I started preparing for Luciana’s birth many months ago. Over Thanksgiving, when I was about 7 weeks pregnant, I read Your Best Birth, watched The Business of Being Born, and hired my wonderful doula, Ilona.
By the end of the year, I’d read Ina Mae’s Guide to Childbirth, interviewed several midwives, and scouted childbirth classes. In January, Sky and I chose our midwife, the extraordinary Debbie Frank, I’d read more books, was journaling to the baby regularly, had modified my exercise accordingly, etc etc etc. I was a prepared pregnant woman and I loved it. As my pregnancy progressed, and we took our childbirth class with Ana Paula Markel, and I read about labor and imagined it, I became really excited about what it could be like to give birth. Sky and friends would ask me from time to time if I was nervous or scared, and I always said No. I wasn’t. I trusted my body and my ability to give birth completely. I trusted our baby; that she (though of course we didn’t know she was a she) knew what she was doing. I knew I had an amazing team with Debbie and Ilona, and I took really good care of my body, doing prenatal yoga at Golden Bridge, swimming, walking on the beach, counting protein grams daily…(mamas, remember that?)
My due date, July 24th, came and went, and I was feeling more Braxton-Hicks contractions each day. On the evening of Monday the 26th I wasn’t sure I was in labor when I felt waves of achiness in my lower back. After noticing that they came in intervals of about 10 minutes apart, and knowing that some women feel labor in their backs, I called Debbie. She said it might be a false alarm, and it might be the start of my labor, so I should see how/if it progresses and call her if they get to be 5 minutes apart. I had spoken to Ilona as well, so she knew it was a possibility. Sky came home from work, and we hung out on the couch, excited that this might be the beginning. And it was.
My contractions got closer together and a lot more intense. Sky called Ilona around midnight because I couldn’t talk through them and was climbing around over the bed finding positions that might help what I was feeling pass more easily. She headed to our house. We called Debbie as well who thought it sounded like things were progressing enough that she came over too. We had the lights dim in the bedroom, which is where I was when they arrived. I’d pictured myself laboring in the open living room at the front of the house, but found all I wanted was to be in or near my bed. Everything about labor is so vivid: I have snapshots in my head of the exact dimness of the room, the exact song Debbie asked about, exactly how it felt having my head rubbed and my hips pressed.
The night got darker and later and my labor got more and more intense. My contractions were strong, about 6 minutes apart, but I never felt them in my belly–they were always in my back and in the sides of my hips. They were strong enough to the point that I was feeling sick. I was trying to connect to the spiritual part of birth, to remember that this was sacred and profound, but I was so nauseated and lightheaded that it was hard for me to do that. I actually fainted in the bathroom as I was about to throw up and Ilona woke me up as I vomited on the floor. The weird thing was that I wasn’t progressing. Usually as contractions get stronger one does. I was dilated to 1 1/2 cm and 70% effaced, and I was still there in the early hours of the morning. Debbie felt, though, that our baby was coming soon–that the 27th would be his/her birthday.
However by 8am contractions has slowed way down–back to 10 minutes apart or so—and were mild enough that I could talk through them. It’s not unheard of for labor to stop and start, so Debbie and Ilona went home and we all waited to see when it would start back up in earnest.
Sky and I got a little sleep that morning. I’d wake every 30-60 minutes with a stronger contraction, but most were mild enough that I slept through them. Ilona called her acupuncturist who does house calls. He came over and spent 2 hours doing acupressure and needles on me. Ilona went home. I learned then that if I had to, hard as it might be, I could stay still during a contraction. That would be helpful if I wanted to conserve energy, say, at night. We called Debbie and Ilona again, figured this was it, and they came over. Same thing as Monday. Strong contractions got weaker. I dilated to 2 and didn’t go past. That night we slept a little more; I never for more than an hour or so: labor never stopped just got very manageable. Again, this happens: early labor goes on for days with some women. Debbie thought it was a little unusual that I’d have periods of such intensity without progressing into active labor, but we felt my body and the baby were taking their time, and all would go full steam ahead when they were ready.
