Figuring out how to condense my first birth experience into a coherent narrative has been quite a challenge. It feels like trying to fit a complex story into a limited space, probably because it is in many ways just that. But I'll do my best to share the essence of my journey without it turning into a lengthy book. As I embark on this storytelling endeavor, I must first provide some context by sharing my perspective on birth and my desires for my own experience.
Growing up as the daughter of a midwife, birth has always held a special place in my heart. I've witnessed its potential for profound transformation on spiritual, emotional, and physical levels. In my profession as a therapist specializing in perinatal mental health and birth trauma, I've spent much time sitting with others in their negative experiences of birth. Some birth experiences are incredibly difficult, even scary, and leave lasting marks of trauma on mothers, babies, and families. Given that some of my clients, who may have their own traumatic birth experiences or may be preparing for birth, might read this blog, I want to acknowledge upfront that while my birth did not go as desired, both my baby and I are healthy and well. I've needed time to process and heal what I can best describe as a disappointing birth experience that required me to grieve what I didn’t get to have. For me, it was not a traumatic birth experience. While it didn’t go as I desired it to, I felt held by the providers and my support people every step of the way. Many were working around me to assure that although plans changed. My preferences and desires were acknowledged and modifications were made to make it close to the experience I had wanted as possible.
If you're reading this and feel that your heart and mind may not be in the right place to delve into a birth story that is magical in its own unique but challenging way, I invite you to honor your own needs and stop here. It's essential to give yourself permission to prioritize your emotional well-being. And if you continue reading and find yourself experiencing strong emotions or questioning whether you've been triggered, know that it's okay. Having feelings is part of being human, and it can be a valuable opportunity to identify what you may need to process with a trusted loved one or professional (always feel free to reach out to us at the birth center to find professional support). With that said, let's begin.
My precious daughter had multiple due dates. Eventually, the birth center ultimately stuck with the original one: May 20. As a first-time mother the likelihood of going into labor exactly on or near my due date was slim, this I knew. However, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of excitement as the date approached. Much of my pregnancy was spent in excitement. I was excited to be pregnant, something that not everyone who desires is able to experience. And continue to accompany my clients as they processed perinatal trauma and difficulties, I was thrilled for my time to become a mother, to give birth, and to meet not only my daughter but myself, as a mother.
My mother's wise words, "Birth where you feel safest," resonated within me as my husband and I made the decision to birth at my mother's birth center. I held onto the vision of an unmedicated water birth, imagining my husband catching our baby in the warm embrace of the water, with my mother and another midwife nearby in case their expertise was needed. To prepare for the birth, I read many books (my favorite being Transformed by Birth by Britta Bushnell) and although I had grown up in my mother’s childbirth classes, my husband and I attended the birth center’s classes as well as Saint Luke’s Intuitive Birthing with Holly Lammer. Managing my stress and caring for myself physically, I sought regular chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture sessions while maintaining a daily yoga practice and staying active. Despite the occasional discomforts, I genuinely cherished my pregnancy experience and remained excited about the impending labor.
On May 19, as the day unfolded, I began to experience contractions that were initially irregular. It wasn't until the evening, after taking an Epsom salt bath, that I had my first bloody show—a sign that labor was progressing. I was excited and nervous as labor seemed like a real and near possibility. My mother, recognizing the signs, suggested we go to the birth center for the night.
Arriving at the birth center, I settled into the cozy environment, ready to embrace the journey ahead. Despite the excitement, it was revealed that I was still in the early stages of labor. At our arrival, I was only 3 centimeters dilated. While disappointed by that (what woman isn’t when she thinks labor is about to start), we stayed at the birth center. I started in the bed, but as the intensity of contractions increased over the course of a couple of hours, I found solace and comfort in the birthing tub. With each contraction, I felt a deep connection to my body and my daughter. I could breathe deep into my body during the contraction and perhaps a sign that I wasn’t that deep into labor, rest, and be cheerful between contractions. My sister, serving as the birth assistant, and our birth photographer, Kaitlin Laird, were present, capturing the intimate moments unfolding. And, of course, my mother, the on-call midwife, provided guidance and support, holding space for what we hoped would soon unfold.
As the night wore on, I experienced nausea and was unable to keep even simple things like bone broth or fruit snacks down (don’t recommend fruit snacks during contractions). Recognizing the need for hydration and sustenance, an IV was administered in the morning to ensure aid. However, as the morning sun appeared, labor seemed to stall. I was checked again by my sister and was only 5 centimeters dilated. Sensing my exhaustion, my mother encouraged me to rest, tucking me into the bed with my husband. My sister and the birth photographer were sent home, while we waited for labor to regain momentum.
