Vanquishing Fear – An Epic Tale

My mom had 8 children, 7 naturally drug free and one (me) a classical incision emergency C-Section. (I was breech, and her second child.) The first 3 were hospital births and the last 5 were unassisted home births. That’s right, 6 vaginal births after a C-section, 5 of those at home with only my father and I helping. So you can imagine I had a very strong back ground in natural birth and a woman’s body being able to bring her child into the world.

When I became pregnant with my first child I originally planned a hospital birth, but used midwives for all my prenatal care. When I was 8 months along we moved from Colorado back to Kentucky and near our family. Rather than try to transfer to a new doctor so late in the game and with my mom now available to support me along with my husband being a licensed paramedic, we chose to have an unassisted home birth. All my prenatal care had been normal and the baby appeared healthy. My last appointment had been at week 35 and every thing was great. I went into labor on my own at 5 days before my due date and labor progressed normally and in a timely manner. However, I had experienced a nagging fear from the early part of my pregnancy that something would go wrong at birth. It was irrational, with no reason to believe it, and I tried to chalk it up to first time mom fears and fear of having no family support out in Colorado. Even after I moved home I still had this nagging, unexplained fear, even with my mom to support me and telling me there was nothing to worry about. So I labored at home for 12 hours before my water broke on its own around midnight. All night I labored and since this was my first baby I mistook pressure for the urge to push and started pushing too early, which wore me out. By the next morning, other than being tired, there was no reason to believe anything was really wrong, but I just couldn’t explain it, I was afraid something was wrong. I said we needed to go to the hospital.
Long story short, about the time we got in the car, the real urge to push came and for the 15 minute drive to the hospital I was holding back from pushing and was afraid I would deliver there in the car. I kept trying to take my pants down because I was sure that baby was coming, but I had to stop because the contractions were coming fast and furious. We got to the hospital, they wheeled me to a bed, the doctor barely got there in time to catch the baby, I was nearly crowning on arrival. 2 pushes and out came my baby girl, 5 lbs. 10 oz. But something was wrong with her skin. She was very red, not bloody, but her skin was fire engine red. The top layers of her skin were coming off over her whole body, but other than that her APGAR scores were perfect.

Our first Daughter Skye, minutes old.

Our first Daughter Skye, minutes old.

