When I found out I was pregnant in June of 2010, I knew the birth wasn’t going to be typical. I knew right off the bat that I needed to start planning, and start researching. I had two prior cesareans, one in 2007 and one in 2009; both of which were not truly medically necessary despite the fact I had been lead to believe that they were. For this pregnancy, I had two options; find a caregiver who was supportive of my choice to VBAC, despite having had two cesareans, or have a homebirth. Although I think homebirth is a great or amazing thing, I didn’t feel 100% comfortable with it, especially after two cesareans and having never delivered a baby vaginally.
After a great deal of asking around, researching and questioning, I found Dr. Elrod of Sleeping Lady Women’s Health Care, located in Wasilla, Alaska (approximately 4-5 hours from my home). He came highly recommended, and when I emailed him a list of questions, he responded relatively quickly, with detailed and thoughtful answers. I scheduled my first appointment, made the trip and from there, I knew I wanted him as my provider. I felt that out of every physician I considered, that he was the one who would be the most supportive. I felt that with Dr. Elrod, a cesarean wouldn’t even be mentioned unless it was truly necessary. That’s what I wanted. I’m not anti-cesarean. I know that they can be life-saving. I know that sometimes a cesarean is necessary, but I didn’t want to walk away from this birth feeling like I had been forced into something or had been lied to. I wanted a provider I could trust to act in my best interest; and I knew right away I could trust Dr. Elrod to do just that.
Giving birth with Dr. Elrod wasn’t an easy feat. Just making the arrangements to do was was a strain. Throughout my pregnancy I drove to Wasilla once a month for my appointments. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I booked a two-bedroom hotel suite, beginning on February 5th (38 weeks and 5 days) for three weeks. Two of my friends, Bre and Cym, accompanied me, along with my other two children. Bre would be accompanying me in labor, while Cym would remain at the hotel with my other two children. This all went according to plan. We drove up, got settled and developed a routine. We were simply waiting.
I think my biggest fear was that I’d wait forever. Mentally, I tried to prepare myself to go to 42 weeks pregnant. I tried not to make a big deal over my due date, or the possibility of going “overdue.” I knew it was likely I’d go beyond my due date (based on my other two pregnancies) and I tried to avoid thinking about dates the best I could. I drank red raspberry leaf tea. I took evening primrose oil both orally and vaginally. I walked the hallways and stairwells of the hotel daily. I meditated and thought positively. I did everything I could and tried not to think about the rest. Thinking about it too much would bum me out, so instead, I focused my thoughts on other things; positivity and productivity. I worked on homework, sewed diapers and spent time with my kids.
I had a doctor’s appointment on my due date; Monday, February 14th. I remember I told Dr. Elrod that I’d “probably be pregnant for another two weeks.” He laughed at me, and Bre and I headed to Fred Meyers to get some groceries for the hotel room. I started getting some uncomfortable contractions while we were shopping, but just brushed them off. By evening time, I was having to freeze whatever I was doing to get through them. They weren’t exactly painful, but they weren’t ignorable. I couldn’t sleep. Not due to excitement, but discomfort. I kept trying, but I would lay down, get comfortable, and then I’d contract. I found myself having to flip over on my hands and knees during a contraction, and then lie down again, but by the time I laid down again, another contraction would start up and I was on my hands and knees again. These contractions continued to increase in intensity. There were a few points where I considered going to the hospital, but I didn’t want to go in too soon. I decided I would ride it out as long as possible. These contractions started on the 14th, but would die down for a few hours each afternoon (which allowed me a short nap) and gear back up during the night. It was frustrating. Because I had never been in labor before, I didn’t know what to expect. Despite everything I knew from being a doula and childbirth educator, and everything I had read and been told, I still didn’t know what to expect or how to know it was real labor or not. By the third day of these contractions, I started getting discouraged. I didn’t think they were real. They didn’t fit the charts I found online of what was “real labor” but they also didn’t fit the “false labor” chart either.
I wasn’t convinced that they were the “real deal” until the 19th. The contractions were getting harder. I couldn’t move at all during the contractions and I found myself having to think about my breathing during them. I was living in the bathtub. We got up the morning of the 19th, cleaned up a little for housekeeping, and waited. I was thinking about going to the hospital sometime around noon, but I was afraid the contractions would die down for my afternoon nap. Sure enough, they died down and I took a short nap. When the contractions picked back up though, they were awful. They were tight, and painful. If I didn’t breathe or prep myself for it, I’d end up whimpering through it. I don’t think I have ever taken so many baths in such a short period of time.
Finally, around 2am, I decided to call a cab and go in. I had a car but I didn’t feel comfortable driving while contracting and Bre didn’t have a license. I was really worried that I’d go in only to be sent home, but at this point, it was so uncomfortable that I decided to do it. Bre and I packed up a bag with the baby’s clothes, diapers and things, as well as a small bag of snacks and handheld massagers. The cab ride was only ten minutes, maybe even less. As we pulled up to the hospital, I had a hard contraction. The cabbie let me wait it out before getting out of the cab. I got out of the cab, took one step, heard a pop and suddenly a gush. I wasn’t sure what happened at first. Bre stopped and looked at me. “I think my water broke…” Bre looked at me confused, “Are you sure? I don’t see anything!” I took a couple steps forward and it became quite obvious that my water had broken, all over the sidewalk in front of the emergency room. A security guard had been sitting inside the emergency room and had seen the entire spectacle. He came out quickly with a wheelchair and in less than five minutes, they had me in a room.
