The Birth That Healed Me
I needed to write a new version of my birth story because I realized there are some key pieces that I left out the first time! At the time, I didn't even realize they were important. If you want to read version 1.0, you can read it here. But here's my birth story, version 2.0.
How it all Began
The day Baby J decided to arrive, I woke up around 7:30am, already experiencing contractions. It was the day he had "told" me he was going to be born (more on that soon), but there was no indication of labor when I went to bed the night before.
I had noticed some beads of colostrum dried out on my nipples but I didn't think much of it. I knew I'd have my baby soon because we were 40 weeks +1 day, so I inspected my pregnant boobs, gave my nipples a squeeze or two just because (this could help my body produce oxytocin - the love hormone - and possibly help to kickstart labor), and went to bed.
When I woke up the next morning, nothing felt different. Not really. I was still very pregnant. But now we were on the day that Baby J had informed us he was going to be born.
Several weeks before, when I was having a bath, I started talking to my belly, and I started asking him when he thought he was going to be born. He'd been quite active in my belly, moving and kicking, but as soon as I started seriously asking about this, he got quiet. Then I started listing off dates. I said the due date, no reaction. I said another date I thought would be cool, again nothing. I kept listing dates and the baby stayed quiet. And then I said THE date. "What about ***** **?" (for the sake of his private personal info, I'm not sharing his birth date online)
And he kicked me HARD.
I sat up and took notice and said, "seriously?! ***** **?" And he kicked me again as if to say, "YES, weren't you listening?"
It seemed to be such a clear communication that I even told my OB and he wrote it in my chart! I told my doctor that it really mattered to me that he was the one there to deliver my baby, so he made a note to be there based on my baby's "declaration"!
So finally, that day was here. Soon after waking, my husband got up and contacted his work to tell them he was staying home. I wasn't in labor (that I knew of) but he knew it was THE day, so he wanted to stay close. He crawled back into bed and told me he was staying home, and I relaxed into his strong arms. Several minutes later, he tried touching my breast (he knew the boob/oxytocin trick too) but I immediately had to tell him to stop.
Something was different.
I could feel a deep, intense aching in my low back similar to menstrual cramps, but not. And then it stopped. About 10 minutes later it happened again.
Feeling Into It
I had no idea this was the real deal so we decided to just wait and see. We got up, and my husband made me breakfast (bacon and eggs), and we decided to go to the plant nursery to get a new plant for our front step to welcome this baby when he got home from the hospital. I was still feeling this aching off and on, but it wasn't bad. I had to stop and breathe a few times while plant shopping but we soon found the perfect camelia to take home.
Once we got home I was convinced this was the real deal, so I texted my doula to let her know my suspicion, and my doula texted back with, "hmmm interesting!"
I decided to have a small glass of my birth wine to help me relax before things intensified.
Then I went about my day. Sat on the swing out front with my husband, talked about how our life was about to change, enjoyed the last few hours just the two of us (even though we were SO excited to meet our baby). I listened to some of my birth affirmations. I danced. I listened to some of my favorite music. I tried to work with my baby and with every surge that flowed through me. Then my husband made me a rather large lunch.
I ate most of it, but soon regretted that and was hit with indigestion. I went to the restroom in our bedroom and felt strongly like I needed to poop. I knew this was a classic sign of labor progressing, but I was in denial. It's too early, I thought. That lunch upset my stomach, I thought.
I was so uncomfortable, and the surges were intensifying.
Finally I was able to have a small bowel movement, but then I was drenched in sweat so I decided to try having a shower. It didn't really help. When I got out, I was still sweating, and I went downstairs to join my husband and try to breathe through every surge as they came.
I knelt on the living room floor with my head on the couch. I moaned. Things were ramping up in intensity, but I was in such a ZONE, I had no awareness of time passing and I wasn't worried at ALL. I knew laboring at home for as long was possible was best for the hospital birth I was planning to have, and my water hadn't broken yet. I thought I had tons of time and my husband was so connected to me, he wasn't really timing my contractions either. Finally my doula texted, "so, how are you doing?" and that triggered me to ask her to come over. I knew I could use her support at this point. I texted my birth photographer too.
They arrived and I was still quite happy, although working through some intense surges. My doula tried to rub my back and give me some hip squeezes, and I HATED it. "Don't touch me!" I said. Then another surge hit and I joked, "Ok, that's it, I don't want to do this. I'm leaving." It was kind of an inside joke because I had hit that moment of transition I suppose, and I was kind of aware of that, but again, I was in such a zone, I had no concept of what it meant. I felt fine about the situation. I just kept breathing.
I decided I needed to stand, and I leaned on my husband, swaying back and forth with a sheet draped over me, and suddenly I felt a small gush in my underwear. "Um, I think my water just broke."
