Zaida Mae 09/06/2008
Everything about my pregnancy and birth with my first daughter was unexpected. My partner, Zach, and I were living in Ecuador. We had worked hard and saved money so that we could live abroad for a year. We got rid of the majority of our possessions and were excited to start a new adventure. When we flew to Quito, we had been dating for less than a year and had no intention of starting a family. After just two short months though, we realized that I was pregnant (it took numerous pregnancy tests for it to sink in). I found out a few weeks before my 22nd birthday. To say that we were unprepared is an understatement. However, I knew in my heart that, despite the many odds we were up against, I would be able to be a good mama to my baby. We left our beautiful house and headed back to the states so that we could start my prenatal care. We had no apartment. We had no car. We had no jobs. We had no insurance. And we were still new to one another.
We arrived home in February to bitter cold. I was overwhelmed by all we had to figure out and everything was uncertain. One of the first things I concentrated my time and energy on was trying to find insurance. It was not easy. Without it, I hadn’t been able to hear a heartbeat or confirm that I was still pregnant since we had been back in the states. While we faced many uncertainties, the one thing I knew was that I wanted to have my baby at home, I just wasn’t sure how to go about finding a midwife. None of my friends had babies and I didn’t know anyone in Milwaukee familiar with homebirth. I was born at home and had always cherished the pictures of my birth, especially the ones of my mom and dad cuddled in bed with my siblings snuggled in hours after I was born. I couldn’t imagine wanting it any other way. After a lot of searching, I finally found Jan’s information and made an appointment. I still had no insurance and was so thankful someone would see me! Every other doctor I had called denied me, even though I was willing to pay out of pocket, because I was uninsured.
When I met Jan all of my stress and concerns about my prenatal care vanished. Finally, someone was willing to talk to me and care for me and my baby. For the first time since I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t feel scared and nervous about prenatal care. Struggling to get insured was so stressful, I will always be grateful that I had a midwife who was willing to provide me with quality care. It wasn’t until I was seven months pregnant that I finally was able to get state insurance, so I’m lucky I found Jan. Things slowly began to settle down for us.
I was due in early September and couldn’t wait to meet my baby! The house was organized and cleaned. The tiny baby clothes were washed and put away. All of our birth supplies were ready. The freezer was full of home-cooked meals. I couldn’t wait to give birth. I had read every birth story I could get my hands on. I was so excited to find out what it was going to feel like and how I was going to handle it.
On Thursday night, September 4th, I woke up and my underwear was a bit wet. I wasn’t sure if it was my bag of waters leaking or not. I didn’t sleep very soundly at all, wondering and thinking about the different possibilities. By Friday morning, since it hadn’t stopped, I realized that it must be my water and so I got hold of Jan (note: get hold of Jan right away if you think your water is leaking. I didn’t know better). I hadn’t been having any other signs of labor. She sounded a bit worried and told me we needed to try and encourage labor as soon as possible because, if it was indeed amniotic fluid, we were on a time limit. I called Zach at work and told him to come home because we needed to get labor started. He rushed home, even though there was definitely no rush. We were giddy knowing that soon our baby would be with us.
We started the long process of trying to coax our baby to come and meet us. First I went to the chiropractor and then we went to a Chinese restaurant and ordered spicy food. Jan arrived in the afternoon to confirm that it was indeed amniotic fluid. It was. Jan and I walked to Outpost to get Castor oil. After we got home I started taking different homeopathic herbs in hopes of getting things going. We did nipple stimulation and lots of acupressure. Still nothing. Finally, I drank the dreaded castor oil. I was determined to do whatever it took to have our baby at home. I took more herbs. By this time it was 2am on Saturday morning. I had been awake for more than 24 hours since I noticed my water leaking the night before. Zach and I went for a walk and I walked up as many stairs as possible. Still nothing. We tried to rest a bit and by 6 o’clock that morning nothing was really happening. Jan checked me and I was 1.5 cm and 90% effaced. It had been about 30 hours since I first noticed my water leaking. I had had a few very weak contractions but nothing seemed to be happening. Jan called my doctor and we decided that it was time for me to go to the hospital to be induced. I was crushed. I allowed myself to cry as I packed my hospital bag (I remember Jan saying, “It’s always the ones who don’t pack a bag that end up going to the hospital”). After giving myself that brief time to be sad, I pulled myself together. I was going to have my baby. I needed to be strong and calm.
Zach and I were both exhausted. We got to the hospital around 8 am on Saturday, after spending the previous day and night trying to get labor moving. We took care of checking in and after a couple of hours, I was finally given Pitocin. I wasn’t prepared for what a Pitocin labor could be like. Throughout my pregnancy, I had trusted that my body would do everything it needed to and never thought that I would have any interventions during my birth. Because of my deep sense that I would be birthing at home, my reading and preparation focused almost entirely on positive, natural childbirth stories (lots of Ina May and the like). Since we didn’t have a lot of money, we didn’t take a childbirth education class. In turn, I was totally unprepared for the hospital and didn’t know what to expect.
