Today, I’m sharing Caleb’s birth story. It’s a long post so strap in. I went back and forth on whether or not to share for a couple of reasons. For one, birth stories are deeply personal. And second, fertility and pregnancy are fragile ground. With Cal now in this world, I can understand more (but certainly not fully) the intense grief that can surround pregnancy and babies. If you’re waiting for a baby, I see you. And I’m thinking of you, praying for you and sending you so much love.
This whole journey has been incredibly healing for me in many ways. After 10 years of hypothalamic amenorrhea, I had my first natural menstrual cycle in early 2015 – a little over 3 years prior to getting pregnant. Throughout those 10 years I was oblivious to and then shrugged off the potential issues with not menstruating on my own. After I began menstruating regularly in 2015, there was always a lingering doubt in the back of my mind that my body wouldn’t “work like it should” when it came to baby making. For me, the experience of conceiving, pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding has restored a deep sense of trust in my womanly body like I didn’t have before. I’m so grateful.
Given this space is about body trust + women’s health, I’m choosing to share his birth story in hopes of encouraging other women.
I thought first babies just came late. So when his due date, Sunday Dec 2nd, rolled around I wasn’t surprised I was still pregnant. I had wrapped up my final clients a few days prior and was hoping he’d stay snug for at least a few more days so I could have a little 100% down time.
Leading up to his due date, I hadn’t felt that much different. But the days following his due date I began noticing several changes in my body. I had been declining cervical checks since week 36 when my OB checked me right after swabbing for GBS. I wasn’t really thinking about it at the time and just forgot to decline. I was ½ cm dilated with a soft cervix at 36 weeks. I knew cervical checks didn’t tell you much and I didn’t want the numbers to mess with my mind. Unless they were going to influence a decision, I didn’t care for them. So I decided together with my OB to wait until the end of 41 weeks to check again since then we’d be talking about induction at 42 weeks.
Although I didn’t know what my cervix was doing when I was experiencing these body changes, I definitely knew things were shifting. He had been sitting low for a while, but I had shooting pains in my pelvis letting me know he had dropped even more and the pelvic pressure and Braxton Hicks I had been experiencing since the second trimester were more frequent…I was having a few an hour all throughout the day. Then I woke up to pee on Friday night (24 hours before I went into labor) and noticed I lost my mucus plug.
The week leading up to his birth (he was exactly a week late) I walked a lot, did prenatal yoga to keep me loose and relaxed, kept eating dates everyday and did stretches that apparently get baby into the most favorable position – cat cows, malasana pose and bouncing on the exercise ball. My motto was to chill out and enjoy the slow days to keep the oxytocin flowing and stress hormones low. I had this, “he will come when he comes” mentality… until I was about to cross over into week 41 and then I started to get antsy. I wanted him to be here, but more than that I was letting myself get worked up over a potential induction even though that was a week away. I think you hear a lot of horror stories about induction and Pitocin (or at least I did) and that created a lot of false and unnecessary fear in me.
Looking back though, the couple days leading up to his birth were so special. I’m so grateful Nick and I had that time together. On Friday night we went out to our favorite pizza place, Area Four, and then strolled through the SoWa Christmas market. We stopped for some baked goods on the walk home and spent the rest of the night watching a movie. Saturday I went on a long walk, we made brunch and then went to a coffee shop to read.
I had been really trying to keep this, “baby will come how and when he wants to come” attitude going, but after coming home from the coffee shop Saturday, I just needed to let it all out and let myself FEEL. We had a Christmas party at church that night and I had nothing to wear because nothing really fit anymore. And I was feeling achy and tired. I came home and just wept on the couch while Nick laid there with me. I think my body needed that release. I would have never understood this before being pregnant, but those days after your due date when everyone (with good intentions) is asking you, “Is baby here yet?” are emotionally draining and each day feels like a year. At 40 weeks 6 days, I was getting overwhelmed by the idea of him not coming before 42 weeks.
