This is a long post and I expect anyone who reads through this is most likely pregnant and looking to read positive birth stories, like I was when I was pregnant. If that’s you, then congrats, and welcome!
For the rest of you, this post may very well be a case of “TLDR.” And to save you the trouble, here’s how it ends: we had a beautiful baby boy, named Evan Arthur, born on Sunday, Nov. 10th, at 5:25 am. He weighed 7 lbs, 9 oz., and was somewhere around 21″ long. And he is awesome. End of story.
If you’re still with me, and don’t know me and my husband personally, I had an “easy” pregnancy (aside from gaining more weight than I should have) – no morning sickness, zero complications, etc. This was our first baby, and we decided to wait to learn the sex until s/he was born. We went to childbirth classes, read lots of looks, hired a doula, religiously used the Hypnobabies tracks from around 20 weeks and on, and I was cared for by a group of certified nurse-midwives. We hoped for a natural hospital birth, but mostly just tried to stay open minded, as we knew labor would truly be an anything-can-happen life event. My internal goal was to get to at least 5cm before considering an epidural, in hopes that would lessen the effects on the baby and make breastfeeding easier. Our “guess date” was Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11th.
And this is our Birth Story.
Monday, Nov. 4th
Had weekly appointment with the midwives, and was told to “get my papers graded and get my head in the game!” I was less than 1cm dilated but was totally softened and starting to efface.
Tuesday, Nov. 5th
Stayed up Monday night and graded ALL of my papers by about 3am on Tuesday.
Wednesday, Nov. 6th
Took a breastfeeding class we had signed up for a month prior. When we signed up I remember thinking, “just let me get through this class before the baby comes!” Had a romantic night together after the class and stayed up way too late talking and being excited about our baby coming sooner than later.
Thursday, Nov. 7th
Had an amazing prenatal massage (a gift from my midwives) in the early afternoon, and went across the street to the library to pick up some books to keep me company until the baby arrived. Noticed it kind of hurt a little to get out of the car, and I had to stop a few times outside and inside the library to take breaths. I figured it was just my body reacting to the massage and Braxton Hicks (which I hadn’t felt up until this point).
Ran a few other errands and noticed it was getting more difficult to ignore the little rushes of cramping. Texted my SIL and asked if Braxton Hicks are supposed to hurt and she said yes, they can, especially toward the end. Figured I just needed to suck it up, and focus on finishing my errands so I could get home. I felt excited this could mean we were making progress! I remember standing in line at Publix and again at the pack-and-ship with a package to mail and thinking how surreal it was that my body was doing all this work while I was doing other stuff. I had that thought a lot during pregnancy but at this point, with what I thought were Braxton Hicks, that work was getting harder to ignore.
I got home and rested for a bit, and the cramping didn’t ease up after laying down, so I got a hold of my doula. She said it sounded like pre-labor, which could last for days, and suggested I just relax, rest and keep her posted. I was super excited, and fired off texts and called my mom. When John got home I think we timed a few but couldn’t really make any distinctions, and the cramping wasn’t bad at all, just more consistent and hard to ignore. John’s parents came to visit and we made preparations for my mom to come and stay with me the next day just in case. I remember feeling calm excitement, but I was also aware that I instinctually didn’t want to be alone. I woke up a few times that night but had okay sleep overall.
Friday, Nov. 8th
John didn’t think he should go to work, but I was pretty sure this was going to go on for days, so didn’t see any reason for him to be home, especially because my mom was coming over. I gathered our hospital stuff and put it by the door, kept in touch with my doula throughout the day, and just tried to stay busy. My mom made french onion soup from scratch, we listened to lots of music and talked, talked, talked!
John came home midday and took care of last minute things, and then we all just hung out. My dad stopped by that evening to get my mom and by that point I was in my robe, drinking tons of water, and didn’t want to sit down. I just remember pacing a lot. Not sure if I really did that, but by the evening, sitting down just felt ridiculous. Who could sit at a time like this?! 🙂
We timed a few more pressure waves here and there, and I can’t remember any of the math, but we called my doula over later that night. She got there around 11pm, and stayed until after midnight, at which point she said she thought this was still just early labor, which could last for days. She also warned me that it could stall completely, and that since things were progressing slowly since yesterday, not to get my hopes up. I went to bed listening to yet another Hypnobabies track, and thinking I’d probably attend my Monday appointment with the midwives and have to talk induction.
