Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Birth and arrival story - part I of IV

To begin:

Why do I want to share this story? There is almost nothing about Samuel’s birth that went how I had thought it would go. Processing through this story has been challenging for me, but also surprisingly easy. There are so many narratives about birth in our culture. I recommend (and will continue to recommend) this article. I am working to claim this birth as our story and writing helps me to do that. I share it because I believe in the importance of sharing even birth stories that are labeled as negative or traumatic

A quick word about our story - like most parents, we researched every decision and made what we felt was the absolute best decision for ourselves and for our baby. For us, that means we planned to have a home birth. Home births, particularly in the United States where emergency medical care is available when needed, are incredibly low risk. We had an exceptional story. However, we still believe home births are an excellent option for some families. Negative comments about this will be deleted. Thank you for being respectful of our decisions and our story. 

Trigger warning - this is the story of a traumatic birth experience. We are all okay now, but if birth trauma is triggering to you, you may wish to avoid. 

The classic bathroom selfie - one day before going into labor with my 11 lb baby
Dear Samuel,

I want to tell you about how you were born. But first I need to tell you a few things about how I expected your birth to go.

I had super loose expectations, to be honest. Your dad and I chose to have you at home with a midwife, rather than at the hospital because we believed it to be the healthiest and best option for you. I was never scared of birth. I looked forward to it, to feeling the sensations, to feeling what people described as the power of a freight train coursing through me, bringing you to the outside.

Of course, I was also 90% sure you were a little girl.

March 1 was your due date - a date I guarded furiously from everyone. “Baby’s due late February, early March,” I would say when asked. I spent most of my pregnancy convinced you would go until around a week after that - but in January, you dropped and my Braxton-Hicks contractions, or “practice rushes” as I liked to call them, became regular after activity and were coming every night. My midwife asked us to plan for what we’d do if you came 5-6 weeks early. We panicked a bit, and got excited. We made sure to get a carseat for you. I designated a shelf of things we’d need for you if we had to go to the hospital (necessary for a delivery before 36 weeks.) I talked to you constantly, explaining the practice rushes, asking you to wait just a little bit longer, but also giving you permission to come early if you needed to. 

You waited.

February came and began to draw to a close. I nested furiously the whole month. On Sunday, February 26, it was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. I was so, so pregnant, and so uncomfortable. I spent most of church moving constantly in the back of church - foreshadowing for what we do with you now at church. Our pastor, Tim, asked us what was getting in the way of relationship with others for us, and challenged us to give that up for Lent. “Well, that’s easy,” I thought, pacing, sitting, squatting alone away from everyone. “I would happily give up pregnancy for Lent.”

Ash Wednesday was your due date. I felt normal that day. I went to work, but skipped the Ash Wednesday service offered, deciding with your dad that we would go to the one at our church at 7 that night. I felt a freedom that no one but your dad and me knew that it was my due date, and planned to celebrate you not being born on it the next day with ice cream and perhaps announcing that we had passed it. 

After work, Caleb and I ate and snuggled up in bed. I voiced a fear I had been feeling along with something else - I told Caleb, “I haven’t felt any fear about birth, but I do have a tiny fear that something might happen to me and I might not make it.
“I want you to know,” I continued, tears streaming down my face, “that if anything were to happen to me, I know that you would be the most wonderful and perfect Dad and parent to our child. I know you could do it and that our child would grow up feeling so, so loved.”

Our conversation turned more positive and we stayed close for a while. It felt more important for us to stay together and connect rather than go to church, so we decided to skip it. Around 8:30, we started to get ready for sleep. We were sleeping in different beds at this point in pregnancy because I took up so much room and used so many pillows. I checked my email and got an email from my dear yoga teacher Jen, saying that she had made the birth blend I’d requested and left it in our mailbox that evening. She suggested using it before birth to develop some relaxation association with the smells. I had been stretching my back and doing deep breathing before bed each night, so I realized it was the perfect time to try it. 

Caleb went to bed, and I started doing my stretches. I inhaled the oil deeply and it brought back so many wonderful memories. Caleb and I going to yoga class every Monday, driving on the brick road, cooking dinner, walking to the park. I stretched out over the exercise ball and just felt good. I felt deeply relaxed and open. 

Then I felt a sensation. A really, really strong sensation. I breathed through it and was determined not to label it as painful, just as sensation. I remained calm, fairly sure I had just had a contraction, but knowing that didn’t mean labor was impending. I drank some water, and went to bed. Another one came and it was so, so intense. “Okay,” I decided. “Time to tell Caleb. I’m going to need his help.”

It’s worth noting that since we’d been sleeping in separate beds, any time I had gone into the room Caleb was sleeping in during the night, he had nearly shot straight up wondering if I was in labor. I promised that I would tell him and he didn’t need to worry about it until then. 

