No, I did not have a “Positive Birth Experience”

I’m going to tell my birth story, I guess really my daughter’s birth story as I don’t exactly remember my own birth. I’m not sure why I’m doing this, except that I think it’s more for myself than for people reading it. I’m not going to go out of my way to use explicit details for shock factor but I’m also not going to sugar coat it or leave out anything relevant because it might be considered yucky. So if you’re squeamish about such things you might want to close your eyes during the icky parts. If you’re reading this and are pregnant or hope to be pregnant someday, my intent is not to freak you out, I know many women who had the beautiful (although of course still not easy) birth of their dreams.

After having my sweet girl, I felt traumatized, like shutting myself in the bathroom and bawling uncontrollably remembering it, traumatized. I thought this was super weird until I read that a surprising number of mothers show symptoms of PTSD after giving birth. Now, I would never dream of comparing my experience with that of soldiers or people who have experienced horrible attacks on themselves or others and have PTSD as a result. So nobody freak out that I’m comparing giving birth to the extreme horrors some people have experienced and I also know many women have more traumatic experiences giving birth than I (like these poor women who I just read about before posting this). But all the same, I felt traumatized. Luckily, much of this feeling has faded as I forget not what happened that day but exactly how it felt, physically and emotionally.

I didn’t have much of a birth plan beyond epidural. Sure, I did my pregnant yoga with hip opening poses and lots of kegels to prepare but I didn’t have a detailed plan. I did however have the beautiful moment imagined vividly. That moment when after all the hard work the OB would give me my new baby and love and relief would wash over me, knowing labor was over and I’d done it and have my amazing baby in my arms. I was terrified of the whole thing of course but also excited. I would spend hours watching those real life birth shows on tv. I knew it wouldn’t be exactly as I imagined, things never are, but I was sure I would have my moment.

A little background. It was a Sunday, I worked leading warm-ups for performers at EPCOT at 6:30 am. Being just over three weeks from my due date I had brought the paper work for my medical leave to take to health services (which is in the cast parking lot of EPCOT) on a break. I didn’t get that turned in. I planned on packing my overnight bag for the hospital that afternoon after work. My dad was visiting from Arkansas and planning to leave the next day, my mom (my parents are divorced) planned on coming the next weekend expecting to be there when I went into labor. My husband had a job in Louisiana where he was there for two weeks then home for two weeks alternately. He was to be gone for work the two weeks leading almost up to my due date so I was hoping the baby would wait till he was home. In a stroke of luck, he was home because he hadn’t started the hitch leading up to my due date yet because she was early. In another stroke of luck, one of my best friends had offered to pick my husband and dad up and take them to Star Wars Weekends at Disney Hollywood Studios while I was at work, as we only had one car in Florida.

So, I lead warm-ups most the morning, even joking with a couple of people┬áthat I felt like baby was sitting high and wouldn’t be coming for a while. I was so very wrong. (I wasn’t to the “I need to get this baby out of me now” point in pregnancy yet). My lunch break was at 9:00 am but I had some pretty long breaks later because there were fewer warm-ups in the afternoon, so I’d usually sleep during my lunch break (which is totally legit because I wasn’t getting paid) then eat during a later break. EPCOT was awesome for warm-up coach lunch naps because the warm-up room was (likely still is) isolated and not used for anything else. So I was snoozing on a warm-up mat with the lights out when I felt a little wet in my underwear region. I’d learned that sometimes when your water breaks it can be a slow leak (if the baby is blocking the fluid in) rather than a gush but hoped it was just normal discharge. I went to the bathroom then tried to go back to sleep. I had a bit more leakage before my next group came in but still wasn’t going to admit my water had broken. Only two girls were in my warm-up session right after my lunch break. I led them in taking a deep breath and started marching in place when there was a much bigger whoosh of liquid. Not the Niagara Falls that happens when all the fluid comes out but much more than I could ignore. I squeaked out “go ahead and self warm-up” and rushed from the room. I went straight to the base where we check in for shifts and told the base captain (yes, that’s a thing at Disney), who also happened to be pregnant “Either my water just broke or I peed my pants, either way I need to go home.” She contacted a manager and got me cleared to leave in no time. I called my husband and asked where they were and he said they had just gotten to the Disney Hollywood Studios parking lot, I said “Great, now come to the EPCOT cast parking lot because I think my water broke.” (Remember how I was lucky my friend picked them up for Star Wars Weekends? Otherwise my husband and dad would have been 30 minutes away with no car). I think my husband was even more freaked out than I was. I packed up my stuff, changed clothes, told the costuming department there were bodily fluids on the company sweatpants I was wearing etc. and met my ride in the parking lot.

