Emily Shares Her Beautiful Birth
Quick back story: 3 weeks before I gave birth, my father passed away unexpectedly. Our relationship was very complicated. About 5 years ago he came to live with my husband and I because he could no longer take care of himself, so for most of my adult life our roles have been reversed in terms of a traditional parent/child relationship, but he was still my dad and it was earth shattering when he passed away. He was looking forward to becoming a grandfather for the first time, so the timing of everything made it especially heartbreaking. I had spent so much of my pregnancy mentally preparing for birth, and losing my father suddenly set everything into chaos for me mentally and emotionally.
My official due date was February 27th, but I was certain I was going to be late. First babies are always late, right? So when good friends set their wedding date for the 25th, we didn’t hesitate rsvping yes. At this point I was huge and only one dress fit, but I knew this would probably be the last event we’d attend before baby came and we were looking forward to celebrating after how heavy the last few weeks had been for both us after losing my father. When we got to the country club for the reception I began to experience what I would describe as pressure in my lower back. I didn’t think anything of it because even women who experienced back labor felt contractions in their stomach and I was feeling absolutely nothing in my stomach, so I thought this could possibly be the back pain some women complain about later in pregnancy or I had to go the bathroom. So for the next 3 hours the pressure remained and I probably visited the ladies room 30 times thinking my body was telling me I needed to use the restroom. I didn’t mention it to my husband because I didn’t think anything of it and he didn’t notice my frequent bathroom trips b/c I’ve been peeing every 30 minutes for the last 9 months. As we got closer to the sparkler departure, I began to question whether this could possibly be labor because this “pressure” began to turn into waves of pressure and even though I was only experiencing everything in my back – I knew the wave sensation could be an indication of contractions.
We arrived home around 11:30 when I began to time these “waves” which were happening every 7-8 minutes. At this point I was pretty confident I was in the beginning stages of labor, but knew how crucial saving energy was in early labor since the average first time labor is 19.5 hours. Even though the waves were uncomfortable(like back cramps when you’re on your period), I was able to rest through them and eventually fell asleep. Around 2:00 am a very intense back cramp woke me up. I tried to go back to bed, but at this point was unable to sleep through the pain of these waves which were now around 5-6 minutes apart lasting 30-40 seconds and becoming much more intense. My painful groans woke Brett up, but I told him to go back to sleep since I didn’t see the point in both of us being up. The pain was getting pretty bad, but I was receiving a break in b/w contractions so I was working through each one by focusing on the upcoming relief which followed each contraction.
For the next 2 hours I tinkered around the house trying different positions…rocking on the birth ball, walking, lying down, etc. I was doing lots of cat cows trying to move baby. I was worried because I was experiencing all the pain in my back the baby wasn’t in the optimal fetal position which can slow labor down and make it more painful(I was right and it did end up stalling things later on). Around 4 am my contractions started getting closer and more intense – lasting around 1 minute and happening every 3-4 minutes. Walking around and rocking on the birthing ball wasn’t really doing anything for me anymore, so I decided to try the shower which is where I stayed for the next 3 hours. I laid towels down on the floor of the tub and got on all fours with the hot water running over my back moaning through each contraction. I was in a lot of pain at this point, but was glad progress(or at least I thought) was being made. I told myself I couldn’t call our doula, Teresa, until 7am. I’m not quite sure why I made myself stick to this timetable, but I called Teresa around 7 and she said to go lie down on my left side for an hour in hopes we could turn this baby. She was heading to church, but was going to call me afterwards if I didn’t call her beforehand. l lay there while Brett rubbed my lower back as hard as he could during each contraction which brought a little relief(it was a drop in the bucket, but it was something!). I talked to Teresa again around 11ish and she suggested I call the midwife to see if I should go to the hospital or not. The midwife on call was Kimery which ended up working out great because she was also the midwife I saw the most during my 6 months with Intown Midwifery. Kimary asked me to stay on the phone with her so she could hear me work through a contraction before deciding whether I needed to come in. After hearing me vocalize a contraction she told us to head to the hospital, so Brett threw the bags in the car and we were off. Thankfully, the hospital is only a 5 minute drive from our house. I was still contracting 3 minutes apart and they were lasting a minute or more, so I was confident I was in active labor and when I got to the hospital they were going to say I was at least 5 cm.
We arrived to the labor floor and Teresa walked into the room right after we arrived. The hospital policy states the baby has to be monitored for 20 minutes while the mother lays still on the bed before letting her in the tub. I was prepared for this and knew it was going to be rough, but it was only 20 minutes and then I could get up and move around again. Teresa helped me stay centered during this transition by placing her hand on my chest and encouraging low breathing during each contraction to save energy.
