I went back and forth about sharing Juniper’s birth story. I always knew I wanted to write it for me, but I just really couldn’t figure out if I wanted to share it publicly or not. The truth is, there are few things more personal and precious than the birth of your child, and, for some reason, I was afraid that sharing it with the masses might cheapen that feeling.
But what I realized is that, if anything, sharing my birth story might do the complete opposite. Sharing this story might amplify the joy and excitement I felt on that day, and the truth is, the further and further I got into writing the story, the more and more I began to realize that was exactly what was happening. I was excited to share my story. Especially because I feel like my story was so positive. In our trainwreck-obsessed culture, negative or traumatic birth stories tend to spread like an epidemic. Even though I had some complications, I would overall consider the birth of my daughter to be a very positive experience (and not just because I got the cutest kid in the world at the end of it).
When you’re pregnant, you hear time and time again about the horrible, terrible, excruciating experiences of some women during childbirth. And while, I’m in no way discounting those experiences, I feel like it’s just as important to share the positive experiences. The truth is, birth experiences fall on a spectrum, and just because one story lands on one end of the spectrum, it doesn’t make it any more or less valuable than one that falls on the other end. My story isn’t traumatic. It isn’t negative. It isn’t even all that long. But it is just as valuable.
The short story: I had a relatively short and easy labor. I didn’t use any pain medications, but I did have some medical complications that derailed some aspects of my birth plan. Overall, it was mostly still the experience I wanted. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced. And yes, we had some hiccups. But I didn’t hate it. In fact, I feel incredibly empowered by the birth of my daughter, and that’s something I feel so fortunate to be able to experience.
The long (loooooonnnggg) story…
I suppose the real story begins back when we made the decision about who our care provider would be and where we would deliver. One of the phrases I heard early on in pregnancy is that you give birth the way you live. And that always resonated with me. I truly believe there is no “right” or “wrong” way to birth a child. Just what is right for you and your family. To me, the concept that you want a birth experience that aligns with how you live your daily life really made sense to me. Craig and I have always been on the middle path when it comes to medicine. We both appreciate the value of modern medicine, but we also believe there is a strong case for trying more natural methods for tackling ailments. I’m not afraid to pop an Excedrin if my headache gets really bad, but first, I’m going to try to drink some water and rest in a dark room for a bit—and that’s the philosophy we wanted to apply to the birth of our daughter, too.
We were very fortunate to find both a medical provider and a hospital in our area that pretty much spot-on aligned with our philosophy. We found a group of certified nurse midwives that work in conjunction with obstetricians in the same office. The idea: as long as your pregnancy is healthy and normal, you see the midwives for low-intervention care. But if something arises that requires a more medical approach, the obstetricians are available to help manage your care. We also decided to give birth in a local hospital birth center that has a reputation for being accepting to a wide-variety of birth plans—including our plan to go as intervention-free as possible. I know a lot of folks feel comfortable with home births or giving birth in stand-alone birthing centers, but it was just never something that I felt 100% comfortable with doing. I never thought of pregnancy and birth as a medical event, but I also understood that it could quickly become one (and, as it turns out, mine did). And for that reason, it felt like birthing in a hospital was the best bet for us.
Because I was having a perfectly healthy pregnancy, I was able to keep seeing the midwives through the entire duration of my pregnancy. The only inkling of an issue popped up at an appointment the day after my due date—slightly elevated blood pressure. In the office, they waited a bit, retook my BP with another cuff, and it went down some (although still a touch high), but no one was worried about it. I was given the go-ahead to keep on keeping on with my pregnancy.
I set up an appointment for 10 days later, and laughed with the receptionist that there was “no way” I’d be keeping that appointment. Joke was on me, because on June 19th (11 days after my due date) I found myself still very pregnant and back at the midwives’ office. After a few tests, we saw that the baby was happy and healthy, but I wasn’t doing so well. My blood pressure was consistently high after multiple readings, and I was showing some other signs of preeclampsia like a headache and swelling. The midwife admitted to me that they don’t know much about what causes preeclampsia or why it happens, but that it’s definitely not something to take lightly—in extreme cases, it can lead to death of both the mom and the baby. She also admitted that it was entirely possible that my symptoms were not at all related to preeclampsia and were related to other things (like the fact that it was 95° outside all week and I was probably dehydrated), but that it was something that was worrisome enough that she would like to go ahead and figure out out next steps. Unfortunately, the only treatment for preeclampsia is to give birth, so an induction was scheduled for three days later.
