Throughout my pregnancy, I read birth story after birth story and each time I read one I felt more empowered and more capable of the task that was ahead of me. Each story reminded me that birth is a natural process and one that my body was created to experience and to succeed at. Each story combatted the fear that our society often places around birth and replaced it with confidence, excitement, and anticipation. Each story made my own story more of a reality. So, with that, I wanted to share my story with you, in hopes that it would do the same for you.
Monday, February 22nd, was just a normal day for me, or so I thought. I went to work, taught my class, graded a few presentations, and cleaned up my desk a bit in preparations for my final days at the office. You see, I was scheduled to work through the end of that week and my baby was due the following week, so it was preparation time indeed! I felt that the baby had dropped that day and I found myself waddling around campus a bit more than usual, but that was to be expected as I was approaching the 39th week mark. After work that day, I went to my usual Monday chiropractor appointment and then on to my prenatal yoga class. At the chiropractor, the office staff commented on how my belly was sitting a bit lower than it had the week before and they were all placing bets on when our little one would arrive. I told them I was pretty sure it wasn't going to be that week...I mean, I had 4 days left of work and I really wanted to wrap things up and walk away with a clean slate. Besides, I had a prenatal massage scheduled for Saturday, and that sounded so very lovely. At yoga, I felt so motivated and so strong. My body had been craving the workout all day and every stretch felt so good and so empowering. As we squatted and held our goddess poses, I pictured myself laboring and breathing through contractions and I heard the verse that would become my mantra go through my head: "I can do all things through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13, NIV). That evening at home Dan and I went about our usual business. I put my tomato and pepper order together for my summer garden, while Dan worked and played on his computer. It was a low-key and relaxing evening.
Around 10:30 or 11:00 that evening as we got ready for bed, I had my first sign that labor was nearing. I lost a bit of my mucus plug along with a bit of bloody show (for those who are unfamiliar with the events of childbirth, I realize this may sound disgusting, but it is in fact a normal part of the birth process). The sight of the blood brought a bit of a giggle to my lips as I sat in the bathroom a bit shocked and unsure of what to make of it. I told Dan and also told him that this happens to some women weeks before they actually give birth, so it may not mean anything. I then proceeded to call my best friend and we giddily discussed what this could or could not mean for the timing of this impending birth. After getting off the phone with her, I texted my midwife, who promptly called me and wanted me to tell her all the details. She told me to go to sleep and call her in the morning to tell her if anything changed. So, with strict instructions to myself to not get too excited and to simply go to sleep, since I had to work in the morning, I willed myself to sleep.
Around 12:30 am I woke up to my first contraction. It felt like a strong menstrual cramp, a feeling I know well, and a feeling that I hadn't felt in over 9 months. (I didn't realize until later that the full moon peaked over our house within 15 minutes of my first contraction! I LOVE this, as last spring I had really been trying to sync my cycle with the moon cycles! The fact that my labor started at the peak of a full moon tells me that my attempts were at least somewhat successful!!) I slept off and on through continued light contractions until around 5:00 am when I felt that they were getting a bit more regular. At that point, I downloaded an app and started timing them. After an hour of contractions that were lasting about 30 seconds and coming every 5-7 minutes, I figured it was time to wake Dan and let him know that our baby was probably on the way. He was so calm as I told him, which didn't surprise me as he is always calm in situations like these. We got out of bed a bit later and he made me a big bowl of oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and molasses to give my body a bit of energy for the events ahead. I then proceeded to email work and tell them that I would not be teaching my classes that day--or the rest of the week--as I was HAVING A BABY!!! I talked to my midwife around this time as well and she told me to stay active, rest when I needed to, and eat. That all sounded good at the time, but within an hour or so the contractions were reaching a level of intensity where I was ready to move upstairs and stay there. I had anticipated and somewhat worried about this moment. I knew that once I was ready to go upstairs that I would stay there for at least a week (more on my postpartum convalescence in a later post), and I worried that when the time came I wouldn't want to commit to going up those stairs. However, when the time actually came, that thought was nowhere to be found. All I could think about was that my back was hurting with each contraction and upstairs sounded far more comfortable than the couch. So, up the stairs I went and stayed. I think this was around 10:30 or so in the morning of Tuesday, February 23rd.
