Lillian Juliette's Birth Story
A quick note – one of my biggest regrets is not having professional photos taken in the hospital and I highly recommend doing it even if you feel like photography is the last thing you want to be a part of and want to be more put together in photos than you are in the hours after birth. Let. that. shit. go. You will cherish any photographic evidence of those moments with your new baby and your partner. I’m so grateful to our doula for capturing some really beautiful photos of our birth and I look at them often with a tenderness and fondness that I can't quite put into words.
It’s taken me two months to be able to sit down and write this for a couple reasons. First, between the sleep deprivation and caring for Lilly full time, I simply have not had the bandwidth to focus on anything out of her care and trying to keep myself fed and rested when possible. Second, I needed some time to process Lilly’s birth story and when constantly caring for your baby you only have moments between being needed to think about the deeply life changing experience of giving birth. This story will be rough around the edges because birth is rough. It will be beautiful because birth is beautiful. It will be visceral because birth doesn’t hold back and neither will I. Here’s our story.
On the morning of July 20, 2017, I had an appointment to meet with a midwife in my OB’s practice. At my previous appointment, after expressing my preference for a natural birth without pushing directives and minimal medical intervention, my doctor whom I love suggested I meet with a midwife so that I could deliver with one rather than a doctor in case he couldn’t be the doctor attending my birth. I was thrilled to be able to move in this direction. Due to my kidney disease I had been told previously I would only be able to deliver with a doctor but given my kidneys perfect health throughout my pregnancy, my doctor gave me the go ahead to deliver with a midwife.
I met with the midwife and as usual she asked me if I had noticed any changes since my last appointment. I somewhat casually mentioned that I wasn’t feeling my baby move as much but that I attributed it to having a large baby in my small body (I’m 5’2 with quite possibly the shortest torso a person my height could have). When she asked some follow up questions it became apparent to both of us that there really was decreased movement. Lilly had been head down since 19 weeks and her feet were always on the right side of my belly. In the last months of pregnancy I had taken to poking her little feet and having her kick me back. It became so regular that it was almost second nature and was our little game. The few days before my appointment I had noticed she wasn’t kicking back as much and sometimes not at all.
The midwife sent me over to the hospital for a non-stress test (an NST) to make sure the baby’s heartbeat was stable. I casually stopped at Starbucks on the way, asked my husband to meet me there and slowly walked toward the hospital in the 90 degree weather. After the NST and an ultrasound, the midwife at the hospital said the baby appeared fine but my placenta was advanced. This wasn’t surprising regarding my placenta since I had gestational diabetes and one of the concerns with GD is a more rapid degradation of the placenta. She told me only I can truly tell whether my baby has starting moving less but that decreased fetal movement can be a sign that the baby is not getting enough oxygen which would tie into the placenta degradation. Essentially, the baby might be moving less to conserve energy. I called my doula at this point and we talked through it. I really wanted a natural birth and to avoid induction at all costs so I told the midwife I would monitor her movement for the rest of the day and come back if necessary. At this point, the midwife told me this would be considered leaving against her recommendation and I would have to sign forms to that effect.
That’s when it sunk in. This midwife doesn’t think it’s safe or in my baby’s best interest for me to leave the hospital. She thinks I should be induced. My husband and I immediately looked at each other and said, “So I guess we’re having a baby today?” It was pretty surreal. Once we agreed to the induction, the midwife left the room and I went into the bathroom. I was shaking and crying and thinking about how scary it was that my baby could be in danger while also wondering whether there really was any danger and if I was making the right choice. I had heard enough bad things about induction to know it wasn’t my preference and yet here I was checking into the hospital for just that. I had a talk with myself and told myself that this would be the first of many decisions I made as a mother that I wasn’t sure about. The risk of leaving the hospital and something happening to our baby wasn’t worth taking so this was the path we had to take. This was something I would remind myself of often during my 40 hour labor…
I was moved to a shared room to start the induction process. First, they checked me and I was zero for zero in dilation and effacement. My body wasn’t ready. I was so disappointed that I was forcing this to happen against my body’s will but I told myself again and again to just put those thoughts out of my mind and focus on softening and opening. They inserted a dose of Misoprostol into my cervix around 5pm, about five hours after we had arrived for the NST, and told us they would be back around 9pm to check me. About two hours in I began having contractions. They were mild and uncomfortable but bearable and my husband and I decided to go to sleep. My poor husband was stuck sleeping in a chair in the corner of our half of the tiny shared room and I was in the hospital bed. Every time I had to use the bathroom (which was frequently!) I would have to walk past another couple in my hospital gown hoping I wasn’t revealing my backside but also not really caring very much as the contractions got more and more intense.
As a side note, I had group B strep also so I had nearly constant antibiotics that burned like hell going into my veins. In some ways that was my least favorite part! I learned to ask them to infuse it extremely slowly while also using fluids to dilute the antibiotics as they went in. I had to tell each new nurse to do this and they totally understood.
They finally came in to check me at 1am, only twice as long as they said they would be, and I was dilated to 1 cm. The doctors told me I wasn’t a candidate for further Misoprostal induction at that time due to my contraction being so close together and they opted to insert a Foley catheter in my cervix. Yes, this is as painful as it sounds. After the insertion I actually asked aloud if it was a medieval torture device and if it was possible to die from pain. They offered me an epidural which I declined since I was barely even in labor. They offered me IV pain meds, which I also declined and then accepted pretty much in the same breath. The catheter with contractions was probably the worst pain of my whole labor. They left me to “sleep” with this prehistoric contraction manually stretching out my cervix and I basically curled up and alternated crying, breathing and having mild out of body experiences from the 1am insertion until 8am. At 8am, I respectfully and eloquently asked the new nurse to, “Get this fucking torture device out of my body.” She tugged on it and it came right out signaling that I was at least 3 cm dilated.