I had a lot of flexibility in my birth plan, but I really didn’t want to be induced. Mostly because I felt like our due date was set too early, and I really wanted Baby J to have all the time she needed in my body to come out healthy and strong. But also because I’d heard horror stories about inductions that didn’t “take” and meant days worth of laboring without much progress. But, after a few tears, I came to grips with the idea that my pregnancy might be headed away from the normal category and be turning medical—and that if the cure for that medical issue is an induction, so be it.
I hadn’t been feeling contractions at all at that point, but after being hooked up to the monitor, we discovered I was having pretty regular contractions. And after a cervical check, we found out I was already three centimeters dilated. So my body was definitely already doing some of the work to get things moving along. The midwife was pleased enough with my progress on my own that she went ahead and felt comfortable enough to strip my membranes, and to delay my induction until the end of the weekend. I had three days to get this baby out on my own. I made a call to our doula and got a list of suggestions for how to move things along, and started Operation No Induction.
The next day was my birthday! It was bittersweet to wake up that morning not in labor. Because on one hand, I really wanted to go into labor as soon as possible to avoid induction, but on the other hand, I really wanted June Bug to have her own birthday for the rest of her life. I decided that the best thing I could do would be to relax and not stress about it. So Craig and I set up shop by the pool and lounged around for hours.
My parents came over that afternoon and brought me birthday dinner. We had cake (Craig made me a giant Samoa cake). I opened my presents. And all through that—nada. I wasn’t feeling a thing. After dinner, Craig and I crawled into bed to take a nap, but I couldn’t sleep because I thought I might be feeling regular contractions. It turns out, what I had thought was just the baby’s head pushing down on my bladder for the past few weeks, was actually what a contraction felt like (if you’ve never felt them before, you have no idea!). So once they became more regular, I realized, “Hey, so that’s a contraction!” and thought back to the hundreds of times I’d felt that same thing over the past few weeks. So, as it turns out, every time I told someone I wasn’t feeling any contractions when they asked, I was lying. I just didn’t know they were contractions! Ha!
Anyway, now that I actually knew what was going on, I got up, went and made myself a snack and starting timing.
Sure enough, I was having contractions for about 45 seconds every 5 minutes. Craig got up after I was timing for about an hour (around 7pm), and I told him what was happening, and we were both very excited that it was (a) happening on its own and (b) happening late enough in the day that she was probably going to have her own birthday—woohoo! I took a shower, had Craig snap a last picture of me pregnant, and then headed to bed to try to rest as much as possible. Craig texted our doula to let her know we thought it was “it”.
I knew it was important for me to rest during this early labor, but I was honestly entirely too excited to get sleep. Craig and I both laid in bed and worked through these early contractions for a few hours. I even talked on the phone to some friends and family (who were wishing me happy birthday) between contractions.
Somewhere around 11pm, the contractions started getting intense enough that I need to change positions and really work through them. I tried all kinds of different positions—hands and knees, walking, squatting, draped over a birth ball, bouncing on the birth ball—and they all worked at different times. I’m thankful that while my contractions got much more intense and lasted much longer, they never really got much closer together than three minutes (even when I was pushing), so I had a nice break to recover between each contraction. At some point, Craig and I looked up at the clock and it was past midnight and we both did a little cheer that baby girl would have her own birthday!
Craig kept in constant contact with our doula all night long—she offered to come to our house and help me labor, but Craig and I honestly both felt like we were handling it just fine. I never felt panicked or like it was more than I could handle, so we told her we’d just keep her in the loop. A few times, she asked to listen to me go through a contraction on the phone, so she could hear the kinds of sounds I was making—that’s how she could tell how far along in the process I was. At around 6:30am, after laboring for about 12 hours at home, she asked to hear me go through a contraction and after hearing me moan and groan for two minutes, told us it was go time! Time to head to the hospital.
The timing of heading to the hospital couldn’t have been better—7am on a Saturday morning meant absolutely no traffic, and we were there in about a half hour—which was record time for that trip. I labored in the backseat, and I had heard a lot of horror stories about contractions in the car, but honestly, they weren’t that bad for me. Again, I think it’s because I had such a nice break between each contraction to gather my strength. I even felt good enough between contractions to snap a photo of the pretty sunrise out the car window!
