Every birth is different. Every baby is different. Every mom is different. I learned these birthing truths beforehand, but I didn’t “know” these to be truths until after. I took an intensive birth class with an incredibly knowledgeable teacher. I read birthing books and articles, listened to sooooo many podcasts, pumped other moms for advice, interviewed about 15 doulas and finally hired one, worked with a pelvic floor PT from 3 months pregnant up to a week before the birth and did pelvic floor relaxation and exercises almost every day, I listened to birthing meditations, my prenatal diet and supplements were dialed in (thanks to Lily Nichol’s book-Real Food For Pregnancy), I monitored my blood glucose levels during fasting and post meals, I walked a minimum of 2 miles everyday, I did ALL the at home cervical ripening protocols from 36 weeks on (think dates, red raspberry tea, evening primrose oil, etc.) and there are probably more things that I’m not remembering.
I learned that births have a way of being unpredictable, but my preferences were to keep things as natural as possible—not to try to be tough or to maintain any image, but because the research shows that medication increases your probability of interventions and can interfere with breastfeeding and bonding—staying as natural as possible (if possible) is what’s best for the health of mom and baby. *Don’t get me wrong, medication and interventions have a very important place and in certain situations can save the mom’s and baby’s life.
At my 41 week check up the OB started talking induction and she checked my cervix which was closed, posterior, but soft. She advised me not to go past 42 weeks, as generally the risk for the placenta failing goes way up. So we set up an appt for an induction, but mentally I thought I had time and I could still get things moving naturally with acupuncture, acupressure from Andrew, a labor tincture I bought, among other things and I had already been taking a slew of steps since 36 weeks that were suppose to naturally induce labor. But alas, nothing but infrequent contractions occurred. So I went in for my induction appt on Saturday at 41 weeks, 3 days with an idea of what I wanted—a Cook’s Balloon. A non-medicated method to get the cervix to open, but you have to be at least 1 cm dilated so they can get the balloon in. Saturday at 2pm my cervix was still closed and posterior. A skilled nurse magician managed to wedge a Cook’s Balloon in there somehow (holy hell that was miserable going in and miserable for the next 12 hours). After 1/2 a day of extreme discomfort, my cervix was 1 cm dilated—which, to my dismay, the midwife seemed quite happy about—which made me question my resolve and how I thought things would go. The next step was to start misoprostol at 1:30pm on Sunday. This started regularly intervaled, but light, contractions. I got a second stronger dose at about 6:00pm. I walked a total of 6 miles in the hospital trying to get the contractions to build/gravity to help/etc. and drank 2 liters of Obrigado coconut water to hydrate. My third dose was at 10pm. I was told that I would probably sleep through the night and then have to start pitocin in the morning. About 20 minutes after the third dose, I was having painful intense contractions, and the intensity built real fast, too fast for me to stay ahead of. Plus I was REALLY focused (probably too focused) on trying to “sleep” between contractions that it didn’t occur to me that I might need to try some of the different pain management strategies that I had prepared to do. At 11pm, Andrew called our doula who had an emergency and had to send her backup. At 1am, I was beside myself and asked for nitrous oxide, which helped—for a little while… By 2am I couldn’t lay down during contractions. I had to spring up to my hands and knees during and then I still laid down between (it felt like every minute). At this point, I started breathing in nitrous as fast and as deep as I could. I desperately wanted to be someplace else. When the nurse suggested I use the bathroom, I did, but that intensified the pain. When the backup doula suggested I try a different position, I did, but one contraction later I was back on the bed. When she suggested I get in the shower (which I should’ve tried and probably should’ve tried way earlier), I snapped a quick “Not happening!” and went back to my nitrous. Andrew said I looked like Gollum with the ring. By 3:30am I couldn’t take it anymore— I asked for an epidural immediately. I was calculating that I would have to labor all of the next day (according to the typical timeline for this type of induction)— I hadn’t even started the pitocin yet. The epidural was in by 4am and I was able to lay down again and “sleep.” I could still feel the pressure/“pain” but it was soooo much more manageable. I’m still not sure I know the difference between pressure and pain for this type of occurrence other than the location of pain—aka not in the uterus but more towards the rear. But either way, I was happy to continue like this for awhile… This I could handle… but at 9am the midwife said I was at 2cm dilated (that’s it?? after all that?!?) and it was time to start pitocin. So we started the pitocin at 9:30am and I was able to continue laying down until about 11am—the pain/pressure in my butt building the whole time. My exhaling groaning grew in intensity with the pressure and woke Andrew up around 11:45am and the midwife came in soon after. I was certain the epidural wasn’t strong enough, bc it was still extremely painful. She checked me at noon and surprisingly, I was fully dilated and ready to push! I had gone from 2cm to 10 in 2.5 hours! My water still hadn’t broken, so she popped it (which I was initially bummed about—I was determined to birth my baby with the bag of waters intact 😂). But it was good she did, as there was meconium present. I asked about side lying to push and the midwife said “I think you can push this baby out quicker on your back.” I tried one push on my back and I didn’t like the pressure in my tailbone, so I went on my side, but once baby was down a little further I went onto my back. I tried exhale pushing, but was quickly/easily coached into holding my breath to push. They brought out a mirror and yet again I was shocked at how little progress I had made especially in light of how happy the midwife and nurse were with the progress—I could barely see her head at the end of my pushing!!! I decided at that moment that I’ll just keep her inside, being pregnant wasn’t so bad.
