I went on the search for something real.
Traded what I know for how I feel.
But the ceiling and the walls collapsed
Upon the darkness I was trapped
And as the last of breath was drawn from me
The light broke in and brought me to my feet.

There’s no fortune at the end of the road that has no end.
There’s no returning to the spoils
Once you’ve spoiled the thought of them.
There’s no falling back asleep 
Once you’ve wakened from the dream.
Now I’m rested and I’m ready
I’m rested and I’m ready to begin

Here we go. The little ones are both finally sleeping. So I’m just going to start typing. It has required many tears to get to this place. I’ve seen it in photos and heard it in song, but words? They’re a whole different ball game.

I think I’ve been scared to write out Lainey’s birth story because of the emotional purging that will ensue. As if I’ll open Pandora’s Box to all of my thoughts and feelings that happened that day and the few that followed…all the pain that’s been masked by the joy of snuggling a sweet little bundle over the past month will come to the surface, so raw and real. I’m afraid to go there because you see, Lainey’s birth was supposed to be my redemption in a way, and that’s not quite how it turned out. Not exactly anyway…

This is Lainey’s story.

***

My journey to VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) started with our daughter Marlie. After 17 hours of labor that included 2 failed epidurals, lots of back labor, various interventions and 3 hours of pushing a sunny-side up babe, Marlie was born via c-section (my hospitalization summary lists the reason as ‘failure to descend’). We were separated while I was sewn up, shaking and alone while my husband took her out to meet my parents (my mom had been with us during my entire labor). I could hardly hold her once we got to recovery because I was still shaking. We didn’t get a chance to nurse for several hours after she was born. I was so out of it the entire time we were in the hospital and the days following from the systemic pain meds that I required just to be comfortable. Basically I hated everything about my c-section, except for Marlie. Still, I told my friend Ash the day after she was born that I didn’t understand why ANYONE would want to have a VBAC.

Fast-forward to almost 3 years later and I was bound and determined to have a VBAC with our next child. I don’t know exactly what changed or when. But I know that in a way, I feel like I had been robbed regarding Marlie’s birth. I don’t feel like I gave birth to her. I feel like she was simply ‘taken out of me.’ And though our bond was immediate and has continued to grow and strengthen over nearly the past 4 years, I feel that the c-section definitely contributed to us getting off to a rough start, both physically and emotionally. I’ve had to work on not blaming myself for what happened and just accept what happened as it did, but I think her birth is something I will always mourn because it obviously didn’t turn out the way I had thought it would. I knew that I didn’t want to feel like that the next time around, and so began my interest in VBACs. I talked about it with anyone who was interested (mainly Ash), researched it incessantly and made a VBAC board on pinterest. I scoured the web for successful VBAC stories and was so inspired by the words I read and videos I watched.

Being the obsessive control-freak that I am, I charted for months before we started to try for another baby. I was fascinated by the clockwork-like workings of my body. Marlie was conceived on our first cycle of trying and I had hoped this time would be the same, though I knew that it was highly unlikely. I was sure that we had timed everything just right (and then some), but at the same time I had this irrational fear of secondary infertility going on. We went on vacation with my family in early August. I had some spotting during the trip on the day my period was due, our four year wedding anniversary no less, and figured it was the beginning of my period and the whole getting-pregnant-on-the-frist-try thing wasn’t going to happen this time. Nothing else came of it and when we got home, I took an HPT. I was shaking while waiting for the results. Nervous and fidgety a la Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill. After the allotted time was up, there it was. A little pink line. Faint, but present. I took another one a few hours later to be sure. Another faint pink line. Holy crap- we were going to have another baby!

So we spent another 9 months preparing for Lainey’s birth. We attended an ICAN meeting and I read all about VBACs and natural birth. I found an amazing group of midwives who shared my birth philosophy 100%. They were even more certain than I was that I was an excellent candidate for a VBAC and exuded the utmost confidence in me at every appointment. They helped to remind me that my body was made for this and while what happened last time couldn’t be changed, it didn’t have to happen this time. We could write a new story for this baby. My favorite quote for VBAC inspiration is from the mother of authentic midwifery herself, Ina May Gaskin: “Remember this, for it is as true as it gets: Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The creator is not a careless mechanic. Human female bodies have the same potential to give birth well as aardvarks, lions, rhinoceri, elephants, moose and water buffalo. Even if it has not been your habit throughout your life so far, I recommend that you learn to think positively about your body.” It’s still one of my favorite quotes of all time.

