Today, my firstborn child turns 4 years old.
When I was 15 weeks pregnant, I left his father, my fiancé, and spent most of my pregnancy preparing to be a single mother.
I also readied for a natural birth.
Though I was nervous about the impending step into parenthood, I had a midwife I adored and a host of incredibly supportive friends.
In honor of my Little L, I thought I’d share his birth story with you. I believe in natural birth. And in sharing our stories, hopefully we can empower other women to trust in their ability to bring babies into the world peacefully and without unnecessary interventions.
I loved being pregnant. Once a week, I’d take my Rottweiler up to Shenandoah National Park and hike at a popular Virginia spot, called Sugar Hollow. We went about two miles uphill to a waterfall and small swimming hole. It was my time to be at peace and feel that critter move through my belly like a swimmer.
I ate right. Many small meals, and I probably downed my weight in apples that summer. I was healthy and strong, and knew I could have the natural labor I wanted.
But by the end my pregnancy, Little L rested near my back, pressing on my sciatic nerve.
I was once able to hike for miles in the mountains, but suddenly I couldn’t walk through the hotel where I worked without limping. I was sad and began to worry about how successful I’d be during natural labor if I couldn’t walk and use gravity to help that baby out. I did prenatal yoga and stretched regularly, which helped a bit.
Also during the pregnancy, I began writing to my baby. It was incredibly therapeutic. I thought of us as “Mama and baby against the world!” Though I definitely had support: my mother and sisters in Illinois, my sisters in Virginia, my midwife, my therapist, the single mama I was living with, and an awesome Pastry Chef friend (I was her taste-tester; yum!).
I knew that no matter how nervous I was, we’d get through it…together. Starting with the labor.
Three days before baby was born, a Friday, I picked up my mom from Dulles Airport. She was so glad that we’d waited for her, that I was still pregnant. The next day, I called in sick to work. I “felt strange”. Sunday, I woke still feeling odd. My mom wanted to run errands, and the first thing I made her pick up was a towel. I was terrified that my water would break at a store! She stocked up on baby goodies. And most important to me, we picked up grass-green cotton fabric. I’d had a dream that my child was swaddled in a blanket just this shade and texture, and we were excited to make it together.
That night, we shared a delicious dinner with my roomie and settled in for a movie. I fell asleep soon. In the middle of the night, I moved to my bed, but awoke at about 4 a.m., again feeling “weird”. I was anxious and baby was very low in my belly. It was as though I woke knowing what would happen, though I’d never experienced it before.
It was Monday, July 11, 2005.
Soon after I woke, while still lying in bed, I began to have contractions. I stayed there, enjoying it for a while. For a moment, the labor was just mine, mine and baby’s.
I nudged my mom after a few minutes.
I’m in labor.
Are you sure?
Are you okay? Do you want me to get up?
Not yet. Sleep a bit more. I’m okay right now. The contractions are still pretty far apart.
I went outside and sat under the gray sky, just before dawn. The stars were still shining in the darkest part of the sky. It was quiet and beautiful.
I texted my friends and my sisters: “I’m in labor” and then fielded replies for the next hour or so. My mom couldn’t sleep through her excitement, and got up to rally me to help her make the blanket. She quickly cut strips at either end of the sturdy fabric and began tying the ends off, like you would a braided rug.
I sat outside in the rising sun, working through my progressively heavier contractions. But what surprised me? They were never regular in either frequency or intensity. Which made me unsure of how far along in labor I was. Sometimes I had to breathe heavily through a contraction, and other times I could easily walk around and talk to my mom, occasionally helping her with the blanket. I was too distracted to do much. Occasionally, one of my 5 sisters would call, wishing me well through the rest of my labor.
Eventually, at about 7 a.m., my labor became more intense. I walked between my bedroom and the bathroom, thinking I needed to either sit on the toilet or lay down on my side.
It was beginning to become clear that my labor was progressing. Especially after my mom made breakfast and I couldn’t fathom a bite.
We called my midwife to let her know how I was doing and that I’d see her that morning.
At about 8, I finally woke my roommate and her then-year-old daughter. During my conversation with her, I was suddenly stirred,
I gotta go. I have keep moving.
My body told me to move, and I moved. It told me to sit and rest, and I listened. I may have had some erratic movements, but I was doing what my body needed to progress.
Soon, when I had to bend over without talking to make it through minutes-long contractions, my mom knew we had to get to the hospital. I didn’t have a bag packed. I thought it would be something I could do while I was waiting for labor to progress, that I’d have more time. So while she sifted through my wardrobe, I crawled wildly around the bed. I was hot and wanted to keep moving, but I wanted the pressure of the contractions away from my back.
