My Birth Story
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A loving head's up: there are some graphic and difficult things to read in this post.
I didn’t know a day would come where my heart would be shattered with equal parts pain and joy.
I didn’t know my strength would be submerged into depths I’ve never traveled to before.
I didn’t know my faith would be my last saving grace and the only thing for me to hold on to.
I didn’t know my voice and my words would seem to float away in my most vulnerable and desperate state, when I needed help the most.
I didn’t know what it would feel like to have the light leave my body, my spirit, my eyes, and my heart.
I just didn’t know.
I didn’t know the kind of powerful love that exists from hearing that first cry.
I didn’t know my heart would explode with such pride and excitement to have a son.
I didn’t know the great love I have for my husband would be multiplied 1,000 more times.
I didn’t know in my weakest, most tender moments — like mesh panties, tears through breastfeeding, and help in the bathroom, my partner in life would witness the opposite, how strong I am.
I didn’t know how much I would need my loving family, especially my mom.
I didn’t know how proud I would be to have a cesarean.
I didn’t know how powerful I truly am.
On December 12th, I became a mother. A parent. A partner. And a goddess. My husband and I had been dreaming of this birth-day all year. We couldn’t wait to find out who was being knit together inside me and to finally meet him or her, our surprise baby.
Our bags had been packed for a couple weeks. The house was cozy and clean. (Seriously, I joked that if I swept, vacuumed, mopped or cleaned one more time, layers of varnish would start to peel off the wood floors and the rugs would start to fall apart.) Every detail was ready for this special soul and our new family to begin. We enjoyed the first snow of the year together, and felt the magic of seeing our world blanketed in white, ushering in the dark and cozy winter season. Excitement and blessings were everywhere.
I’d been having contractions and prodromal labor for a couple weeks, but Sunday December 10th felt different. I was almost 41 weeks pregnant, and I just knew it was time (taking one more belly pic in the night knowing it would be my last.) That night I woke up at 10 pm with a strong contraction and this continued each hour that followed. When the sun came up, I knew Monday was my labor day, and I said bring it on.
We labored at home for most of the day, timing contractions, eating one last favorite meal, and taking slow walks around the neighborhood. At 4 pm on the dot, my water broke in our home. I burst into tears! Excited. Afraid. Grateful. Overwhelmed. Things started moving right along and we decided to head to the hospital. The drive there was one of the most fun and joyful car rides of my life. Brian expertly driving, handling every detail so I could focus as I sat on top of a folded up towel and two puppy pee pads. Laughter, kisses, lots of happy faces. It was almost time!!
We arrived in downtown Richmond, about 10 minutes away from our house, and miraculously had a “stork delivery” parking spot waiting for us right by the door to the elevators at VCU hospital. (Y'all know what I'm talking about with the parking... if you're not familiar, well just imagine a constantly full parking deck, construction, and block long lines for valet parking.) Our wonderful doula was waiting right there for us, a beacon of calm and joy.
As we made our way inside, I kept taking mental snap shots so that I would remember this journey and my final walk as just me and me and Brian, as just us. I witnessed myself getting to be that pregnant mama walking proudly to labor and delivery, stopping at the top of the escalator to slow dance with Brian during a contraction. Carrying my pillow. Shuffling. Dancing. Feeling so ready and happy. Taken care of and loved, from the outside and the inside.
We checked in at the front desk, and when we got to my labor and delivery room, it was stunning — spacious and illuminated with a view overlooking the city, white Christmas lights and tea lights flickering, chill music playing. It was just like I had imagined.
We discovered I was 5 cm dilated and 100% effaced once we got settled in — a.k.a this mama rocked labor at home! I enthusiastically was ready to embrace the last 5 cm of work and then glide right into pushing so that I could meet my baby. The vibes were high, and even though it was hard, I knew I could do it and was doing it. As the night went on, I hung in there. Brian was my champion and my hero, not taking a second to stop holding space for me and loving me. He would read off a single affirmation for me to carry through the waves. He held me up so many times. Looking back, I realize he watched over me and hid his own fear and pain so that I could draw on his strength.
I’ll pause here and say I have felt passionately about going for a natural and unmedicated childbirth since the beginning. I wanted to trust my body. I wanted to feel respected and heard as a woman, in touch with herself. I wanted to do what I believed was the best thing for my baby. I wanted to expand my mind and body connection. I wanted to race with the angels and connect to the divine. I wanted to have a spiritual and loving birth. I wanted to join hundreds of thousands of women in this experience of a lifetime that I’d been learning so much about, from reading books and authors like Mindful Birth and Ina May Gaskin, attending intensive birthing classes and pursuing knowledge and in-depth information in each midwife appointment.
