Birth Story: "Intense. But incredible."

birth story_4 Baby Hamilton's birth story, as told by mama

I feel very blessed to have had a wonderful pregnancy, birth, and start to life together as a new family of three--and have to thank Health Foundations for providing the support to make it happen. When I became pregnant, I thought how and where I was going to give birth would be a no-brainer--I assumed I would do what all of my friends did: a hospital birth, with my OB, and definitely an epidural (you’d be crazy not to, right?!).

My first trimester was going so smoothly that I became a bit paranoid that I wasn't really pregnant. So Fran and I kept our pregnancy a secret from everyone until we made it to the second trimester. During that first trimester it felt like a mini honeymoon with Fran because we found ourselves staying in to avoid the questions around why I wasn’t drinking, etc. One night we searched Netflix for anything “baby” and came across “The Business of Being Born.” This documentary opened our eyes to a whole new concept around birth, and spoke to me in a way that really excited me. Fran and I had spent the prior 2.5 years completely changing our approach to health. Essentially we committed to putting health first, starting with our approach to fitness (we joined a Crossfit gym) and then diet (we did a lot of research around the pitfalls of the “standard American diet” and starting to cut out grains and sugars that were inflaming our system and keeping our bodies from burning fat for energy).

We had such a positive experience with this “alternative” approach to health, that I found myself very receptive to an “alternative” approach to childbirth. I have never had a need to go to a hospital before in my life, so I really started to wonder why I should need to be in a hospital now, with all these potential intervention measures, when I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my life and knew that women have been delivering babies naturally for thousands of years? After watching that documentary and a few others, we started doing a lot of reading and research, we toured birth centers and hospitals, and spoke to midwives and my OB about our options. After a lot of debate and consideration, we followed our gut instinct and decided to transfer to Health Foundations when I was 20 weeks in to my pregnancy. The remaining fears I had around being out of the hospital quickly went away as I had my prenatal appointments with the midwives and started taking the child birth education classes.

Okay-- now on to my birth story!

When I was 34 weeks along, I got this strong feeling that my baby was going to come early. I don’t know what it was, but I was convinced. So imagine my disappointed when my “due date” came and went, and no sign of baby! I chalked it up to my first lesson in motherhood--I’m on someone else’s schedule now. He calls the shots! So time to temper my expectations and go with the flow. Easier said than done, especially when my biggest fear was getting to 42 weeks and having to go to a hospital to deliver the baby.

When I went in for my 40 week appointment Monica checked me, and she said I was still very posterior. So I spent the week going on lots of walks, got adjusted a couple times, and tried accupuncture. At my 41 week appointment (Tues), Monica swept my membranes, which made me pretty crampy for the next day or so. Through the baby stress test at 41 weeks the baby checked out as healthy and the machine showed that I was having contractions--that was a surprise because I wasn't feeling them! Encouraging, my body was working away! I also went in for an ultrasound to check on amniotic fluid--all looked good.

On Friday of that week I had my next appt with Monica, and she thought maybe baby's head was a bit tilted, preventing him from engaging my cervix. So she showed me how to do inversions at home to try to lift him up and off, and then go for walks to get him moving down. Along with that I did more acupuncture, took more walks. No contractions. Went in on Sunday (41 weeks and 5 days) and had the catheter put in and went for a walk. To our surprise, it fell out after 2 hours! I thought maybe I had done something wrong, because it came out but labor didn't start. Amy had me come back in that evening to get checked and get the castor oil+herbs -- which I was to take the next morning if I wasn't in labor. She said my cervix was in a good spot, but didn't share with me how dilated it was (we found out the next day that I was 4 cm at that point! I'm glad she didn't tell me -- would have messed with my head I’m sure).

Cramps started to get intense around 6pm on Sunday, after that appointment. We went for a walk and went grocery shopping. I took a bath at 8pm to ease the cramping, and to get ready to go to bed early to try to get some good rest. I was in bed at 9pm, and contractions started then. From 9pm-1am I was able to rest/sleep between the contractions (8-10 min apart). My back was really feeling it, so I put on a hot pack which really helped. Fran was great at telling me to relax, just as we practiced in class.

At 1am I couldn't lay anymore -- contractions were getting more intense, and about 6-8 minutes apart. I tried different positions but all I could handle was standing and leaning against the wall, and then between contractions I found myself pacing the bedroom (with all the adrenaline, I had a hard time relaxing). I had a few unpleasant trips to the bathroom, where I threw up everything in my system. We called the midwife page at 2am, when contractions were about 5-6 min apart. Amy was excited for me that I was going to be able to have this baby without castor oil (I'm pretty sure having that bottle stare me in the face was what started labor) and she listened to me breathe through a contraction. I could still talk through contractions and wasn't yet vocalizing, so she told me to keep it up and said that next time I call I won't be able to talk as much.

