Our Birth Story.
I’m a doula. From the moment we found out we were pregnant, I had a lot of ideas of what I wanted our labor and birth to look like. I didn’t want to focus too much on the expected due date and I didn’t want to have too many “plans” for laboring. Carol and Shar were perfect guides on this journey and gateway to a new chapter of life. They were constantly reminding us to hold our desires and fears, embrace them and then let them go. By the end of our pregnancy I think I did fairly well at this practice of holding expectations loosely, to the point where I had no real plan or very strong preference of how or where in our apartment I would birth our baby. I knew I may want to be in the birth pool(how beautiful that would look), or maybe I’ll be on the couch leaning over the back on all fours, maybe, I thought, I’ll be exhausted and just on my side in bed. I was not afraid of transferring to a hospital, because of my very strong friend who had transferred to a hospital from her home birth and every one was ok in the end, and she said she’d do it all again just to have the time she had to labor at home.
It’s hard to say when my labor actually began. The night of my expected due date I woke up around midnight from a scary dream that I was laboring in bed and the sheets, in my dream, were covered in blood. In reality, there wasn’t blood everywhere, thank God, but I noticed some uncomfortableness that felt like period cramping. I woke up again around 4 am and noticed I felt cramps every 20 minutes. Around 6 am I whispered to Steven, “I think we’re gonna have a baby today!” After that shared excitement the cramps started to slowly disappear. By 9:30 am things had pretty much stopped. I texted Shar to give her an update and she assured me that “one of these mornings, the contractions won’t stop.” So true. I knew it could still be days before I go into active labor if not longer. Steven, my mom (a former L&D and peds nurse), and I spent that day eating damn good food, working on a puzzle of cats, watching movies and a nice walk through Washington Square Park.
It happened again the next morning, I woke up with contractions every 7-8 min, but they subsided again by 9 am. Honestly, I was feeling disappointed, I had gotten so excited after nine months of waiting and this final period of anticipation – I was so ready for this to happen! Being a doula myself I had tried so hard to ignore my expected due date and stay distracted. I also knew that my brothers and I had all arrived within a day of our expected due dates, so I couldn’t help but be a little expectant. So on this day, 2 days after my EDD, I decided that day we would go to a pool. There aren’t many outdoor public pools in New York City that I knew of, so we spent an hour in the morning researching hotels and private pools. Alas, we found one in Williamsburg and it would be our escape for the day. Steven thought it was going to be a disaster – we had to find my mom a swimsuit and try to get there before the seats were sold out. It ended up being just what we all needed, though. Water and sun are my happy place. I’m a pisces and so is my baby. Oh my God, how good it felt stepping into the pool and feeling the weight of my belly lifted. I am totally joining a gym with a pool when we get pregnant again. I was nervous every time I got out of the pool, because I thought the pressure of the baby was going to make my water break and I could just imagine the strange looks we would get if my fluids started to puddle around my feet. Thankfully my water didn’t break, but I did start to feel contractions again. They weren’t very consistent and they were only every 20 minutes apart when they did come, but they were stronger than the ones I’d experienced in the early mornings and we decided to head home.
I got home and took a shower and then around 4 o’clock the contractions started coming consistently every 7 to 8 minutes and I was starting to feel them more in my back. My dear friend(L&D nurse and doula), Kristen, from Atlanta called to check in on me and decided it was time for her to catch a plane our way. She said a quick prayer and headed off to the airport. Since it was still early and I expected a long night, I tried to take a nap on my side, but that made the contractions twice as painful so I tried leaning over a heap of pillows and couldn’t manage to fall asleep.
So, we decided that maybe we should order an early supper because we didn’t know how long it would be until our next meal. At this point, the only thing that sounded appetizing was broth or chicken noodle soup, so Steven warmed up some Campbells in the microwave. But by the time it was ready I had already lost my appetite and was feeling a little nauseous. This was probably around 5:30 pm. Since I never had my soup, the only thing I ate in labor was a pack of Haribo mini gummy bears I found on Steven’s nightstand 🙂 My mom asked if they should set up the birth pool and I said no, don’t bother. At that point it felt like it would be more of a hassle than anything else.
My contractions continued to intensify and became closer and closer together. My husband was there for every contraction to apply counterpressure to my sacrum. I remember practicing these in our childbirth ed class, thinking they weren’t much help, I wanted the double hip squeeze. In labor, however, the double hip squeeze felt painful to me and the sacral pressure was heavenly – reminder, hold expectations loosley. For a majority of the labor I sat on the birth ball at the end of our dining table as my mom and Steven worked on the cat puzzle in front of me, pausing to tend to me during each contraction. I did not plan on laboring in front of a cat puzzle, but it was perfectly us.
Contractions got closer and closer. By 7 PM they were about every three minutes apart. We told our doula that we would probably need her in about an hour to an hour and a half. Looking back now, I know I was totally in denial about how fast things were moving. I didn’t want to jump the gun and have everyone there early just waiting around. But by 7:15 PM my mom put her foot down and said it was time to get the team together and moving. So, around 7:45 Erica, our doula, arrived and she got herself comfortable behind me on the birth ball and started doing the sacral pressure during each contraction, she reminded me to breathe and to relax. I vaguely remember Shar and Gwen, our photographer, arriving, but I know it was shortly after Erica. At some point, maybe around 8:10 Erica asked me if I’d gone to the bathroom in a while and I moved onto the toilet.
