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September 2, 2021

The Beginning of the Journey: Naomi’s Lifecycle WomanCare Birth Story

I blew past my due date of February 16th with no sign of labor. I was becoming convinced I would go all the way to 42 weeks and need to be induced at the hospital, changing my plans of a naturally occurring labor that would lead me to birthing at the Birth Center.

I started thinking this way when I was just one day past 40 weeks. I am a planner, and I panic when I can’t plan.  I had decided with my boss that my last possible day of work would be when I would be 41 weeks and 3 days, Friday, February 25th. But I had changed my mind a few days before he was born; dynamics at work were stressing me out and I wanted a break.

On Friday, February 19th I called my boss and asked for my last day to be that next Tuesday (when I would be 41 weeks). She asked if it could be Wednesday, and I agreed. However, that Friday, I decided to finish every project I was working on, and that the next week I would just have my work phone on and be available. I was convinced that maybe I was too busy for the baby to be born. So, I worked until 7pm (at home) that Friday. On Saturday, I made a six point, mostly evidence based to-do list to induce labor at home and followed it that day and on Sunday.

Monday at 1am, I woke up to a wet feeling. I went to the bathroom and saw how much water there was. I got Ben to grab my Birth Center binder to look at the list of when to call the midwife. “If you think your water has broken” was on the list.

In all the birthing classes, I somehow never thought this would happen to me either — I was just waiting for contractions to begin. But they didn’t. The midwife on call told me that 85% of women go into labor on their own within twenty-four hours of their water breaking, and to call back around 8am to check in if I haven’t started labor by then. I slept, then called again at 8am.

They asked me to come to the Birth Center for a non-stress test to see if the baby and I were okay, and to meet with a midwife. Baby was fine. Midwife gave me four ounces of castor oil.

It started to snow, a lot. We were driving our friend’s Toyota Matrix that skids in any amount of snow and leaks water onto the driver’s side from the roof. We got bagels and went home. The drive home was terrible. We followed four snow plows down a highway for part of it.

At home, Ben made me a milkshake with castor oil in it. I couldn’t keep it all down and I threw up some of it. At 4:30pm my contractions started. They started frequently right away.

Around 7:30pm it seemed like they were about 4 minutes apart, lasting a minute for at least an hour. We drove to the Birth Center again. The snow had begun to melt, but the roads were still in bad shape. Contracting in the forty five minute car ride to the Birth Center was hard. I remember blowing raspberries through each contraction, grasping a pillow. I couldn’t get comfortable.

Ben almost missed the exit for the Birth Center. I remember him swearing, almost swerving and me worrying that the tense drive would be slowing down my contractions or affecting my labor.

We got to the Birth Center at 8:30pm. I had a very intense contraction in the hallway. We got settled in one of the rooms. Carol the midwife checked my cervix and found I was 4 cm dilated.

I labored, labored, labored.

I labored in the shower with hot water on my back, listening to Aretha Franklin’s Songs of Faith, her gospel songs recorded in 1956. I tried every single labor position I learned in the childbirth classes several times. At 1am, Carol checked my cervix again, I was at 7cm. Carol told me that technically, since my water had broken 24 hours ago, we should be sent to the hospital, but that I was making enough progress to stay.

Carol and the nurse helped me settle to contract while trying to rest in bed. They brought me a hot water bottle for my back. I got through contractions by pounding the side table or wall rhythmically. All I could mutter to Ben was the word ‘pressure’, as he applied counter pressure to my lower back during each contraction. I labored in bed from 1-5am. From 5-7am I felt that meeting this child was not happening soon, but I didn’t let myself acknowledge it. I tried so, so hard to get him out.

At 7am, Carol let me know she thought I was doing amazingly, and was doing everything I needed to have an undedicated birth as I wanted, but that I had been at 7cm since 1am and could use a “whiff of Pit” (Pitocin, which was not available at the Birth Center) and baby should be out shortly. At 8am, Carol’s shift was over and Aleeza was now the midwife on shift. Ben drove me and Aleeza in the Matrix across the street to the hospital.

We got settled in the Labor and Delivery room. While at the Birth Center, they let the laboring person go mask-free. At the hospital, I was given a mask immediately to wear throughout my labor. I was tested for Covid and within an hour I was informed I was negative.

I looked at the hospital bed and shuddered at the gown and hospital socks laid out on the bed. I didn’t prepare for being transferred to the hospital, so I didn’t have clothes that would appropriately tolerate the wires that would now be necessary.

