When I was 6 months pregnant, my husband took a job in South Bend, Indiana. This was fortuitous because it meant we could move out of Chicago and we would be only 1.5 hours from my family, instead of 3. The move from Chicago to South Bend also meant we could afford to buy an actual house with a backyard – something we couldn’t have dreamed of in Chicago. The transition from Chicago ended up being complicated and drawn out. Brett started his new job and I transitioned out of mine. We only had the chance to attend one Hypnobabies class in person before we had to move. We had to self-teach the remainder of the class by following along in the book and listening to scripts. Unfortunately, the total lack of stability during this time resulted in us being a bit behind the Hypnobabies schedule. I comforted myself with the thought that we would be able to catch up once we moved into our new house, long before the baby arrived.
We eventually closed on a house on August 12 but decided to immediately hire out some drywall/ceiling repair work prior to moving any belongings into the house. We knew once the drywall work was done we’d be able to paint (all of the rooms in the house were in desperate need of painting). We figured it was wise to knock out all of the big projects before the baby came and before we got too settled in the house. Our baby was “due” around September 25 so everything seemed perfectly timed. So as the contractor took up the bottom half of our house, we essentially camped out on a mattress on the floor and lived out of a suitcase. I spent most of every day painting the upper floor while Brett was at work and then we worked on other parts of the house when he got home. I kept telling myself that once the house was in order we would buy all the items we needed for the baby and make sure the space was ready for him by late September.
On August 23rd, I finished painting the trim in our bedroom and went to meet Brett at work where a mass and student/staff picnic was being held to celebrate the start of the school year. I remember being self conscious about my incredibly swollen feet and ankles. Following the picnic, we went to Lowe’s to pick up supplies and then went home. We worked on putting our bedroom back together until midnight and then went to bed.
I woke up at 3am with the sense that I needed to go to the bathroom. As I walked to the bathroom, I felt a leaking sensation but was too sleepy to think much beyond “What’s going on with my bladder?” I sat down, urinated, wiped and then wiped again and again. Why did it seem like I needed an endless supply of toilet paper? I stood up and a bigger gush of liquid flowed out of me and I panicked, shouting into the bedroom. “Brett, I think my water just broke!” Brett leapt out of bed and (probably hearing the panic in my voice) said, “Okay. It’s okay.” I frantically tried to recall what week of pregnancy I was in – determined I was 35 weeks and 3 days – and realized I didn’t know if it would be considered safe and normal to go into labor that early.
Brett is not typically clear-headed immediately upon waking, but he was laser focused in this moment. He called the hospital and put them speakerphone. When the front desk person picked up, he explained that my water had broken and I interjected that I was “only 35 weeks along”. The woman asked what color the liquid was and I answered that it looked clear. She then asked if I had felt the baby moving. I had only been awake for a few minutes and hadn’t felt anything in that time but the baby had been really active right before I fell asleep at midnight. She asked if I was experiencing contractions and I realized that I had been experiencing mild tightening sensations. She said to come directly to the hospital to be checked out.
Brett hung up and I choked back a sob and said, “This is too soon! We’re not ready.” Brett stopped me, hugged me, and assured me again that everything would be fine. He took the dog outside to go to the bathroom and I bumbled from one (completely disheveled, partially renovated) room to another trying to think what we would need at the hospital and locate it. Of course we didn’t have a hospital bag packed! I remembered a phone charger, my phone, earphones and Hypnobabies materials. The few baby clothes we had were still packed away somewhere in the garage. Brett reminded me that the hospital would have the necessities.
I put on a maxi dress and grabbed a towel to hold between my legs. I called my mom’s cell phone but she didn’t pick up so I tried my dad’s. He groggily picked up and I said “Dad, my water just broke so we’re going to the hospital and we don’t know if everything is okay.” my voice broke halfway through. He said something calm and comforting, although I don’t recall what exactly it was. He sounded so confident that I recall feeling he didn’t understand how early I was.
Brett and I headed downstairs, through the virtual construction zone of our 1st floor, and into the car. Brett opened the car windows and turned on the air conditioning as he drove (something we managed to remember from Hypnobabies) the 5 minutes to the hospital. I texted my sister that I had gone into labor and she replied that everything was going to be okay and that she loved me. I felt my belly contracting during the ride but I wasn’t mentally collected enough to time the waves. My mind was racing not really able to slow down enough to think clearly. I just felt fear. Mostly because I feared something was wrong with the baby and that’s why my labor started early. My secondary (but very real) fear was that we hadn’t finished our Hypnobabies material and that I wouldn’t be able to manage labor without medication. It felt like everything had spun out of control. For some reason it had never occurred to me that I might go into labor early. We had only been to two midwife appointments and had just toured the hospital’s birth center four days prior.
