Finally, after writing pieces of this story over the seven (!) weeks since our sweet boy Charlie was born, I’m ready to share our birth story. Here goes! (Pictures start towards the bottom when our photographer met us at the hospital.)
At 12:38pm on Thursday, October 9, I texted Parker: “I think I just had my first contraction.” I had been lying on the couch, binge-watching Scandal because our birth class instructor (who later became our doula) had told us that the best thing we could do to set ourselves up for the best birth experience possible was to relax and do nothing in the final days; rest up for the marathon ahead. I had just discovered the series (so good!!!), and I was way too big and tired to do anymore nesting, so a TV marathon was exactly what I wanted to be doing anyway. I had been feeling the baby descend lower into my pelvis for several days and knew he was getting in to position, so when I felt that first contraction, I was relaxed and in-tune with my body enough that I knew exactly what was happening. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t anxious, I was just…calm. I also knew that it could go on like this for days and days though, so I didn’t get too amped up about it.
That afternoon, the contractions kept coming, but they weren’t painful. Every time one would come on , I would relax every part of my body and focus on my breathing. Like at the end of yoga class where you just lie on the mat and the instructor coaches you through relaxing every tension from the tip of your head to the bottom of your toes. I did this because I remember reading in Ina May Gaskin’s books about how tension is counterproductive to labor and can stall progress.
Parker would text me from work periodically to see how I was doing, and if I was still having contractions. I kept telling him yes and before he left for the day he let everyone at work know this might be it and he might not be coming in the next day.
When he got home that night, we went on a walk, ate dinner and watched tv, like we always do. We went to bed early though, knowing that we were going to need to rest up and that I especially should try to get as much sleep as possible. Sleep was difficult; every time I would start to doze, a contraction would wake me up and I would be sure to track it on my phone. Eventually I did sleep (80 minutes according to the time lapse on my tracker) but woke up around 1:00am needing to go to the bathroom. Going really set things in motion though and the contractions started coming on a little stronger and more frequently. I woke Parker up to give him a progress update because, ya know, I was progressing, but he was not happy to be woken up grumbling, “This could go on for days, it’s 1am, let me sleep.” Rawr! I knew it wasn’t going to last for days though and that I better get my hospital bag packed asap so that’s what I set out to do.
Around 3:30 am I texted my doula, McCalla, saying, “I hate to wake you, but my contractions are a minute long, 5 minutes apart and have been increasing intensity. I think you may want to head over soon.” She texted right back that she was up and on her way. When she arrived, I kind of went into hostess mode, so I was less relaxed and as a result, my contractions slowed down a bit. I was embarrassed, afraid that I had woken her up in the middle of the night for nothing. I decided to bake bread while we waited (gingerbread and pumpkin spice loaf – October classics!) and soon enough my contractions started picking up again. Over the next few hours we all (Parker got up and joined us) hung out in the living room while the bread baked and every once in a while I would have to be quiet and focus on breathing through the contractions that were still moderate, but picking up intensity. My doula said to me that she was pretty sure I would continute this way all day and that they would pick up and get more intese that night. I didn’t really believe her and thought for sure I was going to have this baby today, but didn’t let on because I didn’t want to jinx it. Parker and I both had chiropractor appointments that morning and she suggested that we go as soon as they opened since getting adjusted might help keep baby (or get baby) in proper alignment and could help speed things up. It was still early though, like around 6:00am or so and we would need to wait until 8:30 at least to leave the house. So we just hung out and waited.
Around 7:00 or so, McCalla got up to go to the bathroom and as soon as she did, I felt like I was going to be sick. I had been lying on the couch and I shot straight up and told Parker, “I feel like I’m going to be sick. No…really, I think I”m gonna puke!” and I ran to the other bathroom at the back of the house (thank god we have two…) and threw up. Like, a lot. McCalla came out of the bathroom, heard what was happening and came back to check on me. I asked her, “Is this normal?? I thought you only threw up at the very end of labor when the pain is so intense it makes you puke” and she said that no, this was normal too and nothing to worry about. We went back to the living room to hang out some more, which was really fun and just felt like I was hanging out with a girlfriend (at the crack of dawn, ha).
Then around 7:45 (I think, all times are totally guesses since I wasn’t paying too close attention) I was laying on the couch and breathing through a contraction and I said to McCalla, “Oh, this one is much more intense” and a few seconds later I felt a pop and said, “Oh, my water just broke!” and got up to run to the bathroom. She kind of laughed and said, “Really?!” and when I got out I told her exactly what had happened to make sure that indeed my water had broken and it wasn’t just a mucus plug that I had lost and she confirmed that what I described was my water breaking.
Parker had gone somewhere else at that point and when he walked back in we told him my water had broken. I told him he should probably get serious about packing his own bag for the hospital (he was still sure this would go on all day at least) so he got busy getting things together.
