Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Miracle of Birth, Take Two

I feel compelled to write a quick note on the experience of having baby number two, as it was like the delivery of Isaac on Opposite Day. I never thought having a baby could be so pleasant. After a few weeks of hell, I was glad to have a positive experience! About 31 weeks into pregnancy #2, I was diagnosed with hydronephrosis of the kidney, maybe stones maybe not. While I knew what was going on, the entire staff of the hospital seemed to be on planet Don't Care as I writhed and rocked and shook in pain. I wound up in the ER for 7 hours, two of them across the hall from a dead guy, before I was admitted to the maternity floor. The admitting doctor (not my midwife) told the nursing staff that I could take Tylenol for the pain.  I won't repeat what I said to the poor nurse, but suffice it to say, I did apologize to her after being hooked up to an IV drip of something more powerful. Tylenol? Was he serious?! What, were they out of herbs? Like I didn't try Tylenol before coming to the hospital, instead of say, Walgreens, and then waiting around next to a corpse for some relief?! It was the same old routine after that, stent placements, stent exchanges...three in total with Viv, just like her brother.

Unlike Isaac, however, Vivian made her appearnce in quite the opposite way (ok, well not completely opposite, she didn't like, spring fully formed from my skull or anything. That would have been something). I started having contractions at around 10 on Monday night. At about 2 am we went to the hospital, called my mom, sister and my doula to meet us there. I did ask for an epidural after a bit, worrying that I'd want one and it would be too late. I had no other pain relief besides the comforting support of Matt and Darcie.  After the epidural, however, the contractions stopped.  My midwife broke my water, gave me a hit of Pitocin, (which had me extremely worried that I was going to go down the tangled road of increasing intervenion and wind up sliced and diced) and told everyone to get some sleep. This was around 5 am.  45 minutes later the nurse checked me and told me it was time to have a baby.  A few pushes and Vivian was born.  I kept thinking "ugh, I still have to have a baby!" but I didn't! That part was over, and I finally got to make that face I'd seen on other women as their baby arrived-- to experience that feeling, to reach down and grab my newborn and smile. Joy.

So what was different this time? This time around, I educated myself. I read Ina May and imagined what it would be like to give birth on her farm. I followed birth blogs, especially Birth Without Fear, which is really just about sharing, supporting and empowering women in all of their birthing experiences. I brought my husband in on my thoughts by sitting down and watching The Business of Being Born. At this point, we both knew that a home birth was not in our future (kidneys!), but it helped us both to see one natural, un-medicated, peaceful experience after another. But the biggest changes I made for myself were with who I chose to care for me. I switched from my OBGYN to a midwife. The women at my new practice were awesome. Every single visit I was met with upbeat women who really seem to enjoy their work.  They liked me, they respected me, the empathized with me, they had my back. When I lost it and broke down in tears, in such pain between stent surgeries, my midwife, Erin had a plan.  The thing that had worried me the most, the thought of being induced, was cleared up in moments. She was matter-of-fact but gentle, she told me what to say to the urologist, she assured me that induction was not going to happen unless I was sure I really wanted it. At my former practice, I felt like my kidney problems were wholly separate in my OB's mind, like they had no real understanding of the depth of my fear and inexperience. At Birth n Beyond, I felt like I was part of a team.

Another huge part of my team was my doula, Darcie. Talk about someone who has a calling! She's a hugger. Anyone who knows me well will notice that I am not a huge hand-shaker or hugger. She's the kind of person, however, who I did not hesitate to hug upon first meeting. She is warm and kind, she listened to all of my fears and concerns and gave equal weight to every last one of them, big or small. Having her to bounce ideas, worries and fears off of kept me sane. I felt so much more confident even just having her in the room as I labored. Something about her presence reminded me that every contraction would eventually end, that I would be able to get through it, and that each one brought be that much closer to being done. Anyone considering hiring a doula should absolutely do it. I cannot say enough kind things about my experience, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Contrary to Isaac's entrance into the world, Vivian's was so much more peaceful, so much more joyful, and made me feel so much stronger. I have always been amazed at my body's ability to give birth, or even grow a baby, but I was so frustrated with what I perceived to be failures. I failed to push Isaac out, I failed to nurse him right away, I failed to heal well after his birth and I failed to ask for help when I needed it most. I feel like Viv's birth was a do-over. Not only was I able to experience something much closer to my ideal situation, but I was able to reflect on the past two years and start forgiving myself. I didn't fail Isaac. I was in over my head, I was not fully prepared. His birth left me exhausted and overwhelmed, and that is OK. I am not a villain. I was just a person doing something for the first time. Hear arrival helped me bring down some of the walls I'd built.

A lot has changed for me. I can't seem to keep my mind off the backward way we bring babies into the world in this country. Viewing birth through a medical lens is so unnecessary. Unless there truly are problems that require a doctor's intervention, why are we so set on having surgeons deliver our babies and care for us prenataly? Midwives are the shit and should be our first thought when we're pregnant. We are taught that labor is the worst thing ever to happen and that it should be feared and medicated "away". We are led to believe that screaming in terror and agony are par for the course, that laying down on our backs is how babies come out easiest and that doctors and nurses know best when it comes to our own bodies.  I'm here to tell you that giving birth without a drug cocktail was significantly less painful and frightening that it was with drugs. I was so present this time, so much more in control. Fear is unnecessary if you trust your body and your care team, and when your care team trusts you and your body, the work of baby-having gets done. I mean, it's not easy and it sure does hurt, you know I don't lie about that nonsense. But the pain makes sense. After both of my experiences I would never poo-poo an epidural, if that's what a woman wants. If I were to have another baby, however, I would like to try to go all the way without any intervention.  That's not going to happen though...I'm tapping out.  Hydronephrosis of the kidney has scared me off the whole pregnancy thing altogether and I am getting out of the baby making game.  I won't miss it either! While it is transformative and amazing, on the best days, it is rough going and requires a lot of a person. Being done is bitter-sweet, but I can now concentrate on these two kids-- I have my hands quite full with them!


  1. Sarah! Amazing post, thank you for sharing your experiences and your emotional process. I'm so glad to hear your second experience was better than the first - and that you appreciated the support of a doula. I recently completed training to become a doula and believe it will be my next career at some point. Enjoy the little ones - they grow up fast!

    -Megan Miller (Emma class of '99 all the way)

  2. I didn't have a doula during birth, but I had one after when Rebecca was born, and I'm not sure what I would have done without her! Her knowledge and support was unparalleled during those first few weeks. The second time around does seem much easier when you know what to expect.