Madrigal’s Birth Story

Madrigal Alice Harrison Watts, 7lbs 6.8oz, born 10:26am. We are in love!
Madrigal Alice Harrison Watts
Born 10:26am, November 26th, 2011
7lb, 7oz; 21 inches long

The night of my due date, I was pretty miserable. I’d not slept well in weeks, and finally broke down and took a Unisom like the midwives had been encouraging me to do for weeks. I never liked taking Unisom, especially towards the end, because it made me so dopey that I’d crash into the door when I got up to pee (and I was doing an awful lot of that!) and things like that, but I was desperate. So, I went into labor in a Unisom-induced fog. It took me awhile to realize what was happening – I just kept having to get up to go the bathroom and felt kind of crampy and uncomfortable. This was about 2:30am. Andrew woke up an hour or so later (thanks to all of my bathroom trips), and I’m pretty sure it was him, not me, who realized that I might be going into labor. It took me a bit to come out of the fogginess, but I did have the sense to take a hot shower so that I’d feel clean and fresh if we were indeed heading to the hospital. I’d say I was pretty sure I was in labor by around 4am.

Within an hour my contractions were getting so intense I was having a hard time breathing through them, and were 5 minutes apart, so we called the midwifery group. Heather was the midwife on call at the time, and she coached me through a contraction over the phone and suggested I hop in the tub for a soak to see if that helped me through the contractions. She said the tub might slow the contractions down a little, but if it made me more comfortable, it was worth it. It did make the contractions more comfortable, but instead of slowing them down, they sped up. By 8am, they were a little less than 3 minutes apart, and so powerful I could do nothing but groan and grunt and otherwise sound very strange during them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having back labor because of Maddy’s position – the pain was excruciating and the only way I could bear it was to be standing up and walking around or rocking from foot to foot. We called the midwifery again, and this time Jo was the midwife on call. She coached me through a couple contractions over the phone (and told me I was making “great noises!”), and told us to pack up and head to the hospital. We’d already agreed that walking to the hospital was a good plan (we live a mile away), and given that I couldn’t stand being off my feet, it seemed like an even better plan. So we grabbed the wheely suitcase and a couple of pillows and took off.

Yes, I walked to the hospital to deliver my baby. Because I’m crazy like that. But I don’t think I could have made it through a car ride. Sitting made me want to scream.

I kept a pretty good pace for a woman in (what turned out to be) rather late-stage labor. I think we got there in just over 20 minutes. I had 8 or 9 contractions on the way. When we checked in, Jo was there to do a quick exam to establish where I was, and I was already 6cm dilated! I had to lay down for this exam and was very, very crabby about it. I just kept saying, “I don’t like laying down, I don’t want to lay down, my back hurts, why can’t I stand up??”. She kept saying I was doing great, that my body really knew what it was doing and I was a really good laborer. The pain, especially the back pain, was just excruciating when I wasn’t standing.

Here’s where I’ll take a quick aside to talk about our birth plan. We’d put our plan together as a list of priorities for each stage (labor, delivery, and after the birth), along with strategies for achieving those priorities. Mostly, we were focused on having a relaxed environment, freedom to move around, and minimal interventions (e.g. no medications), and with creating an ideal bonding environment post-birth. Andrew planned on being a very involved partner, with me at every stage. We’d done our planning with the assumption that like most first-time mothers, I’d have a fairly prolonged labor.

But things don’t always go according to plan, do they? When they did a quick check of the baby’s heartbeat, they started to look alarmed, and I remember them saying something about trying to make sure they were getting baby’s heartbeat and not mine, because they were getting a heartbeat in the 60’s-70’s, which is about half what it should be for the baby. So when we got to the labor and delivery room, instead of rocking on my feet in the shower like I wanted to, I had to be strapped to the table with a fetal monitor. I was REALLY not happy about this, and again just kept yelling at them about wanting to stand up.

