Archer’s Birth Story
There’s lots of details here because this is meant to be instructive to other mothers-to-be. I’ve left out some graphic details, email me if you want to know more.
ARCHER’S BIRTH STORY:
In the weeks before Archer’s birth I wasn’t anxious about the birth itself. My greatest anxiety was getting caught up at work before I went into labor and my second greatest anxiety was making the most of my time before the baby arrived. My due date was Feb 25th and I planned to work up through Friday, the 24th – I was convinced that Archer would arrive at least a week late after being told this was the norm for first time moms. I was nervous about going into labor at any moment and my work wouldn’t be ready to hand over to a colleague. At the same time I was feeling anxious about enjoying my last days of pregnancy and childlessness — I really wanted a little time to myself before the chaos of having a newborn in the house. So in typical Sarah fashion, I was stressed about being stressed. I decided to work through the weekend prior to my due date and then start maternity leave a couple of days earlier than planned. I finished work on the 22nd and Ted and I enjoyed Thursday together. We went for a walk, went out for lunch, and took it easy around the house. On Friday the 24th Ted was at work and I planned to get a lot of last minute errands done – things that were weighing on my mind, little things like mailing thank you notes, returning unneeded items to Babies R Us, getting my oil changed, etc.
I was all prepared for my day of errands and crossing to-do items off my list (always a favorite!) and I had the car loaded and ready to go. I started the car and felt suddenly very tired. I encouraged myself to go ahead and proceed with my day as planned, thinking I’d feel more motivated once I got under way. But I couldn’t shake this voice telling me not to go, and rather to stay home and rest. I was frustrated with this sudden shift in my energy but knew it was probably best to listen to my body — something I was told many times throughout pregnancy. I left everything in the car and went back to bed. I stayed in bed all day, napping and reading a book. It was nice quiet time in the house, everything was calm, I felt relaxed and enjoyed resting.
At 5:30pm I was still reclined in bed, reading a book, when I felt a flutter of big movements from the baby – it surprised me because I hadn’t felt the baby be that active in at least a couple of weeks. Then I felt a little pop, like a champagne cork popping – it didn’t hurt at all and was a sensation I had never felt before. I thought “I think my water just broke” and when I got out of bed to investigate I felt a little trickle of warm fluid — it wasn’t a huge stream or gush. I read online to put in a panty liner, lay down for 20 – 30 minutes and then get back up and see if more fluid comes out (yes). The fluid was clear and didn’t have a scent, which I knew were both positive signs meaning there wasn’t infection or meconium from a distressed baby. I was still feeling calm and relaxed as I lay back down and called Ted at work. It was exciting to tell him the news; our long anticipated event was finally upon us after so many hours of discussion and planning. He rushed home at record speed expecting to find me deep in labor and ready to go to the hospital (he told me later that when he pulled up in front of the house he had considered leaving the car running) – he was definitely hyped up and in “go mode”. Instead he found me relaxed in bed with no contractions in sight – I certainly didn’t feel like I was in labor. It was crazy to know that our son would be with us before the weekend was over – I knew our midwife wouldn’t allow me to go longer than 24 hours after the membranes had ruptured before inducing labor (due to risk of infection).
We called my sister Grace who would be serving as our other birth partner and she came over. We called our doula Cindy to ask advice on how to help get contractions started naturally – I wanted to avoid induction if at all possible. I knew from class that induction often leads to complications requiring a cascade of medical interventions (epidural, c-section) and thus often derails women’s plans for a natural birth. To help labor get started we went for a walk, did the Miles circuit, tried various yoga poses, Grace applied accupressure to specific pressure points known to trigger contractions — all to no avail. Around 9pm we called our doula again to discuss whether to keep trying to start contractions or rather to get a good night sleep and start again in the morning. She said either way was fine and we decided to go to bed. We both slept great – that was my last night of undisturbed sleep for a long time and I’m so glad I got the extra rest!
