Welcome again to our series on Becoming Family called Birth Stories. We want you to know that every mama is different, every family is different and every birth story is different and we can learn from each other differences. With this new series, a mama will tell her story of the birth of her child in their own words, not with purpose to persuade you to have birth in their way, but to share their experience with the community of mamas here. If you are interested in sharing your story please email us. I want to thank Emily for allowing us to share her birth story. You can find Emily from Mama Wilder and follow her story there as well. Also, check her out on Instagram.
My low-key and somewhat sudden birth has everything to do with the way I’ve transitioned motherhood. I’ve never felt more comfortable in a role than that of Mom. I’m still in awe that my daughter’s birth went so swiftly and ended up being exactly how I’d wanted it to be. I could re-tell this story a thousand times over. It was the absolute best experience of my life.
The morning of my due date, I had my 40 week appointment at the midwifery group. Like the week prior, I assumed the midwife would check my blood pressure and tell me I was to hang tight until something exciting happened. My blood pressure was 40 points higher than normal that morning so she offered to do an internal exam.
“Are you in any pain?” she asked, as her fingers were snug up against my cervix.
“Physical?” I asked.
“Well, you’re 3 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced. Now, I’m going to write in your chart 95%, but you’re pretty much there. Do you want me to do a stretch-and-sweep?”
“Yes.” I told her. A stretch-and-sweep is when a doctor or midwife gently makes a circular movement with two fingers at the base of the cervix. I knew this could trigger labor, and despite my objection to drug-related induction methods, I was so ready to have this baby.
“Are you sure you’re not experiencing any abdominal pain?”
“No, I just threw up this morning, but nothing hurts. Should I go into work tonight?” I asked. I was confused at her lack of concern. Is 3 centimeters bad? Good? What is ‘bad’ in this situation?
“Yeah! Go into work. If you’re not in pain, you’ll be fine. I’m going to be on call in two days if you want to have the baby then!” she laughed.
“Do you think she’ll be here by next week?” I asked.
“Absolutely. I think she’ll be here much sooner than that.”
I left the office feeling like I had my period again. I’d begun feeling a dull ache in my lower belly. I’d had Braxton Hicks contractions from about week 20 onward, but these cramps were a lot like period cramps. I’d always imagined contractions to be sudden sharp pains all over my belly. I didn’t think much of the cramps I was feeling.
I drove home and attempted to take a nap. By then, everyone had caught wind that I might be in labor. I’d had dozens of people texting me all morning who knew it was my due date. Is she here? When’s she coming? I managed to fall asleep for a whopping fifteen minutes before I had the bright idea to go to the grocery store to get the ingredients for my favorite sundried tomato-spinach-garlic pasta. I figured that if I was going to be in labor soon, I wanted food for my doula and my friend to eat when they came over before we all left for the hospital. I’d pictured laboring at home, taking a nice bath, and relaxing in bed. I hustled around Wegmans twice, believing that nearly sprinting at 10 months pregnant would bring on labor. The dull cramping continued.
I drove home and texted my doula.
“Take a warm shower and relax as much as you can,” she instructed. “Your blood pressure was high this morning so you need to rest.”
Rest? Okay. I hopped out of the shower and whipped up my largest skillet full of pasta before I took a bowl of it to bed with me. My doula had told me that this would be a great time to make one last journal entry before the baby arrived. I opened my laptop with my hair still in a towel on top of my head and I typed out a letter to my unborn daughter.
“I think you’re on your way. I would write to you in the notebook I have for you but I want to get as much written down as I can and I can’t seem to hand-write as fast as I can type…” I began.
I was typing my 528th word when a sharp pain started to swell in my lower belly. I don’t know what possessed me to toss my laptop aside and leap off the bed onto the ground, but I got into a deep squat with my fingertips on the floor in front of me. It was like my body just knew how to get through the pain. I hopped back in bed and picked up where I left off.
“I stared at my belly tonight as I stood in the shower and watched you move inside me. It was the strangest and coolest feeling. I wish I would’ve absorbed the moment more while being pregnant with you. I hustled so much to get to this place for us. I didn’t think it would be this okay at the very end and I swear, it’s only going to get better.”
And then another pain hit. Bad.
Immediately I opened the stopwatch on my cell phone, timing the pain’s duration and how long it was until another one came. Eight, seven, six, five minutes.
