By Heather Spergel
How do you heal from a traumatic birth experience? How do you put it behind you and find the inner strength to not only move on but to decide to do it all again? Could I and should I risk another traumatic birth? I asked myself these questions so many times. After watching the mothers at the mall with their new babies and toddlers running around, mommyhood the second time around seemed like the most wonderful and amazing next step to take in my life. I pushed the memories of my son’s difficult posterior birth to the back of my mind and decided it was time.
I became pregnant in November 2008 and happily began our second pregnancy. My husband Drew used chiropractic and craniosacral therapy with me to help balance my body and keep any pains to a minimum. I also saw massage therapist and craniosacral therapist Maureen Murray to assist with healing my tailbone injury from Nathan’s birth. Carrying a big belly on my small, barely five-foot-tall frame was not easy. I had forgotten how hard it was to function with a pregnant belly! As the months went on, I became increasingly excited and anxious about the eventual birth of our second child, a daughter we would name Gabriella Faye. We prepared her room, prepared our son for the addition of another child in our lives, and happily bought up all the pink and lavender booties and onesies we wanted.
Months before the birth of Gabriella, I experienced Braxton Hicks contractions. They seemed to be telling me that the big day was nearing faster than we thought. I did not try a birth class this time, nor did I re-read about the last birthing method I attempted. I lost faith in the methods I originally tried, because my first birth was so full of back labor and excruciating pain that I forgot all those techniques. I put all my faith into the body work and hoped this birth would be different. I was sure that with the baby in the correct position, I could manage any pain or discomfort. After all, if I went through what I did with my son again, I knew I could fight my way through anything, and hoped to also be in peace somehow.
I searched for the perfect doula and midwife, and hired Renee Hennings as my doula to assist me in achieving the calm birth I longed for. I felt surprised that adding a doula to my birth team created such peace in the weeks leading up to my delivery. She held my hand through all my worries, laughed at my nesting behavior, and attended my midwife appointment with me when I was nervous. Renee proved available night and day for text messaging, and she came to my house to sit and talk. I felt confident in my choice of a doula. I also chose midwives that other mothers recommended, who had a comforting office and delivered at Morristown Memorial Hospital using birthing tubs.
On August 17, 2009, I waddled into my midwife’s office in West Caldwell, New Jersey, USA, and she looked at me with the utmost sympathy. She knew I needed to deliver soon. More than 40 pounds of extra weight on my body, plus the heat of the summer and caring for a three-year-old son, were driving me over the edge. I asked her to check my cervix and felt disappointed to only be a few centimeters dilated. I went home with a heavy heart, feeling like I might never deliver. That thought was followed by contractions steadily at ten minutes apart. To celebrate, I invited my younger sister over to eat cupcakes with me. The contractions stopped and didn’t return steadily until the next day. Who knew that cupcakes could stop labor! I giggled at the thought of mothers in labor across the world eating cupcakes to slow down their deliveries. The positive side of the contractions stopping was that I had the benefit of a full night of sleep before the contractions resumed again.
I started out August 18 by going to the store for my nephew’s birthday balloons. I almost made it to the door when a huge contraction rocked me and had me clutching the post. A woman almost fell over herself to offer assistance to me. I said I was fine and continued into the store. After finishing my purchases, I went to work at the family business in town. My sisters and mother kept careful track of my contractions and started to become concerned that I was still working. When contractions became eight minutes apart, I began to take them seriously. I started to carefully drive home, suddenly feeling the surge of a contraction as I turned a corner. I let my foot off the gas and coasted as I breathed through the contraction. This was becoming serious and I needed to get out of the car soon. Thank goodness I left when I did! I arrived home and noticed the contractions quickly becoming five minutes apart.
After I arrived home, my husband said he needed to go get lunch, gas for his truck, and money. I nearly lost my mind. NOW?! Only another laboring mother could understand the feelings and thoughts running through my head at the thought of him leaving. I said I needed to take a bath. I labored in the tub for a bit, and to my dismay, Drew left to finish his errands. I called him shortly after and begged him to return home because I felt emotional and unable to care for Nathan. In the meantime, I called my mother to come over and watch Nathan, my doula to be on alert, and my midwife who requested that I come in to the hospital to get checked. I was leaning over, breathing with each contraction, vocalizing, and felt the world slowly slip out of focus.
One of the most intense car rides followed, as my body tensed with each contraction. We had to turn back to get a bag Drew forgot at home. Then I yelled at him to stop driving my stick-shift car so jerkily. He made the appropriate phone calls as we headed on our journey. My poor mother-in-law was treated to the sound of me hollering as I struggled to find a place of peace on the bumpy ride. I was so angry at my husband as I tried to focus on my relaxing music and hynobirthing meditation. As we drove, the contractions moved from to three minutes apart, and I felt myself dreading the next contraction. Was I going to deliver in the car? Panic started to spread through me at the thought of delivering on the side of the road. Minutes later, we met our doula in the parking lot of the hospital.
I almost made it out of my seat when another contraction came. My doula held my hand, encouraging me to breathe slowly as my body worked. After that contraction, we properly greeted each other and headed inside. I made it as far as the toilet before I had another contraction and then onto the examining table as I had another. I do not recommend enduring contractions while lying down. Intense does not quite describe the feeling of being on my back contracting with no bed rails or support. I felt like I was being pushed backwards and falling down a steep, black, painful hole. I was four centimeters dilated and fully effaced at this point. The midwife recommended I walk around, but this seemed impossible with the intense contractions.
