In writing and posting my kids’ birth stories, the youngest got to go first for a change. I wrote Anna’s birth story, a water birth, first, then Michael’s cesarean birth story second, now to honor our oldest, here is Ali’s birth story. She’s heard it every year for her birthday (click here for six birthday ideas for teen girls) so it’s not new to her, but sixteen years later, it’s time I wrote and shared it here.
Being pregnant with my first baby was truly my dream come true. I had always wanted to be a mother and I loved being pregnant. Every minute of being pregnant. I was ecstatic and I admit that, within the glow and growth, I was a bit of a looney first time mom in some ways.
I held my breath while passing a smoker on my way to work in New York City or when a bus spewed exhaust in my direction. I was hyper-aware of everything that I put in my body and every bite I took was to nourish my baby.
I even recorded my daily servings of green vegetables, yellow vegetables, calcium and so on. Yes, I got teased about that – and still do by a few friends who were with me through it. I was in love with my baby from the moment the plus sign showed up on that stick and I devoured everything I could to learn about pregnancy, labor, and motherhood.
I had always trusted birth and believed in my body’s abilities.
It never dawned on me at that time to change providers, I just stayed with the doctor I’d been seeing for years, but as soon as Ali was born, I knew I’d made a mistake. At each visit I asked questions, I talked openly about things I envisioned and hoped for in my birth and specifically talked about avoiding medications, an episiotomy, and other interventions. In hindsight, I can see clearly that he verbally patted me on the head, reassured me, then in my labor, he did what he wanted.
It was the last weekend before my due date and Nick and I snuggled in bed on Sunday morning deciding to do something we never did. We planned to stay in bed all day, watch movies, and do absolutely nothing but enjoy each other quietly in advance of the unknown just around the bend. Many of my friends’ first babies arrived well after their due dates and I was in no hurry and even looked forward to having some time out of work and at home before I gave birth. So that lazy Sunday morning, I went to the bathroom and something was different, excitedly, Nick and I scoured the birth books to read about mucous plugs and determined this was it. We changed course, got dressed and ran out to finish all those last minute errands. No day in bed after all, and not again for a very long time after.
Over night I was feeling crampy, a dull ache and around 3:40 am, I had some long, low, cramps under my abdomen. I jotted a note that said, “feeling what I think are contractions.”
On Monday morning, Nick reluctantly went to work in NYC and I had an appointment with the doctor. He told me I had a closed cervix and that I could still be a week away from labor. After that exam, I spent the day with my sister cooking soup and experiencing irregular and far apart contractions. My sister had been living with us for three months and it was perfect having her there for me at such a special time. She and Nick had taken over the cooking for those months, pampering me, and she still teases me that the day I decided to prepare a meal was the day I was in early labor. It’s that nesting instinct, I guess!
Nick came home early and contractions by evening were about 10-12 minutes apart. After 9:00 pm, my sister came with us to the hospital and in our eagerness, we did what everyone doesn’t want to do: we got there too early! I tell clients now that nothing happens faster when you get to the hospital but it’s true that there’s such a strong desire to have your baby and the excitement propels us forward.
The doctor asked the nurse to check me and she told me I was “a loose two fingers” which meant about 2 cm dilation. I had changed since the morning check but still wasn’t in active labor. They monitored me for an hour and a half, nothing changed so home we went.
The doctor prescribed me sleeping pills. You already know how particular I’d been with what I put into my body for the whole pregnancy, and now he wanted me to take pills? I talked to Nick and to my mom and we debated whether I should take them or not. After much deliberating, I decided to take half the dose he’d prescribed. Very quickly, I became dopey and fell into a deep sleep. It didn’t last long, however, and I was awakened by strong, steady contractions. We still chuckle about how I got up to go to the bathroom after being roused by a doozy, I was so out of it from the medication that I walked into the door frame stubbing my toe and Nick slept right through my agony. I let him sleep as I attended to my now strong contractions and passed out between them.
