"My birth story begins about 2 months before my baby’s due date. The birth we planned and the birth we had were quite different and many things happened that were out of our control. However, in the end, I felt quite supported. I also hope to capture how my husband did not feel supported, and he will share more in his own story. The birth world continues to have a lot of work to do for everyone, but specifically those who are not white and both biologically and gendered women.
The first detail about my birth was all of my beautiful plans. I only have one child, and I intended at the time to have many, and was very afraid of having a C-section. It was a priority to me not to have one, and I read many studies about the rates of C-sections and how to avoid them. My husband and I made the decision together to have a midwife attend our birth and to stay out of the hospital. We lived in Brookings at the time on the coast, and resources were limited. There are two hospitals to birth with. One was in Crescent City, in California, and OHP (Medicaid) would not cover a birth there unless it was an emergency. Many of our friends gave birth there by showing up at the emergency room. It did not feel like a plan we were willing to take on. The other hospital was in Gold Beach, about 35 minutes from our house. The hospital happened to be less than a mile from the midwifery birth center, and our midwife told us that in case of emergency, we could always make the short trek to the hospital to have intervention. The hospital was set up for triage but not NICU. We had to make several decisions. The closest hospital with capacity for high-risk newborn issues and surgeries was in Coos Bay, a 2.5-hour drive on the winding, windy, and often dangerous Highway 101. In addition, for a small fee, the midwife also offered us the opportunity to give birth right in our apartment, 35 minutes from either hospital. She felt confident in our ability to do this safely.
We rated all of the options and decided to do the hospital-adjacent birth center birth. This would eliminate all chances of using pain medication, but I would be able to eat, shower, take a bath, and walk around outside. I had decided to try a water birth with my husband in the tub to catch our baby, and the choice seemed obvious to us to stay out of a hospital.
However, one month before my due date, the hospital lost their OB staff to various problems. The birth center lost its legal ability to offer births. We were devastated. This took all of our options and narrowed them to three. 1) Use the emergency room in California, 2) do a home birth without a supporting hospital, or 3) drive the 2.5 hours to Coos Bay and stay in network with insurance. We struggled for weeks and the anxiety of not having a birth plan was making me miserable and I felt unsafe without a choice. We met with our midwife several times and ultimately decided to give birth in Coos Bay. They had the medical capacity for emergencies, the attending OB professionals were midwives and women, and they allowed water labor in their birthing suites. They would not allow water birth, but I could do the majority of my labor in water and was allowed to birth in any position I chose. The entire staff were women, and this was very important to my feeling safe. (I have a history of sexual trauma, and do not allow men doctors to view me privately.) My midwife, who I can’t praise enough, offered to come be my doula for the birth since she didn’t have attending rights at the hospital in Coos Bay.
My son was due April 15, and on the morning of April 13, I woke up around 8 am and the moment I stood up, my water broke. My water broke like in the movies, in the way that my midwife assured me is very rare. I had a flood gush from me, and what I learned very quickly was that when your water breaks, and you are not in labor, it continues to trickle like urine until you give birth. When my water broke, I immediately went into an anxiety attack. I woke my husband first, then my mom (who had arrived the week before to support us for the birth). I then called my midwife and said, “I think my water broke?” I was crying on the phone and shaking. I knew that something big was about to happen and I felt out of control. I also felt very far away from the hospital (over 2 hours…). My midwife was so calm, “Come in and let me check, I doubt it actually broke and its okay either way.” We grabbed our packed bags, I took a shower, and we drove to the clinic 30 minutes away. When we arrived, my midwife did a quick check and confirmed my water had broken. She gave me some adult diapers (a life saver!!) and helped calm my anxiety. She explained that what had happened is called “PROMs”. That stands for premature rupture of the membranes. She said the hospital would give a 12-hour window for me to go into labor then suggest a c-section. She described the medical concerns and then told me that she would be comfortable with a 24-hour window unless we saw any signs of fetal distress. The 12-hour window would mean I would be in the hospital and denied food, but the baby would be constantly monitored. The 24 hours window would mean I could eat, shower, take baths, and play cards, waiting for my baby to arrive. However, in the 24-hour scenario, the first sign of distress meant an immediate emergency C-section. I was so upset about my only two options. We elected for the 24-hours and my midwife had me repeat to myself “My body knows just what to do, and so does my baby.” This mantra helped me calm down immensely.