I managed to dig out a summertime black maternity dress, cut slits in the elastic sides of tights to get them over my belly, threw on a long cardigan to cover up the weird lumps from tight elastic and we went to the Christmas party. It was so nice to be around our most supportive people – just the distraction and mood lifter I needed.
We hung out with friends afterward and then went to pick up friends from the airport around 10:30pm. We dropped them off, got home around 11:15ish and tucked into bed around midnight. A late night for us, but it was worth it. We had joked, “maybe he’ll come tonight!” all night with people ….little did I know contractions would start a little after midnight…
When I started thinking about birth during my first trimester, it didn’t take me long to decide I wanted to prepare myself for an unmedicated birth. That way of birthing resonated with me and it was an experience I desired. People want to experience different things in life for different reasons. I never desire to go skydiving. But I did desire to experience unmedicated childbirth. So I prepared myself for that while also knowing birth can be wildly unpredictable and at the end of the day, I would do anything to keep me and baby safe + healthy.
I had heard women describe contractions as really bad menstrual cramps. Other than that I had no idea what to expect, but I wanted to relax into them as much as possible and get out of the way so my uterus could do the work to open up my cervix. About 15 minutes after Nick and I turned out the lights and went to bed, I felt a tightening + burning sensation in my lower abdomen. It felt like something I hadn’t felt before, but not like a menstrual cramp. I thought, “Ok, that was different.” but I didn’t want to get my hopes up so I tried to fall asleep. Another one came a few minutes later. Then another and another. After 20 minutes, I got up to get my phone and downloaded a contraction timing app. I got back in bed and Nick rolled over and asked me what I was doing which I firmly replied, “Nothing…just go back to bed.” and he asked no more questions lol. I wanted to be sure this was the real thing before I got excited and woke him up.
So I laid there for 30 minutes timing contractions until 1am. They were about 4 minutes apart and 60-75 seconds long. Still mild where I could rest through them, but I thought it was weird they were so close together already and a minute or more long since I had read in early labor they can be 10, 15, 30 minutes apart. They picked up in intensity so I went out to the living room to move around and drink some water. This is when I noticed my body shaking. They say shaking is normal during labor, but I also didn’t think it was this early on. And then I felt like I had to poop. So I did. And then at 1:30am, I realized I hadn’t eaten since 8pm so I tried to eat a couple graham crackers knowing it could be a long night, but felt nauseous and only managed one cracker. Throughout the first 5 hours of labor I went poop like 4 times and felt nauseous throughout the whole labor. Pooping, shaking and nausea were ongoing sensations – nobody told me those would come and go the whole time!
I laid down on the couch started having to breathe through contractions because they were intensifying. Nick was still sleeping at this point. I texted my doula, Lindsay (who also took all these amazing photos!), what I was experiencing, including being confused that contractions were already 2-3 minutes apart but the intensity was still manageable on my own.
I woke up Nick and told him I thought I was in labor and he came and laid on our bedroom floor with me. Lindsay thought the frequency and duration might be caused by some uterine irritability and recommended I take a couple Tylenol PM, drink water and try to lay down and get some rest. Early labor can be long and it was the middle of the night so I thought that was a great idea.
I took the Tylenol and Nick and I got into bed and tried to rest. About 10 minutes later I was having to deep breath and hum through contractions that continued to intensify and told Nick to get up because we weren’t sleeping tonight. Contractions were coming stronger and faster.
I got in the shower and let the hot water pound down on me which felt so good. I got dressed, went out to the living room and laid over our big chair and swayed back and forth and deep breathed through contractions while Nick finished packing up our hospital bags. I originally thought, “Oh I’ll tidy up the apartment and finish packing our bags in early labor…” Nope.
Contractions were still manageable, but I could feel things picking up and told Nick to call Lindsay and ask her to come over. I had stopped timing them after we got back into bed an hour earlier, but they seemed even closer together now and I wanted Lindsay there for comfort and reassurance.