They didn’t know what was wrong with her, so she got transferred an hour away to the Children’s hospital where there was a NICU and that is where she stayed for 17 days enduring every test imaginable, being kept in sterile isolation and wrapped in gauze like a mummy, we weren’t able to hold her because of the risk of infection. Her case went to 10 different states, over 100 specialists consulted on her case, but nobody could figure out what was wrong. She passed away barely an hour into day 18 most likely from infection that had set in because without being able to attach a traditional I.V., they had to use her umbilical vein much longer than was recommended and then finally had to put a direct line into her chest.
We were so devastated. Our first and only child was gone.
I tortured myself thinking about what had I done to cause this, or what could I have done to prevent it. Every doctor reassured me that this was just an unexplained mystery, that there was nothing I could have done that I didn’t do. They ruled out skin diseases, infections, and various genetic defects. To this day nobody knows what was wrong. Genetics seemed to be the most promising avenue to research, but since they didn’t know what to test for (having tested for all known genetic disorders that fit her various symptoms) and since she was no longer living to positively confirm, we were left in the dark.
I no longer felt even remotely strong or empowered. I looked around at all the happy mommies and babies and they mocked me. I had been told that women had been doing this for ages, that it was perfectly natural. I had seen it over and over with my own eyes, yet I had failed. I had not brought a healthy baby into this world. I did not have a baby. Despite a strong desire to birth naturally I had to give my baby over to every intervention imaginable and in the end, those did not work either. I was the very picture of fear and disillusion and defeat.
I became pregnant with my second child by what I consider divine intervention. We were actively preventing pregnancy as well as not in any state of regular intimacy (or intimacy at all, it was more like just going through the motions in order to have the illusion that life would go on and we could somehow recapture what we had lost, which of course, we could not.) However, about 6 weeks after we buried our daughter, I found out I was pregnant again. I was a mess, I didn’t know what to feel. I wanted to be happy, but mostly I was so afraid. What if it happened again? What if it was some genetic thing they had not picked up on? Calling one of my first daughter’s doctors did not help, he told us flat-out we should terminate the pregnancy until we could have more genetic testing done. So you see, from the very moment I picked up that positive pregnancy test, my second pregnancy was wrought with fear.
Because of the outcome of our first birth, my husband and I knew we would not be able to have a home birth. In addition, I was treated as high risk and underwent test after test. I saw a Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist and had more ultra sounds than I can count. The last 10 weeks alone I had 1 ultra sound each week where they took 10 different measurements each time and if baby was not in the right position they worked until she was. The whole 9 months was amazingly stressful. By the time my due date arrived I was literally begging them to induce me even though I didn’t believe in that, it’s just that I was a bundle of shot nerves. Thankfully, I went into labor on my own 2 days before my scheduled induction. I labored at home all day and by 9 pm we decided to go to the hospital since  transition with my first baby had gone so fast and because I was worried about getting hooked up to an intravenous antibiotic as soon as my water broke. I arrived barely dilated and the nurse was going to send me home after the token hour of monitoring, but 30 minutes later my water broke. I didn’t know until after the fact that they hooked me up to some pitocin once I was officially admitted to keep things moving along and that made my labor very painful and the contractions very intense with almost no time in between them. By the time I hit 5 cm I gasped for the epidural. I could not imagine half a night of this pain, strapped into a bed, not able to move or get out of the bed, and barely able to catch my breath. The contractions were 40 seconds apart and I had no ability to focus and breathe. The nurse went out to call for the epidural, and as soon as she stepped back in about 5 minutes later I was beginning to bear down. She checked me and I had gone from a 5  to a 7-8. She told me it was too late to get the epidural and called for the doctor instead. It was the same doctor who had delivered my first daughter and once again he entered the room with barely enough time to throw on a gown and catch my little girl – my perfect, beautiful, healthy 7 lb. 10 oz little girl. We were over joyed!  At that time I didn’t care about how the staff had trampled over my wishes on many points, that the doctor stuck the needle for the numbing agent in my clitoris for a SECOND time (he had done so with my first birth also) to sew up the same place I had torn with my first delivery, that the nurse who had been attending me during labor was almost rude the whole time, and that the doctor shoved the scissors into my husband’s chest and demanded that he, “Stop crying and cut the cord,” and then almost did it himself before my poor hubby could wipe the tears out of his eyes at the sight of our dreams being fulfilled. It did bother me that even though I had been promised time with the baby on my chest, that turned out to be 30 seconds before they whisked her away for long minutes and brought her back to me wrapped and capped, all of which I promptly undid to be able to look at her perfect body and skin and hair. There was no way I was going to keep her tightly wrapped up, not after what I’d been through with my first daughter.

Me and our second daughter Faith, a few hours old.

Me and our second daughter Faith, a few hours old.

