Wednesday, November 14, 2012

freight train


Infertility left me bruised and scarred, both emotionally and physically. The intramuscular injections created painful knots in my muscles that lasted months. I also had to give myself two shots of a blood thinner every day during my pregnancy to prevent miscarriage. A year later, I can still see the shadow of a couple of those black and blue marks on my stomach. Even prior to pregnancy, I gained weight from the medications. I was weak from the activity restrictions. And I was angry with my body. My physical self had failed me. It hadn't worked right when I needed it to. It allowed my babies to die. It stubbornly refused to ovulate. It didn't cooperate with the doctors. I was furious with my lazy ovaries and inept uterus. There was a giant chasm between me and my body. We were at war.

And then IVF. And then I was pregnant. I appreciated the work my body was doing to protect this tiny life inside of me but I didn't trust it one bit. I fully expected it to eject this child as well. I fully expected it to ruin everything. 

I wasn’t officially considered high risk, but because of our history, we chose to do a hospital birth. We picked the hospital in our area that has the lowest c-section rate (by far) and is known for natural births. We also chose our doula, Sarah, a friend of my husband’s from nursing school. She is excellent. She met with us several times before the birth. She asked me to tell Ethan’s story in detail. She listened to it so carefully and I felt she knew him even though they had never met. She calmed my fears and waged war against my insecurities. She trusted my body even though I didn't.

We asked Sarah to recommend a doctor who would support our desire to have a natural birth. She sent us to Dr. L, a family practice physician who has been trained in water birth and feels very strongly about patients taking charge of their own health decisions. There were several times during my pregnancy when I called Dr. L in a panic, begging him to check for a heartbeat. He stayed late to see me and even did an ultrasound to calm my fears. “I don’t usually use this thing,” he said, “But we’ll figure out how it works.” And we did. Well, he did.

I was absolutely set on having a natural birth. I did lots of research – books, websites, classes. I even heard Ina May Gaskin, the midwife of all midwives, speak in person. My family and friends tried to temper my enthusiasm. They were worried that I would be very disappointed in myself if I wasn’t able to give birth the way I wanted to. I realized they were right when I broke down sobbing upon hearing I had tested positive for strep B. I was under the impression that the hospital wasn’t going to let me do a water birth because I would need IV antibiotics during the delivery. I was so grateful when Sarah assured me that this wouldn't be a problem. Still, even this teeny, tiny setback built my case against my body.

last picture taken of me pregnant (39 weeks)
Due to my blood clotting disorder, the doctors encouraged induction at 38 weeks. We refused it because we felt strongly about letting our baby decide when he or she wanted to be born. Dr. L was perfectly fine with this. A week later, on December 9th, at about four o’clock in the morning, I awoke to mild contractions. It wasn’t painful, just bothersome. I laid there til my alarm went off, trying to rest but not comfortable enough to actually sleep. I saw five or six clients that day, my contractions getting a little bit stronger with every session. I called the hospital, my doctor, and our doula to explain my symptoms. The nurses told me that as long as I could walk and talk through the contractions, I needn’t come in, so I decided to stay at work. I just wasn’t convinced that this was the day. I was a whole week early. The hardest part about being at work during early labor was having to stay seated. I tried to think of every excuse to stand up and walk around during contractions so that my clients wouldn’t catch on. I wrote something on my white board, left the room to “grab some paperwork,” whatever I could think of.

That night we had dinner with Andrew’s family to celebrate his birthday. The contractions were intensifying and I was getting excited. I kept telling myself that I was probably just experiencing Braxton Hicks because I didn’t want to get my hopes up or look like a drama queen. During dinner, I kept having to stand up and walk around the restaurant. I was getting pretty warm, so I stood in the entryway a while, breathing through contractions and letting the December air cool me off. Part of me wanted to say to people entering and exiting the restaurant, “I think I might be in labor. Isn’t this so cool!?” But don’t worry, I didn’t.

