It took me a while to publish this because it’s taken a while to gather my thoughts and collect the memories. I didn’t want to forget anything, and I wanted to process my full range of feelings. I don’t think there’s really anything that can prepare you for the intensity of childbirth. I felt pretty prepared, and I think I was about as ready as I could be, but it still took my breath away — and I don’t mean that in a dreamy, romantic way.
I’ve heard a lot of labor stories, from the horror stories to the idyllic spiritual moments to the “I am woman hear me roar” ones. I read birth stories with a voracious curiosity. But if we’re being honest here, I spent a lot of time, especially near the end, wishing it would be over — it was just plain hard. No euphoria in the moment, just enduring wave after wave after wave of pain.
Maybe this is a stretch, but I feel like birth is a sort of refiner’s fire. I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t have adventures of the kind you read in novels. The sort of story where you battle evil, test your mettle, and come out transformed. But birth is probably the closest I will ever get to that level of heroism. You start off prepared for the journey, and you think you’re ready to face what comes, but suddenly you’re in the moment and it takes everything you’ve got — and that best friend to hold your hand through it. You hit a point where you feel utter despair, the point where you think it’s impossible to last any longer and yet, there’s no going back. So you hold it out one more contraction.
With all of that said, let’s be clear: there was nothing romantic about it in the moment.
(Little bit of humor lest we start taking ourselves too seriously: when I described my theory to Andrew he said I should call it “the vagina’s fire” instead of the refiner’s fire. OK then.)
All things considered, I had what many would consider an easy labor, but it still felt like getting hit by a train then stumbling back up, only to somehow have the train circle back and hit you again. And again. And again. Except that at the end, instead of being wheeled into the morgue as you should, you’re handed a slippery bundle of baby and suddenly it’s all blissfully over and it’s calm, and amazingly, you’re still there.
I don’t mean to scare anyone either — I felt quite calm throughout the whole thing. I was never scared or panicked, but I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the end. I was really positive about it going in. It wasn’t traumatic, but manwas it hard. Birth is brutal. And miraculous.
So then first off, a disclaimer: we’re talking about childbirth here. You won’t see or hear anything overly explicit, but if you can’t abide talk about lady parts, it might be time for you to go look up pictures of cats or something instead. Some of these pictures aren’t incredibly flattering, but I’m resisting the urge to censor because I really want to be honest — even though it also makes me cringe a little to share so much. Birth isn’t especially pretty, but I do find it beautiful.
Also: our maternity/birth/newborn photography was done by an incredible person I really enjoyed getting to know better, Tracey Allred. You might think it’s weird to have an extra person in the labor room with you but I actually really appreciated having her there, she was discreet but also helpful at times, and she gets it. And, the photos she took for us are such a treasure to me now. She put together a gorgeous birth story for us here.
On to the Story
I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions for a little while, about a week or two, but they were never painful or anything, just noticeable. My belly would just get all tight and hard, it was kind of cool to feel. I took leave from work the week before my due date, and had an amazing week of preparation and projects with Andrew and my in-laws who had arrived. We worked like crazy to finish projects for Adelina.
My due date, Thursday October 16th, came and went without any particular excitement. But as calm as I had been about letting things happen, I started to get a little worried once the due date passed because I didn’t feel like anything was changing and my OB had talked about scheduling an induction at my checkup. If you remember, I wanted as natural a birth as possible at the hospital. So the doctor said he was willing to let me go past 41 weeks or so (I had discussed our birth plan with him and explained I did not want any artificial interventions) but just the fact that he was thinking about it made me pretty nervous.
So I was happy to wait to let our baby come when she was ready, but in the back of my mind I was worried about my doctor’s impatience. (I have a problem with the idea of a doctor “letting” a patient do anything to begin with, but that’s for another post.) I had a feeling if I went too much overdue, everything I had hoped for would go out the window.
But we went about our business anyway, enjoying the time. Early pregnancy had been a little hard for me, emotionally and mentally, and I had some nausea at first, but once I was past the first trimester I honestly just really enjoyed it. Sure, there were aches and pains — my hips and tailbone and pelvis didn’t really appreciate the extra weight! — but being pregnant was also really wonderful. And looking back, boy was it the easy part!
Andrew and I spent some time together, we continued with activities and projects with his parents, and picked up last-minute items so we’d be ready. That Sunday after my due date had passed, church was interesting because everybody was asking when she was coming, and some people said things like “you look so miserable!” Uh, thanks?
