Experiencing this with my first birth, I was less confused, but still a bit in disbelief as I woke up at 12:30 a.m. to my water breaking. After the expectation that this baby would be born at least a week ago, I had let go of the excitement I felt every night before going to bed. I thought I would be pregnant forever. Before we went to sleep each night for several days, my husband asked “Do you think the baby is coming tonight?” For the past month I felt like I was going into labor every night and was over the anticipation at this point. Tonight I said “What is the date tomorrow? November 28th? That’s kind of a boring birthday.”
I went to the bathroom managing to not get any fluid in the bed. I sat in the bathroom for quite a while and finally decided I should wake up Josh. I nudged him and told him my water had broken. “Really?” he replied, as if I would be waking him in the middle of the night as a joke! “Yep!” I said. “So now what?” He asked. I asked him to call the midwives. Since he didn’t have to labor, he could be the one to wake everyone in the middle of the night! I wasn’t having contractions yet, so Jessi, my primary midwife, suggested we try to go back to sleep and call her when things picked up. I grabbed my headphones, laid in bed and listened to pregnancy and birth meditations. Labor with my first child started with my water breaking and when contractions started they were intense. I felt anxious knowing that experience was likely imminent.
I had two hours to breathe, focus and accept the reality that I was in labor, about to endure the hard work that makes a mother and meet my little boy. I am so thankful for that transition time. Around 2:30 am the contractions started to pick up and I could no longer lie in bed. I got up and walked around the house a bit, looking over my birth supplies list and making sure things were where they needed to be. I stopped every five minutes and leaned on a counter or got on my hands and knees for the contractions. After a short time I decided to get in the bathtub. I had a brief moment of being worried about the cleanliness of the tub so I got some bleach and ran it through the jets! I downloaded a contraction app on my phone and started timing. The first four contractions I timed signaled the app to notify me that I should think about heading to the hospital!
At some point, Josh came in to check on me and then called the midwife again to tell her that my contractions had started and they were increasing in intensity. He handed me the phone and she asked if I was ready for them to come. I knew how long and close together the contractions were, but I felt like I was breathing through them quite easily so I didn’t feel any urgency for them to come. I didn’t want everyone to come and sit with me for 12 hours if I still had a long way to go. Jessi suggested that they take their time, eat some breakfast and then head our way. I thought that sounded good. It was 4: 30 am and I noted to myself that they should be arriving around 5:30 am. It turns out my time calculations weren’t quite right as it would take them 30-45 minutes just to drive to our house!
Eventually, I decided I should get out of the tub. I remembered reading something about being in the water slowing labor a bit because you are so relaxed. I didn’t want to slow anything down! I went to the living room and really wanted to lie down. Josh was setting up the birth pool and I laid next to it, even though I was quite uncomfortable. I would get on my hands and knees for the contractions, moving back and forth with my breathing. I was tracking the contractions on my phone and consequently watching the clock. I couldn’t wait until the midwives arrived and I could stop worrying about the time. I’m not quite sure why I was worried about the time, but I felt like I needed to know what my body was doing and the numbers on the app gave me that “concrete” data.
At 5:30 a.m. Josh got a call from Jessi saying they were on their way. I started to feel a bit panicky as I had been expecting them to arrive at 5:30. During pregnancy, someone told me that I would “know when I was ready” to have everyone with me and now I was at that point! Josh asked me if I was feeling a lot of pressure or the urge to push and I said “No, I just want them here!” I spent the next 40 minutes just coping through the pain. I imagine this is what a lot of people who have not mentally or physically prepared for birthing their baby experience during labor. With this being my second birth and having done prenatal yoga where we practiced birthing breaths every single week starting in my first trimester, my body and my mind were ready to let my body do the work it needed to do. Waiting for the midwives, I only breathed to cope through the contractions, I was not working to “breathe the baby down and out of the body” as I could hear my yoga instructor saying over and over in my head. That was a painful time and I started to feel overwhelmed by the contractions. They were close together and I didn’t feel like I was getting any breaks. My body was shaking tremendously before each contraction which was a very disturbing sensation for me. It warned me of the coming contraction and then I would get really hot after the contraction was done. The midwives later assured me that the shaking was a good sign as my hormones were doing their job. It gave me such encouragement and strength to have them assure me that this was normal. I felt safe and trusting of my body with their words of affirmation.
