When it was time to give birth to my first child, we had a plan.
It was a natural plan. We didn’t’ want any unnecessary monitoring, medications, or intervention. I mean, sure, we were willing to deviate from the plan if there was an emergency. But we had a plan, so there would be no need for that. Plus, we had a fantastic birthing doula who would be there to talk me through. We had a plan. I was prepared.
As it turned out, we were able to stick to the plan almost perfectly. My labor was steady and predictable. I stayed up and moving as long as it was comfortable. I practiced my breathing exercises. When transitions came with a rush of hormones, I dealt with the nausea and calmly prepared for the next phases. When the contractions got really intense, I got into the tub and I imagined that they were waves of a great mysterious ocean passing through my body. I imagined that my body wasn’t a solid mass, but rather like a porous sponge that let the waves flow through and out. (I know it’s cheesy, but it actually worked for me. Whatever works, right?) My wonderful husband sprayed hot water on my lower back, washing away the pain. We were an awesome team and I was so proud of myself. I mean, yeah it was hard. But it was all going perfectly—exactly according to plan. About 8 hours after labor started, it was time to push.
Pushing was supposed to be this challenging sense of relief and empowerment. I knew exactly how I was going to breathe and what I was going to do when he was out. Remember, I had a plan. However, at this point the plan became 100 percent irrelevant. You see, it turns out that my boy inherited the colossal cranium gene from my husband’s side of the family. Colossal craniums were not in the plan. Try as I might, I couldn’t push him past my (previously) narrow pelvic bones. It was exhausting and frustrating … and exhausting. After 1 hour of pushing, I started falling instantly asleep between contractions, too tired to even talk to my doctor. Still he was not coming through. Our birthing doula was right there telling me what was happening and keeping me grounded, but at that point it barely even registered that she was talking any more. With each push, Samuel’s head would come out a few centimeters, but then retreat right back to where it had been. The contractions were exhausting. The whole wave thing wasn’t doing it for me anymore.
We tried different position. We tried different approaches to motivation (“Imagine how it’s going to feel to hold him in your arms.” “You can do this! You are so strong!”) After over an hour and a half of pushing, I opened my eyes for another large contraction and saw that the room was full of a pediatric team, all cheering for me to “PUSH!” I knew then that it was taking too long. My doctor had seen meconium. My baby was in distress. I was failing. My spirits plummeted and I felt desperate. We gave an immediate ok to use suction and kept working. All I could think about was my child—my son—suffering, scared, and in pain before he even took his first breath. It was torture.
I have no explanation how, other than by the grace of God, but I mustered my strength and gave one final push. I pushed with every ounce of energy I had left. Blood vessels burst around my cheeks and eyes. I tore, but I didn’t even care. I thought, “Come hell or high water this baby is coming out!!!” And he did. He came out and he was breathing! I felt my body turning into an exhausted heap, but I stayed focused on Samuel. We made it! He was here! It was over! I could hear him breathing! I focused on that, his breathing. But as I did, I realized that he was breathing really hard. No, he was gasping. I looked at my husband who was obviously thinking the same thing. Our doctor told us that in the struggle to come out, she believed that a small perforation had happened in one of his lungs. It’s called a pneumothorax. He had to go to the baby NICU for oxygen treatment. He was placed in my arms for an all too brief moment. I kissed him and told him that it was going to be ok. I would see him soon. Then I gave him to the nurse.
At that point the exhaustion became overwhelming. I told my husband to stay with Samuel every single second, and then I started drifting off to sleep. I have a vague memory of my doctor asking if the stitches hurt and responding along the lines of, “You can do anything you want down there at this point. Just tell my husband to stay with Samuel.”
The next few days turned out to be much better than we first expected, as did the days, months and years after. Samuel’s pneumothorax resolved beautifully and we were able to take him home only 24 hours later than normal. He was strong as an ox from then on. I had some significant healing to do, but I didn’t even mind that. We had done it, he and I. We were hard core.
And actually, my memory of the experience as a whole is really positive. It wasn’t until we had our second child that I realized what precious moments we’d been deprived of right after Samuel was born. I suppose that’s for the best, though. I’d just been so darn grateful that he was here and ok. People used to ask me all the time if I’d go the natural route again. I think they usually expected me to say no, but I was totally open to trying again. I guess I figured it couldn’t be any harder. I do think that every mother should have those amazing first few moments with her new child, but who’s to say it wouldn’t happen naturally next time? I haven’t ever felt a lack of bonding with my son. In fact from the moment he was born I felt like we’d been through an epic struggle together and come out stronger. It made me so proud of him and confident in my own ability to survive some serious challenges. Did I go the natural route with our second child? That’s another story for another time.