After many weeks of prodromal labor and a baby who kept momma on the edge by constantly changing position, Suzanne goes into labor with a baby in posterior position. Hours of hard labor and many position changes later...this warrior momma is still going. Part 1 of Oakley's Birth Story can be read here: Oakley's Birth Story - Part 1.
So here’s me, on all fours on our bed. I am at least lucid enough to realize that I don’t want to pee in our bed, but I have to go, and I will not be making it down the hall into the bathroom, plus I’m afraid of the awful pain from having contractions on the toilet. I grunt, in my primitive Birth Language, for Mr. T to get a chux pad and get it on the floor by my side of the bed. He realizes what I’m asking him to do and why, and immediately starts trying to persuade me into using the bathroom instead.
“It’ll be okay; I’ll help you get there…,” he says. Nope. Do not care. Must pee now. Chux pad. Now. And so I shimmy my tush over the side of the bed and pee onto the floor. Like an animal, in front of my husband. And if you ask him to tell his version of the story, it was at this point that I began yelling at him and crying like a hot mess, “You think I’m disgusting, don’t you?! You don’t want to be married to me anymore, do you?!?!” And then I puked, and he had to clean that up, too. The man is a saint, people.
Around 8:00-ish, Bee finally woke up (she actually slept through the night! All this birthy racket going on, and my child -- who typically wakes up screaming if you step on a creaky floorboard three rooms down -- hadn't made a peep for the last 12 hours). Originally, we had planned to play things by ear during the birth with her. I secretly hoped that she would be able to be a part of it, but the reality of the situation was that this was no place for a nineteen month-old. We decided to phone my dear friend, Antonette, who graciously agreed to come and collect our toddler for the remainder of my labor. She agreed to this because she, like we, erroneously believed that it was almost over.
When Antonette arrived, I’d just been checked and was told I was just about complete -- 9.5 centimeters with a cervical lip, but very, very soft. We were going to start pushing, but first I was going to ride out a few contractions in bed to try to get some rest. Seeing her face was like breaking the surface after being submerged underwater. It jolted me awake. It gave me energy. Having had a beautiful and transformative HBAC herself, I’d drawn upon Antonette’s experience and her strength as a birth warrior throughout my pregnancy. Now that she was here, offering smiles and genuine words of encouragement, I was renewed. She left as quickly as she came, and the next thing I knew, the midwives and my husband surrounded me on the bed. It was time to meet this baby. It was now about 9:00 am.
The cervical lip and his posterior position were going to make this last stretch incredibly difficult without the midwives reaching into their bag of tricks. Liz told me that she wanted me in the McRoberts position -- flat on my back, with my knees pushed all the way back to my shoulders, while I crunched up (yes, just like when you’re doing a stomach crunch or sit-up), bearing down to push baby out. Sounds super fun, doesn’t it?
We did this for what felt like a really, really long time. I mean, hundreds of contractions must have happened. All the while, Liz kept her hand inside me and broke and dissolved evening primrose oil capsules against my cervix, pushing the lip away while I pushed O’Baby down. Words cannot describe the intensity of this experience.
I made some progress, but I was far too exhausted to continue after a certain point. The midwives agreed to let me rest, and Liz said she was going to run to her house for her mugwort stick so that Shanna could perform some moxibustion on me.
I tried to rest, but the contractions were too overwhelming. No position was comfortable. I pushed when my body forced me to, but it didn’t get him anywhere. I was running on fumes.
When Liz returned with the mugwort and Shanna performed the moxibustion, I got -- for the first time in many, many hours -- some true rest. The point of moxibustion is to relax the body and thus, the ligaments, so that baby has more freedom to rotate and descend. It relaxed me, all right. By everyone’s account, I was actually snoring. But baby was still firmly, happily sunny-side up. I grudgingly agreed to start trying to push on the birth stool, which I had feared doing ever since the contractions I’d had on the toilet during the night.
