If you missed it, or you need a refresher after 5 months, please read Juliet’s Birth Story – Part 1 here
It was around 2AM on Saturday March 11, and John and I were in the car, on our way to the Greenville Midwifery Birth Center, which is about 20 minutes from our house. About halfway there, I was feeling a lot of pressure that made me feel like I had to push and I felt John as his foot got heavier on the gas and I peeked at the speedometer which was at 95MPH. Every time I go down I-85 toward Atlanta, I will without a doubt, always remember the labor and birth of my two children.
Now this part of my birth story – the active labor portion is hard to retell, and I’ve been pondering what angle to share it from. I have decided that I will tell it like as a story as is, and withhold from any criticisms that I have toward any specific individuals present at my birth. I want to be subjective and I will share my feelings, both positive and negative, and while Juliet’s birth will forever be the one of the top three best days of my life, my labor did not go at all the way I wanted it to go. It was shorter than my first labor, but much harder – both physically, mentally and emotionally. It was full of frustration, pain and borderline agony, and lots of moments of hopelessness where I felt I was completely failing at my task. So here it goes.
Just as a background, Greenville Midwifery Care is a group of wonderful midwives that provide prenatal care as an alternative to an OBGYN. This would be my second birth with them at the birthing center. Throughout prenatal care, you are scheduled to meet ideally with every single Midwife to get to know them, because on the night you go into labor, one of them will be on call and the more familiar you are with all of them, hopefully the more comfortable you will be with them attending your labor and catching your baby. Or so you hope. I am going to be honest, I had no reservations about any of the midwives. I didn’t want to have a preconceived bias lingering in my birth space so I made sure I would be open with my needs throughout my labor, which was all I had control over in the end. I trusted that if I communicated a need throughout my labor, whoever I had as a midwife would be sensitive enough to respond. I absolutely love this practice and everyone involved with it and they all had my complete trust. For that reason, I will not be using the real name of the midwife who was on call that night.
When we arrived and checked in, my midwife on call was Sarah. I had met with her twice before at appointments and I had a good enough vibe with her. I have to admit that I wanted so bad for my midwife to be Kim, the amazing woman that attended my labor and caught John Fredrick. If I could have her for every birth, I swear, I would have ten babies. Anyway, I put my disappointment aside in order to focus on the work ahead of me. At 2:30AM, the birth center was quiet and dark and I was the only woman in labor. One other nurse attended, and she was absolutely wonderful. Contractions were strong and painful and I felt like I needed that extra push of encouragement, which I feel like I didn’t get upon arriving. Again, I shook it off and clung closely to John…I was getting the feeling that he was going to absolutely be my rock throughout this labor. When Sarah checked me, I was at 6 inches dilated and she admitted me. I had been laboring from about 10:30 until 2:30 now, and I was secretly hoping I would be at 9-10 inches and get this birth on the road since everyone told me the second baby would be so much faster. I was already feeling exhausted and it was hard to focus.
Right from the beginning, I was feeling a lot of back labor. Through each contraction, my back seared deep pain right through my hips, pretty much like my back was being ripped in half. It was so hard to relax through contractions and breathe when your body literally feels like it’s being mangled apart. I got changed into my sports bra and went into the shower with John, who attempted to apply counter pressure on my lower back to ease the pain. This helped during my last labor…but unfortunately, this was not effective this time round. The shower was not helping, and I was getting tired of being in there so we got out and I asked if the tub was ready.
During my first birth, I was in the tub for a good portion of my labor, but I didn’t have a water birth. I actually got too relaxed that it slowed my labor and I ended up having to exit the tub on the recommendation of Kim (previous midwife), who said that I needed to get out of the tub if I wanted to have my baby. I remembered this and it concerned me but my midwife was nowhere to be seen. She was in and out of the room and I didn’t feel like her presence was attentive or calming whatsoever. I realize that she probably was prepping things or whatnot, but so early during my labor, I already didn’t equate her presence with being comforting since she basically wasn’t there. The attending nurse came in and I explained my concern about the tub. I told her that being the tub relaxed me to the point of slowing my labor and I obviously didn’t want that, and I wanted to know what Sarah’s opinion or suggestions would be on the subject. When Sarah came back into the room, the nurse went up to her to discuss and tell her my concern. I expected Sarah to communicate her response directly to me and reassure me somehow. I couldn’t hear her response to the nurse…and then she never addressed my concern about the tub once.
