This is part three to a five part series.
These four parts are [unedited] excerpts from my book being published this fall. My book is about varying forms of loss + giving them space.
Our birth experience is one of my greatest losses and I am learning how to give it space in my life. It is sacred, it is vulnerable, it is hidden. I experience triggers and PTSD. It isn't fun, but I am not going to pretend it is something it isn't: I'm not going to pretend like I am okay with how our birth unfolded.
Until today, this story has been kept quiet and hidden; it's raw. It has been one year since our son's birthday. My book is overflowing with vulnerable stories and raw emotion...so I figured sharing this raw story would continue to prepare me for the launch of my book.
I write + share to give myself a voice, but also to give others a voice. Loss has a way of making us lonely; I hope to create spaces for connection and community. You are not alone.
Irregularly but painfully, I contract the entire drive to the hospital. We park, I slowly wobble my way into the emergency entrance pausing for contractions, and we check into the Oregon Health & Science University Hospital [OHSU]: the best hospital in Oregon.
The hospital was out of wheelchairs.
Assuming the nurse was joking when he said I’d need to walk the 12 flights to the labor and delivery floor, I laugh and look around to see Loren, Julia, and the nurse staring at me. They are serious. I nod, okay then, here we go. I can do hard things.
Waddling as fast as my body allows, I am sure they’re sprinting down the corridor. Then I see an elevator. Oh right, an elevator.
I bend over and grab the railing as a contraction seizes my breath, knocking the wind out of me. Come on, baby boy Ira.
We check in to the already full labor and delivery unit, a room awaits us.
Multiple nurses attempt to insert an IV into my dehydrated arms. I end up with six bruises the size of golf balls covering my arms from their failed attempts. My arms are giant bruises. My whole body aches tender.
At some point the clock turns from Wednesday to Thursday and we settle in to our new birthing space. How am I on my third day of labor? I am impressed with myself.
The world lives on though ours is frozen in the suspense of labor.
I order an epidural. My last blood thinning shot was Monday removing the danger of an immediate blood clot to my spine. I am more than ready for the rest epidurals offer.
Around 2 a.m., the anesthesiologist inserts the giant needle into my back, the narcotic meant to numb me from the waist down. I lay there as pitocin also attempts to kick in, attempts its work of bringing my contractions into regularity.
I wait for the epidural to work fully, the pitocin to do what it’s made to do. I’m half awake while Loren and Julia sleep uncomfortably in the chairs near the big windows.
Time stands still as I wait.
He meets me in moments of waiting time and time again. When the world moves without stopping but I am suspended in the wait, He never fails to be there.
Thursday morning before the sun rises, the anesthesiologist tells me he’s clueless as to why my epidural isn’t working. He reluctantly agrees to redoing it, "though it was placed perfectly." Around 4:00 a.m he brings in a student who has inserted only a few other epidurals.
Painfully, they replace the steroid catheter in my spine, nervously talking through questions. I sat as still as possible through the pitocin-induced contractions.
A consuming contraction clenches my body like a giant hand. I do my best to breathe slowly instead of gasp for air. The picture of our swollen, pasty, white, baby boy placed onto my chest appears in my mind, popping the balloon of pain I am focusing on.
The meeting moment will be worth all of this chaos, worth the pain and disappointment.
I lay in bed with a new epidural. The maximum amount of narcotics dripping into my system, surely making their way to our son. He has resiliently fought with me for three days now. Julia and Loren remain asleep when the doctor comes in. It's 5:00 a.m.
“Natalie, we aren’t there yet...but with how slow your contractions are progressing, even with pitocin, I need you to get into a space where you’re thinking about a possible c-section. We aren’t there yet, but I need you to think about it.” She says it slowly and carefully, but firmly.
The room spins. Her words knock oxygen out of me. I don’t even know her name.
Eyes wide, I stare at her back as she leaves the room, my mouth draping. The thought of a cesarean had never crossed my mind. I am not prepared to even travel this road as a possibility.
