Telling the story of my most recent birth requires the telling of the one that preceded it. They are so intimately connected that they have become parts of the same story.
My pregnancy with my firstborn, Bruin, was wonderful. I really liked most of the doctors who made up my OB team, and felt confident about the upcoming birth. Prenatal visits were spent mostly in the waiting room, followed by about ten minutes with one of the doctors, and that was fine with me. I went into the birth with the mindset that whatever they wanted to do, they could do, because they were professionals after all, and the end result of a healthy baby was “all that mattered.” So I was fully on board with whatever they recommended.
At 40 weeks and 3 days, I was on the toilet at about 2:30 in the afternoon to pee and felt a little pop and heard a “glug glug” sound. There wasn’t much fluid, but I figured this had to be my water breaking. I called the obstetrician’s office, and got the answering machine- I was so nervous that I left the wrong call-back number, and when I called to correct it, I left it wrong again! They found the correct number in my file. Of course they said to come in right away. I waited until my husband, Garrett, got home from work (around 5:30) to tell him, and away we went!
We got there at about 6:30 and told them that although I wasn’t having any contractions, I suspected my water had broken. They checked me over in the ER and paged my OB. My favorite was on call, and I felt relieved when he walked into the room and gave me a test to see if I was leaking amniotic fluid. The strip came back inconclusive so he brought in an ultrasound machine to check amniotic fluid levels. We saw Bruin sucking his fingers! The ultrasound said that there was still plenty of fluid (what should have probably been my cue to head home), but that there was maybe possibly a small leak. He said that since I was over 40 weeks, we’d “leave the hospital with a baby.” We were ecstatic and started calling family to inform them of the induction.
I was officially admitted around 8:30 pm, hooked up to an IV and fetal monitor, and the Pitocin was started. Since my water was “possibly” broken, I was ordered to stay in the bed. Our families arrived soon, but not a lot was going on. I was dilating steadily, but still wasn’t really feeling contractions. When I reached 4cm, the doctor came in to rupture what was “left of” my membranes to speed things up, since I had been on the highest dose of Pitocin for a long time with not much progress. I wasn’t in any pain until this point, but about 10 minutes later it got intense so I requested an epidural. I went from having no painful contractions to a constant one so quickly I didn’t know how to deal with it. But still, I wasn’t worried, and the epidural felt so amazing. They continued to check me, and a couple of times Bruin’s heart rate fell during a contraction (which again I didn’t realize was perfectly normal, especially with Pitocin) and they put me on oxygen.
At about 3:30, on September 30th, I was told I was 10 cm and fully effaced and could start pushing as soon as the doctor got there. He was in surgery and so another OB came to check me. Interestingly he was the only one of the four doctors I wasn’t comfortable with, and he was the one to say he didn’t know what the nurse was talking about- according to him I was maybe 6 cm. He’d have the other doctor check me as soon as he was available. Nurses came in and out, and Garrett, my mom and I were all pretty confused. The other doctor came in finally and said he thought I was 10 cm, and to start pushing. So my mom- at my request- called my sister’s cell phone to have everyone in the waiting room listen as the baby arrived. But after about an hour, still nothing was happening. The baby wasn’t descending. And about 30 minutes later, my contractions stopped. Completely. The doctor actually left to attend to someone else since my pushing was going so slowly, and was out of the room when this happened. The nurse told me just to push when I felt like it, even if I wasn’t having a contraction. Eek. I didn’t know how bad an idea this was, and continued pushing with all I had, determined to get Bruin out. It was around this time, when I was making absolutely no progress and had no idea what was holding me up (um, a steady stream of interventions and lying flat on my back for almost 24 hours maybe?), that I heard the woman in the room beside me, who had just been admitted, birth her baby. The ecstasy in her voice was heartbreaking to me. I felt like giving up. I was so exhausted, and not any closer to holding my baby. The doctor came back finally, and said, after 2.5 hours of stalled labor, that he recommended a c-section. He said he “rarely” made that recommendation, but that in my case he felt it was necessary. He said, “You know… you’ve got a lot of people out there in that waiting room… they’re all tired… and you’re tired.”
