Birth Stories: A Second Act
- Written By
- Camilla Marcus
No one prepares you for birth. Your life bends prismatically and transforms in ways you could never imagine until you go through it.
My 18 month-old son arrived almost a month early. He was delivered via C-section by a doctor I’d never met in a hospital I’d never been to. Despite months of hypnobirthing training in preparation for an unmedicated vaginal birth, he was frank breech and my water broke as I was mid-interview with a new doctor (my OB-GYN of 10 years had become increasingly combative as I tried to avoid a C-section). Everything about my birth plan with my son was torched, and with the birth of my second child I was determined to rewrite the script with the vaginal birth that I wanted so badly.
My partner and I want a big family—our dream is four kids—and I truly felt that I couldn’t recover from more than one C-section. It was so brutal on my body and my mind, so when I found out I was pregnant, I did a tremendous amount of research on VBACs (vaginal birth after cesarean). Though few doctors encourage or support them, as long as you’re close to an operating room the risks associated are extremely small (with a uterine rupture ). COVID-19 concerns led me to consider a home birth, but I knew the chances of that becoming reality were fleeting. Still, I once again committed to an unmedicated vaginal birth, not knowing that this baby would make her debut through a completely unique but equally intense journey as her brother.
The night before my due date was sleepless. Mentally, I was prepared for anything to come my way within the next 24 hours, which is how long I assumed the process would be. In hindsight, I had no clue what was coming. My pre-labor contractions began with terrible back labor, which I had read about but I couldn’t have known how excruciating it would be right out of the gate. I spent that next day and the following night laboring at home. I drifted in and out of consciousness, crawled into various yoga positions on our living room floor and waded naked in our pool. I did a chiropractic session, and my husband massaged me for hours. Anything to relieve the pain.
48 hours passed and still no baby. I went to visit my doctor at his office who said I was fully effaced and her head was way down low—but I was only 1cm dilated. He agreed to do a membrane sweep to try to speed up the process. “Keep trying to relax,” he said, as he sent us home. The contractions picked up but without a predictable, increasing progression. They hovered around every eight minutes, then every five minutes for about an hour, only to go back to every eight minutes. There was no pattern that would trigger active labor.
My doula, Patti Quintero, came over that night as my labor cadence continued to oscillate. Almost immediately she assessed that the baby was locked in position in my pelvis but torqued just to the right—like a bottle cap that's on but not quite secured, which was confusing my body. We tried to turn her for ten hours with every possible trick and technique, but it was all to no avail. My body couldn’t get into a rhythm. A shell of myself, sleep deprived and feeling hopeless, we headed to the hospital at 4:30 AM, now 60 hours in. We checked in and settled into our room as the sun was rising over LA just outside of our window. My doctor arrived to check on me. Still only 3cm dilated. My doula and doctor agreed to try breaking my water. At first, the rush of fluid was a kind of psychological relief. But it seemed to only further intensify my contractions, which still hovered 5 minutes apart.
Five more hours and three breakdowns later, I was just 5cm dilated. I started doing the math with whatever brain power I could muster. I could absolutely not fathom another twelve hours of what I had been going through. I had hit a wall of exhaustion, simultaneously grappling with my desire for no medication and terrified that after 65 hours the pain would land me in another C-section. I was determined to do anything to avoid it. We agreed on a walking epidural—something every woman should be aware of and every hospital should proactively offer. I was present, of sound mind, and able to move around while still getting enough relief from the pain to doze off. I slept for the first time in days.
Four hours later after that much-needed reprieve, my body opened up. Finally, I was fully dilated and ready to push. My doctor coached me through some practice pushes to prepare my body and mind for what was to come, seeing as I’d never reached this point with my first delivery. Through every moment he cared for my well being as much as the baby’s, centering my experience at the heart of it all. We pulled off the epidural and I was given a very small dose of Pitocin to get my baby girl down and out.
It was an out-of-body, euphoric experience to be present, aware, and feeling every single element of the delivery. My doctor took his time and helped me space and measure my pushing so I would have minimal tearing, guiding the baby every step of the way. Once her head and shoulders were cleared, I carried her from within to right on top of me. Bringing her into the world with my own two hands was like nothing I could ever express: empowering, nurturing, and grounding. Though we had a lead up that I wouldn't wish on anyone, it culminated in a worthy crescendo: the VBAC experience I had wanted so badly.
After 72 hours, with the sun setting over the Hollywood Hills, fake candles flickering and the beautiful Motown playlist my partner had made filling the room, we brought our daughter into this world with the care, love and the unbelievable support of two extraordinary humans - Patti and Dr. Paul Crane.
The immense support I received from my doctor as well as access to and guidance from my doula was a privilege unavailable to many. Their care was above and beyond the standard for expectant mothers in this country. We must work to make the mental, physical and emotional care I experienced the norm through sharing our stories, bringing attention to the discrepancy and continuously advocating for a reexamination of maternal care by healthcare providers.
Camilla Marcus is the Chef and Founder of west~bourne, a pioneering zero-waste hospitality business dedicated to rethinking what it means to be a good neighbor.