Erica and Maggie’s Birth Story
Background and Early Decisions
I had been discussing my birth plan with my doctor and my doula, I wanted a natural, drug-free birth using my body and yoga to be mobile and having my faculties intact. Given my age and previous Cesarean (my first was breech), my doctor preferred that I deliver by my due date for safety’s sake. I was able to “talk her down” and negotiated that I could go to 41 weeks with extra monitoring as long as everything looked good, but I already felt myself getting tense about interventions and I wanted to avoid any debate or escalations by either side! I always walked the line with my providers of respecting their opinions and working as a team, but pushing them to the limit of their comfort zone.
At 39 weeks I scheduled in to see my acupuncturist (Amy @ Mama Lounge, love her!) She asked me if I wanted to “get the party started”. I decided to go for it, knowing that if my body and my baby were ready, the acupuncture and herbs would help push it along…and if my body wasn’t ready, then no harm, no foul.
After the treatment I felt some changes, more crampy but no contractions yet. Amy gave me herbs to help but I decided I wasn’t mentally ready to take them yet. We still had work to do to get ready for baby (baby clothes to wash, car seat installed, birth plan written, etc). We spent the weekend prepping as a family and by Sunday afternoon felt way more ready in every sense of the word.
I took some herbs and did some squats, tried to focus on “letting go”. I started having some mild disorganized contractions and went to bed.
When we awoke Monday morning, we weren’t sure whether my husband should go to work in Menlo Park…it felt too far given the contractions could swing either way. I realized I was worried about my older son JT and especially on a weekday who would take care of him (I had lots of friends on standby but it felt complicated given most of them work on weekdays). I called my mom, said I was in mild labor, not sure if it would continue or stop altogether, but was she willing to get on a plane? My mom the rockstar got on a plane 3 hours later to make the trek from NJ, due to arrive around 5pm.
My hubby, JT and I went out to breakfast and to the playground, enjoying what would be our last day as a family of three. It was hot that day! Every time I chased JT around the playground, it brought on a contraction…they were about 20 minutes apart. I was hoping to hang on until my mom arrived so we went home to rest and wait. We watched a movie (The Boss Baby felt appropriate!) and mentally prepped JT that his Gigi was coming and so was our baby! Contractions were about 10 minutes apart now…and my husband worked to wrap up any loose ends in preparation for paternity leave. My husband was timing the contractions, and our code word for each contraction was “Boss Baby” (ha!)
After the movie, JT got super hyper and found my yoga mats in the hall closet. He unrolled two of them and said we should do yoga…it was the first time he ever initiated yoga like that. It felt like a reminder from the universe to use my tools at hand 🙂 I got on my mat and realized that every time I did wave squats or flowy cat it brought on a contraction. JT got even more hyper so we decided to go for a Panhandle walk. I remember not wanting my son to see the discomfort on my face…I put my headphones in and put on Rachel Yellin’s birth affirmations as we walked and made our way to the Panhandle playground. After we were there awhile, my mom texted me that she touched down and was en route in a taxi, so we hurried home! On the way home, I ran into a friend with her toddler and 10 day old…I told her I was in early labor. We hugged; it felt like a preview of my future when I saw her there with her two kids!
My mom arrived (hooray for moms). I was so thankful she was there, but I found myself incapable of conversation. I showed her where the dinner leftovers were and I went into the bedroom to take a nap and focus. My hubby Todd got me some pho so I could drink the broth and eat something small to keep my energy up. I did some light yoga in the room before saying goodnight to JT.
After JT went to bed, I found myself getting annoyed that my contractions were intense but still 10 minutes apart! I felt stalled…
Early Labor Progresses
Around 9pm, my husband and I decided to go for a walk. I brought more broth to drink; it was a beautiful warm night. We walked along Divisadero Street, and with it being so gorgeous, there were a lot of people out having fun even on a Monday! I remember thinking that each person has their own story unfolding right now, all unique, and oh if they only knew mine! I also felt shocked at the nightlife in my neighborhood…with a toddler I don’t go out much after dark. 😉
We walked for about an hour, which was helping to bring the contractions closer to about 4-7 minutes apart. We went home to conserve energy as it felt like things were moving along, but once I sat down they slowed to 10 minutes apart again. It was frustrating! I texted my doula Felicia Roche that the intensity was high but frequency had slowed down, so I was going to take a nap. We agreed I would contact her again in a few hours with an update.
I crawled into bed and put on yoga music. Todd was in the living room watching Pawn Stars or something equally mindless (my mom was asleep). I tried to sleep but the contractions were so intense that I couldn’t. I got a little scared and didn’t want to be alone, so I went out to the living room to hang out. I remember sitting on the couch on my sitting bones with legs apart, leaning forward and resting my arms and head on a stack of pillows on my coffee table. The contractions were intense but still about eight minutes apart. I told Todd that I was worried about the level of pain and my ability to make it through given the slow progress.
