Gifts, by Brandon Barrow

I never fully understood the meaning of hindsight until after the birth of my first daughter. She was born via an emergency Cesarean in the spring of 2011. Although my husband and I prepared ourselves for the birth of our child—reading books on labor, attending birthing classes—we had not fully considered or acknowledged all outcomes of the labor process.

With the sudden onset of contractions (followed by me emptying the contents of my stomach and breaking my bag of waters), active labor began. I called the doctor and she confirmed what I knew already—it was time to head to the hospital. I paced through contractions while we waited for the cab. I wriggled my body, pressed my hands against the seat, pressed me feet against the floorboard in-route to the hospital to work through the contractions.

My husband filled out the paperwork for admittance, which seemed like an eternity. Walking the hallway provided some relief and allowed me to continue to work through my contractions. I had reached 5 cm dilation. I was admitted and was sent to a labor room. From here, the nurse insisted I stay in bed so she could get a good read on the contraction monitors. Not being able walk or even stand made it very difficult to work through my contractions, which were fairly steady, long and strong. I looked at my husband and said, “I need the epidural I just can’t work through it sitting.” Much to my relief, the epidural relaxed me and allowed me to rest.

A few hours after the epidural, my contractions accelerated to a point where the doctor believed they were happening too quickly so he gave me medication to slow them down. They placed an internal monitor on my baby to get a more accurate reading. Everything settled down again for another few hours until I reached full dilation.

I pushed for two hours until I developed a fever and my daughter’s heartbeat began to accelerate. The doctor and nurses feared I was developing an infection, so they told my husband and me that a Cesarean was necessary. We had little time to contemplate the reasoning behind this decision, and before I knew it I was signing papers and prepping for surgery.

I had foolishly failed to prepare myself for this occasion—thinking, this won’t happen to me!  I glossed over the chapters in the childbirth books about Cesarean sections and only asked my doctor in passing regarding the subject. It was a foolhardy approach to such significant moment in my life.

With that said, my daughter was born and lifted into the arms of my husband. I gave her a soft kiss on her head feeling her warm and sticky hair on my lips before she was whisked away. While I was in post-op, my daughter was sent to the NICU for further monitoring because of the fever she had at the time of her birth. Despite her visit to NICU, my first-born was the picture of health. It may have been a rocky start in our journey together but it never diminished our bond.

It took time for me to reconcile with the birth of our first daughter before I could even think of having another child. As I said, hindsight is a wonderful tool especially when you have the opportunity to learn from your experience and try again.

This time around, I wanted to feel confident, steady and, most of all,more informed regardless of how my second child would be born. My husband and I found out we were pregnant again in December of 2014, and I knew fairly early on I wanted to go for a trial of labor after cesarean with the hopes of a VBAC. I specifically choose a midwifery and obstetrics practice more in line with the way I wanted to birth.

Over the next few months, I read in earnest about the possible ways my labor could go. I spent considerable time speaking to my midwife regarding my chances of having a VBAC and, more importantly, I prepared my mind and body for this possibility. But I also prepared myself for a second Cesarean. Having gone through it once, I knew I did not want to feel the cold and frenetic energy I had with my first birth. I could not predict the outcome, but I could tailor my birthing environment to the way I wanted.

By my third trimester, I embraced those lazy summer days as best I could with my four-year-old daughter and husband. I went to a chiropractor to ease pain in my hips, and when my midwife gave me the okay, I drank red leaf raspberry tea to prepare my body for the birth.

By summer’s end, my body was ready for my second child to enter this world. The day of her birth I had a scheduled check-up with my midwife. I was 70% effaced and 3 cm dilated. She even watched my belly quiver with contractions, yet she was hesitant to predict how soon I would go into active labor. I proceeded about my day, picked up my daughter from preschool in the early afternoon and went to the grocery store where I began to have another contraction that felt a little stronger. We headed home and from there, the contractions continued at a steady pace and felt even stronger.

My husband was an hour’s drive away at work. I phoned and told him it was time. During that hour, I timed my contractions. They were getting closer together but I continued to walk them out as I had done the first time around. My memory of this time is fuzzy but I do remember my oldest daughter jumping around on the couch with anticipation and excitement. I also know I managed to shower and even poured myself a glass of wine to relax my body. The shower worked wonders but one sip of the wine and my body told me that more walking and breathing was the preferred method of working through the contractions.

After a breathy phone call, my oldest daughter was happily in the company of my neighbor who watched her until my mother arrived. My husband was home soon after. I called my midwife and she seemed to think I could labor a little longer at home. I did so for about another thirty minutes before I called her again saying I really thought it was time I get to the hospital.

We arrived at the hospital and went straight to the birthing room, paperwork having been done beforehand. The warmest and welcoming of nurses examined me and found that I was already 8 cm dilated. My husband and I were just a few hours away from meeting our newest addition.

My midwife, another warm and calming presence, spoke with us and adjusted the contraction monitor around my belly. This time making it so I could move about the room freely. My preferred position was to stand leaning forward against the bed while my husband massaged my lower back. This lasted for maybe two hours. There was very little disruption from the nurse or midwife. My husband and I labored in a quiet room together. I was so focused on breathing through the contractions, I never asked or thought to ask for pain management medication. And no one mentioned it to me either.

Once I reached full dilation, I moved to the bed where my midwife helped me find a comfortable position that was slightly elevated and slightly resting on one hip sideways. I pushed for about an hour. This time, I felt every contraction and my body knew when to push and when to rest. My midwife and nurse were right there with me—encouraging me to continue, cheering me on when progress was made, holding my hand and dabbing the sweat from my brow—a dream team giving me the will to birth my child.  My biggest cheerleader, my husband, never left my side. He never let go of my hand. I kept my eyes closed for most of the final stages of birthing (it helped me work through the contractions) and every time I did open my eyes he was there–all in with me, present. I will never forget those most intimate moments with him.

My baby’s head crowned and my midwife grabbed my hand and had me touch my daughter’s head.  With a final big push, our little girl arrived, sticky, sweet, in my arms. Just like my first, she came to us in all her unique perfection. Delivering her was the most remarkable feeling of relief and jubilation all at once.

I delivered my second daughter via VBAC. It was a day in which I let go of all my anxieties and worries and labored; a day where my family, midwife, nurses, and husband provided the support and help I needed so all my energies could focus solely on my body and baby.

This birth defined me. Having a second child, and laboring in a completely different way, enabled me to see how both my daughters’ births required inner strength and resilience: defining moments where I truly amazed myself and received gifts of a lifetime.


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