I remember during my first pregnancy how religiously I read birth stories on the internet. I don't remember searching them out. I feel like I would just stumble upon them somewhere in between all the "Is this weird pregnancy symptom normal?" discussion threads I got lost in. That is the thing about the internet though: good, bad or ugly, you will find what you are looking for. I thought it might be nice to add one more story to the mix, the story of how my beautiful baby girl joined us here on Earth.
As far as my philosophy surrounding birth, I didn't fall into any category. I honestly just read a handful of books and watched a few documentaries that I knew would be educational and prepare my expectations for childbirth. Out of everything I read, I felt the overarching theme that resonated most with me was, "There is literally no way to know what is going to happen so don't plan on anything going a certain way." Yes, there were ways to empower yourself with knowledge to perhaps avoid certain things you'd like to avoid, but at the end of the day every birth is different. I couldn't look through a catalog and decide what kind of birth I was having. I made a conscious decision to not write a birth plan. Not that I'm against birth plans, it is just more in my nature to see how things unfold. I made the personal decision to try for an unmedicated birth. Personal, as in, no one else's business. I was also very aware that up until this point I had never experienced a pain even close to childbirth. I've never even broken a bone. It was highly possible that I would walk into the hospital with a birth plan that had "No Drugs!" written all over it and discover that, in fact, pain isn't my thing.
I also decided to utilize the strength of a Mantra. I knew how powerful a Mantra could be from my yoga and meditation practices. A Mantra is a tool utilized to train your mind to stay in the present. When paired with your breath, it is even more powerful. You can link each inhale and exhale with your Mantra to keep your mind from getting lost in fearful, anxious thoughts. A lot of my fears about birth were based on "What ifs?" What if my body couldn't do it? What if something went wrong? From everything I read I knew fear is the exact opposite emotion you want to fill your body, mind and soul with during childbirth. Fear tightens and controls when you need to be relaxed and open.
What is the opposite of fear? Love. I took the time to get clear on my specific fearful thoughts, and then created the loving thoughts to counter the fear. This helped me create my own personal Mantra for Childbirth. I used my Mantra in the months leading up to giving birth. Anytime I felt stressed about becoming a mother or giving birth, I would close my eyes and link my breath with my Mantra. It helped me stay focused on the present, and affirmed the loving thoughts I needed to hear. It was also great practice for when the real time came.
I obviously still felt nervous and anxious from time to time, but I was also empowered. I was armed with my Mantra and the executive decision I made to avoid all "I don't want" statements regarding the birth of my first child. I deliberately chose to educate myself on all the intervention and surgical possibilities, instead of pretending like they didn't exist. I also deliberately chose not to obsess over how much I didn't want said interventions and surgeries. I gave them no special attention. If someone asked me my plan, I didn't go into detail of everything I'd learned, or share my Mantra with them. I simply said I was going to try for an unmedicated birth, but that we would see what happened.
So what happened?
I guess I should share the little tidbit that my daughter was breech. She was breech at a 31 week ultrasound and never flipped like the doctors said she would. By the time they realized she wasn't flipping, it was almost too late. At 37 weeks I had to decide whether to schedule a C-Section, or try for an External Cephalic Version (ECV). Again, I decided to make the most informed decision I possibly could. After everything I read, I decided for me personally, the ECV was the way to go. There was a risk, but it was less than two percent. There were all the scary stories I read on the internet - again you can find whatever you're looking for - but there were also plenty of good ones. I knew I had tried everything else I could: I got acupuncture and moxabustion, I played Bob Marley and Lady Gaga, I shined a flashlight on my pelvis every day, I put frozen peas on my belly. After nothing worked I got honest with myself. I knew if I just scheduled the C-Section with out trying the ECV, I would forever question "What if?"
On a Sunday morning at 38 weeks and 4 days we went in for the ECV. Literally every medical personnel who walked into the room said the same thing, "You know this probably won't work right?" In all fairness, the odds were stacked against us. It was my first pregnancy, I was almost 39 weeks. I didn't really let their comments get to me though. I knew we would just see what happened.
They give you a medication that relaxes the muscles of your uterus while simultaneously speeding up your heart rate. Why do those two things need to happen at the same time? I don't know. Fortunately my doctor had warned me of the side effect so I knew I would have to breathe through it. They also do a last minute ultrasound to check fluid levels and the baby's positioning. Lying flat on my back, with my husband to my right and a handful of nurses standing over us, I closed my eyes as my doctor squeezed the ultrasound gel on my belly and began pressing. It felt kind of pinchy where her fingers met my skin, but that was it. I kept breathing as my heart raced. Within maybe 40 seconds, she flipped! She spun right into place, head down, no issues at all. Everyone in the room was shocked. None of them believed it would work, but it did. We hung out for a couple hours to make sure baby was okay, and she was, so we went home.
