Writing a birth story is hard. You can really make it as simple or complex a version as you want. “I labored and then my baby came out” – this is how birth goes, and that simplicity is powerful too. But there is so much more (which is why this story is so long, but hey, so was my labor). I’ll try to keep it focused, but I assure you that I can and likely will spend the rest of my life reflecting on the amazing, earth shattering, and immensely healing experience that was the birth of my daughter, Celosia Pearl.
My pregnancy was really emotionally difficult, having lost two babies in 2013, one at 9 weeks and one at 11. I worked through my grief as best I could, but the fear and the sadness never really left me. I also have above average blood pressure (aka chronic hypertension) that is managed without medicine outside of pregnancy, but I ended up needing medication during pregnancy to keep it out of the severe range. I did all of my own pregnancy care and management, and of course still planned and had a homebirth, so I had a lot of daily stress about if I was making the right choices for me and my baby. I still loved being pregnant though, feeling my sweet little one move and listening to her heart with my fetoscope. I loved that it was “my turn” after years of working with other pregnant mamas. I had dreamt of this baby for so very long, and couldn’t wait to meet her.
I had lots of “ripening contractions” in the week and a half before labor really started. Many days I had them every 10 or 15 minutes, and I was getting really hopeful that this meant it would be soon. Eventually I ignored them since it seemed to go on forever. Then on Saturday, July 12th (40 weeks exactly!) I started feeling slight pressure with each ripening contraction, and they were about 10 minutes apart for the afternoon and evening. My partner, Russell, and I got ready for bed and he was already asleep by the time I laid down around 10PM. I timed a few more and they were closer together, 7-8 minutes. Then a few minutes after lying down I had one that felt like a strong menstrual cramp, and then another and another. I kept trying to fall asleep but they were annoying enough right off the bat that I had to get up on my hands and knees during them since laying down felt really icky. I still tried to sleep but eventually gave up since I couldn’t sleep through them, and I watched some shows on the computer while leaning over the bed. I texted my dearest friend and Indie Birth founder Maryn at midnight telling her that “this is probably it…5 minutes apart, some closer, a little under a minute long and needing to breath through them”.
Soon they were coming 3-4 minutes apart, how exciting! I called Maryn around 3AM to check in because I was feeling sort of confused about the pattern and how close I was getting or not, and if I should get in the pool, and I needed to hear some wise words. I said I thought it was too soon for her to come over, and that I wasn’t convinced it would be soon even though the pattern made it seem like it would be. Turns out my sense was correct! She told me to get in the pool if it sounded good, and it did.
Russell filled the birth pool and I got in. It was nice to be able to move more freely and I slept a bit between contractions, which I was NOT a fan of. Waking up in the middle of a contraction was really terrible in my opinion, and sort of undid any resting accomplished. I called Maryn again at 4:30AM and asked her to come over. The rest of this morning is fuzzy – in the pool, out of the pool, toning through contractions that were still pretty strong, but got slightly farther apart (6-7 minutes) as the day went on.
At 2pm, I asked Maryn to check me because we were going on 15 hours since I felt like things had started, and I was beginning to feel demoralized (I couldn’t reach my cervix around my giant belly so I couldn’t do it myself!). I knew that if I wasn’t close to the end, I really had to do some serious maintenance with food, drinks and “rest” to stay in the game. I had been doing a good job of this already- eating something every hour, drinking lots of water and Recharge – but knew I would need some incentive to do even more if I was still early on in the process. I have witnessed firsthand how labors can be derailed by NOT paying enough attention to these basic needs. I felt like the information from a vaginal exam would help me take that job more seriously, and being such a great friend and support, Maryn obliged, even though we both agree that exams are not a routine part of birth! This was another way in which this process humbled me and forced me to really make the choice that was right for me and my baby in that moment. My cervix was thin and stretchy, but not very open. This is what I would have guessed intuitively, but my head couldn’t believe it was possible after so many hours of seemingly “good” contractions.
