Friday, February 22, 2013

Sweet Surrender: How I Met My Daughter by Michelle Belt

I researched and planned.  I visualized and prepared.  After six months of exceptional prenatal care with an OB, I made a controversial decision to leave their care and began my birth journey with the midwives at Babymoon Inn, a (gasp) birth center.  The OB practice was everything an expecting mom could hope for; thorough, organized, friendly.  But this was childbirth. I didn't need a doctor. I wasn't ill. My body would do the work.  

From the moment we toured the charming birth facility (which I liken to the best B&B's in Sedona), my husband and I felt right at home.  Home.  Yes, that is how birth should home.  For us, the birth center was the next best thing to birthing at home, with the comfort of a short, three minute drive to the nearest hospital.  But that fact was more for those questioning my decision than any comfort I needed.

The weeks continued to pass.  I was well into my third trimester and enjoying weekly prenatal massages at the birth center.  I toured the birthing house one last time with my mom and dad who were in town to meet their first granddaughter.  In the entry of the quaint home was a jewelry stand with the tiniest little charm bracelets.  After a few moments of searching, there it was, 'BELT', my baby girl's I.D. bracelet.  I couldn't wait to see it on her tiny wrist.  Everything was progressing as expected.  At 36 weeks I began having Braxton Hicks contractions, which continued until I delivered.  I was told this was a great sign that my body was getting all the early labor out of the way.  Hopefully that meant active labor wouldn’t be as long.  Awesome!  

39 weeks, 40 weeks...41 weeks.

"Okay Michelle, at this point, we'll need you to begin non-stress tests at the hospital to ensure baby is still thriving.  They will monitor her heart rate for twenty minutes and perform an ultrasound to check the fluid in your uterus."  Piece of cake.

At 41 weeks, she passed with flying colors.  Practice breathing, good heart accelerations, plenty of fluid in my uterus.  We're good to go another two days.

41 weeks and two days.  More of the same; the tests were reactive, a good thing.  It was Friday, the attending midwife at the hospital sent us home saying, "She'll be here by Sunday."  Her confidence was reassuring.

Sunday morning.  A trip to the restroom and, "oh my gosh, my bloody show!"  The midwife was right!  Finally, a sign that labor was imminent, other than those pesky, non-stop contractions.  I phoned my favorite nurse at the birth center to let her know since it was also our scheduled day to go back to the hospital for another test.

"Can I just skip the hospital visit today?  My contractions are picking up, I think this might FINALLY be it!"

"We still need you to test to be sure she's doing well, but go sooner rather than later."

I was excited...let's get this knocked out so I can come back home to labor for a bit before we head to the birth center.  I'm going to meet my baby, and SOON!  Our bags were packed and we brought them with, just in case we needed to head straight to the birth center from the hospital. 

I was getting more comfortable with the hospital since this was our third trip in less than a week, but it still gave me an uneasy feeling.  They recognized us by now at the triage desk and sent us back to get hooked up to the monitors.  After five short minutes the doctor emerged like Oz from behind the curtain with news we were not expecting.

"I'm afraid the test is non-reactive.  The baby is not showing enough accelerations."

"What?  I've only been on the monitor for five minutes?  She's sleeping!  (she was always VERY still when she would sleep)  Give her a chance to wake up." 

"Okay, we can wait a little longer, but you're having some pretty regular contractions, are you feeling those?"

I used my best poker face, "I've been having contractions for the last four weeks, this is nothing".  I wanted out of there.

From the beginning I told myself I would willingly go to the hospital if things weren't going well.  It's easy to say when you really don't believe it will happen.
I immediately called my favorite nurse at the birth center.

"They're telling me the test is non-reactive after only FIVE minutes!  Can I just leave and go to the birth center?  This is ridiculous!  If they tell me it's non-reactive, I will risk out at the birth center, right?  She's already awake and looking really good on the monitor.  Why did they only give her five minutes?!"  I was furious.

"Let's see what they say now that she is looking better.  In the meantime, I will call the midwife and get her input as well."

After performing another ultrasound showing my amniotic fluid was great, and receiving a second opinion, they still concluded that the test was non-reactive.

I called my favorite nurse again.

"It's non-reactive, Amey.  How did this happen?  Can I leave and go to the birth center?  What did the midwife say?"  I was in denial.  

And then, the dreaded words, "Michelle, you did EVERYTHING right.  I am so sorry it is happening this way, I wish you could come to the birth center and have the experience you planned for, but this is your journey now."  

No.  No, it's not.  This isn't fair.  I hate this.  I hate hospitals.  Let me go home.  I wanna go home.   

I choked back tears, "I DID get the experience I hoped for these last several months. Thank you so much Amey."  Being strong is so much easier than faking strong.  "Can she still have her I.D. bracelet from the birth center?"

"It's here waiting for her.  I'll call your doula and send her your way."  

Yes, my doula, someone to make the upcoming tough decisions for us.  I no longer trusted myself.  

I was admitted after about three hours of waiting in triage.  The fears I had about fighting for less monitoring, wearing my own clothes, eating and drinking, not being pushed for pain meds...none of it was there. The doctors were on our team.  One by one, nurses and doctors entered our room to let us know they understood our birth plan and slow and steady was the approach.  We can do this, and without a fight.  I felt so relieved.  

Slow and steady was the name of the game and that is exactly how it progressed.  After 24 hours of Cervidil and a Foley Bulb, I was dilated to 5 centimeters.  In the throes of active labor, my husband's support gave me the strength to continue.  Looking into his handsome eyes, I imagined our baby.  It got me through four and five minute long contractions.  Where was my break?  The back pain was excruciating.  I could handle the contractions but the back pain didn't subside when the contractions did.

