Two years ago today, I went into labor with my daughter Kennedy. I was just shy of 36 weeks.
I hadn’t been experiencing signs of labor or felt like anything was wrong, though my second pregnancy had been far more challenging than my first. The morning sickness had been extreme. I’d had some unexpected bleeding around 27 weeks. And the doctors had seen a spot on our daughter’s heart during an early ultrasound that gave us a scare until extra blood work confirmed that everything was ok.
So you could say I thought we’d weathered the storm. Then, in the middle of a dinner party, I felt a gush of liquid run down my leg on my way to the bathroom. I yelled for my husband and he and a close friend, herself a mama of two, came running. They confirmed what I already suspected: my water had broke.
While our friends distracted our two year old, I called the hospital and crawled around trying to pack my hospital bag as I soaked through pair after pair of pants. Once we were ready, we gave our friends our keys and asked them to lock up after dinner. Then my husband, daughter and I left for the hospital.
On our way there, I called my mom and told her what had happened. It wasn’t until she said “Ashley, you’re going to have a baby tonight” that I came out of the shock from everything that had happened just minutes before.
But when we arrived at the hospital, we learned that my body wasn’t actually in labor. I wasn’t dilated or having contractions so the doctors gave me a drug to prepare me for induction. That drug worked so well they never had to induce.
It’s a little bit blurry from there. I know I got an epidural. I know that my daughter’s heart rate was irregular so I had to birth in one specific position to keep it steady. As birth progressed, I know she was in distress so the doctor put an internal heart rate monitor on her head. I know that I was consumed with fear and felt pain that took my breath away when he put that monitor on.
But shortly after that and after 30 minutes of pushing, my 5 pound 13 ounce baby girl arrived. It was 3:33am and she was ok.
I’ve always ended Kennedy’s birth story by saying how lucky we were. Yes, we had to stay in the hospital for a week after her birth. And yes, there were scary moments when the doctors were worried about her development or the possibility of an infection. I was also exhausted from breastfeeding and pumping round the clock to help my little girl gain weight. And my husband and I had to practice a lot of patience while we waited for Kennedy to maintain a steady body temperature and fight the jaundice so we could all join our firstborn back home.
But I do feel lucky because, even when it was hard, I knew it could have been so much worse.
Still, there’s another part of the story I haven’t shared until today. Even though I was grateful for my healthy, thriving daughter, I also felt like a failure for giving birth in the way I did.
I felt like I was at fault – like I’d caused my water to break. I felt like I was less of a woman and less of a mother because I didn’t carry my baby to term. I felt bad that I hadn’t seen the red flags during my pregnancy and bad that I wasn’t prepared. And I felt guilty that Kennedy’s entrance into this world was more traumatic than her sister’s birth had been.
It took me many months to see how much I was beating myself up over events that were beyond my control. And it took me even longer to recognize that I didn’t have to feel this way. It was only then that I took the steps to heal and started celebrating Kennedy’s birth and my role in it.
I’m sharing this long and detailed story today because I know some of you mamas need to hear it and because I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone if you’re struggling with your baby’s birth story. But I’m also baring it all because I want you to know that you too have a choice.
You don’t have to keep beating yourself up because your baby’s birth wasn’t exactly what you’d hoped for. You don’t have to stay stuck in that place where you feel like a failure or feel angry about your birth experience. Instead you can find ways to celebrate yourself and your strength and ALL that you did to bring your baby into this world.
And if you’re struggling to do that, I hope you’ll reach out for support. It’s not easy to rewrite your birth story in a more empowering way.
But it is possible and it is important – that much I know for sure.
P.S. If you want help rewriting your birth story, I have an amazing journaling exercise I've done myself and with clients that will help you heal. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Rewriting My Birth Story" and I'll send it your way.