Updated: Mar 3, 2020
I've played over the birth of my daughter, Esme, in my head time and time again trying to process it all. The whole 16 hours seem to blend together and it's difficult to remember certain details. But from start to finish, the birth of my daughter was something I wish I could relive. Despite being a birth worker, nothing prepared me for what I was going to experience.
Monday morning, November 25th, I woke up at 2AM no longer able to stay in bed. I had been experiencing pressure waves a few days prior, but these ones were different. I was in denial that my birthing time had begun. I was 41 weeks and 1 day and was trying not to get my hopes up in case it wasn't real! I knew that my pressure waves being 8-12 mins apart was a good sign. But for some reason I thought because I was able to cope with them well that it wasn't go time just yet. I let my partner George sleep just in case it was the real deal. From 2AM to 4AM I went back and forth from resting in our bed and resting in the shower. Water had been my saving grace my whole pregnancy and the shower was just what I needed. Honestly, from the hours of 2AM to almost 5AM I was alone with my baby in my big belly and it was magical. Those few hours I prepped myself mentally and physically. I held my belly, swaying under the shower head, sending loving thoughts to my baby. It was so bittersweet. I was beyond ready to see my baby's sweet face, but at the same time I wasn't sure I was ready to let go of the pregnancy and enter into motherhood. It was the last few hours I really remember bonding with my baby in my belly. I still get flashbacks when I get into my shower to those few hours. I had my Hypnobabies tracks playing out loud to help me relax and rest in order to save up my energy. Around 4:30, the pressure waves got more intense and I lost a bit of my mucus plug. I called my midwife Serena to tell her what was going on. I had stopped timing them because I was trying to focus on sleeping as much as possible. Serena asked me to time them and said she would head my way to check me to get a baseline of where we were at in the process. Serena arrived around 5:30AM and told me that I was about 5-6 centimeters dilated and almost completely effaced. She also said baby was at 0 station which was music to my ears. For my nonbirthy friends reading this, that's not a bad start! After that, I asked that we didn't have any more numbers because I did not want to focus all my energy on how much further I had to go because I knew it would not be helpful. Serena agreed and let me rest with my peanut ball, switching side to side until about 6. Serena ended up leaving around 6AM to go to another birth and said to call her if anything changed. I told her not worry because I didn't think things would pick up anytime soon.
Around 7:30, the pressure waves were much more powerful and much longer. This is when I would have considered myself to be in active labor. The pressure waves came and went and I was starting to not cope with them as well as I had before. I found the most comfort in the shower because I was having so much pressure in my back. I had George call Serena at this point because things were picking up. (even though I told her it wouldn't just an hour and a half before!) My mother and my mother in law started to set up our bed and the birth pool and I was in the shower w George trying to focus on breathing. At this point, I had George call my best friend who was my doula and the birth photographer because it finally hit me that this was it and I was ready for everyone to start making their way towards me.
I squatted, I lunged, I walked, I used gravity to my advantage for as long as I possibly could. From the toilet, to the shower, to the bedroom, to the couch, to the coffee table, I was in all sorts of positions. As exhausted as I was, I knew I needed to take advantage of the energy I did have at the moment and then rest when I needed it. When I needed to rest, I would be on hands and knees leaning over the birth ball, using the peanut ball and alternating sides, and the side lying release was a miracle worker for my back pain.
Let me tell you, being a doula and the one being doula-ed at the same time was hard. I had to tell myself multiple times to shut off my doula brain and just surrender to the process. I was overanalyzing every little thing. I would get so caught up in the facts, I would forget that my body and my baby were going to do exactly what needed to be done, not statistically what would be done. That was definitely a hard thing to accept and let be. I was constantly asking my midwives questions that didn't need to be asked or that had an obvious answer. My birth team was nice enough not to tell me to shut up but to simply remind me that I was doing great and it was all going to be fine. I remember asking questions like "what position should I be in?" or "how long is it ok to stay like this?" or "how long can my water be broken and baby be ok?", all questions that didn't matter at the moment. My birth team was amazing and kept reassuring me I could do it. Which is exactly what I needed.
