Photo by Andrea Pesce Photography
If you read the official laws of the Interwebs, you'll know that if you are a blogger of any sort, and have a baby, you are thus required to document your birth story for the rest of the world to enjoy and/or read in horror. Well, there's no horror story here, so no worries there! But there are definitely gaps because my brain was a little distracted and also I'm convinced part of the miracle of childbirth is that your brain blocks as much of it from your memory as possible so that you'll be more inclined to go through it all again for subsequent babies!
Wednesday, May 25, I woke up at about 6am feeling my first contractions. They were coming about 7 minutes apart. I know this because I downloaded a fancy contraction timing app for my phone and continued to obsessively start/stop the timer pretty much ALL DAY like any sane first time parent would. By 8:00, we decided to call Corina, our amaaaazing midwife, to let her know what was going on. She picked up the phone and said "Erik, are you fucking with me!?" (see, this is how you know that Corina knows us way too well). We were NOT and Corina told us to chill and that she'd check in with us throughout the day.
So we followed her advice and took walks around the neighborhood. I walked up and down the stairs in our house. Honestly, I was trying to hurry things along (ha!) because this was not an ideal day for Willow to arrive. Corina, who has been with us from the start, had told us a couple of days beforehand that she'd made the difficult decision to fly to California that week to visit her dying grandmother one last time to say goodbye. She was so sweet when she told us, crying at the idea of possibly missing Willow's birth, and we knew how hard it must have been for her to make that decision. I think it was absolutely the right choice for her, even though it did mean she wound up missing Willow's arrival. But she was there for the start, and I was convinced Willow would come before Corina had to leave early Thursday morning. See, my mom had told me that her births of me and my siblings were 1 hour, 3 hours, and 2 hours long. So I was pretty determined that I was going to be just as speedy! I was wrong! And apparently my mom's timing of her births is vastly different from what I'd imagined anyway, so I really have no idea how long her births were.
This story is going to take forever at this pace. I'm sorry. But you know, you don't have to read it. If you're still with me, carry on.
Fast forward to 7:00 that night. Erik and I ate dinner, called my mom (who nearly died of excitement from the phone call alone) so that someone was taking care of Lily, and headed to the birth center for Corina to do a check to see how things were progressing. At that point she said I was 3cm dilated and that Willow was very, very low. This all sounded encouraging to me, but Corina said we could go home to wait or hang out at the birth center... she didn't see Willow coming any time soon. Apparently, first timers especially tend to birth slowly. Boo.
We chose to stay at the birth center. We were all packed up and the car ride there hadn't been enormously fun the first time, so I figured it would only get worse if we left. I think under normal circumstances, we wouldn't have been given that choice and would just be told to leave, but I think Corina wanted some time supporting us before she had to catch her flight. So really, we just hung out for a few hours. Contractions came and they were mildly painful but nothing awful. Corina kept telling me I was too calm for this to be happening soon, and she was very right.
Time's going to get shady now because I refused to look at clocks or phones when things started getting more painful. But Ke'Andre, Corina's student midwife, arrived. I was really thankful she was there. She'd been at almost every one of our prenatal appointments, so with Corina gone it was nice to have her there. And she may consider herself a student (which she is, technically), but we thought she was amazing and super knowledgeable. The birth center also provided us with a doula at no extra cost, which is kind of nuts. Ours was Shannon. Corina and Ke'Andre chose her for us, thinking our personalities would mesh really well and they were SO right. Erik and I both adored Shannon. If you don't know what a doula is, think "ultimate labor support system." For me and for Erik. Shannon also happened to be a massage therapist, so she knew lots of pressure points and ways to ease my pain. She helped Erik help me. I know I'm not even aware of half the things she was doing for me, but even just what I WAS aware of was so impressive to me. She could grab my hips in such a way that contractions felt half as painful as they'd been. It was amazing. She even cleared Erik's sinuses for him in about 30 seconds when he mentioned having sinus trouble lately. What a magical woman.
Corina had to leave in the middle of the night, but she had a replacement midwife arrive a couple of hours before she had to go, to transition us to her. Adrianna was just the calming force I needed if I couldn't have Corina. She offered to check me around 3am that night to see how things were progressing, but I declined since at this point it was clear Willow wasn't arriving urgently and I didn't want to be discouraged. Everyone told Erik and I to rest as much as possible, so we attempted to get some sleep and I think everyone else did the same.