The game plan was to try and slow things down so I could get some rest, since we still had a ways to go. I got back in the pool and drank some wine to try to get the contractions to slow down. They still kept coming about every 8 minutes and were intense, so I still wasn’t able to sleep much between them, and certainly not through them. Eventually we all decided Maryn should go home so we could try to pretend I wasn’t in labor. I was having a hard time keeping my composure since I was so tired, and the contractions felt so intense. I wondered how I could possibly get through this if we had barely made any progress. Later that afternoon I remembered that Maryn had a tincture that could help slow things down, so we took a drive to go pick it up at her house and get some fresh air. Contractions in the car were awful. I felt so hopeless and scared that this labor was never going to end, that I wouldn’t be able to go on any longer at some point, or that I’d have to go get some sort of “help”. When we got home, Russell cooked us chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli for dinner and I was glad to get some real food into my body since I had been snacking on light foods all day.
That night (Sunday night to Monday morning) was really mentally challenging. I felt like I was trapped treading water in choppy ocean waves. I was so tired, but there was no escape. No choice to do anything but continue breathing and hope that someday this labor would be over and that I would meet my baby. I wonder now if this feeling held back progress, since I really didn’t believe that I was moving forward at all, it felt like I was just maintaining, staying afloat and waiting for the real deal. I eventually found a groove though watching Hollywood Game Night of all things. I wasn’t really watching of course, it was just background noise. I laid down on a carefully constructed pillow system, with one leg and one arm hanging off of the bed into space, and slept for the 5 or 6 minutes in between each contraction. I would wake with the sensation building, tap my contraction app (something else I never thought I would use, but it proved helpful since I felt completely delirious and was unable to sense what was actually happening) and jump up to pace the floor. I found that NOT vocalizing helped keep me calmer. I was trying to allow the contractions to wash over me gently, sending the energy down, and I felt more in control. In my desperate, middle of the night internet googling about long labors I had read someone’s story online about counting her breaths during contractions, which I found that to be really helpful. I would take 12 or so really slow deep breaths each time, so by number 6 I knew it was half over. During contractions I was pissed though that they were 12 breaths long. I did this through at least 2 episodes of that show. Somehow I got through the night with this combination of coping mechanisms.
As the sun rose on Monday morning I was on a mission to get some sort of plan together in order to stay sane. I called another midwife friend and she gave me amazing, uplifting advice and support – she reminded me that what I was experiencing was a version of normal, especially the first time, and that I was doing a fabulous job, and I WOULD meet my baby soon. I messaged back and forth with another midwife, and she said the same things, and I felt a glimmer of hope. I decided we would go get breakfast somewhere, show up at the chiropractors office the minute they opened, and stop by Maryn’s for some more moral support. Don’t go get breakfast at a restaurant while you’re in labor. After breakfast, we were able to quickly get into the chiropractor. The adjustment felt good, and baby felt like she moved a bit.
I asked another friend to come over to give me a massage at lunch time in hopes that it would help me relax and rest somehow. At one point I fell asleep in the middle of a sentence, and she told me how cute it was when I inevitably woke up in the middle of yet another contraction. Russell took the opportunity to go into work for a few hours.
Later that night (now 44 hours in), my mucus plug came out while I was on the toilet. It was ENORMOUS, so when I felt it emerging, I yelled “RUSSELL! SOMETHING IS COMING OUT OF ME! HELP!”. I was worried it was a blood clot for a moment, until I looked closer and realized it was just a huge mucous plug. This gave me additional hope that something more was happening, and I was opening more. For dinner, Russell made me leftovers from the night before in attempts to fortify me with another real meal. I knew the chicken in particular sounded really bad, and made me nauseous thinking about it, but he insisted I try to eat it anyways (I have taught him well about this whole “you have to eat in labor” thing). So I did, and then I promptly threw up everything in my stomach between contractions. This scared me, and I cried with frustration since I knew I needed more calories to keep going. I found something else to eat instead, probably another coconut milk smoothie or some cheese and crackers.