I ate a little of my lunch in the car, knowing they wouldn’t let me eat after I was admitted to the hospital. I also called ahead as I was told to do and the nurse on the phone sounded a little skeptical. When we got there instead of going to the maternity ward we were ushered into a waiting room to await an ultrasound since the nurse was indeed skeptical that my water had broken and I hadn’t just had a typical pregnant lady potty accident. Till this point I had never had a contraction, not even any Braxton Hicks. While waiting I kept feeling like I really had to go to the bathroom then it would pass after a moment, it wasn’t till after the ultrasound that of course confirmed I was in labor, that I realized those “got to go” feelings were contractions.

Once I was settled in my room the nurse got all up in my business and got the rest of the fluid out. I thought there couldn’t be much left but boy was there. We were a little worried that she was technically premature but since she would be considered full term in just a few days we weren’t overly worried. Since it was early in the labor we expected to be there for the long haul, assuming baby wouldn’t come till the middle of the night or the next morning. I called my roommate (we rented a spare room in our house to her) who was super excited about the whole baby thing, and told her the news. I told her not to leave work early because it would probably be a while but she came right away anyways. (Of course I called other family members etc but they were all out-of-state). So I ended up with my husband, dad, friend and roommate chilling with me in the delivery room. But I wasn’t great company as the contractions grew worse. I knew I couldn’t get an epidural till I’d dilated to a certain point and I assumed I wasn’t there yet and having babies hurt, so I didn’t ask for the epidural. When the nurse had last checked on me the contractions were still mild, by the time she came back they were very painful (I don’t think I can describe the amount of pain to someone who hasn’t been there). She asked if I wanted the epidural and I said yes but it takes a half hour to actually get it after it’s requested. She checked to see how I was progressing, which involves checking how dilated the cervix is (it needs to dilate to 10 cm) with fingers, not fun. Anyways as she checks me she says something like “Wow! You’re already at a…” and I’m thinking she’s going to say maybe four when she says “seven! I better go call the doctor.” Realizing the contractions were no longer mild if I’d progressed so much she offered me a narcotic while I waited for the epidural. I accepted her offer because I was in a lot of pain and how often do you get offered legal narcotics? (That was a joke, I’ve never even tried marijuana). The drugs pretty much just made me sleepy. I had been somewhat nervous about the epidural (as the nurse who taught my baby delivery class said “Does an epidural hurt? Yes. Does it hurt more than a baby ripping out of your vagina? No”) but I was so out if it from the narcotic that I was falling asleep as they gave me the epidural.

Some women can’t even feel when they’re having contractions with the epidural but I was one of the ones that still felt the pressure, just not the pain. The narcotic wore off quickly and I felt pretty good with the epidural. It also wasn’t long before I was in full labor. They sent my friend and roommate out of the room since the policy was only two people could be in the room besides medical staff. And honestly I wasn’t sure I wanted them to see a baby come out of my vagina anyways. The nurse told me baby was coming so fast she’d probably be out in just a few pushes. It was near the end of her shift but she was so confident we’d be done before her shift ended she filled out all the paper work she could (besides time of birth etc). The doctor came in and I was ready. I started pushing on contractions and after just a few pushes they could see the head. I was ecstatic I was almost done. But then I pushed and pushed some more and more and still no baby. The nurses shift ended and another came in, she was a little more forceful telling me to push, not in a bad way, she was trying to get that baby out. I was watching the clock knowing they usually don’t let you push for more than two hours before going to a c-section. I pushed and pushed with all my strength. I’m vaguely aware that they did some stuff to try to progress the labor and make sure baby was okay.

A few minutes before the two-hour mark I heard the doctor tell the nurse he was worried there was “cord involvement” and he told me the thing I’d been dreading, I would have to get a c-section. I burst into tears. I can’t begin to describe how devastating this was to me. He quickly said the right thing “It’s not your fault, you did a great job pushing.” I was so worried the epidural had made me unable to push hard enough, which can happen. And I didn’t fully believe him that it wasn’t my fault. Along with many other comforting things the OB mentioned it would just be a tiny scar in my bikini area, which was the last thing I was worried about, so I couldn’t believe he’d mentioned it. In hindsight many women probably are worried about it even in that moment. In fact it’s easy to worry about weird things in all the stress and exhaustion. I was totally upset at all the time I’d spent doing hip opening exercises for nothing, which is kind of silly.

They prepped me and wheeled me to the OR. I was shaking uncontrollably, freezing because of the medication and the cold OR. They put hot towels all over me which would work till I’d overheat and ask them to take them off, till I was freezing again and so on. My husband was the only one allowed to go with me. (Apparently he could see the surgery through a gap in the curtains they put up). I don’t know how to describe how it felt because the epidural saw that it didn’t exactly hurt but it still felt awful. It was such intense pressure, I can only think of uncomfortable but it went far, far beyond discomfort. The worst was right as they got her out of course, when they said she was out I was relieved thinking it was finally almost over. I was so out of it but I still remember listening anxiously for her cry. I didn’t hear the first one, the anesthesiologist said “Did you hear that, it was your baby.” And I said “It was?” Then immediately heard her second cry and was able to relax a little.

