Oliver is 11 weeks old, and I am finally getting around to finishing his birth story. I’ve been writing it in 5 minute increments since the day he was born. Our hands and hearts have been completely full with this beautiful, messy, chaotic growing family of ours. This will be long, and well, about birth… so if that’s not your thing, no big deal, you can click elsewhere. But this is our story… Oliver’s birth.
This is the last picture I took, 38 weeks on a Wednesday. Benjamin was born a day shy of 40 weeks, and Elijah was born at 41 weeks. I figured we had time.
That Friday was an exhausting and cranky day for pretty much the whole family. We got the kids to bed and headed to bed ourselves just completely wiped out. I had washed the sheets for our bed that day so we had to make it before going to sleep. When Chris asked if he should put the waterproof pad on just in case as we were nearing my due date, I told him to just go ahead and make up the bed with the layers of birth sheets, waterproof pad, and clean sheets underneath. We got in bed and maybe 20 minutes later at 10:40pm, I felt fluid leaking. Yep. Just 20 minutes after getting the bed all ready for birth.
As most pregnant women do, I wondered did I really just pee myself? I got up to go to the bathroom and saw clear fluid. I came back to bed and told Chris, "well I'm not exactly sure but I think my water just broke". I laid back down skeptical, but soon felt more leaking when I had no need to go to the bathroom. I was pretty sure my water just broke. At that point, I thought and said, "are you effing kidding me? after today? I do NOT need this." I called my midwife, Jessica, to let her know. She could tell how not thrilled at this I was, but for now it was time get some sleep and see what happened. I texted a few other people to give them a heads up, covered my side of the bed in waterproof pad, and then tried to sleep.
I was very anxious. I learned that I tested positive for Group B strep (GBS) 3 days earlier, and we were hoping to treat without antibiotics assuming I had no other risk factors present themselves. I didn’t want to expose the baby to the antibiotics if we could avoid it, and I am allergic to a number of antibiotics. Unfortunately, one of the major risk factors for baby developing a GBS infection is your water being broken for more than 12-18 hours before birth. Here I was with my water broken and labor hadn't started at all. This was not supposed to be happening this way. I wanted the contractions to start as soon as possible, but I also didn't want them to start because I just wasn't in a good headspace to begin labor. I was a mess. Sleep just wasn't happening. I was doing my best to ward off a full on panic attack.
I focused on calming myself. I knew labor wouldn’t start while I was this anxious. I laid in bed repeating to myself "I'm ready for you little one, I'm ready for whatever birth you need." I needed to let go of whatever I had in mind for the birth and fully commit to whatever birth this baby needed. I had a few hour long bouts of light contractions interspersed with a few hour long naps.
At 5:30am, I gave up and got up for the day. Nothing else was going on. My midwife texted me, and we agreed she’d come over to see how things were going and make a plan. A plan, we needed a plan. I didn’t want to need a plan. I took a quick shower, and Jessica arrived at 7:20am. We did a hibiclens wash because of the GBS and discussed the status of things. Jessica was wondering if perhaps my water hadn't really broken. She said that it's happened a few times where even she witnessed what seemed to be a complete rupture of membranes, but upon testing, it wasn’t and the mom was pregnant two more weeks. Since I wasn't having contractions, I was 10 days before my due date (and my other babies hadn't been ever on the early side), and we had the added pressure of me being GBS+, she suggested we confirm that my water had indeed broke.
On any other day of the week, this would just mean a trip to her back-up obstetrician’s office, but it was Saturday so we'd have to go see him at the hospital. We also agreed in consult with the back-up obstetrician that if my water had broke, we would do a dose of the antibiotics in the hospital. We were already approaching 12 hours since I started leaking fluid and labor hadn’t started. Plus, with my allergy history, Jessica was more comfortable having the first dose of antibiotics be in the hospital in case of any reaction. (The OB had said "you've got an epi-pen? Then don't worry, just do it at home!" Ha! Since I was going to the hospital anyway, this made the most sense).
Chris went to go feed the animals at the kids' school (goats and chickens we take care of on the weekends in partial tuition trade), I straightened up our room making sure things were ready for labor and baby (diapers, baby carriers, and birth affirmations.. the essentials), and we left for the hour drive to the hospital around 9:30am. We got there, dealt with paperwork, and waited for a triage room. I got to put on that ever so stylish hospital gown, get hooked up to continuous fetal monitoring, and then we waited some more.