I believe this is the point where my labor journey started to enter a dark place. I suddenly felt ignored and alone during this time. I am a firm believer that birth matters. It matters who is present at your labor and how the people in the room with you make you feel. Your birth space is sacred and it’s a journey into the unknown and if you are choosing to do it without any medical interventions, the Mama needs what she needs. I needed love, and affirmation and physical touch, and more affirmations, and information as to what was going on, and encouragement, and more physical touch. I needed someone to hold my hand. It’s a deep place you travel to in the realm of labor, and there is something powerful about the presence and woman to woman encouragement you receive. All these things I needed, I did not receive from my midwife. Now some people would say this was a doula’s role. But at the same midwife practice less than two years ago, I had outstanding support and so much love. How could this experience be so different?
I had a concern. A strong concern and she did not address it. So already feeling doubtful and insecure, I climbed into the tub. “Why didn’t she answer my question? Is it a stupid question? I don’t understand?” Self-doubting thoughts ran through my head while I was trying to focus on breathing through contractions. Self-doubt is something you truly want to avoid during an unmedicated birth and I felt myself starting to crumble. I was working hard and my back labor returned. Aside from my amazing husband who was still applying counter pressure on my back, I wanted someone to hold my hand and stroke my skin while I went through contractions. This is how I labor. That is how I wanted to labor. It went beautifully during my first labor. This time, I had to reach out and beg the nurse and the midwife to hold my hand through contractions. I literally screamed out more than once, “Someone please hold my hand!”
Now here is the thing about the midwifery model. I understand that an OBGYN will probably not rub your back, stroke your hair and hold your hand through labor. But from my understanding of the midwifery model, if that is what you need/request, that should be what the midwife understands you need to get through labor. That’s how it worked so well with my first baby. At my first labor, my midwife knew within the first 3 contractions that she sat with me through, that I needed eye contact. I didn’t even tell her that, and she was so wise and loving a practitioner that she just knew.
So on with the labor. I was in the tub for at least 3/4 of my labor. I just couldn’t get out, because every time I moved, I had contractions on top of each other. I had no idea how I was progressing, because the midwife wasn’t checking me. That was another point of anxiety for me. She never checked how far along I was, and while that is a normal practice for some… I really wanted to know how far along I was coming. Like seriously, it has been hours, and am I still at 6 centimeters? I have to be progressing. Is she not checking me because she knows I am not progressing? Am I not doing a good job? These were the actual thoughts in my mind. I had no positive thoughts going through my mind and the contractions were excruciating. I was so insecure about my progression and I was also so uncomfortable around my midwife that I actually waited for her to leave the room for a few moments to ask the nurse, “Why isn’t she checking me? Is it because I’m not dilating any further? I’m really worried. Why isn’t she checking me?” The nurse gave me a sweet response, “I’m sure she isn’t checking you because she knows you are progressing and she doesn’t need to” That did comfort me some. But not much. When my midwife came back, she just took her place sitting cross legged facing me in the bath with her shoes off. She just looked so comfy there watching me and it was actually making me feel incredibly irritated. Her best words of encouragement were, “You are a rockstar. You are a rockstar.”
In short, that was annoying me like crazy. I wanted her to recognize that I was in agony. That I needed a bit more affirmation than that. But at that point, I realized this was probably as good as it was going to get. So I needed to work hard on getting this baby out because laboring with her was something awful. I literally wanted her to go away. The morning hours were creeping by, I was exhausted and John was too.
