Theodore’s Birth Story
Finally, after almost two years I’m writing out Theodore’s birth story. This has been a long time coming and something that feels so magic and strange and powerful and hard to put into words.
To be honest it wasn’t what we planned and sometimes I wonder if the way things went were part of the reason I had PPD so badly - especially at the beginning. I suppose I’ll never know for sure. What I do know is there is healing in writing out a story. So here goes ours. Warning: it’s a long one so maybe plan for a cup of something nice to sip and a pee break in the middle.
My due date was for December 13th, 2016 and I had a feeling I would be one of the few people to go into labor on their due date. That week was the final Supermoon of the year (rising December 13th into the 14th) and the Geminid Meteor shower. I thought I was feeling contractions around 10 am to the point that I left work early. John picked me up and we headed down the road to my the birthing center for my midwife to check and see if I was in labor. Nothing. Nada. I wasn’t in labor and she estimated that it would be another week or so before our little boy arrived. She was so kind and told me it’s okay to cry, to be sad that I wasn’t in labor yet. Boy did I take that advice to heart.
I remember the car ride home so vividly - I was crying and telling John “She’s wrong! I know what I know! I’m going to be in labor by tonight! She’ll see!” We went home for the day and hung out watching something silly on Netflix. Dinner came and went, I started feeling more normal and less confident that I would go into labor. Around 10:00pm things started to change. The pain came back, like period cramps in my back that would come and go every few minutes. It started to hurt a little more. I had told John to go to sleep and laid in bed myself trying desperately to get comfortable and calm my racing mind. I’d had Braxton Hicks before - this did NOT feel like those. This felt real. Around midnight I woke John up to start timing the pains. 7 minutes apart. At 3:30am they were fluctuating between 5 and 7 minutes and I was in pain. Now I’m pretty good at handling pain - I’ve stepped on nails, fallen down stairs, but this was….different. Totally unfamiliar but not scary either. We called my midwife who, ironically, was already at the birthing center with another woman in labor. The irony about this is the other woman and I took our birthing classes together and both asked our midwife what would happen if we went into labor at the same time. She kindly explained the process but reassured us that the likelihood of this was pretty slim. I blame the Supermoon personally.
Anyway John called my midwife up and explained what was happening. She wanted me to get into the shower and stay there until the water ran cold. If there was no pain relief in the hot water then I was to head to the birthing center to be checked. The hot water didn’t touch what I was feeling so we got into the car and headed to her. Of course we were assuming that it was just me basically imagining I was in labor because I wanted it to be so badly. Which means we didn’t bring ANY of our bags. No changes of clothing, no snacks, nothing. We got there, I laid down, waited for her to check me - assuming that I would be sent home.
I was 3cm dilated and rounding the corner to 4! A victory chuckle escaped me because I just knew in my heart that I was going to be in labor sooner rather than later. When my midwife told me we could settle in and stay, we both suddenly realized that meant John would have to leave and go get all of our stuff. Mind you it was 4:30am in the middle of December, in Montana. So it was FREEZING. I felt so bad for him, but he was brave and drove back home to grab our stuff while I settled into the birthing tub.
Sometime around 7am I called my parents (who live an hour and a half away) to let them know what was happening. They were ecstatic and headed our way. I labored in and out of the tub during this time and realized around 9am that I was seriously hungry. John called a coworker of my/family friend who kindly brought me some granola bars, crackers and I think ginger ale. They tasted incredible in the moment. Around 9:30am my parents arrived and labor seemed to slow down. I think it was that I got distracted by the excitement of my parents’ arrival that I relaxed and lost my focus on what was actually happening. My midwife came in and we talked that things seemed slow so I got out of the tub and bounced on one of the big yoga balls for a while to start things back up again. Whew - it worked! I was somewhere around 5 cm dilated and crawled into the birth center’s bed to try to nap in between contractions. John fell asleep almost immediately and I alternated between being pissed off that he was asleep and marveling at how handsome my husband was. I was exhausted but managed to cat nap between contractions. I got back into the tub around 1 or 2 pm and tried to continue moving to keep contractions going while getting relief from the pain. I threw up somewhere in here too and it was the weirdest thing to need to puke while having a contraction. By this time the other gal in labor had given birth so my midwife wasn’t split between us anymore and was able to be around me more. She checked my dilation again and nothing had changed. Around 5pm she sat down and expressed her concern over a couple of things. First, I was exhausted. I had only cat napped and had been up since 8am on the 13th and it was now 5pm on the 14th. Secondly I hadn’t eaten anything since that morning besides a few pieces of fruit and some jerky my parents had gotten for me, and what I had eaten, I had thrown up. The situation was she was concerned that I wouldn’t be at 10cm soon enough to be able to push without being over exhausted, over exerted and something go wrong because of those things. Basically she would let me labor for another 2 hours on my own before she recommended we transfer up to the hospital where I would get an epidural, pitocin and most importantly, sleep. Her advice was that I get a meal in me, and start really visualizing my cervix dilating and Theodore being ready to be born safely. My Dad volunteered to go out and get me fast food which was super sweet of him, especially considering it was snowing like crazy outside. I stopped talking to everyone, crawled into the tub and began to sway with low vocalizations, leaning into the pain of every contraction and trying to make it my ally in this process instead of my enemy. I snarfed down food when Dad brought it back and continued in my process until my midwife came back to check me about two hours later. This time I was pumped to be examined - I was sure that I’d progressed enough that I could stay safely at the birthing center and not be transferred up to the hospital.
