The irony of that is not lost on me.
This is Carson’s birth story.
Everett woke up from his nap around 3:30 and just like every other day, my friend Christina texted to see if I wanted to meet up at the gym. I was feeling lazy that day and suggested we take a break from exercising since it was Friday. We quickly decided to have a backyard play date at Christina’s house instead. She promised me a bowl full of pumpkin spice m&ms.
I never turn down pumpkin spice m&ms.
We spent the afternoon chit chatting while our boys ran around her backyard. I casually mentioned that I had been having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions that day. I was used to them and didn’t really think anything of it. Christina was scheduled to be induced on October 20th; I was scheduled for a c-section on October 27th. We talked about all the things we needed to do before our babies came: have our houses cleaned, get our hair done, pick out Halloween costumes for Everett and Benjamin.
A couple hours later, Brett called and offered to pick up Chipotle for us. Christina’s husband was on his way home from work and we made a spontaneous plan to eat dinner together and watch the baseball game. Pretty soon our husbands and toddlers were wrestling on the floor while Christina and I polished off the rest of the pumpkin spice m&ms.
We got home a little after 8:00pm and immediately put Everett to bed. I made another comment about my Braxton Hicks contractions to Brett, who seemed concerned but I assured him it was nothing. In fact, I was so convinced it was nothing, I promptly got ready for bed and popped half a sleeping pill.
(That’s right, friends. I took half a sleeping pill. While I was in labor.)
Brett sat in the living room watching the rest of the game while I settled into bed to continue binge watching The Good Wife. I couldn’t get comfortable and for the first time that day, I realized my contractions were happening pretty close together. And even more alarming: they were starting to hurt.
I, of course, having never been in labor before, was in a state of complete denial. I was not even 36 weeks pregnant. Surely it was too soon for the baby to come. After a couple hours, I still hadn’t fallen asleep and decided to tell Brett how I was feeling. I walked into the living room slowly.
“This is probably nothing to worry about, but….I am having a LOT of Braxton Hicks contractions. Like, every few minutes. And….they are starting to hurt.”
Brett, being the responsible worrier that he is, immediately suggested we call the birthing center.
“No no no. I’m sure it’s nothing. It’s false labor. I’m just going to walk a couple laps and see if they stop.”
I walked a few laps around our house, through the kitchen to the dining room and back into the living room. Brett stared at me. He turned off the TV. I melted into a chair.
“Okay. They are really starting to hurt. Maybe we should call.”
Brett called the birthing center and I climbed back into bed. A nurse called us back and confirmed that yes, at 35 weeks pregnant, I should come on in.
I texted Christina around midnight to see if she could stay over with Everett. I hopped in the shower (much to Brett’s protest), not willing to show up at the hospital with three day-old dirty hair. My hospital bag was not packed. I haphazardly threw a few things in my weekender bag---two Annie & Isabel hospital gowns, dry shampoo, my toothbrush, makeup, and a black nightgown. I forgot really important things like gum and bobby pins. Brett did not pack a single thing.
Christina came over shortly after midnight and I apologized profusely for interrupting her sleep, reassuring her over and over again that it was probably nothing and we’d probably be home in a few hours. (She later told me that she was positive I was in labor, but didn’t have the heart to tell me.)
On our way to the hospital, I was playing out two scenarios in my head.
Scenario #1: These were horrible Braxton Hicks contractions, the doctor would tell me I was being paranoid, and I would be sent home immediately feeling like an idiot.
Scenario #2: These were real contractions, but because I was 35 weeks pregnant, they would simply give me some kind of medication to make them stop.
I guess in the back of mind was Scenario #3: I was having a baby. I tried not to think about that one.
On the way to the hospital I began to think about everything that was undone. My house was a mess. We had no food in the fridge. There were two rolls of toilet paper in the bathroom. We had left in such a rush we didn’t even check on Everett before we left. That thought made me want to cry.
