In honor of Dashiell's eighth birthday today I'm re-sharing the story of his birth here and as an episode of my RISING*SHINING audioblog. I had not revisited the full story of Dash's birth in some time and I love being reminded of when we first met. Happy, happy eighth birthday to my radiant boy. I'm so excited to celebrate him today.
The morning of April 9th was crisp and grey and the air felt fresh; a perfect spring morning. When Chris and I took a walk that morning with Drew I said, “This would be a great day to have a baby” although I knew that it wouldn’t be that day. Who gives birth on their due date?!
I felt so big and uncomfortable that day I decided to treat myself to homemade chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. Delicious. That ended up being the only real meal I ate that day!
Throughout the morning and early afternoon I received “happy due date!” texts and emails. But I assured everyone that I wasn’t feeling anything yet and was sure we still had a few days to go.
I was working from home so I was checking email but didn’t have anything else to work on and so took a lunch-time nap. I had felt so exhausted since Sunday – in retrospect I think my body was gearing up! When I woke up I was feeling more pressure down low and told Chris. He suggested we go for a walk just to see what would happen so we went for a long walk with Drew through the neighborhood. As we walked I started to feel more lower back pain, more pressure down low, and started feeling some small waves of period-like cramping that were lower than the Braxton-Hicks I’d been feeling. It was hard to distinguish at first but I started to be able to tell Chris approximately when one would start and end so we started timing them with an app on my phone. By the end of the walk they were fairly consistent and lasting about a minute and two to three minutes apart. We still didn’t want to get too excited.
At home I laid on our bed and was starting to have to close my eyes and breath through the contractions. I started to think that what I was feeling could not be false labor (at least I didn’t want to go through this all again for the real thing!) and told Chris we should make provisions for Drew to be boarded and should think about calling our doula and midwife to let them know what was happening. Chris still wasn’t convinced and held off for a while, he thought we might be getting excited prematurely. But after a bit longer he saw that the contractions remained consistent and I was really having to focus. He called to have Drew boarded and started getting the house and our stuff ready.
It felt exciting – this was happening! But at the same time – this was painful! My contractions were consistent enough that Chris was able to help me time them and tell me, “OK, two more breaths and you’re through this one”, which was really helpful and remained a technique that we used throughout out labor. I started to mentally tell myself, “OK, if you take three deep breaths you’ll be through the hardest part.”
Chris left to board Drew and while he was gone I called our doula. I had a contraction on the phone and had to be quiet and breathe through it. She suggested I get in the bath so I drew a bath and was getting in just as Chris got home. I remember asking him to make the water hotter. The water felt good but it was hard to get comfortable. I didn’t want to be on my back so I laid partially on my side. Chris sat next to me and helped me breathe through contractions and was also darting off to straighten up the house so it would be ready for us when we got home – with our baby! It was exciting to think about but I knew I had so much hard work ahead of me, and who knew how long it would take.
Our doula, Lisette, got to the house around 5:30. It was really comforting to see her. She saw how I felt and that I had to focus through the contractions. She talked to Chris out in the hallway and I could hear them whispering that things were happening pretty fast. She said that since the contractions had been so consistent we should think about getting to the hospital. Chris expressed that I was nervous to go too early and she said, “Well, but we really don’t want to have the baby here.” That made it very real. She came in and calmly explained that she thought we really should go.
It took effort to get dressed and I didn’t want to wear shoes for some reason. Lisette suggested that I eat something before we get to the hospital and Chris made me an almond milk, banana, and peanut butter smoothie that I drank on the way to the hospital. It felt great to drink something cold because the contractions made me feel overheated. As we were leaving the house Lisette asked us to stop in Dashiell’s room and said, “The next time you’re in here you’ll have your baby!” I was in pain and discomfort but it made me smile and reminded me to keep perspective. We were going to have our baby!
As we got in the car I reminded Chris we needed the car seat. He said we had it but I knew we only had the base in my car. I reiterated, “The car seat,” between contractions and he again said we had it. I had to explain that we only had the base and then he realized what I meant and ran to get it. Whew!
It was uncomfortable to sit in the car. As we drove I felt every bump. I closed my eyes a lot. I remember Chris asking me to describe what the contractions felt like and I think all I could say was, “Pressure and uncomfortable.” It was becoming harder to talk.