Then things got scary very fast. The baby’s heartbeat stayed really low for over 5 minutes, and Jo got very serious with me. She was the midwife I’d worked on our birth plan with, so I was very glad she was the one on call because I knew she understood what was important to me. She told me we weren’t going to get to stick to our plan, and I needed to just trust her and do what she said. And then she said I needed to have an IV line put in and to also get an epidural in preparation for an emergency c-section. I was not happy about this, to put it lightly, but I was also terrified about our baby being in distress. Around this time, Jo broke my waters so that she could put a scalp monitor on the baby to make sure they really were getting the baby’s heartbeat rather than mine. They were, and it was low for far too long. The contractions started getting so strong, and so right on top of each other, that I was just screaming, “I can’t do this!!!”, and starting to panic. There were so many people in the room at this point, it was overwhelming – the doctors had come in because we were in a genuine emergency at this point.

Jo told me that because things were moving so fast, they wouldn’t have time to do the epidural, and would have to do a c-section under general anaesthesia through the IV-line, which meant that Andrew couldn’t come with me to the OR (hospital policy). This is when I felt like I basically lost control, because losing my partner, my rock, was pretty much the last thing I wanted – that was probably the highest priority thing for me, birth-plan-wise. But Jo was going with me and would hold my hand the whole time. I was so incredibly scared and just kept screaming, “I’m scared, I can’t do this, I’m so scared, no no no!”. They put an oxygen mask on me because I wasn’t really controlling my breathing at all at this point. As they were wheeling me out to the OR, I suddenly felt my whole body convulse uncontrollably. I was pushing!

Somehow in the couple of minutes between my water breaking and that moment, I’d gone from 6cm to 9.5cm dilated, and was pushing somewhat uncontrollably. I got extremely lucky at this point: the surgeon who was to going do my c-section was, according to Jo, the only one at the hospital who would have let me do what we did next. I was told I needed to hold back on the pushing for one contraction, and the surgeon would try to help the baby’s head into the birth canal using forceps. I was on the verge of blacking out from pain at this point, and I failed to keep the push from happening on the next contraction. The surgeon yelled that I got one more try before they started the IV anaesthesia for the c-section, and it took everything in me not to push, but I did it, and they got the baby’s head through. Then the forceps came out and it was up to me. Jo told me to just push with everything I had, so that’s what I did: one push, and baby was crowning. Next push, the head was out. Last push, the rest. I pushed my baby out in 3 pushes, in less than 2 minutes. Completely unmedicated. I think I probably almost tore poor Jo’s hand off during this. I paid a price for this speedy delivery, and I’ll get to that, but I had my baby, and no c-section! I screamed “I did it!!” and Jo congratulated me.

They held her up to me. HER! I was so surprised when Jo said she was a girl, because everyone had convinced me I was having a boy (we’d elected not to find out, when we had our ultrasound). I’m pretty sure when Jo told me, I said “What?!”, and then shouted “Madrigal!” (the name I’ve wanted to give a baby girl since I was about 15 years old), and then I either blacked out from the pain, or they’d already started the sedation they put me on for the stitches, or something, because I don’t remember anything about the next several hours, and really the entire rest of the day is a giant fog.

It turned out that Maddy had gotten her foot tangled around the umbilical cord 3 times, and each time she dropped lower into my hips, it would put pressure on the cord and basically cut off her supply of blood and oxygen, which is why her heartbeat had been so low. But we got her out in time, and I avoided a c-section with that crazy pushing.

I didn’t get to hold her until hours later. For the next couple of hours, the doctors were working to stitch me up. All that pushing had resulted in some SEVERE tearing. Andrew got to come in while I was being stitched up, and I know (from pictures) that he got to hold our baby girl for awhile. I apparently got to call my mom after I was stitched up, but I don’t remember this at all. That beautiful picture of me holding her? I don’t remember the moment at all. This not remembering thing, along with the lack of opportunity to have done skin-to-skin contact and all those bonding things I wanted to do after she was born, was (and still is), really really hard for me. I spent the rest of the day I gave birth in this weird haze, knowing that I should feel love for this baby girl laying in the bassinet next to my bed, but not really believing I was her mother. Just kind of weirdly detached.

(As I was writing this, my midwife called to check in on me, and walked me through the timeline of events, because she knew how upset I was about not remembering. I was only in the hospital for a total of 1 hour and 14 minutes before Maddy was born. My midwife told me I was a complete rockstar – that she had never seen a first time mother do what I had done, push out a posterior baby in less than 2 minutes like that, and keep it together in a situation that was so panicked. I’m not sure “keep it together” really describes how I was feeling – I felt completely out of control, but I guess given the circumstances I did well. Jo says she will never, ever forget Madrigal or me, because we had the wildest, most intense delivery experience she’s ever been a part of, and she’s delivered a TON of babies. She said I was “built for having babies”, which made me laugh because I actually don’t plan to have any more of them! She also said that if I *do* end up having another baby, no more walking to the hospital…I push them out too quickly for that!)

