Our Birth Story: Huck James
Visiting Disneyland, one week before his 18 month birthday.
At 18 months old, I finally have the courage to post Huck’s birth story. I wrote this in the weeks that followed Huck’s birth, so that I wouldn’t forget… but I was always too nervous to share it. I was worried I’d be judged, and more importantly - I felt some negative and anxiety-filled emotions about the birth. I still remembered it all too well. However, as time has passed, I’ve felt more secure and accepting of Huck’s birth and my story. I’ve felt more empowered and strong. And I’ve come out of the fog, that lingered all too much during his first nine months or so of his life (a story for another brave day). So, as my baby turns one and a half years old, I will celebrate with the sharing of his birth story…
Huck James Havens: Our St. Patrick’s Day Baby
(The last photo of my belly, that I took while waiting for contractions to begin. 3/16/17)
I got the birth I wanted and at the same time my birth was not what I wanted at all. It was not an easy labor and delivery. It was extremely difficult and it was exhausting; physically and emotionally. I realize that any labor is - but I don’t mean it in the obvious sense. I mean that this birth went far from what I had envisioned. I can’t quite put into words how something so beautiful, can be so painful and dissapointing at the same time. I didn’t really have any expectations about labor (except that it would be a natural, water birth) but I had no idea I would have to push for as long as I did to bring my baby into the world.
Also, I want to say that this is my story. Not everyone will agree with decisions that my husband and I made about our birth. Not everyone chooses a natural birth or to labor in a birthing center. Not everyone will think we made the right decision - but I assure you that we researched everything thoroughly and we both believed and still believe that this was the best birth for our baby. This was the birth experience I felt the most comfortable with and positive about. We were never, ever in any danger or harm. We were monitored constantly and closely and had anything arisen that needed serious attention, we would have been swiftly transferred to a hospital. Also, I do not believe I am a better mother than anyone else for having a natural birth. In fact, after my birth I gained an immense respect for women who choose to receive an epidural during labor or have to get c-sections. It’s just that this is the labor I chose. Just as I respect other women’s labor decisions, I hope people can respect and admire mine.
I was due March 22nd. I was convinced that I would have my baby on his actual due date or he’d be a week late. So imagine my surprise when I woke up on Friday, March 16th at 5:15 am. Within a couple of seconds I felt a warm gush of water begin to leak down my legs. I shot up in bed and exclaimed “Oh my God!”, and quickly got to the bathroom, saying “Oh my God! Oh my God!” the entire time. When I got in the bathroom, I just stood there in shock as warm water continue to run down my legs into a puddle at my feet. I shouted for Andrew and through the door told him my water broke. I think he said something like “Really?!”. We were both shocked and surprised.
We cleaned up and I hopped in the shower as Andrew texted our midwife. Then we got back in bed, knowing that this would be our last chance to sleep for awhile. I was excited, thinking “This is is it!”. I laid in bed for maybe two hours or so, trying to sleep and having lucid dreams, wondering when my contractions would start. I paid attention to the baby, who was still moving and kicking, and felt some Braxton Hicks.
I let Andrew sleep in for as long as he could, but I felt the urge to get things done. I ate a good breakfast, read my favorite blogs, ran loads of laundry and swept the house. I began to get discouraged when nothing seemed to be happening. My water had broken, but labor hadn’t even started. I was getting more Braxton Hicks, but they were not uncomfortable. I felt really defeated. I was also worried about the possibility of an infection because my membranes were ruptured. I knew the longer your membranes were ruptured, the more chance you had of bacteria entering and that made me feel worried. I knew that if nothing happened after 24 hours (sometimes people can go days after their water breaks before active labor begins) I would make a personal choice to go to a hospital, where I would probably be induced. I didn’t want to do this, but would make the decision for health reasons after a day, so I felt uneasy and anxious for contractions to begin.