In the tub, I switched positions, from on my back, on my hands and knees, and squatting. Trying to find some kind of position that would help center me through contractions. But the back labor kept creeping back and I was getting exhausted and increasingly frustrated. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted suggestions. At one point I decided I needed to take things into my own hands and I asked the midwife quite directly, “Is there something I can do to help me progress? Should I change positions? Should I walk around? Should I get out of the tub? What should I do?” Her response, “Your body will know what to do”
What the actual eff. Yup. Apparently in throes of labor, when I am desperate to do anything to help move this baby down, “my body will know what to do”. I’m going to admit. Her answer pissed me off. It reiterated that she was absolutely no help in this process. I repeated the question many times over, “What should I do? Can I get out?” and her response would be, “What do you want to do? What do you feel like you need to do?” and finally, I remember clearly asking/demanding her, “HELP ME. I NEED HELP.” and she seemed incredibly reluctant to get me out of the tub. Over and over again, “Your body will know what to do”
Nope, sorry, my body has no idea what to do right now. I was beyond exhausted and my spirits were down. John felt so bad for me. He could tell I was getting angry, and frustrated and I was kind of furious. I was at the point where I was cursing through every contraction, partly because of the discomfort and partly because I was MAD at my midwife. We would share stories even to this day about how he was getting upset for me. He could tell how much discomfort I was in, how much help and affirmation I needed, and I wasn’t getting it.
A lot of my labor is blurry and memories are kind of mixed up in the timeline. But as I continued to labor in the tub, switching positions repeatedly… something pretty incredible happened that didn’t happen during my first labor, and it reiterates how amazing labor and childbirth is as an experience, unique and unlike anything else. Early labor, active labor, and especially transition for me was this fog of waves of pain, contractions one top of another and emotional and psychological anguish that felt like it would never end. Then suddenly, the fog lifted dramatically and I laid my head on the back of the tub and the room seemed to go very quiet in my mind. I can’t describe it to be anything else but this transcending moment of absolute clarity. Like all the background noise in my mind and in the room went silent. And there was absolute peace, like when the power goes out and the buzz of electricity in your home goes silent. It was haunting.
“Something just happened” I told my midwife, “Why does everything feel so calm and quiet all of a sudden?” She grinned and replied, “You have passed through transition. You’re fully dilated at 10cm.”
This was honestly such an amazing feeling. Transition for me, is insanely difficult to get through. And all of a sudden, it was like all the mental torture was over… for now.
So I was at 10cm dilated, my body was technically ready to have this baby… and I had absolutely no urge to push. I felt confused because I really wanted this baby out, but without the urge to push, it didn’t feel like the timing was right. I wasn’t sure what to do next. I felt like I needed guidance, more insight and reassurance. But I feel like the midwife was almost ignoring me, not really interacting with me or engaged with my labor. I’m pretty sure she was still hum hawing, “Your body will know what to do. You won’t even have to push her out. Your body will just eject her if you let it” Now, I have heard of the fetal ejection reflex during birth, and as wonderful as it sounds, something told me that it wasn’t going to happen with this birth and I knew it. I later found out that in order for that reflex to occur, a lot of things have to be in place, like being totally calm and relaxed…which I wasn’t, clearly.
Anyway, as contractions still flowed through, I honestly did not have the urge to push and there was no way I was going to force my body when it wasn’t ready. But how to get it ready? I kept asking the question, and still got no answer.
Then things took a turn for the seemingly positive. Upon checking my progress and baby’s vitals, my midwife seemed to be examining the tub water closer.
“Hmm… I see vernix in the water….I think your water may have broken!” she said
“What?! Seriously?” I got pretty excited because that meant baby girl could start descending down the birth canal and I would be able to start pushing. But another part of me was like, “Wait, what? My water broke and I didn’t even notice? Is that possible?!” When my water broke with my first baby, it was like I had a busted sewer system bursting through my vagina. There was no missing it. And then somehow, I missed the fact that my water broke this time? I was weary but I decided that I wanted to trust her because I just wanted this to be over.
“Does that mean I can start pushing??” I asked.
“Yes. Try pushing in the next contraction!”
So I started pushing. On my knees. In a squat. Draped over the tub. On my back with John pushing me forward. I pushed and pushed and cried and screamed and cursed and I got angry, frustrated and hopeless. I pushed for over an hour and got nowhere.
“Do you feel her descending?”
“I DON’T FEEL ANYTHING”
I reached down and examined myself, desperately trying to feel my baby girl’s head crowning – trying to will it that she would descend already. But I knew something was off and she wasn’t coming down. I asked my midwife to see if she could feel her head, but she said no, it was just vaginal tissue.