Lindsay arrived. While Nick finished packing she was doing hip squeezes during contractions. I remember thinking, “Wow that feels amazing!” Contractions to me felt like a warm, burning sensation that would build and build and then peak before slowly coming back down. I felt them mostly in my lower abdomen/pelvic area, but they would also go up my belly and wrap around my back. Lindsay started timing contractions which were now 60-75 seconds long and 2 minutes apart. Nick was applying counter pressure to my back which felt really good. The apartment felt so calm and peaceful with the Christmas tree lit up and Lindsay and Nick there with me.
After going back and forth, we decide to leave for the hospital. I could talk in between contractions and was coping well, but contractions were also as close together as contractions in late active labor/transition so Lindsay thought it was best we head there now. Looking back I’m so glad she suggested this. I didn’t want to get there too early, but I didn’t want to be in transition during the car ride. Thankfully, since it was 5:30am on a Sunday there wasn’t traffic and we made it in 7 minutes. I had 3 contractions in the car and one the second I stepped out. The OB admitting process was thankfully swift. Although when you’re in labor, repeating your birth date, social security number and signing forms is really annoying.
We got upstairs to triage where Nick had to stay back for a few minutes. While that sucked, I knew it would happen. In the birth class we took with our OB office the nurse told me they do this so they can ask you domestic violence screening questions. Within a few minutes though, Nick was back with me. Lindsay came back a few minutes later. Being in triage was the worst because I was hooked up to the monitors so they could get a 20 minute strip. I was standing, laboring leaning on the bed and remember my legs being so shaky and I was tired of standing, but being in the bed was SO uncomfortable. I asked the triage nurse what OB from our practice was on call that day and I was so PUMPED to hear who was on call. I knew it wouldn’t be our OB because she told me when she was on call during my Friday appointment. All the OBs in the group are awesome, but the OB on call was who I was hoping for.
After they got the strip and baby was looking great, the OB came and checked my cervix. I was 4cm dilated and 90% effaced. I remember thinking, FOUR CENTIMETERS?! I wanted to be further along, but I also knew dilation wasn’t the whole story – effacement (how thin your cervix is) and station (how low the baby is in your pelvis) matter too so I tried to let the number go (not easy….) We asked for a room with a tub and thankfully 1 of the 2 rooms were available. Praise God. I couldn’t wait to get into the water.
I got in the tub right away and it felt magical. One of the other things I worried about in labor was getting scared once I got to the hospital. I wanted to deliver at a hospital since I would feel safest there. If anything went wrong, I knew I was in the right place, but I associate hospitals with sickness and bad things. I had to remind myself I was there for a really good, happy, normal thing. BIRTH! During my third trimester, I developed a deep fear of dying during childbirth. That might sound nuts, but it crippled me. It took a lot of prayer, memorizing bible verses, support from other people and journaling to process through that. I was worried that same fear would come back during labor. Well, once I got to the hospital, I didn’t feel the fear I worried about and never felt like I was even in a hospital. The Brigham’s birthing rooms are like hotel rooms and Lindsay had strung some Christmas lights across the room so we could keep the overhead lights off. It was so calming and serene. Looking back I never felt fear during labor and was really grateful for that.
Apparently I had another nurse briefly before the 7am shift change, but I don’t remember her. I labored in the tub for a while. I didn’t want to eat anything at all during labor, but was able to eat a few Clif shot blocks and drink water Lindsay and Nick were giving me through a straw. I tried to drink coconut water but that tasted disgusting. My new nurse, Kathy, came in and I remember her holding my hand and saying in the most calming voice, “Hi, Robyn I’m your nurse Kathy…I went over your birth preferences…” I cannot imagine a more amazing nurse than Kathy to help bring Caleb into the world. She’s been an L&D nurse at BWH for 30 years and is INCREDIBLE.
