Last week, I wrote about wanting to clone myself because I have so many things I’d like to do and just not enough “me”s to get it all done! I just want more time to help women process their birth stories, is that so wrong??? But because cloning is not possible, I’ve tried to do the next best thing and ask a small beta group of Mommas to test out my “Retelling and Reclaiming Your Birth Story: An Exercise to Give Meaning to Your Experience.”
Today’s guest blog post comes from one such beta tester, Jessica Hardin. Her beautiful birth story is written as a letter to her now 5-month old son, George.
I’m honored that Jessica shared her story with me, and now with you. If you’re interested with help in processing your own birth story, please take part in this quick 4-question survey for your FREE download. If, after you’ve gone through this exercise and you’re wanting to share your birth story with me, I’ll follow up with a personalized email reflection.
Here’s what Jessica had to say about going through this experience of writing her birth story and my written reflection back to her: “Thanks for your thoughtful response – even 5 months later it’s still nice to hear these things. I’m happy for you to run the story. I enjoyed writing it and without your encouragement, I may not have.”
Reframing birth stories is something I’ve been doing for almost two decades. I feel it’s one of the best ways to help women give meaning to the transformation that happens during birth. I’d love to help you reclaim this experience as your own.
Grab a cup of something delicious and read on. And thank you, Jessica for sharing your birth story! Eventually, it will live here on a new page, “Real Birth Stories,” as an expansion of offerings here at Birth Happens.
Jessica’s story begins with an induction process called a “membrane sweep” performed at her clinic appointment. We get to read about her early labor at home, trying to figure out when to go to the hospital. With the assistance of her doula, Megan, her midwife, Linda, and the continuous love and support of her husband, Greg, Jessica continues to labor without medication. It’s not until late in labor through the challenges of pushing that her own physical and emotional limits are tested. Jessica’s story is shared here as she’s written it, word for word. I love this birth story – it’s raw, real and provides insight into the struggle between expectations and realities of birth.
“When you were about two weeks old we read the book, On the Night You Were Born. I cried, you ate. This story felt real – on the night you were born the whole world changed. At least my world.
On the night you were born I felt scared. I felt loved. I felt supported. I felt powerless. I felt weak. I felt strong. I felt present in a way I had never been before. You were in my body one moment, and then you weren’t. I felt as if I had to push through flesh, flesh that had no opening for you to come. I didn’t know how to, but I did.
The night you were born started the night before. You were due on January 8th. We went to see the midwives, they suggested sweeping my membranes and scheduling an induction because it took about a week to get on the schedule. I agreed, I was afraid of an induction so I agreed to the membrane sweep. I expected it to hurt, it didnt. I texted our doulas, they told me not to get my hopes up.
Your Dad and I had a day together. We ate at Pok Pok, eating my favorite – the boar collar, too spicy for your Dad. We came home, trying to get all the oxytocin flowing – Dad gave me a massage, we watched movies that made me cry and laugh – we ate more delicious food. We walked to the brewery nearby and bought a growler. At this point, you were just theoretical. Birth would start, but I didn’t thinking imminently. Then around 10 pm, I started getting crampy. I thought that when people said that labor started at night it meant I would be able to sleep. But that’s not what happened.
The cramps progressively grew until morning. Dad went to sleep. I’d lay down, doze off for 20 minutes then awaken from the cramps. Get up, pace the hallway, breathing more loudly every time I woke up. At some point, I started having to move my body differently, swaying, stopping when I was walking. I woke your Dad––probably around 3 am, maybe later. I walked the hall, heaving breath with rhythm. At some point, I started throwing up. I’d walk the hall, stop at the sink, heave into the sink and with each heave came some of my mucus plug, dropping on the floor in the kitchen. I remember hearing that vomiting was “good” for labor. I showered, and then repeated the whole sequence. Repeat. Repeat. Dad and I talked several times about calling the midwives, when was the right time? We didn’t know. We finally called the midwife on call, she asked me to rate my pain. In hindsight, this seems so silly – 10 doesn’t happen till much, much later – for me when I was pushing you out – I thought I was 6 cm. I didn’t know any better.
You’re next to me now, in a buzzing bouncer, ready to eat, kicking and punching the air. My heart swells thinking of the night you were born, and the beauty that is you now.
Just after sunrise our doula, Megan, and her student, Claire, arrived. They had coffees, and fresh attitudes. It felt like something new. We labored in the house a bit, then we decided to go to the hospital. Megan advised on how to manage the car ride – she packed some puke bags, told me to face backwards. I did. It was hard. We arrived and I had contractions while waiting to go up to labor and delivery. Laboring in public – all of a sudden being seen – didn’t matter at all. All that mattered was coping, keeping the contractions moving, manageable.