Luckily, things started to feel a little different later that night and I had renewed hope that this was going to be the final stretch since the mucous plug and the vomiting also seemed promising. By 11PM contractions were 2-4 minutes apart again, and I called Maryn at 1am on Tuesday to let her know I wanted her to come back over. Russell begrudgingly refilled the birth pool and I got in because I felt like things were really at the point where they wouldn’t stop until baby came out. I felt like I was hallucinating between contractions, would wake myself up by snoring, or I would wake up as a contraction was building and I’d scramble to get myself together to get through it. Honestly, it was really nightmarish and strange.
Things changed again around 8AM when I starting having involuntary pushing happen with about 1/3 of each contraction. I could breath it away for the first little bit, but then my body would bear down on its own for the middle, and then I’d be able to breathe it away again for the tail end. It was very much the “throwing down” I had heard other women describe, like throwing up, but the other way. I was excited about it at first, but eventually when the pattern didn’t change, and obviously there was no downward progress happening I got super frustrated and was dreading every contraction during the in between moments. I was so exhausted and just needed more reassurance so that I could continue on, so I had Maryn check me again at 9:30AM and she told me I was pretty much all the way open and we just needed baby to come down and out once it was time and all was lined up. That gave me so much hope, though I didn’t really register the reality of it since I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that I would be in labor for the rest of my life. I also always thought a person would “feel” like their cervix was enormously open, but this was not the case apparently.
I eventually got back in the pool and around 11AM and I felt inside to see what, if anything, there was to feel, and I felt the bag of waters coming through! This was very exciting to me, and I was hoping they would break and baby would follow shortly. I felt inside again at the end of a contraction later on in the morning hours and sort of gave them a curious poke and the waters released. I wouldn’t say I “broke them” but I wasn’t NOT trying to break them either….I can’t say for sure, and looking back, I probably would have left it alone.
We had a listen to the baby and all sounded well, and I got out of the tub again. I stomped around house, did lots more forward leaning on the floor next to my bed, we took a walk, did lots of different positions, vocalized a lot, and had my hips squeezed. I was still having the involuntary bearing down through all of my contractions, but I wasn’t adding any voluntary pushing on top of them since I wanted to wait until it was definitely time.
We eventually concluded that the baby was probably asynclitic, and needed to move into a better position before they were going to come out. We consulted friends and books and the Spinning Babies website and tried lots of different things. I did some contractions in Walcher’s position, which is on your back with your bum propped up in the air, and that seemed to help reposition baby a little bit. Eventually, I started trying to add some pushing effort to see how it felt and if it changed anything. I pulled on one end of a towel while my partner held the other end, and that felt good. I felt the baby move down a tiny bit after a while with the added effort, but it didn’t feel totally right to be pushing without the strong urge, sort of unproductive or something. So I asked Maryn to check me again after an hour or so of trying this (see? Humbled…) and it felt like the baby had indeed moved down a smidge but really not much. This was disheartening, but that fact that there was any movement was also enough to keep me going.
Then at 3:45PM I asked for help listening to baby to make sure they were still doing ok (we’d listened on and off through the labor as I felt like I needed to). This is where things got really wacky and dramatic. Baby’s heart tones were much lower than the usual baseline and not recovering super fast when we listened in between contractions, and I immediately panicked and felt like we had to get ready to go into the hospital, it was just a matter of which one and how to get there (both choices involved a 30 minute drive). I started to feel really fearful, and Russell got dressed and started getting the car ready. Maryn told me to stay centered and take a deep breath. I threw a dress on that didn’t fit at all, and felt a deep sense of urgency, like we needed to really hurry, but everything seemed like it was happening in slow motion. I felt so scared for my baby and couldn’t believe this was happening. I was also scared for myself going into that situation, where I would likely be treated with hostility, and I started crying. Then I had another contraction, which just felt like salt on a wound at that point. I got really angry that we were in this situation, wondering if our baby was ok, wondering if we needed to go get help – my two biggest fears throughout the pregnancy. Feeling sort of hopeless, I decided to feel inside again (literally and figuratively I suppose) and BEHOLD! I felt the tip of the baby’s head!!!! This gave me a spark of hope, and made me think that the best option would be to try to get the baby out asap at home rather than drive the 30 minutes to the hospital and risk having the baby on the side of the road, or worse, not getting the baby out for another hour after getting checked in, etc, etc at the hospital and who knows what condition the baby would be in by then.