I asked him to get out the TENS unit I had bought so we could try it out (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, is a treatment that uses low voltage electric current to relieve pain). I bought it for $25 off Amazon, and he was in charge of getting it to work. He put it on me and I controlled it from there. It helped but I still felt like I needed to be moving; sitting still did not feel good. I told him I was going to walk downstairs to the garage, as it was too late to walk outside by myself.
I scrolled through my Labor playlist and put on “Latika’s Theme” from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack… the song is about 3 minutes long. I got into a rhythm…I had a little routine of walking down the one flight of stairs to my garage and doing 10 wave squats. This usually brought on a contraction…during the contraction I would put my hands on top of our car and lean forward (kind of like right angle pose). Towards the end of the contraction I would do tiny figure eights with my hips. After the contraction subsided and I recovered with a few deep breaths, I would walk back down the hall, up the stairs, then turn around and repeat the whole process. I did this for an hour or so, getting into a trance with that one “Latika’s Theme” song on repeat. The garage was dim and dark, it was getting late. At one point I remember transporting myself to my favorite places…Nosara, Costa Rica where I studied yoga, and Sedona, Arizona to this beautiful secluded hike I went on with my mom. The mental voyages helped relax me. I timed my own contractions.
Heading to the Hospital
Around 1am my contractions became consistently 3-6 minutes apart. I went back into our apartment to tell my husband that things were progressing and I was contacting our doula Felicia Roche. She asked me some questions and then told me to call the hospital. When I talked to the hospital, they told me it was time to come in and get checked. Right after I got off the phone, I had two strong contractions only 2 minutes apart…I relayed all this to my doula and we agreed to meet at the hospital. It was 1:25am. Todd and I grabbed our bags and I said goodbye to my mom (who insisted I wake her up when we left!)
It all felt surreal. I told my husband to drive slower than the slowest grandma, we only had 2 miles to our destination. I made him pull over each time I had a contraction. I kept my Tens unit on and my headphones in, listening to that same Latika’s Theme song.
We parked in the upper levels of the parking garage at CPMC only to realize that there was no elevator so we had to walk down 4 flights of stairs. It had gotten cold, I felt shivery from the change in weather and the contractions. We crossed the street to the hospital and stopped on the sidewalk for another contraction. The wind was whipping now, and it was very dark and quiet outside. I remember thinking I was cold but it felt like too much to put on the hoodie (that was in my hands). I also remember thinking that the next time I stepped out onto this very same sidewalk, we’d have a new baby. Now it all felt very real.
The hospital was quiet, and I remember a random doctor seeing us in the lobby and pointing us in the right direction. We had to fill out some form and give our insurance card at check in, it felt like all too much! I felt like saying “um, can’t you see I’m in labor here?”
We got into the little room for the stress test. I told them it felt too intense to lay down, so I sat up for the whole thing (minus the cervix check which was quick). All looked good and I was 5cm dilated. Felicia my doula arrived, and the hospital admitted me. We were assigned a nurse and a room (I heard my doula request some specifics here…hooray for doulas looking out for us!) I found out that Dr Buchsbaum was on L&D until 7:30am…I had had one appointment with her during my pregnancy, and I remember really liking her, so even though my OB (Dr Cabrera) wasn’t there, I felt relieved that I would be in good hands. I opted to walk up to the room instead of be in a wheelchair. We walked slowly, stopping for 2 contractions on the way up to the room. Felicia told me that I set the pace and to stop as often as I needed to.
We got to our room about 2:45am, Felicia said she had good luck in this particular room in the past. We met our nurse who seemed super nice…she said she liked the lights low and asked if that was okay with me. I liked her vibe, and Felicia and the nurse knew each other well. I opted to stay in my own tank top, and Felicia set up some mood lighting and put on my music (the full Labor playlist this time). The nurse got me a wireless fetal monitor so I could be mobile. We started with me standing and leaning forward with my arms on my hubby Todd. Felicia stood behind me and gave counter-pressure to my hips and reminded me to stay relaxed (I think she said ‘relax your shoulders, relax your bottom’ at least 1,000 times, and I needed the reminder nearly every time). I did little figure eights towards the end of each contraction, similar to the setup in the garage.
I drank some coconut water and then threw it all up…thankfully into a bag. The sequence of things gets to be a little bit of a blur from here…but at one point Felicia took me into the bathroom. I sat on the toilet for a few contractions to let go and get quiet. When I got out, I got on the bed but assumed the all fours position, hanging my arms over a yoga ball. The contractions were intense and frequent, I was still using my Tens unit. Felicia sensed that I was starting to push a little at the end of each contraction, so she asked the nurse for a cervix check. I laid down for it, which was crazy uncomfortable…I had to immediately get right back up. I was only 8cm dilated, which means I had to stop pushing so I wouldn’t damage my cervix before it could fully open.
