*Disclaimer: The following is the story of my son’s birth. It includes pretty much every detail from the day I went into labor through his first day of life. It’s an 8 page word document. Just thought I should warn people ahead of time.
The activities of the Day or Pre-labor
Friday, September 25th, I woke up around sunrise with some contractions. They weren’t consistent and they weren’t all that intense, but they did feel a little bit different then the one’s I had been having before. After having days of off and on Braxton Hicks contractions though I had really reached a place where I didn’t want to start thinking that this was it. So, I lay there for a bit, thinking and praying and trying to get back to sleep. I do remember thinking as I watched the sunrise “He’s a sunrise baby, I think he’s going to be born at sunrise.” I dismissed the thought – hoping that he wouldn’t be born at sunrise because I knew that meant laboring through the night which I really didn’t want.
After a while I decided sleep wasn’t going to happen anymore and got up. I had some pregnancy tea and worked on a quilt I was making for the baby. Bryan got up about the time I finished the quilt and we made some French toast together for breakfast. After breakfast we both cleaned the house and then headed over to my parents office to pick up my mom and two of my sisters kids (Faithlynn and Landen). After picking them up we went to the mall. We had some lunch at Paradise Bakery and then walked around the mall for a while because my mom was convinced walking the mall would bring on labor. I did have a few minor contractions while we walked, but nothing much. Mostly I just felt really tired. While my mom and I walked the mall with the kids and let them play in the play area for a bit Bryan got his hair cut. After his hair cut was finished he took Landen to the pet store and my mom and I took Faithy with us underwear shopping. Bryan and Landon spent most of the time looking in the front window at this little doggy that Landen called “his doggy” and didn’t want anyone else to look at.
After we left the mall we made a few other quick stops and then took the kids to the library. We had a lot of fun playing with them in the kid area at the library and reading some books together. After the library my mom left and Bryan and I took the kids back to their house to play for a little bit until their parents got home.
By the time we got back to my sister’s house with the kids it was about 5:00pm. We pulled out a bag of Linkin’ Logs and played with those for a while. But, I soon started having what seemed to be consistent contractions and they were getting more and more painful. Because we were playing with the kids we didn’t time them, but by about 5:30pm it was to the point where I would have to stop playing and focus on the contraction to get through it. The kids started asking what was wrong with me, so I started leaving the room whenever a contraction came on and just walking around the house a bit.
My sister and her husband got home around 6pm and brought us dinner from Wildflower Bakery (potato soup for me and a roast beef sandwich for Bryan). They could tell I was really uncomfortable by that point so we all decided it would be better if Bryan and I took our dinner back to our apartment and ate there. We left a little after 6pm and the contractions were pretty intense then. We started to time a few in the car and found they were coming about every 6 minutes. We both really didn’t want to get our hopes up that this was it and also we were both very aware of the fact that he was still 2 weeks early and even though I was definitely ready to be done being pregnant ideally we both wanted him to stay in as long as possible. So, on the way home we stopped at Whole Foods and picked up some juice (in case I really was in labor) and some Guinness (our midwife had suggested a little wine or stout beer as a good way to calm down false labor and get to sleep).
We were determined to get in and out of Whole Foods before another contraction came on and we almost made it. We were just paying when the next contraction hit, I wiggled and squirmed a bit trying to deal with the pain without really letting on that I was in pain and just hoped that we could get out of there fast. The cashier was too nice though; she started asking when I was due and other little questions. Honestly I was pretty annoyed at that point, but it was sort of fun that a few days after the birth we went back in there and the same cashier was there and saw the baby and we were able to tell her that he was born the night we had last seen her. Bryan and I also thought looking back on it that it was sort of fun that I labored a little bit in Whole Foods, since that is also where he purposed to me.
Anyway, after Whole Foods we went home and I ate my soup between contractions. We also called the midwife and let her know what was going on. At this point we still hadn’t really been timing the contractions very consistently because we’d been with the kids and then in Whole Foods and also I think we were both trying to prepare ourselves for it to just be false labor so we were trying to down play the whole thing.
After calling the midwife I got in the bath. I couldn’t talk through contractions anymore and I think by this point I knew that this was it and I was in labor, but I still didn’t want to admit it. The bath helped a lot and I stayed in there for a long time. I was incessantly thirsty and pretty much drank all the water and juice we had in the house. After a while in the bath we decided we better call my parents and let them know what was going on since we were planning on having the birth at their house (in their bed room) and didn’t want them to go to bed without knowing things were happening.
