When I was pregnant, I read exactly one million birth stories (give or take ;)). I refused to read anything that wasn’t positive, because I didn’t want to fill my brain with the thousands of scenarios that could go wrong. So, for a long time, I hesitated to share my birth story, because it’s not exactly positive. But, I asked you guys if you were interested, and I got SO many messages saying yes. And SO many of you shared that you had a very similar experience. In fact, I’d say the majority of the people I chatted with that day had an experience that they’d classify as traumatic. I learned I was very much not alone in my experience, and that’s why I decided to share. Maybe you’re pregnant and looking for comfort in the experience of others, and I’m here to tell you this: It may not go the way you hoped for. It may end up being the complete opposite. But you’re going to be okay. No matter what happens, if you end up with a healthy babe at the end of the day, it’ll be a million percent worth it. Yes, you may grieve for a while. Yes, it may be months before you can talk about it without bursting into tears. And yes, there may be moments you won’t get to experience that you’ll mourn for the rest of your life. But know that you’re not alone, and you’re so so so strong because you grew and gave birth to an entire human being. No matter how it ended up happening.
I vividly remember the first time I heard of a birth center. I was sitting on the bed in our house in Arkadelphia, and I instantly knew that was the type of birth I wanted someday. I quickly googled, and found out that the closest birth center to us at the time was in Northwest Arkansas… and I remember falling in love with it instantly. The rooms that looked like a hotel, the giant birthing tubs, the lack of IVs, and how very little they resembled hospitals. I filed it away in the “maybe someday we’ll need this knowledge” part of my brain, but honestly, it was a big draw for me when we were considering moving to Northwest Arkansas a few years ago.
So, naturally, when I got pregnant, there wasn’t even a question as to where I wanted to give birth. I instantly loved the midwives, and I loved the care I received at the birth center my entire pregnancy. I loved that pregnancy wasn’t treated like a sickness – it was treated like a normal, natural part of life and there was a lot of trust that your body would do exactly what it needed to do to bring your baby into the world. I had a normal, healthy pregnancy, and was very much looking forward having an unmedicated water birth that I would be so so so proud of.
I never dreamed of anything else… until 41 weeks rolled around and I was still pregnant. I started needing extra tests to ensure everything was okay with baby. The birth center allows women to wait until 42 weeks before requiring an induction, and I was willing to wait every second of that time. So I went in for my first non-stress test at 41 weeks and tried to just enjoy the experience. I tried to soak in every moment of listening to her heartbeat, imagining the child that we’d have any day now. I wasn’t worried; she’d come in time.
At this point, it was Monday, and my induction was scheduled for Sunday. My midwife suggested a Foley catheter to help speed things along, but I wasn’t dilated enough to put it in, or to sweep my membranes. All we could do was wait.
On Wednesday, I went to the hospital for an ultrasound to make sure everything looked good. She was perfect. I still wasn’t worried about her, but at this point, I was definitely starting to worry about not going into labor in time. I was drinking so so so much red raspberry leaf tea (to the point that it makes me nauseous to think about it now!), eating all of the dates, and bouncing on my exercise ball every spare second I had. Surely, surely, surely I’d go into labor in time.
Thursday, I had another appointment at the birth center and another non-stress test. I decided that if I hadn’t progressed to 3 cm at that point, I’d go ahead and say yes to the foley catheter. And to my surprise, when my midwife checked me, she announced that I was indeed at 3 cm, so the catheter wasn’t needed. I was SO relieved and SO hopeful at the progress I’d made over the past few days. It felt like things were finally happening, and maybe just maybe baby girl would decide to come before Sunday. My midwife swept my membranes and sent me home, and it caused me to have mild contractions most of the evening.
My next check-in with the midwife was on Saturday, and I decided that if I hadn’t gone into labor by then, I’d try castor oil…. Much to my hesitation. Friday was relatively uneventful, besides googling every single possible symptom (Is uncontrollable crying a sign of early labor? Are cats more cuddly before labor? ) and drinking cups upon cups of red raspberry leaf tea. (I never want to look at that stuff again.) I went to bed Friday night hopeful to wake up in labor… and woke up Saturday morning disappointed. Instead of heading in that morning to have my baby, I headed into the kitchen to down my first ounce of castor oil before checking in with my midwife that morning.
