The Natural Hospital Birth of Sloane {A Birth Photographer’s Birth Story}

by Krystal Cleaver on May 21, 2014

When people would ask me when I thought I would give birth to our baby girl I always guessed that I would have her one week early. However, as I got further along in my 3rd trimester, I was sure that I was going to make it to my due date or at least go overdue. I felt amazing – I felt better late in my 3rd trimester than I did at any point in the pregnancy. My Braxton Hicks contractions had tapered off, I had no cramping, not much lower back pain, no loss of my mucus plug, nada. I woke up on Friday Morning (July 19th) at 39w1d and realized that any time I had been sleeping on my left side I was having semi uncomfortable contractions but didn’t think much of it since they would go away if I rolled onto my right side, sat, or stood up. I got up to do our usual Friday routine of taking Reid to preschool and as I was in the bathroom getting ready to take a shower I realized that I was extra leaky. This was around 7:30am. The fluid wasn’t completely clear so I was sure that it was just normal discharge and I was getting excited over nothing. I was standing doing my makeup and felt myself having little gushes that felt way more than “normal”. I know it’s fairly rare to have your water break before labor starts but some friends convinced me to call my midwives to see if they wanted to test the fluid. By this time I had decided to put on a small pad and it was fairly wet although not overflowing or completely full. I drove Reid to preschool and went straight into the midwive’s offices feeling more and more silly by the moment. I was positive that they were going to tell me that it was nothing except normal discharge. I was thankful when my midwife, Audrey, assured me that even if it was discharge that I was correct in coming in to have it tested and that it certainly sounded like amniotic fluid. As she was doing the exam she commented that there was a lot of fluid (of some kind) inside of me but her paper test strip did not change color the way it should if it’s positive for amniotic fluid. Then, she took a sample to be tested for ferning under the microscope. She said it would take about 15 mins so when she came in after about 5, I had a feeling…sure enough, it was definitely amniotic fluid. She suggested that I head home to grab my bags, have Will meet me at home from work, and head back into the hospital. I felt pretty prepared for labor and birth but being put on a time frame due to my water spontaneously breaking hadn’t really occurred to me. I was excited because I knew that Sloane was going to be here soon but also nervous because I had hoped to labor at home for longer than a couple of hours.

While at the midwives’ office they had me do a non-stress test which showed that I was having fairly regular albeit light contractions. I  think that they had increased in frequency because I was a ball of nerves and busy trying to text and call people to tell them that my water had broken. By the time I got home I didn’t feel anything at all. Will was home by the time I arrived. I was shaking and could barely think straight because I had so much that was on my mind- calling our doula, calling our birth photographer, making sure someone could pick Reid up from school at 3pm, ensuring that our bags were packed (they weren’t done yet), getting food in my stomach, etc. Will gave me a hug and helped me calm and slow down. We were very fortunate that Will’s sister Shelby was already on her way from Idaho to come and stay with us to watch Reid. She arrived to our house about an hour after I got home. I decided to take a fresh shower and remove my makeup (I didn’t want a full face of makeup on for labor and delivery) so I took my time with that. Will made me a turkey sandwich, got me a banana, and a glass of orange juice. Will reminded me that I had wanted to labor at home and encouraged me to call my midwife and ask if I could stay home longer. As I was on the phone with her I all of a sudden felt like I was going to pass out. I got extremely light headed and had to lay down and hang up the phone. I decided at that point that I just wanted to go into the hospital and see what their course of action would be. As we climbed into the car I had my biggest gush of fluid yet, soaking through my pad and underwear. I had Will run upstairs to get a towel for me to sit on. I still was not having any contractions by this time.

Will and I got to the hospital around 12:30 in the afternoon and they had a room waiting for us. We did another non-stress test which showed a healthy baby but my contractions were less regular than they had been in my midwives’ office. I wasn’t feeling them at all, they were simply like very light braxton hicks. We did a lot of walking around the building, I bounced on a ball, did some lunges that my doula taught me, and tried some manual nipple stimulation. Shelby (my sister in law), her boyfriend, and Reid stopped by after they picked him up from school at 3pm. We all went down to the cafeteria and by this point I was getting really frustrated by the fact that my body was not going into labor on it’s own yet. I had assumed that it would especially since I’m a 2nd time mom. They left and as soon as we got back to our room I asked for a pump to try nipple stimulation that way. My nurse suggested that I do 10 minute sessions every 30 minutes. Within 3 minutes of being hooked up to the pump I started feeling contractions. This was around 4pm. While on the pump they were coming every 3 minutes or so. I was very encouraged and even after I turned it off they stuck around. They were mildly painful and every 5-10 minutes while off of the pump. However, at the end of 30-40 minutes, they would start to taper off in frequency and discomfort. I hooked up to the pump again each time this happened and each pumping session gave me stronger and more frequent contractions that would continue longer between pumping sessions (not tapering out after 30 minutes). The only time I sat down was to pump – I was determined to stay on my feet, walk, and do lunges. I wanted to do everything possible to avoid a medical induction which was already being discussed. My midwife suggested starting a very low dose of Pitocin at 7:30pm if labor had not started on it’s own (since I noticed my water leaking at 7:30am they were using a 12 hour clock). I was not 100% opposed to a small dose of Pitocin as long as they would take me off of it once my contractions seemed regular but I did still hope to avoid it.