I got super emotional. Went into the baby’s/my meditation room and cried and cried. I was scared I wasn’t going to go into real labor; I was confused at what wasn’t happening; I felt completely powerless over being able to move things along. I knew pressure on myself would most likely keep it from happening, so I prayed to trust, prayed to be on the ride with no expectations, and tried to give myself a break–I’d been pretty much up for 48 hours. Sky and I went down to the beach for a walk which felt so good as I’d spent so much time there walking during my pregnancy. Labor picked right back up. We liked the thought that the baby liked the ocean; could hear it and sense it, and that the ocean was urging the baby out. I couldn’t do the walk and found myself hanging onto benches while Sky went for the car. We said a prayer that this was it. We talked to the baby. I talked to my body. Sent love and ease and asked for safe passage for mama and babe. Debbie was at the hospital with another patient who had just delivered, so she suggested we come there. If I was going into active labor, that made more sense than waiting for her to get to us and all of us to get back to the hospital. Sky grabbed the bags, called Ilona who was actually on her way to us, she turned around so she could meet us at the hospital, and I sat through a very difficult car ride. Cars just suck in labor; no way around it. I should say here, too, that still I felt everything in my back and hips. During a contraction, the pressure there would get so strong it felt like my whole back was spasming and nothing but incredibly strong pressure from Sky or Ilona on my hips would alleviate it even a little. But in between contractions the pressure didn’t go away. It lessened, sure, from maybe an 8 to a 6, but I’d counted on having breaks in between contractions and when I was in the strong phases of my labor there were no breaks, and I knew this was tiring me out physically and emotionally. I knew I was going to be drawing on all the reserves I had, but I was glad to do it—that’s what I’d expected labor to ask of me.
At the hospital I breathed a huge sigh of relief because I’d progressed to 4. Debbie felt we’d turned a corner. This was it. The baby was on the way. As much as I’d wanted a home birth when Sky and I first talked about what our plan would be, I really liked my room at Cedars and felt totally comfortable there. I had my team, our nurse had worked with Debbie lots before and was a huge advocate of natural childbirth, the room was big and sunny, I could get in and out of the shower. The baby sounded perfect on the monitor–through all of this the hummingbird’s heart rate had never faltered. Already I knew I had a strong little being on my hands.
By Wednesday evening, though, I’d been discharged. Once again, everything had slowed down, and I was still at 4. This time before we went home, Debbie sat on the end of my bed and told me that if this pattern continued for another 24 hours, I’d need to seriously consider pitocin to advance the dilation of my cervix. The risk we were starting to face was that my uterus could tire out, and if that happened, and it wasn’t able to contract strongly enough to get the baby down, pitocin would be a necessity. However, if it was too tired it wouldn’t respond to pitocin, and then I’d be looking at a C-section. I understood, but in the moment it felt devastating. All I wanted was to have my baby completely naturally. I didn’t want her drugged, I didn’t want to not be able to feel her coming out. I, again, was baffled and humbled and shocked that my body wasn’t doing what I was so sure it knew how to do. I felt now I had a timeline. I felt a little ashamed with Sky–like I was letting him down too by not being able to do this. All of this was in my head, but it was enough to have me on edge and easily upset. We went home, I tried to eat, we tried to laugh, I didn’t succeed at either, but I had a couple of 2-hour stretches of sleep that night and that did help me feel less wound up in the morning.
I emailed Debbie and told her I’d slept. She said that was great news: it didn’t sound like I was in labor anymore, which meant I didn’t have to worry about a timeline. My body was resting, which was what it needed to do. We’d see this baby when it was ready. By about 10, however, I was in the most excruciating pain in my back that I’d ever felt. It was unrelenting, and I didn’t think it was labor. I figured my back was exhausted from the 3 days before, and Sky called my acupuncturist and made an appointment with her. My mom drove me as I groaned the entire drive, and on the table in Dr. Hu’s office I could tell that what I was in was the strongest labor I’d been in yet. I could feel contractions in my belly as well as my back. Knowing it was labor gave me a little extra stamina, even though it was painful to the point of more tears. Sky picked me up from the appointment and we drove to Debbie’s office where I had my weekly appointment scheduled with her.
I was moving over the couch and floor of her office when she walked in. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the expression on her face when she asked me if I was in labor–I read it as shock which it could have been since I hadn’t called her in what seemed to be the most active phase of labor yet. I moaned, “I don’t know; I don’t know” and she said I certainly looked like a woman in labor. She checked me–still 4—and suggested I head to the hospital and she’d meet us there. My labor seemed to have kicked into a different gear. Of course we found Ilona, who again would meet us at the Cedars entrance. On the way to the hospital after a particularly loud yell through one contraction my water broke. it’s unmistakeable when it happens—a warm gush that keeps gushing. Although I was struggling to feel OK in the car, I was thrilled that it had broken, as it seemed the baby was that much closer, and when a man in an SUV tried to cut us off at our left turn to the hospital, I stared him dead in the eye from the car window, gave him a particular finger, and yelled a name at him I won’t print here. He let us go.
