From time to time I’ll share pregnancy and birth stories from real parents. While I won’t skip over the hard parts, my promise to you is that they’ll be written in an affirmative way, speaking to the power, strength, and courage of the birthing person. If any story contains trauma, I’ll be sure to let you know in advance. To kick things off, I’m sharing my personal pregnancy and birth story with you because it’s a driving force behind why Bold & Mighty Birth exists today. Without further ado…
It was four days before my estimated due date, and I was sitting in the pharmacy at the grocery store, taking my blood pressure while last-minute shoppers picked up final items for Christmas Eve dinner. The results flashed on the screen, and my heart sank. My blood pressure had been perfect throughout my entire pregnancy, but it was high during my last visit. They told me to keep an eye out for signs of preeclampsia (like headaches, which is what brought me to Cub Foods aka the only place I could think of with a blood pressure monitor available to the public on a holiday).
Back in the car, I reached out to the Midwife on Call, and she thought it would be a good idea for me to be monitored for a longer period of time. Because the clinic was closed, I had to go to the hospital, and my midwife Nicole met me there. After checking in to the maternal assessment center and spending close to an hour trying to give a urine sample (so much pressure!) they took a blood draw and hooked me up to the blood pressure monitor and a heart rate monitor for the baby.
The labs came back with no sign of preeclampsia, but I received an official diagnosis for gestational hypertension. The recommendation was immediate induction. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to feel about this piece of information. I’d heard induction horror stories, and it would mean a hospital birth rather than the tranquil, beautiful birth center experience I’d been visualizing for the past nine months. It meant no water birth, and I was afraid it would lead to a “cascade of interventions” I desperately wanted to avoid.
You see, I was set on having an unmedicated birth. Not because I believed there was anything “bad” about medical intervention, but I’ve always had a complicated relationship with my body. Growing up, I was never comfortable in it, and I faced a lot of insecurities about my weight. I had a deep desire to fully feel the power of my body through an unmedicated birth as a step toward healing this complicated relationship.
But I also wanted to meet my baby, and the idea of having her in my arms soon was appealing. I actually started to get excited by the idea of induction.
It wasn’t my beautiful birthing suite at the birth center, but we toured this hospital, knew the protocol, and felt comfortable with the care we would receive. I wrapped my mind around the idea , and then….
Jack works in health care, and he knows enough to be extra cautious around health insurance. So, before moving forward, he triple checked our coverage, and somehow, someway between mid-pregnancy when we wrote our birth plan and December 24th, that particular hospital was dropped.
I had JUST accepted the medical recommendation of “do not leave the hospital, that would be dangerous, we should induce right now.” But now what? We had some out of network benefits, but weren’t sure what out of pocket costs would be. To make things worse, it was Christmas Eve and it would be 48 hours until there was ANYONE–even a single person–in the entire hospital who could answer a billing question.
Jesus take the wheel.
Except not actually. What really happened was that we asked for more information. My blood pressure was high, but everything else looked good. What would be the risks of waiting 48 hours to talk to someone in billing? My midwife and the supervising OB felt comfortable enough with that plan, so we went home to rest until billing folks returned on the 26th.
During that waiting period, I felt confident things would work out. Our out of network benefits stated that they would reimburse the hospital at the price of Medicaid. The only hiccup could be balance billing.
“Balance Billing” is a shady practice where the hospital can turn around and bill the patient (us) for the remaining cost of the bill. It’s illegal in many states, and Jack was certain Minnesota law prohibited it. So on the morning of December 26th at 8am Jack picked up the phone and called the billing office to make sure the hospital couldn’t balance bill us.
And they would.
In the aftermath of the phone call, an alarm alerted me of a previously scheduled acupressure massage starting in 10 minutes. I didn’t particularly feel like having a massage, but if the acupressure could kickstart labor for me, I was going to move mountains to get to that appointment in under 10 minutes. On my drive, I called my mom, and I vividly remember telling her:
After the massage… which did not induce labor… I went into the clinic to meet my midwives. There was one other potential solution. They had admitting privileges for a different hospital up until January 1st (keep in mind it was December 26th). If that hospital was covered, they would schedule induction there for 6pm that night. If not, I would have to walk into a different hospital without knowing the providers and tell them to induce me without having any established care. Time for waiting was up
It was covered. We went home, got our suitcases, and showed up at the new hospital at 6pm.
We didn’t know where to park or where to go. But once we were settled in the room, things calmed down. I had a beautiful labor suite with a big tub I could labor in. My midwife came to see me, gave me a big hug, and I instantly felt more at ease.