When you’re planning a homebirth, the hospital is not somewhere you want to be. The wires, the beeping, and all the hospital-ness was overwhelming. We’d avoided most ultrasound (except for one to check for suspected breech position at 37 weeks) and use of the doppler to hear the heartbeat. Here I was hooked up to continuous fetal monitoring and getting an ultrasound without even being asked permission. People were just doing things TO me. I didn’t like it. It triggered all sorts of feelings of disempowerment and disrespect from my first birth experience, the experience that led us to homebirth with our second and now third births. They checked me for progress, and I was 1-2cm. There was some confusion with the resident, as I kept trying to explain we’d already spoken to Dr. G. We only needed to confirm my water was broke and receive a dose of antibiotics. I have a ton of allergies and that was a big deal. There was an argument over what antibiotics we could use while I tried to explain my midwife, Jessica, had already spoken with Dr. G, and we had a plan. They did determine my membranes were ruptured, at which point I got lectured on labor needing to get going because it’d been 12 hours already. The nurses were pretty good, and even at one point I heard them at the nurses desk saying “she’s been here over an hour, everything is fine, and she’s only had two contractions, can’t we just get her out of here?”
Chris began texting our midwife, Jessica, to let her know how things were going, and the midwife ended up texting Dr. G who had just arrived in our room at that time. Once Dr. G arrived things got much better. My water was broke. He called Jessica to confirm she'd like to move forward with Clindamycin, and we all agreed. The nurse came in to start the IV. THANK YOU! Finally, simple clear care. The nurse thought I’d have to come back in 8 hours for my next dose, but I explained, to her surprise, that my midwife would administer it via IV at home. There's so much confusion about midwifery and what certified professional midwives do.
We left the hospital around 1:15pm. It’s very funny to go the hospital, find out your water is broke, and then go home! I still wasn’t having contractions. Nothing felt like it was going the way it should, but at least we were going home to start the next steps. Castor oil! I took my first delicious dose with some scrambled eggs at 2:15pm. I updated a few people of our status, my mom took the kids to the playground, and then I rested for a few hours. At 4:30pm, I started homeopathic black and blue cohosh remedies alternating every 15 minutes for two hours. Contractions were light.
My boys came home from the playground and gave me some snuggles. They were excited and anxious. It was hard for them not to know how long it would be or what was happening. It was overwhelming for me with my own anxieties and the contractions were enough that I didn’t want kids bouncing on my bed when I had them. I sent the kids back out with my mom for pizza and to rent movies in case it ended up being a late night for them. Chris was making phone calls to make sure things were figured out for Sunday morning since he's a pastor and clearly if I didn't have a baby soon, he wouldn't be making it in time for church the next morning.
Contractions seemed to pick up a little by 5:15pm. They were every 3-4 minutes and stronger but only 30 seconds long. Jessica (midwife) said this was typical of castor oil. Hopefully they'd get longer and start to do more. I was expecting to be running to the bathroom with the castor oil but that didn’t happen at all. At 6:15pm, I took another dose of castor oil. I called Jessica, and she said unless she heard from me sooner she would be over at 8:30pm to give me my next dose of antibiotics. Contractions spaced a little in that hour, they were stronger but short. A gorgeous full rainbow appeared in my backyard. My message of hope.
The boys got home, got baths, and got ready for bed. They each wanted to watch the movie they had picked so Elijah went upstairs to watch his and Ben was glued to my side wanting me to watch his movie with him. Contractions were stronger now. I was breathing through them slow and steady. I had Chris bring down my exercise ball as there was no way I could snuggle on the couch with Ben. I needed to be upright and able to move. And so I sat on my exercise ball and he sat on a stool next to me and we watched “Hop”. I switched positions and Ben switched with me. His love was so special at this time.
Jessica arrived at 8:30pm, and Maegan, my birth photographer, got there shortly after. Contractions took my full attention. I'd stop mid-conversation to focus and breathe but was able to chat and snack on some grapes in between. I remember feeling irritated when the contractions would start mid-conversation while I was trying to talk to Maegan and Jessica. I love that I enjoyed the people at my birth so much that I was annoyed that contractions were “interrupting" our time to hang out. The kids headed to bed around this time, and Jessica checked my vitals and set up my IV for antibiotics.
