My husband, Khayyam, and I were spending a planned, one year of living and working in different states when I became pregnant. We were alternating visits to each other as I remained in Cincinnati, and he had moved out to New Mexico for a new job. It was unexpected in the sense that we thought it would take a while to get pregnant, but in fact took one "try". My gynecologist at the time had told me, matter of factly, that I would need to get on a prescription to address my ovulation when I wanted to try, otherwise it was not likely to happen at all. She was wrong, obviously, and really didn't do enough due diligence before proclaiming such a bleak future. Needless to say as soon as I found out, I was also on the hunt for a new doctor. Imagine such surprising news, and then imagine waiting almost two weeks to tell your husband in person! That's what I did. I just could not picture telling him on the phone and waiting almost two weeks to hug! I got an adorable card and an equally adorable onesie for the big reveal, and presented it as his "early birthday present" when he visited me. He could only say, "Really?? Really?" and teared up. It was a very special moment for us.
I was teaching at the time and one of my student's parents, who I'd grown close to, was also pregnant. She was further along but I broke my news to her earlier than I would have told anyone else, mostly so I could get advice on picking a doctor or midwife! I made an appointment with her practice, For Women. I liked the fact that although you don't have a guarantee on which doctor will end up being present for your birth, they were all women. I knew at least that I felt more comfortable with a woman. I did a lot of reading on what kinds of questions to ask to find out if a practice or a doctor is right for what you want. I knew, ever since a course on women and health care that I took in college, that I wanted to at least aim for a natural, drug free delivery. I knew that I believed birth is a natural, beautiful event that has been over medicalized and pathologized. At the same time, I wasn't ready for a home birth. I wanted what felt like a happy medium--an opportunity to labor and birth with the goal of avoiding medical interventions, but have all the medical assistance ready to go if things went wrong. I felt satisfied with my early interactions with doctors at For Women. I was assured that a birth plan is fine and always respected unless they feel that either the baby or me would be in danger. Health was the priority, and I understand that. I would say that one or two doctors said this with more fervor and perhaps attitude than others, but I still felt that I could voice my wishes and not be hurried into interventions simply because the labor was taking too long. I vacillated a bit between For Women and TriHealth Nurse Midwives, but ultimately stayed with my initial decision. I felt that I didn't want to have to move practices should there be a change in my health that made my delivery more risky. With the midwives, they have to refer you to a doctor if certain complications arise, in which case I'd be with a doctor I didn't even meet yet. Personally, that was the deal breaker for me. In case you don't read any further, I want to assure anyone reading this that has doubts about a natural birth with For Women, that it is absolutely possible. I did it and so can you.
My pregnancy was healthy and uncomplicated. I read a book the typical books plus one about natural pregnancy, tried to eat right and kept exercising. I did a lot of reading and researching, and even chose a doula pretty early on. I scheduled an interview with Emily during on of my husband’s weekend visits. We were really impressed with her professionalism, knowledge level,and warm nature. We felt comfortable with her and felt that she was comfortable and accepting of us. I cannot tell you how invaluable having Emily was. I felt empowered as we crafted my birth plan. I felt continually strengthened as she made me my personalized affirmation cards and I took those affirmations to heart. I no longer feared the coming labor and delivery, as I essentially had been trained to fear it through our culture. All our movies and even our way of speaking about it just make women grow up fearing the pain. Fear is not a productive feeling in this case. Awareness, acceptance, confidence, and even looking forward to it were the major gifts that my work with Emily during my pregnancy brought me.
My husband returned for the last month of the pregnancy. We took a birth prep class at Good Samaritan, my hospital of choice for the delivery. On Monday, June 15, 2015 I went to work. The school I was teaching in had a year-round model so we went into the summer and I was trying to stay with my class as long as possible. They had a field trip to the zoo that day (which of I did not attend of course!). My pregnant self was not going to be walking around the zoo in Cincinnati’s summer heat all day, so I was just having morning circle with them and then kind of working in the classroom tying up loose ends and working on the plans for my replacement teacher. I remember feeling a good amount of pressure, and feeling like things were for sure going to happen soon. I felt some sensations that were new, and my daughter just felt so low down that I knew it had to be time. I told my head of school and my replacement teacher, I don’t think I’ll be in tomorrow. I don’t remember much about how the rest of that day because I didn’t write any of it down. I know I was feeling things that I thought could be contractions, or maybe since they were sporadic and not too intense I was on the fence if they were Braxton-Hicks contractions or not. The point is, things kind of steadily increased through the evening and eventually at 2:30am we were trying to time contractions. I didn’t contact Emily until 4 am. This part I know because she recorded it all and prepared our birth story!
