I was shocked when I found I was pregnant at the age of 39 while volunteering as a community health volunteer in the Andes Mountains of Peru. Especially after I had just ended a relationship with someone who had been my friend for a long time and lived far away across the Pacific Ocean in another country. While I had always wanted to have children, I figured that if I was not married by now that I would most likely never get married or have children. I had spent the last few years of my life making peace and set out to pursue other dreams in my life. When I went to the doctor to confirm the pregnancy at six weeks I saw the heartbeat. It was a miracle to see a strong heartbeat inside a ball of cells and knew that my journey would be amazing as nature took its course.
For most of my pregnancy, I was sad because I was going through the loss of a relationship and was single, and I had a lot of fear of the unknowns like what would my life be like for me and my baby. I would cry a lot and wonder what life would be like as a single mother. So, I found outlets that made me happy, such as walking, listening to positive YouTube videos, and talking with friends. I also participated in yoga and went hiking to ease my stress. Exercise made me feel better and that my baby was going to be OK.
I struggled with the decision to stay in Peru or move back to the states. I was basically working for free and if I stayed I would have to use my savings or find a job fast. I loved my job. I was living out my passion of helping vulnerable populations improve their health, and I felt so blessed to be able to provide my knowledge and receive so much more from those in my community. However, due to my living conditions and lack of adequate healthcare in my community, It was determined that it would be better for me to leave because I was a 17 hour bus ride from Lima where I would have access to the best medical care, in the event of a complication or an emergency.. So, I returned stateside, and moved in with my parents in North Carolina. I immediately found a job and worked on assembling a support system to deliver my baby. I decided that I wanted to have a low intervention natural water birth and chose The Natural Baby Doulas and a natural minded midwife to help make my vision a reality. Everyone was great and gave me the support I needed to get through a rough time and prepare me for the big day! God ordered my steps. Everything fell perfectly in place to ease my stress and help me move forward.
My pregnancy was uneventful, with the exception of my personal life, until I went into labor. I worked up until 4 days before I gave birth and I felt great with minimal tiredness. I was due to give birth on November 23rd, but of course I did not go into labor on my due date. At my 40-week prenatal appointment my midwife checked my cervix for dilation and I had not dilated at all. At this point it was a waiting game. A week later I still had not dilated and was told that if I made it to the following Monday without having gone into labor that it would be time to make an induction plan. I prayed hard that I would go into labor soon because I did not want to be induced. So, I decided to do what I could to help my body go into labor naturally, I walked a lot, stretched, and decided to have labor inducing massage and acupuncture to get things rolling. On November 29th, I went for a labor inducing massage (to Ruth at Touch of Serenity) and on November 30th I received labor inducing acupuncture. I did not know if either treatment would work, but tried anyway. After my acupuncture treatment I went to Target to walk again and to buy a car seat because my mother called me right after my acupuncture treatment to tell me that the car seat I bought was not angled properly for infants because I bought the wrong adjuster. After walking around target for 2 hours and making my purchases, I went home and spent the evening of answering phone calls and text messages from friends and family wanting to know if the baby was here yet. Something I had been doing every night for the past week since my due date. I ended up going to bed around 12:00am.
I remember the minute my water broke like it was yesterday. I was sleeping on the couch, as I normally did in the later stages of my pregnancy. It was the only way I could comfortably sleep. I woke up at 1:00am to what I remember as being jolted out of my sleep and it was as someone whispered to me “ you are going into labor”. I immediately knew that it was time! I rolled off the couch onto my hands and knees right as my water broke and I was thinking oh so that’s what it feels like when your water breaks. It was very warm and there was a lot of clear fluid with white stuff. I crawled to the bathroom to sit on the toilet and I yelled downstairs to my mother that my water had broken and asked her to bring me my cellphone so I could call my midwife and doula. I just reminded myself to stay calm and DO NOT PANIC, as I was told in my natural childbirth class. My mother brought me my phone and I called my midwife but because of the time of day, I spoke to the answering service. I told them my midwife’s name and that my water broke. I remained in the bathroom on the toilet waiting for my midwife to return my call with the next steps. 20 minutes passed and my mother asked what my midwife told me to do and I told her that the midwife had not yet returned my call. So, I called 2 the answering service 2 more times with no return call while trying to stay calm. At that point, I thought it was weird that she had not returned my call. The answering service assured me that they were paging her so I decided to call my doula Sarah, who was on call that night for direction. She answered her phone and told me to relax and she too thought it was strange that the midwife hadn’t returned my call so she called her doula partner Jessica who was able to get in touch with my midwife at 2:00am. THANK YOU JESSICA! Finally, My midwife called and she told me that there had been an issue with the answering service. Turns out they never paged her. She told me to relax, go to sleep to conserve my energy, and report to the hospital at 9:00am the next morning.
