It is hard to tell my birth story without explaining how I got in the situation I found myself in on April 18, 2018.

Flashback to the moment I found out I was pregnant…July 31, 2017. Fear, shame, excitement, happiness, and more fear overwhelmed me. Hollis’ pregnancy was not planned and I did not feel suited and cut out to be a mother yet, more so because of my relationship with my daughter’s father than not having the skillset to raise a child.

To make a long story short, I am not married, nor was I married when I got pregnant. I had been in a toxic “on again, off again” relationship for two years with T, Hollis’ dad. While I was hopeful that we could figure things out in order to raise our baby as a family, he once again showed his true colours and I made the agonizing and painful decision that leaving him and being a single mother would be better than marrying him and committing to an abusive relationship that I had put up with for far too long. I don’t understand why it took me getting pregnant to walk away once and for all, but I honestly think if it wasn’t for my daughter I would still be trapped in that virulent lifestyle.

When I was 16 weeks pregnant, I left my hometown of Winchester, KY and moved to Seattle, Washington where I lived with my uncle, aunt, and three cousins with whom I have very close relationships with. For the following five months I worked, prayed, meditated, and grew my baby girl.

I once again was forced to make a difficult decision to move to Nashville, TN vs going back to KY. So, at 36 weeks pregnant, I moved in with my parents and eight of my eleven siblings in Nashville. It was so rejuvenating to be living with my parents and siblings again as I had moved out of the house four years prior to go to college and explore my independence.

For the following four weeks, I continued to exercise daily (weight lifting + walking two miles) and prepared the bedroom for my baby girl. While in Washington, I had arranged to deliver at a birth center in downtown Nashville, but at 39 weeks pregnant I was informed that my insurance would no longer cover the cost of the delivery and I would need to find another option or pay out of pocket, which I could most definitely not afford. I was opposed to the idea of a hospital birth, but I found some amazing nurse midwives through the hospital that the birth center was actually linked with and in a matter of hours had already been transferred under their care.

The day before Hollis’ due date, April 5th, I had an appointment. To my surprise I had only gained a total of 26 pounds throughout the pregnancy – I attribute this to consistent working out and no cravings. The midwife asked me if I felt like I would be having a baby soon… I kind of laughed to myself because I felt so normal!

A week later on April 12th at 40w6d, I went back for a NST. Baby girl was monitored for forty-five minutes and sounded amazing. From working in an OBGYN office I could see on the scan that I was having pretty significant contractions and everyone was shocked I wasn’t feeling anything. I opted to have my membranes stripped. The midwife said I was 2cm dilated and 75% effaced. While I know the amount of dilation is no indication of when you will have a baby, it was reassuring that my body was definitely doing what it needed to do. According to some people, a membrane strip hurts and causes other symptoms such as bleeding and contractions. Well, not for me. Not only did it not induce contractions, but it also hurt so little, I didn’t even know she had done it.

Despite walking over two miles every day for the past three weeks, at 41w3d I was still pregnant. On April 16th, I went in for a growth scan to ensure baby girl was looking okay and that my placenta was still in good shape. She passed the breathing test with 100% and was an estimated 8lbs 12oz. It was so precious seeing her sweet pouty lips! The placenta was still healthy so we were set to keep waiting for baby girl to come when she was ready. Following the ultrasound, I met with a midwife and asked if she would do a “more aggressive” membrane strip. She agreed, and yes, it was definitely more aggressive. I for sure felt it this time. She also said I had progressed to 4cm and 90% effaced. Again, it still did not feel like my body was anywhere close to having a baby so I was pretty shocked by this news.

After coming home from the midwife appointment, I walked my two miles and realized I was bleeding some. I was hopeful this might be my mucus plug starting to loosen and the membrane strip had done something for me.

Because the hospital would not allow me to go past 42 weeks, an induction was set up for 11:45 pm on April 17th. So, around 11 pm that Tuesday night, Mom and I headed to the hospital for my induction. The thirty-minute drive downtown was made longer by us getting the buildings mixed up and going into the VA hospital opposed to the main wing. We had to go through the ER to get to labour and delivery. The security guard was very obnoxious and took her precious time pulling out EACH item in our bags and then carelessly throwing it back in.

We finally made it to labour and delivery on the fourth floor. I checked in and they said a nurse would come to get me once my room was ready. Mom and I sat in the waiting room. After waiting for about fifteen minutes I started pacing. We were the only ones there and I was bored. The occasional nurse or janitor would walk past the hall and I noticed during my time pacing that two women at separate times were brought up in wheelchairs.

