Leading up to birth... Late in my third trimester, I sat at the dining room table with my husband and said somewhat mournfully, “I’d really like a natural birth.” My wonderfully practical man responded, “Well, then do it!” Wait, really? Was it really that simple? From that day forward, I adopted a “just do it” attitude towards my upcoming birth.
My pregnancy had been fraught with anxiety. I am an anxious sort in general, but my anxiety was heightened as I carried our rainbow baby. We had lost the first baby very early on. I desperately wanted to believe in my body’s abilities, but... but... but...
I even doubted my intentions in wanting a natural birth. Was it selfish/prideful/[insert vice here] of me to want to do this on my own? I was afraid that I would feel defeated if I “gave in” to the pain. I had heard that childbirth can be incredibly empowering for a woman on her journey into motherhood, and I wanted that empowerment. There were other reasons, too, though. For example, the idea of losing sensation in half of my body was disconcerting. It might freak me out and complicate labor. No, I wanted to do this with as little medical intervention (though perhaps with as much medical reassurance) as possible.
A kind friend had sent me Mary Haseltine’s Made for This at the beginning of the pregnancy. Mary’s affirmation, that God has a plan for your birth, stayed with me for the duration. As the weeks went by, I wrote up a birth plan (that we didn’t really use), made a list of prayers intentions and another of inspirational quotes, packed my freezer full of meals, and listened to the “Happy Homebirth” podcast, even though I was planning a hospital birth. I binge-watched YouTubing doula Bridget Teyler’s videos about how to prepare for birth and (in the last weeks) dozens of natural birth vlogs.
I ate some dates, I walked four or five days a week, drank raspberry leaf tea, did hip stretches and Kegels, and (as Mary had suggested) I prayed specifically for a “happy, healthy, and holy birth.” I also prayed for a “happy, healthy, holy, and whole baby.” How much my preparation impacted my birth, I don’t know, but I don’t think I was scared of labor. It was great to have an idea of how my body was supposed to work and also how I could work with my body. Mentally, I tried to brace myself for a long haul labor. My mom had had a longer, trickier labor with me (her first), my sister had had a 24 hour first labor, another friend had had a 36 hour labor. First labors just don’t go quickly for 90% of moms, right? Right. Who knows how long it would take, and I would probably go late, maybe 40 weeks-and-something days.
When the midwife and I chatted, she said "Well, you’re up in Leadville, so head on in when your contractions are seven minutes apart, 10 if the weather is bad.” (We live 35-40 minutes from the hospital.) I came home and reported this to Patrick, and we agreed that seven to ten minutes was a bit overkill. I wanted to labor at home as long as possible. Having experienced
Braxton Hicks contractions for many weeks leading up to the birth and being pretty in tune with my body, I figured I’d know when “things got serious.” Heh.
April 4th, 2022 38 weeks and 6 days. I woke up with a little bit of bloody show just before 7am. Ooh! Further research informed me that, once bloody show appears, labor usually starts within 24 hours or, at the latest, within several days. Patrick went to work, but would come home early for our 39 week appointment that afternoon. My Braxton Hicks contractions picked up and I had mild cramping occasionally throughout the day. I had loose stools most of the day, too. I was in total nesting mode, doing a major grocery run and I don’t know what else. I wanted to keep moving.
We brought our hospital bags with us to the 39 week appointment, just in case! My bag was stuffed: food, electrolyte drinks, books, a birthing gown, baby clothes, inspiration cards from my Mom, holy water, an icon dyptic, a porcelain cross, toiletries, etc. in preparation for that potential long labor. Our chat with the midwife was cheerful. She said I had all the signs (including nesting) but did not do a cervical check since I did not want one. We went home to wait, perhaps slightly giddy with anticipation. Patrick was glad to be home that evening so he could do some nesting (major cleaning!) of his own.
I went to bed around 9pm, telling Patrick that I dreaded waking up the next morning only to have everything be the same. I needn’t have worried.
(11:24-ish p.m.) Discomfort in my lower abdomen, like a strong menstrual cramp, woke me up. It was the kind of cramp that kept you awake. I stayed in bed, but I don’t think I slept.
April 5, 2022 Around midnight, Patrick came to bed. I told him that the cramping had woken me up. He went to bed, and I continued in my restless state.