But I never considered...
What if my body just couldn’t do it?
- or -
What if my baby wasn’t meant to be born through me?
I assumed since I decided I would push through anything, that this was my only option. We really didn't talk about backup plans or alternatives. With all of the preparations, classes, and conversations Brian and I invested in, I am honestly shocked at myself that I didn’t think this one through. I'm, at a minimum, talking about a safe word, code word, or emergency statement that when spoken, clearly meant I had nothing left to give and needed help or intervention.
Why is this imperative knowing what I know now? There are common generalizations that are known and spoken about laboring and birthing women. For example, the woman saying "I can't do it" during the intensity of transitioning from 7 to 10 cm dilation or wanting an epidural when the pain is so intense. Brian had other dads share this with him; it was even written in my notes from our birth class. Common, typical, expected.
I labored into the night. I opened my heart to the prayers from around the world that were streaming to me from my army of prayer warriors. I got to 10 cm dilated around 11 pm. But then something seemed to stop. Seemed to stall. I held steady in the tub for what seemed like forever. I had envisioned myself wearing my new blush lace bralette (it was super cute!) and pumping the jams up loud as I relaxed into the warm water. Instead, I was writhing trying to find my grip in what seemed like the world's longest bathtub (no joke, Kobe could have fit in there.) Finally, I was helped out of the tub and slow shuffled my way back on to the bed.
My contractions continued and time marched on by before I was given the green light to begin pushing; I was too tired to ask or know why I had to wait for what seemed like the longest minutes and hours. I found myself in a place of exhaustion that can’t be described with words, but there was no time for a break, so push on I did. I knew I needed to crank it up a notch from here because my baby was right on the other side, but truthfully, I just wanted to be done.
29 hours of unmedicated labor was behind me.
Pushing. I’ve had close friends tell me it was a relief. That it could even be fun. I embraced it with these positive expectations but will tell you, honestly, I did not experience this. It felt medieval at this point. I deeply connected to and sympathized with women all over the world who, for hundreds of years, have gone through this. The body, careening and arching. The mental game of opening when the pain surges. The levels and layers of strength that must be accessed to feel the wave coming and decide to ride it instead of run from it. And doing it beat down and tired, like the last inning of a grueling game but one that you can’t quit playing. But I thought if I needed help it would be there for me. A list of options, next steps, an invitation of where we can go from here and pain relief options.
I sadly did not receive this help or medical attention. In all honestly, I think my strength worked against me; with my vitals and the baby’s constantly being checked and everything looking healthy and perfect, I was encouraged to push on. When I got out the words "I can't do t h i s..." while pushing, I was told as a first time mom, my body didn’t know what effective pushing felt like.
After the first hour of the pushing phase, I knew something was wrong. This was different. My baby wasn’t moving down and my reserves were dipping lower and lower with each contraction. At one point, I even tried to push my baby down from the outside using my hands on my belly. Hopelessness started to set in. I could hear all of the voices in my head “don’t chase comfort” “go towards it” “breathe your baby down” (this one really haunts me.) I was coachable. I was willing. But I was approaching having literally nothing left to give and no options it seemed but to stick with it. In addition, my medical professional was not present and attending another birth that was "progressing".
This is where it gets dark. Like a stormy night of the soul when all seems lost, I entered a space of surrender past surrender. The table of tools and instruments that had been wheeled out to welcome my baby into the world was covered with a blue sheet and wheeled away in front of my eyes. The table warmer for the baby remained on and was my only hope of light left that this would end and I would meet my little one.
I pushed for 2 more hours.
At this point, my heart was broken. I’d asked for help. I’d said I can’t do it. I had given up inside. But I kept trying, one push at a time because it was for my baby.
If you’re wondering where my soul support and birth team was, including my beloved husband, they were right beside me, feeling their own levels of despair and pain, I’d imagine. They were supporting me but were not the medical professionals and could make no decisions.
One of my most ingrained memories of my birth experience was the window in my labor and delivery room overlooking the city I love and call home. I had watched the sky fade to black when we first arrived, the city lights twinkling below. My heart was happy and joyful to be exactly where I was, at an institution I trusted and believed in, with health care providers my husband and I spent months building relationships and rapport with at every single prenatal appointment, together as a team.
