WE WISHED FOR HER FOR WHAT SEEMED a very long 12 months (February to January of “trying”) and patiently waited for her to arrive for what seemed a very long 9 more months. Penelope’s original due date also known as a guess date, because who really knows the exact moment babies are actually due, was October 24th, 2013. My advice to parents to be, don’t fall in love with the due date, it will change. Trust me. Oh and enjoy every moment of your pregnancy. Once the baby gets here, it goes by so fast!
I first have to mention that at 37 weeks we were unfortunately informed Penelope was in the breech position (head up, butt down). I was told I had to deliver her via c-section. I was extremely disappointed and shocked at the news. I couldn’t believe it. From that moment on, I was uncertain to what was to come. My plan to have a natural birth was being challenged. After a week of trying natural non-invasive remedies to flip her, such as you’ll find on spinningbabies.com, and visiting a chiropractor who performed the Webster Technique twice, we finally decided at 38 weeks to go into the hospital and have them physically flip her. A very painful and unpleasant procedure I had originally declined (because of the risks) called external cephalic version (I will write about that experience alone another time). We are thankful we did, because it worked. Breech babies aren’t delivered vaginally anymore because of the risk of death being so high so we were beyond delighted we were able to flip her and avoid a c-section and have the opportunity for a vaginal birth.
Penelope’s birth story…Everyones birthing experience is so different and now that I have done it twice, I know first hand the truth in that. Some women labor for two hours and some women labor for 2 days so we need to not be so hard on ourselves even though it’s hard to ignore society or pressures from other moms that is put onto us about having that smooth natural birth and the stigma that follows it that if you don’t then you somehow failed. Some women don’t get the luxury of a complication free birth and thank God for medical intervention because it saves the lives of many babies and their mommas. Birth is birth and there is no right or wrong way of doing it because it looks different to each individual from the overall experience ranging in the level of pain, the amount of hours in labor, the position of the baby or really any other complications that may arise and they need to be taken into consideration. Birth stories shouldn’t be compared, they should be shared, respected and heard because bringing a baby into this world nor matter how different it looks like, it’s such a sacred and miraculous gift.
To all the first time moms reading this, just know that my experience was my own and though it was traumatizing and not how I would have ever in a million years imagined it, it was what it was and I had to own it, except it as well as dwell and morn in it. It wasn’t until the birth of my second child where it was smooth, faster and natural did I heal from my first experience. Birthing without fear isn’t about not having any fear but knowing that even with fear you can do it and it is possible – we were made for this.
My mucus plug (I know sounds gross, but that’s what it is) released on Tuesday the 22nd, two days before her due date. I had been having Braxon Hicks contractions for a while. They aren’t painful, but I’ve heard they can be really uncomfortable for some. It wasn’t until my mucous plug released that I felt I was getting close to meeting my baby girl. I knew I could go into labor any day. But the 24th finally arrived and nothing happened, another day passed and nothing. The anticipation was killing me!
On Saturday the 26th, a couple days after due date, something finally happened! Around 12:30pm I noticed my discharge was different. To this day, I am not sure when my water started leaking because it never “broke”. It’s still a mystery because they even tried to pop it but couldn’t. Around 4pm, my husband and I were on a walk at Balboa park enjoying some gelato trying to get labor started, when the first real contractions started. Unlike Braxon Hicks contractions, these started at the top of my belly and felt like little shocks of electricity pinching the top of my uterus. It was finally happening, we were going into labor. It was exciting and thrilling to finally be in labor!
We made our way back, where I labored at home for what seemed like forever. I waged my tail, I swayed my hips and bounced on the medicine ball, walked around the house and did everything I could remember from our birthing classes. My husband downloaded an app to time my contractions. They were between 8 to 4 minutes apart. I breathed through the pain and continued to take deep breaths as the contractions became more and more painful. Breathing through the contractions was key.
As night fell, I told my husband he needed to get some rest and sleep because I was going to need him wide awake and alert later. I paced around the house by myself as midnight approached as the contractions got more and more painful. There is no way to really explain the pain that comes from laboring, there are no words, for those of you who have experienced it know and for those of you who await it, let me just say, it’s horrible. I’m sorry but that’s the truth. I wish I could say it’s really not as painful as people say. The truth is, it’s unimaginable. I tried my hardest not to curl up into a little ball from the intense pain my body was feeling. But by 3am my body was overcome by the intensity of the contractions and that’s when the shaking and vomiting started. I woke my husband up and told him it was time to go in. It had been now 12 hours since the contractions started.