My mom was made to leave; I got a new epidural for the cesarean, and was wheeled into the OR. Garrett joined me after a bit, and we listened while the anesthesiologist explained what was going to happen. The surgery began and I drifted in and out of sleep. This epidural was making me feel differently than the first did, and I was exhausted and shaking. We were told that Bruin’s head was incredibly stuck in the birth canal, and instead of just pulling him out, they had to use forceps to force him back up through the birth canal, which caused a lot of bruising and swelling on his head and face, and a lot of pain for me later. It kind of felt like having a tooth extracted- not how I expected to describe the birth of my son. At 6:30 pm, almost exactly 24 hours after we checked into the hospital, Elliott Osker Bruin was born. We were told he was blue, and didn’t get to see him for a few minutes while they pinked him up. I kept hearing what a “huge” baby he was- at 8 lbs 9 oz and 21 inches long, he was hardly a whopper. He was brought to me fully swaddled for literally about 5 seconds before he was taken to the nursery (followed diligently by his daddy) while I remained zonked in the recovery room.
I don’t remember seeing him for the first time. I also don’t remember holding him for the first time, which was about 3 hours after he was born. And, although it was so important to me, I can’t recall how it felt to nurse him for the first time. Even though we had been separated for so long, he latched like he had always known how, and I am still thankful.
My recovery was long and difficult. Although I wasn’t diagnosed with it, I am certain I had some form of PPD. It took me a long time to realize that a huge part of this was because of the birth situation. I went into it not caring how he was born, and when it ended up as a cesarean, I told myself- and everyone else- that I would have my next one via c-section as well, since I had pushed and everything, and didn’t feel the need or desire to do that again. I sang the praises of the doctors and hospital who had “saved” my baby.
It was about a week later, when breastfeeding got really difficult, that I started to feel like a failure. I told Garrett that I must not have been meant to have a baby since my body couldn’t birth without help, and then couldn’t breastfeed either. I was directed to a website by our IBCLC and it opened my eyes to the way I really wanted to parent, and how I wanted to give birth next time. I hadn’t even considered a VBAC, much less an HBAC, until this point. I immediately devoted myself to this new path. Bruin was still about 6 months old, but we already knew what we would do next time.
In February of 2011, I contacted a midwife about a consult. I was pregnant, but didn’t know it yet- I wanted to be prepared since I knew it would be difficult to find someone near us. I was unable to find anyone willing to assist me in a HBAC in our area, and the closest was about 1.5 hours away. She agreed to take us on, and I am so thankful. Between the time I arranged the consult and the appointment, we found out I was pregnant, and so I was even more relieved to have found a midwife, and one that I genuinely like, at that! The team consisted of our midwife, apprentice, and assistant. I cannot emphasize enough how valuable these three women are to me, and how wonderfully different prenatal care was this time. Words seem inadequate.
I was measuring consistently ahead in fundal height early on, and just before the mid-point of my pregnancy, my midwife referred me to an obstetrician to have an ultrasound (we’d not planned on having any) to rule out twins, fibroids, excess amniotic fluid, or any other complication. At the ultrasound, we were told there was one baby, no fibroids, and no excess fluid- the doctor said I simply had “a large uterus.” So we went with that as confirmation.
At about 2:30 one morning, I had a contraction that woke me from my sleep. This had happened before, so I waited and felt a few more before I grudgingly got up and decided I’d take a bath to help them stop so I could get some sleep. I went into the bathroom and went to pee (for like the fifth time that night) and turned on the light. I saw that a little blood was in the toilet from sometime earlier, and wiped to see if there was any more… there was. So I woke Garrett and he called our midwife to tell her what was happening. She said it was probably my bloody show and to take it easy and call her if anything else happened. I tried and tried to sleep, bathe, and just relax to get the contractions to stop. I must have taken five baths in a couple of hours! I was struggling to concentrate on the book I was reading. Bruin woke up at about 5:30 and joined me in the tub. It was at this point that I realized I was having some trouble with the contractions. Garrett started timing them, and they were from 3 to 10 minutes apart, but usually about 5. We figured since they were not particularly regular that I was in false labor, and that, again, I just needed to relax. I called my mom to tell her I was having contractions but that I didn’t think I was in true labor. I told her to go to work and that we’d call her there if anything changed. This was at about 6:30.
We ate some grapes and tried to watch some tv, but I wasn’t super into it, and Bruin was asking to nurse. I knew he would be asking for “mama milk” all day, and that nursing him would bring on more contractions, so Garrett took him to stay with my mother-in-law for the day so I could rest while he went to work. I took another bath, a shower, and tried to lie down and listen to a Hypnobabies cd, but the contractions were too strong for me to really relax. I definitely thought they’d stop. In fact, I thought they’d better stop, since I’d just had the home visit from the midwives on Monday morning. I could have a home birth in 5 days at 37 weeks, but not a day sooner! So I was determined not to be in true labor yet. But when Garrett got home from dropping off our son (at about 8:30) and saw me in the bed, he said we needed to call again and so he did, all while packing a bag. She asked some questions and then suggested we come and meet her to assess the situation and see if I was really in labor or see what we could do to slow or stop it. We left, and on the way, stopped at the store to get more minutes for our cell phone. I had two contractions while he was inside, and we were parked in front of some man sitting in his car, and I was trying so hard to moan softly and not make a crazy face! It was at this point that I remembered that I had cotton balls soaked in lavender oil that I’d been given at a prenatal visit to lower my blood pressure. I breathed so deeply I’m surprised I didn’t inhale them!
We drove on, and the contractions were getting more regular and still about 5-6 minutes apart. I finally started to surrender to the idea that our baby would be born soon- in a birth center. I was super disappointed, but trying to get through the contractions as peacefully as possible. We called my sister and mother-in-law to let them know what was going on, and that they should probably plan on making a trip that day.
I was low moaning for a while, but then that stopped working. The whole trip was about an hour and a half, and about 45 minutes into it, my moans got higher pitched and, um, less controlled. We talked about passing a bank, and how we’d definitely make it a few more hours at least… and then about two minutes later, my water broke… everywhere! I was finally able to accept that the baby would be born that day, and soon, but we talked and I figured we still had at least a few hours. Garrett called our midwife to keep her updated, and she announced a change of plan- she said to meet her directly at the hospital. She asked Garrett if it was me moaning that she was hearing, and he said it was.
As they were talking, my body gave a tiny involuntary push, and I felt something come up between my legs. My first thought was, “oh, God, the cord.” But I knew what an emergency that would be, and thought that maybe, just maybe, I had somehow pooped. So I reached down (with much trepidation) and felt, and it was most definitely cord. I yelled, “The cord is out! The cord is out!” and my midwife heard me yelling over the phone. She told Garrett to pull over immediately and get me on all fours to take the pressure off the cord, and to call 911. There was, oddly enough, some traffic on the rural highway that morning, but after about a minute, he managed to pull off the road. He got out and threw Bruin’s car seat in the grass (we were, luckily, in front of empty fields on both sides of the highway. It was actually quite a pretty spot) and got me into the back seat, talking with our midwife all the while. She told Garrett to get my chest down and my butt up in the air, and then he called 911.
Somehow Garrett managed to get my shoes and pants off. I could hear him on the phone with the operator and the guy was asking him what he saw, and asking him to feel for a pulse in the cord (he didn’t feel one), and telling him to hold the baby in. By now I was really in it… it was all happening so fast, but I truly was my primal self. The pushing and grunting was happening, whether the 911 operator told me to stop or not. I tried to be compliant, but I couldn’t stop it. There was literally nothing I could do but work with my body and my baby. It was the most beautiful feeling I have ever experienced. I wasn’t scared- I was totally consumed, growling and pushing. At some point, Garrett touched what he said was just the cord, which I shouldn’t have felt, but it was excruciating. Probably the baby made a fluke movement at the exact same, and I tried to donkey-kick poor Garrett. I tried to kick him off again (while yelling, “GET OFF OF ME!!”) when the operator told him to flip me onto my back. That didn’t feel right at all, but I tried, and just absolutely could NOT make my body do anything differently than it was doing. It knew exactly what to do, and there was simply no stopping it. I occasionally lifted my head to look out of the window at the trees in the sunshine, and just let my mind go.
About five minutes passed, and I could hear the ambulance coming down the road. Garrett said he felt a tap on his shoulder and walked around the back of the car to come be by my head, and by the time he got to my side of the car, the baby’s body was born (they had managed to flip me on my back during that time span, too). I will never forget the feeling of her body coming out all at once. There aren’t words to describe it. I heard the EMT say, “we’ve still gotta get the head out!” and, from all my reading, I knew that it would come, and that we weren’t in any immediate danger, as heads rarely get stuck. But I can understand why they freaked. I waited patiently for my next contraction, and out she came, easily, quietly. Calliope Ontario Isis slipped gently from my body into the October sunshine. No one was yelling, and it was actually quite ideal for a birth. She was technically born outside, and I love that, and they immediately sat her on my thigh. She weighed 6 lbs. 3 oz. She was whitish gray and completely floppy. I knew some babies are slow to start, and I wasn’t scared, so I asked, “Boy or girl?” and was told girl. I can’t remember who said it, Garrett or the EMT, but I cried- I thought my heart might explode I was so happy!