I think a little after noon was when I first got in the pool. And man did it make a world of a difference. The weightlessness you feel is incredible. My pressure waves felt very different in the water than they did on land. Gravity really does change things. I remember when George got in the pool with me, that was the first time I really surrendered to the pressure waves. I vividly remember him getting in and immediately grabbing me and feeling like I could finally melt into it. Something about his embrace made me feel so safe and that I could really succumb to what my body needed to do. Just for a little while. George and the water were my two safe places, and the combination let my body work hard like it needed to. Again, I didn't want excessive checks and numbers floating around so I'm not sure how much I really progressed from the first check at 5AM to when I was in the pool. But after melting and relaxing into it for awhile in the pool, I felt that I had progressed pretty significantly because I felt baby getting much lower into my pelvis. I knew I still had awhile to go but was happy with the progress I had been making.
I started to get tired of the pool and made my way back to the bedroom. My arms were getting tired from holding myself up in a hands and knees position in the pool and I knew the peanut ball would allow me a chance to relax. And it did! I remember saying multiple times throughout my birthing time to everyone that the pressure was all in my lower back, and I was worried that baby was posterior. Spoiler alert, I was right and looking back it makes total sense why I had a little trouble when pushing. This position shown with the peanut ball in my bed, plus tons of hips squeezes and counter pressure made a huge difference for me. I'm so lucky for everyone on my birth team always loaning me their hands with each pressure wave to help support my back. I couldn't imagine going through that without that support. Poor George told me the next day that he was so sore from all the counter pressure! He even said "now I know why people pay you so much for what you do!"
It was around 4:30PM when my water broke. I was on my side in my bed and it broke with a pressure wave. All I really remember after that was thinking to myself "ok, it's about to get intense and I'm going to meet my baby". I've always been told that once your water breaks, the pressure gets much more intense. I don't remember the pressure waves getting more intense, I remember feeling baby get even lower and feeling the pressure waves closer together. It was then that I asked to get back into the pool. My back was aching, my hips and legs were tired of holding myself up, and I wanted to again melt into these next few waves because I thought it would make a big difference progression wise. So I got back in the pool, immediately feeling a weight lifted, physically and mentally. I loved being in that pool. George got back in with me and I remember the pressure of baby getting lower and lower and thinking to myself "oh my god we are getting closer". I was looking at George and all I could think about was that we were about to be parents. I was forgetting about the pressure and was coming to the realization of the big picture. Again, the water was huge for me. I had so much clarity in the water. Everyone says you go to lala land during your birthing time, but every time I got in the pool I was instantly calm, collected, and fully aware of everything happening inside me and around me.
The coolest part of being at home for all of this was how involved George got to be. My birth plan was to be at home, and to have George by my side the whole time, and to have him catch our baby. I'm so blessed he was fully on board with being so involved with the birth of our baby. My favorite part about George being so involved was when the midwives allowed him to help me push. I started pushing close to 5PM at home in the pool. The midwives explained to George how to guide me when pushing. They looked at him and said "reach down and tell Olivia how close baby is." I looked at him because I didn't know if he would really do it, and without hesitation he reached down and his face lit up. I will forever remember his face when he felt our baby's head so close. That gave me the extra push I needed to know I could do this. He then grabbed my hand and I felt just how close baby was and I knew I was ready to do this. I began pushing and pushing with each pressure wave that I felt I could push with, but baby was teetering in and out of my pelvis. I kept saying in my head "three pushes per pressure wave gets me 2 steps forward and one step back." That really sucks telling yourself but it's the truth. I then started to get super hot.
Serena told me I needed to get out of the pool because my heart rate was rising and it was probably due to being overheated and dehydrated. I did not want to get out of the pool. I finally figure out how to push effectively and felt like I was making progress. The only thing that I did not want for my birth was to be pushing on my back. I knew if I got out that's how I would have been pushing, but I got over myself and got out of the pool for my safety and baby's safety. I walked around for a few minutes. I remember eating a popsicle, having cold rags on me, and stepping outside my front door. It was such a beautiful day. I needed that little bit of sunlight on my skin to get me through. Then all of a sudden, the urge to push overcame me and I had so much pressure. Baby was descending and I was no longer in control. Gravity really came into play. I put one leg up on the coffee table and lunged into a few pressure waves before feeling like my legs were going to give out. That's when we made our way to the bedroom. I collapsed into the bed on my side, holding my left leg up in the air. The feeling of having my legs closed was so uncomfortable. Looking back now, it's because she was so close. This is when things took a turn.
