Lindsey’s story of Meredith’s birth reminds us that our birthing time requires mental as well as physical strength. Having the right, supportive people around you can often help you achieve the outcome you so desire!
My Third Birth Story
A little background first… after giving birth naturally in the hospital to my first daughter, I became a certified childbirth educator. After the homebirth of my second daughter, I went to the next level and began serving as a doula, and eventually transitioned into serving as my own midwife’s assistant and student at homebirths. I had full intentions of training to be a midwife, but life sometimes gets in the way of our best laid plans and I eventually had to make the hard decision to discontinue my midwifery studies and focus on just being a stay at home mom and occasional doula.
I found out I was expecting our third baby shortly after our 10th wedding anniversary. We already had two daughters (ages 5 and 3), so from the get go I was convinced this new baby would be a boy. My 5 year old had been saying for a year that she wanted a brother named Gideon, after her favorite brother on her favorite movie, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” It had been something we had jokingly referred to so many times that we just immediately started calling the baby-to-be Gideon, the name had grown on us so much. If you asked my daughter what she would name the baby if it was a girl, her answer was “Acorn Nut.” Obviously she was convinced I had a boy baby on board too.
While I was thrilled to be expecting this third baby, I was in a bit of a quandary. My home birth midwife had moved out of state in between my second birth and this new pregnancy, and besides that, I was feeling a little gun shy about another home birth. After attending so many in the recent years I had seen a few rare complications play out (thankfully, all with happy endings) and suddenly now I was just not sure if I wanted another homebirth for myself. I chalk it up to the normal fears any mother would have, coupled with a little too much information and real life experience about what CAN (but usually DOESN’T) happen at births. I took my own advice and, like I tell my childbirth class students, I went with the plan that I felt most at peace with at the time. With my husband’s full support, this new plan included a small local hospital and a fantastic CNM named Ashley whom I discovered (during a transvaginal ultrasound, ha!) had actually attended the same high school as I did. We hit it off right away and I looked forward to my prenatal visits because it felt more like a meet up with an old friend than a medical appointment.
Everything about my pregnancy was normal. I was actually in much better health this time around thanks to joining a CrossFit gym the week before my 30th birthday. I felt confident in my ability to take good care of my pregnant self, and my midwife was such a great ally. She never made me feel like I was anything less than an equal partner in my care, signing off on my decisions to skip a test here and there, and helping me make the decision to get the Rhogam shot at 28 weeks (something I had not researched in past pregnancies, when I was less inclined to find “natural” solutions to general health and pregnancy related things, so I really wanted to make sure I understood what it was and why I was getting it this time). And best of all, she told me early on that she would commit as far as it was humanly possible to be present at my birth. That was a huge load off my mind, because the worst part of my prenatal care and delivery with my first baby was that I literally had no idea who I would see at any given appointment or the birth itself. I don’t do well with surprises.
Speaking of surprises, my husband Chris convinced me that on this third round, we ought to skip finding out the sex of the baby. Did I mention I don’t do well with surprises? I really didn’t want to, but for him I agreed to be “Team Green” and wait until the actual birth to discover the gender of this baby. I told everyone it didn’t matter anyway because I was CONVINCED I was having a boy. I didn’t need an ultrasound to tell me that. When we did have the standard 20 week ultrasound, however, I developed a nagging suspicion that Chris had actually peeked and knew the sex of the baby. He still will not admit to having done this but he sure does look guilty every time I ask about it.
I was due in late April. At an appointment sometime in March, Ashley came in with a look on her face that said “I have bad news.” She told me that she had just been hired at a different practice and effective May 1, her employment with the current practice would end. No biggie, I thought. I’m due the 21st and I ALWAYS go into labor five days after my due date. I truly wasn’t worried; I had ten days of wiggle room before she would be gone to her new job. Plus, I couldn’t really be upset, regardless of what happened, because I was happy for her that she was going to get to do water birth, a personal passion of hers that she had been trying without avail to get started at the local hospital for over two years.