As time went on and I had months and then years to review my 2 birth stories, I just felt disappointed. Obviously my first daughter’s birth and entire life was traumatic, my second daughter’s pregnancy was extremely stressful, and then the birth was definitely lacking. As someone who had originally wanted an unassisted home birth, my second daughter’s birth was gravely lacking in so many ways. By the time I became pregnant with my son this past year, I had long since decided I wanted something different, yet I wondered if I could ever really have what I wanted. I was more confident about my pregnancy and birth since having my second child, who remains one of the healthiest children I’ve ever known, yet I knew my husband would still never go for a home birth and honestly, I didn’t want to go that route either. We were now living in Tennessee and a friend referred me to the Vanderbilt Nurse Midwives. They are very hands off when it comes to interventions and amazingly supportive of empowering women and providing the most meaningful birth experience possible, yet they deliver at Vanderbilt, one of the leading medical centers in the nation, located in Nashville. It seemed like the perfect match for me. My entire 9 months of prenatal care just confirmed it more and more, and by the time I neared my due date I was down right excited to give birth, something I had not felt with my first 2.
I went into false labor on my due date. It was just strong enough for me to drop my daughter off with my friend, but after a few hours it stopped. Normally I would have been disappointed, but I was very calm and I knew my baby would come when he was ready. I was in and out of false labor the next day, my 40 week appointment, and I had my midwife check me and she asked if I wanted my membranes stripped. I was ok with that, but she said that while I was dilated a 2, I was only 50% effaced and she couldn’t really strip them. However, that night I began having some really good contractions. I was sure this was it. They continued until around noon the next day. My husband had decided to stay home from work and we dropped my daughter off at my friend’s again. As soon as we did, they stalled again! I was ok with the baby coming in his time, but I was anxious about all the false alarms and putting my friend’s life on hold and having my hubby miss work unnecessarily, something we could not really afford. So I called my midwives and they recommended that I try a castor oil cocktail. Within 2 hours of drinking that I knew we were really going to have a baby.
Vanderbilt is about 40 minutes from my house and since it was the middle of rush hour, we decided to go on to the hospital even though I normally would have waited a little longer. However, knowing how fast I tend to progress, I was more comfortable with being in Nashville even if I had to take a walk in the parking garage for a few hours. We checked in and they took us to a triage room in L and D to check me and monitor me for an hour. I was still 2 cm, but I was 90% effaced. My pain was still very manageable and my midwife (it just so happened my primary was on call that night, out of several that could have been) was reluctant to give me a room. I was sure that it wouldn’t take much monitoring, they would see I was in labor for sure. Apparently the monitor was not on my belly correctly because even though my labor was definitely progressing, after an hour the nurse came in and said, “I guess they’ve slowed down, huh?” I shook my head, “No, the exact opposite, they are getting stronger for sure.” She adjusted my monitor and checked me. I had dilated to a 3 and was completely thinned out, but my midwife wanted to monitor me a little longer since they could not see my contractions on the monitor. Another 30 minutes went by and the contractions had gotten pretty intense. I had to focus through them. After a really strong one I told my hubby to tell them I had to pee.
The little triage room didn’t have its own bathroom, so they helped me across the hall. My hubby went in with me to help me with my gown. I will never forget what happened next! I sat down to pee and he was casually scanning the bathroom interior. A hard contraction began, making him glance in my direction and his eyes got big as saucers and he said, “Oh my god!!” in such an intense manner that I completely forgot the pain and looked at him. “What??!” The look on his face and his pointing finger made me look down, afraid that I might somehow have started crowning without knowing it. Turns out I had passed a ridiculously large amount of bloody mucus, a rope almost as long as my fore arm. I started laughing just as the contraction peaked, which made it sound more like a hysterical sob, and my midwife knocked on the door urgently and asked if we were ok, which only made me laugh harder.
Needless to say, they quickly helped us gather our things and head over to a room. I got one of the 2 delivery rooms that Vanderbilt offers with a labor tub and between that and actually getting to have my primary midwife deliver me, I already felt this birth was a success. This was enhanced as I met the nurses who would be attending me. I was almost surprised to find each of them happy and energetic, a glorious relief after the non chalent, almost rude nurse who had been present while I labored with my second child. One nurse bustled about filling the tub while another walked me through paper work, being very sweet and patient while I stopped to have contractions. Another nurse was reviewing my birth plan with Claire, my midwife, and the whole air was nothing less than joyful, like everyone was my personal friend and they had been waiting 9 months just for me to have my baby. It was amazing.