Minutes later they brought my baby girl over to me, put her head so close to my face I couldn’t even see her, told me to kiss her and whisked her (and my husband) away. I was a mess by this point, okay I’d been a mess for a long time by that point but it was only getting worse. I lay there for what seemed like hours as they stitched me up, there was so much more of that intense pressure and some pain as well. Even then I assumed it felt like much longer than it was because of how horrible it was. I noticed a bag of blood hanging next to me, it occurred to me I might be receiving a blood transfusion but in the state I was in I came up with another explanation as to why there was a bag of blood hanging next to me. I’m sure it was a completely crazy and incomprehensible explanation but it made sense at the time. I’d tell what you what that explanation was but much like a dream I can remember I had it but not the details. The anesthesiologist stayed with me talking to me and comforting me, I think she even stroked my head. I knew in the part of my mind that was still logical that my husband should be with the baby but I desperately wanted him with me. Near the end I started whining that I just wanted it to end. I could her my pathetic voice and was even slightly embarrassed at my weakness. As if the medical staff were thinking “Sheesh, lady can’t even handle two hours of active labor followed by hours of surgery she’s awake for.”

Eventually it did end. When I finally got to hold my sweet baby, I was barely aware that I had a baby, I didn’t even notice her little nose was crooked. I was robbed of my beautiful moment. It wasn’t all bad of course, I still enjoyed my baby just not fully and my whole gang of birth cheerleaders was there supporting me and cooing at baby. Now I remember less of the time after I came out of surgery but even a couple of weeks later when I watched the video, I had no memory of much of it. Breast feeding was super important to me, like super-duper important but I didn’t even bat an eyelash when the nurse said they’d give her more formula because I was in no shape to try breast-feeding. (We have video of my husband making sure they used a syringe for her first formula feeding to avoid nipple confusion and asking the OB if I’d be able to breast feed when I came out. It was so sweet because he knew how important it was to me). I was in so much pain but I’ll get to that in a moment. Over the next while I learned that it wasn’t just my perception of time fooling me but I had indeed been in the OR for two hours after she was born. They told my husband it would be about a half hour, so needless to say, he was worried. Baby girl didn’t turn her head how she was supposed to in the birth canal and was wedged in. I was pushing hard enough, I was just pushing her head repeatedly against by pelvic bone. This had caused me internal damage and banged her up a bit too. Luckily babies are made for this and her crooked nose and bruises healed just fine. I did, obviously, get a blood transfusion, well two to be precise. I don’t want to be over-dramatic, it’s not like I was at death’s door but they don’t just give blood transfusions for the hell of it. (Also, thank you so much to all those who donate blood).

The pain was intense, I could barely move and could only sleep with narcotics at first. When they got me out of bed the next day, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Thankfully, one of nurses eventually realized how bad my pain was (I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal) and got the doctor to give me the good stuff which helped tremendously. (She was then my favorite nurse ever). I was an emotional wreck for some time, my hormones were way more out of whack in the weeks after giving birth than they were while I was pregnant. It didn’t help I had an immensely hard time breast-feeding but that’s a whole other blog post. You usually picture people in the hospital dying to get out but I wasn’t sure I wanted to go home and it was harder when I got there. There were no handles on my bed or by the toilet to help me get up and no nurses just a buzzer away. My friends and family were a tremendous help as I recovered.

I go over it and over it in my head. Wondering if I hadn’t had the epidural maybe I could have moved around and gotten baby to turn her head. I love natural births in theory but I’m not a person who can choose pain when I could avoid it, without a hugely compelling reason. Or maybe I would have still needed a c-section and they would have knocked me out which is less safe. I’ll never know. I respect every women’s right to choose her birth plan. But after my experience it’s hard for me to understand how women can choose c-sections without a major medical reason. Don’t get me wrong I’m so glad a c-section saved my baby’s life and possibly my own that day. And actually, definitely saved my life as a baby since I was born via emergency c-section myself after getting tangled in the umbilical cord and was moments away from having permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen. (I may not remember my birth but I have heard the story).

Now I have a rambunctious, brilliant, beautiful three-year-old. I would go through all that again and more for her. But it drives me crazy when people say things like “Well, the only thing that matters is you have a healthy baby.” Because while that is absolutely the most important thing, it’s not the ONLY thing that matters. Mommy matters too. Us mammas will go through our entire lives willingly and happily putting our kids first but we don’t cease to matter.

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