Getting personal here today on the blog with the birth story of my oldest. When I sat down to write this story initially it was an incredibly healing experience. Her birth didn’t go exactly how I thought it would in my plans, but being able to write out the entire thing, every detail, every moment, helped me to process the good in it too. Looking through all the photos as I wrote allowed me to see the little blessings I’d missed— how amazing my care team was, the love of my husband and doula, and also be able to recognize how freaking strong I’d been!
Today I want to share that with you. As birth workers, we bring our stories and experiences into each birth we attend. And I try hard to keep an honest and open relationship with each of my families. I believe that being authentic with you, makes it easier for you to be vulnerable and trust in me.
I went in to Tenley’s birth already having been a doula for several families, and having studied pretty much everything I could get my hands on regarding pregnancy and birth. While I was disappointed not to get a midwife, we chose a doctor that I felt respected my autonomy, I had a friend offer to be my doula and birth photographer, and through it all, my husband was my rock- keeping me balanced, positive and comfortable in those overwhelmingly un-comfortable last days of pregnancy. I was ready.
She decided to buck tradition and be one of those rare babies with whom labour start with one Big Bang- or a gush rather! I got up after midnight to head for a regular bathroom break, and before I got there, my water broke all over the floor. I was so excited! We cleaned up, and before I could climb back into bed (I wanted to rest until things picked up), I realized that the contractions had actually started immediately. I was already sitting about 4-5 minutes apart. It was happening!
We started to putter around the house, getting dressed, finishing packing our hospital bags. I sat for a bit in the nursery, just centering myself. We decided to head to the hospital around 3:30am. I was really torn- my contractions were between 3-4 minutes already, and almost a minute long and had been for a couple hours... but they didn't seem super intense. Still, I have a family history of quick labours, so we decided better safe than sorry. In hindsight, I wish I'd waited until they were much harder to cope through. We arrived at the hospital and were checked into triage around 4:30am. I was happy and disappointed to hear that I was 4-5cms. Happy they would get me a room, but a little disappointed I wasn't further along. They had issues with staffing on the low risk side of LDRP, so I was given a room in the "High risk" L&D to start out. My heart sank. It was my first true understanding of how much your environment can affect your mental state and coping. Thankfully we had an amazing nurse who offered us the use of a walk in shower in one of the LDRP rooms, as long as we came back to L&D for our checks when needed. Done.
We were down the hall like a flash, and the shower was exactly what I needed. I laboured there from about 6am-800am. Once in the shower I was able to block out everything else and just focusing on releasing my body during each contraction. The time flew by as I closed my eyes and focused on the sounds and feelings of the water hitting my tired body. Around 8am, shifts had changed and a new nurse came to the room to let us know we had to go back and get assessed again. It took me so long to work up the drive to leave the shower. I was worried about leaving my happy place. We eventually made it down the hall, and crawled onto the bed to be checked. This new nurse was not as wonderful as my initial one had been, and I feel like my entire experience changed with her. I tried to lay still for the ten minute heart rate strip they needed, but I felt myself losing control. I was no longer able to easily cope through the rushes, and felt panicky. Eventually I was able to get out of bed to try different positions, and thankfully my doula/photographer arrived as well. Having her there helped me feel stronger-- like I had more people on my side, and our little team could stand up for my rights and wishes.
I continued working through each contraction in the tiny L&D room, praying that they'd be able to move me soon. I tried position changes and labouring on the toilet, and finally found that counterpressure on my back was the only thing that touched the pain. Having the constant pressure seemed to allow me to relax the other muscles in my body even through the pains. I tried to grab hold of my labour again.
Eventually around 11:15am we got the amazing news that I was being moved to LDRP. The walk down the hallway took forever, but finally we were settled in. I realized quickly that my new nurses were amazing. They took the time to read and ask questions about my birth plan, and then they followed it to the letter. It was so empowering to be respected in my birth, and feel like they understood me. After being checked again quickly, I was told I was 8cm and breathed a huge sigh of relief. At least knowing that progress was being made helped all of it to feel worth it.
During the walk down the hallway, I felt like contractions changed in intensity. although it was a bit early, I was having a bearing down feeling, and since my water had broken, there was no cushion between her head and my pelvic bones. The intensity was like nothing I'd felt before, and I was really struggling to release during each contraction. In hindsight, I think her position was not ideal, and my body was working really hard to try to move her into position. I moved into the shower to try to regain that feeling of peace I'd had before.
