(this post also appeared on the blooma blog. blooma is a yoga studio and community that played such an important role in my pregnancy and our preparation for birth. i so cherish the community i found there. also, all photos were taken by our amazing doula, brook.)
The story of Ethan’s birth begins the Friday before he was born.
We had gone to the birth center for our 39 week appointment that morning. (it was the
end of the 39th week, so it was really just a few days before my guess date). I had not had any contractions or signs of early labor and really had a feeling that I would have my baby later the next week at the earliest — a week or so late. We spent the visit discussing what would happen if we came back the next week still with no signs of labor. We discussed induction options and whether or not I would make an appointment with my chiropractor for later the next week to try to get things going (I was planning on that). After the appointment, I was feeling a little discouraged that nothing was happening. I dropped Jared off at home and went to work as usual.
By the end of my day at work, I noticed a little bit of bleeding and I was starting to feel a little crampy. I hurried up and finished my work so I could leave early since I didn’t know what was going on. By the time I got home, I told Jared something was definitely different. I had no idea if it was the real thing or not, but something was happening.
That night the cramping continued and there were some waves of more intense cramping. I later realized that these were contractions, but since I hadn’t had any Braxton-Hicks or early contractions, and they didn’t feel like I had expected, I didn’t realize for a while that that’s what was happening. I remember feeling a little sad that night that if things got more intense, I would have to miss prenatal yoga the next morning. Going to Brook’s Saturday morning classes was such a ritual throughout my entire pregnancy and I didn’t want to miss having a “last class.”
I woke up Saturday morning and still felt pretty good, so I headed to yoga. I knew it would be my last class and I savored every moment. At the end of the class, Brook (who was also our doula) sent her energy to me and one other mama who was due in the next couple of days. Afterwards, she asked me how I was doing and I told her that something was definitely going on and described to her how I was feeling. She looked very excited and told me to just call her whenever I was ready.
After yoga, I stopped at the farmer’s market because I wanted to get some of the delicious Bayfield blueberries that we had been eating for a few weeks. It’s a good thing I did that because those blueberries turned out to be just about all ate once we got to the birth center later on. (We keep joking that all I ate during Ethan’s birth was nine blueberries!)
When I got home, Jared called the Birth Center and talked to the midwife on call, Mary-Signe. She said it definitely sounded like early labor, but she wasn’t sure if it was the real thing or not. She suggested going on a walk. So we went to the dog park. I was so happy to be there, even though I was having contractions the whole time. It is a special place for us and it felt fitting to be there at this time. It was a beautiful day.
My contractions continued the rest of the day and by dinnertime I decided we should start timing them. I think they were about eight minutes apart at that time. After dinner, we watched a movie in bed. I was woken up all night long by contractions but I tried to sleep through them as much as possible.
By Sunday morning, we knew this was the real thing. Jared called Mary-Signe again and she agreed. I took a bath and tried to nap. We went for a walk with our dog around the neighborhood. It was the Powderhorn Art Fair so there were tons of people in the park and around the neighborhood. It was crazy. We totally made a scene on the walk since I kept having to stop and lean on Jared during contractions.
While I was resting upstairs in the afternoon, I remember Jared was really busy downstairs cleaning up the kitchen and taking care of the dog. We went for a second walk later in the afternoon.
Jared kept in touch with Mary-Signe and Brook. Mary-Signe was concerned that I wasn’t getting enough rest and she said I should take some Benadryl to help me sleep. I took the Benadryl around 7 p.m. and was able to get about an hour and a half of sleep. After that, I wanted Brook to come, so Jared called her and I got in the shower. I had just gotten out when she arrived at around 11 p.m.
I think we spent most of the time she was at our house lying on the bed. I remember one moment lying there and Brook pointed out that she could see the baby kicking through my skin. I could feel him moving the whole time. I threw up in the bedroom.
Around 2 a.m. Monday morning we started talking about going to the Birth Center. Jared called and Mary-Signe said we should come in about 45 minutes. That felt like forever to me. It had started pouring by that point. I threw up again while Brook and I were getting ready to go. We put some couch cushions in the car for me to ride in the back on my hands and knees. The five minute drive to the Birth Center felt like an hour.
We pulled up and Mary-Signe met us in the parking lot and brought us inside. I wanted so badly to get in the tub, but we all knew things had slowed down and I was afraid she would tell me not to. She said it was okay so I threw off my clothes and got in. After about an hour in the tub, Lindsay, the student midwife, checked my dilation. We had never decided if I wanted to know the number or not so once she checked, she asked if I wanted to know and I said I didn’t know. She said it was good news so I said okay — I was at 7cm!
