I didn’t believe them. I wanted to feel it.
As we made it to the center of my suburban street on a gorgeous warm summer day, more of my waters leaked down my leg, sliding past my green summer dress as I held onto my partner through a contraction and my best friend used a towel to wipe up my legs. We stood in silence for a minute while a neighbor cleaning up dog shit in his yard watched us with a quiet smile.
It was 4:30pm on a Tuesday when I decided to leave the comfort of my own home where I’d been contracting with short duration contractions every three minutes since 3:00 in the afternoon that Monday. That means, no sleep, and a lot of exhaustion.
My membranes were swept that Monday (40 weeks and 1 day) at 10:00am and by 1:00 pm my contractions were strong but intermittent. I was 5 centimeters dilated at the time. By Tuesday morning, I was 6 centimeters dilated. I was sure as I stood in the street, it wouldn’t be long until she showed her face earth side.
I have two children but I’d never been in labor before. They told me I couldn’t. Or, at the very least I shouldn’t. I didn’t believe them then either, but I also didn’t trust my body the way I’ve grown to trust it.
I was 18 the first time I got pregnant.
I have a lifelong history of pain induced grand mal seizures. What that looks like is certain kinds of pain send a message from my brain to my heart for it to stop, so my heart abides, slows down and I seize like in the movies. I fall down, can’t breathe, struggle to not swallow my tongue, piss myself, and by the grace of God, have always come back to consciousness.
The last time I seized, I was seventeen. I swore to myself as I lay lifeless hearing my mother slap me on the back screaming “please don’t die” while I couldn’t respond, couldn’t move, but was screaming on the inside, “I’m ok, I’m here,” but in reality, I wasn’t, that it would be the last time. For those few moments I was in no way in control of my body. When I finally “came-to” I declared I was never doing it again. Ever.
My past is one trampled in mixed messages about the body, my body, bodies in general and in a lot of ways, my body never felt like my own. It felt like it was a spectacle, a target, anything but a sacred temple to be nurtured. I was constantly trying to protect it from others while simultaneously rejecting it from myself. I didn’t share it with others sexually, or even hug people, but I sure did use a lot of drugs to get out of my body. If anyone was going to hurt me in adolescence, i had decided it was going to be me.
So, the doctors took my seizures into serious consideration because I had never experienced the pain of child birth and they understandably didn’t believe that I wouldn’t seize just because I declared I wouldn’t a year after my last seizure.
I was diagnosed with vulvar cancer at five months pregnant during my first pregnancy. At six months pregnant I had a surgery on the outside of my vagina and parts of my birth canal to burn the cancer cells. At that point, my body was so tired and I felt so betrayed by it, it was so much easier to have a man I didn’t know, slice me open and rip me apart than for me to take any responsibility for the power I possess through it all. I was used to laying down and taking it, even though in my mind, I was fighting, resisting and rebelling.
My son was born via c-section.
My daughter was born less than two years later and although there was talk of a vaginal birth after cesarean with her, my doctors certainly didn’t recommend it especially because placental rupture is more likely the closer a birth is to a previous cesarean, and again, I really didn’t trust myself though I desperately wanted to. I guess you could say, I was mad at myself and mad at my body. As I felt it rejected me, I rejected it. As I felt it demanded I surrender to its weakness, the more I fought it.
My children’s lives taught me to get right with my body. To be one with it the way I believe we are all one with the Universe, with each other, and I am no exception to that rule. If I wasn’t going to get right with it for my sake, I’d get right with it for theirs. My body wasn’t rejecting me all of those years, it was communicating with me, and I was listening in resistance rather than compassion.
This pregnancy came eight and a half years after my last. I had gone to the first OBGYN that my insurance suggested and immediately knew it was a mistake. I said I wanted a VBAC, and they reluctantly complied but it was a large practice with multiple people that could deliver my baby and some of them, I may never get the chance to meet until her birthday. Intuitively though, I knew that though they were saying they would “try” to honor my wishes, they wouldn’t when it was down to the wire. They’d use scare tactic after scare tactic that again would make me question my body’s ability. So this time, I shopped around using a holistic network and landed myself in Dr. Holli Warholic’s office.
