I re-wrote this at 27 weeks postpartum. My original birth story I asked to be deleted because it was so horrible, this is the new one. It's 4,000 words or so long, but I gained a lot of wisdom the last couple days after serving as a doula and I realized why my birth went the way it did.
How to find Beauty in Dark Places; the birth of Leela
I’ve been putting off writing my birth story for a long time. Mostly, I felt like a failure and a fraud and I didn’t want anyone to know that my birth did not go as planned. I’ve been “planning” my birth since I was in high school, when I first heard about babies being born in water from reading a book talking about women birthing with dolphins in the ocean. When I was in middle school we had a school assembly where people from “strange” professions came to talk to us about what they do, one of them was a midwife. I was intrigued, and I knew that’s what I wanted—and needed to do one day. It’s a calling. I’ve been dabbling in various healing arts for the last 8 years, working as a massage therapist and yoga teacher among other things. When I found out I was pregnant, it wasn’t even a question I would have the baby at home. I found the best midwife in the world, and completely saturated myself with information during my pregnancy, so I would be prepared. The problem is, information doesn’t matter until you have the experience to alchemize the wisdom. I didn’t hire a doula for my birth, because I honestly didn’t think I needed one, being at home with my midwife and my husband who I tried to prepare the best I could.
Nothing about my pregnancy was how I thought it would be. I imagined myself to be a radiant, glowing pregnant goddess full of energy and tuned into spirit the whole time. The truth is, most of the time I was extremely uncomfortable, full of raging hormones that made me sad, anxious and easily irritated (to put it lightly) with my husband and I felt an extreme lack of support. All of the activities that used to bring me happiness, balance and connection were no longer as enjoyable or possible. I couldn’t go to yoga classes without having to almost completely do my own thing past a certain point, I was so tired in the beginning my social life completely died because I had no energy to stay up past 8pm. I was pregnant in my third trimester during the summer, a time where I historically have spent traveling and going to music festivals, dancing and playing all day. Instead of doing that, we were in Massachusetts with in-laws during a heat wave with no air conditioning for a month and then by the time we got back to the west coast, I knew going to do the normal summer routine was not happening. I needed my bed, and I was too uncomfortable in my body to dance all day and night. I spent the summer nesting, going to the beach and digging holes in the sand so I could lay on my stomach, and preparing the best I could for the birth.
I was “due” October 28th, according to the chart, but I realized in the 39th week that my cycles were 32 days, not 28 days like the due date was calculated on, so my “due date” was actually November 2nd. On Halloween I was exhausted and getting crampy feelings in my cervix, but nothing happened. November 1st I was absolutely fed up with being pregnant. I went to the gym and walked 3 miles on the treadmill, and did lots of squats. I came home and walked down to the beach, walking up and down several times on the uneven shore, bouncing my baby around in my belly. I laid down in the sun against a rock and meditated, lifting up my shirt so baby would see the sunlight illuminating her scarlet home. I went home around 4 to meet my husband, home from work and it was like any other day, waiting for the baby. The only thing different about that night was that instead of my normal quinoa and greens for dinner, I opted for a superfood smoothie, which is the food I said I would have in early labor for energy. After dinner I had a meltdown, crying that I was so uncomfortable from heartburn, and feeling unsupported and lonely and I was sick of being pregnant! I cried in the middle of the kitchen and Tom, my husband, knelt down and talked to the baby, saying “It’s okay baby, you can come out now, we’re ready to meet you.” This was at 8pm. We sat down to watch a movie, “The Butterfly Effect”, which I thought would be a cool sci-fi, but it was actually really disturbing and I don’t recommend ever watching it. I was laying on my left side on the couch, and was feeling some cramping sensations in my uterus and cervix, maybe a little more intense than the days before. It went on for an hour or so, coming and going, until all of a sudden baby kicked and I heard a POP and there was a huge gush of warm liquid coming out all over the couch, my white yoga pants, spilling on the floor as I hopped up exclaiming, “My water broke! My water broke!!” over and over. I started to shake with adrenaline I was so excited. I sat down on a towel in the middle of the living room and tried to breathe and calm down. I had Tom call the midwife, and tell her my water broke at 10pm. Not even 10 minutes later, I started getting strong contractions that were irregular. I started to get ready for bed, knowing I needed to rest. I tried to brush my teeth and put on pajamas and get in bed, but the contractions were making me have to be on the toilet for about an hour, which is a normal way the body cleans itself out for labor. There was no way I could have been in bed sleeping! By 11:30 or so, I was in bed and the house was dark as if we were going to sleep.
