Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mammas out there. You are doing the hardest work there is. We see you, we celebrate you, we help heal your pelvic floors.
This year in honor of our mothers and mothers-to-be, Molli, OrthoPelvic’s clinic manager, will be sharing her birth story complete with informational links to help educate you more on birth and those first postpartum moments.
Even if you think you know the linked topics, we encourage you to click on them anyway. We suspect you’ll come away having learned something that you may apply to your own birth journey or share with your loved ones.
Now onto the birth story….
Early on the morning of March 17th, 2020, at 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant (well past my estimated due-date), my midwife, Hilary, came over and did a stretch and sweep of my cervical membranes to try to help induce labor. This was the second time I’d elected to have a stretch and sweep, having done it previously on March 11 at 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant, with our other midwife, Heather.
At the second stretch and sweep, Hilary determined I was 3cm dilated, she could stretch me to 5cm, AND she could feel my sweet son’s head. After that encouraging intervention, I drank a castor oil smoothie that my husband prepared.
Imbibing castor oil was another natural induction method our midwives recommended.
Additionally, I used a breast pump intermittently for 30 minutes at a time to stimulate contractions. It was a carefully orchestrated and timed event, this concerto of interventions.
Why all these interventions, you ask?
I really, really, really, did not want to have to go to a hospital to give birth. I had switched from an OB group to my homebirth group at 20 weeks pregnant. My husband and I had started going through birth education materials and drawing up how we would like my ideally non-medicated birth to go, and the hospital wasn’t feeling compatible with our goals. I spoke to a friend who had an unmedicated hospital birth, and also had attended her best friend’s homebirth, and she said if she could do it again, she would hands-down choose homebirth.
What she said was what I both did and did not want to hear. My son was halfway cooked! I didn’t want to make a big change this far into my pregnancy. But in my gut, I felt I did not want to birth in the hospital setting where I might have to fight for my preferences (like minimal monitoring, free movement, delayed-cord clamping etc.).
I am a highly sensitive person (HSP) who feels others’ moods and emotions in my own body. I knew I could not expend my energy processing, fighting, or repelling someone’s emotions when I’d need every ounce of that energy to go towards birthing my son.
I want to explicitly state that I think birthing in the hospital setting is the right choice for many. I also think that due to common obstetric practices, it’s not the right choice for more women than we may realize, and that the true window of what is normal in birth is wider than is convenient for most MDs.
So anyway, back to March 17, 2020 and castor oil smoothies…first off, castor oil is THICK. And it tastes like…jet fuel? Or like the run-off you see in puddles at gas stations. It’s pretty awful. And I had 2 doses that day. Phew.
Around 9:30AM, I went on a walk with my husband, Brad, and I was still experiencing the contractions that had started during that early pump session after the first dose of smoothie. The breast pump could stimulate contractions during use, but they often faded into nothing once I was done. These contractions seemed to be staying, and I was hopeful but nervous because I had gotten my hopes up so many times before. I was in prodromal labor on and off for 2 weeks, so I thought I had been about to begin active labor many times up to this point, and looking back, I suspect I was so militant about these interventions because I truly thought my son would not come out without aggressive coaxing.
I didn’t tell Brad I was still contracting until we were almost back at the house, and he was so surprised. I remember when I told him, he said “Really?!” and he confidently asserted that our baby would come that day.
No one else thought our son would come that day. Even though our midwife, Hilary, and doula, Logan (nickname Lola) thought my labor would be fast, everyone predicted my son would come after midnight, likely in the wee hours of the morning of the 18th.
At 12:08PM, I texted Logan that my contractions were getting harder to breathe through and that they were worse while sitting on the birth ball (we borrowed this ball from Logan and its name was Megan Markle. Lola also had a bigger one called Kate Middleton). I texted her asking if I should be excited or not because I was so nervous it was false labor. She told me to be excited because labor had never been so active before. Then I texted her that I felt very angry with Brad for absolutely no reason. She told me I was in labor!
I tried using a TENS unit to help ease the contractions, but I didn’t like it or find it helpful. At 1:10PM, contractions were 2-4 minutes apart, and I pumped again to help labor progress and then took a walk. I stopped and asked Brad to take a photo of me in front of a house on our neighborhood with the Irish flag waving in their driveway. It was my attempt to try and cement that my son would indeed be born that day, Saint Paddy’s Day.
