My husband Josh and I had been trying to get pregnant for a total of about 18 months (with some hiatus periods because of insurance issues from job changes), and each and every month of trying would culminate in excitement and end in tears. We eventually went to see an OB/GYN for a fertility evaluation. I had been charting my temperatures for 6 months and using ovulation predictor kits, and all we were told was, "I don't know why you're not getting pregnant. It looks like you know what you're doing. Your husband can do a semen analysis if you want." Cup in hand, we left the doctor's office, not sure why we felt such peace about the whole situation when we had expected more intervention than this.
We put off the semen analysis because we were focused on moving and going on vacation for two weeks. When we got back from our trip and moved in to our new apartment, my husband was getting ready to graduate from the university, and things were pretty busy, so we totally forgot about that little cup in the bio-hazard bag. The week of Josh's graduation I was anticipating the monthly visit from "Aunt Flo", but she didn't come. I didn't think too much about it, because the last time that she didn't come on time and was five days late, I had the hardest time bouncing back from realizing I wasn't pregnant after all---again. After a week, I finally took two pregnancy tests. The second line was pretty faint, so we decided not to announce anything to family while they were here for the graduation because we didn't want to get everyone all excited only to have to break the bad news later. The next week we finally decided to go to the health department for a pregnancy test because they'd be able to tell us for sure. I remember coming out of that office just beaming and crying and all excited to tell our family that we were finally expecting!
Then that night I broke down crying for a different reason. Eventually the baby would have to be born. And that was something that terrified me. Everyone I knew said that birth was the most painful experience you'd ever have---that it was akin to dying. Josh and I had decided a long time before getting pregnant that we wanted a natural birth experience. But when it came down to it, could I really handle all that? I am a pretty big wimp when it comes to the unknown. Especially if the unknown, according to what people told me, included intense pain and misery. Obviously people had had natural birth before and survived (my own mother did it eight times--twice she asked for an epidural or other anesthesia because she had done the natural birth route before and figured she deserved a break, but it didn't work either time), but could I? People I talked to about our desire for natural birth thought I was completely nuts, and told me so. Why not just go with the flow, right? Everybody gets epidurals. Why not me too?
Because I didn't want to. For some reason this was one time I didn't just want to conform. This was one time I wanted to do something different--something I considered to be WAY outside my comfort zone.
But then there had to be some way to manage things during birth---I needed some kind of structured help (since I also freak out and give up rather easily). One of my friends had taken a Hypnobabies course and loved it. I wasn't too sure how I felt about hypnosis. To me, and to others I'm sure, hypnosis brought to mind a man waving gold watch on a chain in front of my face and making me make chicken sounds or something. I wanted to be in control of things, not controlled by things, but my friend assured me that self-hypnosis is very different from all that. Josh and I researched Hypnobabies and felt really good about it, so we enrolled in the course. I really was intrigued by the claim that childbirth with hypnosis could be painless, and wondered if my mind and body really could relax enough to make that happen. Josh and I did a pretty good job at practicing the hypnosis scripts and CDs often in order to prepare, and we felt confident in being able to use those techniques during the birth in order to have a peaceful, beautiful experience.
However, at about 37 weeks of pregnancy at my checkup, my blood pressure was off the charts, and the midwife found protein in my urine, so I was sent next door to the hospital for a non-stress test and bloodwork. After four hours of monitoring, I was sent home on bed-rest with instructions to come back in a few days to be re-evaluated. To keep this part short and sweet, imagine that process two more times, each time with no conclusive answers as to why my blood pressure would still be so high when I didn't have any other pre-ecclamptic symptoms (other than a small amount of protein in the urine). At the very last non-stress test, the midwife suggested an induction, in order to put an end to the testing and in hopes that delivery of the baby would put an end to this high blood pressure problem. However, my cervix was closed, high, and virtually not looking like it was going to budge at all. Josh and I were concerned that an induction would only start the snowball of events we did not want---pitocin, epidural, c-section. The midwife wanted to just keep me at the hospital that night and get things going, but Josh and I decided we wanted the weekend to decide what to do and prepare if the change in our birthing plans was necessary.
