Gwendolyn’s Birth Story

In the early hours of that warm morning in May, my mind was consumed with the task of birthing my baby. It didn’t matter what else was going on in the world because, during those intimate, seemingly unending moments, I could neither see nor hear anything besides the voices of my team, including my husband who never left my side. They were supporting me, encouraging me, and guiding me toward the ultimate goal of meeting my newest daughter.

It all started around 6am the previous morning, when my husband and I left our apartment to head to the hospital for an induction. My mother had flown in from Florida a few days prior to stay with our daughter when it was time. I will admit I was torn on whether or not to be induced. I really wanted my daughter to come on her own, but I ultimately decided to be induced to reduce the risk of tearing as badly as I did with my first daughter, Laurel. Read her birth story here. She was over ten pounds when she was born (almost a week past her due date). I was steadfast on my decision to forego pain medication, as I had with Laurel, whom I was also induced with.

Gwens Birth3
In my birth robe, waiting for our induction!

We were checked into the hospital by 9am and Pitocin was started right away, at the lowest dose possible. I was already 4cm dilated at that point so that was encouraging. I requested intermittent fetal monitoring so I would not be confined to the bed. My husband made it clear to my nurse that I would be eating as I pleased, since he understands that my hanger (hunger = anger) is real. She obliged and actually encouraged me to order food from the cafeteria, reminding me of the meal times. The next 12 hours were pretty uneventful. My nurse would increase my Pitocin every 30 minutes but it didn’t seem to be doing anything. I felt no discomfort at all, a sure sign no “progress” was being made. I walked around my room, I walked the halls, I bounced on the birth ball, had plenty of snacks, lunch, and dinner, still nothing. There were moments I would feel nervous that other medications might be offered to speed things up and that I would ultimately be given a timeline and feel rushed. That didn’t happen, phew.

At around 9pm, my midwife started her shift and came to visit me. I was so happy to see her since she had been the person I saw during my prenatal appointments. She knew and supported my birth plan inside and out. I think she was sensing that I was getting tired. When she checked my cervix and discovered that I was still 4cm dilated, even with the max dose of Pitocin, she asked me if I wanted her to break my water. I had a feeling that would do the trick and boy, did it! I immediately started feeling contractions. I was actually pretty excited since I knew it was all happening now.

Over the next few hours, my contractions were getting stronger and stronger. I remember telling myself that I still had a long way to go and to save as much energy as I could. I was still able to converse between contractions but would have to breathe deeply, and occasionally moan, during them. My husband would “count down” each contraction. I found this so helpful, as it gave me something to listen to, something to focus on, and an endpoint. He would put my straw in my mouth and remind me to drink water every so often as well.

Eventually, the contractions were so powerful that I stopped talking between them. I was bent over the side of the bed at this point, with my face and chest on the bed and my feet on the ground. My husband and midwife were right by my side, encouraging me and praising my efforts the entire time. My midwife asked if I wanted her to check my cervix, and offered a cervical sweep in the process. When she did this, I felt a little gush of water and an enormous amount of pressure. She told me that I was now 7cm dilated. That news was encouraging since I was surely feeling progress being made and my baby getting closer and closer to making her debut.

After that cervical sweep, things moved rather quickly, (relatively speaking). After a few more contractions, I questioned whether my baby would ever come. I shed some tears and told my husband that I couldn’t do it anymore. I think my midwife was reading my signals and realized that I was probably fully dilated at this point. I announced to the room that I was pushing and she encouraged me to push as my body told me to. Pushing didn’t provide relief, as it had when I birthed Laurel, whom I pushed out for two and a half hours. Although it was painful, I realize now that it was likely because this baby came so much quicker.