Pregnancy with Lainey was no picnic. I had a few scares along the way and the second half of the pregnancy was practically unbearable. I got huge fast, gained a ton of weight from eating like crap and my sciatic nerve pain was excruciating. I would grin and bear it at work, then come home in tears and unable to move. Still, I pushed through and with the help of a support belt, I worked until I was 39 weeks. My original plan was to work until 40 weeks. Ha.

I had my first check for cervical progress 3 days before my due date. I was 50% effaced and half a centimeter dilated. Basically nothing. That night, I inserted a capsule of evening primrose oil to help ripen my cervix. The next morning, I brought Marlie to preschool and headed over to a breakfast award show for my parents business where I started having stronger contractions than usual. Everyone there joked that she was going to come that night, especially since a huge snowstorm was headed our way. Contractions continued to get stronger throughout the day. I hoped that she’d hold off another day or two until the roads were cleared. I talked to my midwife, Kathrine, a couple of times on the phone that night. She didn’t think I was ready to come in, but suggested a bath and some wine and told me to try and get some rest and call her back if I felt the need.

The next morning, my mom came over to be with me while my friend Katie brought Marlie to a birthday party for a couple of hours. My contractions spaced way out during the day, but continued to be intense while I tried to take a nap with Marlie. My mom left when Ryan got home from work and things started picking back up again around 8pm. I tried to go to bed with Ryan around 11pm, but with strong contractions coming every 5-10 minutes, there’s no way I could sleep. I headed down to the couch and finished watching the third season of Modern Family, which coincidentally ends with Gloria finding out she’s pregnant. I found that I could work through a contraction better if I was on all fours leaning over the couch. It was so freaking painful. It was back labor all over again- just as bad as the contractions I’d had while in labor with Marlie. My mind and body were exhausted, and just as I was about to call my midwife and wake Ryan because they were consistently coming every 6 minutes, they’d go back to 8 minutes, then 5, then 9, then 7 etc etc. So frustrating. And as such I did not sleep more than 5-10 consecutive minutes that night. It was torturous.

In the morning (and on my due date), I decided to call Kathrine and just let her know what was going on. She heard me go through a contraction over the phone and suggested I come in just to be checked. We called my parents to come pick up Marlie and had an emotional, tearful goodbye, knowing this might be the last time that it would be just the 3 of us, and headed off to the hospital. 

When we got there, Kathrine checked me and said “Here’s what I think: you’re going to have this baby, just not today (the look on my face must have been complete devastation. All this pain over the past 2 days and no progress?!?), so I’m going to give you “some-drug-I-can’t-remember-the-name-of” to help you relax and get some sleep, BUT…your cervix is high and I couldn’t feel it, so I’m going to have the nurse here double-check to make sure.” So the nurse checks me and says I am easily 5-6cm dilated, possibly 7! Turns out I had been in real labor all along but baby’s positioning is what was causing inconsistent contractions. We all laughed and called a new game plan. Kathrine sent us to go walk, get a bite to eat and grab our stuff from the car while she got our room ready. It took forever to walk to the car and the cafeteria and because we had to stop every 5 minutes for a contraction. People kept offering me a wheelchair, but I wanted to walk and keep things progressing.

While we ate, I got in touch with the volunteer doula organization that we were utilizing. I had not met my doula since they operate on an on-call basis. They texted me shortly after my phone call and told me that Mary was on her way and that she was their best doula. Truer words have never been texted. When she knocked on the door and Kathrine heard her voice call out, she said ‘Oh no! Not Mary!’ Then they squealed and hugged like old college roomies. Turns out that Mary was a retired midwife and  Kathrine’s former mentor! Shortly after that, Ash arrived. She had been one of my biggest supporters for a VBAC throughout my pregnancy- calling and texting with words of encouragement and sending me emails filled with links to helpful info. It didn’t hurt that she was a fellow VBACer, so she knew what it was all about for me. She was there as my friend first and birth photographer second, but really ended up being a second doula. I find the words lacking as a way to explain how thankful I am to her for all of her support and for being there for me and documenting Lainey’s birth. But that’s the great thing about friends like her. I think she already knows.