We decided together to drive to the hospital and get a hotel room nearby, where I could labor and order room service. I had no contractions at all! For the first 12 hours we played cards, ate in a restaurant (I had veggie sushi and fried rice, while wearing a diaper!), and walked the halls of the hotel. Around 12 hours it was 8 pm and I started to get more anxiety. I called my midwife, and she was still very calm. She said, “I’m going to have dinner and put my kids to bed, then I’ll come up and we can get some sleep and check the baby periodically.” I was almost angry, I wanted her immediately! But her calm was also so nice.
Around 11 pm, I couldn’t sleep at all. My midwife called and said, “I’ll be there in 1 hour.” I was so upset still! I wanted her NOW! When she arrived, she listened to the baby’s heartbeat, put on some pajamas, and said, “let’s get in bed.” My midwife and husband and I laid together in bed chatting in the dark, and my Mom slept in the other bed. We had a videographer as well, and she slept next to my Mom. We were one big happy, excited, but anxious family that night. At 1am, my midwife said, “let’s try to get some things rolling.” She had me get in the shower and express some colostrum. She continued to check the baby. I was dilated to 3 cm (up from 2cm 12 hours before) and was like 80% effaced. Once I started expression colostrum, I started having contractions. They were about 3 minutes apart, and I stopped being able to talk through them. By 2 am, I was moaning and rocking with my husband through contractions, and my mom, who is trained in Reiki, was doing reiki to help me through the anxiety and pain. (I HIGHLY recommend reiki for those who can afford it!). By 3 am, I was no more dilated, but the pain was intense, and most of my labor was in my thighs and legs. My mom was squeezing my legs, my husband was holding me from around his neck, and my midwife rubbed my lower back. I am not comfortable with so much attention and kept feeling like I should say “please and thank you.” My mom still talks about how polite I was in labor. At 3:45 AM, I began to transition. I looked at my midwife and said “I’m done, I can’t do this, I need some pain medicine and a c-section. I am at my wits end.” My midwife said, ever so calmly, “This is transitional labor, these feelings are normal, but you don’t mean this. I know you want differently and I’m going to support you until I hear your safe word.” I had established a safe word with her and my husband that meant “GET ME PAIN MEDICINE NOW.” I did not use it. I began to cry hard, and my midwife helped me lay in bed. However, lying in bed made the pain worse. My mom kept nervously asking my midwife why we weren’t in the hospital. My midwife smiled and said, “I will know when it is time…we are almost ready.”
At 4 am, my midwife said, “let’s start to walk to the car.” My mom pulled up one car, and my midwife pulled up another. My husband sat in the back seat (he is blind and cannot drive), and my mother drove me to the hospital. The pain I felt on that drive was INTENSE. I was loudly moaning and rocking. Every pothole was torture. My baby felt like they were pushing intensely into my cervix, and they were. My mom offered me pain medicine and asked me to use the safe word. She has since apologized, and I felt deeply disrespected then and now, but now that I am a mother, I understand the horror of seeing your child writhing in pain.
We checked into the hospital where my midwife had called in advance, the room was low lit, and 3 nurses were waiting in the room, all women. When I arrived, they gave me a medical bracelet, told me they had just read my birth plan out loud, and helped my husband find a safe place to stand (because again, blind). I did not want an IV or continuous monitoring, but my midwife explained that given the fast onset of labor and the PROMS, this was a situation where the benefit outweighed the risk. In my birth plan, I wrote that my midwife would help make any medical decision with and for me based on our previous conversations. This is unique to a midwife-doula and outside the scope of normal doula services. I agreed to the monitor, and the baby was doing well. The heartbeat gave me comfort instead of anxiety. I was only 4 cm dilated, but 100% effaced. The nurses gently offered me a million things, all of which I turned down. I wanted a natural labor. My midwife (doula) told me it would be wise to wait for the tub until closer time to pushing. She said water might slow down my dilation and she worried it would lead to a C-section. So, I waited. At 4:30 I asked to go to the bathroom, I felt like I really had to pee. My husband, a nurse, and my midwife helped me to the bathroom, and I sat on the toilet. Right then the most memorable part of my labor happened. What each person remembers from that room is different, but I’ll share my perspective. I left my body, looked down on myself, and saw myself screaming very loudly. Suddenly, I slammed back into my body and my midwife yelled “don’t push!!” and shoved her hand underneath me. She later said that she had never witnessed this, but she visibly saw me dilate from 4-10 all at once and thought the baby may fall into the toilet. The pain was INSANE. It’s the only pain I remember from the birth, including the labor. I asked to get in the tub, and the nurse said “We can’t, the baby will be here any moment.” I was shocked!!