We got to the birthing center at 1:00am and checked in. We had literally pre-registered online the night before, which was all of a sudden very eerie and comical. A nurse named Antoinette hooked me up to be monitored and checked my blood pressure. Brett started timing my contractions on his phone, morphing into the expecting dad you see in movies.
I think I asked Antoinette four times, “So, what exactly is going to happen here?”
She told us that she was going to check me, and that if I wasn’t dilated, they would try to give me something to stop the contractions. She said if I was dilated, the baby might be coming, and that there was nothing they could do to stop it.
I suddenly became hyper aware of the fact that I was only 35 weeks pregnant, and started to panic.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured me. “You’re almost 36 weeks along and his lungs are fully developed. You’ll be fine!”
I trusted her, but I didn’t.
She checked me. It hurt.
“Well, I’d say you’re about a 3 or a 4. The baby is coming today.”
I think Brett and I both said, “Huh?” at the exact same time. Is she joking?
She continued, “I see here that you’ve signed the VBAC consent form. Looking at your history, I really think you should do a VBAC. It will be safer for you and safer for the baby, since he will be so small. Your recovery will be much better. You can do this.”
She rattled off something about c-sections and the amniotic sac but I could hardly hear anything after “it will be safer for the baby.”
I trusted her, but I didn’t.
It was a 30 second conversation. I don’t even remember saying “yes”, but somehow I had agreed to a VBAC and I had no clue how we got there. Despite the fact that I was terrified and generally panicked, I felt oddly at peace with it. I kept reminding myself that an early baby surely wouldn’t have a giant head.
“Can I get drugs?!” I asked quickly in between contractions.
“Honey, of course!” she responded.
“No, I really need you to hear me: I want the drugs. A VBAC was not my birth plan. I want the drugs."
She smiled and reassured me that I would be able to get an epidural. I wanted to believe her, but I also wanted to tell her ten more times about my desire for drugs. We were at a birthing center notorious for their all-natural births. Midwives, doulas, birthing tubs—you name it, they offer it. I wondered if they would accept bribes.
We were then moved into an official birthing room, the same room I had wanted to use to give birth to Everett before learning he was breech. The room felt foreign to me. My contractions were coming every 2-3 minutes, and I didn’t know how to manage the pain. I didn’t know how to breathe, or how Brett should help me. I just leaned over the bed and did my best to get through them.
“Do you want music?” Brett asked.
“Do you want to sit on the birthing ball?”
I didn’t know what I wanted. Scratch that: I wanted to not be in labor. I tried to move around, but the only thing that felt good was to stand next to the bed and lean on it. A few minutes later I threw up in the bathroom, and promptly instructed Brett to FIND ME SOME GUM. Antoinette checked on us again and asked where the contractions hurt the most.
She stood behind me and used both her hands to press down on my hips during the next contraction. It felt 20% better.
“Can you show Brett how to do that?”
She showed Brett, and I was grateful for her instruction. I’m sure we would have learned all kinds of tricks like that in a birthing class, but then again—we never attended a single birthing class. I was suddenly very aware of how ill-equipped we were for this birth. Had I not been in so much pain, it was almost hilarious. We were totally and utterly clueless. I had no idea what I was doing; Brett had no idea what he was doing. We were just there—at the birthing center, in a birthing room, getting ready to have a baby.
A nurse checked me again. I was still at a 4.
My hands and face started feeling very tingly. I told Antoinette in between contractions and she kindly pointed out that I was hyperventilating.
“You need to take one breath in and then three short breaths out. You keep breathing out all of your air but you’re not breathing any in, which is making you hyperventilate. That’s why you feel tingly.”
Good to know.
I vaguely remembered that style of breathing in every comedy movie with a birth scene. I channeled my inner Katherine Heigl and followed Antoinette’s instructions.
One deep breath in, three shallow breaths out.
The tingles disappeared. This was probably the first time that night that I realized how dependent I was on the doctors and nurses. I needed help. I needed guidance. I needed an entire team of professionals to walk me through every step because I had no clue what I was doing.