During each contraction, I would push with all my might. I would roar into the bed and imagine my baby sliding out of me. She eventually started to crown and I remember comments about how much hair she had. I reached down and felt it. My legs grew shaky, I was still standing at this point. Ryan was on the other side of the bed, holding onto my hands so I could pull on them for leverage. After I would finish pushing, my legs would nearly collapse from under me. Someone in the room suggested we raise the back of the bed and I kneel on all fours. While on top of the bed, I begged for help. I pleaded with whoever was listening to pull my baby out of me. I pushed probably three times on that bed, each time belting out a low and deep groan, a noise I couldn’t replicate today if I tried. A slow and steady final push and her head was out, followed by her perfect little vernix-covered body. She was passed through my legs and placed on the bed right in front of me. Ryan caught this cherished moment on video, the moment I looked down and laid eyes on my new baby. With a voice of shock, amazement, and gratitude, I said, “Is that her? Oh my God.” I slowly lifted her up, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and snuggled her close to my body as I turned to lay on the bed. My sweet Gwendolyn Rose was born at 2:54am, weighing 9 pounds and 21.5 inches long.

Gwens birth
My beautiful Gwen, only moments old.

Laurel’s Birth Story

It’s taken me a long time to muster the courage to type this story. I worry that I can’t convey the emotions I felt that day, and have felt ever since, as eloquently as they deserve. I think back on the day that my little bundle of perfection was born and it physically hurts. My chest gets tight and my fingers become shaky. Since that special day in April of last year, my heart has been living outside of my body. It’s taken on the appearance of chubby cheeks and wispy hair. It’s vulnerable, so beautifully and terrifyingly vulnerable.

Laurel’s due date was April 20th, but my awesome OB was willing to support us in going past that date before considering induction. Induction was the topic of a discussion we had with her early on, as I had a fear of being induced. I figured that one unnecessary intervention could lead to more and my ultimate goal was a completely natural birth. Since she couldn’t really give us a “medically necessary” reason for it anyways, the option was basically off the table.

At my 40 week appointment, I had my membranes stripped, in hopes of naturally progressing things along. I was already 3 cm dilated at this point and my OB said that it’s a 50/50 shot on whether the membrane stripping will do anything. I guess that makes sense, it either will or it won’t, right? I also started going to acupuncture, during which time I would feel contractions, but the contractions would subside as soon as I left the building. At this point, I was eating pineapple, spicy foods, bouncing on my birth ball, walking, and doing everything short of castor oil to induce my labor naturally.

Pregnant getting acupuncture to induce labor naturally
40+ weeks pregnant at Springs Community Acupuncture in Colorado Springs, CO.

Well April 20th passed, then April 21st, and April 22nd (membranes stripped again), April 23rd, 24th.. there we were on April 25th, two days before Week 41. My OB was really chomping at the bit for this baby to be born. Ryan was feeling a bit anxious as well and would ask me several times throughout the day how I felt, if I had any contractions, and if I could still feel the baby moving. I like to think I was feeling pretty relaxed and patient, but also very excited to meet our little one.

After several serious discussions between Ryan and I, we ultimately decided that I would be induced. I was steadfast on my decision not to receive pain medication, even though I knew that Pitocin can cause intense contractions. I was prepared, both mentally and physically. Read about how I prepared for birth here.

Leaving for the hospital as a family of 2.
Leaving for the hospital as a family of 2.

At around 7am on April 26th, my OB broke my water and I started feeling minor contractions. She had agreed to break my water first to see if that would jump start labor. As part of my birth plan, I agreed to have a hep-lock put in place, but declined an IV. I wanted to be free to move about my hospital room completely unrestricted. I bounced on the birth ball, played cards with my mom and Ryan, ate tons of snacks, walked around, and really just waited. My room was large with a huge window that took up an entire wall, with white plantation shutters looking out over a playground.

Bouncing on the birth ball to start contractions, something I had been doing for months!
Bouncing on the birth ball, something I had been doing for months! Why do my feet look so big?

By 1pm, no “progress” was made, I was still 3 cm dilated. Still confident, I agreed to start Pitocin. My nurse hooked up an IV and started me on a very low dose. It began working immediately. Ryan and my mom had gone down to the cafeteria to grab lunch so I actually had my first real contraction while they were out of the room. My nurse was able to shut the Pitocin off after a little while since it started making my contractions too close together, and boy were they intense!

