I started preparing for this day before I even became pregnant.
We had been trying to conceive for a full year, and in that time I learned about different birth options. I decided I wanted a natural, unmedicated childbirth if possible – partly because I believed it was best, and partly because the idea of a needle in my spine was terrifying! Once we learned we were expecting a little miracle, due October 2nd, I started researching in earnest. I learned that natural childbirth was possible for most women, that having a doula present increased positive outcomes, and that Hypnobabies was an alternative pain management technique I was interested in. I had a friend who was a postpartum nurse at a local hospital and I asked her advice for an OB-GYN and which hospital to choose. To my surprise she was also pregnant and due just a few weeks before me! I ended up choosing the same OB as she had chosen for herself, and decided to deliver at the same hospital. Both of those were excellent choices, by the way!
My biggest concern about childbirth was actually postpartum depression. Having a newborn is tough, but PPD would make it much harder! Since I have a history with depression I paid special attention anytime something was rumored to help prevent PPD. I learned that NUCM (natural, unmedicated childbirth) is supposed to help because your body produces a delicate chain reaction of hormones that aid in bonding, positive feelings, and recovery. Breastfeeding also helps, especially because it increases oxytocin production which is a feel-good hormone. Those two facts were enough to convince me I wanted to go all natural on both counts!
Hypnobabies is new to most people so let me take a moment to explain. This is the super-short version; please ask me for more details or do your own research if you want to know more! All of us enter a state of “hypnosis” multiple times every day, including when you’re falling asleep or when you’re driving a familiar route or when you’re watching TV. It has to do with your brain waves and being in a state where your subconscious is calling the shots. It’s not voodoo, new age, or pagan worship, and it’s definitely not what you see on stage. When we are under self-hypnosis we are allowing our subconscious mind to be influenced by what we listen to *if we choose to accept the suggestions*. Hypnobabies uses self-hypnosis and audio tapes to change your expectations of childbirth, develop hypno-anesthesia, and practice deep relaxation. It reinforced my belief that I was capable of birthing my baby, everything was going to go just fine, and this would be a wonderful experience!
I also formed an idea in my mind of what Tristan’s birthday would be like. I guess some people would call it speaking your intentions, to yourself. I thought I’d begin labor during the night while I was sleeping, and wake up in the early morning with steady contractions already. I’d labor at home with Greg and Emily and my mom for awhile, then go to the hospital at around 11am. I would already be 7-8cm when I arrived, and deliver my baby by the early afternoon. I didn’t think any of that would actually happen but if you’re going to spend time imagining something you may as well imagine it the way you want it to go, not the worst case scenario!
I practiced my Hypnobabies techniques daily from about 26 weeks onward. It was important to me to invest the time, to get the result I was hoping for! I also really wanted a doula who could help me be more comfortable during labor, but also help me think everything through ahead of time. I found Emily and she was exactly what I wanted! We met a couple of times before my due date. She helped me feel confident, informed, and positive. I asked her all my questions, confessed my fears, heard positive stories from other women who had experienced the same things, and got excited.
I titled this document “Our Birth Story”, yet I haven’t even gotten to labor yet! Why? Because I believe a lot of what happened had to do with preparation. A lot of life experiences are influenced by our mindset, by how prepared we are to deal with things, and by the choices we make ahead of time. There’s also a lot that can happen no matter what we do, but luck favors the prepared, right? I can’t tell my birthing story without telling the whole story. Anyway, on to the exciting part now!
Greg and I were hoping for a September baby. Greg had a class that started mid-October and we didn’t want him to lose out on paternity leave, and we also preferred a sapphire birthstone to the opal, for a little boy. As my due date neared I didn’t experience anything that I could identify as a contraction, not even Braxton-Hicks! I had some cramping occasionally but it wasn’t very bad, didn’t come in waves, didn’t make my stomach hard, and was only felt down low. I wasn’t sure I’d ever go into labor! On Sept 29 I had an appointment with my OB. He encouraged us to set an induction date so I wouldn’t end up on a waiting list, but he told us typically when he schedules a mom for induction she goes into labor right before the scheduled date. I set a date at about 40 and a half weeks but I wasn’t sure I’d actually do it if I was still pregnant at that time. Induction didn’t fit my plan!