Finally, at 1 am, a midwife named Kate came out. She explained that the two women who had been brought up were in active labour so there wasn’t an available room because it was such a busy night. She gave me two options: go home, sleep, and come back in the morning when a room would be available; or wait (a minimum of four hours) until a room was emptied and cleaned. I opted for the first because come on, I was tired!

Kate was so kind and let us leave our bags in the on-call room so we didn’t have to trek them back down to the car with us. Mom was honestly more disappointed than I was that we were leaving the hospital with no baby, and I don’t blame her. Staying up that late, driving thirty minutes, getting lost, waiting an hour, then being told to go home and come back in the morning was kind of depressing.

We were in the parking garage trying to find our car when a pretty intense pain hit my lower back. Mom got in the driver seat while I stayed standing outside the passenger side, putting my hands on the roof for support. The sensation lasted for about forty-five seconds. Mom asked if I was okay and I assured her, “Oh yeah, I must have just pulled my back or something. I’m fine now.”

On the thirty minute drive home, six more of these sensations hit my back, each lasting a little longer than the one before. Mom started timing them which I thought was silly because it in no way resembled what they taught me in birth class a contraction would feel like. I never had a crampy feeling wrap around from my back to belly.

My plan upon getting home was to sleep since we would be going back to the hospital for attempt #2 of induction, but sitting down, much less laying down, was so uncomfortable for my tailbone. Dad came down and visited with me and Mom. Between each wave, I felt great. We were laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Looking back, I am so glad we had this time to connect and just relax before the chaos that was to follow.At this point it was 2 am. Each wave was about two minutes apart and lasting at least a minute. Mom was convinced it was early labour and I was STILL in denial. She called the midwife, Kate, and they conversed that since this was my first baby things would most likely go slow, which I was very prepared for.

Through working with each contraction I found out that leaning over on the counter while swaying back and forth felt best. Mom started applying counter pressure which felt even more amazing. I tried squatting and bouncing on the birth ball, but they didn’t feel good. My body knew what it wanted, and sitting was not it. Around 3 am I decided to take a shower. While I was in there I had two very intense contractions. I think they were the first ones I moaned through. After about twenty minutes in the shower, I got out and went down to my room where I got on my knees and leaned over the birth ball. Mom was applying counter pressure and could tell things were definitely picking up. I was having only a thirty to forty-five-second break between contractions.

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Mom kept asking if I thought it was time to go to the hospital, but I repeatedly said no. I really cannot explain it but my body knew exactly what to do. So did my mind. The whole pregnancy I was not scared of birth. I was not anxious about birth. I welcomed birth. And I’m convinced that those factors allowed me to go to the state of mind that I did. With each wave I would sway and moan my body through the pain, accepting the feelings as it was moving my baby down.

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Around 4 am after a pretty intense contraction I mentioned to Mom that I felt pressure in my bum. Her eyes lit up like a deer in headlights. At that point she was frantic, thinking we had waited too long. She gathered our things up and put them in the car. She was no longer asking me if I was ready to go back to the hospital. She was telling me. She helped me stand and as I got to the porch another contraction hit. She coached me that after this one we would walk across the yard and get in the car. I heard Dad say, “I’m going to go put clothes on,” but I was past the point of conversation to reply. He rushed upstairs to, I guess, put clothes on.

That contraction ended and Mom and I got in the car. She had laid a towel on the seat and I reminded her to get a bucket just in case. So, at 4:30 am, just three and a half hours after they had sent us home from the hospital from lack of space on the labour and delivery floor, we were heading back, definitely in labour all on my own. Now, Mom is very level-headed, cool under pressure, and a good person to have around in high-stress situations. But not in this situation. For the first time in my life, Mom was losing her mind. She was cursing at my tinted windows, yelling at the red stop lights, and trying to calm me down through contractions as I was not so quietly working through the pain. Sitting was very painful and for the first time since labour started, I was kind of freaking out (no thanks to Mom’s hysteric state). She was also pulling up directions to the hospital on her phone while Kate was on speakerphone. Oh, and I started vomiting. Yay, transition. Thank goodness for the bucket. Dad called asking why Mom had left without him. Apparently, he had planned on driving us and when he said, “I’m gonna go put clothes on” he meant, “Wait for me, I’ll drive y’all.”

While on the phone with Kate, Mom was told that I would have to go through triage in the ER. The absolute last thing I wanted was to have this baby in the sketchy ER. Thank goodness for the hospital having a valet service. We pulled up to the hospital and Mom went running inside saying, “My wife is in labour, my wife is in labour!” (Told you she was frantic!) The security guard stared at her like a crazy person. Finally, someone came out with a wheelchair that I climbed into while Mom gave the keys to the valet. I was wheeled into the ER and they promptly checked me in. Mom told them Kate was waiting for us upstairs (hehe) so as to avoid ER triage.