I ate a huge dinner at the restaurant – salmon, potatoes, a salad and lots of rolls. Just in case, I thought, I need to have energy. We went back to my inlaws’ home after dinner and Andrew called Sarah again. She recommended I take a warm bath to see if the contractions would subside. He called the hospital and they reiterated that as long as I could walk and talk through contractions, I should stay home. The way we reported the contractions must have convinced them that I wasn’t going to have this baby any time soon because the on-call doctor prescribed me a muscle relaxer so that I’d be able to sleep well that night.

I took the warm bath at my inlaws’ house. The contractions stopped. During the time I was in the water, I didn’t have a single contraction. Andrew came into the bathroom to help me out of the tub and I told him they were gone. I was a little disappointed. But the very moment I stepped onto the rug, I had a strong contraction. They came back more intense than ever.

Andrew dropped me off at home and went to pick up the muscle relaxer. I took the dose and we went to bed. Not even five minutes later, I had a serious contraction. And they kept coming. Some of the contractions were less than a minute apart and lasted 45-60 seconds each. Andrew was suddenly obsessed with timing them. When I felt like I wanted to yell, "PUT DOWN THAT BLEEPING STOPWATCH!" I knew it was time to go in. I could still walk and talk through contractions but I was miserable and starting to feel a little bit afraid. I simply couldn’t do it at home anymore. I told Andrew that I wanted to go to the hospital, even if it was just for a distraction, to have something to do to make time pass more quickly. I fully expected them to send us back home once we got there.

The drive to the hospital was excruciating. Sitting in the car felt way too constricting. I needed to walk and move. When we arrived at the hospital, Andrew offered to drop me at the door, but I knew that walking from the parking garage would help move things along so we made the trek together, stopping several times along the way for contractions. It was about 11:00 now and we had to wait in the deserted emergency room for about twenty minutes before someone came to bring us up to the maternity floor. Looking back, I’m glad for the delay because it was a change of scenery and it broke up the time a bit. The nurse who came down to escort us up to the maternity floor offered me a wheelchair, but again, I knew that walking would help bring the baby down, so I decided to do it on my own.

When we got up to the floor, a nurse and a resident checked my cervix. I hadn’t wanted to be checked at my OB appointments so this was the first time. It hurt! I expected them to tell me that I wasn’t dilated at all and send us back home, but the resident said, “You’re at a four. You’re having this baby tonight.” I was elated. I am having this baby tonight. We are having this baby tonight. My game face was on. I knew that if I had gotten to four centimeters on my own while going about my day, I could get to ten and push this baby out.

I hadn’t wanted to wear the regular hospital gowns so I had packed a long, t-shirt-type nightgown to wear. The problem was that I packed my bag six weeks ago and my shape had changed a lot since then. The nightgown didn’t even cover my butt completely. At that point, I didn’t even care. A minor set back. I was shaking like a leaf so Andrew kept asking me if I was cold. The doctor said it was the adrenaline. Wow, I thought, this is some powerful stuff.

Sarah showed up soon after that. She was magical. Her eyes and hands scanned my body for tension, and where she found it, she kneaded and rubbed and encouraged my muscles to stay pliable. She directed me to squat, to sit on a birth ball, to stand next to a bedside table, to walk, to lie down. Andrew was a great labor coach, but there is something about having a doula, a woman, who has been through it herself and can "mother" the woman in labor. I will never, ever give birth without a doula. No way. 

Weeks later, when Sarah came by for a postpartum visit, she told me that at one point during labor, I had fallen completely asleep between contractions and was even snoring. The contractions were minutes apart, so it wasn’t much of a nap but that’s how tough birth is, how taxing. I didn't talk much at all throughout labor. After each contraction, I was grateful that it was over and just rested up for the next one.