Around 2:00 am, my contractions were about 2 -3 minutes apart and we headed back to the hospital. All I remember was being in bed. Being stuck in bed. After being in the world of birth and babies for over fourteen years now, I see so much of this first birth in a whole new light. I remember being in bed, no freedom of movement, I was on my back, restricted. Of course it hurt more. I remember my doctor coming into my room in a tuxedo. I remember him suggesting medications to me. Didn’t he tell me I could have a medication-free birth? When he said that, I vividly recall thinking, not that he’s in a tuxedo, but I thought, “he sees women in labor all the time and if he’s suggesting medication, I must not be doing a good job.”
What I didn’t see was that it wasn’t me or my body, but it was his way of practicing, perhaps his impatience, that motivated his offer of medication. First he said we could try a narcotic. We did at 3:15 am. That did nothing except make me loopy again, and at 4:30 am, with me still in bed, he then stood there in his tuxedo recommending an epidural. His actions disregarded me. But not for the last time.
The anesthesiologist did his thing, but he wasn’t successful, so he tried again. When he placed the epidural the first time, it affected only the right side of my body, so he explained that he added more medicine and rolled me to the side in hopes of it helping my left side. It didn’t work and he started over. He redid it, then they immediately started a Pitocin drip. Less than an hour after the epidural was place, by 5:30 am, I was fully dilated and the baby had descended well. Soon after, they turned off the epidural to let it wear off before pushing.
We took a nap and I started to push at 7:00 am. The benefit of an epidural in this scenario is that my body continued to work to move the baby down while I rested, it’s called passive descent or laboring down. So that even though I was fully dilated, I waited to push.
The nurse who replaced our overnight nurse was a grouchy woman who treated me like an object. I remember being shocked that without asking me or even saying anything, she pressed on my abdomen into my bladder and made me urinate onto the pad on the table. She did it on purpose to empty my bladder but I felt violated.
My legs were so leaden and heavy that Nick and Nurse Grumpy had to lift my legs for me. I laid in that bed, in what I now know to be the single worst position for pushing, and I pushed with gusto. With each contraction, my assistants handed me my own legs and I moved our baby closer to my arms.
Nick was an amazing support. His encouragement helped me feel like I was making progress when I could feel nothing. As he expressed his amazement, it helped me press on. Not quite an hour later, without warning, against my wishes, as Nick watched, the doctor cut an episiotomy. Then he used a vacuum extractor. He pulled our baby out into the world.
Later, Nick told me that it looked like it might have saved me a push or two, Ali’s head was there, visible, and staying low between my legs. We had no understanding then of why he did that. I get it now. Sadly, I get that it had nothing to do with medical necessity, had nothing to do with me or my baby’s health. It had only to do with the doctor who’d shown up at my bedside from a party at two in the morning and he must’ve been tired by 8:00 am. Call me cynical, but I’ve read my records and have attended about 60 births since then. Of course, it’s in hindsight that I can see this all so clearly. This birth and each of my births have made me who I am and have made me a better birth educator and doula because of these experiences.
In that moment, at 8:01 am, as Ali was born and placed on my chest, I didn’t think about anything but her slippery body in my arms. In that moment, my birth had given me my daughter, had made me a mother. I was transformed forever.
Ali had gigantic eyes the color of ink, her black hair stood on end, and she was perfect. Nick described my look as one of “love and wonder” as I first gazed at our baby. It was a miracle, the fulfillment of our deepest desire. We were parents. Even as the pediatricians whispered and looked at her foot, I wasn’t worried. She was completely perfect.
They examined her and spoke to us with a seriousness in their voices. Her foot was bent back but they were
encouraged because it was moveable, unlike how a club foot would be. I remember feeling no sense of worry, only peace. She had kicked me vigorously in the same spot for a long time at the end of my pregnancy. I could see and feel her foot through my belly and as the doctors considered and discussed, in my heart I knew it was just from her regular pokes, I knew she was perfect. And, of course, she is. (Ask Nick, I’m always right!)
I couldn’t be more grateful for our Ali. She made me a mommy. She gave me what I’d always wished for and more. Much more. She’s a gift every day, a joy, a blessing, and a source of pride. Sixteen years later, my sweet baby, is still my sweet baby.
© Copyright Leah DeCesare 2014