No One Could Believe It
    ||  My client shares her second birthing experience ||

I had only expected a handful of family and friends to care enough to read my birth story — 40 hits at the most. You can imagine my surprise when I found out 2,000 people, mostly strangers, had also tuned in! 

Why would 2,000 strangers care about my birth experience?  Maybe it’s because, as my doula says, birth matters! Whoever you 2,000 people are, you’ve made me a believer—a believer in the power of birth stories. Now I clearly see that writing my story was not just a therapeutic exercise, nor a human interest piece.

My story is a microcosm of a much greater story being told in all our lives, a story that weaves all of humanity together as lovingly as a handmade baby blanket. So here’s the sequel—my gift to you, my second birth story, the tale of what happened two weeks later...No one could believe it. 

The doctor said, “I’ve not seen this in twenty years of delivering babies.” The midwife said, “This is one I’m gonna take with me for my whole life.” I said to my husband, several times, “Why am I such a weirdo?” Every birth story is unique, but truly, this birth story is also kind of weird. Birth doesn’t typically happen this way.

Apparently, I’m one of those rare “silent dilators.” (My sister thinks this is a good band name, by the way.) I’ve always been able to feel my contractions, but they don’t hurt. I have a tightening sensation across my abdomen, but no pain. When I was pregnant the first time with my daughter, I came in for a routine appointment, and the doctor was quite surprised to find me already dilated to four centimeters! I had no idea I was in labor. With my son, the same thing happened, only this time I was dilated to eight centimeters! In a textbook labor, eight centimeters would typically be the point where intense contractions would be bringing the baby down into the birth canal, often called “transition” (on TV, this is where women start saying things like, “Get me the drugs!”).

I had been having one or two of these tightening sensations every hour for one day, but nothing even remotely painful. The doctor and midwife were both befuddled, since I didn’t appear to be laboring, but they told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible anyway. I was certainly surprised, but didn’t share their sense of urgency. After all, I clearly wasn’t in labor. I went home, packed a suitcase, ate dinner, and arrived at the hospital a couple hours later.

The midwife met me there and checked me again—“100% effaced, 8 cm” and “negative one, getting close to 0 station.” (0 station is when baby is sitting very low in the pelvis.) I was sent to a labor room and given IV antibiotics due to testing positive for Group B Strep the previous week (a common bacteria which is not harmful to the mother, but can be deadly to the baby if picked up during the birth).

I slept through that night without pain, and by morning, my “contractions” had all but disappeared. My midwife came in and offered to break my water. I was hesitant to do this, since my body was showing no signs of labor, and breaking water when you’re not in labor definitely increases the risk to the baby of contracting Group B Strep. Unfortunately, she was not supportive of me going home either since I was also still dilated to 8 cm (and if my water broke naturally, I would be having a baby in a car, at higher risk for other complications). I was trapped—unable to go home, but unable to produce a baby.

We decided my goal that day would be to get my labor going again, naturally if possible, and we began trying everything imaginable to stimulate contractions. Our greatest success that day involved me rolling my hips around on the birthing ball with hot compresses on my nipples, causing contractions to come at 4 minutes apart for an hour (still no pain). But when I hopped off that ball...nothing. No contractions and no progress.

That evening, my midwife visited again. I was still stuck at 8 cm, and she started laying on the pressure to break my water, saying that she had to “answer to the doctor.” I asked her plainly, “Why is the doctor in such a rush to get this done? I’m still not even 39 weeks yet.” I appreciated her starkly honest answer— “Well...I think this is just the way we’re used to doing things around here.” She said she would let me sleep, talk to the doctor on my behalf, and we could try some new methods in the morning.

The next day we focused again on labor stimulation, even trying some low doses of Pitocin. For awhile, the Pitocin seemed to work, and we decreased the dose, hoping my body would now take over. But unfortunately, just like the birthing ball, when I went off the Pit...nothing. I went to sleep that night feeling discouraged and confused. What was happening!? Why was I still stalled at 8 cm? Did my body know exactly what it was doing? Or was something possibly wrong with my body, that it simply couldn’t complete labor without some kind of medical intervention?