Intake was done relatively quickly. I figured it would have been longer, considering I never pre-registered for the impending birth. I was checked and told that I was between four and five centimeters, but that they were concerned. My amniotic fluid had meconium in it. At first I was a little worried that this would affect my ability to have a safe vaginal birth, but my fears were quickly put to rest when my doctor showed up and explained what it would mean. I had to stay on the monitors more often because of the meconium, which although I wasn’t pleased with it, I was willing to do it since there was valid medical reason for the monitoring. The only thing that really irritated me, was that I couldn’t get into the tub whenever I wanted due to the monitors and some decels she was having. Around six to seven centimeters, I got to the point I told them if I couldn’t get in the tub, that I needed drugs. They agreed and allowed me to get in the tub periodically for twenty minutes at a time, but only if the baby had good monitor readings.
A little before noon, my grandma, grandpa, sister and her boyfriend showed up. My grandpa had drove to Anchorage (about an hour south of Wasilla) to buy some things for his kitchen remodeling project, and they drove the extra hour to come see me and drop off the baby’s car seat (since we didn’t have room to bring it up in the car with us initially due to some things we had to pack). My sister’s boyfriend was a complete sweetheart, and even held my hand during a couple contractions when I just cried, “I need a hand!” I didn’t squeeze anyone’s hands too hard. I just held onto someone’s hands when I got a contraction. I don’t know why, but it really helped to keep me grounded. If I got a contraction and wasn’t holding someone’s hands, I started panicking. My grandparents and my sister and her boyfriend left, all wishing me luck.
From that point on, the contractions got worse at a quicker pace. I went from simply breathing deeply through the contractions, to low and quiet moaning, and eventually, to really low-pitch but loud moans and groans through the contractions. I stopped asking for hands from the nurses or Bre when I had a contraction. I simply grunted out the word “hands!” and everyone stopped what they were doing, offering up their hands until it passed. The contractions intensified and at several points, I asked about drugs, but was more than pleased to be offered the tub as an alternative to medications. If I could have, I would have laid in the tub the entire time, but because of the meconium, it wasn’t an option to stay in it quite so long.
I remember, everytime the contractions intensified, I was suddenly fearful that my uterine scar was going to rip open. I know it wasn’t logical, but part of me was just panicking.
I started losing confidence as I progressed. I started telling the nurses, Bre and my doctor “I can’t do this! I just can’t do this!” The doctor checked me again and I was eight centimeters. Normally, that’d be considered good, but all that ran through my head was “I have two more centimeters to go. Two more long, agonizing and excruciating centimeters.” I wanted to cry. I told the nurses I needed to get back in the tub and if they wouldn’t let me, then I needed drugs. One or the other. They talked to the doctor and they let me get in the tub. I got in expecting some relief, like it provided previously, but it didn’t work. I had done really good up until this point keeping my vocalizations low-pitched (even when they were loud) but the contractions I got while in the tub were enough to make me shriek. The tub didn’t seem to slow them down or make them less intense at all this time.
The nurses came and got me out of the tub after my twenty minutes were over. They wanted me to get onto the birth ball (per doctor’s request). I slowly started walking over, since contractions tended to be stronger and harder to cope with when I was moving or transitioning between positions. Next thing I knew, I was having the worst contraction I had yet. I literally dropped to my knees, onto the floor next to the bed; halfleaning forward, half holding onto the side of the bed. I laid down on the floor and without even realizing what I was doing, I started pushing.
Dr. Elrod checked me and I was ten centimeters. At this point, I was crying. I told my doctor I couldn’t do this. I started cussing. I told them I needed drugs now. Dr. Elrod told me, “You can’t drug up the baby.” I got mad and said “Yes, I can! Watch me!” Then another contraction hit and I completely forgot what I was saying to him. In between the contractions and urges to push, I managed to get onto the bed. Between the contractions, I felt completely fine if I breathed fast and airy-like.
Once on the bed, I kept pushing. I could feel her moving downwards. Dr. Elrod told me to reach down and feel the top of her head and to think of it as motivation. I remember I felt it, thought it was kind of neat, then attempted to push back the side of the vagina next to the head. When it wouldn’t budge, I got frantic and yelled “There’s no way she’s going to fit through there!” Eventually, she was out. I don’t think I pushed more than six times, but I’m unsure how many pushes I actually gave before she was out. Once I felt her slide out, I asked the doctor “That’s it? I’m done? I don’t have to do anything else?” He chuckled at me and said, “Well, you have to deliver the placenta…” I just remember being so in shocked and in awe that I had actually done it. I had given birth to my baby not only vaginally after two cesareans, but I did it without any type of drugs.
She slid out, silently. She was quiet, but awake. Her cord was cut immediately and she was treated by the pediatrician who suctioned and cleared her airway, dealing with the meconium while I was being stitched up from a couple small tears. I did tear a little, but that was due to her not tolerating the pushing very well and needing to come out as soon as possible. I heard baby Ava cry within a minute or so of her birth and my heart melted.
This birth has been so different from my previous births. It’s hard for me to explain. I knew childbirth was painful, but I didn’t expect it to be this painful. At the same time, however, it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it was going it. I feel so on top of the world after doing that. I have a hard time believing that it all really happened. It all feels so surreal, almost like a dream. I never knew it was possible to feel so empowered, so amazing and so accomplished about something. My previous births, I walked away defeated, broken, hurt and in shambles. This birth was different. I walked away confident, happy, and amazed with my body’s own abilities.
I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.