Calvin’s Journey Into the World (also: my heart’s wild ride)

I never thought I would publicly write about my labor and Calvin’s birth story. I loved reading other women’s stories but I don’t have an actual blog and I honestly didn’t really think it would offer much. Then the actual thing happened and it was so completely different than I planned. I’m writing this story for two reasons: 1) to process and remember Calvin’s birthday and 2) to share with the hopes that other women might feel less abnormal or alone.

Please hear me: This is my experience and I share some of my opinions and desires. In no way am I saying that my desires are right for everyone. My opinions are based on conclusions I’ve made for myself and my family and are shared without judgement. Every mother, baby, and birth are different and I respect the different choices women make for themselves and their families. Even when we differ.

I had been having prodromal (pre-labor) for weeks. Calvin’s due date (August 24th) came and went and the pre-labor intensified. It was emotionally draining because I thought, ‘is this it?!’ every time contractions would consistently build for hours. He was almost a week late and one of my doulas asked if I wanted to get acupuncture with her. I had heard of the benefits but didn’t want to go on my own so I was glad she asked. We went on a Tuesday, August 30th, and I felt stronger contractions during the visit. I thought labor would for sure start that day. All I could hear in my head were all the people who told me, “acupuncture worked for me!” I went to bed that night with no contractions, no progression, and no baby.

I couldn’t sleep that night, which was weird for me. It was midnight, then 1am, then 2… and my body felt wide awake. Something felt different. I went to the couch and tried to sleep a little bit there. Around 6am I noticed contractions that were different. (For all you first time pregnant women out there who are wondering what contractions feel like, I thought I would be able to tell you. And in the moment you think you’ll never forget the physical details. But truly, I cannot describe the pain beyond what you’ve already read on Google. Sorry.) These contractions started out close together, at almost 1 minute long. I was a little freaked out because I had imagined contractions starting far apart and them building up. Around 8:30am, I called one of my doulas and they said they would head over soon. Note: she didn’t say, “call the birth center” when I said the contractions were 4 min apart lasting a minute. She knew it was only the beginning and I was so glad to have both my doulas because if I went off of the timing rule I would’ve been at the hospital way too early.

I’m not sure when the doulas got to our house but it wasn’t too long after that. I was having to close my eyes and concentrate through contractions but it wasn’t too big of a deal yet. After a couple hours I expected my doulas to say, “Ok, let’s go to the hospital” because of the 4:1:1 rule but again, they knew it wasn’t time. Instead they suggested I go back to acupuncture to really get things moving. I was nervous because I needed to focus through contractions and what if they all of a sudden got worse? But we went. Marcos drove me and I sat in the acupuncture chair for 30 minutes, feeling each contraction build. I called my doulas again after that and told them I needed them to meet us at the house because I needed help coping.

They arrived and again, they weren’t rushing us out the door. (I think I wanted them to say, “let’s go” because I wanted it to be over. I wanted that pain to be it. No worse pain.) To get things moving even more, we did this series of three exercises/positions that are supposed help the baby move down as the contractions do their work. Boy did it help things progress. The pain got worse. I had to begin making noise with my breathing through each contraction and if I was standing I had to completely lean on Marcos to get through.

Sometime around 6pm, one of the doulas went and got Chipotle. They said I should eat while I still feel like it, and I remember getting a veggie burrito just in case I threw up later. I didn’t want any spicy stuff! I slowly ate on my exercise ball and moaned through every contraction. Sometime after that I got in the shower and that’s when everything changed. I cried. I told Marcos it hurt. He said he knew. The doula asked what I was feeling and I said, “pressure.” She said it was probably time to call the midwife at the hospital.

Sidenote: I chose to get my prenatal care at Sutter Davis Women’s Health Center and deliver at the Sutter Davis Hospital Birthing Center even though we live in Sacramento. The care team there has a collaborative approach to birth, using the expertise of both midwives and OBGYNs. The midwives do the prenatal care visits and attend the births. The OBGYNs are available for specific medical decisions and necessary surgeries. The birthing center is baby friendly which means that they don’t offer you formula, bottles, or pacifiers in the hospital and all babies room-in with parents (among other things). Everyone has a right to decide what they want for their baby and I didn’t know how breastfeeding would go, but I knew that their practices meant I would get all the help and support I needed to give breastfeeding my best try. All the nurses are trained in breastfeeding and a lactation consultant visited me every day I was in the hopsital. We are so glad we chose the Sutter Davis care team, and we still refer to things they told us during our hospital stay even if it differs from other information we are receiving because we built a trust with them. Something I’m forever grateful for.

