penelope's birth story

Tomorrow my little Penelope Jane will be two weeks old. I've managed to keep her fed, safe, warm and relatively happy for nearly 14 days! And just like everyone said, nothing could have prepared me for this...
going to bainbridge for brunch hours before my water broke. I was convinced I'd be pregnant forever....
 First of all my birth plan was thrown to the wind. Hard. Over the nine months I'd gone from nervous mama, who knew very little about pregnancy and birth, to empowered mama armed with my own research, beliefs and plan. I actually moved all my prenatal care over to midwives at 30 weeks. I wanted the natural, sensual, spiritual birth that Ina May Gaskin preaches. I prepared in every way I could. I thought I knew how to deal with anything. My goals were no pitocin, no pain meds and stay off the operating table. And then on Saturday, August 16th, at 10pm my water broke ... and nothing happened.

No contractions started. Just gush, gush, gush water. We called the doula and she said go ahead to the hospital, they'll probably check you and send you home. They didn't. The midwives checked me and checked me in. At midnight they were starting the pitocin talk. I pushed it off until 2am. I pushed it off until 7am. I tried everything all night to start my labor. I escaped the hospital and walked under the half moon. I lunged up and down stairs. I got a breast pump going for half hour intervals. But at 10am on August 17th they hooked me up to pitocin.

I was frustrated. I had hoped they'd let me have 48 hours. I wanted to go home. Now hooked up to the IV I felt caged. I could only walk little circles around the nurses desk. This wasn't the plan! But I wasn't given much choice, so I got my head in the game. I called it the P train and it was leaving the station. I had to be on board. I did my best to be positive. I could still do this.

Every hour a nurse came in and bumped the pitocin up. Finally around 5pm I started feeling contractions. I was so excited to be in pain. They ramped up over the next couple hours. I rode them out. The pain was hard, but welcome. I used my coping tools, I felt strong. Then my body started to get in the game and joining in with its own contractions. The intensity went up. The break between contractions was never going to zero. The contractions were irregular with triple peaks at times. Soon there was little to no break. I entered severe back labor with contractions on contractions. Her position was making everything worse. I was losing it. I couldn't see, or think. It was way to early to be here.

Just under 6 hours of contractions I made the second call. Epidural. In my haze I saw a man who looked like Captain Kangaroo come in, speaking in a German accent. I kept apologizing to Owen as the man scrubbed my back down. I felt like everything was happening to someone else. This wasn't me. Soon my legs were gone. My back still ached, but I was concrete. From this point on, I left my body. I felt like a helpless bystander. I cried and slept.

The next morning my temperature was over 101ยบ. I had an infection because my water had been broken so long. The baby was still trucking through all of this. Heart rate great. She's a trooper. I was started on an IV of antibiotics and Tylenol. My temperature slowly went down throughout the day as my pitocin dose went up, up, up. They were doing minimal cervical checks before my infection, but now they checked every few hours. Nothing was happening. In 26 hours I was now dilated 5 cm. I had been at 5 for hours. They gave me another four hours to make something happen. But I was numb. My legs were swollen to 3 times their normal size with all the fluid and drugs. My body seemed to be shutting down. And four hours later it was time to call the third thing I never wanted.

Just before 4pm Owen got his scrubs on. I was wheeled away from him to be prepped for surgery. The epidural was taken out, a spinal given. I felt removed. My arms were strapped down, curtain up. Owen was back at my side. True to their word I could feel pressure, I could feel cutting, I could feel hands pushing on me... but it wasn't me. I was just a little floating head, looking at Owen and waiting for her cry.

There were exclamations of how big she was and whoah you weren't lyin' about the head!! (Her head measured 37 weeks at 32 weeks and was just over 14.5 at birth.) And I just kept asking is she here?? Suddenly a cry! Owen popped his head over the curtain unable to wait another second and then went to hold her. I was sobbing. She wasn't crying as much as I thought she would, I kept asking if she was okay. She came out determinedly grunting and bobbing for meal on Owen's chest. Finally seemingly hours (but just minutes) later Owen laid her on my chest. She was crying but as soon as I started talking she stopped, listened with wide eyes on me. She knew me. I wanted my arms to hold her, but I was strapped down. I cried and talked to her and kissed her head over and over.
Penelope Jane, 8lbs 5oz, 20.5 inches long, dome 14.5 inches
The rest was a blur. But soon she was feeding with me. Nurses came and put an IV in her little hand because the water had been broken so long and I was infected they needed to treat her. She endured a lot to get here and through all the hours on piticon as it ramped to nearly 30, her heart was strong and showed no signs of distress. Nurse after nurse marveled at how resilient she was. Girl has more fight than me, I'm sure of it.

We needed to stay another 48 hours and Penelope endured many pricks on her heel for blood draws, her IV pulling on her hand. We were up every hour on the hour for IV flushes and antibiotics, heel pokes and tests. I couldn't have been more ready to leave a place. Although I can't say enough good about the people that cared for us.

