Have you ever reached that point where you think you’ve figured something out? I don’t mean a math problem or something else that is structured and straightforward, but a piece of life, like parenting, teaching, or labor. I did. After Miss Bug and Curly-Top, I thought I’d figured out how to have a quick, relatively easy labor–with no meds. This sense was only bolstered by the numerous articles I had run across that assured me the right diet, exercise, and mindset could lead to the ideal birth.
God likes to keep us humble, though. Reality too. Little Bird’s birth was absolutely not what I expected.
Little Bird herself was a bit unexpected. We wanted another baby, but also wanted to wait a little longer, perhaps until summer, to start trying. But breastfeeding and holiday stress threw my cycle off a bit–just a bit. When Aunt Flow was two full weeks late, I decided I really did need to pee on a stick.
I wasn’t planning this baby, and I wasn’t expecting this baby, but I was instantly happy to see two lines instead of one. Happy was good, because it would not be an emotionally steady pregnancy. Physically, I felt very good for most of pregnancy–no morning sickness, and no more aches and pains than I expected for being 38 and on my fifth pregnancy. This new little life was treating me well.
However, I struggled to hold onto my happiness over her. During my pregnancy, four friends of mine who were due within a month of Little Bird miscarried. For three of them, this was a repeat miscarriage. Despite their assurances that I should not feel guilty or bad that my pregnancy continued while theirs ended, I felt guilty. I could not fathom why my baby lived and theirs did not. I was frustrated and a little angry at God for it. It seemed the epitome of life’s unfairness. I didn’t deserve this happiness while they were going through so much grief.
It brought me to one conclusion, one that gets lost in our consumer culture. No one deserves a baby. They can’t be earned. They aren’t a right or even a privilege. I did not deserve my child. We can argue all we want that children come to us due to basic biological principles. Sperm and egg. Conception. Implantation. We assume it all goes well, until it doesn’t, because another basic biological principle in this world is that things go wrong. Genes aren’t healthy. Chromosomes aren’t complete. The necessary environment isn’t there. It wasn’t a happy or satisfying answer, but it was all I had.
Despite the emotional turmoil during the pregnancy, I did not expect any trouble during birth. In fact, my doctor, looking over my birth history, went over what to do if I labored too quickly to reach the hospital. Considering that we live all of 8 blocks from the hospital, this was saying something. Based on my previous births, I expected Little bird a few days before her due date, probably early in the morning. Sure enough, a few days early, I lost my mucus plug in one big glop. I called my parents to come stay the night, had my snacks in my bag, and expected to be holding my little girl by dawn.
Then nothing happened. Well, false labor happened.
No big deal. She was moving well. Everything seemed fine, and really, I wasn’t even quite to my due date yet. But it happened again. And again. Almost every night I would start into labor, only to have it peter out. Little Bird’s due date came and went. Being over term, especially since I was advanced maternal age and had a history of birthing early instead of late, we started daily non-stress tests. If I went more than 9 days overdue, we would schedule an induction. Along with the NSTs, I had regular ultrasounds, where they would try to estimate how big she was. Since I was over term, everyone thought she was looking big. They predicted 8 lbs, then 9 lbs, although none of my babies had been over 6 lbs 9 oz.
We tried every suggestion to get labor going. Fresh pineapple. Spicy food. Sex. Long walks. Bumpy roads. I wasn’t quite up to trying the castor oil suggestion, though. Nothing helped. Nothing worked.
Finally, early in the morning, a full week past due date, labor started and didn’t stop. We arrived at the hospital expecting a quick labor and birth–and we weren’t the only ones. Even our nurses expected me to go quickly. As one hour clicked into two and labor when from intense to more intense, we suspected something was wrong. This labor didn’t feel like previous labors, either. It felt like my back was breaking in two. No matter how I moved, the pain in my back was reaching the point of unbearable. After a week of hardly sleeping and five hours of hard labor, I was reaching my limit. When they checked my cervix, they discovered that, for all the pain and time, I had not progressed in those hours either.
My regular doctor and the other doctor who he alternated with were both out of town for this weekend (of course). The substitute doctor asked if it would be alright to break my water. Based on the monitor, Little Bird wasn’t descending, and without the pressure from her head, I wasn’t dilating and effacing. She was also going into distress with every contraction, her heart rate dipping. We found that the dip didn’t occur if I lay on my right side–hardly my ideal position for laboring. They also put the oxygen mask on me. The nurses downplayed it, but I knew they were giving me oxygen so it would get to her. I asked if the anesthesiologist was at the hospital and if we had time for an epidural. I knew I was too exhausted to go through transition on my side.
He was. It was just shy of 9 am when they broke my water. I went from a 3 to a 10 to pushing in 20 minutes. When her head was born, they told me to blow instead of pushing. The cord was around her neck and I couldn’t push again until the doctor eased it over her head and off. Then I could push again and she was born. Like Curly-Top, her cord was short, so they cut it immediately and placed her on my chest. Despite the distress during the long (for me) labor, she was calm and alert.
It was only after the birth of the placenta that we understood how badly things could have gone. Because of the short cord around her neck, Little Bird was stuck next to the placenta on one side. She couldn’t descend into the pelvis and engage fully. Nor could she turn completely toward my spine like she should have. She was stuck facing sideways. I had noticed throughout my pregnancy that she would kick up a storm if I lay on my left side, so I spend most of my nights on my right side or in the recliner. When I lay on my left, gravity pulled her away from the placenta and the cord constricted around her neck. She kicked and wriggled until mom turned over and gave her respite. In addition to being very short, her cord was also very thin, and her placenta about half the size of a normal one. One nurse was amazed she had made it to term with such a small cord and placenta. Little bird was 6 lbs 5 oz–completely normal for one of my babies–and utterly perfect.
I was thrilled that she was healthy and fine, with no ill effects from the cord or the small placenta, but I also felt like a failure. I’d expected and planned for a fast, natural birth, but then I’d asked for help with the pain. I went over my whole pregnancy again, what I’d eaten or not eaten, my emotional state, anything to find a reason for the small placenta. So much of my reading throughout my pregnancy had focused on how women were made to give birth. How if we did things right and trusted, things would go right. I was left wondering how long I would have labored, with her in distress, if the doctor hadn’t asked about breaking my water. It took months to break myself out of that mindset, to convince myself that I hadn’t failed myself or my daughter. It took even longer to see how ridiculous the mindset had been in the first place.
I am skeptical now when someone claims they can create a quick birth. I’ve had quick births. I’ve had births that were a picture perfect as any birth planner could want. It didn’t stop me from also having a long, excruciating labor where I needed a little intervention. I can pray and hope my 6th labor will be a quick, easy one, but I’m not going to go in expecting it. I know better now. I can eat right, exercise right, do everything I can for optimal positioning, but some things I can’t control–I won’t even know about them. That’s not a failure. It’s just how this fallen world works.