I’ve been dreading writing this birth story. Not because it’s filled with trauma, but because I have been grieving the birth I wish I had. You see, I came into this second pregnancy with the expectations that things would go pretty much the same as they did with my first.
Only better, because this time I had the care providers I wanted from day one. I knew what to expect (or so I thought), and I already trusted that my body could do what it needed to while birthing this baby.
But sometimes we don’t get what we expect or want — sometimes we get what we need. And often in life, as in pregnancy or birth, things happen to show us parts of who we are that we didn’t know even existed.
I can remember fondly the birthing process of our firstborn. It went smoothly and fairly quickly. I got so deeply into my own body that I zoned into the whole process, I felt like I was made to do this. And afterward I considered it one of the most empowering experiences of my life up to that point.
Our second labor experience was very different. I remember laughing through contractions (no, I’m not kidding). But I also remember the doubt, the fear, and the total and utter exhaustion, thinking I was so done with this.
I think it’s clear to most women (and men) that birth doesn’t always go as expected. But when you are in the middle of it, the laboring process can really tear apart your mind and emotions, and I’m not sure I fully understood that until I experienced the birth of our second.
I believe that sometimes we need to be torn apart to be remade anew. And birth can be one of those intense points in our life that tears us apart.
With our second son, who is just over a week old as I start to write this, we were so excited to find out that I was pregnant at 5 weeks. I remember thinking on the day we celebrated Mary being told she was pregnant with Jesus that I should do a test to see, but I was too scared it would be negative again.
The next morning I couldn’t take it anymore, and before we went to work that day we had confirmation. We were a growing family! My heart said this was another boy and that he would be bigger than his brother. We prayed then and there, the three of us, for a happy, healthy pregnancy and safe delivery.
The first thing I did was call our doula. We had been blessed to work with her for the delivery of our first. That it went as smoothly as it did is a credit to her skills both in helping shift the baby and keeping me calm.
The second thing I did was call our midwives to get on the intake list. Then we waited. I had been thinking about making our announcement a bit later, but I couldn’t hold in the excitement. In short order, the news was out to everyone. Work knew, the family knew (those close to home as well as overseas), friends knew, and we even posted on social media.
We had announced early, and we got lots of questions. One thing I refused to do was give out an exact guess date. All anyone got was “the month of November.” And anyone who annoyed me enough got a snarky comment intended to cause embarrassment and stop the questions.
In month 3 of the pregnancy, we realized that I was having some issues with my body this time. It started to be noticeable with a muscle separation in the rectus abdominis just under my boobs, a condition called diastasis recti. But it was causing a host of other issues, like pelvic instability and some problems with an old injury in my hip/sacrum joint.
As the months progressed, this was the only real issue I thought we had around the pregnancy. But as I gained weight, the problems got worse, I could do less, and I had a host of minor issues that simply compounded all the pain caused by these changes.
The pregnancy itself was healthy. At our first ultrasound the baby did not cooperate fully for some of the images, so we had to go back a second time. However, all the images from both came in to show a healthy baby developing normally. And of course, we got the confirmation that yes indeed we were expecting another boy!
By month 7 my old injuries and pelvic girdle issues were adding up. I had a hard time standing or sitting for more than 20 minutes, and I was in enough pain that focusing on anything for extended periods of time was a challenge. Plus it was exhausting.
I went on sick leave from work, thinking I had a great benefits plan that would cover the issues with this. I provided my employer with the required documents and booked the time off. Turns out, this was one of the most stressful decisions I would make.
Those two months of resting at home and taking the time to care for myself prior to the birth were necessary. And I could not do that while shuttling our oldest to and from daycare and also working a 9-hour day in an office. Rest was something my body very desperately needed. In that respect, it was good that I took the time off.
And the rest did help, even if the mental stress of contending with the insurance company tied me up in knots for more than two months. Not having an answer until weeks after I delivered our baby and no income during this time was highly stressful.
Pregnancy is certainly not the easiest of tasks our bodies can undertake. And for me, carrying our second son was challenging, painful, and a lot of hard work. Even with the support of an amazing pelvic floor physiotherapist, midwives, doulas, and my husband helping me every step of the way.
