She’s here! Olivia Jane made her speedy entrance into the world on Friday, November 8th at 1:37PM, weighing 6 pounds 9 ounces and 19 1/2 inches long. She’s the sweetest thing we’ve ever laid our eyes on and we’re so in love with her. Olivia is still recovering from open heart surgery so Isaac and I have been spending our days and nights at the hospital, but I wanted to take some time to document and share her birth story before I forgot all the little details.
Until the week before my due date I didn’t have a written birth plan, but I knew all along that I wanted to aim for a low-intervention, unmedicated vaginal birth. In preparation, I read the book Expecting Better (which has a chapter about the pros/cons of getting an epidural) and then my cousin recommended the book Natural Hospital Birth, which helped me understand the reality of having a natural birth at the hospital, where often times medicine and interventions can be pushed on you.
Overall, my main reasoning for wanting to try for an unmedicated birth was because I wanted to fully experience the labor process. I wanted to know what contractions felt like, to have feeling down there so I could push efficiently and heal quickly. And to be perfectly honest, I was also nervous about getting an epidural because of my scoliosis.
I also kept thinking about all the women since the beginning of time who have brought babies into the world and thought, “if they can do it, so can I.” And I personally have several women in my life who have shown me that natural childbirth is possible, including my sister who has had two natural, unmedicated births. I was actually in the room with my sister during the delivery of her 2nd child when I was 15… it was the best birth control but also amazing because my sister is a total rockstar and made it look so easy. She’s been my labor and delivery inspiration ever since.
Of course, an unmedicated birth was my ultimate goal, but I also wasn’t going to get down on myself or be disappointed if I ended up needing to get an epidural or if for some reason I had to have a c-section. My main goal was a safe delivery for both me and the baby.
When we found out about Olivia’s heart condition at 33 weeks I not only had to come to terms with the fact that my baby would need open heart surgery within the first week of life, but it also meant that almost everything about my original birth plan had to change. Instead of having her at a local hospital in Richmond about 15 minutes from home, we needed to deliver at a hospital that had a higher level NICU and a pediatric cardiology program that could also perform the surgery she needed.
Once we settled on the University of Virginia (UVA), more changes came about. Instead of working with the Richmond midwife that I chose specifically because I knew she would provide all my care and be the person who delivered the baby, I was going to end up delivering with whichever doctor was on call and the option of using a midwife was out because UVA viewed the pregnancy as high-risk.
There was also talk of scheduling an induction… something I really didn’t want for a variety of reasons. I had heard stories from friends about inductions (both good and bad), but also knew from research that it’s typically harder to have an unmedicated birth with an induction (because pitocin makes the contractions faster and more intense) and there’s also a higher risk of needing a c-section.
I also knew that most first babies come on the late side and my body and Olivia might not be ready if we were to schedule an induction for 39 weeks like the UVA maternal fetal medicine doctors originally suggested. Luckily the doctors were able to work with me and agreed that since we only lived an hour away from the hospital I could wait for spontaneous labor, but highly recommended that I scheduled an induction for 41 weeks and 1 day. So a few weeks before her birth we put 11/11/19 at 11:00AM on the calendar for an induction if she didn’t come before that. I liked the idea of an 11/11 baby, but I knew in my gut that she was going to be born before the 11th.
My due date came and went without a single inkling that labor was near. With this, I started trying every trick in the book to help induce labor. I was bouncing on the yoga ball, walking, inserting evening primrose into my vajayjay at night (this was the messiest thing I tried), having sex (this was interesting with a 9 month bump) and eating all the foods that are supposed to bring on baby… eggplant parmesan, pineapple and everything spicy… you name it, I tried it.
I also kept up with eating a ton of dates, which I swear helped ripened my cervix. At my 40 week appointment, which was a Tuesday, my midwife did a cervical check. I was 1 centimeter dilated, 80% effaced and the baby was at station 1. At my 39 week appointment I was 1 centimeter dilated, 70% effaced and at -1 station so there was some movement in the right direction, but not enough to suggest that labor was imminent. My midwife swept my membranes and sent me on my way.
Here’s my last baby bump photo at 40 weeks + 4 days, the day before Olivia was born.
By Wednesday morning nothing had changed and Monday the 11th was getting closer and closer. My mother-in-law suggested I try acupuncture to help get things moving and she was able to get me an appointment that afternoon. After Wednesday’s acupuncture session, nothing happened immediately, but the next morning Isaac and I had sex and about an hour later I started to feel contractions for the first time ever. eeee!
I hadn’t had any Braxton Hicks contractions the whole pregnancy so it was cool to actually start feeling them and know that labor was coming. These first contractions were about 30-45 minutes apart and not painful, they just felt like a tightening in my belly. That day Isaac and I worked most of the morning and then went to the Apple store to get new phones that afternoon. At 5PM I headed back to my acupuncturist for another treatment. When I left his office, he said, “Have a good night… it might be a busy one.” We both laughed, but little did I know, he was totally right!