Fast forward four, almost five days later...
My husband and I were laying in bed. He was asleep and I was up playing some word game on my phone. It was the middle of the night, 12:30 AM to be exact. I know this because as I started having the most intense feeling in my stomach, I looked at my phone in my hand and it said 12:30 AM. I thought perhaps it was a contraction but wasn't sure. I hadn't had any Braxton Hicks contractions my entire pregnancy, so I didn't have anything to compare it to. I had no foreshadowing or hints that labor would be starting either. I was 3 cm dilated for a week or so, but we all know dilation means nothing and everything at the same time. I remember texting my friends earlier that evening that literally nothing was happening.
Here I was though, a few hours later at 12:30 AM, having what could very possibly be a contraction. I decided the best thing to do was to ignore the possible contraction and pretend like it didn't happen. I couldn't ignore it for much longer though because five minutes later, it happened again. Exactly five minutes later. I know this because I was still looking at my phone. 12:35 AM. Now I was confused.
Every book, birth story, Facebook article, everything told me early labor was going to be long. That my contractions would be SO far apart. That I would at home for hours leaning against the kitchen counter in agony waiting for them to get five minutes apart. Why five minutes? My doctor, everyone on the hospital tour, my friend's older sisters, they all told me to leave for the hospital once my contractions got to be five minutes apart. If I left before then, I'd be in the hospital forever and then all the interventions would start. If I left after then, I'd be giving birth on the sidewalk like that lady in NYC.
Again, I decided the best thing to do was to ignore it. Maybe if I don't pay it any attention it will go away. Contractions aren't supposed to start out five minutes apart, this is probably false labor. Or maybe this is what Braxton Hicks feel like? Yes, good idea. Let's just ignore this.
12:40 AM. Five minutes later. Contraction.
By now I've had 3 contractions in 10 minutes and I am audibly breathing through them, which woke up my husband. He asked what I was doing and I responded ever so confidently, "I think I'm having a contraction."
"Oh," he said. "Maybe I should pack a bag for the hospital then."
I went on to explain that I wasn't really sure if I was in labor. That none of the books I had read said contractions would start this close together, so it could mean nothing. We decided to act like it was labor, and I set out to accomplish the three things I wanted to accomplish before leaving to have a child. The three S's; Sheets, Shower and Snack. I wanted to put on clean sheets for my mom who was staying over to watch our dog. Shower, because who knew when that was happening again. Snack, because everyone tells you how they don't let you eat in hospitals.
The contractions consistently came throughout the getting ready process. I stopped timing them in the shower, but they came frequently. I remember leaning against a little ledge and letting the water run down my back because I saw that in a documentary. I wasn't having any back labor, I just remember thinking it was something I should do (lol). I also remember sitting down, especially on the toilet, provided the most relief. I didn't have to use the restroom or anything, it just felt better when I sat in that position. When I started timing my contractions again I noticed they were getting closer together, but also getting shorter. Everything I had learned said they would get longer as they got closer together: this was another reason I thought I wasn't really in labor.
Finally I had my snack, a Clif bar and a banana. My husband had walked the dog and we were ready to head to the hospital. I walked to our car parked in front of our little apartment on Leland Ave. and called my mom. I remember looking at the clock, 2:15 AM. (Yes, I was in full on labor for 2 hours at home without ever fully realizing I was in labor, don't judge me.) I told her what was happening, and how I wasn't really sure it was labor, but that she should drive to the city just in case anything happened. In the moment she responded, "Okay dear!" She later told me in her mind she was thinking, "Oh my gosh! What are they doing?!" - sorry mom!
At 2:15 AM we left for the 15 minute drive to the hospital. We lived in Lincoln Square and had to drive through Lakeview to get to the hospital, which meant we drove down Clark by Wrigley Field. If you haven't put two and two together, that means we were driving through Wrigleyville at 2:15 in the morning when all the bars are letting out. We got stuck behind cab, after cab, after cab slowing down and pulling over to the side to pick up a drunk person. I remember looking at the clock during each contraction and realizing they were coming only 2 or 3 minutes apart now. Also at this point I felt SO much pressure and fullness in my pelvis I couldn't sit down on the seat, I had to lean on my side.
"Um, babe? I think you may have to drive a little faster." What partner doesn't love to hear that?