After she swept my membranes again, I asked her why she thought I hadn’t gone into labor yet, and she said she thought it was because I wasn’t ready. I was completely happy being pregnant and terrified to give birth, so who knows… maybe my fear was keeping things from progressing. I left that visit determined to welcome birth, not fear it (because, honestly, I feared an induction SO much more)…. And to welcome all of the terrible side effects of castor oil as well. I took 3 ounces that day and spent most of the afternoon in the bathroom, hoping that it would be worth the discomfort I was putting myself through. I had mild contractions again all day, but nothing that made me think baby was coming anytime soon.
I went to bed Saturday night hopeful again… and woke up at 2:30 in the morning to go to the bathroom with no signs of contractions. As I crawled back into bed, I was super disappointed that nothing had happened…. When I suddenly felt something I never had before. The tightening was nothing like any of the contractions I had leading up to that point, and it was immediately painful enough that I couldn’t lay in bed. I got up, and almost immediately had another one. It felt really close together to me, so I timed a few…. And they were only about 4 minutes apart from the very beginning. And intense enough that I had to stop and really focus on breathing through them.
I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (because who knows when I’d be able to eat again?) and tried to wait to call the midwife, because who goes into labor and it’s immediately THAT intense that quickly? I kept telling myself that I’d wait 30 more minutes… and then 30 minutes more. From 2:30 until about 6 a.m. I bounced on the exercise ball, which was the only place that was comfortable, and breathed through contractions that were coming every 2 to 4 minutes apart and lasting about a minute.
At 6, I laid down with Lucas and was able to sleep a little in between contractions. At this point, they had slowed down to about every 6 minutes, but they were intense enough that I woke up and started the timer with every single one. I managed to sleep for a few hours, and then made myself take a shower before calling the midwife. While I was blow drying my hair, she called me, so I told her about what had happened so far and she suggested we come in at 9:00 to start my first round of antibiotics (because I was GBS+) and go from there.
When we arrived at the birth center, I don’t think that the midwife really thought my contractions were anything serious because I didn’t cope with them by yelling or moaning or acting like I was in pain. Instead, I closed my eyes, took deep breaths, and dealt with them inwardly until they passed. I couldn’t talk through them, but I was completely normal in between, so to her, it seemed like I was doing just fine. But, when she checked me, I had dilated to 5 cm, and I was so so so excited and hopeful that I wasn’t in false labor; that things were really happening and I was really progressing. I got my first round of antibiotics, and then they sent me home for a few hours until I had to come back for the second round. At that point, we agreed we’d break my water and hope that it would speed things up.
When we left the birth center, Lucas and I went to do laps around an indoor mall to hopefully help things move along, and we spent an hour or so walking, with me stopping to breathe through a contraction every few minutes. At this point, they were happening every 5-6 minutes. After about an hour, we left, grabbed some lunch (in which I wondered, “is it normal to be in active labor and going out for lunch?”) and headed home until it was time to go back to the birth center. We watched Gilmore Girls, ate takeout, and I bounced on my ball through contractions… which were still coming every 6 minutes at this point.
And then seven.
And then eight.
And then they stopped all together.
And they didn’t come back.
When I arrived back at the birth center around 1:00, I could tell they were surprised and confused, but we were hopeful that breaking my water would get things started again. After, they send Luke and I to walk around the lake outside, so the two of us spend most of the afternoon outside, waiting for things to pick up again.
But they never did.
I’ll never know why my contractions stalled (Stress? Positioning? Just not time yet?), or if they would have returned if I was given more time, but it was decided that I’d go to the hospital at 6:00 for my regularly scheduled induction if they didn’t. So we spent the afternoon at the birth center, walking and waiting and pretending like this was the beautiful natural birth center birth I had always planned. Minus the contractions.
And then it was 6:00.
And I was sent to the hospital with a hep lock in my arm and a bag of blood that had already been drawn.
And as soon as we got in the car, I cried.
And I cried.
And I cried.
And I mourned the loss of the beautiful natural water birth that I had envisioned ever since I first clicked on the birth center’s website.
And then we got Taco Bell.
And I cried some more.
And finally, I pulled myself together in the hospital parking lot before finding reception and checking myself in. We got settled in our room, filled out paperwork, and learned that the collaborating doctor with the birth center wasn’t in, so I’d be taken care of by whoever was on call, which happened to be an older woman who described herself to me as “very granola” when she found out that I wanted a natural birth.
