Grant’s Birth Story
It’s been 6 weeks since Grant was born yet every day I still look at him in awe. How did I grow this tiny human inside of me? That his adorable little feet were what I felt kicking in my belly for all of those months? It’s mind blowing what our bodies are capable of.
During my pregnancy I loved listening to and reading as many birth stories as I could. Some of them were profoundly beautiful; others were terrifying and ended in the worst way I could have imagined. For my birth plan, my goal was to have it be as natural as possible. I preferred to have it without any medications or interventions, and I wanted to be able to feel my body push him out and experience that raw rush of emotions as they placed him on my chest for the first time.
At the same time I was aware that there was so much that was out of my control. When it comes to child birth, you just never know what hand of cards you’re going to get dealt. Because of that I tried to keep an open mind. I thought if I took good care of myself and chose a provider that I was confident in then everything would probably work out the way I wanted it to. I ate as healthy as possible, walked 3 miles a day, did prenatal yoga, and religiously sat on my exercise ball. I was fortunate to have a healthy pregnancy with a little bit of heartburn, occasional aches and pains, and that was about it.
GOING PAST MY DUE DATE
Knowing that it’s common for first time moms to go past their due date, plus having a personal family history of it, I had a strong feeling that I would go past 40 weeks. When I brought the topic up for discussion in my second trimester with the midwife group I had chosen I was told that they start fetal monitoring at 41 weeks and then discuss induction at 42 weeks.
Fast forward to my last prenatal appointment at 39 weeks and 6 days, one of the midwives informed me that because I was 35 years old, they recommended that I be induced at 40 weeks. As in the next day.
Feeling completely blind sided, I said that was not what I was told at my prior appointments and that I had no interest in being induced. She explained that they must have assumed I was younger and gave me information based on their protocols for someone under 35 years of age, which technically I was for the first 6 months of my pregnancy. She said by going past 40 weeks that my risk of stillbirth increased and that I didn’t have to “try and be a hero by doing it naturally”.
I immediately declined induction but agreed to a cervical check. During the check she told me I was 1-2cm dilated and about 70% effaced. She offered to sweep my membranes as she was doing the check which, again, totally blind sided me. I firmly said no but the exam was so uncomfortable I still question if she did it without my consent.
Up until that appointment I was perfectly fine with going past my due date. I felt great and we were both healthy so I had no reason to be concerned. I was confident that he would come whenever he was ready. Yet all of a sudden I felt like I had to play defense. Advocating for myself at 40 weeks pregnant was not something I had imagined doing. I left that day in tears because all of sudden I felt like I had chosen the wrong provider.
Once I made it clear that I did not want to be induced, the midwives required that I start fetal monitoring as soon as possible. At 40 weeks + 2 days I went in for an ultrasound and a non-stress test. Everything came back normal except that my amniotic fluid index was 3.5 when it should be 5, according to their standards.
Having read about this topic in the book Expecting Better and on the site Evidence Based Birth, I came to the conclusion that a low AFI (with a sufficient single volume pocket- mine was over 3cm) in an otherwise normal pregnancy was not a valid reason to induce. Because of that I continued to resist their recommendation for immediate induction.
INDUCING LABOR NATURALLY
With the threat of induction looming, I began to seek natural alternatives to help get the show on the road. I had already been eating dates every day since 38 weeks, ate an entire pineapple and lots of spicy food, had sex, did nipple stimulation, and even tried a series of induction acupuncture and herbs. During one of the appointments my acupuncturist told me that a friend of hers was able to get her fluid levels up by resting and hydrating so I stopped walking for a few days and started drinking an insane amount of alkaline water and coconut water.
At 40 weeks + 3 days one of the midwives called me as we were eating dinner to try, yet again, to coerce me into agreeing to the induction. She said that I risked cord compression if I waited any longer and was putting my baby’s life in danger. I agreed to schedule the induction for 40 weeks and 6 days, even though I had no intention of being induced that day.
At 40 weeks + 5 days, I had a follow up appointment with more monitoring. Grant continued to appear perfectly healthy and my fluid had just barely gone up but not enough for them to back off. During that appointment I agreed to another cervical check and the midwife said I was between 2 to 3cm dilated and 80% effaced. My body was clearly getting ready but it’s likely I wasn’t making progress because of how much anxiety I was feeling over the last week. Out of desperation I decided to let that midwife do a membrane sweep. This wasn’t something I originally wanted to do but I was so stressed out at this point that I was willing to try anything.
