Our beautiful son, Theo Moses Samuel, entered the world on Thursday, February 11, 2016 at 4:49 a.m., exactly one week past his due date. He surprised us all with his size—9 pounds, 3 ounces and 21 inches long, with a 14-inch head. Elie caught him as he came out of the womb, placing his little red body on my chest, where he immediately lifted his head to look at me and then reached for his Daddy’s finger.
This is Theo’s birth story.
I had been having fairly regular Braxton-Hicks contractions for several days, along with some cramping, so we felt the time drawing near. On that Thursday morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. with strong cramps. Not wanting to wake Elie, I went downstairs, planning on tidying up and working on a project, as usual. But that morning, the cramping was bad enough that I laid down on the sofa in the family room and drifted in an out of sleep for a few hours, until Elie came downstairs and found me. I told him I wouldn’t be surprised if we met our child that day.
As the morning went on, I started having fairly regular contractions, ones that felt stronger than usual. I felt the muscles tugging on my cervix, and I was pretty sure the early stages of labor had begun.
We actually had an ultrasound scheduled for that morning at 11:30, to check and make sure the level of the amniotic fluid was still okay and to help determine whether or not I needed to be induced. I called my midwife to tell her that I was pretty sure I was in early labor and asked if she still wanted me to keep the ultrasound appointment? She did, and so we went, getting to see our little Bubbles one more time in the womb.
As the morning progressed, my contractions kept getting worse and closer together. Since I had been up so early, I wanted to rest, so Elie and I laid down and took a nap together in the early afternoon. I awoke around 3 p.m. to a painful contraction, and I said to Elie, “I think this is it. I’m actually going to have this baby.”
As weird as it sounds, when you go past your due date and are waiting and waiting, at some point it starts to feel like the pregnancy was all a dream, and you’re not really going to ever actually go into labor. That day I felt ready. Calm, and ready to meet our child.
Elie had been texting with our doula, Kathy, throughout the day, giving her a heads-up that tonight might be it. He let her know that my contractions were progressing. She asked if she should come over, but I said I was handling the contractions fine right now. Let’s wait and see if they continue to progress.
Elie started gathering our hospital bags, double-checking our packing list and getting everything ready to load in the car. I took a long shower and the heat and the water helped to ease the contractions. As I dried off and dressed, I had to stop every five or six minutes to go through a contraction, some of which lasted as long as two minutes. I would lean forward on the wall, and Elie would press against my lower back as I breathed through each one.
By this time, it was about 6:00 p.m., and Elie called my Mom to tell her she should probably come to our house after work. I hadn’t let her know that labor had begun, because I didn’t want her to worry while she was at work, and there wasn’t really anything for her to do or help with up until now.
When Mom arrived, we were sitting in the kitchen, the lights dimmed and our birth playlist softly playing familiar song after familiar song. Elie was at the stove making me pasta, sustenance to get me through the night ahead. It felt serene. I suggested she go home and get changed into something comfortable, because it was likely to be a long night.
My birth plan was to labor at home as long as possible, and then to go to the hospital, where I was hoping for an un-medicated birth with no interventions. Our local hospital has a Certified Nurse Midwife practice, and we had been under the care of the midwives throughout my pregnancy. They have five midwives on staff, and you see them all, so you are familiar with each of them when you go into labor. I knew Natalie was on at the hospital that night, as I had seen her just a few days prior.
As my contractions got more and more painful, Elie told Kathy it was probably time for her to come to the house. She arrived around 7:30 p.m., and my contractions were still only coming about five minutes apart, although they were a lot more intense. I tried bouncing on the yoga ball or getting on hands and knees to manage the contractions, but both of those positions made the pain worse. Standing and leaning on a wall—or Elie—made them more manageable.
Kathy suggested we try a few things to move labor forward. Because I was feeling a lot of pressure in my lower back, she suggested a pose to help shift the baby into a different position that would ease the discomfort and perhaps also help him move further down. It was like a modified child’s pose, but with my chest on the floor. I stayed there for probably 15 minutes, and it did feel a lot better.
Next, Kathy suggested nipple stimulation and a walk outside around the block. It was a pretty cold, blustery night, so we bundled up and Elie held one arm while Mom held the other and we walked up and down the block, stopping every four or five minutes for a contraction. Elie would let me lean on his back and I would breath through it, long, deep breaths in and out. Sometimes Elie would time the contractions, letting me know when it was almost over.
