Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Marshall's Birth Story

Let's just launch right in, since I'm already 10 and a half weeks late.

I woke up on Thursday, May 22, at 38 weeks pregnant, when Terry was about to leave for work. I usually get up to cook him breakfast and help however I can with getting him lunch, but that day I had “slept in” until 5:45. As he was about to leave, I woke up to use the restroom, and as I brushed my teeth I noticed a small trickle of water down my leg. Within a few minutes, after checking and rechecking, I had to admit it: My water had broken.

I called Terry into the bathroom. (Funny side note: When I first took the pregnancy test that determined I was pregnant, I was also in the bathroom and called to Terry in a similar fashion. Funny how that works.) I tried to calmly tell him that I thought my water had broken, and I couldn’t read the look on his face. I asked him if he was upset that he wouldn’t be able to go to work. (These are the irrational thoughts I have in moments of panic.) He assured me that he was not thinking about work and was just running through the next steps in our birth plan.

I suppose I should stop here and disclose that we did, in fact, have a birth plan. We took a Bradley Method class at our hospital and absolutely loved it. I have a separate post written (I wrote it before I went into labor) all about why we chose the class and what we liked so much, but I haven’t published it yet. Maybe soon. Anyway, the basics of our plan:
  • Labor at home as long as possible
  • Avoid medical intervention, including drugs of any sort, unless absolutely medically necessary

Our class prepared us extremely well for this birth plan, but we also discussed and prepared for possible complications. So when my water broke, we knew it was a serious complication and that we had to throw at least some of our birth plan (particularly laboring at home) out the window.

Okay, back to Thursday morning. Terry called our doctor to let him know we would be on our way to the hospital. We spent the next 45 minutes or so packing our last minute items in our bag, filling water bottles, and calling our parents. My dad answered the phone and sounded shocked but calm. I overheard Terry telling his parents that he was preparing for the possibility of a C-section.

At this point, I don’t think I truly believed I was going into labor to have the baby. I think a part of me believed there might be some mistake, that my water hadn’t broken, that we would come home and still have a few weeks before the Real Thing. I believe we call this Denial. But something must have hit me, because Terry came into the bedroom at one point and asked me how I was feeling or what I was thinking, and I just burst into tears and said, “I don’t feel ready.”

But the thing about babies, as I’ve learned since labor, is that they don’t want until you’re ready. They work on their own schedules, and this kid was ready. So Terry gave me a hug and told me everything would be okay, and we continued packing. We were out the door before 7 am.

On the way to the hospital, I tried to stay calm. I texted a few close friends, called my brother, chatted with Terry. I tried to ignore the fact that I was feeling absolutely no signs of labor, which I knew was a problem since my water had already broken.

We arrived at the hospital without incident, checked in, and went through the basic procedures of getting into a gown, providing a urine sample, and settling into our room. I tried so hard to remain calm, but I was on the verge of tears the entire time. They hooked me up to an external fetal monitor, and my doctor stopped by before his office hours.

At this point, I was three centimeters dilated, and the baby was “very low.” I remember the doctor and nurse asking me if I was feeling any contractions, and I repeated that I couldn’t feel anything (again, trying not to cry—if I wasn’t feeling contractions, they would be forced to induce labor, which was not part of our plan). Luckily, the nurse announced that I was, in fact, having contractions, five to seven minutes apart! Terry and I breathed a small sigh of relief. Even if I couldn’t feel them, semi-regular contractions were certainly better than none. And at that point, my doctor smiled and said we would not have to induce. Terry took a quick nap and we both relaxed for a bit to prepare for when the contractions became more intense.

Eventually, Terry and I reverted back to our original birth plan. While we wouldn’t be able to labor at home, we would at least be able to follow through with our other plans: Walk around to keep labor moving and get the baby low; work through contractions with relaxation techniques; eat and drink as needed.

Terry called Jenn at some point to ask her to bring us food, which she was happy to do. For 20 minutes of every hour I had to be on the monitor (we had hoped to avoid so much monitoring, but it was reassuring to see that Marshall’s heart rate was so consistent and strong and that the water breaking was at this point no problem). For the other 40 minutes of each hour I would go to the bathroom, eat and drink, and walk around the hallways.

My parents came by when they arrived from Northern California around 1:30 pm. They brought lunch for Terry and stayed with us for a bit, but then we sent them off to check into their hotel and let us focus on labor. I had started feeling the contractions a bit by this point.