Isaac cooked dinner that evening and after we ate I started feeling contractions a bit more regularly and also started to see an increase in bloody mucus. I actually thought I had lost my mucus plug the week before, but I quickly realized that it must have just been a small piece of it because waaaay more was coming out. At this point, I knew things were getting real and I told Isaac we needed to start getting 100% packed and ready for the hour drive to the hospital. Isaac had been trying to convince me to head to Charlottesville, just to be closer to the hospital, since Wednesday so me saying this was music to this ears.
Around 10PM, the contractions were stronger. I could still walk and talk through them, but I thought I was having back labor because I was feeling more pain in my back than anywhere else with each contraction. I had learned in our birthing class that if you’re having back labor it’s usually because the baby isn’t in an ideal position so I started trying out different positions to get her to move a little. I sat in polar bear position (a modified child’s pose where your hips are lifted) for about 20 minutes, then did cat/cow position for another 20 minutes. This two poses seemed to help quite a bit.
At 11:30PM I got into bed to try to rest between contractions and I started using an app to track them. The contractions were anywhere from 40 seconds to 1 minute and 16 seconds and about 6-7 minutes apart.
I texted my doula with a screenshot of the contractions and she recommended drinking a little wine and taking Tylenol PM so that I could get some rest. I had a few sips of wine, but it felt weird after not having alcohol for nine months, so Isaac made a midnight run to the store for the Tylenol PM. I took the Tylenol around midnight and it helped a ton, because I was able to get rest between the contractions. Each one would wake me up and I’d get in a polar bear position in the bed and breathe through it, but then I would lay back down and fall asleep for the 6-7 minutes between the contractions.
The next morning I woke up around 8AM and kept doing the same thing… getting into a polar bear position in the bed during the contractions and breathing through them. I’d try to rest between the contractions but at some point I started moving from the bed to the toilet. Sitting on the toilet felt really good and it was convenient because I was starting to have an increase of mucus and blood. Isaac kept asking what he could do to help me, but I was sort of in my own zone and the only thing I really wanted was water. Around 10AM he convinced me to get into the bathtub for a bit. I was in there for about 15 minutes and it felt good, but I quickly got sweaty and overheated and wanted to get out.
At this point I kept telling Isaac I felt like I needed to poop to which he responded, “That’s normal, we learned about this in our birthing class.” What he forgot is that when you start to feel the urge to poop, it’s usually when you’re about ready to push. He was asking how far apart my contractions were, but I haven’t been tracking them and guessed that they were about 8 minutes apart… which I realize now was way off. Ha!
At this point I also told Isaac that I was ready to go to the hospital.
He had been cleaning the house and getting the car packed all morning, so he was ready and within 10 minutes we were in the car, headed to Charlottesville. Before we even left our street, Isaac started timing my contractions on the app and they were about 1 minute to 1 minute and 30 seconds each and 3 minutes apart. In our birthing class we learned that you should head to the hospital when your contractions are 1 minute long, 5 minutes apart for at least 1 hour, but of course this is if you live within 15-20 minutes of the hospital… and we had an hour drive ahead of us.
Isaac and I didn’t really talk the whole ride. He was focused on driving and texting with our doula with updates while I was sitting in the passenger seat with my eyes closed, getting through each contraction by pushing my feet against the floorboard, gripping the car door arm handle and breathing/whimpering through each contraction. I’d tap or tell him when each contraction started so he could start the contraction timer and then do the same thing when the contraction ended.
Without me knowing, Isaac filmed me at one point while we were driving to the hospital so that he could send it to our doula.
This part of the labor process was intense. I remember thinking that I really hated having to be seated and strapped in by the seat belt during the contractions, but I made it through by focusing inward, breathing and repeating to myself “out and down.”
An hour later, we arrived at the hospital, found a spot in the parking deck (which took forever) and made our way to the labor and delivery floor of the hospital. On the way from the parking deck to the 8th floor, I had three contractions where I had to stop, hold onto Isaac or a railing and breath through them. I’m sure I looked like a hot mess, but at this point I couldn’t have cared less.
We arrived to the L&D registration desk at 1:07PM and told them who I was (while driving Isaac had called them just to let them know we were on the way… and coming in hot) and they immediately took me back to the triage room. I took off my pants and put on a nursing bra that I wanted to wear for labor and the hospital gown, they put the monitor on my belly to track the baby’s heart rate and a monitor for the contractions and then the doctor came in to check my cervix.
She took one look and said, “Okay, so you’re fully dilated with a bulging sack… let’s get you to a room.” I was soooo excited when I heard this, because the whole ride to the hospital I kept thinking I was going to get to the hospital and only be like 3 centimeters. When I heard that I was fully dilated, I knew I had done most of the work and that the baby would be here soon.
The doctor asked if I wanted to walk or use a wheel chair and I said I would walk, but then they insisted I take a wheel chair, so I let them wheel me a few doors down to our room. Isaac said, “our doula is about 45 minutes away” and the doctor quickly responded, “Yeah, she’s not going to make it… we’re having this baby soon!”
