We had planned to take pictures to document the whole day. After waiting for so long, I wanted to remember every detail. The pictures didn’t quite happen. So as soon as she came, I had an overwhelming desire to write out the story of Stella’s birth. It took me two and a half weeks, as I was overcome with deep emotion just recalling the details of, what has been thus far, the most momentous day in my life. But I finally got it all written down. The words don’t seem like enough, but they’re what I have. And I want to share them; that day was too beautiful, too miraculous for its story not to be told.
Sunday, October 9th, 2011: The Most Beautiful Day of My Life!
The morning of October 9th started like many others before it. Prodromal labor had begun two weeks and one day earlier. I sang at church the day after it began, and the pastor announced to the whole church that I’d been having contractions. Everyone in our lives had been hyper interested in tracking my every movement in hopes of knowing when our precious Stella would arrive. So, I’d made the decision that we were taking Sundays off church until Stella came. I couldn’t handle the masses hounding me week after week about where our baby was since they expected the contractions to have already resulted in her being here.
So, this Sunday, we were home. Kyle woke up around 8 and tried to sneak out of the bedroom and let me “sleep in.” I’d not been able to get to sleep until almost 3 am (up all night wandering around the apartment, sitting in the nursery praying and rocking, getting a snack, playing on the ipod…) and had been up at regular intervals. But I couldn’t get back to sleep after I heard Kyle get up. So I lay in bed making a mental list of things to accomplish for the day. I got up a few minutes later, made a physical list (including to pack stuff for Stella and me for the hospital), and sat down next to Kyle on the couch. I told him I’d been having a few contractions, but that was nothing out of the ordinary anymore, though they usually started at night, not in the morning…. We decided to go out for breakfast instead of cooking, accomplish a few errands, and head back home in hopes of a nap and some rest. While we were out, I had more contractions, but nothing more intense or close together than had been previously experienced. We joked around about my water breaking at Walmart, ha ha….
By the time we got home, we decided to try timing a few contractions. They were about 1 ½ minutes long and between 5-7 minutes apart, pretty much the norm for my bouts of pre-labor during the previous two weeks. Kyle and I spent some “alone time” together before we got too tired. I had several pretty noticeable contractions, but I still didn’t think anything noteworthy of the happening.
Afterward, I thought it was time for another task on the day’s list: pack the bags for the hospital. So I put on some of my favorite tunes (starting with the Dark Side of the Moon album; I wanted to hear “Breathe”), and we started in the nursery, packing Stella’s diaper bag and picking out her coming home outfit. Then, we sat in the glider together (me in Kyle’s lap), and we read 3 books to my belly: God Gave Us You (me), On the Night You Were Born (together), and I Love You This Much (Kyle).
Then, it started raining. It has been such a hot, dry, summer and fall thus far. I thought, “change” and “God, let it come.” Then, I got into the groove and put on SRV’s “The Sky is Crying”, and I went to pack my bag. I still left out all the daily use stuff- contacts, night guard, phone charger, etc- thinking that I probably would still need these things at home for awhile longer and didn’t want to have to unpack them again at the end of the day. I savored the task and the music, specifically the title track, “Life by the Drop,” and “ Little Wing.” Kyle was really digging the CD too and asked me to burn him a copy. J
By the time we got done packing (Kyle had packed his bag completely by this time- confident we’d be heading to the hospital at some point that day), we were both pretty tired. We decided to try for a nap. It was a little after 2 pm by this point. We’d stopped timing the contractions. They had spaced out, so I thought maybe I’d actually be able to sleep for a bit. After about 15 minutes of trying to get comfortable (and trying to tune out my snoring husband), I started to drift off. About 25 minutes later, I woke to a very uncomfortable contraction. I changed positions a couple of times, trying to wait for it to subside, but it seemed to be building in intensity. I sat up and looked at the clock- a minute before 3. The contraction built. I got up on all fours to take the pressure off of my back. I rocked my hips back and forth, from side to side, until it peaked and then started to fade. I looked at the clock again, and it had just turned 3:05.…
Kyle turned over and asked if I was okay. I told him I’d just had a pretty intense contraction and that I definitely wasn’t going to be able to sleep. We both got up. We decided to start timing the contractions again. I felt like walking, so I asked if it’d stopped raining yet. Kyle said “yes,” so we headed downstairs. I felt like it was still drizzling too much, so I sent Kyle back upstairs so we could get the keys to my car and get out the big umbrella. I had another contraction and started timing it. We started on our usual route, and contractions started getting stronger and longer. They were coming about every three minutes and lasting over 1 ½ minutes each time. They started coming so strongly that I was having to stop and wait each one out; I could no longer walk through them. We got about halfway down the normal length of our route, and I decided we’d better head back. I was still unsure that active labor was underway, and I wanted to get home and take a bath to see if that would slow contractions down.