(12:36-ish a.m.) Woah! This is a contraction! My half-awake mind began to panic. Uh oh—if this is only my first one, how am I going to do this? After the initial wave of fear, I regained control. Breathe, breathe. Whew. Ok. Yup, that was a contraction. There was no going back to sleep after that. I tried, of course, but nope. The contractions kept coming. Around 1:30 a.m. I began timing them. Most of them were about five and a half minutes apart. The longest space was about eight minutes. I timed them for a while and then got out of bed. At some point I began shaking. I was quite familiar with “the shakes,” having had them frequently throughout the pregnancy, but this was a most-sustained bout. I would shake until after the birth, and then sporadically for (I think) several days.
Downstairs, I labored on the birth ball for a bit. I snacked. I had some contractions on the toilet (I know laboring on the toilet is fairly common, but it was NOT comfortable for me). I kept timing the contractions. They were still about five minutes apart. I was in a rhythm of sorts: I knew that I had about four minutes between contractions to do whatever I wanted to do and get in a good position to breathe through the next wave. Labor just started, so I’m not going to wake up my husband yet. He just went to bed, poor man. In all the birth vlogs I had been watching, the women always let the guys sleep until they needed help coping or until morning. I was coping. I guess I figured I’d wake him up when something changed? There was a snow and wind storm in the forecast (a mountain pass stood between us and the delivery room), so it would be nice if we got to the hospital before it hit, but... for now, let him sleep.
At some point (maybe 2-ish?), I stopped timing the contractions. I went upstairs to take a shower and wash my hair. I had a couple of contractions in the shower and one or two in the bathroom when I got out.
I don’t recall the sequence of events exactly, but I think I stopped timing contractions for about an hour. I labored for two or three contractions in our room—I remember lying on the floor next to my side of the bed before realizing that (while more comfortable than the bed) the position was not comfortable. I went back downstairs and made myself a cup of raspberry leaf tea. I must have started timing contractions again at that point because, after drinking about a third of the mug of tea, my contractions jumped from four to five minutes apart to two to three minutes apart. Ooh. I dragged myself upstairs and sat down on the bed next to Patrick, shaking him awake. My contractions jumped from five minutes apart to two to three minutes apart; we need to go.
Patrick went to put the bags back in the car, and I called the OB “on call” line. I distinctly remember experiencing a contraction on the floor of the nursery during that phone call. When the doctor called me back, I had another one, leaning over my dresser. I said that we were going to head in. I heard later that she said I sounded “so calm” on the phone. I remember her sounding mildly concerned or dismayed, “yeah, we talked about fast labors...” I still didn’t realize this was a fast labor. I got dressed at some point in there: maternity leggings and a comfortable Old Navy knit dress. I met Patrick downstairs and we headed out.
It was dark and cold. The wind was picking up as we drove. I was able to talk to Patrick for about the first quarter of the drive, between contractions. I was telling him about two ideas I had heard recently. One was from the “Happy Homebirth” podcast that I had listened to on Monday. What makes you think that birth will be painful? And so what if it is? I told Patrick that yup, it was painful. The contractions were like intense menstrual cramps, but with a hint of violent stomach sickness to them. Some women say that giving birth is like throwing up backwards. I have to agree.
The other idea I explained to him was Bridget Teyler’s acronym PAIN, although I couldn’t remember all the parts. (P: productive, A: anticipated, I: intermittent, N: necessary?) Breathing was SO helpful as we drove! I tried to stay as relaxed as possible, rolling with or even leaning
into each contraction. I texted Mom before we lost service, but sometime after that my phone slipped to the floor. (Mom, apparently, was having visions of us not making it to the hospital because “Find My iPhone” never updated my location. Oops.) She had asked me if she should call out the prayer warriors. I said yes, but once it was a reasonable hour. Even on Eastern Time it was early—about 6 a.m.
About halfway through the drive, Patrick asked me a question during a contraction. I can’t remember what the question was, but I was beyond talking. All I could muster was a short, forced “yeah.” I was becoming more focused. Even at this point, though, I was not worried. I knew labor had picked up, but I was peaceful, confident that I would not be giving birth on the side of the road. The weather had gotten worse. At one point, backseat-driver-me felt like we were going too fast through a windy section and looked over at the speedometer. I thought it said 80. (Found out later that it didn’t.) Patrick assured me that “he had this” part of the operation. Of course he did. O, me of little faith.
Getting off the highway, things got more intense. I was probably entering transition and did not know it. As we went through the first stop signs, I asked Patrick how much worse is this going to get? I told him I was dreading the transition from the car, through the hospital, to the birth room. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. Processing any extra stimuli or making any extra physical effort was most undesirable right now. I kept breathing. I had also been trying to sip water throughout the drive even though I did not want to drink. We were almost there. The last miles contained two traffic circles. I asked Patrick to slow down through them, knowing that the centrifugal force would be rough.
