I write to tell my story, to let out what feels like a “secret” that very few know the true details of. I write because as time goes on, the silence of Matteo’s birth sits heavier and heavier in my heart. Don’t get me wrong, the day he was born was truly the best day of my life. However, it was also one of the hardest and scariest days yet.
As a doula, prenatal yoga teacher and childbirth educator, one of the first question people ask me is “So…how did it go?!” This has been very hard for me. I’ve answered mostly with vague responses. I’ve asked myself over and over why I kept the details of his birth to myself. Why its taken me so long to even get the courage to write it down on paper. I guess sharing my story makes the weight of what happened real. I also realize it may put fear into others minds about the unknown and unforeseen dangers of birth. I wasn’t ready to receive the sympathy from the outside world. I was afraid that the naysayers of Home Birth would say “I told you so.” I was astonished that the “doula” could have a 1 in 3000 scenario happen to her, when so often I tell my students not to worry about things that are so “rare.” I was disappointed and even embarrassed that such a beautiful and easy pregnancy and truthfully labor, turned so traumatic in the end.
So why share my story now? Because its my story. As unexpected as it was, its my truth and as I tell every women after her labor experience, no matter what the outcome is, its important to tell your story. To release it. To give it life, just like you gave life to your baby.
Every women experiences some kind of “trauma” during childbirth. Whether that be physical trauma or emotional. Things very rarely go as planned. The whole event is raw and wild and a true spiritual awakening. Its a rollercoaster ride of emotions from conception to birth and beyond. My hope for women, myself included, has always been to feel a sense of peacefulness in the end. To feel happy and content with the way things unfolded, even if things were ultimately out of your control.
These are questions I have been sitting with for months now. Do I feel content with the outcome? Do I have peace in my heart about Matteo’s birth story? Have I surrendered to what ultimately was? I guess these words, this story, is my YES to those questions. I’m ready to share because I know that it will free me from these guilty and untruthful thoughts that somehow I caused this to happen. That it was something we did or didn’t do during pregnancy, labor, and pushing. This was a medical rarity. Plain and simple. Something my midwife had not encountered since 1983. I continue to hold in my heart, the daily prayer I said during my entire pregnancy. I prayed each day that God would give me a labor and delivery that I could handle emotionally, physically and spiritually. This is what I was given, so who am I to argue with God? This is where the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” comes in.
I almost died the day my son was born, but I didn’t. Instead I am here, grateful, in love beyond my wildest dreams, healthy and strong with a story to tell.
My labor started at about 3:30am on March 8th, 2016. A new moon. I awoke to mild cramping. Nothing major, but enough for me as a doula to recognize that this was indeed the beginning of something. We had our last midwife appointment at 11:00am that morning. Contractions were still mild but coming every 30 minutes or so. Matt and I went home, packed a bag and headed for the beach. We went down to Dockwiler beach where we knew we wouldn’t run into anyone we knew. Together we walked up and down the oceans edge. It was a chilly, windy morning, but the sun was big and bright in the sky. We saw a baby seal playing in the water edge. After a couple hours of walking, swaying and hands and knees, we headed home for some lunch. Things started to pick up a little, contractions were coming every 8-10 minutes. I ran a bath and soaked for a while. When the sun began to set in the sky, we decided to head back to the beach for our last sunset as 2. When we walked out the front door, we saw a hawk sitting on our neighbors fence. It felt like a really special omen. During the sunset, I got a contraction that hit me hard. Again I recognized this as the beginning of my active labor phase. We headed home right away, having to stop the car a couple of times to breath through the sensations I was experiencing.