We made it to the labor and delivery room around 1:20PM, I folded my body over the bed and started swaying my hips back and forth during the contractions. Isaac was trying to rub my back and I gently swatted him away. Then one of the nurses brought me two consent papers to sign. As I was signing one of them, we heard a loud pop and my bag of waters splashed all over the floor. The water was clear, which was a good sign and the doctor said it was definitely time to start pushing. She asked if I wanted to get into the bed to start pushing and I said, “Well, I had envisioned pushing elsewhere” and I started looking around the room. I guess in my mind I was trying to remember the alternative pushing positions from our birthing class, but as I looked around the room nothing came to me and I was like “I guess the bed is fine.”
So I got in and the nurse and doctor tried to keep me from pushing right away because the NICU team hadn’t arrived yet. Once the team got there, around 1:25PM, the doctor and a nurse started instructing me how to push while another nurse worked to get my IV in. At this point they had me grab my legs by the back of my thighs with each contraction, curl into a crunch position and push 3 big pushes with each contractions. It took me a couple times to get the hang of where to actually push and I was holding too much tension and pressure in my face (which caused me to bust a blood vessel in my eye) rather than pushing in the right spot.
And around the second push, I pooped. I know many women who are nervous about pooping during labor, but let me tell you, this is the last thing on your mind at the time. And it honestly wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t feel it happening, but I asked the nurse and Isaac afterward and they said, yeah, you did poop, but it was just two tiny little turds and we just discretely swiped them away really fast. NBD!
After a couple inefficient pushes, I got the hang of pushing. Isaac was holding my right leg while a nurse held my left leg. I would tell the team when a contraction was starting and then nurse would tell me to take a deep breath and push as she counted down. With each contraction I was able to push 2-3 times. After two contractions with good pushes, Isaac said he could see her head peeking out and with the next contraction her head popped out and then the rest of her body slid right out with the next push. Feeling her body slide out was the craziest feeling… like a huge gush and release at the same time.
Olivia entered the world at 1:37PM. She was wide-eyed, super alert and started crying right away.
Isaac was able cut her umbilical cord and the nurses and doctor were all like, “Way to go, mama… you did such an amazing job.” While Isaac was commenting “You’re amazing. That was so fast!” My immediate, mater of fact response was, “I know, I’m proud of myself.” And I truly was… a natural, unmediated childbirth was something I knew I was capable of and I felt so accomplished having done it!
The NICU team grabbed Olivia to check on her and then decided she looked great so we could have some skin to skin time, which I had requested. They put her on my chest and it was the best feeling in the entire world. She was finally here and I was so so happy to actually get to hold her before they whisked her away, something that wasn’t necessarily guaranteed given our situation. After I held her for about 5-10 minutes, Isaac took his shirt off and got to hold her for a minute (which melted my heart) and then we had to give her back to the team so they could take her to the NICU and get her all set up with the heart medicine she needed.
Before delivery I wasn’t sure if I’d be okay with Isaac going with Olivia to the NICU or if I’d want him to stay with me, but in the moment I felt safe with the doctor and nurses and told him to go. At this point the doctor told me that I had a 2nd degree tear from pushing and needed to be stitched up. Honestly, this was the worst part of the whole experience because even though I had endorphins from delivery and they numbed me, I could still feel the needle quite a bit and the process took a lot longer than I thought it would. It wouldn’t have been as bad if I was still holding Olivia on my chest because I would have had her sweet little face to distract me, but I didn’t.
After seeing Olivia get settled in the NICU, Isaac came to my room check on me and we made a little video for Olivia that’s super cute! I love the end where Isaac tells her that she’s probably partially made of dates. But seriously you guys, I swear by the dates and raspberry leaf tea for helping to ripen and thin my cervix. I mean, it seems like they worked considering I was 70% effaced at my 39 week appointment, 80% effaced at 40 weeks and Olivia’s labor was pretty fast for a first time baby. I was only in labor for about 13 hours.
Although my doula didn’t make it in time for the delivery, she still came to the hospital to check in. We told her the full birth story and then she went and grabbed lunch for us. I hadn’t eaten anything since dinner the night before so I was pretty hungry.
About 2 hours after delivery the nurse felt comfortable with my blood loss and I was able to get up, go to the bathroom and be taken to the NICU to see Olivia again. I felt swollen and sore down there so it was hard to sit down without a little pain, but otherwise I felt really, really good for having just had a baby. And once I saw her again in the NICU my heart was so incredibly full and happy that all the pain just sort of faded away.
In thinking back about my pregnancy, there were a couple other things that helped tremendously with my ability to have a natural birth. The first is staying active and walking a ton. Early in pregnancy I did regular workouts like barre and strength training, but I also kept up with my normal routine of walking. In my second and third trimester my main form of working out was prenatal yoga and walking. I walked 3-6 miles as least 4-5 times a week, even when I was in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. Walking is so awesome during pregnancy because it keeps you active but also helps get the baby in an ideal position for birth. The prenatal yoga was also amazing because it helped me focus inward, learn yoga positions that are good for the baby’s position and practice breathing techniques that helped with labor.
Overall, Olivia’s birth was one the coolest things I’ve ever experienced and it went better than I could have imagined. We’re so excited she’s here and we can’t wait to take her home with us soon. <3