An introduction and a disclosure
I request that you only read this story in tandem with part 2, the story of my second baby’s birth. Even though everyone was basically physically safe, this first birth was a very traumatic, negative experience for me—but if you stick with me through my second birth story, you’ll get to the happy ending.
As always, I try to write tasteful content, but I also strive for honesty, so prepare for a little TMI. I assume that you’re here, nosing into my blog, so you’re here for it: the good, the bad, and the personal. 😉
“We declare the means by which mortal life is created to be divinely appointed. We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.”The Family: A Proclamation to the World
It took me a long time to get to the point where I could process this story enough to share it. I thank the Lord for giving me the strength and faith to have another child and to seek a different path. I testify that He was with me, every step of the way.
I hope my story is enlightening and even encouraging to you, in the end. I believe in the strength and blessing of motherhood. Women, babies, birth—it’s all part of God’s divine design.
Baby #1 birth – the normal route
I dreaded the birth experience, expecting the worst pain of my life. Childbirth was about my biggest fear since I was a child.
Add to that fear the fact that I had 9 months of a very challenging pregnancy, including severe morning sickness, it’s no wonder all I could think about was getting it over with.
I actively refused to learn more because it was so frightening and anxious a topic for me—so I know it’s my fault I walked into the situation blind.
A blind beginning
“Well, you look good. Your baby is measuring a good size, and your cervix looks like it’s starting to get ready. Do you want me to strip your membranes?”
I only felt like I vaguely understood what it meant, but both my mom and my doctor had encouraged me to go through with it. After my doctor reassured me that there were no real risks to the procedure, I let her go ahead. It was uncomfortable but not really painful, and it was fast.
As I left, my doctor said, “Tell your baby to come today or tomorrow! I go out of town this weekend. You’ll be fine either way, but keep telling your baby it’s time.”
That evening, I started experiencing spotting and contractions. They got closer and closer, about 3-4 minutes apart for an hour. I called the hospital, and they told me to come in. I was admitted to the hospital, but the labor slowed and I was sent away to labor at home.
To my bewilderment, my labor slowed then stopped the next day.
Take two: “real” labor
It returned again one day later. Once again, I got to 3-4 minutes apart for 1-2 hours at home then returned to the hospital. After a couple hours at the hospital, my labor again began to slow down. To my relief, a sympathetic nurse gave me the option to have pitocin or to go home again. I chose pitocin. I had already decided on an epidural, and I received one about 8 hours into my labor.
The placement of the epidural was very painful and took several minutes and a few tries to get right.
Analysis from the future: For where I was at emotionally and mentally at the time, the epidural was absolutely the right choice. I was anxious out of my mind, and it wasn’t until I got the epidural that my labor really started to seriously get underway. I was able to relax my muscles and allow my body to do its job.
It was about this time I was getting desperately hungry. The most substantial food I was allowed was some beef broth, which I drank gratefully. I also wanted to be able to move around, but I didn’t worry too much about it because I was just relieved to not feel any more pain.
For about a couple hours of labor, I was able to doze and get some rest. I started to feel the pain, and I turned up the dose a couple of times on the epidural to keep up.
I could feel my body and mind getting tired. But pretty suddenly, I started feeling the urge to push. I knew our baby was coming.
I informed the nurses I was starting to push. They immediately told me to stop. They said I couldn’t have the baby right now because the doctor on call wasn’t there yet.
This was the only point in my birth at which I feel like I stuck up for myself. I told them I was absolutely not waiting.
Apparently, I convinced them to help me. My husband helped a nurse put my feet in the stirrups and held my hand. The nurse coached me through pushing through my contractions. (This strategy is what I now know is called “purple pushing.”) She at first tried to allow me only one big breath of pushing per contraction, but I insisted that was not sufficient and I went for two or three.
It seemed like 5, but my husband said I pushed for about 45 minutes total.
Time was really confusing for this part, but I think it was about a half hour later when the doctor arrived. (It wasn’t my doctor; it was the doctor on call, whom I had never before met.) It seemed he arrived only in time to tell me, “oh, her head is a little stuck. I’m going to just make a small incision, alright?” I think I said something like, “Whatever.” I didn’t feel a thing.
She was born almost right away.
They gave her to me to hold her skin to skin for a few moments. I think I was in shock when she was placed on my chest. I remember thinking, That was it? This is my baby? Huh, she is actually cute. And what a head of hair! I felt happy to meet her.
It was during this time that the doctor stitched me up before leaving. I was still numb, in shock, and hardly noticed. He left, and I never saw him again. I still don’t know how many stitches I had, how long the episiotomy was, or how much natural tearing I had.
We attempted breastfeeding for a minute, but she was too sleepy. The staff said we could try again in the recovery room, then they took her to the other side of the room to clean her and do tests.
We were only allowed in the delivery room for one hour after the birth; then, my incredibly weak body was lifted into a wheelchair, pushed into an elevator, and moved to another floor and into a recovery room.
That marks the end of the more positive part of my experience.
An annoyingly vague aside
It was there that an incident occurred that was not truly the fault of the hospital’s. I consider it inappropriate to share openly. I bring it up to explain a gap in the story and to share what I wish I’d known before. I learned many things from that day that I deeply regret not understanding before. I should have advocated for myself, set boundaries, worked with my husband to express my wishes for myself and my baby, and created a plan of what I wanted.
You can bring a baby to milk, but you can’t make her drink
As it was a holiday weekend, it seemed a new nurse walked into the room every hour during my time in the recovery room.
And the next thing I knew, a new nurse walked into the room and asked if the baby had eaten. I said no; she had just been sleeping. I had had no idea when she needed to eat and had assumed somebody else would tell me. (I know, bad move.)