I proceeded to labor and work through contractions upstairs while Dan got the birth tub ready and a few of the other supplies pulled together. With the baby coming a week early, we were mostly ready, but not quite. Dan had to run to the hardware store to buy a hose and faucet adapter for the birth tub and there still were a few things that I hadn't checked off the birth supplies list. It all worked out in the end, though, and we realized later that there was no need to rush any of these preparations as we were in this thing for the long haul!
One of my midwives stopped by mid-afternoon with a missing piece for the birth tub and while she was there she checked my vitals. All was well with me and Baby and so she left me with instructions to try a few different positions and to rest as I could through contractions. The midwives told us to stay in touch and they would return when the baby was closer. By 4:00 pm or so, Dan and I felt that things were picking up quite a bit. Our doula came about 4:30 and Joanna, our apprentice midwife, came around 5:00. Once Joanna was there, she once again checked my vitals and listened to the baby's heart. After confirming that all was well, she knelt down in front of me to break the news to me that neither Dan nor Anna, our doula, knew how to tell me---Jeanne, our other midwife, had to attend another birth and she was sending a backup midwife to us in her place. At this point, tears began to uncontrollably stream down my face. I logically knew and told myself that everything was going to be OK and that I wasn't actually that upset by the news. However, my body and emotions were acting separately from my mind and the tears continued to fall. I knew that it wasn't worth my energy and effort to dwell on it, though, so I said, "OK," and continued laboring on.
My labor was not easy, really at any point. I had been having back labor all afternoon and around the time that our doula arrived, the back labor intensified. We found that the only thing that relieved the pain during these contractions was to have either Dan or Anna push on my hips throughout the contraction. It was amazing how much relief this gave me! As labor continued, Dan and Anna took turns helping me with this (for which I was so very grateful!!). Shortly after the midwives arrived, they had me get in the birth tub. They hoped it would be a pain reliever and also get me moving in a different position. I had hoped for this as well, but was unfortunately surprised to find that because of the back labor, the water did little to relieve the pain. It was hard for Dan to push on my hips during contractions while I was in the tub. Because of this, I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees while in the water, which was only somewhat comfortable. Around 6:30, my wonderful chiropractor paid us a visit. My emotions got the best of me again as I heard her voice in the entryway and saw her face when she got to the top of the stairs. There was something so comforting about having her there with me, even if it was only for a short time. She had seen me more than my midwives throughout this pregnancy and she knows my body so very well. It comforted me so much to know that she might be able to help my baby come faster, safer, and maybe with less pain. After her adjustments, my contractions intensified for a bit. Baby and my body were trying so very hard to progress, and they were, but rather slowly!
Throughout the last few weeks of my pregnancy, we had known that Baby wasn't in the ideal position. At times he had been posterior and other times he was transverse. It is possible to birth a baby who is in either of these positions, but it tends to make labor harder and longer. Once labor started, we knew that Baby was still not in the ideal position, so the midwives had me try a few different positions to try to get the baby to move. Even with all of our attempts, though, he did not move, and labor continued at an intense, yet slow, pace. One of the positions that I tried was an inversion where I had to lay with my chest and face on the bed, arms back, and butt in the air. I laid this way for 45 minutes. Throughout the inversion, and the contractions during the inversion, my kitty Siah stayed right by my side. In fact, he stayed with me for all most all of the labor and was even in and out of the room during the pushing stage. He was so calm and peaceful, even during the tribal yells and screams that erupted from my mouth through each contraction. He was an important part of my birth team and I'm so very thankful for him. Having him there comforted me and made me so very happy.