By the time the baby’s guess date drew near, I felt done with being pregnant. I just wanted to hold my little man in my arms. I was convinced that he would come on a particular day and kept thinking I was starting pre-labor. I was jumping at every possibility of a Braxton Hicks as well as any time I actually felt them.
I messaged my doulas repeatedly about all the things I could feel going on in my body, at every sign or symptom that maybe now was the start?!?! The day I expected to be holding my little one came and went, and I couldn’t even honestly say that I was for sure in pre-labor.
It was disappointing, and with numerous friends and family asking if the baby had arrived yet and when he was due, I finally had enough of questions and posted a request on Facebook that people not ask me about the baby. I figured if they kept asking, I’d keep worrying that something was wrong.
My biggest fear with this delivery was that I wouldn’t know when I was in labor again and would be delivering the baby on the toilet without any of my planned support. The idea terrified me.
As it turns out, kiddo was just waiting for the right time a few days later. As I hit the “post” button on my Facebook request to not ask about the baby, I also mentally and emotionally gave up on predicting how or when the birth would happen. I felt lost and frustrated with myself and my body.
So when I felt a few contractions that wouldn’t stop the next day, I didn’t really know what to think.
I had been feeling tightening in my lower belly for a few days already and had been doing my best to ignore it per my doula’s instructions. But this was my whole stomach pulling in on itself.
I gave my doulas the heads-up and set about cleaning the house. Loading dishes in the dishwasher, working on my website, and just generally puttering around the house with the little things I could safely do.
By 3 p.m. the tightening was getting closer together but still not super close, about 30-45 minutes apart. But my whole tummy felt hard when they happened and took some time to release the tension after each one.
Feeling confused, I asked my doulas to clarify what the difference is between Braxton Hicks and contractions, because I really couldn’t tell. And last time I didn’t even know I was in labor for hours, so I wasn’t sure I would know true labor when I felt it.
I kept drinking water, chocolate milk, and my red raspberry leaf tea, and I took a rest. After kiddo and hubs got home, I took some Gravol and went to sleep. Thinking that labor would get started sometime in the middle of the night, I wanted to be rested.
I woke around 9:30 p.m., and the tightening sensations were definitely closer together. I called my doula and my midwife to discuss when I should come in. By 10:30 p.m. the doula was at my house, running ideas past me for helping get baby into position.
Which is where the labor started to go differently than I expected.
You see, I had gotten it into my head that I couldn’t do certain things without dislocating my hip joints. And all the positions that my doula was suggesting were on the list my physio had told me that I wasn’t supposed to do. My fear came into play very quickly, and I started to put up so many mental blocks, saying no to so many of my doula’s suggestions, that there was nothing we could really do at home.
We called the midwife. By this time the contractions were close enough together that it made sense to go in and get checked. As we were delivering at the birth center, they have a bit more flexibility than a hospital would have around admittance.
My husband and I packed into our van, and our doula followed behind, stopping in true Canadian style for some Tim Horton’s on the way. 😉
When we got to the birth center just before midnight, we were taken to the same room where I had delivered our first son. I was excited, thinking it couldn’t be long now until we held our littlest in our arms and it was going to be in the same room and tub that we had such a great experience in last time.
But when the midwife checked, I was only 3 cm dilated, which was not enough to get into the tub. I felt deflated. All the excitement rushed out of me so quickly. Many women are told to expect a shorter and easier labor the second time around yet that doesn’t always happen.
To help things along, we tried walking. The birth center floor plan is a large loop, so once all the doors were open, we could walk around and around as much as we wanted.
My husband and doula walked with me. They tried to distract me by talking about all sorts of things. But the big thing I remember from this time is that I felt crazy alert even though everyone kept telling me that I looked “doped up” or drugged. I’m sure it had to do with the emotions and hormones in my system at that time.
They also started making me drink water after every contraction to stay hydrated. It started to feel like I was getting waterlogged after a while. But on we went, around and around the birth center hoping to get some progress.
At 2 a.m. I had had enough walking and just wanted to get in the tub. I think by then I expected to be at the point of having the kid already, yet when the midwife checked, I was only at 5 cm. However, she didn’t tell me this and let me get into the water.