THE START OF CONTRACTIONS…FINALLY
At 40 weeks + 6 days I talked to the midwife on call and told her that I really wanted to see if my body would go into labor on its own. She agreed to cancel the appointment and said she hoped to see me later that night. After that I sent out a text to my family members asking that I be left alone for the weekend to relax in hopes that labor would come on naturally. We took the dogs for a long walk that morning then I made Brandon dance with me to Outkast which gave me a much needed laugh. Trust me if you saw the way that boy dances, you’d understand.
After that we went to lunch at our favorite restaurant and that’s when I first started noticing the contractions. My plan was to ignore them for as long as possible so that’s what we did. We picked up a vegan cinnamon bun and went to a local park to sit by the lake. It was such a beautiful day and I’ll always look back at it fondly remembering how we spent our last moments as just the two of us.
As we were leaving the park I started having a strong urge to pee with every contraction. I think this might have had something to do with the fact that I had been drinking over 120 ounces of liquids per day since I had been told my fluid was low. I’m not sure whether my bladder was having a hard time emptying or I was just feeling the pressure from his head descending but it started to feel like I had a UTI that intensified with every contraction.
By dinner time (about 7pm) that evening the contractions started coming closer together and were harder for me to ignore. I tried my best to eat a full meal in between them and decided to text my doula to give her a heads up that things were progressing. She suggested I take a bath and try to get some sleep. Isn’t that what they all say? Ha!
Anyway, after my bath I climbed into bed and listened to a hypnobirthing recording that I had downloaded to my phone. The combination of the bath and the visualization caused my labor to slow down quite a bit and I went almost 20 minutes without a contraction. Then as soon as I felt like I was dozing off, one would come out of nowhere sending me running to the bathroom in pain.
Shortly after that they picked up again, coming anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes apart and lasting for about 30-45 seconds. Even though they were short, the pain continued to intensify. I labored on the toilet for a while where I started vomiting, having diarrhea, and losing more bloody mucous. Between that and the frequent urination, there was pretty much nothing left to exit my body. Sorry if that’s TMI but I’m just keeping it real here!
Around 2am we called my doula asking her to head over because I was feeling ready to go to the hospital and needed her support to help me stay home longer. She suggested I take another bath and try to relax so I decided to labor in the shower in the meantime. By the time she got there my contractions had slowed down again to about 10-15 minutes apart. I remember Brandon offering to make her coffee or have her sleep in our guest room and it made me want to scream. Looking back I realize he was just being considerate but the smell of coffee was nauseating throughout my entire pregnancy. Why would he want to brew it now while I’m in labor? Or have my doula sleep while I’m awake waiting for another contraction to hit?
My doula stayed by my side and helped me work through a few contractions before suggesting that we do a few rounds of the Miles circuit. About ten minutes after we started she went to the bathroom then came out and said that all of a sudden she was feeling sick and had to leave. She said I could call the backup doula if I felt like I needed her to come over. I instantly felt a wave of anxiety rush over me but I didn’t say anything.
Within an hour of her leaving the contractions started coming closer together again. I labored on the toilet and began to lose more bloody mucous. It was around 4am at this point and I was over it. Brandon was cuddled up with Lucy on the couch in front of the Christmas tree and all I wanted to do was lay down with him but I couldn’t because of how much pain I was in. It felt like it was never going to end. I thought of my friend who had recently give birth with an epidural and she said once she started throwing up she went to the hospital, got an epidural and had a great experience. With that in mind, I told Brandon I wanted to go to the hospital and get an epidural so that I could get some sleep.
He stood up from the couch and asked me if I was sure and I said yes. Then he asked me to say our code word: bubble butt. For some reason when I originally came up with this word I thought the humor would make me change my mind about the epidural but nope! I was in such a desperate mental space that it would have taken a lot more than that to change my mind. We called the backup doula to meet us at the hospital, packed up our bags and made the 5 minute drive down the street.
HEADING TO THE HOSPITAL
When we got to the hospital the midwife checked me and said I was 6cm dilated and 100% effaced. My contractions had slowed down a bit but I figured the epidural was my only option for sleep so I told her that’s what I wanted. Even though my midwife, husband and my doula knew my plan was to have an unmedicated birth, none of them tried to talk me out of it. But I blame this on myself for telling them, “who knows, I may end up wanting the epidural once I’m in labor”. If you want an unmedicated birth DO NOT tell your birth team you might want the epidural. DUH SARAH. Of course you’re going to want the epidural when you’re that close to transition!