Around 9:00 or 10:00 pm, Joanna told me that Jeanne had finished up at her other birth and that she was on her way to me. I was so happy and relieved! She arrived around 11:00 and her presence was another source of comfort. I got in the tub again after she arrived and at one point, between two very intense contractions, I remember looking back at her, longing for some sort of reassurance that I could do this. She locked eyes with me and gave me a gentle nod. It was what I needed, and I continued on. While I was in the tub, the midwives checked my cervix for the first time. I was fully dilated and mostly effaced and I was having pushing urges. They had me get out of the tub and lay on the bed on my side. I hardly remember this part, but I guess I pushed on the bed for about an hour. They then had me move down to the floor at the end of the bed and into a squatting position. This baby was having a hard time coming out and they wanted gravity on our side as I pushed. I proceeded to push for about another hour in this position. While I was pushing, Jeanne worked to help the baby descend as he was still in that less than ideal position. Babies usually crown at the back top part of their head, but our baby was crowing on the front right side of his head. This made his head seem a bit larger as it tried to come out, which required more of my body. As he started to crown, they had me kneel with one knee and put my other leg up with my foot on the ground in order to open my pelvis up a bit more. This gave Jeanne more room to work and gave the baby more room to make his entrance. It was at this point that Anna got my best friend Jada on FaceTime. Jada and I had wanted her to be at the birth, but she lives in Texas and wasn't planning to get up to Minnesota until the following week when the baby was due. Having her on FaceTime was the next best thing to having her there. They all expected the baby to arrive shortly after this point, but it was almost another hour before he did. This last bit of pushing was so very hard. I was extremely exhausted and was in need of nourishment. I had eaten chicken and barely soup in the afternoon, but had thrown it up in the evening. Anna had also fed me most of a banana and a few juice cubes during my second time in the birth tub, but other than that, I hadn't had anything else to eat. Looking back, this was a mistake as I needed the energy from food. However, I don't think any of us expected things to take as long as they did and so until Jeanne got there, food just wasn't on my radar. In order to give me energy while I was pushing, Anna fed me spoonfuls of yogurt and honey between my contractions. My legs were so weak and Dan held me up as I kneeled and squatted at the end of the bed. As I kneeled, my feet kept falling asleep and so I had to switch which leg was up every few contractions. However, since I was so weak, Dan and Anna had to help me switch legs. In spite of my exhaustion, I was alert enough to ask for water between almost every contraction, yet I was also exhausted and relaxed enough to fall asleep between contractions. I don't remember this at all, but supposedly I would fall asleep enough to start snoring! The body is an amazing thing! It was around this time that my water broke, and after that, in order to keep me going at two different points, Jeanne had me reach down and feel my baby's head as it crowned. Dan later told me that when I did that my energy and determination grew so much right afterwards.
Throughout the labor, I don't remember ever saying that I couldn't do it. I remember saying that I wanted to be done and that I wanted and needed the baby to come very soon, but I didn't say that I couldn't do it. I knew that I could and I knew that I had to. In my mind there wasn't another option. After he was born, someone asked me if I was worried at any point that I would have to transfer to the hospital due to the long labor and my exhaustion. This thought had not crossed my mind. I trusted my birth team to know what to do, but I also was never afraid that I couldn't do it. As I said before, Philippians 4:13 was my mantra. Throughout my 28+ hours of labor I said, "I can do all things," over and over and over again. Between contractions, that is what came out of my mouth, along with things like, "come on, Baby!" "I can do this!" and "Move into the right position, Baby!" I knew that my body and my baby could work together to do this, and that Jesus would give me the strength we needed to do so.
And that is exactly what happened.