I had been imagining what it would be like to make that drive to the hospital and remember thinking, “Well, here we are, this is really happening”. At one point I opened my eyes and saw so many brake lights waiting to get on the highway that we needed to take to the hospital…ugh!
But it really only took us about 15 minutes to get to the hospital and we parked the car walked in. I had to walk slow. At our hospital you check in at the emergency room and are then taken to triage in the birth center. The emergency room was busy. After a couple minutes we were directed to a desk to get checked in. Of course we had forgotten my wallet but luckily(!) I had made a copy of my insurance card and had included that in our suitcase. I remember standing at the desk, leaning on my hands, bowing my head and closing my eyes. They asked a couple of questions – no idea what – and then I had to get into a wheelchair to be taken up to the birth center. I closed my eyes the whole wheelchair ride.
At the birth center I had to be monitored for 20 minutes in triage. It was so uncomfortable to lie on a hospital bed. I laid on my side to be as comfortable as possible. I was really having to focus and breathe through contractions. And even between contractions I still had a baseline of pain and discomfort. I was checked to see how I’d progressed and was told I was 5.5 cm dilated. I’ll admit I was disappointed and had been hoping for 7 or greater. Still a lot of work to be done.
The birth center was a bit busy that night so even when I was done being monitored our room wasn’t ready. I wanted to get off that bed and into our labor and delivery room so badly so that I could use the shower or birthing tub. It was only another 10 minutes or so but it felt like forever….
We were finally able to walk to the labor and delivery room and I headed for the shower while the birth tub was being filled. Lisette set up the bathroom with little battery powered tea lights and I appreciated being in the dark. I got in the shower and the hot water felt great on my lower back. Chris changed into a swimming suit and got in the shower with me. I put my arms around his neck and leaned on his shoulder and swayed my hips through contractions. Sometimes Chris or Lisette would push my hips together really hard through a contraction and the counter-pressure felt really good. I couldn’t talk and I wasn’t very aware of anything around me. (Later our doula said Chris was the first husband she had seen get in the shower with their wife, way to go Chris!)
About every hour the baby’s heart rate needed to be monitored and the nurse would bring a Doppler monitor in and place it on my stomach. I remember she seemed to have a hard time finding his heartbeat and I felt so annoyed at being prodded for any longer than necessary. I was also feeling impatient for the birth tub to be ready.
After awhile in the shower (I had no concept of time) I was feeling more pressure and also feeling overheated during contractions. I was losing focus and Lisette said that the birth tub was half filled so I could at least get in if I wanted. It was hard for me to step into the tub. The water felt good but I remember it was still hard to get comfortable. I tried leaning back against the side it didn’t like sitting. I turned to get on my knees and lean over the side. With the next contraction, my water broke. If Lisette hadn’t said, “Her water broke!” I’m not sure I would have even noticed. I definitely felt it I was just so focused on breathing and trying to relax.
With my water breaking I had to be monitored again and for a period of 20 minutes. So it was out of the tub to be hooked up to the monitor. I was not pleased. I tried leaning on my arms next to the hospital bed and using a birthing stool Lisette had brought. I was feeling more and more pressure. I became uncomfortable on the stool and my arms were getting tired leaning on the bed. So I changed positions and got on my knees on the bed and leaned over the back of the bed which had been raised almost vertical. Chris stood next to me and put cool washcloths on my neck, which felt so good.
Chris said things like: “Breath through it,” and “long slow breaths.” The baby’s heart rate was varying and so Chris was trying to help me to lengthen my breathing, I was starting to take shorter, shallow breaths, which didn’t help the baby’s heart rate.
Because the baby’s heart rate was variable I had to stay on the monitor, otherwise I would have been able to get off in 20 minutes and get back in the tub. Unfortunately for the rest of the labor I was attached to the monitor and so tethered to the bed.
As I was on my knees leaning over the bed my contractions changed. At the peak I felt forced to lean back almost on my heels and felt that my breath was compressed out of me. It was so intense and I felt I had no control over it. When I was able to relax and breathe through it and let my body do its work it was better. It felt that I would have a really intense one and then one that wasn’t as bad. I started feeling that this might be the urge to start pushing but no one was telling me whether or not I should go with that urge and push or not.