As I approached my due date, I Googled, “What do contractions feel like?” over and over, because I wanted to have some sense of what I was in for. The descriptions never did satisfy me, so here goes my attempt at describing what my contractions felt like—and I know it’s different for everyone. Before a contraction started, I would feel a wave building, sort of like when you know you’re going to pass out or you know you’re going to throw up—you have a sense that it’s coming. They began like an intense ache in my lower back that wrapped around to my lower abdomen, where it felt like a twisting pain, much like extremely intense menstrual cramps or food poisoning. I could also feel the contractions tugging on my cervix, causing it to ache.
As the night wore on, the pattern of pain remained the same, but the intensity got worse and worse. At one point, I asked Kathy, “How much worse are these going to get?”
She said, “The pain may not get worse, but they’ll be longer.”
The walk and nipple stimulation worked well. Around midnight, after at least eight hours of consistently progressing contractions which were now coming one right after another, we decided to head to the hospital. Elie had already loaded our car, and Mom and Kathy each got into their cars to drive separately and meet us there. I crawled into the front seat, which Elie had reclined all the way, and hugged a pillow. The 15 minutes to the hospital was probably harder on Elie than on me, because I was moaning through non-stop contractions by this point. Elie apologized for every bump in the road.
When we arrived at the hospital birth center, we checked in at the front desk, where we had to answer a few questions while I leaned up against the counter and breathed through a contraction. Our nurse came out almost immediately, and we were ushered into triage, where I climbed up on the bed and they hooked me up to the monitor, to check the baby’s heart rate and his reaction to my contractions. In triage, our nurse, Jessica, started going through a checklist of questions. Elie was getting irritated, saying, “Do you really need to ask her this now?” I know it was hard for him to see me in pain.
Jessica then asked if we had a copy of our birth plan. We hadn’t brought our bags in from the car yet, so I said, “No IV, no drugs. That’s the plan.”
She chuckled and said, “Okay. I think Natalie (the midwife) will be okay with no IV.”
When Jessica checked to see how far along I was, we were all surprised to find I was already 7 centimeters dilated. Laboring at home had worked well. She asked about my pain, on a scale of 1 – 10.
“I don’t know, an 8 maybe?” I said.
She looked surprised.
“I’m bad at pain scales,” I said. “I think I have a high pain tolerance.”
I was quickly moved to a labor and delivery room, and from there, things progressed fairly quickly. My contractions were still coming one right after the other, and—much to my dismay–getting even stronger. I felt like my body was being pried open.
Kathy asked me if I might be interested in laboring in the tub, and I said okay. At this point, it felt helpful to be told what to do.
It’s amazing how our sense of modesty just disappears when we’re trying to meet our most basic needs. Once the tub was filled, I stripped down to nothing and crawled into the hot water. We turned the lights off, and it was just Elie and me in the bathroom. Elie knelt beside the tub, stroking my hair and holding my hand through each contraction, encouraging me, telling me what a good job I was doing. Elie’s calm strength helped me through each wave, and I drew stamina from him.
Looking back on it now, I’m surprised that it never once occurred to me to ask for pain relief. Although the pain and discomfort were intense, it felt manageable, breathing through a contraction and then sinking into the hot water in relief, resting briefly until the next one came.
It felt like I was in the water for a very long time. I kept getting cold, so Elie would refill the tub with hot water between contractions. I’m not sure being in the tub helped sooth the contractions, and it certainly didn’t “melt them away” as I’d heard other people say. But once I was in there, I didn’t want to move. Kathy came in at one point, and I asked her how much longer she thought it would be like this. She said it sounded like I was in transition, which was a huge relief. I was close.
I crawled out of the tub and Elie brought me my terry cloth robe we had brought from home. I was so grateful to have something so warm and soft. I then stood beside the delivery bed and breathed through contractions for a while. My water still hadn’t broken at that point, and I asked Natalie if she thought we should break my water. She suggested we check and see how dilated I was.
“You’re 10 centimeters,” she said. “It’s time to push.”