(4:20-ish a.m.) We reached the emergency parking area around 4:20. The contractions were very close together now, but I had long since stopped timing them. I remember reaching down to pick my phone up off the floor of the car with difficulty. Patrick came around to open my door as a fresh surge hit. I couldn’t get out. He mostly closed the door so that I would be protected from the gusting wind. When the wave subsided, I still found myself unable to speak, and I motioned to him to open the door. Hobbling across the parking lot, I noticed Patrick putting on his mask and realized I did not have one. Definitely NOT going back to the car for THAT.
Another contraction came as we approached the emergency room reception desk. “Labor and delivery?” the receptionist asked. Yes, we told her. I remember the woman saying, “She’ll need a mask.” I doubled over against the counter. “Verbal consents?” the woman asked, seeing that I was... um... very much in labor. Yes. Patrick assisted me in verbally spelling my l last name. We never made it to verbal consents. In fact, we finished our check-in questionnaire about 12 hours after we had arrived. After Patrick had to help me spell my last name, the woman asked if I would like a wheelchair. Yes. And we were on our way. Another contraction in the elevator. Oof. Rolling over those cracks in the elevator doorway during a contraction isn’t fun. Labor and delivery. A kind nurse met us. Room eight. Ok.
Finally, the birthing room! I was rolling with the contractions. They were intense and frequent. My communication with the outside world (anything or anyone outside of me) was minimal. I remember thinking, the only way out of this is through it. Patrick handed my birth plan to the nurse. She read the first item and dimmed the blazing lights for us. I don’t remember how I got out of the wheelchair and onto the edge of the bed, but I did. Patrick probably helped me. The nurse wanted me to put on the hospital gown. I asked Patrick to help me get out of my clothes. Movement seemed impossible. Off came the dress, off came the leggings, and I was up on that bed on all fours in a flash, still in my bra and underwear, gown forgotten. I had been planning to push on all fours and had been doing hip stretches that involved beginning on hands and knees before lowering the shoulders to the ground. As these waves hit, the all fours position seemed most comfortable. The head of the bed was elevated, and I buried my head into it. My arms ended up around my head.
Nurses were introducing themselves. “Hi” was about all I could say. One nurse was trying to get the baby’s heartbeat with a doppler, feeling around on my suspended belly. She didn’t get anything. I wonder if the baby was so low down at that point that she was missing the mark or couldn’t get a reading? Someone also said they wanted to check me—could I flip over onto my back really quick? My back?! Not a chance. But I did. In between contractions, I flipped over. She said I was all the way there (10 centimeters dilated and fully effaced). I remember hearing “bulging bag of waters!”
The second she was done, I was back on all fours. I felt like I had to push and said so. One of the nurses told me that the doctor wasn’t here yet. “I’m not going to tell you not to push,” she said, “but don’t actively push.” She also assured us that she had “delivered lots of babies!” During maybe the second pushing contraction, that “bulging bag of waters” burst. It felt like a warm water balloon exploding between my legs. None of the nurses were actually in the room at that point. When one returned, I told her that my water had broken. She verified and said that the fluid was clear. “Good!” I murmured. I looked down and saw some blood on the chux pad beneath me.
Women say that labor is outside of time, and I cannot know the next minutes precisely. I was not pushing long—I would guess five to seven minutes and maybe six or seven pushes. The waves hit me and I went with them. Breathing down. “Moo” breaths. Bellowing low, I went with the surges - like I was throwing up backwards! Patrick was standing at my side, softly drawing on my back with his fingers. A nurse said something about “crowning.” That was a huge relief for me. Wow. This was it, I was almost there. I breathed down, moaning low like a cow. Only one nurse was in the room when the head emerged. “We have a head!” Boy, I had those nurses scurrying! (Sorry! If I’d known I was going to have a five hour labor, I would have given you gals at LEAST an hour to get everything together!)
The head felt so big, I thought I had birthed the whole baby. Nope, that was just the head. Another strong push and the body followed. I think I was a bit in shock. I remained there on all fours perhaps awaiting further instruction—now what? I asked Patrick over my shoulder (twice, because I don’t think he heard me the first time) “what is it?” The response came: “It’s a girl!”