My pregnancy went along entirely uneventfully. Everything was always right on target: weight gain, belly measurements, fetal movement, and the heart rate was always solidly in “boy territory,” between 145-150. (I know, I know, that’s an old wives’ tale.) But did I mention I don’t like surprises? Well, two weeks before my due date my husband casually mentions he isn’t sure about the girl name we’ve had picked out for, oh, 5 months. I didn’t honestly think it mattered since I was sure we were having a boy, but that was stressful having to start from scratch on names so close to the due date! Luckily, we were able to quickly settle on a new name, which again, I didn’t really think we’d need. Looking back, that was honestly the first time I even considered the baby might be a girl. Before then, there was not a doubt in my mind that my fetus had a penis.
So, I made it to my due date. I knew I would all along, but it’s always so hard to convince everyone else that it’s really not a big deal! I was getting phone calls, texts, Facebook messages, you name it, from everyone and their mom, all of whom were dying to know if I was in labor because they just couldn’t wait another day to find out if this wee baby was a boy or a girl. I went five days overdue with each of my prior pregnancies, so I was just sure that on that 40+5 day, I would go into labor.
And then 40+5 came and went. I cried and then baked a birthday cake, on the recommendation of a high school teacher of mine (and Ashley’s! haha) who forgot to mention when she made said cake baking recommendation that she went 44 weeks with her first baby. I overlooked that depressing fact because part of me just really needed to stress eat something decadent because the days were ticking down to when my midwife would become unavailable to me because of her changing employment. I could not really let myself think about that or the anxiety would set in and I just didn’t want to let any joy get stolen during those last few days of being pregnant. I really love being pregnant.
On the morning of 40+6 I woke up at 6:45 am with my first real contraction. I knew right away it was real labor time – finally! I “put my game face on,” to quote my dear friend and veteran natural birther, Staci, and started mentally preparing myself for the fact that today was going to be my baby’s birthday. The contractions started at 7 minutes apart and stayed that way for an hour or two while I got my other kids settled with my mom, who lives just up the street from us. Then my best friend Caren, who was going to double as my doula, came over and we got down to business. She was working me hard! Squat! Sway! Birth ball! It was hilarious. We ate cake and joked about what a slave driver I had been when I doula’d her during her last labor, and the time went by quickly. My contractions were soon 3-5 minutes apart and I was breathing through them. I let my midwife know that labor was definitely cranking and she gave her blessing for us to stay at home as long as we wanted, and then to let her know when we were leaving the house so she could meet us at labor and delivery. I assured her we would be arriving very close to when I was ready to give birth. She said to just not forget she needed 45 minutes to get there.
Around 11:30 am, Caren suggested (like a good doula) that I have some lunch before labor got too serious for me to want to eat. We went to the kitchen and sat down, where my contractions immediately took a turn for the more serious. I ate an apple with peanut butter and as soon as I swallowed the last bite, I looked at my husband and promptly burst into tears. I could barely choke out a response to his “What’s wrong?” before the shaking started. What in the world? Was it possible that I was going into transition after only 6ish hours of pretty manageable labor? Both my previous labors were 14+ hours, so this was pretty unexpected, whatever it was. I finally managed to say “I think I want to go to the hospital” and something in my voice made Chris and Caren immediately feel like that was a great idea! So they basically threw me and the bags in the car and we sped off in that direction. Caren called my midwife and my friend Jess who was also coming to the birth, Chris called my sister Lauren, and everyone was headed to the hospital in perfect unison.
The whole ride to the hospital was surreal: I was aware that Chris was driving pretty fast, and I was still shaking uncontrollably, so much so that my teeth were chattering, and I was having very strong contractions that felt like my water was going to break any second. It was not my favorite car ride I’ve ever taken. Including the part where we almost got in a wreck (thank you, driver who swerved into our lane), it was a pretty uncomfortable experience. But I kept reassuring Caren and Chris that I was NOT going to have the baby in the car. I’m not sure they believed me.