My energy was starting to fade. I'd been up most of the night before and hadn't actually slept at all during the day. I was tired. After trying to eat some food, they set me up in bed with lots of pillows to hopefully allow me to sleep between contractions. When contractions hit, I’d frantically want to move to a different position which didn’t help. Jessica urged me to commit to the position I was in when the contraction started. I rested a little between contractions, but they were getting more and more intense. Finally, I just collapsed over onto my belly on the bed. I was really tired. Contractions were really tough. I was getting to that point of having nothing left, of feeling like I couldn't do this. Transition, the stage of labor right before pushing where you often feel like you’re going to die and you can’t possibly do this, felt close.
At 11:30pm, I tentatively asked if it would be stupid for Jessica to check me for dilation. I really wanted to be told that I could get in the tub. (If you get in the water too soon, it can slow your progress.) I needed a change, a new place of relief. I really didn't want to be told I wasn't very far along. I knew I was exhausted and working really really hard. I didn't know how much longer I could keep it up. I held my breath. I was 3cm. I was crushed. Absolutely crushed. I couldn't keep doing this long enough to get to 10. How could I only be 3? I'd been working way too hard through really strong contractions. I couldn't only be 3. I'd never survive to 10. Jessica later told me that I was barely a 3 and not super thin either and that she was concerned that it was the castor oil bringing on really strong contractions that weren't doing much progress wise because my body wasn't ready.
Jessica rallied. She had me lay as much on my stomach as I could to hopefully encourage the baby to move down some, and she and her assistant massaged my legs and feet intensely. I was so terrified that my body was NOT doing what it was supposed to be doing. I felt like I was in transition, but I was 3cm. I couldn't even breathe or vocalize all the way through contractions, half way through my sounds just turned into cries and whimpers. I felt so isolated, like only I knew that I really truly couldn’t do this, that my body was completely failing. It's one thing to be in transition. It's another to feel like you're in transition but know you're only 3cm and have a long road ahead. I begged to go to the hospital. This wasn't working. Everything had been wrong at this point - my water breaking, the antibiotics, our trip to the hospital that morning, the castor oil. Nothing was going right. My body was failing me.
Jessica suggested they fill the tub to let me get in to rest. If it slowed contractions, I could at least get some rest between them. Chris filled the tub and worked to get the temperature right. I just lay there wanting to die, moaning like I was dying, willing them to finish sooner.
Finally, the tub was ready. I went to the bathroom first and felt some pressure, but I knew I couldn’t be pushy at 3cm. I got into the tub, and it was so hot. The whole room was hot from the tub. I begged for cold towels which they brought. The water and positioning change was welcome, but the heat was awful. On my second or third contraction in the tub, my body pushed. I couldn't help it. It pushed. My midwife heard that pushing vocalization and said with what I am told was a great look on her face, "what was that?" I said I pushed, my body is pushing. She went ahead and checked me. I was on my hands and knees leaning over the tub. She said I did make a lot of progress, that I was maybe 6cm, but it was hard to tell because that position can be deceiving making it seem like you’re farther along.
They realized that regardless of exactly where I was, I was moving along quicker than they thought. They turned the lights on and began to get some of the actual birth supplies ready. On my next contraction I pushed again... I couldn't help it. I was scared because with my last birth I had pushed before I was completely dilated and it had caused some swelling that made it difficult for me to fully dilate. But I couldn't stop. The next contraction my body pushed hard. I felt the head come out and in my next breath of the same contraction the rest of the baby slid out. I reached down to see my baby on the floor of the pool. Chris noticed about the same time I went to reach down, and we reached down and picked the baby out of the water. Everyone else who was getting birth supplies ready looked over and wondered where the baby came from. It was 12:50pm, just 1 hour and 20 minutes after I had been barely 3cm.
(I love this picture of Jessica snapping on her gloves and running over… cracks me up!)
