The Turning Point
26 hours into labor.
I had been lying in bed for close to 12 hours, with a short break in the birthing tub. I felt very attached to my bed at this point—it was safe and familiar. My midwife and doula kept trying to coax me into different positions, and different rooms, but I was not the most compliant patient. I refused to go back downstairs, balked at the idea of going outdoors for some fresh air. I unhappily agreed to try squatting again, but in the guest room—downstairs felt like a million continents away from the secluded island that was my bed.
After only a few contractions in the guest room, I whined and headed back to my bedroom. I tried getting on my hands and knees, only to whine some more. I had never felt so attached to a physical position, but during those hours of labor, all I wanted was to lie down on my left side and ride the contractions. This desire certainly had nothing to do with the position being less painful, because it seemed to cause the most powerful contractions I had had thus far. Perhaps it was because the position was the closest to fetal position I could get with such a round belly. I had crawled into my bed, on my left side, in the smallest fetal ball possible, a billion times throughout my life. It was instinctual, it was where I would go to hide when life felt too overwhelming, it was comforting.
My clinging to the bed, and hesitation to try new things, was the beginning of the end, the end of one epic tale: The Homebirth. I was not yet cognizant of the fact that there would be a second epic, but at this point it was still hours away from beginning.
Frustration began to creep into my previously positive labor flow. I had statistics running through my head. For instance: the average labor for a first time mother lasts 24 hours. My husband and I both had been thinking about that fact from the moment I began to contract. But, here I was still lying in my bed, still pregnant. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I knew that it was several hours past that 24-hour mark. Why was this happening? Where would it lead? Those questions made it more difficult for me to surrender, and let things happen the way they were meant to happen, the way I had earlier. I wanted to control the situation now, I wanted to wish and pray to any and every deity that may hear my pleas, I wanted something to change soon so I could quiet my fears. I wanted my birth to unfold just as I had envisioned it. But, that wasn’t happening anymore.
I continued to work hard, to give labor my all, but I was tired. After two days of labor, with no sleep and no full meals, your adrenaline begins to wane and your body begins to give out. We are only capable of so much. I knew I was strong enough mentally, emotionally and physically to labor and birth without any interventions or medication—I had proven that already—but there is a wall that I believe any woman will hit if they are called upon to accomplish such a difficult task for so long. My strong will and intense determination could not force my cervix to open, my positive mindset and undeniable courage could not erase the effects of physical exhaustion.
I got up to use the bathroom at one point and while I stood looking in the mirror, I noticed that I could not see my own reflection. The room began to spin, and I grabbed my husband’s shoulder and told him so. My midwife peered in and understood that something had to change. She mentioned the option of transferring to the hospital again, and tears fell from my eyes. I wanted to give it a little more time, which she was fine with—this was not a medical emergency. She then suggested that I get back in the tub, in the hopes that the warm water would slow my labor, which might allow me the opportunity to get some sleep.
Sleep became the critical factor. If I could sleep, my body could recharge and relax. Relaxing would allow my cervix to continue to open. And so, I waited for the tub to fill, and begged for my husband to hurry.
As I waited, I suddenly found that I was not handling the contractions well anymore. For 30+ hours, no amount of pain could break my spirit or cause me to whine, but now everything felt different. Finally, the water was ready and I crawled into the tub in the dark guest room. It was about 9 p.m. I closed my eyes and tried to summon the birthing goddess I had been hours earlier. I went deeply inside of myself, but she was not there. She was sleeping and I was not. I began to cry.
My husband, doula, and the midwife’s apprentice sat around the tub in silence while my midwife consulted with our other midwives (who had yet to arrive) downstairs. I begged my husband not to leave my side, but he sensed the sudden serious shift in me and began to worry. He rushed downstairs to question my midwife, and without him there, I began to fall apart. When he came back, my doula suggested that we talk about what was going through my head and I was terrified to do so.
I will never forget the feelings I experienced in the tub that night. As I sunk down into the water, I felt myself plummet down into one of the most challenging, dark places I had ever visited. I was distraught over the sudden loss of what had been a beautiful, life-altering, soul-satisfying, spiritual 2-day experience. I could not access any of the strength I knew I needed to get through this challenge. I tried to imagine pushing a baby out into the world in my current state and it seemed unfathomable…impossible. And I was terrified and ashamed to admit where I was. But, I was also terrified of the way I was feeling so I knew I needed to share.I answered my doula’s question, “what are you thinking right now?” with this: “I’ve been given two options—transfer to the hospital or get some sleep and catch a second wind—but the only option that seems possible is to die.” It’s difficult to explain the emotion behind that statement, but I can say that there are places you may end up visiting on your journey towards birth that you never imagined you’d visit. In that moment, the pain and defeat were so unbearable and foreign to me, that my mind seemed to leap to conclusion that this must be death.