So we turned around to head home. I started to make low moans, vocalizing and leaning on Kyle during each contraction to try and relax my muscles and breathe through the intensities. I could tell he was excited but trying to be the calm presence I needed. We got back to the apartment, and I ran a hot bath and got in immediately. The bath felt really good at first, and a couple contractions spaced out. The heat felt really good, but the tub was too small. I needed the water to be deeper, and most of all, I needed to be able to move. Sitting still was too uncomfortable, but every time I tried to move around, rock my hips side to side or back and forth, I was splashing water everywhere. So I got out. As soon as I got out, the contractions picked back up and intensified again. I started getting on hands and knees for each one, rocking my hips, closing my eyes, breathing, and vocalizing.
Kyle thought we’d better send a message to Jamie, our doula. We sent her a text message and waited. I still wasn’t convinced the labor would be fruitful. Jamie responded that she was teaching a class and then called to assess me. She asked me if I wanted her to come, what I wanted to do. I said I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t quite articulate or hold a conversation anymore; we were on speakerphone. She suggested that I eat something and try to rest and we would reassess in an hour. I wanted French toast, of course, a daily staple in my diet for the past 2 months, ha ha. But Kyle wasn’t sure I could make it myself and was worried we’d be distracted and leave the stove on or something. But it’s the only thing that sounded good to me, the only thing that sounded like it would sit well, taste decent, and give me some energy and protein to fuel the work I was doing. So French toast and kombucha it was. Kyle helped me get out the ingredients and prepare it as I gave him instructions for how to carry out my normal preparation routine. He was so good to me through it all. I had to stop several times and hang on to the oven bar, lean over, and breath through the contractions. We made it through cooking and cleaning up, and I sat on the birthing ball while I ate, taking breaks to bounce and sway through the contractions. It tasted really good, though.
By the time I finished eating, the contractions were really starting to pick up. I was on my knees, leaning forward onto the couch cushions, face buried in the pillows, vocalizing a little more with each. We called Jamie back and told her it was time to come. She sent her student doula, Dawn, and told us that she was also on her way. Outside, the sky was turning a strange orangey-pink color from the storm. Kyle asked Jamie how long it would be; she replied that it would be a little more than half an hour. It was about 6 o’clock. I then told Kyle to call my mom and tell her that Jamie was coming. My mom didn’t answer. It turned out that she was already on her way. She arrived at 6:28 (so she recalls) with bumper pads for the crib. She felt the need to get them finished that day.
By the time mom got there, we knew I was “in it.” I was focused inward, on the work at hand. I could still joke and converse in between the surges, but once they came on, I had to stop, breathe, moan, rock, and let it roll over me and then pass. I could tell mom was emotional. She was probably recalling the day I was born; it also somehow felt like she was proud of the work I was doing, proud of the mom she knew I was becoming at that moment. She put the bumper pads on the crib and came to attend to me, rubbing my back and trying to accomplish the hip press during the really intense contractions.