Ok, so back to the recovery process now. My tears were, as I said, quite severe. And since I am allergic to NSAIDs, there aren’t many options for pain management and inflammation control. They gave me some Percocet, but it didn’t touch the pain – it just made me feel dopey and confused, and after the fog that followed the sedation during the repair, that was the last thing I wanted. But I was lucky, and I had great nurses. The night nurse my first night had suffered a tear like mine with her baby, 20 years earlier, and was so helpful. She taught me how to do a Sitz ice bath. Yes, I sat my torn up bottom in a bowl of ice every two hours for the next 24 hours. The nurse was amazed at how well I did this, because it’s basically torture to do, but the ice bath, plus numbing spray, plus ice packs kept me from hurting for at least an hour every time, and so I’d go through almost any temporary discomfort to achieve that. We figured out a strategy for getting in and out of bed and shuffling myself to the bathroom on my own. She also taught me how to nurse Maddy from a side-lying position, since sitting up was (and still is, to some extent, 6 days later) basically impossible. Every doctor and nurse since has commented on how that’s one of the harder positions to use with a newborn, but Maddy (and I) took to it like a champ!

A funny moment happened the next morning, when my night nurse was teaching my day nurse how to do my ice baths. The night nurse was checking out the injured area with the day nurse, and said, “hey, it’s looking better after all those ice baths!”, to which the day nurse responded, “whoa, that’s BETTER?!” before she realized that probably wasn’t the best thing to say! I just said, “I’m so glad I can’t see what you’re talking about!”.

The next couple of days in the hospital were really hard. My milk came in early on day 2 (this was not surprising, given that I’d started leaking copious amounts of colostrum starting at 20 weeks!), along with the crazy hormonal rollercoaster associated with that transition, and between that and the sadness and confusion about how my delivery had gone, I pretty much did nothing but cry (and hold and nurse Maddy when I could get someone to lift her out of the bassinet for me). But with the help of the nurses, some awesome friends both while I was in the hospital and once I got home, and now with my parents visiting, I’m feeling much more with it and I definitely feel like Madrigal’s mama now. And I love it.

home from the hospital.

Maddy had her first pediatrician appointment yesterday. I love our pediatrician, she’s wonderful! And Maddy is an amazing baby. Just 5 days old, and already over her birthweight by an ounce! I guess that means I’m a pretty awesome mama, too. With an incredible (if somewhat overwhelming at the moment) milk supply. Maddy’s a great eater, and a great sleeper, too! We’re so very lucky to have this beautiful girl. She’s got my nose and chin, and Andrew’s eyes, hands, and feet, and I’m so excited to see the person she grows up into.

Madrigal in the rock 'n play, day 3

The recovery is going to be challenging. Every day there are small victories, like, “I put my own pants on”, and “I got myself into the shower without help”. That’s the level of injury we’re talking about. I can’t walk all that well, though I’m getting better every day. I can’t lift my baby girl. I can hold her if someone hands her to me but I can’t lift her yet and it breaks my heart. I know I’ll get better, slowly but surely, but if you’ve known me for awhile, you know that I am stubborn person who doesn’t like to tell other people what to do. So being in this position where I need help, and I have to tell other people what to do in order to get my needs met – it’s not easy for me.

Snoozing in the co-sleeper

But I have a beautiful, wonderful daughter, and that’s what matters.

26 thoughts on “Madrigal’s Birth Story”

  1. Oh lady, you are amazing. Thank you for sharing this; it couldn’t be more timely in my studies (although obviously that isn’t your concern!), and I just want to send more love to the three of you. It wasn’t the birth you planned and it is ok and not a betrayal of Madrigal to grieve for what you didn’t get to have, but just remember how great you are and what good parents you already are.

    Side-lying nursing! Nice. Can you lie down on your back? If (or when) you can there are some other positions there that we learned about that might be good.

    Also we seriously spent so much time in class talking about how to recognize cord compression and what to do about it but we never talked about a foot-tangle scenario like this. That is scary and I’m now extra-relieved things ended up how they did. Extra kudos to that OB for giving you your chance, and I’m even more glad you had a midwife you could trust, like we talked about.

