The Birth of Eli (hospital birth with OB, 1991)

Here Nicole shares the story of her firstborn son. Despite the traumatic nature of her experience, Nicole’s storytelling is full of humor and her perspective is inspiring.

In 1991 I was in graduate school in Washington DC, living in a dorm. My boyfriend Ross was still in Washington State, but came out to visit over spring break. Becoming a mother wasn’t part of my plan for the immediate future, but I was more than okay with the idea of having a family, being part of a family. Fortunately, so was Ross. A few weeks after my twenty-fourth birthday, and after Ross had returned home, I walked one night to the closest pharmacy, which was in a sketchy part of town, and bought two pregnancy tests (on sale!) and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. My room was at the far end of the second floor across the hall from the men’s bathroom. The women’s restroom was about a hundred miles away at the other end of the floor. I remember walking down the hall with the two (two!) positive pregnancy tests tucked into the oversized pocket of my blue bathrobe past the open door of the kitchen. I paused a moment because I heard Darth Vadar’s voice on the television. John Tesh was interviewing James Earl Jones, and a picture of his son was on the screen, just a little guy at the time. Tesh asked him if he wasn’t a little old to be starting a family. I wish I could remember the answer—I only remember that it was gracious and loving. And consoling. I ate the whole pint in a single sitting and then walked back to the store the next night for another.

Those first months of pregnancy I felt a little funny about food, but didn’t have morning sickness at all. I was focused on finishing the semester and returning home, and making a wedding happen, and buying a house. It was a lot of major life change in a short period of time, so I was lucky to have a very easy pregnancy. My only complaints were one migraine, and, after eating too much chocolate chip cookie dough one evening, I vomited. I also had a terrible burning in my tummy one day. I remember calling the nurse in distress, not knowing what was happening to me. “Honey, that’s what we call heartburn.” Oh!

I was set on having a woman doctor, thinking that would be ideal, and I found one. But we just had one miscommunication after another, and I was too young and immature to realize I could fire her. When I called to set up an appointment, I was told that the doctor didn’t typically see the patient until twelve weeks, but they didn’t offer me a time. So at twelve weeks I called, and made an appointment for many weeks out, the first one available. When I went in, I was scolded for not coming in sooner, and the doctor suggested I was in denial about the pregnancy. She was also highly annoyed that I didn’t have even the remotest guess about what my pre-pregnancy weight was. Really, really annoyed. It was unfathomable to her. I didn’t own a scale and didn’t grow up in a house with a scale—my step-mother, bless her, thought that it was unhealthy to fixate on those numbers. On the whole, I felt indignant and shamed with that doctor, but didn’t express my concerns or stand up for myself. I did a much better job advocating for my unborn child; I had a long chat with a pediatrician whom I liked and trusted, and who would not pressure us toward circumcision if I were to have a boy.

We were living on Vashon Island at the time, and it is only accessible by ferryboat. We called the fire department and let them know our name, address, and due date, which was standard operating procedure if you were planning a birth in the city. We dutifully enrolled in a childbirth class, which was unhelpful. (But I enjoyed the Monday night dinner in town at our favorite pub, a refurbished fire station.) I felt the class was geared toward training us to be compliant patients, although we were encouraged to write a birth plan, which felt empowering to me.

The only other concerning moment during my pregnancy was when my doctor sent me in for an ultrasound because “the measurements were wrong.” The ultrasound technician kept bringing in more people, and they all seemed concerned, but no one was talking to me. It turned out the baby was breech, but I didn’t find that out until the next doctor visit. Later, during my second pregnancy, I learned that a midwife would have been able to tell that the baby was breech by looking at and feeling my belly. Except for the tape measure and blood pressure cuff, I don’t think my doctor every touched my body. Fortunately, that baby righted himself before I went into labor.

I had a regular appointment on December 17, the day after my due date. I was in pre-labor, evidently, although I don’t recall anything about it, or why the doctor sent me over to the hospital from the appointment. The hospital sent us home. Well, they urged us to stay in town in a hotel, not to take the ferry home, but after a cozy meal at Knapp’s Diner, I wanted to sleep in my own bed. The next morning we got ready to go to the hospital. I had a bag already packed. But again, I don’t recall one single thing about being in labor. I believe my water broke, but, oddly, I can’t actually say for sure. I don’t remember pain, but of course I must have been having contractions. We took the nine o’clock ferry in, and were checked into the hospital by ten. It was a week before Christmas, and the staff was having a noisy party outside my door, lots of laughter, and that irked me no end.

I brought along my birth plan, but the first nurse on duty snorted in its general direction. At some point during the day, Darla, the only kind nurse I encountered, started her shift, and checked to see how I was progressing. She was Canadian, and pronounced “centimeter” with an “ah” sound in the first syllable, sahnt-imeter. She said it gently, but I was discouraged: “I don’t know who told you that you were at three centimeters, but you’re not.” I was offered “something” to help with the pain. “Something” was Stadol, which was supposed to “take the edge off,” but it completely knocked me out. I slept a long time, aware of labor, but not caring. When I woke I was put in the bathtub, but was so dopey, I couldn’t cope with the noise of the Jacuzzi jets. Somehow they sounded like a train, and I was convinced there was a real train nearby, close, coming toward the hospital, coming to run down me and my baby. I was also very concerned about being sucked down the drain of the tub. On the whole, a very bad trip.

When the drug started to wear off, I was in a great deal of pain, but was too zonked to be able to cope. I was still sleepy from the drug, and each contraction would wake me with searing pain. At one point, a nurse came in and held up a bundled Asian baby with a shock of black hair. “Tomorrow,” she said, “you’ll have one of these.” I’m having an Asian baby? How is that possible? And not until tomorrow? What the hell? I was completely confused and distressed.

