On Wednesday February 6th, we were blessed to have our family grow and to welcome our little Emilia Eden Cartwright earthside. She is such a beauty and I am in awe every time I look at her. In awe of how perfect her little body is, of how much she reminds me of our sweet Hyrum, and of how grateful I am that she is a part of our little family. I can hardly put her down.
After having a cesarean birth with Hyrum, I knew that I badly wanted to have a different birth experience in the future. I felt broken, I felt sad, and I felt that I somehow missed out on what generations and eons of women before me have experienced. I spent the better part of two years reading about natural birth and how important it is, of wishing I could change my lack of awareness going into Hyrum's birth, and all-in-all, just hoping and praying for that second chance. And so, hand in hand with my amazing and supportive husband, we decided to embark on an adventure toward an unmedicated VBAC.
Though there is a shortage of midwives to meet demand in Calgary, I was blessed to find myself in the care of a wonderful midwife who supported my desires for a VBAC. My pregnancy with Emilia sailed along without hiccups and I felt confident that I was taking good care of my body and my baby (with a couple shots of delicious chocolate on the side). While last go around, I had issues with my blood pressure, I found ways to relax and succeeded in avoiding any issues surrounding there. We interviewed and hired a remarkable doula who came highly recommended and with whom we felt an incredible bond. We took a Birthing From Within class to practice pain coping techniques and to focus on the spiritual aspects of this upcoming birth. We reviewed over and over again the choices that were made in conjunction with Hyrum's birth and tried to find where things went awry. We talked about our desires and we worked to visualize what our intended birth would look like. Best of all, we did it together as a couple.
To cut a long story short, things started to get a little bumpy the last few weeks. I was suddenly carrying significantly more amniotic fluid than even the high end of normal and as a result, baby girl was having a grand ol' time flipping around. She would switch from cephalic to breech to transverse within a day and then flip back to her favourite position (transverse...oh so delightful feeling) the next. Obviously, this became a bit stressful for us. My midwife highly recommended that my best chances for a VBAC would be to have the baby turned (if needs be) and artificially rupture membranes and deliver the baby when we knew she was head down. Otherwise, we would be gambling with whatever position she was in when I went into labor and chances were fairly good that it would be transverse. After a lot of deliberation and tears, we felt this was our best chance. On Tuesday morning we headed to the hospital and got excited to have a baby.
At first it looked like my cervix wasn't going to be open enough to rupture membranes (little girl's head wasn't engaging to help that out). I was ridiculous disheartened after all of the acupuncture, chiropractic, and evening primrose oil. So they decided they would use a device called a folley to try to get my cervix to open without having to use medications. Blessing beyond blessing, after checking me the first time, my cervix opened right up. I went from 0-2.5 in about a minute. Nice! So instead of waiting 12 hours for some balloon to do its trick, we got this show on the road, they ruptured my membranes and after a ridiculous amount of fluid went everywhere, Brennan and I proceeded to walk the halls for two hours trying to bring on labor. Contractions were coming regularly but were still pretty weak. After two hours of things going nowhere, they decided to use oxytocin to get things moving. I was really keen on not having to use any augmentation but also knew that I was on the clock and if baby didn't come within a certain amount of time, I wouldn't have many choices anyway. We agreed to the small, incremental doses and continued walking around. All the while, I was getting a bit frustrated by the hospital staff and the resident doctors who made comments that resulted in me feeling they were just waiting for me to fail. As much as I was trying to stay positive, it was really wearing on me.
After a few hours of no progress, I was starting to feel a bit disheartened and even more exhausted. All of the work and worry over getting her to turn, the ultrasounds, the acupuncture and chiro appointments had taken their toll. I soon found myself wanting to do nothing more than crawl into a hole and lie down. Then a miracle happened--a shift change. Normally shift changes throw laboring mamas for a loop but this one was definitely heaven sent. Arguably the best OB in Calgary who is super pro-VBAC was the new OB on call and while my first nurse was nice, the new nurse was absolutely awesome. She had been trained as a doula and after taking a few minutes to ask me about the events surrounding Hyrum's birth, she quickly could see that I was keen on avoiding interventions and even made a plan in case I asked for an epidural (i.e. drastically up my IV fluid levels to avoid my blood pressure dropping) to help prevent some of the pitfalls that often occur with them. Even better, she explained this to every single nurse who came in contact with me so they would also know how best to help me. She told me how excited she was to be with a mom who was choosing a natural birth and wanted to do everything she could to help us. By the time we called our doula, I went from laying down in bed with so many doubts about my abilities, to having a stair climbing dance party within the L&D room.
Once my doula arrived, things started moving a bit more quickly. She helped me find ways to relax through early and active labour so I would have more energy later on. As one of my favorite people in this world, the energy she brought to the room was palpable and I knew we could make things happen. My confidence was about a mile high. Can I just say that hand massage was one of the best things ever?! As we hit about 4-5 centimeters, things started to get a bit more intense. I was surprised by how much pain each of the contractions brought on which I know is completely normal, but the the limited amount of sleep was starting to take its toll. Brennan was a champ through the whole endeavor--holding my hand, putting counter-pressure on my back, rubbing my arms, and overall giving me so much encouragement. Apparently, I about squeezed his hand off and tried to send his wedding ring through his finger during an especially intense contraction. At one point, I started crying about how I was sorry I wasn't strong enough and that I wasn't doing well enough. He looked me in the eye and said, "I am so proud of you. You are so strong." I protested and said that I was too weak and that he had no reason to be proud of me. With tears streaming down his face he proclaimed, "Please don't discount my feelings. I am so, so proud of you."
