Warning: This article includes a very difficult birth story - it ends well, but the details are graphic and hard to contemplate. Please use your judgement before reading.
I know I gave a brief run down of how my second daughter Penelope entered the world in the first Clubfoot entry I wrote, but I kept it pretty light-hearted, because at that time I still wore a mask about how I felt about the experience.
You go through months and months envisioning this major event. I mean MAJOR – this is giving birth, people. Introducing life, meeting a person you are expected to do every single thing for, for many months, and still a majority of for decades. This is, one way or another, taking a solid object the size of a watermelon out of your body that currently has no exit routes bigger than a tampon. Sorry for the reals, but here we are folks.
My oldest daughter was born after about 19 hours of laboring at home, thanks to the help of my amazing Doula, Lisa. Then we took the 20 second drive to the hospital where I got a large needle in my back and felt much better, having her 7 hours later.
It wasn't a serene birth by any means, and the hospital was a throwback to 1970's birthing standards, but it was about what I would expect, I suppose.
Doing most of my labor at home helped it be a much more positive experience than it would have been otherwise.
So, with my second, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what would happen. Although I had been feeling contractions for a large part of the day, I felt I had good reason to not immediately seek medical care, or even assume this was actual labor.
I figured I'd have a full day and night before I needed to take things seriously, and as before, the hospital was pretty close. I had just hit 37 weeks that day...I was not in the mindset that it was showtime anytime soon!
But birth takes on a mind of its own. It does not ask permission. It does not wait until you have your ducks in order. When it's time, it's time. You may get a day's worth of signals that are up to you to pay attention to and take seriously, or you may be caught completely off guard. I feel I fell somewhere in the middle. There were signs, yes. However, most were very inconsistent. I figured my body was priming itself for what was to come – eventually.
The Birth Story
I had a full day out doing many of my busy Tuesday tasks – a mom support group, a play date, a coffee run, an eye appointment and when I still felt off, I set an appointment for a massage. I read that if they were Braxton Hicks, a soothing massage and a calming hour would slow them down.
Well, they didn't slow down. They picked up ten fold during and when I showed my husband my phone after (I was tracking contractions on an App) he freaked out.
On the 10 minute drive home, I said I wanted food. He wanted to secure our oldest daughter first, so I called our 'person' who had volunteered to watch her when the time came. They didn't pick up. So I called our back up. They didn't pick up. We continued in the direction of our house to pack her a bag and I disgruntledly posted on Facebook about not knowing what to do.
A (further-than-me-in-her-pregnancy) friend said to drive our daughter on over and get to the hospital. At this point, I was grabbing the steering wheel if he hit a speed bump as contractions were splitting me apart. (Clearly I wasn't getting food, by the way...)
We pulled into the house and he went to pack our daughter a bag while we stayed in car. I continued to have large contractions while talking on my Facebook post.
My famous last words were “I just feel like I need to take a shit!” Sure, TMI on a normal day but I think my filter was long broken.
At that point, my husband had come back to the car with a bag in hand for Hailey. I told him I really needed to pee, and I would be quick. He got out of the car with me. I told him I'm a grown up and can manage a piss on my own. (Thank every higher power he didn't listen to me!)
I don't remember if I did actually pee or not. I suddenly had a very painful contraction over the toilet and yelled out that it was time!
I had never seen this usually calm man more scared. He screamed for me to pull my pants back up and get my ass in the car. “We are not doing this here!” So I did. I walked out of the bathroom, and made it a full 3 steps out the door before I realized something was very very wrong.
It was too late. This was out of my control.
I turned right around and walked back in the house. All the while my husband still yelling at me confused about what was happening. I recall seeing my comfy couch and having a split second to decide if I should lay on it or go back to the toilet. I don't remember thinking it through but just my body instinctively wobbling back to the squatting position over the toilet. My husband rushed in questioning why I didn't keep going to the car, but when I pulled back down my pants, everything changed.
There was her head. Right between my thighs. I could feel a large bulbous object, see the hair...but couldn't feel it. My water had not broken. Danny disappeared and returned what felt like a split second later and I heard him yell “Hailey, go upstairs!” He had brought our oldest in from the car.
Suddenly, another contraction. A loud POP was heard (which I now know was my water breaking), and now her shoulders were also out. I stood up, still over the toilet, braced myself against the wall across from me and pushed again, and felt her whole body wriggle right out.
I stood up a bit more and yelled “Get her!” Danny fished our baby out and I sat back down. Penelope Jayne cried right away. I tried to get her to nurse, but she wasn't interested. She was beautiful, and absolutely perfect. I was so in love, and the whole situation was so surreal.
“Oh this is bad," she said. "This was supposed to happen in a hospital!”
We laughed and told her everyone was ok and she could come say Hi. She looked at the blood soaked floor and said “Um.. no thanks.. I don't want to ruin my new shoes.” We eventually got her to come close. She just peeked at her and smiled. Then her ride showed up.
My friend, who was due with her second any day now, walked in and went completely pale. “Thats a baby! ...I told you not to do this!” We had been joking about it all day while I ignored my contractions. She proclaimed “One contraction, and I'm checking into the hospital!”
Somewhere in there, Danny had also called the hospital and they were sending an ambulance to us to bring to the hospital.
I then called my mom. She was absolutely shocked. The funny thing is, this was reminiscent of my own birth story. Long story short, my family was in California for my grandpa's funeral. They traveled there from where they resided in Germany and I was born at the end of the trip on my grandmothe'rs couch after 15 minutes of warning, while the ambulance tried to find a parking spot, making my father the 'one to deliver me'.
After hanging up with Mom, and my daughter now being secured, suddenly, all of my adreneline was completely depleted. I went from taking selfies, holding conversations, being totally in awe of what I just did, to hardly holding my eyes open. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was in heavy shock.
My body felt heavy. I was getting disoriented. I labored a sentence to my husband “Dear, I need you to go to the kitchen. Get the biggest bowl you can find. Just GO!” he rushed off, not knowing why I had such a strange request.
I then told him “I'm so sorry.. but I am going to stand up the best I can... I need you to make quick work of scooping out the placenta from the toilet.” He didn't question me for a second. He had completely reverting to task mode and was happy to take on whatever mission came up.
So he did so. I sat back down. Told him I needed him to take the baby now.
I couldn't hand her off while I was still sitting on an umbilical cord going into the toilet bowl. I knew if I held her much longer, I was going to drop her.
After handing her off, I started to pass out right away. I recall him screaming, and then shoving year old Christmas candy into my mouth he grabbed from somewhere. He even smacked me in the face. Whatever he could to keep me awake.
We waited. And waited.
It was nearly a half hour before the EMTs finally showed up. Apparently they got lost on the 5 minute drive to our home.
They took Danny and Penelope into the living room and after what felt like forever, I heard arguing. My husband was screaming at them to come check on me. I had my head resting on the wall, eyes closed, still on the toilet.
I heard him yell “The baby is fine! Has anyone even checked on her!?”
Finally two men came into the bathroom and helped me up, pulled up my pants and got me onto a stretcher. Once I had my legs straight, suddenly I felt fine. I yelled to Danny, who informed me he was in the living room and about to cut the cord. I was sad I was missing it.
They got me into their ambulance, and brought my perfect new baby to me. After a quick discussion, Danny decided to follow behind in our car so he could bring some essentials and have transportation on that end.
Once we got to the hospital, the nurses rushed toward us freaking out. After checking, we were both in great health (other than some gnarly tearing on my part).
So in the end, I birthed a perfectly healthy baby. It was quick, it was moderately painless, and better than my first hospital birth.
SO..why as weeks went on, did I feel so disconnected? I'm going to get beyond real here.
Understanding Birth Trauma
One night, about 4 weeks later, I was sleep deprived, wi th no idea of the last time I'd showered, holding a screaming baby I couldn't console.
With tears in my eyes, I told my husband I didn't feel like I loved her. It's one of the most regretful sentences to escape my mouth, but it was my foggy headed truth at that moment.
I felt like I didn't know who she was sometimes. As if she just appeared in my life out of nowhere.
Months went on and things got easier, and I knew I loved her and would always care for her, but I didn't feel as connected as I knew I should. I clearly had a bad case of Postpartum Depression.
I never got it looked at, and only voiced my concerns to him and two fellow moms.
Those wonderful ladies both pointed me in the direction of articles describing what I was feeling. Or rather, an explanation as to why I'd feel that way.
It took many more months and much more researching to accept it as truth. I felt dirty categorizing my experience with women that suffered much more. I didn't feel like I suffered. It was quick. I recovered faster than I thought possible. Everyone was healthy. So who was I to put TRAUMA along with that day?
But that's the rightful word for it. Things could always be worse, but that doesn't negate what I had taken from me. I those moments, no matter how short, I was traumatized.
I know that on that day, some part of me was certain I was going to die giving birth. I even felt OK with that, but knew I needed to finish my task at hand first, anyway.
I had been told by my doctors for months that I was going to have a giant baby, and needed to be induced (scheduled a week after she came on her own), so here I thought I was about to endure the worst. She was only 6 pounds 13 ounces, by the way.
I had never been more scared. Though it was calmed as soon as she came rushing out, those few moments were enough to do severe mental damage that lasted nearly her first full year.
Frankly, I'm not sure I'll have anymore, but they are always surprised when I say I don't know.
“But you've already done it!” they say.
It's not the same. I didn't get a choice, a say. It never felt like something I DID, it felt like something that happened TO me. I don't know that I would willingly sign up to do it again on purpose.
Penelope is now 18 months old and such a shining light in our lives. Her big sister is one of her favorite people. She gets so excited when daddy comes home.
She and I have a very special bond, without question. I'm very happy to have gotten past my postpartum difficulties, but certain aspects still make me twitch, and likely always will.
In hindsight, I do wish I had sought out help. I wish my husband had forced my hand a bit after seeing how I was being affected, but it was a lot for him to work through, too, and after talking I know he will, if the need ever arises again.
I also know I'm not at all alone in this. I felt petty for fretting over something that seemingly went better than I could have hoped, but that's not the point.
I've come to realize it was totally valid for me to experience anger and trauma over what happened and that realization means I can accept my experience without feeling I need to assure others that it was 'nothing' because it didn't end in a tragedy.