My midwife asked if I would like to be checked. I was nervous to be checked. If I was less than fully dilated I would feel somewhat defeated, it would mean I still had so much hard work ahead of me and I was feeling tired and didn’t want to have several more hours of this ahead of me. On the other hand, if they didn’t know I was fully dilated they probably wouldn’t want me to push. I put off the exam for a while but finally agreed. I had to lie back on the bed, which was such an uncomfortable position. But when my midwife said, “You’re 10 cm, fully dilated!” I felt such relief. I had made it to 10 cm with no intervention, I had made it to pushing, the last hard part. It felt surreal but I was so glad to be there.
I went back to standing on the side of the bed and started to push some through contractions. The contractions were still making me move involuntarily at the peak but being able to push helped a little bit. The baby’s heart rate continued to vary and to be low. I was given an oxygen mask to try to get more oxygen to the baby. Lisette or Chris would hold the mask up near my face. I hated it. The mask felt humid and I didn’t want anything near my face. I think I brushed it away a few times. It was hard to breath deep. In preparing for labor during yoga and Bradley classes we practiced deep belly breathing. It was so hard at the time to imagine how just taking a deep breath could be difficult. Isn’t that the easiest thing to do? But now I understand and all the practice was so helpful. When I was able to take deep breaths I felt calmer and the contractions weren’t as unbearable.
I continued to try standing, being on the birth stool, and on my knees but the baby’s heart rate was dropping and I wasn’t making progress fast enough. I remember at one point the midwife used a flashlight to see where the baby was while I was standing. She was able to see that the baby’s head was even with my perineum. But it was time for things to move faster. They said that getting into a modified squat on the bed might help me. This required me to sit up in bed and it was so uncomfortable. I was feeling tired and felt that I must still have so far to go, I was losing motivation.
Then the nurse brought in a mirror. At first it wasn’t adjusted correctly and I couldn’t see myself. Then they adjusted it and I could see the baby’s head! I couldn’t believe I was looking at myself, I felt like I was watching a birth video. I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, he was actually going to come out of me, my labor wasn’t going to last forever. This was a wonderful revelation.
Having the mirror gave me focal point and helped me to know how and where to push. Through the next contraction I watched the mirror and gave it my all. Both Lisette and Chris have said that my face during pushing is unforgettable. Lisette described it as, “Your face said, ‘You better get the f*** out of my way.’” I laugh thinking of how I must have looked! I was getting down to business!
At that point my contractions spaced out. I had time to take deep breaths between contractions and would just wait to start to feel the next one start. Although I was able to focus and was making progress it was still so, so hard. I don’t really remember saying so but Chris told me that a couple times I said, “I’m so tired” and also “I’m nervous.” I think I was nervous about all the pain and about the next contraction.
Chris and Lisette were there, telling me to take deep breaths and that I could do it. The baby’s heart rate continued to be variable and the mood was becoming more urgent. The nurse said, “His heart rate is waaay back.” My midwife said to me, “Kelsey, we need to get this baby out in the next two contractions.” Before she said that, again, I felt like I still must have so far to go. Just two more contractions? I almost didn’t believe it. How could I be so close? There was an end. Still, it would be so, so hard.
Instead of just pushing once through the next contraction they said I needed to push three times. I would take a deep breath and puuuuush. And then, deep breath, and puuuuush. By the third push I felt like the contraction was over and I had nothing to push against and I was so exhausted I couldn’t push much more. I remember everyone counting to 10 to help me push as long as possible. Chris was coaching me as if I was doing a weight lifting set or in spin class, it was just what I needed.
With that effort the baby’s head had come half way out. I felt so much pressure and some burning. Chris and I remarked later we couldn’t believe the whole head wasn’t out – how could there be more?
Things started happening very fast. We learned later that based on how hard I was pushing the midwife knew the baby should have been born. That meant he was likely stuck. More people came into the room. Suddenly there were at least four people standing in front of me between my legs: my midwife, an ob/gyn, and two nurses. With the next contraction I pushed as hard as I possibly could. I didn’t know what was happening but later learned that the ob/gyn had to reach inside me and release the baby’s shoulder from my pelvic bone. I don’t specifically remember the sensation other than that was the peak of all pain, difficulty, and pressure.
