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V's Birth Story Part 2 -- The Hard Work of Progress

Continued from Part 1.

For Baby E's half-birthday birthday, I shared the story of his amazing, empowering birth (plus gorgeous pictures). Writing big brother V's story has been harder.  At first, I was afraid to face my own story, but I moved beyond that and wrote and wrote. Then, I moved into being afraid of others hearing my story, that they would judge it: that was your traumatic birth? That was nothing or If you would've just gone along with X like everyone else does, you wouldn't have been so upset. Ultimately, I decided that others judging it is ok. I'd rather share it and let a few people glean something helpful than not share it out of fear.

So, what's the deal with birth trauma anyway? Some people say ‘healthy baby, healthy mama’ is enough when it comes to a birth. For me—logical to you or not— it is not. Yes, the “destination” is imperative, but the journey matters, too. It is possible to both celebrate an amazing new life and mourn the journey it took to get there at the same time.

For example, if you completed a marathon, but got injured on the way, no one would say, “All that matters is that you crossed the finish line”. No, people would care about your twisted ankle, they’d want to hear your story, maybe they’d even commend your endurance. They would know that the medal is great, but the journey also matters.

With V’s birth, I walked away as a healthy mama with a healthy baby with a complication-free birth, but for all of those wonderful things to celebrate, the rest of the journey still mattered. So, what is it about V’s birth that was so traumatic that I had panic attacks for months after? That I would wake in the night with thoughts racing? That I learned that there is a thing called Post-Partum Traumatic Stress Disorder (PPTSD) that fit me to a T? Was the length of labor? Was it going into birth having already been in chronic pain for four months because of extreme pubis symphysis diastasis (essentially, a dislocation of the front part of my pelvis)? Was it that I chose natural birth in a medical environment that is so disconnected from what normal labor looks like that they couldn’t believe in me?  I think it is all of it together, and more. As much as my trauma was about the birth, it was also about what happened in the years before and year after. Infertility and loss make the start of the journey long, hard, and sad. The physical healing my pelvis and back required after pregnancy makes the story go on for another nine months (and then years to a lesser degree). But, getting into all of that would make it a life story rather than a birth story, and frankly this birth story is long enough already, so here we go…

Disclaimer: You've probably already noticed, but just to be clear: this is a birth story. It involves bodily functions. I have not shared anything here that I am not comfortable saying aloud to you face-to-face. But, if you aren’t interested in such details, stop reading now.

38 Weeks: 2 weeks before V's arrival
On December 31, 2010, I noticed that I was having some contractions, but nothing with continuing frequency. The next evening, Saturday, January 1 (officially at the 40 week mark per IUI dating, which never synced with ultrasound dating) we had dinner with Dave’s parents, and I noticed the contractions were back, but I didn’t say anything. Before bed, I inserted some Evening Primrose Oil for the first time. Once I was in bed, I noticed the contractions were getting stronger and more consistent.  By 1:30 AM when I finally fell asleep, they were 7 minutes apart. At 3:30 contractions woke me up. I let a few pass, and I sensed they were consistent. At 3:45 I woke up Dave to time them. They were at 5 minutes apart and surprisingly painful from the start. I was expecting intense pressure in my belly and pelvis, but I was experiencing this was pain through my back.

For the next 5 hours we did shower time, I relaxed/breathed through the contractions in bed, I listened to relaxation scripts and music, and Dave got the last of the things together when I needed alone time. I had anticipated wanting him right there with me for it all as the trusty Bradley coach. But, I discovered that I relaxed best alone.  I was finding him distracting, so it was good for him to stay busy. I practiced lots of relaxation and listened to the relaxation script and music that I had downloaded from Kaiser. I was surprised to realize that vocalizing really helped me through the pain of the contractions.