I got to 7 centimeters and then things began to go backward.  I was checked by half a dozen nurses and doctors.  The mood in the room began to shift.  

"I think she's gone down to 5 centimeters."  "Her cervix is swollen."  "She feels posterior."  "The baby is looking a little flat, let's start some fluids and get mom on oxygen."

My doula saw the look of defeat in my eyes and came in close and whispered...“Michelle, when did you get here?”


“What’s today?”


“It’s time to have a baby.”

After watching the sunrise twice, exhaustion was setting in.  I hadn't slept, I could hardly eat, I needed a break.  My husband looked at me again with his loving eyes to reassure me that whatever I chose, he was going to support me.

After 36 hours of labor it began... “maybe you’ll get the rest you need if you get the epidural”, “let’s break your water”, “a touch of pitocin might be just the thing to get things started again.”  After all these interventions, nothing worked.  My body wasn’t working the way I planned, the way it was meant to.

40 hours in and my body and baby had enough.  We didn’t have any fight left in us.  I didn’t want to give up.  More than anything, I didn’t want to give in.  In those moments all I could envision was this baby girl inside me, trying her best to meet her mommy and daddy.  The only thing standing in her way was me.  It was time to surrender.   

The consent papers were signed and I was wheeled into the operating room.  Things were happening fast.  Where was my husband?  Oh my gosh, they're strapping down my legs.  They didn't tell me that part.  I'm claustrophobic. They can't do this. I can't handle it.  Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore the cold rush of anesthesia pulsed through my body and I could no longer feel my legs.  Thank God, I can do this.  Finally, my husband joined me and a calm came over me as he said, “We’re going to meet our little girl so soon!  You’re so strong!”  At my weakest moment, my husband said I was strong. 

As the surgeon made his first incision, I noticed music playing.  It was Pink singing in her gravely voice, "Just when it can’t get worse, I’ve had a shit day, we had a shit day!"  Yes, they play pop music in the OR.  It was a welcome distraction.  

After meticulously cutting through each layer of my stomach, the surgeon began to tug and pull.  My husband watched as the doctor's arm disappeared inside my exposed abdomen.  

"She's almost out!  You're doing such a good job, babe!"

Time was standing still.  I had lost complete control of my baby’s birth.  Then suddenly, the eyes I had been looking to for comfort lit up with life and filled with tears as my husband laid eyes on our perfect little girl.  Confined to the table, I searched around for my first glimpse of her.  Show me my baby!  They didn’t.  She had been handed over to the NICU nurses so they could make sure she hadn’t swallowed any of the meconium-filled amniotic fluid.  They had warned me of this, but I thought I would at least get to see her first.  I felt robbed...again.  Instead, I heard her sweet cry, and that was enough for now.  

After such a long journey, we were blessed to have a perfectly healthy little girl, Rafaela Nicole.  My husband took her into the recovery room and they snuggled while waiting for me to be sewn back up so I could join them.  My fears began before the surgeon finished.  I began asking myself; Will she latch?  We didn’t get skin-to-skin.  Will we have trouble bonding?  I would soon find out.  

At last, I joined my little family in the recovery room.  I’ll never forget those first moments with her.  They are the most precious I’ve ever experienced.  All of my fears about nursing and bonding vanished as I snuggled her close and gave her first taste of life on planet Earth.

After five days in the hospital we were released and more than happy to be going home.  As scheduled, I would go to my postnatal appointment at the birth center.  I couldn’t believe how excited I was to see my family of midwives, nurses & doulas.  When I walked through the door, I was greeted with open arms and tears.  Feelings of sadness and frustration flooded my thoughts.  This was home.  THIS is where I was supposed to be.  In their loving embrace and care. 

When you are confident in what your body is capable of and it fails, how do you cope when everyone around you expects you to be as strong as the woman who prepared to give birth without drugs?...when your biggest fear isn’t an eight minute long contraction, but lying helpless on an operating table?  Recovering from surgery is easy, but how do you recover from the loss of having a natural birth?  How do you react when people say, “It doesn’t matter how she got here, just that she’s safe and healthy.”  Oh really?  No shit!  

I want women to know that it is OKAY and perfectly normal to grieve any struggle you may have experienced during birth or after.  Many of us dream and hope for a certain delivery and for one reason or another, things don’t happen according to plan.  It’s okay to be mad about it.  

For me, finding a great network of moms and continuing my relationships with all the wonderful people I’ve met at the birth center is how I am taking back the experiences I longed for.  My baby will know these women and how they supported me and shaped my outlook on birth and motherhood.  With natural childbirth, it may be that you have to change your plans.  But don’t ever doubt that, in every case, the plan still changes you.  


  1. Tears...for what you went through and how beautifully you expressed it from your heart!

    Much love,

  2. You are such an amazing woman and mother. Your elegant and truthful words brought many tears to my eyes and a huge imprint on my heart. Your birth was not as you planned, but mama you rose to the experience and maintained your grace and perseverance. We do not experience your loss, but we do feel your loss, and will always be here to support you in any way you need. Believe in yourself, embrace your experience and lean on us whenever you need. We are all blessed to have you come into our lives.

  3. Michelle,
    Thank you so much for writing this.
    How do we help women understand that even when they don't get the birth they had hoped for, they did NOTHING wrong? And that moment when you feel like you are so weak is actually your strongest moment.
    I am so proud of you and I am so honored to get to watch you be a mom.

  4. Ladies,
    Thanks so much! I have always and still do feel your warmth and support.


  5. AMAZING story and well written from the heart Michelle! I am so proud of you and proud to call you one of my best friends.
    I love you chica!!! :):)

    ps you should blog more often. you are really good at writing

    Sherrie McGrane