I started off on hands and knees, but that didn’t feel comfortable, or easy for me to push. Natalie suggested I lay on my left side, so I did. Elie got down beside me, his face next to mine, holding my hands. Everything else in the room faded away, and I wasn’t aware of who was in the room or anything else that was going on around me. I just focused on Elie and replayed the meditation I had practiced all through my pregnancy—the baby turning and easily slipping out and into our arms.
When I first started pushing, I was surprised that it didn’t really hurt when the baby’s head started to crown. I found out later that the pressure from the head actually numbs the tissue, thank heavens. But the act of pushing took excruciating effort that left me breathless. Pushing our son into the world was undoubtedly the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I have no one else’s experience to compare it to but my own, but a primal instinct takes over and you go deep within yourself to gain enough breath and strength to inch this new life onward, little by little. As I felt a contraction building, and then the urge to push, I would close my eyes, grab Elie’s hands and push with all my might, trying to usher that baby into his life outside the womb. I could hear voices in the background, my Mom’s encouraging voice, Kathy giving gentle suggestions on breathing during pushing, Natalie and Jessica encouraging me to keep pushing past “the ring of fire.”
After what seemed like forever, I heard Elie say he could see the head. The raw emotion and excitement in his voice gave me strength, and an assurance that everything was going well. The baby crowned for quite a long time—perhaps almost an hour—and Natalie told me to reach down and touch his head, to help give me motivation to keep going. I did, touching our son for the first time, feeling the soft top to his head, with a thick wrinkle running down the middle—perfectly normal, Natalie assured us, as it molds to get through the birth canal. I remember wondering what he was feeling, and wanting him out and safe.
I ended up pushing for almost two hours—an unusually long time, I found out afterwards, and probably due to his large head. When I was finally able to push the baby’s head out, it was such a relief, both emotionally and physically. And I will never forget what the next few moments felt like. Elie had been by my side the whole labor, but as the baby’s head came out, he moved to the foot of the bed to catch our child. With two more pushes, our son was born, with a gush of amniotic fluid that had still been trapped behind him. Elie held him in his hands, lifting him up to put him on my chest, where his cries quickly quieted. This little one, who had been so anticipated and longed for, this soul we already fervently loved, lifted his head and looked at me, and then turned his head and grabbed his Daddy’s finger.
I heard Elie excitedly say, “It’s a boy!” And I clutched our little Theo to my chest in awe. And so we started life as a family of three.
For the next little while, I was barely aware of the activity at the foot of the bed (stitches, delivering the placenta, compressions on my belly) as I breathed in this new life we created. After the umbilical cord stopped pulsing, Natalie called Elie to the foot of the bed again to cut the cord. I couldn’t believe this living, breathing, beautiful soul had, just moments before, been inside me. No words can describe the magnitude of the miracle of a new soul being born. All my adult life, I had longed to be a mama, and now I held this new life—a little bit of me, a little bit of Elie, and someone completely unique to himself.
Elie came back up beside us and he started singing to Theo, the song we sang over and over to him in the womb, “Won’t be long before another day. We’re gonna have a good time. And no one’s gonna take that time away. You can stay as long as you like…”
Soon, the room cleared. Kathy said her goodbyes, my Mom kissed us all and went home to sleep, Natalie and the nursing staff slipped away. Before Theo was weighed and measured, Elie and I were left alone to cuddle and nurse our sweet baby boy, spending the first few hours skin on skin. For Elie and me, our love for each other rooted even more deeply that night, and now we are forever connected through this precious life we created. Our life will never be the same. It’s infinitely better than we could imagine.
I am thankful I was able to have the birth experience I dreamed of and planned for. Our midwife, Natalie, at PeaceHealth Hospital in Bellingham was amazing and made our plan for an unmedicated birth with no interventions a reality. Our doula, Kathy, was invaluable in helping us prepare for Theo’s birth and for support during the birth, providing knowledge and and a calm assurance that my body was meant to do this. I am also thankful my Mom was able to be in the room for Theo’s entrance into the world. It felt so special to have her there. During my pregnancy and through the birth, Elie and I were a team–with Elie by my side, I knew I could do anything. I still don’t know what I did in this life to deserve this man as my husband, but I am eternally grateful. And now we’re embarking on the biggest challenge and adventure of all, as parents to little Theo.