Laboring on the birth stool, for me, felt like a demon freight train being exorcised from my body at full speed. I hated it. Mr. T sat behind me, on the bed, while I hovered over the birth stool (which, first and foremost, was not designed for short women, so my feet were practically dangling) arching my back during contractions in yet another effort to get O’Baby to rotate by opening my pelvis. After a few contractions and pushes in this position, Liz snapped a glove on her hand and gave me even more evening primrose oil, pushing against the lip while I pushed down. I remember seeing her, out of the corner of my eye, look at Nannette and shake her head. She left the room. Nannette got down in front of me and asked me what I wanted to do. I told her that I didn’t want to give up. I wasn’t going to the hospital. I wanted to birth my baby, simple as that, and that is what we would do. Here. I just needed to rest. I was begging them to let me take a break.
More moxibustion. More evening primrose oil. Then, more McRoberts pushes. Some pushes on the toilet. Some lunges. Some pushes on the bed, on all fours. Somewhere during all of this, my forebag of waters broke (it’s true—you can have multiple membrane ruptures during labor) and a pool filled with the milky-white fibers of vernix puddled up on the floor beneath me. It was a true sign that my baby was a real person and that I would meet him soon, come what may.
The midwives told me that they wanted me back on the birth stool and that this time, I would have to push with everything I had in me. There was no “or else” given, but it was implied.
With Liz’s hand, once again, applying primrose oil and pushing against the lip, I roared like a lioness. I dug deep within myself, searching for a stronger woman than I was. Someone who could handle this pain and survive it. Someone less exhausted.
I didn’t find her.
Liz crouched down in front of me, looked me in the eyes and said, “I think we’ve done all we can do here.” It was 3:00 pm.
Mr. T began grabbing some items -- nursing bras, maternity jeans, my robe – and tossing them into, of all things, a straw beach bag. (This is what happens when you don’t pack an “in case” hospital bag in advance). I threw a cardigan on over the bra I’d been laboring in and pulled on a skirt, not bothering with underwear. In all of the chaos of getting us out of the house and into the car, I was calm. I wasn’t sad, I didn’t cry, and I didn’t feel defeat. The only time, though, that I felt a pang of sadness was when I looked over and saw Shanna just as she blew out the birth candle from my Blessingway that had been burning since labor began. Extinguishing that flame meant an end to my homebirth. Except I didn’t have my baby yet. I would now have my baby in a hospital, hooked up to machines, surrounded by strangers. I didn’t have time to dwell on any of this, but I noted the moment and put it in my back pocket for a time when I could properly mourn it.
The ride to Jefferson Memorial Hospital (in Ranson, WV) was the longest car ride of my life. Every bump, every turn would trigger another unbearable contraction. I called my parents en route to let them know that we were transferring. My father was worried, my mother relieved. (She had never been supportive of our decision to birth at home and so a hospital transfer was, to her, a far better outcome than the one I’d wanted.) I assured them both that everything was okay and asked them to go and pick up Bee from Antonette’s house as she’d surely be staying the night with them now.
When Mr. T pulled up to the hospital entrance, I got out of the car wearing only my bra and skirt. I remember the hospital staffer and the midwives trying to get me to put my cardigan on as if I gave a crap what I looked like. I was wheeled up to Labor & Delivery and given a room right away. The minutes ticked by like hours as we waited to get though the administrative procedures before I could get my epidural, which I was now begging for, only because I knew it would let me get some of the sleep I so desperately needed.
The anesthesiologist’s name was Ray, and when he finally arrived, Ray botched my epidural. Badly. As in, my next contraction was just as long and painful as all of the others except now it had the added bonus of having a needle sticking out of my spine and the world’s worse L&D nurse ripping the super-glue tape that surrounded it off of my back so that he could re-insert it. Which he did. During a contraction. I was screaming and crying, tears running down my face, and the nurse had the audacity to look at me and say, “Well it’s not like you were going to get an epidural having this baby at home; why do you want one so bad now?” Had I not been exhausted from being in labor for the last 22 hours, my fist would have connected with her face and I’d have had my baby in jail.
Ray finally got the epidural in on the second try and all I could think of was Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb:”
Okay, there’ll be a little pinprick
There’ll be no more “Aaaaaahhhh!!!!”
But you may feel a little sick
So, is that song actually about epidurals?
