Our baby girl was due on Tuesday, August 29. I was hoping she would be a September baby since fall is my favorite season. But as the date approached, I was showing no signs of labor and starting to get nervous. My pregnancy had been easier than I expected--no morning sickness or other complications—and I was convinced I would have a difficult delivery to make up for it.
On the day she was due, Chris and I went to Dr. Stradtman’s office for my 40-week ultrasound. I asked the ultrasound tech to double check that she was a girl. At that point we hadn’t decided on a name, though we had a couple options we were both happy with. While the ultrasound looked fine and so did the non-stress test, doctor said I wasn’t dilated. I left that appointment feeling spooked and out of control. We decided to wait another week and see if labor would begin on its own, even though we were already discussing the possibility of induction.
Chris and I had met our doula, Aimee, early on in the pregnancy. I liked the idea that Chris knows me, and Aimee knows birth, and so the two of them together could support me well. I imagined that labor would begin at home in the middle of the night, and that Aimee would join us and we would all make the decision to go to the hospital together. I listened to many, many hours of The Birth Hour podcast throughout my pregnancy, so despite my planning I knew that everything going accordingly was unlikely!
Very early on I knew I wanted to aim for a non-medicated labor. I liked the idea of working with my body’s own pain-relief abilities. I’ve never felt very comfortable around babies, and wanted help from the bonding hormones I heard were triggered during a natural delivery. Once when I was explaining my desire for an unmedicated birth to Chris, I used a Lord of the Rings analogy (not surprising to anyone who knows us). Many have asked why Frodo and Sam couldn’t have ridden the eagles to Mount Doom right from the beginning. Why go on such a long and difficult journey? (There are several good answers that I won’t go into here, much to everyone’s relief!) Without the journey and its dangers, there would be no story. When it came to birth, I wanted the opportunity to face the pain and, what’s worse, the fear of pain as part of my journey.
After that 40 week appointment when I got scared, Aimee and I stayed in touch more or less daily. At this point my goal was to get labor started on its own as I desperately wanted to avoid induction and the “cascade of interventions” that I believed would make it much harder to have a natural birth. The 40-week ultrasound revealed that our baby was in the occiput posterior positon, meaning she was “sunny side up” facing my front. Aimee explained that position can indicate a slow start to labor, back labor, and other less-than-ideal birth situations, so I researched ways to encourage baby to flip over. I started off with bouncing on an exercise ball and trying my best to always lean slightly forward. Aimee also suggested a massage, and two days after baby was due I had a lovely massage with Adrian Ward and she gave me a sheet to take home with some pressure points to work on. Chris helped me with those, and in the meantime I drank double-strength Red Raspberry tea and ate pineapple. We joked about it being Labor Day weekend and the perfect time to have the baby, but no signs of labor were forthcoming!
That Sunday, my grandfather arrived in town on a cross-country motorcycle ride that had been planned before we told him about my pregnancy. He stayed with us on Sunday night, and on Monday we explored some of Birmingham together. With my mom, grandpa, and in-laws, we had a houseful for dinner that night, and to celebrate my in-laws’ anniversary we had cupcakes from Publix and watched Father of the Bride Part 2. During the scene where Steve Martin’s daughter Annie is in labor, I remember my mother-in-law saying “you chose this movie!” But it just felt like the right thing to watch, and it’s always been a favorite of mine. As it turns out, that was the last movie I saw before giving birth myself.
Tuesday morning was our 41 week appointment, which started out with another ultrasound and the good news that baby had indeed flipped over and was now facing my back. We celebrated that and were not too discouraged when doctor checked me and found out I was not dilated any more than the previous week. Aimee had prepared us to ask good questions, and when we decided to schedule an induction for Thursday morning, September 7, it felt like our choice. When we got home and Chris had gone back to work, I researched what happened in history on September 7 and was pleased to discover it was the birthday of Elizabeth the First. I texted Chris “that’s good enough for me” and took it as a good sign that even though things were not going according to plan, all would be well.
Because I was not dilated enough for the induction, I was instructed to come to the hospital on Wednesday the 6th at 4:00 so I could be prepped. That afternoon I walked to mom’s house to have lunch with her and grandpa. The night before I had been lying awake praying and thinking, and the idea came to me to ask grandpa to give me a ride to the hospital on his motorcycle. Earlier during his stay, he told us the story of getting my grandmother to the hospital in Germany when my dad was born. It involved an army ambulance breaking down and grandpa having to flag down a passing car, which turned out to be the military police! My dad owned motorcycles too, and though he died two and a half years ago, when I had this idea it seemed like a special way to include him and his dad in the birth of their granddaughter/great-granddaughter.
When I asked grandpa if he would mind taking me to the hospital that afternoon, my mom was none too pleased and asked if it was OK with my husband! I had asked Chris about it first, and since he and grandpa were fine with the idea there was nothing to stop us. As grandpa said, “I don’t know as we need your permission!” Maybe as a mother I would feel the same in her place, but compared to what was ahead of me, a 10 minute ride on a Harley Tri-glide didn’t seem frightening in the least. So that was settled, and after a good talk and prayer with mom and grandpa I walked back home to find Chris working in the yard.
I set about doing my final packing for the hospital, when I started to feel something like cramps. It was about 2:00 and I started timing the contractions. I began texting Aimee updates and was excited and relieved to see more signs that labor was beginning on its own. The contractions continued, but I wanted to stick with my plan to ride the motorcycle and I made Chris promise not to let on that I might be in labor. So I put the helmet on, got on the bike none-too-gracefully, and grandpa and I set out following mom and Chris driving our Hyundai.