Around noon, we decided to rent some movies so that we could pass time. Andrew went to the store to get some movies and I began to have some uncomfortable Braxton Hicks contractions. They didn’t hurt, but they were really tight and slightly crampy. Sometime around 1:45 pm, I decided that these were possibly becoming contractions now. They were becoming more rythmic and crampy - causing me to pause whatever I was doing during them. They felt like a strong menstrual cramp, the kind that make you have to focus on getting through the pain. We decided that we should return the movies, because I would probably go further into labor and end up with a huge charge to our card. Andrew took back the DVD’s and I told him to hurry because I didn’t want to be alone for very long. I hadn’t been showing him that my contractions were picking up or becoming more painful because I didn’t want to make a big deal out of something I was able to manage - I knew in the grand scheme of things, these were harmless. I also felt kind of embarrassed and exposed during each contraction. I would just lean against the counter, bed, or wall during them, close my eyes and breathe through them. I still didn’t think I was truly in labor yet, even though the contractions felt like intense cramps now. I thought this was just the early stages of labor, which technically it was - but I flew through this stage so quickly, I don’t think I really ever grasped that it was happening.
By 4pm I was having regular contractions that were becoming more and more powerful. I began to time them on a contraction app on my phone. By 6pm they were happening every 2 1/2 minutes and lasted around 30-60 seconds. They were not the supposed “411” contractions, so I still thought maybe I wasn’t in labor yet. The “411” refers to when it’s time to go into the birthing center (or hospital). When you have had contractions lasting a minute or more, four minutes apart, for an hour. Well mine weren’t lasting as long as a minute, but we’re coming twice as fast as they said and hurt. They were starting to hurt enough that I had to close my eyes and breathe through them, blocking out the rest of the world, but I could still manage them without too much effort.
We had arranged an appointment to go into the birthing center at 6:30pm and meet with our midwife and apprentice midwife. Since my water had broken, they wanted to do vitals on the baby and I and make sure everything was okay. I knew there was no way I was coming home with my contractions picking up, so we packed the car. I had several contractions on the way (oh those horrid car contractions that people love to tell you about when you’re pregnant - yep, just as bad as they say!). Once we arrived we told the midwives about my contractions and they were super excited. And very, very quickly my contractions became stronger. I needed to wrap my arms around Andrew’s neck, lean into him and sway my way through them. I couldn’t listen to anyone talking to me. I couldn’t deal with them on my own, and they were becoming more intense each time.
Our midwife suggested I take a walk around the neighborhood, walk the stairs in the building and move as much as possible to help labor progress. However, labor was getting intense fast and by the time we loaded all our stuff in from the car, I was asking when I could get in the tub. It was almost as if once we got to the birthing center, my body knew it was time to do it’s thing. I was progressing really quickly.
The tub felt great. I was warm and felt lighter, but with my contractions coming closer and harder, I couldn’t enjoy it much. This is where everything starts to become a time-warp-blur to me. I remember it, but time passed really quickly - or so it felt. It’s funny because this was the most painful part of labor for me, yet my idea of time was gone and it felt pretty quick. By this point my contractions were so intense that I could no longer breathe through them and I no longer wanted Andrew to help me through them. I don’t think I looked at Andrew again until the baby was born (sad, but I am sure there is something psychological about it). I wanted him at my side, but my eyes were glued to my midwife… glued.
With every contraction I stared deep into my midwife’s eyes and felt like I was getting strength from her - like I couldn’t do it without her. She left at one point to use the restroom and another time to rest (but further in labor when I felt delirious) and I remember trying to tell my body to hold off on contractions until she came back. I remember thinking “I need her eyes! I need her guiding me though my contractions!” I remembered reading (side note: it’s weird how many things I thought about while in labor) that women often display this type of action during childbirth where other women are present who are acting as midwives, doulas, etc. That at some point in labor women will reach a point where they need other women around them and will have someone that they may need to stare at. Something like that… Anyway, as I stared into her eyes she guided me through different breathing techniques (probably because I was not exactly breathing great through them… more like clenching my whole body and breathing through gritted my teeth and scrunching my face up) and after awhile my breathing turned into noises that I didn’t know I had the capacity to make. But I had to make them, they brought me through the wave of contractions.