    Also also she’s beautiful. I can’t wait to see more and more photos as the days go by.

  2. Oh Whitney, this is a beautiful–and wild and scary and exhilarating–birth story! You are a brave and strong woman, and Maddy will be so proud to have you as a mama. I had a very similar birth experience with Leo (only the pushing lasted 2 HOURS, not 2 minutes!) and the recovery was… intense. I couldn’t sit, could barely walk–I thought I would never feel normal again. But slowly–those small victories–it all healed up, and yours will, too, sooner than you think! You will have so much time to pick your sweet girl up and dance all around with her–but for now just enjoy all of your yummy newborn snuggles! I’m so happy for you guys!

    1. (I’m finally catching up on responding to comments now, nearly 2 months later!)

      Thank you so much, Jess! The recovery was certainly intense (and probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done). But now that I’m doing so much better, I can hardly remember how bad it was those first few weeks!


  3. Whitney, I love birth stories! I swear I could talk about giving birth all day long. Wishing you a healthy and speedy recovery. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations!

    1. (I’m finally catching up on responding to comments now, nearly 2 months later!)

      Thank you so much, Sam! I keep meaning to comment on your blog, which I’ve been quietly following for awhile now, but little Maddy keeps me so busy that I never manage to do it!


  4. Whitney, thank you for sharing this amazing story and the beautiful photos of your little family! This is just the beginning of your wonderful, lifetime adventure with Maddy. Enjoy every precious moment!

  5. Wow WOW. You are a much stronger woman than I. Congratulations — Madrigal is a beautiful girl with a beautiful name. There is SO MUCH about being a parent that requires help, and there will be so many times, even in this first year, when you need to rely on someone else to help her stop crying, to help you deal with the difficulties of learning how to be a mom, to help keep the family fed and clothed and in some semblance of cleanliness (even if your husband is usually the one who usually takes care of all those jobs — he’s going to be exhausted too!) … Having a difficult birth just forces you to learn to ask for help sooner. At least that’s what it did for me. She is loved, and she will know she is loved. I know you didn’t get through the birth exactly how you wanted, and I know you have a tough road physically, but take comfort in how well you handled everything. She is healthy. You will be healthy again soon. And she is SO CUTE.

    1. (I’m finally catching up on responding to comments now, nearly 2 months later!)

      Thank you so much, Margaret! It’s true, even had things gone smoothly we’d still have needed help, and I’m so grateful to Maddy for forcing me out of my stubborn little shell on that front the way she did :)


  6. I have tears in my eyes at the moment, both for the thought of what you had to go through, but mostly for the tenacity and love you communicate even in your destressed circumstances. You are great, you did great, you are doing great!
    I wish you and your husband and you utterly lovely daughter all the best.

  7. What an absolutely beautiful baby! And a very beautiful name. Musical!

    Every birth has healing. Every baby offers a challenge in redefining who we are. Side-lying nursing is a great position. You didn’t say you were sore. That might be the reason. Asking for help was a challenge for me, too. Your needs are Madrigal’s needs.

    I’ve been patiently waiting for this post. She’s not an FO, she’s only just begun.

    I hope you are feeling better physically, every day. (If you are open to alternatives: Arnica (for the trauma), Hypericum (for the nerve pain), Calendula (topically for the inflammation). May speed things a long. And no side-effects!)

    Perhaps that walk was exactly what you both needed to keep labor going and get you to 9.5 and avoid a c-section! What great intuition to make that choice! Our babies teach us so many important things that we can’t learn anywhere else.

  8. I’m so glad you were able to avoid the C-section, and so sorry that your recovery is so difficult. I had quick labors both times, with back labor, so I can relate to a lot of this.

    She’s a gorgeous little girl! I just love newborns.

  9. she is absolutely lovely and you are amazing for your strength and power through it all, especially when the plan dropped and things started getting out of your control. knowing you and andrew, madrigal will be an amazingly intelligent, kind, creative, and fascinating person. i hope to meet her in the future! xo

  10. She is just perfect, Whitney! I’m so thankful she is well and that you are mending after that ordeal. You were marvelously strong and determined during the birth and now you are being flexible and graceful about accepting the help you need, and those qualities all make great mothers. Madrigal is lucky to have you! Take good care — just rest as much as you can and drink her in.