By now I couldn’t stand through contractions – each time a contraction hit I felt this uncontrollable urge to be as close to the floor as possible. I think I needed to feel grounded and stable at a time when the pain left me feeling out of control. I found a sort of half squat, half kneeling position (a sort of cross between child’s pose and cat/cow) to be the most helpful and would sink into that every time a contraction hit.
Around 10:30pm we decided it would be better to move up to my parents house so that “if it was really labor” we didn’t end up having to transfer later on when I was in even more pain. It was a difficult decision actually because neither of us wanted to displace my parents from their room if it wasn’t really it and at this point we were both still telling ourselves that it wasn’t it or that if it was it we still had a long way to go. In the end I’m so glad that we decided to move up to my parents when we did – as it was the car ride was incredibly uncomfortable with contractions coming around every 4 to 5 minutes at that point.
At my parents house
When we got to my parents I walked in the door and didn’t make it more than a few feet before I was on the floor with another contraction. My parents came in and my mom took one look at me and knew this was it and that I was really in labor. Before I knew it we were settled in their bedroom. We both felt that it would be best to try and sleep since it was really late by now and we figured it would still be a long time before the baby was actually born and we would need all the rest we could get. I was too uncomfortable to sleep in the bed, so Bryan and I both curled up in my dad’s big leather chair and tried to sleep. The contractions were still really intense and really close together, with less and less time in between. I was starting to feel exhausted. We put on Sigur Ros’s album, (), and tried to relax. Eventually I was dosing off in between contractions. It was such a strange feeling to be sort of out of it asleep and then feel this rush of intensity and pain come on that woke me wide awake and when it was over slump back almost right away into dozy sleep again.
By about midnight we called my midwife, Shell, again and told her to come. At this point I was no longer really able to sleep between contractions and things were getting more intense. Bryan drew me a bath and I got in the tub again finding the water to be a great comfort. Even in the tub I found that the only position that I really wanted to be in during the contractions was a sort of wide legged kneeling position. By this point I was feeling a lot of pressure in my back and on my lower sacrum during contractions, and found that the only way to really manage that pain was to have Bryan push down really hard on my sacrum/tailbone. Between contractions I tried to relax or do things that would help open my hips, like squatting.
Shell got there with her assistant, Tracy, and her daughter, Fiona, around 1am I think and by that point I was really so glad to see her. They started setting things up and Shell walked me through a contraction. She put her hand on my stomach and told me to push my stomach into her hand during the contraction to take some of the pressure off – it was amazing to me how much that helped. It really helped me to focus and did take some of the pressure off. I continued to try to push my stomach out during contractions after that – although I did find it easier to do when her hand was there to push into.
Shell then had me get out of the tub so that she could do an internal exam and see where I was at. This was probably the most encouraging part of my labor because by this first internal exam I was fully effaced and dilated 5cm. When I heard that I was so surprised. I think both Bryan and I were sort of in shock and I think it was the first time we really realized that yes, this was it and that we were already half way there and we would have a baby within a few hours. Shell also told us that the baby was still a little bit posterior (not facing the ideal way for birth) and she did an internal adjustment to turn the baby. This worked well and the baby turned for us.
After that I got back in the tub and things started moving even more quickly – or at least it felt like that to me. Shell, Tracy and Fiona stayed in the background mostly and allowed Bryan and I to do what we needed to do to work through each contraction and just be together during the amazing and overwhelming ordeal we were going through. But they all stayed close at hand in case we needed anything, occasionally offering me something to drink or eat and just being available for any need we had.
At one point I felt really nauseous. Shell grabbed a towel for me just in time and I threw up. Then Shell had some cinnamon brought in for Bryan and I and told us to smell it occasionally. The cinnamon smelled so amazing and really helped me to overcome the nausea. I felt much better after that. Bryan also said that smelling the cinnamon really help him to feel rejuvenated and helped him to focus throughout the rest of the birth.
After that the contractions sort of blur together. I continued to do the things that had been working for me before – kneeling, having Bryan push on my lower back, pushing out my stomach, oh, and making plenty of moaning and groaning noises. I was surprised how much I really did vocalize during each contraction and how much it helped me. Well, most of the time it helped, there were a few times where I sort of lost it and then my vocalizing took on a different characteristic and didn’t help as much.
