I have two daughters, so have two stories, but they are so integrally related and my first story defines my second and my second defines my first so importantly that they have become one story.
Annabel Wren was born June 23, 2007 and Emaline Iris was born July 19, 2011. Both girls are strong and healthy and perfect, which many people will tell you is the only important thing. But this is not true. While it may be the most important thing, it is not the only important thing.
I went into labor on a Tuesday morning, 10 days past my due date. I have never felt more ready or prepared for anything in my life. I was not scared. I was confident in my strength and ability.
Around midnight we went to the hospital. I had not dilated. They told me to go home. I declined. By 5 a.m., I had still not dilated but was having regular contractions. I begrudgingly went home.
Midway through that second day at home, I began to have excruciating spasms on my left side. Daniel and I watched with surprise and horror in equal measure as my side visibly vibrated and spasmed. It felt wrong. We called the hospital, they directed me to come back.
When I checked back into the hospital, nearly 48 hours after my first contraction, I had still not dilated. I had barely slept. I was tired, hungry, surprised, and beginning to feel disappointed. The hospital staff suggested that when the time finally came to deliver my baby, I would be too tired if I did not get some sleep. They offered morphine and Ambien. I agonized and then I took the drugs. This was the beginning of one intervention after another.
I slept. I woke up when the morphine wore off. The midwife checked my cervix. 1 cm. They put me on Pitocin. They stuck wires into me that attached to my daughter’s head. I walked the halls dragging with me all the wires and drips that would make my labor “safe,” that would make my labor “progress”. My contractions never ceased but never succeeded in dilating my cervix. I continued to tell people about the excruciating pain in my side and the strange thing that looked like a tear in my belly but wasn’t. No one listened.
I got a migraine. I threw up. I curled into my bed hugging the giant belly holding the baby that would not come out. I couldn’t open my eyes, I could hardly move for the pain in my left side and I couldn’t speak above a whisper.
Friday. So many days and nights had passed. Nearly 60 hours of contractions every 2 – 5 minutes and 48 hours of Pitocin.
I whispered to Daniel, “Make a decision that makes this stop.” He did. Mary, the anesthesiologist gave me an epidural. The pain stopped. Very early Saturday morning someone disconnected the Pitocin and broke my water. It smelled terrible. I knew something was wrong. When the door to my room opened I could see the neonatal trauma team waiting. But my daughter’s heart continued to beat strong and steady. The team waited. I turned onto my side and her heart rate plummeted. I turned back over. Her heart started beating normally again. The team waited. In the span of an hour, I dilated from 1 cm to 10. Hurrah! I’m having a baby. I pushed. For 2 and a half hours I hauled my partially incapacitated body up onto the birthing bar and pushed. I made initial progress and her little body descended. And then I proceeded to jam her ever so slightly twisted head and neck into the side of my pelvis. No further downward progress.
It had been nearly 98 hours since my first contraction. I had a hernia on my left side.
Annabel Wren was removed via C-section at 5:03 am on Saturday. 14 days past her due date.
I spent the next years questioning every decision and every intervention. Wondering if we had missed some important piece of the puzzle that would have allowed Annabel to pass through my vagina as my body had intended. I am strong, capable, educated. I was born on The Farm. I know about birth. My mother was a practicing midwife. What had I done wrong? I cried.
We decided to have another baby. I stopped crying and began my campaign to constructively process and learn about what had happened during Annabel’s birth. By the time I was due to deliver my second daughter I felt confident that I would not miss anything this time. I had assembled a team of midwives and a doula whom I trusted. I had exhaustively researched hernias during labor and delivery and my doula armed me with a plan should that happen again. I had a plan for if I was overdue. I had a plan for if I didn’t dilate. I was prepared. I would deliver this baby to the world via my vagina.
At 11 days past my due date, I checked myself into the hospital. I was not in labor, but I didn’t want to wait past the 14 day mark and feel pressured to have a C-section. This was all part of my plan. My midwife inserted a ball catheter into my uterus and filled it with saline solution. One ball in my uterus one in my vagina, both pushing on the cervix. The idea was that it would manually dilate my cervix and induce labor. The catheter did not work. I did, however, begin to have regular contractions. The midwife drained and removed the catheter. It was painful.
I slept on and off and continued to contract. I was thrilled. I celebrated each contraction. They felt so useful. It was now Tuesday morning. We called our doula, who came to the hospital. By mid-morning I had still not dilated. They broke my water, which was filled with meconium. Contractions picked up but I still didn’t dilate. They put me on a low dose of Pitocin. I dilated to 5 cm and spent time in the tub with my gentle doula coaching me through the pain. Labor appeared to be progressing. Each contraction felt like a small victory. When I felt like it was time to push I got out of the tub and had 1 strong push. My midwife checked my cervix. I had gone from 5 cm to 2. What?! Who goes backwards? I had been laboring with strong, regular and intense contractions all day. Hours. Hours of work. We gathered around the bed. Me in the bed, Daniel, my mom, my doula and my midwife around me and we talked about the options. We talked in between contractions and quick shallow breaths. We talked it all out.
Emaline Iris was removed via C-section at 8:42pm on Tuesday. 14 days past her due date.
Both of my girls are healthy, strong and perfect. And that is important. I will concede that it is the most important thing. But it is important too, to feel empowered, to feel strong, to feel listened to, to feel validated, to feel competent and capable. It is important to have confidence in our decisions. Emaline’s birth gave those things back to me. Her birth was exactly like Annabel’s, only this time I was armed with prior knowledge. I was armed with the weapons of preparation. I was able to say, I’ve been down this road and I don’t have to travel it again. It turns out that I didn’t do anything wrong the first time. I have confidence that I brought my babies into this world the only way that they were going to arrive.
And now I will mother them.