We went on some walks, and contemplated going for a drive up the mountain (something about altitude changes inducing labor), but I wasn’t ready to ingest spoonfuls of castor oil or anything like that! Sunday night, we were watching a movie and I was bouncing on the exercise ball Andrew’s mom had brought me and I was sort of feeling those contractions get more noticeable. I don’t know that I’d say they were painful, but they were certainly more uncomfortable. I didn’t say anything though because I really dreaded getting my hopes up and sounding a false alarm. But I did time a few, just to see. They were pretty erratic, 15-20 minutes, and it was hard to tell them that much apart anyway, but I was definitely distracted that night. (Proof: I have no idea what movie we were watching!)
We went to bed and I was still feeling them. Sometimes I’d breathe in a little more controlled manner through them, and I think I mentioned them to Andrew — with a heavy dose of caution that it was probably a false alarm, that they were all over the place, not to worry, etc.
We fell asleep but at some point in the wee morning hours I was awake, and the contractions were definitely still there. At some point Andrew too was awake and I told him this might be real contractions — but that it was still very early. Later Andrew told me his brain was immediately running full charge when he heard that ha ha. I did fall back asleep though, and woke up a few hours later. The contractions were still there, still not painful but definitely noticeable and not particularly comfortable either.
Andrew was going around gathering bags and packing his change of clothes, and he went out to tell his parents I was probably in labor. I guess they got pretty excited at that point 🙂 But I didn’t particularly want to labor while being watched and helped at every move so I stayed in our bedroom. I got up, texted Amber, our doula, to give her a heads up, showered, did my hair and makeup, got ready for the day. Andrew called work to tell them he wouldn’t be in.
Our amazing photographer had offered to come take a few “before” pictures, which I was really excited about, and she was supposed to come that morning anyway so we kept the appointment and I was ready when she got there. I did warn her I was probably in early labor — but I was still feeling pretty good, and hey there’s no better way to keep your mind off of it than to stay busy! (One of the biggest keys to avoiding extra interventions, I learned, is getting to the hospital in advanced labor)
It was actually really neat to do these pictures the day of, with all the anticipation there was a calm sort of excitement. Andrew was getting a little nervous because he kept counting the contractions and they were getting pretty dang close together. But I knew it couldn’t possibly be that far advanced because I wasn’t really hurting. I figured it had to be a little harder than this!
We did call Amber though to talk through what was going on and see where she thought I was. It turns out that her other client had just given birth that night two weeks early, and the poor thing had already been up all night!
My goal was to labor as long as possible at home so I’d have labor well established by the time I got to the hospital. I did NOT want to show up only dilated to a two and be sent home! Amber agreed it sounded like I wasn’t too far along yet, but she did come over to our home shortly after to check on us. She suggested a few things, but we were already doing pretty well on our own. It was definitely reassuring to have her around though, if only to help us get a feel of when we needed to go to the hospital. Andrew and I took a few walks in the neighborhood, it was a pretty clear day.
We now joke that Adelina was waiting for her namesakes to get here to make her entrance into the world! My aunts were arriving at the airport that day at noon, and we had a contingency plan that if by chance I was in labor or at the hospital when they got here, Andrew’s parents would pick them up. Sure enough, I was definitely not feeling up to a car ride right then, so off they went to go get my aunts!
When they arrived, contractions had started to become painful. But I was sitting in the living room and was so excited to see them!
Labor actually slowed down a little bit as they told me about the trip and pulled out all the presents they had brought for Adelina, and we chatted for a while. I told them how the morning had been going, and then contractions started to pick up again as the excitement wore off. By that time I kind of wanted to go to the hospital (and so did Andrew ha ha) because it felt like that meant things were moving forward. I had been waiting around for contractions for a while now and was just ready for a change of scenery and for something to happen!
Amber (our doula) had me try a different position for a few contractions, sort of a lunge with Andrew supporting me, and that one definitely hurt enough to sting. So at about 3pm, off we went! Things started to get really exciting, and everyone wanted to come to the hospital with us. So off everybody went, Andrew and I in our car with way too many bags (can you say first-time parents?), Amber in her car, and Andrew’s parents with my aunts. That car ride was… not pleasant. Plus Andrew took a side road to avoid traffic but it turns out there was a lot of construction along that route so it was definitely bumpy! I was hanging on to the handle for dear life.
We got there, parked, walked to the garage entrance where we found a wheelchair, made our way to the maternity ward and said goodbye to our family. As we passed the doors, everything was so quiet — there wasn’t a soul in sight! We went to the nurses’ station and finally somebody came and got us checked in.
A nurse checked my cervix and I was nearly seven centimeters dilated! I was excited and extremely relieved. I had been so scared to get checked and told to go home and come back later, especially because at my late prenatal checkups I really never progressed past 1 cm. But this was it, it was happening!