So he drove our little car around the cabs and we made it to the hospital exactly 15 minutes later. On the walk from the parking garage to the ER entrance I remember stopping in the tunnel to put Chapstick on. That was another one of my "things." Hospitals are so dry and I didn't wanted to have chapped lips. Sure I may have been having contractions every two minutes but we all have our priorities, don't we?
Side Note: You may be wondering why I didn't call the doctor. That wasn't really how it worked in the city. When expecting mamas arrive they get checked into triage. From there they assess whether or not you are in labor and you either get sent up to Labor & Delivery (L&D) or sent home. Triage is also where I had my ECV performed, in case I had to be sent straight into L&D or surgery.
Through the ER to triage we went. You don't get a private room in triage. It's kind of like a holding place until a room is ready. I never saw the woman I shared a room with, but I heard her. I'm not saying that in a judgmental way at all, I'm all for vocalization! It was just a bit overwhelming to walk into a room with a woman you can't see, screaming in pain. I immediately became very anxious. Anxious for her, for me, for what was about to happen to both of us. I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn't. She was only there for maybe 20/30 minutes until they transferred her to L&D. It was much easier to remain calm when she was finally able to go upstairs and deliver that baby.
I stood for as long as I could, leaning against my husband sitting on the windowsill during contractions. Eventually the nurse came in to check me and asked me to get on the monitors. The triage monitors weren't wireless, so I had to lay down. I was planning to use the wireless monitors when I got to L&D... keep reading to see how that 'plan' worked out for me.
I was 5 cm when the nurse checked me, yay! We let my sister, sister-in-law (who had just landed in Spain and was beside herself she was missing this) and my father-in-law know we were getting ready for baby. We both set expectations super low, saying that it would probably be a very long time before baby came so no one should start driving or anything.
I was probably in Triage for an hour and a half. If you can't tell from the story already, my labor was fast. Looking back now I wonder if it would have been faster had I skipped the laying down in Triage thing, but honestly "Fastest Birth" isn't one of my life goals so I am more than okay with how it worked out. I also don't think there was a room ready for me at the time, so maybe I would have given birth in the hallway had there been no Triage. It all happened exactly how it was supposed to.
Laying in Triage was also the first time I utilized my Mantra during my contractions. I closed my eyes during every contraction, it helped me tune out the lights of my surroundings. I remember one time my husband was talking during a contraction. As I held tightly to his hand I recognized his talking actually made it harder for me to breathe, use my mantra and connect to my body. He was being supportive and so sweet, but I still said, "I don't think you need to talk when my eyes are closed." He took the hint.
Eventually the nurse came in and said there was a room ready for me in L&D. I was slightly concerned about the fact I had been laying down, as I had big plans for walking and moving around throughout my entire labor. I told the nurse and my husband that I would walk there, through the elevator ride and all. Well after getting out of bed, walking half way across the room and having another contraction, I changed my mind and decided to go for a ride in the wheelchair. I had another contraction in the elevator while the nurse made a joke about how busy they were that night.
We got to L&D and since I wasn't in the middle of a contraction I got up from the wheelchair and walked around the room. I had planned out a playlist to listen to while giving birth. I listened to the songs my entire pregnancy, envisioning being a mother. When I got to the room I noticed the plug for the speaker didn't match the one on my phone and cracked a joke about how I wasn't going to be able to listen to my playlist. Everyone laughed. If only we had known that even if the speaker worked there wasn't going to be any time for a playlist!
I decided to use the bathroom. I don't even think I really had to go, I just remembered how much relief I felt when I sat on the toilet before so I thought it would be a good idea.
I walked back into the room and the nurse asked me to lay down on the bed so she could put the wireless monitors on me. Wireless remember? For all the walking I was planning on doing. Well the exact moment I laid down we all heard, and I felt, an audible "POP!"
My water broke.
My water broke and I immediately felt the baby coming down. There is really no other way to describe the feeling of a baby's head moving down your pelvis except that it feels like a baby's head moving down your pelvis. The baby was coming.
I rolled to my side, grabbed the rail, lifted my hips up and told the nurse the baby was coming down. That I could feel the baby coming down. Her reply?
"Okay Sweetie, well this is your first baby. I've still got to set up the room so let me go grab a couple of things and I'll be back later. Just press the button if you need me!" Then she left.
In her defense: it was my first baby, I had literally just made a corny joke about an iPhone speaker and I was only 5 cm dilated over an hour ago. I might not have even believed I was about to give birth if it wasn't for the whole feeling a baby coming out of me thing.