I labored in the tub for a bit with Mary applying amazing counter-pressure. By the way, Mary? I am 110% sure that she was an angel hand-picked and sent straight to us from God. I don’t know how I went through labor last time without a doula.  It was like she just knew exactly what to do and when to do it. She had such a mothering touch and gentle spirit about her. She reminded me a lot of my mom, especially her hands. I don’t know if she understands what her being there from start to finish meant to me, but I wish there was a way that I could convey it to her.

 

Ryan stepped out for a bit and Ash and Mary both helped me get through some major waves. I tried the birthing ball, which felt great, until a contraction began. Then I wanted to be standing or hunched over something. By about 5pm, things were getting really intense. I’m grateful that everyone respected my birth plan and didn’t offer me any pain meds. I took it upon myself to ask for some fentanyl to take the edge off. I started with the lower dose and opted for the larger dose shortly after. Once it wore off after an hour, contractions obviously felt even stronger. My original ‘plan’ was to go med-free (LOL) but after not sleeping for days, I needed some rest. I had nothing against epidurals and didn’t want a trophy for going through a med-free birth. My only reasons for not wanting the epidural were that I didn’t want it to stall labor or get it out of fear, nor did I want the epidural to fail like it had twice with Marlie and still be stuck laboring in a bed due to hospital liability policies. We all discussed it together and my nurse and midwife assured me that if the epidural failed, I would be able to move about freely once it wore off. That was all I needed to hear and we summoned the back-stabber. When he finally arrived 9,476 hours later, the clouds parted and the heavens shone down upon my room. I had to lie on my side and turn every hour or two, but the epidural? It worked! Cue unicorns prancing and stomping hooves, pre-flight.

Kathrine went to check me around 9pm, barely looked at me touched me and my water broke. I had an abundance of amniotic fluid again with this pregnancy, but because of the epidural, I couldn’t feel the 3 sets of sheets and blankets I went through. I was dilated to 10cm by 10pm but Lainey had not descended yet due to her OP position. We all slept on and off for a few hours throughout the night, interrupted by quiet and sometimes hilarious conversations between Mary, Ash and I. They fed me ice chips and kept my spirits up while we waited for baby to make her way down. I felt lots of pressure during contractions, but no urge to push yet. Then around 6am, my temperature was reading 99.8. Contractions had spaced out again further than Kathrine liked to see, so we started pitocin to try and get things going before the temp became an issue. My temp continued to rise over the next hour and around 7am, she told me I had to start pushing because Lainey could be at risk of infection (chorioamnionitis) which is usually found in cases where your water has been broken for 24+ hours, but in my case it was due to being in labor for so long. Mary and the nurse were at my sides, helping me push. Ryan and Ash were by my head, getting cool washcloths for my forehead and feeding me ice chips. My throat was so dry and hoarse. I remember Kathrine arguing with the nurse for a hot second about letting me have some water, bless her heart. And apparently I wasn’t breathing enough because an oxygen mask was soon placed on my face for Lainey’s sake. I kept tossing it off because it was bugging the hell out of me and I think Ash kept puttng it back on so that baby’s heart rate would stay level. My temp was at 100.4 when Kathrine told me she had to step out and talk with the OB about what to do. When she came back in, she said that Lainey would definitely have to go to the NICU for chorioamnionitis to be on precautionary antibiotics for 48 hours. 

NO.

My heart sank. The only thing that was as important to me as immediate skin-to-skin time with Lainey was that we not be separated. It kills me to this day that Marlie and I were separated so soon after birth, and now even though I still had the chance to have my VBAC, I was being told that she was going to be whisked away from me shortly after she was born. I couldn’t take it. I was so, so sad. But I didn’t have much time to dwell on it, because another contraction was coming and Kathrine was telling me that I had to give it everything I had. We had to get her out NOW in order to avoid a c-section. My temperature was 100.9 and climbing.

Everyone had been so encouraging for the past half hour that her head was ‘right there,’ but I was certain that it was all fluff and they were just saying that to make me feel better and keep me positive. To call them out on their BS, I reached down to feel, and as it turns out they weren’t lying. That’s when I had my Oprah ah-ha moment, or as I like to call it, my OMG-there’s-her-head moment.

