I was Meghan's doula and I had the honor of witnessing her let-go-of the lingering fears she carried from her previous birth, and completely surrender as she became a mother of two.
In order to begin this birth story, you really should read my birth story with Huck, which was almost three years ago. Since his birth, I have struggled to not only accept it - but also accept that his birth was a traumatic event. Right before my second birth, I read this article and it resonated deep within me. My first birth, though “non-traumatic” in the sense that I was able to safely and naturally deliver a baby without complications, was indeed very traumatic. That birth experience trickled over into nearly the entire first year of my son’s life. I suffered from severe postpartum anxiety and though I loved Huck, I was unable to fully experience the first two months and I don’t have many memories from that time, except that I spent countless hours in fear of everything from his death, to other people holding him, and so on.
His birth completely changed my feelings on birth. In short, I feared it. I didn’t trust things would be any different this time and I was terrified I would not be brave enough for another natural one. Alder’s birth is my redemption story. It was healing, empowering and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience (well, beside tearing).
In the weeks leading up to Alder’s birth - things began to change. My body started doing some of the work ahead of time. I was taking Evening Primrose Oil, based on my doula’s recommendation and awesome Amazon reviews (they hold a lot of value to me!). Even if they didn’t do much, I was fully believing in the placebo effect; that they would soften my cervix and help start some dilation - which did happen.
Now I wish I would have had the midwives check me at my last appointment at 40 weeks, because I am super curious how dilated I was. I had started having consistent Braxton Hicks and feelings of cramping in the last couple weeks of pregnancy. The cramps happened often in the middle of the night and early morning, which I heard is common for second time+ mamas. And the Braxton Hicks were different than I had experienced the prior months. These were super tight (I could practically see the baby’s position - his little bum on my right side), and I felt more pressure from them and they would happen several times throughout the day and night and slowly became more rhythmic. In fact, at my 40 week appointment, as I laid back to listen to baby’s heartbeat, my midwife watched my belly tighten and said “You’re not having a Braxton Hick, that is an actual contraction, even though it doesn’t hurt.” This gave me so much hope that my body was doing a lot of the early labor stuff for me. I was so afraid of a long labor and I just kept believing that these Braxton Hicks were taking care of some birth business.
I also had a terrible flu for a week and a half that only started to go away a couple days before labor. I was coughing a LOT. And as weird as it sounds, I think the coughing helped, because every time I coughed, I was basically pushing a tiny bit and then I’d get a Braxton Hicks contraction. Who knows, but I seriously think it helped!
Now… onto labor. I woke up on Friday, August 15th, a day after my due date. I was not in labor, though my mom had bet me all along that this would be the day. It wasn’t. However, I felt a deep intuition and sense that this was my last day before labor. I felt it deep within me. We got up and went to Mass that morning because it was a Holy Day. The first reading was about Mary in labor, wailing with pain and all these super awesome images (insert my sarcasm). I felt like everyone’s eyes in church were on me. My belly felt SO heavy that morning. Heavier than it ever had. I had to brace myself against the pew to rest my body and felt lots of Braxton hicks. Andrew went to work after Mass, even though I told him there was a chance he might have to come home again.
As the day wore on, so did my intuition. I took Huck to the park for special mama-Huck time. He was so brave and went down the slide, time and time again, even though he previously spent the past year too afraid. He asked to go down over and over again and I happily obliged. Then I texted Andrew asking if he could meet us for an early dinner out as a family. We went to Blossoming Lotus and got spicy tacos and then we went to a new frozen yogurt shop for vegan froyo. Huck loved the sample sized cups and I just knew these were our last memories as just us three.
We went home and to bed, and I fully believed I would wake up in labor later… and I did. My Braxton Hicks, though not painful, were so tight and strong, that they woke me up from sleep. Then around 4:30am, they began to radiate a little in my back and feel slightly uncomfortable. They came every 4 minutes. I decided to get up and have a snack and walk a little. I got back in bed and decided I’d text my doula and parents if they continued - but they ended around 5:30am. That morning, for the first time in half a year, I slept in. I slept until after 9 and when I got up, I told Andrew about my night and texted my doula to let her know something might be starting. I got in the shower and the contractions began again. They were barely noticeable, but had just the slightest twinge of pain for a couple seconds during them. It was nearly 10:30am. I texted my doula that “today is only gonna get more interesting”. It was Saturday, August 16th.
