Birth Story: Sarah

Sarah is a gardener and teacher and her husband, Andy, is a hospital chaplain. They live in Madison with their 3 children, Greta 8, Isaac 5, and Lucas 3. “Very 3,” were Sarah’s exact words. Here she shares her incredible birth stories and why you should leave your expectations of birth at the door…

Did you have experience with birth before you had your children?

Yeah, my sister was a doula! So just from her experience I knew a lot about that kind of stuff. I had other friends who were also doulas, and I had a friend who was a midwife, home birth midwife. I knew some things from their experiences and just from my own learning stuff and talking to people and hearing other people’s birth experiences.

What would you say was the overarching vibe of the birth stories that you heard?

Super varied! Super duper varied. My sister, for example, who was the doula, she had a super preemie, then she had a breech C-section, then she had a home birth. She did it all! Which actually was great for her work as a doula because she had personal experience.  

What were you most nervous about going into Greta’s birth?

You know, it’s funny, with Greta I didn’t actually feel nervous. I felt like I had no idea what to expect, so what was I going to do? I didn’t have a lot of nervousness. I guess what I was more nervous about than the birth itself was being a mom for the rest of my life! In a lot of circles there’s so much focus on the pregnancy and birth and then it’s the rest of your life beyond that’s less focused on in birthing classes and stuff like that.

Each time I got pregnant Andy either lost his job or was unemployed. When Greta was born he had just graduated. He was looking for work and he hadn’t found it. We were scrambling a little bit, and I was hoping to take time off myself. It worked out each time, but each time that happened.

Were your fears unfounded?

I feel like once she was born, I was like “What else would I be doing with my life? This just feels like what’s next.” And then, after she had been around for awhile, it was hard to even remember before. It’s like “What did I do with myself?” I don’t even remember!

What were you nervous about with Isaac and Lucas?

Well, because my birth experience with Greta was so intense, I felt like I would do whatever it took to get the baby born. I had a different perspective on it, but I wasn’t nervous because I’d had a C-section before. I had all the interventions that are out there with her, so I knew it could go that way. I was hopeful that it would go another way but not attached to it.  

How did your labor start?

I woke up super early in the morning and felt contractions, which I had never felt before so I didn’t really know for sure what was going on. But I knew it was something! Then we went for a walk, and they got worse when I walked, or I should say more intense and closer together. We were like whooooaaaa! Something’s happening!

Describe your labor:

With Greta it was funny because I never knew when was the moment that I should call the doula and when was the moment that I should go to the hospital. My water didn’t break during any of the labor. My contractions weren’t super regular ever. The whole thing was just kind of not the labor you read about where it’s this step, then that step, then that step, then that step. It just wasn’t like that. But when I felt like I couldn’t talk through contractions that’s when we called the doula. We were like “What should we do!?” She said “I’ll come over!” But it was the doula we had never met before, so she came over and was kind of trying to get my history and my feelings and my thoughts. I was like “I’m actually in labor!” At one point, I said “I just feel like I want to be where the baby’s going to be born at this point.” And so we went and when we got in they admitted me because I was 4 cm dilated, but then the labor just stretched on and on and continued to be kind of irregular and weird.

I tried a birthing tub and it felt really bad, so I got out of there. I tried music. It was not what I wanted. For me, actually in all three of my births, the way that I did it, the way that worked for me, I didn’t want anyone talking to me or touching me. I just wanted to go inside myself and be in the zone and do the thing that was happening to my body. In fact, each time I went into labor I closed my eyes, and I didn’t open them until the baby was born. When I got to the point of where I just felt like I needed to be where I was going to give birth that was when my eyes close and I went totally inside. That’s how I did it! I didn’t even know what the people coming and going looked like! They were just on the edge of my...I was somewhere else. Except for with Greta.

The labored ended up being 58 hours long with 5 hours of pushing at the end. They let me push for 5 hours! And they brought a mirror and I was like “Ok she’s going to be born!” Then a doctor came in, and he said “Well sometimes you have a pelvis that can handle a 7 lb baby and you’ve got a 9 lb baby, so...C-section time.” I was like “How do you know what size the baby is? I don’t think that’s really possible!” He was really cold and coarse.

