I have two daughters, so have two stories, but they are so integrally related and my first story defines my second and my second defines my first so importantly that they have become one story.

Annabel Wren was born June 23, 2007 and Emaline Iris was born 4 years later on July 19, 2011. Both girls are strong and healthy and perfect, which many people will tell you is the only important thing. But this is not true. While it may be the most important thing, it is not the only important thing.

I went into labor on a Tuesday morning. I was 10 days past my due date and scheduled for a “stress test”. As we drove to the clinic for the test, I was having mild contractions. I have never felt more ready or prepared for anything in my life. I was not scared. I was confident in my strength and ability and I was confident that my husband had the strength to help guide me through delivery. The test showed that Annabel was doing well and holding up just fine through the mild contractions that I was continuing to have. I had not dilated past 1cm, which was where my cervix had been holding steady for about a week. My midwife sent me home with instructions to come to the hospital when the contractions were 1 min in length and 5 min apart (or something like that. To be honest I don’t quite remember what the times were). I labored at home for the rest of the day. Because my husband had limited time off work and we wanted to save that time for after the baby was born, he went to the office.

Around midnight the contractions intensified, got longer and closer together. We went to the hospital. I had not dilated. They told me to go home. I declined. “I’m having a baby,” I told them. They let me stay. By 5 am, I had still not dilated but was still having regular contractions. I begrudgingly went home. We labored at home for most of that day. The contractions were hard and intense at times and I had a hard time believing that I was not closer to having a baby than my cervix was reporting.

Midway through that second day at home, I began to have excruciating spasms on my left side. Daniel I watched with surprise and horror in equal measure as my side visibly shook, vibrated and spasmed. I could hardly breathe through the spasms and some of them would last for minutes. It felt wrong. We called the hospital but couldn’t aptly describe what was happening. Or perhaps we did aptly describe the situation and because they were unfamiliar with this scenario, they refused to understand or give credence to what we were saying. They directed me to come back. We did.

When I checked back into the hospital, nearly 48 hours after my first contraction, I had still not dilated more than 1cm. I had barely slept. I was tired, hungry, surprised, confused and beginning to feel disappointed. The hospital staff suggested that when the time finally came to deliver my baby, I would be too tired if I did not get some sleep. They offered morphine to dull the pain of contractions and Ambien to sleep. After much discussion and worry, I took the drugs. This was the beginning of one intervention after another.

I slept. I woke up when the morphine wore off. The midwife checked my cervix. 1 cm. I had still not dilated. What?! They put me on Pitocin. They stuck wires into me that attached to my daughter’s head. They wrapped something around me that beeped. I walked the halls dragging with me all the wires and drips that would make my labor “safe,” that would make my labor “progress”. My contractions never ceased but never succeeded in helping my cervix to dilate. I continued to tell people about the excruciating pain in my side and the strange thing that looked like a tear in my belly but wasn’t. No one listened. Or maybe they just didn’t know what to do, so they ignored me.

I got into a hot tub that was 107 degrees. I will always remember that it was Doris who was embarrassed to look at me as she helped take my bra off around the cords and wires, Doris that set the water temperature to 107 degrees. To be honest, I hate Doris. I think I nearly cooked my baby. I got a migraine headache. I threw up. I curled into my bed hugging the giant belly holding the baby that would not come out. I couldn’t open my eyes, I could hardly move for the pain in my left side and I couldn’t speak above a whisper.

It was now Friday. So many days and nights had passed that we had all lost track of time. Or maybe just I had lost track of time. My dear, sweet family sleeping on couches in the waiting room had probably not lost track of the time. They were counting the minutes probably.

I was still contracting every 2 minutes. Watching each one on the monitor. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Wave after wave after wave. Nearly 60 hours of contractions every 2 – 5 minutes. But the pain in my side. Did I mention the pain in my side?! They offered me a heating pad, but I was so beyond needing a heating pad. Still on Pitocin. 48 hours of Pitocin.

I whispered to Daniel, “Make a decision that makes this stop.” He did. Mary, the anesthesiologist who likes cats (or maybe it was horses) came in and gave me an epidural. The pain stopped. Still on Pitocin, still no dilation, but less pain. Around midnight (or so) on Friday night/Saturday morning someone disconnected the Pitocin. Someone else broke my water. It smelled terrible. I knew something was wrong. When the door to my room opened I could see the neonatal trauma team waiting. But my daughter’s heart continued to beat strong and steady. The team waited. I turned onto my side and her heart rated plummeted. I turned back over. Her heart started beating normally again. The team waited. This happened a couple of times and was scary each time. In the span of an hour, I dilated from 1 cm to 10. Hurrah! I’m having a baby. I pushed. And pushed and pushed and pushed. For 2 and a half hours I hauled my partially incapacitated body up onto the birthing bar and pushed. Bearing down with everything I had. I made initial progress and her little body descended. And then I proceeded to jam her ever so slightly twisted head and neck into the side of my pelvis. No further downward progress.