At that point we called our doula, Sarah, and she came over. She had me take a hot shower, which felt great on my back. And then encouraged me to try laboring on my hands and knees, and start to really focus on resting between contractions (head down on a pillow) and pay less attention to the contraction. This helped me get some much needed rest. Contractions were getting more intense, and I had to fight the urge to pace and lean against the wall like before. Sarah left the room to let me and Fran work through contractions together, and she listened from outside the door. My contractions weren’t following a consistent pattern so after a while in that position, Sarah suggested I pull one leg forward (like a deep runners lunge) and do juicy hip circles (Sarah is also a yoga instructor at Blooma, so she was using cues that she uses in the classes I would go to--which was nice and familiar). I thought she was nuts, because I thought that would be too much, too hard. Between contractions I told her that I was never going to think of those juicy hip circles the same way again! :)

But I gave it a whirl -- for 2 contractions on each side. Well that seemed to adjust baby’s position, because I definitely started to feel something new, which I later confirmed was the urge to push! I just went with it, thinking I was still more than 3 minutes apart on contractions (I had mentally prepared for a very long labor)--and I didn't really wrap my head around the fact that I was already through transition. I guess those juicy hip circles in the runners lunge helped me get through that. But apparently my vocalization changed and based on how I sounded, my doula suggested we make the move to the birth center. This was around 4:30am. Sarah got in touch with Amy, who heard me in the background and said “Oh, yep, I’ll be right there!”. We jumped in the car and the car ride was as promised -- hard. Luckily there was no traffic and Fran drove very fast!

We beat the birth team to Health Foundations, so I had a contraction or two on the ramp outside the door- -likely waked some neighbors (Sarah found my flip flops in the parking lot, I labored myself right out of my shoes!). Rachel got there first, and we got in the room and had a couple more contractions. I told her I felt my body pushing, so she checked me, and indeed I was 9 cm dilated- with just a lip remaining! She asked if I wanted a water birth, and I said I was open to it (I wanted to let my labor decide what would feel best when the time came). But I really wanted to labor in the tub for some relief. So she started filling the tub right away--though it felt like an eternity before it was full. While I waited, I labored on the bed on all fours, and put my head down on a pillow to rest in between. Fran got emotional at this point, as he was so relieved that we were at Health Foundations and in good hands--everything got so intense so fast! At one point I looked up between contractions and said “tub time?”... I was thinking, let’s do this! I wanted to get in there and be able to move forward with pushing.

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The tub was full, I got in, and the pushing urge was really there -- Rachel said I could, but slowly like I had been outside the tub. All in all, I pushed for about an hour (the total time I was in labor at the birth center!) -- and our baby arrived! I was on my hands and knees, so Rachel said that once he was born she would push him through my legs and he would swim up to me so I could catch him and bring him out of the water. It was completely amazing. He came swimming through with his eyes wide open--such an incredible feeling to be able to grab him and pull him on to me.

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The birth team was awesome --I was so impressed with all of them. Fran was a champ, definitely benefited from the child birth classes to help prepare. It was tough for him to see me laboring. I am SO glad we had a doula--Sarah was amazing, and really helped at home (where the majority of labor ended up happening). I was surprised that during labor I never questioned my decision to do a natural labor. I was expecting to have doubts and to have to mentally push those thoughts out, but they never came. Also I had been nervous about my umbilical cord being around baby’s neck (I had been told that this is pretty common, but it still freaked me out)--mine ended up being wrapped around his neck once, but it didn’t harm him at all and Rachel was able to easily unwrap it.

In total I'd say I was in labor for 12 hours (including pre-labor)-- 6 of which was active labor+pushing. The birth team applauded my ability to control the pushing, and take it slow. I didn't need any stitches, and both me and baby checked out as healthy and good to go. I will share that when the nurses had me get up for the first time to use the bathroom (after about 3 hours of laying and bonding with baby), I made it to the bathroom but passed out once I got there -- I think at the sight of blood (first time I really saw any... and I have a weak stomach). The nurses took good care of me, got me lots of fluids, and back in bed without any issues.

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It was truly an amazing experience. Intense. But incredible. And everyone who has checked on our baby's health have remarked on how awake, aware, calm, strong, and healthy he is -- which was our goal in having a natural birth, and I think only made even better by going with a water birth. And my recovery was smooth and quick, I was excited I didn't need to have any stitches (even after delivering a 9 lb, 3.5 oz. baby with a 15 cm head -- which apparently is in the 99.8th%!).

Special thanks to….

Health Foundations -- for providing personal attention and care throughout my pregnancy, and an unforgettable birth experience that helped our family get started in this new life together in a healthy, beautiful, and very special way.

My Husband, Fran -- for being fully committed to being my partner through this journey, for being such a strong supporter, and a beautiful father.

My doula, Sarah Auna -- for being a strong, calm, beautiful presence and providing support through this amazing process to both me and Fran.

Crossfit St. Paul -- for helping me to put health as a top priority, and to learn that my body is stronger and more capable than my head likes to think it is and that I can push through and achieve great things.

Body Workers, Amber (chiropractor) and Adrienne (massage) -- for helping me to feel amazing throughout my pregnancy, even at 41 weeks pregnant my body felt great! You helped me truly believe that my body was made to do this and it was all very achievable--and perhaps my swift labor was possible because my body was all good to go!

Blooma -- for being a weekly reminder throughout my pregnancy that my body is completely capable of birthing this baby, and for making the journey towards motherhood a special and sacred time. And for introducing me to my amazing doula, Sarah.

My Parents -- for raising me to be an intellectually curious, confident woman who feels empowered to make informed decisions