They say people plan and God laughs. Well, He must have been laughing a LOT during my pregnancy. As an extremely Type-A, plan-everything-out type of person, I could never have imagined that my birth experience with our daughter, Emma, would be so…well, the exact opposite of all of my plans.
My first and second trimester were fairly easy. After infertility struggles, I got pregnant right at the start of the pandemic and was working from home throughout my pregnancy, which was amazing for morning sickness. It was sad not being able to have my husband for appointments and turning reveals virtual, but we made it work.
Then the third trimester hit.
I nicknamed the third-trimester “pregnancy buffet;” essentially, I had a new pregnancy symptom each week. One was symphysis pubis dysfunction, which feels like your groin is being torn apart every time you move your leg. Super fun.
Another, which was much worse, was a PUPPP rash on my stomach and arms, which feels like being bitten by a thousand fire ants all day long. It was so bad that I considered being induced just to make it stop.
Throughout my pregnancy, I planned for a natural birth at a birth center about 40 minutes away. My husband and I took a six-week birthing class and literally felt like we were obtaining a graduate degree in childbirth; I read tons of books to prepare; we had an amazing doula (the incredible Maggie!) – I was ready and almost weirdly looking forward to labor.
Throughout the pregnancy, it was all about reaching certain milestones so I could have the birth center birth I desired. Was I high risk? Did I need an induction? Was I full term? My husband and I also had to be symptom-free for Covid as well, which meant we couldn’t even have a cold, so we completely isolated ourselves in the house for three weeks before my due date.
At 39 weeks, 4 days, I got a call from the midwives saying that my PUPPP rash could actually be cholestasis, a more serious condition that could affect Emma. I wasn’t displaying the classic external signs of it, she was fine so far, but my bloodwork levels were enough that the hospital they were affiliated with wanted me to be induced, or I had to sign off refusing it. I eventually declined the induction but was worried if I’d made the right decision.
Aside from my desired birth experience, another reason we didn’t want to induce was that we could get sent home while we waited to see if it worked, but there was a huge snowstorm in the forecast for the next evening. I didn’t want to be stranded at home and unable to get back.
The next day, I felt really calm for the first time in weeks. I went on a bit of a cooking frenzy and made seven different kinds of Christmas cookies (nesting, much?). I went to bed as the snow started, telling Emma that she was to stay put for the night until the snow stopped.
Around 2 am, I went to the bathroom and thought, “We made it,” since labor for first-time moms takes a while, and even if I went into labor then, we’d be leaving far after the snow had stopped.
At 5:45, my husband got up for work. I rolled over and felt a huge gush as my water broke. I was still calm at that point though. The midwife assured me it would be fine to wait until the roads were plowed (there was about a foot on the ground at that point). My husband started plowing the driveway when all of a sudden, BAM! A huge contraction left me doubled over and grabbing onto the wall for support.
Okay, that’s what a contraction feels like, I thought. Good to know. I won’t feel another one for at least another twenty minutesssss…..
BAM. Another contraction. By the time my husband came in, I’d had at least five or six contractions about two-three minutes apart and lasting a minute.
I had created a birth plan for each scenario. In fact, I had three, one for the birth center, hospital, or c-section.
I had not created a plan for this, with this baby clearly coming now, while we were 40 minutes away from the birth center, with a foot of snow on the ground and still falling.
Within moments, everything that we had practiced and planned for evaporated. We quickly came to the conclusion that there was no way we were making it to the birth center; we had to go to the local hospital. A few more contractions and we realized we needed an ambulance.
The worst part wasn’t the quickness of the contractions or the abrupt change in plans; it was that I didn’t have any time to get in my groove. Instead, I went from zero to 100 almost instantly, and panic took over.
The ambulance finally arrived and promptly got stuck in the snow in our driveway. Now, to add to my panic, I’d never been in an ambulance before (let alone in a hospital!) and because of Covid, my husband couldn’t ride with me. So I was not only worried about being in labor, changing plans and hospitals, and the snow but also would my husband be safe?
The ambulance ride is mostly a blur; I just remember feeling like I was falling backward, clinging to a little metal shelf next to me, lots of contractions, and the paramedic told me that seeing me in labor made her want more kids. The driver (a male) said, “Seriously? THIS is making you want to have more kids?” That did make me laugh.