The doctor said that I was fine, my baby was fine and I could continue to push, “But,” she said, “you have made no more progress in the 2 and half hours that you have been pushing.” It had been nearly 98 hours since my first contraction, 60 of those hours had been mostly intense labor with strong and regular contractions. I had a hernia on my left side.

Annabel Wren was removed via C-section at 5:03am on Saturday. 14 days past her due date.

I spent the next years questioning every decision that we had made or not made. Every intervention that we had allowed. Wondering if we had missed some important piece of the puzzle that would have allowed Annabel to pass through my vagina as my body had intended.  Wondering if we had really needed all of the interventions we had agreed to have. Refusing to believe that I was really part of the very small population of women that actually need a c-section. How could that be possible? I am strong, capable, educated. I was born on The Farm for crying out loud. I know about birth. My mother was a practicing midwife. What had I done wrong? I cried at the mere mention of vaginal birth. I cried watching Knocked Up because that stupid woman in that stupid movie could have a “normal” birth. I cried.

We decided to have another baby. I stopped crying and began my campaign to constructively process and learn about what had happened during Annabel’s birth. By the time I was due to deliver my second daughter I felt ready. I felt confident that I would not miss anything this time. That I could have a vaginal birth. I had exhaustively researched hernias during labor and delivery and was armed with a plan should that happen again. I had a plan for if I was overdue. I had a plan for if I didn’t dilate. I was prepared. I would deliver this baby to the world via my vagina.

At 11 days past my due date, I checked myself into the hospital. It was Sunday night. I was not in labor, but I didn’t want to wait past the 14 day mark and feel pressured to have a c-section. This was all part of my plan. My midwife inserted a ball catheter into my uterus and filled it with saline solution. One ball in my uterus one in my vagina, both pushing on the cervix. The idea was that it would manually dilate my cervix and induce labor. Because I had had a c-section already, a Pitocin induction is not an option because of the dangers of uterine rupture. I had researched the catheter procedure and it sounded like it could take a 1-2 hours to dilate the cervix or up to 8 or 10. I had read no accounts of the catheter not working. It did not work for me. We left it in for 24 hours, but I did not dilate. I did, however, begin to have fairly regular contractions. The midwife drained and removed the catheter. It was painful. I slept on and off and continued to contract. I was thrilled. I’m in labor! I celebrated each contraction. They felt so useful. It was now Tuesday morning. We called my mom and our doula, who both came to the hospital. By mid-morning I had still not dilated. They broke my water, which was filled with meconium (as was the case with Annabel). Contractions picked up but I still didn’t dilate. They put me on a low dose of Pitocin. I dilated to 5 cm and spent time in the tub. I was elated that labor appeared to be progressing. Each contraction felt like a small victory. Around 7pm (maybe), I felt a change in the contractions and I felt strongly that it was time to push. I got out of the tub and had 1 strong push. My midwife checked my cervix. I had gone from 5cm dilated to 2. What?! Who goes backwards? I had been laboring with strong, regular and intense contractions all day. Hours. Hours of work. About 10 of them actually. And about 12 before that. Those previous 12 hours had been much more mild. But I felt that they counted. We gathered around the bed. My birthing team and me. Me in the bed, Daniel, my mom, my doula and my midwife around me and we talked about the options. We talked in between contractions and quick shallow breaths. We talked it all out.

Emaline Iris was removed via c-section at 8:42pm on Tuesday. 14 days past her due date.

Both of my girls are healthy, strong and perfect. And that is important. I will concede that it is the most important thing. But it is important too, to feel empowered, to feel strong, to feel listened to, to feel validated, to feel competent and capable. It is important to have confidence in our decisions. Emaline’s birth gave those things back to me. Her birth was exactly like Annabel’s birth, only this time I was armed with the knowledge of what had happened before. I was armed with the weapons of preparation. I was able to say, I’ve been down this road and I don’t have to travel it again. It turns out that I didn’t do anything wrong the first time. It would probably have gone that way no matter what I did or didn’t do. I have confidence that I brought my babies into this world the only way that they were going to arrive. And now I will mother them.

Molly Porter