Nipple stimulation via the pump turnd out to be my savior! I had been in contact with Patti, my doula, all day long as well as my birth photographer Chloe. Chloe had decided to come early and arrived around 4pm, right after Shelby and Reid left. She was bored, wanted to avoid traffic, and I wanted the company so it was a win-win situation. After my 3rd round of nipple stimulation I told Patti, my doula, to start heading over since she lives an hour away and they were going to hit rush hour traffic on a Friday evening. I was worried that I was asking them to come too soon. Patti and her apprentice Katie had been up nearly all night the night before attending another birth. More than anything I didn’t want any of them being stuck here totally exhausted (or more exhausted than necessary anyway). They were totally happy and willing to come. By this time my contractions were regular and uncomfortable, enough so that the midwife took the Pitocin off of the table upon my insistence. I knew that the nipple stimulation was doing it’s job and that my body was in labor (although early labor). Patti and Katie arrived around 7:30pm. I was doing well with the contraptions and easily talking, smiling, and laughing in between them. During my labor with Reid I felt a lot of fear and so far I had none of that. I was excited and hopeful that my body was finally doing what I wanted it to do.

Natural Hospital Birth

I had been both curious and fearful of having a cervical check. My midwives had not done one my entire pregnancy and did not want to do one until I was showing signs of being in active labor. Because my water had broke we did not want to expose me or the baby to unnecessary infection risks. Shortly after Patti got here we decided to do one. I was a 3.5cm. Patti asked me how I felt about that (I think she was worried I might be discouraged) but I assured everyone that I was fine with it which was the truth. Of course I was hopeful that I was dilated further, but I knew that I was handling the contractions well. I felt like I could handle them forever because despite the pain was temporary and I was feeling great in between contractions.

Natural Hospital Birth

Natural Hospital Birth

At this point my memory gets a little fuzzy. I continued to labor and had Patti help me with positions and pain coping techniques. I feel like I probably tried every position under the sun at one point or another. I felt like the contractions started to get too far apart at one point and hooked myself up to the pump for one last round of nipple stimulation. I knew that it would cause some rough, painful contractions so I had Will sit behind me and support me since I had to hold the phalanges up to my breasts. After about 4 minutes on the pump and two contractions, I was done. Those two contractions were easily the best/worst so far. I kept using the term, “This is a good one” instead of “this is a painful one” because I very much wanted labor to progress and I knew that the stronger the contractions, the more progress I was making. A couple of contractions after I got off of the pump my midwife came in and wanted to check me again. I believe this was shortly after midnight. I had told Patti earlier that I did not want to be checked again at all, I just wanted to listen to my body and that I would know based on how I was feeling where I was. However, by midnight, even Patti suggested that we check so we could evaluate where we were and how I wanted to proceed. I trusted full in Patti (at this point and throughout every point in my labor/delivery) so I consented to the check. I was 5cm and 90% effaced. Again, I think everyone expected me to be disappointed but I wasn’t. I clung to the fact that I was 90% effaced and was very happy with that progress. Since having Reid I had learned that every part is important, not just the dilation. Things were happening and I knew in my heart that once the effacement was done the dilation would come next. I also knew that while the contractions had been painful up until that point that I was still handling them well. Only the couple before my check had been “rough” and that was because I had just finished pumping.

My sister had arrived around 8pm. I had talked to her about possibly being in the room before I had committed to the idea of a natural, med-free birth. I had spoken to her after my water broke and told her that I wanted to play it by ear. I remember with Reid not wanting anyone except Will and my nurse in the room (before I got the epidural) but things were completely different this time. I told her to head on over and she ended up staying for the entire thing which I was happy about. I felt so surrounded by love and support.

