Samantha's Birth Story
Nathaniel’s birth story begins with an observation from his big brother, Elijah.
I woke up on Wednesday morning, April 6, and as soon as Eli saw me, his first words to me were, “Mama, your belly looks smaller.”
At this point, I was exactly 39 weeks pregnant. I had had a very healthy, low-risk pregnancy, but I had been troubled by sciatic pain during the last trimester. I had not experienced sciatica with my other two pregnancies, and it was really interfering with my sleep. It is safe to say that I was looking forward to this baby’s birth-day. As much as I cherish being pregnant, the sciatica was really wearing on me. With excitement and some anxiety, I was waiting for signs that labor might begin soon. At first, I didn’t think much of Eli’s comment, but a short while later I had the thought, “What if my baby has dropped?” I shared my thought with Eli and Caroline, and told them that maybe, just maybe, baby was thinking about coming soon.
Last prenatal appointment
I had a prenatal appointment later that morning, and had arranged for my mother-in-law to watch Caroline. This was one of the few prenatal appointments that I went to without at least one my children. I absolutely loved involving them in my prenatal care, but it was nice to have some one-on-one time with the midwife, too. I saw Jatolloa, who was the midwife who I saw for my very first prenatal appointment. When she checked my fundal height, she noticed that I was measuring 37 centimeters, down from 39 centimeters the previous week. She also felt the baby’s head by palpating my belly, and confirmed what Eli had perceived that morning, that my baby had, indeed, dropped! I left the appointment feeling happy and confident that things were headed in the right direction.
The rest of Wednesday and Thursday were uneventful, in terms of labor progress. I continued to have regular Braxton-Hicks contractions, but nothing out of the ordinary. Late Friday morning I started noticing that I felt more vaginal wetness, and was even feeling occasional very small leaks of fluid. I called Brett to tell him about this change, and he suggested that I call the midwives. I paged the midwife on call and ended up speaking with Jatolloa in the afternoon, around 3:00pm. She wanted me to come in so that she could determine whether or not it was amniotic fluid that I was leaking. When I was waiting for Brett to arrive home, I went to the bathroom and noticed that I was leaking some of my mucus plug. I took this as a very encouraging sign that my labor would begin sometime soon.
Brett got home a few minutes later and I told him about my conversation with Jatolloa. We decided that we didn’t want to rush down to the birth center. I felt very strongly that I wanted to enjoy a last dinner as a family of four. So we called Brett’s mom and Jatolloa and told them we’d be at the birth center around 7:30pm. We told the kids that there was a chance we’d be back home tonight, but there was also a chance we’d be staying at the birth center until baby was born. Brett and I were holding out hope that my bag of waters was still intact, and we’d be sent home to wait for labor to begin on its own.
Arriving at The Midwife Center
After dinner we sent the kids to Brett’s parents’ house, after saying our special goodbyes to them. Then Brett and I got in the car and headed to the birth center to meet Jatolloa. We were trying to keep things as low-stress as possible, so we agreed to not talk at all about the labor until we got to the birth center.
At the birth center, Jatolloa did an exam and found that my cervix was open to two centimeters and I had lots of mucus (from the mucus plug) pooling in my vagina. She did some kind of pH sample that did not show the presence of amniotic fluid. All signs looked good, but the final test remained and that was to examine a sample of fluid from my vagina under a microscope. If the sample made a snowflake pattern, then it was amniotic fluid. Jatolloa was gone a while looking at the microscope, and Brett and I began to be overly confident that we would get the green light to go home.
As soon as Jatolloa opened the door, we knew from the look on her face that the news was not as we’d hoped. Jatolloa confirmed that she had found amniotic fluid on the slide, and that she would like us to stay at the center and try to get my labor started, via a natural induction routine of breast pumping and walking. She explained that I would have 30 hours from when my water started leaking, which I estimated to be about 12:00pm, to get into active labor, or else I would need to transfer to the hospital for a pharmaceutical induction. So 6:00pm the following day was our deadline to be in active labor.