Before labor, I thought I wouldn’t be one of those women who “moans” during birth. However, when you’re having a natural birth, you can really slow down labor by not giving in to your body. It was awkward, but the deep, animalistic, or “tribal” noises (as my apprentice midwife put it, which I hated hearing at the time), were important for me and really helped me to do something during each contraction. I felt really vulnerable making them, but I had to. They were part of my work of birthing my baby. With that said, we have a rule in our marriage that we are never ever to bring up/imitate/joke about, those noises… because it maybe happened once and I was not cool with it.
During each wave of contractions I would think to myself during each one “it’s almost over…. it’s almost over”. Even from the very beginning, when I knew it wasn’t. But there was always that peak during the middle where I truly knew it was almost over. My problem was letting it go when it was. I was still breathing hard after them to try and regain comfort. As a sidenote, it’s amazing how much stuff I thought about during labor. I don’t remember any of it now, but I did for awhile and it was all random. Although now, I look back and see it as a hindrance. I wasn’t focused on my birth, because I was trying to distract myself from the pain by thinking about everything else. I think with my next birth, I want to try and be really present with focusing on my birth and having positive, focused thoughts about opening up, and visualizing the baby coming down. I honestly think it would help… hypnobirthing would probably be a great tool for me next time (as I am actually afraid of labor now… and wasn’t before, imagine that… thanks hard first labor!).
Anyway during contractions, which were now becoming quite unbearable, I would think “I am going to tell them I want to transfer to the hospital for an epidural… I will tell them after this contraction ends—-” and it would end and I would be too exhausted and pain free to say anything. Someone once asked me after Huck was born what a contraction felt like. They asked if it was like a really painful cramp. I laughed. I went home that night and told Andrew that I couldn’t even think of how to explain what the worst of the contractions feel like… until it came to me. I said “It feels like the worst cramp of your life. Times a million. Plus it feels like your abs are splitting open from the inside. Like inside you are burning and on fire… like you are giving birth to a semi truck inside you, on fire, and you have to push it out of you. And it feels like you are splitting in two.” Andrew looked at me, frowning and said “That’s terrible!”. And I said “I know, and just so you know - if my next labor is anything like my first… I get epidurals after those two. No more natural births”. To be honest… I still feel that way.
So after contractions that felt like that (well actually before contractions even felt like that)… I did it, I told them I couldn’t do it anymore and that if I was at the hospital I would be getting an epidural. I wanted one. My midwife said “I know honey, and that is why you’re here”. I thought to myself “Oh… yeah…” I also told them I was tired and that it hurt. I remember wanting to make these statements through many contractions, but I also knew that these are the tell-tale sign of a woman about to enter transition - and I didn’t want to jinx it. And after I said these things, I thought how I said it too early. But no… I was definitely transitioning.
As my contractions built, I sipped an insane amount of water (but was unable to pee during labor and ended up needing a catheter at one point - having a handful of contractions with that going on is purely horrible!). Eventually my secondary midwife’s apprentice showed up and in my pain, I decided I loved her and her presence was the most comforting thing in the world, even though I had only met her two days prior and she mostly sat in a chair recording everything and occasionally bring me water and cold washcloths. Something about her quiet, calm nature (and knowing she had 9 natural childbirths), made me feel so secure.
Around midnight, about 5 hours after we arrived, I found myself including a little push without even trying. I remember thinking “I just pushed a little… I pushed! I am close!”. In our birthing class we had learned that after transition, that they will hear women make a little “push” sound when they go through contractions and that as a midwife they get super excited (but don’t show it) because that means it’s close. I had to be 8-10 cm dilated if I was pushing. I had to be within an hour or two of meeting our baby, right?
Wrong. I pushed for seven more hours, but let’s talk about those hours first.