Right after I had been checked and told I was 5cm, I’m pretty sure I went into transition. I know that it happened fairly quickly. My contractions ramped up quickly after the check and I remember the one immediately following the check to be a particularly “good” one. While up until this point Patti, Katie, and Will has been amazing about ensuring my comfort via back rubs, forehead rubs, shoulder squeezes, etc, I really needed them now. I loved having hands on me, the more the better. Earlier on I was fine going through a contractions on my own while standing or laying, but by now I needed the physical touch and support of others. Having them there with me physically kept me under control mentally. I was able to focus on their touch instead of my own pain. I was still trying different positions but the ones that brought me most comfort involved standing. Unfortunately I had been on my feet all day long and that physical burden was starting to take it’s toll. My legs and back felt weak and during the contractions I felt like my legs could no longer hold me which was disappointing since I liked being able to move my legs and hips in the standing position. Patti suggested that I squat down at the end of the bed using the small stool or birth ball as support under my butt. I thought for sure that I would hate this position (I’m pretty sure I told her that) but like with many things, Patti knew better than I did and the relief of getting off of my feet was amazing. My pain all along had been concentrated at my lower uterus and cervix but by now it had migrated to my hips and leg joints. Every contraction would start off with pain in my cervix/lower belly and them morph into intense burning in my hips/legs. That was the hardest kind of pain for me because in my head it felt unnecessary. It was hard to visualize my cervix opening when the pain was not concentrated there. Patti and Katie did an amazing job of applying pressure just where I needed it and I would often grip their hands and shift them slightly so that the pressure was right where I needed it. It didn’t really help with the pain but simply having their warm hands there was comforting and something that I liked. I think at some point Will took over the job of keeping his hands on my hips and I would hold Patti’s, Katie’s, or Kristy’s (my sister) hands. I was mostly keeping my eyes closed in between contractions at this point because I was trying to rest. I was so, so sleepy. As soon as I felt a contraction coming I would slowly put my hands out and without saying a word hands would be there for me to hold. It was an amazing feeling of support and love.

Natural Hospital Birth

I had asked Patti at one point how we would know when I was going through transition. She said that often times women begin to involuntarily shake, say that they can’t do it any longer, and feel sick to their stomach/vomit. I felt myself experiencing all of those things but never to the extent that I expected. I was shaking at points but lightly. I felt sick to my stomach but never actually threw up. I never said I couldn’t do it or felt like I couldn’t do it. I think I even said to Patti a couple of times, “I can do this”, giving myself my own words of affirmation. Whether I fully meant them or not I’m unsure. I do recall feeling that I had horrible heartburn. I had eaten a lot during the day to keep up my energy and had been drinking a ton of water so I’m thinking that may have been the culprit. I had horrible heartburn most of my pregnancy. At one point I asked for and received Tums because I hated feeling like I was going to throw up bile during contractions. I had begun to chant, “out, out, out” with each contraction and was praised by Patti and Katie. I have no idea why I was saying it but it felt right and I felt more in control while saying it than simply moaning or saying “ow, ow, ow” which I had been saying earlier. Even during this time of transition I still felt in control in many ways, I never ever felt like I lost control. I never had to let my brain go somewhere else which is something I had expected to have happen as I was planning my natural birth. I would look Patti in the eyes and say, “I can do this” and “I’m not scared” and her reassurance and smile was always worth it.

As the hip/leg pain got more intense Patti suggested that we get in the tub. She had offered it as an option earlier but I wanted to save the tub for when I really, really needed it. I had hit the point where I was practically begging for it. More than anything I wanted to rest and I was unable to rest in any position while “on land” in the room. Laying down on the bed felt too constricting movement wise and standing and squatting did not offter me enough physical relief during contractions. There is only one tub for the entire labor and delivery unit and a woman had just gotten out. My sister went and checked and they said it would be 30-45 minutes which was starting to feel like an eternity. I asked several times for someone to go and check on it’s status. They finally said that I could head over there and they asked if i could walk. I am sometimes prideful and overly determined but I said no. My legs were just to weak and tired so they took me to the tub in a wheelchair. The amount of relief that the tub brought is indescribable. I was instantly able to relax my entire body the moment it entered the water. I had been worried that the water would not feel good and was worried about how I would feel getting out since they don’t allow you to actually birth in this tub. None of that mattered anymore. The contraction before we left the room for the tub I had felt some pressure in my bottom. By the time I was in the tub I was finding myself involuntarily pushing. I was bearing down and unable to release those muscles even in between contractions. Since the tub room is small they said that I could only have 2 other people in there with me. I had requested Patti and Will and to have Will switch out with Chloe a few times so she could get photos. Even by that point I knew that the photos were a priority.

