Well, well, well.
I finally did have that sweet baby! ELEVEN DAYS AFTER HER DUE DATE.
Most first-time mamas deliver late. That’s why I decided to work right up until my due date and probably made my co-workers anxious about the possibility of a live birth taking place in the office. I can imagine my sweet writer and designer friends rising to the occasion — running around, boiling water and ripping the paper towel dispenser off the bathroom wall.
As August 10 came and went, I tried to keep my mind off the fact that I was still tremendously pregnant by going for walks, swimming and doing prenatal Pilates. Staying active made me feel like I was at least doing something to get this baby here.
At 41 weeks I had a stress test at the birth center and a biophysical profile ultrasound at the hospital to make sure the little munchkin was okay. Thankfully she scored 100 on both so that at least removed any need for an emergency delivery due to an overcooked babe.
Week 42 leading up to her birth was physically and emotionally challenging. On Monday I lost my mucus plug and took it as a sign of progress. Little did I know I still had days of prodromal labor (contractions that help your body get ready to go into real labor) ahead of me. These contractions were strong enough to cause me discomfort during the day and wake me up throughout the night. Cory said he would often hear me moaning in my sleep.
By Wednesday I was 1 cm dilated and 70 percent effaced. I had an appointment at the birth center and the midwife stripped my membranes to try and get things moving. That procedure was about as fun as it sounds.
Friday morning I had my membranes stripped a second time by one of my favorite midwives named Kim. She told me she expected I would have the baby over the weekend even though at this point I was barely 2 cm dilated.
By Saturday I was demoralized and exhausted. I had been cramping for four days straight and was tired of constantly having to tell friends and family, “nope, no baby yet.” What’s more, if she wasn’t born by Tuesday I would have to be induced since the birth center will not deliver past 42 weeks. The thought alone was so discouraging especially after all we had done to prepare for a natural labor and delivery. But we prayed and trusted in God’s plan for our baby’s life. She had been breech and at 37 weeks He answered our prayers to turn her into the downward position necessary for a natural birth. We truly felt His hand over the entire pregnancy and knew He wouldn’t leave us now.
Sunday morning I woke up feeling like I had peed a little. I went to the bathroom to check out the situation and there was a large wet spot in my underwear that was definitely not pee. When I called the midwife on duty she said it sounded like my water was leaking but to stay at home until contractions were consistently one minute long and four minutes apart over the course of one hour.
Cory and I had many conversations and prayers about who we wanted to be present at our baby’s birth. I expected him to just want it to be the two of us, but he said it was up to me since I was the one carrying our baby and bringing her into the world. I knew I needed support but I also wanted the environment to be very sacred and intimate. So I asked my mom to be my doula because 1) she knows me better than anyone besides Cory and 2) she’s a birth champion having delivered six children of her own and supported many friends through their births.
After talking to the midwife I called my mom and she came over mid-morning to help me labor. We went for a two-mile walk. We made peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch which turned out to be the last food I would eat that day. We went for another walk as my contractions intensified but she encouraged me to keep moving and breathing through the pain. I bounced on the birthing ball through a couple episodes of Friends but was concentrating too hard to pay attention so we turned off the TV.
Around 4:30 p.m. I settled down on the couch to rest. As I dozed in and out between contractions I felt a very distinctive internal pop and another small gush of fluid which instantly startled me awake. This was my water actually breaking but since the baby’s head was down so low there wasn’t as much fluid coming out as I expected. We went back outside and walked up and down the driveway for a few minutes before I couldn’t really walk anymore.
At this point the contractions went to the next level and I ended up kneeling in front of the couch, leaning forward on a stack of pillows while my mom and Cory took turns applying counter pressure to my hips. The hormones were making me cold and then hot so I wore my fluffy bathrobe for awhile and then flung it back off. Cory was ready to take me to the birth center but this is where my mom’s experience was crucial in keeping us from going too soon. Just by looking at me she could tell how long I was still okay to labor at home. He started timing my contractions and from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. they were steadily coming 1-4 minutes apart.
I called the midwife again to give her the update. She told me to come in if I was ready to be checked but that if I was less than 4-5 cm dilated I would have to go back home.
As much as I didn’t want to get in the car, once my entire body started shaking uncontrollably we all knew it was time to go. For some reason the thought of sitting alone was terrifying so Cory sat next to me in the backseat and my mom drove. During the 40 minute trip my contractions spaced out a bit more but were still hard work. I would clutch Cory’s hand, lean back and try to keep my face and body as relaxed as possible while praying over our baby and letting Lord knows what kind of sounds come out of my mouth.
I do remember at one point we got stuck next to a fleet of motorcycles blaring heavy metal music. It was pretty much the worst thing ever and I said some not very nice things.
When we arrived at the birth center around 8:30 p.m. I couldn’t really talk and stumbled in looking like a hot mess in pajama shorts, a huge t-shirt and a messy bun sticking straight off the side of my head.