Late morning arrived, and with the help of my mother, I maneuvered through a series of positions to encourage the baby's descent and invigorate contractions. The intensity grew, and I sought relief through the use of nitrous oxide, which was fantastic. In anticipation of labor progressing to delivery, my mother called my sister and the birth photographer back. As I breathed through each contraction with the added support of the nitrogen oxide, I felt a sense of need to break my water despite previously not wanting any interventions. My mother had shared it could be helpful for keeping the baby in a good position and keeping contractions regular enough to encourage further dilation.
As I prepared myself mentally for the moment they would break my water, I took a deep breath of nitrogen oxide, hoping it would provide some relief. However, the combination of the gas and the intensity of the situation caused me to lose consciousness ever so slightly. As I regained awareness, I could hear my mother's voice attempting to explain the need for us to transfer to the hospital. In my disoriented state, my mind immediately jumped to the worst-case scenario, and I cried out in distress. Thankfully, my sister quickly intervened. With determination, she brought me back to reality, gently explaining the reason behind the need. There was a significant amount of meconium present, and having the NICU nearby was essential in case my baby had breathed it in during birth. My heart shattered a bit, realizing that my dream of an out-of-hospital birth was now unattainable, I sobbed and pleaded to stay. Yet, as they reassured me that we could still strive for a vaginal birth in the hospital, I understood that the safety of my baby and the prevention of separation after birth were what mattered most.
As we prepared for the transfer, my contractions intensified, and I felt the strong urges to push, even though I was only dilated 7 centimeters. My father swooped in to take my husband and me to the hospital, with my mom and sister following. The journey to the hospital became the most challenging ride of my life. With each contraction and the accompanying urge to push, I fought to control my body's instinctive response. Despite the bumps in the road and the frustrating red lights, I tried my best to turn inward.
Being the daughter of a midwife and a birth center owner came with its own unique set of benefits. One of my mother's closest friends, whom I had the privilege of spending time with throughout my pregnancy, happened to be the midwife on call at the hospital that day. The relief I felt when she walked into my room was immeasurable. Knowing that I would be under the care of someone who intimately understood my desires and preferences during birth was one of the key elements of this experience that prevented it from becoming traumatic. Little did I know, everyone in the room shared a sense of relief when she arrived, even as sadness weighed heavily upon us as everyone knew my desire to not be at the hospital.
Upon examination, the midwife discovered that I had regressed in dilation, and my cervix was partially swollen. She recommended an epidural to provide rest, along with additional fluids and Benadryl to reduce the swelling. They administered two epidurals as the first didn’t take entirely on my right side. Unfortunately, the second didn’t take completely on my left, but at the very least, the epidural helped control the urge to push. Though it felt like only an hour had passed, they allowed me four or five hours to rest.
When the midwife returned to check on my progress, she discovered that there had been no further dilation and that my cervix was now completely swollen. She conferred with my mother about her concerns, and together they presented me with the options. The primary focus shifted from achieving a vaginal birth to ensuring the birth of a healthy baby. In a gentle and compassionate manner, the midwife explained her recommendation to proceed with a cesarean delivery, as waiting to see if things improved carried risks given the presence of green meconium (indicating potential infection). Our baby was showing some signs of stress and although contractions on the monitor were regular and strong, she wasn’t descending.
Once again, my heart broke, only this time it hurt much more. I had always acknowledged that interventions could become necessary at birth to safeguard the lives of both mother and baby. For myself, I had held onto the belief that if I remained healthy and took good care of myself, my body would be able to give birth without the need for medications or interventions. I didn’t want the sterile and bright OR to be where I met my child. I also didn’t feel like it would be possible to have the transformative experience with my baby I had imagined for so long. However, the desire to meet my daughter and ensure her safety outweighed any fear or preference. My husband, who had been by my side throughout the labor, wholeheartedly agreed that the cesarean was the best course of action.
From that point on, events moved swiftly. I made a few requests, with my top priority being not to be separated from my daughter if she was healthy. The midwife understood and orchestrated a family-friendly cesarean, coordinating with the on-call OB and the OR team. Although only she and one of the NICU nurses had experience with this approach, the OB, anesthesiologist, nurses, and the rest of the NICU team were willing to accommodate our wishes.
As I lay on the operating table, the weight of disappointment and grief settled heavily upon me. It was a moment I had never anticipated—a far cry from the unmedicated out-of-hospital water birth I had dreamed of. Overwhelmed by a mix of overstimulation and anxiety, I fought to remain present in my body, to find solace during the unforeseen environment I now found myself in.
Amidst the sterile OR, my nurse, recognizing my emotional turmoil, approached with a compassionate heart. Her gentle presence provided a lifeline of support as I broke down in tears. She held my face close to hers as I cried, offering comfort in her touch and soothing words that reminded me I was not alone. In that vulnerable moment, her empathy acted as a balm to my wounded spirit.
