I always heard that childbirth rarely goes as planned, which was certainly the case with our first baby, Aurelia, and it turns out our second child’s birth was equally unpredictable. I’d wanted to give birth to Aurelia at home but after 24 hours of labor I was dehydrated, exhausted and not progressing, so I decided to transfer to the hospital. Since my transfer wasn’t an emergency, we had the luxury of choosing the best (not the closest) hospital, and so we went to North Fulton Hospital on the recommendation of my midwife. The care Aurelia and I received there was outstanding, and to be honest, it restored my faith in empowered hospital birth experiences.
On the same day as Aurelia’s six month well visit with her pediatrician, I confirmed what I already knew: that I was pregnant with our second baby. I shared the good news with my midwife and let her know that I wanted to try a home birth again. I had several reasons for wanting a home birth, but I desperately wanted a water birth, and hospitals that allow them are hard to come by.
My pregnancy was blessedly uneventful; in fact, I felt significantly better than I had while I was pregnant with Aurelia. I felt so good during my first trimester that I convinced myself I must be having a boy (if you believe the old wives’ tale that morning sickness is worse with girls). In my case, morning sickness was worse when I was depleted, and the weekly acupuncture visits and a few supplements that I started after Aurelia was born made me feel healthier than I had in years.
I took our good health for granted because everything was going well…until my 37 week appointment. My midwife heard an irregular heartbeat and urged me pretty insistently to drive directly to the hospital for monitoring. Fortunately, after a couple of hours of monitoring, the hospital’s midwife told me that the baby’s heartbeat was steady and strong and that sometimes babies can get “worked up” so their heartrate fluctuates. Regardless, the experience left me shaken. I drove home, burst into tears and told my husband that I no longer wanted a home birth. It actually wasn’t the fear of something going wrong that changed my mind; I’d had a nagging feeling throughout my pregnancy that something didn’t feel right about a home birth. That day, driving home from the hospital, I realized that I’d chosen to do a home birth sort of by default, without really considering what I wanted for this pregnancy. I wanted to do a home birth to prove to myself that I could, not because it was the right choice for this baby. I also wanted to give birth at home to minimize time away from Aurelia since I’d never spent the night away from her…again, not because it was right for this baby. After making the decision to deliver again at North Fulton, I felt a weight lift.
Because of the change in plans, I found a new midwife who was allowed to deliver at the hospital and my previous midwife remained on my birth team as my doula. During my first appointment with my new midwife (at 37 weeks!), I found out, to my surprise and delight, that North Fulton actually allows water births. Finally, my birth plan felt right.
Over the following weeks, I had several labor false starts. The day before my due date, my husband took matters into his own hands and made eggplant parmesan to try to bring on labor. Within two hours of eating it, at about 8:00 pm, I let my midwife and doula know that I was starting to feel contractions. At first, they were mild and irregular, but by 10:00 pm, they had become more intense, a minute long and about 12 minutes apart. By 10:30, they were about 90 seconds long and six minutes apart, so my husband packed the car with our overnight bags, my yoga ball, snacks for me during labor and gifts for the nursing staff and my birth team. We met my midwife at her office at 12:30 am; she said I was 4 cm dilated and that we were ready to go to the hospital. By the time we drove to the hospital and got settled in our room, about 15 minutes later, I was 6 cm dilated.
The nurse attached a fetal heart monitoring device to my belly. In order to qualify for a water birth, the baby’s heart rate had to remain normal for 30 minutes, which fortunately it did! After that, the nurse removed the monitor and I was free to get off the bed and move around the room. I labored on the yoga ball and then in a standing position leaning over the bed for about an hour. My midwife gave me a cold towel with peppermint essential oils which significantly helped keep my nausea under control, and my doula applied counter pressure on my hips and sacrum during contractions which made the sensations so much more bearable.
At around 2:15 am, my doula suggested a change in position to keep labor moving, so I went to the bathroom to labor on the toilet. I jokingly asked “do I have to?” This was my least favorite position when I was laboring with Aurelia because it really strengthens contractions, so I was prepared for more intensity. Once I sat on the toilet, I threw up from the pain almost immediately, but the change of position worked; I felt almost a thud when the baby dropped even further down.