My fear returned. Hypnobabies had taught me to feel so confident in my ability to give birth naturally. We had practiced and done our best to learn everything we needed to know. Now, however, we felt like we were being asked to bring our baby into the world in a way we did not want. We didn't want to be a product of medical intervention, though we understood that at some times it is very necessary. My situation, however, was so unconclusive. I wasn't officially diagnosed with pre-ecclampsia. They really couldn't since I wasn't demonstrating all, or even most, of the symptoms.
So here we were, packing our hospital bag just in case our baby boy decided to come on his own that weekend. I was scheduled to go into my midwife's office on Monday for another checkup and most likely a decision regarding the induction proposition. I contacted our Hypnobabies instructor, who suggested we download the "Come Out Baby" Hypnosis track. It had been proven effective in getting the mother's body and baby's body to cooperate and get birthing going. It, of course, was like any other means of induction--if your body was ready, it would work. If not, it wouldn't. I listened to it twice a day (the max recommended), but nothing happened. Monday came and once again induction was suggested. She gave Josh and me time to talk about it, and we decided to go ahead with it, because I was only 2 days away from my "due date", and if we didn't, it would only mean repetition of the same rigamaroll we'd already been through with non-stress tests and bloodwork and such, and by that point I was just so tired of all of the drama. As I wrote that, it sounded extremely selfish, which is how I felt on the drive home from the midwife office. I cried and cried and thought about calling the midwife and telling her we wouldn't be going to the hospital that night, but I didn't. For some reason I started to feel at peace.
We had asked everyone we knew to pray for us during this whole ordeal. Usually I am the one being asked to pray for someone else. This time the roles were reversed, and it was very humbling to hear so many people say they were praying for us every day from the first day of bed-rest. The strength from all of those prayers truly comforted us as we went home and finished getting things ready. At our midwife's suggestion, we went out to dinner as our last date pre-parenthood, and then headed over to the hospital. The plan was to start a cervical ripener that night, which would last 12 hours, and then start pitocin the next morning around 7:30 am. We got checked in to our room, the nurse put in the Cervadil, which was pretty painful since they had to put it behind my uncooperative cervix, and we just waited. We played card games and chatted and finally tried to fall asleep. Josh slept pretty well, but I couldn't. I decided to put on the "Come Out Baby" hypnosis track, and listened to that before finally dozing off. I woke up around 3 am, feeling kind of funny, and realized that every so often I would feel a cramp-like sensation in my belly. I woke up Josh and he immediately came to see what was going on. Before I knew it, the contractions were coming harder and closer together. I had no idea which "stage" of labor I was in, as I didn't feel any kind of gradual progression.
Josh called our doula, who was planning on being there the next morning when the pitocin was supposed to be administered, and she came right over, also surprised to see me having so many contractions. I will never cease to be amazed at the way Josh was able to stay calm and really use our Hypnobabies techniques on the fly. There was no time to read official scripts. He had to just go from what he remembered, and I really believe he received some Heavenly help to do everything he did. He was able to provide physical, emotional and mental comfort all at once. When I'd start to freak out, he'd bring me back down into relaxation. Our doula also was invaluable. She would constantly remind me to breathe and use low moaning tones to allow my body to open. One thing she told me that continues to stand out to me was when I was again unsure of my ability to really give birth, and I said, "I can't do this!" and she said, "You ARE doing it! You ARE!" That was so empowering to me. I just had to let go and let my body do what it needed to do! Our baby was going to be born!