Up until this time, there were usually 4 pushes per contraction. 1 was to get back to where I was, 2 was to lock her in place and 3 and 4 were for progress. I surprised everyone, myself included, because at 8:41am on April 21, 2013 on push #2, there was a loud pop and a look of disbelief on everyone’s face, followed by a beautiful little cry and Kathrine’s laughter as she told me to grab my baby that she had caught and bring her to my chest myself.

Oh, that moment.

 I can’t tell you what I said. I can’t tell you what I did. I can hardly put into words how I felt. But I’m pretty sure there was lots of crying and me smothering her with kisses and telling her I loved her.

 

Did I mention that she was born sunny-side up?

And that Ryan’s sister had given birth to Lainey’s new cousin Liam just 2 hours before she was born? Craziness.

We waited until the cord stopped pulsating for Ryan to cut it. After they cleaned her up and checked her apgar (8-9) and stats she got to come back to my chest for 15 more minutes before they took her to the NICU. It was so hard letting her go. Ryan went with her, of course, but it was still not me. In the meantime, I had a third degree tear that needed to be sewn up. Mary stayed with me for all 10 stitches. It was freaking awful and they ended up giving me a little more fentanyl halfway through.  

Then it was finally time for me to go see our baby, but not before I showed my nurse that I was able to pee, which of course I couldn’t do so I had to be straight catheterized. I may or may not have swatted at the poor, sweet nurse’s hand and yelled while writhing on the bed as she prepped me with the iodine swab. Ouch.

3 long hours after giving birth, I was finally on my way to the special care unit to see our new girl. We were buzzed in and approached her door and there it was: the very room they had shown us during our hospital tour before the Mother-Baby Center was even open. The room I had stood in and not paid much attention to because I was sure I wouldn’t have a pre-term baby, and that’s usually what these rooms are for. Not for me. Not for my baby. Yet there she was. In that very same room. Hooked up to all kinds of monitors and an IV in her sweet, tiny pink head. I cried some more and held her and finally got to nurse her.

We spent a couple of hours there and then went to my post-partum room so that they could check me and we could get some lunch. And it was there that I finally fell apart. Heavy, uncontrollable sobs wracked throughout my whole body and caused my shoulders to shake. My heart was literally aching . To make matters worse, the crying was tearing at the sore and overworked muscles of my uterus that had been straining for the past 4 days. It would have been in the best interest of my physical welfare that I stop crying, but I just couldn’t. I wasn’t supposed to be in this room alone with my husband. Our baby was supposed to be here with us, swaddled and wearing the little pink hat I brought for her and nestled in our arms. I wasn’t supposed to have to take 8 minutes just to get out of bed to get into a wheelchair to make the trek down to the NICU every couple hours to nurse her. Ryan was just supposed to hand her to me from the bassinet that was right next to my bed, if I wasn’t already holding her. Nowhere in my birth plan did it say ‘Take baby to NICU and separate her from her Mama.’ How is it that you can be so grateful that a place like the NICU exists for your baby and hold so much contempt for it at the same time? The fact that there were other mamas whose baby’s rooms were right next to Lainey’s and had been in the NICU for weeks or months already did not make me feel any better. In fact, it made it worse. I only shared their grief. Someone is always going to have it worse. That didn’t make my pain and mourning any less valid. 

We tried to stay with Lainey in her room as much as possible, but there was no way I could sleep on the fold-out NICU beds given the physical pain I was in from the long labor and tearing, so we went back and forth a lot to see her. I tried to pee again later that day. No luck. So they put a foley catheter in with instructions from Kathrine to leave it in until I was discharged. 

My parents brought Marlie in to meet her new baby sister later that day. It was love at first sight. Watching her hold her for the first time was so incredibly beautiful. I have never seen a love so pure. Marlie had come down with the sniffles that morning, so she sang songs to Lainey through her little surgical mask. 