As we waited for the bag of IV fluids to drain my doula had me work through a few contractions with one leg up on a stool to help with positioning. I had packed a few bags with comforting items like twinkle lights, an essential oil diffuser, a fan, and a speaker for music but Brandon went straight to the snack bag and started unpacking it and lining everything up like a display on a table. The nurse and doula started laughing because we weren’t allowed to eat in the delivery room, especially once I had the epidural. Needless to say the bag of comfort items I brought never got unpacked.
Once they administered a bag of IV fluids, which was about an hour later, the anesthesiologist came in to place the epidural. During the placement I didn’t feel any pain but once it kicked in I began to have uncontrollable shaking and lost feeling in my hands. The nurse informed me that this was perfectly normal and it might go away or it might not, we would just have to wait and see.
When she told me that I was in shock…how had never heard of this side effect before? How was I going to sleep if I was shaking so badly? I immediately felt like I had made a mistake. I started having anxiety and asked her to shut the epidural off. She said the anesthesiologist wouldn’t agree to that but said that I could turn it down to the lowest setting.
Thankfully the shaking subsided about 30 minutes later, but I was unable to get comfortable enough to sleep. They didn’t want me to lay flat because of my blood pressure and I didn’t want to lay on my back because I was worried about him being posterior. I hadn’t done that throughout the entire 3rd trimester, outside of checkups and monitoring appointments which had been very frequent that last week.
I tried to get comfortable laying on my side but shortly after that I started to feel the contractions on the left side of my body. My doula suggested we use a peanut ball and roll me on to my opposite side to help evenly distribute the medication. I don’t remember this being discussed but apparently I was also given Pitocin because they said the epidural started to slow my labor down.
For the next several hours they rolled me from side to side every 30 minutes or so. Brandon was able to sleep during this time but I felt just enough pain to keep me from resting. Around 1pm I told the nurse I was starting to feel pressure so the midwife came in and checked me. I was fully dilated at that point and she said she wanted me to labor down for another hour. I remember feeling despair that I had to wait longer as I hadn’t eaten in over 16 hours and was feeling a lot of pain in my back. The midwife had the nurse bolus my epidural and then left. Feeling weak, I knew my blood sugar dropping so I convinced the doula to sneak me a few crackers. However, shortly after that I started to feel sick again and threw everything back up.
TIME TO PUSH
Finally, at about 2pm, the midwife came back in and said it was time to push. Brandon took out the camera we brought to record the birth and offered to play some music. When he turned on the playlist I prepared, it instantly felt wrong. I had envisioned myself in the tub or swaying on my hands and knees to the music, not strapped to a bed with an epidural. My mindset was not in a good place and I asked him to turn it off.
Even though I could still feel a little bit of the contractions in my back, my pelvic floor felt pretty numb. I remember trying not to clench my jaw and attempted to visualize breathing him down and out as I pushed. My mother had 4th degree tearing with my brother (her first baby) so I was trying to be conscious of not pushing too hard or too fast. Both her and my grandmother had warned me early in my pregnancy that I should ask for an episiotomy but I had done my research and knew that they could actually cause more harm in most cases. Regardless, the fear of tearing was clearly still with me as I was pushing.
After doing that for a few contractions, the midwife and the nurse both looked at each other like, “is this chick serious?”. I quickly realized that because of the epidural that method likely wasn’t going to work and I went along with with their guidance. They instructed me to hold my breath for 10 seconds with each contraction and push like I had to poop. The first 30 minutes were pretty ineffective so we tried different positions to see if that would help. The midwife left to go deliver another baby so it was just the nurse guiding me at this point. We wound up using the squat bar with a sheet tied around it and as I pulled on the sheet and pushed, she encouraged me that I was starting to make progress. The midwife came back in and offered to bring me a mirror. I could see his head just a few inches from the vaginal opening of my perineum.
Through her thick Caribbean accent, the midwife kept telling me to push up towards the light. At the time I thought she was saying push with all of your might because I had no idea what push up to the light meant. I had never pushed anything out of my vagina and could barely feel my pelvic floor muscles yet she wanted me to have enough control to push my baby up towards the ceiling? I was so baffled and exhausted at this point that I was practically falling asleep between contractions.