Soon everything was good to go, and I’m not going to lie – I was absolutely terrified. And so so so stressed. And as soon as they said they’d start Pictocin, I was about 50 times more terrified and stressed. I still wanted a natural birth, but had heard so many bad things about how unmanageable the drug makes contractions, and I was just completely terrified. The stress was obviously affecting my body, because baby’s heart rate was also high so they decided not to begin until it had gone down. They left Luke and I alone in the dimly lit hospital room where I took deep breaths and tried to sleep. Tried to calm down. Tried not to worry.
It was almost midnight when her heart rate (and mine) had returned to normal and they officially started Pictocin. At first, it was nothing. And then it was mild. And then for a long time it was very comparable to the contractions I had the previous day- hard, but nothing I couldn’t survive.
And then they upped the dosage one more time and everything changed in an instant. Instead of intense tightening, it was markedly different in a way I can’t quite describe. I felt like I was going to throw up. I felt like everything inside me was pushing downward- like a bowling ball crashing into my pelvis over and over again… which I suppose, in a way, is pretty accurate. I felt like I couldn’t do it. Logically, I felt like how I knew transition is supposed to feel, but at this point I was only at 7 cm. So it took me all of two or three of those types of contractions to consent to an epidural.
I know that a lot of people complain about how much an epidural hurts, but I honestly didn’t even feel it. I was too focused on sitting still and not vomiting as my body was wracked with unspeakable pain. Within minutes I began to feel better, and even though I could wiggle my toes, I couldn’t feel the contractions anymore. The nurses left and I literally laid in the darkness crying because I was just SO THANKFUL. I kept thinking, “It’s been over 24 hours. I’m just SO TIRED.”…and then bursting into tears again.
From there, things are a little blurry. I remember drifting in and out of sleep as various people made their way in and out. I remember the shift change happening in the morning and crunchy granola doctor being replaced by an older man who briefly stuck his head in. I’m not sure what time that was, but it feels like it was not much later at all that this new stranger doctor came in with news.
He said that after laboring all night, I was still at 7cm. Nothing had changed in 5 or 6 hours, and baby girl was starting to show signs of distress. Nothing serious, but things could potentially head that way and he recommended a c-section. Right now.
I just stared at him. Literally just stared in shock. Up until now, no one had even mentioned that was an option. Everything was fine. And then suddenly it wasn’t.
I managed to get out a, “can I have a minute?” (but never a consent), and as soon as he left, I burst into tears. Because this was literally the farthest thing possible from my beautiful natural birth center water birth. This was the story I’d heard so many times (lots of interventions leads to baby in distress and inevitable c-section) that I had turned my nose up at and thought I’d never happen to me. I’d never make a series of decisions that would lead me there. And yet here I was.
Before I could process what was happening, a swarm of people rushed into my room and started prepping me for surgery. Y’all, I lost it. Like sobbing. Hyperventilating. Can’t breathe. All of it. Because there was no emergency and I never said that I was okay with this and it was all happening so fast and COULDN’T YOU JUST GIVE ME A MINUTE TO PROCESS THAT I’M ABOUT TO BE CUT OPEN!?
But obviously I couldn’t verbalize any of this because I’m in shock and hyperventilating. Instead, I focus on trying to answer the onslaught of questions I’m being faced with (when was the last time you ate? Can you feel this? What about this?) and figure out how to breathe again. I remember being handed a cup of liquid to drink because I had eaten a Lara Bar few hours earlier and it being so sour that my throat literally closed up. Which, you know, is terrifying when you’re crying so hard you’re struggling to breathe anyway.
And then, after what felt like 5 seconds, I was being wheeled down the hall and all I remember thinking is that I hope none of our family members that are in the waiting room see me like this. Because I can not overstate how much of a mess I was, and I irrationally didn’t want them to feel sorry for me. I felt like I had failed at the whole giving birth thing, and I just didn’t want to face any eyes full of pity or sympathy.
