Birth Stories: Joanie

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Contributed by FPC co-founder, Joanie Johnson

My daughter turned 2 this week and the story of our birth is one I’ve tried very hard to forget. Thinking about it always brings up feelings of anger and makes me wonder,  what could I have done differently? 

We practiced hypnobirthing and with complete respect for that technique, Im giving warning that this is not a “beautiful birth story”.  If you’ve had a peaceful birth, hopefully this brings you closer to every woman that has struggled with hers. And if you have struggled, know that you are not alone and I encourage you to speak up, share and seek out help in order to grow and heal. 

Friday, July 29, 2016, 7:30AM: My "due date"

I woke up on my due date, shuffled my way to the bathroom and discovered my waters were leaking.  I had no other signs that labor was starting but knew that it had to start soon or I wouldn’t be able to have the no intervention birth I had planned. Taking matters into my own hands, I called up my friends who are acupuncturists and walked myself to their apartment for a treatment to get things started. After that, I started having painful but manageable contractions. The treatment seemed to get my labor started and I felt grateful for all the holistic healers in my life.  My midwife asked that we come in to check my fluids and the baby’s vitals. Everything was fine so we came back home to labor through the night and into the next day.

Saturday, July 30, 4:30PM

Contractions continued to get stronger and we were directed to go to the hospital to check on the baby via sonogram.  Her fluids were good, so again, we drove home to continue laboring, stopping the car along the side the road with every contraction because I couldn’t bear to be in motion while breathing through them.

When we got home, we sent a text to our doula that we were ready for her to come over as the discomfort and exhaustion was starting to weigh on both my husband and me.  She arrived and I was grateful for her comforting doula magic throughout the entire night and into Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, July 31

By mid afternoon, we had taken 2 more trips to the birthing center thinking I was getting close to start pushing.  Both times, my contractions were coming just a few minutes apart and sometimes lasting as long as 4 minutes. My labor had been going on like this for 2 days.  I was mentally and physically exhausted.  I hadn’t eaten (I couldn’t) or slept for more than a few minutes at a time for nearly 48hrs.  After being told for the second time I was only 2 cm dilated, I asked to go to the hospital. I had reached my breaking point, the pain had become unbearable and I wanted an epidural.  We arrived at the hospital sometime Sunday afternoon, I got the epidural and then fell into the deepest, most grateful sleep of my life.

Monday, Aug 1, 11AM

I woke around 11am Monday morning and my midwife told me I was fully dilated and we could start pushing.  In retrospect, I remembered feeling so relieved to have finally dilated that I never questioned that someone outside my body had decided it was “time to push”.  I started pushing around 11:30AM. I pushed in every position and with the strength of the Incredible Hulk for 4 hrs. I could reach down and feel the hair on my baby’s head and she was “stuck”.  Or that was the only explanation anyone could give us.  

Around 3pm My midwife had to give in to the pressure of the hospital.  I remember a doctor coming into the room and sternly saying, “Enough is enough”.  My midwife looked up at me and apologized that I would have to have a C-section.  She assured me I had done nothing wrong, my pushes were strong, but she couldn’t buy me any more time.  A wave of gratitude washed over me for having her as such a strong advocate when someone else would have given up hours ago.  A cesarian birth was my biggest fear and there it was unfolding in front of me.  I was helpless and remember feeling angry at my body for betraying me every step of the way. Another part of me felt grateful for modern medicine and relieved that this was all about to be over. 

As they prepped the OR, my body continued to push without my help.  A nurse told me I could stop pushing and I remember telling her that stopping wasn’t physically possible.  I remember closing my eyes, blocking out what was about to happen and feeling one last glimmer of hope Maybe I could get this baby out by myself and this nightmare would all be over?  The contractions at that point were at their strongest and I remember feeling that hope even as they wheeled me into the OR.  

5:10PM

A full 73 hours and 10 min after my first contraction, my daughter Adina, a healthy 7lb 11oz baby girl was born via cesarian birth.  It was an out of body experience that will forever be etched into my brain. Lying awake, knowing your body is cut open, feeling your lower extremities being shaken from side to side and then being handed your baby.  It all felt slightly disjointed and overwhelmingly emotional. I remember crying for weeks afterwards as I tried to process all the emotions of what had happened while also struggling to navigate the exhaustion and overwhelm of new motherhood.  Those same emotions of anger and betrayal bubble to the surface even now, 2 years later, but then I look at my bubbly, 2-year old and feel grateful for every minute of every day with her.  

Our birth story was my biggest fear come true.  With my occupation and specialty, I knew what it meant to recover from major abdominal surgery.  A recovery journey I'm still on.   But I'm grateful because in the end that makes me an excellent trainer.  

Whenever I share this story, the response is often “Well at least you can be grateful you have a healthy baby”.  At some point, I even found those words coming out of my own mouth because I felt an incredible amount of guilt for not feeling that way.  I’ve learned I can be angry AND be an amazing mother full of gratitude for having a healthy baby.  The anger has nothing to do with gratitude towards my child and everything to do with the need to be human and openly express my emotions in order to heal.   

Births happen in all different ways and it’s absolutely OK to be angry about your birth experience.  What's not OK is that so many of us don't acknowledge our feelings because we're ashamed for not feeling grateful. Feeling and acknowledging that anger is the only thing that can bring us to a place of healing.  

Next time someone opens up to you about how their birth unfolded, or you see them struggling as a new mom, choose your words carefully.  Take that moment to practice some gratitude that this amazing woman has opened up to you in order to heal.  It's the acknowledgment of her anger that will ultimately lead her to more gratitude and abundance.  All you have to say is, Im listening instead of "well at least you can be grateful...." 

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If you are looking for help: 

The Motherhood Center provides supportive services for new and expecting moms, including a range of treatment options for women suffering from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders.

They offer support groups for new mothers, lactation consultations, therapy for birth trauma and individual therapy, offering something to every woman making the transition to parenthood.