It was the middle of the night and I was getting tired. I kept my eyes closed in between contractions, attempting to take 60 second naps in between each sharp pain running up and down my body. I started counting in my head during each contraction, always starting with the number 15, and ending around 34 or 35. Random numbers aside, somehow it helped. It was the only distraction I had, counting silently in my head.
I tried to move around the room, but the only thing that felt good was to stand next to the bed and lean on it for support. Brett pushed down on my hips through each contraction, saying the same things over and over again.
“You are doing so good. You are amazing.”
After what seemed like an eternity of contractions, I got serious about asking for the epidural. It was close to 5am and I had been laboring all night on my own. I just wanted a break from the pain. My whole body hurt.
I told Antoinette I wanted the epidural, not even trying to hide the desperation in my voice. She called the anesthesiologist and told me he would be there in ten minutes.
Ten minutes. Ten more minutes of this. I can definitely do ten more minutes of this. I am strong.
I gave myself a pep talk. Brett gave me a pep talk. I could finally see light at the end of the tunnel.
The doctor arrived. Dr. Tilton was on call that night, the same doctor who had delivered Everett via c-section. It felt like a sign. Even though I had not seen her in two and a half years and she was basically a stranger, I was oddly comforted by her presence. I was in the bathroom and heard Brett re-introduce himself to her, reminding her that she had delivered Everett.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “Breech baby, right?”
I hobbled out of the bathroom and said hello, then climbed into the bed to be checked again. My contractions were only a minute apart at this point and being checked hurt like hell. I screamed a little.
“Well, you are complete,” Antoinette said.
I looked at her as if she were speaking a foreign language.
“I said, you are complete.”
Brett and I both looked at each other, dumbfounded.
“What does that mean?”
She smiled at us. “It means your cervix is fully dilated and you are ready to push.”
“But….where is the anesthesiologist?! Can I still get the epidural?” I asked, panicked.
Antoinette looked hesitant.
“Well, yes…..as long as you can stay very very still.”
Dr. Tilton had taken a seat near the end of the bed. She sat very calmly with her legs crossed.
“You want the epidural now? What are you scared of?” she asked me.
Is that a trick question?
“Um….I am scared it is going to hurt VERY BADLY when the baby comes out….?”
She smiled. I was starting to get annoyed at everyone smiling. I couldn’t remember how to smile, everything hurt too much.
“Well, the hardest part of labor is going from a 6 to a 10 and you already did that without the epidural. Pushing is easier than transitioning from a 6 to a 10.”
(Worth mentioning here: LIES. ALL LIES.)
She continued, “If you get the epidural now, it will take a lot longer to push the baby out because you won’t feel the urge to push. If you skip the epidural, the baby will come out much faster.”
I quickly weighed the pros and cons in my head. I wanted the drugs. I wanted the drugs badly. But I also wanted the baby out quick, and I had been feeling the urge to push for the past thirty minutes. I couldn’t imagine regressing at that point; we had come too far.
(Also worth mentioning: it had been more than ten minutes and that anesthesiologist was nowhere to be found. Conspiracy theory, much?)
The urge to push was getting stronger with each contraction. I continued my normal breathing, until the doctor instructed me to do otherwise.
“Stop blowing air out. You need to hold your breath during the contractions and push. If you can focus, you will start to feel the baby moving down.”
And just like that, the decision was made. I was going to do this thing without drugs. Brett was on my left side, Antoinette on my right. They each held one of my legs in the air. I could not care less who saw what at that point. I squeezed Brett’s hand through each contraction and tried to follow the doctor’s instructions. During each contraction, I pushed three times.
The next hour became a cycle. Contraction. Hold breath. Push as hard as I could. Scream like a dinosaur. Contraction. Hold breath. Push as hard as I could. Scream like a dinosaur. Repeat.
