*I have since questioned when I was due with Sarah. Because I didn’t chart, I have no idea of conception date and I had irregular cycles from coming off the pill (we weren’t real well-Catechized and hadn’t come into full understanding regarding the Church’s teaching on sex in marriage). Because she was 9 pounds, 9 ounces chances are she wasn’t “early” but since all of my babies since have been about that size, I might have just been 40 weeks.
I became pregnant for the first time in October 2000. I never got a positive home pregnancy test, though. (I don’t think I knew how to pee on a stick very well.) I learned that the doctor’s pregnancy test was positive via my step-mother when I arrived at my father’s house for a visit (Craig had called and simply told her to tell me, “the answer is Yes”).
At that point, I really hadn’t put much thought into pregnancy, labor, delivery or being a mom. The idea was like some far off fuzzy possibility that I never really believed would come true. I mean on the outset, I believed I would get pregnant – and probably rather quickly – but the idea of another soul, another human being, in my care was kind of a foreign concept. I can sort of liken it to the way a teenager feels about his or her mortality. They know it’s a possibility that they might die if they behave recklessly…but still maintain the it-won’t-happen-to-me mentality.
Since I hadn’t put much thought into the real possibility of becoming a mother, I didn’t start doing it then. I heard people talk about birth plans…but I didn’t make one. People asked me if I would breastfeed the baby…I assumed it was a no-brainer…who DOESN’T breastfeed in the 21st century? Was I going back to work? You bet. But Craig was going to be a SAHD – so no daycare issue for me.
It’s silly and foolish, I know, but I didn’t even shop around OB/GYN practices. I looked one up close to the hospital where I lived and went in for my first appointment. I got all kinds of information and I read through it. I started reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I was turned off by a lot of it because it didn’t feel like it was applicable for me. It seemed to have all kinds of things in it that could make me worry if I wanted to focus on them…so I didn’t like the book much.
The OB/GYN clinic I went to was rather large and they informed me that I should see a different doctor at each appointment so that when it came time to give birth, I should have met them all. Yeah…that didn’t happen.
The OB/GYN clinic I went to also pushed birth control on me from the sixth month of my pregnancy on. I was asked over and over, “What birth control do you anticipate using after you have your baby.” When I got brave and told the nurse at my eight-month checkup that I really wanted to look into Natural Family Planning, I got a lecture about how it wasn’t really reliable and I’d be back in their office within three months pregnant again. I left my 6-week post-partum visit with a prescription for birth control pills.
We attended the hospital’s “birth classes” which focused on hospital policies and procedures and taught us what to expect. I began the classes thinking they were going to help us learn how to labor naturally. And they discussed relaxation techniques, breathing, etc. But I ended the classes fully expecting I would be getting an epidural for pain. Because I wasn’t going to want to handle the pain, you see. Oh yeah, and all I would really care about in the end was having a healthy baby, don’t ya know? <sarcasm>
Labor with Sarah was induced at 41 weeks*. I received a gel on my cervix overnight that was supposed to soften and ripen and prepare my cervix for labor. At 6:00 a.m. the next morning, they began pitocin. Contractions began a little slowly. They broke my water sometime around 10:30 a.m. I labored through some major contractions (my sister was watching the monitor and apparently I had some hell-A-cious “triple-peak-ers”!) after that and finally, I asked for an epidural around 1:00 p.m. I played cards with my husband and my sister for awhile, then I nodded off to sleep for a nap. Around 5:00, they came rushing in put me on all fours and attached a fetal monitor to Sarah’s head. Apparently her heart rate had dropped quickly and they needed to make sure they were monitoring it and not reacting to the monitor simply slipping off my belly.
The doctor on call was not a doctor I had met before. She immediately began talking c-section when she checked me out. “This is a big baby…might have to do a section…” Inside I kind of rolled my eyes. I was bound and determined NOT to be cut open. I hit 10 cm dilation at 5:30 p.m. and (finally!) I was ready to push. No birth class prepares you for what you do when you push. The nurses always remind you it’s kind of like a bowel movement…but just a little different focal point for the pressure.
My first few pushes didn’t do much. Okay….so the first 45 minutes of pushing didn’t seem to do much. The nurse was assuring me that I was making progress…but the doctor (AGAIN!) mentioned doing a c-section if I couldn’t push the baby out. Of course, I was determined to push that baby out, so I started putting more force into my pushes and Craig was counting to 10 for me to hold my pressure. My sister was on one side of me, Craig on the other. Craig was using a wet washcloth to cool my head in between pushes.
Finally, after an hour and forty-five minutes of pushing, my baby was laying on my tummy. I was so stunned. Sarah was laying on my tummy, eyes wide open quietly looking at me. I said to Craig, “Look! Her eyes are BROWN!” I remember being so surprised at that because everyone says that a baby’s eyes are blue at birth. And she was so quiet. No crying. I had to ask…”Is she breathing?” Sure, she was and she was turning pink, but she was just so calm. I touched her cheek before they took her to clean her up.
One of my first mistakes was not trying to nurse her right away. But I didn’t know that. They brought her back to me once she was cleaned up and all that and we tried to nurse. She wasn’t all that interested. The memory is fuzzy right now, but she did latch on for a little while.
I found out after the fact that the c-section-crazy doctor gave me a barbaric episiotomy. I have suffered major pelvic floor problems since then, though I have been able to manage some of it through some physical therapy. We also found out that Sarah’s collarbone broke as she entered the world because the doctor didn’t help me to wait once her head was out and turn her body…just had me push her right on out head and shoulders. I was horrified to learn about the break, though it healed very quickly.
I didn’t end up breastfeeding Sarah. That’s another post all in itself. But after four weeks, she was exclusively formula-fed.
The thing is, at the time, I couldn’t have told you that this birth experience was horrible or wonderful or not exactly what I wanted because I didn’t know what I wanted. And I didn’t know there was any other way. And I didn’t even know I could question it. And even if I know I could and had questioned it, I can’t say I would have asked the right questions!
I can tell you that my three subsequent labors/deliveries blow that one out of the water (even though I still use epidurals to manage pain). My NFP-friendly/only doctor is one of a kind who treats my whole person (including the baby in my womb, when there is one) – as a strong Catholic, he is even able to give a spiritual bent on decisions I need to make and how to move forward with my (and the baby’s) care. I’ve not been cut “down there” one more time and actually, through the births of Dani, Helen and Dominic, haven’t torn all that much. I think I had one stitch with Helen, no stitches with Dani and maybe more stitches with Dominic due to his ginormous head.
Were I to get a chance to have my first baby over again, some of my choices might not be different knowing what I know now. I would probably elect for an epidural again. But I for sure would shop around for an OB/GYN practice and ask questions like, “What is your c-section rate?” (let’s at least be below the national average, eh?) and “How many episiotomies have you performed?” (a doctor who would get my business would answer that they are so rare that he could count them on one hand). And, I would take a REAL birth preparation class. And I would enlist some REAL help for breastfeeding and not listen to all this nonsense of how it’s so “natural” to breastfeed (which makes you feel like a complete failure when your child is starving and you’re unable to get her to latch) that you and baby will adjust just fine. I probably would have chosen a different hospital, too…because I didn’t research that either.
I’m not sure why I approached new-motherhood the way I did. It’s obviously worked out fine in the way I have done it so far. I don’t have a lot of regrets because I’ve been able to find ways that work for my family. I guess in a way, that simply shows that sometimes, the Grace of God finds you whether you invite It or not.