I tried to sleep between contractions, but they were coming quite quickly, about 2 minutes apart and 45 seconds long. I had no rest. I preferred laying on my side in bed with a heating pad and pressure on my back the entire duration of the rush. The sensation wrapped around my entire abdomen up to my belly button at that point, and it was very difficult to soften and release during it. I labored mostly alone in bed, while Tom was on the phone with the midwife, who was trying to decide when to come over. Finally, around 2AM, the midwife came over and gave me some tips on how to breathe to stay on top of the contractions and how to relax in between them, which helped. She coached me for awhile, and then sent me and Tom to bed as she rested on the couch from about 3:30am to a little before the sun rose. The contractions were close together and long, and I tried going on the birth ball and moving my hips. I was loud and roaring and using a lot of energy, so my midwife suggested a bath, and then a shower. I simply could not get comfortable anywhere. I needed the birth tub, with deep hot water to cover me completely, but we didn’t have the right adapter for the hose to fill it up. We had to wait until 8am when the hardware store opened, and Tom ran out to get the adapter and the tub was filled by 9, right when I was going into transition. The contractions felt like my hips were being drilled into with metal screws and shattering apart, like there was a giant metal grinder inside my body and a vice grip on the outside, shredding everything. It was the most intense pain I have ever felt in my life. I think it’s because my baby was posterior during labor, and rotated when she finally came out.
The day before I went into labor, I woke up at 6am, when my husband woke up to go to work. By the time I went into transition at 9am, I had been awake nonstop for 27 hours, and had not had any food except for tiny sips of coconut water for 13 hours. I was completely exhausted and depleted. My neighbor, Kerry, who is a nurse and works as my midwife’s assistant, came over. I had never met her before, and although she was amazing and rubbed my back better than anyone, it would have been way better to have a doula that I had known and developed a relationship with my whole pregnancy in this role. At this point what I needed was a change of energy. I needed the curtains to be closed and the room to be dark. I needed someone to get me to drink more than a sip of coconut water- maybe a smoothie or something caffeinated like iced chai tea! I needed music on! I needed someone to suggest different positions to help bring the baby down. Instead, I just stayed in the pool, sometimes getting out to sit on the toilet and pee, for the next 3 hours. I was fully dilated by noon, with an anterior cervical lip that was not moving over the baby’s head. I was completely depleted, and didn’t understand how to push. I was getting the involuntary urge to push. If you’ve been around birthing women, you know what this sounds like. It’s a squelching sound in the back of the throat, driving the energy down, sounds kind of like throwing up, but throwing “down”. It’s good, when it happens you need to go with it and let your body bear down. Instead, I felt a ton of pain, as my baby’s head pinched my cervix against my pubic bone, and due to the lack of support from a doula, my exhaustion, dehydration and depleted energy stores, I stayed fully dilated for 6 hours before the baby finally moved down and came out 7.5 hours later. After about 3 hours of this involuntary bearing down at the end of my really strong and close together contractions, I became completely discouraged and said something I never ever thought I would say because it goes against every belief I have, “ I want to go to the hospital”. I cried and said it over and over again. Had I had a doula, she would have told me this is the point in labor at which you are so close to meeting your baby, because EVERY birthing mother has this feeling that they cannot do it. It’s normal, and means you’re close. My husband was exhausted, but he tried to convince me otherwise. My midwife tried to convince me not to. Her assistant tried to convince me not to, but I was resolute. I was done.