Even though I had no real urge, I pushed as hard as I could with the next contractions and felt some movement down. But we listened again and the heart tones were still doing the same thing, and as quickly as it had gone, I felt that really intense fear come back and told Maryn we should call an ambulance but that I would try to push her out before they got there. She helped me get centered by asking me if I felt like something was really wrong or not – I said I wasn’t sure, but in retrospect I felt fearful, but not like anything was wrong. Before I could act on wanting to call for an ambulance I felt pressure in my butt like I needed to poop, which I knew meant she was probably getting close, but I was so skeptical that I didn’t really believe it and was more annoyed by the seemingly positive sign, so I stuck my finger in my butt (ya, you read that correctly) thinking that would dispel the lingering hope I had, and that is when I REALLY felt her head right there filling the space in the back of my body. I didn’t mention transporting again since then I KNEW I would get her out. I did some some lying and then McRoberts to see if that would help with the heart tones (it did) and I made some serious progress and got to the “bulging vagina” point. I tried to imagine every molecule of energy in my body directing itself towards pushing this baby out, and after maybe 4 contractions in McRobert’s her head started to show, and I felt her head from the outside too!!!! “My baby!!!”. I asked “How many more contractions til its out?!” since I was still worried about her despite her heart tones sounding better laying down. Of course that is a ridiculous question and Maryn and Russell just encouraged me to keep going since we were doing great. I had no real concerns about the baby’s wellbeing by this point, though I still felt a definite sense of urgency about getting her out.
After a few more contractions, and with the baby really starting to feel close, I felt the need to get up and do the towel pull in a full squat again. I really felt the baby start to move down fast then, and felt her whole head coming down through my tissues – what an amazing feeling! I thought it felt sort of good. Almost no pain, just little prickly sensations as I stretched, and so much excitement that it was finally happening. I pushed so freaking hard, and I thought to myself that I didn’t care if I needed vaginal reconstruction surgery if it meant I was going to get to meet my baby and that she would be alright. I asked Maryn if I could push without a contraction because I was so anxious to get her out, and I had sort of lost track of what I was doing consciously versus what my body was doing involuntarily anyways – and she quickly said “no!”. Silly me, of course you don’t push without a contraction. Thankfully, I felt part of her head emerge on the next contraction. She only came out to her eyeballs and blinked at Russell and Maryn – what a goofy baby. I dropped forward onto my hands and one knee, and Maryn told Russell to get ready to catch her. It was really happening! The rest of the baby’s head just sort of oozed out before the next contraction and the next contraction my body gently pushed out the rest of the baby’s body and Russell passed her to me through my legs at 4:12PM.
What bliss! How could words begin to describe this moment? I finally got to meet this person I had been dreaming of for so long, who I already loved more than anything else in the world, and who I had feared so deeply that I would never get to meet Earthside in this lifetime. She was so perfect, and I knew she was just fine from the moment I saw her. I never felt worried about her at all – she was pink and breathing and cried quickly. She had a mix of liquids in her mouth so I sucked them out with my own mouth. After what I would describe as a 66 hour labor I also felt intense relief. I felt amazing – no more contractions! At least not like what I’d been experiencing. I looked to see the sex and said, “You’re a girl! Of course you’re a girl!”. We enjoyed her some more, and my attention turned to birthing the placenta. I really didn’t feel any afterbirth contractions, and after about 20 minutes and noting that the cord had lengthened and I saw a separation gush I followed the cord up and felt it sitting right at the os. I made sure my belly was hard and contracted and guided the placenta out into a stainless steel pot.