Around this time they suggested that we try pushing on hands and knees to see if that might help his head progress further. It was challenging to do with so many wires attached to me but I managed to get up on all fours and pushed that way for about 15 minutes. Again, I was a little clueless on how to push like this and kind of just squatted down. They deemed it ineffective and asked me to turn on my back again.
With the clock glaring in my face on the wall in front of me, I began to realize that we were nearing the 3 hour mark of pushing. I knew this was often a cut off they used so I pushed with everything I had through every contraction. I held my breath for 10 seconds at a time and pushed for nearly 30 seconds during each one, taking shallow breaths in between. With little oxygen available, Grant’s heart rate began to drop as I pushed. Up until this point he had been doing beautifully but the stress of such intense pushing was starting to affect him.
The midwife stopped me pushing and explained that she thought the baby was in a posterior position and was getting stuck under my pelvic bone. She said she wanted the OB to come see if she could perform an episiotomy and help guide the baby out with a vacuum. Shortly after that she returned with the OB (whom I had never met) to take a look.
The OB had me push to see if she could use her hand to turn him from a posterior position but it didn’t work and she explained that he wasn’t far enough down to use the vacuum. The midwife said we were likely seeing a bulge in his head from the pushing which made him look further down than he actually was. They said I could try pushing for another 15-30 minutes but ultimately they recommended a cesarean as the safest option for both of us.
Feeling defeated and beyond exhausted, I decided that I was ready for it to be over. I did something I never thought I would do and agreed to the cesarean. About an hour later they wheeled me into the operating room. The anesthesiologist gave me a bolus in my epidural before the surgery and yet again, I started to shake uncontrollably.
As they began the surgery we heard the OB breathing heavily and grunting as she struggled to pull Grant from my body. Terrified and trembling, I asked Brandon if everything was ok. He said yes and not to worry, but later told me it took him everything he had to hold it together in that moment as he was just as scared and uncertain as I was.
After what seemed like an eternity, we heard our son’s cry for the first time. My eyes instantly welled with tears as I saw them carry his little pink body over to the table next to us. Brandon cut the cord, they wrapped him in a swaddle blanket then brought him over to me and asked if I wanted to hold him on my chest. Because I was still shaking so much, I was worried I would drop him so I declined. Brandon held him next to me as we waited for the doctor to finish the surgery.
Right around this time is when the bolus started to wear off and I began to feel almost everything internally. I started crying and moaning in pain as it felt like a meat grinder was tearing through my abdomen. I asked the anesthesiologist if he could turn the epidural up and he said the only thing he could do was give me pain medicine through my IV.
Over the next 30 minutes he continued to give me several doses as I struggled through the pain. Grant was also crying in Brandon’s arms so the doctor asked if they could leave the room while they finished the surgery. Brandon told them absolutely not, there was no way he was leaving my side.
After enduring what was the most excruciating pain of the entire labor, I finally started to feel some relief as they cleaned me up and moved me from the operating table. From there I was wheeled back to the labor and delivery room where I got to have an hour of skin-to-skin with my beautiful new baby. He started rooting right away which was just a preview to what a little milk monster he would be!
For the first couple of weeks after his birth, I questioned everything.
What if I had chose a different midwife group? Would they still have pressured me to be induced?
What if I had called the backup doula to come to my house? Would she have been able to help me stay home longer?
What if I didn’t get the epidural? Would he still have been posterior?
What if I had tried pushing for longer? Would I have been able to have a vaginal birth? Was he really stuck?
I have spent hours analyzing every decision I made and how that led to his birth turning out the exact opposite of what I had in mind. But as my physical and emotional wounds heal and I look into my beautiful baby’s eyes, I realize that no amount of dwelling is going to change what happened.
I admit, it troubles me when I think about decision making for potential future children. Would I want to go through all of the labor and pushing just to end up in a c-section yet again? Hell no. But I also dread the thought of experiencing the pain and difficult recovery of another surgery. I’m not sure I want to willingly sign myself up for that without at least attempting a vaginal birth.
For now I’m choosing to focus on the love I feel for my incredible husband and our sweet baby boy which grows stronger by the day. Becoming a mom is the most challenging, rewarding and exhausting thing I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t change a thing.
Photography by Sara Wise