For the next 6 hours, I labored. I squatted, I lunged, I twisted and turned by body in any way that gave momentary relief. I breathed in sync with my mom and listened as Ryan “counted down” each contraction. As I would feel the pressure and discomfort building, I would ask him “How much longer?” and, although I realize now that he was completely guessing, he would start counting down from ten. Before he reached one, the contraction was subsiding. Laurel’s heart rate was perfect the entire time, I felt so fortunate. Over the hours, I could see my belly get lower and lower, as our baby moved deeper into the birth canal. She was getting ready to make her debut!

It’s interesting to think about the comfort measures that I thought I would want during labor: massage, counter-pressure, touching, bouncing on the birth ball, walking around, music. I wanted none of these. I did not want to be touched and music was irritating, almost like it was over-stimulating. During our birth class, we practiced all of these techniques and Ryan knew exactly what to do and say; however, when the time came it all went out the window! We even made a birth poster with “reminders” and little sayings that Ryan could refer to. I remember the best thing for me was keeping my eyes closed, breathing deeply, and rocking back and forth on the bed, go figure. My foot actually fell asleep several times because I had it tucked under me on the bed. My mom would massage it when it would get tingly.

Weeks prior, Ryan and I had a conversation with my OB about different laboring and birth positions, mainly to get a feel for what she was comfortable with. I’ll never forget her response because it still makes me giggle to visualize, “You can swing from the lights during labor if you want but I’d prefer you near the bed when it’s time to push.” I appreciated her for being so supportive of our birth plan (minus the swinging from the lights thing).

Eventually, I was almost fully dilated, I lunged on the side of the bed and pushed past a cervical lip. When my RN told me I was 10 cm I said, “Are you sure, you’re not joking right?!” I was so happy! She told me to push whenever I felt the urge to. For the next two hours, I pushed and pushed and pushed. I started in a squat position, using the squat bar on the bed. This helped Laurel pass my pubic bone, which she was stalled at for a bit. We didn’t know at that time how big her head was, gulp.

It started to feel good to completely relax, or should I say collapse, between each contraction & push, so I ended up on my back while pushing. Throughout my pregnancy, when I had visualized giving birth, I saw myself on all fours, or even in a squat position so gravity could help me. When I would collapse between pushes, that was when Ryan would stick a straw in my mouth and tell me to sip water, which I was so thankful for. He also reapplied my chapstick which was a Godsend! (#1 thing to pack in your hospital bag: chapstick!) Read about what else I brought in my hospital bag here.

I must mention that throughout the entire process, Ryan had our GoPro strapped to his head. He started the video on our drive to the hospital. One of his main jobs was to take pictures and videos for me to watch later. I’ve watched the videos probably a hundred times. I would highly recommend that to anyone. Even if you’re not loving the idea of having your experience filmed, at least have someone snap some pictures so you can remember those moments we quickly forget afterward.

The time came when our OB entered the room, the bottom of the bed was dropped, and the whole world (it seemed) was staring at my crotch. I even had a nurse intern right next to me, holding one of my legs. I could feel the poor guys arms shaking the entire time. I had agreed to allow the intern in on my birth because I figured, and my nurse confirmed later, that they don’t get to see many unmedicated births. He definitely had a story to write home about!

My precious baby girl entered the world at 9:39pm and, after a very brief once-over by the doctor, was placed on my chest and not moved for the next two hours. Ryan and I were crying, she was screaming, and the entire room cheered. It was the happiest day of my life! I have tears as I type this now. Her vitals were checked as she stayed curled on my chest. She latched on to breastfeed right away, umbilical cord still attached. After about three minutes, Ryan cut the umbilical cord and then said what later become an infamous phrase in our house, “I helped! I did something!”

