Disclaimer: this is a raw, true, and emotional depiction of my life and experiences.
Whew. It has taken me months (7 to be exact) to find a way to tell this story in a way that sufficiently conveys the spiritual journey I experienced. I still don’t think I can do it justice, but here is my effort none the less.
A lot of the what I learned in childbirth I didn’t realize until long after it was all said and done (I am still learning valuable lessons from it today), but the journey really began in my childhood. At the age of 2, I learned that people let you down. The details of how I learned that would be another blog post altogether. However, it’s relevant to mention because I attribute (at least some of) my yearning to be in control and plan out many aspects of my life to my childhood experiences. I am a planner, a researcher, and I am very disciplined once I make my mind up on what I want to achieve. I’ve been that way with grades, sports, college, my career, relationships; I took the same approach to childbirth.
My decision to have a natural, unmedicated birth didn’t come until I was about 6.5 months pregnant. That only left me 3.5 months (yes, pregnancy is technically 10 months) to prepare, which isn’t a ton of time for someone who has to research every nook and cranny of a major decision like this. Ironically, early on in the pregnancy, I was shouting EPIDURAL ALL THE WAY every time someone asked me whether or not I wanted an epidural at birth. The only thing I knew of childbirth was what Hollywood and my family told me: “It is the worst pain you will ever go through.” However, along with the pain is a side of birth that doesn’t get mentioned enough: the beautiful spiritual process it entails.
I went on many walks when I was pregnant, and around 6 months, I started feeling a yearning to research the benefits of natural birth. I researched personal experiences (on both sides), and I just kept on researching. I don’t know where it came from, but it was a very emotional process. I would even tear up on my walks as I contemplated my decision- and I know now- that it was God pulling at my heart strings. He was asking me to trust in Him, to walk with Him, hand in hand, on – what I didn’t know at the time – would be the hardest and most beautiful journey of my life.
I knew I didn’t want narcotics during labor because my biological father was addicted to them my entire life, but I was not completely opposed to an epidural and wanted to understand more about a birth without medicine. I watched The Business of Being Born, a Netflix documentary, which educated me on the risks of modern medicine, the reasons why more and more women are taking the natural approach, and allowed me to see natural births from real women. (This isn’t a blog to debate pro or anti epidural AT ALL, as I think each experience is completely different, and every woman’s journey is beautiful in its own unique way- I am just explaining my approach to educating myself and the research that went into it). After that documentary, I had officially made up my mind: I wanted to have a natural, unmedicated childbirth.
I knew then I had 3.5 months left to prepare. My marathon training had begun. I read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, hired a doula, and continued teaching barre classes to stay in shape and keep my endurance up. I had coffee with my sweet friend Connie, who had already been through this process three times, to ask her questions and soak in as much advice from her experiences as I could. My walks and imagining my birth became more and more spiritual and emotional at this point, and I started making a birthing playlist on Spotify. I would literally tear up more and more on these walks as I imagined my birth and listened to my music. The emotions were so strong at some points that I would pray no cars would pass and see me crying. I was literally the token “crazy pregnant lady” jamming out to Ray LaMontagne crying on her neighborhood walks, but I was at peace because I knew God was calling me down this path. I just didn’t know why.
We met with several doulas, and found one with whom we connected best. I got my birthing ball, my herbs and vitamins, and I prepared my body in every way I could. Prenatal yoga, birthing ball positions to help the baby down and into position, and at 38 weeks I drank Red Raspberry tea and took Evening Primrose oil like it was my job. I had my essential oils, my playlist, and my birthing outfit. I even had my birth plan already mapped out and signed by my doctor (I can send an example to anyone in search of a good natural birth plan). I had checked every box. The planner in me was content. I was ready, and I was just waiting on baby.
Labor Part I
It was Thursday, January 27th – my due date to be exact- when my contractions started at about 3AM. The best way I can describe my early labor pains is a growing and building pressure like a belt around my lower back squeezing against my uterus, causing the worst period cramps I’ve ever had. My contractions peaked at about 20 minutes apart at 7 AM, and then they became irregular again. David went on with his work day, and I took the day off, thinking I would definitely go into full-on labor by day’s end. Then evening came again, and no regular contractions. This time, I woke up at midnight, the same pressure in my lower back but much worse and building- after about 2 hours, I was drenched, as were the bed sheets, and my contractions were 7 minutes apart and almost a minute long (we still have the contraction tracker counts in my phone). I knew this was it. We went to the hospital, only to get sent back home. The NST machine in the hospital was picking up the contractions, and the nurses said they could see that they were each over a minute long at this point, but I still wasn’t dilating. I was so discouraged.