Once we got there, contractions definitely required more of my attention. It’s honestly surprising how much of a full-body experience they are. In between them I felt ok but as soon as one hit, I definitely wasn’t talking! The nurse hooked me up to the monitor for a bit and put in my detachable IV — I had asked them to monitor only intermittently so I was able to get up and walk around some, try a few different positions, sit on the birthing ball, etc.
At one point though, when I had to get in bed for the monitor again, I was suddenly NOT interested in getting back up again. The contractions were painful and exhausting, I almost sort of dozed off in between them just so that I could conserve as much energy as possible. Early on I would just breathe longer and harder through contractions, but as they got worse and worse I got pretty vocal. The next few days I had a lot of jaw and neck ache and finally realized with some surprise that it was because of all the teeth grinding and other vocalizations… Oh well, that’s what you come to expect in a maternity ward, right?
I remember being so grateful Andrew was there — I just needed to be able to hold his hand through contractions, and that helped immensely.
He was really encouraging and helpful. All of this happened in a semi-darkened room, it was quiet and we were generally left to ourselves other than my nurse coming in for regular checks or monitoring. I really appreciate that I was just given peace to do my thing. There really isn’t much else to do anyway, you’re just riding it out the best you can!
While having a doula there was especially helpful early on (preparing and training us ahead of time, and helping us know when to get to the hospital) it’s really Andrew who helped me make it through. I remember for months we talked about it, and he felt he would be completely useless. And yes, during labor there was nothing much he could physically do to help that baby come out, but his support was huge. He was a wall I could lean on and I don’t know how I could have done it without him.
Several hours in, I was so completely ready to be done. I was exhausted and really hurting, and it felt like nothing was happening. I was fully effaced and dilated to almost ten, but there was still a teeny “ledge” that had to get out of the way, for what felt like forever and I wanted it to be over already! I got a little wimpy to be honest, I just wanted it to be DONE.
And at this point I was dealing with back labor, which hadn’t been an issue until then. The nurse said it could be that the baby was “sunny side up,” a position that puts a lot of strain on the back (it’s when the baby is head down but facing toward your front — the ideal position is for the baby to face toward your back). That back labor was the worst part, it felt unbearable. Amber encouraged me to try pushing a little bit with contractions at that point, since I was so near, but it felt so useless. I felt like I was just adding stress to the pain. And I never did get the urge to bear down and push that a lot of women describe.
I started asking Andrew if maybe he could see if there was some medication they could put in the IV to ease things up just a little — I still didn’t want an epidural needle anywhere near me, but I hoped maybe there was something else we could do. But the nurse said this late it could be dangerous for the baby, so obviously I stopped asking. Man, that part was miserable. I was completely wimping out. It felt as if it would never end and honestly every contraction, I felt as though I couldn’t do it another time. And yet it kept happening, again, and again, and again, and I was still there.
I remember Tracey (our photographer) talking to the nurse about how well I was doing and I thought “Are you kidding me?! This is doing well?!” Some women talk about feeling empowered and all warrior-like, but to be honest in the moment, I just felt really crummy, and pretty powerless.
My water still hadn’t broken, and I asked them if we could go ahead and do that to get things moving along. When the OB came in and burst the sack I was really surprised at how much water there was! I remember talking about it too — I was pretty vocal in general (not surprising if you know me, ha ha). “This hurts here, wow that was fast, oh here comes another one, water!” My goodness.
And then we waited some more. Through the afternoon, Andrew went in and out a few times and each time he left, it felt interminable.
I don’t remember the exact order of events but around this time, the nurse had the monitor back on and she said the baby’s heartbeat was concerning, so I had to get on my side. I was starting another contraction and wasn’t thinking very straight, and I asked to wait until the end of the contraction but she had some urgency in her voice and said we had to move now. So now it was, and that took a LOT of effort. That side wasn’t working though so I had to turn again to the other side (agh!) but this time the heart rate went right back up and we were in the clear. I would have been scared but honestly, it all happened so fast I just didn’t have time to — or maybe I just didn’t have the energy to think properly.
Finally, around 8:30 or so, I asked the nurse to check dilation again and she said we were ready to go! I was still hurting but man, I felt SO hopeful. FINALLY!
There was suddenly a big flurry of activity. The (pediatric nurse?) brought in her baby station, the OB came back in, the light was unfolding and my bed was being adjusted…
My doctor offered to give me a local injection to numb the pain at the exit (which I now know is a pudendal nerve block, if you care to learn about it — I hadn’t ever heard of it before it was happening). I wasn’t so sure but the doula explained what it was and some relief sounded real nice, so I agreed. Let me just tell you that I felt that shot! Both of them, actually — there were two. Andrew told me later the needle was seriously massive and it made him pretty queasy. Good thing I didn’t see it! Through all this again, it’s kind of funny thinking back because I was saying out loud pretty much everything I was thinking. The OB was saying to push and I asked him several times “NOW?!” because it felt like the shot was still being injected! I guess it was phantom/memory pain.