I hardly have any memory of this. I assume I dozed a little, but when I was awake I remember laying there missing Shannon pretty badly haha, that's how much she was helping me! But everyone needed their rest... the hard part hadn't even started yet. Erik says this is when "active labor" started and everyone could tell I was in a lot more pain than I had been before. It was early Thursday morning at this point and Adrianna offered to check me again. At this point I was 5cm. So I'd only progressed 2cm in about 12 hours! This was the first time I got really upset. I'd been 24 hours with hardly any sleep at this point, so things were catching up to me and that just sounded like no progression at all. I was really disappointed.
So for hours, I walked around as much as possible. I went into the tub, out of the tub. I did squats in the tub, holding a bar on the wall. Guys, I even did a headstand at one point, no joke. Willow's neck turned at one point so that she wasn't aligned right any more and we needed to straighten her out. Adrianna told me there were a few things we could try, one of which was dramatic but effective. I was in "bring it" mode, and didn't see the point in fiddling with little steps if there was something more effective I could try first. So, with everyone's help, I got propped up with my knees on the top of a sofa and my forearms and head on the floor so that we could use gravity to help straighten little Will out. I had to hold that position for three contractions, and it was EXHAUSTING. I just closed my eyes and kept asking if I was done yet, which I wasn't haha, so I waited for what seemed like forever with my arms shaking until everyone helped me up again.
After this, I deserved a treat!, so hopped back in the water. One of the things that was driving me crazy throughout the entire labor were the dramatic shifts from freezing cold to burning up hot. I could be shivering violently, begging for blankets, and then as soon as they got me wrapped up was flinging them off because I was SO hot. Being in the water calmed all that down. I always felt more peaceful there, floating as much as possible and holding Erik's hands over the side of the tub. Everyone kept handing me things to nibble on or drink. Juice, snack bars, chocolate, fruit, water...
At this point, I think late morning? maybe lunch time-ish?, Ke'Andre asked everyone but me and Erik to leave the room so we could have a chat. Erik and I both panicked internally when she said this because we both thought she was going to say this was taking too long, or Willow hadn't straightened out, or some other sort of bad news that meant we needed to be transferred to a hospital. This wasn't the case at all. But she said we were both exhausted and that we needed to try to rest and regain some strength. She wanted us both to nap. I was 1. relieved I wasn't going to the hospital but 2. devastated that I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel yet. Taking a nap at this point felt like starting over. Surrendering and saying that it wasn't the time yet. But I WAS exhausted and trusted everyone there, so I sadly got out of the tub and into bed.
I was so exhausted that apparently I went right to sleep. My contractions slowed down to almost ten minutes apart because my body must have been preparing me and knowing I needed this energy. My memory from this part of the day is so blurry. But I know things were cranking up. I was lying in bed facing the wall and every ten minutes would wake up to an inteeeeense, back aching contraction. I remember yelling really loudly (which I never expected myself to want to do) and being alone, thinking that everyone had a lot of confidence that Willow wasn't coming anytime soon to let me moan and groan in there alone. Occasionally, I'd feel someone rubbing my back and my brain just assumed that that was Erik. Later, I learned that Shannon had gotten into bed behind me and was helping me through my contractions and I just had no idea haha.
I don't remember how long I napped. At least an hour, maybe two? But at some point, lying there on my side I had that infamous urge to push that baby out. I just started doing it and when someone (I can't even remember who) came in to check on me, I told her I was pushing and felt some leaking (we were about 38 hours in at this point, if you start from the first contractions I felt the previous day, and my water still hadn't broken... which is apparently very normal and sometimes women even birth their baby still in the amniotic sac! Google it! It's cool looking, and not as uncommon as you'd think according to our midwives!) so I think my water partially broke at that time.
Suddenly everyone was scurrying around, prepping things, running off to wake Erik. I was so distracted and so focused and nervous all at the same time. Erik arrived, literally red eyed from his abrupt wake up call. At one point, as I was walking in circles around the room, I remember someone telling me to smile because Willow was coming. I did NOT smile haha. I just rudely ignored everyone. Moments of distress tend to make me go inward... like my brain is curling up in fetal position telling everything else to go away and leave me alone. And that's definitely what I was doing as everyone tried to talk to me and be encouraging.
The hardcore pushing started. They had me stand for a moment, but my legs were too exhausted to even hold me up, so I wound up sitting on the birthing stool instead (see the little purple seat in the photos). As Willow's head came out (ow, that ring of fire thing that women describe is no joke), everyone told me she was here, reach down and feel her! But I was too in my head, too focused on what I was doing to even do that. I knew they wanted to motivate me to get her out, but it was like I was on autopilot and while I heard them, I couldn't respond. I was just ready for this to be over.