My contractions were mild, just tight, with a lot of pressure and the slightest twinge of pain. They happened every 10 minutes. I knew I was in early labor and I didn’t know how fast things would progress, so I asked my parents to head up. I knew it was the day. Huck had lunch, I packed his bags, although up until that day, the plan was for my parents to stay with him at our house. Then Huck went down for his nap and my parents came up with lunch take-out. Huck woke up and was super excited to see my parents and we decided to go to the park so I could get out and walk.
We went to Sellwood Park, where Huck and I had gone the day before. It’s one of our favorite places and it is a nice size for a laboring woman. I felt like a penguin, waddling around, with my contractions going from 10 minutes to every 5-6 over the course of the park visit. Huck showed his Grandma and Papa how he had conquered the slide. His face as he went down the slide, over and over and over again, will forever be glued in my mind. The way his hair whipped back in the wind and his little head kicked back a bit with the force and his eyes squinted up with his huge, proud, happy grin. His little saltwater sandaled feet going up a little in the air and his hands outstretched, reaching for the side of the slide as he tried to keep balance (I later replayed this image in my mind with every intense contraction for strength).
We walked around the park, letting Huck explore and take everything in. Contractions began coming closer together, and more intense, but still not painful enough to not be able to enjoy the park - just make me walk with the slowest, biggest, waddle, during them. It was hot and slightly humid, so we decided to leave because the heat was starting to bother me more than labor pain. We decided to stop and get frozen yogurt on the way home. During our froyo stop, the contractions started to intensify - they started to get “obvious” to those around me. Having my parents around was great, except that my mom kept asking about my contractions, which started annoying me and I could tell my Dad, though quiet, was totally aware of my progression. I quickly started to have a desire to be home, because I was started to physically show my contractions by pausing and focusing a little, and tense up and was no longer able to just get through them without some deeper concentration.
We got home and fed Huck as quickly as we could before he would leave with my parents for their house. They left around 6/6:30pm and this was incredibly hard for me. I became really emotional, knowing that this was the last time it would be just Huck. I didn’t want him to leave me… I wanted to soak him up. I was feeling so many emotions and thinking so many thoughts like “what if something happens to me?” and “the next time he sees me, he will have to share me” and “what if I don’t love this baby as much? How is it possible?!”. My contractions were starting to pick up though and I didn’t reeeeally want Huck around. He had been a great distraction, but I needed to concentrate now. So they finally left and I spent the next couple hours fighting tears or just breaking down and sobbing to Andrew that “I want Huck”. Honestly, that was probably the hardest part of labor for me.
After my parents and Huck left, we decided we would make some food and rent a movie. I ended up declaring “I just want to watch Gilmore Girls!”, which was honestly the best decision ever. I braced contractions by leaning on the counter or whatever was nearby and then I asked for the yoga ball and I spent the rest of my time at home, sitting on it; rocking and bouncing slightly, and pausing during the contractions. Andrew made me toast with peanut butter, apple slices and some “cheese” slices and I made a gigantic protein smoothie and snacked on almonds and pretzels (I ate about half of everything before the thought of food was too much). I called OHSU to tell them what was going on and they told me to come in when my contractions were 3-4 minutes apart.
We watched several episodes of Gilmore Girls, where I was incredibly aware of all the pregnancy comments. Lorelai: “And while some have called it the most meaningful experience of your life, to me it was something more akin to doing the splits on a crate of dynamite…”. YUP. My contractions were getting stronger, but I started thinking I couldn’t be that deep in to labor because I could still chuckle at my favorite show and I was quiet. I wasn’t moaning and huffing and puffing, like in Huck’s labor - so I was sure I was only in the very beginning of active labor and started feeling panicky and scared that I wouldn’t be able to handle labor once I got “closer” (having no idea how close I actually was). But they were… kind of intense, still not with the intensity of Huck’s birth, but I had to plant my feet firmly on the ground, and breeeeeath, breath, breath, my way through them. I even noticed I assumed the same position, I did during active labor with Huck (“but I am not in active labor”… I kept thinking). I was sitting on the birthing ball, my back to Andrew and the couch and would basically place my hands and arms behind my body, tuck my pelvis and arch slightly to brace myself through the contractions. I tried having Andrew massage my back during labor, but as soon as contractions hit, I quickly learned I didn’t want his touch. And the pain was starting to rattle me. I was starting to panic… I was starting to think I had a whole night of this in front of me… like hours and hours and hours. I was crying, I was saying “if we go, I might get an epidural… I am too scared."