Saturday, Nov. 9th
I woke up a few times throughout the night because the pressure waves were getting stronger, and no matter how I slept, I just could not get comfortable. It sort of felt like the kind of sleep you would get on a noisy train…close-eyed rest, but noting particularly restful. Around 5:30am, I woke up to a particularly strong wave and realized I felt…squishy. Before my feet even hit the floor I knew my water had broke. Thinking back, I was so scared about this moment during pregnancy – I mean, once this happens, you’re on a speeding train to delivering your baby! But in the moment of it actually having happened, I just felt such relief. I was so glad we weren’t going to have to wait days and weeks longer to meet our baby. I was so glad this meant the pressure waves were going to come to an end at some point and I was so, so ready to just get the show on the road.
I woke John up, showered, called my doula and then let the midwife on call know. By 9am my parents showed up (my dad dropped my mom off so he could go open his store), and my doula arrived by about 10am. It was one of the nicest days we’d had weather-wise: cool, sunny, cloudless. We had the windows open, music on, and I just remember the whole day being this kind of sunny, warm, celebration of what was to come. I know I was uncomfortable, but I don’t remember that. And I’m not trying to sound brave. The other stuff – the cuddling in bed with John and listening to Hypnobabies tracks, the walks we took, the stories we all told, the excitement that was front and center – that’s honestly what I remember.
Around noon, my midwife called to say she wanted me to come to the hospital by 5pm. We’d talked off and on about the possibility of my needing Pitocin to speed things up, and I wasn’t opposed, but I also really wanted to give my body as much time as I could to do what it could. I hit an emotional wall around 2pm-ish. My mom and doula were on the patio eating lunch and I remember just sobbing to them – I poured out my fears about being a mom, about feeling an all-consiuming love, about being vulnerable, and weirdly, also about feeling like I had missed a chance to be closer to my dad at this point in my life. There was so much I’d been holding on to and it was sort of like getting closer to giving birth, I was walking through a door, and my baggage just wouldn’t fit. I had to let it go to move on to this next big thing.
After my eyes were dried, my doula had my husband put on music and I bounced around on the ball. We slow danced to “Let’s Be Still” by the Head and the Heart (a touchstone song for us in late pregnancy). We took another walk, I ate something, and kept up on my water intake. Our doula had suggested earlier that I use the breast pump to boost prolactin and I told her I wanted to wait a little longer. She suggested it again around 3pm, and I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer – I was going to be a mama really, really soon and I needed to get on with it. For some reason I knew in my gut that using that pump would kickstart things and I was holding on to fear about it! Out of all the things to be scared of in labor, I was scared of a breast pump! 🙂 She helped me set the pump up and stayed with me at my request while I “pumped.” By this point, I did’t want to be alone for one second – I guess I was afraid the baby would just come flying out and I wanted someone there to catch it. In hindsight, wow, was that every silly!
My dad came over after work around 4:30, I ate some eggs and turkey sausage (my last meal) and John packed the car. My parents and our doula followed us to the hospital, and John’s parents and our brother and sister in law and niece (who came over from Tampa) headed out too.
I was DREADING the car ride, but it really wasn’t that bad. We live 30 minutes from the hospital and I sat in the back seat and listened to the “fear clearing” Hypnobabies track in one ear bud, and the playlist John was listening to through the car speakers. The pressure waves were stronger than they’d been most of the day, but they would come and go within a minute, and I was able to breathe/growl through them without a lot of struggle.
At the Hospital
I was also DREADING the hospital. I have never had surgery, and hospitals to me, are for sick people. If it weren’t our first baby, and if we’d had a birth center local to us, that’s where I would have rather been. But alas, I had to face my fears of all the needles and machines and scratchy, industrial-smelling linens. Ugh. Yuck. Blah.