We checked into the hospital around 4am with the hopes that I was going to meet this little baby inside me really soon. To my shock I was only 2 cm dilated. TWO!! It’s so true what they say, it’s best not knowing how dialed you are because at that moment, I felt defeated. I knew that I had a difficult road ahead of me. I wasn’t even close. All I could do was moan through every contraction with the hope that I would dilate quickly and it would all be over soon. The truth was, soon was far from reality.
I lasted 3.5 more hours before finally realizing while shaking and vomiting in the shower that I could not take the pain from one more contraction. This was not how I had imagined it. This was not the natural birth (with no pain meds that is) I was planning. I had imagined there would be a baby in my arms by then. I cried to my husband because I was so disappointed and emotional about the decision to ask for the epidural. It’s silly to think back to how I had felt like I was giving up.
It had been 15.5 hours since my contractions started but I was barely 3 cm dilated. But thank GOD for the epidural! I was finally able to rest. I actually fell asleep. I was able to SLEEP! It was night and day. But of course my snoozing off didn’t last long. I was woken up by two nurses asking me how I was feeling. Before I knew it, I had an oxygen mask strapped to my face. The baby’s heart rate kept falling every time I was having a contraction. My contractions were still 4-5 minutes apart. I was dialing very slowly.
At about 2pm I was checked and told I was only 5cm dilated. It had been almost 24 hours. At this time, there was talk about giving me Pitocin. I did not want to get induced. That was something I knew I definitely didn’t want. There were at this time, two main concerns: The risk of bacterial infection because it had been longer than 24 hours since my water broke. Remember we don’t really know when my water broke, but they did know that it broke or leaked because they tested me for it, and most importantly the baby’s heart rate dropping during my contractions. Can’t forget that part. So scary!
So they wanted to get the show on the road and get me dilated and get the baby out. I was now getting a little scared and bummed we had to deal with this. The reality that I wasn’t in control was disappointing but I also knew that the best plan was no plan. And keeping positive and calm was the way to go. Though as anyone who has experienced labor, knows that it’s very difficult to do. Though I had the epidural, I could still feel the contractions, there is a misconception that you can’t feel anything (this could be different for everyone) but you still feel the contractions. What you feel is the pressure. That doesn’t go away. It’s very uncomfortable. The pain is numbed (thank god) but I could feel them coming, tighten and then release.
Why was the baby in stress? I remember looking over at my husband as he starred at the oxygen mask on my face and the monitor behind me watching our baby’s heart rate drop during my contractions. He had such a worried look on his face. I clearly remember yelling something like “Don’t you do that. You look at me. Not at the monitor. You smile at me. You tell me everything is going to be all right. If you are scared, I am even more scared. Even if something is wrong, don’t tell me, just keep me going!” Poor guy. I needed him now more than ever. I think I scared him even more, but it seemed to work because from that moment on he was nothing but smiles. He was my rock. We didn’t know why the baby was at stress. They worried the baby might be pressing up against the umbilical cord or something. There was more crazy talk about getting a c-section. They had to put an internal fetal heart monitor in through my cervix (attaches to the baby’s head) to get a more accurate measurement.
The midwife on shift was concerned I wasn’t dilating fast enough, especially since we had already passed the 24-hour mark since my water possibly “broke”. They were ready to give me Pitocin, but I asked if we could just wait and check me again in two hours. They agreed, and to my advantage when they checked me again that evening, I was 8 cm dilated! I was beyond relieved! It was too late to give me pitocin. Two hours later I was finally 10 cm dilated! I could finally start pushing.
The end was near.
So I thought.
I was then told I was borderlining a fever, so out of precaution they had to give me antibiotics. It was now 7:30pm and I had been in labor for almost 30 hours. I was finally able to start pushing. My husband turned on our birthing music (Jack Johnson) and the lights went dim. The nurse told me, this could take 10 minutes or 2 hours. The first baby is usually longer, so I imagined it wouldn’t take the ten minutes, but I never imagined it would take me the 3.5 hours that it did. But it did.