Erik said this part lasted maybe thirty minutes, but even his sense of time could have been off at this point. I was closing my eyes a lot, but when I did look at Erik, he looked so terrified. He said later that it was just tearing him up to see me in so much pain.
And then Willow finally arrived! May 26 at 2:42pm. The final push, feeling her little limbs slide out was totally bizarre and I don't think I'll ever forget that weird sensation. They handed her to me almost immediately. She was covered in blood and gunk and felt so hot in my hands. I was still trying to absorb the fact that I was done, the baby was here, but I felt completely frozen. I remember wanting to turn her so I could see her face better (she was curled up against my chest) but I couldn't even move. I felt just about as spent as a person can possibly be. I looked to Erik beside me and he was crying (it's sweet, I had to share, don't hate me husband). He said later that he was happy Willow was here but mostly he was so relieved my pain was over. And it was probably a sprinkling of total exhaustion as well haha. But in that moment, seeing him so emotional made me feel cold and heartless, holding our baby and feeling like a zombie.
They handed Willow to Erik then and went to caring for me. I was still bleeding, so they told me I needed pitocin to calm it down. I kind of nodded okay while they lay me back into bed, cleaned me up, and did lots of other stuff I'm not aware of. Erik cut the cord after it stopped pulsing and the placenta slid out no problem. I heard laughs, because Willow had pooped alllllllllll over Erik as a real "welcome to fatherhood, dad!" greeting. I slowly felt myself coming back to life and suddenly being very hungry! Our sweet support team was on the case and Ke'Andre brought me Chicken Fiesta and it was pretty amazing. I'll never eat Chicken Fiesta without thinking of this day ever again haha.
Throughout these next few hours, I ate two plates of Chicken Fiesta(!) while everyone else was concerning themselves with my recovery. I had torn, but not horribly so. Adrianna said with the tear and my bleeding, she wanted to observe me carefully to make sure I didn't need to be transferred to the hospital. Erik kept advocating for me that I wouldn't want to go to the hospital if we could help it. And I didn't, mostly because I was just so exhausted and the idea of going somewhere and starting another process sounded awful. But Willow was here and healthy and she was the #1 reason I was avoiding the hospital, so I would have done anything they'd recommended. That's the thing about working with people you know and trust, you don't feel the need to question their decisions when it comes down to it.
Adrianna tried to give me a catheter around this time, but there were too many blood clots to insert it properly? I'm not sure exactly what went on. Honestly, the catheter was sooo painful I wasn't listening to what anyone was saying. I was begging them to take it out long after they already had, which confused everyone I think until they realized I thought it was still in there it had hurt so badly. SO... consequently, I was very eager to prove that I could pee all by myself and got out of bed shortly after to prove it.
I think this was encouraging for everyone... and instead of going to the hospital, we stayed at the birth center that night. Ke'Andre and Adrianna checked on us throughout the night, but let us sleep. Willow, the most perfect baby ever, basically slept all night, never crying, and only needing a feeding or two. She knew we were wiped! And the three of us slept in the bed together all night.
By the next morning, everyone was satisfied. Ke'Andre demanded that I eat a good breakfast before we went, so we ordered some IHOP pancakes and as usual, everyone was too sweet to let Erik even drive over to get it himself. We ate, and at long last, the three of us went home!
Corina had asked us in the weeks prior, what our birth plan was. What did we want and expect? And we kept telling her we didn't want to expect anything. I didn't want to be disappointed or tied to some expectation. I did want a water birth and I didn't want people cheerleading me the whole time. That was about all I knew. And it turned out that we didn't have a water birth and I am still a little disappointed in that, but at the time we were all so ready for Willow to come it didn't seem to matter how she got there. I just wonder now, would it have been more peaceful in the water? Would my recovery have been easier? Maybe, but at the same time... and I know every mom says this and you get tired of reading birth stories that end this way (at least I did!)... she's here, she's healthy, I'm healthy, and that's all that matters now.
I started typing more here, about getting home and postpartum recovery, etc. But this is already the longest blog post I've probably ever written and it's taken me three days to spit it out during baby naps... so I think I will save the rest for later! I also want to write a little more about the birth center and choosing midwives > doctors. I know a lot of people are curious about that and I have lots to share!
If you actually read all this, kudos to you! You must really love birth stories! ;)
Here are some parting baby pictures to reward you for your diligence!
Can't wait to hold that last one over her head one day! ;)