As the time for the cesarean drew near, my midwife placed her hand on my heart, a gesture of love and understanding. Her touch spoke volumes, conveying that while my birth experience had taken a different turn, I was still seen, valued, and cared for. In that fleeting moment, her gentle touch reminded me of the strength and courage I possessed, that still, I was to become a mother and meet my daughter soon.
By my side, my husband stood, a source of unwavering strength and love. His mere presence brought me a measure of reassurance, a reminder that we were on this journey together. He kept his face near me, offering support as he reminded me, we would soon meet our daughter, grounding me in the midst of the unfamiliar and the unexpected.
With my eyes closed, I focused on the sounds around me, waiting anxiously for the first cry that would signal the arrival of my daughter. Every fiber of my being strained, my heart pounding in anticipation. And then, amidst the sterile walls, her cry pierced the air, filling me with a surge of overwhelming joy and relief. At 10:59 PM on May 20, my beautiful daughter Elena was born.
My daughter was immediately placed on my chest, skin to skin. The warmth of her tiny body against mine brought both physical and emotional relief. Despite the sterile environment, I found solace in the connection we shared. As the medical team continued their work, my daughter remained on my chest, nestled to me with the support of a Joey wrap. With every breath, I strained to see her entire being, her perfect existence. In the bright and loud space of the OR, time seemed to stand still, allowing me to be present in the bond that was forming and the love that overflowed within me.
Though my birth experience had veered far from my initial hopes, the love, support, and touch of those around me brought peace to my disappointment at the moment. In the midst of grieving what I didn’t experience, I discovered resilience and the strength to embrace the unexpected. And as I held my daughter close, I knew that this precious connection was what I had longed for the most.
The postoperative period in the hospital left me feeling physically exhausted and longing to return home. We were back in our own room at 2 AM. Every hour a nurse checked on me, so I encouraged my husband to rest as I held our daughter. A new nurse appeared shortly after our arrival. She didn’t ask when the last time was that I slept. As I had just gotten the baby to sleep and asked for her to place her in the crib, she began patient education. It was 3 AM. Surely, I thought, she was going to say something important so I refrained from asking her to stop so I could sleep. By the time she finished and I realized how unnecessary the information was (mostly because I had already forgotten it all), my baby woke and the nurse left. A continual rotation of humans through the doors didn’t stop. When my sisters came to help, they continued to enter my room requesting information, checking on me, and checking on the baby. My sister was previously a nurse at the same hospital in labor and delivery, and had enough, as had my mother and I. With the help of my day nurse and my midwife, an early discharge was made. Another benefit of having a midwife and nurse at home to care for both me and my daughter, the on-call OB didn’t protest and the pediatrician was quickly convinced. In less than 24 hours after my cesarean, I was at home.
The early days of postpartum after an unplanned cesarean and a disappointing birth experience were undeniably challenging, both emotionally and physically. As I navigated through the recovery process, one thing that emerged as a strength for both my daughter and me was our ability to establish a successful breastfeeding journey. While my body healed from the surgical birth, breastfeeding allowed me to tap into a wellspring of strength. The physical act of breastfeeding, became a source of empowerment, reminding me of my body's incredible ability to nurture and sustain life.
Still, I was struggling emotionally with feelings of doubt. Perhaps I didn't go enough during pregnancy or preconception. In some way, I felt I could have changed my body before birth so that I could deliver the way I had wanted. The truth was there was no way of knowing that my body and my daughter were going to need a cesarean until I had one. There is where they found a prominent sacrum that unless she had been under five pounds, she wasn't going to descend. Amidst the doubts and physical pain, my husband and family stood by my side, offering their unwavering support. They understood the emotional toll the birth experience had taken on me and provided a nurturing environment where I could focus on caring for and bonding with my daughter. Their encouragement, whether through offering practical assistance or simply lending a listening ear, bolstered my confidence and helped me overcome the hurdles of caring for a newborn when I felt as though I was somehow broken.
Towards the end of my first week postpartum, Megan Doyle of Intuitive Womb came to my home for a postpartum massage and belly binding session. I had seen her throughout my pregnancy for prenatal massage and was familiar with her energy. When she arrived, I shared with her the details of my birth experience and desire to try rebirthing. Megan compassionately connected me with Katie Scott, a local lactation consultant she knew to conduct rebirthing for her own clients. Katie's firsthand knowledge and understanding of birth experiences provided me with a glimmer of hope—a possibility to reprocess and reclaim the essence of my birth story.
As I contemplated the idea of a rebirthing experience, doubt, and excitement mingled within me. Doubt whispered in my ear, questioning whether such an experience could bring the healing and closure I longed for. Excitement, on the other hand, sparked a flicker of possibility—a chance to rewrite the narrative, to find solace and peace within the very space that held the memories of my disappointing birth. Rebirthing was familiar in a way, as it possessed qualities of therapy techniques, I often use myself as a professional, especially with my roots in drama therapy. Eventually, we decided on a date and I asked my mother and the midwife from the hospital to be our guides. I also requested we use the birth center, returning to the same room where I had dreamed of giving birth to my daughter.
