Hey mamas! Welcome to the fourteenth post in my Honest Birth series! I’m excited to share another real mama’s birth story, because I think it’s so important to share our childbirth experiences with each other. My goal with this series is to provide a place for women to share their birth stories without holding anything back, as well as compile stories for pregnant mamas to read in preparation for their own childbirth experiences. Every mama is different and every birth is different, and I believe that when we share our stories we help each other.
Today I am featuring my friend Megan! Megan and I met a few months ago at church and have become friends! Megan and her husband have had three kids in three different states (Iowa, California, and Minnesota) with three very different births! She taught eighth and ninth grade English for seven years in Utah before deciding to stay home with her kids. Megan and her husband currently live in a suburb of Minneapolis, only a few minutes away from me! Today Megan is going to be sharing the natural hospital birth of her youngest son!
Ready to read all about her son’s natural birth story? Here we go!
The Birth Story of Baby Boy Larson
You know when you’ve never been the “star” and you’re okay with that? That’s me. However, the birth of my son made both him and me pretty exceptional, at least for the first week of his life!
But his birth story actually begins with the stories of his older siblings’ births. (Poor third children: they rarely have anything that’s just their own, right?)
My first labor experience included: 36 hours of back labor, an epidural that didn’t work, pushing for an hour and a half, getting an episiotomy AND tearing, and finally giving birth to a 9 pound, 2 ounce baby boy, two days before my due date. Afterward, I was as puffy as a marshmallow from the IV fluid—I had to wear my husbands’ flip flops home from the hospital, because nothing else fit my huge feet—and my stitches were so painful that I used ice-filled diapers for at least a week and eventually had to get numbing cream for the burning.
Needless to say, when I was brave enough to get pregnant again 19 months later, I wanted to do everything differently. I hired Sacramento’s most experienced doula; she helped me overcome the lingering trauma from my first experience and prepare to have a “healing” birth—and thankfully, I did! My daughter was born at 39 weeks, after only five hours of active labor and zero pain medication. It was the most empowering experience of my life! I didn’t even have an IV during labor; my doula just helped me “ride the wave” of each contraction, coaching my husband and me on different positions to keep me relaxed through the pain. It got intense near the end, but then, in two pushes, my baby girl was out! She weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces. I was on some kind of endorphin high afterwards; right after giving birth, I told my husband, “I could do this again!” It truly was an incredible experience.
By the time I got pregnant again, a little over two years later, I wanted to replicate my second birth as much as possible. We had moved (again) to Minnesota, and this time around I decided to see midwives at an OBGYN practice. I found a new doula, too, and was determined to do all that I could to have another empowering natural birth experience.
As my third pregnancy wore on, I felt ridiculously uncomfortable. I often wondered what was making this end-of-pregnancy so much more miserable—was it because I was now 34? Or chasing after two other kids? During my last month of appointments, the baby’s heartbeat had been harder to find, so my midwife thought he was posterior. So, I did “spinning babies” moves (recommended to me by my doula), trying to get him to turn around, but his heartbeat continued to take longer-than-I-was-comfortable-with to locate.
By the last couple of weeks, the baby was so low that I wasn’t sure how he wasn’t falling out of me. I was desperately hoping to go into labor a week early, like I did with my daughter. But by my 39-week appointment, I still had not dilated, even though I had been having intermittent contractions.
Four days before my due date, on a Friday night at 8pm, I started feeling consistent contractions for the first time, about ten minutes apart. I put my doula on alert, as well as my friend who was going to watch my older kids. Lying down on my bed, I watched Me Before You on my iPad, tracking my contractions and trying to discern if I was in “real” labor. As the evening wore on, I constantly questioned what I was feeling. I was so incredibly anxious NOT to be pregnant anymore that I wondered if it was just my desire to not be pregnant that was driving my observations.
My wise doula told me that I should try to sleep—my body would let me know if I needed to pay attention to my labor! But I ended up not being able to fall asleep for hours. I was just too anxious about is-this-real-labor-or-not. I watched Catching Fire, Part II on my iPad in bed. Around 2am, my worries and contractions finally subsided enough for me to fall asleep.
At 5am, a stronger contraction woke me up. I then did what of course you do at five o’clock in the morning: I ironed my son’s Flynn Rider costume, in preparation for the church Halloween party that afternoon.
As I puttered around some more, my contractions started coming closer together, but they weren’t consistently getting stronger. It felt so different from the clear progression that I’d had with my previous birth that I continued to second-guess myself.
At 7am, after consulting with my doula and my husband, I decided to pack up for the hospital. I knew I was Strep-B positive and needed two rounds of antibiotics five hours apart before giving birth, but I also just felt like I shouldn’t wait any longer. (That turned out to be definitely the right decision!)
One hitch in our plans was that my doula was still attending another birth, so she put me in contact with her backup doula, Erin, and Erin arranged to meet us at the hospital. My friend arrived to pick up my older son and daughter. At 9am, we said our goodbyes, took one last picture of my huge belly, and were off to have a baby!