That first week was so hard. Mentally, emotionally and physically. My body was fluid logged. Literally sweatpants didn't fit because of how swollen my legs were. It was unreal and terrifying. Finally 4 days later they started to drain. I could see my ankles again. My incision was surprisingly painless. I was off the ibuprofen within a couple days. But I was faint when I stood up. I was so weak. Being home, up every 1.5 hours to feed her was hard. I felt like a zombie. A very sad little beat up zombie. 
Days out from c-section, feeling pretty horrible.
Every afternoon I turned into mush. I would cry off and on from 3pm until I fell asleep. I just felt an empty ache in the pit of my stomach. I fought the feelings that I wasn't strong enough, or good enough to birth my baby. I fought the feelings that I'd disappointed Owen and Penelope. So many people came in and out of our house, constantly telling me to nap. As I watched everyone else hold her I felt alone. Finally I made time for me to hold her. Enough with shuttling me to the bedroom! I needed to bond with her. And I reached out to people who I knew I could talk to about the c-section. Slowly I came back to myself and Penelope and Owen.

Just two weeks out, I feel so much better. That first week had many dark clouds floating through my mind. I let myself mourn when I needed to, but also fought the darkness back by reaching out to my network. Every little affirmation thrown my way, no matter how small, sent light though the clouds. Thank you.

Everyone told me you just can't prepare, you can't imagine, and now I know it's very true. More than going from hoping to catch my own baby after an unmedicated birth to being strapped to an operating table...I never knew how much I could love until I saw her. Until I saw Owen with her. Everyday is open as I fall in love with her, she's an unsolvable puzzle and endless possibility, she's perfect. I'm so happy she's here with us.


  1. She is such a beautiful baby, thank you for sharing her story. :) I'm sorry that the experience was so challenging, and I'm sure your peeps have already told you how normal it is to mourn the loss of the birth you had hoped to have - but I'm saying it again. Wishing things could have been different does not make you less of a mother, it just makes you human. And having had a C-section doesn't make you less of a mother either, although I know from firsthand experience that it makes the first weeks harder both physically and emotionally and I really wish you weren't having to go through that. Time does heal, and eventually the story is beautiful because it is hers, and it is yours, and it is still the moment you became a mother.

    Keep loving that gorgeous baby, it's all up from here!

  2. As someone that has never given birth and often lives in an idealistic world of how things 'should go' I soooo appreciate this story. It is honest and it is vulnerable. I'm sorry that you had to go through such hell but I am soooo thankful that in the end everyone is healthy and happy. You are a beautiful mother and Penelope is so incredibly precious. I can't wait to meet her and also just give you and your new little family my biggest hugs. Love you all!

  3. So much love for you. I'm glad that things have gotten better, and I hope that they continue to do so. You are a fighter yourself. You're an inspiration to me, anyway. She's so lucky to have you as her mama. You are the one who makes her strong.

  4. I can 100% relate. I was also hoping for a natural birth and to labour at home for as long as possible. In the end, I needed to be induced due to high BP/preeclampsia. 3 days later, my progress had stalled out at 5 cm and I ended up with an urgent c-section as well. I was bummed. But I've come to terms with it and the main thing is that baby arrived healthy. Recovery from the c-section has shocked me the most... It's no joke! Enjoy your precious baby girl! (Check me out on Instagram if you'd like @luckytiff)

  5. Oh, I had a very similar experience with my first - ending in a c-section after a long hard day of pitocin, laboring and a baby in duress (he pooped in utero, too!). That's what's really makes recovery SUCK after most c-sections, it's not the incision, it's having that surgery after such hard work. I did a planned c-section with my girl cuz I'm just prone to high blood pressure/preeclampsia when pregnant, which is suuuuper frustrating as a runner with normally ABNORMAL low blood pressure! But it's out of my control and going through the c-section a second time without all the work leading up to it was an absolute cakewalk :) Mostly it was about not having to labor all damn day beforehand, but also about expectations. I still think it would have been pretty amazing to do a natural birth, but as you know in the end, it doesn't matter how they get here as long as they (and YOU) are healthy. Plus my mom always made me laugh by reminding me that they don't hand out awards for 'best birth' 'went the longest without epidural' etc. :) Take care of yourself girl, and the rest will take care of itself.

  6. Love you Mac. Thanks for sharing your story -- and your wee bird! Love the part about her heartbeat staying so even throughout it all. I think she's going to be one of those always-cool-under-pressure gals. In which case, is it too soon for Oiselle recruitment? :)

  7. I read this in the middle of the night when I was nursing Lily. Dear me woman what a birth! What a rollercoaster. My heart goes out to the mental and physical struggle you went through. I want to say though one thing I have learned from both my births that it is not your fault things go the way they do. You, I am sure, did the absolute best you could in those circumstances, for that birth. Water breaking and no contractions is such a struggle of a start! Have you heard of the "longest shortest time" podcast? I would highly recommend checking it out. I am so glad you are starting to heal and are starting to get beyond the physical recovery of a tricky birth. So much love for you I just wanted to give you a big hug after I read this even though we have never met in person! Love that little Penny baby you have there, she is so darling! Wishing you the best in your recovery and trust once you get running again you will start to feel so much better!

