The Sweater Still Fits, Asshole: A Birth Story

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Vivian’s birth story begins well before I ever went into labor. You see, my pregnancy with Vivian was planned, but I hadn’t really thought about the birth thing.  At 25 weeks pregnant, Brian and I walked into our first birth preparation class. The stars aligned and we ended up with a childbirth educator who had personally experienced a birth full of interventions and an intervention free birth in a birthing center. She gave factual information about the pros and cons of each intervention (you mean an epidural may increase the chance of a cesarean?!) and alternative pain management techniques (like hypnobirthing, pushing positions, counter pressure and breathing techniques). I left those classes feeling empowered and capable – and excited to fill my doctor in on my wishes – the desire for a natural, intervention free birth.

My appointment came with my OB (who I pretty much picked out of the yellow pages, by the way. I had done more research on our plumber – this method of doctor selection is not recommended.  Try this instead). As I explained to the doctor my wish for a natural birth, he informed me that I “didn’t want that.” When I explained the medical procedures I wanted to avoid unless medically necessary (like an episiotomy and IV fluids) he told me I had no choice – he was the doctor and all.  He informed me that I really shouldn’t worry about it anyway because I had an 85% chance of having a c-section because of my height and I was incapable of birthing a baby over 6 pounds (what the what?!?). Within the same breath, he handed me a consent form for a cesearan. When I asked about the risks of the major surgery, he told me that he’s a great surgeon and I’d recover quickly (how’s that for informed consent?). I asked if he’d allow a trial labor, at which point things got weird. My doctor told me that we could try but that if I gave birth vaginally to a baby over 6lbs, it would be similar to him “wearing my sweater and giving it back – it would never fit again.” Yes, my OB, the one I was suppose to trust during one of the most important and vulnerable moments of my life, just compared my vagina to a sweater. First I was sad, then I was pissed.

I had walked into my appointment feeling empowered and capable and walked out feeling defeated and inadequate. How could my body have already failed me? How do short people still exist if we are incapable of giving birth (which, by the way, he never was able to answer. I mean, evolution is a thing…)?  I called my yoga instructor, who happened to be a birth doula, to see if this was possible – if I was doomed for a cesearan. She recommended I seek a second opinion and sent me the name of another doctor in the area. I called the next morning and scheduled a consultation. During our meeting, which I came to armed with a birth plan and filled with tears and doubt, the doctor told me that I was capable of giving birth as I desired. She let me know that sometimes circumstances do change during birth and that a c-section was always a possibility, but that I was not doomed because of my height. At 30 weeks pregnant I changed doctors.  Another important thing happened at 30 weeks pregnant – remember my yoga instructor? I hired her as our doula and began learning about hypnobirthing.

Based on the medical complications that my previous doctor had listed in my chart, and an elevated blood pressure, my doctor was uncomfortable with me being pregnant much beyond 40 weeks. After discussion of options, risks and benefits, we opted for a membrane sweep the day before my due date (see that – informed consent!). Three hours later, while at work, I noticed regular contractions 3 to 5 minutes apart. I peeked my head into my bosses office, who was a mother of two, and told her I thought it may be time. She swiftly packed my things and walked me to my car with strict instructions to go straight to the hospital. My contractions were steady but not very intense so I went home, calling my husband’s office on the way.  His unmarried, childless co-worker answered the phone. Upon hearing my voice (I never called my husband’s office directly) immediate panic came over him. “He’s in a meeting. I can pull him out. Is it time?” I laughed and told him we had some time and asked for my husband to come home after his meeting. On my drive home a peace fell over me. I knew my baby would be born soon, and I felt prepared to bring her into the world.

I took a shower and ate a small meal when I got home (Tuna, actually. Don’t eat that when you’re about to birth a baby). My husband came home shortly after and we went for a walk around the neighborhood. My contractions became much stronger, causing me to stop each time a wave came and went. A few hours later our doula arrived to helped.  I bounced on a birthing ball, moved into different laboring positions and Brian used counter pressure as the contractions became more intense.  Several hours later we went to the hospital.  The car ride was the most uncomfortable part.  Not only could I not get comfortable, but it was a moment of in-between: I left my home with a bag and would return with a baby.

When we arrived at the hospital, I told the charge nurse in labor and delivery that I was planning a natural birth and asked for a nurse who could be supportive. She rolled her eyes and sent me to triage. Clearly, she was not my supportive nurse. In triage, I was told that I had not dilated past 3cm (which I had been earlier that day at my appointment) and that they would call the doctor. They came back several minutes later and told me that the doctor on call was… Drum roll please… The doctor who was concerned about my sweater – the doctor I had fired. I panicked. No way. No way was that man going to ruin this experience. I asked them to call my new doctor and have her deliver. Several minutes later the nurse came back and said that my new doctor would be the one to deliver (phew!).  The staff “allowed” me to walk the halls for 45 minutes to get things moving. 45 minutes later I was 5cm dialated. I was going to have a baby. And soon.

I moved to a delivery room and started using my hypnobirthing techniques. During each contraction, I imagined the breath going into my uterus, surrounding my baby. As I exhaled, I imagined the air rushing out of my body with the word “progress.” And it was working. I soon moved to 8cm dialated and the nurse called my doctor to tell her I was getting close to push. I quickly moved into transition, where contractions felt almost constant. I vomited the tuna I had eaten earlier that day (told you that was a bad call) and my water broke simultaneously.  My body then paused – a “laboring down” moment. I rested while my body prepared for my baby to enter the world. My doctor arrived while I was laboring down (and 9.5cm dilated) – just in time. Before she could even get settled in, I began feeling the urge to push. I’ve heard people describe their pushing phase in different ways – some people describe it beautifully, as they imagined their baby swimming into the world like a mermaid. Not me. As my baby descended, my uncomfort increased. I came to the conclusion at one point that I was, in fact, incapable. I could not push this baby out. No way, no how. I quickly realized that walking around with a baby half out wasn’t really an option, and entered the threshold of no return. I was going to pretend I was pushing out a ginormous poop (not as beautiful as the mermaid imagery?) – and that I did. My doctor asked if I wanted to catch my baby and I reached down and lifted 7 pound 13.5 ounce Vivian into the world.  I had become a mother.

After Vivian was born, I started hearing about other women who were treated poorly by their care providers, many of which didn’t change doctors, and ended up with terrible traumatic birth experiences that led to things like PTSD, PPD, and PPA. I walked into motherhood feeling like I could accomplish anything, which came in handy at 3am – while so many walked into motherhood feeling inadequate and fearful. This was the beginning of my passion for birth, my questioning of doctors, and a new approach to holistic living.

Oh, and just in case my orginal doctor is still concerned – the sweater still fits, asshole.

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