Photo credit - Holly Stewart Photography
Willow's birth story actually started 4.5 years ago with her big brother Fisher's birth. He survived and I survived but we both suffered from his birth and unfortunately he still deals with the injuries sustained (he was undiagnosed brow presentation - and Pitocin and vacuum which are contraindicated for brow were used. He was injured badly, spent 5 days in the NICU, and has had 5 surgeries to repair damage and will have more in the future). I knew then and I learned more over the years that what happened not only didn't have to happen but it shouldn't have happened. I knew with every cell in my body that a woman should never feel helpless, thrown into a "system", ignored, and lied to. I learned about amazing, empowering midwives and OBs who worked with moms towards the end goal of healthy mom and healthy baby inside and out. That was my goal for Willow's birth. I wanted to trust my providers and be a person - not a number. And definitely not end up with an injured baby.
I am a *little* of a control freak - I had carefully planned for and prepared for my pregnancy and spontaneous labor (ironic, eh?). I prepared for it for hours on end by doing the Hypnobabies Homestudy Course. I trained my brain to see pregnancy and childbirth as normal, healthy, and safe. I worked through many fears and anxieties from my son's birth and two late miscarriages in a variety of ways. I searched the area and interviewed providers, I talked to mamas about their providers and experiences with them and with their hospitals. I decided on St Marys Birth and Midwifery Center - which has three amazing certified nurse midwives and the medical director is Dr. Brabson, whom is known around our area as the "male midwife." When you know, you know. In addition to acknowledging our trauma from our son's birth and handling our heartbreaking losses with care and compassion, they also are very natural birth friendly and are supportive of mom's wishes in pregnancy and labor. They have great VBAC success rates and I have heard story after story of moms coming away from all different types of births (CS, VBAC, RCS, etc) feeling empowered through my work with ICAN of Knoxville.
I was approaching the end of pregnancy and knew things were progressing nicely (yep, I suck at declining cervical checks!). I had a bulging bag of waters, 4 cm dilated, and was 70% effaced and was told that my water would probably break early in labor. This was something I was worried about because it happened with my son's birth and any possible parallels between their births gave me anxiety. I worked through those fears and was grateful for the "heads up" from my MW so I could prepare for this scenario. I was prepared for my water to break early in labor, I would go to the hospital (GBS +), and then we would get things going there through nipple stimulation, walking, etc. I would use my Hypnobabies tools to relax and use the birth tub when things picked up. So I spent the last week or two of my pregnancy expecting my water to break every time I stood up. Because I knew labor was close I gathered all the info of which midwife was on call when and when Dr. Brabson was out of town. I hoped to not need an OB - but IF one was needed it was VERY VERY important to me to have Dr. B be there. After Fisher's horrible experience with an oncall OB, I was terrified of having a random oncall OB. I found out that Dr. B would be in town Friday - Wednesday (March 7-12th) and I would be 39 weeks - so I decided that I would have my baby (spontaneously of course) during that time so that he would be available if I needed him. End of story. That was my plan. Apparently not Willow's.
On Wednesday, March 5th (38 weeks, 6 dayish) I felt different. I was extra tired, extra grumpy, and just a little off. I started noticing very light cramping that afternoon. It came and went, but was so light, I was sure it was nothing. About 7 pm I started timing them to "practice using my app" and they were coming regularly 12 - 14 minutes apart. I thought they would die out when I went to sleep that night. Contractions continued regularly all night, but I could easily ignore them and my water hadn't broke - so OBVIOULSY it meant nothing and my body was prepping for labor which would happen between Friday and Wednesday as planned. At 10 pm I timed more contractions and they were 9ish minutes apart and still so light. I sent my doula, Kimberly, a message and asked her at what point she wanted to know if there was a chance I was in labor. We talked about what was going on, I explained that I am sure it was prodromal labor but just wanted to touch base. She told me to try to sleep and just let her know if things continue.