I texted my friend, “When it was the real deal, how badly did you want to cry?”
She called me.
“I’m going to pack my bag and finish wrapping Christmas presents and you let me know in an hour if you want me there, okay?”
I sent a screenshot of my timer to my doula.
“Get yourself on all fours on the bed for contractions and see how that feels,” she replied. At this point, I didn’t believe I was really having contractions. This has to just be another bout of false labor. I was sure of it. This time the pains began to consistently come three and a half minutes apart and lasting 45 seconds. I remembered something I saw on one of those granola parenting Instagram pages about grounding yourself during labor. I got into another deep squat. My body craved to get as low as possible and sink into the floor.
An hour and a half later, my friend arrived with the birthing ball and her homemade labor aid. She began to wash the dirty dishes piled in the sink as I continued going through each contraction on the ground in a squat. I called the hospital to speak to the midwife on call. She listened to me go through one contraction as I could hear the tone of doubt in her voice. Great. Even she doesn’t believe it’s happening. She continued to ask questions about my day in a slow manner and I sensed she was stalling to see if I’d go through another contraction while on the phone. I was plucking my eyebrows above the bathroom sink when suddenly a surge of pain took over and I started dropping F bombs left and right.
“So I’ll see you soon?” she said.
I texted my doula that we were heading in to the hospital. So much for my pre-birth house party.
I gathered my grandfather’s old flannel shirt, my Ugg boots, my diaper bag packed with snacks and onesies, my Boppy, and my beloved Zero water filter.
At 11:20 we left the house. I put a bath towel underneath me on the passenger seat expecting my water to break in the car. It felt like an eternity as my mixed CD of AC/DC and Elton John changed songs every 3 and a half minutes, exactly how far apart my contractions were. It’s like my baby knew I had to give up my front row AC/DC tickets last September because I was six months pregnant. I was moaning and cursing the whole ride to the hospital. At 12:15, we arrived. I immediately began filling out dozens of medical forms while on my hands and knees in the lobby.
Finally I was admitted to triage where I was hooked up to monitors and had my blood drawn. I learned I was only a centimeter more dilated than I was earlier in the morning. Are you serious right now?
“Can you not send me home? I live an hour away,” I told my midwife, who was annoyingly calm and soft-spoken.
“I’m not sending you home,” she said. She spoke in such a way that I couldn’t tell if she was mocking me or just genuinely unaffected by my obvious impatience and the severity of my pain.
I was restrained on my back in triage as they wanted to chart my contractions and monitor the baby before they sent me to the delivery room. I could not wait to get up to cope with the pain. I was certain they must have measured my cervix incorrectly. There’s no way I’m only a centimeter further along than I was earlier in the morning.
My doula arrived as they were whisking me away to the delivery room once their inordinate amount of tests was complete.
When the three of us walked in, we were greeted by the nurse who immediately began to draw a bath. I hopped in. The warm water felt incredibly soothing as each contraction took hold. I’d heard about women falling asleep in between contractions but I thought there was no way anyone can actually fall asleep so quickly with such little time in between contractions. But I did it. And then I began to feel sick.
“I’m going to throw up,” I managed.
I immediately hurled up the pasta I’d made only a few hours earlier. All of it. I felt a thousand times better once the food was out of my system but the contractions were getting worse and worse.
The warm water didn’t take away the pain of each contraction but it offered a different sensation to focus on as each wave of pressure took over me.
I could feel the pain coming on before each contraction. I tried to put it off and tell myself it wasn’t happening. But it did, over and over and over again.
I remember my doula’s hands in my hair, pulling my mane into clips and barrettes. After sitting in the tub for what felt like an hour, something inside told me to get out of the tub and onto the bed. As I was walking toward the bed, another contraction took over and I knelt on the cold hospital floor. I made it to the bed and tried switching positions to find what would help me cope with the pain of each contraction. I finally got on all fours which seemed to make a world of difference. My arms shook as I gripped the handrails at the back of the bed with each contraction. I could only think there was much worse pain to come.
“Am I really in labor? Do you guys think this is really it?” I asked.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
I didn’t believe them. My water hadn’t broken. Isn’t that the dead giveaway that you’re in labor? Aren’t you not really in labor until your water breaks? I thought I was in for so much more pain when I was really just getting closer to having to push.