I wanted to avoid a hospital transfer at all costs, since, for insurance reasons, a transfer would mean losing the care of the midwives. Jatolloa assured me that 30 hours was a lot of time, and that, since this was my third baby, she felt confident that I’d be able to get the labor to start and progress. As we were discussing the plan for the night, which would begin with my getting my first round of IV antibiotics because I was GBS positive, one of us had a light bulb moment (I think it was Brett): since I was going to be given an antibiotic that needed to be administered every eight hours, I could receive the first dose and then go home and sleep and return to the birth center in the morning! Jatolloa, Brett, and I immediately jumped on board with this idea, because we all know how crucial sleep is for labor and birth.
We went down to the Forest Room, which would be our birthing room, and which had been our first choice of rooms. I received my antibiotics, and then we prepared to leave, agreeing to report back at 6:00am. On our way out, a nurse named Paige assured us that she thought we were making the right decision. She said that both of her labors had begun with premature rupture of membranes, and that she would never encourage anyone to start pumping at 10:00 at night! We left the center feeling confident in our decision, and ready to get some sleep.
Some rest at home
I was able to get about five hours of sleep. My body was definitely starting to make some changes. I got up two or three times to use the bathroom. I had several contractions throughout the night that I was able to doze through, but I definitely felt them and recognized them as different and productive. At one point I woke up and felt very fearful about the labor and birth. I felt that the pressure was on for me to be in active labor within a set time period, so that I could avoid going to the hospital. I was also worried about how the natural induction would affect the course of my labor. It was just such a change from what I had expected. My vision for the birth had been to have a nice, relaxing early labor at home, and then arrive at the birth center when I was nearing transition. I had to come to terms with the new direction that this labor was taking. So my rest was fitful, but it was still sleep and it restored and prepared me for the journey ahead.
Our alarm went off before the sun came up. Brett and I ate a quick breakfast and headed in to the birth center. We headed straight for the Forest Room when we arrived, and soon after getting settled I received my next round of IV antibiotics for the GBS. Then my IV was hep-locked so I could have full freedom of movement. Jatolloa was there, but her shift was ending. She wished us well, assured us that she was confident in us and our birth, and turned us over to midwife Theresa and a student midwife, Nicole.
Starting a natural induction
Theresa and Nicole encouraged us to begin the natural induction right away. So I spent 30 minutes pumping, 15 minutes per breast. Brett and I had agreed that we needed to relax as much as possible and let the induction do its work. We had brought our laptop and some movies, so we turned on Harry Potter and curled up on the queen-sized bed to pump and watch. After the pumping session, we bundled up and went outside to walk around the Strip District. This was one of the many aspects of The Midwife Center that I loved, that we were free to walk outside and trusted to return when we needed to. Shockingly for April 9, it was bitter cold and snowing! The snow reminded Brett and me of the snowflake pattern that my amniotic fluid had made on the microscope slide. It was as if that snowflake pattern had foreshadowed the snowy day that would become our baby’s birth-day.
We walked outside for 30 minutes, and then returned to the birth center to warm up and pump again. During this pumping session we resumed Harry Potter and I dozed off a bit while leaning against Brett on the bed. Throughout the pumping and walking so far, I had felt some mild contractions, but nothing major and there was no recognizable pattern yet. Theresa, Nicole, and our nurse, Ashley, checked in with us periodically to ask about contractions and monitor the baby’s heart rate using a handheld Doppler. My mom stopped by to check in with us and deliver some coconut water for me. We had planned for her to be present at the birth, but since I was still in early labor, we asked her to wait for us to give her the word to come back when the birth seemed closer.
During this second pumping session, Theresa and Nicole suggested that I try taking some castor oil to help my labor progress. I was worried about the bowel distress that castor oil can cause, but Nicole was prepared with a recipe that she had read about and was excited to try, for castor oil eggs. The theory is that that protein in the eggs binds to the oil, and prevents the oil from wrecking havoc on your bowels. I said I’d give it a try, and in a few minutes Nicole presented me with a steaming plate of scrambled eggs mixed with cheese and an ounce of castor oil. They were surprisingly delicious! In fact, the only difference I could detect was that they were oilier than normal scrambled eggs. They were tasty, filling, and certainly gave me fuel for the rest of my labor. And, for the record, they didn’t cause any bowel trouble!