We put on our music and Zach and I swayed back and forth as the contractions began to come. At times, Jan would rock back and forth with me and give me words of encouragement. The contractions hurt only a bit, and were completely manageable.
After a few hours the doctor checked checked my dilation and I was around 2 cm. They decided to up the Pitocin and also to break my water. At this point everything got really intense! My labor took off! All of the sudden the pain was overwhelming and agonizing. I went from having contractions that were completely manageable to ones that took over my whole body and took all my concentration and energy to get through. Thankfully, a room with a tub was available. I wanted to use it immediately. It helped a little. I writhed around with each contraction and tried to rest in between, which was hard because they felt like they were coming one on top of another. I had to have an I.V. and a fetal heart monitor band around my because of the Pitocin. Both of these made it difficult to move freely and comfortably with the contractions. I was especially frustrated by the I.V. and really wanted it out, it was making things even worse. I moaned and didn’t talk to anyone. I was scared and all the sudden felt as if I wasn’t going to be able to handle the pain. I didn’t realize how fast things were happening and thought that since this was my first labor I still had hours and hours left to go. I remember thinking, “If this is just the beginning, what is the pain going to be like when I’m in transition? There’s no way I can do this!” I didn’t vocalize any of this.
Shortly after I began to think that there was no way I could continue, I suddenly felt the urge to use the bathroom, completely unaware that what I was feeling was actually the need to push. Jan informed me that I wouldn’t be able to push in the tub (hospital policy) and so I got out and went to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Jan told me not to start pushing until we could get the nurse or doctor in the room because she would get in big trouble if she caught the baby. She rang for the nurse and it took a few times for someone to finally come. My body had dilated around 7 cm in an hour and a half! After thinking that I was going to be laboring for hours and hours, I was shocked that it was time to push. I was still completely overwhelmed and felt like everything was out of control.
I moved over to the bed and used it to support me while I stood and pushed. The staff asked me multiple times if I wanted to lay down. I didn’t but I couldn’t speak to answer, I was concentrating 100% on the job at hand. I was scared to push, the pain was terrifying. I was overwhelmed and felt like my body was going to split open. It felt wrong, but I followed orders. When they told me to push I did and when they told me to stop I stopped. Zach was standing behind me watching in amazement. My legs were shaking a lot and I was on my tiptoes. Jan reminded me about low moaning instead of high-pitched yelling and recommended I plant my feet on the ground. After about 40 minutes I was able to feel the baby’s head. Zach got ready to catch our baby as I pushed with all my might. He caught our baby in his hands and I twisted around to see. I’ll never forget that moment, my baby’s eyes shut tight, tongue sticking out, arms outstretched and crying loudly. A girl! This was unexpected, as we had felt like we were having a boy for most of the pregnancy. She was 8 lbs. 6 oz and perfect in every way. All I could do was cry. I was stunned and overcome with emotions. I cried out of joy, out of love, and out of relief that my daughter was finally here in the world. I also cried with relief that it was over. I got into the bed and she was placed onto my chest right away.
Even though Jan’s role changed when we entered the hospital, her presence was incredibly important to us. She helped us communicate with the nursing staff and helped us to ask questions so that we were informed along the way. We couldn’t avoid certain protocols, of course (i.e. not birthing in the tub or having continuous fetal monitoring), but I feel that having an advocate there with me helped me to avoid many other interventions. After Zaida was born, Jan asked if we wanted to go home that night. I never would have known that it was a possibility, but that’s exactly what I wanted. She was born around 4:30pm and after a few hours (and many discussions with reluctant nurses) we got into our car and drove home, this time as a family of three.
That same night, the three of us snuggled into our bed, recovering the way that I had imagined during my pregnancy. Jan came home with us and stayed the night to help, in case there were any breastfeeding issues. Having her in the next room was such a comfort. She would quietly check in on us throughout the night. Jan was with us for 48 hours, from the time she arrived to encourage my body to go into labor to when she left the morning after Zaida was born.
I will be forever grateful that Jan was with me in the hospital. It was not at all like the homebirth I envisioned. I was overwhelmed by all of the questions and procedures that were being offered to me, especially since I hadn’t prepared myself for the possibility prenatally. But having her there made me feel much calmer and more confident that my wishes would respected. My daughter’s birth was as unexpected as my pregnancy. Even though the labor was fast and furious, with the help of my wonderful midwife and doctor, it was as gentle as it could have been, given the circumstances. I was able to move around (as best I could with an IV and fetal monitor), avoid pain medications, labor in the tub, birth standing up, avoid tearing, and recover at home.