I somehow got back to the bed and got on all 4s, which it what felt right to me in that moment. My husband and Mom were on one side, my midwife on the other. The nurses checked me and used an intercom and yelled “Get the midwife NOW!!!”.My midwife offered to catch, but the other midwife came running into the room. This all happened very fast. The nurse strapped on my continuous belt monitor and no sound happened. I was in lots of pain. The attending midwife was also extremely kind, but she was not calm. She had on tennis shoes and no scrubs, and she put her hair in a ponytail while a nurse put gloves on her. She asked me to turn onto my side to see if we could hear the heartbeat. I laid over, and no sound happened. The midwife then asked to do an internal monitor. I said no. My doula midwife said yes and told me this was beginning to be critical. I went back onto all 4s, and the attending midwife attached an internal probe, no sound came out. At that moment, 7 nurses literally ran in. My midwife doula talked quietly to the attending then came back and whispered in my ear “forget what we talked about, push no matter what. Push when you feel it and when you don’t.”
My midwife-doula said something I will never forget, she looked at my videographer and said, “Stop the video, the baby will be gray.” I will never forget that. I do not hold it against her at all, we were all panicked, and in the end I’m thankful to never have seen that footage because my videographer shut her camera down. In one split second, at 4:34 am, a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes from my first slight contraction, and after 2 minutes of pushing, my baby was born. Grey, silent, and with no heartbeat. We had plans to let the cord pulsate completely, but we lost that option. Instead, my midwife held my baby, a nurse gave him chest rubs to start his heart, and a nurse asked my husband to cut the cord. In that moment, every single person but my Mom ran to the baby who was still being given chest rubs. I’m so thankful my Mom stayed to hold me. I was yelling “Is my baby dead??!!” 30 of the longest seconds later, my baby cried. Everyone else cried, also. My husband said, “We have a boy!!!” We did not know the gender before. My boy cried hard and healthy. The videographer turned the camera back on. One other thing I will always remember is my husband, immediately having experienced a major trauma, leaning over our son whispering “I know buddy, that was crazy, but we all did it. Welcome. I know you are cold, but your Mommy is awesome, your gonna like her. You just keep up all that screaming, and I’ll get mommy ready to hold you so soon.” About 5 minutes later, my boy was on my chest. He was healthy and had an APGAR of 8. That is an amazingly high score for a baby born without a heartbeat.
I want to share the next part to help other moms, future and prior. I looked at that baby, who immediately stopped crying, and I felt nothing. I felt no love, no relief, and no pleasure. He did not look like my baby, and he did not feel like my baby. I couldn’t bring myself to smile. All I felt was hungry and pain. I didn’t feel love for him for almost 4 months. Did I still hold him, breastfeed him, care for him, and smile at him? Of course. Did I want to? No. My midwife, mother, and husband as well as 2 home visitors and a WIC specialist worked very closely with me daily to get me the resources I needed for my postpartum depression and anxiety. I struggled for nearly 2 years before feeling like myself again. Once my doctor found the correct medicine and I started weekly therapy, I looked at my son one day when he was nearly 3, and I only felt love. Nothing else. I burst into tears in that moment and held him so tightly. He said, “let go of me, Mom!”
Immediately post birth, I tried to breastfeed, and my son was tongue tied and lip tied, this began a months long journey of pumping, supplementing, and crying (both him and I). I did several things that first week that were on my “never” list. I let someone else care for him for nearly 12 hours so I could sleep, I gave him numerous bottles of formula, and I let him go to the nursery all 3 days we were in the hospital.
To end on a better note, I want to say that I included all of this and these details to normalize experiences for other families. My birth and postpartum experience led me to change my entire life. I started numerous support groups, was trained through Postpartum Support International as a peer-supporter, received education and training to become a breastfeeding support worker, got a job as a Healthy Families Home Visitor, and went back to school to get a master’s in policy to work solely on behalf of families at the state and federal levels.
My husband and I are privileged. White, educated, middle class, and had doulas, midwives, early and regular prenatal care, lactation specialists, placenta encapsulation, and access to high quality mental and physical health care. We still suffered immensely. We went nearly $15,000 in debt, both suffered from postpartum mood disorders, and lost our family business. All to keep this precious being alive and well. I went on to breastfeed until my son’s 4th birthday when we had a family meeting and agreed to stop nursing. We had a party to celebrate the end of his nursing. Today, I have a happy, healthy 4.5-year-old who is independent, funny, and brilliant. I love him with my whole heart, soul, and body. Even if it didn’t start that way. By the way, he will be an only child. This experience was a wild ride our family has decided not to take again."