By this time it was dark, so perhaps about 4 or 5 in the afternoon. A nurse came in and called for an epidural. I heard her on the phone: “We need it now. She’s losing it.” Even in my drugged state, I knew I was not losing it. I had not cried or made a single peep. I felt insulted, and, worse, like I had somehow failed. I only realized much later that maybe this was the only way to get the anesthesiologist moving on over. Maybe. My friend Hollie had arrived, and a friend of Ross’s, Nancy, and after the epidural, they were excused to go get some dinner. Fortunately, Hollie stayed behind. No one had checked to see whether I was dilating.

I fell asleep again, and then woke myself with the hiccups. Suddenly I was on high alert—I remembered that hiccups were sometimes associated with transition. I called the nurse, and she grudgingly checked me, and then snapped to: “The baby is crowning.” So my husband and our people were called back from dinner, and the nurse called the doctor. There was some confusion then, because the doctor lived across the Narrow’s Bridge in Gig Harbor, and she said she needed to “cross the bridge” to get to the hospital. She meant the sky bridge between the hospital and the medical center, but the staff thought she was driving in from home. It took a while, but they cleared that misunderstanding up and kept me busy with “practice pushing” while we waited.

Everyone seemed amazed that I was ready to have this baby after such a short labor, eight hours. I was confused. Afterwards I wondered why I was roped into getting an epidural, one I only got to enjoy for maybe half an hour. I wondered if I would have been able to cope after all, if someone had just checked me and explained we were almost there. But with that talk about “tomorrow” I’d felt doomed.

After the doctor arrived, and my dead legs were hoisted up and held by various spectators, I gave about three almighty pushes, and with the help of a massive episiotomy, out he came. There he was, with his dear little face. Not a generic baby, but this particular little person. I reached down to touch him, and his body was hot, and he grabbed my finger. Reflex or no, it is astonishing and miraculous to feel that pressure, those tiny fingers holding on, tight-tight.

They whisked him away for a tidy, and I delivered the placenta. The doctor was surprisingly heave-ho about it, which surprised me. I asked to see it, and a nurse held it up for me, but the expressions on everyone’s faces were so very disgusted, I felt, again, like I’d done something wrong, and I was ashamed of my curiosity.

He was “just a little guy,” six pounds, twelve ounces, born on the 18th at 1818. The nurses thought that was a terrific little coincidence, “and six plus twelve is eighteen.” I didn’t care about the numbers, just his beautiful perfect self.

I think the Stadol must have given me the munchies, because I was positively starving. I’d missed lunch and dinner. Finally a nurse brought me something, at about 9pm. I will never forget what was on that plate: grey “meat” with gravy, canned green beans, and fake mashed potatoes. I’d just brought a human being into the world, and this? This is what I get?

We were woken at midnight to change the sheets and the mattress on the birthing bed. We were woken at 3am so I could be escorted to the bathroom. We were woken at 6am to have my blood drawn. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I got up to find some ibuprofen, and was chided for getting up and was sent back to my room. During one of those nighttime operations, I looked over to see Ross asleep on the roll-away cot, with holding that tiny bundle on his chest. In the dim light from the bathroom, I could see Ross’s dark hair and beard, and the pale tiny face of that impossible, beautiful baby.

Much later I heard Sheila Kitzinger interviewed on an NPR call-in show. Someone phoned in to say that a hospital birth was “better” than a homebirth because you “get more rest,” which is something I heard often, and still hear. Ha! Rest! After all that activity in the night, for the remainder of the day we were ignored, except when the pediatrician came to check the baby, and when a nurse brought me a slip of paper where I could “order” my breakfast. She laughed and said, “Go ahead and check off anything you want. They’re just gonna give you whatever they want.” At one point Ross went out to find food, but there wasn’t much available around the hospital. I remember he brought various things, including an apple, which looked delicious, but was mealy. Maybe I was still freaked out by the drug, but my disappointment was profound.

I really wanted to leave as soon as possible. I was hungry and felt out of place, like I was a burden on the staff. We were told that we had to name the baby or we would not be allowed to leave. “It’s illegal.” (It actually is not.) I remember as we walked out past the nursery feeling so sad, thinking, “Oh, those poor mommies and daddies who have to take home those ugly, ugly babies!” (For diplomacy’s sake, we say that was the drugs talking.) We decided on a name, caught an evening ferry, and were home by dinnertime.

Our birthing class instructor had said once that it “didn’t matter how they got here” because you’re getting a baby at the end. A baby! “Healthy baby, healthy mom. That’s all that matters.” I think we say this to reassure women who have c-sections that they have not “failed.” But I felt at the time that was wrong and inane, and still do. Being treated with dignity and respect matters. Being in a safe environment matters. On paper, I had a textbook birth, but it was not a positive, empowering experience. And I know women who have had emergency c-sections who did not come out of their experience feeling as scathed and damaged as I did. In my family narrative, hospitals are not a safe place, and I brought that baggage with me, which meant I didn’t really have the tools to deal well with the jerks—but really! Should we have to work so hard to advocate for ourselves, for simple civility? Later, after I transferred to Seattle University to finish up my graduate work, I was very fortunate to find an excellent therapist who helped me to unpack the whole humiliating mess. And while a less-than-ideal birth experience probably didn’t help to create a positive, healthy bond between my child and me, I don’t feel that ultimately our relationship was damaged or hindered.

eli2 elibabe

He was a sleepy babe—probably the drugs—but after he woke up, was a champ with the nursing. He doubled his birth weight by twelve weeks. And although she said it with a smile, I did not appreciate it when at my six-week appointment my doctor called my baby “a little piggy.” At my very first post-partum appointment, and I don’t know when that was, at one point she told me she’d done a fun run three days after her daughter was born. And when I asked when I’d stop bleeding, she said, “Well, I bled for three months.” I later wondered whether there might not have been some connection. She also prescribed birth control pills (“they’re perfectly safe when you’re nursing”), which I decided not to take. I distinctly remember that she had her hand on the doorknob as we were talking. (“Is that something they teach you in medical school,” I jokingly asked a doctor friend of mine once.) I never went back.