We arrived at the birthing center and walked to the front desk. There was a couple in their pajamas ahead of us, talking to the receptionist. They turned around and smiled at us, saying “It’s a good night to have a baby”. I felt a spark of annoyance and hardly responded – I wondered how to explain that we weren’t sure our baby was okay or would be okay. The couple was led back to triage and I sat down on a couch through a wave.
Moments later, we were taken back and brought into a triage room. I immediately felt a little more in control. At least we were in the right place and we were able to get there promptly. The nurse came in and attached the monitor to my belly. A few seconds later she located the baby’s heartbeat and assured us that it sounded fine. She gave me an internal exam and announced that I was about 3 cm dilated. This surprised me, considering I had just woken up 30 minutes earlier. The nurse also said, in an off-hand way, that our baby didn’t have any hair on its head. The nurse had placed an absorbent pad underneath me, which she whisked away for testing to make sure the liquid was indeed from my bag of waters. The nurse kept coming in and out of the room, asking us if we had ever been to the hospital before since they couldn’t find any of my records. This went on for a while until they determined they would call the midwives once the office opened.
My birthing waves were beginning to demand more of my attention so I began to practice my finger drop technique at the outset of each wave. Between the waves, Brett and I would incredulously remark to each other how crazy this was. We were actually going to be having our baby. It was also during this time that Brett realized he must have stepped in dog poop prior to leaving for the hospital. I was too distracted to notice, but our triage room had been filling with a bad smell. Brett went into the adjoining bathroom and did his best to remove the offending poop. This situation provided us with some much needed levity.
A few minutes later we were brought back to our birthing room. I was relieved to see it had a birthing tub. I asked Brett if he wanted to grab some coffee and something to eat. He took this as me being selfless but in reality I knew I needed him with me and didn’t want him to have to leave me to hunt down sustenance when I was further along in labor. An OBGYN entered (the midwife had been called but hadn’t arrived yet) and asked how I was doing. He asked if I had any questions and if I had intended to utilize any pain medication. I told him I didn’t want any. He watched me during a wave and commented that it looked like I was handling them well and then he left the room. I appreciated how low key and considerate he was.
After the midwife entered and introduced herself as Susana, I asked her if I would be able to birth in the tub. She advised that since the baby was pre-term, he was too susceptible to losing body heat being birthed in water. She said I could labor in the tub but would have to move out for the birthing. I was content knowing I could be in the water for at least part of my labor.
Susana also advised that they would have to treat me as though I was Strep B positive which meant I would have to have two IV treatments during labor. The nurse inserted and secured the needle and then started the first course of antibiotics. I initially got settled on a birthing ball but I started experiencing really intense sensations in my lower back during each wave and it dawned on me with mild horror that this was a symptom of back labor. I asked Susanna if there were positions I should be in if I was having back labor. She set out a yoga mat and suggested that I move to all fours during each wave. I found that I had a hard time dropping into hypnosis in this position because I was having to hold myself up and wasn’t able to relax as effectively. I dropped onto the mat and laid on my side with the Hypnobabies recording playing in one ear. I spoke as little as possible from this point on. Susana was holding a heat pad to my back and belly and Brett had his hands on my head and shoulders. I was in this position for a while, but I’m not sure how long. I started to shiver uncontrollably and the midwife brought over warm blankets to cover me. At some point, during a particularly strong wave, my eyes were still closed but I felt a wave of strong emotion (a combination of sadness? self-pity? fear?) and tears started to stream down my face. Brett and Susana comforted me.
After a while, the noise I was making during birthing waves changed from hums to low moans. I asked when I could get into the tub – although I worried I was using up my one comfort measure too early. Susana got the tub ready and told me I could get in. Partway to the tub I felt a contraction coming on and could only get out an “uh oh” before starting to sink to the floor. Brett caught me and slowed my descent. When I got into the tub the water felt incredible. Brett sat at my head and kept the earphone in my ear and made sure the iPhone didn’t get wet.
Susana’s end of shift came at 7am and she was relieved by Mercedes. Mercedes came over to the tub and introduced herself. She said, “You’re having your baby early, and I’m sorry about that.” Mercedes had an almost unnervingly direct way about her and I think she was making an effort to put words to my emotions, even though I hadn’t said anything. The nurse hooked me up for my second dose of antibiotics. Mercedes watched me through a few waves and then went into the adjoining room to wait with the nurse. My entire time in the tub is hazy in my memory although I know that with each wave I would lean back with an arm on each side of the tub and moan through the wave- trying to keep my mouth wide open and relaxed – getting louder at the peak and tapering off to silence at the end. I would immediately rest my head on the side of the tub, close my eyes and drift off until the next wave came. The nurse would monitor the baby’s heart rate during waves and that really irritated me but I didn’t say anything.
