Penelope’s Birth Story


Trigger Warning: my birth was hard


Penelope was born at 7:33am on Wednesday, February 21. She weighed six pounds and four ounces and was 19 3/4 inches long.

The number one goal for Penny’s birth was a healthy baby. We achieved this goal. The second goal was a healthy me. We’re still working on this one. The third goal was as natural a birth possible under the induction circumstances. That, well…

We checked into the hospital at 6:30pm on the 19th. When we got there, I was about 1.5cm dilated and 60-70% effaced depending on the doctor, so the first course of action was Cytotec. The hope, of course, was that a round or two of that would get things going. Of course, the first thing that needed to happen was getting my IV line going, a process which took three nurses and an entire arm’s worth of blown veins to figure out. There was a moment during the first attempt, which I wasn’t watching, where I was so distracted that I thought they must have been done already, only to look over and learn that the poor nurse was blowing the shit out of my arm. Finally, they brought in the resident expert nurse on IV lines, this delightful, Dolly Parton-esque woman who squeezed my arm into the tourniquet, exclaimed, “Well there’s a juicy one!” and had the line and three tubes of blood drawn in under a minute.

The rounds of Cytotec, of which there were four, went like this: cervix checked. Progress not made. Cytotec inserted. Don’t move for an hour. Pee. Bounce on ball. Pace three foot circle because the monitors weren’t wireless. Get readjusted on monitors that kept falling off. Get checked. Progress not made. Cry. No sleep. Repeat x4.

After the fourth Cytotec and a membrane strip, I finally made it to about 3, which allowed us to move from our Special Care OB room to an actual labor and delivery room to start Pitocin. This happened at about 5pm on the 20th, so almost a full 24 hours after admission. They let me labor for a little while before starting that, so we paced the halls a bit and bounced on my ball, did some squatting and kneeling. Contractions were easily managed. After about an hour of this, the nurse wanted to get me going on the pit. She started me at 1, and I didn’t feel much for the first half an hour or so.

Before I launch into this part, I will say: I heard horror stories about Pitocin that I tried very hard to ignore because I also found good stories, but mine is not a good story.

When the Pit kicked it, it kicked in hard and fast. Extremely painful contractions came on about 30-60 seconds long, 30 seconds apart—one right on top of another. And they were not in the front hardly at all. I’ve met the dreaded Back Labor. I’ve tried very hard to come up with adequate metaphors for this pain:

Someone taking a sledgehammer to the small of my back. Having a hot fist in my spine twisting my vertebrae. Giles Corey being stoned at the gallows. White hot cattle prods from the inside out. 30. Seconds. Apart. To pee I’d have to make it through three or four contractions before even getting to the bathroom.

Counterpressure from my doula was the only thing that would even remotely help. And my god, is she tremendous. Such a steady, calming force who left my side for all of an hour during this entire ordeal. But they kept coming. Stronger, harder, and my animal brain completely overruled any sense of resilience I had in me at this point. By about 11pm, I was writhing in agony, sweating, shaking, screaming—I was someone and somewhere else. And the thought running through my head was purely, “I cannot do this. I am going to die.”

Which could only mean one thing: transition. Right?

Wrong. I’d made it to 5cm.

I wept. I wept and wailed. I told my OB, “What if I die?” I looked at my husband and my doula, trying to communicate without saying anything the abject terror running through me. And I said, “I can’t. I can’t.”

I’ll never forget looking up from the bed, feeling like a scared animal looking into the eyes of a predator, and seeing this halo of faces: my husband, all soft eyes and concern, the doula and her resolute strength, two nurses  trying to tell me about productive pain, the resident standing back a little like he didn’t want to invade this horror space, and my OB, with almost a little resigned smile. Someone said, “Honey, get the epidural,” and we called the anesthesiologist.

That was one of the most dreaded options to me previously, but I think it ended up saving me from what does happen to a lot of women that we don’t talk about: PTSD related to their birth experiences. Getting it was easy enough—very little discomfort. Relief at all took a good 20 minutes with full relief maybe 45 minutes in. I was a new person. I could talk. I could rest.  I wanted to eat (wasn’t allowed to, but this felt like a good sign to me).

The rest of the night mostly drifted by. The OB came in and broke my water, which was extremely cool—it felt like a little water balloon pop. The baby had some decelerations That were being monitored closely, but changes to my position seemed to help.

At one point, the back pain started to break back through the epidural and we had to call the anesthesiologist back in for a top off, which never actually worked. But, in a way, this was helpful. We did some practice pushing at 4am and I could tell when to push and what to do. We rested for a while and started legit pushing at about 6:45am or so. By then, the pain did really suck, but I was rested and determined enough to do it.

Muscling through unimaginable Pitocin contractions was not what ended up making this birth feel empowering. In fact, that made me feel completely ineffectual. What made my birth empowering was making the decision to get the epidural and being present for pushing.

Apparently, there was a point during the next 45 minutes where they were looking at a c section for me, but the OB said that the tenor of the room changed when we started talking about my athleticism, that a new determination took over. And it took over fast—she wasn’t even dressed yet when I heard  a chorus of “Oooooh!!!!!” during a four-push stretch—the head was out. I wept between every push with the pure relief and joy of it. The doctor rushed back over and finished delivering her shoulders and body, which I felt every inch of, a sensation that can only be described as a warm slither. They put her on my chest, rubbed her down, the cord was cut, and she was adorably pissed. APGARs were good, 8 and 9, and we. Were. Done.

And she’s perfect. I say that totally objectively.



Choosing a Doula

Why we chose to have a doula: 

So many reasons.

Crunchy, but backed by data: There are so many “natural birth” trends on which the data is shaky or nonexistent, but there is actual information to support that having a doula present gives one a significantly better shot at certain birth outcomes, such as:

  • 31% decrease in the use of Pitocin
  • 28% decrease in the risk of Cesarean
  • 12% increase in the likelihood of a spontaneous vaginal birth
  • 9% decrease in the use of any medications for pain relief
  • 14% decrease in the risk of newborns being admitted to a special care nursery
  • 34% decrease in the risk of being dissatisfied with the birth experience

Data from Evidence Based Birth

I’m a crunchy person either way, but having the information to back it up also makes this feel like a strong decision financially and with regards to health and wellbeing.

Environment and Advocacy: Because we’re having a hospital birth, it was very important to me to feel like I would have a constant in the room along with my husband to help keep me comfortable, focused, and advocated for. I am hoping to have a birth very light on interventions–no epidural, minimal monitoring, and most importantly to me, no Pitocin. But I also know that I can be susceptible to outside influence, and if doctors and nurses are pressuring me into interventions I don’t want or need, I need someone else there to keep me focused on what I want. Nurses and doctors are going to change shifts and come and go anyway. I want the constant of my husband and my doula amid the other things that are going to be in flux.

I also want the hospital setting to feel as homey as possible, and I know a doula will be a big part of creating the environment in the room that will feel that way–keeping lights low, music, pillows, bouncy balls, showers, baths, etc.

Education: Having a doula means having someone else who can dispense wisdom, advice, knowledge, and firsthand experience on something that I have exactly no firsthand experience in.

Emotional Support: One can’t have enough of this in such a vulnerable situation. Knowing that someone else has your back in that room, and having someone to express fears and misgivings to is extremely important to me.

Husband Support: My husband is the kind of guy that isn’t going to want to leave my side at all, but this is going to be a long process, and the man’s going to need food and rest. He also needs all of the above things almost as much as I do, and he deserves to have it. A doula will also make sure that his emotional and physical needs are met.

Doula interviewing tips: 

We only talked to two, but I learned a lot in that process. Most importantly, this would be the advice I would dispense:

  • Know yourself and what you want. I know what works for me and my personality. I’m a total extrovert and genuinely like most people, so I need to take a step back after having conversations like that to really assess what I think after the conversation-high wears off. I also know that advocacy for my wants and needs was the most important thing on my list after the general personality click, so when the second doula really spoke to that, I was sold. Go into these conversations knowing what you’re looking for in that partnership.
  • Keep your partner involved. It was really important to me that my husband also like this person. After all, we’re going be spending like 20 really intense hours together.
  • Keep an open mind. I thought that I would much prefer someone my own age, but our doula has kids my age, and it ended up feeling really natural to have someone who has kind of a cool-mom vibe. I really surprised myself on this.
  • Be honest with them about the financial end. It does cost a lot, and insurance is probably not going to help you. I asked both of them over email about how they take payment, and their feedback on that also helped shape the decision.
  • Ask about their philosophy and scope of service. Does it sync up with what you want and how you’re feeling about everything? Does it align with your personal values? If there’s a disconnect or a disagreement, do you feel comfortable voicing it?

How we chose our particular doula: 

So, the decision was clear for us–we wanted a doula. And, shockingly, we had a lot of options in our area. I looked at some websites, and reviews as I could find them, and narrowed it down to two we would interview first. If we didn’t feel a vibe with either of them, we would go back to the drawing board.

For both conversations, they came to our home to talk with us and get to know us a bit. The first person we talked to was part of a doula organization. I liked her personally and the services they offered, but also felt that she seemed to still be figuring things out. The thing that was their big brag was that when you sign with them, you get two doulas that you get to know during your pregnancy, and whoever is on call when you go into labor is your person. From her perspective, this was a major win–you wouldn’t run into a situation where you just straight up didn’t have a doula. This wasn’t a win for me and my husband though, because if I were to not get the one I hoped for during go-time…I’d be a nightmare bitch to deal with. Know thyself.

The next one we interviewed was an instant win. She’s warm, extremely experienced, easy to talk to, and had a lot to say about advocacy in the birth room, taking back your birth, and prioritizing the things you want while staying open to the process. I appreciated her straightforwardness and how comfortable she was talking about her work–she wasn’t trying to impress us, she was just telling us like it is. You could just tell she is someone who supremely knows what she’s doing and wants genuinely to get to know and help you. We ended up knowing some of the same people, which was fun and gave some common ground, and also ended up, somehow, on some pretty personal topics related to family and things like that. The fact that we had that instant comfort level and connection was the selling point for me. Her knowledge was obvious, but what really did it was the personal connection. I could tell she would be someone who would have solutions or ideas for issues during labor, not someone who was going to need to consult a guidebook to figure it out. She also only takes two clients a month and has never missed a birth. That track record was a winner. I feel 100% confident in the choice that we made and am legit excited to go into labor.