After I had been pushing for an hour and a half, you see, little Penelope was discovered to be in the posterior position also known as sunny-side up. Meaning her face was facing up towards my abdomen instead of towards my back like it should have been. This position makes it very difficult to birth. It explained my back labor (the intense lower back pain many women feel during labor). She was stuck. Her forehead kept hitting my pelvic bone. She wasn’t budging. She was in stress and her heart rate continued to drop during my contraction and therefore the oxygen mask still on my face. Again talk about wheeling me in for a c-section was at works.
I am a very stubborn person, and as long as her life or mine wasn’t at risk I wanted to keep pushing. I really wanted a vaginal birth. I wanted a natural birth as much as possible. Yes, I couldn’t handle the pain and had to ask for the epidural, and yes, I was beyond exhausted from pushing for so long, but the idea of delivering my baby via c-section after all this hard work was not an option for me. I convinced them to let me keep pushing. By this time, her head must have passed my pelvic bone because her heart rate had finally stabilized and she was doing fine. Thank god! So, I pushed and pushed, but she still wouldn’t budge much. The contractions were so uncomfortable and kept coming closer and closer together. I felt it would never end. I saw no end in sight. I was beginning to think I couldn’t do it.
I remember lying there with my legs up in the air like a wounded soldier getting ready to quit when at that moment a pair of fresh-faced nurses came in. And with them this wave of positive energy. I guess the labor and delivery floor was slow that night and everyone heard about the girl in room 7 (me) who had been there since yesterday morning and had now been pushing for 2 hours with no baby to show for it. One of the nurses that came in looked at me and told me she had assisted in many births where the baby was sunny-side up. “We just have to wiggle her out” I remember her telling me. “You can totally do this, we got this”, she continued to tell me. Little did she know I was scared to death that I couldn’t do it. From that moment on, I believed her. A switch flipped and now I felt like The Little Engine That Could, I believed her so much that I forgot how exhausted I was and I kept pushing. I had no other choice. I will never forget my dear husband putting cold wash clothes on my forehead, trying to keep me cool. Him shouting, “Push, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and deep breathe”, along with the chorus of nurses and midwives. Everyone was in on it. Everyone was helping me push this baby out. I felt empowered. I felt utterly exhausted.
The nurse that told me we just had to wiggle her out had me after pushing in multiple positions use the bar. Since I had received the epidural, I used the bar to squat lying down, legs up. I grabbed the railings on the side of the bed and pushed, and pushed. At one point that same nurse grabbed a sheet and rolled it up. She tied it through and over the bars like tug a war rope. She gave me one end and she took the other. It was amazing. She was pushing with me! She even mentioned how she used to lift so if she was pulling too hard to just shout. Ha! I couldn’t believe it. At that point, I needed all the help I could get.
I pushed with all I had as I pulled the sheet towards my face and she the other side. I don’t know how long we did this, but before I knew it, the doctor was back in the room to check on the progress. She checked to see where the baby was. The baby wasn’t as low as we had all hoped for. Of course the doctor was now calling it. According to her, c-section it was. Not because it was an emergency, but because they had already let me push for 3.5 hours and the baby wasn’t out yet. They didn’t want me to over exhaust myself (by that point I did feel like I was drained, not a drop left). I could tell that they wanted to wheel me down the hall to the operating room hours ago.
The contractions kept coming closer and closer together, and I kept pushing and pushing. It sucked. OMG was I ready to be done. I can’t believe I didn’t just have them cut the baby out of me. Why was I so stubborn that I wanted a vaginal birth? Why did I not want to turn in the towel? So by then, it had been so long since they started the epidural I was starting to feel the pain.
So right when you think nothing else could go wrong, it does. Because my poor baby was in stress (and 4 days late), she released meconium inside the womb. In other words, she pooped in me. And that is not good. It’s very bad actually. It was one more reason to get this baby out fast. But because I kept pushing and the contractions were so close, the baby was now too low for a safe c-section. My only option now was to have a Vacuum Assisted birth. I remember the doctor telling me this as she got her supplies ready. It all happened so fast. We needed to get the baby out. The lights flipped on (Jack Johnson kept playing), we heard something announced over the speakers and everyone on the floor came into our room. Why didn’t I free myself of this misery and let them wheel me in for surgery? I don’t know, but I didn’t. I remember in our birthing class being told that there is a difference between pain and suffering and at this point my whole body was suffering after 30 plus hours of intense labor and I needed at that moment all the help I could get. At that moment I was scared and upset that this had to happen but I was so thankful for medical intervention because Penelope was in stress, had pooped inside me, was stuck and pinching the umbilical cord so her heart beat kept dropping and as much as I pushed she was not coming out and I had nothing left to give I was so exhausted (and beyond hungry).