Anyway, I won the Obstetrician Lottery and got the sweetest, most non-judgy, patient doctors I’d ever met. She assured me that she would not be wheeling me into an OR, but rather that she wanted me to get some rest so that I could finish pushing this baby out once that cervical lip got out of the way. To have been a homebirth transfer after 22 hours of labor, 6 hours at nine centimeters and pushing, and about 12 hours of ruptured membranes, I truly expected to be an instant c-section. The doctor and staff (minus Ray and his Devil Nurse) at JMH were so amazing in giving me what I truly needed, which was rest and privacy. They shut the lights off, closed our door, and Mr. T and I fell asleep almost instantly.
I woke up several hours later to the sensation of contractions and I hit the call button, realizing that the epidural was wearing off and that I was feeling the sensation to push. A new nurse came to check on me and paged the doctor. I was checked and told that I was complete and could start pushing with my next contraction, which I could now feel. I asked for a mirror so that I could watch myself push him out. They happily obliged, and I began to watch a head thick with hair and vernix emerge into the world, finally -- finally! -- rotating to an anterior position on his way out.
My not-so-little O'Baby was born at 12:57 a.m. Saturday morning, weighing 8 pounds, 15 ounces.
He cried a wet cry, but nobody made a move for him with any aspirators; he was placed on my chest instantly. Nobody wiped him down or attempted to swaddle him, and the doctor sat patiently at the foot of my bed, waiting for the umbilical cord to finish pulsating. Once it had, she told me as much and asked me to reach down and feel it, to double-check to be sure I was okay with her clamping it. I touched what had been my baby’s lifeline, motionless and wet, and agreed that Mr. T could cut it, separating mother and child for the first time in 41 weeks.
He latched onto the breast about twenty minutes or so after his birth. His gulps were audible and I was thrilled to be giving him a real meal after all that work we did. (Thanks to nursing a toddler throughout my pregnancy, my colostrum had already mixed with mature milk weeks before I’d even gone into labor.) He was perfect. I was exhausted, but elated. Mr. T stood by us and stroked my hair while I nursed our son. He was beaming with love and pride and yes, exhaustion, too.
He wasn’t bathed, and our placenta was gently bagged by the doctor, who was supportive of my intentions to encapsulate it. He wasn’t weighed until well after he’d eaten and I’d been given stitches for a small second-degree tear. There was no rush to get him “processed.” Our wishes to decline the usual shots and such after the birth were honored. We were shown to our recovery room, and I was up and walking and feeling great, the effects of the epidural long since worn off.
This was an example of how the system should work. A homebirth transfer is taken to a hospital where she’s treated with respect; where her wishes are honored; where she isn’t shown the door to an OR without a fair trial of labor; where her midwives can accompany her to her delivery room rather than drop her off on the doorstep out of fear. Unfortunately, we had to cross state lines to get such treatment because if we’d stayed within Maryland and gone to the nearest hospital in our county, the story would have ended quite differently.
We had a good birth. It wasn’t perfect. But I got what I needed when I needed it from beginning to end -- support, love, suggestions, motivation, physical assistance, rest, patience and trust -- and that’s what makes a good birth. I could have been happier with the overall outcome, but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome given the circumstances. I had a stubborn baby who continued his acrobatics all the way up until the end, refusing to budge until he was literally crowning. And, after a 22-hour trial of labor at home with no sleep, I and my midwives jointly made the best decision for getting me a low-intervention vaginal birth, which was the next best thing to a non-intervention homebirth. I am grateful for their skillful and loving care, and am excited to see them again when we try for Baby Number Three… many, many years from now. Until then, I’ve got a perfect son and a perfect daughter who require plenty of time and attention and love from me, their grateful, lucky mother.
Suzanne Terry is a birth doula and placenta encapsulator who could talk about birth, babies, and breastfeeding all the live-long day. Her 21 month-old daughter and 2 month-old son keep her plenty busy, but what little spare time she has is usually spent trying out a new vegetarian recipe or reading a good book. She lives in Brunswick, Maryland with her babies, her husband, her two adopted dogs and a rescued cat. This story originally appeared on her blog at www.suzanneterry.weebly.com.