That evening, I had trouble sleeping (common at that point!) and stayed up later than Greg. I felt sort of crampy and used a heat pad to get more comfortable. At midnight, something exciting happened – my water broke! It wasn’t like in the movies with a big gush, but in small amounts every time I stood up. I had to laugh, because most hospitals have a rule that you need to have the baby out 24 hours after your water breaks, and mine broke EXACTLY 24 hours before the end of September. Nicely played, Tristan!
I sent a text to my doula, and of course I was talking to my sister Katie this entire time online because… well, that’s just what we do! She’s five states away, but she’s a huge part of my life. She asked if the cramping was coming in waves and I realized it was, so I used my handy app to time it. My “pressure waves” (as we call them in Hypnobabies) were a minute to a minute and a half long, and six minutes apart. I was disappointed to find that they hurt a bit! That sounds silly, but some Hypnobabies moms experience little to no pain and of course that was what I hoped for. I thought to myself, oh well, the entire Hypnobabies thing is a bust, I did all that for nothing most likely, but I’ll listen to the birthing day affirmations and other tapes anyway.
I decided to try and sleep through some of this early labor. I told Greg that my water had broken and I was in labor but I was going to sleep some more and he didn’t need to get up yet. He must have been mentally prepared for the day because he didn’t freak out at all, and was even able to get some more sleep like I encouraged him to! I’m glad because it was really important to me that the people around me were calm, positive, and strong. I couldn’t sleep through the contractions so I sat on the couch and dozed between them for a few more hours. My doula kept checking in with me and I remember telling her I didn’t need her to come yet, but then fairly soon after I changed my mind and asked her to come. I think it was around 4-5:00am at this point. I texted my mom that today was the day and to please come up (she had already told her boss she’d need a day off to attend, which was awesome!), and woke Greg up. Emily arrived and took over timing the waves. I started walking around and at Emily’s suggestion I waited out the waves by putting my arms around Greg’s neck and breathing out a low sound. I kept every muscle relaxed, from my facial expression to my vocal chords to my hands. The low vocalizations were like a way to release the pain and acknowledge the contraction, without tensing up (like a higher sound would do).
I began to feel nauseous and ended up getting sick a couple of times. Greg helped me pack the last minute items for the hospital bag, like hygiene items and my camera. I had already packed most things the week before. I felt fine in between pressure waves, and when one came I would just motion to Greg (or Emily if she was closer!) and lean against him for a moment. Mom arrived, and her presence was like the final side to a triangle of calm positive supportive energy. I chose my birthing partners very carefully, choosing people who supported my plans for a NUCB, who I felt safe around, and who I trusted to not panic.
Around 7:00am I thought the labor tub at the hospital would feel really nice, so I decided to head out even though I wasn’t all that far along yet. I’d only been laboring since midnight and I was prepared for a 24 hr+ labor, since I was a first time mom and going natural. Greg drove Mom and I, and I had my eyes closed so I could focus but we arrived safely so he must have done a good job. We had toured the hospital already so he knew right where to go. We pulled up at the valet drop off and I just started making my way inside. Normally I would help with the bags, make sure everyone was together, smile at the valet… today, it was just about me and my journey. I was extremely inwardly focused the whole time, and purposefully did not concern myself with anyone else. I knew everyone was very capable and didn’t need my help right now!
We got into triage and I was only 4 cm. I was a little disappointed because I had been 3cm dilated before labor even started! They asked if I wanted to walk around to help things progressed and I requested the tub instead. I thought that warm water would feel amazing! It wasn’t quite like I planned, though. The water cooled off quickly to an uncomfortable lukewarm, and it seemed that the buoyancy actually made the contractions hurt more instead of less. I’m not sure how long I lasted in the tub but it didn’t feel like very long and I was ready to get out. Greg helped me waddle back to triage (I wasn’t far enough along to get admitted before this). On the way I saw my OB which was a relief; I wanted him to be the one to deliver! He asked, “What are you guys doing here?” and I said, “Having a baby!” When we got back to triage I was so uncomfortable, my contractions hurt, I was disappointed that I wasn’t very far along and the tub was lame, and I wasn’t so sure about all this anymore. Only one person was allowed in triage so I had only had one of my three support people for the last 45 minutes (Greg, of course!). I looked over at him and said, “I don’t know, babe. Should I just get an epidural?” In the moment, it seemed that labor would go on forever and an epidural was no big deal at all.