Soon, Dawn arrived. It was still stormy outside. It was about 7 o’clock. Jamie was stuck in traffic. I appreciated Dawn’s presence as soon as she arrived. She got me some water and a damp washcloth. I didn’t even realize that I was getting warm, but the washcloth felt good. I was still on my knees, letting the couch seat in front of me absorb the noises I couldn’t escape making. Things were getting so intense and deep, but there was still a tiny seed of doubt in my brain about whether this was active labor and would finally bring my daughter out of my womb and into my arms. I remember during one contraction saying something about not being able to “do” real labor if this wasn’t it. Dawn assured me that it actually was; my baby was actually on her way into the world. That helped me truly breathe and rejoice in the process and gave me the boost of confidence I needed to continue the work of relaxing and helping my baby girl in her journey to birth. The past two weeks of contractions that started the same way but always left us empty handed had also nearly emptied me of my confidence in my own body, my own dream birth, my own story. Hearing that my body was actually working, progressing, producing, was, I believe, vital to the stamina I needed to push forward through the next part of my journey. I turned even more inward and continued to labor.
Jamie arrived at 7:30. It was starting to get dark outside, I think. The contractions were strong and steady. Jamie asked about Stella’s presentation. I jokingly asked for a doll to demonstrate, since words were becoming cumbersome and I could show better than explain. I was having pretty strong back labor, so I think Jamie was wondering if Stella could’ve been posterior, but she wasn’t! Jamie and Dawn were helping me through contractions with hip squeezes. Jamie, in her wisdom, was concerned that I was tensing up during them, so she wanted me to try side-lying on the couch so that I could focus on relaxing. It was hard to even get onto the couch, but I knew I did need to focus on letting the rushes open me up for my baby. I got onto the couch, sinking into the worn seating. At some point shortly after this, Becky (Kyle’s oldest sister) came to get Gideon (our dog), who was pretty unsure as to what was happening at this point. I was still joking with Kyle about what he should pack for Gideon. After she left with Gideon, though, the contractions really started picking up; I didn’t notice the change, but Jamie commented on how much more serious the work was getting.
Dawn put Jamie’s rice sock in the microwave to warm; it got a little too warm. But once the right temperature was achieved, it felt really good against my lower back. At this point, I knew I needed to turn inward even more. I asked for my iPod so I could use my labor playlist I had so lovingly put together over the past few months. As the music began, I almost started to cry; I realized what a Spiritual experience this was- the miracle of birth was really happening, and I was blessed to be a vessel. The music helped me focus on the beauty of this realization. After about half an hour in this position, Jamie planned a transition- two more contractions, then I would move to the bathroom and sit backwards on the toilet for a few contractions. This would be to further open my cervix, move babygirl further down, and give Jamie a chance to figure out how dilated she thought I was, how much progress I was making.
After the next two contractions, I was helped up and started to make my way (a very short walk down the hall) into the bathroom. I had a contraction after a few steps. I couldn’t stand. Kyle supported my weight while I hung on to him and tried to relax until the contractions ebbed away and I could walk again. I moved as quickly as I could once it was over to make it to the toilet before the next contraction. Someone moved the baby shampoo set off of the back of the toilet and someone else brought me a pillow so I could lean over the back of it while I sat. Dawn had to move the scale from the floor so I could straddle with my feet firmly planted. As soon as I sat, the pressure on my bottom increased noticeably. I was not too happy with the arrangement, though I knew it was serving its intended purpose. It was at this point Jamie asked me what I was feeling. I replied that I was feeling pressure and something dripping in the toilet. She told me that I’d definitely had bloody show in my pantiliner (finally, an “official” sign, none of which I’d had so far). I thought the dripping may have been my water breaking, but no, just some bloody show, my mucus plug. The contractions continued, stronger and stronger.
Jamie estimated that I was about 8 cm dilated (she showed mom and Dawn the line near my sacrum that she used to make her determination). I could hear what was going on around me, but it didn’t really register or seem to be something I needed to, or could process….all I could do was focus on getting through one contraction at a time. They seemed so strong now, with so little time in between them. I didn’t feel like I was getting a break, but there were brief periods where I could quiet down and just breathe. Jamie told Dawn to call Rachel and tell her to meet us in Labor and Delivery; we would be there soon.