The midwives arrived around 6:10 a.m. and began setting up. Our birth photographer, Stephanie also arrived around the same time. I guess Josh had told her to come. He had been asking me over and over when I wanted her there, but I really didn’t have the ability to make that decision! Our home turned into a mini birthing center in what felt to me like minutes. Time is elusive when you are in labor. It’s hard to tell if minutes or hours have passed. It must have been minutes indeed, because they were only at our home for about an hour and a half before the baby was born. They asked me if I wanted to get in the pool and I said “Yes!”
Jessi asked me if I wanted her to check me for dilation before I got in the pool. I agreed and when she told me that I was at 8 cm. I thought to myself “That was easy!” I didn’t say it outbound because I knew I wasn’t done yet, but I really couldn’t believe I had already progressed that far. I thought I should go to the bathroom before I got in the pool so Jes helped me get to the bathroom. I hated the intense feeling of pressure while sitting on the toilet and complained to Jes. Going pee had been a challenge all through this pregnancy because the baby was so low and at this point it was even worse. I finally got to the pool and when I got in it was the most heavenly feeling. The water was very warm and my contractions stopped for what felt like a long time to me, compared to what I had been experiencing. I was so grateful for the break and told everyone how awesome it felt.
Ellamae woke up before I got in the pool. I was on the living room floor and I heard the sound of her pull-up swishing down the hallway. My motherly instinct amazed me at that moment when I realized that even though I was in the middle of one of the most intense moments of my life I was so highly aware of the presence of my daughter. “Is Ellamae up?” I asked. Josh went to look down the hallway and sure enough there she was. I tried to look chipper for a minute and greeted her with “Hi Babe!” I didn’t want her to be scared or worried about me.
The contractions started strong again in the pool and I held on to the edge swimming my hips back and forth as I breathed my baby “down and out” of my body. It was so amazing to be able to move with my breath, but not have to support the weight of my body like I did when I was on hands and knees on the floor. I started to become quite vocal with these contractions. Josh got Ellamae the iPad so she could watch shows. He kept asking her if she wanted to hold my hand or come watch as the baby would be here soon. She would just look up at me and then go back to her show.
The midwives were so amazing. As the contractions got stronger, I would look to one of them with a face that I imagine communicated a sense of exasperation, longing for reassurance. Unfailingly, they responded with “You are doing great” and I received the encouragement to keep going. I felt safe, supported and loved by the women surrounding me. Reflecting back, their presence felt like angels surrounding me.
Josh squeezed my hips and applied counter pressure, which I never thought to ask for, but when he did it the first time it felt so good. From then on, if he stopped I would ask for more. The urge to push came quickly. I really don’t enjoy this feeling because of the pressure that feels like you have to poop but the midwives made me feel comfortable and told me this was good. My baby was moving down. I was a little afraid of pushing because I had torn in my last birth. When the pressure got really strong I asked if I should start pushing. They said yes and I voiced my concern about tearing. “OK”, they responded gently, acknowledging and validating my fear. Then they offered reassurance by holding a hand on my perineum and letting me know when the tissue was being stretched too far and in danger of tearing. This way I could ease off of pushing and just breathe through the contraction.