I can't remember my exact progression, as things went so quickly, but I did go from being dialated to a 2 and fully effaced at around 4am, to a 9 at 9am. The midwife showed up around 9 o'clock, when I was already getting really pushy. It's so amazing how the urge to push out the baby is so strong. It's a natural instinct that really can't be held back, at least not very effectively. Before the midwife arrived, the nurses told me not to push because there was still a lip of cervix that could swell up and reverse my progress if I did. That was not what I wanted to hear, and once again I started to really get anxious and upset. I was having a hard time breathing because there was literally no pause between contractions, and here I was being told not to push when that was all I wanted to do. I finally asked for some Fetanol to slow things down a bit and give me a chance to relax and breathe a little more. They gave me half a dose, which was pretty much like taking a Tylenol for a migrane, but it was sufficient--at least psychologically it seemed to work. Josh and our doula continued to work to help me relax and breathe. I sure was glad when the midwife arrived and I was able to finally push!
Because the labor was so fast and intense, our baby's heart rate was dropping with each contraction and not coming back up. They put in an internal monitor, and we knew we had to get this baby out fast. There was even one of the obstetricians standing outside the room door with an epidural and forceps if necessary. (Supposedly he didn't believe in using forceps without administering an epidural first.) Once the midwife explained the situation, I felt my resolve to continue naturally increase. Josh stood beside me working to keep me relaxed and focused, and our doula and one of the nurses held my legs as I pushed. It turned out that our little guy had the cord around his neck once and around one of his arms, which was pinching the cord and causing his heart rate to drop. I think that the pushing stage really was the hardest part of the birth because I was so tired and I was tensed up because of the possible forceps delivery and the insistence of the midwife and nurses that I really push because we didn't have time to wait. It was so intense, but you know, not nearly as painful as I expected it to be. Yes, it hurt, and I had never felt pain like that before, but it wasn't so unbearable as I think it's been made out to be. The fact that I was able to do it without drugs---me, who I used to consider to be a really wimpy person---was so empowering.
I will never forget the awe I felt as I saw our baby come out. This little person that had been growing and developing inside of me was born! The midwife quickly cut the cord and he was examined by the hospital staff immediately. Our little boy was just perfect. As I was being stitched up from my episiotomy and tear, I couldn't help but just smile and cry and laugh. We had done it! Josh and our baby and I had worked together and seen a miracle. So many united prayers had been answered. When they handed me our sweet baby boy, I just stared at him in wonder. This was the baby we had waited so long for. This was the baby we had prayed for and hoped for. It was amazing. I felt such an overwhelming love for him that I start to cry even now.
There is a certain euphoria that accompanies birth. Perhaps it's partly because the mother realizes her body was indeed capable of bringing that little life into the world, but I believe that mostly it's because for a time heaven and earth collide. A new little person has arrived in mortality, and one can't help but feel amazed at how powerful a body is at creating another human life from two tiny cells. The awe of each tiny finger and toe, the first eye contact, watching the forehead wrinkle and the little mouth open in a tiny sigh, seeing him kick his feet and you realize those were the same feet that bruised your ribs for the third trimester, a head of downy hair, the soft skin....absolutely amazing.
As I watch our baby grow and change and learn, I feel like I too am on that same course. We're learning together how to be mother and child. We're nurturing each other. He reminds me daily of what's really important in life---the snuggles during and after feedings, nightime lullabies (even if the baby wakes up the second after you lay him down), tummy time, walks in the sunshine, being together, observing the world through new eyes, smiling in your sleep, unconditional love, holding your head up, and not being afraid to cry.
Birth is a Journey: Does it have to be life changing?
One woman might have to climb on an overfilled boat, risking her life and nearly dying as she escapes over the ocean to come to this land. This experience could certainly be life altering. It may very well color the rest of her life, positively or negatively. (I overcame this amazing struggle and here I am triumphant! OR Holy crap, that was SO hard I don’t know if I can go on! By the way, neither response is “right”. No one would judge the woman with the 2nd response.)
One woman may buy an airplane ticket, sit on a comfortable 747 and fly to America with a nice smooth flight and landing. She is happy to be in America. Those welcoming her are glad she is here safe and sound. She may only travel by plane 2-4 times in her life, so it is pretty memorable. But the journey itself probably wouldn’t be life changing; it would simply be a journey.
One woman may learn to fly an ultra-light plane to lead a flock of geese into America teaching them to migrate. This experience could certainly be empowering and life altering.