The doctor checked me and I was indeed 3.5cm and Lilly was super low. At this point my contractions had slowed down enough to do another dose of the Misoprostol. After that dose, I didn’t see another doctor until 4pm. I was contracting but not in full on labor just waiting and waiting that entire day. It was rough. Finally, they came in and checked me and I was still only 3.5cm so they did yet another dose of the Misoprostol. I was so exhausted and my body had been contracting for 24 hours without very much progress.
The next time the doctor came in I expressed this and they told me as soon as a labor room opened up they would move me and start Pitocin. I had wanted to avoid Pitocin at all costs but at this point I just needed to have this baby. Mind you, all of this was still taking place in a shared room. Thankfully, my second roommate during this process was extremely sweet and it made a weird experience less awkward. We chatted about how much induction sucked in between moaning through my contractions (she wasn’t having any and I’m sure hearing me was terrifying!) and it was kind of nice at times to not be alone in the experience. Still, I would really have preferred not to feel awkward about laboring with an audience.
My husband went out to get my favorite brick oven pizza in anticipation of it being my last meal for a while and of course as soon as he got back they were ready for us to move. We had so much stuff with us it was comical – the yoga birth ball, bags upon bags, a speaker, my essential oil diffuser, and a salt lamp. I had to stop every few steps as we made our way to the room because my contractions were still coming fast and strong.
We got into our birth room around 8pm and all of the sudden it felt so real. The little area for the baby was all set up with the scale and bassinet and I looked at the bed and realized I would give birth in this room. A room I had envisioned many times. This particular room had no windows but at that point I didn’t care at all. It was private. I could moan and speak freely. The nurse was young and sweet and I expressed to her how strongly I had wanted a natural birth and that I did not want a ton of Pitocin all at once. She started it out at the lowest dose and told me she would go up slowly. It felt like maybe half an hour before the contractions were insane. I had about thirty seconds between them and they lasted at least a minute. My legs were going out from under me and I was having trouble catching my breath let alone able to breathe through them. I found myself clenching when they would come even though my hypnobirthing class had taught me to do the exact opposite. At this point the sounds I was making were downright terrifying and I was begging my husband to just press as hard as he could on my lower back each time a contraction came. This helped minimally but soon it wasn’t enough. I asked the nurse where the Pitocin level was and she told me she was continuing to increase it since the baby and I were tolerating it well. When I realized the Pitocin would only continue to go up and my contractions were going to get more intense, I made the call I never wanted to make and told her to order that epidural as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, the anesthesiologist arrived quickly at 11pm but I don’t think there’s such thing as quickly enough when you’re in labor. Every contraction felt like my body was being pulled in two and my uterus felt like it was burning. I didn’t feel like Lilly and I were laboring together, I didn’t feel in control, and I didn’t feel like labor was beautiful in that moment.
I was scared and exhausted and in so much pain my vision was blurring. This was not what I had envisioned. I had to stay still for the epidural which was brutal as the contractions made me want to move my body almost involuntarily and it took about 20 minutes before the epidural dulled the pain but I had to remain on my back in bed. Again, nothing I had ever wanted. I had wanted to move around and bounce on my birth ball in the hot shower. Yet here I was in bed, flat on my back, numbing the experience. But I have never been so grateful. I didn’t care about those things I had thought I wanted. I cared about feeling in control again, about being able to think about my baby again, about resting my body for pushing.
Two hours later, the doctor checked me and I hadn’t progressed at all. I was so upset but also so tired and I could feel this intense pressure that burned and ached. They increased my epidural dose but I could still feel it. The nurse suggested I lay on my side with a peanut ball between my legs. After a few minutes I fell asleep and an hour later the nurse woke me to gently roll me to my other side since my legs were numb and I couldn’t move my body.
Two hours later the doctor came back to check me and said, “Are you ready for this?” My husband and I immediately thought, “Oh no, I haven’t progressed and we are headed for a C-section.” The doctor then said, “You’re ten centimeters and ready to push!” My husband and I both exclaimed, “Oh shit!” at the same time and everyone started laughing. At this point we called my doula and told her she needed to come and they sat me up very straight in the bed. About an hour later the doctors and the nurse told me that pushing could take up to three hours and that they wanted me to do a practice push. I did my practice push and Lilly crowned! Everyone got really frantic and put on their scrubs and got ready for her to come much sooner than expected. I was so ready for her and so excited to meet her!
I pushed three times, each time the doctors, my doula and the nurse exclaiming, “Oh wow she’s really coming!” It was so encouraging and I felt really powerful in that moment. I couldn’t feel everything but I could feel pressure and her head and body as they came out. I was incredibly shocked when they laid her on my chest since she came out so quickly!
She let out her first cry and I was crying from joy and relief that we were all together at last. She stopped crying and snuggled into my chest and we looked into each other’s eyes. I looked over at my husband to my left and saw him crying, too. We were a family. Her warm body gently breathing in and out on me is a feeling I will never forget. I stared at her matted, fine hair and watched her body rise and fall as it filled with air for the first time while they stitched me for a very long time.
It turns out that having a baby in three pushes can do quite a bit of damage. I naively asked, “Did I tear?” The doctors informed me I had torn in three places. Thank goodness I didn’t know what lay ahead in the healing process as I lay there with my daughter. Ignorance truly was bliss in that moment. Lilly nursed not that long after she was born and I had this odd feeling like we had met before. Our two old souls feel like they were reunited in that moment and that feeling hasn’t ceased.
Although my birth was pretty much the opposite of what I had envisioned, I never wished it to be any other way after it happened. It happened the only way it could have happened because that was always going to be Lilly’s birth story. We just didn’t know it yet.