We got to the hospital, and I could immediately feel my labor slowing down. That’s one of the things I feared about going into the hospital. We were having such great progress at home, that I hated the idea of changing locations and my labor stalling. We checked in, headed to the labor and delivery room, and the nurse checked me—I was six centimeters dilated! I was so happy with that progress. We had done such good work on our own overnight.
But then, she hooked me up to the blood pressure cuff, and that’s when things started to take a turn.
The first BP reading they did on me was 175/120—dangerously high. So they did another one on me after we’d settled a bit in the room, and it dropped, but only down to 155/100—still very high and very dangerous. At that point, the nurse came into the room and said something like, “I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to throw your birth plan out the window” (which I think she said to me while I was on all-fours in the bed contracting). And that’s when I burst into tears. We had worked so hard overnight to have the labor we wanted, and it felt like I suddenly had absolutely no control over what was going on. The nurse didn’t really explain what was going to happen other than the fact that I had to go on a magnesium sulfate drip, and that meant my birth plan was done. She just kept telling me all the things I couldn’t do—I couldn’t labor in the tub, I couldn’t get out bed, I couldn’t change positions. And I just kept crying. Even though my BP was probably high all night (and honestly, we’re probably lucky something “bad” didn’t happen while laboring at home), it just felt like we had gone from a perfectly healthy birth to a medical emergency in 10 seconds flat—and I wasn’t coping well. I’m sure it didn’t help that I hadn’t slept all night (I would not recommend going into labor in the evening, kids).
I managed to ask the nurse to talk to my midwife in between contractions (mostly, because the nurse was pissing me off and I wanted to hear it from someone I trusted), and the nurse told us that we couldn’t talk to her, but I could talk to the OB on call—one of the OBs that were part of my midwife’s office. I remember saying, “But I really would like to talk to our midwife.” I think I just wanted to hear it from someone who knew about my pregnancy and that I had a relationship with. And at that point, our doula turned to me and said something like, “This isn’t a midwife job anymore. It’s medical now.” And that finally registered with me—again, I think it helped hearing from someone I trusted instead of some nurse without very good bedside manner that I’d just met 10 minutes prior. So I asked to see the OB, and while we were waiting for him, Craig and our doula helped calm me down. They talked to me about all the things I still could do, and helped me focus on how much good work my body had already done. And it started to register with me that a situation exactly like this is why we chose the care providers we did—I was having a medical emergency, and we had prepared for that.
The OB came in and he was pretty much the nicest doctor in the entire world. The first thing he said to me was, “Nothing in your birth plan has to change, we just have to put you on this medicine.” And that felt like a huge relief. He had given me my control back. It wasn’t that I was so birth plan focused that I couldn’t handle changes or hiccups, it was that the nurse had made me suddenly feel like this was no longer my birth, like I had no say in the matter. And with just one sentence, the doctor gave my birth back to me. I suddenly felt like this was something I could totally handle.
Since I couldn’t use the tub to labor in, they moved us to a non-tub suite room, and we got everything set up for the long haul around 8:30am. They hooked me up to the IV and started me on the medicine, while Craig and our doula got the room cozy and comfy with a diffuser, candles, and contraband snacks (I wasn’t “allowed” to eat while on the mag drip, but we made the executive decision that me keeping my energy up was more important than the tiny chance of me aspirating during emergency surgery). They hooked me up to a high dose of magnesium and warned me that it would probably make me feel terrible for the first half hour. Thankfully though, I didn’t feel any differently, and because we had finally settled into the room, my contractions started picking back up again. The biggest issue was that I was having back labor, and laying on your back during back labor is pretty much the most miserable thing on the planet, but I had to lay flat on my back for the first half hour on the magnesium drip. It was pretty torturous. At this point, it required both Craig and my doula to talk me through the contractions. Again, I was really thankful that my contractions never got very close, I had a 2-3 minute break between each contraction.
After my half hour on the super high dose of magnesium, my blood pressure had regulated, and I was given the green light to not lay on my back (although I had to stay in bed). Our doula asked for a peanut-shaped birth ball, and I turned on my side with that ball between my knees—and with that position change, my contractions jumped up in intensity and duration. They definitely hurt, but I closed my eyes and moaned and groaned through each one. I know Craig and our doula were “working” on me while I contracting—I knew they were massaging my feet and my hands and taking care of me, but I honestly didn’t really register any of it. I just closed my eyes and went into my own world. And then when the contraction was over, I would do a big deep breath, and open my eyes to see them both smiling at me telling me how awesome I was doing. It felt so good to feel so supported.