My friend who had recently had a baby told me that when she transferred to the hospital, for the same reason I did, cervical lip in the way and exhaustion, she got fentanyl, a pain relieving narcotic and was able to relax and bring the baby down through the cervix. I hadn’t slept in over a day, I was severely dehydrated and my uterus was getting tired. I didn’t have the support I needed to make it at home, and at that point I just wanted the baby out. The urge to bear down was literally unbearable, because when I beared down, it felt more painful than the contraction itself, with my cervix being pinched between the baby’s head and my pubic bone, and getting more and more swollen. I asked for half a dose of fentanyl and fluids at the hospital. Had my midwife had IV fluids available and I had a doula with the wisdom to offer skullcap tincture and force some smoothie down my throat, I probably could have pushed her out at home. We got to the hospital at 3:30 and I spent another 4 hours pushing.
I pushed for 4 hours. I tore to the second degree. I was forced on my back and not allowed to get out of bed, and was denied the request to get the IV taken out. I was given several cervical checks against my consent. I was coached through pushing on my back for 4 hours. I burst blood vessels in my eyes and my face was so swollen I was beyond recognition in the photos. I was given an injection of pitocin after the birth against my will. My baby was pulled out of me as soon as the head was born. I was treated with disrespect by every member of the hospital staff at the hospital. The OB manually removed my placenta and eviscerated it into pieces beyond recognition. The OB carelessly sutured my perineum, leaving me with muscles on one side that are not connected completely, and the need for subsequent expensive surgery with long recovery time to heal. I did not have the postpartum hemorrhage that would have indicated managed third stage. My daughter weighed 8lbs, 11oz, 20 inches long, and was suspected posterior during labor, rotated to face my right hip when she came out. I was able to keep baby on my chest, unseparated for the duration of the time after the birth with the exception of when they weighed her and did the newborn exam, but my husband was right there.
The hospital was a blur, literally, I had to take my contacts out half an hour after we got there, and having a -4.00 prescription means that anyone more than 2 feet away is blurry. I’m glad I couldn’t see everything. They forced us to stay overnight, and gave us guilt trips and threats of CPS when we declined every vaccination and intervention. They guilted my husband into consenting for the heel stick test when I was asleep, and I woke up to my daughter screaming as my husband held her and cried while the unflinching, uncaring nurse pressed her bloody foot onto a piece of paper and stuck her over and over. They tried to force us to stay a second night, and again threatened CPS if we left. Our daughter was completely perfectly healthy, yet they called in an on-call pediatrician to make a “recommendation” we stay another night in their $4000/night “private” room just so we would have extra paperwork and headache to leave against medical advice. We left around noon the day after she was born, and it felt like breaking out of jail. I could barely walk, yet they wouldn’t give us a wheel chair to leave. I had to walk in excruciating pain, very slowly out of the hospital. All of this, because I was exhausted, and did not have enough labor support. Had I had a doula, there would have been someone there coherent (as my husband was exhausted and didn’t know to say “don’t clamp the cord, let her push it out herself”), and able to advocate for my rights and needs. I still hadn’t had any food or anything but water since over 24 hours before, because the hospital didn’t have anything I could (or wanted to) eat, and we didn’t bring anything from home. The staff didn’t seem to care that a postpartum woman hadn’t had any calories in 36 hours. The midwife’s assistant filmed the whole thing, I still hate the photos and the video is traumatizing and is great evidence on the malpractice of the OB, a female Dr. whose initials are M.M. (last name 5 letters long) who works at both hospitals in Santa Cruz. Don’t ever go to her, or there.
I didn’t want to tell anyone we transferred. I didn’t even want to tell anyone we had the baby, or put pictures up, or celebrate. I was so numb and sad I didn’t connect with my baby at all in the first 48 hours. I was more sore and swollen than I had ever been in my life- every single muscle in my body ached. When my baby finally came out, instead of being in love with her I just looked at her like she was an alien. I didn’t want to talk to her—I couldn’t. I was not in the safe, sweet space of home to feel open to love. I was surrounded by strangers doing things to me against my consent, in a cold, sterile place I didn’t want to be in.
On my medical records from the hospital it says, “Failed homebirth”. I went back to the OB’s office at 6 weeks for her to look at my vagina that was not repaired correctly by her, and she treated me as if I was a child, talking down to me and telling me what the names of my anatomical parts are, as if I don’t know! She told me it was fine, despite the fact that even now at 6 months postpartum there is no muscular response on the right side, and there is a deep laceration that didn’t heal together. Her rush to get out of there and go home on a Saturday night left me with permanent disfigurement. Her rush to get the placenta out and go home, and do the “standard” managed third stage to “prevent hemorrhage”, resulted in extreme trauma from having my placenta ripped out and destroyed. It’s in my freezer, covered in meconium, looking like ground hamburger meat, not the tree of life it is meant to be.
I told a few people we transferred, and tried to make light of it. I cried every single day for the first 4 months of my daughter’s life. I didn’t really even bond with her until she was 3 months old. Because we were in the hospital, and I had fentanyl and pitocin, it inhibited my body’s natural hormone cocktail that is meant to be released at birth to promote bonding. I was in so much physical shock and trauma that I felt nothing when I looked at her. She looked nothing like I thought she would, at almost 9 pounds big and with a face that looked nothing like mine, I felt completely detached. Everyone predicted she’d be average size, maybe 7 pounds, because I didn’t even “show” until almost 7 months, and I hid her well even at full term!
Postpartum was very difficult. The birth was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and the healing was the second—and even at 25 years old, I’ve been through a lot of shit. I didn’t have much support, 3 lovely friends stopped by to bring meals in the first 6 weeks, but after that I was alone. My mom came to help from week 2-5, but then she left and with my husband gone all day at work, I was alone from 7AM-5PM with a newborn baby,still in a lot of pain and not feeling up to doing much, in addition to feeling completely hormonally imbalanced and having the “baby blues”. I always pictured the postpartum period to be peaceful and happy, with lots of people stopping by to give their support and meet the new baby, but that didn’t really happen for me. I’m grateful for those who came, and I hope next time around I build a stronger community around us so that the integration time is easier. I got lots of text messages and impersonal congratulations on facebook, but what I needed was a mama to come over and not ask “if I needed anything”, but just bring me things that they know I need because they had been there, whether it was encouraging words or meals. I got really depressed, postpartum depression is looked down on in our society, but it’s exactly our society that causes it ! If we were living in tribe, in community, it wouldn’t exist. Babies would be born at home, and friends and relatives living nearby would always be around to help take care of the home, hold the baby so mama can shower and sleep, etc. I was alone all day taking care of a newborn, and my husband had no idea how difficult that was. Men can never really know how hard it is unless they get a full day of caring for the baby, which is impossible to do if you’re an exclusively breastfeeding mama.
The fog finally started to lift around 3.5 months, when I was able to put my baby in childcare for an hour a day and go to the gym to get regular exercise and alone time. I started taking ashwaghanda, shatavari and maca regularly and felt my hormones balance. I was no longer crying everyday, it was down to maybe once a week. Friends started reaching out, and other mamas with babies would get together with me for baby dates, which made the long days go by easier. The only positive thing during the postpartum healing period was my body snapped back into shape literally within a week. My stomach was flat and my body released all the pregnancy weight in one week. My baby was also perfectly healthy and never had any issues, aside from the normal 6 week old fussy phase.
Now, at 6.5 months postpartum, things are better, but I don’t have any closure about my birth. I don’t think I ever will. You don’t ever forget your first birth, how you felt and how you were treated. Birth MATTERS. It’s a lifelong process of healing, and I have certainly been told some very hurtful things during this process. Most people say, “at least you have a healthy baby”, as if my experience doesn’t matter because all that matters is the baby. Of course I’m grateful for my daughter, but it doesn’t change the fact that this life-altering initiation was traumatic and horrible and has left me quite literally permanently scarred. I’m still healing, I don’t cry as often or get upset as easily, because I’m learning to choose to be happy and divert my thoughts into better places when bad ones come up. I’m finding reasons for why things happened the way they happened that are empowering. At first, the only reason I could justify it with was that it was my daughter’s karma that she was born the way she was, or I would justify it by saying that maybe if I would have stayed home something horrible would have happened, like a swollen and torn cervix or a hemorrhage. Now I’m beginning to piece together the real reason things happened the way they did, and it should have been obvious all along, because it’s been the theme of my life, it’s the journey of the wounded healer. We have to go through it so that we can help others. It’s not the most easy path, but it’s mine, and events in my life have reaffirmed this over and over, with this being the most dramatic one.
I finally got this lesson clarified when I served as a doula for my friend’s birth. Her labor was uncannily similar to mine. Water broke at night (although she luckily got 2 hours of sleep beforehand and hadn’t walked herself into exhaustion during the day), labor all through the night, all morning, all afternoon, all evening, and then she hit a wall. This happens in birth, I learned in the aftermath of mine. There is a point where you absolutely feel like you cannot go on, like you’re going to die, there’s no way you can imagine the baby coming out, you just don’t see how it’s possible and you want to give up. I gave up. I will never forgive myself for that, but I’m grateful for the lesson I learned. Had I not given up, I would not know exactly how much energy it takes to bust through this block. I wouldn’t know what to say to a woman at her wit’s end with labor to inspire her to get a second wind and bring her baby down. I wouldn’t know how to hold a woman to get into a comfortable upright position to put even pressure all around the cervix to help open her up and release. I wouldn’t know to offer iced caffeinated sweetened tea, red raspberry leaf ice chips, water through a straw,coconut water, and other various beverages between EVERY contraction to keep her hydrated and fueled up. I wouldn’t know what it feels like to have your baby’s skull pressing into your sacrum from the inside, creating a sensation of going through a meat grinder, so I might not have the compassion, resolve and drive to give a woman counterpressure during every contraction, had I not known how badly that hurts and how pressure can make it feel better. I wouldn’t know that a change in energy in the room can change everything. I wouldn’t know how badly it hurts to have your vagina ripped open and wouldn’t have the compassion and resolve to do everything I can to prevent it from happening to the birthing woman. I wouldn’t know that at the moment you feel like giving up, you are literally minutes away from meeting your baby. I read something like that when I was pregnant, but I didn’t get it, and I certainly didn’t think of it in labor. That’s what gets me the most, after witnessing my friend’s birth and the short amount of time between saying she has no strength left and wants a break, to catching her baby in my hands (the midwife missed it)—I know that if I had a doula to tell me, make me and support me in getting upright and pushing through the pain—I would have had my homebirth on the other side of it.
But now I know, I am wise.
I want to offer a glimmer of hope regarding your tear. I had full fourth degree tearing as a result of my first child having been vacuum suctioned out after 4+ hours of pushing. I had internal scar tissue both in my rectum and vagina. It was not pretty. At 6 weeks pp the doc told me I required subsequent repair work, but I couldn't afford it, so I dealt with it on my own. Intercourse was unsuccessful until about 14 mo pp. At that point the mechanics worked out, but it was still painful. It took another six months to work itself out, but it healed completely, and I felt like everything was back in place.
Then I had third degree tearing with my second. Again, it wasn't pretty, but all was healed within about six months with no additional work done.
So, my point is that there is hope. Our bodies are amazing and I wish you the best in your healing, emotionally and physically.
I am sorry about your difficulties but I it is pretty normal to be with a newborn alone unless you have family nearby. Have you ever heard of gratitude practice?
To have "3 lovely friends stopped by to bring meals in the first 6 weeks" is extremely fortunate. You have your mom to help for weeks.