By a stroke of luck, my favorite midwife was taking over for the on-call midwife until 9pm, and she was already there so I didn’t have to be checked by a stranger, or go to triage. I was also the ONLY woman in labor on the whole floor (which considering I was at the busiest birthing hospital in our entire county, was really truly AMAZING). And since my midwife was there in advance, she got us the room with the birthing tub. Woohoo!
Another big bit of great news was that my brother-in-law who’d recently moved out of state flew in to be with the family at the hospital! I was so surprised I got emotional when he came into the room and surprised me – hormones were at an all time high by that point and I was really enjoying all the love coming from everyone our in the waiting room. It buoyed me many times throughout the night to know so many people were eating delicious Jimmy John’s sandwiches, and cuddling our sweet niece while I was starving and sweating…but I digress. It really was a huge boost to know our nearest and dearest family members just a few rooms away.
The Great “Check”
I had pretty low expectations for where I was progress-wise. Based on the amount of pressure I was feeling, I guessed maybe 2cm? My midwife told me later that because I was so calm (thank you Hypnobabies!), she was thinking 1 or 2cm at most…but it turned out I was at 5cm!! I was SO proud of myself. Seriously. It was like I’d just ran around the globe kind of proud! I’d reached my “natural” goal, and considering how well I’d managed it through emotional support, deep breathing and mental focus (again, thank you Hypnobabies!), I felt like I definitely wanted to keep going without any interventions.
Because I was doing well on my own my midwife oversaw all the check-in stuff, I got my saline lock, and then she left us alone. My doula and my husband hung the birth flags I made (with the help of 13 other expectant moms) at a Blessingway about month or so before delivery.
My doula had also suggested bringing electronic candles to help off-set the sterile hospital environment, so she set those up for me as well, and it was such as nice change to the industrial ambiance the room initially had – NOW I was ready to rock this labor! 🙂
From about 6pm-8pm I labored standing up and swaying, or sitting on the ball, with my doula talking to me and John rubbing my back. ALL of my pressure waves were in my buttocks/hips. I never once felt a single tinge of pressure or pain in my abdomen or pelvis. Out of everything, that surprised me the most, and as it turns out, there are fewer things to do to ease that pain than some of the more traditional places one can feel labor pressure. Yeah for me. But really, it was all manageable, as long as I was moving – I would feel a wave coming, focus on breathing and staying calm, and at the crest of the pressure I’d just sway my hips through it and vocalize the pressure. And then it was over. Until the next one. And repeat. Closer to 8pm I started shaking, which I knew meant I was nearing transition. I got scared for a beat – holy crap – TRANSITION?! We learned from Hypnobabies that we should call it “transformation” but all I could think about were the stories I’d read about women shaking and throwing up, and then the baby coming out. The shaking didn’t scare me, but the baby coming out part did! Our doula suggested I take a shower, and she and John transformed the sterile bathroom with those electronic candles, and played Enya on my iPad. She helped us sneak John into the bathroom with me (not exactly what the hospital would have wanted) and for just a minute or two, it felt like we were on a romantic vacation, and the shaking, coming from the very core of my body, felt more like giddy excitement than any kind of fear. At that point in labor…what a gift those few moments were!
The shower stall was too small for us both to fit comfortably, the water pressure left a lot to be desired and the shower head was about half the size of the one we have at home. Oh, and I was FREEZING. So we didn’t stay in the shower long. But it was super nice to be able to work through some of the strongest pressure waves I’d had at that point with just me and John, alone, in the candlelit room, with soft music. It felt oddly like out “first look” photos before our wedding – that last moment before all the noise, for us to just “be still.”
I was just getting out of the shower when the midwife on call popped her head in to let me know she was taking over and wanted to check me. I was sad to see my favorite midwife go, and was honestly kind of nervous about the switch, but there wasn’t much I could do about it, and the midwife on call was who we saw during our confirmation appointment back in April, so it seemed fitting she would be the one to deliver me: we’d truly come full circle.
