I suppose a TMI warning is in order.
I’m a bit of what some people call a “birth junkie.” I actually have training as a birth worker and I once had plans to go into midwifery. So, birth and all things related don’t bother me. Body fluids, genitalia, casual placenta talk and more are all fair game.
I want to write this story before the details start to slip away.
Yesterday, December 9th 2017, I woke up feeling “different.” It wasn’t some random intuition, it was a feeling in my body- mostly cramps- that was not usual for first thing in the morning.
I went to the toilet and when I stood up after I finished I thought I hadn’t fully emptied my bladder and I peed myself again.
No, it turned out to be the beginning of my mucous plug coming out.
We made plans to go run some Christmas errands as a family. My husband did most of the work getting the girls ready while I focused on just getting dressed. However, as I texted and then talked on the phone with my midwife it became clear soon enough that maybe we ought to just stay home. Riding in the car was not pleasant anyway. Home we went.
Then, nothing all day.
I had a few cramps that fizzled out. My midwife arrived and set her things up and then left again- it was clear nothing was ready to happen just yet and I’m glad she went out instead of hanging around bored. My friend (who offered to be my doula) arrived and spent the afternoon with us, playing with the girls and playing music with me! She used my violin, I accompanied on harp, and I finally got to play through some Christmas carols. It was really wonderful.
She needed to leave in the late afternoon to run an errand, and my family started to settle in for the evening. I delegated dinner to Daddy and I laid down on the bed for a while. Still nothing was happening.
It was around 9 pm. My friend/doula came back over as things started to pick up. I started feeling what I thought might be real contractions and I had my husband start timing them. They were about 4 minutes apart. I called my midwife, and my husband and doula started filling the birth pool. I didn’t think I was ready for it just yet but soon I had to get out of the recliner, which is usually amazing and comfortable.
Birth pool full, midwife, doula, and my family present, I tried to settle in to start focusing and deepening through the contractions. They were coming harder and faster, and my doula was helping me by talking me through them. She used the words “you are safe,” and “melt.” I was trying to also focus on my own mantras of “opening” and “deepening,” breathing him down.
I was afraid of the pain, afraid of what I knew was coming. At times I forgot to breathe, and that made the pain worse.
It wasn’t working. I was spiraling in the pain, and I felt fear. I was afraid of the pain, afraid of what I knew was coming. At times I forgot to breathe, and that made the pain worse. I started to just focus on breath, and on remembering two things: 1. each contraction was temporary, and 2. each contraction brought me closer to having my baby in my arms. At some point I simply stopped trying to think or breathe down, until I felt pressure to push.
My waters exploded into the birth pool. I don’t know if I would have even known, but I heard my midwife say “There goes her waters.” I also sh*t my guts out. Gross, right? Well, it happens and it’s not as terrifying or mortifying as it sounds. It’s not great, either, but it’s part of birth and it’s my body doing what it has to do. When my waters broke I immediately started pushing. I couldn’t not push. And I really wasn’t ready. My mental state went mostly to chaos and I just started yelling. I didn’t want to yell, but I was in pain and I had a lot going on in my head and heart. There was pain, and wanting to just get it over with; there was awareness, I wanted to take things slower than I had with my previous babies (I pushed them out as hard and fast as I could); there were other people around me doing things, like my doula (I really have no idea what she was doing at this point, but I felt her presence behind me) and my midwife (I was very focused on her).
My midwife reached down to feel him crowning and for a moment I thought she was trying to take his head and help pull him out. It was a sharp pain and I gasped at her not to touch me. She wasn’t. A moment later I think I was begging her to get him out of me, though I knew she couldn’t. I tried to pause, and I felt him move back up the birth canal just a bit. I knew that was normal and okay but I still thought “No! I don’t want to lose the progress I made!” I kept trying to rally myself to push harder but I was struggling. It was a point where I held him, felt the “ring of fire,” and then tried to push as best I could. I think there were two or three more pushes and his head was out. I felt his body slip out after, with so much relief. That, to me, is my favorite moment in birth- feeling the birth of my baby’s body after working so hard to birth the head.
I kept trying to rally myself to push harder but I was struggling.
My midwife swept him up before I think I was even done with my last push, and he was immediately on my chest.
He was covered in vernix, which made me very happy. He seemed to be having some difficulty getting his breathing going; my midwife was doing her best to stimulate his breathing without having to take him from me. My five-year-old Big Girl was right next to me, fascinated and enamored with her new baby brother. Babs was in her Daddy’s arms- my yelling had been too loud for her. I was later told that both girls had been watching, with their hands over their ears, although Babs had left to have Daddy read her a story.
This is where my memory starts to get fuzzy. I know he was with me, but I believe my midwife did pick him up at least twice to help get him breathing. She used a bulb syringe to aspirate his mouth because he was quite gurgly. I was afraid he couldn’t breathe although she reassured me. I was also worried about birthing my placenta. With baby 2 I almost couldn’t birth it because my muscles were so fatigued. I wanted to birth it as soon as possible, but it didn’t seem to want to come. His umbilical cord pulsed out and I somehow got out of the birth pool- I honestly have no idea how I did it, because getting even one leg over the now-seemingly-monumentally-tall side felt Herculean.