At 3PM, I had another small castor oil smoothie (blech), and pumped. Then at 4PM contractions were coming every 40 seconds, so Lola decided she needed to get here and help support me physically. She had been supporting me emotionally since the second she signed on as my birth doula.
I do not have many memories of this day of pumping and smoothies and contractions. It was all so strange to me. I remember very clearly going on the walk with Brad in the morning and him being so excited I was still contracting, but the rest of the day was a blur, and I’m so glad I have Lola’s notes to refer to or I wouldn’t have half of this info.
When Lola arrived around 5, I was on the birth ball, pumping and sobbing. My midwife, Hilary told me to relax and take a bath and have some red wine, and I felt like my team didn’t understand how intense my active labor was and how hard it had become for me. I wanted my midwives with me because certainly that meant I could be done soon and I would meet my son and finally be a mother. I was getting so tired and the contractions felt so painful, and I just wanted to rest. I didn’t think labor could possibly last much longer or that I could get through it. Lola held me and let me sob into her t-shirt which featured sketches of the cast members of Vanderpump Rules. She was so comforting to me physically, spiritually, emotionally, and wardrobe-ily.
Lola set-up and tried a lot of different labor positions to ease the strength of the contractions, but nothing seemed to work. We were quite literally upside-down and all around. At 8PM we reached out to Hilary again because I was really struggling, and Hilary told me to take a bath and to call her if there was a big change like my water breaking. Lola asked if I wanted her to bathe me or Brad. I said I wanted her. It was quite literally, the most vulnerable 20-30 minutes of my life. As soon as I stepped in the tub, I commented on my swollen, dark nipples, even though they were completely normal and a pretty cool evolutionary hack that make them easier for your newborn to find. Logan told me she had “Hershey kiss nipples” when she was pregnant with her daughter Violet, and it helped me feel a bit more solidarity, but no less naked nor less vulnerable as she gently massaged me with calming oils. It was so strange being in that bath. The whole time I was in the water, I felt like labor had stopped. I wasn’t contracting, and I just felt like I was in an alternate world within my labor-verse.
I now realize it was important for me to have a break and rest, and that’s probably what Hilary wanted for me, but I didn’t like being disconnected from contractions and from the progression of labor, so I got out of the bath and I laid in bed with Brad. Logan went downstairs to get some sleep for a few hours. Brad tried to read a Harry Potter book we had been reading before bed aloud to me, but I was in so much pain.
All of a sudden, I felt a not-painful but immediate pressure, like something was about to drop out of me. I ran to the bathroom and as soon as I sat on the toilet, my water broke. We yelled for Logan who had barely been downstairs for a few minutes. Someone called Hilary, and she left and was on her way! Almost immediately, I started throwing up and lost my bloody show (I don’t remember the bloody show bit, too busy throwing up).
My contractions grew stronger, and I entered the most memorable and incredible phase of my labor: transition. It was so fascinating because I went into another state of consciousness where everything was darker and had more shadows and I was there in the room but mostly there in my body. I threw up several more times and had diarrhea (Logan reassured me that these were all good signs, and the body likes to void so that the uterus can be the star of the show!). Logan and me were upstairs as I threw up in my room and my bathroom into some really handy emesis bags she had brought from hospital births. While we were upstairs, my mom and husband tried (unsuccessfully) to fill the birth pool, but encountered issues. I remember texting Hilary that “You haven’t lived until you’ve contracted and had diarrhea at the same time,” and she replied “I have lived” with some cute emoji. I don’t remember using my phone much in active labor, much less transition, but I think knowing she was on her way gave me a third wind!
Some time after that text, I labored on the bed with a peanut ball from Logan(unnamed) and I believe this photo is from that time, but I’m not sure. My concepts of space and time were off that whole day. As I said, I was in my own birth world.
One of my most vivid memories from transition, after the vomiting and diarrhea, was of standing on the bathroom floor between the shower and the toilet, and having the image of my contraction going from my womb all the way to the core of the earth. It is one of the strongest memories I have from my birth. As long as I live, I believe this memory and image will be with me.
I know soon after that, I went to sit on the toilet to labor, and I suspect that memorable moment happened as I was trying to make my way there. I bet Logan was with me because when I was struggling to labor on the bed, she coaxed me to labor on the toilet, but I only felt myself there, and in my mind that moment will have always happened while I was alone. Logan was such a wonderful doula to me. She guided constantly but never like she was controlling or interfering. She guided me like a prima ballerina—I know she was doing incredibly hard work but she made it feel so effortless and fluid.
