Note: Reliving this birth story has been a journey for me. In my weakest moments, I was the strongest I have ever been. Thank you to my husband, my mom and sisters, my midwife Katie, and dear friends for helping me heal physically and for working through emotions with me. God is teaching me so much every day about how our bodies are made, how sweet community is, and the importance of passing along this knowledge and these stories.
“Whenever and however you give birth, your experience will impact your emotions, your mind, your body, and your spirit for the rest of your life.” – Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
Alice Wilder was born on October 19th at 4:34 PM, induced via castor oil. Her birth story is an emotional one for me, and it took several weeks for me to face it head on with my eyes opened. The weeks leading up to her due date came and went without a Braxton Hicks to be found. One of my sweet mama friends encouraged me and checked on me every few days. “You just have late babies!” she said.
13 day late babies to be exact.
The castor oil was my last resort before a hospital induction. Our birth center isn’t legally able to deliver babies after the 42 week mark, so we tried everything we could think of to get things going. The days leading up to her birth were full of non stress tests, her heartbeat always dancing too fast, the nurses waiting waiting for a normal baseline, me quietly singing and praying her to sleep in my womb. I remember the whir of the paper printing out her movements as I mindlessly touched my belly button. Our connection was strong even then, like she knew I needed those hours to just sit and rest. I did need it.
Sunday morning arrived with no signs of labor. I eyed the 4 oz of castor oil the midwives sent home with me a few days earlier, dreading the unknown results of consuming so much at once. Adam took Eleanor to church leaving me with a morning to pack up the last of the birthing bags and try for one last nap before getting things started.
12:30 pm on October 12th: 4 oz of castor oil blended into chocolate ice-cream. Consume all at once.
(Note: I do not foresee the consumption of chocolate ice-cream any time in my near future.) (I also, to this day, can’t drink out of the glass I used.)
Thankfully I did not experience any nausea or vomiting, but the oil left me physically tired and (literally) pooped. 6 PM and contractions finally arrived. I felt totally relieved that the castor oil worked, bringing the swells quietly at first, then picking up as the evening wore on. I decided to eat a few bites of sausage and red beans and lay down for the evening. My parents came over to stay with Eleanor, Adam tried to sleep. By 10 PM my contractions were steady and hard, 5 minutes apart, and I was sure that if I didn’t head out soon, I would be giving birth at home.
We arrived at The Birth Center at midnight. I had several contractions on the way there. I had a contraction in the hallway upon arrival, right outside of the blue room. The contractions were painful and long. The midwife checked me.
It felt like a huge let down. A flood of memories from Eleanor’s birth hit me really hard then. I was a repeat offender. The people I had called in the middle of the night to join me in this delivery would have to wait a while, again. Again, I labored through a midwife shift change, feeling defeated, and wondering how long it would take this time. Psychological wellness is so important during labor, and I wish I had vocalized my (perceived) fears of letting everyone down. It was the very beginning of self doubt in a labor that needed a lot of self encouragement.
The night brought little rest for my family, a blissful bath, lemon drop after lemon drop, lime popsicles, a birthing stool, The Milk Carton Kids, Page CXVI, back labor. It felt good to stand and lean into each contraction, each time bracing myself against the pain.
Eleanor woke up around 6:30 am, and my brother and stepdad brought her over to visit. Her presence was sweet, a balm, her excitement a comfort. I remember thinking she might be upset at hearing me roar through contractions, but she was so calm. My mom told her to get ready for “mama’s song” as each contraction hit, and she watched with simple childlike curiosity.
By midmorning, my exhaustion had reached a limit, and I lost my ability to make it through contractions with emotional control. They say a labor that doesn’t start naturally may not progress naturally, and I was really feeling that. Starting labor with the castor oil left me physically tired from the beginning, like trying to climb a mountain right after running a marathon. I started crying from exhaustion, and I couldn’t stop.
My midwife suggested an iv of fluid, some medicine to help my body relax, and breaking my water, all of which I accepted. I cried hard for another 30 minutes and then napped, waking with each contraction, too tired to move.
11:30 AM on October 19th: Post nap. 9 cm, 90% effaced.
I was almost there.
My sweet midwife suggested another bath then. Baths during labor are one of the best forms of relief. Floating on my side helped my body let go of extra tension that I was holding between contractions, but they were coming too hard then. We tried essential oils. More popsicles. A dark room. Feeling more pain than I have ever felt before. Climbing deeper and deeper into myself.
By this point I knew my contractions were transitional. Transition is when everyone wants to quit. To describe it is impossible, and it was then that my emotional vulnerability was at it’s peak and physical ability to cope was totally lost. I couldn’t have the jets on during contractions because all of the sensations at once were too much for my body. My arms lifted my body almost out of the tub with each wave that hit, each muscle working so hard. I visualized her moving down and could feel her body trying to work it’s way out, but each time felt like a fruitless eternity.
I went to dark places then. I was confused why my body wasn’t pushing her out when I knew it should be. I was confused about why this labor was harder than the first time. I was deliriously tired, deciding that this baby would be my last one, and defeated in all ways. I told Adam that I needed to go to the hospital to get this baby out immediately. I have a huge respect and trust in the way God made our bodies to work, I want a lot of children, and I believe with my whole heart that natural birth is the best choice for me. So, for me, those feelings were the lowest of the low.
Getting out of the bathtub, ready to transfer to the hospital, my midwives checked me one more time. What we didn’t know was that I had a cervical lip, a piece of cervix that the baby’s head was getting stuck on. So, even though her body wanted to come down, it couldn’t.
Laying on my back, totally naked, with transitional back labor and a cervical lip, my midwives tell me the plan. During my next contraction, one of them will stick her fingers in my vagina to move the cervix out of the way while. i. push. on. my. back. This is where panic and mind numbing pain come together. YOU ARE GOING TO DO WHAT, AND I’M SUPPOSED TO DO WHAT?
For a long time, those were the hardest memories for me to work through. I couldn’t have done it without everyone in the room there for me. Adam and my mom holding my hair out of the way. My midwives knowing what needed to be done to get our baby out. The nurses prepared for anything that might happen. Kayla taking pictures that I will treasure for the rest of my life. The support of these people during these moments and in the weeks after are everything. That and a healthy baby girl.
We succeeded in getting baby Alice past my cervix, I flipped over (with a lot of help) to my hands and knees, and I screamed. High pitch, lose my voice, no control screams. Big pushes, short and controlled pushes, and she was out in less than 20 minutes.
Holding Alice for the first time on my knees was everything. She arrived, wide eyed at all the commotion, beautiful and healthy. Transferring her to my belly, waiting for the cord to empty the rest of her blood into her little body, and feeling the euphoric high that came right after the lowest moments of my life is a healing gift. Knowing that I am strong is a healing gift. I did it. I can do it again. I hope to. Alice, born at 4:34 pm, 14 hours at the birth center, 4 hours into transitional labor.
Eleanor meeting Alice is something I relive over and over. She couldn’t stop pointing out Alice’s eyes and hands. Saying she loved her. Calling her “baby sister”. Laughing.
After everyone went home, we napped peacefully. Adam, Alice, and I shared our first evening getting to know each other over pumpkin chili in that blue room. She nursed the whole time, breaking only for her weight check and diaper changes. We went home that night.
Alice, you have been a joy. Your sweet laughter and big eyes give me courage to share what I would have kept tucked away. Sharing your birth story, my little love, is a gift that I hope gives other mamas courage in their hard laboring moments.
We can do it. We did do it.