On Pregnancy and Birth: 5 Birth Stories from a mom that's seen it all
This story began a few years before any of my children made their way earth side, with a phone call that I truly thought would alter the course of my life. I had gone in for an ultrasound from pelvic pain and when my doctor called, she had some unusual news to report back. We would need further testing, but it looked like I had a uterine anomaly. Long story short, after a hystersalpingogram (HSG) (which is a fancy way of saying: “they inject dye into your uterus, take an x-ray, and by the way, it feels worse than death”) and a laparoscopy, I was diagnosed with uterus didelphys. Simply put, I was born with two uteri and two cervixes.
The endocrinologist was somewhat somber delivering the news. It was an incredibly rare occurrence, there wasn’t much data or research, and the future of childbearing was a giant question mark. The risks of miscarriage, preterm birth, or IUGR were substantial. I remember feeling crushed.
Fast-forward this story to a few years later. I was pregnant with my eldest, and just generally nervous. I had not done a lot of research about my birth choices, and it was before “The Business of Being Born” had truly become mainstream. I assumed that, because of my anatomy, I was limited, that I needed constant watch and supervision, and so, I hired the first obstetrician I could find with little regard for if she was actually a good fit. She was incredibly pushy, belittling, and planned to induce me at 39 weeks with no actual medical reason. She would not perform an ECV on me when my baby turned up breech at 37 weeks because she thought it would be “impossible” because of my anatomy. Breech presentation is fairly normal with uterine anomalies because the space restriction means that the later you try to correct a malpresentation, the less successful you will be.
All this to say, it was a hard first birth. My waters broke two days before the induction date; I never experienced any labor; I was taken back a few hours later for a cesarean. They went to shave me to prep, and it was just dehumanizing. I vomited during the procedure and the doctor accused me of lying about the last time I had eaten. She ogled my open body, talking about how fascinating it was, as if I wasn’t there listening. The spinal meds made me feel legitimately drunk. Grace was quickly taken from the OR with Chris, which gave me a huge amount of anxiety. From there, nursing was difficult - even my nipples were “put down” as being too flat - it was impossible to get a good latch, despite lactation consultants coming in to try to help. Every single ounce of me, as a mother, felt stupid and like a failure. No one told me went to take off the steri-strips, no one told me when I needed to get my staples taken out. Literally every step of the way, my obstetrician found an excuse to put me down.
I did not advocate for myself, and I regret that deeply. For the next baby, I was determined that things would be different, and so I switched obstetricians when I found out I was pregnant. After research and seeking input from our local ICAN chapter and other doulas, I found one of the most well-respected MFMs in town, known for breech births and multiples vaginal births.
This pregnancy was radically different. I had a doula. I started seeing a chiropractor around 30 weeks. I was doing Spinning Babies tricks. I was doing handstands in the pool. I was going to get this baby out, come hell or high water. I took a birth class and was well-prepared for a hypnobirth. At 37 weeks, he was still breech, and we planned an ECV. Morning of, it turned out that I was supposed to have NOTHING to drink, which I hadn’t realized; the ECV was cancelled. I went home and just cried. My OB said I could absolutely try for a breech vaginal birth, and so this is what I decided to do.
Isaiah’s birth was interesting. My water broke just past midnight. I labored at home till late that morning before we decided to head into the hospital. When I arrived, I was “only” a two, but he was in a perfect position with a flexed chin, frank breech. Over the course of the day, he shifted positions and at one point during a cervical check, they could feel both his knee and his ankle. His leg had come down and his shin was lying across the cervix; further dilation meant that he would likely present footling, which comes with a huge increase in the likelihood of cord prolapse. By this point, my contractions had puttered out, and I was given some options. It was 16 hours after my water had broken. We could try pitocin, but I would need to stay in bed to prevent a prolapsed cord; or I could go ahead and have a cesarean.