I got on the bed, which was prepped for the mess. I was hoping that now that I was in bed and more comfortable I’d birth the placenta easily- I didn’t feel the same muscle fatigue that I’d felt with Babs’ birth. Why was’t the placenta coming? I was bleeding…but where was my placenta?
Midwife wanted to give me pitocin, and I consented for two reasons: 1. I trusted her, she was completely on-board with my birth philosophy and I knew she wouldn’t be suggesting it if it weren’t necessary; 2. I understood at that point that it was necessary, and I consented knowing that there would be consequences. That’s the key- being fully informed, and knowing what I was agreeing to and why. If I hadn’t been through birth before, if I hadn’t studied to be a doula with hopes of becoming a midwife, I wouldn’t have known what I was agreeing to nearly as well as I did.
She jabbed me quickly in the thigh. Almost immediately came the cramping, and the feeling that I needed to push again. Oh I didn’t want to! I didn’t want another damn thing coming out of my body anytime soon. But my midwife was there, trying to see if there was any sign of progress. She held the umbilical cord and I was afraid she would try to pull it. A moment later she asked if I was okay with her giving it a gentle pull. I was afraid, honestly, but the way she was holding the cord and something about the way she was with me reassured me that she wasn’t even going to really “pull.” She didn’t- I think she just took up the slack to see where my placenta was. It was close, so I concentrated and tried again to push it out. I don’t remember when it finally birthed, but it did, and I was so incredibly relieved.
Cramps. I know I’d read before that cramping with baby #3 is worse than with the previous 2 but I’d forgotten, until I went through wave after wave of pain. It hurt, but at that point it didn’t matter because I knew I was in the clear- thank goodness I didn’t have to push out anything else anymore. I did need to vomit, though. The midwife’s assistant went to get a bowl and I swear to God she took forever and I wasn’t going to make it. Just as she was coming through the doorway with it, I contorted myself to lean over the edge of the bed and turn my head just enough to make the bowl, while holding my new baby in my other arm. I was disappointed, there went the smoothie my doula had carefully made for me (yes, with some of my placenta). I never did drink the rest of it, things went downhill. I felt bad for the waste.
I couldn’t breathe. Baby felt too heavy on my chest, and I kept wanting someone to get him while at the same time feeling guilty because I needed to have him skin-to-skin. But I just could not breathe. I felt so tired. I didn’t know that I’d hemorrhaged and lost a lot of blood. I wanted my baby to nurse. I wanted him to breathe normally. I wanted to sleep.
I’m not sure when it was but my midwife wanted me to use the bathroom. I was fuzzy-headed but knew that the first bathroom break was part of the routine. My doula helped me to the toilet and I asked my husband to come in so that I could put my head against him. I felt so heavy and tired. He wouldn’t let me rest, though- he started trying to get me up. The next thing I knew I was “waking up” on my bathroom floor right next to the toilet. People were saying my name. I didn’t understand what was happening but I remember my midwife explaining to me that it might be wise to think about going to the hospital. I needed fluids. I’d lost a lot of blood. I knew that I probably should go. But I also thought, if it’s just fluids, I’ll drink until I vomit if it keeps me away from a hospital. Could we wait and see how that worked? We could, and I was (and always will be) so grateful.
His first latch hurt- he had a strong latch! He didn’t take much but he got enough. Eventually I think I asked again for someone to get him. I think that at some point my midwife dressed and swaddled him. I fell into a doze, and at some point I realized everything was okay and it was safe for me to sleep. I was in and out of sleep, but I was aware that my baby boy was on his mattress, with Daddy on the big bed next to him. He was still gurgling and making newborn noises, but he didn’t cry. I slept more.
Everything was wonky. I think my doula slept on the recliner and my midwife slept on the girls’ bed in their room. My husband slept on the big bed with the girls and with baby boy on the baby mattress. I don’t know everyone’s comings and goings. Midwife checked on me again and left. My doula stayed. She stayed a very long time, cleaning up and making sure every one of us was okay. For that, too, I will always be grateful, because it allowed me to be at peace knowing my family was taken care of. I was in no shape to do anything.
I’ve since read that anywhere from 1% to 5% of women experience postpartum hemorrhage. That’s a pretty low number, and yet did you know that America has the highest maternal mortality rate of any industrialized country? Typical risk factors for postpartum hemorrhage usually involve issues with the placenta (such as abruption, accreta, or previa) or with the uterus (such as atony, inversion, or rupture). Several medical interventions also increase risk.
My only risk factor was having a fast birth. That was it. I hemorrhaged. And I consider myself lucky that it wasn’t worse.
I am thankful that I didn’t ultimately have to go to the hospital. I am so grateful I was able to stay home. Recovery will be long, and part of me is pretty scared that I’ll never really recover. I’m doing my best to rebuild my blood supply, taking supplements and drinking as much as I can (or remember to!).
And I’m enjoying my “babymoon.” One of my greatest pleasures is curling up in bed with my little prince.