At 4:47 am on Wednesday, February 24, our baby's head was born and at 4:48 his entire body followed. He came out crying a muffled cry, as he had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck three times and once around his stomach! They later said that my umbilical cord was unusually long and straight and so even though it was wrapped so many times it was not pulled tight. This was also one of the reasons that he had had trouble getting into the proper position. The umbilical cord prevented him from moving the way he needed to. Within a few seconds of him being born, Jeanne had that cord off and his cry became strong and very loud. As I was so weak, they helped me slowly turn around and sit down on the floor so I could hold him. I'm sure this all took just a minute, but it seemed like an eternity. I remember having to carefully maneuver my weak legs and feet around the umbilical cord which was on the floor in order to sit. It seems like such a funny thing to remember so distinctly, but I was very concerned and focused on this in that moment. After I was seated Jeanne placed our baby in my arms. A few moments passed before I realized that we didn't know if our baby was a boy or girl, so I reached my hand down to investigate! Dan and I were rather certain that this little babe of ours was a girl, but to our surprise, I found that the babe in my arms was indeed a boy!! Our baby boy was here!!!!! He was healthy and strong!! And and my labor was over!!!! (Well, besides that pesky placenta!)
After checking the baby's and my vitals, they got us up on the bed. I was bleeding a bit and was extremely exhausted and weak. In order to stop the bleeding as soon as possible, since in my exhausted state they didn't want me to lose any more blood, they gave me a shot of Pitocin. They then examined me to see how badly I had torn. Since Baby had crowned in the wrong position, it was a lot harder for my body to stretch like it was supposed to. As he had descended and crowned, my midwives knew that I would likely tear, but they both did their best to keep it as minimal possible. At this point, I think the three of us were all a bit concerned about what they would find. I figured I had torn and I knew that if the tear was really bad, I would have to go to the hospital to be stitched up by an OBGYN. The tear was bad, but thankfully, not bad enough to require a transfer. For this we were all thankful; as I was so weak, the thought of moving was a bit unfathomable.
Around this time is when we told our birth team what our beautiful baby boy's name was to be. Oak Alexander Rodriguez. Oak, like the tree, for it's strength and ability to withstand harsh conditions and Alexander for Dan's little brother who passed away back in 2001. In Oak's few short weeks with us we've seen him live up to his name. With his difficult birth, challenging first few days, and his ability to hold his head up from the beginning, we've seen this little boy of ours display great strength in spite of challenges, and we are so very thankful for that.
Back to that pesky placenta...it took about an hour for it to come and after pushing a baby out for 3 hours, I found pushing the placenta out to be rather awful. I had read that this was the easy part...but my body strongly disagreed. Those final contractions made my whole body shake as my exhausted stomach muscles gave what little was left of them to push that thing out. Once it was done, what little adrenaline and energy I had left quickly vanished. The midwives moved me up to the head of the bed, where they did a comprehensive newborn exam on our little one. He was a big boy measuring 8 lbs, 8 oz, and 22.25 inches long! Then then cleaned up and set me all up with herbal teas and compresses for the hours and days ahead. They left about 4 hours after Oak was born, knowing that my mom would be over within the hour to take care of us, as we all needed to be taken care of!
Looking back at my birth now, I'm so incredibly thankful that we made the decisions that we did. My labor was not easy. In fact, it was very, very long and very, very hard. However, because it was at home, it was peaceful, comfortable, and completely natural. I knew my body was capable, but I needed to be allowed to labor at the pace my body and baby required. If we had planned a hospital birth, I may not have been allowed to have a natural, vaginal birth. There likely would have been interventions, and possibly a C-Section, due to my long labor and long pushing stage. I didn't want this and so I'm so very thankful for the experience that I did have. It was not easy, but I did it! And because I did it, our baby was welcomed into this world surrounded by people who loved him, who cared deeply for us all, and into a home that was peaceful and welcoming. This is what we wanted and we are so very thankful that it was what we got.
Welcome, my precious little Oak. You are so very loved.
The amazing birth photos were taken by our friend and doula Anna Botz. Our midwife was Jeanne Bazille with Peacefully Born Traditional Midwifery. Also, a big thank you to my dear husband. He was my strong and steady partner through the whole birth and I'm so very thankful for him.