My doula suggested I go into the bathroom to check (odor, color, amount) and while I was sitting on the toilet I had another big contraction. She then asked me to reach down and see if I could feel anything.
"GUYS..." I said, "I think I feel a head!!!!!" My fingers touched something round and soft between my legs...
Immediate panic ensued outside the bathroom door. "Are you serious?!" cried my doula. She instructed my husband to call 911. Nobody was freaking out, but everyone got into serious mode. We all thought I was having this baby NOW. I stood up and walked out of the bathroom, naked from the waist down, and my water completely broke all over the living room hardwood floor in a massive movie-worthy gush.
I had been feeling the amniotic sac getting pushed out of me! Not the baby's head.
By now my husband had 911 on the phone asking him a million questions, so I got down on all fours so he could check me and tell the dispatcher what he saw. No head yet, so it was determined we could make it to the hospital. We gathered ourselves as quickly and as calmly as possible and I was hit with another big surge except this time it was different and MUCH more intense.
"Guys," I informed them, "I'm PUSHING and I CAN'T STOP!"
It was suggested I start walking to the car as soon as this contraction was over and I slowly made my way. I had two more pushing contractions between my front door and the car in the driveway, and then I was in the backseat on my hands and knees, head resting against a pillow smushed up against the locked car door. Someone had found me a long skirt to wear.
My doula and photographer both took their own cars and followed us closely as we made the 30 minute drive to the hospital. My husband contacted my OB to let him know we were coming (we hadn't even told him I was in labor!), and every bump in the road triggered a big push as we drove. I had never felt such intensity but it wasn't "painful".
I talked to my baby the whole way and through every push, saying, "not yet, not yet, not yet. We're not there yet. It's not safe yet. Slow down, Slooooooow down," with lots of loud groans whenever a pushing contraction took over.
I've since heard/read comments from women, asking how you "know when to push". There was no question for me because my body completely took over, so it seems like a funny question. But now I know sometimes women are encouraged to push based on how dilated they are, not what their body is actually doing, and I wish moms knew that we ARE MADE TO DO THIS. Women in comas can have babies! Your uterus WILL push that baby out if you just allow your body to do what it does best. Your body and your baby know how to do this.
I had no choice in the pushing, and I was doing everything I could to NOT help the pushing along, just to try and buy myself time! I knew we could safely have a baby on the side of the road (thank you birth classes!) but I just wanted to. get. there. so I could relax.
Finally we arrived at the hospital after hitting every red light along the way. My husband totally kept his cool so I had NO idea the drive was taking longer than normal (I couldn't see anything with my head pressed against the car door), but I was so grateful to hear we had arrived. I carefully climbed out of the backseat, my pillow got stuck unceremoniously on top of the car, and I took a few steps toward the hospital entrance.
I had a big pushing contraction right there on the sidewalk.
Then I walked inside and standing right in front of some poor lady who was waiting in the lobby, my body pushed again, hard, doubling me over as my hands gripped my knees and I yelled.
Things felt I N T E N S E.
We were quickly admitted to Labor and Delivery and I was offered a wheelchair which I vehemently declined. I was HAVING A BABY and I couldn't imagine sitting down. Plus, I was not a patient, I wasn't broken, I could still walk just fine, thank you.
I was guided to one of the nearest empty rooms and my doula stressed to the nurse that I had been bearing down for about an hour, but the nurse basically just shrugged and nonchalantly said, "ok, we'll check her." I walked into my delivery room, and my body pushed again.
I roared, loud and low, hands on my knees, groaning as the pushing contraction filled my body. I was fully in my feeling, primal brain. All rational thought was gone.
That push got the nurse's attention. "Ok! Let's get you on the bed!" she said, and I climbed up, coming to my hands and knees (which is how I wanted to birth), and she checked me... "Yup, there's hair!"
My husband got to check me next and he felt our baby's head, but I was pretty oblivious to what was happening at my bottom end because I was consumed with the intensity I was feeling in my body. I wasn't really in "pain" the way most people talk about it. Maybe my pain tolerance is different because I've experienced the pain of breaking half of my body into a bajillion pieces, but I fully believe the work I did while I was pregnant to get the care and education I needed, allowed me to relax into the birth process and let each surge just wash over me as I used my voice, loud and low, to move through each surge. Then I could breathe fully and deeply as I rested in the betweens.
My nurse then informed me, "OK, you can push now." I nodded, and waited for the next surge, treasuring the moment of rest. This was HARD WORK.