My contractions were 3 minutes apart and while I had been totally ignoring the hospital’s advice to come in up until this point (for fear of being hooked up to a machine and Gilmore-less), I was starting to wonder if I should, or if it would be like this all night long… these contractions, like with Huck’s labor. Andrew said he didn’t think we should, that we’d be stuck there and I didn’t really want to be in that environment until we got closer, did I? His assurance and confidence that it wasn’t time and we should continue laboring at home, made me worried even more that I wasn’t far into labor. Surely he’d want to get me to the hospital if I was…right?
I had been texting my doula the whole time and she called me at about 8:30pm - but right as a contraction hit and I pushed "ignore”. Then I called her back. I sat on the edge of our bed, on Andrew’s side, staring at the wall, while we talked. I had several contractions during the phone call, some she didn’t even know, because I was so silent. It was as if my silence could silence the pain. We talked and I told her I was feeling really emotional and starting to wonder if I could do this naturally. I was thinking about getting an epidural. She suggested that I try and take it one contraction at a time, for a little bit longer, and to focus on getting through each one - instead of thinking about the whole picture. She said a game-changing thing to me after I answered that my contractions were about 60 seconds long. She said: “You can do anything for 60 seconds”. At first I was thinking “huh?” but then I got it. Sixty seconds is nothing in the grand scheme of time and if I took it one contraction at a time - this was doable. So what can I do for 60 seconds? I visualize Huck’s proud, victorious, joy-filled, face as he slides down a slide at the park. YES. I can do that for 60 seconds. Huck was my ultimate strength.
So that’s what I did. With every single contraction, I pictured my sweet boy going down the slide at the park earlier that day. I had it memorized; the way his head kicked back with a huge, toothy, grin. The way his little legs flung up and he reached his arms and hands out, trying to grab the slide on the way down to catch his balance… his hair flipping in the wind from sliding down. Over and over again, I pictured this. Bouncing on my ball, watching Gilmore Girls and having Huck in my head for strength and courage. He was brave. I can be brave. I had completely and totally forgot about my desire to have an epidural and was just focused on each separate contraction bringing me one step closer to my baby.
By this point my contractions really picked up… they were now 2-3 minutes apart (I was timing them myself. Hitting the start/stop button on my app, helped me to be distracted a little, instead of bracing that the pain was about to roll in). I kept saying to Andrew “I think we should go soon”. And he was like “I think we can wait a little bit” and I was like “I really think we should go soon”. Obviously this birth was a 180 from Huck’s because Andrew was totally unaware of how close to birth we were and I joke that next time we will probably show up way too early to avoid what happens in the rest of this story (and Andrew suggests we should just do a home birth)…
OK. Now the contractions were intense. I was using the restroom often and then I got the shakes. And all the red flags came up. The SHAKES. I never got them with Huck, but I knew that was a sign of transition… but… after transition comes pushing and surely I wasn’t THAT dilated, right? I mean, I was watching Gilmore Girls and just breathing through contractions. I was laughing at Lorelai.
It was almost 9:45pm now, Andrew started making coffee and a contraction hit and I said “We have to go”. He said he’d finish his coffee and we could go. I told him to put it in a to go cup… it smelled awful. Although, I don’t drink coffee, this was the only time in my whole pregnancy that coffee made me feel so gross. Then another contraction came and again I was saying “I have the shakes! We really need to go now! I’m shaking!”. I said it several times, pleading, and finally that damn cup of coffee was done dripping and we were headed out. Labor was too intense and all encompassing for me to be angry at Andrew, but I was miffed. I headed outside and I’ll never forget the air that night. It was perfect. Warm and breezy and smelling like a late summer night. It felt so good. And then I had a contraction at the door of the car and I was shaking so much, and I knew we needed to get to the hospital and it needed to be quickly.