Greg, in his wonderful man-of-few-words way, simply said “Nah, hon. You can do this.” I said, “Okay”, and that was literally the last time pain medication crossed my mind. The nurse checked and I was 5.5cm! I think everything was so intense because I was progressing quickly at that point. My contractions still felt like cramps down low; I never did feel full-uterus type pain. They let me use a wheelchair and took me to a labor room, where Mom and Emily brought in our bags and got settled in. I accepted a bag of fluids with a dose of anti-nausea medication because I was quite dehydrated but couldn’t keep any water down. The next few hours is all a blur of changing positions, breathing through contractions, and wondering how long this would last.
In the moment, I thought Hypnobabies was a failure because I was in pain and I couldn’t seem to get into my zone. However, during each contraction I was able to relax every muscle, keep my vocalizations low and calm, and keep breathing. Emily was awesome about noticing anytime I tensed up my face or changed my pitch and she would speak positive phrases to remind me – “Relax your face”, “Keep it low”, etc. I had learned in my research that your subconscious doesn’t pick up on negatively phrased commands like “don’t tense up”, so you should always tell yourself or others what TO do instead of what NOT to do. It worked well and really helped me track what I was doing and be intentional about how I responded to each contraction. I really think that it was due to my purposeful relaxation that my pain levels stayed tolerable and my labor never stalled.
I kept my eyes closed for 90% of my labor. I can’t remember what my nurse looks like and I have no idea what the heartbeat monitor looks like. I had put on my birth plan that I did not want to be asked about my pain levels and my nurse was AWESOME and never asked me. I’m so glad, because during my labor I never stopped to think, “How bad does this hurt? Can I handle this amount of pain? Do I need any medications?” I did wonder how long it would last, but I didn’t question whether I could do it. I also had no idea what time it was. I think blocking out things like assigning a number to my pain, noticing how many hours I’d been in labor, etc helped me focus on one pressure wave at a time and just keep going.
Eventually I started to feel “pushy”. I wasn’t sure what was happening; I think I told my doula that I had to go to the bathroom. Thankfully she knew what that might mean and had the nurse check me. I was only at 8 cm so the nurse told me not to push yet. I tried not to, but the urges became stronger and stronger! The urge to push was like a strong urge to cough. You can delay the cough for a second, you can try to cough differently, but the cough is practically involuntary. Emily asked if I felt like I was pushing or my body was doing it, and I didn’t have an answer for her. It was a strange mix of wanting to push, and my body just doing it on its own. I used techniques that Emily coached me through like blowing out air as if blowing out candles, to try to not push. Within each contraction there would be two or three urges to push, and those techniques would only hold off one or two and then on the third urge I’d have to push. I remember either seeing or feeling my womb slam down forcefully; it was the strongest sensation I’ve ever felt.
As it turns out, I was 9 and then 9.5 cm, but Tristan was practically crowning! The nurse showed me how far he was inside; just a centimeter or so. At the time I had a hard time understanding why I couldn’t just push him out, other than the fact that the doctor hadn’t arrived yet. In reality I wasn’t fully dilated even though the baby was all but making his way out. The nurse called the doctor, who was attending another patient at the time, to tell him I was getting really really close. I shouted out, “Hurry up!” As far as I was concerned, the only thing between me and delivery was that doctor walking in.