At around 8:30 or so McCalla suggested I take a hot shower to see if the warm water would slow things down. If I was still at the point where the water would relax me enough to slow down contractions, then we would know I wasn’t very far along and we would go on to the chiropractor. I got in the shower and the hot water did the exact opposite of slowing things down! Things picked up quickly and contractions starting coming on FAST. I had to hurry during my breaks between them to get out of the shower, then to towel off, then to get to the bedroom, and then to get dressed. Contractions kept coming one after another, so fast. McCalla said, “I think we should plan on not going to the chiropractor and just go to the hospital. Is that okay with you?” and I was like, UM YEAH.
And then I had to puke again. A lot. And I started sweating. Poor sweet McCalla realized (she later told me) that I was transitioning and we needed to get to the hospital ASAP. She held my hair as I threw up and gently, calmly but very seriously said to me, “Okay, after you’re done here we need to make a concerted effort to get to the car. What do you need to get ready?” and I said, “Shoes” in between coughing and she yelled out to Parker to get me some flip flops and pack the car up.
As soon as I was done throwing up, I walked three steps out of the bathroom and another contraction hit me and this was by far the strongest, most painful one yet and I had to stop and lean over the sofa. I started to get scared and whimper but McCalla coached me on vocalizing through it and I swear, that saved me for the rest of my labor . Moaning gave me something to focus on and somewhere to direct my energy. I can’t describe the sounds that came out of my throat except to say they were primal and rooted somewhere deep inside me and I couldn’t replicate them if I tried. I watched birthing videos while I was pregnant and those sounds women made scared me to death, but being on the other side, it wasn’t scary at all. It was comforting in fact! It was exactly what I needed to do to relax the rest of my body and let Charlie do what he needed to do to move down.
Pausing the story for a moment to acknowledge how amazing our doula was. Had we been alone in the house trying to figure out when to go to the hospital and it got to this point, I would have probably been really scared and so would Parker. I probably wouldn’t have known how to vocalize through the contractions and things might have gotten unbearably hard for me. McCalla was a calming, gounding presence and she really brought out the best in me to be able to get through labor with strength. She was amazing, I just have to say that. Okay, resuming.
We got in the car, McCalla following behind, and I braced myself for the car ride that I have heard from other mothers is brutal. But, happily, the car ride was fine. I had my eyes closed and just vocalized through each contraction, and breathed and relaxed during each break. Parker was trying to time the contractions and follow directions on his phone at the same time and the poor guy missed the turn for the hospital! I was like, “Uh, I think you were supposed to turn back there…” but what I really wanted to say was, “WTF PARKER YOU MISSED THE TURN UGHHHHH!!” I was proud of the constraint I showed under the circumstances. :)
We pulled up to the hospital and were greeted by my midwife, a nurse, my doula and my photographer-doula who was going to capture the birth. I was right in the middle of a contraction though so I had to make them wait while I breathed and vocalized through it. While I was contracting (is that a term?) Parker ran out of the car and yelled, “WE NEED A WHEELCHAIR!” like the husbands in movies but I was like, “I…don’t want a wheel chair..” and my midwife said it would be better to walk if I could so I wasted no time marching up the stairs saying “I can walk, come on.”
We made it up to the check in desk and contractions kept coming, so strong and fast. The nurse checking me in just held out the clipboard while I scrawled lines hardly resembling my signature before finally they could take me back. The nurse told me they were out of labor & delivery rooms so they were taking me to a triage room first. ”We’ll move you to a delivery room as soon as one opens up,” she said but I was like, “I ain’t movin! Get that tub set up, I’m having this baby in the triage room!”
My midwife, Christine, echoed my sentiments to get the tub set up immediately. My biggest fear leading up to the birth was that a birthing tub wouldn’t be available for some reason and I wouldn’t have the opportunity to have a water birth. I wanted a water birth for the natural pain relief properties the water provides and for the ability to labor and deliver in different positions with the help of water supoorting my weight. I reeeeeally wanted the tub, thank goodness I got it.
Before I could get in the tub, Christine wanted to check to see how far along I was. I was so desperate to get in the water, but agreed hoping she would hurry. I was shocked when she said, “Miss Katy, you are at nine and a half centimeters!” (I won’t lie, I was pretty proud that I got to the hospital at 9.5!)
Ha, I forgot about this. They had to move me to a room so quick (they could tell I was REALLY in labor) that I didn’t finish signing all the papers. They didn’t even have a chance to draw blood and barely were able to check my blood pressure in between contractions.
I got in the water and the next hour or so was probably the hardest of the entire time. I no longer felt in control of the contractions, and instead felt like I was being pulled – dragged – through each one. I let out loud roars of pain and started understanding why epidurals are so popular. I started understanding why elective cesareans are so popular. I decided I would never ever judge another woman for the way she gives birth. At the same time, I knew I could get through it and the thought of wanting an epidural myself never entered my mind, but I was suddenly very understanding and compassionate to every woman who came before me in birthing a child.