    (And the milk supply will get a less crazy once your body adapts to her actual needs. I used to threaten Ada that I was going to go door to door looking for a hungrier baby if she wouldn’t wake up and nurse, even though she’s always been an enthusiastic eater! If you continue to have an over-abundance, there may be milk donation options in your area. But definitely store up a good supply. I got sick when Ada was five months old and it took weeks for the milk to come back properly. That was a scenario I hadn’t imagined!)

    1. (I’m finally catching up on replying to comments now, nearly 2 months later!)

      Thank you so much, Sarah! (And it turns out Maddy is QUITE the hungry baby…and now I’ve got a little giant on my hands! Good thing I’ve got more than enough!)


  11. Oh, wow. What an insanely intense way to start your new life as a mother. I am so glad to hear that Madrigal (what a perfect name) is OK, and that you are (slowly but surely) healing. I know what you mean about how hard it is to ask for help – I can tell you,though, that learning that lesson is one of the best gifts having kids ever taught me, even if it has also been the hardest.

    1. (I’m finally catching up on responding to comments now, nearly 2 months later!)

      Thank you so much, Jocelyn! We’re doing great now, thanks to a LOT of help from my friends here in the department. I don’t know what I’d’ve done without them!


  12. Felicidades! As a midwife and a fellow mother of a Maddy I never tire of a good birth story :) My Maddy was posterior as well–I wound up with a c-section–so you really are a rock star. Cannot believe you had an unmedicated forcep assist and I am soooo glad they sedated you for the repair. Sometimes just hearing over and over again that things will get easier helps. Things will get easier, truly. In the meantime, it’s a good thing newborns are so cute right?

    1. (Finally catching up on email!)

      Thank you so much! It is indeed a good thing newborns are cute :) Madrigal and I are doing great now, and I feel like I hardly even remember how bad it was, now that it’s better!


  13. First of all, CONGRATULATIONS! Madrigal is just beautiful.

    I think there’s definitely sort of a mourning process when you don’t get the birth you want. My birth plan was very similar to yours, but my story ended up being sort of the opposite; I had nearly 24 hours of labor (and was at 9+ cm for nearly six hours) but Ian was well and truly stuck — you wouldn’t think, from looking at me from the outside, that my pelvis is so narrow, apparently! — and I wound up having a c-section. I felt so disconnected from Ian’s actual birth, and it sounds stupid, but I was really, really torn up about the fact that by the time I saw him (which was just a couple of minutes after birth – it’s not like they kept him from me) he was already cleaned up and clothed and diapered and everything. So not only did I miss out on the experience of being able to push him out myself, I didn’t even get to see what he looked like. It’s nineteen months later, and I still think about this all the time. This is a long-winded way of saying that I totally understand, and don’t discount your feelings about it.

    What a story you’ll have to tell Madrigal someday! I hope you heal quickly. xx

    1. (I’m finally catching up on responding to comments now, nearly 2 months later!)

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience – I can’t tell you how helpful it was, in the early weeks after Madrigal was born, to hear from other women who’d had difficult labors/deliveries. We’re doing great now, but I definitely still think about it a lot. It will indeed be quite the story to tell my daughter someday!

      Best wishes for a wonderful 2012!


  14. It gets better! And easier, and you have plenty of time for all that bonding you want to do. You’ve done amazingly well, and the more you follow instructions now, the quicker you’ll be able to get on to those other things. Just keep taking care of you and spend all the time you can holding that dear baby.

  15. My daughter, Anne, was a repeat c-section, 2 weeks early….. 7 pounds but with immature lungs. She spent 9 days on a respirator, but I pumped and we bonded later. Don’t let anyone tell you there is a problem…. just hold and love your baby. You are her Mama……. no matter how complicated her birth was. (Birthing plans are new since my day….. Anne was born in 1977, and is one of the joys of my life.) We were separated for the first 9 days (she was sent to a hospital with a NICU) but we are very close now.

    1. (I’m finally catching up on replying to comments now, nearly 2 months later!) Thank you so much for sharing your experience! It was so helpful to hear from other women who’d had complicated labors/deliveries in the weeks after Madrigal’s birth. We’re doing wonderfully now! Best wishes for a wonderful 2012!


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