We got in the car and the CD player started - Andrew flicked it off. I flicked it on. I had Nickel Creek in and I wanted to hear their familar voices. “This Side” started playing and singing “one day you’ll see her and you’ll know what I mean” and “it’s foreign on this side and i’ll not leave my home again and there’s no place to hide and I’m nothing but scared.” The words were for me in that moment.“You dream of colors that have never been made, you imagine songs that have never been played.”. I thought about this baby and the moment of meeting him. And then “Jealous of the Moon” came on as we drove along 99e, with the Willamette River beside us, and the lit-up skyline of downtown Portland, I was thinking about my first birth and the words were telling me how strong I was:
“Tryin’ on a brand new dress
But you haven’t worn the old one yet
You’ve come too far
To turn around now
You’ve given up the good fight
You’re as strong as anyone
You’re back where you started from
I see you’re back where you started from
Starin’ down the stars
Jealous of the moon
You wish you could fly
Just being where you are
There’s nothin’ you can do
If you’re too scared to try
Drag your pretty head around
Swearin’ you’re gonna drown
With a beautiful sigh
And a river of lies
Starin’ down the stars
Jealous of the moon
You wish you could fly
Just stayin’ where you are
There’s nothin’ you can do
If you’re too scared to try”
But I wasn’t too scared to try. No. The story was being written. The next song began, “When You Come Back Down” but by now I was concentrating on telling myself over and over to wait, baby, wait. I had so many contractions in the car and I visualized Huck’s brave little self at the park, while also telling my body to WAIT. Looking back, I think I knew deep down inside that I was incredibly close to pushing… because I kept telling my body in the car to just hold on until we got to the hospital, just hold on. Driving up the windy hill to OHSU, I remember thinking “Thank goodness we are here. A few more minutes… and then it’s all ok”. I had no idea, but my body sure did.
We were just past the time where you can valet park at the ER entrance, about 10:10pm. So we had to park the car in the garage. That was seriously awful. I had two really big contractions - one right in the garage, where a family just parked nearby and I pictured them watching in horror, until my mind couldn’t even picture anything from intensity, and then right outside the ER entrance. An annoying (though she thought she was helpful) girl kept asking if I wanted a wheelchair, while I had what felt like the longest contraction ever. Then my doula Echo appeared and her “I know you’re deep in labor, but you’re about to meet your baby!” smile made me feel so much better. I felt like my comrade was there.
I did take a wheelchair because I honestly felt like I couldn’t walk another step (I had no idea that’s because my baby’s head was RIGHT there). I couldn’t even talk, I was just shaking so bad and contracting and every person had to ask me a million questions - from the guy pushing my wheelchair about what we were having, to the intake at the ER desk, and the intake nurse in L&D … do you REALLY need to know who my pediatrician is at this moment in time? Or my personal favorite, was the nurse in labor and delivery who asked what I was up to that day… I may have very snottily replied “Uh… In labor.”
They wheeled me into my room and tried to make me pee (way to make me feel unaccomplished nurses). I came out and the tv was on and I was super annoyed and said: “What is that noise?! Turn it off!”. They instructed me to get on the bed to put on two monitors around me and check my cervix. I asked if I had to and they said yes. I asked if I had to lay on the bed and they said yes. I told them I didn’t want to. I was contracting between all this and they were really intense at this point. Heavy breathing, leaning forward and bracing. The student nurse was a Godsend as she calmly affirmed my efforts with each contraction. She told me I was doing so well, breathing so great. I instantly loved her and knew she was on my side.
Here’s where the exciting part begins. We’d only been there about 5 minutes when they finally coaxed me into attempting to climb on the bed (hard to do when you’re 10cm dilated… had we all known this…). I go to lay on my back as instructed, and immediately my body shoots me up and I am shrieking something along the lines of “I can’t! I can’t! There’s too much pressure!”. I practically leapt up and was then on the other side of the bed, where I am shot into a new contraction. I was bracing myself on the bed railing. They begin telling me my options for monitoring, but I am not listening (don’t they know this?!). Something is happening — a new, fierce, contraction comes rolling in and during this contraction I shout “I feel like I have to push! I have to push!”. During that last word “push” my body does and I am quickly instructed to get on the bed on all fours. And then, I let out a loud bellow, as my body begins its first real push.