I did learn how to advocate for myself, found an excellent caregiver, and when I was ready for another baby, planned a home birth. I am not “against” hospitals, and I no longer feel resentful or hurt or bitter about my experience, but I do feel strongly that, for myself, a hospital is low on the list of places I would choose to enter or exit this beautiful world.

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A Tale of Three Pregnancies. Part Three: 1980

Here is the third and final story from my mum. They say third time’s the charm and in this case it is true. I’m so thankful that she took the time to write down her birth stories to share with my family and also with you. Enjoy!
We were in Washington State for 3 months while my husband taught a semester at UW when I discovered that I was pregnant, unplanned. I had done the extra course work and taken the State Board exam to get my US RN registration and I had been working part-time for two years. This pregnancy took me by surprise especially as I was volunteering in Seattle for a Family Planning Group. After weighing all the pros and cons for several days my mind was made up. We would change our lifestyle and the pregnancy would go on. I did my research regarding Downs Syndrome. I would be 36 when I delivered; the odds were 500 to 1 for a Downs baby and my Husband reminded me that if I backed a horse with those odds it would never win. Once back on the East Coast I sought out a new OB/GYN. A close friend had just delivered in the next town 20 miles away. As she was also a nurse I took her recommendation and made my appointment. The two doctors were a charm compared to what I had been dealing with before as I found out quickly. I saw each on alternating visits and mentioned two visits in a row that I did not want any drugs for the delivery, nor did I want the epidural that I had been forced to have in the past. The older doctor leaned forward and said “You already stated this last month to the the other doctor, it is already in your chart and you don’t have to repeat yourself.” Whew, what a relief. I had it all sorted out: no drugs, no stirrups but I could not talk them out of an episiotomy for which I would receive a local anaesthetic. I was already set to tell them I would stay home and have my husband do the delivery if they hadn’t been accepting of my wishes. This would be the last time “to get it my way.” I did have genetic counseling but chose not to go through with an amniocentesis because the odds of a miscarriage after an amnio were 200 to 1. Ultrasound diagnostics were just being used on occasion during pregnancy. These doctors wanted to stay away from them unless there was a red flag. I took this to be a good thing. Inductions were also rare. The pregnancy was the usual for me, nausea for the first 4 months and I was given Bendectine which helped, the usual drug for the symptom at the time. I was more tired during this pregnancy and my hemoglobin ran low but was treatable.  I prepped my breasts with daily exposure and rough towel rubbing. I also read that the best method of a successful breastfeeding experience was to have baby to breast within one hour of delivery. This was going to happen for me this time I told myself.
By now the Lamaze method of staying focused and relaxed during labor had come into vogue and I actively participated in a local class. It was a fairly small class and we became a close group; with my husband and I hosting the after birth party at our home. My husband needed little encouragement to be an active partner for this birth and he did all he could to be involved with my daily relaxation practice. This time he would be my coach, be present at the birth and at last feel included in the miraculous event.
I was encouraged to gain weight and at my visit prior to delivery the older doctor told me to buy an ice cream on my way home as I had only gained 20lb. Wow, what an attitude change. My due date was June 5th and my two children now almost 10 and 12 were really excited as the time drew closer and certainly did not want to go to school on my due date. On June 6th I woke and felt “different.” I sent the children off to school. “No it’s not time yet” were the last words they heard and I sat down to watch a Phil Donahue show (on of all things, midwives) that morning. I had backache, did my pelvic rock and started in mild labor. I did have a doctor appointment later that afternoon but after calling to let them know that labor was in the early stages they upped the appointment time. It was the older doctor who did the exam, told me I was not going anywhere and sent me over to the hospital. I would be one of the first to deliver in the new birthing room. I checked into the hospital around 2.30pm. I tried arguing that I wasn’t ready but he in no uncertain terms told me he was looking at a dilating cervix and a bloody show and I wasn’t going anywhere. I asked for an enema, was told that didn’t happen anymore but to keep me happy my request was honored. Once settled in my husband and I watched “Jane Eyre” on television. I did have to wear the external monitor but would unplug it when I needed to walk around. As labor progressed my husband stepped up as a very supportive couch giving me the needed pressure in my lower back. At 5pm a nurse entered the room and said “wow, your contractions are really strong and coming fast.” This seemed odd to me, yes I was uncomfortable and my back hurt a lot but I still felt I was a long way from transition. I was hungry and had my mind focused on what I could eat after delivery. Moments later reality hit and I was totally focused. I knew Lamaze, I focused, I used my skills. The younger of the two doctors (who I preferred), arrived and set up for delivery. I needed to pee so badly and was told to hurry up and go to the bathroom. OMG I thought I was going to deliver in the toilet, things were moving so fast. Once in bed I shrieked “I have to push” and the doctor answered “I thought you’d never tell me.” “Please adjust the mirror” I shouted,” I can’t see and I need the stirrups after all; I can’t get any traction here.” I had a local anesthetic for the episiotomy that I had been unable to talk my way out of. Pushing started at 5.30pm and a baby girl was delivered at 5.40pm. Yes, ten minutes was all it took. There was a huge clock up on the wall in front of me and I was actually focusing on that between contractions. This baby had the cord around her neck; once released, she yelled and peed all over the doctor, who commented that both ends were working well. Immediately I asked if she “looked” OK and I was reassured right away that “there are no signs of Downs.” The doctor knew that this had been a concern for me after making the decision not to have an amniocentesis.
I had her to breast within moments of delivery. She weighed 7lb 5 oz. The nurses hugged my husband as well as me and said “You guys make a great team and great babies.” We shone with pride. I finally had experienced a great delivery. Before I could relax and enjoy this though I did need a rectal repair which the Doc said was damage from the previous delivery ten years before.
My two older children (who had been about to sit down and have pizza at home with a close friend) were then rushed over to the hospital to meet their new sister. They arrived within an hour of her birth. They were really sweet and in awe of it all.
My husband was so excited after the delivery that all the photos he took (with an old fashioned film camera) got left behind. The film was on cassette which he put in the pocket of his green scrubs then in his excitement threw the scrubs in the laundry basket on our way back to the main recovery area! That OB was a very special individual and two days later when I saw him again he sat on my bed and told me he had some things he wanted to say. He began by saying that was married to an Licensed Practical Nurse who was very much against natural childbirth. He went on to say that after watching how I handled the pregnancy and delivery he was sold on doing it naturally and without drugs. I felt good about knowing that he would be super supportive of future patients who wanted to have a delivery without drugs.
And, I was able to continue breastfeeding successfully for another nine months!
1980 at home 1980 hospital 1980bassinetnewbornErica
It is a huge experience and memorable time when you deliver a baby. It is important that you have the right setting, a coach that you connect with, the right medication or no medication at all. You need to feel that you did the right thing, in bringing this tiny helpless being into the world even though your plan may sometimes take a different path than you expected. I thank Erica for being the person that helps you make some of these decisions and I feel a swell of pride when I read the testimonials that some of you have written. I knew she was enjoying this new calling and your words confirm this.