For our second walking session, I chose to walk inside, up and down the steps of The Midwife Center. This was hard work, but I was determined to get my labor moving! The intensity of my contractions was beginning to pick up, but they were still sporadic and unpredictable. I began my third pumping session, and Harry Potter quickly became background noise as my contractions began to pick up. They were still quite manageable, but I could tell that I was making progress. I felt so relieved and thankful. I still felt like I had a lot of work to do, however, so Brett and I did complete the cycle by walking outside again. This time, we walked down to at donut shop and got a dozen for us and the midwives and nurse. During the walk, contractions began to come closer together, perhaps about five minutes apart, and they were strong enough that I needed to stop walking, lean on Brett, and breathe deeply. I remember working through contractions while watching the snowflakes melt on my coat and breathing deeply of the cold April air. It felt surreal, magical.
When we returned I reported to Theresa and Nicole that my contractions were definitely getting more serious. They recommended that I do one more pump and walk cycle, since my labor had been slow to get started. They knew how important it was to me to birth at the center, so they wanted to be sure that my labor was progressing well. About eight minutes into my fourth pumping session, I began to have contractions almost one on top of the other. I decided it was time to stop pumping and change into the clothes I had planned to wear for the labor and birth. The contractions spaced out a bit once I stopped pumping, but there was no doubt that I was in active labor now. I was thrilled that the natural induction had worked. I felt the release of the pressure of worrying about a hospital transfer, and I focused all of my energy on relaxing and breathing through contractions.
Theresa and Nicole got a call that they were needed to check on a patient at the hospital. Theresa explained that she wanted to check my dilation. If I was well dilated and birth seemed imminent, she and Nicole would stay with me and send the second midwife on call, Dia, to the hospital. If I was not very far dilated, then they would go to the hospital, send Dia to “labor-sit” for me, and then they would return for my birth.
At 11:30am, Theresa checked and found that my cervix was dilated to three centimeters. I was disappointed by this news, since I had been two centimeters the night before and had expected that I’d have made more progress by that point, based on the intensity and frequency of my contractions. But I reminded myself that labor can take many shapes and forms, and willed myself to stay positive and relaxed. I was also beginning to feel a little fearful since my contractions were already strong and close together. Thoughts of “how much longer is this going to last?” and “if I feel like this at three centimeters, how am I going to handle transition?” began to creep in to my mind.
Theresa and Nicole decided that I still had plenty of time, so they left for the hospital. Dia came in to meet with Brett and me, and told us she’d be right in the next room if we needed anything and that she’d be checking in with us, soon. I told Ashley that I was feeling scared because the contractions were coming so close together (about every two minutes). She told me that sometimes pumping can cause contractions to have that sort of pattern, and the contractions would either continue that way and produce a fast birth, or they would start to space out again and things would progress at a more moderate pace. I was really working hard to relax through contractions, and my labor was definitely becoming quite active. I decided it was time to call my mom. Brett called her and she left right away to join us.
I worked through contractions on the bed, either relaxing on my side or kneeling and leaning over the ball. Brett tried counter pressure on my low back and a hot water bottle, two comfort measures that had helped me immensely during my second labor, but I wasn’t finding much relief from them this time around. In fact, I found that I really didn’t want to be touched much at all, nor did I want to talk. This labor was progressing so quickly that I was finding it hard to find my rhythm. What I did want was for Brett to talk to me, encourage me, and give me verbal reminders to relax and breathe. He filled this role amazingly, and kept me calm and centered. My mom joined us, and she saw right away how intense the labor had become. She offered quiet, kind support and encouragement, and took some beautiful photos of me laboring with Brett’s support.
I had several contractions while kneeling on the bed and leaning over the ball. I focused on breathing deeply and relaxing as much as possible, both during and in between contractions. I had a contraction that took me by surprise for two reasons: one, it was a double-peaking contraction…just when I thought it was fading away, it intensified again, and two, I distinctly felt my baby’s head move down lower into my pelvis. The best way for me to describe that moment is that I lost the power of speech. I felt the baby move down, and in my mind, I said to myself, “We need to get Dia. The baby is coming.” But there was no possible way for me to verbalize those thoughts. I became so singularly focused on the physical aspect of my labor that I could not utter a single word. My primal brain truly took over, and my logical brain was pushed to the side!