(Here I am “resting” between two of my first contractions:)
I hear everybody scrambling, I hear someone (my doula?) ask “Where is the midwife?!”. I hear “we paged… we will try again”. I begin heaving, but luckily did not get sick and have another contraction after. Then, I don’t know when the midwife enters, but she does soon and I immediately decide I like this midwife. She introduces herself, checks me and explains that his head is right there and this baby is going to be here soon.
I ask “how soon?”. Oh… the return of a question I asked so many times in Huck’s labor. “Soon” in Huck’s labor was 7 hours. She says “soon”. I look frantically to my doula. She nods and smiles. I ask “No, but how soon?!”. She gives me this super big smile and confidently says something about how he’s really going to be here soon.
I had a couple contractions on my hands and knees, burrowing my head into the pillows and bed as I push, and roaring like a lioness and I don’t want to move, because I’m too busy doing important work. I look at Echo and exclaim “this is WEIRD!”. I said this about a dozen times to her in between contractions… “No, but this is SO weird!!” (meaning: this is so different. I never knew how different birth could be! This is exciting! I am getting my happy birth! Fast!).
I can hear nurses whispering about my previous birth “7 hours of pushing” they whisper. This annoys the crap out of me. “Natural birth” they say. The annoyance fades and I feel that they aren’t judging me, they are amazed by me. Andrew asks about water birth and I look at him, I see fear in his eyes. They say it’s too late and he honestly looked like he was about to cry. I assure him that it’s ok. I contract, and immediately return to telling him that I am ok, and it’s ok. I knew that “we don’t have time”, meant this was indeed happening soon. Amazingly in between contractions, I feel the deep desire to comfort Andrew and tell him(?) that I need him to be strong for me (which is super funny now because I was so dang talkative and I think I remember nurses smiling over my talkative nature. Ahaha). He was just mad that I couldn’t get my water birth.
My midwife and nurses wanted to get monitors on me and can see the physical strain my position had on me, so they get me on my side, I roared, I pushed. I grabbed Andrew’s hand, who was to my right, and wrap my arm around my doula’s, who was to my left. Their physical contact gives me strength and comfort. They switched me to my final position on my right side, and every time a contraction would fade out and my pushes would stop, I’d hit my arm on the button on my bedrail that turned the TV on. It made me as mad as a hornet. I kept hitting it. Then it sort of became funny?
I’d let go of or ease up on Andrew’s hand, and my doula’s arm and rest for the couple minutes(?) between contractions then just before I’d have another one, I’d feel it approaching, reach out and everyone would be my physical cheerleaders again. I had my left foot pushing someones hand, my right against someones body, my body intuitively curling around my baby as I pushed. My pushes weren’t forced. They were powerful and raw and real. I wanted them. I could feel my baby getting closer with every one. I could even feel him pull back a tiny bit at the end of some. It was amazing. With Huck, I was so tired, my body so numb from the hours of pushing, that I couldn’t feel it like this. I felt how close this baby was to being born. I welcomed these contractions and pushes, and during one, I thought about how “he is going to be in my arms so soon!”. At some point my water broke and my midwife was giving me the best instructions ever - telling me where to push my energy and it totally changed my pushes and helped so much. I wish I had that with Huck’s birth - it was SO helpful. Sure, my body knew how to push, but where to send all that energy, how to bear down, it made a big difference.
They asked Andrew if he wanted to catch the baby and he said yes. I’ll never forget how that question finalized the answer to my question “but how soon?”. Soon…. I had a few more contractions, feeling his head crowning and eventually popping out (which did not hurt nearly as much as Huck’s, even though I tore again). But unlike Huck, he didn’t slide out in the next contraction, so I started to panic and said “I want him out of me!”. So on my last contraction, I pushed even more and the midwife helped the baby ease out and into Andrew’s hands. I heard “He’s definitely a boy!” And immediately the baby was wailing and on my chest. He was perfect. Warm and slippery and I don’t remember my first words… maybe “oh my gosh!”?… but I know one of them was "you look like your brother!“. He had the cutest nose, all swollen and big, and he was crying, because he loved my womb and it was bright. I knew him instantly. I was asked if baby had a name and I smiled, saying, "Yes. Alder.”. I immediately felt obsessively, head over heels in love with him. Something I didn’t feel for weeks with Huck.