So, I called the after hours line. They asked me a million questions, I’m sure. Then the midwife called me back and it was like a switch flipped in me. I could talk better through contractions and I wasn’t breathing too heavy. My contractions also spaced farther apart. The midwife said it wasn’t time, and I started crying. I thought it was time. I thought I had labored all day for this moment and I was ready. I was tired and I was ready to make the drive to Davis. I wanted to know I had been laboring for over 12 hours for a reason.

The doulas thought I was ready too and thought it was strange that I physically changed when I got on the phone with the midwife. My doulas knew I had some anxiety attached to doctors and hospitals, so they asked me what would help me since it might happen again and slow things down. I said I didn’t know (ha), but they were spot on. My pain got worse and the pressure intensified so I said we were going to the birthing center because I knew I was ready.

We got in the car around 9:30 or 10:00pm and that was the longest drive across the causeway I’ve ever experienced. It took us about 30 minutes to get there and by the time we did my back labor was awful. I remember trying to listen to my favorite music in the car and just hating every minute. I knew I was ready.

We arrived at the birthing center and they had a tub room ready for us even though the midwife told me it wasn’t time. For various reasons, it took a little bit to check my dilation and the first time the midwife checked she said, “4cm.” I cried and said I probably needed pain meds then. I just knew I was further along, so I felt like my mind and body had failed me. The connection and intuition I felt I had felt weak with those two words: four centimeters. The midwife said she didn’t get a good reading so we were going to try again. She came back a few minutes later and checked: EIGHT CENTIMETERS. I knew it! And I was pretty mad that the first reading was so off. Oh well, deep breaths, fill the tub, and let’s get this thing going.

I was so excited to get in the tub, but I was still in active labor. More contractions on the side of the bed. Some throwing up. Some ice chips. Then… the glorious tub.

Man, that thing was great. Contractions still hurt, of course, but it was amazing to be able to get into different positions without the weight and pain that I felt before. I was in there for a few hours (the timeline gets a little fuzzy) and the midwife checked again: 10 centimeters! Fully dilated. I could start pushing soon. If I felt the sensation to push, I was supposed to go for it. Well, I did and I honestly wasn’t very good at it at first. When I finally got the rhythm down, they checked Cal’s heart rate and it had dipped low for more than a minute.

Get out of the tub.

Here, come on. Hurry.

Straight to the bed.

Lie on your back.

And then what felt like the whole hospital came rushing in. The bright lights got turned on. I was strapped to various machines and monitors. Nurses were trying to put an IV in my hand. The OBGYN came in and I heard the word “c-section.” An oxygen mask was placed on me. I was still in labor, still contracting, still feeling the sensation to push. They told me not to push. I remember saying, “I’m sorry Calvin” and “where is Marcos?” He was rubbing my head, dealing with both our fears at the same time.

This probably went on for about an hour, and then things stabilized. I was still instructed to stay in bed, attached to the monitors. I was allowed to push. I was pushing for what felt like a couple hours, and I think that’s right. It had been 24 hours at this point and Calvin wasn’t descending even though I was fully dilated. My contractions were spacing out a little more and they weren’t all strong enough to make every push productive, so the midwife suggested pitocin to get things going (again). At that point I said, “only if I can get an epidural.” I was so tired. I also begged for a c-section at some point in those couple of hours because I was so worried about Calvin and thought his heart rate might drop again. That emergency situation was pretty traumatic for me. They said a c-section was not on the table because Calvin was fine. I was scared of pitocin. About an hour later, before that midwife ended her shift, I said, “Ok. Let’s do it.”