I opened the door and crept in his room. “Love?” I said softly. I sat down on his bed. “I think I might be in labor. It’s really intense and I need you.” He sat up and held me, immediately present. I filled him in on the situation. Another contraction, or rush as I wanted to call them, came. I wanted to call them rushes to focus on their purpose, which was to open the way for you to arrive. We call them contractions, but they actually expand us. 

I couldn’t talk during the rushes. As determined as I was to not to label them as painful, they were very painful. I tried all my techniques that I had practiced and learned, but there was nothing to do but get through them. Caleb began timing them. I had a hard time knowing when they were ending, because it felt like they lingered and then picked back up so quickly. “How long was that one? How many minutes since the last one?” I kept asking. Caleb would answer vaguely “Long enough. Don’t worry about it.”

I had anticipated early labor being slow, but after what felt like an eternity and like no time at all, Caleb said we should call our midwife, as my contractions had been 1 minute long, 4 minutes apart, or longer and closer, since I had gotten him. Our midwife suggested we have our doula come over, and we did. She was very strong and calm and great at timing the contractions, sensing when they began and ended. Shortly after arriving, she recommended we call our midwife, as the contractions were now 1 minute long and only 2 minutes apart. (12:30am)

I remember our midwife coming and asking me how I was doing. I remember saying something along the lines of, “I thought I was going to get breaks and I am not getting any breaks.” (1:15)

I didn’t have a lot of time to think, but knew without thinking how I wanted only silence and darkness and no scents. Everyone’s smell bothered me, even Caleb’s. At one point, I was laboring in your room, which Caleb had quickly transformed from his bedroom to a birthing room by carrying his mattress upstairs, inflating and filling the birthing pool. There was only a single candle lit and I held my hand up to block its light. I alternated between the bed, the shower, and the birthing pool, wishing for sleep and for a break, but with no time to think, I just pressed on. 

I have no idea when the midwife checked me the first time, but I was at a 6. The next time I was at a 7. My memories here begin to grow foggy. I remember hearing a machine noise, which bothered me, and Caleb explained that our doula was pumping, as she had a small baby of her own at home. I remember everyone dozing off throughout the night (Caleb stayed awake through it all, but was understandably very tired) and feeling frustrated that I couldn’t doze off, but they all could. I felt frustrated that I had to wake them up as contractions came and went with minimal breaks. Our midwife took a nap in another room, then our doula. Caleb stayed by my side through it all. 

At one point it was light out and morning had come. I felt awful, as one does after staying up all night, but worse because of all the hard work. The second midwife arrived and she was very fresh. I asked the first midwife if that meant I was close to transition (changing from laboring to bring the baby down to actually pushing). She said “We’ll see.” Everyone was very vague with me, not wanting to promise anything, but all the vagueness made me frustrated.  Around 11 am, I was laboring in the birthing pool with instructions to push, when there was suddenly dark fluid around me. I asked, “What happened?” “Your water broke!” a midwife told me. 

From here the memories grow even fainter - a midwife asking me to sit on the toilet and pee, no pee coming and us moving along. Me pushing in the tub, pushing in bed, pushing on all fours, bracing myself on the bed and pushing. Being instructed to hold my breath and push, the opposite of what I had been told to do during contractions. Pushing as hard as I could and them still telling me to push more. The midwife saying she could see the head and it had hair (!). Waiting to feel the baby’s body moving down, but not feeling it. More nightmare-ish memories of pushing as hard as I could while they told me to push more. Pain and exhaustion.

And then, nothing. 

In a dream, I am lying in a very ugly gray/beige room. My mom and mother-in-law are standing above me acting very excited. They are wearing yellow rectangular stickers on their shirts. They are so excited, but I am so tired. They are too animated. I close my eyes and go back to sleep. 

In the same dream, I am in the same room. Now there are two strangers above me - a man and a woman. They aren’t too excited, they are calm. They ask me my name. “Ellen” I tell them. I feel confused and a little worried. Then I turn and seem Caleb to my left. Because he is there, I know everything is okay. But it is not a dream. I am in the ICU.  


  1. Thank you for sharing, Ellen. After having a very traumatic hospital birth with our first child where I felt raped, followed by an "ideal" home birth with our second, I have found birth is inherently traumatic no matter how it goes down (though I will say the second was a world apart from the first). Even when we are delivered through it without intervention and with a healthy baby, it's a kind of death. Of course, I did not have any major physical complications like you did! Praise God that both you and Samuel are okay. I pray you continue to lean into Jesus Christ healing and redeeming the dark aspects of this experience. You are in NO way lesser or deficient than anyone because your baby didn't come out "naturally". You are a wonderful mama. Also, 11 lbs... holy moly!!!

  2. Oh, I didn't notice initially it was part one of four!!! I will look forward to reading the rest. Thank you so very much for being vulnerable and sharing. It is a privilege for all of us.

  3. Such a writer you are ellen. ♡ jodie