I went to sleep listening to a Hypnobabies track and woke up about an hour later and realized that not only were the contractions still there, they were stronger, and definitely closer together. I timed a few and they were 5- 6ish minutes apart lasting a minute or so. I was sooooo confused. They didn't hurt and I just didn't see how they could be real labor contractions. But at the same time I knew that if they were real I needed to get the post partum doula, Natalie Walz, (she was lined up to provide sibling support while we were at the hospital) on her way. However, I didn't want to be that person that thinks they are in labor, calls in the forces, goes to the hospital, to only find out they weren't in labor. My husband, Shawn, is a teacher and has limited days off. He is asking me what is going on and if he should call into work the next day. I tell him it is probably nothing, but I was going to call Kimberly just in case. Kimberly suggested I jump in the shower and let her know if things picked up. This was about 12:30 - I sent my mom a message over facebook and told her that I was contracting and was sure things would stop tonight, but asked her to plan on coming to our house the next day (she lives 5 hours away) so she would be there the next night if things picked back up . So I took Kimberly's advice and jumped in the shower completely and totally expecting that would stop this "pre labor" and I would go to bed.
Um...how have I been a birth nut for years now and somehow missed the memo that showering would speed up things if it was real labor????? I got in the shower expecting it to relax me enough to stop these pesky contractions and get to sleep. However, they picked up intensity and frequency. I was just so confused - what was happening??? So I decide I would get out of the shower and just go to bed.
I got out of the shower and lay down and could not ignore the contractions anymore. I allowed myself to think that maybe I am starting the beginning of a long labor. I call Kimberly back at about 1:30 am and told her that my contractions were then 3-4 minutes apart and getting stronger. I still was confused but I "guessed I should call Natalie to watch Fisher, just in case". Kimberly said she was going to come over and would sleep on the couch if things stopped. This confused me more because it wasn't really our plan for her to come here first, I figured we would meet at the hospital. I woke Shawn up and got him up to speed, I texted Natalie at 1:40 am and started getting things ready to go to the hospital. Within 30 minutes things got REAL. Major contractions coming close together. I started thinking "Holy crap, if I am going to have to deal with this for 24 hours I maybe should have went with a repeat cesarean" At 2:15 am I sent my lovely doula two texts....verbatim "I want the motherfucking birth tub" and then right after that "fuck". In my labor land - I did want the birth tub. But I thought it would get the point across to her that hey, I am actually in LABOR. This is not prodromal labor.
Kimberly immediately called and said we should meet at the hospital. I tell her that Natalie should be there any minute but we couldn't leave until she got there. And then I went on about my business...of denying labor as much as possible. The contractions were ROUGH. I tried sitting on my birth ball, laying on my side on the couch, and sitting on the toilet. Nothing took the edge off. I just stood and braced a wall and tried to relax and let it pass. I tried to throw on my hypnobabies "Easy first stage" of labor tracks. HA HA HA HA. That is just hilarious (I think Hypnobabies is AWESOME and I will explain how I know it helped me -but if you are planning to use Hypnobabies as intended in labor....don't be a labor denier, ok? I warned you). So I dealt with contractions and between the contractions I was as calm as can be. Walking around in lala land trying to figure out what needed to be done. I got Fisher's clothes ready for the next day, got a few things together for the hospital, etc - all while contracting MAJORLY every 2ish minutes. Natalie shows up and comes in. I am talking with her between contractions and she says "wow, your contractions are pretty close together aren't they?" Natalie has had two natural births and the last one she showed up in very late labor to the birth center...so in my labor land it hit me "Hey, Natalie says they are close together, this really must be the real deal".