Since it was 4 am, I texted because I didn’t want an obnoxious ring to wake up her family. I told her we started recognizing them as regular contractions at 2:30, and that they’re coming every 5.5-6 minutes, closer if I’m on the toilet. She sent me a picture of a position i could to try to sleep in and told me to resume timing if the intensity increases. At 6:00 am I had texted Emily saying that I was in fact able to sleep some, that my husband was sleeping, and that I’d eat a popsicle and try not to be anxious over how long it might last. Emily reminded me to take one contraction at a time and focus on the present moment, neither looking back nor forward. I slept a little more and texted Emily that my husband and I were both up for the day at 7:45. She suggested we eat breakfast and even try to go for a walk. I made my husband drive me to school to drop things off for my replacement teacher. We lived extremely close so this was not as crazy as it sounds, though we did put down something to protect the seats of the car just in case!
At 9:15 I called Emily. She noted in our birth story that she could hear a change in my voice. My contractions were 4-5 minutes apart and lasting over a minute. I had plenty of bloody show/discharge and Emily got ready to head to our part of town. About an hour later, Emily found me on my knees and I was very anxious about the pressure in my tailbone. I cracked it once while snowboarding as an adolescent and I was probably feeling like the previous injury would make it just snap during this delivery! Emily assured me my tailbone would move and I could birth this baby without injury. She provided invaluable help with positioning during these waves of strong contractions. She moved me to the birthing ball, and helped me with strategic hip motions to get me through the sensations. Khayyam was making some food for us, and I would eat between the waves. I had my “Labor playlist”music on, and I was just trying to stay cool in a loose maxi skirt and sports bra.
By 10:45, contractions were coming every 3.5-4 minutes and lasting 1.5-2 minutes. I was only comfortable leaning or squatting over the arm of our low couch during the contractions, while Emily massaged and put counter pressure on my lower back. I remember really slipping into that “zone” by this point where you can’t talk through the contractions and all I could do was breathe and do whatever Emily said to do with my body to get through it. I called to update For Women at this point and they said to come straight to their office, not triage, when we were ready. A couple of contractions later, at 11:00, I felt bowel movement pressure at the height of the contraction and even passed a little. This was a clear sign to Emily that we needed to get in the car and go meet this baby! We lived 5 minutes from Good Samaritan so the laboring at home to the last minute was really feasible for us. She suggested we call For Women back to see if going to their office was really necessary considering how far I was, this was not a false alarm. During the frantic drive to the hospital, I was on hold. Yes, I was having contractions, in the car and on hold. I started to feel really panicky as we pulled in---where do we park? Close to the medical offices or at emergency? We just went to the For Women office as planned, but by this time I was having a hard time walking and I started to get emotional. I was crying when we walked into the PACKED waiting room of For Women. They took us back and a nurse actually asked me to get on the scale and do other vitals! That was hilarious to all of us. Someone with sense told her to skip the urine sample, and took us back to a room pronto and ordered the wheelchair she knew was about to take me to labor and delivery.
Dr. W came in to check me and I was complete. Onto the wheelchair we went for a speedy ride down the adjoining hallway to the hospital. It was noon when we arrive in a birthing suite. The nicest, biggest one. The one they show you on the tour! It was kind of hilarious to me that on the tour I was thinking, “Oh I hope I get this one” and had planned out how I’d use the shower for pain management, and so much space to walk around, room for the birthing ball, etc. We didn’t need any of my labor bag supplies. We entered and I got straight onto the bed, on my hands and knees. Emily massaged my back and she and my husband put cool cloths on my back, as our nurse, coincidentally also named Emily, asked all the admission questions. Dr. LeMasters joined us, and patiently observed me while Emily and my husband helped me. She complimented me on my control and because I was complete, she let me know that I could bare down if I felt the urge. About 20 minutes later, after a few practice pushes, my water broke. Again, these details are all thanks to Emily recording them for posterity. Apparently I said “God help me!”. My husband and I prayed, and Emily put on some mood music. My husband leaned in and talked to me in my ear, encouraging me. As lovely as it is to hear your husband say how amazing you are, how strong you are, and how much he loves you---none of that could’ve helped me know what to do with my body! Emily was on my other side, and the way she described exactly how to push, and how to go with and not against what my body was doing….that was just invaluable. I told her at some point afterwards that it was like she was inside my body. As someone who’d never done this before, having that knowledgeable aid next to you is something I’d recommend to every expecting mom. I don’t know that I could’ve pushed so effectively without her. Maybe that’s why the statistics are so grim on first time moms who end up having c-sections. If you don’t know how to work with what’s happening to you, and instead resist it, your labor doesn’t go so well. When it’s not going well, that’s when the domino effect of interventions goes into effect.
