One week ago exactly, from the time I’m typing these words, my midwife agreed to break my water. Five hours later, Aria Josephine slid (for lack of a less graphic word) into the world and made us all fall in love all over again. From that minute on, it’s been a whirlwind of snuggles, sleeplessness, staring, and trying my darn best to soak up every last bit of these early days with my third girl.
I don’t know if it’s because it’s my third pregnancy, but everything about this time around felt so natural — not easy or smooth all the time, mind you, but very, very natural. Knowing what to expect makes things scarier in ways, but it also provides such a peace of mind that allowed me to trust my body and my instincts in ways I never have before. And I think that trust, ultimately, is what made this birth such a beautiful experience.
I know I don’t usually share such intimate things on my blog, but for the sake of anyone who is as obsessed with reading birth stories as I am (it’s a weird mom thing…don’t ask…) or for any of you who are pregnant, considering a non-hospital birth, or are curious about our story, I wanted to share all the details of that night in all their birth-y glory. Read on at your own expense and be prepared for all of the details of an unfiltered birth experience.
After two unmedicated hospital births, I knew I wanted to give birth at a birthing center if I ever got pregnant again. Evie and Mara’s births were beautiful, but I craved more freedom, less mandatory intervention, and the opportunity to make this labor as fast and unencumbered as possible.
I’ll include the same disclaimer here that I did when I shared Mara’s birth story — I fully believe that all births are “natural births” so I won’t use that terminology here, I also had relatively low-risk and smooth pregnancies each time, so I can’t say that I would have made the same decisions I did under different circumstances — but I also won’t shy away from sharing about why I chose to forego medication and trust my body, because I’m really damn proud of myself. And you should be too, no matter how or through what means you bring a human into the world.
I was 39 weeks and 3 days and had been having regular but mild contractions for days. I knew it wasn’t labor, but each time I timed them and a new wave came I got excited hoping they’d increase slowly but surely. After days of it, I was getting really emotionally exhausted and just ready for baby to get here.
A spring snow storm was on the way (we’re talking over 20 inches of snow) and with contractions happening every 10 minutes apart for most of the day, I was convinced baby was coming soon and neither AJ or I wanted to be stuck in the mountains (where there isn’t a place to give birth except in emergencies) when I went into active labor. We decided to head to Denver, book our AirBnb early for the week, and if baby came that night, great, if not, we’d do everything we could to get here while we were there.
Baby did not come that night, in fact. She made us wait two more days (full of all-day prodromal labor). During those days we did all of the labor inducing things I could think of. I walked countless flights of stairs, had sex lots of times (tmi, I know, but I told you I’d spare none of the details, right?), hooked myself up to my breast pump, bounced on my birthing ball, and ate spicy food. The contractions were still steady, but too short and not progressing.
9:00 AM— After lots of research and ok-ing it with my midwife, I convinced myself the night before that if I didn’t go into labor on my own, I’d try castor oil first thing in the morning to see if that sped anything up.
I took less than half the recommended dose of 2 tablespoons at about 9 AM (shaken with orange juice to help it go down) and by about noon I had a bowel movement and ramped up contractions. I knew that was to be expected though, so AJ and I decided to go “mall walk” like a couple of 78 year olds to see if that helped.
Surprise, it did.
12:30 PM — The combination of walking and the effects of the castor oil had my contractions coming every six minutes or so and they were definitely increasing in intensity, but weren’t lasting more than 30-40 seconds. I felt like it could be early labor, but also didn’t want the contractions to stop out of nowhere like they had everyday before.
1:50 PM — I had an appointment with my midwife scheduled already, so I decided to track my contractions as well as I could and see what she thought I should do. When she saw me, the first thing she said was that my “eyes looked like I was in labor” and I updated her with where I was at. At that point I was dilated to 5 cm and my cervix was thinning but not completely thinned, I was encouraged that progress was happening and knew that these early contractions were helping get everything ready. She did a membrane sweep as well which can speed things up even more.
We both agreed that we should stay nearby, try to get contractions moving along, and see where things went. She called the midwife on duty to let her know I was there and in the meantime, I walked up and down the flights of stairs at the birthing center probably 20 times to keep the contractions coming and hopefully speed them up.
3:30 PM — We were settled in our birthing room and the midwife had me on a “routine” to help encourage early labor to move into active labor. I sat on a birthing ball and pumped for 10 minute increments and also took doses of herbal tinctures (blue/black cohosh and cotton root bark) intermittently according to her schedule. (Side note: don’t attempt these things without your midwife’s supervision or approval…there are mixed studies on the effectiveness of the herbs, but I trusted her and was ready to try just about anything short of pitocin to get things going). We did two rounds of this routine and although the contractions were still coming (she’d pause the pumping to listen to baby’s heart rate each time as well to make sure the “induction” wasn’t stressing baby), they weren’t progressing to an active labor status quite yet.
4:30 PM — We decided to get some dinner, walk around a bit more, and then come back to the birth center for another round of ball/pump/herbs and then she’d check me to see where I was at.
7:00 PM — By this point, I was dilated to 6 cm, but contractions were still relatively mild (I would definitely say they hurt, but weren’t at the point that I needed to make noise or stop moving through them). I was 75% effaced and baby’s head was extremely low (the midwife could touch it so easily with each check it almost shocked me that I wasn’t more uncomfortable).
8:00 PM — We decided to break my water. This seemed like a scary call to make because once your water breaks, there’s no turning back…but my midwife said that she felt comfortable with the decision because of how low baby’s head was, how dilated I was, and because of my history of uncomplicated labors post-water breaking. (See below for the reality of labor once your water breaks in all its adult-diaper-y goodness).