My mom somehow got me to the car. My roomie promised she’d be at my side as soon as her babysitter arrived. Amy Noel and my mom were to be my birth partners.
During the drive (when I had to give directions to the hospital to my mom), I talked to my oldest sister and then gasped through a particularly harsh contraction.
I can’t believe women do this!
My mom knew right then that I was going through Transition, and I’d soon be fully dilated.
We arrived at the hospital, where she dropped me off at ER at about 8:40. I walked in, said I was already registered, and the attending nurse wanted me to sit while we discussed my symptoms. I was calm and collected, but I most certainly could not sit still.
I’m in active labor. I think I’ve already gone through Transition. Can I go up to Labor and Delivery, please? My midwife knows I’m coming.
The nurse stumbled through more questions, waiting for someone to escort me to the 4th floor. I suppose I didn’t seem crazy enough to be as far into labor as I was. But a woman from the housekeeping staff apparently recognized that wild look in my eyes. She grabbed a wheelchair and told the ER attendant,
I’m taking her to L & D now.
She whisked me away before the nurse could say another word. I’ve never been so thankful to someone I didn’t know. She was pleasant and sweet as she rode in the elevator with me:
Is this your first?
Well, honey, you’ll do fine. You look like you’re already doing fine.
She dropped me off at the desk and made clear to these nurses that I was quite far along in labor and needed to be attended to. I gave them my name and made it clear that I was to be referred to as a “Jane Doe”, as there was an order of protection surrounding my hospital stay (because of my ex). I also gave them the names of my mom and Amy Noel so they would be permitted to enter my room, and then asked them to call my midwife again.
Still, I was pretty rational and collected. My mom always told us that screaming like the crazy women on sitcoms was probably not the best way to get a baby out. My body agreed with her that day.
A nurse walked to me and introduced herself as Cathy. She led me to my room and talked to me about my labor and about how much she liked my midwife, Debbie. She was intelligent and calm, and I instantly trusted her. She showed me where a gown was, “In case you don’t want to get those clothes dirty” (too late), and left me in the privacy of my room to change.
Later, she told me that during that time, she went to check on another laboring woman. She told her that she had to attend to me because I “was about to give birth.” The woman asked if it was my first. Did I seem scared? Cathy told her, “No. She seems like she knows what her body is about to do and she’s ready for it.”
Boy, did I fool her! I was about ready to push, and I was so scared! But I’d made it this far. Though the contractions were really heavy and intense, I knew that they’d be over as soon as I pushed that baby out.
My mom came into the room with Cathy. My midwife, Debbie, was across the street at her office and would be here in a minute. Cathy checked me. I was almost fully dilated.
Are you feeling pushy?
Yes, definitely. Can I go sit on the toilet?
She laughed at that. I must have been feeling pushy. Cathy readied the supplies in my room while my mom talked me through contractions. She said Amy Noel just left the house and would be here soon.
Debbie arrived about 10 minutes later and checked me. She asked if I was ready to push and by then, I was. But I couldn’t. Not until Amy arrived. So I stubbornly lay on my side for the next few minutes and breathed quietly through my contractions until my roommate strode in the room and patted my head, and made a joke to break the seriousness. I even laughed!
Cate, you need to roll over a bit. You can’t deliver a baby at that angle.
I was wrapped into fetal position, as if that could somehow protect me from having to push. My body wanted to push. But wouldn’t that hurt more?
I had to stop thinking with my brain and let my body take over. Once I did, I started pushing. They all quietly cheered me on. But then I’d skip pushing for a contraction, and they’d wonder at that. But like most of my labor, my contractions varied in intensity. Some were pushing contractions, and others were made for me to rest and breathe.
Finally, after about 20 minutes of pushing, baby crowned. It burned. I didn’t want to push more. But if I kept pushing, the burning would stop because baby would be out! I trucked on. Debbie kept oiling and readying me to push more.
With the next big contraction, I pushed as hard as I could. I could feel baby’s head come out. But I wasn’t done yet. I took a break the next contraction and breathed again. Then with the next one, a big one, I pushed again, with all my might. Once the shoulders were out, baby slipped out with ease.
But baby was still in the caul; my water had never broken. Debbie and Cathy rushed to open it and pull him out. In the excitement, they were withholding precious knowledge: did I have a boy or a girl?
What do we have? What do we have?
It’s a boy!
It was 9:43. I had been in labor for just about 5 ½ hours. Little L was 7lbs, 2 oz, and was born a champion breastfeeder.
A few minutes later, as I held my first child to my breast, I delivered the placenta with Debbie’s help. She checked me afterward. No tearing!
I settled in with baby boy. I felt like I could do anything. I was so empowered through my natural labor. I could run a marathon. I could be a superhero.
But most importantly, I could be a mother.