At the hospital things felt different. I knew the baby would be born tonight or early Friday morning. I moaned and moved into any position I could think of, Sky and Ilona pushed, massaged and held me, I got in and out of the shower, Debbie checked the baby periodically, and the baby was doing great. I knew we were on our way. But at 5:00pm I was still 4 cm. Debbie advised me to get pitocin for the reasons we’d talked about yesterday. I was crushed. I knew, though, that she was right. At first I said I wanted to do it with no epidural—I so wanted to stay connected to my body during this. About 10 minutes later, though, I had to admit to myself that I was being stubborn about an idea I had. I had reached my limit. It had been almost 72 hours, my body was exhausted, I was in crazy pain in my back that was only going to increase with pitocin and I had a long way to go to get to 10cm. I said I wanted an epidural. Sky told me to wait because I’d made him promise that if I asked for drugs to make me wait. I told him, and I remember feeling meek about it, that I had to get help if I was going to get pitocin. Again, I was ashamed, I was so sad, I was humbled in a way I didn’t want to be humbled. This was not going according to the beautiful plan I’d written out–not at all. This was not my idea of myself in labor—not at all.
The next 7 hours were one long half-dream. I wanted to curl up inside of myself when I was given the anaesthesia. I didn’t want to be me. I didn’t want to be here. I was worried about my baby and the effects drugs would have on her. Debbie told me how important it was to rest. So until 2 am I lay in the hospital bed, Sky lay sometimes on the couch and sometimes in bed with me. Ilona went home, Debbie would come in and out. Day turned to night; I half slept here and there. I rested my hands on my belly and I prayed. Prayed that the baby be OK. Prayed that my body open up, visualized it opening like a rose, like the ocean, prayed for the willingness to accept what was going on with an open heart, prayed to surrender ideas I had about what was right. Listened to one of my favorite mantras –Ra Ma Da Sa –over and over (sung by Mirabai Ceiba and if I could play it here I would. It’s a beautiful beautiful mantra for healing). I play that mantra for Luciana now when I am helping her get to sleep—it works like magic on her—and it’s only in the last day that I can listen without crying. It takes me back to lying in that semi-darkness, talking to Debbie and Sky now and then, waiting and silently begging that my body see this through.
At 2am I knew by Debbie’s face when she checked me that I hadn’t changed. So we had the discussion I never thought I’d have. My only option left was to have a C-section. I can’t even say that I started crying here. I’d been one continuous leak for hours, sometimes turned up and sometimes turned down. I process lots through crying, and I don’t want to give the impression I was weeping through this whole thing out of sadness or hopelessness, but there simply were lots of tears. This journey was requiring me to use every ounce of strength I had physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was being humbled beyond humble, the thing-that-was-never-going-to-happen was happening. Sky and I asked for a few moments of privacy and decided we wanted to try with the pitocin for a couple more hours. Debbie had Oked that. If nothing changed by 4am I’d have the surgery. We prayed, manifested, visualized, hugged each other, talked to the baby, and I tried to quiet my soul. At 4 Debbie came in. I honestly didn’t expect it to have changed—I’ll say that. I think I had to go to that place so I could prepare myself for what might be happening next. I was still 4cm. She had called my back-up doctor, who I really liked, which is a blessing, and at 4:30, after 9 hours of more pitocin than Debbie said she’d given anyone ever, I was shaved to be ready for surgery and wheeled into the OR.