Kimberly arrives within a few minutes of Natalie. Bless Kimberly. You know you hire doulas for different reasons - one of which I didn't realize (and maybe it isn't that common) was to help get your labor denying ass to the hospital before baby is born. Kimberly comes in and starts directing me and Shawn to the car. She grabs our bags, she helped me put my shoes on. All the while I am contracting heavily and saying "It doesn't hurt at all between contractions" and I was really calm and pretty chill between contractions. I told Kimberly that contractions were making me nauseous and how I was shaking during contractions. Not upset by it all - just wanted to let it be known. I was kind of amazed by the whole thing. Kimberly tells Shawn she will follow us in her car (she told me after the fact so she could call 911 should I have had the baby on the way) and we go to St Marys. The car ride was horrible. Transition in the car not high on my lists of things I want to repeat. I told Shawn "I want the birth tub or an epidural. I don't care" He starts questioning me about the epidural saying that he thought I didn't want one. I of course didn't care at the moment what I had said 2 minutes ago much less before labor.
We get to the hospital and by that point I want to sleep between contractions. I was so tired! We go up to L&D and are taken to triage. The triage nurse was less than impressed at my state of showing up so late in labor. She asked me if I wanted to use the restroom before I was checked and I did. I had a big contraction in the bathroom - I think I needed that just a bit of alone time to kind of reset for the hospital. I go get checked and was at 8 cm. I said "I need the birth tub". The nurse said there was no time for a birth tub. I said "I need an epidural then". The nurse said "probably no time for that either". Now I did hear the probably. But what I needed to hear was "no time for that". So I went with it. And I thought "Oh well, I tried - Let's do this" I wasn't upset at all about it, I just needed to hear that we were that far along and knew I could do it.
Right after I was checked and told 8 cm I was getting up to move to a labor and delivery room. I stood up and had a massive contraction and said "I HAVE TO PUSH". Oh the triage nurse...she was ALMOST rid of us. But not so fast. She told me to sit down on the bed then (I guess she was afraid Willow was going to come tumbling out) and then said "well, push, we might as well get this over with". Um. Ok. Might as well get the birth of my daughter over with. That is one way to put it. So I kind of half ass push until my MW, Manola, shows up a few minutes later. She was such a calm, peaceful presence in labor. She checked me and confirmed I was complete and then gently guided me through pushing. Y'all. Pushing hurt. It hurt bad. I had heard so many people say it was a relief after transition. Not what I experienced. But my team was awesome in encouraging me, reminding me to push past the pain, to use the contractions to help, and rest in between. Pushing seemed to last forever but it was a really calm experience over all. I would push and pretty much pass out between contractions to rest up for the next one. I kept up with my "I feel great between contractions" talk. Because I did. There was no pain between contractions. Being a VBAC I know that can be a sign of uterine problems. So I think I was subconsciously reassuring myself. And Hypnobabies talks a lot about how you are so calm and comfortable between contractions and feel so good. I did feel good and I expected it. That was really neat I think - and I think it is where Hypnobabies helped me the most during labor. Pushing sucked. It hurt. But I was able to quickly calm myself between contractions and rest a bit. I don't remember really dreading the next contraction. I dreaded the pain and I got very tired but I don't remember fighting contractions and tensing up too much during the pushing part.
So I pushed and I pushed and I pushed. For what seemed liked forever. After the lightening fast labor I was surprised how long pushing took. My team kept me going. Manola would have me change positions every few contractions and I was so tired and at times I didn't want to move - but I really trusted her and pressed on. Reminder, this is all happening in TRIAGE. I didn't have the awesome labor beds that move in different positions for pushing - it was me and a triage bed! I would push semi reclined, I would push standing, I would push squatting, I would push on all fours - all in triage. It was a tiny space with a total of three beds but we made it work. They were telling me I was making progress. Ironically enough I could tell I was making progress because someone was always holding an external monitor to my stomach and they kept having to move it down. Willow handled everything amazing. There was not one second of fear of how she was handling contractions. I got so tired and I did start doubting myself. I pushed for two hours with Fisher and after about an hour of a half of pushing with Willow I started having thoughts creeping in of "my god, it is going to happen again." I am going to push for 2 hours and end up with a C-section. But I kept on. And my husband. My poor husband who witnessed the trauma to both me and Fisher first hand 4.5 years ago and of course experienced the trauma himself. My husband really kept me going this time. He wanted this as much or me than I did...and he wanted it for me. He saw how broken I was and I knew he was terrified at seeing that again. He started getting SO excited when he could see progress and it would make me work that much harder. And be that much more determined. So when Manola, Kimberly, and him were telling me how great I was doing and how I was moving her down - it was his voice that stood out like a beacon. And he said several times between contractions "Erin, this is so different from last time." "I can't believe how different this is". It was different - I KNEW it would be. There was never a doubt in my head that however Willow was born it was going to be awesome and empowering and special. But hearing that from him when I was so tired and getting discouraged was priceless.