There are two contractions that I do particularly remember. One happened the one time Bryan left me. He had to go to the bathroom so he waited till I had just finished a contraction, asked my permission and then went. Before he got back another contraction came on. This one was really strong and I felt really lost without Bryan there to help me through it. Tracy came over and pushed on my back and worked me through the contraction, and she was awesome, but I really just wanted Bryan and was so relieved when he came back.
I also remember another contraction where it was really intense and I sort of lost it. For a second I felt like I couldn’t really keep going and deal with it all anymore. I called for Shell and she came and talked me through the contraction. I can’t remember all of what she said; mostly she just held me and said encouraging things. I do remember one thing she said though during that contraction and it really helped me a lot through the following contractions. She told me to visualize with each contraction the baby coming down and my cervix going up. I think at this point when the contractions were so intense I felt a little lost and had a hard time remembering what I was working towards. Visualizing the baby going down further and further and my cervix going up over the baby’s head really helped me to make the labor and contractions feel more tangible and less abstract and surreal. After that contraction Shell sat back and talked me through relaxing and breathing in between that contraction and the next one, which was also really helpful. After that things blur together again with Bryan helping me through contractions.
The Pushing Phase
Eventually I felt a lot of pressure and felt the urge to push. I remember saying “I want to push” and Shell telling me to go ahead and push then, but after that I felt like I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t really feel like being in the tub anymore, but it had been working so well for me that I think I felt a little scared to get out. Shell said later that I looked a bit like a lost deer, looking from side to side, trying to find a safe place and not really knowing where to go. At this point Shell said “you want to get out of the tub” and that was like a breath of fresh air to me. For some reason her saying that just made me feel like I had the strength and ability to get out of the tub and follow the instincts to be on the floor. Shell and Bryan said I basically jumped out of the tub quicker than they thought possible.
After that I tried pushing, but not much was happening. I tried squatting, which was always very comfortable for me throughout my pregnancy, but the contractions felt really intense while squatting and I ended up moving quickly onto my hands and knees.
Pushing was really different then I had expected. I thought I would just know how to push, but for the first contraction or two I was definitely not pushing right. I can’t really explain what I was doing wrong, but my pushes had no force. Shell started to tell me over and over to take my vocalization inward and honestly I couldn’t really understand what she meant at first. Basically I was still moaning and groaning through the contractions while I pushed because I was trying to deal with the pain. Looking back I realize that I was trying to avoid the pain, and find relief from the pain, while what I really needed to do at this point was embrace the pain and use the pain to channel more energy and power into my pushing.
It wasn’t long before Shell suggested that I put my finger up my vagina and feel the baby’s head while I pushed. This made such a huge difference for me. Suddenly I could feel tangibly how ineffective my pushing was and could also feel what an effective push felt like. In what seemed like a very short time I felt the baby’s head move down until it was right on my tailbone and almost to my perineum. It was so encouraging to feel that movement, but then once the contraction stopped and I stopped pushing the baby’s head retracted back up again. I had read that this was common, but when I felt it happen I still felt discouraged.
I think it was about this point that Shell realized my tailbone was curved in and wasn’t moving out of the way like it should. She reached her hand up there and put her fingers on my pelvis on either side of my tailbone and pulled up hard during the next contraction while I pushed. While she did that she had Bryan and Tracy push hard on either side of my pelvis. It was incredibly uncomfortable and painful to have her pulling up on my tailbone like that, but the support from Bryan and Tracy really helped and I pushed hard and we were able to get his head past my tailbone. Once we got his head past my tailbone I felt this immense burning sensation on my perineum.
I think it was about then that I had a long break between contractions – I knew I should work with the contractions and wait to push until the next one, but it felt like forever before the next one and I just wanted to get the baby out at this point. I really have no idea how many pushes things took or how long the pushing phase was (although Shell later told me the whole pushing phase was only about 15 minutes) or how long it really was between contractions – time seemed especially different during this phase of labor.
I remember Shell multiple times during the pushing phase telling me not to be afraid and I am so glad that she kept up this mantra for me. I didn’t really realize how scared I was until she said that for the first time. I hadn’t expected to feel scared during the pushing phase, in fact I’d expected that it would be far better than the contractions, because by the pushing phase you know you are almost done and will soon have a baby. But, maybe that’s exactly what I was afraid of that I would soon have a baby and that seemed scary and foreign to me in that moment. I was also really scared of tearing and I think for a while that kept me from putting all of my effort into pushing, because I didn’t want to push so hard that I tore.