The contractions faded off again by morning, and had no pattern at all. I repeated the same process Saturday night, but I had to get on the floor and hold onto the bedsheet while David pressed into my back (I had bruises in my back I was having him press so hard). This time my contractions got down to 5 minutes apart. We went to the hospital AGAIN, only to be turned away. I felt so defeated. I thought to myself, “I know there are 3 stages of labor, and if this is the early stage, there is NO WAY I am making it through transition (for most women transition is the worst phase). I’m barely a dilated to a 2!” I begged for them to induce me (which should indicate how much pain I was in and how tired I was because I was very anti-induction, as the chances of a successful natural birth go down with induction), but there was nothing they could do because my doctor wasn’t working that weekend. The other doctor wouldn’t induce me on a weekend without clearance from my doctor.
So we went back home for the second time, feeling defeated, embarrassed, and weak, and my contractions slowed again when the sun came up. The pain from the past three nights made me fear nightfall on Sunday. I didn’t think I had the strength to stay up all night doing this again, and I was so confused – this wasn’t a stage of labor I read about- what was going on? I then found a post on prodromal or “false labor” which is a terrible name, because it isn’t false at all when you’re going through it. Prodromal labor was exactly what was happening to me: painful contractions that would get very close together at night and then slow in the mornings (can be different times of day but night is most common). My pain was all in my back, and I would wake up panicking from the overwhelming wave of pressure with each contraction, jumping down as quickly as possible into a position where I could make the pain more tolerable. David would jump down with me and rub my back, and it became so routine that I would tap him without saying a word, and we would both get into position. I went through this for one last night, and by Monday morning I was at my doctor’s office demanding to be the first induction of the day. I was willing to take my chances on induction because I didn’t know how long my prodromal labor would last. I knew another night of contractions with no sleep would mean I would definitely be too weak to have a natural birth.
Labor Part II
And so the birth process “officially” began Monday morning at 10AM when they induced me with Cytotek – a small pill they insert (I could write another blog post on my fears of Cytotek and how I finally became comfortable with that decision). Everything was moving along beautifully – I was dilating more and more every few hours when they would check me. Early labor contractions were honestly no worse than my nights of prodromal labor. During labor, I found out Hux was sunny-side-up, which means he was facing my pubic bone instead of my tail bone, and the terrible pain I felt with prodromal labor was likely him trying to turn and face correct way. He eventually turned, and I battled through the stages of labor (doing lunges, getting in the shower, and David was applying a heating pad to my bag during each contraction). I remember feeling ready to give up and be done with the pain when I was dilated to a 6.
I told the nurse I would give it an hour and if I hadn’t dilated past a 7 by then, I would have an epidural. During that hour, the doula coached me through positions, and the position that made it easiest for me to cope was grabbing the back of the hospital bed on my knees, moving my hips in circles, and making breathing noises that I can’t even describe – you literally have to hear them for yourself. I would close my eyes and imagine I was walking down the beach, hand in hand with God, as he comforted me through the ebbs and flows of each contraction. I’m sure that sounds crazy, but that was the only thing that got me through the pain, one contraction at a time. I was dilated to a 7 when the nurse came back, and that was the adrenaline rush I needed. At this point, I was the naked pregnant lady doing lunges and sitting backward on the toilet through transition to help the baby drop further. It was such a vulnerable yet powerful feeling, to be so spiritually connected to God in that moment and in such pain that I was forced to ask for His help. The only way to get through each contraction at that point is to give in and not fight the pain. I kept this up until was ready to push at about 12AM (14 hours after I was induced).