I moaned and the world faded around me. When I opened my eyes, a nurse appeared to assist me into a wheelchair and into our birthing room. I felt so relieved that the birthing tub room was available! Weeks of worry and anxiety about getting my ideal room melted. I stayed in the wheelchair, unable to move as the next contraction came. After dressing in my gown and settling in for monitoring, I watched my doula enter the room with her bathing suit and saw my husband bring in our bags. I closed my eyes to cope through the next contraction, franticly reaching for a hand to support me. The nurse reached out to hold one, and Renee found the other. Thank goodness for their hands, and my husband’s hand through the next few hours!
I did not labor in the positions or manner I thought I would. Who does? Labor hits and reality fades. What comes to the forefront is coping. How well can you cope with an intense contraction? How well can you play the mind game of relaxation, knowing this will end with an amazing result? Forgotten were my essential oils, birthing ball, and music player. I was not allowed in the tub without the midwife’s permission, and she was not there at the time, so I opted for the toilet and shower. The best description of laboring upright on the toilet and in the shower is the word “intense”: intensity as the baby settles down lower and my body opens. I gripped the wall bar and found a breathing method to help breathe out and down through the contractions. In the shower, I lasted only a short bit, as the pounding of the water became too intense coupled with my own inner intensity. As our midwife was still not there, I returned to the bed on all fours and on my side.
Just as I asked, nobody offered me pain medication. I did not want any or need any. I did not want any medical interventions or augmentation (heck, I didn’t need ANY!) and, frankly, wished I was birthing at home. I wanted to be left to labor as unimpeded at possible. Somehow, I settled into a place where I could breathe down and out calmly and quietly through each contraction. I gripped the hands of my husband and doula while focusing inward.
At one point, I recall looking up at the clocking thinking, “How am I going to endure this much longer?” I was afraid to admit this fear to anyone. I did admit that I was scared out of my pants (literally, since those were gone hours ago). What was I afraid of? The next contraction was my response. I settled back down to breathing. As each came, I breathed down and out and imagined my body opening like a rose bud. This was a technique I previously lost faith in from hypnobirthing, but it was working this time around. All of a sudden I felt my whole body grunt and push uncontrollably as my labor progressed to the next stage.
I remember looking around the room and hearing someone say, “She’s pushing!” My husband’s shocked responses followed. “She is pushing? Already?” Where was the midwife? Who was this doctor talking to me? She told me she could deliver my baby but not in the tub. She did not do water births. My husband’s eyes met mine across the bed. We wanted more than anything to have the birth we envisioned. Another contraction came and I pushed without wanting to, unable to stop it, just as I saw our midwife enter the room. (Of course, there is the poo on the table during this situation but who needs the gory details about that? We all know it happens.) Drew asked if we could go into the tub, and our midwife agreed after a quick assessment of my status and a stern talk that I needed to let her assist me. I kept batting her away as she tried to check me and she made it clear that if I were to go into the tub, I had to listen to her. I looked up into the kind eyes of my doula. She read my mind and asked if I wanted to move after the next contraction. Yes! Between contractions, I hobbled to the tub with assistance, and I still have no idea how I got myself over the lip and into the water.
With Drew behind me for support, I laid back in the tub. I looked around me and saw the familiar faces of my labor nurse, my midwife, and my doula. I remember looking at the nurse and she said to me, “Just push out your baby, honey.” Just push her out? Was I that close? I felt down with my hand and sure enough, she was coming. Thoughts raced through my head. If I push, this could be over! Was it really about to be done? How did I get this far so quickly when it took me 24 hours to push out my son? I tucked my chin and gave a push and her head just slipped right out! I said, “Her head is out!” My husband said, “Her head is out?” in astonishment. With another gentle nudge, out she floated into the water and into the warm, welcoming hands of my midwife. Then she came into my arms as a rush of feelings and relief came over me. I felt like I had an amazing gift. My baby, Gabriella Faye, lie in my arms in the water, softly floating in our post-birth bliss.
We stayed in the water for about 45 minutes before clamping her cord or considering exiting the tub. She latched on to my breast and nursed calmly. I remember looking around the room at my husband, doula, midwife, and nurse and thanking them repeatedly for just an amazing and healing experience. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” I kept repeating. The bliss I felt in that moment was untouchable to anything I had previously felt. This was the most amazing experience of my life! I felt that we were done with our initial bonding and asked that the nurse take Gabriella so I could exit the tub and deliver her placenta. With that final phase completed, I rested comfortably, baby in arms, and spoke to my son on the phone. I felt like I had just left him moments ago, or what it hours? The fog of time still hung thickly over my head.
There was no doubt in my mind that all the attentive body work from my husband throughout my pregnancy helped my body to create the best space for Gabriella to grow. His gentle hands helped my body to keep her in the proper position for birth. My massage and craniosacral therapist also worked for hours on my prior birth injury and helped free my body to deliver again. I processed my feelings with my doula months before the birth and through text messaging as the delivery date arrived. I believed in the power of my body to deliver without interventions or medications. This was what I was meant to do, and with this belief and reaching out to others during my pregnancy, I made it happen! Many aspects of my being came together to create the most wonderful experience of my life. I feel incredibly grateful for my experience, and honored to now have Gabriella in our family.
Am I healed from the first birth? You bet I am! Could I do it again? I know I could! I may not, but if I do, I know my birth team will remain the same! My heart felt warm when I read in a recent magazine article that you birth your own child the way you were birthed. I hope that I created such an amazing experience with Gabriella that she too will be blessed with the best birth and most powerful rite of passage.