Our nurse, Mariam, left and I stayed on my side clutching the rail for dear life. My husband was on the opposite side of me asking if I was okay. I just kept repeating, "I really think the baby is coming, I can feel it moving down!" I felt the baby getting lower and lower. He told me to press the button, but I never did. I think my exact words were, "I don't want to bother her."
I did have that moment of doubt a lot of women experience, where we don't listen to our bodies. I knew in my mind, body and soul that this baby was coming, but I still doubted myself and didn't want to inconvenience anyone.
Luckily for me, she forgot something and came back in. My husband and I both started telling her the baby was coming, that I could really, really feel the baby coming down. She reluctantly checked me and the events that followed felt like they were out of a movie.
"Oh my gosh, you're 9 cm. The baby is coming!" Mariam ran, opened the door and screamed, "We have a baby coming! The baby is coming right now!"
The room was not set up for baby catching, at all. Having seen what a room looks like in the moments before giving birth with my son, and all the instruments and tables they usually have set out, believe me when I tell you - no one thought this baby was coming. Thankfully the team was beyond professional and capable to get everything set up in what felt like seconds. My husband says it was like a Nascar pit crew. All the sudden things were being wheeled in, they started taking the bed apart and putting it back together without batting an eye. I am grateful for their expertise and swiftness.
The doctor came in a few seconds after everyone else. It was officially the second time we had met, the first being about an hour ago in Triage. It wasn't the doctor I had seen throughout my pregnancy, or any of the other doctors I met in the practice. She was kind to me, and I wasn't even really worried about what doctor delivered my baby to be honest. I felt as long as the nurses liked me I'd be okay.
The monitors were still kind of haphazardly halfway wrapped around me and underneath me. The doctor was the first person to notice that and get them moved off so I was more comfortable. She also gave me such great advice when it came time to push, where to relax my body, to lean my head back instead of forward. She was an amazing communicator and I feel lucky to have had her deliver my first child.
Throughout all the chaos and noise, I had my Mantra. When I felt a contraction coming I would close my eyes, breathe in, breathe out and repeat my mantra to myself. It was my anchor. When I closed my eyes there were no bright lights, no team of people surrounding me. It was just me and my breath. The stillness helped me feel what was happening in my body. Feel baby moving down, and feel other things as well.
I remember after one particularly intense contraction I felt like I was going to throw up. I told my husband and he immediately slipped in to his night in shining armor duty to tell the nurses. They came over with a small basin and I threw up. Hilariously everyone in the room was so excited! I remember everyone telling me that was my body getting ready to get baby out. I've never had a room full for people cheer for me after puking, and probably never will again.
There were only a handful of pushes until baby came out. For me personally, pushing almost felt 'good'. Pushing was a relief. I was able to fully feel and use each contraction to move baby out of my body. I wish I could tell you the big secret on how there were so few pushes. Was it because the doctor and nurses were so good at telling me how to push, or the fact that baby was just ready to come out? I'm not sure. I started pushing at 4:50 AM and she was born at 5:10 AM. Perfect and pink. She screamed while stretching out her arms and legs. My husband and I both called her our little spider monkey.
Gigi Catherine Gregerson, 6 lbs 14 oz 19 in long. A little peanut. The doctor commented that her size probably helped her flip so easily during the ECV.
A little while later as Gigi laid on my chest and they finished cleaning everything up, the doctor came back to ask me what I did for a living. When I told her I was a yoga instructor, she laughed and said "Ah, that makes sense. I wish women who are considering a birth without medication but feel scared of the pain, could have seen you." I feel weird including her compliment in this story, but it is an important part of the story in my eyes. This doctor, who I'd only known for a hour before she had my baby in her arms, didn't have to shower me with those kind words. She didn't have to come back in the room to lift me up, but she did. My advice in looking for a doctor? Find one who makes you feel strong.
No one ever asked if I wanted an epidural. When any medical personnel asked what my plan was for pain management I simply smiled and said, "Breathe."
It was so much more than breathing. I used my breath (Sama Vritti) and my mind (Mantra) as two interconnected tools to focus, relax and affirm.
The experience I had with my daughter's birth and my son's twenty months later, has led me to create my Mantras for Childbirth workshop. I want to empower women by helping them find the tools they already have within themselves to create their own personal Mantra to move through their own childbirth experience. Whether you plan to have an epidural, C-Section, or unmedicated birth: a Mantra can be used to help you through anything.
My advice to any pregnant woman who may have stumbled across this birth story on accident, you've got this. Take your fear and turn it into love. Keep breathing. You're going to be an amazing mother.
Namaste Mamas, XO Liz