The contractions kept going steadily and progressively, and after five-ish hours they were three minutes apart, lasting a good while, and I couldn’t talk through them. Around 8:30 AM, we called Doula K, and we called the nurse’s line at Kaiser and everyone agreed that it was time to start working our way in. The drive to the hospital was tough with the frequent painful contractions. Going over bumps was the worst. We got to the hospital at about 10:30 AM. I was determined to walk up to Labor and Delivery rather than go in a wheelchair, even though it was tough. I was admitted into an awesome room with a laboring tub (the hospital only has 2 such rooms), my own doctor, Dr. S, was on call (a rare occurrence--they cycle through 8 docs), and a nurse we'd met during our external cephalic version (to move baby from transverse to head-down) who we knew was med-free supportive. It seemed like that day, Sunday, January 2, was going to be the day for our baby boy to be born!

I had not been doing internal progress exams during the pregnancy, but decided to do one when we arrived at the hospital. I was at 75% effaced, 1 centimeter dilated, and baby’s head was at -2 station.  This minimal-progress news was surprising given the frequency and pain of the contractions. Nonetheless, Dr. S was encouraging and we prepared for labor to keep on trucking along, though the contractions had slowed from where we’d been at home.

At that point, I got a heplock put in, which I knew from previous visits to L&D was something if refused would start things off on the wrong foot with the nurses. I figured it was a small, reasonable compromise that would set a peaceful tone.

All settled in around 11:30 AM, I decided to take advantage of the labor tub because of the terrible back labor. Doula K was there by that point and devised a way to keep the heplock dry with a medical glove and medical tape. The tub felt great, but I was never able to 100% relax because I had to focus on not getting that hand too wet. Nonetheless, I was on the path to relaxation. Doula K put electric candles in the bathroom and she and Dave took turns talking with me and helping me relax. For twenty minutes of every hour, I was supposed to get out of the water and be monitored in the bed. I didn’t fully comprehend it at the time, but that was jarring to my relaxation and the move from the water to the bed expended emotional and physical energy. I felt very supported by Dave and Doula K and we passed the time with walking, relaxation, abdominal breathing, time on the ball, etc. After a few more hours things slowed more and more.

Monitoring session on the ball

Five hours later, around 4:30pm I asked for another internal.  I was 100% effaced but only 2 cm dilated. Dr. S was still encouraging about being slow and steady. I tried to get down some food and drink. (I had no intention of following the hospital’s orders to starve myself during the marathon of labor.)

I realized that the bath was really the most comfortable place to be, so I spent much of the next few hours in the water (but getting out for monitoring, though sometimes the staff would extend my time off the monitor).

At some point in there, I realized that I needed to use bathroom. I spent a long time laboring on the toilet trying to work through the back pain as well as relieve myself. The nurses kept warning me to not push on the toilet as though the baby was going to come even though I had made no progress. My feet couldn’t touch the floor which meant my lower back was unsupported through the pain. I tried to prop my feet up on anything I could find, but nothing was quite right. It was a feeling of helplessness. By the time I was done, a baby had—of course— not come out. I did, however, lose my mucous plug. I was happy to see it, as it was a cue that my body did indeed know what it was doing and I could trust my intuition, despite the nurses who did not.

Around 7 PM, friend Jill came to visit to bring much appreciated apple cider and conversation. After she left, I wanted to walk the halls. I walked super-slowly, stopping for each painful back contraction. As I walked, I noticed that the contractions were slowing. Around 10:30, I asked for another internal. This exam found no change.

Because I had made no progress for so long, we were offered the chance to go home, but decided to sleep through the night at the hospital in hopes that being settled would gear me up again. I was nervous about losing the room with the tub after the water had been so soothing to me and I did not want to make another painful trip in the car. Plus, we’d done everything “right” in terms of when to come in the first place with contractions consistent and hard enough I couldn’t talk through them. Dave and I decided that everyone should get some rest and we sent Doula K home while we slept at the hospital.

I woke up at 1:30 am (Monday, January 3) with regular, intense contractions. Dave and I worked through them in the tub and shower but then they stared to decline and so we got some more sleep in. By the time morning rolled around, I was having no contractions and had only made 1/2 cm progress. Since I didn't want to be induced (we were told this was the normal protocol at this point), Dr. S suggested that we go home and wait it out, and we agreed.

Continues in Part 3: Labor Intensifies.

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