I should mention that I never knew how dilated I was. During my pregnancy we had made the decision that I did not want to be checked, not only to limit bacteria being introduced with exams, but also because I thought it would only create discouragement if I was not progressing quickly and I wanted to follow my body’s cues for labor. However, I am fairly certain I dilated quite quickly for a first time labor. My midwife was checking me for the baby’s head position, and I am certain to know my progress - but I never asked.
Anyway, I continued laboring in the water, mostly on my back, floating around and then arching my whole body when contractions came. Andrew said he was watching me and I would push my body up in the water with my arms every time a contraction came and he thought about how sore I was going to be later. He was right. I didn’t want Andrew in the water with me at the time, but I think next time I will try because then I will have someone to lean against and help me physically through contractions.
At one point I opened my eyes, looked around the tub, then at my midwife and said “I moved…” (like how did that happen? Beside the fact that I was floating in water and moving through contractions…). She just smiled with a little laugh. I think midwive’s should write a book about all the things women say in labor.
Mine would include: Is he close? Am I getting closer? Is he getting closer? Am I almost done? When will he be here? Am I making progress? I was driving my midwife crazy with these questions (but in my defense she told me when we arrived at the birthing center that based on everything she was seeing, she though my baby could very well be here that night… so I kept waiting for that to be true). At one point she didn’t answer me and looked at me a little sternly. I got mad (in my head) at her. This ended my need for her and in all honesty, I spent the rest of the labor kind of annoyed with her (I absolutely love and adore this woman, but for some reason labor made me really frustrated with her. I hear this also happens often). I was also annoyed with my apprentice midwife after she stated “Looks like you’ll be getting your St. Patrick’s Day baby!” I never knew what time it was, so that remark made it obvious to me that it was now the early morning hours and I remember thinking “He better be born before the sun comes up! If the sun comes up I am DONE!”.
Anyway, those 7 hours of pushing… I labored in the water in every possible position, on a birthing stool, squatting, on the toilet, on the bed… and it felt like the baby was coming at a snail’s pace. The midwives were dutifully listening to the baby’s heartbeat with every contraction, including his recovery afterwards. He was a champ.
Then things changed - or didn’t change. The baby’s head was at my pelvic floor. My midwife could feel it, but it just wasn’t coming past it. I loved the water, but nothing was happening there and I was encouraged to try the birth ball or birthing stool. The idea of sitting on a rubber ball with a baby’s head in my pelvis, sounded horrible and I refused. They got me on the birthing stool and I pushed, but at one point I started to bleed and they were listening to the baby’s heart tone. I remember my midwife very quickly and rather scarily (or so it apperared to me at the time) saying “Ok, time to get on the bed. We’re going to have you lay on your left side.”. I was shuffled over to the bed quickly as I said “I’m bleeding… I’m bleeding…”. This was the first time in labor that I was truly concerned. The baby’s heart rate had made a change and I was bleeding.
They instructed me to lay on my left side on the bed and now they were monitoring me constantly. The baby’s heart rate returned to a beautiful swooshing noise, which reminded me of all our pre-natal appointments. The midwives would smile at each other with each contraction over how much my baby loved this position. It was as if he wasn’t being pushed down my body for birth. He loved it. I wasn’t a huge fan of being on land and in this position (that water makes you feel so weightless), but at this point I had been pushing for several hours and was exhausted and I would do whatever they told me to keep my baby healthy and stress-free. I was also now being directed to push, even if I didn’t feel like it and so with each contraction I pushed.
Our apprentice midwife would hold my legs while I pushed and it was rough, tough work. I was sweating and so exhausted. I remember feeling so appreciative for my apprentice in those moments. I knew she was tired and it was work for her to bare the weight of my legs pushing. I remember that I began thinking that I couldn’t do it anymore and wondering how long it would be before they told me that I had to transfer for a c-section. I remembered wondering if this was what dying felt like - but thank goodness I snapped out of that and quickly thought about how this was what labor felt like.