I feel quite strongly that my OB would have supported me either way, but I opted for a cesarean. I was able to make requests, like “please don’t shave me down or catheterize me till we’re in the OR”, as well as speaking with the anesthesiologist ahead of time about how last time whatever drugs they had used made me feel terrible. The mood in the OR was significantly more respectful, kind, and attentive to my needs. I was given anti-nausea meds so I would not vomit again. Blankets were layered on when I started to shiver. My husband was able to lay my son onto my chest and help hold him there, and they stayed with me for a majority of the closing process. Once in recovery, my OB helped get me IV and other cables situated so I could nurse right away. He talked about the type of closure he used and the condition of the previous scar. The entire thing was radically different, and the pivotal difference was: I was a person, and I was treated like one.
From there, I have gone on to have three vaginal births. The hallmarks of Cyprian’s birth, my first VBAC, are: never tell a laboring woman not to push. That labor started just before dawn. I made laps around the neighborhood saying rosaries, and feeling the contractions intensify. It was a really holy experience. I got to the hospital about six hours later. He had been having late decels, I needed some fluids, and it resolved itself. From there, I continued to rock and sway, rock and sway. It was good. Suddenly, around 2 o’clock, I felt this overwhelming urge to push, but I was only at 2 centimeters. The nurse looked at me and said, “We could give you an epidural so you won’t want to push any more”. Frankly, this part terrified me because it was like a freight train - I needed to push, I could not stop, I didn’t understand what my body was doing and all I could think was “make it stop!” Well, I said “Heck yes!”, and the anesthesiologist was in there pronto. As he was prepping me, I had another huge contraction, and I could not stop myself - I hopped off that bed so fast and pushed. He was none too pleased with me. Once it passed, I climbed back onto the bed, he stuck that needle in and got it started. As soon as he finished, the nurse said, “let’s check you again”. In those short 40 minutes, I had progressed from 2, -1 station, to 10, +2 station. My body knew what the hell it was doing, and it meant business.
Because of the epidural, I lost the urge to push and things calmed down. My OB took his sweet time getting in there. Because of my anomaly, I also had a vaginal septum, which was guaranteed to tear as the baby came crashing into this world; it had already started to, and he had hardly started his emergence. There was some back and forth about the question: to cut, or not to cut. I opted not to cut, and to let them fix things back up when it was all said and done. With a mirror at the bottom of the bed to help guide my efforts, slowly but surely I pushed him out, and it was the most fascinating thing to behold. Finally, after 14 hours of labor, he made his way earthside. Ya’ll, the pride I felt was unreal. I did it. He was here. My body really wasn’t broken. I could have babies however I wanted, and nobody needed to tell me what to do, nobody needed to fuss over me. It was that moment of connection, where you look back on the history of birthing women, and realize, I’m a badass just like the rest of them, and I am strong.
Fast forward to baby number four. (Are you getting tired of all these birth stories yet?) Dominic’s pregnancy was glorious, and I was ready to go. I knew I could do it, right up until the end when I started to get that panicky, “when is this child going to get out of me?” sensation. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. I was sick on and off for the last several weeks. I had a cervical check at 36 weeks, and I was 90% effaced and 3 cm dilated already. I thought, SURELY, this baby won’t make it two more weeks! Ha.
At 39 weeks and five days, the longest any of my pregnancies had gone by a full week, I felt off. It’s like a flip goes off in your brain, and you feel otherworldly. After an emotional morning going back and forth “is this it? Is this not it?”, I had some bloody show and my husband came home. We took a walk around the neighborhood, and the contractions felt strong, but lacking in that crampy feeling that tells me I’m really in labor. My kids were whisked away to my in-laws house, and then… everything stopped. I tried my tricks, nothing restarted it, and I felt utterly defeated. I was desperate to have my baby.