After a few more contractions (Kyle had packed the car at some point), Jamie told me it was time to get up and try to go to the car. I tried to empty my bladder (took some effort, but I was successful) and then wait for a break in between contractions. After one passed, I got up. I had another one while walking to the door. I clung to Kyle, or whoever was nearest; my surroundings were fading at this point. My body and its work were all I could manage to focus on. Kyle held me up from behind as we made our way down the stairs. It was dark by this point; funny though, I don’t remember it being dark while tackling the stairs, but I know it was on the drive.
We finally got to the car. Jamie was going to ride with us. Dawn was taking her car and would bring Jamie back later, and mom was taking her car. There was no way I was going to be able to sit down in the front seat. I got on my knees in the front seat and hugged the seatback, face buried in the headreast. Jamie sat behind Kyle, next to Stella’s empty carseat. We started moving. Every bump felt significant at first. I think it was still lightly raining. My eyes were closed as the contractions continued steadily, growing closer and stronger. I was roaring with each one. Jamie suggested that I could try pushing with each if I felt the urge. I felt like my body was doing a little pushing for me, but I did not feel the need to focus effort on bearing down yet. I pushed just a little with each; it seemed to help to have something to do, and pushing hurt a little less than just letting the contraction overtake me. Jamie reminded me lots to stay in control, to take over the contractions. She asked if I could make “horse lips”, kind of blow imaginary bubbles during the rushes. I tried during the peaking of one, but it wasn’t working for me. I preferred the moaning, turning into groaning when necessary.
I think Jamie could tell we were getting closer. I’ve heard that a car ride can slow things down; the adrenaline can cause a rest, a break in contractions, but it seemed that the opposite was happening. She asked Kyle how much further the hospital was. He said about 15 minutes. I was not pleased with this estimate; I didn’t think I could make another 15 minutes in that car. I needed to get out of that position, out of that space. I asked him if he was serious. He told me where we were- about to exit to 183 from Loop 12. I knew we were closer than 15 minutes; it would be okay. I waited a few minutes then opened my eyes to look around. Up to that point, I had only opened my eyes briefly now and then to look at Jamie for reassurance. I looked around to see landmarks speeding by. We were getting closer, in many ways. Finally, we exited. I just kept praying. I think I was even praying out loud as we pulled up to the L & D entrance.
We stopped in front of the doors. They were locked. Apparently 9 pm on Sunday evening is considered “after hours.” We were supposed to go to the emergency entrance. L & D had been called in advance and knew we were on the way. I‘d heard Kyle talking to Jamie about it on the way and her mentioning that they were expecting us and that we‘d have an awesome nurse too, one that had homebirths with her kids and would be really receptive to what we wanted. But no one had told us that the entrance wouldn’t be accessible.
Jamie told Kyle to go get a wheelchair for me. He went to get one. I had managed to get out of the car. The contractions were getting stronger and stronger. I could barely stand through them and was quite vocal. Jamie decided she would drive Kyle’s car around to the emergency entrance, as it was entirely too far for me to walk to and it was taking too long to wait for the wheelchair. She was assuring herself that she could drive the car. We were just gonna get in and go. I returned to the same position, not being able to sit on my bottom. We pulled around to the open doors. A man came out to meet us with a wheelchair. He asked if my water had broken and said something about needing to go through triage. Jamie insisted that we were going straight to L & D. At first, he resisted. He spoke to another guy and then finally acquiesced and said he’d take us up to L & D.
I somehow managed to sit in the wheelchair, knowing I couldn’t walk all the way to Labor and Delivery and had no other options of getting there. Jamie was pushing me down the hall, into the elevator, as I hugged my pillow, leaned forward, and tried not to moan so loudly that the whole hospital could hear. Some people were in the elevator with us. I tried to smile as another contraction began and everything but my breathing faded away. I don’t think I could’ve kept my eyes open even if I’d tried.
We made it to the right floor and started down the hallway to the Delivery room. It looked vaguely familiar from the tour we’d taken in August. I saw a familiar face as Rachel stepped into the picture to greet me. I think I said hello to her; I don’t quite remember. I was also greeted by our nurse, Melissa. Dawn and mom were there. I got up from the wheelchair and stood next to the bed, leaning onto it. The contractions were right on top of each other. I stood through a couple as everyone gathered round. The lights were dimmed, and I took off my clothes from the waist down. I asked where Kyle was; he was still parking the car so it wouldn’t get towed.