For the next couple hours it was just me, Nick and Lindsay working through contractions. I wasn’t engaged with the outside world at this point, even though I could think very clearly. I remember hearing Lindsay and Nick talking, but couldn’t make out what they were saying. In the tub, I low moaned and breathed slow and deep through each contraction. I was even able to fall asleep in between. I remember hearing about women falling asleep during contractions and I was like, “whaaattt?” but now I get it. Contractions continued to be 2 minutes apart and a minute long.
Then I moved to the toilet to take a few contractions (omg things got real on the toilet) and then to the shower. I was bent over the shower rails and Nick held the shower head, letting the hot water beat down on my back. Then things started to take a turn. I’m not sure if contractions were getting even closer together, but I remember feeling like I was barely getting a break in between. Then I started to feel rectal pressure. I had learned rectal pressure started when you were near the pushing stage. Even though this was intense, I knew this couldn’t be transition. I hadn’t hit that, “I can’t do this anymore” emotional stage that I read about. But the pressure intensified and it was coming to a point where it was hard NOT to want to push. I remember asking Nick to pray for us and to pray loudly. Jesus was the only way I was getting through this.
I decided I wanted to get my cervix checked with all the pressure and Lindsay agreed that would be a good idea. I got on the bed (which was so uncomfortable) to be checked and was 5cm dilated, 100% effaced and baby was fully engaged in my pelvis at a zero station. Even though I was fully effaced and baby was engaged, ALL I could think about was the centimeters. I had been here for almost 4 hours, this labor was intense and contractions were nearly on top of each other and I WAS ONLY A FIVE?! The OB offered to break my waters – they thought all the rectal pressure could be my bag of water bulging and breaking it could help Cal’s head make contact with my fully effaced cervix and dilate it. But I declined and wanted to give it a couple more hours – I knew contractions were more intense once your water broke and didn’t want that yet. I laid on my left side in bed and thankfully that took away some of the pressure so I was able to regroup and rest for a second.
Thank God for Lindsay. I remember asking her to please tell me something encouraging and her looking at me and in a calm, confident voice saying, “Listen, your cervix is 100% effaced which means it’s paper thin and the baby is low in the pelvis, this could go really quick. I’ve seen people go from 5-10cm in an hour.” I needed to hear that because all I could think is “I’ve dilated ONE centimeter in almost 4 hours and I want to push” Afterward, Lindsay told me she would have never said that if she didn’t think things would move fast.
I don’t really remember how I labored for the next hour, but I remember all the pressure and intensity reaching a new level. Nick, Lindsay and I talked and decided to have my water broken thinking that could be what was holding things up given just how intense and close together my contractions were – at this point they were coming almost on top of each other. The OB came in, broke my water and told me I was still a 5. Four letter words flew out of my mouth. I thought HOW IN THE WORLD was I still a 5?!
Thankfully, there wasn’t meconium in the water so I was still able to be intermittently monitored and remain free of being hooked up to anything. My OB said she’d be back in 3-4 hours to check my cervix. That felt like a lifetime, but I tried to just stay focused.
I was really nervous things would intensify exponentially with my water now broken and that “cushion” gone. So I got in the tub and relaxed my body as much as humanly possible. Right when I got in, I felt him slide down the birth canal and then I felt myself peeing in the tub. At this point I didn’t care about anything. The next contraction felt like a tidal wave and everything in the room shifted.
The rectal pressure intensified so incredibly much and although Lindsay was trying to get me to breathe out and not push by saying “puh puh puh puh” during contractions, my body was instinctively bearing down as I thrashed in the tub. They say this rectal pressure feels like you have to take a massive poop, but this was pressure beyond that. I’ve never in my life experienced pressure like that before. I don’t even have words to describe it. Since I was only at 5cm I was told I couldn’t push…obviously…but my body wouldn’t stop as hard as I tried to blow out and relax. Looking back, my body knew.