About an hour later I was done with the tub. Something didn’t feel right, and the water was not helping. I think my body was trying to tell me that something else needed to be done.
However, I was so caught up in the sequence in my head of what I was expecting, and the fact that I was scared this baby would be born on the toilet, that I wasn’t really listening to my body like I could have been.
I ended up resting in bed beside my husband, and I likely slept for about an hour. My husband slept longer, of course. I remember thinking I should wake him ’cause it was pissing me off that he was sleeping.
After we were both awake, I remember sitting on the toilet and hearing a woman in another room yelling as she birthed her baby. I’m not sure how long she had been there, but she wasn’t there when we were walking laps, and she was well and truly gone by the time we left. I remember hearing her efforts and thinking to myself, I wish! I would take any amount of pain if it meant that this limbo would stop.
At 5:50 a.m. my husband left to go get our son from home, drop his babysitter off, and take kiddo to daycare. I hopped into the shower and sat on a birthing ball while enjoying the water. It felt much better than the tub, and afterward I headed to the bed for another rest.
Not much later, I told my doula to get my husband back ASAP. I knew I couldn’t do this without him. He is, after all, my safe space. And this was turning into the most stressful experience I had ever faced.
My body was already feeling like it was ready to give up, and I couldn’t imagine continuing for any length of time past this without getting too tired. I was worried that I would hit maternal exhaustion while he was away, and I couldn’t face the thought of a transfer without him there to support me.
By 6:50 a.m. I was dealing with a full-blown panic attack. Looking back, I think this was one of the emotional transitions I needed to go through. Hubs had kiddo and babysitter in the van with him when he got the call to come straight back. I’m sure he was frustrated, but he did it.
Ladies, if you have a good, supportive man, tell him THANK YOU a few hundred times. They are so worth their weight in gold! Mine did everything right and turned around and dropped the kid and babysitter back at our place to rush to my side. Or that’s how it seemed to me. I found out later he debated a bit, but actions are what counts, and he came back quickly.
During the time he was gone, I was a right and total mess: crying, wishing I was anywhere but where I was, mentally cursing the people who were with me (though I apparently never said it out loud).
I fully believe that this time frame is where my ego started to be torn down. Historically, I’ve built a whole lot of walls to protect myself from being hurt emotionally. When you are going through something as intense as birth, those types of protections can really get in the way of the emotional process. So sometimes you have to hit these points of stress to really take a chunk out of the walls. Birth, after all, is a vulnerable time, and it can be smoother when we surrender to it.
From here my mental timelines get way messy, and there was a lot that happened. At one point the midwife who admitted us left so she could take a nap, and a second midwife came in to attend me. I believe this was around 8 or 9 a.m. but not entirely sure. There was talk of a hospital transfer and a suggestion that I needed to do some positions to turn the baby.
We thought my water had broken at one point. It turns out I must have lost control while laughing my way through contractions and peed myself while lying in bed. I’m sure that I would have been embarrassed, but I was so exhausted that it didn’t register.
I visited the toilet frequently, and we prepped for a toilet delivery a couple of times. Sitting there was just the most comfortable position for me to be in when contractions hit. And honestly, I figured “face your fears” and just go for it.
But every time I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore or the midwives would check to see if I was dilating… nothing. I wasn’t progressing past 5 cm. I went through at least 3 emotional/mental transitions then started the whole laboring process all over again before we reached the final transition where everything came together for baby’s birth.
I do have to say, though, that the contractions themselves were not painful. I know that’s hard to believe, and many will challenge me on that statement.
However, at one point my midwife decided to help me relax the muscles and tendons in my hips and butt. When she dug into the muscles in my backside, I can honestly say I have never felt that much pain before. Of course, this triggered a release in hormones to combat the pain.
Now, this will sound weird but stay with me: When I get a huge dump of this type of hormone, I laugh… yes, you read that right. I laugh when I’m in extreme amounts of pain. It’s a reaction I can’t explain in “normal terms.” It just happens, and I have no control over it.
What it also did was connect the need to laugh with the sound “ta” — kinda like “ha” but with a “T” — because I was starting to say my midwife’s name when the pain hit, and her name starts with a “ta” sound. So I was having laughing fits and even random giggle fits anytime someone said something close to the sound “ta.”