A Tale of Three Pregnancies. Part Two: 1970

The following account is part two of my mum’s birth story trilogy. Nurse Ratchet, scopolamine, and 8 lb total weight gain. Wow.
 
Two years later I felt more confident. This was another planned pregnancy; I expected an easy delivery and I had made up my mind this time that it would just be easier all around to use formula.  There was still no support in the community for breastfeeding and only the same two obstetricians were available to me. 

At my first prenatal visit I mentioned that I had terrible heavy pressure in my perineum after the last pregnancy- it had felt as if my uterus was about to fall out. I wondered, were there any signs of a problem that could be seen on exam? I got the same old “you don’t know what you are talking about” answer.

I had another normal pregnancy except now they were really strict on weight gain and by 4 months I had gained 7lb  so guess what? I got counseled to go onto a 1,000 calorie diet! No ifs ands or buts.

By the end of my 8th month one of these doctors had the nerve to tell me that I should probably eat more. I had followed their advice (basically just given up carbs) and my total weight gain was only 8lb. After delivery I was down to 100lb. (approximately a BMI of 17.2. I’m 5′ 4.5″).

Braxton Hicks contractions started early in pregnancy and continued almost daily until the end. My due date was August 13th 1970. 

On July 31st I began cleaning with abandon. By mid morning I had a bloody show, called the office and was advised to come in immediately and with my suitcase. My now almost 2 year old daughter was taking a nap and I quickly had a friend stop by. At the doctor’s office I was examined and told I hadn’t even started dilating. Go home!

The friend babysitting let slip that a surprise shower was planned for that evening. My husband tried talking me out of this but knew that as headstrong as I am……OK, as long as I wasn’t driving.

We had a fun evening. I broke the rules again and instead of keeping to a light meal I indulged in lobster. We were living on Cape Cod so why not? The contractions started and increased but hey I had two nurses in the group timing contractions for me. After dinner we continued the evening at a local bar with one of the group saying “we need a table close to the door because we’re having a baby.” Not half an hour later I realized that this was getting serious and I wanted to go home, fast. The head nurse in the group in charge of the Med/Surg unit at the hospital called the Doc on call and I was swiftly escorted to the hospital. My husband followed shortly thereafter but the first words he heard on entering the OB unit was “We just got one in from……a bar who says she’s in labor” Liquor? No I don’t drink, never have.

Sod’s Law [Murphy’s Law], I got the same non-verbal doc for delivery. My contractions of course had almost become non-exsistent in the 10 minutes he spent palpating my abdomen. It was 11pm. I asked for an enema and things sped up fast. I presumed incorrectly that my records would show from the previous delivery that I did not want scopolamine. I got caught at a bad contraction during transition and after refusing meds every few minutes that were being pushed on me I stupidly gave in. Had my husband been with me as is so common today, if I had been able to write a birth plan, a lot of ifs; I could have made it through and would have had a pleasant remembrance of this delivery. 

At the change of shift the new nurse was “Nurse Ratchet”. I wanted to be on my side during transition and pushing, she kept pulling me onto my back, which definitely increased the pain and I know I came close to swearing at her.

This is where it ends for me. Because of the scopolamine I don’t remember any more about that night until I woke in my bed in the ward asking about my baby and the time of delivery. I also asked Nurse Ratchet if she had any children. When she answered no I thought that answer explained a lot.

My son had been born at 1:35 AM weighing 6lb 8oz on August 1st 1970, twelve days early. Unfortunately I don’t have any recollection of what should have been a beautiful experience. It was taken away from me. But, I did have a beautiful healthy baby boy.

al bottle al newborn
 
My mum says to note the breast binder in the second picture. If you look closely you will see the white wrapping under her gown to stop her milk. Also, note the pretty awesome glasses she is sporting!
 

A Tale of Three Pregnancies. Part One: 1968

In honor of my sister’s birthday, today I am sharing the story of her birth. This is the first of three birth stories I will be sharing over the next few weeks.

After months of my (mostly polite) nagging, my mum has written down her birth stories and I’m so excited to finally share them. There are three of us: my sister was born in 1968, followed by my brother in 1970, and the “happy accident” at the end was me, in 1980. Over the span of twelve years there were many changes in maternity care and (as you will read), a woman’s resulting experience.