At this point, I asked my doula “what’s the plan?” because I was ready to get into the birth pool for some relief. She and my midwife both agreed that I was ready, so I got in around 2:45 am. WOW…the birth pool was incredible. The warmth of the water was so therapeutic, and the almost weightless feeling helped with the pressure and discomfort. It definitely didn’t mask the pain (I still threw up again) but it took the edge off and gave me the support I needed for the last phase of labor. I remember talking to the baby and asking him/her to work together with me during the last phase of labor. During contractions, my doula urged me to use sound to push energy downwards, helping move the baby and helping curb my nausea as well.
About an hour later, around 3:45, I moved into a side lying position in the water. My midwife and doula said that this was a good position for pushing, and I realized for the first time that I might actually pull this off! It seemed too good to be true. A few minutes later, my midwife and nurse brought in the receiving table for the baby, a mirror and a light on a stand to shine into the pool; until now, the only light in the room was from twinkle lights hung on the wall around the birth pool and bathroom. I couldn’t believe I was getting so close!
A few minutes later, I started feeling the urge to bear down, and I knew I had made it to the pushing phase of labor. What came next felt so primal. My body completely took over during contractions and started pushing on its own. The sounds I made were guttural and almost animalistic. While I was pushing, my water broke. It felt and sounded like a champagne cork shooting out of a bottle. I had my eyes closed and was so focused that I was surprised by the sensation and looked at my doula. I had no idea what happened!
My doula told me that I could reach down and feel the baby’s head, which was another boost I needed for the last few pushes. After that, the baby’s head started to crown and I felt the infamous ring of fire as my body stretched to fit around the head. Now, just six weeks later, I don’t remember the pain. I just remember being ecstatic and in complete awe that I was about to meet my baby and that I finally got the water birth I wanted.
I had a big contraction, which turned out to be the last during labor, and it felt right to kept pushing after it was over. My midwife said “LOOK, Lindsey!” because my eyes were shut tight and I was about to miss the baby being born! It was 4:22 am. I’ll never forget how she looked coming up from the water with her eyes open. My husband was supposed to announce the gender but I was closer to her and shouted “it’s a GIRL!” When they handed her to me, my first thoughts were 1) this is a big baby, and she feels so strong, and 2) she’s so calm. She was looking around and quiet; we had to work very hard to agitate her enough to make her cry. I absolutely believe that she was so calm because of our birth experience and the environment.
My midwife asked me to reach into the water to grab the umbilical cord to see if it was still pulsing. Once it stopped, she helped my husband cut it, then she helped me out of the water and into the bed while my husband did skin-to-skin time with the baby. Then he handed her to me to nurse. I held her for about an hour, then another nurse came in to measure the baby. She was 8 pounds 10 ounces and 22 inches long and perfectly healthy. While the baby was with the nurse, my nurse helped me go to the bathroom. After having an epidural with Aurelia, I have to say that it was so nice to be able to walk on my own immediately and not have a catheter this time around.
Throughout the entire process of labor and delivery, I felt so focused, in control and present. While the sensations were incredibly intense, I didn’t try to run and hide from the pain like I had with Aurelia. With each contraction, I made the decision to run toward the intensity because I was more afraid of a long labor (my first was 34 hours) than I was of the intensity of one contraction. I credit that mentality with my steady progression and short 8 hour labor.
At one point in the labor pool, I remember joking with my midwife and doula, and then I realized because we’d been talking, I hadn’t had a contraction in a few minutes. I wanted to keep labor moving, so I decided to bring on a contraction, and instantly, one started. In that moment, I understood the mind-body connection in a new way and truly appreciated how critical your mentality is to the labor experience.
That’s why your birth team, your state of mind and your environment are such critical elements to the outcome of your labor experience. If I can offer one piece of unsolicited advice it’s this: don’t settle into auto pilot when it comes to creating your birth plan. Dig deep. Get honest with yourself about what you want. Be picky about who’s by your side when the time comes. And if necessary, be prepared fight like hell for yourself and your baby. You can’t control much about the miraculous, beautiful, transformative event that is the birth of your child, but you can control that.