My OB wasn't at the hospital yet and the nurses were running around trying to get everything set up quickly. I couldn't see much because I was leaning heavily onto the head of the bed that was raised up, but I could hear commotion behind me. Then someone asked me, "do you want to get the hep-lock?" and since that had been my plan (if I'd labored in the hospital for a long time), my knee-jerk reaction was, "yeah." My brain wasn't working AT ALL and I was running on pure instinct and reaction... Thank god my doula was right there because she leaned in and whispered in my ear, "your baby's COMING. You don't need that now."
Her tiny reminder was all I needed to trigger my deeper desire to avoid all unnecessary intervention, so I whipped my head around and said, "Actually, NO! I'm having a baby, I don't need to be poked with needles right now!" The nurse immediately backed off but now the nurses' rush was on to get a monitor on my belly to find my baby's heartbeat and see how the baby was doing.
They were also cheering me on, yelling, "PUSH, PUSH PUSH!" when a contraction would hit. I couldn't deal. For the second time, I whipped my head around and yelled back, "SHUT UP!"
I needed to focus and the physical intensity I was experiencing was all I could handle. The cheering was too much for my poor overloaded brain.
They were struggling to find my baby's heartbeat, too, (remember, he was moving down the birth canal while all this activity was happening around me), but at that moment, my OB, Dr. Nikolas G. Capetanakis, DO, literally ran into my room, out of breath, but happy and ready to rock and roll.
"Hey guys! OK! Let's have a baby!"
He sat down at the foot of my bed and assessed everything in seconds. The nurses were still struggling with finding the baby's heartbeat and when they found one, it was way too slow. They said as much, but my amazing doctor immediately cut them off saying, "guys, it's probably HER heartbeat." That totally de-escalated the situation and the nurses were quiet from then on.
I had pushed maybe twice before my doctor arrived, and now that he was here, I focused on helping to move my baby out into the world. I wanted to meet him! Another push took over and I tried to push along with it. Suddenly I could feel the "ring of fire" as my baby started crowning, (which is a term I hate because it implies pain), but it felt just like what it is. Tissues stretching to their max, with a tight, pins and needles kind of feeling. It didn't feel good, but I kept trying to help the pushes along, and my baby's head would come part way out, and then get sucked back in. This happened three times, and I just couldn't seem to push him out!
"Maggie?." Dr. Cap said.
"Yeah?" I turned my head to look at him sitting behind me.
"I love all the vocalization, but now I need to just hold your breath and PUSH."
"OK." I turned back and refocused. The next push consumed me, and I pushed HARD.
I realized then that I was hesitating just a little bit because I was afraid of tearing and I was afraid of pain. My perineum felt like it couldn't possibly stretch any more. But I decided, "fuck it. If I tear, I tear, and I'm in the best hands possible to take care of it. Just PUSH Maggie."
The next push came and I vocalized my effort even though I'd been coached not to, but I had a new focus and my hesitation was gone. When I got to the point where I had reduced my effort in the past, I just kept pushing, and boom. His head came out.
It didn't hurt!
Then Dr. Cap helped free his shoulder, and guided my baby boy into my husband's waiting hands. Soon I flipped over onto my back, and my baby was placed on my chest, skin to skin, and I looked at his beautiful face for the first time. He had so much hair!
I did it. We did it. Baby and me, together. No drugs. No medical intervention of any kind. He squirmed, looking for my breast. I let him work for it a bit, wanting to let him do the breast crawl, but then a nurse gently placed him next to my nipple and he latched on immediately. I have never felt such relief, and bliss.
When we were moved upstairs to recovery, I remembered my mum's story of having to fight to keep me with her when I was born, and her nurses constantly placing me back in the bassinet. So I asked my nurses, "Can I sleep with him on my chest?" and they said as long as I supported myself on both sides with pillows so I couldn't roll over, it was fine. Yes, I could keep him with me. And so we spent our first night, snuggled up together, with his papa taking turns holding him so I could get some sleep.
I discovered that after I gave birth, ALL of my remaining sequelae (lingering symptoms/effects) from my traumatic brain injury were GONE. Completely. No more fatigue or brain fog, no more confusion, none of the things that made me doubt my ability to be a good mom and fear for the safety of my child. I had a postpartum doula lined up to help me, but it turned out I didn’t need her in the same way I thought I would. Everything flowed MUCH more easily than I had anticipated! My whole experience of pregnancy and birth HEALED me. It also showed me that I was most definitely NOT broken, despite everything I had endured.
**I also know now that I was doing everything right when I was pushing and holding my breath to PUSH was NOT in my best interest. It actually contributed to my being unable to control when I passed gas for YEARS after giving birth. All had to do was commit and allow, NOT push while holding my breath. Be aware of your body, honor what it and your baby are telling you to do. Women in comas have birthed babies, You don’t need to force it.