In the following few hours, I had a great labor experience. Terry was an awesome coach; he helped me relax through each contraction and kept me calm and entertained. He helped remind me to eat and drink and made sure I was as comfortable as possible.

After his office hours, our doctor stopped by again to check on me. I was seven centimeters dilated! I knew from our classes that typically the slowest, longest part of labor is around four to six centimeters, so I felt a huge surge of relief that I had progressed so far. The doctor felt certain I would deliver by 10 pm.

(How cute are the signs the hospital has outside the LDR rooms?)

And then it all came apart. The nurses changed shifts at 7, and our amazing nurse wished us luck, excited that we would have our baby soon. We continued walking to help labor progress and felt encouraged by all the good signs so far. But around 9 pm, I suddenly felt an undeniable urge to push. I got excited and nervous and anxious as our nurse checked me again.

But I was only at 8 centimeters. I knew that this complication added another layer of difficulty to my labor, because feeling the urge to push and not pushing would mean a far more painful labor. Pushing before I was dilated completely would cause swelling and make a vaginal birth impossible.

At 10 pm, our doctor recommended Pitocin, a synthetic form of the hormone oxytocin that would help me progress. After all our research and practice, I absolutely knew I did not want any sort of drug, but I also felt helpless. Luckily, my incredible husband stepped in and asked if we could have a few more hours to try to get there naturally. The nurses and our doctor were totally on board, since the baby’s heart rate was fine, so we kept at it.

I really can’t describe the pain of those few hours. Every few minutes I felt the urge to push, plus the pain of a contraction, and I had to work through the pain while also resisting what my body really wanted to do. I tried to continue walking, because we knew that would be most helpful in getting me dilated, but I think I ended up just standing and swaying. Within an hour or so, I was in absolute agony. I felt the pain mostly in my lower back and tailbone, but of course my lower abdomen and uterus were joining in on the fun, too.

The nurses came in again to check on how I felt about the Pitocin. I had still made no further progress. Terry again asked for more time, which they granted us. The nurses were also phenomenal at trying to provide us with suggestions—take a hot shower to help me relax, try to get to a point mentally where you can just let go, etc. We were so grateful to them for not pushing us to take the Pitocin but also for supporting us through the entire process. At one point our nurse told us that the whole staff was rooting for me to get there naturally, and I was so appreciative of that kind of support.

Around 2 am, when I had still made no progress and had tried everything and was literally screaming through every contraction (poor Terry), I finally agreed to take the Pitocin. I remember asking the nurse if she truly believed the Pitocin would help me progress so I could finally push, and she said yes. Part of my fear of taking Pitocin was knowing that it would make the contractions more intense—and I was already in unbearable pain. (I realized a bit later that Marshall was sunny side up--yet another complication--so he was bone-on-bone, which explained the back labor and increased pain.)

The Pitocin did, in fact, increase the pain, and as you might imagine I was exhausted. Terry was incredible. He went through every technique we had learned in class—counter pressure to ease the back pain, coaching me through each contraction, helping me try to relax and breathe through the pain. But within another hour or so I begged him for some kind of relief. I was in tears during each contraction, and I still felt the urge to push with each one, so we finally consented to an epidural.

Obviously, by this point, our entire birth plan was out the window. My water had broken, we didn’t get to labor at home, I had taken Pitocin. So I asked for the smallest possible dose of the epidural to take the edge off the pain. I remember feeling absolutely defeated. I had hoped to keep walking to help things progress, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to now. I worried about the effects of the drugs on the baby. I felt like I had failed. But I also knew I had fought through the pain as long as I could, and I needed some relief to get through to ten centimeters.

The pain subsided quickly (yep, an epidural really does work as well as they say), and Terry and I took the opportunity to rest. We each dozed a little and just waited for the Pitocin to work its magic. Finally, around 10 am, I was allowed to push. The nurses warned me that the NICU team would be on hand because my water had been broken for so long (more than 24 hours at this point), and I was already feeling the urge to push again through each contraction.

After about an hour--pushing was a piece of cake compared to not pushing--my doctor came in and told me to stop. Ugh. He wanted me to rest a little longer, wait for the baby to position himself better. Terry and I are both a little hazy on this part, but we think we remember that the doctor tried to manually reposition the baby (OUCH) at this point.