I pushed for three hours, and by 3AM I was informed they were going to start preparing for an emergency C-section. Dr. Nwadike came and checked me and realized my cervix was inflamed. She told me I had to stop pushing, or I would tear my cervix. Those words punched all of the strength and hope I had left right in the gut. I was done. All I can remember at this point were the tears welling in my eyes, and my tired voice, cracking with pain and weakness saying, “I can’t. Just cut him out- I want a C-Section. I am DONE. I can’t do anymore. I have reached my limit.” My body began to fight the pain and shake with panic, with fear, feeling like everything I had done to prepare – all the pain I had suffered without medication- was all for nothing. It was going to end in a C-Section anyway. I was going to have narcotics anyway. I failed. I was uncontrollably shaking and crying on the hospital bed, along with David, when Dr. Nwadike looked at me. She said, “Haley, there are two options. You still have a chance at a vaginal birth if you can wait for the anesthesiologist to get here with the epidural. You can sleep it off tonight – you won’t be in anymore pain- and we can see if the swelling is down by the morning so that you can push again. Or we can take you back for a C-section now.”
I pleaded in desperation, feeling the weight of a bowling ball pushing on my cervix, trying to hold my muscles back from naturally pushing, which was nearly impossible. “Take me back now! I am done – PLEASE- just get him out!” I could endure the pain when I was moving toward a goal, getting closer to seeing my baby, but in those moments, when the pain seemed to be standing still, I lost it. However, Dr. Nwadike didn’t give up on me that easily- she looked at me again and said, “Haley, I know how badly you wanted to avoid this. The baby is fine, and there is still a chance at vaginal delivery if you trust me and hold on for 30 more minutes until we can get this epidural here. I spent hours going over this birth plan with you– I know what you wanted- and I think we can still achieve some aspects of that. You are so strong- you have made it this far – I know you can do this.” I finally calmed a little after hearing her faith in me and agreed to wait for the epidural. The pain was insurmountable at this point (it took all of my strength to hold in each push so that I wouldn’t tear my cervix as the contractions came on stronger and stronger), so they gave me narcotics to hold off the pain while we waited for the epidural. David made them call the anesthesiologist every 5 minutes until he finally arrived. (I’ve never seen him so scared or upset, but then again I had never been so scared myself). Then, 45 minutes later, I finally got the epidural, and after five nights of painful contractions, some much-needed, pain-free SLEEP.
I woke up around 7AM immediately worrying about the baby – but the nurse assured me he was fine- heart rate was stable. However, my cervix was still inflamed. I had until 4:30PM for the swelling to go down before they would take me back for a C-Section. They kept checking me throughout the day (especially David – I’ve never seen him so concerned. Nor have I ever felt so close to him. I know I wouldn’t have made it through without him- he was my rock), but I was still much too swollen to push. The nurse, Angie, (happened to be my mom’s best friend from childhood) came in to check me one last time at 4:15PM before they prepped the operating room. Her face lit up with excitement. She said, “Haley, the swelling is gone, but I am going to get a second opinion.” The managing nurse came in and agreed – the swelling was gone! We could hear cheers in the waiting room and all throughout the nurses’ station outside. I was ready to PUSH!!!!!!!! Dr. Nwadike was in within seconds, and less than 30 minutes later my little guy was born.
He was here. He was healthy. He was beautiful. Nothing else mattered.
So, what’s the point?
I feel like I asked myself this question over and over again as I was laying there the morning after the epidural (still technically in labor) reflecting on what had happened. Why would God want me to get this far only to fail? Only to end up having the one thing I’ve been determined to avoid my whole life: narcotics. Throw an epidural on top of that after I had put such planning and preparation into not having one….after I executed perfectly- I made it the whole way, only to trip at the finish line.
I finally realized after I held Hux in my arms for the first time that I hadn’t tripped at the finish line. I hadn’t failed. Instead, I had fallen completely into the arms of God. My legs weren’t carrying me, but I was running more smoothly than ever before because God was in control. This was the first time in my life my back was completely against a wall, and I was entirely out of power, out of control, out of preparedness. I was forced to truly give the situation to God and ask him to take over, to ask for help from all of the people in the room – all of whom he had perfectly placed there- to get me through the finish line and deliver a beautiful healthy baby. That’s when I knew the “why” in the entire journey. Miss planner, miss prepared, miss “in control” needed to learn to let go. Though I had always been spiritual, I had never learned how to fully surrender to His will, which is much greater than my own. What a beautiful lesson it was, and I know I will continue to learn from it all the days of my life.