We were checked in quickly to a suite – I was nervous about getting a room so I was relieved. The windows were big, the room was grey-bluish. I remember feeling like, “Okay, I’m here to do this.” The nurse seemed nice, but not like a participant in the birth.
I changed, arranged some food, drink, and bags in the room. I found out I was 6 centimeters. I felt like I had accomplished something by laboring at home for that long. Then I waited. It was normal for contractions to slow down when you arrive at the hospital, right? The contractions continued but didn’t get any stronger. The nurse strapped a monitor to my belly – the fabric around my belly made the feeling of contractions worse. The doula had kept track of time so told me if was time to take it off, even though the nurse hadn’t returned. I was grateful to be relived of it, to be free to move around.
Time passed, it was still light out. There was a number of interactions with the nurse and the midwife, and the midwifery student. The one I remember most clearly was about the monitor. The nurse wanted to keep me monitored the whole time, the midwife said it was unnecessary. I was grateful that the midwife interceded.
The tub was set up, it was calming, soothing. I labored in the tub. Things plateaued. In hindsight I see this time as a time to recoup energy, to rest. At the time it made me nervous that I wasn’t “progressing.” As it got darker, I was also worried about being exhausted. I hadn’t slept, or eaten, I was afraid of what was to come. I walked, and talked – to your Dad, the midwife, and the doulas – should I get an epidural? What if I didn’t have the stamina to make it through to the end?
I decided to get an IV of fluids in the meantime while I sat in the tub as a way to generate some energy. I was eager for things to progress and worried about what was normal – I was worried when things didn’t keep moving at the same pace. I was so worried I couldn’t rest as much as I would have liked.
I got out of the tub when the fluids were done. I decided to be checked again to see how much I had progressed. I was 8 centimeters.
To get things moving, our doula Megan advised us on positions and then things started grooving. I used the bar, I knelt on the labor bed, I cried, I yelled, I panted. I worked. The anesthesiologist visited––he liked to talk to patients even if they weren’t planning on having an epidural, just in case. I remember holding on to the top of the bed, kneeling, panting and looking at him from the sides of my eyes. He told me I was doing great and he hoped I didn’t need the epidural. I felt strong.
I remember most vividly kneeling on the bed, facing the top of the bed, holding your Dad’s hands, or forearms. I breathed, loudly. At some point I started to think of you, the thought of meeting you made me cry. I cried out loud, overwhelmed with emotion and the physicality of our bodies working together. I locked eyes with your Dad. He was present, the most present I’ve ever seen him. He looked into me, intensely, with empathy,, with admiration. He was right with me – my steady mirror – showing me I was strong, letting me be weak, tired, and scared all at the same time. I cried more. I felt I could do this. This was birth. This is what I imagined and prepared for. I felt prepared, crazy pain, intense consuming emotion. I felt supported and rhythmically connected to you. I felt support.
Then I hit 10. The midwifery student checked. 10. I did it! It felt anticlimactic. I did all this work, now I had to wait. The room flipped, the bed changed, the pediatric machines came out of the cubbie. The pediatrician arrived. The midwives stayed––they had only been checking in before this point. Two nurses stayed. Then I was there. Waiting. No more contractions, just waiting.
I don’t really remember when it started. I remember sitting on the toilet and lots of people staring at me. I remember being foggy, confused, anxious, and vulnerable. The pain was a sensation I didn’t know how to cope with. I was waiting for a physical feeling that was clear, but I didn’t have clarity – I didn’t understand the physical sensation. It was noise. If contradictions were rhythm, pushing was cacophony. It was overwhelming sensation.
I started to lose that feeling of support. There were many voices directing me telling me how to push, how to vocalize. In hindsight, I see there might have been some personality differences between me and some of the staff. At the time, I just thought something was wrong with me. The new midwife student was too directive, the new labor nurse was the same. In hindsight I wished I had cleared the room, but I was too foggy – too otherworldly.
After sometime on the toilet, I was moved to the bed. I’m not sure how long I was there – faces all around me. Telling me only to push with contractions (I couldn’t feel the contractions even though I didn’t have any drugs), and to use my voice differently. I was yelling, like as if I was in acute pain – they wanted me to deep belly yell – yell in a way that moved your body. I couldn’t feel rhythm, only noise.
At some point they gave me oxygen, they were worried about you. They monitored your heart dropping. They were going to put a monitor on your head, but they didn’t. The midwife said we might have to have interventions – a vacuum extraction or forceps delivery – I wasn’t exactly scared – but flooded. I had never considered these interventions. I was terrified.
Whatever it took to make the experience over is what I wanted. There were lots of voices, coaching but I couldn’t listen. Then I heard the midwife – she said we had two pushes or we would have to bring in the OB. She put her hand on your head and for the first time, I could feel where to push. I pushed. I pushed with no agenda, no sense of what next, only to feel. Feel something directed. She said she had to do an episiotomy. She apologized, saying she only did a couple of these a year. It was because of the way you were coming out. You crowned. They asked me if I wanted to feel your head. I didn’t. They asked again. I refused again. I couldn’t bear the thought of curling my body around to touch your head, I couldn’t stand to be in my body.