That night, I had more bloody show and things picked back up. Contractions were coming every two minutes and lasting a good bit of time, but I was so relaxed. I made phone calls with ease. We were watching stand-up comedy on Netflix. I was laughing, swaying, blowing raspberries, and just generally had a good demeanor. About an hour and twenty minutes after this labor had restarted, I receded to my bedroom to go more into my world and focus. Chris came to help, cuz I was getting to that overwhelmed place where suddenly you realize, this means business. I had five of the worst contractions in my life, and he was just pressing my lower back trying to counter it, when suddenly my water broke. I felt sweet relief! AHA: I can do this! I was peeling off my soaked pants and calling out for new ones when the next contraction hit, and I realized I was doomed. Just kidding. This baby was coming out much faster than I ever anticipated, because he was coming out right that second. I immediately held his head, trying to slow his speed down; Chris lowered me to the floor, and on the next contraction, Dominic entered the world. At one point as he was out to his shoulders, I shouted at Chris “get him out of me! But not really! Just CATCH!” and out he slid. (Dad did not drop him!) He started nursing pretty quickly, and firefighter-EMTs quickly swarmed the house. Off we went to the hospital. I had one little “skid mark” that needed a stitch, but otherwise, we were both a-okay. I was blessed with nursing staff that had (planned) home births; so there was a total lack in judgment, and it was marvelous. We were an instant sensation and everyone knew our story. What an adventure! But again, it only reiterated that feeling: I am strong. I am capable. My body knows how to birth. I can do anything.
In 2016, we moved to Texas, and I needed to find a new care provider. Midwives could not attend VBACs in Arizona, but in Texas, things were more relaxed and I was able to find a care provider that aligned with my world-view and common sense. I had wanted a midwife since my first was born, but restrictive laws were in place that prevented midwives from taking VBACs outside of at the birth center, and never VBA2Cs, which is how they saw me, despite having only one incision in each uterus. In Texas, I found a midwife with common sense who agreed that I was technically only a VBA1C in each uterus, and I had a “proven” scar. She took me under her care. I had such a great pregnancy under her care. I was given a lot of latitude, respect, and the ability to steer my care.
So for my fifth baby, we planned a homebirth with our midwives. Eleanor came into this world earlier than I anticipated, before 38 weeks. Her birth was beautiful, intimate, and so relaxed. My water broke right around midnight, and Chris was on shift. He left the fire station promptly and returned home to me cleaning the house. It took about an hour for the contractions to start, and they felt so slow. Several minutes between each one. Chris slept till about 3 in the morning after I called Dinah to let her know that I felt… different. It was that otherwordly sensation again, which is a good signal to me that I am genuinely in labor. A storm was rolling in, and I stood by the windows watching the lightning and rain. I would occasionally let out a chuckle about how I was having this baby on a dark and stormy night. It was peaceful. Just after four, Dinah arrived with supplies and she began to set up. She checked my blood pressure, listened for Eleanor’s heartbeat, and then just sat back to observe. We had some small talk, but more or less, I just rocked, swayed, and breathed. Around 4:35, she declared she was going to call for an assistant midwife, and I laughed at her - I thought we still had a ways to go before this baby was showing up. It never really became unbearable at all. I got really achy in my hips right before five, and my (sexy, charming) Depends came off. Chris started applying counterpressure at the top of my hips, and Eleanor was inching down. I breathed her down, down, down, and Dinah checked her heart rate; all was well. I pushed through two contractions, and out she slid into Dinah’s hands as I leaned into Chris.
Dinah remarked later that it was the most power-woman pose ever; I birthed her standing fully upright, and then promptly crawled into my bed to snuggle my new baby. Eleanor was my earliest and biggest baby yet. Dinah checked for tears, helped with the placenta (this was my first experience really pushing a placenta out myself) and let me examine it too. A little bit later, the kids came in one by one to admire their new sister; I was able to get up and shower, eat breakfast in my bed, and just rest.
The lessons I have learned from all these births are many, but many of them center on preparation. Am I emotionally prepared? Am I mentally prepared? Emotional preparation, for me, has involved things like fear releases, positive affirmations, and reading/watching positive birth experiences. For the last 4 babies, from about 24 weeks, I have started my hypnobirthing preparation and filling my mind with optimist, encouragement, and faith. Physically, I prepare with chiropractic care, Spinning Babies, and exercise. I try to adopt an “I can do hard things!” attitude, and apply it over my whole life. But as I have learned, the other important side of preparing for birth is making sure your provider cares about YOU. I’m not another cog in the wheel. I’m a person deserving of not just a positive outcome, but a positive experience. You can have any birth under the sun, and have it be beautiful and inspiring and leave you feeling good about yourself. Surround yourself with people who think that’s possible and deserved. You can prepare till the cows come home, but if you have a provider who doesn’t care about you, all this goodness gets tainted with negativity… and ain’t nobody got time for that.