I was in the zone, a woman on a mission. I literally only saw about two feet in front of my face. Everything else was a blur. Sarah later described me as a freight train, plowing forward, completely focused on the goal. I had never before pictured myself as a freight train but I have many times since. It’s not especially lovely or ladylike, but I find a lot of strength in that image. I never even considered an epidural. Based on the research I had done, I decided that pain medications wouldn't necessarily take away the pain. I would just be trading one kind of pain for another. I kept reminding myself that the pain I was experiencing was a good and safe pain. And there was no way I was going to be tethered to the bed. If I was going to get this baby out, I needed to move around the room freely.

They checked my cervix again. I was eight centimeters dilated. The next hour may have been the hardest part because I was starting to get the urge to push but was being told that pushing too early can cause the cervix to swell, slowing the process considerably. I held off as best I could but stalling that sensation was like trying to hold back a…freight train. Up until this point, I hadn’t yelled or screamed or cried out in pain. I had been really deliberate about my sounds – mooing and blowing out hard through my lips like a horse. Apparently one’s cervix can’t stay tight and closed when one’s mouth and jaw are slack. So I kept my voice very low and controlled, mimicking barnyard animals, and I know it helped…until I was dilated to eight. I would feel the urge to push and start with another “moo” but the moos kept morphing into yells. I could…not…do this. They checked me again. Ten centimeters. Thank you Jesus.

Off we went to the birthing tub. I was so grateful for a change of scenery and the soothing, warm water. At some point, Dr. L showed up. I’m not even sure when because he was so still and quiet. He just sat on the edge of the bed and observed, allowing Andrew and Sarah and I to take the reins. His calm, respectful stance gave me confidence. He believed that I could do this on my own. He didn’t view himself as the big doctor hero. He saw me as the hero, and I think that gave me the confidence I needed.




So here’s something they don’t always tell you about birth – you’ll probably poop and it’s totally okay. I was so terrified to poop in front of people that I actually put it in our birth plan. But when I was in that tub pushing my baby out, I didn’t matter one bit. Gross? Maybe. But embarrassing? Not at all. Equipped with a goldfish net, my wonderful husband took care of it. I love him for that.




Another thing you don’t always hear about birth – it feels like the baby’s coming out of your backside. Literally. That feeling had me 95% convinced that something was wrong and my baby was coming out of the wrong hole. I think I asked the nurses about two or three times whether that was possible. They told me it wasn’t, it was bizarre how much pressure I felt. It was also bizarre how strong I felt. I knew that I had more physical strength in that moment than I had ever had in my life. 






Sarah encouraged me to flip from my hands and knees to my back. I asked Dr. L how long it was going to be. He thought about fifteen minutes. “I can’t do this,” I said. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”



“I can do this.”




“I can do this.”




“I can do this.”

Andrew, Sarah, and the rest of the room jumped on board and affirmed my change of heart. Labor was so intense and so exhausting that between contractions, I had been telling myself that I needed a break, that I was just going to do the next contraction half-way. But then the contraction would start and I would realize that if I had to go through all of this pain, I might as well use the contraction as best I could to bring my baby closer to birth. So I squeezed every last drop of progress out of those contractions. I did the same thing with pushing.

I reached my hand down and felt a head. This was our child. This was the one we had been waiting for. I had to meet this baby. A few more pushes. Really strong, give-it-all-you-got, my-child’s-life-is-depending-on-this pushes. We were so close. Dr. L told me to stop pushing for a second so he could slip the cord off the baby’s neck and shoulder. One more push and Dr. L swept our baby up out of the water and onto my chest, into waiting arms that had ached so long for this moment. “It’s a girl,” Andrew said. And joy like I have never known overtook me.













We kissed her and talked to her and fell completely, head-over-heals in love with her. This was our Harriet Grace. 





Another thing they don't tell you about birth - the pain doesn't go away after the baby is out. In fact, the intensity just barely lessens. I was holding Harriet and loving on her, but I was still contracting like crazy. 












