I keep saying this birth has been filled with sweetness, compassion, and redemption. It’s not that my other births weren’t special—on the contrary, they are marking moments in my life—but this birth was everything I’d ever hoped for. And when your dreams come true, it’s pretty magical.
The first thing we did to help make this a reality was switch care to the MN Birth Center from a traditional OB. I realized that walking into the hospital felt like gearing up for a fight, but reading MBC’s standard of care felt like coming home. Additionally, I saw our doula Stephanie throughout pregnancy for craniosacral therapy to help balance my pelvis and create conditions for optimal baby positioning. Without the care of my midwives, the set-apart atmosphere of the birth center, and ongoing care from Stephanie, I do not believe we would not have the same story to tell.
On Saturday, June 11, I woke up to some crazy baby movements around 2:00AM. (If you’d told me then I’d be holding my baby in 14 hours, I’d have laughed in disbelief!) I noticed my practice contractions were beginning to spread around to my back and down my legs. I recognized these as early labor contractions and laid in bed, smiling that this was the beginning of my birthing time. Jon woke up and asked, “How you doing, mama?” as he’d been asking in the middle of the night for weeks. This time I said, “Good—we’re having our baby today.” At 3:45AM I texted Stephanie that I couldn’t sleep through contractions but was still able to rest between them.
The kids woke at 6:15AM and came to join us in bed. When we were all together, I told them today was the day I would push our baby out (how we’d been talking about and preparing them for birth). Gracie, our 2-year-old, clapped gleefully and said “Woo hoo!” They were both excited to go to Papa and Gran’s house, and Papa arrived at 7:00AM. Contractions intensified again after the kids left and I could no longer talk through them. Jon encouraged me to eat breakfast since food still sounded good, and I enjoyed an over-easy egg on a bagel.
We went back upstairs to get more rest, figuring we were still in for the long haul (my previous births were 30+ and 40+ hours). I gave a heads-up call to Brigette to let her know I was in my birthing time. I was happy Brigette was on-call—I had just seen her the day before for my 40-week appointment and she had been so warm and encouraging. She reminded me again to not wait too long to come in to the birth center, but I mentally shrugged it off, thinking, I’m a slow birther—this is going to last a long time.
After resting for an hour, I suggested a walk to keep things moving. We walked once around the block; I pushed my back up against a tree and a retaining wall for counter pressure on my sacrum during contractions and drank my homemade “laborade” electrolyte drink. I came back in the house to pee, fully intending to go back out, but the AC was so nice and it was so hot already (80*F at 10:30AM!), I just decided to sit on the birth ball, watch a show with Jon, and eat a nectarine.
After a little while I felt utterly exhausted and went back upstairs to lay down. Just before 12:00PM, I experienced three strong contractions that made Jon suggest we call Stephanie. She said she’d head over and encouraged me to get in the bathtub since that sounded good.
Once in the tub, contractions became easier to work with, and for the first time, I felt like I understood what that meant: the work of labor is forcing your muscle groups to not fight the pain of contractions. My fight-or-flight response makes it instinctive to retreat, seize up, or pull away from pain, but I found myself holding very still to not tense up anything while my belly turned to an iron ball! It only took three labors for me to really internalize that concept, but you know what they say about charms and third times.
Stephanie arrived while I was in the tub and made great suggestions for coping. Contractions seemed to decrease in intensity and duration while in the tub, but increased in frequency: about 5 mins apart for an hour. Looking back, it could have also been that the water made contractions easier to endure. I began to weep a lot at this point—I wanted to crack a joke about all the hormones, but I just cried and cried! I asked Jon to bring a framed family photo to the bathroom; I was missing my kids so much!
At 1:00PM, Stephanie offered to call Brigette to let her know things were picking up. She stepped out and I looked at Jon, puzzled. “It’s too early to go to the birth center. We’ll get sent home!”—my greatest fear—”Am I even in active labor yet?!” Jon chuckled, “Oh yeah, honey. For sure.” I was in such denial—so certain we had hours of work ahead of us! Stephanie returned and assured me that Brigette wanted me at the birth center so that when things got really intense, I was already where I needed to be.
I got out of the tub, dressed in my nightgown, and shuffled toward the van. I had two painful contractions in the car, but we only live 15 blocks from the birth center. At 1:40PM, we arrived on the doorstep as another wave came over me. Brigette opened the door and told us to take our time coming in. The Elsa birthing room I’d selected was cool and dark and quiet, like a B&B room! I felt calm and at ease and slipped off my shoes. Brigette began filling the tub, took my vitals, and listened to baby’s strong heart tones.
I noticed Jon and Stephanie setting my affirmation cards up all over the room, including along the perimeter of the tub. Jon also brought over the framed family photo and set it right in front of me. My cousin/baby’s godmother Jennifer arrived to take photos for us. Stephanie suggested my music playlist and Jon got it started. Almost all the songs were either hymns we’re teaching our kids or songs we sing in church. I joked, “Why did I make a playlist I knew would make me cry?!” During the space between waves, Jonn and I sang along.
After working awhile in the tub, I got out to pee and try some other positions. Any time I sat down on the toilet, I felt an instant contraction, so I started squatting over it just to avoid the waves! I hated it, but knew that emptying my bladder made more space for baby to descend.