The desire to push came quickly and I either forgot a bit about the burning pain in my hips or it lessened. I was starting to feel overheated and Patti, the nurse, and Will were placing ice cold wash clothes on my forehead and chest every few minutes. I loved the heat of the water but also had the desire to feel cool. At some point while in the tub I think I told Patti that I was scared, something that I hadn’t said before. Just saying it out loud eased my fears a bit and Patti reminded me that because I was feeling that just how close I was and that I was almost done. During one contraction I literally felt Sloane’s head come down into my birth canal. It was an amazing feeling. I reached my hand down and felt her head about 2 knuckle width’s inside. Patti saw me do it and asked me why I reached down there.  She asked what I felt and I told her “the head”. I made it crystal clear to everyone that I was not ready to get out of the tub yet and since they don’t technically allow anyone to birth in the tub at my hospital, Patti knew that my midwife would make me get out once she knew how strongly I was pushing. My body completely took over. I kept both of my hands inside of the tub (instead of holding someone’s hands) and would apply pressure to my hips during each contraction while spontaneously pushing. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if the pushing was uncontrollable or if it just felt so “right” that I wanted to do it. A couple of times I tried to not push just to see what that was like and it was painful so I didn’t fight it. I tried to keep my pushing noises quiet because I didn’t want to be forced out of the tub yet. I am familiar with water births and was perfectly okay with my baby being born in the water. I also know how many Patti assists with and knew that I would be in perfect hands.

Natural Hospital Birth

My midwife came in and sat at the edge of the tub and watched me through a couple of contractions. She insisted on checking me (I had told her no a couple of times I think) because of my “pushy noises”. As soon as she reached down and felt the baby’s head things got a little crazy. She unplugged the tub and started yelling for assistance. That both frightened and excited me because it confirmed just how close I was to being done. I still did not want to get out of the tub. I was crying to her and begging her to let me stay in. I asked her why I couldn’t stay and she explained that they did not have the space in the small room for everything they needed. It finally made sense to me, it no longer felt like an arbitrary rule, and I hoisted myself out of the tub with a lot of help. Patti told me to expect a ton of pressure when I stood and I was afraid that the baby was literally going to fall out. I made it to the wheelchair without incident and they literally ran me down the hall and back into my room.

I had a sudden burst of strength and was able to quickly climb up into my bed. I thought for sure based on my midwife’s reaction in the tub room that my sweet baby was going to slide on out during my very next contraction but that wasn’t the case. I felt frustrated that I was back in the room and pushing through contractions and she wasn’t coming out yet. There were 2 or 3 contractions where I felt barely any pain at all, just pressure and the desire to push. They were amazing. I kept saying that I just wanted her to come out. I was so ready to be done and so ready to have my baby girl in my arms. Everyone around me kept telling me how close she was and how they could see her head. I had Patti on one side, Will on the other, Katie, Kristy, and Chloe up at the top of my bed, and my nurse and midwife between my legs. I felt so surrounded by support and I knew that I was very close. I could feel Sloane moving down with each push and contraction and someone reminded me to reach down and feel her head which is something I had expressed a desire to do (and had done on my own in the tub). I was so focused on simply getting her out that I protested at first but finally reached down and touched her. The feeling changed quickly as she began to crown – the pain came back in the form of burning. This lasted for only two contractions. Patti encouraged me to lift and hold up my own legs to help me bare down and push out my baby but this was something I felt like I couldn’t do. Instead, they had me bring my torso forward almost like I was doing a crunch. Someone was helping me do this but I’m not sure who- likely Katie or Kristy. I immediately felt Sloane being pushed further out as I bent forward. Finally, I felt myself stretch and Sloane start to come out of me. Her head and body were coming out in the same contraction and I was told (midwife or Patti?) to reach down and grab my baby, again something that I very much wanted to do. I reached under her slimy little armpits and pulled her the rest of my way out of my body and onto my chest. I was literally giddy with job, hysterical in my happiness. My sweet little girl was finally here!