Being checked and/or monitored at this point was extremely unpleasant, because it meant I had to be still, in the bed. Out of everything I felt from start to finish, this was the only part of labor I’d describe as pure torture. The midwife thought I was around 8cm. It was around 9pm or so. She suggested Pitocin to speed things up. She said she was worried I’d be too tired to push when the time came and she didn’t want me to end up with a c-section because I was exhausted. I heard all of that, and appreciated her concern, but I didn’t want to start Pit — my labor was moving slow and steady, and it was what I could handle, and I figured there was a reason my body was doing it this way — maybe this was what my baby could handle too? I was mostly acting on instinct at that point, and I just wanted our conversation to be over because the only thing I cared about was getting the hell out of that bed. She keep droning on and on about her concerns, and Pitocin and I kept, politely, declining. At one point, Ashley, one of the labor nurses (who also happened to be pregnant) said, sternly, “The patient is currently declining the use of Pitocin.” I was so thankful for the support from the nurse, and all I really cared about at that point was listening to my gut.
From this point until around 11pm I labored like I had before – standing, swaying, vocalizing. I ate some crackers and green jello and chugged orange gatorade and ice water. My doula made an ice bath for washcloths with lavender and alternated those on my head, while John massaged my lower back and hips. My midwife came back in about every 45 minutes and I had to crawl back into the bed and be checked, and monitored. I felt like a trapped animal during these periods, and it was the absolute worst thing about my entire birth experience. I was still 8cm and change; my progress had slowed, and I was starting to get tired. My midwife was relentless with her suggestions for Pitocin, at one point getting in my face and yelling at me, asking “Do you want Pitocin or a C-Section?!”
While her bedside manner over this issue left a lot to be desired, I agreed with her that we needed to speed things up before I ran out of steam. But I was so, so scared of being stuck in the bed because I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the pressure. I knew my limit and I was getting close to it. My gut told me Pit would put my over the edge. I went back and forth with her, and finally begged off for a bit more time to talk to John and my doula. She didn’t want to leave the room, but the labor nurse, Ashley, stood up for me again, and bought me a bit more time. (I learned later that they got into it in the hallway because my midwife felt disrespected by the nurse).
Meanwhile, the other labor nurse, Heather, came up with a way I could be on Pit (and thus on the monitor, full time) while being OUT of the bed. She would hold the monitor. For hours. I mean, seriously? She and Ashley were just so, so great to me.
We started Pit, and settled in on the ball, with the nurse holding the monitor on me. I labored this way for maybe 2 hours? It was the most intense pressure I’d felt, and I got through it only because I could move on the ball. John was rubbing my hips, and my doula was holding my hand and telling me “You can do anything for a minute” and “breathe.” When I’d feel the pressure build, I would breathe and just vocalize it all. The Pit made my pressure waves so much closer together and I was surprised how quickly they were coming. I started to get really scared for the first time all night, and my doula went and got my dad.
It may sound weird, but he was exactly who I needed. And I will never forget my doula sensing this. She and John were getting tired. I was exhausted. The nurses were tired. We needed someone else’s strength and energy in that room. My dad came in and sat on the edge of the bed and held my hand. I squeezed it as hard as I’d ever squeezed anything, and he talked me through the pressure and it gave me something new to focus on. John continued to rub my hips but it wasn’t making much of a dent anymore, and I could feel he was cat napping against my back. My doula kept on with the mantras which were working for me, but I could hear the exhaustion in her voice too. Each pressure wave felt like an insurmountable wave and for the first time all night I started to doubt if I could really do this, and also, if I wanted to keep going without pain medication…
Sunday, Nov. 10th
My midwife came in to check me, and I had to get into the bed, and a few minutes in to this process, I was just DONE. I’d reached the limit of anything more I could take, and I had far surpassed where I wanted to get naturally. I was 9cm, but the baby still hadn’t moved down. I knew in my gut this was going to be a while longer and I asked her if I could have something, anything to ease the pain, and to my surprise, she offered an epidural! I said yes without so much as a glance in anyone else’s direction, and within 15 minutes or so, I was sitting on the edge of the bed, feet dangling, feeling my legs go tingly, and letting the tension out of all the other muscles in my body for the first time in what felt like days.