My mom held Lainey and we finally told her the middle name that we’d kept a secret throughout my pregnancy. Louise is also my mama’s middle name. My dad held her and my sister DeeDee arrived to stay with us while Ryan went to the chiropractor to fix his ribs that had popped out of place the night before while sleeping on the fold-out couch in my laboring room (perfect timing. He is SUCH a thunder-stealer). The chiropractor he saw ended up messing up his ribs even more instead of fixing them, so Dee- God bless her- ended up telling Ryan to go home that night and get some sleep on an actual bed while she stayed with me. My sisters are rock-stars at stepping up and assuming the role of caretakers, so I was grateful to have DeeDee there with me that night. She force-fed me and made sure I drank enough water, washed all my pump parts and brought the colostrum I’d pumped to Lainey in the NICU so I could sleep a couple of extra hours.

In the morning, Ryan went and saw his regular chiropractor and got all fixed up. And it was another day of going back and forth to the NICU to be with Lainey. My spirits were a little better and thanks to the support of family and friends, plus a visit from my godmother, Mary and the integrative health specialist thanks to Katherine. I started counting down the hours until Lainey would be released. The next morning, the doctor said that thankfully, the bacterial results of the culture were negative and the discharge paperwork could begin! But there would be a few more hurdles to jump first. When Lainey’s nurse came back in, she said that Lainey would have to stay in the NICU until I was discharged because she was technically considered a patient at Children’s Hospital and I was a patient at Abbott. It wasn’t the nurse’s fault- she was really very sweet. And I know that she was just doing as she was told, but it was ridiculous. I understand Lainey not being able to be admitted as a patient at Abbott, but why couldn’t she be released to Ryan and be in my room as a visitor? We went back to the room to order breakfast and I bawled to my nurse Samantha about her still not being able to be with us. Samantha argued that she could indeed be in my room with me and that they did it all the time. She told me to let the NICU nurse know and that if she had any issues releasing Lainey to call the charge nurse. Hallelujah! An hour later, we were finally together. I can’t tell you how happy I was. Ryan pushed Lainey in the bassinet while the NICU nurse pushed me in a wheelchair and hugged us all goodbye once we got to our room. Marlie and my mom arrived for another visit while we waited to solve our last big problem.

I still hadn’t peed.

They removed the foley catheter that had been placed the day Lainey was born. I chugged water like it was my job and finally snuggled both my girls together in the hospital bed. I tried going to the bathroom every hour for 4 hours. I tried sniffing peppermint, jiggling my body, blowing in a straw, running water, peeing in the shower and also the tub. No dice. I had to go so bad. I wanted to go. But my body and my brain just weren’t working together. Finally it got to a point where I was in extreme pain from having such a full bladder. My new nurse called Kathrine and they decided in put in another foley and send me home with it. I could take it out myself on Saturday. Ugh. Not another catheter insertion! There was more writhing, yelling and hand-swatting while the nurse prepped me for the final time. We ordered our last hospital meal and began our discharge process.

 It was so, so good to get home. Recovery has been a rough road. It has been different but in no way easier than my recovery from a c-section. I’ve since wondered that if I would have scheduled a repeat c-section if things would have turned out differently. It’s hard not to wonder. But at the same time, I’m so glad that I decided to have a VBAC. I will never forget the moment that Lainey was born. What happened was nobody’s fault. It is what it is. I’m glad that we had the people and resources there to make sure that both Lainey and I were healthy. I’m glad that I had the amazing birth team that I had, each one of them playing a vital role in my VBAC success. And I’m glad that every time I gave up and stopped pushing, Kathrine demanded more. She never let me give up, never gave up on me and never gave up on Lainey. I’m forever thankful to her for her unwavering confidence.

I love our little family so much. We are together and we are complete. For the most part, Lainey has been a great sleeper and eater. I’m trying to soak up every fleeting moment because she is growing far too quickly. I, like many second-time mamas, was worried about how I would be able to love anyone as much as my first child. And as promised, my heart has doubled in size. I love rocking her. I love nursing her. I love inhaling her sweet baby smell and all the little noises she makes in her sleep. I can’t believe she’s here and she’s ours, yet it’s like she’s been here all along. 

Thank you for making my heart grow, Lainey Louise. You are worth so much more than every pain it took to get you here. We love you so much. 

Square one, my slate is clear. 

Rest your head on me, my dear.

It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears.

It took a long time to get back here.