First thing’s first – I’m writing this, four days postpartum, from my couch with my baby. Home and healthy. Quite the 180 from Indie’s birth story, where I struggled to find my words from the NICU. Stevie’s entry, however, still packs a dramatic punch – and I am so eager to jot it all down on this blog. Read on for all the details (and some potentially graphic but really cool birth photography by my amazing husband!)
I tried everything to make this the dreamiest birth experience. Spark Notes: I delivered Indie after a 24 hour induction, 3 hours of pushing, an episiotomy, and a vacuum extraction – only to have her whisked away to the NICU and then abruptly transferred to a different hospital, where we watched her go through life saving surgery and all kinds of testing over the course of 19 days. This time… I was determined to make the labor & delivery experience way different, knowing full well that I couldn’t control the outcome of my baby’s health. The moment I found out I was pregnant, I switched OB/GYNs so that I could deliver at the hospital where Indie was transferred. Then about half way through my pregnancy, those OB’s began suggesting all kinds of intervention. A 39 week induction because this baby “would likely be bigger”… an elective c-section “because you had a rough go of it last time”. I was so turned off by this. I felt like I had a Scarlett Letter on my medical chart, and that every single doctor was comparing this pregnancy to my last… when all I really wanted was a do-over. Halfway through my pregnancy, I also hired Nubia Jones – the owner and founder of DoulaViva Births – to be my doula for this sweet September baby’s arrival. Through Nubia, I learned a lot about my options for delivery – even if it became a delivery riddled with intervention. I decided at 32 weeks gestation that I had had enough. I took a leap of faith and transferred AGAIN, well into my third trimester, into the care of Avalon Midwives. Avalon is a group of midwives based out of Morristown, NJ who are affiliated with both a freestanding birth center as well as Morristown Medical Center, my hospital of choice. Knowing I could deliver in their more mom-friendly approach and still be in a hospital setting was really exciting. I spent the last several weeks of my pregnancy trying to meet every one of them, and because they saw no reason to treat this pregnancy like my last, I began to get really excited at the prospect of a quick, easy and blissful second birth.
At my 20 week anatomy scan, we learned that Stevie had a 2-vessel umbilical cord. (The umbilical cord is typically supposed to have three). This “abnormality” is actually often considered a “variation of normal”…. it’s the most common umbilical cord abnormality, and it often times results in absolutely nothing. HOWEVER – It CAN be associated with certain birth defects… including the kind that Indie has, so it really laced the latter half of my pregnancy with a lot of anxiety. My midwives typically don’t advocate for induction, but in this case, they wanted to bring me in on – or just after – my due date, because the umbilical cord being compromised in any way should definitely be taken seriously past 40 weeks, and I wholeheartedly agreed with this healthy compromise. So I spent my final few weeks of pregnancy working with my doula, trying all the best “natural induction” methods. I exercised daily. I drank all the teas. I took the supplements. And homegirl was cozy. My due date quickly approached, and the induction that I had tried hard to avoid was reluctantly scheduled.
We arrived at the hospital for a 9am appointment on my due date (September 20th). Between paperwork and hospitals being generally slow, the actual induction didn’t begin until about 11:30am where I had a foley balloon inserted to try and gently encourage my body to dilate, coupled with a few oral doses of a drug called cytotec, used to soften the cervix. The contractions began almost immediately. By 5:30pm I was begging for an epidural – trying to breathe through surges and resisting the urge to call Nubia over to the hospital. I was so bummed about this, because I had requested a tub room and envisioned laboring in that tub as long as I could stand it. An epidural would not allow for this. I knew this induction could be a long one, and in the end, I’m so glad that I held out on calling Nubia the day that it began, but this felt like “the beginning of the end” in a sense. The foley balloon stayed in THE FULL 12 hours, despite being on the birthing ball, switching sides with the peanut ball, etc. So just before midnight, they removed it and started me on Pitocin. 12 more hours came and went without a whole lot of progression. I hung out between 5 and 6 centimeters, never moving further.
I called Nubia to the hospital the morning of September 21st, assuming the Pitocin would eventually do it’s job. She used massage techniques to simulate movement in my legs and hips since I was trapped by my epidural. She brought her calming presence and abundance of knowledge into the room. When I wasn’t progressing, she repeatedly asked the midwives if the baby’s presentation was “asynclitic” – which is when the head is trying to come out sideways. She never really received an answer, and the truth is that they probably weren’t sure. But knowing the answer to this might have helped in the long run. Every time they’d crank up my Pitocin drip, the baby’s heart rate would go haywire. We tried to ride it out in different positions until I spiked a low grade fever. Between the elevated temperature and my epidural, I was shaking uncontrollably – teeth chattering – and when my midwife walked in with the OB/GYN on call… I knew what was about to happen.
“Liz… we’ve tried everything we can, but we think it’s in yours and your baby’s best interest if we get you into a C-Section as soon as possible”
After another brutally long 24 hour induction, I was faced with more unwanted intervention. I cried and cried as they walked me through the process of a c-section. I felt like I had failed at birth a second time, if I’m being honest. I spent 9 months thinking about this very moment and envisioning something so different. Devastated does not even begin to describe it…. yet it was the easiest decision for me to make, because I was feeling AWFUL and I was really scared seeing the baby jumping around on the monitor. Nubia reminded me that this was ultimately my decision and that there was no right answer. As someone who experienced 5 natural births and is an advocate for allowing baby to do it’s job in the birth canal… I still in this moment never felt a stitch (pun intended) of judgement from her. She did not try and sway me in any direction whatsoever. She was the ultimate unbiased and educated support system that I needed so badly in this less-than-ideal moment.
So off we went to the operating room. My husband, my doula and my midwife were all present for Stevie’s birth. It felt so fast – she was out within minutes and cried immediately (something that Indie did not do!). It turns out she WAS “asynclitic” – Nubia called it! She came out with a cone head off to one side, because she was trying so hard to get into my pelvis at an awkward angle. The umbilical cord was also wrapped around her neck, which explains the spikes and drops in her heart rate every time the Pitocin drip was turned up. SCARY! This decision was ultimately and unequivocally for the best. Stephen was able to cut the umbilical cord this time. She was handed immediately to him… and while I feel twinges of jealousy that she wasn’t placed immediately on MY chest, I’m also feeling equally grateful that she was handed to us AT ALL. I think the moral of this birth story is that no matter how hard you try… no matter what measures you take to control the situation… you simply cannot. Birth is a crazy, wild, beautiful ride and every story is unique in it’s own way. So it seems I’m not one of those mama’s that will likely ever experience a magical birth story ending on an epic high. But this birth – despite the disappointments I faced and the extremely difficult recovery that comes along with C-Sections + having a toddler at home – blows my first experience out of the water for a few reasons:
- The most obvious – I got to take a healthy baby home at 2 days old.
- I made educated decisions before and during my birth to help me feel more in control.
- I surrounded myself with a support team that knew the trauma I had faced with Indie, and that practices in a way that is compassionate towards mamas and their experiences.
So we’re home now – a family of four – and I’m trying to navigate the emotions of being overwhelmed, in love, worried, excited, and in excruciating pain – all at the same time. I look back on this experience with so many thoughts and so many feelings rolled into one, giant basket overflowing with gratitude for my beautiful family…. a husband who steps up to the plate time and time again – two incredible daughters to share my life with – and an abundant appreciation for my body that has really been through it all.
Welcome to the family, my sweet Stevie Sage. We are so happy you’re here.