I got out of the tub to labor standing up leaning over the bed. This is when I threw up for the first time (a normal part of labor I had read about) and then I pooped…again. They say it’s common to poop during labor/pushing but this was more than I imagined. It was as if my body had just opened a valve and it was just draining with each contraction. That might sound TMI, but with all the birth stories I listened to or read, I never came across this …. but apparently it happens! This is also when I started crying and saying, “I can’t do this. I don’t know how to do this. Make it stop.” and then I started shrieking. Nick started crying himself because he felt so helpless and didn’t know what to do. All this intensity coupled with knowing I was “only 5cm” put me over the edge.
I was standing up, leaning over the bed, trying to blow out through contractions, but all I could do was grunt and bear down. This is what my body was doing and I couldn’t fight it. The OB came and twisted herself under me in a way where she could check my cervix as I stood – I was 6cm. I was losing my mind. My body was bearing down and I was told I was a six. I’m not illustrating the OB’s demeanor that well, but she was everything I needed. She was gentle, yet firm. Supportive, yet direct and honest. She encouraged me after the cervical check, assured me she’d be back in a bit and then started to walk out of the room…
And then I began thrashing my body and screaming noises I didn’t know were possible. The best way I can describe it is absolutely primal. I remember hitting Nick, slamming my fists on the bed and roaring/grunting/screaming at a volume I didn’t know my voice could reach. I was screaming at everyone, “IF THIS BABY ISN’T COMING I WANT AN EPIDURAL NOW!” I knew labor was intense, but I also knew this was not what 5cm felt like. This was an out of body experience that felt like transition. If I had 5 more centimeters of this, I knew I could not go on without some drugs. My mind was spiraling. That’s when the OB’s demeanor shifted. Nick tells me he watched her stop as she was headed towards the door, look at me and totally shift her demeanor – as if she realized, these were not noises/behaviors from a woman dilated 5cm. And then Nick says he saw here gown up and start opening the delivery cart.
She asked me to get back in the bed because she wanted to check me from there… Somehow I got into the bed with the help of the nurse and our doula… I was 8cm when she checked me. I went from 6 to 8 cm in 10 minutes. At this point I was so out of it though, I’m not sure I was processing numbers anymore.
I went back to standing and bracing myself against the bed. Everyone in the room started shuffling things around for delivery and I knew this was it. He was coming. In that moment things in my mind clicked and I stopped thinking about the numbers and just went with my intuition. My body knew what it was doing, I needed to get out of its way. I knew Cal was coming and I could feel him moving further and further down. I remember thinking, “$&*[email protected]…this is the most WILD and intense feeling in the world.” I was bearing down standing up, the OB was squatting behind/underneath me and I kept asking if I could push. She just kept telling me to keep doing whatever I was doing….so I kept on with that. Nick says at this point my screams, growls and grunts turned into noises that sounded effective versus earlier when they sounded scared and helpless. I was punching the bed and digging my fists so deeply into the bed as I pushed. And then I remember apologizing for pooping everywhere and screaming so loud and my OB responding to me in a loud voice, “This your room! Why are you apologizing?!”
From there, she recommended they get the squat bar so I could push while hanging onto that. She walked over to go get it and I immediately said, “no, don’t leave me!” and then the nurse went and got it. With everything happening so fast I wanted the doctor in my sight at all times because in my mind that meant he was coming and this would all be over.
The OB squatted on the floor at the edge of the bed, looked straight at me and with a soft, yet very firm voice said, “Robyn, look at me….you’re going to push really hard and you are going to get this baby out.” I was completely outside of my body at this point. I knew the only way was through. I was going to get this baby out and fast and it would all be over and done.
Pushing felt nothing like I imagined. I never felt a break in contractions….actually I don’t even remember feeling contractions, I just felt ongoing crazy pressure and the intense urge to bear down. And I just pushed and pushed with every single fiber of my being. After a couple pushes, they told me they could see his head. I was tiring out hanging onto the squat bar because I wasn’t resting and just continually pushing so they had Nick get on the bed behind me to support my body. I don’t remember anyone else in the room at this point except me, Nick and the doctor. Because I was just continually pushing and not breathing frequently enough the baby wasn’t getting enough oxygen and his heart rate was dipping. I was told to lean back and take deep breaths.