Natural hospital birth

Natural Hospital Birth

She was slimy, squirming, perfect and screaming her lungs off. I said aloud, “I did it! I can’t believe I did it!” Planning a natural birth was not something that I decided on until my 3rd trimester. I had a mostly uneventful epidural with my son and had to make a decision to commit to bringing Sloane into the world naturally. It was an intelligent choice more than an emotional one which was something that I had worried about. I know that most mothers feel passionately and emotionally about planning their natural birth. For me, I made a conscious decision to move forward with it, bringing Patti into my plans fairly late in my 3rd trimester, switching hospitals, and switching from an OB to a midwifery practice. Once I committed I truly committed. My brain was the last part of the equation and throughout my entire labor and delivery it did not fail me once. I never once desired medication or an epidural. I never let my mind go there. I never felt out of control and I entrusted in my body and my abilities every step of the way. I know that having the proper support was absolutely critical. Patti and Katie’s presence reassured me that everything was normal and that I was going to be okay. Patti had an answer for every one of my questions, there were zero unknowns throughout the process. I felt informed and ready to deal with anything thrown my way thanks to her experience, love, and encouragement. Every time I was told that I was doing a good job and that I was amazing, I felt that they were telling the 100% truth. It did not feel like artificial encouragement and I cannot explain how much that meant to me and how empowering that was. I also felt supported in my decision to have a natural birth by my hospital, nurses, and midwife not to mention my friend and family members in the room.

Photography by Chloe’s Photography

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenna Kate May 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Thanks for sharing your birthing experience! I also had a natural hospital birth, however I was induced with pitocin 24 hours after my water broke when labor didn’t begin. I hope to be able to labor in the tub with my next birth, it sounds amazing. The doctor strongly discouraged it due to my waters leaking for so long (risk of infection). I wish I wouldn’t have taken no for an answer!

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Patti Ramos May 22, 2014 at 11:55 am

Oh my goodness Bre… your story is such a beautiful way for me to re-live your gorgeous birth! It was truly an honor to be your doula and to be gifted with the privilege to witness another miracle. Every step of the way you labored with beauty, dignity and grace. Love you so much!

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Erin Ventura May 22, 2014 at 5:03 pm

What a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes. So much of what you went through was exactly what I went through. Your story really brought me back to my son’s birth, which was almost a year again. It really have me the chance to relive some of it. Thank you for that!

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moineau16 May 26, 2014 at 11:25 am

What a beautiful story! I had never heard of a birth photographer, the picture are just amazing. I don’t think I would have been so brave, I really admire you. I had an unexpected natural birth for my 2nd, after an emergency C-section for my first. Just like you my water broke before I went into labor. But unlike you, labor kicked off super fast and my baby was born 1 hour after I arrived at the hospital. The pain is no pic-nic and I am grateful it didn’t last long!

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Prairie Wife June 5, 2014 at 10:20 am

This was a great story. I have had three natural births at a hospital, people need to hear more of these positive stories! If you have the right team around you to help keep both you and the staff focused on what matters to you, you can have the birth you want!

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Mimmellee August 9, 2014 at 3:25 am

What a wonderful birth! Congratulations!

I had a midwife for my second child. I’m curious though. My midwife wasn’t very attentive during my labor. Admittedly, it was a quick labor and it was early in the morning. My labor started at 3:45 am and my daughter was born at 7:45 am. The midwife didn’t show up until 6am. I labored in my room with my best friend, my now ex husband and my mother. The midwife came in once to check on me. The nurses came in a few times but essentially left me alone unless I sent for them. I finally had to call for the nurse and tell them I was pushing and that I could feel my daughters head crowning (I had been pacing the room only stopping to bend over the bed for the contractions). The nurse said I was wrong and I just needed to have a BM. She lifted my gown and checked and sure enough I was right. She ran out of the room and grabbed the midwife from her phone call and then chaos.

So my question is, was my experience of the midwives being so uninvolved unusual? Are they usually more attentive while you labor?

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Michaela August 11, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Mimmelle…Your birth experience sounds much different than I experienced with my midwife. Mine was very attentive to me and always near enough to me to respond at a moments notice when I needed something. That being said my close friend and my sister were my best support comfort wise. My midwife vs extensive experience made me feel safe. The other women made me feel loved.

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Katerina August 24, 2014 at 1:49 pm

This is such a beautiful birth, thank you so much for sharing!!! Brought tears to my eyes as made me relive my birth as well, while my little one is napping besides on the bed. Wish I knew about pumping to encourage contractions and that I could ask to stop pitocin after labour established: we waited for 36 hours for it to start naturally, then I was enduced and went without pain relief for 8 hours and 4 cm when my midwife suggested epidural. We are blessed to have beautiful, healthy and active girl that we all adore, and I am very thankful for. I still go back to that day though thinking if maybe I could make it without epidural. Hoping for all natural with the next little one some time later. :)

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