Ok so I was told to just relax and go to sleep as fluid was still gushing out. I felt ok at this point in the sense that I wasn’t having contractions and was not in a lot of pain. With that said, I was concerned about all of the fluid coming out so I put on a adult diaper and relocated myself to the first floor bathroom so I would not have to walk far to use the bathroom and would already be downstairs in the event that stronger contractions started. My mother and I set up a little bed on the floor and I made myself go sleep so I would be prepared for the big day!
At 8:00am the next morning, December 1st, my midwife called me and told me to go to Women’s hospital and to eat a good breakfast prior to coming to the hospital. So, my mother and I cooked breakfast and put everything we would need in the car. At this point I felt fine and was only having slight contractions. They were like little waves of tightening-the pain was minimal. We packed the car full of so many bags full of snacks, coconut water, orange juice, clothes, and water birth supplies. Traveling to Women’s Hospital was full of nerves and excitement. I was mentally preparing myself to go into labor. It was time for the big show! To be honest the labor and delivery was the part of pregnancy that I feared. The unknown. How long will I be in labor? How much pain will I experience? Will I tear? I had all of the questions and none of the answers, but I was excited to know that soon, I would see my baby and that my life would change forever. I also realized that I didn’t have the car seat I bought the night before installed.
Upon arrival to the hospital, I did not have to wait long for a room. My midwife called ahead and told the hospital to be prepared for my arrival and the room was already prepared. The nurse brought a wheelchair and I thought it was for me, but later found out that it was for all of my things. I had to walk to my room because walking was good for me at that point.
Once in my room, I felt good. I was having light contractions. I was walking and talking normally. My midwife came to see me and told me that I had pre-ruptured membranes, which meant that my water broke, but I was not in labor, and the baby was at risk for infection. A decision was made to induce me with an oral medication named Cytotec. I was hooked up to a monitor that measured my vitals, the baby’s vitals, and contractions. Because I didn’t know when I would go into active labor I asked my mother to go and have the car seat, I bought the night before, installed. My mom agreed and went to have the car seat installed. What should have been a 1-hour task turned into 8 hours because she locked her keys in the car. I wondered where she was because she did not tell me because she didn’t want me to worry, but I was all alone. So I called my doula, Sarah, who came by to check-in, even though I was not in active labor. She set up the birthing tub and created a calm and peaceful environment in my room by setting up aromatherapy and lights. Before leaving, she walked me through the halls of the hospital to encourage dilation and told me to rest and conserve my energy for when I would really need it.
After my first dose of Cytotec, I laid in the bed and used the peanut ball to help myself get comfortable. As the day progressed, so did my contractions, they finally became stronger and closer together. I spent a lot of time changing positions I went from sitting on the toilet to laying on my side with the peanut ball between my legs to sitting on the floor in yoga positions. Sitting on the toilet also helped because every time I did have a contraction my bladder was being squeezed and it was very uncomfortable. In my mind I was in full-blown labor, but the reality was that my contractions were not strong enough to cause effacement or dilation. In total, I received 3 doses of Cytotec. 1 pill every 6 hours.