The ride up to the fourth floor was difficult. Every thirty seconds I would have to stop, get up from the wheelchair, and lean against the wall as I swayed through contractions while Mom applied counter pressure. The poor aide that was wheeling me was probably terrified out of her little mind.

At last, we arrived at labour and delivery. I was immediately wheeled into a room where Kate and a nurse were waiting for me. I looked around and saw that I was in a room with a tub! Kate welcomed me with kind words. I had a contraction and she advised me that after it finished I should get on the bed so she could check my progress. I stripped my bottoms and climbed on the bed. Laying down was incredibly uncomfortable. Kate confirmed that I was 7cm dilated and completely thinned out. She was shocked and I was praised by both her and my amazing nurse, Frankie. I’m not going to lie, hearing I was 7cm was very encouraging for me.

Kate asked me what my game plan was. I told her I wanted to go as natural as possible. I was informed that Hollis would need to be on a monitor for thirty minutes but was told I could stand by the bed versus laying in it – praise! Once I was settled on the monitor, I had Mom text T to let him know things had started and it was going fast. Although we weren’t in a formal relationship, he had expressed a strong desire to be there and I fully respected his interest in being there for his daughter’s birth. He was still in Winchester, and it would take him at least three hours to get there.It was now 5:30 am. My thirty minutes on the monitor were up and I made my way to the tub. I was on my knees with the top of my body supported on a peanut ball. An IV was not necessary but I did have blood drawn. I signed some consent papers in case I did decide to accept an epidural or other medical interventions but I was in no way pressured into doing anything I didn’t want. At this time I also signed papers declining eye ointment, the Hep B vaccination, and vitamin K for Hollis.

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Kate stayed by my side, speaking affirmations to me through each wave. Mom plugged in my diffuser, set up the portable speaker for my playlist, and turned on the crockpot for warm compresses.

Apparently there were lots of nurses and med students who had never witnessed an all-natural birth so Kate had asked me if I cared if people watched me to see how it was done. I said I didn’t mind as long as they were female. At any given time there were probably five to ten people in the room. I didn’t care a bit. This was helping their education.

Around 7 am the midwives switched and Bethany replaced Kate. I was sad to see Kate go but Bethany was also amazing. I started having a grunting urge with the contractions starting around 7:15 am. During my two hours in the tub, I would transfer from being on my knees to sitting on my side in order to give my knees a break. The whole time I had lavender diffusing, Mom applying counter pressure and hot compresses, Kate then Bethany’s kind affirmations, the nurses telling me how good I was doing, and my peaceful playlist playing.

Mimicking Mom’s breathing to the rhythm of the music kept me from freaking out during the peak of each wave. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a doula. She was an absolute lifesaver. The conversation from the nurses and everyone in the room helped distract me. Although I wasn’t engaging in conversation, I was comprehending everything they were saying and hearing their voices was calming to me.

At some point while in the tub, my water broke. I felt a pop and could feel it shoot out between my legs into the water.

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At 7:30 am Bethany caught on that I had started the pushing stage and advised that at the next break between contractions they would help me move to the bed. Mom advocated that I did not want to lay on my back and I was assured that I could get on all fours in the bed. After that contraction ended, I weakly stood up with the help of Bethany on one side and a nurse on the other. I climbed on all fours in the bed and again put the peanut ball under my chest and wrapped around it. From then with each contraction, I felt the immense urge to grunt and push through it. I would bear down and it felt SO GOOD. It’s incredible to me how my body just started pushing her out all on its own. I was just helping it along. It felt like I was pushing for a long time, and although I knew it hadn’t been long, pushing was hard work. Bethany offered to check me and tell me my progress but I declined, knowing Hollis was almost here and I needed to stay focused on working with my baby to get her out.

With each contraction, I continued to bear down and growl through it. I could feel her head descending with the pushes and then rise back up in the breaks between. Mom started taking pictures once her head was visible and she would show me after every couple pushes so that I could see the progress I was making. All the observing nurses and med students were also cheering me on. Support from these strangers gave me strength. At one point I reached down and touched her head. I felt her hair. She was almost here. Pushing felt so productive and I enjoyed this time much more than going through transition. Mom continued to apply counter pressure and hot compresses. Bethany explained to me that when she would be born they would put her between my legs and I could pull her up to my chest where they would then help me turn around from hands and knees to my back.