 

My daughter, Erica, suggested that I give an account of my three pregnancies, each a very different experience as the styles of obstetricians changed. This was in 1968, 1970 and 1980, probably before many of you reading this were born.

I was born in England, became a Registered Nurse in 1966, and moved to the USA in 1967 with my scientist husband. My understanding was we would return to England after two years.

My British qualifications were not recognized although I was “allowed” to work as a Graduate Nurse for 6 months. In 1968 at age 24 I delivered a girl, full term 5lb 9oz.

Things do change; in 2014 I am still living here in the USA.

In November 1967 I was newly pregnant and at my first OB visit. The internal exam seemed to go on indefinitely with uncomfortable manipulations. I learned the hard way that my uterus was “retroverted” and it had “just been fixed”. During that first doctor/patient interaction I asked if my husband would be allowed into the delivery room. The firm answer, “No,” came across loud and clear. My response was “I thought I would ask because it is very common in England” and his response, “Yes, and so are home deliveries and I don’t agree with those either.” Wow, that answer put me in my place.

I read “Childbirth Without Fear” by Grantly Dick Read, cover to cover, learned as much as I could about the relaxation technique and was determined that this birth would be one I would participate in; that is as much as was physically possible in 1968. As a teen I had suffered with Dysmenorrhea, treated on occasion with narcotics. I had two D&C’s and was eventually treated with Hormone Therapy; a “false pregnancy” where I controlled the amount of estrogen and progesterone that I took for six months. I either increased or decreased these drugs according to side effects from them. During this time I did not menstruate. The pill had only been recently been approved and was not widely used. It was common for me to have to retire to bed for several days or stay in a hot bath with the hot tap running. My Mother would comfort me with the words; “if you think this is bad, wait until you have a baby”. So it was natural for me to be apprehensive about body changes and what would await me giving birth.

The only pre-natal class available given by the local Visiting Nurse Association focused mostly on the psychology of birth and newborn care. I was an only child and babysitting was not commonly done by teens at that time in England, so really I was very green around the gills.

The pregnancy itself was as normal as could be; I had the usual first trimester nausea and lethargy but nothing out of the ordinary. I was told that I could gain up to 14 lb. and no more than 2 lb. in any one month! I worked out my own due date and gave the info to the OB who raised his eyebrows at me; not used to a patient taking control. There were two partners in the practice, neither one any nicer than the other but in a small town there is not a lot of choice. No midwives were available for me back then either. Toward the end of the pregnancy I was told not to expect a big baby. “This one is a peanut.”

My husband left for a scientific cruise in the Azores at the beginning of my last month of pregnancy. He actually said “No baby is born on their due date.” I had no family around and was dependent on friends if any problems occurred.  He was due home August 13th and my due date was August 18th. With only 3 flights a week out of the Azores I knew this was cutting it close. He arrived home as planned and I also kept my plan of delivering on the 18th.

Early labor began mid-afternoon on the 17th; me sitting on the grass outside a friends house while my husband helped them move into a new home. When I started to feel uncomfortable we returned home. My husband, who had not been coached to help, suggested I go to bed with a watch and time the contractions and let him know when we should leave for the hospital. Having none of this I suggested a game of Scrabble instead, stopping every once in a while to get through a contraction. By 7pm we were on our way to the hospital.

Admission exam showed that I was only 2cm dilated. I was given an enema “to speed things along” and was told, “This baby won’t be here for a long time, maybe another 12 hours.” A nurse friend had warned me to refuse “Scope” (Scopolamine) at all costs and I kept this in mind.

The enema actually did bring me into active labor and I avoided meds for several hours. Shifts changed and I had a new nurse, a fantastic coach. My husband stayed until my bloody show and had he kept quiet about it I am sure he would have been able to stick around for the birth. Once he pointed it out he was shown the door. My new nurse encouraged me to accept a low dose of Morphine to get me through transition. I accepted, reluctantly saying “but no Scope.” With just about 30 minutes of pushing I kept my promise to myself that I would be as quiet as a church mouse until I finally let out a few roars. Once crowning, the nurse flew to the OB’s room to wake him and announce the impending birth. I was wheeled into the OR, told to turn on my side and was given an epidural. Yes, this was done after crowning and with birth imminent! Episiotomy was routine, there was no choice.

At 12.35 am on August 18th 1968 my baby girl was born weighing 5lb 9oz. The OB did not utter one word to me during the delivery. The baby did not breathe spontaneously. Why wasn’t she crying? I hung off the OR table trying to see what was happening as they were stimulating her. “She’s a lazy breather” was all I got in response and I was told I could see her later. I was wheeled into a postpartum room. Back then Rules were Rules.

Excitement and recalling the events held sleep at bay and my filling bladder began to give me tremendous discomfort. After multiple unsuccessful tries with a bedpan and walking to the bathroom I was catheterized. This was excruciatingly painful; the same nurse who had been an excellent labor coach had a terrible time trying to find my urethra with my swollen vulva. To this day I have a chronic bladder disease often brought on by bladder trauma. I am convinced this stems back to that incident. I remember thinking that the labor and delivery was a breeze compared to my period pains and this time I had a reward for my hard work. I think I probably told the nurse that I would see her again next year. I was on a high!

mum&Jill 1968

I had been asking for what seemed like ages to hold my baby and at 5AM she was brought to me. The curtains were drawn around me and the Nursery Nurse said, “Here she is. You’re the one that wants to breastfeed, right?” I was the only one to breastfeed in the Maternity section and no help or advice was offered or given. I felt so alone. I was also very frustrated with the nurses because they would come to pick my baby up after I had nursed, weigh her and then feed her formula. I would go chasing down the hall anxious to hear the amount taken. It was never more than 1/4-1/2 ounce. I couldn’t wait to go home but 4 days was the rule and no changing it. My rear end hurt, my breasts hurt and I lied to get out of having the “necessary” enema before discharge.