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. I'm glad the clouds are parting for you and you are feeling better. You are already to prove to be a wonderful mama and she will love you and look up to you regardless of how on or off plan her birth was! All the best to the three of you!

  9. Wow. I cried when reading this. As someone who also had an unplanned c-section, I know what you mean about the feelings of disappointment and despair about your body not being able to do what it is supposed to do. It took me a few months to kind of "get over" my c-section. I have now accepted it and moved on (already planning a v-bac when it is time for #2). It is okay to mourn and feel sad about the things that you wish could have happened but didn't. But every time I looked down at my baby girl, she seemed to make it all worthwhile with her wispy hair, squishy face, chubby legs, and all other wonderful baby things.

    How wonderful that through all the pain, uncertainty, and stress, little PR was smooth sailing and doing just fine. With all the worrying along the way, hopefully that was proof that you did a great job!!! :) Thanks SO MUCH for sharing your story! I'm so glad that your little girl is here, safe and sound. You are amazing Sarah!

  10. Congratulations on a beautiful healthy baby!! Thank you for sharing your story. It sounded eerily similar to my story - water breaking, no progression, malposition -- although I ended up with a vaccum assist and horrible tearing. It was physically & emotionally hard to recover. But realize that you aimed for and did the absolute BEST you could do in difficult circumstances.

  11. I love you so much. It is so big to share these feelings, because you are not alone, and other mothers can find they are here with you. BUT I'm sure you know deep down you failed no one. It is unfathomable how hard it is to birth a healthy child and have mama be okay too. We are so very very blessed to have both the power to try our options and make decisions, but also to have all this amazing medical help to keep us safe. I feel like the natural birth movement teeters between helping women known they have a voice and making women feel like they have something they must live up to.
    I hemmorhaged after birthing Ollie and it wouldn't stop. They saved me by giving me pitocin. I was in pain from the post labor contractions caused by the pitocin, so I was put on pain meds which fuzzed me out. They took my baby away in the middle of the night after he just couldn't breath peacefully. I slept alone, without my new baby. They called me in to nurse him every few hours and I struggled to snuggle him in the chair with all the wires he was hooked up to.
    And even after finally going home, my new mama hormones were on a rollercoaster for a few weeks.
    This is not me saying my story is worse or harder, this is me saying I'm with you, you are not alone. You are amazing. Penny is amazing. I am so glad we are all here.

  12. this is beautiful, sarah. i got goosebumps reading your honest telling and almost teared up more than a couple of times. i am so sorry that it wasn't the birth experience you had hoped for and my heart goes out to you for the physical and emotional pain you've endured. the most important and wonderful thing though is that you have a healthy baby and you yourself are also are healthy.
    i agree with j bird; there is an unfortunate incongruity within the natural birth movement that can both empower women yet put too much pressure.
    penny is a strong and resilient little one. you must give yourself due credit, she got a lot of that from you.

  13. Sarah, thanks for sharing. I stopped having rigid birth plans after my first. I avoided the surgery table but had to have vacuum assist with awful tearing (much like one of the earlier commenters) after hours and hours of pitocin, an epidural, and hours and hours of pushing without being able to feel anything, let alone WHEN I was supposed to push, I finally had a baby. My second was completely different: more pitocin (blegh), so much pain that I was out of my mind and in an hour, BOOM. Baby. I have no idea how the third will go, but reading your story reminded me that in the end, a healthy baby is what counts. And of course, I'd like to make it through mostly in one piece, too. :) Good job, Mama.

  14. You already know my story and how similar it is to my own (darn big-headed Robinson babies!). What I probably haven't had a chance to say to you yet though is that being there at the hospital and hearing the updates as they trickled down to us, I was confident in the decisions you, Owen, and your birth team were making at every moment. There was never a doubt in my mind that you'd given your body and baby MORE than a fair shot to do it the old-fashioned way. Every time you had to do an intervention, I had a small twinge of sadness for you because I knew from experience that it was likely a hard decision, but that immediately transitioned to full support. When we finally heard you were going for a c-section, I cried with relief because I could feel in my body how exhausted (physically and emotionally) you had to have been at that point and I knew it was the right choice - to bring that sweet girl into the world in a way that would keep you both healthy and safe. And I don't use the word choice lightly. While I know there were probably times when it felt like the nurses or midwives were pressuring you, each time you made a choice it was YOUR choice (or yours and Owen's) and it was the RIGHT one.

    It was also very interesting to process my own feelings about Gus's birth as you were going through yours. I was reassured that I have no lingering grief over our birth plan not going to plan and having had a c-section. He's here, he's happy, he's healthy, he's amazing. Just like Penny. Even though you know I plan to try for a VBAC pretty soon here, I'm also well aware that it just might not work out and that's gonna be ok. Whatever happens, it will be my body, my baby, my choice.

    I can already tell what a natural momma you are and have loved having the chance to be your big sister during this time. Keep the questions and worries and joys coming and know that I'm always here.

  15. Thank you so much for sharing, this was beautiful. Glad to see that you and your family are doing well.


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