I listened to every heart thump on that monitor when the midwives would check on baby. Even though I was definitely what I would consider "transition" or transformation as I like like to call it, I was fully aware of what was going on around me. I remember having intense pressure and immediately popping my head up to look at the midwives because baby's heart beat was slow on their doppler. I heard the dip and my heart almost stopped. I looked at the midwives and said "that was slow. why was that slow?" and they immediately told me to turn over to hands and knees in the bed. As soon as I did that, baby's heart rate went back to where it should be and all was fine. That's when my midwives told me they thought I should transfer. They said baby's heart was having decels and my heart rate was rising and they wanted to be safe and have continuous monitoring to ensure the abnormalities didn't continue. I remember hearing everyone talk amongst themselves, trying to figure out a plan. That next pressure wave was incredibly different. I was no longer in control and my body was bearing down. That pressure of baby dropping down was so overwhelming, I couldn't help but push. It was like I heard my baby was in distress (even though it was only for 5 seconds) and my body knew I needed to get her out. I told my midwife I couldn't stop pushing. She looked at me and talked some sense into me. I remember her saying all I needed to do was breathe deep to get oxygen flow for me and my baby. She could clearly tell I wasn't handling the whole transfer thing well. It took awhile for them to convince me to get in the car to head to the hospital. I felt like a failure. I felt like if I had worked harder I could have pushed my baby out before it got scary. I felt like I wasn't strong enough to push my baby out and that's why I needed to go to the hospital. But despite what my head was saying, my body kept pushing. I just couldn't stop it. I was scared, overwhelmed, exhausted, and just ready to hold my baby. My birth team started gathering bags and things for us to transfer. We planned on a home birth so I didn't have any kind of baby bag or hospital bag ready. There was chaos around me, but George didn't leave my side. I remember being in hands and knees and saying "the baby is right there. I can't not push". Everyone kept saying to me to allow my body to bear down, but don't help push. I knew if I didn't get in the car soon that this baby would be born, so I finally made my way to the car. As I was getting dressed and walking to the car, I heard my midwife telling George that they were probably going to use a vacuum at the hospital to help baby come out. She said "the vacuum is the better alternative to a c-section, so let's hope for the best and I'll meet you there". Well that scared the shit out of me. I made it this far, I knew baby was so close. And now everything was changing. And it was my worst nightmare coming true right before my eyes.
The whole car ride to the hospital, which was only about 8 minutes with traffic, my mind was going crazy. All I could think about was "this baby is about to be born in George's truck and there's nothing I can do about it." The urge to bear down was so overwhelming at this point. I could feel baby's head getting lower and lower. I was in all kinds of positions in the car just trying to keep my pelvis open yet not have a baby while George was driving. The car ride felt like an eternity. This was truly the only time I felt scared. It was because I was terrified of the hospital, of the vauum, of a c-section. I told George that if they said I had to do the vacuum I was getting an epidural because the thought of the kinds of interventions made me freeze up and I knew I wouldn't be able to birth a baby like that. George just kept telling me "lets just wait and see." So I did.
George and I arrived first, then Katelyn my birth photographer, then my midwives and family. Katelyn was an angel and got me a wheelchair. I knew I could walk to the room, but it was a far walk and the baby would have definitely been born in the hallway. We got to my room and the chaos began. I definitely was a horrible patient, I will come right out and say it. My body was bearing down with each pressure wave now which were about 3 minutes apart. I was roaring my baby down and was picturing a bubble of peace around me. During all of this, the staff was telling me I needed an IV, they needed my blood pressure, they wanted to know my preferred pharmacy, they wanted to check me, they wanted me to put on the hospital gown. I kept saying "not right now please" because there was no time, baby was coming, I was in the zone. They didn't listen to me and hooked me up to their monitors and got an IV in me (which wasn't ever used) all while I'm trying not to push, I finally snapped and said "if you want to check me, get the doctor in here that's going to deliver because you'll see baby is almost here" and that's exactly what happened. Poor George had to keep apologizing for me. I knew it wasn't the nurses fault by any means, it was just hospital policy that they were following. But oh my god I wanted to hit those nurses.
