7, to 8, then 9. I was terrified they’d take him out of the room, but, after I delivered the placenta, he was placed on my chest. B was crying…I’m not sure if I was. Maybe? I just remember thinking, Oh hello. I know you.” I just looked at him and felt instantly close to him.
I will probably write a post later on where I reflect on what I think this labor means to me and how it has affected my view of myself and the journey I have had recovering emotionally from this birth. I will say for now that it shook my opinions of myself. It shook me such that I no longer see myself as so “strong.” Instead I see myself as human and fragile, but feel so happy that I was able to achieve this in the end. I need to think more on it. Having a baby doesn’t leave you a lot of time for dwelling, but I know it’s something I need to process, especially if I will have a second child.
Some of you may realize while reading this that pushing for that long is a very dangerous thing. I was later told that my uterus could have given out and I could have begun to hemorrhage. Owen could have been in distress at any time. But at the time, I didn’t know any of this. My family was terrified. My midwife said she was angry and frustrated. I was later told by my midwife and multiple nurses that they have never heard of anyone pushing for that long. I don’t know how it happened that I was allowed to push for so long, but in the end, I am glad that everything was ok and the baby was ok and he came out the way that he did.
Oh, and because you will ask, we still don’t know why Owen wouldn’t come out. He was in an occipital anterior position, the right position to be in. According to the midwife I was a very effective pusher, and there were no complications that should have stopped him from coming out. I think there may have been some factors that combined together. First – my fear. Even though everyone assures me I did well, I still had moments where I felt fear holding me back. Also, my perineum was so tight that, prior to the episiotomy, the doctor was unable to use the vacuum effectively. Finally, the contractions had slowed down toward the end, which kept sucking him back up inside of me. They gave me three doses of Pitocin by the end to increase contractions, but it had no effect. So, I supposed we will never know. All we do know, is that my midwife told me that, in order for the vacuum to be effective, I had to push him down as low as I did so we could get him out vaginally. That was how it had to happen.
I am still recovering physically from such a hard birth. But that recovery will be much easier than the emotional recovery. It was like a trauma. I still have dreams and flashbacks to some of those moments. But thank god for the moment of him sliding out of me, or the doctor holding him up, or B crying while he cut the cord. Those moments will make the other memories wither and become less important.
And that’s it. That’s my birth story. It took me forever to write it, there are way too many details, probably way too many typos and it is not a well-written piece of prose. It is just my memories of what happened. Now you know.