On the positive side, my mother-in-law, Irene, arrived from England and as soon as she saw the state I was in at the hospital she put my fears to rest. She would show me the tricks I needed to breastfeed as soon as I was discharged. My own mother had died the year before. Once I was home Irene gave me the confidence that I lacked; helped with correcting the head position until the baby latched. The fact that I was engorged and this was a very tiny baby was a challenge. Her weight was just 5lb 2 oz when I took her home. We did well for a while and the visiting nurse came for weekly visits. At 6 weeks my baby started losing interest if the let down didn’t happen right away. I contacted my pediatrician who told me to switch to formula and the next time the nurse visited she sat on the bed for a whole hour talking me out of breastfeeding. There were no folks around offering support. No LaLeche, no MD , and no RN who would back me up. My husband was emotionally supportive but couldn’t fix the problem and there were no other family members around. I succumbed to the pressure, put her on formula and the little devil gained a whole pound the first week. 

 

 

The birth of Hank (quick hospital birth with midwives)

Erin shares the birth story of her son Henry (Hank). Thanks for sharing, Erin!

On Saturday, September 14th (12 days before my due date), I woke up with really bad hip pain. My muscles just would not work properly. I couldn’t open my legs or pull them back together, turning over in bed or getting out of bed was very painful. Getting my legs moving once I was standing was hard. The muscles just wouldn’t fire. I thought maybe my hips were out of alignment, so I did a bunch of hip strengthening/stretching movements – squats, cat/cow, and hip extensions. That helped stabilize things a bit, but it was a rough day. I went to bed thinking, “What if I have to do two more weeks of this or, worse, four!”

Luckily, I didn’t have to! I woke up Sunday, September 15th without hip pain. I rolled over to get out of bed and a stream of liquid came right out. I scampered to the bathroom leaving a trail of liquid behind me. Ethan was on my tail, and I said, “Um – I think maybe my water broke. I’m pretty sure I didn’t pee myself.” I cleaned up and called our doula and then the midwife. As contractions had not yet started, they both recommended that I take my time getting ready and try to let contractions start naturally. I took a shower, sent off a few final emails for work, picked up around the house a bit, and ate breakfast. About 9, I started to feel a little low back pain and by 9:30 was having light contractions – I could feel them but walk/talk through them. About 10:30, they started requiring my attention, and I started tracking them. They were all over the place at first. 7 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, then settled into a pattern of about 6-7 minutes. I kept tracking and by 12 they were 5 minutes apart. My doula and I decided it was time to start thinking about heading to the hospital. We said we’d leave at 12:45 but then my contractions escalated to 4 minutes apart and were lasting 90 seconds a pop. I told her we were heading out early (12:20) and she thought that was a good idea given how quickly they had progressed. On the drive, they got closer to 3 minutes apart. Ethan was incredible. Counting off my breathing was helping me, so every contraction, he’d count “In, 2, 3, 4. Out, 2, 3, 4.”

We made it to the hospital and parked. I was very concerned about the walk to the birthing center as I knew it was farther than I’d make it without a contraction. Turns out I had four contractions on the walk there. I just stopped for each one, breathed and moaned through it and started walking as things lightened toward the end.

When we got to the birthing center and into our suite (at 1 pm), contractions were two minutes apart with just about a 30 second break between. My midwife and nurses were trying to get a read on the baby and the contractions but were having a hard time hearing his heart beat. I had an hour of progressively stronger contractions. I kept moving every few contractions – I did a few on the toilet, a few on a birth ball, a few hanging over Ethan, a few leaning over the bed. By this point, things were strong and hard. My legs started to weaken. I knelt by the side of the bed and buried my face in the bed, I started thinking, “I don’t think I can do a few hours of this. What am I going to do?” The next contraction, I felt a very strong urge to push and told my doula after that contraction. Someone said, “Ok Erin, we need you to get on the bed because we haven’t checked your cervix yet. We need to see where you are at. Try not to push.” A hand went in and someone said, “Oh, there’s a head. It’s always good when we say that!” Followed by with a little laugh, “Ok, Erin, you are fully dilated. Push away. Let’s meet this baby!”

I looked at my doula very confused and said, “Wait, am I in transition?” Everyone laughed and said, “Oh, you are all done with that!”

I pushed him down in about 20 mins, but he got caught on my perenium and they couldn’t hear his heartbeat well. When they could, it was much slower than they wanted. My midwife started trying to help the perenium stretch, but it wouldn’t budge, so she had to do a small episiotomy. After the birth, she apologized for needing to do it and told me she can count on one hand the number of episiotomies she’s had to do in her career.

After the snip, he popped right out. Ethan was there to help catch him and put him up on me. A warm, slimy, gooey ball of love. Crying right away with open alert eyes.

Henry (Hank) was born at 3:01 pm after four and a half hours of labor. 11 days early on his grandma’s 60th birthday weighing 6 lbs, 8 ounces and measuring 19.5 inches long.

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The birth of Finn (hospital birth with family doc attending)

Below is the story of my first birth. It was fairly long (23 hours from start to finish) but only about 12 hours of active labor. The feeling of empowerment I had after this birth planted the seed that later started my doula journey!

 My first-born could not have had better timing.  It was the last day of winter break and I was a day shy of 38 weeks. My husband and I are both teachers and we were not looking forward to going back to work the next day. I had planned to work up until my due date and I groaned as I acknowledged the reality of going back to work the next day.  I got up to go to the bathroom. It was 8:30 AM. As I stood up from the toilet and pulled up my pajama bottoms I heard a loud splat as my waters hit the tile floor. As the fluid seeped out of me it took a second or two for me to fully acknowledge what was happening. Then in a voice shaking with excitement I called out to my husband, “Honey, I guess we’re not going back to work tomorrow after all!” I remember just trembling with excitement as Peter rushed in and began the frantic husband dance. He called Group Health and they asked us to come in so they could make sure it was indeed amniotic fluid. There was no doubt, but we dutifully headed in anyway. I chuckle now to think of how I put a panty liner in my underwear to catch the drips, not realizing just how much fluid would continue to leak out of me until the baby was born. On the way to the hospital I called family members to let them know that Finn was on his way today!