Ok, back to pushing. Even with the amazing support I was tired. I was getting discouraged though I just kept on. Really - what else can you do? Then the ray of light walked in the door....Dr. Brabson. What?? I thought he was out of town! And here we go - confession time again. When he walked in the door I was of course happy to see him because he is great and I trust him so much ..but my first thought was "THANK GOD HE CAN USE A VACUUM OR FORCEPS OR SOMETHING". Yeah I did. But I never said it out loud :) He checked me and said Willow was in great position and that I was close and was going to do it. And just like when I was "denied" the epidural - I thought "Well, hell. I guess let's do this" It was all me.
So now Dr. B joined in on the encouragement and I pushed more, moved positions, and kept going. Finally it was close to the end - at that point I was pushing semi reclined while holding my own legs. It was an effective position for me. They suggested having Shawn and the nurse help hold my legs up between contractions so we wouldn't lose any progression. The next to last contraction before she came out - I pushed hard wanting to be done. Things felt different that contraction and for the first and only time I felt horrible pain between contractions. It scared me so badly I felt panic setting in. My brain went to uterus rupture - I didn't say it out loud but I thought it. But I reminded myself that I was safe, Willow was fine, and that if something was wrong I was in a good place. Kimberly recognized my fear (many benefits to having a doula experienced in VBAC but this second right here it was priceless) and she calmly explained that Willow was right about to come out so it was going to feel different. It was supposed to. And that is what I needed to hear to center myself again and take a second to refocus and then realize that I WANTED THAT BABY OUT AND IN MY ARMS more than I had wanted anything in the world.
The next push she was born into the world at 5:20 am. She got a little stuck after her head came out - super calmly they reclined the back of my bed, pushed my legs up more and for the only time my team was pretty adamant about me continuing to push and push hard (at the time I thought they knew how exhausted I was and were just trying to help me be done). And then they laid her on my stomach. I can't even explain how much that moment means to me. It is all I ever wanted - this was the moment that I had dreamed about for years. I have said over and over again - the most traumatic thing to me about my son's birth was the separation after he was born. Not knowing if he was alive but knowing that wherever he was, whatever was being done to him - he NEEDED me and I wasn't there. I was immediately handed Willow alive and healthy. She was placed on my stomach because she was still connected to her cord and I hadn't birthed the placenta yet. I couldn't believe it. I took her and just talked and talked and talked. I talked to Willow and Shawn and everyone else and no one else. I told her I couldn't believe she was here and I couldn't be we actually did it. I said over and over again "She is here and she is healthy, I can't believe it" Time truly stood still - I just don't know how else to explain it. It was perfect and I have climbed mountains to get to that moment physically and emotionally and it was worth every step along the way.
As I said earlier, Willow's birth story started years ago with her big brother's story. Her birth story will never change his. His was not fair to him, Shawn, or me- but it is our story and I have always felt that if one family in the world "had" to go through Fisher's birth and all that has followed - I feel weirdly blessed to be chosen. Because we have and will continue doing everything in our power to help Fisher in every way we can. We will continue fighting for him and also to encourage and empower women to realize they do have a choice and a voice in their pregnancy care. Though I knew it inherently before Fisher and also before Willow was born - I have experienced it now. We matter - mamas, daddies, and babies - we all matter and our experiences matter. I refused to believe otherwise and I have reaped the best reward I can imagine. I gave birth to my healthy daughter powerfully and peacefully and I walk away from it in awe of her and myself. I can't think of a better way to begin a new life.
Photo credit - Holly Stewart Photography