Three Birth Stories
Twelve days ago, we welcomed our third son. I've had several requests for his birth story, but as I started to write, felt that I needed to give a little background with my other births. They all build on each other, and perhaps some might enjoy or possibly even benefit from seeing the continuing education that goes into birth and the ways we change and grow as mothers. None of these are exhaustive, but are brief windows into my 3 very different experiences. If you've written your birth story, I'd love to read it. You can link to it in the comments. Birthing Cosmas was hands down the most difficult and intense thing I've endured. Of my three sons, this was my second unmedicated birth, and very different from the first.
I tried to keep the details limited, but these are birth stories, so read at your own risk.
Although I had desired and planned to have an unmedicated birth with my firstborn, I had allowed for one exception: If at any point labor was not progressing and I was completely spent and we were facing the prospect of a cesarean delivery, I would get an epidural. And wouldn't you know, that is exactly what happened. I have no regrets about my decision (pitocin is wicked stuff) and believe that the combination of working to labor naturally as long as possible, but also having the courage to choose an epidural when I needed it, allowed me to have a vaginal delivery with Sebastian. This birth was a perfect example of how crazy birth can be, and sometimes you have to roll with the punches, and make the best of an unexpected situation.
There are some things I was not happy about with his birth, and I'll briefly mention those. First, I was poked and prodded to the nth degree. The number of times the nurses checked my cervix was excruciating, and when it came time to birth Sebastian, I was given an episiotomy, and then tore beyond that incision. Anyone who has experienced this knows that it makes recovery very painful. As I would later learn in birthing Bruno and Cosmas, both weighing over 10 lbs. at birth, my tissue is pretty darn sturdy, and I am certain an episiotomy was 100% unnecessary. Sebastian weighed only 6 lbs. 11 0z.
For these reasons, as well as a lack of education when it came to postpartum depression, breastfeeding prep and support, and the general lack of holistic care, I jumped at the opportunity to choose a different system of prenatal care and set myself up for a more positive birth scenario for my second pregnancy.
If there's one between-the-lines message I want people to really gather about my experience in birthing Sebastian, it's that mama's should never feel shame about the outcome or process of birth. We are constantly learning, and educating ourselves. Our bodies are unpredictable, and it can be a very scary process. Whether you have an epidural or a c-section, or any number of possible interventions, every mother has done a miraculous and incredibly selfless thing in surrendering her body for the life of her child.
We found ourselves in the first semester of Cody's masters program at Duke Divinity when we happily became pregnant with our second child. I quickly learned that there was a reputable free-standing birthing center less than 20 minutes away in Chapel Hill, and remember feeling nervous that they would have already filled all their spots by the time I called.
I had a lot of fear about birth after my experience with Sebastian, and so my pregnancy with Bruno was filled with reading everything I could get my hands on about unmedicated birth. I read the fear out of myself—finding everything by Ina May Gaskin particularly helpful. I read about all manner of hippie birthing techniques, belly art, and what have you in an effort to drive out my fear and replace it with a confidence in my body's natural ability to give birth.
By the time I went in to labor with Bruno, I felt as ready as one can possibly feel. His birth was a dream birth as far as birth goes, lasting from 3 a.m. until he was born at half-past 4 that afternoon—just 13 1/2 hours of labor, and only an hour and a half of that being intense. He was 10 lbs. 1 oz. and I didn't tear. That recovery was incredible, and I felt like some kind of super hero birthing such a large baby. My friend, Elisabeth, was present as my doula and wrote about Bruno's birth here in case anyone wants to know more.
Having a doula, being more educated about unmedicated birth, and receiving holistic care throughout my pregnancy changed everything for me, and gave me confidence and joy in the experience.
Mere days after Bruno was born in Chapel Hill, N.C., my friend/doula Elisabeth packed up her family and moved across the country to Waco, TX. I remember exclaiming to Cody, "How will I ever have another baby without Elisabeth?!" Because of course, the impossibility of ever ending up in the same city again was just too great. Fast forward a full 2 years later, and I found myself e-mailing Elisabeth from Germany to tell her that we were coming to Waco.