I’m sure that was a combination of exhaustion and hormone response, and we all found it rather funny. It became a running joke in the room, that only I would laugh my way through labor. Though I have to say I did start to have random laughing fits at some of the most inopportune times. But it also left me smiling at the end of most of my remaining contractions.
The midwife didn’t stop digging into my tight muscles while I was having contractions either. So while my instinct was to roll into the fetal position and I was coughing with what turned out later to be bronchitis and having random laughing fits through it all, my midwife was applying enough pressure to make my back want to arch and kick at her to get her away.
Weirdly enough, at the end of some of them I started to THANK her. A little known fact about me, when I get drugged up, I start thanking people for anything they are doing… and apparently I was releasing enough hormones to cause the same effect.
By 11:00 a.m. I was up on the toilet with random giggle fits (again). My husband was clearly trying to be supportive and not show that he was concerned. I was just grateful and comforted to have him there.
I was on the toilet frequently and feeling the pressure that I thought meant the baby was ready to be pushed out. The pressure itself was moving straight down, or so I thought. But when checked, there were still no changes.
I do recall that when I was checked, it hurt. Multiple times throughout my labor when I was checked, I had to ask the midwife to stop because the pain was so bad. And let’s be honest, with all the work my body had done already up to that point, everything felt tired.
Physically I felt like I was at the end of my rope. Mentally a lot of the expectations I had for this labor were starting to drop away. And emotionally I felt wrung out, tired, and I imagined that this was what it would feel like to be hitting my last reserves. Little did I know that I would hit this low repeatedly during my labor.
By now we were all fairly sure the baby was in a wonky position, and the midwives were working on finding a way to get him to move. He was head down but not lined up with my cervix. Upon reflection after delivery, my midwife stated that in all likelihood he was stuck doing a headstand on my pubic bone.
At one point I remember our original midwife coming back into the room and effectively getting bossy (around 1 p.m.-ish, approximately 13 hours after we arrived at the birth center). And I say that with love ’cause it was exactly what I needed! She had so much confidence in what was going to happen that I didn’t question her ability to help me get this baby out, nor did I feel the need to challenge her authority or wonder if I could do it.
And through the rest of my labor when she would give instructions, I would follow along. At times because I didn’t have the energy to fight it, but also because I trusted she knew what she was doing.
This is why I say that my MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE FOR ANYONE GIVING BIRTH IS TO HAVE A SUPPORT TEAM YOU TRUST!
I’m not sure how, but I felt myself tap into another level of strength I did not know I had.
We talked about various options such as trying a breast pump for nipple stimulation at the birth center or a transfer with augmentation and an epidural at the hospital.
I’m not sure what exactly my hesitation with the breast pump was, as I’ve pumped breast milk for our oldest. But for some reason, the word “augmentation” was causing me issues.
When I finally consented to the breast pump and they hooked me up, the contractions got noticeably more intense right away. Not so much I couldn’t handle them, but it felt like there was some solid progression finally!
Where I was birthing, using a breast pump means that your labor is being augmented. This combined with the duration of time I had been there led to an IV being inserted with a drip for fluids. The IV didn’t have any medication in it, just fluids to help keep me hydrated.
At the same time, my midwife started manipulating my body into some rather uncomfortable positions to help reposition the baby. While I don’t remember giving her permission to this, I do remember thinking I was too exhausted to fight her over it. And looking back, I’m glad she took charge of the situation so I wouldn’t have to transfer to a hospital. At the time, though, I cursed her in my head over and over. And when I wasn’t cursing, I was laughing or coughing.
Some of the positions my midwife had me do were things like:
- Side-lying with a peanut ball (think birthing ball but shaped like a peanut) between my ankles and dropping my knees together so my hips would open up. (Cue backache, and it made it harder to cough or laugh.) This also triggered my need to kick whenever someone tried to hold my ankles on the ball.
- “Flying girl” which is where they arch your back and pull your feet behind you so you look like a crescent moon while lying on your side. Yes, you hold this position during contractions, and in my case also while laughing and coughing… not fun. I wanted to hurt people, and it felt like my pelvis was being pulled apart every time they put me into that position. Oh, and I could feel my stomach separation pulling in two different directions…
- Side lunges. Think of a ladder up against the wall. Now stand beside it and put one foot upon the rungs, then hold this position for a few contractions. Bonus tip: Have hubby stand in front of you so you can hang off him, and get your doula to lift your leg for you when you are crazy tired… yes, I’ve been there.