We got to the hospital right around 12:30 pm and I managed to skip checking in at the ER, which was my only real “concern” about how the transition to the hospital would go. I was really dreading that step of the process, having to be in the ER in labor, in front of a bunch of strangers, giving the intake nurse my social security number, etc. I was so relieved when a last minute idea of Chris’s worked: we just told them that Jess was my sister and they let her recite all my personal info off a piece of paper we had written it on. I then went straight up to L&D, and because the nurse at the station had heard from my midwife that a multip was coming in, possibly in transition, they could not hurry me into a bed fast enough. She pointed me towards Labor Suite F, to why I replied, “F sounds about right!” Ha. Even in labor I’m told I keep my sense of humor pretty well intact until close to the end. The nurse assigned to me quickly came and hooked me up to the monitor for an initial 20 minute strip and Ashley arrived to check on me shortly thereafter.
Ashley asked if I wanted to be checked and I really didn’t know if I did. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be disappointed if I weren’t at least 8 centimeters. On the other hand, if I were really in transition with all this shaking and crying I wanted to be able to wrap my brain around a faster than usual labor. So we agreed she would check me and just tell me “progress” if there was any. Once she was in there trying to find my cervix I immediately knew we had a lot of work left to do. She said, “Well, you’re not 8…” and as I closed my eyes so she could mouth the actual number for my doula and husband, my brain immediately screamed “You’re only a 4!” So I said, “I’m only a 4 aren’t I?! You can tell the truth!” Everyone laughed nervously and went straight into encouraging labor talk. “You’re doing great!” “You have so much energy left!” “Things are going perfectly!” I just kept repeating that I was only a 4. Later Ashley admitted that I was spot on with my guesses for that and every repeat cervical exam during the course of the labor.
So, we walked. And squatted. And breathed. And walked some more. And squatted some more. And even started moaning a little during contractions. Mentally, I was annoyed. I just wanted to be done! Why wasn’t this going faster? It’s my third baby for crying out loud; I thought third babies were the ones you got to practically sneeze out.
Four hours went by, and I really felt like I was working hard by the end of those four hours. I tried to be a good laborer and do all the stuff Caren and Jess were suggesting, but truthfully I wanted to be done with all the squatting and walking and breathing so I asked Ashley to check me again, hoping that she could tell me this time I was 8. Eight is my magic labor number; once I get to 8 I feel like I’m going to make it. Until 8 I’m pretty sure I’m going to be in labor forever. She checked and cheerily said, “Well, you’re not 8! BUT you have made a LOT of progress… the baby is lower and your cervix is much thinner!” UGH! I’m a doula… and a former midwifery student… I know what this means! “I’m ONLY a 5 aren’t I?!?!?” More nervous laughter and encouraging labor buzz words from my support team. They were doing such a good job of trying to verbally prop me up. But I was really over it at this point. I dragged my husband into the bathroom and wailed, so pitifully, “I’m done! I just want to be done! I just want to know if the baby is a boy or a girl! Why aren’t I done yet???” And then he said three words I hated to hear: “Look at me.” “No.” “Lindsey, LOOK AT ME.” So I looked at him. “You haven’t given up yet. You’re still trying to control this. Just give up and let’s have this baby, already.” Ugh. He was right. I hate when that happens, ESPECIALLY when I’m in labor.
So I did just that. I gave up all the control I had left and for another three hours I just surrendered to the will of my contractions and the suggestions of my doula and midwife. I was not a cheerful laborer; I did a lot of crying and complaining. My catch phrase after every wrenching contraction was “YOU GUYS…” which meant “You guys… I don’t think I can keep doing this.” Somehow everyone knew that’s what I meant even though I never actually said it out loud. I couldn’t say any more than that because I had to use every second in between to recompose myself, take a deep breath, and prepare for the next contraction. During those three hours I eventually realized the contractions weren’t getting any harder. I was definitely working VERY hard to manage them, but I was doing it (even if it only felt like I was just barely hanging on) and because they weren’t getting harder, I knew I was in transition and finally getting close to the end. At some time during all that my sister Lauren arrived, which my husband credits to being the final thing that needed to fall into place in order for me to really give in and have the baby.