After hours of skin-to-skin contact on both me and Ryan, Laurel was brought to the scale just on the other side of the room, while I went to the restroom. While in the restroom, I hear, “Whoa! No way!” and Ryan informed me that our baby was 10 pounds 1 ounce and 22 inches long. I think we all just started laughing. After we settled into our new hospital room, Ryan and I just stared in awe at the miracle we created. I don’t think I slept a wink that night.

Laurel, Ryan, and I stayed at the hospital for two nights as we acclimated to life as a family of 3. The hospital was amazing and let me order as much food as I wanted. Surprisingly the hospital food was delicious and my appetite was ravenous, thanks to breastfeeding, so I really appreciated that. My nurses were wonderfully doting which made the middle-of-the-night blood pressure checks as enjoyable as they could be. My mom stayed at our house to take care of our dogs and would come and go from the hospital throughout the day. My dad sent us a few Edible Arrangements, tons of balloons, and stuffed animals. My mother-in-law flew in the day after Laurel was born. Friends visited us at the hospital and brought meals to our house, which was so appreciated. It all feels like so long ago now but what a wonderful time it was! I hope to never forget these moments. I plan to tell Laurel about her birthday as often as she’ll want to hear about it. I can just imagine her now, asking me, “Mommy, tell me about the best day of your life.”

Coming home from the hospital as a family of 3.
Coming home as a family of 3.
baby 8 days old.
Laurel, 8 days old.
baby 8 days old
Laurel, 8 days old.

 

Preparing for your Natural Birth

For as long as I can remember, I knew I wanted to be a mom. I’m one of four kids so I grew up in a big family. I thought I’d be starting my own family around 22, when my mom did, chuckle. Although I didn’t start having babies when I was 22, I did have a few things ingrained in my head from a young age. First was that I was going to have natural births, meaning no pain medication for vaginal births, just like my mom did four times. I remember her laughing when we’d see movies where the woman was giving birth and screaming while calling her husband all sorts of profane names. She would always shake her head and say, “It’s not like that.” Don’t get me wrong, she admitted that labor was painful (she actually compared the pain to getting shot) but she always assured me it was nothing I couldn’t handle. My mom’s strength instilled a confidence in me that never really went away.

Growing up, I’d hear bits and pieces of stories from my dad’s youth. He was somewhat of a hippie, or a “freak” as he’d call himself. He had long black hair, read poetry, practiced yoga, and was a vegetarian for most of his life. You wouldn’t think so if you saw him, as he’s 6 foot 8 inches and has the muscular build of the general contractor he later became. He traveled the world, hitch-hiked, slept in a tent at the ruins of Machu Picchu and in a

My mom gave me her copy of Ina May Gaskin's book, Spiritual Midwifery
My mom gave me her copy of Ina May Gaskin’s book, Spiritual Midwifery.

hammock in the jungle of Guatemala. He talks about “spiritual leaders” he had in his former life, the same life he attended ceremonies within sweat lodges. He even spent time with Ina May Gaskin’s husband at The Farm. My mom actually gave me Ina May’s 2nd edition Spiritual Midwifery book that I have and cherish, all while trying not to giggle when I look at the pictures.

 

I think it was in grad school that I became very in tuned with my body, through practicing a lot of yoga and through my academic studies of Human Biology. I did yoga as both a form of exercise and a way to manage the stress of school. Being in grad school for Nutrition allowed me to dive deeper into human physiology and metabolism in a way that was purely engrossing. I developed a deep respect and trust for my body during this time.

I’m not a doctor or midwife or nurse. Every single woman, baby, and pregnancy is different and has different needs. I am wholeheartedly grateful for modern medicine and feel strongly that it has a place in our society. That being said, it makes me sad that the birth process has become so clinical. For so many women, fear surrounds birth. I want to encourage anyone reading this to know that there are options, and you can have an amazing birth experience.