And then he was out! At 11 PM, just making it on his due date. An immediate rush of release and relief like nothing I’ve ever felt overwhelmed me. As Dashiell was born I instinctively reached down to take him from the midwife or ob/gyn (I’m not exactly sure who caught him). I brought him to my chest. I was holding my baby! Labor and birth was OVER; I didn’t have to do it anymore! And I had done it without any intervention, not even an IV. I was beaming and looking down at Dashiell and said, “Oh hi!” and looked to Chris and called out Chris’s name.
But the birth team was still working very quickly. Dashiell’s cord was cut and they said they needed to take him. There was meconium in the birth fluid and we later learned that because of his shoulder being caught and how he was born they were worried his clavicle could be broken or his shoulder dislocated (thank goodness he was OK!). They whisked Dashiell across the room and Chris went with them. Lisette stayed with me and told me how great I had done and that the baby was so beautiful. I was on cloud 9. I just knew my baby would be OK and didn’t feel concerned.
I started shaking uncontrollably, which is normal after giving birth. I had forgotten that was part of it and couldn't believe how violently my whole body was shaking. Lisette was there to reassure me that it was normal. The nurse brought in two big blankets that felt like they just came from the dryer and covered me with them. After being so hot all through labor I was suddenly so cold and the blankets felt like heaven.
The apple juice Chris brought me tasted like the most amazing beverage I had ever had.
I couldn’t see our baby from the bed, just lots of people huddled around. Poor Chris was seeing everything though. He said they were moving very fast and not saying anything. They stuck tubes down Dashiell’s throat and were rubbing him to get him breathing. I had no sense of the urgency and called out to Chris, “Does he have hair?” Chris sweetly told me, “Yes,” but he was feeling so distressed that something was wrong.
After just a few minutes (that felt very long to Chris) Dashiell started breathing, very gently and wheezy, but breathing. They brought him back to me and put him on my chest. I was beaming. Chris came back to my side and I could see how distressed he had been. He was pale and his eyes red and teary. It breaks my heart to think about it. He was so worried about our little baby. I told him I knew that Dashiell was fine and everything would be OK. I kept looking back and forth from Dashiell to Chris and remarking how perfect Dashiell was. I was euphoric. After a few minutes Dashiell let out a wonderfully loud cry.
When watching birth videos and thinking about giving birth I wasn’t sure if after delivering my baby I would need just a couple minutes to just chill and might not even be super interested in the baby at first. Instead I was immediately the happiest I've ever been and singularly interested in the baby. I just kept looking at him, he was perfect, so beautiful.
Dashiell was 9 lbs 8 oz and 22 inches long, we couldn’t believe he was so big! Even though he was a big baby all his features seemed so tiny to me. Because of course even though he was a big baby he was still a teeny little person. I couldn’t believe this was my son, our baby. Ah, it was the best.
After awhile on my chest and after our first nursing session Dashiell was taken across the room again for a bath. After he was cleaned up and bundled they handed him to Chris for the first time. Cue the tears. What a perfect site, Chris looked so natural holding him and just gazed down at our son.
We were moved to our recovery room at 2 a.m. and of course we hadn’t slept since the night before but I wasn’t sleepy at all. Chris tried to get some sleep on the tiny sofa but I just held Dashiell and stared. I had a huge smile on my face and nurses kept telling me that I was beaming.
A very special aspect to Dashiell’s birth is that Chris was able to record audio of the last few minutes of the birth and of when he was placed back on my chest after he was breathing. It is so cool to hear me pushing as hard as I can at the end and to hear Chris coaching me through it. It makes me cry every time. It’s kind of crazy given how much pain I was in during the birth but sometimes I feel nostalgic for the whole experience. It was something I anticipated for so long, it was such a momentous event with the most amazing outcome and I’m so proud of myself – and also feel so lucky, because really so much is out of your control - for being able to have a natural birth. Being able to listen to the birth is comforting because it feels like that moment isn’t lost.
And so, here we are. Just days into being parents and having a newborn. All at once I can’t believe it and can’t imagine it any other way.