With my admission, the birth team knew exactly how much had changed inside me. My doula went downstairs to alert my midwife who came upstairs for a conversation that became a new beginning. She still had faith in me, she had watched me labor like a strong, confident, unbreakable woman for long enough to know what I was capable of. She once again suggested that I try to get some sleep and then we could think about using some more tinctures to get things going. But, this no longer felt like an option to me. I knew that my mind could not conquer what was happening in my body—it had done so for 34 hours, but had nothing left to give now. The exhaustion was insurmountable. The pain was too intense to sleep. All I wanted was for someone to take the reigns at that point.
I had fought for control over my pregnancy, my body, my birth, my environment, for the last ten months, but now I found myself wanting to give that control away so that I would not have to make what felt like the most difficult decision of my life. I knew what I had to do, but did not want to be the one to say so. I did not want to be the one who put an end to my amazing homebirth. I did not want to be the one who insisted that I abandon my well-researched, deeply passionate beliefs about birth in general. I felt incredibly weak in that moment. I looked over at my husband and saw the concern on his face. He saw my eyes begging for him to tell me what to do, but instead he simply let me off the hook so I could make the decision myself. He said, “I don’t care where you give birth, I just want you to be alive, and for our child to be alive.” Hearing that made my decision clear. I was going to the hospital.
As much as I thought it mattered where I gave birth, as much as I believed I would carry profound feelings of disappointment with me for the rest of my life if my experience was not my version of ideal, when it came down to it what mattered the most was that I give birth to my baby and that both of us were healthy and whole. Sure, I could have accomplished this at home if the situation was slightly altered and I had gotten some sleep, but I could not hold on to a situation that “could have been.”
I sat in the tub a while longer discussing my fears about having a hospital birth, what I could expect when I got there, ways we could make it feel safer and less threatening. As reluctant as I was to make the decision to transfer, I suddenly felt relieved. I think I had known for hours that that was the right decision to make, but was embarrassed to admit what felt like defeat. I stepped out of the tub, and began to crawl out of the dark place I had temporarily lost myself in. And then the scramble began.
My midwife called the hospital and then called our second midwife. Our second midwife’s job was now to arrive at the hospital before us and make my wishes known. I had not even entertained the possibility of being transferred to the hospital during my pregnancy, for fear of jinxing my labor, so I never took a tour of the birthing center or packed a “just-in-case bag” or given any thought to what decisions I might make if I found myself there. Now I was 36 hours into labor, exhausted, delirious, and rushing around throwing things in bags at random. My husband helped me shower off 36 hours of sweat and blood, which somehow reset my labor clock. I had showered just before labor began and went into the experience feeling fresh and ready, so I felt I needed to wash away the previous hours and begin again.
By the time I was finished showering, I felt more clear-headed and noticed that my husband had temporarily shut down. This fact was evident when we noticed that all he had packed for the hospital was my purse and a bag of celery.
By the time we were in the car an hour later, I felt my spirit returning. I had expected that it would take me weeks or months to process the fact that my dreams of giving birth at home were never realized and accept that, ultimately, I chose a hospital. But, here I was, five minutes down the road and already cheerfully explaining that I had grown as a person in that birthing tub, and that I was proud of my ability to make the decision I did. I knew I did the right thing for myself and my baby given the exact situation I found myself in. I knew I needed to ask for help—something that has always been particularly difficult for me to do. I knew I had to let go of my control issues, because the Universe had made it pretty clear for the 7,605,064,884,300,283 time in my life that I was not the one in control. I knew that I could still make this a positive, empowering experience. I knew that I was far from weak for making the decision I did. I was strong, and I would grow even stronger than I could’ve imagined once I entered those hospital doors. I would just have to refocus and figure out how to birth in a hospital now.
I had spent ten months visualizing and meditating on my homebirth so it felt incredibly familiar from the very first contraction on. But, I was about to embark upon an entirely different experience that I had no script for. I would have to make decisions I felt completely unprepared to make. But, I could do this, right? I could give birth in a hospital and still have a positive experience, right? I had two midwives, an apprentice, a doula and a husband behind me. They’d have my back. They all knew how deeply anti-drug I am, they knew I’d rather have my baby pulled out of my left nostril than have a C-section. It would be okay. Besides, the hospital was placing me with the on-call midwife, not the on-call doctor. A midwife would respect my wishes, right?
We pulled up to the Emergency Room door and my midwife wheeled me up to the 3rd floor. We entered an enormous suite, and I felt like this was the beginning of a positive experience. I had always envisioned hospital rooms as small, unfriendly and far from comfortable. But, here we were in a room that had a living room area, a bathroom, a normal queen-sized bed with your standard hospital type room tucked into one corner. I met the friendly nurse assigned to me and immediately felt at ease.
Just then, the hospital midwife entered the room. She introduced herself, talked with me about what had been going on in my labor, and then asked me what I wanted to do. As I spoke, her face contorted into looks of disapproval and judgement. She suggested pumping me full of a cocktail of narcotics, at which point I began to panic. As she listed the medical interventions she would like to utilize, scenes from The Business of Being Born (a documentary about natural birth vs. hospital birth) began flashing in my head. This woman was a midwife? She had C-section written all over her, in fact she was rushing out of my room to attend one (literally) as she finished up her conversation with me. She wanted to cut me, I could see it in her eyes.
To be continued…
Read the next part here: Part V