After that, I stayed in the tub for a long time, maybe four or five hours. At some point, the midwives’ shift changed and Mary-Signe left and Tanya came in. Lindsay stayed. After a while, Lindsay checked my dilation again and didn’t immediately tell me what it was. I was waiting for her to tell me something and finally she said that there hadn’t been much progress. I later found out that there had been no progress. I am so glad she didn’t tell me that at the time! At that point, they got me out of the tub, which I didn’t want to do but I knew I had to.
I don’t really remember the order of what happened after that but I was on the bed, on the toilet, in the shower with Jared, on a peanut ball in the shower, doing squats in the shower, even doing an inversion off the couch. (Clearly, all that prenatal yoga had been extremely important in preparing me for my labor). I threw up in the bathroom on the floor. I guess I was able to rest on the bed for about half an hour, though I don’t remember this at all.
All this time, I was definitely getting the sense that there was a chance they would have to send us across the street to the hospital if things didn’t pick up. I really didn’t want that to happen so I tried to stay focused and I followed their coaching and suggestions, even if I thought I couldn’t do it because I was so tired. Since there hadn’t been any progress, the midwives suggested that they break my water. They said things would get really intense once that happened and they left us alone to decide. I was scared for things to get more intense, but I knew that was going to happen no matter what and Brook recommended that I do it. So I did. I laid on the bed and Lindsay and Tanya broke my water. And things got more intense.
Despite the new level of intensity, things hadn’t picked up enough and they started talking about acupuncture. At that point, they sent Jared and me into the bathroom to try nipple stimulation. Apparently that worked and the acupuncture wasn’t necessary. I started to feel the urge to push, so I did, but I also kind of forced myself to push even though my body wasn’t always telling me to.
I just wanted the baby out. I wanted help. I said that. And I said that I couldn’t do it.
Everyone was so encouraging and kept telling me that I could do it. Towards the end of my pregnancy, Jared and I had talked about what phrases and words he might say to me during labor. None of the suggested Hypnobirthing phrases that we had learned in our class felt natural to us and I didn’t have any words I felt strongly about. I kept telling Jared that he would know what to say when the time came, but he wasn’t sure. Brook had even told him that he could say the same phrase to me over and over again and I wouldn’t care. Once I was actually in labor, he said “nice and easy” to me probably four hundred times. And it was perfect. It helped me stay relaxed and feel comforted throughout my entire labor.
I got back in the tub to push and Jared got in the tub with me. It was where I wanted to be, but I just couldn’t get comfortable. There wasn’t enough room for both of us and I was having excruciating pain in my hips every time I pushed. So I got out and got on the bed. I pushed on the bed for a while.
I remember the delivery nurse, Suzanne, showed up around this point and I knew that was a good sign. It meant we were getting close. Then they had me get onto a birthing stool. I really didn’t want to do this, but again, I knew I had to, so I just did it.
While I was on the stool, Jared was doing the nipple stimulation again. I made a lot of progress on the stool, but it wasn’t comfortable and I wanted to get back on the bed. I was holding my legs up and pushing as hard as I could. Even though I had been pretty open minded about how I might give birth, lying on the bed on my back was not a position I had ever envisioned, but it’s where it was working, so I went with it.
While I was pushing, Tanya would firmly tell me when I was doing it right and that I needed to keep doing it that way. I would listen to what she was saying, and look at Lindsay and Suzanne who were smiling big smiles and giving me thumbs up when I would do a good push. Brook was on my right side and Jared was on the bed to my left. Once the baby was crowning, they held up a mirror so I could see his head coming out. I never thought that I would want to see that, but I did. It was so motivating.
It took about two and a half hours, but finally his head came out. After his head was out, I remember feeling something crazy and they said it was the baby twisting so his shoulders could come out. I pushed a few more times and the rest of his body came out and they put him on my chest right away. He was screaming and screaming and screaming. I couldn’t believe we had done it, that it was all over, finally.
They suctioned his nose and mouth and he finally stopped screaming. I didn’t remember to look right away, but they asked me and I said it was a boy. A boy! We just held him and held each other. I couldn’t believe it.
Thinking back on those days, I still can’t believe that I did it. I can’t imagine anything in my life that could make me feel as strong as giving birth to my baby.
Ethan Sidney Miller was born naturally on August 5, his due date.