He finally arrived, and by this time I was very much struggling NOT to push, but it was pretty impossible. My body was doing its own thing! It seemed like as soon as the doctor arrive, he was telling me to push. As it turns out, I never quite fully dilated by my body was going to deliver anyway so he pushed the lip of the cervix around the baby’s head and we were ready to go. I had intended to be in ANY position other than lying on my back, and I had wanted to push on my own timing rather than be coached by the nurses, but everything happened so quickly and intensely! I don’t think I could have changed positions even if I tried. I suppose I was on my back but reclined, not flat, and they pulled out the stirrups. Next thing I knew, the nurse was counting to 10 soooooo slowly and telling me to push through all of it. I couldn’t push that long and hard, there was no way! I’d go as long as I could, gulp for air, and push again until she got to 10. Pushing was SO. HARD. I guess it hurt, but I didn’t really experience it in terms of pain so much as intense pressure, and impossible stretching, and ridiculously strong pushing contractions, and just so much intensity.
After a few pushes like that, they told me they were going to put an oxygen mask on me for the baby because his heart rate was dipping down when I pushed. I tuned in to the beeps on the monitor (I hadn’t been listening to it at all) and was shocked to hear a slow beep… beep… beep, instead of the normal galloping heart rate. My doula told me later that just dipping would be normal but the problem was he would dip down to about 60 bpm while I pushed, and only come back up to about 70 bpm in between. For a baby, that’s too slow. I pushed one or two more times with the oxygen mask on, sucking in as much air as I could. Greg stayed up by my head and although I don’t think I saw him much I definitely felt him there. Suddenly the doctor, in a very calm manner, told me that if I didn’t push the baby out on this next push he would need to use the vacuum. I pictured a giant suction cup leaving a big bruise on my sweet baby’s poor head! Vacuums are probably actually no big deal but I definitely wanted to avoid it. I don’t remember this bit but my doula told me later that when he said that, she looked at me and told me that I was going to do it, I’d push Tristan out on this next one. Apparently I made eye contact with her, nodded, and got down to business. Tristan was born at 2:57pm on September 30!
Altogether, I think I only pushed for ten minutes, from the time the doctor walked in the door until Tristan was on my belly instead of in it. They told me to look down and see my baby and I sat up and said, “TRISTAN!” They put him on my belly, and I couldn’t believe how warm he was! He promptly covered me with meconium, but I didn’t even see because I was just looking at his amazing face. Greg and I were both crying and laughing. Later I learned that the cord had been wrapped around his neck three times! That’s why his heart rate was low, and why I had to get him out so quickly. I held him for a few minutes, and Greg cut the cord. Tristan’s face was a purple-ish gray color and he was just crying and crying. The nurse took him to the warmer and I watched from the bed as Greg stayed with him every step of the way. I’m so thankful that my mom too pictures of those moments! My heart was just glowing, and I thought to myself that I was watching Greg be a father. I loved that!
My recovery went well. I had some stitches for a second degree tear, and I had to get a shot of pitocin (I declined the standard IV bag) to slow the bleeding, but everything was fine and no big deal at all. I was up and walking about an hour after delivery. I tried to nurse before that but I felt so awkward and strange! My IV starter thing was still in my arm, and my belly was like a bowl full of jelly, and I still had a big smear of baby poop all over me. For the next six hours or so I got the chills really easily. I realized that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink, and I think my blood sugar was probably really low. I was starving for a couple days afterward! I had worked so hard!
All in all, my birth experience was just wonderful. Where I had initially thought Hypnobabies didn’t work, it actually empowered me to face labor and delivery with zero fear, and allowed me to completely relax even through contractions. My labor never stalled and was 15 hours from start to finish. It hurt, but not so bad that I couldn’t handle it – which I think is because of the relaxation probably. Everyone that I wanted to attend was able to and they were such a source of calm strength for me! My sweet baby boy was, and is, perfect in every single way. I got my natural unmedicated childbirth, immediate skin to skin contact, delayed cord clamping, and exclusive breastfeeding like I hoped for. I even started labor in the middle of the night, was in active labor by early morning, and delivered by the afternoon – exactly as I had envisioned. I got lucky, I was blessed, my preparations paid off – however you want to say it, it was wonderful and I am so happy with my experience!