Soon after I got to the toilet, Hilary arrived and took my son’s heart rate and it was perfect. She reminded me to moan deeply during contractions (low pitches help relax the pelvic floor and high pitches clench it up), and she told me I was so strong. Not long after that, while contracting and sitting backwards on the toilet, I felt the first urge to push. It was pressure but it wasn’t very painful at all. I asked Hilary if she needed to check my cervix, and she said “I can, but I trust the innate wisdom of your body.” It was so beautiful and calm and so very Hilary.
Brad and my mom were still trying to figure out the birth pool at this time, and when I felt the urge to push, and Hilary said she trusted the wisdom of my body, I said I wanted to go to the bed and for someone to get Brad. Lola went downstairs and said “You’re gonna be a Dad!” and Brad said “What?!?” He was so shocked, that sweet Brad Dad. I have a feeling my mom cleaned up the birth pool, which is just as well because I couldn’t have even made it down the stairs, let alone into a pool. I had no idea it wasn’t working, I just knew I wanted to go to my bed.
I labored on the bed with Brad. It felt like the darker, shadowier haze of transition had lifted, and I remember telling everyone that pushing was so much easier than transition. I felt so happy and I was thrilled to be laying down. I pushed for about 45 minutes without breaks. Hilary wrote in our birth notes that I pushed “gently.” It was discouraging at times because I remember when the urge to push happened, my son’s head would come out some, and then it would go back in after. Woof, that was hard. I didn’t anticipate the two steps forward, one step back, of it all.
When he was crowning, Hilary suggested I reach down and feel his head. I think she thought it would help me see that I was really doing it and he was almost here. I said no at first, and then said “Yeah, let me feel.” I felt that wrinkly, gooey head and said “That’s f***ing disgusting!” and everyone cracked up laughing. It felt like what I imagine a brain feels like, and I did not enjoy that.
Soon enough, it was 11:26PM and my precious son was born. I remember Hilary had to ask me to push really hard and give it my all to get him out on that last push. I groaned and put all my power in it, and I can still feel the intensity of his body going through me if I stop and think about it. That memory is forever with me. After his big and beautiful head, the rest of him just flopped right out. I was so happy to have him in my arms and I could hardly even comprehend what this meant to have my baby in the outside world. I couldn’t believe after all that time in my body, here he was, and I was his mamma, and Brad and I were responsible for him forever.
12 minutes later, I peacefully birthed my placenta with my baby on my chest. After birthing a human child, birthing a vascular organ with no skeletal structure was a veritable breeze. Then Hilary felt my uterus, and noticing it was firm, asked when I had last peed. It had been over an hour, so she asked if I could pee right on the chux pad on the bed, or in a diaper they could put on me, or if I had the energy to walk to the bathroom. I was a bit dizzy, but I felt I could get up to go to the bathroom. I did not feel comfortable emptying my bladder anywhere but the toilet (despite the fact that I had no qualms emptying a baby from my uterus in front of multiple people). I made it to the toilet, but once there, I fainted. It was scary for my mom and for Brad who had my son on his chest, keeping him warm and just basking in awe of him. There was a trail of blood from where I had walked from the bed to the bathroom, and while not surprising given the circumstance, I’m sure that was a little tough for them to see as well. After fainting on the toilet, my amazing nurse Andrea tended to me and got me conscious again.
It’s so strange (a word I know I’ve used so many times already, but it fits, I promise), but I was so tired after giving birth, and I just wanted to rest, and I remember when I passed out, everything went black, and I felt so happy to rest. Then gradually I heard voices, and eventually, I opened my eyes. When I was ready to go back to bed, I fainted on the way there, and, unfortunately, that second time I fainted with my eyes open, which was also quite scary for my mom and husband.
And then the most amazing and perfectly ordinary thing happened: when I got to bed, Andrea helped me to get my son to latch, and once I started to nurse, the color came back to my face, my blood pressure went back up to normal, and I came back to myself. For the very first time earthside, nourishing my baby nourished me.
And then, after crossing the threshold, the real adventure began…
Be empowered in education,
OrthoPelvic Physical Therapy