At 8 pm Ashley offered to check me again. This time, I knew I would get good news so I said yes. Hearing her say “You’re 8!!!” was amazing. I was so relieved! My water was still intact and she asked if I wanted her to rupture it. I’ve never had that done before so I was waffling on making that decision, until a mind-bendingly intense contraction hit and I yelled, “Break it, break it, BREAK IT ASHLEY BREAK IT!!” So she did. And oh my goodness. Now I understand what all my friends and clients are talking about when they describe that first contraction after getting your water broken. In my previous labors, my water ruptured on its own around 4-5 centimeters so the difference in the contractions wasn’t as intense. But at 8? Ha. That’s just unbelievably intense.
Breaking my water almost immediately made my cervix progress to 9, and shortly after that I started spontaneously pushing at the height of contractions. But I was still feeling a lot of pain up front which made me think I was reliving a cervical lip, something that happened during my second labor. Ashley recognized what was going on so she checked me again and confirmed I was 9. I tried so hard just to breathe through those last few contractions but my baby was coming whether my cervix decided to cooperate or not. I felt completely out of control at this point, like a cavewoman. Until I watched the video later I would’ve sworn to you I was just screaming and clawing at people (I wasn’t… I actually just sound really whiny and thrashed around a lot). Finally after pushing involuntarily 4-5 times I said, “It burns!” Ashley look surprised and said, “What burns, honey?” All I could say was “IT!” at which point my baby’s head must have been visible because Ashley laughed and said “Do I have time to put on some gloves?” I thought to myself, “NO!”
We had talked ahead of time about Chris helping catch the baby, so at that point Caren reminded him that he needed to come and, well, catch the baby. I knew baby was coming fast so I told him it was alright and let go of his hand so he could go around to the end of the bed. Then I hung onto Caren for dear life and pretty much just pushed because I couldn’t stop and before everyone was really ready I was delivering my sweet baby. I had my eyes closed for that last push, so when I heard Ashley say “Look Lindsey!” I opened them and saw Chris first, and then in his hands I saw a screaming, wet, pink baby. It was probably the favorite moment of my life, to have him catch and hand me that baby. My second favorite moment came next.
The moment I had been waiting so many months for had finally arrived, and at 8:45 pm the baby was in my arms and the only thing left to do was confirm that I had been right all along about our baby being a boy. I tried two or three times to grab that slippery little leg before I finally got it up enough to see… “You’re a GIRL?!?! Hi Meredith!!!” I cannot possibly overemphasize that it was the BEST surprise ever and so worth the entire 14 hours of hard work. We were all laughing and crying and I said more than once “I’m so relieved it’s over! I can’t believe she’s a girl!” I also mentioned how excited my 3 year old daughter was going to be, because she had said throughout my whole pregnancy: “My no like boy babies.”
The hospital nursing staff (at Ashley’s direction) was great about leaving us alone to bond for that first hour and beyond, and they didn’t even blink when I said no thanks to all the routine stuff. Only when we noticed Meredith looking a little chilly did the nurse ask to take and look at her for a second, and I got her right back in two hats and a warm blanket so we could keep snuggling. She latched on and nursed for awhile, and then I let everyone pass her around for some snuggles while I ate the sushi my friend Jess went out and got for me as a victory dance after that challenging labor. Finally, when she was two hours old, I asked the nurse to please do the weight and measurements because we were getting cranky texts and phone calls from family members who were dying to know her stats. She was 7 pounds 8 ounces and 19 inches long, and perfect. We spent the night quietly resting in a labor suite and after following up with Ashley and seeing the pediatrician the next day, we left the hospital when Meredith was 24 hours and 37 minutes old. I felt calm and triumphant as we drove away with our new baby, without a single regret over how the labor and birth went.
Natural labor is always a challenge but I never cease to be amazed at the transformative nature of it. Within hours of her birth I was feeling renewed and like I could do it all over again if I had to. All my hopes for the experience itself came true – my doula, sister, and friend were able to be there. My labor started naturally in time for my midwife to attend the birth – Meredith was actually the last baby she had with that practice, neat huh? My husband caught the baby. I was in great shape physically after the birth itself and our baby was born perfectly healthy and in her own time. It was really a dream come true on all accounts. In fact the only thing that didn’t go “as planned” was that she came out a SHE! I’m absolutely thrilled to be her mama and I’d do it all again happily if it meant I got to feel again that wonderful surprise of looking at her and realizing she was nothing I had expected and everything I ever wanted.