In the morning I got up feeling great – I was excited and energized. I did some cleaning around the house and got things ready for the hospital. I felt very calm and Ted had steadily calmed down since he first got my call the night before. I called our midwife and she told us to come in to the hospital and use a breast pump to help start contractions. Grace, Ted and I got to the hospital around 11:30am and were in high spirits. I hadn’t expected my ride to the hospital to be so easy — I had been planning to labor at home as long as possible and one of the things I had been dreading was how miserable the ride to the hospital would be during the throes of labor. Once in our palatial room, I started pumping for 20 minutes at a time and alternated this with walking and doing yoga for 20 minutes and pretty soon I started experiencing contractions about 7 minutes apart that were fairly mild – no worse than strong menstrual cramps. This routine continued for about 7 hours, but the contractions did not progress much in length, strength, or frequency — I knew this was a bad sign for avoiding further intervention.
The nurse was in communication with our midwife several times by phone and eventually encouraged us to try some a small amount of pitocin to help progress contractions. Pitocin is the drug most often used to induce labor and I had long regarded pitocin as the enemy – but I knew that at this point it was the right thing to do, or else we’d have a c-section on our hands – it had been 27 hours since my water broke. I got started on the pitocin about 9pm and my contractions quickly got stronger, longer and closer together in frequency. I began needing much more support from Grace and Ted to help me cope with the pain. The most comfortable position for me was to get on my knees and kneel over the bed while Grace applied pressure to my low back. Contractions felt like very powerful menstrual cramp abdominal pains. At this point my recollection gets blurry because I entered a really focused state of just trying to cope – I wasn’t aware of time, who was around me, or much else. I know that around this time my friends Lilly and Daniel arrived – I had asked Daniel to photograph Archer’s birth. I’m not sure I was even able to acknowledge their arrival.
About an hour after starting the pitocin drip (10pm), the baby’s heart rate dipped down to about 60 – way too low (normal range is 110 – 160) and I was taken off the pitocin as a result. The baby’s heart rate continued to be low so I had to begin wearing an oxygen mask and I was hooked up to a heart rate monitor continually – this meant that I was now confined to laying in bed, which is one of the biggest reasons I was aiming for a natural childbirth – so that I would have the freedom to move and take a variety of positions as I labored. I had read that labor can often stall when a woman is lying still on her back and the pain can be more intense in that position. The pain did get pretty brutal – at this point no type of massage or pressure felt good. During contractions I squeezed Ted’s hand and he gave me calm words of encouragement. I couldn’t respond to him, but I definitely heard him and felt comforted. Around this time I also began moaning my way through the contractions. My moaning progressed as the contractions did and by the end I was pretty much howling through the contractions. The pain was so overwhelming, making loud noise seemed the only way to let it out. Finally I was fed up – the contractions hurt so bad I really didn’t think I could take much more of it. I knew from others’ birth stories that this moment of feeling like you just can’t go on any further often signifies the point of transition from first stage labor to second stage (pushing). I asked the midwife how much longer it would be and she checked my progress – 9 cm dilated and 90 – 100% effaced.
This was great news – it meant it was time to push and that I was nearing the end of my misery! Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cart wheeled in with lots of gear for the delivery, this was such an encouraging sight, I knew I was close to this all being over. Within a few minutes I started feeling the urge to push and went with it. I had expected this 2nd stage of labor to feel a lot different than the first, but the waves of contractions I had felt earlier pretty much felt the same as the waves that came with the urge to push. I really started yelling now. I was still laying on my back with the oxygen mask and felt like I really couldn’t get much leverage to push – and I didn’t have gravity on my side as I’d hoped I would by taking squatting or standing positions. I have no idea how long I was pushing. It really didn’t seem like it was that long – maybe 30 minutes? It seems like it was 8 pushes or less. Everyone kept telling me to “go lower” in my grunting and yelling. I guess I wasn’t pushing with the right muscles and I was told to “growl like a bear” – this really helped! Also I kept trying to push my feet back against the squat bar, but this was pushing in the wrong direction (backward, instead of forward). I was in such a daze, just trying to survive through the painful sensations — it was hard for me to make sense of what I was doing. Everyone was very supportive. People started getting a little giggly, Ted was smiling rather than appearing so serious. This was sort of frustrating since I was still miserable and in a lot of pain and feeling quite serious myself, but I knew it was a good sign that I was almost there. For several pushes the baby’s head was crowning, but I just couldn’t seem to get him out. It didn’t really feel like the “ring of fire” I had often heard about, but it certainly did hurt and I wanted that baby out of me!