“I’m tapping out,” I said. “I can’t do this. I want an epidural.”
“Okay, let’s just get through this one contraction, then we can talk about pain meds,” my friend told me.
I kept moaning. I later learned that this is what’s known as transition, the most intense part of birth right before pushing begins.
I became so parched, my labor support duo was giving me water through a straw. I felt like I must’ve consumed a gallon of water over the course of my labor that night.
After what felt like seven years (it was really only two hours or so), the midwife came back to check on me.
“You’re at eight centimeters now,” she said. There’s no way. I was torn between thinking I still had much more pain to endure, and thinking that that was the worse amount of pain I could physically feel. By this time, I felt like I had to push.
“I feel like I have to shit,” I whispered to my support duo.
“She has to push,” I heard. My face was buried in the pillow at this point. I hadn’t seen the other side of the room in hours.
I held it in as long as I could. I was still in denial. I’m wasting everyone’s time. No way is this really happening right now. It’s going to be so much more painful than this. I can’t get there. I can’t do more pain. I’m at my limit.
Suddenly, I couldn’t wait any longer. I started to push during a contraction. Come on.
When I started pushing, it lessened the sharp pain in my abdomen. Contractions felt like someone was stabbing me in the uterus and twisting the knife around and pulling it out. When I pushed, I felt like I was accomplishing something. But I was still confused, my water hadn’t broken.
I kept pushing. Then I glanced down.
“Did her water just break?” I heard someone ask the nurse. Reddish mucus had begun to collect on the chuck pad beneath my knees.
“Yep.” Thank you, sweet infant Jesus. Now I’m in labor.
“She’s almost here, Emily!”
“You’re going to meet your baby!” my doula said. I turned my head toward her.
“I’m not ready to meet her,” I whispered. “I’m not ready. I’m scared. I’m so scared. I’m scared to meet her.” I’m having a baby right now? What? An actual human? I’m meeting my daughter today? My child? The baby I’ve been dreaming about? It’s happening? Right now? Here? Today? Now? My baby? My daughter? I get to meet her right now?
“You are so ready, Emily.”
I gripped the bedrails with every ounce of strength I had left in my upper body. I opened my eyes just wide enough to see Philippians 4:13 inscribed on my inner left bicep.
Be with me.
“Can you see her?” I asked of anyone who could hear me.
“I see the head,” someone announced. “Look at the hair.”
I was in such a daze. Everything moved so quickly. How am I actually pushing my baby out right now?
They told me to keep pushing. She was almost out.
“The head,” I heard.
“Big push, Emily.”
And she was out.
I got up from my hands and turned on my knees toward the front of the room. I reached down to pick up her vernix-covered body. She was so slippery and small in my hands.
I looked at her face. She seemed so familiar, like I’d seen her a thousand times before.
I held her to my chest.
“Hi,” I said over and over again. “I’m your mom.” I laid back on the bed. “Why isn’t she crying? Is she breathing?” Every move she made and every sound that came out of her mouth were enormous.
She looked up at me as she wrapped her tiny hand around my finger.
I couldn’t blink. The nurse brought over blankets to keep her warm against my chest. I looked up to the ceiling.
“Thank you,” I mouthed.
She began to cry as I told her, “It’s okay, it’s okay. You’re okay. Nothing’s ever going to happen to you. You’re okay. I’m right here. It’s okay.”
“Feel it pulsing?” someone asked. I reached down and ran my fingers over the umbilical cord. This thing kept my baby alive for 40 solid weeks. How on Earth? How perfect is that?
The midwife pressed down on my abdomen. I swear, the pain of that placenta removing itself from my uterine lining was more painful than pushing out my baby. I hadn’t noticed the pool of blood that had collected between my legs on the bed. Finally, the placenta came out and I admired its veins and gore. It was huge.
“I’m taking it home,” I told her.
I did it. I can’t believe I did it. I had a baby. I had a baby without drugs. What the hell. I am so high right now. Oh my god, it’s over. It’s done.
I couldn’t stop staring at my baby. She was covered head-to-toe in thick creamy vernix.
“She smells like Florida,” I kept saying. “She smells like coconut. Like suntan lotion. She smells like a vacation.”
I looked at the window toward the courtyard. The sun was just beginning to rise.