- Use a sling. Not easy to get into during a contraction and not the most comfortable thing to do either, but if you need to lift the weight off your body for a bit, use a sling. We had my arms and chest in the sling while my back end hung out on the bed, then someone used a rebozo to lift my belly (felt better during contractions) while someone else pulled my hips back.
- Hands and knees. This was a great position in my last birth, not so much this time around. I had so much weight from the pregnancy and my muscles were not strong enough or ready for it. Plus the support I was getting from having a scarf around my middle did not actually feel supportive, and I kept wanting to kick the person who was holding it.
- I also hung off the raised head (mattress was raised above the headboard) of the bed while kneeling on the bed, and my husband held me up as my doula and midwife supported my belly and pulled my hips back.
We repeated most of these positions over and over with short rests in between, and for most of it I had my husband holding me up in some way, shape, or form. Either gripping my elbows and holding me from there or hugging me as I held onto his neck.
And when I needed to move to or from the toilet, or anywhere else for that matter, I looped my arms around his neck and he moved us. Walking slowly with my nearly 300 lbs of weight, waddling like a drugged penguin from one room to the next.
When I did the side lunges, he was right there holding me. When I leaned on the bed, he held me up by my arms. When I shifted positions, he did everything he could to help me move in a way that was easier on my body. Even thinking of it now, I tear up over how supported I felt and how much I could tell he cared.
As much as I ranted and raved (apparently that was all in my head and I never said any of it), I never ranted at him. At God, at my midwife, at my doula, all fair game — but not at my husband. It felt weird and even a little bit safer for me to have such extreme emotions knowing that at least I wasn’t pissed off at him. But also confusing as all heck since, last I checked, he was the one who got me pregnant in the first place…
Around 5:30 p.m. there was another cervical check. This time it didn’t hurt. After all the others had hurt so badly, I expected this one to as well. But once baby is lower in the pelvis and the dilation gets to a certain point, apparently (for me at least) the pain of the cervical checks dissipates.
Of course, when it proved that I was at 7 cm (finally), they pulled me into the “flying girl” position again… yes, they used the pose that I hated the most to ensure kiddo was in the right spot. And then I was allowed to get up and go pee…
I didn’t want to get off the toilet. If I was mentally, emotionally, and especially physically tired before now, I was past the last reserves I ever could have thought possibly existed. The idea of standing up even just to get to the bed was too much. My brain could not handle it.
But part of the power of a birthing woman (dare I say birthing warrior) is that she holds way more strength, courage, beauty, and power than anyone could even begin to hint at, let alone fathom.
Right near the end, my mind became crazy sharp. I would guess this started around 6 p.m.
While I sat there on the toilet, feeling defeated, I heard the water running. My midwife was prepping the birthing tub for the delivery, and I can’t even say I perked up at the thought. After 18 hours in the birth center, I’m not sure I believed there would ever be an end to this labor.
With my husband standing right there in front of me, helping keep me upright, I cried. I don’t remember feeling the tears run down my cheeks, but I know they were there, as I couldn’t see through them.
My body was giving out, my emotions were so intense and all over the place that I couldn’t make sense of them let alone understand them. The last of my mental strength broke, and I had lost my fight.
In the quiet, I asked to have a C-section.
Not because it would be easier but because I was done. I knew I had no reserves left to tap into. While baby kept showing he was “cool as a cucumber” (and I was getting annoyed by that statement), I was far from it.
My husband, being the amazing man that he is, said, “Of course you can do that.” Our doula was standing close by in the bathroom with us. I remember her being calm and unassuming. But this was a conversation between just my husband and I.
When I heard him say it was okay, I released that last bit of hold on my circumstances. My body, or at least my arms and legs, gave up trying to help me.
So when the midwife came around and said I needed to do more side lunges, I didn’t even budge. I felt like I was barely breathing, but my husband said, “Let’s try one set of side lunges.”