The room filled with nurses, midwives, the second doctor on the floor that night and the pediatrician, the crash cart and who knows what else. Just in case anything went wrong. I didn’t have time to process it all, but holly heck was I all of a sudden even more scared. I was told to push as she applied a flexible and rounded cup onto my baby’s head through the birth canal (aka vagina). The cup is connected to an electric suction pump or a small handheld pump that creates vacuum pressure to hold the cup securely to the baby’s head. I was asked to push while the doctor gently pulled on a handle attached to the cup, to help move my baby down and out of the birth canal. Just like that. And out she went.
I will NEVER forget what came next.
The moment my baby was born.
We both remember this little body which was way larger than we had imagined with legs and arms and with one eye open like Popeye starring straight at us being quickly placed on my chest where she had her umbilical cord rapidly clamped and cut (my poor hubby was looking forward to cutting the cord, but because of the assisted birth via vacuum they had to do quickly do it. They only let him trim it later). She was then quickly removed from my arms, handed to the pediatrician and placed in the incubator for observation and to make sure everything was ok. This all took place within minutes, which felt like seconds, and then all of a sudden time was paused. The clock had stopped. This marathon I was running which felt would never end, had done just that. End. I remember hearing her little cry. It was powerful and with a squeak. Oh boy and that’s when I just lost it. I started sobbing like a baby. I started crying along side her cry. I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I felt like I was levitating. After pushing for 3.5 hours, my body was finally at rest. The pediatrician gave the clear that the baby was fine and didn’t need to be taken over to the NICU. Thank god! Everyone in the room started clapping and congratulating me. “Good job mom”, “You did it”, was echoed throughout the delivery room. And my tears of joy kept falling.
My baby was then quickly back in my arms where I held her and kissed her and shed tears on her. We were speechless. I couldn’t believe it. She was finally here! She was finally safe in my arms. I heard the doctor tell me she just had to stitch me up. I remember asking how bad was it? And hearing her comforting voice telling me not to worry, that it was a natural tear and the average amount. At that moment I didn’t care. I just held my baby on my chest and as they finished doing all their little procedures on us. I had her and was not letting go. Her cry soon stopped and within minutes she had found my right breast and started nursing. I was so proud of her! At that moment, life was too beautiful. Life was too PERFECT.
Penelope was born October 27th, 2013 at 10:59pm. She weighed 6 lbs 12 oz and 19.5 inches long. Poor thing, she was so beat up (see image above). Our baby girl entered our world and brought us the truest LOVE imaginable.
We stayed in the hospital for a total of 3 nights and 4 days. The recovery is intense. I was beyond exhausted. Once the baby arrived, it’s not like I could rest. I then had to take care of this precious and vulnerable tiny human being. I needed to feed her every 1.5 to 2 hours. This is now when the real work begins. I was so blessed to have such an awesome group of nurses and my midwife (who didn’t get to deliver my baby, but was there to take care of me soon after). And have of course my amazing and supportive husband.
As you can imagine, pushing for almost 4 hours does a lot of damage downstairs. Swelling, tear, hemroids etc. Let’s just say ouch. The first week, I was in bed or on the couch nursing my baby and resting my body. I bled for 3 weeks and still had a raw spot at my 6-week postpartum check up. Labor and delivery is the hardest thing I have ever been through. It did leave me traumatized.
This is the craziest thing.
I can’t wait to do it again.
I know right? Crazy. Human nature. We are programmed to forget. I already have forgotten. I mean I remember every detail, but for some bizarre reason (probably that we as women are made to make and deliver babies) am ready to jump right back on the horse and do it again.
Well, this was my birth experience and Penelope’s birth story.
I hear the second one comes out a lot quicker.
I hope they’re right.
Isabella’s birth story… (I still need to edit the draft I wrote over a year ago and publish it one of these days so it’s coming soon!)