At one point in there they give me pitocin, and then I went down the epidural route. I was lying in bed after the epidural just like this is so bizarre to be lying here and feeling nothing. What’s going on? And the doula said something like “Well, just goes to show you why it’s silly to have a birth plan or an intention.” She said something really mean in that moment and I was like “I don’t even know you!” And then when they told me I had to have a C-section, I was pretty upset because I was exhausted. I thought that we were almost done. I didn’t want to have a C-section! So they gave me Versed which is a drug for PTSD, and for some people it erases your short term memory. For me, it did not erase my short term memory, it just made me feel super messed up, and they gave me something else and my arms were uncontrollably shaking. It was just a bizarre experience. They would only let one person back in the operating room with me, so Andy was back there at first. When she was born they didn’t even bring her to me! They put her on a table on the other side of the room. I could hear her crying. I’m like “Can I just please at least see who just came out of there!?” I didn’t know her sex or anything else, which, you know, who really does? I knew there was a baby over there and I started crying. I was like “Can I please just at least touch this baby?” Then they were going to take it away and Andy was like “I’m going with the baby!” And I was like “yes, go with the baby!” At that point, our original doula had finished her other birth and showed up. She was amazing! And I was really grateful to have her at that point. Actually, it’s funny, because with my third baby she was no longer a doula. She had become a real estate agent! She knew we were really strapped for money, so she just just doula-ed for us because that’s who she was. And I was so grateful for that. She was amazing.

When I was finally in the recovery room, I remember the nurse giving me instructions for self-care, and it was then that the short-term memory thing started kicking in. I just looked at her and I said “I don’t remember anything you just said to me. Could you tell somebody else?!” It was a really disorienting and exhausting experience. And the recovery was really intense! Because basically I had labored and done everything except for the baby coming out. And then a C-section on top of it. So it was a while before I could walk normally, and I couldn’t sleep with her in the bed with me because it was painful. If she needed to nurse I had to get someone else to pick her up out of her bed and bring her to me. It was tough and I think all the drugs that they gave me in the whole process and then the C-section definitely were present in my milk because she was just a screaming mess for the first while. And we didn’t know that wasn’t always how it is because it was our first baby. “Maybe this is normal!” And then our friend came over to bring us food and he was like “Oh! You’ve got a screamer, don’t you? We had one of those!”

But the lovely part of it was, when we were in the hospital after she was born, me and Andy got to camp out in the hospital room together for about 3 nights. It was just q magical little bubble where we got to just look at her and count her fingers and toes and see who she was. We could just push a button when we needed something and in came a nurse! And that was a really nice thing about being in the hospital. And then when you have your second and third kid, it was like a little honeymoon vacation being in there with just the baby for a night or two. Without diving right back in! Every time I’ve been in the hospital since having a baby, I have nostalgia for being in that little recovery room.

What did you do differently for you next births?

It wasn’t me doing something differently so much as my body just did it really differently. With Greta, she was a week late, so when I was pregnant with Isaac I was like “Ok, so I’ll start training my replacement for work 3 weeks before my due date and then I’ll just work until I have the baby!” 3 weeks before my due date, the next day I going to start training my replacement, I woke up at 2 in the morning and my water broke. I had never experienced that before because it never happened with Greta. I called my mom and I was like “Um, this thing is happening and I really need to go to work tomorrow. Do you think I can do that?” And she was like “No...I really don’t think you can do that…” I just had this manic need to tie up all the loose knots, so I started calling all these people who I was going to have garden visits with. Leaving messages in the middle of the night “Hi! I’m in labor so I won’t be there…” And after the birth they were like “Why were you calling us when you were in labor?!” I didn’t know that I needed to be ready so quick! I spent a couple hours after my water broke just making phone calls and writing emails.

I called the doula and she just came over. She was there for not very long and we both said “I think it’s time to get going!” And we did. We went to the hospital and it was a very fast, very smooth, very seamless delivery of a baby. So I got to have that experience too which was cool. And then he was born and I didn’t know if he was going to be a he or a she or what. I was like, ok cool, I get to have a different kind of guy! We named him Isaac which means “son of Sarah” and “laughter” and when he was born that’s just how I felt, just like laughing. I could get up right away and use the bathroom. I was fine! I felt so good. In fact, I was so energized that I didn’t even sleep! I went into labor super early morning and I think he was born early afternoon. Then we had the whole day to just hang out. And then that night I just couldn’t sleep because I was so jazzed! So that was a totally different kind of thing.