At last, the ring of fire. Ring of fire was pretty much the only term appropriate for what it felt like as her head was being born. Near the end of pushing, I had pretty much lost my composure and was screaming bloody murder. In my head, I was comprehending everything that people were telling me about trying to calm down, but I was being pretty dramatic. I was ready for the ring of fire to be over so after shouting, “GET HER OUT!” I bore down and out came her head. It was the best relief I have ever felt. Again I reached down to touch her head but immediately went back to pushing because I was ready to have that baby in my arms. Bethany took my Mom’s hands and placed them on Hollis’s shoulders. She directed Mom on how to help rotate Hollis’s body around in order to keep me from tearing. I bore down and with a giant splash out slid her body.

At 8:19 am Mom delivered Hollis!

Bethany and Mom put Hollis between my legs and I sat up on knees. It was not the plan for Mom to deliver Hollis, my midwife was just that awesome. I looked down and saw two huge dark eyes staring at me. My instinct was to rub her back and seconds later her cries filled the room. My baby was here. All I could muster to say was, “Oh my God,” because what else can you say when you’re looking at a piece of heaven?

Her cry. My word. That cry was the most beautiful sound in the world. I tried to lift her up on my chest but her cord wouldn’t allow it – it was so short. So I kept her down low near my stomach. With the help of Bethany, Mom, and my nurse I was turned around and Hollis was now laying on my belly. I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. She was here and I had my baby.

The cord was not cut until it had completely stopped pulsing. Mom cut it when the time came. It felt so good to bring my warm baby girl up to my chest. I wrapped her in my arms and sunk her head into my neck. She was mine. And she was here.

Although I felt a huge amount of relief when she was born, I did not expect the afterbirth pains to be so intense. Until the placenta was born I was still experiencing very unpleasant waves. None of my perinea was torn (yay) but a small portion of the muscle was bleeding an excessive amount and so I received two stitches. I didn’t even feel them being done. I was in complete bliss snuggling my perfect babe.

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Six hours of active labour + forty-five minutes of pushing and Hollis Ann-Marie was in my arms. Things happened very fast from that point. The room emptied out of all persons except Mom and the nurse. Dad had been in the waiting room and he came in. Thirty minutes after her birth I started breastfeeding her. She latched on SO GOOD. T got there after she’d been nursing for about ten minutes. He immediately walked over to the bed and together we stared at our beautiful daughter in amazement. She was a part of us and we were in love with her.

For almost two hours following her birth we were still in the labour and delivery room. My nurse came in and said it was time to transfer to the postpartum wing. Hollis was weighed and measured – 8lbs 7oz and 21in of perfection.

My nurse helped me to the bathroom and when I came back, T was holding Hollis. You could tell by the look on his face that he was so proud of his baby girl.

I was wheeled to the postpartum room. Dad, Mom, T, Hollis, and I hung out in there. Every nurse that came in was more shocked than the last that I had an all-natural labour and delivery. Hollis never left my sight. She had been wide-eyed since the moment she was born, but around 4 pm she dozed off.

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Our first night together Hollis slept SO WELL. I would wake her up every four hours or so to feed her but if she was not ready to eat, she was not going to eat. They told me I would be able to go home from the hospital a day early if I wanted and depending on how the night went I could make my decision. Well, after having my sleep interrupted every hour ALL night long (thank you, nurses), I decided I definitely wanted to go home. We were discharged around 2 pm the day following her birth. The whole time we were in the hospital Hollis never left my room. All her tests were done in our room. Mommy-baby friendly hospitals are the best!

I had been on an adrenaline high, but once I got in the car for the drive home, the exhaustion started setting in. The afternoon was spent snuggling my baby girl with intermittent naps on the couch. Hollis’ first night home was amazing. She slept from 10pm-4:30am. I was so proud of her. Momma needed that rest.

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I am so thankful my body went into labour naturally and no induction was necessary. I am so thankful for an amazing birth team that fulfilled all my wishes to make my birthing experience the absolute best it could be. I am so thankful for a healthy baby girl who is thriving every day. Most of all, I am so thankful for God’s goodness in shaping every aspect of these series of events. Trusting in Him through pregnancy, labour, and delivery ensured my best outcome. Loving Hollis gives me a glimpse as to how much the Father loves me. God used my imperfect self and the sinful decisions I had made to mould and shape me into the woman I believe He desires for me to be. I will forever cherish the memory of bringing Hollis Ann-Marie into the world. She is the biggest blessing I have ever received and life with her is like living in a dream that I never want to wake up from.

~Avery

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This post is part of the series, Real Birth.
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