With an Epidural
Once the medication in the epidural started to kick in I laid on my back in the bed, they gave me some oxygen (which looked way creepier than it actually felt) and let our family come in. Our doula had said multiple times during labor that she was so happy about all the love we had going on out in that waiting room, and it was so nice to get to see my parents and John’s parents before the last big stage. I remember seeing my mom look kind of scared when she saw me with the oxygen mask on and I was so very thankful we had a doula, and had not tried to make her go through labor with me! Moms are amazing, but there are limits of what anyone should have to do for their children. Dads? Totally different deal. Kind of. Not really. But he helped me anyway. 🙂
Things are kind of hazy after this point. Someone turned off the lights after our family left the room, John laid down on a pull out chair, and our doula was across the room on another pull out chair. I was told to stay on my right side because they were able to get the monitor for the baby to work best that way. I was told this would mean my right side would get more of the medication, but they would flip me eventually. So I rested. I think I checked my phone, saw encouraging words from many, and then dozed. At some point John sent me a text that made me cry happy tears – I’ll spare you, but let’s just say it is EXACTLY what I needed to hear from him in that moment and I will cherish it forever. Throughout this time in the darkened room (which felt like a long time but was really more like an hour) I kept feeling more and more pressure building up near my tailbone. I finally called the nurse because it felt like maybe something was wrong with the medication? Maybe I needed to be flipped now?
Around 5am, Sunday, Nov. 10th
A new nurse answered my call, and I could tell she was kind of exasperated while checking vitals…probably thinking “Geez lady, you’ve got meds, just REST!” but one of the labor nurses followed shortly behind her and said, “You know what? I think I’m going to check you…just curious where he is now.” She touched something, and I knew instantly it was his head. He was ready to go!!
Suddenly it was like I was on the set of a movie. Lights came on from everywhere, carts and more carts were rolled around my bed, John and my doula were on either side of me. I remember the feeling of John’s hands. I remember seeing my two awesome labor nurses on my right side with big smiles on their faces. I remember my midwife at my feet and her insanely positive energy, all that transpired between our strong personalities having been exchanged for this awesome moment. I remember thinking this was so surreal. This couldn’t be me, right? I was going to push a baby out?
I did a practice push and it wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t really great either. I was so excited to learn I could totally feel the urge to push, so my midwife coached me with my own urges, but I felt like I remember feeling before running my first 5K – about to do something that scared me and would require me to push myself (ha, ha…literally). I knew I could do it, but I needed to find an inner focal point to get there.
I closed my eyes, and I listened for one voice – Heather, the nurse who’d had four natural births – tell me to roll my body into a cannonball, and then jump into the pool. I’m not sure if those were her exact words, but that’s what I imagined over and over again (for about 12 minutes, I am told) until I head his cry at 5:25am.
And yes, I said “his” because I just knew it was Evan who I had given birth to. I can’t explain that part. Science and medicine take care of all the rest, but that part? Just knowing him? That was pure magic.
He had the most beautiful cry; his angry little face was all scrunched up as John handed him to me, and he was just perfect. I had imagined that moment – cried over it, stressed over it, feared it! And there was nothing that could have prepared me. I still don’t have words. It was a beginning, and an ending. I have heard when a baby is born a mother is also born, but I didn’t feel that. I didn’t feel that “mother” thing all at once like some women say they do. I just felt…different. Better. More.
We got to have an hour just the three of us. He nursed right away and after a little while I handed him to John so they could have some bonding time.
Looking at the two of them fall in love, with the sunrise coming through the windows, and my birth flags still hanging up… I will never forget that for as long as I live: the two most important men in my life, brought here by the help of my dad, the first most important man of my life, and all of it leaving me feeling like the strongest woman I’ve ever been. We had some challenges along the way, but in sum, I couldn’t have asked for a more healing, transformative and wonderful birth.
And I’m totally feeling the “mother” thing now. Turns out birth did change me… It gave me the permission to love who I am now more than I ever could have hoped.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
There are so many good reasons to share your birth story (for a few, read this) and I urge all of my fellow new mamas out there to try to get yours out there… spoken, written, drawn, danced, painted, sung…