I was so out of it. I was so glad it was done and was looking at this baby in my arms. I looked between the legs and saw that it was a boy. In my exhaustion, I so clearly thought to myself, "really a boy? after all that, you couldn't have been a girl?" It makes me laugh now! I said all along I only make boys. He was perfectly pink and let out a cry but then just kind of hung out. His cord was super short so I could barely pick him up above the water, and I couldn't bring him to my chest. We just stood there kind of frozen in time with this baby. I looked up and saw my sister at the door of my room (who unbeknownst to me had just gotten to my house from her home a few hours, came upstairs, heard me push and then a baby cry a second later, talk about timing) and I said "the kids!" She ran down the hall to get my mom who had missed it all and woke up the boys to bring them in. They were so so sleepy so they kind of looked and then wanted to go back to bed. Elijah didn't even remember being woken up in the morning.
Jessica and Leslie helped me out of the pool since his cord was so short and they laid him at my waist as I lay on the bed. his cord wouldn't go any further. I felt really nauseous and out of it. They offered to cut his cord to bring him up to my chest but it was still pulsing and I was too spaced out to be able to hold him anyway so I said to wait. After a little while, his cord stopped pulsing, and Chris cut it. They wrapped him up and I had Chris take him as I felt like I was going to puke. Eventually I snapped out of it after some food, electrolytes and time. I nursed him before his newborn exam. He was 7lbs 11oz and 20.5 inches long. I got a few stitches and took a shower. Everything else got cleaned up and somewhere around 4:30am, we were all snuggled up with our at that time still unnamed baby boy to get a little sleep before morning.
Around 6am, the big brothers woke up one at a time to come in and see mom, dad, and baby. They were in love from the moment they saw him, and they haven't stopped loving him since! We named him that morning because Chris had to publish the church newsletter and needed his name to put in it – the pressure! The boys baked him a cake, and we brought out the birthday banner that we use for every family member. Happy Birthday Oliver James!!!
The birth wasn't anything I could have expected. My affirmation that I repeated to myself over and over the night before when my water broke of "I'm ready for whatever birth you need" was exactly what I would need. Between all the bumps before labor actually started and then the confusion of being in transition at 3cm but not realizing it, it took me weeks to process it. It was a wonderful birth and things went smoothly, but I really had to acknowledge how hard it was, how alone and devastated I felt when I thought my body was failing me, when I felt like I was a failure for not being able to do it right. In the end, I was in transition. I truly did know I couldn't do it for hours more because I couldn't have... my body only needed to do it for an hour more. My body knew way more than we did, but the emotions stuck around long after I suddenly and surprisingly had a baby in my arms.
Many thanks to Maegan Dougherty for her beautiful photography. So many people have asked if it was odd to have someone that I had talked to but never met at the birth, but she was amazing. First of all, she is a woman I’d be glad to call a friend and I was honestly frustrated during labor that I couldn’t just hang out and talk to her! Second of all, she is a beautiful presence to add to any birth environment. She disappeared into the background at times and was a supportive presence at others.
Also thank you to my beautiful midwife, Jessica. Again, another woman I’d be glad to call a friend. She is full of empathy and wisdom far beyond her years, in addition to being a skilled and professional practitioner. She was a true partner in my maternity care, empowering and supporting me from our very first meeting.
I love the rise of sharing peaceful birth stories, stunning pictures, and strong birth videos. It is often recommended that as you prepare a natural birth, you surround yourself with these as inspiration. It is powerful to see over and over again that birth is normal and women are strong. At the same time, it can be easy to set yourself up with expectations of how birth should look. There is no right or wrong way to birth. After my first natural birth, I apologized to everyone in the room repeatedly immediately following the birth. I felt like I had done it wrong. I had felt like I was failing. Transition hit, and I wanted to die. It was hard to shake that feeling. I didn’t have some beautiful ecstatic grin on my face as I met my baby. I was in shock. The same thing happened this time even with an entirely different set of circumstances. I love birth stories and birth photography as a way to chronicle our unique journeys, show the beauty of all birth in its raw power, and to own our stories and experiences, but I am also reminded of the danger of comparison and the contrast of other people’s highlight reels with our real life. I know my experience speaks to my personal gremlins of not good enough, but I also know I’m not the only one so I wanted to share all of my story, the birth in all its chaos and beauty and my honest processing of it.