Funny enough when we got home I tried to watch The Bachelor thinking this could distract me from the pain. I was SO wrong! I got through about 7 minutes before I realized this was not something I could be distracted from, it was something that officially needed all of my attention and mental control. I headed into the nursery, started my labor playlist, rocked in the rocking chair while holding onto the mala necklace that Anne made me from my baby blessing. I read a few of the blessings my girlfriends had written for me and the baby and I cried. They were tears of pain, of excitement, of fear, of joy, and so much gratitude. Looking back on this now, I realize how sacred this moment truly was. This is what I pictured for all the months leading up to that moment. Me, connected, strong, and fully present with the magic of labor. My water broke here and I retreated to the tub once again. Shortly after, I took refuge on the bathroom floor, leaning over the birth ball swaying my hips, moaning with eyes closed. I vaguely remember one of my best friends Berit coming by and stroking my hair. I was in the thick of what I refer to as “laborland” so I don’t remember much of that time. All I know is that ultimately I asked Matt to call our doula Holly and have her come over. It was about 10:30pm. We did loops around the house of walking and swaying for about an hour before calling our midwife and assistant to come over and check on me. They arrived at 11:30pm. I had decided earlier on that I did not want to know how far dilated I was. I did not want it to set me up for any kind of expectations for how much longer things would be. For a little while they stuck around, so I thought that was good news, but then about 45 mins later, they left and said to call again when things progressed a little further. Turns out I was about 4cm, but not knowing that at the time, I decided I needed to get my head in game. I knew it could still be quite sometime, so I dove deeper into myself, my breath and my meditation. At that point all I could do was count from 20 down to 1, over and over and over again. I didn’t talk or even make a sound. I was completely focused on my breath and my counting. We realized that Matteo was probably not in the best position as my contractions were one on top of the other. Not giving me any rest in between. So we did a lot of different positional changes to see if we could move him. Sitting backwards on the toilet with my head resting on pillows was my favorite. We did side lying with pillows on the floor, more walking about the kitchen, swaying and leaning over my dresser. I even got into the birthing tub hoping that would help, but that water was too warm and made me feel very tired. Finally I started to say I cannot do this anymore. The intensity was too much, I was tired, I was in pain, I hadn’t eaten since lunch, I was feeling those feelings of defeat. I have seen this in many mothers right before their babies were born, but I was too in the moment to recognize how far I had come. All I remember during those long hours was Holly giving necessary guidance and Matt being my rock. I was so grateful they were both by my side. Around 5:30am March 9th, my whole body began to tremble, lots of fluid was coming out of me. I was sitting on the edge of the couch in the living room, moaning and groaning. I said it was time to get the midwife back here to check me. I couldn’t go on like this. She arrived at 6am and confirmed I was completely dilated! We could start pushing! Hallelujah! I remember Matt saying “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” Little did we know that would be the biggest joke of the day. Again, looking back now, the doula in me recognizes I didn’t have the urge to push yet. I should have just tried to doze off and let the baby move down. But, we didn’t. I was so tired and eager to get this over with and meet my baby! We didn’t even know if it was a boy or girl yet. So I began pushing. 2 Hours later we could see a some dark hair coming. The top of my babies head. It was so exciting, but it was such hard work. No matter how hard I pushed, no matter what position I pushed from, I could not get him to budge. I tried squatting, side lying, standing, hands and knees, they tried pushing down on my abdomen, pushing in the tub, on the toilet. You name it, we did it. All the while we continued to check his heart rate. Strong. Content. So we kept on going. They fed me melon and spoonfuls of honey to try and give me more energy. By 10am, 4 hours later, I agreed to an IV bag of fluids. My contractions had slowed down quite a bit at this time, and the birth team started to talk about transferring me to the hospital. They all felt that we had done everything we could, and still nothing was happening, except I was getting more and more fatigued. Pure defeat and frustration and disappointment flooded my mind. How could I have come this far, only to be transferred because I couldn’t get my baby out? I rested for a little while, got back into the birth tub and soaked with Matt. He was so loving and