They hooked up machines for continuous monitoring of the baby’s heart rate, whcih I’m pretty sure was designed for the specific purpose of annoying me (or, you know, safety). And then started what would become a 60 hour induction process with Cervidil. Cervidil is a medicine designed to help a cervix “ripen” (the actual medical term for when a cervix softens, thins, and moves into position before dilation begins). Then, I got to sleep.
In the morning when I woke up, I was at 1 centimeter, so they took the Cervidil out and decided to try Cytotec – something different that does the same thing. Fast forward 12 hours annnnnd I was still at 1 centimeter. 24 hours into the induction process, and I still hadn’t had a single contraction, so they moved to the next stage – a balloon catheter.
A balloon catheter is pretty much what it sounds like. Two deflated balloons are placed so that one sits on the top of the cervix and one below the cervix. They’re then inflated, and the idea is that the irritation will cause dilation. Eventually, the balloons will fall out.
Oh, and it really freakin’ hurts.
That night I didn’t get any sleep, but my nurse was an earth-angel. She massaged my lower back, helped me get in the tub, brought me different pillows to try various positions, and showered me in empathy. I loved her, and based on the pain in my low back, I was sure I was making progress.
In the morning when my midwife returned I was exhausted but ready to hear about all the amazing progress I made through the night. I was at 2 centimeters.
I lost it. 36 hours into induction with no sleep, and that was it?
But here’s why I love my midwife with all my heart and soul. She said, “let’s take a break before starting pitocin so you can get some sleep” (sleep!). Jack suggested taking the monitors off, and she agreed to override hospital protocol because everything was fine, and I needed to rest.
Hallelujah! A four hour nap and a shower later – I was ready to take on the pitocin.
Pitocin is a synthetic version of oxytocin, the hormone that causes labor and contractions. They started the slow drip and increased it every 30 minutes. I kept waiting to feel contractions, but 6 hours later, and I still hadn’t felt anything close to what the balloon catheter felt like the night before. Sure that I wasn’t making progress, I started to wrap my mind around the possibility that this induction could fail and lead to a cesarean.
At 11:00 that night, my midwife broke my water. And that’s when shit. got. real.
As soon as she walked out the door, contractions picked up to the point where I couldn’t talk through them. And they were close together. The whole “rest between contractions” thing was not happening for me because “between contractions” was only a matter of seconds.
Thank God for doulas. My doula arrived and immediately got to work squeezing my hips, which was the only thing helping me cope at that point. I’m also pretty sure that during this time I sounded like Dory “speaking whale” in Finding Nemo. All my inhibitions were out the window.
After a few hours of laboring like a birth stereotype, I looked at my doula and told her I simply couldn’t do this anymore. I wanted an epidural. She sensed some hesitation and asked me to tell her more. I was afraid of being judged. I had been so adamant about not wanting an epidural – what would people think? She looked me in the eye and with her beautiful French accent, firmly said,
“Listen to me. If anyone judges you for changing your mind, I’ll kick their ass.”
The epidural gave me relief in what felt like moments. My legs were warm and tingly, and I knew the epidural was the right choice for me based on my specific circumstances. I was ready for sleep. The nurse used a peanut ball between my legs to keep my pelvis open while I dozed.
Shortly before 6am I woke up to the feeling of pressure, so I called the nurse. When she told me I was up to 8.5 centimeters I felt an immediate emotional release. Some people have a difficult time pushing with an epidural, but something within me knew that if I could just get up to 8cm, this baby was going to come out.
It wasn’t long until I was complete at 10 centimeters, so it was time to push! Pushing started off as very uneventful. My epidural was a heavy one, and I wasn’t able to feel when a contraction was coming. The nurse would tell me when to push. It took awhile for me to get the hang of it since I couldn’t feel anything, but we lowered the epidural dose and brought in a mirror so I could watch myself push.
Before labor, I never would have said I wanted to watch myself give birth in a mirror. But turns out, it was exactly what I needed to see that I WAS making progress, and each time I pushed, my baby was closer to being born. Sooner than I anticipated, I heard my midwife Ashley say, “Jack, if you want to catch the baby, come now.”
One more push and out she came into her daddy’s arms and then up onto my chest. Charlotte Maeve Carpenter. 8 pounds 2 oz and 21 inches long.
I always imagined that I would be overcome with joy, love, and awe at the birth of my baby. And those feelings came in time. But in those first moments, everything melted away. There was no amazement because it felt so astonishingly normal. It was an exhale. An instant contentment. A feeling of “Of course you are here. This is where we belong.”