At the Birth Center, the baby was intermittently monitored so no wires were necessary. Here at the hospital, even though we were eventually able to set up wireless monitoring, I needed to be connected to a line for about an hour before that was possible.

The culture shift from the Birth Center to the hospital was apparent right away. One of the first things the labor and delivery nurse said to me was “the baby is the patient now, wireless monitoring will only work if we can keep a constant monitor on the baby’s heartbeat”. Wireless monitoring was so important to me so that I could keep moving through labor. I wanted to be anywhere but on the hospital bed.

From 8am until 2:30pm, I moved through contractions with movement, and then I felt them sputtering out, losing their pattern and slowing down. Aleeza asked my permission to do a cervical check around 1pm, and I was still only at 7cm, where I was 12 hours earlier. She sat with me and Ben and had the most compassionate conversation encouraging me to get an epidural so I could rest. My body was working hard and not making measurable progress. I agreed. A kind yet deadpan anesthesiologist named Rodrigo explained the process to me, and I got an epidural. Ben later said this was terrifying to watch.

With the epidural, I slept. The baby felt far away from being born. Hours later, still no progress. The L&D nurses continued to increase my Pitocin levels to see if my contractions would get stronger or more frequent. They did not. Aleeza explained we could try to take me off the Pitocin completely and put me on again, saying that sometimes helps to jumpstart the contractions again.

When I was off the Pitocin completely, I had no contractions at all. Francis was doing just fine, me, not so much. I was losing hope.

When Aleeza said she would be back soon to talk about what we could do next, I was afraid to admit to myself that it meant a cesarean. However, around 7:30pm, we all agreed that this was just how the baby was going to make his way in the world.

My waters had been broken for 41 hours at that point, and the risk of infection was present. The baby was seemingly fine — his heart rate stayed stable and safe the whole time. He was extremely comfortable in there. Aleeza told me Autumn was the next midwife on shift, who would be with me for the surgery. “Oh, I like Autumn”, I remember saying. “Everyone likes Autumn”, she said.

At 8pm it was shift change again. Aleeza was off and Autumn was on. A surgeon younger than me quickly explained the procedure. Kindly deadpan anesthesiologist Rodrigo was back to top up my epidural. The L&D nurse nonchalantly started shaving me to prepare me for surgery without telling me. I was confused and asked Ben, “am I being shaved?”

I was wheeled into an operating room. Autumn was there with me the whole time. She held and stroked my hand as they prepared me for surgery before Ben was permitted to come in. Hearing the surgeons and medical staff speak casually and light-heartedly to one another, I felt tense. The lights were so bright. Autumn reminded me to use the same breathing techniques I learned to get through labor.

Before the surgery got started, I heard someone announce, “We are performing a cesarean section surgery due to failure to progress.” Those words, “failure to progress” stung and would stay with me for weeks afterwards.

Autumn continued to hold my hand throughout the surgery while Ben comforted me and watched me get sliced open so that our son could be born.

When we heard the first cry, my first feeling was disbelief. I had been in the birthing process so long, his birth felt completely out of reach. I remember saying something like, “Is that him? He’s here!” Ben said “He looks like you!”

I watched our baby get put on the scale by a stranger and get a diaper put on him. He peed right as he was placed on the scale — 9 pounds, 11 ounces. The stranger placed him in Ben’s arms. Ben stood there holding him, completely in love. So much so that Autumn said to Ben, “bring him to Naomi and let her kiss him!” He was here. It was 9:28pm on Tuesday, February 23rd.

Once I was wheeled to the recovery room, finally Francis was placed on my chest. And the journey of getting to know my child who was with me all along, began.

Not being prepared for a cesarean or a hospital stay meant Ben and I only had one change of clothes. Somehow, I had no shoes, one pair of underwear, and no bra. The day after Francis was born (the third day away from home), we both stank terribly as we had no clean clothes to change into. Ben wasn’t permitted to leave the hospital room, let alone leave the hospital, so we were stuck. We were too dazed to ask a nurse if a friend could drop off things for us. There were no visitors, no trips out for better coffee or food. It was just me, Ben and Francis in a room, for three days, as I simultaneously recovered from major abdominal surgery and learned how to feed my son from my body. We looked forward to ordering each meal from the hospital cafeteria menu that, honestly, wasn’t that bad.

Ben and I left home on Monday, February 22nd and brought Francis home with us on Friday, February 26th. Bringing him home took a whole week.