Around 7:30am, after about 17 hours of labor, I finally hit 6 cm. By this time, the pain was ridiculously intense and I was completely exhausted. Another shift change brought a new nurse and when they asked to check me again, I about died. The contractions were back to back and I knew they wouldn't have time to check me without it being in the middle of one. They offered to give me some laughing gas while they checked me (and I was finally at 7 cm!) and while I was not excited about using any medications, I knew I couldn't stand that check without a bit of help. And so I thankfully agreed on some. Perhaps a bad idea...it definitely took a bit of an edge off of the pain and it really helped me to focus on my breathing, but it also made me feel about as drunk as a sailor. After the check, I didn't have the confidence to make it through without it. I remember saying some pretty wonky things, though not even I remember what they were or why I was saying them. I started begging for an epidural and gripping that blasted hospital bed with every ounce of strength that was in me. I can't think of a time when I doubted myself or my abilities any more than I did in those moment.
Sadly, this is also where things started to fall apart for our VBAC. Again, drunk as a sailor, I don't recall exactly what happened next. Baby's heart rate started decelerating during contractions but instead of recovering between them, it stayed low. Suddenly the room was rushed with doctors, residents and nurses all trying to get me to roll on my side. In the midst of transition contractions, I somehow managed to move a bit and heave myself over but there was no recovery. Before I even knew what was happening, my bed was being wheeled down the hall.This is where things started getting really scary for me. Things were happening so quickly and to be honest, I wasn't really sure what was happening.
I remember one of the resident doctors explaining risks to me because they didn't have time to get a consent form signed. I remember them talking about not being able to give me a spinal block quickly enough. I remember them trying to move me to a sitting position mid-contraction to insert the block into my back. I remember crying a lot out of confusion, pain, and disappointment. I remember exclaiming that I had tried so hard. I remember a doctor asking me what my main concern was. I remember saying that I didn't know how I would care for my toddler. I remember asking where my husband was only to be told that he would be here later. I remember wondering if our little girl was still alive or if my body had killed her. I remember them saying that I could be awake and that I was lucky. I remember a sweet nurse promising that she wouldn't leave my side. I remember being incredibly relieved to see Brennan after what seemed like hours.I remember a curtain being drawn so I could see the face of my beautiful and supportive doula.
Once Brennan was allowed to enter the room (I was later told that they don't let the husbands or midwives in the room if they have to put mom under general anesthesia. Since they didn't know if the block would work quickly enough to get baby out in time, he was told to wait in the hall), I knew that I had to prepare to birth our baby. Even though I wouldn't be the one pushing her out of my body, I knew I needed to be there--emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. I reminded myself that in a lot of ways, this was a sacred space. Only those who were wearing special clothing and who had been initiated into the birth were allowed there. I reminded myself that I was still the one who had brought my little girl to this point and that I was still accompanied by a Divine presence. I reminded myself that I was still the keeper of the veil between heaven and earth no matter who else was there to assist. I reminded myself that I had done everything I knew how to do and had tried with everything in me to have the birth I wanted. I reminded myself that sometimes God has other plans and other lessons for us to learn than the ones we hope for. I reminded myself that I can't control everything. More than anything, I reminded myself that I was a mother. Me. I am a mother and no matter how my little ones had or would come Earthside, I was their mommy and they would need me.
After Baby Girl was born, Brennan walked over and took some pictures and then brought them back over for me to be able to see our little girl. They wrapped her up and let Brennan hold her next to my face while I stroked her cheek. Brennan and I joined together to sing "Families Can Be Together Forever" as the first lullaby to our little lady. We marveled at how beautiful she was. He held her close to me and I was so grateful to have her with me for every moment. Once they moved me off of the operating table, they placed her in my arms and wheeled me down to the recovery room. Once there, my sweet doula and my midwife joined us in celebrating the birth of our daughter while I nursed her for the first time. We were told Baby Girl had a hard time because not only was she posterior but she also had tilted her head to one side and was basically trying to come down ear first. Silly little girl
For now, I still grieve the loss of what I wish I had. I still cry and still run through so many moments and wonder where things went wrong. I still wish I could go back and try again but more than anything, I celebrate my birth as a mother. I try to remind myself what Brennan tells me over and over again--that I am a mother because I would sacrifice my wishes to save my child. I work with everything in me to believe him.
One thing is for sure, she's absolutely beautiful and I am so grateful to have her here with us. As I nurse her and hold her close almost constantly, I am grateful for the gift of being able to bring life into this world. I think of all the world has in store for her and I am hopeful and happy. May God continue to bless us on this journey of parenthood and may I always remember and be grateful for the incredible and supportive people with whom He has blessed us.
Emilia Eden Cartwright
7lbs, 8 oz 20.75 inches
February 6, 2013