Eventually I heard Bryan and Shell say that his head was out. Honestly, I didn’t really believe them. I was still on my hands and knees and so I couldn’t really see him, and I was still in so much pain and felt so much pressure on my perineum that all I could focus on was pushing. I remember thinking, “They must just mean that his head is out past my tailbone and that he’s close to being out.” So, then I really pushed hard. I have no idea if I was having a contraction or not, all I could focus on was the pain on my tailbone and perineum and all I could think about was getting it over with. I pushed really hard knowing he was close to being out and just wanting him out.
Immediately After Birth
Then I felt the relief. The pain and pressure were gone, I could hear my son crying and I knew it was over. Shell and Bryan passed my baby threw my legs and I sat back and lifted him up to my chest. I guess I did it a little fast, because Shell said “short cord, short cord” and I realized I must have pulled on the cord too much when I lifted him. I lowered him a little bit, but soon more of the cord came out and I was able to hold him up to me more.
I vaguely remember Shell asking me “are you in your body” and I remember being confused by that question and just saying “yes”. Looking back though the question makes a lot of sense and I don’t think I really was in my body – I think I was sort of in shock, honestly.
Things get a little hazy here – I remember Bryan cutting the cord once it had stopped pulsating, and I remember delivering the placenta and Shell showing it to us and telling us about it while she examined it, and I remember asking if I could breast feed and then feeding him for a short time. But, I have no idea what order those things happened in – they all sort of run together in my mind.
After that Shell asked if we could put some more upbeat music on. I hadn’t even realized until then that Sigur Ros had still been playing on repeat that whole time. We laughed about it a little and Tracy put on a play list I had made of songs I like. I remember the first song that played was Ben Kweller’s “Down”.
Shell then had me lay down with my head in Bryan’s lap and examined me and said that I needed a few stitches. The tears weren’t bad and she said some midwife’s wouldn’t even stitch them up, but she felt it was better to repair things as much as possible.
I gave the baby to Tracy and she weighted him and measured him right next to Bryan and I while Shell stitched me up. Thaddeus weighted 6 pounds 11 ounces and was 20.5 inches long. We were all surprised by how long he was and felt like 6 lbs. 11 oz. was a great weight for a baby two weeks early.
Fiona asked if she could make me something to eat and I requested French toast. After the stitches were done Tracy drew me a bath and I got in the tub to clean up. I held the baby in the tub and cleaned him up with a damp rag. We were both very messy of course and it felt good to get cleaned up a bit.
The only really scary part of the whole thing was when I was getting out of the tub. I gave the baby to Bryan, then stood up and felt really dizzy. Tracy could tell I wasn’t feeling all that strong and suggested that I sit back down. I remember sitting back down and then the next thing I remember Bryan was calling my name and Tracy was calling for Shell. Bryan said I was only out for a second, but it was a bit scary. Shell came in and she and Tracy helped me out of the tub and into my dad’s lounge chair in the bedroom. They got me something to drink and brought in the French toast and gave me the baby again. I hadn’t eaten in a while and had worked very hard during the labor so I felt a lot better after eating. The French toast tasted amazing and I felt very grateful that Fiona made it.
About then my parents came in to see the baby and I. They were so excited to see him and so surprised that I’d already had him. [side note: my parents experience in the morning was a little funny. They had gone to bed in the guest room thinking that I would probably be laboring for quite a long time. They were surprised when they came out to the kitchen in the morning and found Fiona, who they had never met, making French toast. She said that she was making it for me and my parents felt very confused and surprised that I would want French toast in the middle of labor. Fiona then told them that the baby had been born. They were both really surprised that it happened so quickly and that they hadn’t heard anything.] Bryan called his parents while my parents took some pictures. Then Shell took the baby and examined him and my sister, Brie, came in. After Shell was done and had declared him perfectly healthy Brie took the baby and put his first diaper on him.
The rest of the First Day
After that Shell, Tracy and Fiona left and my parents and sister went to breakfast. Bryan and I crawled into bed to try to rest. We were tired, but couldn’t really sleep. We spent a while just looking at the baby and spent a little while finalizing our decision about the name. When my parents came home from breakfast we told them that we had decided to name our son Thaddeus Raffi Stedman. My parents then left again for a while and Bryan and I put on some Friends and tried to just rest.