Rachel asked if she could check me and then stated the obvious- that I’d have to somehow get onto the bed and lay down for a minute for her to do so. It seemed impossible, but I did it. I was scared that I wouldn’t have made significant progress and wouldn’t be physically capable of handling much more. Apparently Rachel was a little nervous (for me) about this too. But she checked and announced that I only had a lip of cervix left. I was 9 ½ centimeters dilated. I could do it.
Kyle made it into the room. I wanted to get back onto my knees. It was the only thing that felt natural. The bottom half of the bed could be lowered, so I climbed onto it, stayed on my knees, and turned around to hold onto the upright back of the bed. Jamie had my hand. I started to feel unsure that I could finish what had started, knowing full well that there was no turning back. I was now pushing with each contraction. Stella was coming down, and I could feel it. There was immense pressure in and on my bottom. I had to push. My water still had not broken. Comments were being made about how strong the bag was. It was starting to bulge out of me. Rachel asked if I wanted her to break my waters for me. At first I didn’t reply and pushed through a couple more contractions. Then I started asking how much longer it would be. Jamie assured me that it wouldn’t be long; I was almost there. I said I didn’t think I could do it. She countered that I was doing it. She was firm with me. I needed that forcefulness then.
Suddenly, I felt burning. Jamie encouraged me; Stella was stretching me out. Her head was stretching my perineum with each contraction. Someone asked me if I wanted to see with the mirror; I don’t think I answered, maybe just shook my head “no.” I just had to keep doing what I was doing. Then, I would get a few seconds of relief. Rachel told Kyle to get ready. She asked again if I wanted her to help with my waters. I said yes this time. I wanted to help my baby out; I wanted progress. She used scissors to snip the tough bag. I felt the moisture. With the next contraction, I felt incredible burning. Jamie kept encouraging me; I was stretching for Stella’s head. She was almost here. She asked me where I felt the burning; I began repeating “burning in the front, burning in the front.” It was so hot, stinging, but I couldn’t help but bear down with all of my might.
I roared through the next contraction and felt the most pressure, then the most relief I’ve ever felt. I pushed so hard, with every ounce I could muster, straightening my legs and moving her down and out. She was here; Stella was here! Kyle caught her as Rachel also guided her entrance. She immediately cried. They handed her to me through my legs, as I was still on my knees. I brought her up to me then started to dry her off as I pulled her close.
I talked to her and held her against my chest as we waited for the cord to stop pulsing. She was amazing. Her eyes were wide open, and she was alert and stretching. Her cry was loud, crisp, beautiful. Soon, her cord stopped pulsing. Kyle cut it. After a few more minutes, I turned around and sat on the edge of the top half of the bed. Rachel was checking me for tearing; I’d managed to slightly tear in the front, near the urethra. I didn’t care. Stella found my breast and immediately latched on, suckling like the champion she was. My uterus was still contracting, a good thing. Rachel encouraged me to bear down with the contractions and try to push out the placenta. I was so tired but tried. She helped guide it out a little with each contraction, and after several more contractions, it slid out….such a relief. I wanted to see the amazing organ that had grown and nurtured my glorious baby for her time inside me.
A few more details, then we could rest. Rachel began to stitch me up. A shot of lidocane, a couple of stitches, then she had to insert a catheter to make sure my urethra was clear and functioning. All was well. I had to do some paperwork, as there was no time pre-birth. A few consents had to be signed (would you have consented? Ha ha), bracelets applied to both Stella, Kyle, and I, and then we were left to revel in the glory of her birth. Family was there to rejoice with us as we celebrated the mystery and miracle of her.
Stella Jane Speer. We’d arrived at the hospital at 9:07, and we met her at 9:24! She nursed for almost an hour and a half before we knew her stats- all 6 lbs, 3 oz, 13” head and abdomen, and 19” length of her! Our angel. Finally in our arms.
* Jennifer’s mother took the delivery candids. The newborn/family portrait was by Ethan Avery Photography.