Guess what midwife was on call to greet us? Kim! She really did have the magic touch and was right about the baby coming that weekend. Kim is so calm and collected and was absolutely the one meant to deliver our baby. It felt like coming full circle since she’s the midwife we saw at our very first birth center appointment in December of 2015.
Kim checked me, looked up with a smile and said, “well, Hannah, you’re eight centimeters dilated so your baby is almost here!” We all burst into tears (me because I was so happy I didn’t have to get back in the car, Cory because he was so worked up and my mom because she was so proud of all of us). I started saying “thank you Jesus!” in shock and relief.
The wonderful thing about birth centers is that there is no route besides natural birth. This means you don’t have to defend your plan or ever feel questioned or doubted. No one looks at you like you’re crazy for wanting an unmedicated birth and no one offers you an epidural. The midwives are so encouraging and trusting of the laboring woman. I love that.
We were escorted to the birthing suite and I got into the tub the nurse had prepared. The environment was so beautiful and peaceful with dimmed lighting, flowers, candles and even stars projected on the ceiling. The warm water helped me to stop shaking and I stayed in there for about an hour. Eventually I got really hot so they brought cold washcloths to put on my face and neck. The contractions were so painful going through transition that I sat up and started vomiting. A lot.
Eventually there was one contraction so intense that it made me go on my knees, clutch the side of the tub and feel the urge to bear down. For some reason I knew I didn’t want to have the baby in the tub so I got out and sat on the toilet while they dried me off and checked me again. Sure enough I was 10 cm but I started telling everyone, “I don’t want to push! I don’t know how!” Kim told me to just listen to my body and I was like, “It’s not telling me anything!”
Obviously I didn’t have a choice and started pushing a little after 10 p.m. I tried several different positions including standing up, squatting and laying on my back. The best position for me and gravity to do its work was kneeling on the bed with my upper body supported by a birthing ball. I would roll forward on the ball and then roll back and push with everything I had while literally roaring, trying to breathe, and holding onto Mom and Cory for dear life. I wouldn’t even let them sip on their gatorade.
They had to take ibuprofen after it was all said and done but I’m so thankful my husband and my mom were there for me because the three of us made an amazing team. I was always confident that whatever midwife and nurse were assigned to us would be phenomenal and I was right. It’s safe to say I was in good hands all around and could not have conquered natural birth without all of their powerful warrior spirits giving me strength.
I pushed for an hour and a half. It was hard and I felt very tentative at the beginning. It’s literally the same sensation as pooping only taken to the extreme and of course I was paranoid about pooping on someone I barely knew. Actually I wouldn’t want to poop on someone I know really well either. Sorry for writing poop so many times just now.
Anyway, eventually I just didn’t care. Once the midwife told me the baby had crowned I didn’t even wait for another contraction. I just kept pushing until I felt that ring of fire and her body left mine.
Avery Noelle was born at 11:45 p.m.weighing in at 8 lbs 1 oz and measuring 22 inches long. She came out screaming and I’ll never forget picking up our beautiful baby girl and holding her to my chest for the first time. We waited for the cord to stop pulsing before it was cut and then I easily delivered the placenta. Avery started nursing right away which helped distract me from the shot of pitocin I got in my thigh to help stop the bleeding. I also ended up having a second-degree tear and had to get a few stitches.
Cory’s parents came in from the waiting room to meet their granddaughter and my mom stayed a little while longer. Then it was just our little family. We checked out at 6:45 a.m. and drove home with our baby who was not even ten hours old. A nurse came for a home visit the following day and the rest of the week was filled with visits from friends and family and a trip to the pediatrician. Right from the start Avery was the best baby and stole all of our hearts.
Every birth is a miracle. I certainly don’t think I’m braver or tougher than any other woman. Natural labor was important to me because I wanted to experience what I believe my body was made to do. It had grown a human being for ten months so why at the end would I think it wasn’t capable of bringing her into the world on its very own? Yes, it hurt. But I was never really afraid of the pain because I knew it was only temporary and the reward would be so much greater.
And honestly, I never reached a moment where I wanted the way out. I never even thought “take me to the hospital, give me the drugs and get this baby out of me.” The midwife monitored Avery’s heartbeat constantly and it was so steady. She stayed strong for me just like I stayed strong for her. When I reached the max capacity for pain God gave me the endurance to go to new heights.
Natural labor forces you to show strength you didn’t know you had but it also forces you to be completely vulnerable. That’s why it’s so important to have a support system of people you love and trust and feel completely comfortable with. Before giving birth I thought I wouldn’t want to be touched but in the actual moment I practically had Cory in a choke hold while he held up my entire body. Throughout labor I clung to him and he was my steady rock. This experience drew us closer together and deepened our love and admiration for one another. And oh how we love that little girl.
Gosh now I want enough babies for my own football team.
[Photos by Ashley Jones]