If one is planning on having a C-section, or if one has to have one as a last-minute surprise, I hope you get a team as lovely as the one I had. Everyone was so kind; the anaesthesiologist was so attentive, Sky and Debbie were with me. The lights in the OR were so bright after all the time I’d spent in low-lit rooms. I had a moment of being sure I was dreaming, that I would be awake any second. The hormones from laboring plus the anaesthesia had me shaking uncontrollably on the table. Debbie kept her hands on my shoulders and my head, and I’d reach up and hold her hand when I needed to. I was trying so hard not to cry. I was numbed, the drape was up, they said I’d feel a pushing and pressure when they were going in to get her; I sent light and grace with my thoughts to the doctors, I felt what they said I’d feel, and at 5:12 am on July 29 our baby was born. The doctors asked Sky if he wanted to “call the baby”. He stood up and told me it was a girl. That I’d gotten my girl. I need not tell you that I….cried. Or whimpered. Or something. I had my girl. My beautiful, Sky told me, little girl. I heard her cry; I couldn’t hold her right away– with a C-section they need to suction her immediately. But I could hear that cry that every once in a while she makes here in the house. I think I could pick it out from 10,000 babies’ cries. I knew Sky was with her, I knew she had his love around her. I told Debbie to tell him to tell our daughter that everything was OK. It was probably only a few minutes, but nothing I know has felt longer, til I could see her. If half an hour before I’d been sure I was dreaming, now I was awake into a different reality. My baby had been born, and I was waiting desperately to see her.
The doctors told me what had caused the crazy ride this had been: her little head had turned ever so slightly and gotten wedged in my pelvis. No amount of pressure from my faithful uterus was moving her. The angle was slight enough that even in the ultrasound Debbie did on Thursday it was undetectable. But there was no way she would have come out through my pelvis.
Sky brought her to me and lay us cheek to cheek. My hands were still shaking so much I couldn’t touch her. All I wanted to do was touch her. I could see her little face, my baby’s little face. My hummingbird was of this world now. It’s true what they all say: there is nothing like the love you feel for your baby when you hear her, see her, feel her. The doctors finished sewing me up and they rolled me (literally) off the table onto the bed I’d recover in for a couple of hours. Then they gave her to me. I had my girl in my arms, wrapped up like the gift she is. I didn’t get my instant skin-to-skin contact, she hadn’t fed in her first 5 minutes of life, but she was OK and I was OK and we were starting our life together.
As soon as we were in the recovery room we unwrapped her, placed her on my chest, and she started to nurse. We make sure we spend at least an hour each day lying tummy to tummy no clothes on, and that might be my favorite hour of the day. Because I’d had a C, we were in the hospital until Monday. I’d heard the nurses at Cedars were wonderful, and it was true. As much as I wouldn’t have wished for several days in the hospital, there was something magical about being in that cocoon. Our families came by, a couple of friends, I told this story a couple of times and cried through every telling. That’s just me. And a lot of postpartum hormones. Other than those few visits, and the frequent check-ups by the nurses, Sky and Luciana and I holed up and we fell more and more in love with her. We hope she’s half as much in love with us.
Now we’ve been home for 2 weeks. Unbelieveable. I’ve been asked by different friends what happened in our birth, and each time I tell the story I still cry. But it’s not because I’m sad about it or have regrets about it. It happened how it happened. Not at all what I planned, and someday I know it will all make sense to me. I get emotional more because it was simply the biggest thing I’ve ever gone through. I knew having a baby would be. I knew it would change me; I knew it would ask me to go to places I didn’t even know I had in me to go to. I just thought the map and the roadside attractions would be very different. Rather than the triumphant warrior goddess breathing her baby out, I was a trembling, teary woman brought to her knees. And that, in its way, is another kind of bravery and another kind of goddess, to have the willingness to be present for something as challenging as it was, and I know that. In a way, I feel this birth required me to be stronger than had I had the one I envisioned. I get to thank myself and thank Luciana for being able enough to undergo 86 hours of labor and a major surgery. At one week post-op I was going on hour-long walks with little discomfort, and Luciana has been thriving. And she does not feel less loved or bonded to for having been airlifted instead of squeezed through the birth canal. It’s still a bit surreal to me: I have many moments where I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I had a C-section, but I did. What a flesh-and-blood experience of life not going according to my plan.
I joke that I’m someone who always wants to try everything on the menu, and I did that with birth. I labored naturally at home, in 2 offices, on the beach, in the car and in the hospital. I labored with pitocin and an epidural. And ultimately I tried a C-Section. I know what every kind of labor feels like now:) And I know, too, from firsthand experience, that a C-section is still a birth. It is a powerful, brave thing that a woman does to bring her baby into the world. It can be sacred and holy and just right for that child. I also know that while this felt huge to me, and was huge, I have a beautiful healthy baby and I am healthy and here for her. And I am so so so so so lucky and grateful that this is so. Luciana came into the world with her arms wide open, ready to embrace every part of it. I already feel the world is doing that back to her.