At some point I asked if the baby could be brought to my chest. Patrick told me later that the umbilical cord was so short that they would not have been able to bring the baby up to me. Since I had specifically asked for delayed cord clamping on my birth plan, someone told me that the cord had stopped pulsating and asked if they could cut it. I said yes. Patrick cut the cord and I was handed... a baby! (A day or two later, I saw the bra I had worn into the hospital. There was blood on one cup and vernix on the other! “Raw and real” as they say!) What a fragile little creature! A nurse gave me a pitocin shot in my leg. Usually they would have given Pitocin via an IV, but there had been no time for putting a port into my arm!
I didn’t hold her long before they took her for weighing etc. Patrick stood with her. She was 6lb 6oz and 19.5 inches. In the meantime, the doctor who had arrived after the baby was born helped me birth the placenta and stitched me up since I had torn—I wasn’t surprised, given the speed with which she came out of me. The baby was brought back to me sometime during the stitching, I think. So many numbing shots before she stitched me up!
I was still shaking and probably a bit in shock. My blood pressure was high after the birth, but I was told that shaking can elevate it. After that, things are blurry. I felt pretty dizzy, so they reclined the bed further. I guzzled more water than I probably ever had before in my life. Someone discovered that I was hungry and brought me a turkey sandwich bag lunch. At some point, I was helped to the bathroom with a fancy walker contraption since I was pretty shaky and weak. Breathing felt bizarre with my stretchy, saggy tummy. Were my organs sloshing around in all that new-found space?! The baby nursed and nursed and nursed—for about three hours. Her suck was SO strong! The hospital staff repeatedly offered me ibuprofen to help with the afterpains. It was so kind of them, but I kept assuring them I was fine. If I can handle labor contractions, I can handle a few afterpains. They were like period cramps. No biggie.
I tried to process what had just happened and was a bit shaken up. It had all happened so quickly! In hindsight, of course, I realize that I was incredibly blessed to have had a pretty easy and very smooth birth. When people say that I’m “so strong” for getting through birth, I feel a bit awkward. No, I don’t know about that. The woman who had a 24 hour labor, she’s the strong one! Or the woman with the 10 pound baby. Or the woman who was pushing for three hours. Me? I just kept breathing and it really wasn’t too bad. To anyone intimidated by labor, practice your breathing. And then remember to keep breathing. If I had resisted my contractions and tensed up, I suspect they would have been much more painful and labor would probably have been slower. “Well, you got the natural birth you wanted,” Patrick joked. At the speed she was coming, I was getting a natural birth whether I wanted one or not! While birth is an intense experience any way you slice it, I am grateful for the birth I had and am hopeful to have natural births in the future.
Shortly after, Patrick and I texted our parents. Mom was relieved that we were not on the side of the road. We did not name our baby girl until a few hours later. It would be Edith Therese or Edith Marie. We went with Edith Therese so her initials wouldn’t be EMT and since Patrick has a devotion to St. Therese. The Edith portion was after Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta), who I had read about only in the last two weeks before the birth. I was inspired, and we liked the name!
I spent that day eating like a horse and processing my birth. I spent the next night sleeping less than three hours and falling in love with my baby. One of my first-time mom fears was that I would not love my baby. The sheer love for this child that washed over me in the days following the birth was surprising and wonderful. Edith was perfectly healthy, passed her 24 checks, and we were discharged around noon the next day. We were sent home with an oxygen tank and tubing. She was perfectly healthy but because of the high elevation in our area this is standard of practice in case baby needs it. The 40 minute drive back over the mountain was not comfortable with my new stitches and stretches. My dear husband, however, suggested that I sit on my big down coat, which made the drive better.
And then we were home! My mother-in-law had decked out our dining room chest with pink candy and gifts. Other than that, home had preserved the state in which we had left it, as if we had been plucked out of it and then dropped back in. The remaining raspberry leaf tea (the cup I had been drinking when my contractions jumped to 2-3 minutes apart) was still on the side table next to my cozy chair. I settled into that chair and marveled that I had been laboring there about 36 hours before. My mother-in-law stopped by that afternoon and my parents arrived that night. Thus began the adventure of parenthood with a baby “on the outside!” Praise God for little Edith Therese! Praise God for my wonderful husband! Praise God for a good birth - the “happy, healthy, holy birth” for which I had prayed.
Elizabeth Torsell left the hills of PA to follow her dashing husband to the mountains of Colorado. While she teaches writing part time for a homeschool program, her true delight lies in all things domestic and in the beautification of home life.