At 37 weeks and 2 days pregnant, my husband and I visited my midwifery center for a routine checkup. I was enjoying a healthy first pregnancy and feeling excited about my upcoming due date. At this particular appointment, I explained to my midwife all the ways I had been trying to prepare for labor, both physically and mentally. From yoga and chiropractic care to guided imagery and affirmations, I was determined to do everything possible to ensure a perfectly natural and positive birth experience. Bill and I had already taken a 6 week birth class, and I was continuing to read and research. I knew giving birth would be hard, but I had my plan. I would labor at home with my doula for as long as possible, and when the time was right, we would proceed to the midwifery’s birth center. I would deliver my baby in a tub or comfortable bed, surrounded by familiar faces, and without unnecessary medical interventions. I asked my midwife what else I could do to further prepare. I probably sounded over the top; by that point in the pregnancy, having the perfect birth was basically all I could think about. Thankfully, she seemed to understand me and my worries and gave me what turned out to be perfectly timed advice. She said that really, birth is something I cannot plan and to an extent, cannot control. She asked me if I trusted my husband, my doula, and my midwives. Of course I did. She said to rely on these people and know they would take care of me. She said not to overthink things—my husband grinned and asked if she could repeat that part—and to go with the flow of my labor experience. As the visit ended, she said she doesn’t usually say all of that to mothers and wasn’t sure why she said it this time. I left feeling upbeat and told my husband I must have needed a little pep talk.
That evening, I was in bed by 9 pm. Around midnight I woke up, rolled over, and felt a leak of fluid. Not much, not waters breaking in a rush, but enough that I knew something different was happening. I knew if this was the beginning of labor I should try to rest and managed to get a few more hours of on and off sleep before Bill got up for work. By 5 am, I was still experiencing small occasional leaks and called the midwife on duty. She recommended I continue to rest and see if contractions begin. I could come into the office later that day if needed. She did say if amniotic fluid was leaking, I’d need antibiotics within 18 hours and should be in active labor within 24 hours. Antibiotics were certainly not in my birth plan, but I didn’t quite believe my waters had broken and so stayed pretty calm. I explained the situation to my husband and told him to go to work. I’d keep him updated and he could be home quickly. He did an excited dance on his way out the door. I took care of a few chores around the house (washed bassinet sheets!) and called my mom, who would be attending the birth. That afternoon, after additional conversations with nurses and midwives, my husband and I found ourselves back at the midwifery center with confirmation that my waters were leaking. I was only feeling some mild cramping every 30 minutes or so, certainly not regular contractions. The midwife informed me that I’d need antibiotics and, most likely, Pitocin to jumpstart active labor and deliver my baby within the 24 hour timeframe. This meant I could not labor in the birth center and would have to be admitted to the hospital instead. I was excited to meet our baby but disappointed that my perfect birth plan was dissolving. I didn’t want to deliver in the hospital, and I knew Pitocin could make my contractions intense and possibly more than I could handle without pain medication. My midwife understood my feelings and told me it was okay to grieve the loss of the experience I had hoped for. She reassured me that any augmentation would be conservative, and I might still be able to give birth without pain medication. One of the midwives would continue to manage my care in the hospital, and I could follow my birth plan. My husband and I went home to get ready.
We got a bite to eat, packed bags for a night or two, and I checked in with my doula. As luck would have it, she was attending another birth. Her backup was on vacation, so she had lined up a second backup in case I delivered early. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had any communication with this second backup, but that was the least of my worries. The three of us began a group text. They recommended I climb stairs, and I used some clary sage essential oil. It was a hot summer day, and I walked around a little in the sun by myself, praying and talking to my baby, understanding that it was time for us to finally meet. I called my mom again, and she and my sister were ready to get on the road to join us. We decided they’d wait until I was examined at the hospital. Since I wasn’t feeling regular contractions, we thought it would be a while before baby’s arrival.
Bill and I checked in to labor and delivery at 6 pm. I was feeling very anxious, excited, and pretty surprised that this was all happening so soon. We didn’t know the sex of our baby and were so thrilled to finally meet him or her. As we settled in our room, we learned the midwife on duty was the only midwife I had yet to meet. I was scheduled to see her a few days later for my 38 week appointment. I accepted yet another unplanned situation and went with the flow. Yes, I was giving birth in the hospital, with a new midwife and a new doula, but our baby was healthy and I had Bill, my most important source of strength and support. Then came some good news: monitors showed baby’s heart rate was excellent and I was having contractions about 5-8 minutes apart. I was very surprised to see the rise and fall of the contractions on the screen beside me. I began to feel more encouraged that my body was naturally ready for this process and had probably been in early labor for some time. Soon, we met our delivery midwife and got more good news. I was 4 cm dilated, 90% effaced. Bill and I began to realize that our baby may be arriving sooner than we realized. My mom and I agreed she and my sister needed to leave their homes to join us, and I updated the doulas. At 8:30 pm, antibiotics and a small amount of Pitocin were administered, and it didn’t take long until I began to feel the contractions more intensely. By 9 pm I was feeling uncomfortable enough that I asked our new doula to make her way to the hospital as well. Bill was wonderful, helping me labor on a birth ball and doing hip compressions as each contraction began. By 9:30 pm, I was unable to talk during contractions, and I knew this meant we were making good progress. Our doula arrived at 10:30 pm, and she and Bill traded off doing hip compressions. She was a great help and her encouraging words were just what I needed. My contractions were coming one on top of another without much of a break in between. The next two hours are a bit of a blur as I tried to breathe deeply, keep my body relaxed, and visualize baby descending. I stood occasionally, but mainly labored on the birth ball. I felt nauseous at one point but took this as a good sign that I was in transition. My mom and sister arrived at 12:30 am. I was so glad they made it but couldn’t really speak to them. I felt able to handle the pain but wondered how much worse it might get. I stayed very quiet throughout. Around 1:00 am, my legs got shaky and I began feeling an urge to bear down. I got in the bed in a side-lying position, and we called for the midwife to check my progress. After a very quick check, she laughed and asked if I was ready to have a baby. Baby was at +2 station.
It was time to push. This was the most difficult part of my labor, but everyone in the room cheered me on and kept me strong. I pushed for about 30 or 45 minutes. My midwife, nurses, doula, and family talked and laughed, tried to guess the sex of the baby, and created a really lighthearted and positive atmosphere around me. I think I could have easily become discouraged with the task of pushing were it not for them. I will always remember feeling their support and love in that moment. Finally, at 2:07 am, my husband announced the arrival of our boy! The nurses immediately exclaimed that he looked just like Bill, which was perfect since we had decided a boy would be named William. He arrived crying and sucking his hands and was laid on my stomach as the umbilical cord pulsed. When it stopped pulsing, Bill cut the cord. William and I spent the next hour or so skin to skin, and he held on to his daddy’s finger. William latched and nursed easily. It was a moment of complete happiness.
As I look back, I am glad that I didn’t let the many unplanned moments of William’s birth discourage or distract me from a once in a lifetime experience. My midwife’s advice the day before couldn’t have been more timely. I had to relax, trust in my team, and relinquish my desire for control and perfection. I didn’t get the birth story I had planned for, but I got the story that was right for my baby. After all, it was his birth, not mine. It was also his first lesson for me as a mother, a lesson of trust and strength, acceptance and gratitude. I hope to always remember.