We all made it to the hospital safely, and they told me I was already 7 cm. I labored for an hour or two, and all I’ll say is my experience in the hospital was not great; I often felt unheard, judged, and made to feel a burden. Plus, they’d never seen me during pregnancy, so there was a barrage of questions about my medical history as I was in transition. It was far from how I had envisioned my idyllic birth experience.
I had already informed my husband that my natural, epidural-free birth plan was out the window, and I would be taking any and all drugs offered to me. I just wanted relief for five minutes – just five minutes to catch my breath, get back into the zone I’d prepared for, and actually find some joy in the prospect of meeting my daughter.
Unfortunately, my epidural only brought more stress. It never worked fully and didn’t give me the peace I sought.
About an hour later, I felt the need to push. I’d never understood when people said that, but now I did. There was literally nothing I could do to stop it; my body was going to push this baby out whether I wanted to or not. Unfortunately, I was only at 9 cm and had to wait until 10. The urge to push kept mounting, but Maggie coached me over the phone.
That’s right: throughout all of this, Maggie was driving hours through the snow to get there. St. Maggie! When she entered the room, it was like I got the breath of fresh air I so desperately craved through the epidural. Literally, the tension in the room lifted.
Then I looked at her and winced through a contraction: “How was the drive?”
Maggie laughed. “Are you seriously asking me how my drive was right now?!”
She let go of my hand for just a moment, ran over to her bag, and brought over the greatest gift known to man: a handheld fan. When I tell you it was better than the epidural, I mean it. And she just knew!
Finally, it was time to push. A billion doctors entered the room and that’s when two things happened: they realized they needed to redo my IV because apparently, the first one wasn’t working anymore AND that the bed I was in was broken and the stirrup wouldn’t work. As they jerked the bed back and forth whilst trying to stick me for the IV, Maggie just kept holding my hand and coaching me through it. “You’re almost there, you’re almost ready to meet your daughter.”
Pushing was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I would go from red in the face, pushing with every fiber of my being and all the doctors yelling, to the contraction ending and it falling quiet as we all just kind of sat there looking at each other.
Finally, they said just a few more pushes. I pushed with everything I had, and then suddenly she was born! They placed her on my chest and the first thing we noticed? SO. MUCH. HAIR! My entire labor was 9 hours, and I pushed her out in 30 minutes, both of which are super unusual for first-time mothers.
I’d dreamed of a peaceful, serene golden hour, but unfortunately, the atmosphere was still so busy that we didn’t really get that experience I’d hoped for. The rest of our hospital stay was difficult due to Covid restrictions (they barely let my husband go to the car to get our bags) and also not having planned for a two-day stay (at the birth center, I would have only stayed for 4-8 hours). It honestly took several weeks to unravel all of that and finally bond with our daughter.
So…where is the beauty?
That was the question I asked myself when Maggie asked if I’d consider sharing my story. I said sure, but didn’t want to scare anyone off from birth! My experience was so atypical. But, there were a few pieces of beauty that I found upon examining it.
First, there’s the obvious: I may be biased, but I’m pretty sure we have the cutest daughter ever whose smile is the absolute light of my life.
Second, in those brief moments of quiet in between pushing, there were moments of unity as we could hear a few of the nurses and doctors humming along to “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher from my pushing playlist.
Third, praise God for Maggie. Aside from the fact that she drove hours THROUGH THE SNOW to get there, her calmness was integral to me being able to do it. She was the only one (besides my husband) reminding me of what this was all about: meeting my daughter. She was truly an angel in that whole experience.
And finally, and possibly the most beautiful thing for me, my body wasn’t broken. I’ve always struggled health-wise when it came to fertility and the like, and I often used to joke that my body just didn’t know how to work. Now, I think it does. Because somehow, despite the chaos that my birth experience was, it did it. It gave birth to a beautiful, precious girl, and quite quickly I may add!
To any woman whose birth experience was less than she’d planned: it’s okay to be overjoyed at the birth of your child and simultaneously grieve the experience. That doesn’t make it less beautiful; it’s just reality. And beauty can be found even amongst disappointed plans.