The first day I met her I said, “If you don’t give me what I want, I will “accidentally” have this baby at home.” Clearly, I didn’t want to do that because I did want to be responsible about the risk factors I was posing, but I would’ve attempted it if I didn’t feel supported by a system that honors me. I assured her I could pull this off. I told her there is no way I’d ever get an epidural because I hate needles and there was never, ever going to be an induction using pitocin. I know all about how those stories go down and I didn’t want one of them to be my story.
She promised to give me what I want within reason.
The 32 week ultrasound showed that my baby was in a breech position which didn’t change by 37 weeks. There was two ways out of this: a repeat cesarean or a procedure called a version which wasn’t guaranteed to work. A version attempts to manually flip a breech baby from the outside of the womb. The whole world told me to go with the former and just get a cesarean. Especially because one, versions are considered pretty painful, and two, even if it worked, she may flip back into a breech position anyway.
I went with the version. Some people use an epidural to assist them in the pain during the process, which wasn’t an option for me.
I immediately felt a difference in the way my body handled my baby. For the first time during my whole pregnancy I felt us working together. For months of sickness I questioned whether this baby and I would be compatible at all in the outside world. The second she was face down, I felt us flow differently.
We were one step closer, together, to getting the birth experience I desired for the both of us. Unmedicated, alert, and natural.
After rejecting the hospitals attempts to place me in a wheelchair up to the maternity ward as I continued to stop through contractions in the hallways, I was told I had gone from 6 centimeters to 8 centimeters in a few short hours. It was 5:45 pm. Surely, it shouldn’t be long now.
Dr. Warholic said that my upper waters had broken, but there was still a pouch of water between the baby’s head and my cervix that she wanted to break. I stared at her with a clenched jaw feeling my resistance to any manual interventions at all. Luckily, as if my subconscious heard my call, right then and there, more of my waters broke on their own. Just the pouch she wanted to break.
I got in the jacuzzi and rested there for over an hour at 8 centimeters dilated. The water slowed down my contractions remarkably so I decided to get out. The second I got back on land they came full force again. Still, short, intense, contractions close together. Too short for doctors standards.
By 12:00 pm, I was so exhausted I attempted with fail to sleep. My partner read me a hypnobirthing script and i did relax in and out of consciousness for probably 20 minutes. Then, the contractions came with a different, deeper kind of intensity. I couldn’t get comfortable through them. My natural instincts were to hang my arms over the back of the raised bed and get on my knees as the closest thing to comfort I could find.
The room was dark. My partner and best friend were lounging, sleeping at times I’m sure, as the nurse sat next to me on a computer. As each contraction came, everyone else’s inactivity was beginning to annoy me. I came to a blunt realization that no matter what, no one else can go through this for me. And even if they were there, they couldn’t go through it with me.
I was exhausted and wanted relief. More than anything, I wanted to sleep. Somewhere between the hours of one and four am, Dr Warholic came in. I laid face down like a crying three year old and whimpered, “Holli, I’m just so tired. Help me.” I learned that exhaustion is inexhaustible, itself. It is only for the human to contend. I had given into it. Exhaustion was winning and it felt like it was dragging me to my death.
Dr Warholic said my contractions weren’t strong or long enough (I can’t remember which) to get this baby out any time soon. We talked of pitocin which I refused as I begged for anything that would just make me feel better. She refused as long as she could. I stared at her demonically and said, “You’re not listening to me! I need something! I can’t do this!”
She was listening to me. She was just listening to the nine months she’s heard me say I’m going to pull this off and wasn’t up for hearing a different story now, in the heat of the moment.
The nurse kept saying, “You’ve made it this far! I’d never make it this far. I’ve seen natural births before and you’re handling it better than most. You can do this.”
Everyones rejections of me feeling any relief with their cheerleading made me want to kill them. They finally called the anesthesiologist and I sat in silent rage as I heard them talking of the risks, the procedure. I knew damn well at any given moment a contraction would jolt me away from a 20 minute attempt to stick an epidural in my back. I just wanted to be heard more than anything. Their voices were the farthest thing from soothing.