We brought zam zam water, a holy water of sorts, and Khayyam gave me sips of it when I was able. We also brought dates, an homage to the laboring Mariam (Mary), may god be pleased with her--as her labor story in our holy book mentions her at a palm date tree and that they gave her energy for the great work. I tried to mutter prayers, as it is said in our faith that the prayer of a laboring woman is guaranteed God’s ear so to speak. I remember Dr. LeMasters coming in and out. I distinctly remember her sitting in the rocking glider nearby and just observing. She would check me periodically and I guess just wait for her time to come “catch”. I really appreciated that she let me, my doula, and my husband do our thing and didn’t really insert herself because things were going fine.
At exactly 1:16, after intently pushing, on my knees with my arms clenching the inclined back of the bed, my daughter was born. I saw her emerge and I was just in disbelief that I did it, that it happened, that she was here. They helped me turn around and lay with her on my chest, they cleaned her a little, and I birthed the placenta. I think, but the details are fuzzy, that my husband put her in his shirt for skin-to-skin while they stitched me up. I had a natural 2nd degree tear (no episiotomy). I think my husband started calling family members during this time too. My mom was on her way from Toledo, and was surprised she already missed the birth!
Breast feeding, right from the start, was very painful. We kept trying but before we left the hospital we were already supplementing with formula. I was optimistic in our first week or two that we’d get back to my ideal of only breastfeeding. We went to the breastfeeding clinic at Children’s, I tried to take all the advice everyone wanted to give me, but alas by the end of her 2nd month I gave up trying to feed her at the breast. I continued to try and pump for 6 months, though I got a very minuscule amount that never increased--I considered it a daily nutrient shot for my girl. There’s a great deal more I could write about the breastfeeding experience, but I feel I’ve been too wordy already.
So that’s it, minus a few unseemly details that you don’t need to know about! My birth experience, I’m blessed to say, was as beautiful and empowering as I’d dreamed it would be. The interventions I wrote about not wanting in my birth plan never even came up, since I arrived at the hospital complete and ready to push. I was able to labor at home, have a natural birth in the hospital, and never had drama between my doula and my doctors at For Women.* I am incredibly lucky. That experience made me feel beautiful, strong and generally bad ass. I was on an adrenaline high from this for a good two weeks.
However, after those two weeks was a different story. I guess the adrenaline wore off, my hormones completely crashed, and the sleep deprivation took its toll. What happened after that, needs to be it’s own story. I’ve told Emily that I will volunteer to share a Postpartum story too. I am now in a place distant enough from the darkest place I may have ever been, that of Postpartum Anxiety and Depression, to write about it with a sort of survivor’s pride. I’m beginning to feel as strong for surviving PPD/PPA as I felt for birthing my girl the way I did. Stay tuned for that story...
As Aliyah alluded, we will soon be starting a blog series on Postpartum Mood Adjustment Disorders. While we are not therapists or doctors who aim to treat PMAD, we do think that ending the stigma of experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD is necessary and will only be accomplished when sufferers start speaking out. If you want to share your story about surviving PPD, PPA, PPOCD or PPPTSD, email firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our contact form here.
*We find it necessary to note here that there was no "drama" between Aliyah's doctors and her doula because, at Doulas of Cincinnati, we operate within a set scope of practice. We are thankful for the men and women who care for our clients and their babies, and would never seek to undermine their expertise in any way. Doulas fulfill an important role in a person's birth. At DOC, we respect that our role is vastly different than those of a medical care provider, nurse, family member or friend.
This gorgeous photo of Aliyah, Khayyam and Nusaibah is shared courtesy of Emily Brooks of Emily Brooks Photography.