PART 1 - EARLY LABOR
My official “due date” was July 5th, 2020. Remi, our cat had no idea what was about to hit him. The first photo of me is from that day, after a nice long walk in a nature preserve near us. The next photo is me, ten days “overdue”, and the day before Koa’s birth. Remi, our cat had no idea what was about to hit him.
On July 16th, I woke up around 7:30am and while getting my breakfast ready, thought I felt a contraction. Then 30 minutes later I thought I felt another. I let Brooks know that I was feeling something. I also mentioned that early labor, with on-and-off contractions, could happen all day, even multiple days. So Brooks got ready for work and joined his 10:00 morning team meeting.
I got in the shower because I wanted to make sure my hair was washed and styled just in case today was the day . (Yes, my hair, of all things, was what was going through my head at that time). While in the shower, I kept having to reach my arm out and start the timer on my contractions app. I couldn’t believe that they were coming every five minutes consistently, then every three minutes! I had to squat and concentrate on breathing through every contraction.
By the end of my shower a notification popped up on my app saying, “based on your contractions, you are in active labor!” What?! I was fully prepared to be in early labor for most of the day, so the fact that I was already in active labor was hard for me to believe.
I popped my head into Brooks’ office to make the exciting announcement. Co-workers thrilled, Brooks quickly jumped off his video meeting and started running around the house getting the birth tub ready.
BIRTH STORY PART 2 - ACTIVE LABOR & BIRTH
My midwife arrived around 12pm. I was on my hands and knees on a yoga mat on my bedroom floor trying to breathe through the contractions. A little while later I got into the birth tub and tried to find comfortable ways to get through the contractions.
I thought the tub would give me more relief than it did. I distinctly remember thinking, “ya, right about now is when I’d get the epidural”. It wasn’t that I actually wanted one, or that the pain was so bad that I felt I needed one, it was more of an amusing thought to myself, like “wow ya this hurts like hell and I can see why people get epidurals right about now”. What I did say out loud a few times was “this is haaaardddd”.
After a while — I have no idea how long — I decided to get out of the tub and labor on the bed. There I felt the same amount of pain, so after maybe two hours of laboring on the bed, I got back in the tub. I remember seeing my midwife's watch read 5pm.
I started to have these intense pushing urges and pushed for about an hour in the tub, however I could feel my contractions fading and getting less effective. I decided to get out of the tub and my Midwife asked if I wanted her to break my waters and I agreed.
When she broke my water she saw that there was a bit of meconium in the amniotic fluid. I knew that depending on the amount of meconium, it can be a reason to transfer to the hospital. She didn’t say anything about transferring, she simply told me what she saw.
I remember sighing a few F- bombs, contemplating the information. I wasn’t scared for my baby’s health, or scared of going to the hospital, it was just that I literally could not imagine the logistics of getting my butt-naked body, contracting every few seconds, into clothes, then into the car and 15 mins to the hospital.
So I took the information about the meconium and channeled it into pushing even harder. I pushed for another hour - while sitting on the birth stool, then squatting on the side of the bed, we did acupressure points, essential oils, then finally with a few screams from me during the ‘ring of fire’ he was born at 7:07pm.
BIRTH STORY PART 3 of 4 - Immediately After the Birth
My midwife put Koa directly on my chest and Brooks was crying happy tears! I was a bit in shock and pain and didn’t feel that huge oxytocin rush I was promised by having a natural birth. I was happy of course, but utterly exhausted.
The placenta came out no problem, however, I had quite a lot of blood loss. My midwife said that can happen when the uterus is exhausted from pushing for so long. I wasn’t scared about the blood loss at the moment. I knew some bleeding was normal and if it was bad, my midwife had a shot of pitocin that would help the uterus contract again to stop the bleeding. I did end up needing that shot of pitocin.
What I didn’t expect was how much pain I would be in from those pitocin induced contractions! I had already pushed out a baby for gosh sakes, shouldn’t the pain be done! I think that because the pain took me by surprise and I wasn’t mentally prepared for it, it hurt so much more.
I was crying from the pain of those contractions and remember hearing my birth photographer ask the midwife, “is she crying from pain or emotions?” and my midwife said she thought both, to which I quickly replied “just pain!”
Brooks held Koa skin to skin on his chest, while I got a few stitches and got cleaned up. The midwife, her assistant and my above and beyond birth photographer helped clean up and all left around 10pm. We quickly filmed a little video for our family and then were all asleep by 11pm.
In the Netherlands, health insurance provides a postpartum nurse in your home for one week for about 6-8 hours a day. So we slept that night on our own with instructions to call if there was an emergency. Thankfully we were fine and our midwife came to check on us at 10am the next day and our postpartum nurse arrived shortly after.
BIRTH STORY PART 4 - REFLECTIONS
I feel so fortunate to have had a positive birth experience.
I realize that a 10 hour labor, all during the day, after a good night’s sleep is extremely lucky. I think so much of your birth experience has to do with the circumstances you’re dealt with, which are out of your control. I’ve always said that if my labor went longer than 20 hours and I’m utterly exhausted and need to sleep, you bet your ass I’m going to the hospital to get that epidural.
But I do believe my preparations and birth provider choices also had a huge part in why I had a positive birth experience.
The two “scarier” parts of my birth - the meconium in the amniotic fluid and the blood loss, didn’t feel scary in the moment because I knew what the risks were and what my options were. I also had 100% trust in my midwife. My midwife was calm and skilled in both situations and I trusted that if something really was an emergency, she would swiftly make the call to transfer to the hospital or to call an ambulance.
I had told Brooks before the birth that what I needed the most from him was to be by my side - to hold my hand, give me drinks of water, feed me, and encourage me. That is exactly what he did and I am so grateful.
My midwife was the one who did counter pressure and hip squeezes, as well as hold my hand and coach my breathing. As much as I love my husband, there really is no replacement for the counter pressure and hip squeezes of a woman who has done it a million times before.
We played music softly in the background, lit candles, and diffused essential oils, but honestly I didn’t notice any of it. I was so far inward that I barely opened my eyes.
Immediately after delivering Koa, I remember feeling really disappointed that I didn’t get that natural birth oxytocin high. I had heard many women describe a flood of love beyond anything they’d ever felt, but I didn’t feel that. I think the blood loss may have had something to do with that, which ultimately negatively affected my milk supply. My breastfeeding journey was extremely challenging for those first two months, which I will share in more detail soon, but I’ll stop here for now.