Here are some of the steps I took to give myself the best chance at a natural birth:

  1. Get informed. Although obvious, this is the single most important thing you can do when planning your birth experience. You have to know your options before you can start making decisions. I would suggest signing up for a natural birth class. Look within your community for a birth class geared toward building knowledge and confidence, covering the basics but also covering relaxation and comfort measures during labor. Ryan and I took a 6-week birth class that met for almost three hours once a week, (oh how I love that man!) The class was held at a local yoga studio in Colorado Springs called Enso and it was amazing. It was the same group throughout the entire 6 weeks so we got comfortable with each other and I actually still keep in touch with a few of the ladies. Two of the biggest benefits of the class were that it built my confidence tremendously and that it raised questions for Ryan and I to discuss with our OB (topics that we may not have thought about otherwise). I also loved how Ryan and I were there together; we learned about the process, our options, and discussed things on our drive home. It really helped us to stay on the same page.
  2. Make a plan. You’ve probably heard of a Birth Plan but maybe have never seen one before (mine is pictured below). All it is is a written or typed hard copy of your preferences during your labor, birth, and after. It’s a piece of paper you can literally hand to and discuss with your OB or midwife, as well as your nurse on delivery day. You can hang a copy on the wall or door of your hospital room so everyone knows exactly what your expectations are. Ultimately, your birth plan acts as your guide when you’re enthralled in the emotional, exhausting, and sometimes unpredictable labor experience. It reminds your husband (or birth partner) what you discussed and agreed upon so if the nurse were to ask him a question and his mind blanks, he doesn’t panic. There are a ton of topics you can have on your birth plan, from whether you want an epidural or not to your request for delayed cord clamping. I would strongly encourage you to make your birth plan with your birth partner, whether that’s your husband, friend, mom, doula, or someone else. You and that person should be in agreement with each item on your birth plan. For me, it was so important to have Ryan’s support for the decisions surrounding Laurel’s birth. It’s really hard to go against “the norm” and if your birth partner isn’t 100% supportive, it could be tough to stand your ground or even maintain your confidence during the time you are most vulnerable.
birth plan for natural labor
If you read Laurel’s birth story, you can see that not everything went exactly as planned.

3. Talk to your OB or midwife about your expectations. Early on, when choosing our OB, I voiced my intentions for my labor, mainly to get a feel for how comfortable she was with them. From the get-go, my OB was supportive, as she had two children herself whom she birthed naturally. Ryan and I were elated with our OB from the first meeting. If we hadn’t been, we would have kept searching. One thing that people don’t understand is that your doctor is working for you, not the other way around. If you speak with a doctor that doesn’t seem to respect your wishes, find one that does! This can make the difference between the birth you always imagined and a nightmare.

4. Make a 100% decision, before you go into labor, on the things you can usually control. For example, if you don’t want to get an epidural during labor, be 100% about it. If you’re thinking, “Well, we’ll see how it goes” or “I’d love to do it without pain meds but I like to have the option,” chances are you’re going to get the epidural. You cannot see it as an option. What might happen is your contractions will really kick in and your nurse will politely ask you if you want pain medication. At that point, only a crazy person would turn them down! Instead, have a conversation (or have your birth partner have the conversation) with your nurse about not asking you if you want pain meds, because remember, they’re not an option. After all, it’s on your birth plan!

5. Bring the essentials, including snacks. I was told by several friends that I wouldn’t be “allowed” to eat once I arrived at the hospital. Since not eating was not an option for me (my hanger is real) I made sure to pack foods I could eat and digest easily, like yogurt, crackers, organic Gatorade, and a pb&j. Eating during labor was a topic that we discussed thoroughly in my birth class. Although the general consensus was that a woman in labor needs fuel for her body, it seems that most hospitals discourage a woman to eat during labor. I thought this was absurd! When we arrived at the hospital, Ryan informed my nurse that I would be eating as I pleased. Her response? She smiled and said, “Just wait until I leave the room.” Thinking back, I don’t know if I would have physically been able to push for two hours had I not eaten highly nutritious foods throughout the day.