The doctor finally came in, checked me, and said "you've got this. let's have a baby in the next 20 minutes. And if that doesn't happen we will go from there". I got ready, I dug deep, and I roared my baby out. I think it took 3, maybe 4 pressure waves, and baby's head was born. That's when the doctor said "reach down and grab your baby" and that's exactly what I did. I couldn't believe it. Seeing that squishy little face, my heart melted into pieces. George reached down with me and together we brought that little chunk to my chest. I burst into tears. This was the moment I had been waiting for. All that time growing a human, it was almost like a shock when that tiny human was kicking and crying on your chest. I looked up at George and the tears in his eyes and the look on his face, I will never forget that face.
I did it. I brought my baby earth side. We were both safe and happy. I didn't get any medications. i listened to my body. I had my baby in my arms. George and I were soaking in the moment, just the three of us. Then my midwife said, "well what is it?!" because we forgot to check! For those of you who don't know, we wanted to wait until our baby was born to find out the gender. A long 9 month wait. I looked at George because I wanted him to tell me. I didn't have to say a word, he could read my mind. He picked up our baby and said "it's a girl!" and we both burst into tears. I couldn't believe it!! A girl! Our daughter. Esmeralda Celeste Barley. Our Esme girl.
Born 11.25.19 at 6:47 PM weighing 7lbs 13 oz 19" long. Pure perfection.
The craziest thing I have ever done for sure. Natural childbirth in all of its glory. The good, the bad, the ugly, it was all so worth it. Our first night with her, George and I were laying in that awful hospital bed looking at our precious daughter, and I looked at him and said "let's have another.". That may seem crazy, but I truly meant it. Everyone is so scared of childbirth. They immediately think of the pain associated with it. But people seem to forget that our bodies have to work that hard to bring our precious children into this world. Women's bodies are designed to do this. My mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and all my ancestors went through this. My daughter may one day go through this. It's transformative. I'm not kidding when I tell you I was on a high that no drug could ever give you for a WEEK. A WEEK I didn't come down. That's how life changing birth is. And I'm so glad I was still able to have birth with little to no interventions. I wanted to feel every bit of my child coming to meet me. It wasn't easy by any means. But it's something I would do again and again and again.
With the birth of a baby, comes the birth of a mama. I'm still so new to all this. I'm still learning, recovering, processing. And I will continue to heal and grow as a woman and a mama. I obviously wish that more than anything she could have been born at home. There are things I would do differently if I could. I'm trying so hard not to beat myself up over it because I can't change it. But I am still so damn proud of myself for bringing my daughter into this world. I'm proud of my body, although bruised and forever changed, for creating and birthing and nourishing Esme. I'm proud of George, because he is the best partner and father Esme and I could ever ask for. I'm proud of our story.
Thank you to all of the people who were there to support me. George, Gladdy my doula, my mom Sara, George's mom Amy, Katelyn our photographer, Serena our midwife, Heather our birth assistant, all of our friends and family. I couldn't have done it without all of your love and support.
Esme, my dear girl, I hope you read this one day and feel the love and power and strength that you gave me on the day you were born. I didn't know I had it in me until you. It changed me as a woman. I hope when you see these photos, you understand why your father and I chose this birth plan. We wanted you to be born into a peaceful and loving environment. We wanted you to feel our love as closely as possible. We wanted and still want nothing but the absolute best for you. You are a dream come true for us, sweet girl. I will always cherish this day and you for making me a mama.
Here is our amazing birth video! My heart is so full every time I watch this. The love that George and I share for this sweet, sweet babe is more than I could ever put into words. This video is something I will cherish forever.