This is when things got really exciting. I wanted to leave the bathroom door open, I wanted the team to be a part of it all. As I relaxed my pelvic floor to go to the bathroom, my water broke. It came out something between a trickle and a gush, but I definitely called out, “I think my water just broke!” The next contraction felt different. Shar asked how I felt about doing a cervical check at this point. I think I asked if I would have to move to the bed, and she said no, I could stay right where I was. I have to say this is another reason I’m so glad we did a home birth. I cannot imagine a woman in a hospital getting a vaginal exam on a toilet. And I can’t imagine how painful it must be to labor on your back. Thank God for Shar and Carol.
Boy does Shar have a poker face. I was so nervous because I knew finding out my cervical dilation would either be really encouraging or really deflating. This was my first check of the entire pregnancy. I remember thinking I can only do this for a few more hours, I can’t do this for much longer. As Shar pulled away, super calm, she said she thought she only felt a little cervix and I’m there. She asked Erica to run and get the birth stool from her car. That was amazing news, but I suddenly felt scared. I couldn’t believe I was here and how fast everything was going. I thought there would be more time to mentally transition. I expected this labor to last 20 hours. I expected that it would be midnight or the next day before I would see my baby, but the time was now and it was happening. Hold your expectations loosely.
At that point I think my mom said something about me not having the baby on the toilet. She did not want my baby to be born in the toilet.
Contractions started to feel different and I knew I was feeling the urge to push. Where did I want to push? As close to where I was as possible. So, Shar assembled the birth stool right in front of the bathroom. Before I knew it, I was pushing. With each contraction there was an undeniable urge to push. One of my clients in the past had described it as vomiting in reverse, and that was so true for me. I think in total I only pushed for four contractions. Shar asked me if I wanted to feel the baby’s head and if I wanted to see it with a mirror, I said no at first just because I really couldn’t think about it and then I said yes. I have a hard time actually remember feeling her head and or seeing it in the mirror, but I know I did because there’s pictures of it! Before my very last contraction, I must’ve known it was coming, I looked up and said “Will someone record this?” And with that last push Josephine Kate was born.
It was painful and scary. I imagined I would cry “my baby, my baby, my beautiful baby!” But I remember thinking “that was not empowering”. I think I still felt scared because it was moving so fast. All of the sudden it was time. I literally felt captive to my body. I had to obey the urges of my body which were painful, but also pleasing. I literally could not resist. I was in total shock. This beautiful baby came out, crying. I’m a mother. Suddenly, I’m the one who will answer to these cries. I have been a baby my whole life, until this moment. I am a mother. This is my baby.
Shar was concerned with my bleeding and gave me a shot of pitocin to help with the bleeding and placenta. We sat there for about 4 minutes before my mom asked “Well what is it?!” Steven and I both had handfuls of dreams about a baby boy, his name was Mip, he had bunion on his left big toe that matched his dad’s, and he could even whisper the words to the song his dad had sung him in utero. For 4 minutes you were just a baby, Josie. Beautiful turning pink with blood, squishy and wet and squirmy. We instantly loved you. Nothing else in the world matters when you hold your baby for the first time. We didn’t need to know anything more than what we saw and held in our arms. “It’s a girl!” We couldn’t believe it then and we can’t imagine it any other way now.
I delivered my placenta on the floor and then my team helped me walk to our bedroom where our bed was covered with shower curtains and chucks pads. There, Shar sutured up my 2nd degree tear while Steven and my mom took turns holding Josie. The next few hrs of magic flew by. While I held, studied, and fed my baby – our amazing team cleaned up the blood and mess. They fed me and watered me. We watched as Shar measured and weighed our baby girl. We admired my placenta as Shar gave us a tour of Josie’s now vacant home. Josie was so alert and present. She was sticking her hands in her mouth and sucking as soon as I held her against my breast, trying to figure out what felt right.
In all, I think my labor lasted about 5 hours. Kristen’s prayer for a quick labor was more powerful than she intended, and Josie arrived while Kristen was in the air. I progressed faster than I was letting on, so the midwife assistant didn’t make it in time for Josie’s birth either. Both of my brothers called randomly while I was in labor, and aside from that we didn’t notify any other family. I believe the more people know, the more pressure there is to perform/progress. Now that I think about it, I did tell my mom she could tell people if she wanted, but I didn’t want to know.
We went to bed that night Steven, Josie and I, all in the same bed. She made so many funny grunts and sounds. This was the beginning. For a week she would be called Baby D until her name was finally decided. A first and middle name that were not on our list that we’d work on for months, but special names that honored my mom, my grandma, and great grandma.
As a doula, every birth is a learning experience, as no two births are same. So, what did I learn from my birth? Hold expectations loosely, embrace the unknown and follow your body.
Steven and I are so thankful for our midwives who gave us freedom to make decisions and encouraged and enabled us to have the labor and birth experience we desired. For our family who was present physically and spiritually, who supported us even though they may not have agreed with us. Our friends who were and are our doulas in many different ways. I’m also thankful to the friends and families who’ve invited me to witness their labors and births, they gave me confidence and courage to have a home birth knowing it would not be easy. After having my own baby, I’m even more in awe and admiration of you.