In a nod to Women’s History Month, I’m sharing an important moment in my history: the day I became a mother. Here is my daughter’s birth story.
***Trigger warning: Fertility issues and birth interventions***
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How it all began
When Steven and I first started dating, way before having babies was a consideration, he had surgery for a varicocele. This is a common issue in men that can sometimes cause infertility. A couple of years after living together, he had his sperm tested, and the results weren’t promising. The doctor said it would be very difficult to have children. Steven and I had a serious discussion on what this meant for our future, and we agreed our lives would be complete with or without kids.
Shortly after our first anniversary, we stopped trying not to have a baby. After all, chances were slim. Well, imagine my surprise when two weeks later, I peed on a stick and saw two pink lines. Five additional home pregnancy tests and bloodwork at the doctor confirmed it: I was pregnant.
My due date was September 16th, but when I woke up on September 14th, I knew. Being a first time mom, I didn’t want to overthink things so Steven and I went about our day. He ran some errands while I did yoga.
Immediately after yoga, around 1pm, I began having serious contractions about 5-10 minutes apart. After two hours of this, I called my midwife Barbara. Once the contractions were 3-4 minutes apart, Barbara told us to come into the hospital.
We got there around midnight, and my contractions slowed down almost immediately. When Barbara checked me, I was only 2 centimeters dilated (out of 10). The birthing center refused to admit me. Their policy was I had to be at least 4 centimeters dilated. I’d read about “white coat syndrome” and thought this must be it. Annoyed, we went home.
By 5am, I’m pretty sure everyone in our apartment building thought my husband was murdering me. The sensations were way more intense than anything I’ve ever experienced. When my husband called Barbara, he didn’t have to say a word. She heard me in the background and told us to get back to the hospital right away.
Second time’s the charm?
We arrived around 6am, and when Barbara checked me, I was barely 4 centimeters dilated. She explained that my baby was posterior and wasn’t able to descend down my pelvis. This was why I was in so much pain. She had me try different positions to turn the baby. Even worse, the birthing center staff was debating on sending me home AGAIN. They were concerned that as a first-time mom, 4 centimeters was not far enough along.
I overheard them say I could only be admitted if my water broke. In what some might describe as sheer will, I said “Come on Aria” with my next contraction…and my water broke! (My husband: “What witchcraft is this?”) The birthing center admitted me.
I practically jumped into the laboring tub as everyone tried to soothe me. By 9:30am, Barbara was getting worried about my lack of progress. She gently let me know I could transfer to the Labor & Delivery floor for an epidural, as I was going on over 20 hours of labor with no sleep, and I’d just thrown up after a particularly strong contraction. My husband later told me it was kind of funny because afterwards I got excited and asked everyone, “Does this mean I’m in transition? Is it almost over?” (I’d read some women vomit towards the very end of labor) To which they replied, “No, sorry.” Exhausted, I told Barbara to check me. If I still wasn’t making progress, then I would go for the epidural.
It turns out I was at a 5, and my baby still wasn’t descending at all. The staff had to alert the resident obstetrician because I was becoming a C-section risk. I decided to transfer and get the epidural, hoping I’d be able to better manage labor. Barbara agreed this was my best shot at a vaginal delivery.
Leave me alone
By 10am, after 21 hours of labor, I got the epidural, and it was a huge relief. I could feel the contractions as a tightening, but they were completely manageable.
At noon, Barbara checked me again, and I was at a 7. By this point, I was a little cranky. I wasn’t allowed to eat, drink or get up at all, despite having a “walking” epidural. Lying on my back the whole time seemed counterintuitive to me, and I was convinced this was contributing to my slow progress.
When I was at an 8 at 2pm, everyone around me seemed concerned. The nursing staff said I was running a fever and wanted to give me antibiotics. I politely declined. Barbara suggested Pitocin as an option to make my contractions more effective. When I politely declined this too, one of the nurses warned me they’d begun prepping the OR for a C-section and tried to convince me to get the Pitocin. Deep down, I didn’t believe this was the best path for me, and I requested we wait another hour. To any mothers-to-be out there: the best question I learned to ask was “Is there any danger to me or the baby if we wait?”
I wanted to be left alone. With my midwife’s blessing, I kicked everyone out of the room, except for my husband.
Trusting my intuition
As soon as everyone left, I threw off all the blankets and told my husband to lower the room temperature. I suspected I didn’t actually have a fever; I was just hot. Then I ate a bunch of nuts and drank coconut water. Revitalized, I began to focus my energy more positively. The epidural helped me relax, but perhaps too much, I thought, and my body didn’t understand it was in labor. I focused on my breathing, and with every exhale, I opened my mouth as wide as possible. I also kept thinking “open” (to my cervix) and “down” (to my baby). Almost immediately, I began to feel downward pressure. I kept up the breathing, and Barbara (bless her) gave us two hours instead of one.
When Barbara came back around 4pm with the nurse, my “fever” had gone away so I was in the clear and didn’t need antibiotics. The staff focused on the contraction monitor, which read strong, steady and fast. At 4:45pm, Barbara checked me and said the most amazing words ever. “Okay, you can push.”
No one could believe it. The resident OB came in to congratulate me and said, “Guess you won’t be needing my services after all”. The Pitocin-loving nurse said to me, “This is a time when I’m glad to have been wrong.” This gave me the encouragement to push with all my might because hell hath no fury like a woman who wants to be right.
After an hour of coached pushing, my body took over from some primitive place inside of me. When my baby was out most of the way, Barbara asked if I wanted to pull her out the rest of the way. I did. The feeling of her coming out was this semi-orgasmic, relieving, amazing sensation. Staring down at my baby on top of my chest was one of the most powerful moments of my life. Aria was finally here.
The life lesson
This moment in my personal history was one of many I’ve experienced where what felt right for me went against the grain. When it comes to my health, finding an expert or professional who I trust (like my midwife) is important. At the same time, I also believe in trusting my intuition and speaking up.
If you’re a woman reading this, don’t forget how powerful your voice is. If you’re a man, listen to a woman when she’s telling you something does or doesn’t feel right. Within her is a wisdom more ancient and knowing than you may realize.