It was a perfectly beautiful fall afternoon, and the fresh air felt wonderful as we rode through Homewood. At the intersection of Greensprings and Lakeshore, we stopped at a red light and a couple young guys admired the bike but tactfully didn’t say anything about the huge pregnant person on it. The rumble of the engine felt great on my back, and I felt so peaceful. I had no idea I was only about eight hours away from holding my daughter, but sensed this was a good start to the story of her birth.
Once we arrived at Brookwood, we spent a bit of time in the waiting area, and I was glad for all the childbirth classes we took since by that time I was very comfortable around the hospital. Before too long we got settled in our room and met our nurse, Kerri Ann. We had brought a laptop and selection of DVDs thinking we may have a long night ahead waiting for the induction, but my contractions continued to progress. I got changed into a hospital gown, and we started trying to watch an episode of West Wing. Dr. Stradtman checked me and confirmed that I was indeed in labor and there was no need to proceed with the induction.
Chris would help me by counting aloud through each contraction; sometimes we would count together and sometimes I just listened. I would look at and squeeze a Weeble toy that my dad had had during his cancer treatments and remember him saying “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” Around 7:30 my water broke. I went to the bathroom to change and realized the pair of the fuzzy socks I’d brought from home were ruined. The amniotic fluid had meconium in it, which meant a respiratory specialist would need to be present at delivery to make sure baby’s lungs were clear. As I continued to labor, Chris gave me sips of water from a fancy bottle he’d just purchased at the hospital gift shop. We decided to call Aimee and ask her to join us, still having no idea how long I still had to go. At one point I threw up, and right after that Aimee walked in the door around 9:30. She just took it all in stride.
From that point I don’t know exactly how events strung together. Both Aimee and Chris were calm and matter-of-fact, and helped me feel like I was doing hard but normal work. Aimee paid attention to the noises I made during contractions and encouraged me to make low pitched sounds rather than more frantic sounding higher ones. I leaned on this advice through almost every contraction and, while it was a little embarrassing, the groaning helped me do something in response to the pain. I was connected a monitor that allowed me to move freely while the hospital staff could keep an eye on how baby was coping.
For a while I leaned over the bathroom sink and ran warm water over my hands every time I contracted. I also sat by myself, with the door mostly closed and Aimee and Chris out talking in the main room. This was how I wanted labor to go, with life happening around me and no one fussing over me every minute. I don’t know how long I was in the bathroom, but when I came out it was hard to walk and I got down on all fours right there on the floor. Aimee said afterwards that she thought I had gone through transition (generally considered the most intense phase of labor) there in the bathroom. I said I felt something hard. Aimee asked what it was and I said “baby’s head?” like I didn’t believe that was possible yet.
Not knowing how long the contractions would continue and how much worse they would get was the hardest part for me. Aimee encouraged me several times with “that contraction is over. You’ll never have that one again.” I was more or less on all fours again, this time on the hospital bed, when I said I didn’t think I could do it. Aimee said that’s what she often hears right before the baby arrives. Someone checked me, and I couldn’t believe it when I heard I was about 9 centimeters and it was almost time to push. I got scared again because I was sure pushing would hurt worse. Dr. Stradtman was there, and soon they put an oxygen mask on me because baby wasn’t responding well to the contractions. I remember being afraid that I would throw up while wearing the mask, but I didn’t. I have a clear memory of locking eyes with Chris like he was a rope I was holding onto to keep myself from drowning.
Soon everyone was telling me to push. Remembering what I’d learned about September 7th being Elizabeth I’s birthday, I asked what time it was and they said 11:40. I didn’t want my daughter to be born too soon and miss having September 7th as her birthday. I remember Dr. Stradtman saying that this could take a while and feeling discouraged. Someone asked me what pictures I wanted taken but I didn’t answer—I was too focused and at that point couldn’t imagine wanting any pictures of this gruesome process! Soon doctor was asking permission to do an episiotomy, which was something I had wanted to avoid but knew that it was the right decision in the moment. Then it seemed like no time at all until I suddenly saw my baby. She was born at 12:21 a.m. on September 7th. My first impressions were that she had a lot of brown hair and looked like Chris’s dad! They handed her to me and she almost immediately began to nurse. I felt such a combination of relief that labor was over and disbelief that this person—all 8 pounds 9 ounces of her—had been inside me! Aimee took photos of those first moments and stayed with us until we were feeling settled. I don’t think she left until after 2 a.m., and I was so grateful for her dedication to us throughout that night.
One thing I’d spent a lot of time on during pregnancy was assembling a labor playlist on Spotify. I called it “Chapter 1: I am Born” after the David Copperfield quote I’d recently seen on Etsy. The first song Chris and I remember hearing after our daughter was born was Bruce Springsteen’s “The River.” All Bruce’s music is special to me because of my dad, but that song in particular is one of my and Chris’s favorites. Later I found out that while we were preparing for the motorcycle trip to the hospital, my mother in law had been to Walgreens and decided to get a Coke – a rare treat. She reached into the case and without knowing it pulled out a bottle with my dad’s name, Randy, on it. She saved the bottle, and I have it in the nursery as a reminder of how God brought about every detail of baby’s arrival in a beautiful way only He could orchestrate. He even included my dad.
I have such fond memories of our entire stay at Brookwood, from the little things like the plastic cup full of graham cracker packets to the overall cozy feeling that settled around the three of us in that recovery room. It was there that we not only introduced our daughter to her grandparents and saw her anointed by our rector, but that we finally, hours after her birth, decided on her name.
Welcome, Elanor Alice! Your story has a wonderful beginning.