At the hospital they checked and verified that it was indeed amniotic fluid and assessed that baby was fine, they sent us back home, as we had expected they would. We spent the day trying to distract ourselves from the excitement of what was to come and my friend Jennifer came over to help us pass the time. I experienced very mild contractions throughout the day, as we baked cookies, went for a short walk, and cleaned the house (I was insistent that I wanted to return from the hospital to a pristine house).  About halfway through watching the Sex and the City movie (so bad!), I decided I wanted to rest and just spend some quiet time with Peter. Jennifer left, and Peter and I lay on the bed, trying to nap and relishing our last few calm moments together before baby’s arrival. Peter was able to get some much needed rest, but I was too excited to nap, and the contractions were just uncomfortable enough to keep me from sleeping.

Before we knew it, dinner time had arrived and Peter cooked a nice meal as the contractions began to pick up a bit and I did some slow breathing and cat-cow poses. A light snow had fallen during the day but it didn’t seem like much until about this time, when suddenly we noticed it was sticking and starting to accumulate. For those of you who don’t live in Seattle, you might scoff at an inch or two of snow, but trust me, in our city it’s a big deal. We have tons of hills and maybe two snowplows for the whole city. With our old Volvo being rear-wheel drive and notoriously bad in the snow, we started to get a little nervous about getting to the hospital. I called and talked to the nurses and we decided to wait a few hours before coming in, as I was still handling the contractions pretty well. So we waited, and the snow continued to fall.

Around 9 PM I decided it was time to head in. We needed to drive from our neighborhood in north Seattle to the Capitol Hill neighborhood (yes, you guessed it, up a big hill). We gathered our hospital bag, got into the car and started heading down the street. Greenwood Ave is a completely flat street but our car was careening sideways as my husband drove. I said to him, “how can we possibly get up to Capitol Hill if our car is swerving on a flat road?” so we turned around and drove back to the condo. At this point we called Peter’s father, who has an SUV with four-wheel drive, and asked him to come and drive us to the hospital. I waited in the lobby of our condo, and began to experience “the shakes” while on the phone talking to my mom, who assured me that it was completely normal and just hormones at work.

Finally, Peter’s dad arrived along with his brother, Chris, and the three of them pushed our car up the driveway and back into our garage. Then we all got into the SUV and drove south towards the hospital. By this time, contractions had amped up and I needed to lean forward and really breathe through them. We got to the base of the hill and the main road up the hill, Denny Way, had a ROAD CLOSED sign. The car ahead of us just drove right around the sign and up the hill, and so that’s what my father-in-law did as well!

We arrived at the hospital safely and were admitted right away.  We met our nurse, Megan, who was a calming and reassuring presence. I instantly liked her. She looked over our birth plan, saw that I wanted no pain medication, and asked me, “On a scale of 1-10, how bad do you want your pain to be before I suggest pain medication?” I guess I was feeling pretty confident at that moment, because I responded, “11!” Shortly thereafter, labor began to pick up in intensity. Megan acted just as a doula would and was a calm and reassuring presence throughout. I distinctly remember her saying “come back to us, Erica” when she saw that I was losing control of my rhythm and breathing. Finally they checked my cervix (uncomfortable!) and it was 2.5-3 cm. Wow, that was disappointing.

Things got harder. Megan asked me if I wanted to try the tub and I said no, I wanted to save that for when things got really bad. I tried swaying, slow dancing, sitting on the birth ball and leaning on the bed. We walked the halls, stopping for contractions. Finally I decided to try the tub. At this point I really had the shakes and the contractions were really difficult to get through. I was riding on a wave of pain. The jets in the tub weren’t working and I remember several people standing over me trying to get them to work while I was shaking through a contraction. I was thinking, “I don’t give a *%#^ about the damn jets, just let me be!” At some point (it didn’t feel like I was in there very long) it was decided that I should get out of the tub and get checked. 6 cm. So disappointing for me, as it seemed so far away from 10. (typical first-time mom, I was so hung up on the number, I didn’t realize the end was in sight!)  The nurse left the room to go notify our doctor, who had just arrived. Meanwhile I was on my hands and knees leaning on the birth ball and the contractions starting coming right on top of each other. I had what I apparently dubbed “the mother of all contractions” and barely had time to speak this to Peter when another one came. My doctor (she’s our family practice doctor, and I LOVE her) came in to say hi and I could barely speak to acknowledge her. Minutes after she left the room I suddenly felt the urge to push and it was a scary feeling. It felt like the baby was going to fall out of my bottom. I shouted at Peter “push, push, push!” He called the nurse and doctor back in. They checked me, which was supremely uncomfortable, and I was at 10! I had gone from 6-10cm in about 20 minutes.

I had heard that pushing was the easy part, so I was so excited to get this baby out and be done. I remember giving it my all on that first push and some crazy sound coming out of my mouth. And then something about the noise that one of the nurses made and the expression on her face told me, oh no, you have no idea what you are doing. I found out that pushing was not necessarily “easy.” I tried hands-and knees. Nope, that didn’t feel good. I tried squatting with the squat bar. Are you kidding me? You mean I have to hold myself up using my own arms? I tried side-lying. Nope that didn’t feel good. Who wants to lie on their side when there’s a giant watermelon stuck between your thighs? My arms and legs were like jello at this point. I had no strength left. I wanted to sleep between contractions. I ended up on my back with the bed a bit upright because I was so tired. I didn’t feel the urge to push with every contraction and the nurses told me only to push when I felt like it. I pushed for close to 3 hours. I remember at one point thinking, “when are they going to suggest a c-section since I can’t get this baby out?” They brought in “the lady who gets the babies out,” who was a nurse with a Russian accent. In the end I think I was holding back a bit from fear and also it took me a long time to figure out that yes, you really do have to push like you’re pooping. When he finally came out he came out fast. They laid him right on my chest and it was simply the best feeling in the world. He looked up at me and all in the world was right. I had done it! It was exhilarating. Finn Christopher was born at 7:32 AM, weighing 6lbs 8 oz.