So it was time to push! I remember thinking before that I might like to try a more natural position like squatting, but once I was in the moment there was no way I was getting up again! So I pushed as hard as I humanly could. And then I heard a very distinct “snip!” of the scissors. Yeah, it’s every bit as unsettling as you would imagine — but at least I didn’t feel a thing. Well then, I guess that was an episiotomy, I remember thinking to myself. It was pretty surreal, but I didn’t have very long to think about it because it was time to push again. I only pushed a handful of times before I was being told to look down and see my baby — and there she was!
Oh my goodness, she seemed so big and long! And she didn’t really scream cry, more like grunted/whimpered. It was so surreal to hear her little voice, and to see here there.
It all happened in a blur: the OB did a little suctioning, Andrew clipped the cord — I remember he had to give it a second try ha ha — and then she was placed on my chest, squirming and warm and wet.
I was so thrilled that it was finally over, and Andrew later told me how relieved he was, that he had felt completely helpless and that it was a pretty nerve wracking experience.
He’s not the only one that felt powerless! If there’s one thing birthing is good at, I learned, it’s knocking the wind right out of you — it took all I had to just hold on and ride the wave. But what a reward!
Looking at that precious little girl was so incredible. I couldn’t believe how beautiful I immediately found her — so perfect and so lovely. She didn’t have a funny-shaped head, her skin was the softest thing on earth, and that sweet strawberry-blond hair! It took us both by surprise.
Some people talk about love at first sight, but for me it was more a feeling of everything being right in the world. Of course she was here, and of course she was wonderful. It was also a funny moment, because after a moment I realized she was pooping into my hand. Too much excitement I guess! (and likely stress from the low heartbeat episode) I’ll spare you and future her that picture 😉 I was so happy to just hold her and look at her — we really couldn’t take our eyes off her.
There were some more unpleasantries then, the OB stitched me up and the nurses kneaded my abdomen (so fun!) and gave me pitocin to help the uterus clamp back down, which got me shivering pretty bad. (I hadn’t had an IV until that point, but since she was out of me at that point I didn’t really feel the need to oppose the drugs) I had planned to do skin to skin and breastfeed immediately but the OB was in a hurry to leave and wanted to weigh/measure her first. I was honestly too tired to really care in the moment.
And then her nurse said her temperature was too low and wouldn’t give her back until she had warmed her up under her special lamp (isn’t that what skin-to-skin is for?) and Andrew kept popping out and back in because the family wanted to come in and I wanted to wait until she was ok and I could have Adelina back in my arms. But it took what felt like forever, so we ended up letting them in and everybody swarmed the bassinet to ooh and ah and take a million pictures. I would have too!
I honestly don’t remember the sequence of events too clearly but at some point shortly after birth, we gave breastfeeding a go. There were a lot of helping hands, and then she latched right on! It was amazing. It didn’t feel very pleasant on my end, but that would be the start of a learning and adjustment process I’ll write plenty more about later. But I remember being amazed that she could come out of the womb and just know what to do so simply.
Andrew’s parents and my aunts marveled at our little girl and congratulated us, and then suddenly the flurry of activity was over and everybody left. One nurse took Andrew to go bathe Adelina and get her standard care while my nurse helped me shower, get cleaned up and gave me some aftercare instructions. What an angel that nurse was. And I have a lot of gratitude for all of my nurses — caring and compassionate and encouraging in my hardest and lowest moments.
That shower was a very slow and long one. I remember the water felt like gravel against my skin, and the towels were as rough as sandpaper. The water rinsed and washed over me and yet the blood kept coming. I got weak and took my time, but it was amazing to feel clean and fresh again.
We were finally alone in our room, left to wonder at everything that had happened. Our beautiful baby girl was there with us and we couldn’t believe she was ours! We also turned on the news to watch Adelina’s first on-air appearance — our photographer got some pictures to my co-anchor just in time so they could welcome the newest member of the team in style (you can see it here if we’re Facebook friends).
Little did we realize as we sat there, exhausted but oh-so-happy, that it was just the beginning of quite a roller coaster ride! But for the time being, we were in our little cocoon of a room, left to focus only on our daughter and cared for at every turn — and it was heaven. And there she was, our precious Adelina, all eyes and perfect little cheeks, the sweetest cry, all ours to love and get to know.
Maternity and birth photography by Tracey Allred Photography