From here on out, my timeline is really messy, because things kicked in quickly after breaking my water. Active labor came on fast and my midwife drew me a bath in the incredible birthing tub that I had literally been dreaming about my entire pregnancy.
I spent hours in the bathtub, rocking on my hands and knees through contractions, focusing on breathing deeply, distracting my thoughts, and feeling strong through each of them. It was late, and I was getting tired which made me nervous, but I was determined to keep my labor progressing as much as I could and not do anything that could slow it down.
10:00 PM - 11:00 PM — I tried getting out of the tub several times to walk around the room (as much as you can walk around once your water breaks and you’re moaning your way through contractions). I used a “sling” hung from the ceiling to support my weight and squatted down during contractions to encourage baby to move further down. At this point, the contractions were intense and, as much as I hoped it wouldn’t happen, I had very painful back labor with each and every one of them. I needed AJ to apply intense counter-pressure on my pelvis to counteract the burning in my back, and ultimately, I ended up back in the bathtub because it at least soothed the rest of my body during the contractions.
12:00 AM — I had been feeling lots of pressure (I thought it was a true bowel movement at first) and after lots of trips to the toilet, knew I’d be pushing soon. Baby was sitting SO low that resisting the urge to push was intense.
I still had about a centimeter to dilate and my midwife said there was just a lip of my cervix left to go and that she thought she could slide it over enough to let me push. We tried several positions for this…for some reason, the tub didn’t feel comfortable to me, I was getting light headed, really tired, and the contractions were so intense that I felt like being on my hands and knees would help move baby down and let me push more easily.
I had several contractions on the bed, on my hands and knees with AJ bent over me by my head applying counter pressure to my back (which wasn’t even helping at this point — I kept telling him to push harder but he physically couldn’t push any harder than he was, which if you’ve seen the man, is impressive). The midwife was behind me, ready to coach me through pushing and I tried pushing a bit at a time and although it helped a little bit, I didn’t have the overwhelming urge to push like I was expecting.
The last hour was the most intense part of transition and I slowly moved from the bed to the tub and finally to a birth stool because I really felt like my body wanted me to be upright for the pushing phase. (I pushed reclined in a hospital bed for both of my other two and was pretty convinced after all of my research and reading during this pregnancy that this position is one of the most unhelpful for an unmedicated labor).
I won’t sugar coat it…this part was hard. Labor is WORK. Aside from the pain of the contractions, my body was physically exhausted and I gathered every last bit of energy I had left to get this baby here.
1:05 AM — Aria Josephine was born. On a birthing stool, which is strange because I didn’t even consider that option before going into labor, but once I needed to push, it felt so good to be able to sit down, be upright, and use the stool to help me pull up, bear down, and push. My midwife coached me though “controlled pushing” which is something most hospitals don’t encourage (I had an episiotomy both times before because of the rush to get the baby out). I pushed with each contraction in short bursts, holding her there until my midwife told me to push again. It took only a few minutes, and I touched her head with my fingers, and pushed her out, no tearing or episiotomy required.
From there, the midwives immediately handed her to me and we slowly walked our way (through the post-birth shakes and blood) onto the bed to rest and birth the placenta.
For more than an hour, Aria laid on my chest, bonding, nursing when she was ready, and allowing both of us to recover. The midwife and nurse took her vitals while she was on my chest and eventually, probably two or three hours later, did her apgar test while I took another bath to clean up and relax.
We bonded as the three of us in the bed for most of the night. The midwives made me a bowl of adaptogenic porridge (seriously the most glorious meal of my life) and I spent most of the night in awe of this little life that I worked so hard to bring into the world.
At 6 am the next morning we packed up and went back to our AirBnb (I was hesitant about the birthing center’s quick release time, but knew that as long as everything went smoothly, there wasn’t a reason for us to stay longer than that).
A week later, I’ve been so happily surprised with how much easier my recovery has been in comparison to my other births. I’m fairly positive it’s due to the fact that I didn’t tear (something that can usually be avoided except in emergencies or rare occasions), and because I didn’t treat this birth like a “medical event”, but rather like a continuation of my daily life.
This birth was by far my favorite experience of the three, not because it was “easier”, less painful, or less exhausting (it wasn’t), but because I made such a concerted effort during my pregnancy to trust my body, let go of fear of the unknown, and not think of labor as something to “get through” but rather a beautiful and important (albeit really difficult) part of my journey in becoming Aria’s mama.
If you’re pregnant and hoping to do things with as little intervention as possible, here’s a quick run down of things I did towards the end of my pregnancy and throughout labor to (maybe) shorten my labor and keep me going throughout it:
Spent lots of time on my birthing ball during my third trimester (helps move baby down in the pelvis and position them in an ideal position for birth).
Read lots of birth stories (seriously so helpful). My favorite books were Birthing From Within and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Ate 4-6 raw dates per day
Drank Red Raspberry Leaf tea (an entire box during the last few weeks — it’s so good!)
Walked everyday, and especially throughout the Braxton Hicks and prodromal labor contractions
Had sex at least once a day if I was up to it (semen helps soften the cervix and climaxing encourages contractions)
Breast simulation/pumping (only at term and I didn’t go overboard until I was in Denver and committed to getting the baby out. It was super effective at keeping contractions going).
Squat/lunged/skipped stairs to encourage proper positioning in the pelvis
Utilized deep breathing, envisioning the contractions as “waves” helping me open up, and practiced staying calm throughout contractions
Used a Tens Unit during transition (it didn’t take away any pain, but the electrical currents at least provided a different sensation for me to focus on)
Communicated with AJ the entire time
Welcome to the world, sweet girl, thank you for letting me be the one to get you here.