Trying not to push when you want to push is extremely difficult. I had to have laser focus…I was on all fours and stuck my butt up in the air during the contractions to take the weight off my cervix and reduce the urge to push. Felicia had me making“hoooo hoooo” sounds (like a slow owl) during contractions to help. At one point I think I actually felt my cervix open the rest of the way, and I told Felicia and the nurse. They called for Dr Buchsbaum and asked for another cervix check….but she was busy with another mama so we had to wait. I have no idea how long we waited…but it felt like 5 years as I couldn’t push and the contractions were close and intense.
Pushing and Birth
Dr Buchsbaum came in and checked me, she said I was ready to push (phew). It was about 4:50am. I went back to all fours on the bed, but took a one legged squat position now and focused on pushing. Unfortunately my contractions slowed way down to about 5-10min apart again, and the most effective pushing happens during a contraction. We made some progress but it felt slow. I went back to sit on the toilet again to push a few times. I remember feeling depleted there and thinking it might be wise to consume something…I had a little bit of honey.
When I came out, they set up a squat bar on the bed. I continued to make slow progress, squatting and pushing during contractions and sitting on the bed in between. My husband and everyone cheered me on and we started getting closer.
The doctor asked me to put my bottom on the bed now for the last pushes. I was concerned about this as I did not want to tuck my tailbone (which makes your pelvic outlet smaller), and it felt like I was pushing uphill. We had an honest conversation about it…and the doctor explained that in a full squat she couldn’t protect my pelvis as much, but if I put my bottom on the bed and legs open, she could apply counter-pressure and keep my perineum more protected. She actually wanted to slow it down a little for this last stage on purpose. I saw her logic and agreed, however I asked to remain mostly upright and I made sure my tailbone was back behind me so I was not tucked at all.
I heard the doctor tell the baby nurse to get ready, that the baby would be here in about 3-5 minutes. They had me reach down and touch the baby’s head which was so surreal. Then the exact song came on my playlist as when my son JT was born, and I remember laughing (on the inside) to myself. Then the 5 minutes passed and nothing happened. The baby was crowning and it was an intensity I’ve never felt before. I was yelling super loud but wasn’t using that energy to push hard, as I got scared. I remember feeling like I was going to rip apart, and I couldn’t do it. The doctor’s counter-pressure on my perineum felt so intense I asked her to back off. That phase felt like it lasted an eternity, especially with my spaced out contractions (the most effective pushes came for me during the contractions). I remember thinking: “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I was stuck at height of the intensity…and I wanted out. I have no idea how long this part lasted.
Then I had this out of body realization that the only way past this stage was through it, that I couldn’t go backwards or around it. For those of you with toddlers already, it reminded me of that book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, oh no…we have to go through it.)
Then my mind went to the other 300,000 women on the planet giving birth on that very same day. How they might be scared too, and that we were all in it together. That solidarity and collective energy felt good. My doctor broke my water manually at some point around now (our baby was blocking the way for it to break naturally). She asked me to really put oomph and push hard during my next contraction. I had two last big pushes, felt something weird getting caught, and then our baby’s head finally came out. It was such a relief…but then the doctor told me to immediately push again to get our baby’s shoulders out. And phew…out came a squishy baby, at 7:14am on Tuesday April 10th! The morning light was beautiful, I’ll never forget the view outside the window after the dark long night.
My husband had the honor of announcing the gender…and he said “It’s a boy!” (the lady bits can sometimes be very swollen when they come out so it’s confusing). For a few breaths, we both thought we had another beautiful boy. Then the doctor said “Actually that’s a girl!” And then we were double surprised and so excited. I couldn’t believe that we actually had a sweet little baby girl. They put her right on my chest and it was so amazing.
After some sweet minutes and hugs for everyone, the doctor debriefed me. She said the pushing phase probably only would’ve lasted about 40 minutes but instead lasted 2.5 hours…because of my slow contractions and that the baby’s arm was up beside her head (that was the weird thing I felt when she came out). The umbilical cord was also wrapped around Maggie’s neck and whole body! Whew what a journey we both had for the birth, and I am so thankful we both remained healthy during it. My doctor said despite all that, I amazingly did not have any tearing, my perineum was completely intact (albeit insanely sore). I gave hugs to everyone again (hello oxytocin!) I felt like I had the dream team, from my husband to my doula Felicia to the nurse to our doctor.
And for those of you who are reading this thinking “blah blah blah she’s a prenatal yoga teacher with a great birth etc”…don’t worry, I’ve also had the exact opposite and I feel ya. With my son, he was breech and I had a cesarean, and the meds made me very sick so I vomited for 8 hours afterwards, which depleted me immensely and caused a delay in my milk coming in, etc. That was a very different birth experience..yet still completely valid, it’s all part of a journey called life.
I used all parts of my yoga…to help my body, mind and spirit on both of my birth journeys.
And that’s the end of this particular birth story. Or as that song says “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. So that was an end to my pregnancy, but just the beginning of learning to mother two beautiful (IMHO) children. 🙂