I remember thinking as I pushed and it was wildly painful, “Do a c-section, get the vacuum, get forceps, get anything, just get him out!!” Forget birth preferences, I didn’t care what was done at that point to get the baby out. The nurse took his heartbeat again and it had dipped dramatically and that’s when I was told, “Robyn, you have this one push to get him out” and the nurse lifted my head to my chin, I closed my eyes, and pushed until I thought my head was going to explode.
I don’t remember a ring of fire because everything felt on fire. Everything was burning. With that final push and the OB stretching my tissue with both hands to get him out, he was flung onto my chest at 11:40am…..35 minutes after being told I was 6cm dilated and 7 minutes after I started pushing.
He was wailing and screaming, but after a few minutes they noticed he was retracting and was working hard to breathe so they had to take him over to the warmer. The nurses assured me he was totally okay, I could hear him screaming and Nick was right by him so thankfully I was pretty calm. He ended up having to go up to NICU triage for 20ish minutes to get checked over by the team. He came so fast down the birth canal and was working hard too, no wonder the little guy couldn’t catch his breath!
I delivered the placenta soon after and then was stitched up. Lindsay was with me the whole time while Nick was with Cal – it was so comforting to have close people with each of us. I miraculously only ended up with a 2nd degree tear and a few perineal abrasions – with how fast he came I thought I had torn a lot more. Caleb came right back down with Nick and immediately was put on my chest, started rooting around and latched right away. I had felt icky/weird about breastfeeding during pregnancy, but at that moment it felt like the most natural thing ever.
I can’t say enough about the L&D team at the Brigham. I feel like OB’s get a bad rap when it comes to unmedicated births and are made out to be “the bad guys” by the natural birth community. I had a completely different experience throughout my prenatal care and birth. The OB that brought Caleb into the world was so supportive of our hopes and desires. She not only supported, but encouraged me to labor and push in any position I needed to. She wasn’t standing with me pushing on my back, but was squatting on the ground at the end of the bed to catch our baby. Our nurse Kathy, amazing. I was never pressured into anything and felt so cared for and respected.
I never imagined 9:15am to 11:40am to transpire how it did – I felt like transition and pushing were all blurred together – and I’m not sure any amount of learning would have prepared me for that. Immediately after he was born I remember thinking, I’ll never do that again – an epidural sounds like a freaking dream! But hours later I thought maybe I would and weeks later I think I’d definitely hope to go this route again if we’re lucky enough to have another baby. I know labor + birth is so unpredictable. I feel grateful for how everything turned out because I know that isn’t everyone’s story.
I don’t think I’m the only new mom to say that after birthing our son, I feel like a completely different woman. Becoming a mom has rocked my world and transformed my heart in the best way possible. I find myself whispering, “Thank you God” often throughout the day when I look at him because I still can’t believe it. Thankful and grateful just don’t feel like big enough words. Thank you all for your love and support, it means more than you know <3
Things that were helpful for me:
- The Bradley Method – I skimmed most of this book, but the visualization, breathing techniques and main things to expect during labor were helpful for me
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth – this book gave me confidence in my body’s ability to birth a baby without interventions
- Natural Hospital Birth – I read this at 39 weeks pregnant after seeing it on the shelf at the library and highly recommend if you’re planning an unmedicated birth at a hospital vs a birth center or at home
- The Birth Hour podcast – I listen to dozens of birth stories which prepared me for the MANY different ways babies come into this world which gave me a lot of comfort knowing if things didn’t go as we hoped, that was okay
- Everyday during the final month of pregnancy I would visualize my uterus contracting to open up my cervix and baby moving down
- Deep breathing and jaw relaxation – when I felt discomfort while doing did barre3 or yoga during pregnancy, I would breathe deeply and relax my jaw to practice for labor
- Telling myself, “you’re only agreeing to one more contraction” when I felt my mind thinking about how much longer until baby was out
- A lot of prayer + memorizing bible verses