They took Harriet from me so I could get out of the tub and onto the bed to deliver the placenta. The water in the tub was a murky, black mess. And in that moment, as I stepped onto the floor and made my way across the room, I knew that I was leaving my infertility in that tub. I was leaving my heartache in that tub. I was leaving death and defeat and stolen dreams in that tub. In that moment, I was reconciled with my body. This time, my body had not failed me. In fact, my body had done exactly what it was supposed to do, what I needed it to do, what Harriet needed it to do. I had labored all day and then pushed for 37 minutes. Like Sarah said, I was a freight train. I felt so proud of myself. I actually did it. My body and Harriet had worked together beautifully. Birth was way, way harder than I thought. But I was also way, way stronger than I ever thought I could be.




They gave my daughter (my daughter) back to me so that I could nurse her while Dr. L sewed me up. Nursing actually worked. I hadn't expected it to but it was absolutely amazing how this child, only minutes old, knew exactly what to do. 








For me, birth was healing. It gave me the opportunity to reconcile with my body and experience myself at my best, at my strongest. Did it take away my infertility? Of course not. But it sure healed some of the wounds infertility left behind. It can be scary to live in a world where there are so many ways to be wounded. But I really believe that there are just as many ways to heal. This was mine.




13 comments:

  1. Amazing story! You are an incredible writer, and I bawled through your story. :) I am so so happy for you!

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  2. I bawled as well!!! I loved your story; it was absolutely beautiful. I recognize the distrust of your body. I feel that!!!

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  3. This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing. I may just need to get Sarah's contact information from you!!

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  4. Thanks so much for sharing our happiness, Bethany!

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  5. Welcome to my blog, Autumn! I hope that someday your body will earn back your trust.

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  6. Thanks Mel! Email me if you'd like more info. I'm not sure how often Sarah is doing births but I'd be happy to ask her.

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  7. Hi Emily-
    I feel as if I know you in some strange having a baby with very unnatural circumstances -your mom working with my husband-social media-and as a mother who cherishes her daughter so immensely that it hurts!
    Your story is ....well crazy unfair and truly amazing.
    I look forward to reading your blog and it reminds me everyday that my Olivia is a fighter just like you!

    Alicia Knight

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    1. Hi Alicia,
      I don't know your story but it sounds like there were some bumps in the road on your journey to motherhood. And it REALLY sounds like your Olivia is treasured. Thanks so much for reading my blog.

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  8. I saw your post on the Ina May Gaskin fb page and followed it here. What a beautiful birth story. I am also a woman who has been healed of infertility. I have always been a little obsessed with birth and other people's birth stories, even after adopting 2 children and fostering 1. So, when I got pregnant I couldn't get enough of them. I loved Ina May's Guide to Childbirth! I say all that to say that this is the first birth story that I can relate to and it moved me to tears. I'm following you now and can't wait to see how God continues to bless and grow your little family!

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    1. I'm so glad you found my story through Ina May! I just love her. I still need to read her second book though. I'm saving it for my next pregnancy (fingers crossed).

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  9. I just randomly clicked on this link without realizing it was your birth story, and WOW...I am now crying at work. This is such a wonderful, powerful birth story. Our local hospital doesn't allow water births, so I'm really contemplating a home birth next time so we can have that option. I'm so jealous of all of your pictures!

    I 100% agree with you that the birthing experience is what allowed me to really begin healing from the IF. Powerful.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading my birth story, Josey! I loved doing a waterbirth and I really hope to be able to do one again. A friend of mine just did a waterbirth at home and had a great experience.

      So glad that your birth was part of your healing journey as well.

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  10. Thank you so much for directing me to this story. It's so wonderful to read stories like this. I hope my birth can be the same. I love the moment in the story when you switch from "I can't" to "I can." Also, the picture of you sobbing with her in your arms is so powerful and amazing.

    I'm not sure yet if I will do a water birth, but there is a tub in the room where we will give birth, and at the very least I will labor in the water. Then we'll see how I feel.

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