About this point I realized that I was bleeding a bit more then maybe I should and called Shell. She came back over and checked me out and said that even though it wasn’t really serious or worrisome yet my uterus wasn’t really contracting as well as she’d like to see. She gave me some herbs and watched me for a bit and then gave me a small shot of Pitocin. After the Pitocin I started having really intense contractions, which was exactly what we wanted, but really painful none the less. We put a hot rice pack on my stomach and Shell gave me some other herbs to help with the pain and stayed with me until the contractions died down a bit. Once everything was under control she showed me again how to massage my uterus to help it contract and then left.
The rest of the day feels like a blur – I nursed, dozed off a little bit, gazed at my son, talked with my husband, and watched some Friends. In the evening my dad went to our favorite Italian restaurant, Casa Mia, and brought food back to the house for us. Bryan, Thad, my parents and I sat on the couches in their family room and ate Casa Mia for Thad’s first dinner outside of the womb.
Around dinner time Tracy came back over to check on us. A little while later Bryan’s mom arrived. She was so excited to see her first grandson and cried when she held him for the first time. Lisa held Thad for a long time and was the first person to kiss him on the lips. Eventually it was just Bryan and I and Thad again and we cuddled up in bed for our first night with Thad.
Closing Thoughts about the whole experience
Well, that’s it. That’s Thad’s birth story. Overall it was an amazing experience. I am so glad and thankful for the decisions we made about how to do this birth. I can’t imagine doing it any other way. Birth was incredibly difficult and painful – in fact right afterwards I remember thinking, “I never want to do that again.” It was, indeed, overwhelming and shocking, but it was also really amazing and powerful. I would do it again and I would do an un-medicated home birth again. But, I did already tell Bryan that ideally I never want to go through birth without Shell – she was so great not only throughout the labor, but before and after as well. She has such a calming and reassuring affect on both Bryan and I and we both feel like we can really trust her.
There are, however, some things that I would do a little differently next time. One thing is that I sort of wish we had videotaped or at least taken pictures of the birth. We had talked about this earlier and decided that I probably wouldn’t want a video or pictures of the birth itself, since I wouldn’t really want anyone else watching it and we didn’t really think that we would need it. But, now I do sort of wish I had a video or at least pictures. For me I was so focused on the pain and on the work I had to do to get him out, that I think it would be nice now to just watch and enjoy my son being born without the pain and effort of the experience. Also, since I was on my hands and knees I didn’t get to see him actually come out and I would have liked to – in the moment I didn’t really care I just wanted to get him out and did what I needed to do in order for that to happen, but now I wish that I had seen him come out. So in the future I think that I would maybe want to use a mirror to see my child being born and/or video tape it so that I could see it later.
The other thing that I think I would do a little bit differently is have a clearer plan for the first few days/weeks after birth and how we will handle visitors and family. After the birth we stayed at my parent’s house for almost two weeks and I think that was too long. We hadn’t really set up any time frame for how long we would stay or any boundaries for how we wanted to deal with family and visitors before the birth and I think that was a little bit of a mistake. It worked out fine and there were definitely some benefits to having people around and staying with both of our parents the first little bit, but there were also some downsides as well. I, for one, felt like I had to be up and about and acting well long before I was really feeling like doing that. I also felt guilty if I held my baby too long because I knew others wanted to hold him too and that was hard for me – the first few days felt like a really precious bonding time and I wanted to totally soak them up, but felt guilty for doing that and so then maybe didn’t do it as much as I would have liked. Anyway, there were some really beautiful things about having family around 24/7 the first few days – even some of the things that really overwhelmed me (like having all my nieces and nephews around) were nice in some ways – but overall I think next time I would have a clearer set of boundaries set up ahead of time.
The more I look back on my labor and birth experience the more I feel powerful and proud for what I accomplished. I can honestly say that it was far more and far less then I had expected. In many ways birth felt like a bit of a paradox to me. It was more painful and difficult then I could ever have imagined, but it was also easier than I had expected. At the time it happened it felt less transformative then I had expected, but as time passes it feels like more and more of a transformative moment then I could have ever realized at the time. It was also both the most tangible bodily experience I have ever had and the most disconnected I have ever felt from my body. It was an overwhelmingly emotional experience and yet I felt less emotional then I have ever felt. I felt clear headed and instinctually in tune with what I needed to do and yet I also felt confused and out of control. I felt more powerful then I have ever felt and yet also more vulnerable. I am sure that I will never experience anything like it ever again. Even subsequent births will not be anything like this first one. It was a moment set apart, that will never be repeated and I feel blessed to have experienced it.