Pregnancy seems to be the body’s way of proving us wrong. Like a force God conjured to back us into a corner with our deepest questions, only to unmask them one by one, usually in our favor. Wow, we whisper to ourselves as the light–that happy ending we know to look for but hardly know how to expect–drips in. That wasn’t as bad as I thought. My story begins with a question about my strength and ends with an answer about it. But not the one I expected.
When we got pregnant with Miles last June, I got sick. In my body, but mostly in my heart. Every physical symptom–the endless nausea, dizziness, exhaustion–became a tributary feeding into the deep, dark lake of an ancient fear, one I’d been bobbing in most of my life. The fear came toward me with a clear assignment: to accuse me that me my body is not strong, and certainly not strong enough to have a baby. I carried that fear with me just as physically as I carried my own son. It competed for my emotions and my energy and my attention, and it almost–almost–won.
I chose the Minnesota Birth Center because of my experience with the midwives with my first son. That time, like most first-time millennial moms, I “planned” on giving birth naturally. I was desperate for it, actually. For me, an unmedicated birth was the ultimate finish line; a blue ribbon for breezing through pregnancy, a part of your birth story you make sure to emphasize so other moms know how much you care about your baby. But by God’s grace it didn’t happen that way: I transferred to the hospital as my body erupted into transition and was perfectly happy with my last-ditch decision to get an epidural. That time I learned about what it means to be enough, and how mothering was less about perfection and more about progress.
With Miles, I didn’t have a game plan. Part of me felt more comfortable in the hospital; my pregnancy had been such a gauntlet physically that I couldn’t imagine a smooth birth, or at least a birth any “better” than my first. So I wasn’t surprised when my blood pressure shot up at 38.5 weeks. The midwives and I began to talk about induction, which by that point felt like just another bump in the road. A classic example of my body failing me, again. Another reason not to trust it. I was weak, just like I thought.
We checked into the hospital on a Friday afternoon after arranging childcare for our three-year-old. Though I knew things would likely progress slowly, I didn’t imagine I’d have to wait more than three days to meet my boy, and I definitely couldn’t dream up a scenario in which I wouldn’t use pain medication during an induced birth. But our pregnant bodies have ways of surprising us.
The process started with a gentle, reassuring midwife reminding me I had options. My blood pressure hadn’t been consistently high, so we could keep an eye on it if I wanted to have Miles at the birth center spontaneously. But by that time, I’d already geared up. My older son was content at his friend’s house for the weekend, we were checked in, and I was emotionally and mentally ready to get things going. So we opted to stay, whatever that looked like.
Since I was only 1cm dilated and hardly effaced, we started with Cervidil overnight. I woke up the next morning to some contractions I had to breathe through, but as I eyed them on the monitor, I had a sense they wouldn’t last. I was right. Even after nearly eight hours on Pitocin later that day, it felt like nothing was happening in my body–I only progressed to three cm after 24 hours in the hospital. I began to scrounge up game plans to escape my weakness. Breaking my water seemed like the best option.
My fears collided with reality at an unwelcome climax, when a very wise midwife told me Miles’ head had moved up, and breaking my waters like we planned could risk a cord prolapse. At that point, I had a choice: probably the most important choice of my pregnancy, the one that empowered me to trust the body I’d been so convinced was bent on failing me. I could stay in the hospital and wait for an indefinite amount of time for labor to happen, or I could go home to rest in my own bed for a few days and try again later. We opted to go home so we could spend time with our older son for a few days, hoping labor would kick in naturally before our second induction appointment on Monday. (It didn’t.)
I didn’t see it, but underneath the lack of visible progress in my body, my heart was ripening, opening up to lessons that would shape me as a woman and a mother. Those two sunny, late-winter days were gifts: a quiet chance to tell my body I trust it, an opportunity to redefine progress, to discover that momentum isn’t always visible. It turns out that resting my mind and body from the never-ending queue of questions propelled me forward in deep and powerful ways.
On Monday we checked in at noon, and met our son before midnight. I thought I’d lose all the progress we made over the weekend, but it turns out our bodies and our lives don’t work that way. The work we do is still work we’ve done, even if (and maybe especially if) we stop to breathe.
The next few hours brought with them a rapid fire of more questions, or in hindsight, opportunities to trust. When my water broke, I told the midwife it was probably just pee. When my contractions got more regular, I hesitated to call my doula, since she’d already been with me once, and I didn’t want to send her home again. When I got in the tub, unable to speak during (or really between) contractions, I began to emotionally resign from what I perceived as pain without boundaries, weakness on full display. That’s when I started to entertain an epidural. I was sure my body was fooling me, and that I’d only progressed to 5 or 6 centimeters.
I got out of the tub and into full-blown epidural-demanding mode. The midwife recommended we check my cervix first, which was a great idea, but I just yelled at her (and everyone else). Turns out I was 8 cm, and though those last 2 cm would only last a few minutes, I didn’t think I was strong enough. Even if just for pushing, I wanted to be numb to what I felt.
In those make-it-or-break-it moments it’s easy to forget all we’ve overcome, to default to old ways of thinking. And I did. I looked at all my obstacles like failures instead of fertile soil for growth, and because I’d spent so much time believing my body wasn’t strong, that I wasn’t strong, I literally left no space for it to prove me wrong. Until those last 2 centimeters, when I didn’t have much of a choice.
20 minutes and about 20,000 cries for pain medicine later, the light I wanted but didn’t know how to expect dripped in. I was holding my (surprisingly gigantic) baby on the other side of an intense and unmedicated birth. Somehow, I and my body had defied my expectations, together forging a new reality, one where I’m stronger than I ever thought I was.
It’s funny to think that through all the pain and anxiety and sleepless nights it was him–this peaceful, perfect baby boy all along. And oddly enough, it was me all along, too.
~ Ashley A.
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