And then I entered labor land. ”Labor land” is a term my doula introduced me to during our child birth class and it’s described as ”a deep meditative state. It is like an out of body experience except that it occurs so internally, totally within your body and in the meditative part of your mind. Being in this state allows the mom to get into the rhythm of her contractions and to develop a routine of what works for her to stay on top of the intensity of her labor.” (source) I felt a shift after I had been in the water for a little while (about an hour or so), and I no longer felt like I was being dragged through contractions kicking and screaming. I felt like I had my groove and could get behind each one and give in to each one.
During this time in the water, I had such amazing support. Parker was right there holding my hand, calm and strong. McCalla was THE BEST EVER with ice cold wash cloths that she put drops of lavender essential oils on. The water was really hot so she would put ice cold wash cloths on my forehead, back, shoulders and it was so refreshing. She would let me go through a contraction on my own and then as soon as it was over, she was right there with a fresh washcloth, icy cold and lovely smelling, knowing exactly what to do and where to put it without me saying a word. It was so, so amazing. And Chanda, my photographer doula, would apply counter pressure on my back during contractions which helped the sensations not feel so intense and allowed me to release tension through the crazy intense pain. During breaks I would mutter “water” and whoever happened to be closest to me at the moment would put my water bottle to my lips so I could drink. They never missed a beat! I joke that I had my very own pit crew through labor, but it’s actually a totally accurate description.
My midwife, Christine, was awesome. She mostly let us do our thing, speaking up occasionally to be supportive and sometimes sassy (which I appreciated because I’m sassy too). Every once in a while I would hear her say, “Yeah, girl, there you go” or “You got this, come on”. I had my eyes closed pretty much the whole time at the hospital (it felt like there were bricks on my eyes, it was so hard to open them!) but I could feel everyone’s presence and support around me as I labored in the tub. It was really empowering and made me feel safe and respected. I had gotten to know everyone who was there (with the exception of the one nurse who was apparently there, but she was great too because she never said a word – that I could hear – and just blended into the background).
I resisted pushing as I was afraid that I would run out of energy and wear myself out if I started pushing too early. I also didn’t want to tear, so I was trying to slowly and carefully let Charlie do most of the work before I really started pushing hard. I was leaned over the inflatable tub the entire time but when it came time to focus on pushing the baby out, my midwife asked me to shift into a squat position. It took every bit of energy I had, but I did and it made pushing more productive. I started to get quiet on the pushes, not breathing, just sending everything I had into the pushes. McCalla held one hand and Parker held the other. At one point I said, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this” and McCalla said “You’re at the point where you’re not supposed to know if you can do this. Everything is going exactly as it should.” Another memorable quote from me was, “Why do people have children???” and McCalla and Christine both laughed and said I would see why soon enough. (Spoiler alert: they were right!)
About an hour of pushing and finally I felt his head come out. To be sure, I took a breath and asked, “Was that his head?” and they said yes, so one more big push and he was out! Christine said “Grab your baby!” and I pulled him out of the water. He was PERFECT and so, so sweet. He was white and pale as a ghost, but thankfully I had seen enough birthing videos that I knew it was okay so I wasn’t worried. They let me hold him and kiss him while waiting for the cord to stop pulsing before cutting. Then they cut the cord and needed to take him since he was still pale and not breathing as strongly as he should. He had a lot of amniotic fluid in his lungs that they had to suction out, but he never left the room. He was right next to me the whole time as the nurses worked on him.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t believe how much energy I suddenly had and was so excited to have just had my baby! I got out of the tub and onto the bed to deliver the placenta, cracking jokes and having a good time. I did tell Parker that it was “SO HARD” and that I didn’t know if I could ever do it again without an epidural. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You did great, you didn’t need any help” which made me feel good. The nurses were all so complimentary too, telling me what a great job I did and that it was a fun birth to witness. It pumped me up, made me feel really proud. :)
Finally, after about 15 minutes of working on Charlie, they gave him to me and we lay together, skin to skin. He was so teeny tiny, 7lbs 7oz and 20 inches long (which made me feel a little sheepish at all the weight I had gained…oh well!) but perfect. It was amazing to finally see what he looked like and to meet him face to face. I made sure to tell McCalla and Christine, “Okay, I take it back, I know why women have children now.” I felt such overwhelming, immediate, and intense love for him and knew that I would do anything and everything for my sweet baby Charlie from now until forever.
That’s the story of how little Charlie came into this world. He was born at 12:23pm on October 10, 2014., almost exactly 24 hours after I felt that first contraction. I feel so fortunate to have had such an empowering and positive birth experience, free of complications, drugs or interventions. I got to experience the whole thing fully, from start to finish – I got to deliver my own baby! It was so hard, but so so worth it and I can’t wait to do it again. :)