I finally managed to push the baby out along with lots of warm fluid. Beth (the midwife) handed Grace the baby and she put him on my chest. Lots of hands were on him, trying to get him crying and moving – so far he was still and silent. I wasn’t really worried, I think I was too relieved that he was out and too exhausted to feel much of anything. I just lay there and waited for the nurses to do their thing. He wasn’t responding the way they wanted, and they took him away to a warmer to keep working on him. I still didn’t feel worried. I was still in a daze and felt sort of removed from everything. I think I had taken on this sort of stoic survivalist mindset through all the pain of the contractions and I was still in that mode which meant I was sort of emotionally cut off. I sort of observed each moment from some outside place, and didn’t fight or judge it, but just went with it. I didn’t really have the energy to do anything but accept and cope with what each moment brought – this had been my approach through the last couple hours of labor. I mean, what else are you going to do? So I wasn’t really worried about the baby, I just waited. I later learned that he had his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck 3 times and they had been working to resuscitate him.
I could hear baby begin to cry and knew this was a good sign. The nurses brought him back over to me and put him on my chest again, this time he was moving, crying, eyes opening. I still felt very distant, but certainly interested in him. Like “So you’re my baby? OK.” He rooted around some but didn’t nurse – he was taking in all the new stimulation and had his photo taken about 100 times. I felt peaceful, though physically still in pain. I continued to have strong contractions and cramps for several hours as I birthed the placenta and as my uterus began the process of flushing out Archer’s home for the past 9 months and shrinking back to pre-pregnancy size. I continued to have unpleasant things done to me: Beth putting in stitches (first degree tear), having my abdomen pressed on to help make sure nothing was left behind in my uterus, being catheterized to ensure my bladder wasn’t distended. About two hours after the birth, it was time to move to our recovery room. They tried to get me up to walk to the bathroom, but I passed out in the process – I guess too much blood loss combined with too many hours of withheld food and water (about 15 hours at this point) – I’m surprised this doesn’t happen to more women! They broke out the ammonia under my nose – it’s funny that after all that, I was the one needing the salts broken out. I continued to be light-headed and weak for a couple of days. Because of this complication, they took Archer down to the nursery while Ted and I remained in Labor and Delivery for another couple of hours trying to get up my strength to make the room change. They gave Archer a bottle of formula since we were separated for a few hours. Archer was born at 12:29am and Ted and I arrived in our recovery room about 5am. We got two hours of sleep before they wheeled our precious baby in from the nursery at 7am and we had our first nursing session. Archer stayed in our room from that point on and I haven’t gotten more than 2 or 3 consecutive hours of sleep ever since – that is until last night, when Archer slept for 6 straight hours! That means I got about 5 hours of sleep, it was amazing.
But back to the birth:
I felt very weak physically and continued to feel emotionally distant from the whole scenario – perhaps due to exhaustion or just the hugeness of such an event. I was expecting to feel an instant boost of energy and love and positivity once the baby was born and in my arms, but this didn’t happen for me. I didn’t dislike the baby, but didn’t feel a bond between us either. I think this kind of threw me off my game. I expected to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after going through all these months of preparation and all these hours of intense hard work. But I didn’t feel much of anything aside from relief that labor was over. Maybe I was in a minor state of shock after a trauma?