The nurse immediately said with alarm, “She was born four hours ago and hasn’t eaten? She has to eat now.”
I tried again for a few minutes to get my baby to perk up and try to breastfeed (and try to figure out how I would help her breastfeed anyway even if she did wake up) but she hardly stirred. The nurse snapped into action and whipped out a bottle of formula. My husband fed our baby her first meal. I watched in confusion. I tried not to cry, and I told myself there was no reason to cry.
I had felt stunned and elated when my baby was placed on my chest for the first time. But the rest of that day (and truly, several days and weeks), I felt stunned in another way. I felt out of control of my life. I felt like things were happening to me and to my baby, and I had no way to control any of it. I felt steamrolled and confused. I was exhausted and dazed from the work and sleep deprivation.
“All the nurses were trained in lactation,” they told me, and I kept trying to get them to help me nurse my baby. The nurses helped me pump for the first time. I didn’t see anything come out. I was confused about if I was using it right, and it hurt, and I felt humiliated. Finally, over a day after the birth, a hospital-staffed, actual lactation specialist came to my room and helped me use a nipple shield, a syringe, a tube, and formula to supposedly help my baby learn how to nurse. It was a confusing, challenging time. I felt wrong, uncomfortable, frustrated, and ashamed for using this bizarre method.
Thankfully, a few days later, I was miraculously connected with a recently retired lactation specialist from another state who taught me how to train my baby and my body to nurse properly. It was a frustrating and painful process. Even though my baby was good at latching, she frequently got upset about the work involved and would unlatch every moment or two to thrash, scream, and scratch at me.
It wasn’t until about 2 months along that we were both somewhat comfortable with breastfeeding. Except in a very removed, abstract way, I neither related nor understood the starry-eyes expressions of gratitude for the sweet, bonding experience of nursing a baby. It took many months to get over the bitterness of hearing other moms express that breastfeeding was “so easy.”
After all this, however, I give thanks and honor to God for strengthening me and guiding me to receive the help I needed to exclusively breastfeed until my baby was 9 months old.
Pain of the brain and body
Then comes the discussion of the postpartum pain. While in the hospital, I felt some pain but mostly a lot of shock, tenderness, and fatigue. I remember a nurse refusing to help me get to the bathroom, acting a little disgusted. “We helped you the first time; the second time, you should be able to do it yourself.” I shook and trembled the whole time. I stayed on the prescription pain medication as well as ibuprofen my whole 2 days postpartum. I struggled to find any position that wasn’t painful in the hospital bed. Getting in and out was very painful.
When I got home, I didn’t feel much increased physical pain for the first couple hours. However, a few hours later, the pain hit me like a truck. I began to cry in pain. I couldn’t find a comfortable position. Sitting up was painful. Nursing was torture, between the vaginal pain, sore nipples, and scratches from my baby. Getting in and out of bed, especially alone, was very painful. Even lying down, I couldn’t get the pain to subside.
Right after taking Ibuprofen or Tylenol, it was somewhat manageable, but every time it began to wear off and before I could take the other, I began to cry. The next morning after leaving the hospital, I called to see if I could get a pain medication prescribed, but they told me I would need to physically come to receive the prescription. I laughed through the tears. I couldn’t get to or sit in a car! So I just cried through it.
The emotional roller coaster shook me. I now realize I wasn’t just experiencing dramatic hormonal changes and sleep deprivation; the shock and adrenaline were also wearing off. I cried so much those first few days, and even weeks. Almost every time my husband left the apartment or even the room I got weepy. I cried daily as I nursed. I cried from being so tired. I let myself wallow in the self-pity of not only being confined to our apartment for the majority of my pregnancy but for the many weeks that seemed to stretch on and on.
To my memory, I bled quite heavily for about 2 weeks; I continued to need pads for about a month; then I needed pantiliners until about exactly 2 months postpartum. This is less than medically alarming, but certainly well above average bleeding.
Not postpartum ?
I had my 6 week postpartum checkup. Y’know, every husband’s favorite OB-GYN appointment. I was cleared to go back to normal, physically. (This surprised me, since I still felt so far from physically well.)
My doctor brushed away my complaints about my back. I continued to feel pain from the epidural insertion point for about 6 months after birth.
She was, however, concerned about my psychological assessment scores. She recommended I get into a psychologist and connected me with some referrals. I called them and was dismayed to discover they were all booked out for at least 3 months. 3 months?! We were planning on having moved far away by that point. I didn’t meet with anyone.
I tried to get better on my own, physically and otherwise. I worked out. I did yoga. I finally got enough sleep. Eventually, months later, I was a lot better.
Physically, I was probably better than ever. (Well, besides losing most of my hair. I dropped to probably about half as much hair as I had had pre-pregnancy.) I was stronger and more flexible than before. I even fit back into my high school pants.
Emotionally, I was better. I focused on the natural things that improve mental/emotional health: got sunlight, ate healthy foods, exercised, slept enough, drank plenty of water.
I carried a lot of pain, though. I could hardly think about my sweet baby’s birth without risking tears. I was angry with everyone involved—including myself. I did my best to box the experience away and move on. I told myself I would simply never have another baby.
Cue this blog post: The Right Time to Have Another Kid + Why I’m Pregnant Again.
An awkward not-end
Usually, I wrap up each post with an invite to share, but I really don’t want anyone to stop here. It would be a pretty depressing ending. Thank God that it’s not the end.
Please follow me to the resolution here: Birth Series: Birth #2
Lessons learned + at-a-glance comparison
For my very short notes analysis of the two experiences side-by-side, check out the final article in my (embarrassingly lengthy) series: