Chaotic Surrender: The Birth Story of Elizabeth Grace
For me, the birth story really begins with the anticipatory weeks after our due date. I was so sure our little Bean was going to arrive early but each day, I'd wake up feeling so active and energetic, I couldn't possibly be on the verge of labor. Well, here is where my personal journey and growth began. I wanted nothing more than to meet my baby and was sure there must have been some mental block keeping me from letting my cervix blossom. (I mean, I had done everything physical there was to do: acupuncture, hiking, staircases, Spinning Babies, herbs, teas, Zumba, yoga balls, squats, etc.), so it had to be mental and spiritual, right?! I set up my little meditation altar and would meditate each day to see if there was more work to unravel. My mother-in-law has a set of Angel Cards that each have one word on them. I decided this was a good place to start each meditation. I pulled my first cards: patience, transformation, and beauty. I worked on these so much that the next day, I pulled: balance, harmony, and grace. Of course, I had become so patient, I forgot to balance it with the excitement of Elizabeth's arrival! (I'll stop with these specifics of these meditations now but, as you can see, I was infinitely polarized and plagued by thoughts and ideas of what I needed to be doing.)
It was during a meditation that the word "surrender" came to me. I had to have been about a week late at this point and it was getting scary because Maria was only going to be in town for another 4 days. Not to mention, we couldn't even attempt a home birth if we were as late as another week. As much as I tried to surrender, I was only really surrendering to the impatience, while trusting or trying to convince myself that we'd still have our perfect home birth. I couldn't really bring myself to surrender to the possibility of a hospital birth, let alone, one with medical intervention. Yet, with each day, as I let go of the reigns, we progressed a little more towards labor.
On Friday morning, week 41 plus 1 day, I lost my mucus plug! This was especially helpful timing because we had our first antenatal testing at Kaiser which made the delay seem much more real as well as our approaching end date of a possible home delivery. But, no! We were making progress! I was 1cm dilated and finally had some proof that things were moving forward. All tests were great but it was a full day of pregnancy-geared appointments. We had a prenatal exam in the morning, followed by a prenatal flu shot clinic, then we went to the antenatal appointment in the afternoon, and ended the day with inducing acupuncture! Needless to say, it didn't feel like surrender. (Because it wasn't! It was a frantic day of doctor’s appointments and natural induction planning!)
Saturday, I decided to take my first day off! I didn't even take my herbs or vitamins. I needed a serious break. So, I went to the Embarcadero Farmer's Market, treated myself to a delicious brunch and then decided to walk along the Embarcadero. Of course, I had forgotten it was fleet week and there was an endless stream of foot traffic to accompany my little promenade. I got as far as Pier 33 when I decided the crowd was just too much. So, I headed home. It was about an hour after coming home that I started feeling contractions! Very mild but also very regular! It was happening!!!! or was it? After about 2 hours of false labor, the contractions stopped, but I was still convinced that things were becoming more of a reality.
On Sunday, Maria recommended castor oil. I had some serious toilet time but zero contractions afterwards. We decided to try another day off on Monday and see if anything happened. More false labor came and went. Jordan had now been home with me for a few days and we were really starting to build our cocoon for the labor. We spent our days relaxing and playing piano or cards with breaks for coffee or food. It was a very sweet time.
Late Monday night, pre-labor began. I awoke with intense contractions and started timing them. They were 45 seconds long and 5-6 minutes apart. I knew that false labor fizzled out with activity, so I went on a long walk and was so happy when they were still consistent and even intensified! We were in it! Still, they were quite manageable, so I knew we had awhile to go.
Maria was out of town now, so we met with Kara and her apprentice, Hannah. There was an immediate connection and I was so relieved to know that, even if we couldn't have our Maria, we could have our baby delivered with another trusted goddess. Kara recommended we get sleep and nourishment to prepare for the possibility of labor ramping up that night. We did just that and around bedtime, contractions were strong enough that I couldn't ignore them or just sit through them. My hips were swaying and I was breathing through each surge with the imagery of my blossoming cervix at the forefront. By 3am, we were in 3-1-1 and called Kara to let her know. She asked if we could handle another hour before checking in again. We did and were still consistent. By this point, I was chanting through contractions and could only really handle contractions by kneeling on the couch and leaning over the back. Swaying, chanting, swaying, chanting. My back was very uncomfortable and I knew that Elizabeth had been occiput posterior for at least a month. (I had been doing poses and routines from Spinning Babies for the month and had managed to turn her a handful of times but she always went back.) I was pretty aware of the fact that I'd be in back labor and that this might be a rather long haul but I had no idea how much longer it could go.
Kara and Hannah arrived around 5am and, I can't explain it, but I snapped out of it! As much as I was comfortable with both of them, they were so new and contractions spiraled out of consistency. I couldn't focus anymore...then contractions stopped all together. How could it have been so intense, so real, and then vanish? Jordan and I were now thoroughly exhausted. Kara recommended we try to sleep and maybe try some natural induction the following day. This sounded like a great idea but, again, we were now only one day away from state law forcing us to birth in the hospital.
I laid down on the couch and Jordan laid next to me on the floor. (Our bed was now completely set up with plastic for the birth.) Every 15 minutes or so, I'd get a huge back labor surge that would wake me up with such intensity but never materialize into any sort of pattern or progress. All I could do to handle this exhausting pain, was to stand and sway my hips. Still, some back labor contractions would take hold and I'd move and breathe through them but, again, never going anywhere. Jordan and I got into the birthing tub to see if we could settle my back and let me find some rest or relief. It helped for about 30 minutes which was long enough for us to decide that we probably needed to be in the hospital. We were just 15 hours from 42 weeks. Both of us were exhausted and had no confirmation that labor wouldn't start up, intensify, and then fizzle out again. Not to mention, I now couldn't get relief through the back surges without standing or kneeling constantly; as soon as I would sit or lie, a very short but extremely painful surge would come. We called Kara and let her know that we felt the hospital was the best option. We wanted to know that Elizabeth was ok as we had been in prelabor for 37 hours and she was already so far beyond her due date.
We had an appointment with an OB at Kaiser that evening but we were thinking we could try to get in earlier so that I could get some back relief. Alas, as we were in and out of pre-labor, the advice nurse just recommended we keep our evening appointment and wait until then to proceed. By the time our appointment came, prelabor was materializing again and contractions were more regular. Jordan was feeling pretty depleted and we asked his mother, Lisa, to come down and drive us to the appointment. I had about 3 large contractions in the car so, I was kneeling over the back seat and swaying my hips as we drove. The doctor at Kaiser was running an hour late and was so incredibly rude to us. We were basically there to get her to admit us for inducing as the labor kept fizzling out and we were too exhausted from a long prelabor, a night of more active labor, and then an entire day without sitting or lying down for rest. She just kept telling us that this is how prelabor is and that we shouldn't have come into her office because they can't have "women in labor" coming into the doctor's offices. We kept explaining that the advice nurse had sent us there and didn't think Labor and Delivery would take us with sporadic contractions. She agreed to check my cervix and told us we were 4cm! What great news after so much time, plus she was confident that Labor and Delivery would take us now.
Once we got to the labor ward, I almost cried for joy! Everyone was so kind and dedicated to us. The staff was expedient and informative. All nurses and doctors were diligent about getting our birth plan down so we could all be on the same page. I was given fentanyl, a painkiller, to allow for me to lay down and rest! SLEEP!!! I slept for a solid 45 minutes and was so excited to wake up to a pattern of contractions. My cervix was checked and we were at 4.5cm, only an hour after the last check. I felt true progression, though, and really believed we might meet our little girl that night. Little did I know, much more surrender was needed.
We agreed to have the water bag ruptured around 11pm. Labor intensified and we called Alli, our angel doula stand-in for Maria. She headed to us and really helped nourish and hydrate me. I was so depleted from the previous night and had eaten a little during the day but not nearly enough for labor. In our delirium as we headed to the hospital, we completely forgot to bring the two cases of coconut water, hard boiled eggs, almond butter, energy bars, etc. that we had ready to go for labor at home. Luckily, Alli had all of these things and more! With each bit of sustenance, I gained hours of energy and commitment to the labor. We did some deep releasing poses to get Elizabeth to turn and it seemed to be successful. Labor surges were more evenly dispersed and no longer attacking my back. We labored for a while throughout the room and also in the shower. Around 3:30am, a cervical check showed us at 5cm, which meant only 1/2 a cm in about 10 hours of labor. It was time for some more surrender. Pitocin was started which meant constant monitoring but I was still able to walk around with my tree of medical surrender (the monitor and wires) as well as use the shower where my contractions always intensified and built up to a nice pattern.
