It has taken me several months to process this birth. I imagine I may spend many years thinking about Beau’s birth. For now, I am finally ready to put my thoughts on the page and share them.
Before I begin, I do want to offer a trigger warning for anyone who does not wish to read about traumatic births. There is a spectrum of trauma from birth experiences and while my story has a happy ending with Beau and I both being healthy, I want to offer a warning in case it’s not for you.
For context, this was my second, and likely final, birth experience. Jack’s birth was, mostly, everything I had planned on. A medicated birth, long labor, and a euphoric ending meeting my son after five and a half hours of pushing. We got to follow our birth plan where Zach got to cut the cord after announcing the gender of our baby. “We got ourselves a boy!” It was a day I will never forget. My heart warms and my eyes get wet when I remember it.
Beau’s birth was different.
Just as I had when pregnant with Jack, I had a membrane sweep in week 39 to help progress labor naturally. On March 23rd, I had the membrane sweep at 2:30 pm and by 5:30 pm contractions began. By 6:45 pm, I called it. It was time to call the grandparents to get Jack and for Zach, my mom, and I to head to the hospital.
I will always be thankful that I got to give Jack hugs and kisses for one last time as the only child. I picked him up, gave him a humongous hug, told him how much I loved him and he’d always be my firstborn boy, and then my water began to break. It was perfect.
We arrived at the hospital at 8:30 pm. I was 5.5 centimeters dilated and the midwife and I both agreed that if I wanted the epidural it was now or never. Thirty minutes later the anesthesiologist arrived.
The anesthesiologist’s energy was off. She had an awkward bedside manner and appeared frazzled. I sat at the edge of the bed, back hunched over, holding Zach’s hands, waiting for her to give me the epidural. I sat that way for over ten minutes before she began. It was clear from the nurses’ faces and from my own knowledge of how long this should take that it was an awkwardly long prep time.
It took her three attempts to get the catheter in my spine correctly. If you’ve had an epidural you know how awful it is and can appreciate how wild it would be to have to do it three times. Once it was in the pain was gone, I laid down to rest, and I slept for 45 minutes. All was well.
After my nap, my midwife came in to check on my progress. I was 6 centimeters and my water had not “broken” completely. We agreed to begin a Pitocin drip and to “break my bag” to keep labor going. I had a Pitocin drip with Jack, post epidural, so this was all normal and familiar to me. The nurse asked me to roll over on my side, to which I expressed my concern about not laying on my side. I had read about women who lay on their sides too long and their epidural gets “stuck” on one side of their body and it’s incredibly painful. The nurse assured me that wouldn’t happen so I complied and rolled onto my right side. Pitocin drip began and the water bag was broken. All was still well.
20 minutes later all was not well. I was completely numb on the entire right side of my body and could feel everything on my left side. I went from 6 centimeters to 10 centimeters in 45 minutes and was paralyzed in pain, just laying on my left side and holding onto the bed trying to labor through contractions that were two minutes apart.
It was an incredibly busy night at this birth center. Typically they have 2-3 births per day and 8 other women were in labor at the same time as me. Despite multiple pages, the anesthesiologist didn’t arrive to try and fix my epidural catheter until I was nearly 10 centimeters.
For this next part, where things get traumatic for us, I will share my experience and then Zach and my mom’s experience.
The anesthesiologist arrives and immediately starts pumping my epidural catheter with pain medication that she assures me and my midwife will make the pain stop quickly before she fixes the catheter. I felt the medication go into my spine and into the right side of my body. She used two or three different meds and unfortunately none of it helped. I could still feel everything on the left side of my body and nothing on my right. The midwife insisted we move on to just fixing the catheter. Zach and two nurses helped get me up to a sitting position on the side of the bed. As they did that I felt very light-headed and said “I feel like I am going to pass out.”
For the next 10 minutes, I never fully passed out but I felt drugged and out of it. I couldn’t really speak and I felt sleepy. I couldn’t hold my body up. Strangely, I was not worried or panicked. I had fainting spells as a kid so I knew this sensation. Something inside me was calm but I knew I was very out of it. Two nurses held up my body, my head and shoulders hunched over, as we waited, again, for the anesthesiologist to fix the catheter.
Then, I remember the nurses and midwife helping to lay me down. I noticed there were now a group of nurses in the room. When I looked across the room I noticed my mom and Zach standing out of the way, against the wall. I could only see their eyes since they had masks on per COVID protocols. They appeared calm. The charge nurse was right next to my head and she put an oxygen mask on me. She kept saying “We’re just going to give you some oxygen. You’re okay. Beau is okay.” I was calm. I was annoyed that the epidural had been screwed up but I was still very calm. It all felt familiar, like the fainting spells from childhood. This all happened in about 10 minutes’ time.
A few minutes later, many of the nurses left and the midwife checked me. I was 10 centimeters and she said “His head is right here. I am sure you must be exhausted. Do you want to rest for a few minutes or would you like to push?”
All I could think was there is no way that after all this, I am going to give anyone a moment to consider an emergency C-section. “I want to push. I just need someone to hold up the right side of my body.”