18 hours in, I developed terrible back pain. My doula, Kristian, put a TENS unit on my back to help relieve the pain. At about 20 hours in, I hit a wall and told the nurse I needed an epidural. My midwife suggested that I try the lowest intervention medication first, nitrous oxide gas, since I wanted to have a natural birth. I agreed and tried the gas and it helped take the edge off of the contractions, but it did nothing for the back pain. 2 hours later I was in even more pain and was going through an internal struggle because I really wanted to have a low intervention natural birth, but knew that emotionally and physically, I needed an epidural. My body knew it. I struggled with myself. In life, I always tried to go the natural route and I could not do it. I felt like I was giving up. I made a decision and told my nurse that I needed an epidural and she relayed the information to my midwife. My midwife came to my room and suggested that I try to get into the birthing tub at this point to help with the pain and get me over the hump. I agreed and I got into the tub. The warm water and being buoyant helped with the pain from the contractions, but I felt like I was going to pass out. I needed an epidural! At that point, I got out of the birthing tub and we met as a team regarding the next course of action- an epidural. I was prepared to receive an epidural and the anesthesiologist placed it. Consequently, I felt like a whole new person as the epidural numbed me from the waist down. I felt the contractions, but not the pain.
Around 3 am on December 2, my midwife gave me another cervical examination and found that I dilated to 6cm. However, my contractions were still not productive and I started experiencing complications. After receiving the epidural, my blood pressure dropped and the fetal monitor showed that my baby’s heart rate was dropping. The nurse gave me oxygen and had me change my positioning in order to help my baby’s heart rate normalize. The midwife monitored the baby and me over the next hour, and noted that the baby’s heart rate was dropping after the contractions showing that he was in distress and a physical exam showed that my cervix had started to swell. After more than 24 hours in, a decision was made to give me a C- section due to the fact that I still was not dilated and the baby was starting to be in distress. It was better to for her to make the decision before the situation became a true emergency. I did not want to have a C-section, but I realized that this was out of my control
I chose Kristian, my doula, to be my support person in the OR. This decision was a bit controversial as staff wondered why I would choose to have my doula present over my mother. I was not confident that my mother would have been able to fully support me with emotions running high. At the time, I needed someone who could focus on me 100% and not be biased. I knew that my doula would be calm, positive, and able to coach me through the difficult and unplanned surgery.
Once in the OR, things moved pretty quickly. I was shivering uncontrollably from the anesthesia I received through the epidural. I was so tired that at that point, that part of me was relieved to have the C-section. I was ready to see my baby. The anesthesiologist further numbed me from the bottom of my lungs down to my toes. Initially, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but Kristian and the anesthesiologist coached me through it and provided me with much needed emotional support and coaching. My midwife and the obstetrician on call performed my C-section behind a curtain. I was unable to see anything but, I felt the pressure while they worked to deliver my baby. During the C-section, they discovered that my son was “sunny side up” and at a weird angle that prevented him from moving through the birth canal and caused the unbearable back pain.
At 5:34 am I heard my son’s first cry and laughter on the other side of the curtain. My son grabbed the obstetrician’s arm and would not let go. I realized that he was FINALLY here! I couldn’t wait for the curtain to drop so I could meet him and once it dropped, I just stared at him. It was amazing to see who had been living inside of me this whole time. I touched him through the curtain and thanked God that he was here. Then, he was whisked away to be assessed and cleaned up. About 5 minutes later, he was brought back to me to hold and we had skin-to-skin contact. Meanwhile, I was stitched up and wheeled down to the recovery room where I was able to further bond with my son.I was so relieved and excited to see my baby. All I could do was look at him. The first thing I noticed about him were his huge almond shaped eyes and his dimples.
I felt great right after the C-section. My energy came back 200% and I was ready to go. Little did I know that I was under the influence of powerful painkillers. The day following the birth when the medication wore off I felt the pain of the surgery. Physically, It was hard to tend to my son Gabriel and get out of the bed, but I knew that the more I moved around, the faster I would recover. I left the hospital 4 days later feeling stronger than ever.
Mentally, my journey was an emotional roller coaster. I experienced many ups and downs. From a failed relationship to a major deviation from my birth plan. I would not have chosen to have a C- section, but it was the only way I was able to successfully give birth and it saved my son’s life. I feel very lucky to have had the experience I did and would not change a thing about it. I learned a lot about resiliency and the importance of adapting to situations that do not go as planned and how to move forward stronger than ever with a positive mindset. Things did not turn out exactly as I had planned, but the end result was better than I could have planned.