As soon as the tub was full I was helped into it and allowed to get in my zone. They dimmed the lights and very quietly and almost with an air of sacred went about their tasks, allowing me to labor on my own, breathing through the contractions. I had never taken a class on child-birth, but I had self-educated and with every breath I focused on relaxing every muscle in my body, not even scrunching an eye lid, embracing the pain, taking them one at a time, envisioning a portal opening in my mind, slowly, easing my son into the world. It was just me in my zone, in the tub. My hubby was resting and checking Facebook, my doula, who I had originally planned on having there, was not able to come at the last second, and Claire was checking on a few things while I labored, my mom wasn’t even there. She had been present for the first 2 births, but wasn’t able to come all the way down to Nashville from Kentucky. But everything was as it should be, I felt calm, I felt powerful, I didn’t feel lonely, I just felt like I was the only one who could birth my son and I was ok with being in the tub, alone, laboring. Time ceased to exist. It was just one contraction at a time. There was no before and there was no after. (I later realized I was in the tub for just over an hour.)
About the time my breath got wavery during the contractions, Claire appeared and sat with me, gently encouraging me, telling me how wonderful I was doing, how I was so strong, bringing my baby down. She very gently stroked my arm and even though I had not directed her to do any of this, it was perfect timing and perfect support. At one point she had me move from a sitting position to leaning over the side of the tub. I went through maybe 4 more contractions like that and then my body began to push involuntarily. I knew I was very close. That was a very familiar sensation. My husband had just put a music CD on and we were barely into the second song when I told them I needed to get out of the tub. (Vanderbilt policy is that you can labor in the tubs but you cannot deliver in the water.) When I got in the tub I was dilated to 4, and upon checking me when I got out I was only a five. I saw what looked like doubt cross Claire’s face and she quietly said to the nurse, “She’s only a five….” I think she was thinking I may have gotten out too soon, but my husband spoke up and said, “No, you are going to see, it is going to go very fast from here.”
Unlike the doctor and nurses who had delivered my second child, Claire nodded and started getting things ready for a baby to be born even though I was only half way dilated. I was starting to lose control. I was told to breath through and focus, but it didn’t matter what I tried to do to focus, my body was trying to push with every contraction. I was told that my cervix was swelling, to not push, but my body continued to take over. Claire quickly asked the nurse for some Litocain and I barely felt the sting of a needle way up high and knew she was numbing my cervix. Then she began to apply counter pressure through 3 or 4 contractions. If I hadn’t requested my very own self to have no I.V. inserted when I got the room I would have sworn someone had secretly slipped me some pitocin. My contractions were so intense and no time in between them. And then I was given the green light to push. Oh, how I pushed! 2, 3, 4… a nurse grabbed one of my legs and pulled it back when my brain couldn’t register Claire’s command to pull my knees back. My husband was directed to pull the other knee back. Another great push and my baby’s head was out. I think they told me not to push for a second, then I was allowed. It took a few more and out he came, his shoulders had gotten stuck for a second, that’s why I had needed to push so much more than with my daughters. From 5 cm to baby out took no more than 15 – 20 minutes, I know because the song that was playing on the CD was maybe the 4th or 5th track. Everyone was surprised at how quickly that had happened, even me!
And then, bliss. That moment of relief when my baby was out, screaming in indignation at the world he had entered, on my chest, all 7 lbs. 15 oz. of him. He stopped crying when he heard my voice, looked at me for a moment, then, as if becoming aware once again that he had been ejected from his warm home, he began wailing his lamentations once more. He was precious, every screaming bit of him! And my wonderful birth experience didn’t end there, I was able to hold my son on my chest for at least 20 minutes, nobody rushed me. Everything they did to check him over was done with him in my arms. The only reason they finally took him when they did was because I got curious about how much he weighed and told them to take him. They weighed him and brought him right back to me and I nursed him.

The moment of bliss, captured by one of the nurses for me.

The moment of bliss, captured by one of the nurses for me.

I had torn in the very same spot as the first 2 births, but this time, instead of screaming louder than I had while giving birth, I didn’t even feel the needle that numbed me because, apparently, female midwives must know more about the importance and sensitivity of the clitoris, as well as its location, something my OB had failed to grasp in his many years of patient care, considering he stuck me there not once, but twice. I barely felt the four stitches I received. My entire experience was perfect, just as I had always imagined, everyone respected my wishes, my baby was not once out of my sight with out my direction, he roomed in with me and only went to the nursery for his hearing test and PKU, which I was welcome to be there for. I could not have wished a more perfect experience into existence, and since this is the last baby we plan to have, it was an amazing ending to such an important chapter in my life, my child-bearing. And even though my first 2 births had been natural with no pain medication, this was the very first time I felt truly amazing and confident and powerful – and it is a beautiful thing!GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA