I contemplated the title of this blogpost for weeks – The Failed Homebirth? The Plan? The Situation? A Doula’s Birth? WTF Just Happened? Sometimes no matter how hard you may try, things just don’t go as planned.
It has been so difficult to open up and talk about (or even grasp) what happened just nine weeks ago. I never know how to answer the question when people ask how the birth went. How much do I share? Should I tell the whole truth? Can I answer in a way that they won’t ask too many questions? Truthfully, I just want to answer in some way where I can avoid hearing, “Healthy mom, health baby, that’s all that matters in the end.”
Of course this is the most important thing. And it is not the only thing that matters.
The birth of your child is one of the few days that you will remember for the rest of your life. Good, bad, and ugly, this is truly forever. It is one of the reasons I became a doula. I saw through my own experience and others the lasting effect it has on you. I saw how it impacts your relationships with friends and family, your bonding, your marriage, your parenting, and everything in between. As much as the outcome, I learned that what sticks with you are the little particulars, the feelings and emotions, the thoughts, the smallest details.
To me and many others, the experience matters. It is as critically important as the outcome. It has changed me. It changed the world for me. I will never ever be the same person again.
So I try to answer the best way I can. I do my best to honest, open, and authentic. Yet it leaves me vulnerable and raw. How was the birth?
Honestly, it was traumatic. For me. For my husband. I’m still healing. It may take a while.
Each of our children’s births were so unique, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After such an amazing homebirth with our fourth child, I couldn’t imagine giving birth anywhere else, but I was realistic that things may not go as planned. So I planned. Not just one plan (homebirth with our same trusted and adored midwife from the birth of our fourth child), but a solid back-up plan (care from the same wonderful OB responsible for helping me to VBAC our second and third children in the hospital). Thus, I had two trusted, skilled, and highly competent sets of eyes following my pregnancy from the beginning. The goal was a homebirth but if needed I would deliver in the hospital.
It’s strange, funny, and scary how you remember none of it. Yet you remember it all.
The rapid progression. The struggle. The anxiety. Talking to myself. My midwife’s arrival. The first time she took my blood pressure. Then the next. Then the next. Then the final time before she told me we have to go to the hospital.
Time stopped. Strangely enough, labor stopped too. I was in shock.
The lights of the ambulance and fire engine. The side of the road with my husband and midwife. No bag packed. Arriving at the hospital. I know this place. The familiar faces of nurses I have worked alongside supporting other women. The “Oh Shit Room” just steps away from the nurses’ station.
The severe back pain (not like my previous birth). Baby was in perfect position, what is this about? Why can’t I manage the pain? Blood pressure 149/98. My husband and midwife encouraging me, trying to help me cope. What is going on? This is different.
200/105. If my water breaks maybe things will move along. Pushing a little. My water breaking. The meconium. I can’t go on. Telling everyone I need an epidural. My midwife and husband continuing to encourage me. Don’t they know how hard this is? 178/111.
I was done – physically, mentally, emotionally. Someone whispered my blood pressure was 225/125. The OB talking to us. 3 bags of IV fluids and no urine output, my kidneys were not functioning.
Shift change. They asked me for pain meds. I said yes. The anesthesiologist placed the epidural. Sweet relief? But not. Administering more meds. Still no relief! A new anesthesiologist entered and placed a new epidural.
Finally, some relief. Catching my breath. Trying to wrap my head around everything that is happening. I can’t keep up. I need some rest. So they let me rest. Rest was nice. What is happening? How did this happen? How did I end up here?
Massive headache. The OB, frustrated, reminded us that meds had lowered my blood pressure but I was still at significant risk. My kidneys were not functioning. I need to deliver now. I was focused, pushing quickly and effectively. Something finally seemed to be going right. NICU arrived due to the meconium, no worries. 45 minutes of pushing and…
I remember the moment he was out and my husband announcing his arrival. A moment we had waited for, so special, so memorable. I waited 9 months to meet you. I envisioned the moment a thousand times. I had gotten to know you so well over the last 9 months. I was overwhelmed. I cried. I sobbed. The joy of knowing I have another son. The relief that it was all over. He was here. All I could do was cry.
He wasn’t brought to my chest. I couldn’t hold him. NICU had to check him on the warmer, my husband stood right by him. Finally, he was cleared, they brought him to my chest. Something’s not right.
I looked down at him. I could not see him. There were so many people in the room and I realized I could not focus on my vision. I could not see any of them. I was losing my sight. My husband took the baby and the nurses went into action fearing a seizure. What is going on? Oh no. Magnesium Sulfate. I will not be able to hold my baby. Not be able to nurse my baby. Not be able to pump. Seizure precautions.
But too sick to realize it. Time stopped again. My beautiful baby boy was the last thing I could focus on. (The physical effects of the Magnesium Sulfate are absolutely indescribable). I can’t open my eyes. Dark room, just laying here. Away from my baby.
Completely alone in so many ways. Completely unaware of anything happening. Completely unaware and unable to participate. Completely unable to be present in the moment I had dreamed of.
Then I noticed a new pain in stomach. A different kind of pain that I couldn’t ignore. The nurse pushed on my stomach and called for the hemorrhage cart. I wish I could have been out of this moment but I was not. When will this nightmare end. One nurse said I lost 3000cc of blood, over half my blood volume. When will this nightmare end?
With the hemorrhage cleared, the magnesium stopped, I began to feel somewhat human again.
Piece by piece. I felt like I started to come back to life.
Only then was I able to become present at the birth of my child. I tried to play catch up mentally and emotionally. I was trying to process the birth experience while also trying to “get back” the time I lost with my beautiful baby boy. I couldn’t grasp how afraid I had been. I felt so blessed an lucky that this had all happened at the hospital and not in our home. I wondered what may have happened had my midwife not recognized the danger of the situation. Then I would think about how I had another son, the sweet baby boy I was not able to hold or nurse or get to know.
Truth. There was no bonding. Not for him and I anyways. It was heartbreaking.
My husband did skin-to-skin, fed him, and took care of his every need in those precious first 24 hours. I’m grateful he had his dad but I’m devastated he didn’t have his mother. I remember when I was finally well enough to sit up in bed and hold him for the first time. He was beautiful and perfect in every way, but there was a sadness in me as well, like I had missed his birth. The reality was that I wasn’t there.
Recovery continues. It has been long. Different than what I planned and different from what I expected. I have cried a lot. A lot. Like every day. Multiple times a day. For quite some time. I because I felt sad, guilty, worried, anxious, and depressed. I missed it all and I would never get them back. I didn’t know what this would mean for my family, for my other children. I didn’t know how this was affecting them. I cried mostly by myself but sometimes with my husband and with my children. I think it helped me begin to heal. While the crying has mostly passed, so many things stay with me. So many things I am aware of, and perhaps so much more I may come to know.
My healing continues. I’m a different person. A different mother. A different doula.
In the end, like all of my children’s births, his birth was different and life-changing in ways I could not have imagined. In the weeks that followed we were surrounded by love and support from an amazing community. I remain in awe of the love and support we found. You learn a lot.
This beautiful, peaceful, sweet soul. His birth brought me close to death. His presence now in this moment is bringing me back to life. I meet him every day again for the first time.