In that transformative space, surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of the birth center, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and open to the process.
Together, we unraveled the layers of my birth experience, examining them from new perspectives and seeking understanding. I let go of the thoughts of being at fault for needing intervention. I praised myself and my daughter for working so hard during such a long labor and acknowledged that neither did anything wrong. I honored that we both had worked so hard to meet each other. The birth center, once a symbol of disappointment, became a sanctuary of healing and growth—a place where my doubts were gently dispelled, and my excitement bloomed into newfound empowerment.
With each passing second, the connection between my daughter and me grew stronger. As I held her in the water, her delicate presence filled my heart with overwhelming love and awe. Her eyes seemed to open wider and focus for the first time on me and my husband, who so lovingly supported us both in the water.
As they led me to take the maternal pause, a surge of emotions washed over me like a cascading waterfall. I was filled with emotions from the culmination of nine months of anticipation and dreams. I was captivated by her every feature—the curve of her nose, the length of her eyelashes, and the softness of her skin. Her essence, her existence, was what I had dreamed of during pregnancy.
In the water so calm, she began to cry as if it was her first cry. It felt like a new beginning or better yet, a transformation for us both. In that instant, I knew that my heart had expanded in ways I could never have imagined. The unconditional love I felt for this tiny being was immeasurable and boundless. It was a profound moment of rebirth for both of us, a moment that transcended words and brought us closer together in an unbreakable bond. It was a transformative encounter, a sacred initiation into the extraordinary journey of parenthood, and a reminder of the extraordinary power of love. As I processed my birth story in that sacred environment, I began to reclaim my power and rewrite the narrative. Those same doubts that once plagued me slowly dissolved, replaced by a renewed sense of self and a deep appreciation for the resilience of the human spirit.
As my husband and I embraced our daughter after our rebirth, he reflected on her name, Elena Sofia, which means "light of wisdom." Recalling how she accompanied me during my therapy sessions with my clients, learning about motherhood and birth, he shared his thought that she may have chosen this birth, knowing the support we had and the lessons we had absorbed from my clients. My husband suggested that she also planted seeds of wisdom within me, ensuring that I could continue supporting women in the perinatal period. It became clear that regardless of the reasons, I wanted to honor my mentors, clients, and the village that stood by me. With their collective presence, I was able to navigate the disappointment, give space for my grief, and at the same time love my daughter and myself with every fiber of my being. I am privileged to have a village surrounding me, aware that many women lack this support. And that village is what made my birth experience magical despite the unexpected and their subsequent challenges.
I would like to express my deep and heartfelt gratitude to all those who have played a significant role in my journey, as their unwavering support and love have made a profound impact on my life. It is important to acknowledge that birth is sometimes filled with challenges and disappointments, and I am grateful for the strength and resilience I have gained through these experiences. First and foremost, I want to express my immense gratitude to my husband. He has been my rock, providing unwavering support and stability during times when birth felt overwhelming. Next, I would like to extend my gratitude to my mother and father for their generosity in opening their home to us as we build our own family. Their love has created a nurturing and supportive environment, allowing us to flourish and grow. Additionally, to my mother, I am in awe of you and your ability to show up for those you love, thank you for serving as the midwife I so desperately needed. Her dedication and courage in balancing her roles as a mother, grandmother, and midwife leave me in awe. I would also like to acknowledge my two sisters for their unwavering support, despite their own busy lives. They have both helped me process my birth and build my confidence as a new mother. To the nurses and doctors at Nampa Saint Luke's Labor and Delivery, thank you for your care and respect. A special thanks to Kathy Watkins, my remarkable hospital midwife, whose tireless advocacy for women like me played a pivotal role in making my cesarean and hospital experience free from trauma. Lastly, I want to express my gratitude to my clients. Each and every one of them holds a special place in my heart. I am deeply touched by the trust they place in me, allowing me to accompany them through the darkest of spaces. The experiences I have shared with them have taught me invaluable lessons that I carried with me into my journey of motherhood.
As I embrace the precious moments of my maternity leave, I can't help but wonder about the influence of my own story on others. It pains me to acknowledge that numerous women and families have not been granted the same privileges or support that I have been blessed with. If I hadn't felt consistently supported throughout this journey into motherhood, I would undoubtedly be grappling with profound trauma and grief. In light of this, I warmly invite readers to kindly share their thoughts in the comments below, fostering an open dialogue that advocates for the essential support that every birthing individual and their families deserve. Together, let us strive to ensure that such support becomes a reality in our communities.
Jessica Del Vecchio