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  • Writer's pictureKara Payne

My Birthing Story

Black Maternal Health Week is an opportunity to share the disparities among black women and their birthing journey. It’s also an opportunity to build community and advocate for black and brown mamas and their babies.

I’ve used it as the backdrop to share my birth story. I’m unsure how much women normally include in this story, but I’m starting at the beginning.

First, I can hardly believe it’s been almost three years since I embarked on the amazing miracle of a marathon: pregnancy and childbirth. I can hardly believe how fast time has passed since becoming a mom, and the journey to becoming a mother was deeply intentional.

My husband and I knew we wanted to enjoy the first few years of our marriage being completely enveloped in one another, traveling, and getting to know each other more and more. We agreed that I’d bring in my 30s completely uninhibited, and then I would get off birth control, and we would try and conceive. I will say I didn’t put much pressure on him or myself. I didn’t track anything to ensure it was peak baby-making time. I just enjoyed being intimate with my husband and resolved to leave the rest up to the Lord.

In November, I was leaving a job at Florida State University, and in that last week, I felt absolutely miserable. My colleague told me to go ahead and depart a few days early, but I told him I didn’t feel right doing that. Why do we, as women, constantly put our needs on the back burner? I guess that’s another blog post.

I already tend to be an emotional and sensitive person. I guess it’s the Cancer in me, but I was a blubbering puddle on the final day as I said my goodbyes. I knew I would miss my communications colleagues, but I didn’t realize it this much.

A week or so later, the hubby and I were packing for our pre-Thanksgiving Vegas Getaway. I still felt pretty bad, so I told him I was going to the doctor. I told him, “I’ve never felt like this before … I think I might be pregnant….”

His response: “I guess we’ll find out.”

At the doctor’s office, I told them that I had just had my well-woman visit at the end of October, and the pregnancy test they ran was negative. I was bummed at getting this news, but my gynecologist said, “…It’s still early.”

And boy, was she right. It was projected that the date of conception was mid-October, around October 16, to be exact. So her “it’s still early” was spot on. I was in that limbo area for conception to have taken place, but not enough time had passed for it to appear on a pregnancy test.

A month later, I was back at the doctor’s office on November 19. I told the nurse and the doctor that I felt like I was psyching myself out, but there was a chance I could be pregnant. After the test and what felt like hours of waiting, the doctor came in with a straight face and said those fateful words I’ll never forget, “Congratulations! You didn’t psych yourself out! You’re pregnant!”

I let out a high-pitched “WHAT?” and immediately, the tears started to roll down my face.

I begin to thank and praise God right there in that exam room. I couldn’t believe it.

I also instantly thought, how will I tell Marcus?

I’d seen other friends on Instagram make these elaborate announcements to their significant others, and I just knew I didn’t have the time for something like that, especially because we were boarding a plane across the country in less than 24 hours. God forbid anything to happen while we were en route — I wanted him to know right away he would be a “Daddy!”

So, I thought quickly on my feet, left the doctor’s, and made a bee-line for Dollar Tree.

I found a cute little mug decoration that said “Made with Love” and taped it to my abdomen. I walked up the stairs to find Marcus in his favorite spot, sprawled across the master bed. His immediate response to me standing in the doorway was… “So, you’re not pregnant?” To which I replied, “I’m not?” Hoping he would look over. He didn’t. I said, “Look at Me, Babe!” He finally averted his eyes and said, “What’s that?”

“I’M PREGNANT, I squealed!” He didn’t believe me until I threw the pregnancy test they’d sent home with me wrapped in a plastic bag at him.

He stared at the stick and said, “Oh wow, you are pregnant….”

Overall my pregnancy journey was lovely. I didn’t really have any issues. I didn’t have terrible morning sickness; there were a few bouts in the first and third trimesters. I had no real cravings. I wasn’t sending Marcus on late-night trips to Whataburger. But I was diagnosed with gestational hypertension toward the end of my pregnancy. This was devastating to learn because I had planned to give birth naturally at a birth cottage. I was especially looking forward to this plan and space once COVID reared its ugly head months before I was due.

Even before the pandemic, I did not want to give birth in a hospital setting. It took months for me to convince my husband and get him on board with the idea, but once he toured the facility and met the midwife, he had a different level of comfort. A compromise was that I’d do all pre-natal care with hospital staff and then transfer my patient care at my 36-week appointment.

I had just been granted that authorization when the gestational hypertension diagnosis came through. On the morning of my appointment, my blood pressure had been slightly elevated. My OB, who knew of my desire to transfer from the start, asked me to lie on my left side, and he would have my BP checked once more. “If you continue to have high blood pressure, you may be at risk for preeclampsia,” he explained, “and I can’t give my blessing to transfer you then.” To be clear, this was also true for the birth cottage — diagnoses of preeclampsia and gestational hypertension place you in a“high-risk” category, and those are Mamas they’d rather send to the traditional hospital setting.

I honestly attribute my blood pressure to a bit of white coat syndrome, which is when it rises because of your anxiety related to doctors and medical professionals and what they may or may not say.

Thankfully, my BP calmed down, and I was granted the transfer, but it was suggested that I continue to monitor my blood pressure.

The following day I was resting and decided to get a reading. My blood pressure was super high. I don’t remember the exact numbers, but I decided I needed a second opinion, so I went to the Publix BP station. Ugh. Still pretty high.

In an abundance of caution, I called the midwife and explained to her what my readings were. She and I agreed it was probably best for me not to give birth at her cottage. Reluctantly, I let Marcus take me to the triage unit. A couple of back-to-back high readings, and the midwife suggested I do a urine analysis so they could make sure there weren’t high amounts of protein in my urine — another sign of preeclampsia.