But the drama with him happened after he was born. He was about 8 weeks old and I was walking with him. I took him out of the carrier because he was fussing and I tripped and I fell and I dropped him on the sidewalk. We ended up in the ER. He ended up needing a CAT scan and he had a skull fracture. There was bleeding and he ended up in the PICU. In the PICU I wasn’t allowed to touch him, so I had to pump milk sitting him next to him while he was in this giant hospital bed, this teeny little 8 week-old. And then he got RSV in the PICU. I was sitting upright with him for 3 nights because he couldn’t breathe if he was horizontal. I was just awake because I didn’t want to go back to the PICU. So he got the drama after he was born! He ended up fine. So I feel like no matter what you birth experience, life is life. Like with Greta, her babyhood, she was colicky at first, but it was pretty smooth sailing after that.

Lucas was like a lightning birth! I had 2 weeks of thinking I was going into labor. It was really frustrating because I also had an OB at the time. She was new and we just did not jibe. So during my pregnancy with him, I came in early on in the pregnancy. She said “Oh! I think this baby’s abnormally big, so you should watch what you eat over the holidays.” I was like “Well, how much am I gaining?” And she said “A little over a pound a week.” and I was like “What should I be gaining?” “Like a pound.” I’m like “Ok, so I’m not worrying about that. Thanks for the advice, but…” And then I came back another visit later and she thought that he was too small. So she wanted another ultrasound. Because I was over 35 they do mandatory blood testing to test for genetic stuff and so there was an option for finding out the sex of the baby. And we decided not to at first and then, after a little while, we were like “Well, we could get rid of some stuff though…” I called the genetic counselor and the person who answered the phone read the chart and she said “Oh yeah, you’re having a girl.” It’s the genetic test, so it must be a girl! I started knitting a dress and my mom, for the first time ever, sent some stuff that was gendered, which was part of why I didn’t find out before. I feel like you don’t really know the gender of your baby anyway. During that ultrasound, at 33 weeks, they were like “Um, this is not a girl.” I was like “What?! Oh my god! Ok!” My heart had gotten a little attached to a sister for Greta just because my sisters, I don’t know what I would do without a sister in my life. I had thought she was going to get a sister, not that that guarantees you’ll have a close relationship with your sibling. But, not to be!

I went in for a visit 2 weeks before my due date. The OB said “Oh my gosh! You’re 4 cm. Go check into the hospital right now! Get your kids situated. Call your husband.” I was like “But I’m not in labor…” She was like “Just go check into the hospital.” And I didn’t. I went home. That’s the road to a C-section, checking into a hospital with no contractions. I went home and she called me the next day. “Why didn’t check into the hospital?” I was like “Because I’m not in labor! I’m still not in labor!” And 2 weeks went by and I still wasn’t in labor. But I kept having these false starts. Andy missed 2 days of work in there because I was like “I think it’s happening!” and it wasn’t. The day before his due date I was getting really tired of just thinking it was happening and Andy using up his PTO. But the day before his due date I flew out of bed at 3 in the morning with a giant contraction. And then 2 minutes, 2 minutes, 2 minutes. I called my neighbor, “Please come over and stay with our kids who are sleeping! We have to leave the house right this second!” Andy was driving like a bat out of hell and I was definitely going to have the baby. We got to the hospital and they were like “Yep!” So right into a room and it was just so fast. On the way out his shoulder got stuck. All of a sudden there were a bunch of people in the room and people jumping on the bed and ramming at my pelvic bone trying to dislodge him. Andy was like “What the hell is happening!?” He finally got dislodged and was born. But we were like “Is he ok?” There were a few minutes there where we didn’t know if he was ok because he was purple. Turned out it was bruising from his super fast transit. His whole face was maroon, poor guy. He couldn’t even nurse at first because he was so bruised. Andy was like “We are never having another baby again!” But he was ok. And we were ok.

Each time the most fun thing was bringing in the older siblings to introduce them. That was just cool each time. And we were lucky, our kids never had anger or “put it back!” or “get it out of here!” kind of reactions. It was like there was danger from too much love. They would try to get on top of the baby to hug it.  

What words of wisdom do you have for expectant parents?

Not to expect anything! I feel like one of the things that has been helpful for me was just not to have an expectation and just roll with the experience. And for me, that’s been the case with pregnancy and birth and parenting. I think I’m just lucky that I’m not by nature a very linear, planning person because I think it would make pregnancy, childbirth and parenting a lot harder.

I guess just to say again that the birth itself is just a day or 2 days. And then it’s really the rest of your life. After the baby is born that’s what there is. I feel like in our culture, we could benefit from focusing beyond the birth too. There’s a couple days and then there’s the rest of your life.  

Maggie Mehr