When he came back around 1, the doctor announced that I could push for real. Two hours have never passed so quickly. I remember it in blurry flashes--the NICU team in the corner, our nurse and Terry coaching me through the pushes, the doctor telling me to push harder, and specifically not feeling the pain that I was told would come with crowning (I felt the pain of the contractions, because the epidural had worn down, but not the crowning). I kept asking if anything was happening--I needed some encouragement that all this work was getting us somewhere. No one really answered me, which I knew was not a good sign.

Finally, after two hours of pushing (and a total so far of 32 hours since my water had broken), the doctor started explaining yet another complication to Terry. I later learned that the baby's position was forehead first. We knew from our classes that this position makes it virtually impossible to deliver vaginally. Babies are supposed to come out back of the head first, and any variation from that position presents a problem.

At some point my doctor told us he would try the vacuum for three contractions. If it didn't work, we would have to have a C-section.

I think at that moment my mind flashed to the two possible scenarios: Either I would pull through and get the baby out (miraculously) in the next few minutes, or I would end up delivering in an OR. I mustered every last bit of strength I had left and gave my absolute all for those three contractions, but the baby didn't budge.

In this photo, you can see the red mark left by the vacuum.

I'll never forget how sad and defeated I felt when our doctor told us we would need to deliver via Cesarean. I know there are plenty of circumstances where babies need help getting out, and sometimes it's the best, safest option. But I just couldn't believe it was happening to us. After all those classes, all that practice, all 33 hours of labor...

I also don't mean to in any way implicate that having a C-section is a negative for anyone else. Labor and birth are extremely personal, and we had done our homework to determine what we thought would be best for us, and avoiding a C-section was the goal. Naturally, I was disappointed when the opposite happened.

The rest moved rather quickly. The NICU team and the rest of the LDR team gathered their gear to head into the operating room. I remember my nurse explaining to me, "I know everyone is moving around really fast, but don't worry, it's not an emergency. We just need to go quickly." I nodded but just kept crying. Sadly, I don't remember talking to Terry much at this point. I was so upset that I think I forgot to lean on him. I do remember them telling me that he would come to the OR a little after the rest of us.

In the operating room, I completely lost it. I could not stop crying. I know it was a mix of pain, exhaustion, fear, and disappointment, but I could not keep it together. I remember the anesthesiologist calming me down, explaining the procedure, telling me what to expect. I remember praying that it would go well and that if only one of us could make it to have it be the baby. Suddenly Terry was next to me again and I started crying all over.

Luckily, the ending is a happy one. Within a few minutes I heard our doctor announce (after also mentioning that the cord was around his neck) that the baby was out, and Terry peeked over the curtain. I held my breath until he said, "It's a boy!" And I cried again. Of course we had a boy. We were supposed to have a boy. I just didn't know it until then.

I told Terry to go over to be with the baby, and I started shaking uncontrollably in my shoulders and arms and jaw. Apparently that's all normal. Terry brought our little boy over so I could see him, and (shocker) I cried again. He looked so alert that I asked Terry if he was okay (now I know that's just what he looks like!). The doctors asked his name, and Terry and I both knew that our top choice was the right one. After what seemed like way too long (probably only a matter of two minutes), they unwrapped him and put him on my chest. Amazingly, I stopped shaking instantly. And then I just held him and cried, too tired to process anything else.

After I was all stitched up and in recovery (I was so grateful that they let me hold him as they moved me to the other room), Marshall had no trouble breastfeeding, and Terry and I just stared at him and cried and stared at him some more. It was wonderful and overwhelming and finally peaceful.

I know a lot (a LOT) of people feel that how a baby arrives "doesn't matter." I've heard countless times that "all that matters is that he's here and he's healthy." For some people, I think those ideas are true, and of course I know people are just trying to be supportive. For me, however, the arrival did matter. If it didn't, I wouldn't have put so much effort and thought into trying to have a natural birth. I always knew there was a chance that things could go wrong, but I really felt certain I would get to push that kid out. It didn't happen that way, and I'm devastated, even two months later. When I see my scar, I feel a little twinge of regret (despite the fact that it will only ever be seen by me and Terry); it's just a reminder of that day. I sometimes wonder if I could have done anything differently to create a different outcome. I worry that I'll have to have a C-section with the next one, too.