I was feeling extremely hopeless, frustrated and exhausted. I had no idea how I was going to push my baby out if I didn’t feel an urge to push, even if I was at 10 cm dilated. And my midwife didn’t seem to be giving me any pointers or suggestions or direction. I asked if I should get out of the tub, if that would help speed up the process, or if there were any other positions I could be in to help her. And you know what her answer was:
“What is your body telling you to do?”
I can’t emphasize enough how I was so done with laboring with her. I was SO angry it was infuriating. As time went on, I just kept working hard, working through the contractions when by God’s grace and miraculous nature….7 AM rolled in and…the shift changed! A new midwife was coming in to literally save my day. I couldn’t have been more overjoyed. And it was Barb, a midwife that I had admired and hoped for even with my first baby.
The nurse and Sarah brought Barb up to date on where I was at, and told Barb that my waters had broken because there was vernix in the water. Barb was all smiles, warm and came up to me and immediately stroked my face and my hair and told me I was doing a great job. I wanted to cry I was so happy she was there. She sat quietly and held me through a few contractions and then reached down into the water to examine me. She confirmed what I thought.
“Your waters have not broken. The sac is still blocking her from coming down.”
I was actually not surprised at this news. There was no way that I would have “missed” my waters breaking. And to this day, I have no idea how the first midwife missed this. I was devastated from having wasted over an hour of energy pushing into bags of waters, but honestly, just having Barb there basically made everything better.
“She is coming soon, she is almost here! Why don’t you put your leg like this (in a lunge) and try this position?” Barb helped me into a position basically down on one knee in the tub. As soon as I got into that position, I felt another contraction come on and suddenly I felt a pop and my waters finally broke! Almost simultaneously, I looked up at Barb with such admiration and then was distracted by the fact that I suddenly felt my baby girl’s head pretty much slam down into my pelvis. My jaw dropped and I felt my eyes widen in awe at this feeling. I screamed:
“NOW I FEEL LIKE PUSHING!! SHE IS COMING!!” to which Barb responded,
“Now you’re ready!”
I got ready for the task and immediately, I was up on my knees, with John behind me, and as my waters continued to escape my body, I started to push my baby girl out. Thinking back now on these moments, almost one year later… these moments of birth, of my baby being halfway earth side and half way in the womb, brings me to tears. It is literally the most beautiful experience I have ever felt, pushing my babies out. Feeling her head crown, I reached down and felt her hair and the top of her head as I waited for the next contraction to come round.
I screamed and groaned as I felt the discomfort of burning and stretching, as well as the release of pressure as she entered the world and I felt and saw her little body born into the water, and then caught right into my arms. I felt her slippery body and tried to hold her close but something was holding me back. Her cord was so short that I couldn’t even pull her up to my chest! I had to hunch over to hold her until I delivered my placenta.
The joy and shock in these moments were worth every single moment of pain, agony, uncertainty and frustration. My baby girl was here and I was so in love with this moment, this moment of her birth at 7:25AM on Saturday March 11, 2017, with Barb and John by my side and the wonderful nurse to took so many photos of the whole thing.
Juliet Belle McAleer (who was only named the day after) came into this world after a difficult labor, entered through water and I got to hold my baby girl close and try to promise the world to her. She is my angel, my princess, my sweet girl and I have never been so proud to have this precious girl as my daughter.
Thank you for sharing this special story with me. And also waiting for months for the conclusion of this birth story. Juliet’s 1 year birthday is coming up, and we are also anxiously awaiting the arrival of her baby brother whose due date is March 19th, just a week after her birthday. She has grown so much, and is such a firecracker and thinking of the day of her birth literally has brought me to tears. Children grow and as parents, we grow and have to learn so many things along the way. But as a birth enthusiast, I cannot forgot the miracle of giving birth…the beauty of those moments that are agonizing but are part of the journey. For months, I hated thinking of Juliet’s birth because it hurt. It sent me into a deep hole of postpartum anxiety and depression. But as long as it took for me to finally write this, I know I have healed and her birth unfolded exactly how it was meant to be. God’s plan to grow me as a mother, witness and overcome these obstacles are just a testament to how great His plans are for His children. I am thankful every day for my children, for my babies, for the gift of being able to grow them in my belly, usher them into this world and hold them in my arms for as long as they will let me. (or as long as I am still physically stronger than them. ha!)