encouraging. At one point I was back on the toilet crying and Matt started praying. Praying God would restore me, guide us, and give me hope. He looked deeply into my eyes and said “I know you can babe. I know you can.” I started to feel the life coming back to me then. I decided to give it another try. Sadly after another hour, still no success. Just as my midwife was photocopying my records for transfer, Holly and I went into the bedroom alone to try one last thing. I was leaning over the footstool and she was standing on my bed with the rebozo around my waist. She did the shuffle, shaking the piece of fabric quickly to get that baby to move into a better position. It was intense. But soon enough, I felt the baby slump down. It was the first time in almost 6 hours that I actually felt the urge to push. Back to the toilet, in a wide straddle, Holly began to talk to me in a firm and meditative way. Continued to chant words to me about relaxing, letting the baby come to me, opening up, letting the sensations come to me just like an orgasm – if you try to hard it wont happen – you just need to surrender. I started to rock heavily and moaning began to happen involuntarily. My midwife came back and said “these sound different, lets get back on the bed.” Walking from the bathroom to the bedroom I felt like I had a bowling ball between my legs! I started pushing again and I could feel the difference. Matt and I began to kiss, sensually. I let myself go just like Holly said and I felt my baby moving down and coming out. I asked for an episiotomy in the end, as I simply could not push 1 more time on my own. But once it was done, I felt that baby slide out of my body and arrive wet and warm on my chest. It was 12:37pm when Matt yelled, its a BOY! He looked like a boy, no question. Olive skin and a head full of dark black hair. My son. We all cried. Even my midwife cried. 6 hours of pushing, I think we all gave up on the idea that this baby would ever be born at home. It felt like such a victory! It felt so worth everything! They gave me a big glass of the best tasting orange juice I have ever had and Matt began taking photos and texting family to tell them the good news. I just stared at my son in awe. I was delirious with love, exhaustion, and hunger. It was the most surreal moment. I remember thinking in that very moment that I had just gone through the biggest challenge of my life, and thank God it was over.
Then about 30 minutes had passed and still no placenta. The doula in me started to feel a little concerned. I also could see a calm but serious look on my midwife’s face. She was giving little tugs on the cord, backing off, waiting. The room went from celebration to concern. Then my midwife told me to push once again and when I did I felt a hot burning sensation in my belly. I felt like I pushed harder in that moment than I did to get Matteo out. I just felt a huge mass come out of my body. Lying on my back I could not see what was going on but I saw an alarming look on my midwifes face and she said “Chelsea I think you just pushed your uterus out. I have to try to push it back in. Matt you need to call 911 right now.” She was so calm, I could see that Matt was thinking….ahhh do we have too? We just finally succeeded at home! Clearly he did not understand the severity of the situation. I don’t think any of us did. For the next few minutes she tried to get my uterus back inside. Just for a visual, I remind you that a uterus is 500 times its normal size during pregnancy. Not to mention that after 6 hours of pushing the uterus is physically exhausted. She finally push it back inside and waited with her whole forearm up inside of me for the paramedics to come. At this point I have already begun to fade in and out of consciousness. I hear within minutes the sound of many footsteps in my house. I hear the voices of men asking questions. All I can do it pray, stay calm and breath. Nothing more. They could not get the gurney into the house so they tell me they are just going to wrap my body up in my bed sheet and carry me out. Hold on they say. Im wrapped up in my white bed sheet and carried out of the house. When we get outside the heat and brightness of the sun hits me like a bolt to the heart. It causes me to open my eyes and I see that I am hanging in a blood soaked sheet in my front lawn in the middle of the day. This memory is something that Im not sure I will ever get over. It was the realest moment of my life. In the ambulance ride to the hospital I continue to say over and over again that I cannot breath. I need them to know this is happening to me. I need them to know that I feel like I am dying. They keep asking me questions and I cannot answer them. I’m trying in my mind, but nothing is coming out of my mouth. I hear Matt and the baby then and I realize they are there with me. The last thing I remember is feeling the warmth of my tears rolling down my cheeks.
I have a few memories of being wheeled very quickly down many hallways, of yelling from hospital staff, of more questions that I cannot answer. Then black.