I felt satisfied with the experience of labor – it was what I expected for the most part. I expected to work hard and be challenged by the pain and intensity, I expected that the unexpected would happen at any moment and I’d have to deal with it. Some women say that they feel very empowered by having a “natural” childbirth. I put the quotations there, because what is natural? Can you say that if you’re giving birth in a hospital setting – what’s natural about that? Isn’t all birth natural? Or just vaginal births? Would using a breast pump to start contractions be considered natural? We had some medical interventions – receiving pitocin, being put on oxygen, but these were minor in scope and essential to the process. I was able to cope with the pain without medication, but it left me very weak and somewhat traumatized — I’m glad I did it the way that I did, but I’m not sure I’d do it this way again – I guess we’ll see. I wonder if I would have felt more emotionally present for my child’s arrival if I had an epidural and hadn’t been in such a trance? But maybe I would have entered a trance-like state regardless.
I felt empowered in that I felt informed, educated, and confident – I had goals for my birth experience but also had a toolbox of coping skills for whatever situation we found ourselves in. Grace and Ted were amazing birth partners – it was incredibly helpful and special to have both of them there with me. I felt very supported. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Lilly and Daniel being present and taking pictures, but it worked out perfectly – the pictures mean so much to me and they are a couple of friends who I have no qualms about seeing me in a vulnerable and primal state. It meant a lot to me that they were there to share in such a special experience with us.
THE AFTER BIRTH STORY
The experience of the first hours, days, and weeks of postpartum was very different – I felt extremely unprepared and caught off guard by so many little details of it, starting with all the follow up procedures immediately after the birth. I had been so focused on getting through the birth that I didn’t even consider what would happen thereafter. I think this juxtaposition — being so prepared for birth, but not at all prepared for what came after — was what was so hard for me. It wasn’t that what came after was especially awful — it’s more that I felt like “OK, I successfully completed what I set out to accomplish. I’m done now. Let’s relax and go home.” When really, the end of birth is just the beginning of a whole different sort of marathon – physically and emotionally recovering from labor while physically and emotionally adjusting to the constant care of an infant, fatigue, a change in the roles and expectations of you as a person (all of the sudden, you are a mom – what the hell does that mean?), adjusting your relationship with your spouse to account for this new person in the relationship, learning all kinds of little things like diaper changing, burping, latching, bathing, swaddling, soothing. And realizing that this new “race” is 24 hours a day for the next 20 years without pause – it’s a bit daunting.
My father says if your freedom was measured on a scale and 100 was the maximum amount of freedom you have as a single person, then you get married and the freedom scale lowers to about 90. Then you have a kid and it crashes down to 0. Then over the years it slowly works it’s way back up little by little. So I guess I’m at 0. This was a huge slap in the face and major adjustment, that, along with the hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep, anxiety over nursing, and physical trauma of birth, left me a total weeping mess of a person for about a week. I felt really miserable and sad and overwhelmed. I wondered if Ted and I had made a mistake and was freaked out by the notion that there was no turning back. I thought maybe something was wrong with me that I didn’t feel totally in love and blissed out over my baby. Maybe I just didn’t have the maternal instinct I thought I did. I had around the clock care from my husband, parents and sister for about a week before I began to get my feet back under me a little bit. So that’s what they mean by the “baby blues” I guess. It was a hell of a lot more intense than I ever imagined.
Now Archer has been in my life for 5 weeks and our bond is developing. I love this little guy! My maternal instinct is still in tact and I realize that being a mother comes in a thousand different varieties . I’m gaining some confidence in my mothering. As I get less freaked out, so does Archer. I think he definitely responds to my emotions and stress level – I can feel the connection and it’s pretty wild. It’s like the two of us are connected together in a bio-feedback system. His relaxation affects my relaxation which affects his relaxation and on and on. As my anxiety about nursing, mothering, soothing, diapering, everything decreases, I’m able to enjoy him more. I’ve gotten much better at knowing how to sooth him when he cries (walk, swaddle, jiggle, and/or white noise – or if all else fails, nurse). Although I miss my freedom, I also miss him when he sleeps for an especially long time and I’ll get out of bed to go look at him. It’s got to be a good sign, right?