Brigette returned and listened to baby’s heart tones while I was standing in the bathroom. I remember taking a wave arching my back and looking up to the ceiling, as that helped alleviate some of the pain. I also ground my fingers into my own hips for some counter pressure.
After she listened to baby, I asked Brigette for a cervical check. Brigette said I was doing a great job but she would check me if I really wanted. I laid down on the bed and she checked but didn’t say anything. As I sat up, she said, “Maggie, you are doing a beautiful job of softening and opening.” Crap, I thought, I’ve read that’s what midwives say when the number isn’t great! She continued, “Do you want a number?” I stopped to consider: Of course I wanted a number, but what would my reaction be if it was a three? Would the discouragement undo me? Brigette smiled, “It’s a good one!” I felt relieved; I was desperate for encouraging news. “Seven,” she said. I laugh-cried. I had been doing a lot of crying; it felt good to smile!
Stephanie reminded me that seven to ten can go quickly, and suggested we try some waves in a standing position. I braced myself against the countertop and Jon applied counter pressure to my back. Three waves came right on top of each other while I was standing there; I felt unmoored. I cried out, “Why won’t this one end?! They’re coming too close together; I can’t do this.” Jon texted my mom and best friends, asking for prayer. Almost immediately, I got a four-minute break between waves, which felt like eons and provided exactly the rest I needed to refocus.
Stephanie suggested I return to the tub and its warmth felt very good. I was able to sit with one leg forward and one behind to keep my pelvis open.
When Brigette returned I asked for nitrous oxide, desperate to take the edge off. Brigette and nurse Dana began setting up the tanks and hoses while I worked through more intense contractions. I leaned over the outer edge of the tub and began breathing through the mask. I didn’t feel a thing for a while, but a contraction came right as I reached peak concentration with the gas and I felt sure I was about to pass out. “Am I supposed to feel tingly?” I asked Brigette. “Tingly, dizzy, a little fuzzy,” she said. I hated that feeling! As someone who has a lot of experience with fainting, that feeling was unwelcome—and it didn’t distract at all from the intensity of the contractions! I gave it one more try, but my body was already beginning to push at the peak of my contractions, and I found myself grunt-screaming into the mask. I dropped the mask and hose and I think it was at this moment that my body began to truly take over.
One of the ways I prepared for this birth was to read and watch other women’s birth stories (Birth Without Fear and Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth). In all my reading, I knew women insist that their bodies knew exactly what to do and they just let their bodies “drive.” I was unfamiliar with this feeling, I think because of my previous epidurals.
As I moved through transition, I had an “aha!” moment where I thought,This is what they meant. I am not in control right now—my body is just doing its thing. This was an empowering feeling, not frightening in the slightest. I spent this pregnancy preparing for my body to do what it was created to do, and finally in the thick of it, I was delighted to let my body do this work.
I began pushing in this position, facing out into the room with Jon sitting on the back of the tub applying counter pressure. Physical touch was necessary at this point; I remember reaching out for reassurance during one wave and Stephanie and Jon were always there to provide it. I pretty much zoned out; I could hear others and was open to suggestion, but I wasn’t paying attention to anything but the work.
I remember Brigette’s sweet voice floating in, “Maggie, you’re in a great position for birth, but if you needed help, I wouldn’t be able to help you here. Can you turn around and face Jon?” I wrapped my arms around Jon’s waist, my head resting in his lap, crouching on my knees.
I love that this was the stance my body chose—it never occurred to me to choose another—and made great use of gravity. It also shut out all other sights and visuals but my husband and my affirmation cards still set up around the tub. I could still hear Jon and Stephanie encouraging me, telling me I was strong and doing good work.
I closed my eyes, gripped the waistband of Jon’s shorts, and vocalized as I joined my body in pushing through every contraction. I wasn’t self-conscious about it, but knew there would be no silently “breathing the baby down” for me; I roared this baby out. At one point, Brigette asked me what I could feel, and I expected to feel much of the head, but it was still a knuckle or two in. I felt a little disappointed, but mostly motivated to push my baby out! Another contraction and I began to feel a burning sensation, but nothing close to the ring of fire I was expecting, maybe because I was in water. I pushed longer the next wave and felt the head emerge. Jon said, “I see it!” I knew to stop pushing and let my tissues stretch as that contraction faded away. I heard Brigette’s voice again: “The next contraction you’re going to push your baby out!” One more long push and Brigette said, “Reach down and bring your baby up slowly and gently.”
I reached down and lifted my baby up under the arms and brought him right to my chest. I moved my legs out in front of me and laid back against the tub. I asked Jon, “What is it? You tell me.” He moved the cord and announced, “It’s a boy!”
At this moment, I realized our son was earthside, healthy and safe, and I had accomplished the hardest work of my life, strong and capable. I sobbed aloud, exhausted and relieved, and accidentally made everyone think I was sad because it was a boy—not so! I looked up at Jon and saw him crying, too, which made me even more emotional. I exclaimed, “We did it!” because truly, we had. Together, we’d brought our boy into this world and I was so, so proud.
This experience was incredibly empowering, and because of the team we assembled around ourselves, I was given options, and I felt supported and respected. At no time did anyone question whether or not I could give birth naturally, so all doubts were banished from my mind. I could, I would, and I did! When I think back on Thomas’s birthday, I remember it as one of the best days of my life, full of the hardest work, most intense pain, and sweetest joy. I am grateful for his healthy, quick birth, and the chance to test what my body is truly capable of!
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