The next morning, on the dawn of my third day at the hospital, the nurses, midwife, and doctor entered my room to discuss the game plan (or maybe to try and intimidate me into breaking my water as a group, I’m not sure). At this point, after three days of IV antibiotics, we were all fairly certain that every single bacteria in my body was dead, and the risk to the baby of contracting Group B Strep after breaking water was now minimal. I was definitely open to the possibility, but when my midwife checked my cervix again, an interesting new challenge presented itself. I was still dilated to 8 cm, but she could feel that baby was now turned posterior (nota great position for delivering a baby at all and a major contributor to the high rate of C-sections in our country).

Perhaps this was the reason why my labor was stalled! Baby boy was simply in the wrong spot! Our new goal for the day was to get baby turned around and re-positioned on my cervix (when a baby’s head is positioned correctly on the cervix, contractions naturally occur!). And, little did I know, there are all sorts of ways to reposition a baby in the womb! The problem was, it’s very helpful to have at least some contractions occurring so that baby simply feels pressured and uncomfortable enough to change spots...and I was having none.

We ended up choosing an interesting mixture of interventions. We chose Pitocin to stimulate some artificial contractions, whilst holding a position called the “Texas Roll” to encourage the baby to move. Contractions became regular at about 8-10 ml of Pitocin, and sure enough, at that point, I felt the baby turn around! This crazy combo actually worked! And then, within just minutes of repositioning, we experienced surprise number boy punched right through my water!

What happened next was NOT FUN. . Not only does breaking your water stimulate extremely strong natural contractions, but being on 12 ml of Pitocin at the same time, stimulating extremely strong artificial contractions, genuinely makes you believe you’re going to die. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst pain I can imagine, this was definitely an 11. This was pain I could never have imagined. I felt like my entire body was ripping apart from the inside out. I was begging for an epidural, but there was simply no time. From the point of my water breaking to the point of holding that beautiful baby boy in my trembling arms, TEN MINUTES went by. Six insane contractions, two terrifying pushes, the most intense ten minutes of my life...and our three day saga was over.

I wish I could say I had a better labor experience than last time. (After all, for the most part, I would say I had a better pregnancy experience than last time!) But if I’m being honest, I’d say this labor was even tougher on me, at every level. It was more mentally strenuous, more emotionally draining, and definitely more physically painful than last time, without a doubt.

So, why is it that instead of feeling as broken as I did last time, I feel healed? Why is it that instead of feeling traumatized, like I did last time, I feel entirely at peace? I feel content. I feel joyful. I feel downright victorious. I waged mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical warfare...and I won. When I ponder this question, I have two answers.

One, I’m simply more fit for battle now. I’m a wiser, stronger, and more seasoned soldier in many ways. But as I reflect further on the experience, I know that can’t be the only reason. I know that if I had fought this battle alone, I likely would’ve come out just as bruised and broken as last time. But this time, I wasn’t fighting alone.

During the nine months prior to battle, not only were my husband and I preparing ourselves, but we were also preparing an army. I carefully chose my caregivers—a most excellent doctor and midwife team. I carefully chose my hospital—which included a group of amazing nurses committed to the philosophy of creating a home-birth experience in the midst of the medical world (trust me, three days in a hospital would’ve been hellish without them). I carefully chose my supporters—which included family members, friends, and an incredible doula I don’t think I could’ve done without. I’ve also carefully chosen to follow a God who I believe showered me with love in the midst of a terrible storm, bestowing little gifts all along the way. This was the army that hemmed me in on every side, behind and before. And in the end, I know they made all the difference—the difference between despair and euphoria. Last time, I emerged from my birth experience shaking with fear. This time, I emerged fearlessly rejoicing.So this is all I have to give you. Whatever battles you are fighting in your own life, trust me, you will need an army, so choose your army well. In the end, they could make all the difference.

(I’ve been meditating on this verse today. Sometimes God moves the mountains and fights the war for us. Other times, He gives us the feet to stand on them or the skills we need to succeed in battle.)

A Portion of Psalm 18
  And who is the Rock except our God?
32 It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.

33He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.

34He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You make your saving help my shield,
and your right hand sustains me;
your help has made me great.