Nothing. I hadn’t progressed at all. And oh my gosh was it devastating to hear.
I’m actually tearing up as I type this out, remembering how hard it was to hear. So everyone around me began packing up all of our things to transfer to the local hospital. This was not the plan but somehow it was turning into the only safe option. Tear were streaming down my face as I got into our itty bitty Ford focus. The trip up to the hospital was normally pretty short but it took longer due to the snow and ice on the roads. All I remember is crying and screaming “Fuck fuck fuck!!!” every time we hit a bump and I had a contraction. John looked like he wanted to laugh a little at the situation and I can’t blame him. A husband driving his laboring wife to the hospital in the middle of a snowstorm seems far more like a movie scene than anything else. We got to the hospital parking lot with my midwife and parents close behind. Of course I had a contraction in the middle of the parking lot, prompting a random stranger to yell “HOLY SHIT IS SHE OKAY!??!?!” at us from about 2 feet away. Finally I hobbled into the Emergency room, let the desk staff know who I was and why I was there. They got me back to the labor and delivery ward right away. The next little while is sort of a blur - I know I got changed into the hospital gown, and continued to have contractions while we waited for the anesthesiologist to show up. In reality it was probably only 15 minutes after we got there I was getting my first ever epidural.
It was a weird sensation - the lack of pain after hurting so much just before that. We settled in and I cried a little bit more before sort of accepting that this was the new plan, like it or not. By this time it was maybe 9 or 9:30pm and John and I both just fell asleep hard. Remember that pee break I mentioned? This is a great moment for that.
The hospital staff checked in periodically through the night, rotating me from laying on one side to the other and cranking the pitocin up every once in a while. At 5 am I asked for the epidural to be adjusted as I was starting to feel everything and by golly did pitocin contractions hurt!! The same anesthesiologist came in and adjusted my epidural just a little bit, which brought a lot of relief. Immediately after the adjustment, the OB that was working that night checked my dilation since I had been in more pain than before. This was the first time she had even been in since we checked in at 8pm the night before. I think I had dilated maybe a centimeter more and was somewhere around 6 - maybe 6 1/2cm total. The OB wanted to break my water and was very insistent on it, to the point that she kind of made me mad. We asked if there was a medical need to break it at that moment, like if Theodore was in distress or if there were other signs it needed to happen. She said there wasn’t any medical need, just that she felt it would help me progress quicker. We asked for a moment of privacy to discuss it really quickly and asked for my midwife to come in and chat with us. Now my midwife had come up to the hospital with me and up until that point had been napping somewhere quiet on the couch (she’d been up for like 2 days straight!). While the hospital had technically taken over my care, she was still there to support us, to advocate for us and in this situation, advise us. She flat out explained to us that the OB who starts my delivery finishes and gets paid, and that at this point she would recommend we wait until shift change and discuss it with the next OB on shift. We let the doctor know our decision and she was not very pleased about it and actually didn’t come in to check on us again after that. 7am rolled around and the new OB on shift was in immediately to check on me, chat with us about our care plan and check my dilation. I had progressed a little to an almost 7cm by that point which was both encouraging and discouraging to hear. She asked us about breaking my water and we all felt like it was time for it to happen. Theodore was still doing totally great at this point and had showed no signs of distress, decelerations or anything to make us worried. We were just ready for this to pick up the pace! She came in, popped the amniotic sac and they brought in some ice and jello for me to munch on. John went downstairs really quick to eat breakfast with my Dad while my mom stayed in the room with me and my midwife. I started to feel weird around 8 am - like I had to pee but I knew it wasn’t that (due to the catheter).