Right as the anesthesiologist was on his way more water came shooting out with each contraction. By now, time had stopped, I had gone inward resisting hearing or seeing anyones faces or voices that just agitated me. It was probably 4:30am.
I never felt the need to push. I had learned from all I’ve read to let my body do its thing. Here was my doctor telling me to push through the contractions. I bore down through my first contraction of pushing, still with my arms hanging over the bed and holding myself up by my knees. I realized that I had a serious unconscious resistance to pushing. So much fear came up around the notion.
Anxiety set in full force. “I’m going to have a seizure! I can’t do this!”
“There’s only one way out of this, Stacy,” Dr Warholic said to me with as much exhaustion and frustration as I was feeling myself. I’m pretty confident in retrospect I rolled my eyes at her but internally told myself, “It’s go time.”
The anesthesiologist knocked on the door twenty minutes after his scheduled time and the nurse and my doctor glanced at each other, and reluctantly said, “She’s pushing!” and he walked away. I know they were taking a chance on those words. They wanted me to push, but I wasn’t sure I was ready. They demanded I use my body the way I had originally intended.
As I pushed and felt liquid everywhere, my doctor said, “Let’s get in the shower.”
I had initially told her I love running water and would love to deliver my baby in the shower since the hospital has a no-water birth policy. The very second I got in the shower, on all fours, the water running down my back I screamed, “She’s coming!”
Right then and there was my first instinctual urge to push. I screamed like a lion roars. I screamed from the depth of my guts. I screamed so fiercely I thought to myself “My poor kid is being born into loud chaos which isn’t what I wanted.” There’s nothing I could have done to not let those sounds exit my body. My whole system moved together in sound, in spine, in power. I could never have separated one thing from another in that moment.
In the shower, I may have pushed four times tops. I don’t remember. All I remember is putting my hand to my vagina, feeling her head and knowing what I had to do, screaming, clenching the white tile on the walls and hearing Dr Warholic say, “Her head is out, hold on,” and then flipping to a seated position and exhaustedly holding my baby in my arms as the water ran across my face.
I was the first to hold my baby. Of three births, this was the first time this was true.
Someone helped me up as I walked from the shower to the bed with my placenta still inside and as the after-birth happened, I was already holding my baby to my breast as she suckled like a warrior. She was born at 5:21am. Our labor was essentially 36 hours long.
Every time a medical intervention was talked about, it was as if my subconscious got my body into gear and my body immediately responded with its own work.
It wasn’t the four hour relaxed birth story I had written. It was her birth. It was my birth. It was our birth. And it was perfect.
Dr Warholic believed me the day I walked into her door and handed her my baggage that could put any Obstetrician on alert to know that they were taking a risk on their “professionalism” in a fear-ridden system by giving me the experience I wanted.
She believed me then and she believed me in those hours that I didn’t believe in myself.
I felt it all, just the way I wanted it. And thank God I didn’t feed into all of the people who stared at me like I was stupid when I said that I wanted this birth experience to be a final right of passage for myself in proving that I am finally connected to my body, I finally trust my body, and I will never again reject the power that it holds for healing itself. I will never again get in the way of my own power, even when it hurts like hell. This birth story, is more than a birth story to me.
This experience is my own rebirth, For the first time since my own infancy, really trusting my body and trusting the world it lives in.
I didn’t believe them, and thank God I didn’t.
I often get called a “warrior.” I didn’t truly obtain “warrior” status until this experience.
I am not a warrior because I persevered pain. That I’ve always done.
I am not a warrior because I ripped myself wide open to bring life into this world.
I am a warrior because I trusted. I trusted even when I was shitting myself (literally) to do so.
I am a warrior because like the warrior with a bow and arrow, agile, running on a log across the river in bare feet, with grace…who trusts her feet and the ground beneath her, I trusted the process.
~ Stacy Hoch, http://bit.ly/1NnY4KX