Erin, the backup doula, arrived about ten minutes into my checking-in process. While I was being examined in the admitting room, the nurse said that I was dilated to a two, but she got a funny look on her face and told me that she was “not sure” how the baby was positioned. I swallowed down some mild panic. She ordered an ultrasound and had the midwife on-call, Jen, come look at it.
Soon afterward, Jen told us the most shocking thing ever: “Your baby is breech.” She could’ve told me that he was a girl and I would’ve been less surprised! Of course I started to cry, too.
My husband Derek puts it this way: I had plans and expectations for this birth, but once we learned that my baby boy was breech, all of those were out the window.
The midwife Jen explained my two options: a version (where an OBGYN attempts to physically turn the baby around by pushing on the outside of my belly) or a C-section. I discussed them with doula Erin and Derek, still crying. I was just in disbelief that not only could my plans for a natural birth not be an option, but that I could be going to the other extreme of birth and have a C-section that morning! Erin comforted me by saying that it was totally fine to grieve my loss of expectations, even though I was so embarrassed to be crying in front of all these women whom I’d never met before.
Ultimately, I decided to try the version.
The OBGYN, Dr. Manneh, a tiny, spunky woman, came in and explained that I had about a 30% chance of the version being successful. I couldn’t have any pain medication, but I did get some medicine through an IV to essentially stop my contractions and relax my uterus. I laid down flat on the bed, with Derek and Erin on either side of my head, and Dr. Manneh began to push on my belly.
I can hardly come up with words to describe not only how painful the version was but also the type of pain that it was. There’s no other pain like it. Imagine someone trying to wring your uterus out like a washcloth—that kind of pulling tension, with knuckles pressing on your belly so forcefully that it feels like they are gouging your skin and kneading all the muscles and tissue beneath it.
I had to breathe through that version like I had to breathe through the hardest contractions during my daughter’s labor. I know that the experience of her natural birth and the practice it gave me keeping my body relaxed (despite intense pain) enabled me to endure the horrific pain of that version.
Halfway through the version, the doctor paused (to give herself and me a break; Derek told me she was throwing all her body weight onto my belly). Baby boy was transverse across my belly and it felt so bizarre. Then, after a few more painful seconds-that-felt-like hours, Dr. Manneh declared that it was done and that it had been successful! Relief washed over me. She said that it was one of the hardest versions she’d ever done.
A few minutes later, as I walked down the hall to the labor-and-delivery room, my belly was so comfortably balanced that I thought, “Wow! This is what it’s supposed to feel like!” I also felt 100% justified in my earlier discomfort: my baby’s head had been wedged into my ribcage, and it was his bottom pressing against my cervix that had caused all of my intermittent contractions! It also explained why his heartbeat had been more difficult to find; none of his body parts were where they expected them to be!
One downside to having my version, though, was that afterward I had to be induced as soon as possible to prevent the baby from flipping around. So, they hooked me up to an IV of fluids, antibiotics (for Strep-B), and Pitocin to re-start my labor. I also had to be continuously monitored, and the wireless monitors were unfortunately not working. This meant that, instead of my natural-birth plans to move around freely during labor, I was hooked up to an IV pole and tethered to a machine.
I did convince my midwife Jen to let me have a little nap before she broke my water—another post-version requirement—so that happened at 1:30pm. (Having your water broken feels like someone popping a big water balloon inside of you—I guess that’s basically what it is!) Mid-afternoon sometime, my sensible nurse Stephanie let me unhook from the monitors and walk around the halls. Doula Erin wheeled my IV pole, talking me through my contractions as I braced myself against a windowsill or railing while Derek applied counter-pressure to my back. That walk really helped my labor progress. We ate dinner and had another much-shorter walk afterward because my contractions had become much more intense.
Except during my walks, through most contractions I was sitting on the birthing ball, slowly rotating it around, deeply breathing. I had Derek facing me, sitting on a stool, and I would brace my hands on his knees, with Erin behind me applying the counter-pressure.
At 6pm, my contractions intensified and came closer together. I began to doubt my ability to keep going without pain meds, confessing to Derek, “I’m not sure how long I can do this!” Contractions on Pitocin are much different than medication-free ones: instead of a gradual rise in intensity, the contractions instantly spike into hard-core pain. Erin suggested that I switch positions, so ended up on top of the bed, on my hands and knees, leaning on a peanut-shaped birthing ball.
At 7:10pm, midwife Jen checked me, and I was only dilated to a 6. I was devastated. At that point, I really wanted to give up, telling Derek, “I can’t do this anymore!” But he, Erin, and Jen reassured me that the baby would come soon. Or they just said that because my contractions were coming too close together to really even consider pain relief options at that point.
With the support of Derek, Erin, and Jen, I made it through 40 more minutes of I-want-to-die transition pain. My deep exhales had turned into agonizing moan-yells. I was never more grateful for the pauses between contractions! In a brief moment of coherence, I noticed my room starting to fill up with labor-prepping staff, and I felt encouraged that maybe I would actually have a baby soon!