Another essential to think about is what you will wear during your labor, keeping three things in mind: comfort, color, and ease of removal. You don’t want to wear something that might squeeze you when you go into different positions, such as a squat. You most likely don’t want to wear anything light-colored, as there are several different bodily fluids flyin’ around during labor (sorry for the visual) that might end up on your clothing. I decided to wear the hospital gown upon arrival. I ultimately gave birth in a simple black nursing bra that I still wear to this day. I brought a nursing robe that I put on after Laurel’s arrival. Other things you might consider bringing include essential oils (like Lavender and Orange), chapstick, hair ties, the breast shields from your breast pump so the Lactation Consultant can confirm a proper fit, your nursing pillow, towels (hospital towels can be pretty sketchy), and extra pillows (to increase comfort and promote relaxation since they smell like home).

6. Prepare yourself for labor, both physically and mentally. The benefits of staying physically active during pregnancy are endless. When it comes to giving birth, physical strength and endurance are essential. Stay active during your pregnancy, whether this means walking daily or attending yoga class a few times a week. Generally, walking and yoga are safe for anyone during pregnancy, even if you were not active before getting pregnant. I highly recommend yoga during pregnancy for several reasons. The deep breathing in yoga helps with physical and mental relaxation, which can decrease blood pressure and improve overall mood. Many of the positions in yoga allow baby to get into the perfect position for birth: head-down, chin tucked, and facing your back (anterior). Several yoga poses allow your body to open and let gravity work in your favor. For this reason alone, yoga could be very beneficial for pregnant women, especially in the third trimester.

walking while pregnant in colorado
I went on walks frequently throughout my pregnancy. Here I am at 31 weeks on a windy day in Colorado Springs, CO.

If you are already active going into your pregnancy, feel free to maintain your current exercise routine. You might want to modify certain workouts after 20 weeks, such as any that have you flat on your back, crunching with your abdomen, or jumping. As always, discuss this with your doctor before making changes to your exercise routine. For me, staying active helped keep my weight gain under control (I ended up gaining 35 pounds total), it helped me sleep better at night (when I wasn’t getting up to pee 3x a night), it prevented swelling, and it helped minimize the classic aches and pains of pregnancy. It also helped keep my mental state clear, positive, and confident.

I mentally prepared for labor in a few different ways. I think the main benefit of putting energy into mental preparation is that it helps build and maintain confidence. I didn’t want to be scared of giving birth, I wanted to be excited for it. First and foremost, throughout my pregnancy, I made an effort to avoid negativity surrounding pregnancy and birth. I never understood why people felt it was appropriate to tell me their horror birth story as I’m sitting there, big belly and all, about to embark on the journey myself. I have literally walked away from groups of people when the conversation turns negative. You don’t have to say anything or be rude, just remove yourself from the situation and you’ll be glad you did. Sometimes all it takes is one negative comment to cause your confidence to plummet.

To build my confidence, daily starting around 25 weeks pregnant, I listened to an audio track called Positive Pregnancy Affirmations from the Hypnobabies program. Although this can sound bogus if you’re skeptical, I would highly recommend you give it a try. Search for any sort of positive affirmations, this can be something you read or listen to, and read or listen to it every day. I would sometimes listen to it multiple times a day, especially in my last couple weeks. Call it brainwashing, but I’m a believer that hearing positive things really helps your mind connect to them and embrace them.

birth poster with birth plan reminders
Ryan & I made a poster in our birth class with motivational reminders. We hung it on the wall in my hospital room. Ryan said it was very helpful while I was in labor.

I think it’s important to note that even with ample preparation, both physical and mental, there can always be unexpected things that arise during pregnancy and labor. Sometimes these things are completely out of your control. When making your birth plan and discussing topics with your birth partner and doctor, try to remain flexible. Know that you’re not a failure if things don’t go exactly as “planned.” Ultimately, the purpose of making a “plan” is so you take the time to inform yourself of your options. As a first time mom especially, you really have no idea what to expect when you go to give birth. The main objective that every parent wants on their child’s birth day is for their baby to be born healthy. However your baby enters this world is the right way, but my hope is that you were informed of your options and felt comfortable with whatever decisions were made.