I pushed for 30 minutes and Beau was born. 8 pounds, 7 ounces, 22 inches long. He was calm and beautiful. He didn’t cry until the nurses rubbed him down and then we heard his sweet cry for the first time. I was overwhelmingly proud of myself and thrilled to be holding him in my arms.
After Zach helped prop me up on the side of the bed, he started hearing beeping from the vitals’ machines. He saw the two nurses’ faces as they called out to another nurse “code blue.” A physician who was there observing our labor + delivery asked Zach and my mom to back up to the edge of the room and warned them that a lot of nurses are going to enter the room. My and Beau’s heart rate and blood pressure had dropped significantly and quickly and the nurses needed to act quickly to get it back up.
Zach and my mom told me that I appeared unconscious. My pregnant body was limp and you could tell I was very out of it. The team of nurses arrived and began giving me ephedrine through my IV drip. They called out numbers back and forth to each other noting which numbers were “Mom” and which ones were “Baby.” The observing physician came over to them and shared that this can happen sometimes with an epidural that doesn’t work properly, assured them it was going to be okay, and that sometimes it results in an emergency C-section to get the baby out safely.
Zach and my mom told me later that while they both felt like the thing to do would be to hold each other’s hands or side hug while they watched and prayed, they were afraid one of them might start crying or pass out from the stress of the situation. So they stood silently and didn’t say a word to each other while they waited it out.
After Beau and I both had normalized our heart rates and blood pressure, Zach and my mom were allowed to come back to the bedside. I looked at their faces and I said “I’m okay. I’m okay.” Later, they told me they both teared up hearing me say that. Both their legs were shaking and they were emotionally stressed and relieved all at the same time. Watching their wife/daughter and unborn son/grandson go through that and feel helpless was a traumatic 10 minutes for both of them.
As I began to push, my mom helped push my back up while Zach held my left leg. A few pushes in, my mom asked to switch with Zach as she felt tired and wasn’t strong enough to keep lifting my back. They switched and minutes later, my mom was back-peddling away from the bed and then passed out. The whole room knew it was from emotional stress, plus it was 2:00 am. She was okay, not injured, and one apple juice later, the nurses asked her to sit for the rest of the delivery.
20 minutes later, Beau was born at 2:27 am. We did not get to keep parts of our birth plan. Zach did not get to help deliver Beau or cut the cord. At that point, the whole medical team needed to attend to Beau to ensure his heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing were normal. There wasn’t time or space to do those pleasantries Zach got to do with Jack at his birth. Zach was not at all miffed, just thrilled that we were safe and healthy.
It was a few days before Zach had the courage to ask me about my somewhat casual version of our birth story. We had shared the story with family members and each time I told the story from my experience it was so much less emotional than Zach’s experience. I will never forget Zach sharing his complete version of his experience. He had tears in his eyes and it was the first time it hit me that I had gaps in my experience, gaps that likely served me very well. For instance, who knows what type of panicked state I might have entered had I known Beau’s heart rate and blood pressure had dropped. It was very strategic for the nurses to not tell me at that moment. I will always be thankful for that.
For the next six weeks, it dawned on me how difficult and scary it was. What could have been, what might have happened, and how lucky we are that none of those worst-case scenarios happened to us. I have had conversations with friends who are labor + delivery nurses and my midwife to help process and understand the gaps in my experience and what could have happened. At my six-week postpartum appointment, my midwife mentioned that the anesthesiologist was having a challenging time that whole night. She said Beau’s birth was a “light” in an otherwise dark night for her and the nursing staff. She hadn’t worked with that anesthesiologist before that night and she hasn’t seen her since. It made me wonder if some legal action from another family was being taken against her. Most importantly, it made me pray and hope that every mom that birthed that night got to take their healthy babies home.
Gaining all these insights and context made me feel incredibly vulnerable, raw, and overwhelmingly thankful. As a prenatal yoga teacher and woman in her childbearing years, I have heard many traumatic birth stories and a few with tragic endings. I know how lucky we are and I would never feign to compare our trauma to anyone else’s. Each birth is unique as are the circumstances and what occurs in labor and delivery. Our trauma was only 10 minutes long and we know it could have been so much worse. Those 10 minutes will always be difficult to remember but they will also remind us of how much we have to be grateful for.
I have only just begun to really share this birth story beyond our family and closest friends. Most of the time I tell it very quickly and sort of brush over the parts that made it scary for our family. It’s not easy to share fear especially when our healthy baby boy is wiggling and cooing right in front of me. All’s well that ends well, right?
But it’s important to be honest with my experience which is why I wanted to put it here, this precious space I created, on the blog. I will save it to share with Beau one day, the story of how we endured and brought him into the world safely and how we did it together.
Women are warriors. Badasses from another universe. We have strength and courage inside us that we never give ourselves enough credit for. I look at my body a different way after birthing my boys. It rearranged itself to grow them and then it pushed itself to a limitless place to bring them into the world. I am forever changed by being a mom and my sons’ births were the ultimate initiation.
Here’s to all the mothers everywhere.
enjoy some of my fav posts from the blog archives.