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My amazing nurse had stayed an extra hour into her shift just to see Finn being born and I was so grateful to her and to everyone in the room. I was up and moving around soon after delivery and breastfeeding went well. I remained on this natural high for weeks. It was the best feeling in the whole world, knowing I had done this amazing feat. There is simply nothing to compare it to, and it is profoundly life-changing. I did it!

The Birth of Audra and Mira

Here is a birth story from Emily about the birth of her twins, Audra and Mira. Be sure to click the link at the end to read her inspiring breastfeeding story as well!

Before Delivery

We have been seeing specialists through out most of the pregnancy along with our regular Ob-Gyn the last few weeks of the pregnancy I had 3 appointments a week, carrying identical twins is high risk so I was followed closely. It was originally predicted that I would not be able to carry the girls till April, but I proved everyone wrong, and while the girls were positioned to enter the world vaginally they were not of the mind set to come out. I spent a week trying to induce labor, walking, acupuncture, bouncing on a balance ball, primrose oil etc…but we went in for our last doctors visit and found out that not only did I have a rock solid cervix, but Audra (baby a) had moved out of my birth canal (where she had been hanging out for 6 weeks, this was a shock to the doctors). We had reached the deadline of staying pregnant safely, which meant I needed to decide how to get these girls out. My options were to be induced or have a c-section…. To be honest this is one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make and even after they were born I wondered if I made the right choice, or if I should have fought to keep them in longer and go natural or if I should have tried being induced, but I really do think I made the choice that was right for us. Being induced would have involved a balloon being inserted in my cervix and then using that to push it open which would have meant one day in the hospital waiting, then Pitocin, and membrane scraping which carries an average of 32 hours labor (vs the normal 18 hours) and with the condition I was in there was a 70% chance of a c-section. And keeping them in longer meant an increased mortality rate, words no pregnant woman wants to hear. So we set up a c-section for the next afternoon. That evening Mikel and I had a lovely dinner and got free dessert for the girls impending birthday.

Birth Day

So on the morning of April 10th I got up (still secretly hoping I would go into labor) and packed my last minute things, I watched Celebrity Apprentice while Mikel and my mom ran around like crazy (I couldn’t eat or drink so I tried to stay distracted). We packed everything we could think of, you may have thought we were moving into the hospital, but we knew that the c-section would require us to be there for 4 days. In the long run all we needed was something to play music on and our cameras. We all drove to the hospital where I checked in and headed up to Labor and Triage.

I was there about 2 hours before my section was scheduled, they monitored the babies, took my vitals, and prepped me, our doula joined us. Mikel was going to be the only one alowed in the operating room with me so they got him ready, he looked very cute in his scrubs. At a little after 2:30 I was prepped and walked into the operating room (waddled in). I recall myself jumping up on the table, this was not possible, but it’s what I remember. I was very calm. I got a spinal, which was not painful at all, I then laid down as my whole lower body went numb, the room filled with doctors and nurses we had two teams from the neonatal intensive care unit, one for each girl two regular nurse teams, I had a doctor and nurses and then the two anesthesiologists, I think it was about 20 people. Once everything was set and I was numb and the curtain so I couldn’t see was hung Mikel came in. He sat by my head with a camera, but he was allowed to go anywhere he wanted and take pictures of anything. To my shock he stood up to watch and took photos of the surgery (I will not share those unless you really want to see them). I didn’t feel anything, I was told I would feel pressure or pulling but I really didn’t. I also was never nervous, my blood pressure the whole day never went above 110/70. Baby A (Audra Rose) came out first she was taken to her little care station and in less than a minute Mikel was there cutting her cord and being handed his first child, she was healthy and strong and it was immediately determined that she would not need special care. She weighed in at 5 lbs 9 oz. Within seconds of being handed his first daughter Mikel saw his second daughter come out, I heard her scream. Baby B (Mira) came out yelling very loud, she also looked great and Mikel cut her cord. He ran back to me to show me some pictures as they weighed Mira Louise (5lbs 14 oz) and cleaned her up a bit, then he went back to his girls, the placenta was removed and they started to put me back together. He spent the next 10-15 minutes holding both the girls next to me, I cried, he just smiled. We felt so lucky that we got to be with our girls right away. I was then rolled into recovery and the babies were both put right on my chest where we had skin to skin time, my mom came back to be with us. This was a really weird time for me, I really had trouble believing that these were the two things that had been growing inside of me, while they aren’t huge girls they are a lot of baby to have been inside of me, they had this amazing jet black hair and seemed so strong. We hung out in recovery for about an hour then I got wheeled up to my room my mom and Mikel each pushed a baby we made some phone calls to parents, grandparents and siblings, we were trying to keep it under wraps till we got in touch with my brother, that took a couple hours. I was so tired I didn’t really have energy to call anyone. My mom was with us for the next hour or so and when she left Mikel and I talked about what we would name the girls up until then they were a and b, we had come to the hospital with a few names in mind but once we heard Mira, we both knew who she was, Audra took about 3 minutes to decide. Their middle names come from me, I’m the 6th Louise on my mom’s side. And Jack Rose, our dear friend who played the guitar at our wedding, he passed away a few years back.

 

Emily also wrote an emotional account of her breastfeeding experience with the twins. You can read that here.