I pushed the nurses’ call button and let them know that I almost felt like I had to push. She scrubbed her hands, slapped on gloves and reached to check my dilation. BAM. I was FINALLY at 10cm and ready to push! They turned my epidural down at this point so that I could really feel the urges to push. This was amazing because I could really move around some and I asked to get on my hands and knees so I could move and push. Then we tried the bar. Then back on hands and knees. The bar again. This went on for a while and I remember asking for a break and closing my eyes. The nurses thought I’d passed out so they got out a smelling salt which freaked me out when they shoved it up my nose. I screeched “That better not be peppermint!” because my midwife is really allergic and I was going to be pissed if she had to leave! It wasn’t peppermint.
2 hours into pushing and I was crying asking when the doctor would be in to get this kid out! I was so tired, frustrated and kind of angry that it was taking so long to push. Things get pretty hazy during the last hour of me pushing ( I pushed for 3 hours total) so some of this is filled in from John’s memory of everything. Theodore was crowning constantly but never coming out and I know some monitor started to alarm - I’m not sure if it was about his heart rate or something different. The OB was in the room with us at this point, as were 4 or so nurses. I had reached down to feel Theo’s head and was filled with a ferocity to get him out. It was my last big push. The OB said something to one of the nurses who literally sprinted out of the door - I know now she had been told to go tell them to prep the OR for a crash C-Section. What I remember is suddenly being flat on my back with two nurses on either side of me and then two maternity nurses waiting for Theodore and two more people standing by the door in surgical scrubs. John says that the OB looked at the nurses and said “we have 60 seconds to get him out.” I found out later he’d gotten stuck under my pelvis and they had to pop his shoulder to get him out, and that his heart rate was dropping badly. She looked at me and told me to push as hard as I could, to breathe and to keep pushing until she told me to stop. The nurses on my sides were pressing down on on the very top of my belly seriously hard. John could see that the OB had her hand/arm WAY up into my lady bits and was trying to do something to get Theo out. It. Hurt. Like. Hell! Thankfully he popped out and the first thing I heard was the doctor telling John to “cut the cord NOW” before handing him off to the maternity nurses. Someone shouted 11:13am!
Silence. He wasn’t crying and I remember so distinctly thinking “That’s it. He’s dead.” and just disconnecting totally. I shut down. He had probably only been born a minute before he started crying and I remember shouting “THEODORE!” when I heard him for the first time. I didn’t tear too badly but was bleeding pretty solidly after the placenta came out and they were still working on making sure Theo was okay. John walked over to see our boy and started crying a little before coming back and telling me “he’s beautiful Sierra, he’s so handsome!”
I don’t know how long it was before they put him into my arms. More than once I’ve thought about asking the hospital for my records to see about filling in some of the gaps. I do know the first photo we have of me holding him was at 1:30pm, over two hours from the time he was born. I know he wasn’t able to nurse right away (we had a lot of trouble breast feeding the first few weeks, but that’s it’s own story). What I do remember so painfully distinctly is that they put him into my arms and it was like…like I didn’t know him. I couldn’t process that this was the same baby I had been carrying for the last 9 months. It broke my heart then and it breaks my heart now. Later I would learn from my counselor that it was probably the postpartum depression setting in already, causing me to disconnect. The fear and assumption that he wasn’t with us earlier, didn’t help either. He cried and I panicked, handing him back to John who did skin to skin with Theo and calmed him down immediately.
It was the strangest feeling in the world, watching my husband hold our son, yearning desperately for our baby yet not feeling like he was mine when he was in my arms. It’s a feeling that still perplexes me today to think about.
And that was the beginning. Things look a lot different now. I know he’s mine - there’s no doubt about that. The connection I was desperately missing at first is here now and most days are really, really good. PPD still sneaks up on me now and then. I’m not sure if I’ll feel like this always or if it’ll go away in time. I do know though that I have an incredible boy who is pure magic and makes the world a much brighter place. I do know that our birth story is important, even if it’s not what I planned it to be. He’s here. In the end, that was all that mattered.