It burned, like fire, I asked for help. I could feel the desperation in my face. I had to wait until the next contraction. I cried, I felt like pleading – as if Megan would be able to fix it. I remember saying, “Help!” Then the moment passed and I could push again. A few more pushes – pushes that consumed me. Linda, our midwife said, “If he comes and he isn’t crying we’ll hand him over the pediatrician.” I was so afraid you would arrive and be damaged, hurt.
Then white noise. You came out, and there was a warm rush, a gush. You cried. White noise. They put you on my chest, they didn’t know if you were a boy or a girl. They chicken-winged you while you were on my chest. A boy. Your chin quivered. Your cry pitched. Your chin continued to quiver. I stared at you. Still connected to me. I was afraid to move you, for fear of what tugging on the umbilical cord would feel like. Your Dad was over my shoulder. Linda shushed you. I felt like I had no idea what to do with you. A baby, my baby. Quivering, crying. I asked why your nails were so purple. I was worried from the start. Megan helped you move to my breast and within minutes you latched. I watched as if I wasn’t in my body. Quietly inundated. Legs still spread, but the sensation was over.
The next hours are even more blurry. There were injections, I pushed the placenta out. The midwifery student showed it to us -it was purple, red, large. They inspected it. They gave us a little while before repairing me. They stitched me up. It hurt, I squeezed your Dad. I remember feeling like a helpless puppy, looking at him for sympathy. He gave it, and told me he was proud of me. They took you, weighed you, checked you out. You were perfect. Linda talked to me after. She said, “Most women, 85%, experience pushing as a relief. The others sense it as the worst pain they have ever experienced.” She said, “That was you.” I felt validated. Not alone.
Then the room cleared. It was quiet, just us three. It felt empty. Another nurse came, she helped me dress. I was confused by simple questions. She put me in a wheel chair. I was bloody, my legs bloody, my fingernails dirty, meconium stuck to my torso. I was covered in birth. She wheeled me through the halls with you in my arms. I felt so proud, so different.
We arrived in the postpartum ward and I felt so overwhelmed by the experience – surprised with how scared I was, how much I felt I had hit my limits as a body, as a human. I told your Dad I wouldn’t do this again [days later I recanted and started planning our next baby]. I was shaken, and still frightened, like I had touched the line between life and death, like I didn’t know if my body was safe.
You were with us, but I felt I didn’t know what to do with you. Luckily, you slept. It was probably after 10 pm when we were settled into the postpartum suite. I was still foggy. The nurse helped me pee, I passed a clot. I cried because I was scared as the warm mass dropped. I was scared. I bled in bed, I passed another clot. I was afraid. I had lost a lot of blood. I slept. Dad woke up with you when you woke. The next morning they gave you to me and you ate. We were together.
The postpartum room felt sweet. I laid in bed, food came, pain meds came, you were right next to me. I learned that I had lost a lot of blood, which helped explain my confusion. I learned my uterus was “boggy” – it slowed down because the labor was long. I was in pain from lacerations, I couldn’t move my core. I bled. I slept. It was hard to move. But you were there, quiet, interested in eating and sleeping on my chest. I felt complete in the bed – I didn’t need anything but help being with you – food, clean cloths, a shower, the loving and proud gaze of your Dad. We settled in.
For days and weeks after I felt embarrassed. Embarrassed that I had felt inundated, embarrassed that I was scared and unable to dynamically feel through the pain of pushing. I felt embarrassed that I needed help. For feeling helpless. I didn’t feel like the rock star of the birthing stories I had read.
For the next few weeks I felt I couldn’t talk about the birth without crying – both from shame, pain, and fear. The fear lingered. Meeting my ends felt like being on a different plane, one that I didn’t consent to. I wanted to feel like I succeeded, like I rocked it. But I didn’t. I just did it – ugly, dirty, beautiful, and blissful. Bliss in the sense of out-of-body-ness, sappy loveiness, complete sensation. Flooded, inundated, sensation.
The birth continued for months – recovery was manageable but a daily physical reminder of the trauma of birth. The episiotomy meant I used a sitz bath for a few months. I managed my body carefully, with food, baths, and eventually exercise. Caring for my body made caring for you hard.
If I get to do this again, I will try to remember that even if I feel I cant cope, I am still birthing. I can still move through it. The unknown is part of the process of bringing life into the world. I will remember that rest is a gift, not something to worry about. I will remember to trust myself.”
PS – Here’s a video clip of the reading of “On The Night You Were Born” Jessica refers to in her birth story. Enjoy!