I started feeling weird shortly after this, so we got me into bed and watched my bleeding. Maryn made us a pizza and she and Russell cleaned up a bit while baby and I laid in bed. We cut the cord after an hour and a half and collected cord blood to test her blood type to help me make a decision about getting Rhogam. Then Maryn helped me to the bathroom to pee, which was easier than expected, but then I felt REALLY weird, like I was hearing everything from underwater, and my vision felt really bright or maybe more in focus or something. We started walking slowly back to the bed, and next thing I knew I was looking at Maryn and the ceiling, and I quickly asked “Did I faint?!”. I think I was mostly embarrassed since it all felt so dramatic. I luckily fainted ONTO the bed, nearly onto my pepperoni pizza! I scootched carefully up to my spot on the bed and laid totally flat, checked my uterus and took my blood pressure, which was totally normal for me. I felt fine laying down, so I was going to spend at least the next 24 hours in bed, only getting out to pee into a bowl on a chux pad next to the bed. I never felt that weird feeling again, though I did crave my placenta smoothies in the following days, and I credit consuming the entire placenta in 2 days with how great I felt so quickly despite losing a decent amount of blood and having such a long labor. Baby latched in the first few hours as we snuggled skin to skin. I was on a serious birth high as I took her in, and tried to comprehend how this mysterious little person had arrived in our home.
What an “affair”! About halfway through my pregnancy I had a dream that the baby just plopped out of me with no one else there. In the dream, I called Maryn and told her the baby came fast, and I said, “I really didn’t expect that after the first one was such an affair” or something to that effect. In that dream I also saw this baby though when I went to check the sex, and I said “Oh, you’re Celosia!” Who knows, since dreams aren’t always literal, but I thought about that a lot this pregnancy – was this baby going to plop out, or was it going to be the “affair” I mentioned on the phone in the dream? I never could have imagined the level of intensity of this birth, so here’s hoping that means that the next baby just plops out without any hoopla.
I am grateful to have had the experience I did though, since it has instilled an even deeper trust in the birth process and in women’s abilities to birth their babies, even when things don’t go according to plan. I’m in awe of my body as well as my heart and mind, and feel amazed by how much I was willing and able to endure in order to bring my sweet baby Earthside. I have always believed in other women, but I was put to the test in believing in myself. I wondered during my pregnancy if I was the exception because I was too this or too that, or because I have my blood pressure condition. When I was being rational, I knew that of course I could birth my baby, but I had to FEEL it and move through those fears during the labor to really overcome them. Celosia showed me the beauty of patience, humility and surrender to the forces that are greater than ourselves. I needed to tap into my deepest knowing during moments of terror, and I found I was able to access my own truth even then. After the birth I had a few days of feeling really guilty, wondering “what if” and questioning my decision making. Had I just gotten lucky? Had I played fast and loose with my baby’s life? Or did I really know in the moment that staying home was the best choice? I know now that whatever the case, I was certain about what I needed to do in the moment, and I am very glad I trusted that, and will be more ready to trust that voice again in the future. I think this birth was healing on other levels too. When I was born, my heart tones dropped into the 70’s near the end and I was taken away from my mom to have deep suctionin. I think that allowing my baby to stay right with me and still attached to her placenta allowed her to transition smoothly, only needing me to gently suck the fluids from her mouth with my own mouth, and I think that healed that separation from my own mom and the physical intrusion of deep suctioning from my own birth that I hadn’t yet resolved.
I have this poem by Maya Angelou printed and hung in our home – it was a reading at our commitment ceremony and I read it often at the end of my pregnancy as I moved closer to labor and birth. It means so much more to me now. Thank you Celosia Pearl for helping strike away the chains of fear from my soul. My love for you truly has set me free.
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.