On Wednesday morning 11/11/15 at 4:29 AM I gave birth to my daughter, Alma Kern Kramer. She was born in the water at MN Birth Center after 32 hours of labor. She’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given and the best teacher I’ve ever known.
I wrote my birth story about a week later because I didn’t want to forget anything. But even now, six months later, it is still fresh in my mind. It really was the single most magical, difficult, and transformative thing I’ve ever experienced.
My labor started with mild contractions on a long walk Monday evening. Galen and I and the friends we had just had dinner with got a kick out of the fact that I insisted they weren’t actually contractions – I was convinced I just had gas. 🙂 By the time we got home there was no denying that I was having contractions. I rested through the night but didn’t really sleep because I was familiarizing myself with the new sensations I was experiencing. At one point I called the birth center just to let them know labor had started. Natalie encouraged me to rest, knowing that it could be a long road ahead.
Galen decided not to go into work Tuesday morning even though we knew it might be some time. But it was such a beautiful morning and we wanted to spend as much time together as possible. We live just a few blocks from the river and I’ve always dreamed and hoped that while I was in labor I’d be able to walk along the river trails and look up at the trees and out at the water. I never could have expected that in November the weather would be so beautiful. We went for a walk in the morning and let my doulas and close friends, Jamie and Shireen, know things seemed to be off to a start. They joined us at our house sometime in the early afternoon.
Now my memory gets fuzzy, but I remember going on another walk with Galen in the afternoon along the river path. We saw some magical things. (Birds have been strong spirit guides for me during my pregnancy – especially our neighborhood bald eagles who I saw flying toward me in the spring and who told me I was pregnant before it was ever confirmed.)
Anyway, on that afternoon walk, we saw a Pileated Woodpecker and watched it laboriously climb a tree and drink water out of the bark. A little while later I looked up into the only tree that still had golden leaves on it and saw a huge, beautiful owl! In the middle of the afternoon! As I stood under that tree and looked up I had a pretty strong contraction. We crossed paths with a group of people and one woman was carrying a baby, maybe just a few months old. I remember her saying, “You go mama! You’re doing the right thing!” I felt like she was right there with me, walking alongside me. On our third walk of the day, the two bald eagles flew right over our heads, dove and swooped around one another and landed across the street from us. We stopped and watched them. Shortly after that I had some pretty strong contractions and a man biking above us on the Greenway circled back toward us to make sure I was okay – I’m pretty such he thought I was being attacked! But I really do believe that being able to be outside and attune my sense to nature and the creatures around me had a big impact on how I labored.
Things picked up even more by the evening. I remember eating and drinking throughout, climbing our stairs, many baths, a brief dance party. I also remember there was a point where I sat on the birth ball and insisted we watch videos of people dancing to Rihanna’s “B**** Better Have My Money.” (Jamie and Shireen say this was a pretty fun part of my labor.) I had high hopes we would watch Lizzo videos next but my contractions took me elsewhere.
We went into the birth center around 9;30 PM and my water broke as we were walking out the door. Then came my most challenging time in labor. I hated the car ride there and my contractions escalated. I was trying to stay calm but by the time we got there I was losing it a little. My midwife, Brigette (who was INCREDIBLE) examined me and told me that she didn’t think I was ready to be at the birth center yet. She wanted me to go home and really turn inward and work on resting between contractions. I remember she said, “Breathe into your uterus and release the contractions when they are finished. Don’t hold onto them longer than you need to.” At this point it had been 24 hours. I was incredibly discouraged and thought to myself, “Take me to the hospital and cut this baby out of me.” Galen read my mind, took charge, and said we were going home and we’d be back soon and reassured me as best he could.
By the time we got home, my contractions were even stronger. I thought a lot about what Brigette told me and I turned inward and focused on my breath. I remember thinking my bottom felt like a tight fist and as I sat in the tub I thought about a mandala I had recently colored – a flower opening and opening. Four hour later, I was really bearing down and trying not to push. I will never forget that sensation. We went back to the birth center and I can’t tell you how relieved I was when Brigette told me it was time and I could go ahead and follow my urge to push. I heard her on the phone calling the nurse Leah, and she said, “I’ve got a mama here and she’s already pushing so you better come soon.” I remember thinking, “HALLELUJIAH!!!”
I got in the tub right away and started pushing during contractions. The is the part where I know that my prenatal yoga practice was instrumental. Thank you Blooma! I was on hands and knees in the tub for two hours. Everyone kept asking me if I wanted to lay back and rest and I didn’t. I loved hands and knees – I felt calm there. I had no idea I was that strong. In between contractions I’d put one knee up and circle my hips, or hang from the bar in a squat or leverage with my arms to sway my hips back and forth in the water. With each contraction I stayed very in tune with how much energy I had, how many pushes I had in me and I tried not to overdue it because I knew it could take time. I felt strong and powerful even as I started to grow tired of pushing. Jamie was spooning water onto my back the whole time. I could hear her and Shireen encouraging me. Galen was in front of me and I grabbed his hands with a vice grip during every push. I remember gauging my energy, really concentrating on how many pushes I had energy for at each contraction. Just when I was starting to get worn out, Brigette told me to reach down and feel the top of my baby’s head. That was all it took to get me the rest of the way. She was out and in my arms in what felt like seconds.
I feel so proud that I was able to labor that long. It required resilience, pacing, and a lot of support. I fiercely believe, now more than ever, that every laboring person deserves to have the love, support, and assistance of people they trust and feel safe with.
It surprised me to hear that I never asked for drugs or complained that it hurt. Galen said I only described it as intense at times. I’m proud that I was able to move through labor without being fixated on the “pain” of it, especially because this was something I had feared throughout my pregnancy.
Alma is thriving and I am so grateful for all the support I had, all the prenatal prep I got at Blooma, the childbirth education and lactation support we got from Erin at Enlightened Mama and the incredible care we received at MN Birth Center. Alma’s birth was an empowering, transformative, mind-blowing. I feel so lucky. And forever strong.
~ Hannah K.
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