The sounds I was making started to get a little more high pitched and I started to doubt myself. The contractions and pressure were so intense and I was reaching that point where I had read in most birth stories about thought of giving up or not being able to go any further. The midwives suggested putting my hand down to feel the baby’s head. I never thought I would want to do this because it grossed me out. Feeling my baby’s head gave me encouragement to keep pushing and breathing. He was almost out! Somewhere in this process Ellamae exclaimed loudly “Why is she so loud?! It’s hurting my ears.” I didn’t say anything out loud but thought to myself that Josh might have to take her out of the room because I couldn’t handle having her complain about the noise I was making! He grabbed her headphones, plugged them into her tablet and then she was good to go.
Just a couple more pushes and the head was out. I pushed once or twice more and his body was mostly out. They said “You can pull your baby out.” “Really?” I said? Elijah was so calm and quiet when he came out of the water. They handed him to me and he just laid on my chest. I was afraid something was wrong with him because he wasn’t crying. The midwives assured me he was fine and said this is what a gentle birth looks like. They checked his heart and lungs and said he looked great. Ellamae finally came to the side of the pool and rested her chin on her hands. I thought she was going to cry as she looked at her baby brother. The reality of what was happening finally set in for her. She said that she didn’t know the baby was coming today. When I asked her about it later she said she just thought the “midwives were coming to talk about the birth”. I don’t think she had processed that this was the actual birth taking place this morning. Now she was in love as she looked at him and said how cute he was.
Josh took a few pictures of me and the baby and sent them to our moms. My mother-in-law later texted to tell us that today was her parent’s anniversary. We had chosen the name Elijah Lloyd months before today. Lloyd was Josh’s grandpa’s name. How fitting! November 28th was not a boring birthday after all. Ellamae was born on October 19th,which was my maternal grandmother’s birthday. I had not known that before the fact either. Josh and I also unknowingly chose my maternal grandparents’ would-be 60th anniversary (although my grandmother had passed away that year) as our wedding date. It’s amazing how we are reminded of the cycle of life by these little things.
I stayed in the pool for a while just holding my new baby. He latched almost immediately to nurse and I was really excited about that. Jessi and Jes helped me to deliver my placenta. I had been afraid of seeing blood in the birth pool because I don’t handle it well. Then Jes said this was the cleanest birth ever because there was so little blood. For that I was so grateful! Birth is sometimes portrayed as bloody and disgusting, but it really wasn’t. Josh and Ellamae cut the umbilical cord together. It was so fun to have Ellamae be a part of this process. I hope that she will always remember it. The midwives were always sure to include her from our first prenatal visit with them up to the newborn exam later that morning.
After resting for a while and eating a yogurt with the assistance of the midwives (they truly provided amazing care and I felt like a queen), they helped me to take a shower. Jes walked me to the bathroom, started the water and made sure my tired shaking legs didn’t let me fall. I cannot describe the amount of love and care that I felt through this process. I remember after Ellamae’s birth I was left to figure out most of these things by myself and was so uncomfortable with my new, sore and, what I felt was, disfigured body.
After my shower we sat on the couch as a family for a bit while Elijah attempted to nurse some more. The midwives asked if I wanted to see my placenta and I said sure. As Jessi started to show us the different parts, I started to feel light headed and exclaimed “OK, I’m done!”. I didn’t realize that it would affect me that way but I’ve never done well with seeing my own blood! We eventually moved to the bedroom for exams for me and the baby. Everyone checked out great. Josh got to weight Elijah and he was 7 lbs 1.5 oz and measured 20 inches long. Josh put the first diaper on and then we made some new family portraits on our bed which has a new headboard that I made sure to get ordered and put together before the baby was born just for this use!
When Stephanie sent our birth photos to us I was so amazed at how much she had captured. During the birth I was completely unaware of her taking photos except for one moment when I tried to muster a smile but it didn’t really come across that way! I didn’t think there would be such beautiful images of me seeing my baby for the first time because I wasn’t even aware of the expressions I was making. I was so happy to see that she had not missed a thing! I was amazed at how magical the color images looked with the “glowing” birth pool and the Christmas lights.
- Jamie and Josh
Birth Photography by Stephanie Ralls