Finally I got her just about out and the midwife (Terri Westerlund—who I ended up loving by the way!) said you’re an athlete, I’ve seen this before— your perineum is so strong and it’s not stretching— and she was actively trying to help and stretch it between contractions which was gnarly but very helpful. The midwife was getting pressure from the OB to do an episiotomy because of the presence of meconium and because the babies heart wasn’t tracing on the paper for the OB monitoring from outside the room (the midwife could still see it in the monitor in the room though and she was keeping a close eye). So she suggested a small episiotomy, and I said I really wanted to avoid if I could. She said ok let’s go one more push, then she said ok let’s try one more and then I think we did one more… and after 65 minutes of pushing phew. Got. Her. Out! I reached down and pulled her onto my chest and that is a moment I will never forget. It’s etched into my memory so vividly, seeing her for the first time, hearing her cry, locking eyes, feeling the flood of love and happiness and just holding her skin-to-skin for the next two or three hours—it made everything worth it. Quick shoutout to the midwives of Kaiser Redwood City… they were all great, but specifically Terri Westerlund and Anne Tornatore-Pili! I can’t recommend them enough! There’s no way my pregnancy and delivery would’ve gone as smoothly as it did without their help!
The induction was very fast, so fast that my doula didn’t arrive until after Willa was born. I did have a bunch of superficial vaginal tearing, 1/2 cm perineum tear (not into the muscle). I lost a lot of blood—750 somethings worth. I felt like I couldn’t stand up straight for about 5 days, my tailbone hurt so, so bad for 9 days and sitting on it was the only position I could feed her in (until Lactation taught me sidelying!), but she was interested right away and very alert, so I feel very lucky about that! I saw my pelvic floor PT, Sara Cohen-Tanza, 9 days postpartum and she greatly reduced my tailbone pain (it was shifted and rotated). Sitz baths were also incredibly helpful!
Sooo, yeah, things didn’t go as I would’ve hoped, but none of that matters now. Now I’m just in love with this little bug and I’m trying to figure out how to care for a newborn. The athlete in me definitely wants to go back and review the play-by-play to learn and grow and have another shot! 😂 But one thing I’m sure of, no matter how your baby comes into this world, moms are warriors!
I compiled some pretty interesting physiological data from pregnancy to postpartum — all tracked with my Masimo MightSat pulse oximeter. Immediately after birth my resting heart rate (RHR) dropped to 33—the lowest I had ever seen before pregnancy was 39 and throughout pregnancy my RHR slowly increased until the end when the low 50s was normal for me. The day before delivery my RHR was 48-the lowest it had been in months and my HRV was much higher than it had been in months! And a couple days postpartum, my RHR is now back down to 40 consistently (like it was on recovered days pre-pregnancy)! Which coincides with the study that showed the VO2 max increases postpartum in athletes who trained during pregnancy. My guess is that your body gets accustomed to breathing for two and once baby is born, mom retains this benefit! Score! The female body is so interesting and amazing. I don’t think I shared this before, but in a similar vein, rarely did I get sore from lifting throughout my pregnancy. And I believe this was because of the natural increase in growth hormone present during pregnancy. My trainer also thought some of my biomechanics improved throughout pregnancy, like my squat form for instance. I still have a long road in front of my to get back to the court, but I’m so motivated and excited and I have the best team around me to help guide my path!