A little while later, the nurse came in and tried her best to use the doppler to check baby's heart. I will forever be grateful to her for trying so hard to let me stay there, but after some time it became clear that the heartrate in the shower wasn't exactly what they were wanting to hear. The decision was made for me to come back into the main room and try again, and spend some time walking around the room and using different positions. My nurses encouraged me to start bearing down a tiny bit with contractions if it felt good- they thought that she needed some help to really drop more and engage. I tried different positions around the room, laying down a bit, leaning on the table, sitting on the toilet, and walking. I could feel likes intensifying, and while medication never crossed my mind, I just kept thinking "Holy crap, this is so bad. What's happening!?" Again in hindsight I really believe she wasn't positioned well, and what I was feeling was more the constant strain of her bones against mine, rather than the contractions themselves.
We made the best of it. Around 12:30 I laid down in bed to get another monitoring strip done, and then was checked and pronounced fully dilated, and could start pushing anytime. Yay! Joy! It was almost done! Not quite. In my doula practice now, I talk a lot about labouring down, and allowing your body to do as much of the work on its' own as it can, before adding your own forceful pushing efforts. This preserved your energy, and also helps your baby get into the best position without force. As a doula I knew this in my own birth, but I was so tired, and so defeated by that point, that all I could think of was the end goal- getting her out and stopping these dang contractions! I pushed with all my might. It felt awful if I'm being truthful. It made the contractions stop hurting, I barely noticed them actually. But it added a very real sense of defeat. I would push with all my might and feel like she wasn't moving a single millimeter. We continued trying different positions and angles, hoping that she would shift and make things easier, but in the end I was so tired that all I could do was lay in the bed. I had been in labour for 12 hours, which isn't terribly long for a first time mom, but I'd only gotten about two hours of sleep before it started, and I was pretty wiped.
Once on my back in bed the nurses helped to break the bed down so that I was sitting up, but in a squat type position. It allowed me to be upright without having to use up so much energy. We also tried on the toilet, standing, squatting with the squat bar and tugging on a sheet tied on to the bar. The sheet seemed to help the most, but I still felt like nothing was happening! Finally at about 2:45 I had one push that finally felt different. I remember whispering to myself "THAT'S IT!" I suspect this is when her head finally shifted slightly better into position, because all of a sudden I could actually feel movement with the pushes. It was such a relief after feeling like I was going to be there forever! Almost instantly the tone in the room changed and the nurses started getting ready for delivery.
It was such a relief to finally feel like something was happening. I was still exhausted, but now I felt exhilerated too. I could DO this! About 3:05 we saw hair. <3 To a poor mama who has been pushed for two hours, it was the best sight ever! Things were getting more and more intense, but now I felt stronger again. The doctor came into the room and introduced herself. I remember being so happy that maybe she could hurry things along. (PSA: I don't recommend this mindset! Birth happens in it's own time, and it doesn't need to be hurried!). They removed the squat bar and started setting up for the typical medical birth. There were blue sterile drapes everywhere. It makes me roll my eyes in hindsight. My nurses had been so amazing at protecting my birth space and maintaining this as just another birth unfolding naturally, nothing to stress about. The OB who came in was most definitely used to birth being a medical procedure. Totally not the feeling I was going for!
Finally we saw her beautiful head and at 3:22pm on November 29, 2011 Tenley Harper made me a mama <3 She had such a short cord that she could only be placed on my lower belly, and she was absolutely coated in vernix. We only waited about two minutes after birth to cut the cord, mostly because she couldn't be moved at all without tugging on the cord, and I couldn't even see her face. You can see in the second picture how low she is, and the cord was still pulled taught.
Finally being able to turn her around and into my arms was the best moment ever. I remember looking at her face and thinking "Oh, of course it's you! I know you!"
And just like that, it was all over! I remember feeling shocked. It seemed like it took SO long while it was happening, and then all of a sudden in a whirlwind she was here, with us, forever. It was a bit surreal as one by one people left and the room settled down. It took a long time to process her birth story and to reconcile how I thought it would go and how I would handle contractions to how I actually did. I realized I had come into the birth with very strict expectations, and that just isn't reasonable with birth! They say the one predictable thing with birth is that it's unpredictable-- how true that is!
She has lit up our life over the past 7 years and I can't imagine a life without her. She surprises us daily with her thirst for knowledge and incredibly insight. She's already wise beyond her years and I can't wait to see where the next seven years brings her!