I have no idea of the timeline, but it felt like after just a few minutes of laboring with the peanut ball between my legs, I suddenly felt the uncontrollable urge to push. It’s funny, you see all the movies and TV shows that portray birth and you hear nurses or doctors saying “Don’t push! Don’t push!”—I have no idea how someone can stop pushing. The best way I can describe it would be if someone asked you to stop throwing up in the middle of a heave—it’s so involuntary.
And with that first contraction that had a pushing sensation with it, I went with it. No one ever gave me “permission” to push, I just went with what my body wanted to do. Our doula gave me directions on how to push (what I should be feeling with a “good” push, how I should use my breath and sounds to put as much power behind them as possible), and I could feel Juniper moving down with each push—it was a really motivating feeling. I know a lot of women deal with contractions that are pretty much on top of each other during pushing, but again, I had a good three-minute break between each contraction while pushing. I literally was smiling and joking around between pushes—crazy, right?
I do remember opening my eyes after one contraction and noticing that the room was suddenly full of activity—there were five or so nurses, and our midwife was standing at the head of my bed—I didn’t even see her come in. She was wearing jeans and a t-shirt that said, “Everything is going to be okay” and I cracked up laughing. I took it as a good sign that the room was suddenly so full of people, that must mean she was getting close!
I did about 15 total minutes of pushing before everyone in the room started getting really excited—they kept telling me she was right there, but I had a hard time believing it. First of all, who only pushes for 15 minutes on their first labor? And secondly, it never really hurt badly! I felt like there was no way it could be close to being over because I hadn’t felt the excruciating, life-altering pain that I heard about. But, with the next contraction, I pushed hard (and in the middle of pushing, told Craig to look down, because I could feel her coming out), and she was out! She was actually born in her sac of water—my water never broke—and the midwife broke it as she came out. I heard everyone burst out laughing, because she apparently somersaulted out of me once the water was broken. She was born at 10:50am—about three hours after we’d checked into the hospital, and about 16 hours from when I first felt contractions.
They pulled her up on my chest, and Craig and I cried and cried over our little girl. She was perfect. We fell instantly in love.
She stayed on my chest for about two hours, while they got me cleaned up and stitched up (I had a second degree tear—not too bad, and I honestly didn’t feel it happen). The room cleared out pretty quickly and Craig and I were left to stare at our daughter.
After the birth, I had some issues with magnesium poisoning (I apparently got too much!), and my BP actually bottomed out at one point while I was holding Juniper, and I quickly asked someone to take her before my eyes rolled back in my head, and I became totally incoherent. Craig said it scared the crap out of him. But they were able to bring me back to reality with some juice and IV fluids. They had planned on keeping me on the magnesium for at least 12 hours, but because I was reacting so negatively to it, they cut me off early. Unfortunately, they were still worried my BP would spike again, so I was restricted to the bed (and my IV and catheter—not fun) for the next 12 hours. And they kept telling me I couldn’t eat or drink—but I had an awesome nurse sneak me a cheeseburger later that night. After not eating real food for the past 30 hours, it tasted like the best thing I’d ever eaten.
I feel so fortunate that I was able to have a birth like I did, and considering the complication I had, I feel really happy that the system worked for us. I’m glad we went with our instincts and decided on a birth plan that made us feel comfortable and in control. I’ve heard a lot of women who had traumatic birth experiences, and while they may have ended up with a healthy baby in the end, and a lot of people say “that’s all that matters” but the truth is, the mothers still carry around the baggage of a rough labor and delivery. Being a new mom is a hard enough emotional transition—I’m so grateful that I don’t have to go through the physical and emotional recovery from a traumatic birth as well.
As far as my recovery, I’m sure I’ll do a more in-depth post about it later, but recovery has mostly been a breeze for me. In the hospital, they kept asking me if I wanted pain medication, and I kept refusing—not because I was trying to be a hero, but because I literally didn’t feel any pain. For about a week after labor, my stitches stung a bit when I sneezed, but other than that, I felt mostly normal. It did take me a bit to recover from the physical effects of the magnesium (that stuff is nothing to mess around with) and I left the hospital anemic, but those things both resolved themselves in the first few days home from the hospital. And now, three weeks out, I feel like my old self again (other than soreness from breastfeeding—we’re still working on it). I’m still taking it easy because I know that even if I feel okay, my body is still recovering, and I want to give it all the time it needs to heal.