Finally, Jen checked me again and told me that I could start pushing. With Derek and Erin holding my feet, I pushed as hard as I could, but the baby got stuck crowning. I felt like I was trying to give birth to a watermelon! Everyone was telling me, “Push only when you feel a contraction,” but there was so much pressure that I couldn’t really tell when contractions were even happening. I also didn’t feel like I had the strength to keep pushing much longer.
Then, I remember Jen saying, “I’m going to cut you right along this scar,” referring to the episiotomy scar from my first birth. I was so relieved, because I felt like I could have never pushed the baby out otherwise—which was probably true! (I found out later that baby’s heart rate was plummeting while he was crowning, so that’s why they needed to get him out ASAP.)
Right afterwards, at 7:58pm, my son was born! I’ll never forget the sight of Jen hefting my just-born baby one-armed into the air and saying, “This baby’s huge!” He was put onto my chest and Derek and I just sobbed in relief. I hardly even noticed Jen stitching me up; thankfully, she had helped me not tear beyond the cut.
I vaguely recall trying to do skin-to-skin and attempting to get baby boy latched on to nurse. However, too soon afterward, the baby doctor flipped on a light, looked at the baby, and said, “I’m concerned about his color,” (he was essentially purple), so they took him away from me.
During his examination, he was weighed with my midwife looking on. When Jen turned to everyone and announced, “Eleven pounds!” the room erupted in a collective gasp—but no one was more surprised than me! I remember not quite being able to process how my baby could be that big!
I soon discovered one downside to having a huge baby. His blood sugar was supposed to be at 45 or higher…and it was a 6. So, they whisked him away to the NICU and hooked him up to fluids. As soon as I was able, I eased myself onto a wheelchair and my husband took me to see our son. At that point, I was grateful to be free of any lingering pain-relief grogginess or side-effects: I was able to almost-immediately help take care of my baby.
My not-so-little son would end up spending the next week in the NICU, a week that felt like one long day full of IVs and beeping monitors and syringes of donor breast milk and never sleeping more than 90 minutes at a time. My poor baby’s heels were pricked so often that he would reflexively pull away as soon as he felt the pre-poke sanitizing wipe. But his blood sugar levels steadily improved, and after my milk came in, (to my great relief) he was able to exclusively breastfeed, just like my other two kids.
It seemed like every new nurse, specialist, or doctor that my baby and I met that week had already heard our story. We were the celebrities of the NICU! One came in and said, “We heard about someone getting a version, having an eleven pound baby, and not having any pain meds, and then found out it was all the same person!!” I would then make good use of my ongoing joke that I’d given birth to a three-month-old.
Like I mentioned earlier, I was exceptional for the first time in my life! I would’ve been absolutely fine with not having as exceptional of a birth, but I am grateful for all the little miracles that helped our youngest son safely make his memorable arrival.
PS – My advice on “going natural” and having a doula
To anyone who is considering a natural vs. medicated birth: really think about how much control you want over your delivery. I learned with my first birth that I didn’t like the process of medical interventions lined up like dominoes, one procedure leading to the next. I wanted to be able to decide when and how to move my body, too. (I apparently am a little bit of a control freak! Ha!) But if you want to have the pain and procedures managed for you, then that’s fine too! I’m all for women figuring out which type of birth they want, whatever it may be! There’s no one “right” way to have a baby.
However, if you do decide to “go natural,” you really have to make that decision months before your delivery and prepare accordingly. With my first birth, I just expected the epidural to work and didn’t really prepare for the alternative…and then the pain was stressful and unbearable. But during my second birth, with the support of a trained doula, I was able to stay relaxed through the pain and have a fantastic experience. I also knew exactly how to advocate for what I wanted during the process, and that was so empowering.
Sometimes, though, as evidenced with my third birth, you can go in thinking you’ll have one kind of birth and end up having something totally different. Having a doula helped me navigate through the surprises and challenges during that birth and still achieve my goal of delivering without pain medication. She was also invaluable during the chaos of my baby boy’s urgent medical needs and helped me through the decisions I needed to make for his care. One more benefit of a doula: during my first labor experience, my husband was incredibly supportive, but with the coaching of a doula, he was able to support me much more effectively during the births of our second and third children (and they were less traumatic for him, too!). I truly think that every woman giving birth could benefit from having the support of a doula! They are more affordable than you may realize, especially if you end up having a smaller hospital bill because of a doula’s help. 😉
Didn’t you love that? I loved hearing about how different each of Megan’s baby’s births were! And anyone who gives birth to an 11 pound baby is A BOSS in my book! Thanks so much to Megan for sharing her stories on the Honest Birth series! Make sure you follow her on Instagram and Facebook, and let her know you loved reading her stories! And don’t forget to check back again in two weeks because I’ll have another Honest Birth post going up!