Over and over again. I was sweating from head to toe. The sounds that were coming out of my mouth were not human. I sounded like a monster. I was incapable of exhaling without roaring. Surely everyone in the birthing center could hear me. Surely everyone in the city of Davis could hear me. I didn’t care.
Dr. Tilton checked me again and said she could feel the head.
“How much longer??” I asked. I felt like I was on the verge of tears.
“If you keep doing this, and keep pushing this well, the baby will be out soon. Try to push four times instead of three. Hold each push a little longer.”
I felt like my body was on fire. Everything was burning. Everything hurt. Brett was right there next to me, squeezing my hand and saying the same thing with each push, “You’re amazing. You’re doing it. You’re doing so good. I’m so proud of you."
I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t look at anyone. I just kept pushing and screaming my head off.
After a few more minutes, I threw my body back on the bed and felt tears in my eyes.
“I can’t do this anymore!” I yelled.
A collective “yes you can” echoed right back.
“Ashlee,” Dr. Tilton said, “the baby’s heartbeat is starting to drop. If you can’t get him out in the next few pushes, I am going to have to cut a small incision to help his head come out."
I saw a sharp tool emerge out of the corner of my eye. Oh hell no.
For the first time I noticed there were more people in the room. Two more nurses and a respiratory therapist. They were setting up a special table “just in case” something was wrong with the baby. I realized everyone was ready and waiting for Carson; the rest was up to me.
The energy in the room skyrocketed. Everyone was cheering me on, telling me I could do it. I didn’t believe them.
“Just a few more pushes, Ashlee. You’re almost there.”
Another nurse came to the top of my right side near my head. I don’t remember what she said to me but she seemed 100% confident that I was close.
On the next push, Brett lifted my left leg and Antoinette lifted my right. The other nurse pushed the bed behind me, forcing the top part of my body to bend forward.
I felt my body breaking. Splitting in two. I pushed as hard as I could and screamed as loud as I could and in a matter of a few burning seconds, I felt the release of his tiny body leaving mine.
And then I heard the most wonderful sound in the entire world: Carson’s first cry.
He was placed on my chest, screaming his little lungs off. His sweet, fully-developed lungs were in perfect working order. We didn’t need that special table or that respiratory therapist or any of those “just in case” people.
We just needed each other.
Brett was crying. “I can’t believe you did that. I cannot believe you just did that.”
He said those words to me 100 times over the next 48 hours, and I will never forget how proud he was of me in that moment.
I couldn’t believe I had done it either.
Carson stayed on my chest for the next hour while Dr. Tilton stitched up my tears. Yes, I tore. Yes, it was awful. No, there is no amount of local anesthesia to relieve the pain of being poked and prodded down there after pushing a baby out.
We checked into the hospital at 1am and I delivered Carson at 6:51am. I labored for almost five hours and pushed for one hour. He was born a whole month early, weighing in at 5 pounds, 4.5 ounces and 18.5 inches tall.
He is perfect.
Two weeks later, I am shocked at how smooth my recovery has been. The VBAC was 100x more painful than the c-section, but 100x more easier to recover from. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Driving to the birthing center that night, I honestly had no idea I was going to come home with a baby. I was not prepared physically, mentally, or emotionally for what was about to happen. I didn't get to have a "last night" to be emotional over the fact that our family was growing from three to four. I didn't get to clean my house or stock my fridge or paint my nails or pack my bag.
I never attended a birth class or watched a birthing video (unless Knocked Up counts?).
And as it turns out, my body knew exactly what to do.
It's a miracle, really.
I'm in awe that God gave me a body capable of making and sustaining and birthing a baby. This body that I often take for granted is so much stronger than I've ever given it credit for.
I find it both amusing and ironic that my planned vaginal birth ended in a scheduled c-section and my scheduled c-section ended in a VBAC. If God is teaching me one lesson, over and over again, it is this: I can plan my life and my births and my dreams as much as I want to, but ultimately, He is in control and my plans are always better off in His hands.
Next on my birthing bucket list: VBAC with an epidural. Until next time....