As I got louder Mercedes came back into the bathroom and observed me. I told her I was starting to feel a full sensation and “thought” I kind of wanted to push. I remember thinking that maybe it was all in my head because I just wanted to move to the next step since I felt overwhelmed. She told me if I felt like pushing I could do so really gently and see how it felt. I did this through several waves but wasn’t certain if I was pushing enough or if it was doing anything. Pushing definitely didn’t bring relief as I hoped but I believe that was mostly because of the back labor.
I don’t recall if I asked to move to the bed to continue pushing or if Mercedes directed me to. I got on the bed and laid on my side but Mercedes asked me to lay on my back. She checked my dilation and discovered a lip that she was able to push back during the next wave. Then she and the nurse each held a leg and encouraged me to push through each wave. This continued for a while but Mercedes wasn’t happy with my effectiveness. She asked me why I seemed to be holding back. I told her didn’t know but honestly I didn’t feel I had the energy (or breath) to explain that I was avoiding the pain pushing caused in my lower back and I hated that it felt like I was going to poop with each push. She must have sensed the poop concern because she outright asked me if I was afraid of pooping and then she said, “If you poop, you poop!”
I realized I was only making birthing last longer by not pushing with all of my might. So, from then on I pushed with everything I had (and pooped with what felt like every push, unfortunately). Mercedes started to have me try different pushing techniques. She tied a knot in a towel, handed it to Brett and had me pull against him with every wave. She asked Brett to take the leg the nurse had been holding and had me grab under each knee when the wave began and pull my upper body up as I pushed. This went on for a while.
Mercedes would check the baby’s progress and reported that the baby was moving forward and then slipping back. I was really discouraged to hear that. The frustration was compounded as I also was struggling to catch my breath sufficiently before the next wave hit. Mercedes asked me what I needed to hear. I told her I didn’t know but I didn’t feel like I was making progress and I felt like I was “pushing uphill.” She lifted up the back of the bed and attached a bar for me to grab onto, pull myself up and squat while pushing. When the wave subsided I would fall back onto the bed and try to breathe as deeply as possible as I waited for the wave.
It was around this time that the baby’s head started to emerge. Mercedes, Brett and the nurse were cheering me on through each push. Mercedes asked me what I was feeling and I described the discomfort in my lower back. She removed the bar, rolled up a towel and placed in under my hips. “This is called the ‘California Roll’,” she said.
She and Brett got back into position bracing my legs and I pushed through another wave. “How did that feel?” she asked.
“Terrible,” I responded.
“Good. You’re making progress.”
I continued to push in this position. At one point Mercedes consulted the monitor and told me the baby was getting tired and I would need to get him/her out soon (I later put together that this was at 4 hours of pushing). This struck fear into my heart and I pushed with absolute abandon. A nurse came into the room shortly after to relay a message to Mercedes and commented that “that baby’s holding on by its toes”. My spirit was somewhat buoyed by that observation. Mercedes started applying oil to my perineum and told me I’d be feeling the ring of fire soon and to keep going. I did feel burning a few pushes later and howled through that push – the baby’s head came out the rest of the way, followed by his shoulders.
Mercedes instructed Brett to slide his fingers under the baby’s armpits and helped guide the rest of the body out and onto my belly. Mercedes had to remind Brett, “what is it, dad?” and Brett announced that we had a boy as the baby howled. I looked down and saw our baby boy with his daddy’s nose and – hilariously – horseshoe pattern baldness (which Brett also had at birth). So the triage nurse was partially right about the baldness. Brett and I looked at each other tearfully – absolutely bursting with love, pride and relief.
I pulled baby Simon up to my chest and he stayed there as I birthed the placenta and was examined by Mercedes. She informed me that I had no tears. She also showed me a true knot in his cord – which i still regret not taking a photo of. Brett took him for skin-to-skin as Mercedes massaged my legs and scalp with oil which was incredibly relaxing after all of that strain. She hugged me and told me I did an amazing job and I should be proud. She commended Brett and I for the way we worked together. The nurse said she was glad to have been able to witness such an “interesting” birth. The birth lasted 9 hours and when Simon was weighed he came in at 5 lbs 7 ounces. Besides jaundice, he had no complications from his early arrival.
We felt so supported and cared for throughout Simon’s birth. I spent years reading Birth Without Fear birth stories so I know how differently our experience could have gone. I feel that I have BWF to thank for educating me on how to empower myself and increase my chances of having a pleasant birth. I’m so grateful for all of those stories!
Story and photos submitted by Anne B.