I am going to preface this story with a couple of things:
- I am the mother of two wonderful and healthy boys.
- I am over four years out from the birth of my youngest son, so have had time to reflect and process this story (although not sure that means anything but it seems like context for you all.)
The story starts in California where my first son was born. Although we struggled getting pregnant (I will leave that for another blog), I had a healthy pregnancy. We didn’t have any complications. The only thing that was scary was he was breech up close to the end — turned with his head under my rib cage. I was doing upside down yoga positions and all sorts of things trying to get him to turn head down and he did about 10 days before he was born.
We delivered at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica which we had toured, taken baby courses, and knew exactly where my post-delivery meal would come from.
When I came in, I was quickly taken into a private room and assessed. I was monitored closely by a nurse and asked for an epidural. I labored for over 24 hours and progressed with the help of pitocin and time. I felt calm and cared for. If anything were to go sideways, the nurses and doctors were paying close attention and would ensure we would be ok.
It was hard and the contractions were strong. My doctor showed up and she and the nurse coached me through pushing to exhaustion. And finally, Bennett was born! It was a tremendous relief and overwhelming feeling of love that came in that moment. I was tired and proud of what I’d done and so happy.
This is the story I would tell friends about labor. It is really hard and exhausting, but THAT FEELING you get when the baby comes makes you forget everything else and is worth every bit of it.
Less than two years later, I was expecting our second son (this time we didn’t have trouble getting pregnant .. who knows?!). Again, I had a fairly healthy pregnancy with few concerns. This time around, my husband got a job offer to move to London and we decided to do it. At 35 weeks pregnant with a baby in breech position and 22-month old in tow, we boarded a plane to London and our new life. (I would not recommend this strategy to anyone)
I was overconfident and thought, “I’ve done this before. He is healthy, I am healthy. All we need to do is find out where to deliver and I can do this.” Easier said than done. When landing in the UK, we found difficulties getting an apartment. You need a bank account for a lease, but you need an address for a bank account. And more importantly on my mind, to see a doctor (GP — General Practitioner) you need an address.
At week 37, we found and paid for a private midwife to come to our AirBnB and she confirmed he had turned head down and was ready. We had finally signed a lease and were due to move in at week 38. I marched into the GP office with our lease and pointed to my belly demanding they register me. Two days later I had an appointment with my NHS midwife and she talked me through where I would deliver and signed us up for the hospital tour.
All of this detail is to say — we were out of our element.
Three days shy of my delivery date, I began labor. I stayed at home in our new apartment as long as I possibly could timing contractions. We called our babysitter (a friend of a friend’s nanny) who came over to watch our older son and we called a taxi to the hospital. We left our apartment about 8:50pm.
Arriving at the Royal Free Hospital in North London, we walked into the triage area of the labor ward. There were two beds — both occupied already. The midwives told us to wait and they would assess me once a bed was available. We waited 45 minutes for a bed and at 9:47pm we were finally seen. Meanwhile, I was in ACTIVE labor. This was not my first child and I had waited at home until I was ready. Things were escalating quickly. I couldn’t sit down. I could barely stand. I was crying. Screaming. Falling to my knees.
I’m not a midwife or doctor, but I am 87% sure the two women in the beds were not as far along as I was (bless them and their babies). Finally, I was in a bed and the midwife completed her assessment. 3cm dilated and yes, I was in active labor. No S&it. They would move me to the labor ward. In 20 minutes.
I asked for an epidural which she said would come once I was in the labor room. In 20 minutes. It was now 10pm. She gave me a tube to suck on which apparently had ‘gas & air’ but aside from using it to bite on, it didn’t help with pain. I have never before or since been in such pain. I thought I was going to die in childbirth and my husband would be left a single dad in a foreign country with two kids under two.
At 10:13pm (I’m guessing) they said to get dressed because we were going to walk to the labor room. GET DRESSED! I mean wtf. Me — as a rule follower — attempted to stand and put my pants on. Contraction. I fell to the floor on my hands and knees. My water broke. And meconium (baby’s first stool) was visible. ‘Get up, you can’t have the baby on the floor!’ yelled a midwife.
I stood and walked screaming down the hallway with two midwives holding a blanket around me. I remember thinking this was a horror film. I screamed over and over. ‘Don’t push.’ they told me. As if I had a choice. “He is coming!!!” I yelled back. And sure enough, about 5 steps down the hallway at 10:15pm Avery was born. Walking down the hallway. Caught by a midwife in the air.
In almost one motion, he was born, they turned me into a labor room and sat me on the bed. Still attached with the cord they gave him to me.
I had no feeling. No sigh of relief. No overwhelming feeling of love. No pride. No exhaustion. Just shock. Nothing.
They cut his cord and cleaned him off and Chris held him up for photos. I started nursing him. It was like a cold, fuzzy cloud sitting over my eyes.
We left the hospital less than 24 hours later with a healthy son. I had a health visitor come to our apartment several times in the following weeks and Avery progressed well. About two weeks later, she asked me how I was doing and if I had support. I broke down. She got me in touch immediately with a peer support group and encouraged counseling.
There is still a part of me that feels guilty saying that I had a traumatic birth experience with Avery. He was healthy, as was I. However, I had anxiety and fears constantly about “what if?” What if his cord had been wrapped as he was delivered? What if there had been a complication? Most of all, I believe I felt empty and guilty that I didn’t have the flood of love that poured over me when Bennett was born. I felt robbed of that feeling. What if that impacted the way I would bond with him?
The counselors and support group I participated in set up a meeting with the head midwife of the hospital for a meeting and we de-briefed the whole birth experience. He admitted that their target for triage assessment was 15 minutes, not the 45 I waited for. That is where he believed they fell short.
The counseling and the closure on that experience has taken a long time. My trust in hospitals and medical care had faltered and is in repair.
But to you and to all going through birth, I no longer say “Wait for that feeling. It will all be worth it.” I feel like such a jerk for telling that to friends back then. Every experience is different. I know that now first hand, but also from countless friends and friends of friends that have had unplanned or divergent birth stories from what they had been planning. I still am not sure what I would say to that friend, but it might be something more like this:
You are ready for this. You are strong and you are loved. Say how you feel and ask for what you need. Make sure your partner or doula or whoever is allowed in that room will advocate for you. You are strong and I love you.
Lauren Gregor is the founder and CEO of Rent-a-Romper, a baby clothing subscription company that’s helping moms get through the early years. Because parenting is hard enough. Learn more and join Lauren’s community of parents here.