I am meant to birth, vaginally, through my body, naturally. I am made to grow this human, to conceive and carry, and then deliver him. I am going to push this baby out of me.
Tears silently fall from my eyes. I wipe the snot running from my nose. I need to wake up Loren or Julia. They are exhausted, though.
I feel more than lonely. I feel isolated, in shock.
My body shakes, thoughts fuzzy. I can’t think clearly. Uncertain and needing reassurance that I would not be cut open, I stare at my midwife hoping she can feel my eyes bore into her.
I ache for Julia to tell me it isn’t going to happen. I want her to tell me I am strong. I am going to push this swollen baby out of me. I will experience at least the most important part of this birth-dream I envisioned for years.
Eventually the sun rises pink over the city, my epidural still not withholding the pain of contractions. The anesthesiologist seems frustrated with me: “Some bodies metabolize the medication and yours seems to be doing that.”
I don’t know what he means. I am tired. I want rest. I want my whole family together.
Around noon my revised birth team suggests I start pushing with each contraction. More than ready, I am about to push this baby-human out. The urge is strong. And so I push.
For hours I push and I cry. I change positions and throw up. I moan and groan and change positions some more. I am ready to meet this little man, flesh on flesh. I miss Sage. I want our family together at last.
Four hours of pushing pass.
The nerves in my right hip being crushed and damaged from the blows of each contraction, compounding Ira's head into my pelvic bowl.
I feel the strongest I've ever felt as I bear down. I am sure he is close.
And yet, there is little to no progress.
I am hot. I drip salty streaks of sweat and the nurse says plainly, “You seem to have an infection in your placenta. You’re going to need antibiotics.”
Confused, I look at Julia questioning if this is the right thing, “Will the medicine hurt Ira?” I ask slowly, sadly. Everything is going wrong. I am out of control.
"Honey, the risk of not taking antibiotics is much higher to you than the risk of anything happening to him. You need to take antibiotics.” She is so calm, so soothing. What would I do without her? I feel bad she has been with us since Tuesday.
Defeat creeps into my deeply: How can I fight so hard physically, and get nowhere? How can I be laboring and contracting and pushing and my body not opening? It's been three days.
In the zone, I fight with everything I have and more. Swollen and fat, pumped full of fluids to keep me hydrated, I am starving and hungry. It felt like I hadn’t eaten in days. But I am about to meet Ira, I remind myself.
Evening arrives. Loren is quiet but stands near my head, wiping the beads of sweat with a cool wash cloth.
Julia pulls me out of focus. “You need to rest in between your contractions.” Suddenly and what seems unexpectedly, the wind is knocked out of me with her next statements: “You have done as much as possible and even more, honey. You've fought harder than I've ever witnessed a mama fight. But this baby is not positioned right. He isn’t going to come out vaginally.”
My world freezes and spins at the same time. I look at the circular clock above the bathroom door, reading 5:06 p.m.
The nurses ask me to consent for a cesarean. My body somehow nods my head for me. My mouth is dry.
The chaos of labor takes a turn I never thought to even think about.
Julia asks to have a moment with Loren and me. The room is hazy and her words float; I can’t grasp them. I simply know she’s offering a space for us to process.
A clipboard with consent papers and lines to sign sits on my lap. Nurses point where to sign. With my signature, I agree to have them put scalpel to skin, creating an incision for my son to escape through my body.
I'm sure I’m drowning, voices muffled by mouths full of water.
The moment of meeting Ira continues to emerge as the piece of hope I cling to. The doctor will still hand him to me, set him on my bare chest. We will meet flesh on flesh, swollen baby Ira. Loren will be right there at my head, ready to meet his second born son.
We beg them to let Julia join us in the operating room. “Please, can she please be present to take photos? Please give us that. Nothing has gone right, nothing.”
They nod a reluctant consent, pack up our belongings, and begin the trek to the operating room.
Have you experienced loss or birth trauma? Download my ebook for free to begin your healing process.