She still wasn’t breathing or responding, and I kept asking if she was ok, even though I knew in my heart she was, but no one was saying anything. I tried talking to her in my mind, willing her to take a breath. She didn’t. They began chest compressions and bagged her. After a while, a gulp of air came, but that was it. She was, however, pinking up a little from the bagged oxygen. They kept saying, “She is breathing on her own, just not enough.” At some point they took her into the ambulance to get a reading on her heartbeat (which was strong), and I followed shortly thereafter.
Garrett helped push the stretcher to the back of the ambulance and I was lifted into it. The contractions had stopped and I was feeling euphoric, even though I wasn’t home, wasn’t in the tub, and wasn’t even holding my girl… but I had DONE IT! I had naturally VBACed a breech baby with a prolapsed cord! I would have had another c-section for any ONE of those reasons! So I just laid there and watched Calliope’s chest rise up and down, and listened to the chatter of the EMTs. One of them asked me which hospital we had been on our way to and I sort of stammered, and he said, “ok, closest one it is, then.” Someone told Garrett to go ahead and meet us there, that we’d beat him.
Calliope was stable but not breathing entirely on her own yet, and I was doing fine. I knew she was going to be great, and I was thanking my lucky stars that we hadn’t made it all the way to the hospital. The EMTs had to deal with my hormonal euphoria though, and I was talking about 100 miles a minute. They were very good about paying just enough attention to me so that I didn’t feel completely crazy. I apologized for talking so much but they would hear none of it.
Then I started contracting again, and we all assumed it was the placenta. One EMT in particular was talking to me now, and assuring me that Calliope was out of danger, and said, “Well this is a day of firsts. I’ve been doing this a long time and I have never delivered a baby.” The younger guy had delivered one, but only one, and not a breech on the side of the road. The older one asked another EMT to start massaging my belly to help my placenta separate and at about the same time I asked him if delivering the placenta was supposed to hurt so badly. I told him it almost felt like the contractions with the baby, and that I thought the placenta was supposed to hurt less. I was vocalizing low moans at this point. He said, “Yeah, probably.”
A few contractions later he said it sounded like I was about ready to deliver the placenta, and moved down to check. I was involuntarily pushing again. He lifted the blanket and said, “Oh! There’s feet! Did you know you were having twins?” (Imagine my shock now! Refer back to earlier in this story and note that we had an ultrasound with an OBGYN at the insistence of our midwifery team. My weight gain was normal for one baby. We never felt the second baby when palpating, and we never heard a second heartbeat. But the day before the girls were born we’d had our home visit and they left unsettled. They were actually going to call to tell us that they were no longer comfortable doing a home birth and that we should plan on a birth center birth. They all just knew something wasn’t quite as we suspected, although no one could pinpoint just what it was.)
Io Rumina River was born in just a few pushes, feet first. Unlike her sister, she came out yelling! I got to experience that first cry that everyone wants to hear. I was told, “You have another little girl!” About 8 hours from start to finish, and I’d had two babies. The ambulance pulled over and the doors opened to another ambulance- they said since Mina was perfect and in good health (weighing in at 5 lbs. 13 oz.) that she would travel on her own. I held her for just a second before they put her in the next vehicle and we drove on.
At this point I don’t remember too much about the ride. I delivered the placenta en route- I asked the EMT if there were any more in there (haha!), and he said no because there were two cords coming from the placenta (it was actually two placentas fused together).
When we arrived at the hospital, they took everything off of Calliope and placed her on my chest for transport up to the NICU and labor and delivery. I remember frantically trying to rub as much of her vernix into her skin as I could because I knew they would bathe her and wash it all off. I got some into her chest and shoulders and I just loved touching her sweet little body. They unloaded us, and Mina was shortly behind, but I was only holding Calliope when we got to the elevator, which is where we met up with my husband. He was quiet, and an EMT said, “Does he know yet? Oh, man! He doesn’t know yet!” and I looked over and said, “There’s two. It’s twins!” Garrett didn’t say anything, just looked completely overcome. It was a beautiful moment.
Fast forward a bit- the girls had been put in the NICU as standard procedure because they had not been born IN the hospital and there were questions about labor, etc. Calliope had a little trouble maintaining her temperature, but everything was normal otherwise, and there seem to be no complications from her slow start. Mina was great. Our midwifery team had arrived at the same time we did, and helped and supported us like you can’t imagine! Our midwife was the one who helped me hold both girls simultaneously, and we watched as they explored each other for the first time out of the womb.