Another sunrise brought our next cervical check. I was excited for this one. We had been on pitocin for hours and labor was really feeling intense. I had pressure in my back again but we were thinking it was because we were getting close. However, we were still at 5cm.
What a blow!
Prelabor since Sunday night, active labor all Tuesday night, no sitting or lying for all of Wednesday, active pitocin labor in the hospital for hours, and where were we? 5cm?
I was crushed. I immediately started sobbing. Why couldn't my body do this? What was holding me back? I had grown so much emotionally while waiting; I had dedicated myself to this labor and even surrendered to a hospital birth with pitocin! What more could I do? (Although, what I should have learned by now was to ask: what more can I surrender?) Alli suggested I try to rest a little and breathe calmly through contractions but I was truly in back labor again. I got in the shower and knew I was on the verge of giving up. My mind was going into dark places of self-hate and panic. The facade of progress with the reality of a near stand-still was even more exhausting than the contractions and all-nighters. I was trying to stay focused on my little girl and the birth I wanted for her but then fear would take over. She was already two weeks late. Even though all of our tests had shown she was strong and doing just fine, I was scared. She was just a little tiny person and was going through the same labor as me.
I called Alli in and told her that I was pretty demoralized. I wanted to give it one more shot. We could do some intense poses and try to get Elizabeth to turn back. If we could do this, I knew I could conjure up the energy but if we were in for more back labor, I needed the medical help. She had me do more side lying releases and even deeper ones with a yoga ball under my upper leg, then in a deep child's pose on the bed with one leg in a squat on the raised headboard. Here she instructed me to breathe through 5 contractions. I counted 4 and knew it was time for, guess what, SURRENDER!
At 10am, we did one more cervical check with zero progress and ordered the epidural. To be honest, it was at this moment that the exhaustion and pain completely took over and forced me into the ultimate surrender. I was trying to think back to our home birth prep classes and the "cascade of intervention" because I honestly couldn't figure out what I had just agreed to. I knew I was giving up on my plans, yet again, but I was surrendering to everything now. Epidural? Ok. Does this mean I can't feel the vaginal birth? Ok. Can I even have a vaginal birth? I don't know! I give up! I'm done trying to control this!
Surrender achieved. Epidural administered. Peace, serenity, and quiet.
There was a complete mood change for us. Within 15 minutes, we were laughing and joking, completely confident that we had made the right decision. After Jordan and I both took significant naps, we had another cervical check. I joked with the doctor and told her, if we were still at 5cm, to lie and tell me 6cm. We were at 7cm and zero station. Things were happening for the first time in over 12 hours! We rested for another 2 hours and then I started feeling rectal pressure. I didn't dare tell anyone until it had happened several times. (I didn't even know if I'd be able to feel that sensation to push...so I ignored it.) Finally, I asked a nurse if it was possible to sense the urge to push with the epidural. She said yes and with another check, we were at 10cm! We labored down in the "Bradley" position to give her one more chance to turn over. After an hour, we started pushing.
I can't explain how wonderful it felt to finally be able to have some control. I knew how to push. I had practiced with my version of the Epi-no. I knew how to relax the outer muscles and push down. After so much labor of focus and movement that seemed so perfect and went nowhere, I was pushing and making serious progress. I was in my own zone and didn't pay attention to anything around me. Each contraction brought my daughter closer to this world and I wasn't going to let anything get in the way. With just a few contractions, I could reach down and feel her head! A few more and she was crowning! At 8:04pm her head was born and a minute later she was on my chest...she was here? The whole labor snapped into seconds. I was holding my little girl! This little tiny being was perfect and here. I knew her and she knew me. We stared into each other's eyes and fell in love; a love deeper than any I had ever dreamt of.
You know, I really thought I knew what my challenges were in this journey. I really thought that the birth I had planned was what I wanted and needed. But, to be truly honest, I know I needed this birth to be the best mother I can possibly be. I thought I needed to birth at home, without intervention, with little support during labor, and with focus, strength, determination, and dedication. I held onto those beliefs and designs as long as I possibly could and it was only in the releasing of them that I truly was able to begin my journey as a mother. I needed to let go and admit weaknesses. I needed to make focused decisions in the best interest for my daughter while being devastated over the loss of all that we had planned. I needed to keep the intention of grace, harmony, and sacred birth even in the depths of my most feared setting: a hospital. The intentional birth throughout the chaos is how I was able to grow into the woman I am now and the mother I intend to be.