Many mothers here had no one to make us meals or to stay with with them.
Labor and delivery is lottery. Sometime it goes awesome but sometime it does not. Now one is entitled to anything to go the way it was planned.
Yes, hospital have procedures, but if MW could not do anything to help you, hospital was the right place to be. Some of us just have slow labors that need help. Not all women are made to birth and this is why maternal and neonatal mortality was so high before modern obstetrics.
I understand that the heel stick is upsetting but it i a life saving method. There many children who die from metabolic disorders that are treated with a diet, or end up mentally delayed forever, because they live in countries where tests like these are not done.
I have two kids and nothing went the way I planned. Life got easier ones I let go the idea of being able to control outcomes. There are no guarantees in life.
Alenushka- I think it sounds kind of condescending that you're asking me if i've ever heard of gratitude practice. Of course I am grateful for the 3 lovely friends that stopped by and for my mother being there - but my point is that postpartum mothers need a LOT of support. I'm not looking to compare myself to anyone else- in our culture there is simply NOT enough postpartum support. period.
"not all women are made to birth"... seriously?? That's insane to say.
That said, as a mother of six and a military spouse, I have much experience and a unique perspective on self-care after birth. Regardless of how the birth goes and whether or not I am recovering well, I am usually needed at home ASAP to care for my children as I live far from family and do not always have a ready-made support system because of moving, deployments etc. My friends & neighbors live under similar circumstances, which means that we are a busy group with many challenges. To have any expectation of assistance, I need to be proactive and organized in asking for help. One of the best resources I've used when organizing help for new parents is free online programs like MealTrain or Sign Up Genius. These programs allow new parents to make specific requests for what they need, and assist the helpers with all the info they need to fill requests, including reminders. I would suggest researching these services for your friends and clients.
Good luck, and continued health & healing!
I'm happy to hear that you have found some purposeful outlet for your trauma. I imagine that is a very healing way to process a difficult and disappointing birth. I had a miscarriage between my two children and after the pain wore away, I was able to process the experience as one of being able to bond and understand (to some extent) something that happens to a great number of women. I felt like "one of the miscarriage tribe". <3
I had a similar first birth as you (same hospital transfer, even). For me the difference was that I was open to a transfer emotionally so the act of doing that didn't feel hurtful to me in-and-of-itself. I do very much wish my MW was able to give IV fluids and that she was able to shift gears to being a more "rah-rah" birth coach that I needed at home. But for my MW's faults, she was my champion in the hospital. Did you MW not go to the hospital with you?
I also want to say to you (gently) that I don't think PPD is entirely/always the fault of poor support or a traumatic labor. I know someone who has PPD for all her births and I think it's hormonal for her. She had a beautiful, blissed-out HB with her second and third child and plenty of support and still had PPD. I'm not saying this to take way how you are feeling but perhaps knowing that these feelings can come even with the birth one wants can result in PPD can help take some of the blame off the birth?
I can also share that I also regretted that my first wasn't born at home like I had hoped. I thought a second birth would be healing in that way...and...I've got to say that I didn't need it by then. I had 10 years and a miscarriage between the birth of my two children. I do think birth matters but by the time my first was 10(!) I think my thoughts about birth really shifted. My second was born at home and it was a really nice birth but somehow I knew it didn't matter that much.
Hi, I haven't had a chance to read all the way through your story and didn't see the first one, but thanks for sharing. I totally agree with you on this...
PP care in America is appaling.
Here is another link that may be helpful...
Very sweet words from one of the most vocal HB activists about birth, expectations, and etc. Ina May.
LM, the comments section of this article are also really interesting.
(BTW, this article uses the term "natural childbirth". I prefer the term "unmedicated" - if that's what we actually mean)
Sierra, wife to DH , Mama to DD (2012) and DS(2014). In love with my family and hoping for inner .
Sierra, wife to DH , Mama to DD (2012) and DS(2014). In love with my family and hoping for inner .