Our birth class teacher stopped by the hospital during my recovery, and I so appreciated her approach to how I was feeling. She asked if I was sad, and I said yes, and she gave me a big hug and let me cry. She reminded me that the complications I experienced required a C-section. But she didn't try to tell me it didn't matter. I appreciated that. She knew that I was sad, and she let me feel sad. Terry felt sad, too, and he has continued to be an incredible partner, even in the midst of our less than desirable delivery. Various friends and family have also reached out to share their stories, and I'm so grateful for their support and understanding. Like I said, labor and birth are ultra-personal, so I can only speak to my experience, but it was a tough one all around for me, not the "best day of my life" that so many people describe.

Of course, now that it is two months later, I can also say that, as far as I can tell, the C-section has had no lasting impacts on Marshall. He's a champ. He still wears that same expression he wore when I first met him.

In my past postpartum posts (say that three times fast), many readers have appreciated my honesty, so I want to be honest here, too. I know I am very lucky to have a healthy, thriving baby. That is truly what matters in the long run. But I don't think it's necessary to pretend that I'm not upset about the birth experience. I think it's okay that I feel sad about it, and I think it's okay to take my time getting over it. I can appreciate my healthy baby while still feeling this way and wishing things had gone differently. Eventually, I hope, I'll come to terms with the whole ordeal and let it go, but for now I'm not there yet.

Whew! That was a long one! I hope--if nothing else--that sharing my experience will help someone else or will prepare someone else for their labor experience. I don't really have any advice, unfortunately, because every circumstance is so different. I could never have predicted (even my doctor couldn't have predicted) that I would experience so many complications, and I guess no one can foresee those issues.

I will say that I'm still glad we prepared for a natural birth through the Bradley Method classes. It was a wonderful education about pregnancy, labor, and birth. I knew every term the nurses and doctors used, I understood why each procedure was recommended, and my husband felt informed enough to discuss our options when I couldn't think clearly. I won't hesitate to prepare the same way for our next child, despite this outcome. But again, that was our way of preparing, and I know lots of very happy mothers who have taken completely different routes, and I know that each couple should decide for themselves.

I hope your birth experience was or is a wonderful one. If it wasn't, you aren't alone. If it was, I'm a little jealous. :-) But now I'm a mom, and I have to go to bed so I can wake up in a few hours to feed that little guy!


  1. glad little man is here safe and sound :) :)

    1. Thanks, Lindsay! I loved reading William's birth story as well. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story and being so honest! For what it's worth, my older sister was a C-section and I was a vaginal birth baby. It can happen. :)

  3. I'm so sorry you didn't get the birth you wanted. My first was a 27 hour labor - induced for pre-eclampsia ending in a C-section after not progressing past a 4. He simply wasn't ready to come despite my health complications. My second was a very healing VBAC. It is possible mama! When you are ready for number 2 do the research and find a doctor who will support you. Yes, you have a beautiful baby, but that doesn't negate the fact that you didn't have the birth you imagined and prepared for. It's okay to be upset by it. It's okay to cry, and it's amazing that you wrote it down. If you are interested here are my birth stories... http://www.familylifeinlv.com/2012/09/my-1st-sons-birth-story-preeclampsia-induction-turned-c-section.html and http://www.familylifeinlv.com/2013/01/my-vbac-birth-story-part-1.html Also look into finding an improving birth rally in your area. They are held over labor day. Hearing others stories helped me deal with mine. <3 ((Hugs))

    1. Thank you so much for the support and positive words, Emily. I appreciate hearing success stories like yours!

  4. I am also 2 months post (emergency) c section, cord wrapped twice, forehead first and miconium in utero. My birth plan was "having a healthy baby" but my doctor and I were both agreed that a c section was last resort. He actually checked in on my emotional status continually in the weeks following Henry's birth because it all happened so fast and a c section was our last resort. Knowing that my sons heart rate was dropping and multiple factors prevented a regular delivery still didn't make it any easier. I think the hormones play a major role in processing what happened. Wishing you peace of mind and lots of sweet baby snuggles! So glad he's doing well! Hope your recovery is flying by (because THAT was the hardest part for me).

    1. Recovery is crazy difficult, Kristin! Thank you for your kind words. It's nice to know I'm not alone. I'm sorry to hear about your son's birth story, but I'm glad all is well now!