Somehow I managed to say that I wanted to get in the tub. Even as I was saying this, I was thinking to myself, “There’s no time! Baby is coming!” My primal brain was still in control. In hindsight, I think this was my crazy-fast transition. Brett or my mom went to get Dia to tell her I wanted to get in the water. No one but me knew how far along I was in my labor, since I hadn’t been able to tell anyone. Ashley began to draw the bath water, and Brett explained to me that Dia wanted to check my dilation, just to make sure I wasn’t nearly complete before getting in the tub.
Following my body’s lead, I backed off the bed, walked over to the nightstand, and leaned forward against it. I had a contraction during which I felt the baby’s head move down even further, and what was left of my bag of waters ruptured (which was a whole lot, there was a major splash!). Dia checked my dilation and never took her hand away, because when she reached to check my cervix, she found that the baby’s head was already out up to his forehead! I asked her to remove her hand, and she kindly explained that her hand was holding my baby’s head. I stood, leaning over the nightstand with Brett’s arm under my arms to support me (thankfully, since my legs were shaking badly), and I gently pushed out the rest of my baby’s head, shoulders, and body. Dia caught our baby boy and exclaimed that he was born “en caul,” with the amniotic sac still partially around him. She later told us that when his head was born, it looked like he was looking through a water balloon, and that she had carefully torn the sac away from his face with her hands. Medieval legend states that babies born en caul have a propensity for water and are destined for greatness. Dia passed our baby through my legs to me, while Brett and Ashley helped me sit on the bed.
Our son, Nathaniel Asa, lay in my arms. He looked at me with such deep peace. He cried out only at the moment of birth. After that, he was utterly and preciously content to be in his mama’s arms with his dada and Oma looking on. I snuggled him close and relaxed back against the pillows, in complete awe of how quickly and smoothly the birth had gone. I was three centimeters dilated at 11:30am. Nathaniel was born at 1:03pm! I had not had to actively push at all. My uterus had done the work so I could gently slide Nathaniel into the world. I did not have any tearing. I had not lost a night of sleep! I felt amazing. And now I had this precious soul in my arms, gazing up at me with such peace. Within our first hour together, Nathaniel made his way to my breast and latched on for his first nursing. I helped him only by supporting my breast. He did the rest on his own. It was so incredible to watch.
We spent five hours in the Forest Room after the birth, snuggling and nursing Nathaniel, eating a delicious postpartum meal, and visiting with family. There are no words to describe how sweet it was to witness my older children meet their baby brother for the first time. Caroline had fallen asleep in the car, and Brett brought her into the room asleep on his shoulder. When she heard my voice she woke up, and as she slowly recognized her surroundings and her eyes found Nathaniel, her face lit up with the purest joy. Eli climbed right up in bed to snuggle his baby brother, as did Caroline. The whole family was in bed together, all five of us. Eli had brought cookies so we could have a birthday party for baby Nathaniel. We all sang “Happy Birthday” to him. These were such precious moments.
After receiving instructions for at-home baby and mama care, we said goodbye and thank you to Dia, Ashley, Theresa, and Nicole (who had made it back from the hospital and were so surprised that I had birthed Nathaniel while they were gone!). Brett and I took a brief moment to rest and snuggle with Nathaniel between us in the bed. Then we left for home and arrived there six hours after the birth. We all slept in our own beds that night, Brett and me with Nathaniel snuggled between us. Before he said goodnight, Eli sang Nathaniel a lullaby on his very first night on earth.
Nathaniel’s birth was a wonder. I am so thankful that the natural induction worked, my baby and body cooperated, and I was able to birth Nathaniel in the serenity of the birth center. I am so thankful for my beloved husband and mom, along with the midwives and nurses who supported us. I am thankful for my strength and for the joy I have in birthing. Most of all, I am thankful for my precious boy, my bonus blessing baby, Nathaniel Asa, for making our family complete.
Nathaniel Asa, born Saturday, April 9, 2016 at 1:03pm