32 hours of this experience later, I was wishing and wondering how I could jump out of this black window. I wasn't thinking about living the rest of my life out or holding my baby or going back to my beloved and cozy home. I was simply seeking relief and an escape to end what I was going through.
This is very hard to hear, I know, but this is where I pray my birth story goes:
- That it goes towards positive and enlightened awareness in our birth and hospital communities.
- That it goes towards strengthening women's voices and trusting them during overwhelming experiences instead of dismissing and worse, silencing, them.
- That it empowers new mothers, soon-to-be parents and other souls to not seek perfect answers and plans outside of themselves from those more experienced but to trust, deeply, their own instincts. Ditch the rigid and sky-high expectations. Listen to your gut. Use your voice. Be confident you know what's best for your body, your family, and your baby.
I'll be honest. I had a chip on my shoulder and pride about having my baby drug-free. But I want to whisper to the brave woman who believes she's doing every little thing exactly right, that “natural” is not necessarily better. That unmedicated is not smarter for everyone. Every baby, body, and birth is like a unique puzzle. There has never been, or will be, that exact combination ever again, and to that end, there is no way to predict what is coming or what will happen.
To the hospitals and medical professionals, birth trauma has the power to haunt lives. What if we could commit to supporting the laboring and birthing mother by honoring her desires but committing to embrace with attention, options, and care what unfolds since there’s nothing predictable about the entire birth process?
A mother’s vitals are not the measurements of her spirit and soul. And for the love of God, if a woman is laboring and giving her birth every ounce of everything she has, she needs to be supported by her medical team, not left to progress on her own while other patients receive priority and presence, regardless of their circumstances. If there is a shortage of health care providers, perhaps more need to be available.
So what happens next?
Around 5:30 am Tuesday morning, over 6 hours later from when things started going south, my divine intervention came: an OB-GYN resident was brought in for a second opinion. Finally. During my last and final push, with her hands inside of me, my poor body swollen beyond recognition, past the point of even enduring pain and instead just living in it, the doctor shook her head, and I rejoiced.
Now on the other side of my birth, I’m experiencing a new kind of pain: The pain of being misunderstood. My healing process postpartum and my sadness, anger, and grief have very little to do with the fact that I could not deliver vaginally or that I went through not one but two incredibly intense labor and delivery birth experiences back-to-back: 30+ hours of unmedicated labor and pushing while not feeling heard and a swift cesarean section including spinal tap, epidural (while still contracting and not being able to push) the introduction of narcotics, losing a liter of blood on the operating room table, and spending a total of 5 days in the hospital.
I am mourning the loss of trust and the visceral sense of abandonment I experienced from my chosen midwife medical team.
In looking back through my prayer requests and affirmations, I simply wanted to trust that my body knew what to do, and here's the thing, she did.
My child was not meant to enter the world through my pelvis, and I believe that my wise woman self held on tight to my baby and my baby did everything possible not to descend, despite any physical feats on my part or instructions given to me.
A c-section, which had been my biggest fear pre-birth, was what I was praying for at the end of this because all I wanted was relief, help, and to be seen and treated for the patient I was.
When the doctor said the only way my baby could be born was through cesarean, I breathed a heavy YES and asked how soon we could start. The papers were signed, my wedding rings were pried off, and I felt like I was finally set free.
At 6:52 am, after being whisked away and attended to by the incredible OR and OB-GYN teams, my suffering melted away thanks to modern medicine, and my will to see this birth and my life through was restored.
With a powerful and clear cry, my big, healthy baby boy was born into this world through my belly, weighing 10 lbs and measuring 22 inches long because in the words of someone special...
His heart had to be born to the sky.
As I write these words, my son is sleeping on my chest. He is everything I imagined and more. It feels like God gave me the strongest baby so I would have nothing to worry about as I figure out my way as a new mother. I've been told by many how chill, easy, and laid back he is. To me, he's just my baby. Perfect and loving exactly how he is.
He entered the world like a bright beam of light: unshakable, strong, confident, and bold.
I re-entered the world humbled, grateful and in a new place of peace. The healing will simply become a new part of me, and I already sense that this was written in the stars since the beginning.
In closing, being human is a divine honor. Being a child and having a mother is the ultimate gift to receive. And having a child and becoming a parent is the greatest test of trust in God I have yet encountered.
Welcome to the world, Barnes.
We made it.