Through her own birth story with her third child, Shari Stamps at Navigating Parenthood details how sometimes even the unexpected events in your labor journey can offer healing and closure with a supportive birthing team.
Like a lot of moms-to-be, I had a lot of expectations for my third birth. As a trained doula, I knew quite well that the only thing you can expect in birth is the unexpected, but I still put a lot of stock in the hope that this birth would give me closure to heal the trauma from previous experiences. I had to, it was my last pregnancy. Of course, nothing went as planned — in fact, a lot of things were quite the opposite — but this unplanned birth story turned out to be a good birth experience.
Scheduling the Birth
My OBGYN insisted Nora was going to be a large baby and suggested that rather than waiting for her Dec. 22 due date, I get induced with her on Dec. 17. At first, I told her I was against the idea since when I was induced with my first I ended up with an epidural, oxygen mask and catheter. I didn’t want that experience again. But then I realized a lot of that had to do with me not really being prepared for the birth experience. I loved being able to have a natural birth with my second, but that birth happened a little too quick and between my support team not making it in time and a midwife who didn’t respect my wishes, I felt really upset about it afterward. So after three weeks of what felt like (and timed as) active labor contractions, I let my OB know that I’d do the induction after all. I was worn out from contracting and constantly wondering if it was go-time. I was afraid that when it was go-time my doula and birth photographer wouldn’t be able to make it to me in time like with my last birth. I was also following a pregnancy tracking app that said Dec. 17 was my due date. Since this app was right about my last birth, I thought it would be right this time around too. If I didn’t already have the baby naturally on the 17th, I’d be induced at 5 p.m.
Ready to Birth
A hospital strike pushed my induction to 8 p.m., which was actually a relief to me because then I had more time with my big kids before leaving … and more time for labor to start naturally if that was going to happen. This experience was so different from my last and it was a huge relief. Instead of rushing to the hospital in discomfort with stuff gushing out of me, my husband and I got to casually drive to the hospital, park the car, and bring everything in with us. I did my hair and makeup. My nails were painted (red for a December baby). My birth & postpartum bags were labeled, packed and with all the essentials, along with about 8 printed birth plans attached to bags of chocolate for nursing staff. The birth photographer and doula? On their way. I had time to hang up a birth affirmations banner and charge my wireless headphones so I could listen to my Hypnobaies tracks. Everything was in place and I was ready to go — determined to have a supported natural, holistic birth (besides the induction). Hospital staff set me up in my labor room and began to monitor me. The best part? The nursing team and midwife on-call at the time came in and went through my birth plan with me. They were sensitive to all of my needs and used Hypnobabies language like “pressure waves” instead of “contractions” to support my plan. I let them know about my previous birth experience and they put it in my chart notes. All of this made me feel at ease and gave me the healing I wanted from previous births — I was being listened to and my support system was already with me. The problem? I came in with close, active contractions (It turns out that I’d been having them because I was still nursing my son). The midwife couldn’t induce me with the strong contractions I was having so I was advised to walk around a lot and wait overnight in case things progress naturally. My doula massaged my feet, the photographer took some fun photos, and then at about 4 a.m. I sent them both home so they could get some sleep.
The New Plan
After walking the halls of the maternity care unit for hours (with some fetal monitor adjustment breaks), my contractions died down. The next day, my midwife checked my cervix and realized that I was barely dilated to 1. I’d still need an induction. We waited out the contractions and then my midwife sat to talk with me about the options available and what she advised. They inserted a medicated swab to ripen my cervix and let me know that they’d continue monitoring me and will check my cervix again after 24 hours. Over the next 24 hours, I could feel changes in my cervix and was excited for the next cervical check because I was sure that my cervix was ready. It wasn’t. It was now evening 3 at the hospital and my cervix was being super stubborn. After asking me to wait a bit longer, it was suggested that I take half a pill to get things going. I did and we waited again. Still no change.
Getting Labor Started
At this point, I was ready to go home and see my kids. I missed my son and thought I should go back to laboring at home now that we knew it wasn’t go-time but the hospital staff advised against leaving at this point. Instead, they wanted to start me on IV fluids and Pitocin. The induction started with a basic dose, then they increased it more and more until I was at the maximum amount allowed. At some point, they disconnected me because I wanted to take a shower not knowing that it would set us back and that we’d have to work the contractions up again. On day 2 of this regimen, we were having a baby. But I was wiped out. I’d been laboring for what felt like a month at home and then doing some serious work over the last 4 days at the hospital. My husband and I felt crushed hearing lullaby after lullaby as other families got to push the special “my baby was just born” button at the nurse’s station when my labor was stalled. We were SO ready to have this baby and get the chance to push the button too. I was just so worn out. Things ramped up and we were excited for baby time . . . but changes weren’t happening so they broke my water for me and labor began to progress. At this point, I couldn’t find the right Hypnobabies tracks to listen to anymore and I was feeling pretty done. I reached the “I give up” point of labor. Nurse Amber came in and became my in-person Hypnobabies by verbally guiding me with visual language like “relax your shoulders… you can do this.” It was just what I needed. I didn’t realize how tense I was and how much I was holding in until she walked me through it. She turned the shower on for me and I labored in there for a bit. I labored everywhere. It was day 4 of laboring and I had done the giant peanut, medium peanut, birth ball, shower, bed, arms of others … you name it. Laboring in the shower took the intensity from a 10 to a 5 or 6 — it was amazing! Until it wasn’t. Then suddenly I hit a wall and was begging for an epidural — the major thing that I didn’t want.
We’re Having a Baby
Everyone asked me several times if I was sure because it was something I had said I really didn’t want. It would take 10 minutes or so for the doctor to come in to administer it so I asked for nitrous oxide in the meantime. I felt hysterical. Once I held the mask to my face, I went from frantic, rapid breathing to ultra-calm, almost asleep until I was told that I’d have to stop using it if I wanted the epidural when the anesthesiologist came in. Once he came in, I was extremely ready for an epidural even though I knew that I was “almost there.” For a second, I worried about what the midwife, nurse and my doula must think of me for choosing one so easily after being so adamant about natural birth and being a birth worker myself . . . then I pushed out that thought. I knew I was done and that based on how things were, it was the right decision for me at the time and that I would have no regrets. This is why my third and last birth was by far my best birth. I had support. I made decisions that I knew I wouldn’t regret based on the facts at hand. The epidural allowed me the break that I needed to recoup. But . . . I felt like the left side of my body was hit by a tranquilizer dart and the right leg was only just a bit numb so trying to push on my hands and knees as I’d hoped was proving difficult. I needed help pushing my legs back to try getting baby out on my back too. After what seemed like an hour of pushing, they positioned me with a giant peanut and covered me with a blanket (I was shaking and super cold). The nurse told me that they had turned the epidural off after just 10-15 minutes so now we needed to wait for some feeling to come back to my left side so I could feel when to push. For a split second, I was upset that they turned it off, but that quickly moved to thankful because I got my break and now I needed to wait somewhere around 30 minutes to regain some feeling and get this baby out. The other bonus? I didn’t need a catheter because the epidural was only in for a short period of time.
Once some time had passed, we were back in push mode. I keep saying this, but I was really worn out. I pushed and pushed and baby’s head kept going in and out until finally, she was coming and midwife Shauna asked if I wanted to catch her. What an amazing experience! I reached down and helped pull my baby up and to my chest. Nora was born at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 20. We tried the breast crawl for a bit during the Golden Hour (the hour after birth for skin-to-skin) and she did pretty well but I helped her along a bit since she’d just been through a lot as well. We stayed a fifth night in the hospital and went home the next day. I was extremely tired and so stinking thankful. Nora’s birth was filled with one thing after another that I didn’t plan on but it was filled with everything I was missing in my two previous birth experiences. How amazing is it that I got to have closure on all that with my final birth? This little one brings our family so much joy and lights up the gloomiest of days with her contagious smile.