She had birthed her 1st and 3rd daughters at the Austin Area Birthing Center, so that was the first place I looked. It would be an hour and a half drive to the center, but after my experience birthing Bruno, it was really important to me to strive for that kind of care again. We didn't know how things would go, having to drive that far when I went into labor, but it turned out beautifully, and Elisabeth was able to make it and was yet again a wonderful support to me and Cody.
As many of you know, Cosmas was born at 41 weeks and 5 days gestation. Those were the longest 12 days of my life! Texas law requires that at 42 weeks gestation a woman be induced at a hospital. For this reason, we started natural induction methods at 41 weeks, hoping to coax our little man out at some point that week. On Monday Cody and I drove to Austin to have them sweep my membranes. Apparently 90% of women go into labor within 48 hours of having that done, and so we found out that I was in the unlucky 10%. We drove to Austin again on Thursday morning to have a required ultrasound to check on the baby (he looked great!), and then spent a couple hours with a breast pump and took herbs under my tongue. I was 2cm dilated on Thursday, and had been 1cm on Monday, so some progress was being made. I had a horrific headache on Thursday, so we skipped the afternoon session of more pumping and more herbs, and grabbed dinner at Five Guys and Panera, and a room at the Holiday Inn next door. I had 5 hours of contractions 5 minutes apart, so it seemed that I would go into labor that night, but my contractions stopped as I got ready for bed. Defeated, we slept a ton, and woke up Friday morning in disbelief that this baby still had not arrived. The emotional exhaustion of that week was oppressive. I cried several times during our stay in Austin, which means it was bad, because it takes a lot to make me cry.
And so, on Friday morning we went back to the birthing center for another morning session of breast pumping and herbs. At this point the midwives started talking about making a plan in regards to castor oil—their last resort. How awful could it be, I wondered. By lunch time, I was being told that if I was feeling up for it, I could take castor oil that afternoon and we would have a baby that night. Um, yes please, give me that castor oil, I said. At that point, I felt that it would be more exhausting to wake up yet another day still pregnant, so we picked up some almond butter, mango nectar, and castor oil at HEB, and the good midwives made me a smoothie that, to be honest, was actually pretty tasty. Although they confessed later that it looked pretty disgusting as they were making it.
I took the castor oil close to 4 o'clock Friday afternoon, and then my midwives instructed us to try to nap. Cody was out in seconds, but I only dozed a bit, hyper aware of any uterine activity. The details about time are a little fuzzy, but it was about 6:30 p.m. when the castor oil kicked in with a vengeance. I found myself entering what would be an insane marathon, lasting about 3 hours, in which my body worked to dilate from 3 cm to 10cm and for my baby boy to get his first flash of daylight. I labored on the toilet (necessary when castor oil is at play, sorry), the tub, and then finished up that last centimeter, and pushed, on the bed. No more than 5 pushes and my behemoth baby was next to me, all purple and squirmy and perfect. In the most intense rush of my life, he was here! His head was 14 inches in circumference, and his chest was about the same, so you can probably put 2 and 2 together and figure out that it was like pushing his head out twice! His size was estimated to be around 9 1/2 lbs, so he surprised us all when he weighed in at 10 lbs. 5 oz. What a beautiful whopper, my Cosmas-baby, born at 9:55 p.m.
My mom was in Waco already and had been with the boys during our 36 hour stay in Austin. My older sister, Bekah (the bitmoji sister) flew in to Dallas that evening and arrived at our house around midnight. We followed close after, arriving home with our newest family member at 4 a.m. We snagged a few hours of sleep, and the boys got to meet their little brother as soon as they woke up.
The truth is, birthing Cosmas was so so hard. It was an intense mental and physical battle, and left me wondering if I could do it again. Maybe this needed to be our last baby!? But you know what, I did it. It was healthy, and normal, and my body knew what it was doing. My midwife, Christine (the mother of 7 children), talked in low tones while I labored, and told me that during her labors she tried to see it as a way of entering into the suffering of Christ. I hardly understood what that could be like, and yet I was experiencing pain like I had never experienced before in those moments, and merely thinking on Christ's suffering, helped me to feel purpose in what I was experiencing. I breathed through each contraction, and allowed my body to make way for new life.
It was a wild experience, but such a privilege to engage all of my senses in Cosmas' birth and be a witness and participant in God's beautiful design for bringing humans into the world.