All I heard was “one more set,” and I wasn’t even sure who said it. But as I had used that phrase before to get “one more set” into my workouts, I dug a little deeper below the final reserves I kept thinking I had already hit. I didn’t realize it at the time, but by this point, I had not eaten anything in over 24 hours.
He was tired too, I could tell. But I was so out of it I couldn’t even help to get myself standing. I’m not sure how, but I’m guessing he lifted me. And not long after, I was standing under his strength with our doula putting my foot upon the rung to do the side lunges.
While in a side lunge, I was checked yet again and then told I could get in the tub.
I clearly remember the feel of the water moving up my legs, though I have no clue how I actually got in the tub. I also remember thinking that the water was too shallow and that someone had better add more heat right before I mentally checked almost completely out during a contraction.
I hung off the side of the tub, my husband gripping my arms to hold me in place. With my left leg stretched back and right leg kneeling to support me, I was told I could push. But I didn’t know how. My mind had checked out yet again, retreating into that space where it couldn’t feel anything but just observe what was happening around me.
And finally, I gave myself up to the power of my birthing body, letting it do what it had wanted to from the very start. There were three pushes where I felt something inside me burn, not the same as the crowning burn but much deeper. Another push and I could feel him crown, the next his head was out, one more and our littlest was born. Floating in the water up towards my head so I could catch him.
Before pulling him up I noticed something looked a bit different. Kiddo had been twisting and turning so much in utero that he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck twice (aka a double nautical knot). We would find out later that this is fairly common. All I remember is the midwife jumping in to get it unwrapped before I pulled kiddo up onto my chest.
While I leaned back in the tub and enjoyed the contact, I was given oxytocin to help with the placenta. I will say this: Those are the only contractions I can recall now, weeks later, and they hurt like all hell.
There was a point where the baby’s umbilical cord was cut. My husband took our little bundle so I could be assisted out of the tub, and I almost instantly got angry that anyone would take my baby away from me. I wanted him back right away. It was likely the motivation I needed to get out of the tub, or I may never have agreed to.
In all the hustle and bustle that comes after having a baby, I did get him back from my husband, and baby nursed a bit. He cried some and protested the whole experience in the way that babies are often wont to do.
And while I didn’t feel an instant overwhelming surge of new emotions, I have come to realize since that I had all my walls down, mentally and emotionally. It is one of the hardest things I have ever faced and certainly one of the most emotional times I’ve experienced.
As I finish writing this, I’m nearly 3 weeks postpartum and the emotional roller coaster has not ended. I’m told that can happen and that it’s rather normal, or at least more “normal” than my first birth which I came out of with most of my mental and emotional walls about my past and some of the trauma I’ve dealt with still intact.
However, it does mean I’m still raw, hurting mentally and emotionally as all the stuff I had been hiding from is coming through now.
And while the emotional waves are intense and often overpowering when they hit, I trust that the calm is on its way. That one day I’ll be able to let people hold my littlest love without feeling rage, and even that I will be able to host visitors and not feel like I’m doing it only because I have to.
I’ll be honest: As of right now, I don’t know that I have the right to call this birth traumatic. However, I am still grieving for the “quick and easy” birth that I expected throughout pregnancy. I feel like I let myself and my baby down by taking so long to finally start working on repositioning the baby. I often feel like I got in my own way by denying the suggestions provided by my doula when we were at home.
Whenever I think of this process, I feel the frustration, not just with myself but with the circumstances that felt out of my control. That loss of control, while I was aware of what was happening, has really shown me a level of vulnerability where I thought I was strong.
And that is what I mean by getting what I needed, instead of what I wanted, in this birth.
My first birth showed me the strength we women have. The way it helped me reconnect to who I am, as not just a person but a woman, was amazingly empowering.
This birth showed me that part of being strong and powerful is also accepting your vulnerability, asking for help when you need it, and having the right people around you to support you through the challenging times.
This is why we need to care for our postpartum birthing warriors, the new mom whose body has brought a life into our world. Whose emotions and mind may be reeling from all the work it took to let her heart walk around outside her own body.
Now is the time to step up and show the new moms in our lives the respect and courtesy they deserve, for there is no one else out there who would literally rip their mind, body, and soul apart for another human being. Not like this.