Right from the start of her pregnancy, actress Claire Holt knew that one of her biggest challenges in giving birth was going to be the lack of control she would have over the process. She was partly right. Her labor and delivery of baby James Holt Joblon in March involved more plot twists than an episode of her former TV show, The Originals.
Through induced labor, a sunny-side-up baby, and a scary situation called shoulder dystocia, Holt faced a number of difficult urgent decisions and a lot more pain than she'd anticipated. She gave a detailed account of it all to prenatal chiropractor, childbirth educator and labor doula Dr. Elliot Berlin for the Informed Pregnancy podcast. For any parents-to-be, this is a vivid example of what might happen when you have to throw that birth plan out the window.
"I'm not great at not being in control," Holt, who also appeared on The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars, told Berlin. But after hearing her story, we have to disagree.
To induce or not to induce?
Having suffered a miscarriage at 11 weeks just five months before getting pregnant with James, Holt experienced some justifiable anxiety in her first trimester. She had allowed herself to relax later in the pregnancy, though, but the last few weeks were tough for her.
"I was tremendously uncomfortable at the end," she said, describing both physical pain and the return of her anxiety, which kept her up all night watching Netflix comedy specials.
Complicating matters, her trusted doctor informed Holt that she would be leaving for a medical mission in Guatemala by the 39th week of Holt's term. That alone probably wouldn't have been enough justification for her to induce labor early— there are other doctors, after all. But then the doctor said her baby was on track to be 10 lbs at birth, and they weren't able to measure his heart properly in utero.
So, while Holt tried every trick in the book to induce her labor naturally, including walking for miles, bouncing on balls and getting foot massages, eventually she needed the help of modern medicine.
Sunny-side-up and Foley balloons: Not as fun as they sound
Holt is refreshingly open about every measure doctors took for induction. It began with membrane stripping, in which the doctor used her finger to separate the amniotic sac from the wall of the uterus. That was enough to start the process, but not very quickly, so she checked into the hospital for the next steps.
"When I got there they checked me, and they said that he was sunny-side-up," Holt said. This is when the baby is facing in the same direction as his mother, so when she had contractions, his spine was grinding against hers, causing what's called back labor.
The doctors next gave her Cervidil, a vaginal suppository to relax the cervix. After a few hours, they added a mechanical means to dilate her, the Foley balloon. It's literally a balloon inserted into the uterus and then filled with saline solution.
"I like some balloons, I did not like this one," Holt said.
A case for the walking epidural
"I remember saying to my sister, 'I've broken both my feet, I've had compound fractures; this feels like everything breaking at the same time,'" Holt said.
Finally, her doula arrived on the scene, and Holt eventually asked for a walking epidural. As Berlin explained not all hospitals give this form of epidural, which is mild enough to allow patients to feel their feet so they can stand up. Holt was immediately relieved that she had this option. It also allowed Holt's doula to be able to flip her baby to face the right way, easing her pain more.
Still, hours later, Holt opted for the full epidural just before finally being able to push baby James out.
One last twist to the story
At first, this stage went fairly quickly, with his head popping out after several minutes of pushing. But then the final complication occurred: His shoulders got stuck in her pelvis. Called shoulder dystocia, this situation can put the baby at risk of nerve damage or asphyxiation, and it can put the mother at risk of hemorrhaging. Fortunately for Holt, her doctor had it handled.
"She has these really tiny little hands and she got her hand in there and she dislodged his shoulder," Holt said.
After all of this, James was finally out. He weighed a healthy 8 lbs, 4 oz, not the promised 10 lbs. Holt doesn't regret her decision to induce, however.
Motherhood so far has had its challenges for Holt. In April she posted an Instagram of herself after a difficult feed that left her feeling like a failure. "Exhausted, in pain, feeling defeated," she wrote of her emotions at the time. "I've had many moments like this since my son arrived. My only concern is making sure his needs are met, yet I often feel that I'm falling short."
Things have gotten easier since then, she told Berlin. "It's very funny, right when he came out I wanted four [children]," she said. "After the first month, I wanted to give him back. And then, and now I want 10. I just love it so much."
We can't wait for the stories of those births, too!
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