That same weekend I had planned a babymoon staycation for Marcus and me. We had to drop off my sample on our way to the hotel. The nurses suggested they get a couple of readings before we headed out. Enter white coat syndrome. Every time a midwife came with an update and a blood pressure reading was taken, the numbers would get higher than when I was just chilling. Nevertheless, much to my dismay, the numbers were still high enough for the decision to be made to admit me.

The following morning after a night in the hospital and the cancellation of our hotel room and babymoon meal, we were greeted by the on-call OB, who delivered the shock of our lives until that point.

I was still three weeks away from my due date. Technically at 37 weeks, the baby is considered full-term. “We wanna get that baby out of you,” she exclaimed. “We want to induce you.”

At a moment’s notice, what we thought was a few weeks before our Sweet Pea would make their arrival, turned into a matter of days. Did I tell you I was #TeamGreen? That’s right. I had no idea whether I held a baby boy or a girl within me. And I thought I had at least another three weeks to find out and get things situated before our lives changed forever.

Marcus and I looked at each other, eyes wide, and then my tears started to fall again, but not tears of joy this time. I knew I wouldn’t have a tranquil water birth with my family surrounding me as I had always dreamed of. However, there was a bit of grace in the story. The hospital I gave birth in literally had just changed the visitor policy right before we went in to deliver Deuce.

Before, I would have only been allowed to have one visitor the whole time, no questions asked. The policy update permitted one visitor at a time, allowing different family members to each visit for an hour or so. Each of my sisters and parents could come up and hold my hand and ensure I had everything I needed. It wasn’t what I envisioned, but I am, to this day, immensely grateful. More on that later.

The morning of my scheduled induction, I was nervous. I was awaiting the call that an available bed was ready and to make my way to the hospital. I remember staring out the window of my townhouse and saying to my husband, “I could die today.” To which he replied, “I know.” We both fell silent.

As people of faith, we persevere, but the statistics surrounding black maternal health are alarming, and they are real. Black mothers die at a rate three times that of white women during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum periods.

It’s why Black Maternal Health Week exists — to raise awareness, educate and prayerfully reform these harrowing statistics.

Meanwhile, back at the hospital…

One of the sweetest moments was my Dad’s visit. His turn came right before it was time for Deuce to come into the world. We danced after having a couple of major contractions.

I opted not to get an epidural, mainly because that process didn’t look fun, and I wanted to be free to push in any position that felt right for my body.

I was able to do exactly that. Again, grateful.

I remember laying my head on my Dad’s chest, looking up at him, and saying, “Happy Father’s Day. Did I mention Deuce was born on Father’s Day? My Dad took some more pictures, and about an hour and a half later, it was time. The contractions were coming fast and furious. I told him it was time to get Marcus back up here! NOW!

That was one thing Marcus said as soon as we got to the hospital for the induction —although each family member could visit me when it was time to start pushing, he was the only one that needed to be by my side. I love that for us.

When it was finally time to start pushing, all that mattered was getting my baby earthside safely. We had somewhat of a rollercoaster ride leading up until that moment.

They inserted the Cervidil early Saturday morning. It had to be in for 12 hours. When it was time for a cervical exam after that 12 hours, it was misinterpreted that I was dilated 6 cm when truly I was only dilated about a centimeter and a half. That was Sunday morning. We had started texting everyone that Baby Payne could be here very soon … SIIIIIKE! It would take three other nurses and the on-call OB to get an accurate measurement. A moment we were less than thrilled about.

As the day became night, I asked how I’d know when to start pushing. Let me pause here to explain that COVID-19 robbed many of us mamas, especially first-time mamas, from a variety of experiences like in-person baby showers with bear hugs and belly rubs and even in-person birthing classes. We had one session with a practicing doula, but that was the extent of my training.

I had planned to sign up for a virtual class, but I thought I had at least one more month to purchase and take one. So, I was a wee bit unprepared for the pushing process.

My nurse said, “Trust me, you’ll know when to push.” When I finally felt the time had come, the nurse didn’t want to believe me, but when she said, “You know I’ll have to do a cervical exam” (I hate those Cervical exams), I replied JUST DO IT! She checked, and sure enough, she said, “The baby is coming. I can see his head.” I don’t know if she said “his” head. If she did, I wasn’t paying that piece of information any attention at the time.

I pushed for what felt like 45 minutes. I’m not sure just how long. But I could move from side to side and even push on all fours, which is when I felt I made the most progress.

Marcus was a trooper the entire time and reminded me that I had curated a “push playlist.” He asked if I was ready to start playing it, and I said yes. I think that put my delivery staff in a good mood. In fact, the resident that delivered him, yes, a resident — the OB on call was in an emergency C-section, said, “I wish more delivering mothers played music in their rooms.”

DJ Marcus played “Who Run the World” by Beyonce first, so I wondered if he was trying to tell me that we were actually about to bring a baby girl into the world. He was the only one who knew the sex of the baby during my pregnancy.

I wanted it to be a complete surprise because I definitely wanted a boy, but I didn’t want to have any feeling of “gender let down.”

I just wanted to operate in a place of gratitude throughout my pregnancy, and honestly, it was a great decision. Fun Fact: My parents also never knew what they were having. Each time my Mom would ask, “What is it, Kenny” and three times, he would reply ‘It’s a Girl!” Lord bless them.

When they put my son on my chest, the nurses even forgot that I did not know and said, “Oh, we forgot to check… it’s a boy!”

I could hardly believe it! I’m so grateful for this little life God has blessed us with. And though the delivery didn’t quite take place how I imagined.

I wouldn’t trade anything for my journey if it meant getting my sweet Sir Deuce in the end! 💖

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