Kimary checked me and told me I was 100% effaced and only 1 cm dilated. Not something a woman who had been laboring for the last 12+ hours wants to hear (6+ of those being really intense). Kimary and Teresa both told me the baby was facing posterior which could be why I hadn’t dilated more so Teresa immediately swooped in and proceeded to try and encourage the baby to turn by gently placing her hand strategically on my stomach and back during each contraction (reason #367 why I adore this woman). It was the craziest feeling. Her touch was so gentle, but the placement of her hands encouraged the baby to turn. Everyone in the room couldn’t believe it including the midwife, but the baby turned. They saw it and I felt it. Amazing.
I was able to get off the monitor because baby was doing well. Although I was disappointed about being 1 cm, I was confident we would begin to start seeing some serious progress since the baby had turned. So for the next 2 hours I sat rocking on a birthing ball in the shower leaning over Brett’s lap while he applied pressure and hot water on my back. I was still contracting every 3-4 minutes lasting at least a minute like I had been for the last 7 hours, but I was continuing to receive some relief in b/w contractions and hoping each one was dilating me a little bit more.
A little over 2 hours had passed since my first check, so I asked to be checked again b/c I was excited to see how much I had dilated. The baby had turned and I was still laboring really hard, so progress was definitely being made, right? Wrong. Kimary checked me and I was still at 1 cm. I immediately broke down. I hadn’t cried once in labor (I cry pretty easily so this was big deal), but I felt soooo defeated. They warn you not to do “labor math” b/c every labor is so different, but you start calculating time in your head and you figure if it took me 12+ hours to get to 1cm its going to me 100+ hours of labor to get 10 cm and I don’t think I can take 4 days of this. Everything about my body was saying active labor, but I wasn’t dilating which is a problem because even though my midwife practice is very pro-natural childbirth they aren’t going to let me labor intensely for hours on end with no progress which means pitocin could be in the near future. Yikes, not pitocin. Please no pitocin contractions.
Both Teresa and Kimary suggested I try therapeutic rest which is a combination of a bag of fluids to hydrate, a sleeping pill to rest, and small amount of morphine to help you relax (it doesn’t take the contractions away, so you still feel everything but it allows you to relax some while receiving fluids). I’d been laboring for almost 16 hours and sweating in a hot shower for a lot of it, so exhaustion and dehydration could have be the cause of my slow dilation. It wasn’t the 100% non intervention birth I desired, but I trusted my team and since they both thought it was the wisest choice to help me get to my end goal of waterbirth with a healthy baby and mommy – Brett and I agreed to it.
And it worked…within 3 hours I had dilated to 4 cm and 2 hours later I was at 8cm. Hallelujah! At this point everything had worn off and I was back to feeling every. single. contraction. They were coming fast and hard, but I was 8 cm and I knew the end was near which was getting me through the pain. Rest and hydration is apparently exactly what my body needed to start dilating.
Thing started to move quickly. The nurses started filling the tub and Brett was texting family and our photographer, Jesse, that we were close. Music was playing and Teresa had turned off all the lights and strung christmas tree lights (isn’t she incredible!) to create a soothing atmosphere. I tried a few different laboring positions in the tub, but leaning over the edge with my arms dangling over the tub with Brett applying pressure on my back during contractions felt the best so it’s where I stayed.
After an hour in the tub, Kimary checked me again and I was 10 cm. Time to push. So for the next 2.5 hours I proceeded to push and it was the most intense experience of my life(my water broke in the tub after about an hour of pushing). Some women feel relief during the pushing stage, but I didn’t. I would take contractions over pushing any day. Pushing was soooo hard. I had been awake for most of the last 24 hours and was completely delirious from the pain. All I really remember Teresa applying cold wash clothes to my head and chest while Brett fed me water through a straw. Brett’s mother, grandmother, and Jessie all arrived around the same time, but I don’t remember seeing them until after the birth. I went into a different world during pushing. Brett later told me I’d fall asleep snoring in between contractions and would immediately jolt awake with pain of a contraction, push, and begin to drift back to sleep. There was only one time I cried out in fear during labor. After about an hour of pushing, I screamed out in pain telling Teresa “I’m scared and I don’t think I can do this any more”. Teresa responded with something funny because I remember laughing, but can’t remember what she said.
I don’t think much progress in those first 2 hours of pushing, honestly. I remembered reading the word “surrender” a lot in birthing stories, but I truly didn’t understand what women meant until this point in labor. Looking back I think I was resisting pushing really effectively because 1) it hurt like hell and 2) I was scared. I had never done this before and we all know how scary your first time at anything can be. She also had a huge head (97.9% head circumference) which I think contributed to my difficulty in pushing.