At 7am, a new midwife started her shift and she was a gift. She came in to meet me and I don’t remember opening my eyes but she said the anesthesiologist was in the OR right now but would come soon for the epidural. They started pitocin but it can take a couple hours to kick in so I had a while until the pitocin contractions would start. It felt like forever with a couple delays, but a couple hours later the anesthesiologist came in and gave me the epidural. HOLY MOLY, that stuff is magic. I planned on a natural water birth, but over 24 hours in and knowing Calvin wasn’t coming down any time soon, I welcomed the epidural with open arms. Once it kicked in, I could form real sentences again. I no longer felt the sensation to push, which was good because I needed to reserve my energy for productive pushing later (or so I thought).

The midwife came in again and this time I opened my eyes and answered her questions. I even remember laughing. She checked to see where Calvin was and his heart rate dipped again. She called the OBGYN in to do a quick ultrasound because she thought he was sunny-side up (spine to spine with me). I said, “no way, he was facing the other way on Monday when they checked.” My doulas said they thought he flipped in the car on the way to the hospital because I started having terrible back labor once we got there. Hindsight is 20/20 because once the ultrasound confirmed he was sunny-side up and both the midwife and doctor said he might be too large for my pelvis, it made sense that he was moving around so much… he was trying to find a way out. The OBGYN said she could try to turn him but there were risks involved because his heart rate dipped every time someone messed with him. She also said they could get him turned around and his head still might not fit. So they brought up a c-section. We asked one thousand questions (another reason I was so glad to have the epidural) and ultimately decided the c-section was the safest for Calvin. This hospital has one of the lowest c-section rates in the country so I knew that when they suggested it, it was a good option. This was a personal comfort for me because I didn’t want to be pressured into anything and it was important to me to trust our care team and feel supported in my decisions. Even when things didn’t go as planned. Especially when things didn’t go as planned.

I am really grateful that we were able to make the decision for a c-section thoughtfully and peacefully. Not everyone gets to do it that way. My main prayer for the whole labor experience was for peace, and God filled the room with it. Even during emergency situations. Even during long hours. Even through pain and confusion.

So we waited a little while longer, my epidural got turned up a notch for surgery, and in we went. I cried a little bit on the way to the OR and practically fell asleep on the operating table… and then Calvin was here! His sharp cries filled the OR and after the nurses checked him real quick on the warming table, Marcos brought him over to my face. We cried together and my voice calmed him and then Marcos says I fell asleep in the middle of telling Calvin I loved him.

Around 30 hours after labor began and our boy joined us. 10lbs 8oz and a head measuring the same as his shoulders. We made the right decision. Calvin was here safely.

I remember feeling peaceful about our decision, and proud of my labor experience. I had labored until 8cm at home and then got through hours of labor at the hospital, including pushing. I knew the c-section was the right decision. But about a week after he was born, I started processing the whole thing and realized I needed to grieve a little bit. I was also flooded with postpartum hormones, so every feeling was magnified. I was on Instagram and saw someone talking about preparing for a natural birth and it made me angry. I received an email newsletter about how a natural childbirth is only a few choices away and it made me angry. This is when I knew I needed to do some processing. I had prepared a lot for the natural water birth experience I wanted to have with Calvin, and it didn’t happen. It wasn’t because I didn’t choose the right things or I didn’t prepare enough. Our story was different than the one I prepared for, and in many ways it still is. But it’s ours.

Sometimes my c-section makes me cry, and sometimes I still get a little angry when people talk about natural childbirth like it’s the only way. And like it only involves a couple “right” choices. What I think is important: support the family and baby throughout the whole process, whatever the process is. Do research and get all the information — and share with others if they ask because yes, an empowered mother is important. Make decisions that feel right for you and your family. My husband, my doulas, the nurses, the midwives, and the OBGYNs were so supportive the whole way through. They gave us all the information, respected our right to choose, and listened to us (when they could — emergencies are a little different). The nurses continued to be incredible throughout our 4-night hospital stay. As much as I needed (and still need to) process my experience, there’s undeniable peace and gold sprinkled (or covering) the whole story and at the end of the day I am grateful.

I have a lot of emotions about it, some heavy and some light, and one thing is for sure: I am grateful. Calvin is one month old today and what a wild, beautiful ride it has been.

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