It’s at this point that I’m starting to come to grips with what’s happening, and I’m finally able to start taking some deep breaths and stop sobbing so hysterically (or maybe they gave me some sort of sedative? This thought didn’t even cross my mind until months later, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Does that happen?!). We get to the OR and I remember just lying there, feeling like birth is no longer this thing that I’m doing, but something that’s being done to me. It felt like there were a dozen people rushing around me and I was the center of attention…but at the same time, I was being completely ignored. The only time I felt even halfway human was when the doctor came and held my hand for a minute and told me that everything was going to be okay, and that he was going to take good care of me and baby. He didn’t have to do that, but I’m so thankful he did because it was one moment of peace and comfort in what was easily the most chaotic and traumatic experience of my life.
And then he was gone, and I just stared at Luke and listened to the doctors describe what was happening to my body. And then Luke disappeared to the other side of the sheet and I stared straight ahead, just…waiting. And then Luke reappeared on my side of the sheet after what felt like an eternity of me lying there terrified and alone. I’ll never forget the look on his face as he choked out, “We did good. She looks just like you.”
It was the only time I’ve ever seen him cry.
I know that the moment you meet your baby is supposed to be the most special part of birth, but for me, the moment Luke met her was easily the most beautiful moment of the entire experience. He stayed with her the entire time, and I could tell he’s never loved anyone so fully and so immediately… and at that moment, I hadn’t met her yet and all I could think about was how much I loved him more in that moment than I ever have.
I had requested that she be put on my chest after they pulled her out, but she had meconium in her lungs so instead they whisked her to another part of the room to suction it out and make sure everything was okay. Lucas stayed with her the entire time, while I laid there and waited to be put back together. Then I was wheeled back to our room while Lucas and M were in the nursery getting checked out to make sure everything was okay with her lungs. I sat there and waited almost an entire hour, and it was absolutely the longest hour of my life.
Literally an eternity.
And nurses kept coming in and out of the room congratulating me, but I kept replying, “For what?” Like. I knew I theoretically had a baby, but I hadn’t seen her. They took her from me and she was somewhere else and I was pretty sure she was okay but who even knows because I’m just sitting here alone. And I stared at the clock as the golden hour of bliss that everyone talks to highly of slipped away and I still hadn’t met my baby.
At this point, it’s been three months since I’ve given birth and it STILL makes me cry to think about this part. Like having emergency surgery was no big deal compared to waiting, alone, for an entire hour to meet your baby.
And then finally, finally, I blinked and all of the sudden there was this squirming crying thing on my chest. Obviously, I burst into tears because there she was. There we were. The three of us, a family. And even though my birth story was not even remotely what I wanted, none of that seemed to matter anymore. Because I’d go through a thousand traumatic, whirlwind surgeries for the beautiful little human on my chest.
Luke was right.
She was perfect.
It was three or four hours before we let our families come in and meet her, and I don’t really remember anything about that time. Honestly, I remember very little about our three day stay at the hospital. I remember not knowing where my phone was most of the time. I remember realizing on Tuesday that I hadn’t brushed my teeth since Sunday (lol @ my perfectly packed bag that I never touched. I stayed in my hospital gown the entire time and never took a shower because standing up was a challenge and I had more important things to do like stare at the little human I created). I remember that the second night baby girl kept me up all night acting like she wanted to eat, then just falling asleep in my arms every single time. And beyond that… it’s all just a blur of visitors, hospital food, being constantly harassed about my pain level, and staring at our sleeping child. It was all so new, and I hope that I never forget those first couple of days with her.
I never want to forget how much Luke took care of me during the very worst parts of labor.
How excited our families were to meet Meredith.
I never want to forget her tiny little face or how wrinkled her little hands were.
How excited I was to finally not be hooked up to a pole and no longer have needles stuck in me all the time.
I never want to forget how it felt to live in a hospital room for three days with no windows and no idea whether it was day or night.
How foreign it was to buckle her into her carseat for the first time.
How challenging that first night home was when I was basically up every hour, sitting on the couch feeding her and trying to fight through the pain that is the first couple of days of breastfeeding.
How beautiful it was to have Luke home that first week, hanging out as a family and getting used to our new schedule.
How well our church took care of us, bringing us meals for almost a month.
I never want to forget that sweet little bubble that is newborn life. Yes, we were tired. But we were also so so so happy. It was such a sweet season, and I’ll always cherish those first few weeks and months as one of the most beautiful, special seasons of life I’ve ever been blessed to experience. Meredith has massively changed the way our lives look, but I absolutely love it. I love her. She was worth it all, 1000%.