Around midnight after 2 hours of pushing, I finally surrendered to the pain and started pushing hard. Like really hard. Instead of resisting the pain of a contraction, I was embracing it and using it with all my might to really push through each contraction. I’d already tried pushing in almost every position in the tub …on all fours, leaning over the tub, squatting, on my side, but holding my thighs close to my chest and curling into a c-shape felt the most effective. I felt baby moving and it hurt sooo bad, but she was finally descending into the birth canal.
Teresa switched places with Brett who’d been behind me feeding me water/pushing hard on my back during contractions, so he could go in front and watch our baby being born. The last 30 minutes of pushing I did away with the low breathing I had used during labor and was really “vocalizing” through each contraction. I just focused on Brett’s face the entire time which was a combination of utter excitement and complete terror(after all his wife was in front of him pushing a baby out of her…I’m sure it was a sight to see). I’d read towards the end of pushing you should do these short, grunt type pushes to help expand the skin so you don’t tear, but at this point in labor I was so ready to be done with pushing I let out one massive push and her head came out. The cord was wrapped around her neck so Kimery told me to wait before pushing again to make sure it wasn’t wrapped too tightly. It wasn’t and with one last massive push baby came spiraling out.
And I reached out to grab baby. I immediately brought her to my chest and everyone asked “What is it?!?!” Oh, right. I pulled her out in front of me and it took me about 15 seconds before I announced her sex b/c I kept looking for a penis(we both thought we were having a boy) and was so delirious from pushing that I kept confusing the umbilical cord for a penis and it took me a moment to realize the reason she doesn’t a penis is because she’s a girl. And I let out in an excited cry “It’s a girl”. A sweet, baby girl. My dad had said it was a girl all along and as I looked at her I saw so much of him in her. She had his cheeks and almond eyes(I have them, too). This little person we had dreamed and prayed about for so long was finally here in our arms. Gosh, it doesn’t get any better than that. Time stood still for those few minutes as we locked eyes with our baby girl for the first time. It was so surreal finally holding her. This “tiny, bald, little boy” I was expecting to meet ended up being a beautiful, big (almost 9lbs!) little girl with a ton of hair and she was perfect. It felt like my heart could have burst in that moment.
During labor, I remember thinking I am never doing this again, but the morning after giving birth and holding our baby girl – I knew I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. I don’t know if it’s because I forgot the pain or the reward was so immensely incredible it made every contraction worth it. Probably some of both.
I once read someone describe parts of their birth as painful, but not a painful experience which I think is so true of my birth. Yes, there were absolutely moments of intense pain, but in no way would I ever describe the overall experience as painful. Becoming pregnant, carrying our daughter for 40 weeks, and giving birth naturally to her was such a privilege. Lily is the most precious gift we’ve ever received.
And I could never have done any of this without the devotion and support of my incredible husband, Brett, who has shown me an unconditional love I feel so inadequate to deserve especially in these last few weeks. He has stood by my side through so many uphill battles.
A few lessons I learned along the way…
– Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate especially if you are laboring in a hot shower like I did. I will definitely make sure Brett is helping me drink a lot of fluids next time around.
– How important it is to pick a doctor or midwife who is supportive of your birth wishes whatever they may be. When you’re laboring the last thing you want to have to worry is whether the team you have in place is really making the right decisions by you and your baby. I’ve read birth stories where husbands were arguing with nurses and doctors over the care of their wife and baby. Labor is difficult enough without all this added stress. Never once did we worry about whether the options Intown Midwifery presented us were the best for baby and me. There was no hidden agenda on their part. They supported my desire to give birth naturally and only intervened when they were worried we wouldn’t reach our end goal of a healthy delivery in the water.
– How valuable it was to have a doula by our side. Besides choosing Intown Midwifery, both Brett and I agree hiring our doula, Teresa Howard, was the best decision we made when it came to our birth. If you are hoping to have a natural birth, I cannot recommend hiring a doula highly enough. I am married to a very patient and loving man. He is rarely rattled by anything, but even with how wonderful Brett is under pressure – we both felt so much better having Teresa by our side. She never doubted in my body’s ability to have a natural birth even when I did. She rallied around Brett and I the entire time while anticipating so many of our needs without either of us ever having to ask. If we are blessed with another child (yes, please!), asking Teresa to be our doula again will be the first call we make after we see those 2 pink lines.
Images by Jesse Chamberlin of Our Labor of Love. How can I put into words how grateful we are to her for capturing this incredible moment in our lives.