I groggily awake to see Holly and Matt and the baby. I am so out of it and barely coherent. I can only manage to recognize the panic stricken, tear stained faces of these 2 beautiful people, to realize that I am ok but they were not always sure that would be the case. I mumble that my throat and neck hurt and ask when will I feel better. Then I fall asleep again. This happens over the course of a few hours. I feel gentle strokes on my hair. They ask if I want to hold the baby. I do not. At first I ask, who’s baby? They remind me, mine. I sleep again.
I awake many hours later to find out that my uterus did indeed come out and was pulled inside out while doing so (a complete inverted uterus) I’m told I’ve have had multiple blood transfusions, I’ve been given multiple drugs to shrink and to keep my uterus inside, I’m on a high dosage of antibiotics and pain killers, and I almost had a hysterectomy. None of this matters. I am alive. I finally get to hold my baby. The look in Matts eyes in that moment is something I will never forget. I cannot even find the right words to explain it, but Im sure I don’t have to. He told me then, that Matthew Rothert (the 1st) (Matteo is the 4th) his mother died during childbirth. As I was being wheeled away from Matt he said he kept trying to squeeze my hand, but it was limp, and all he could think was that history was repeating itself, and that I too was going to die.
The days that followed in the hospital were hard. I was given 3 more blood transfusions, had complications with my heart, and my whole body swelled up from the antibiotics and fluids I had to be on. My stress levels were at an all time high. We chose a home birth for reason. To be home with our baby, connecting, bonding, blissful. But instead we were in a busy hospital, different people coming in and out to poke and prod me. Matt was sleeping on a cot with the baby. Nobody had any clothes or shoes for that matter. We were notifying family members, dealing with insurance, and learning how to care for this newborn! I felt a true sense of sadness, overwhelm, and disappointment invade my mind and body. The only thing getting me through it was the sweetness of my baby. His perfection. His smell. His eyes. His warmth. I am alive. I get to be his mother. I can get through this.
We were discharged 3 days later. The doctor on-call sat us down before we left and strongly encouraged Matt and I to talk to a professional about what happened. He said with compassionate eyes, that they almost lost me, and to really sit with the emotions of that. He reassured me that this would have happened to me if I was at home, at the hospital, in a car or even during cesarean. That it was just the way it happened. He encouraged me to let go of any feelings of guilt. I survived and so did Matteo, and thats all that matters. Told me that I should be able to have other children in the future, but that my chances of this happening again is definitely possible. Then sent me home. Home. Where it all started and where it almost ended.
I was odd to drive home with a baby in the car. Matt was driving 5 miles an hour:) Anne and Berit had put a welcome home sign up for us. I was grateful to come home to a clean house, our birth team had gone back to our home and cleaned everything. I cannot image coming home to the house as it was when we left. Matt’s mom came to stay with us right away and I bunkered down in bed for the next couple of weeks. Just me and Matteo. Nesting and resting together. Making up for lost time.
I’d like to say it got easier from there but we continued to go through many other challenges and obstacles. Matteo had a scare with his weight gain. My milk supply nearly vanished. We ultimately found out he had an upper and lower tongue tie. We did the revision on him which was the second hardest thing I have ever been through. No one tells you how hard it will be to inflict pain on your child. However its now been 5 weeks past his mouth surgery and my milk supply is up and he finally has some chunky monkey rolls. Im proud to say that when he finishes a feeding , he ends with a beautiful milk mustache each time.
Ive gone through a rollercoaster of emotions the days, weeks and even months that followed all of this. Feelings of blame, guilt, shame, disappointment, gratitude, shock, pain, disbelief. But today I attempt to let those go. I am stronger and more educated on what happened to me now. I am a better birth advocate, a better mother, and a better, more grateful version of myself because of this. Today I am healthy. I have a beautiful son. I have a loving husband. I had the labor and delivery that was meant for me and Matteo. Thats our story. Who am I to judge it? I prayed for a labor I could handle. Apparently God thinks I’m a total bad-ass. Because I got through that. I survived. Thank God I survived.