Then I got “the talk”. My midwife mentioned being transferred. She knew I was exhausted and it was taking a long time and would probably take bit more to get the baby out. She told me that if we transferred now, they would most likely use forceps and a vacuum to get the baby out. When I heard that - I thought there was no way I was having that birth, because I was terrified of it and I did not want to ride to the hospital. I also thought for sure it wouldn’t be those, but a c-section, and I was (and am) totally and completely terrified of having a c-section (unless it is medically needed). However, she said that we were not in harm, as long as I remained pushing in this position on the bed and the baby continued to respond well to it, which he was. She said he would come if I stayed at the birthing center, but it would take more pushing and it was ultimately up to us to make a decision, because she knew I was exhausted. I never really made a “decision”, as I was falling in and out of light sleep between contractions.
I didn’t have to make a verbal decision after transferring was mentioned. All of the sudden I realized that I needed to push like the dickens to get this baby out. Prior to that I was just so exhausted from hours of pushing and really only pushing when instructed by my midwives or when a contraction forced me too uncontrollably. But now, now I realized I was in control and it was time.
My next contraction came and I pushed so hard and so fierce. I knew I was doing something because my midwives perked up and were back to encouraging me like they had earlier in labor: “Good, Meghan!”. Every time I pushed and they didn’t say anything, I told myself to push harder next time. Their words of encouragement were what I needed. They could see his head with my pushes and I asked what color his hair was. My midwife told me it looked like a dusting of light brown hair.
After another hour? or a couple more hours? of fierce, intense pushing and “Good, Meghan, good!”. Sweaty, exhausted and what felt like being barely alert, I pushed and pushed and I was finally making progress. I knew I was. I could just tell - finally! I didn’t want a mirror to look and I didn’t want to feel down there, but I knew he was finally going to come soon. Then my midwife asked me if I could get on the birthing stool or squat on the toilet. I asked for the toilet and I hobbled to the bathroom with my entourage in tow (it’s funny when you’re in labor - every time you move from place to place, you’re followed around with hands and towels and such, because you’re leaking stuff or who knows, your baby might fall out).
We got to the bathroom and I had a contraction on the toilet. And everything changed. All of the sudden I was alert and awake. I was talking to people between contractions. “Dawn, how many times have you done this?”. I was telling everyone “He’s going to be here soon! I can tell!” and “He’s moving down! I feel it!” and “He’s coming soon!”. It was amazing. I don’t know how many contractions I had in the bathroom, but it wasn’t much, only a few.
Then - bam! I shot up like someone stuck an adrenaline shot into my heart. I stood up with a contraction that said there was no turning back. My baby was coming. I squatted over the toilet, standing up and I pushed so hard and the midwives were there, getting everything laid out and ready. They knew it, I knew it. My legs felt like jello and I had to use my arms on a support bar to keep myself up, I was so exhausted and I felt so much intense pain, I remember thinking I couldn’t stand up much longer.
And then the ring of fire came.
I had heard it mentioned before and I thought I had already experienced it - BAH! No… no, no, no. It felt like I was pushing a semi-truck on fire out of me. It hurt and burned so, so, so bad. My baby’s head emerged with what felt like a “pop!” of fire, (it was probably my 2nd degree tear happening). It was so terribly painful. I couldn’t even focus on having slow pushes to prevent tearing. My body felt ripped open and dang it, I was getting him out.
I knew his head was out, but I don’t remember if anyone was saying anything to me or now. Andrew was standing to my left and my midwife and her apprentice were at the bottom of me, hands able and ready. My secondary midwife’s apprentice had oxygen waiting and was taking time. Another contraction came (maybe two? I don’t remember) and I felt my baby slide out of me. My midwife caught him and apparently unwrapped the cord from his neck (which was wrapped around twice, one reason it may have taken so long - because everything could only move down together slowly). I immediately sat on the toilet and he was handed to me. I was shaking and my first words were “Oh, baby! Hi baby! Hi!”. Somehow with assistance my sports bra was off, and my baby was against my chest. And as we were helped to the floor to lay down I said “This is Huck.” We laid on the floor which was covered in blankets and medical sheets, and he just cried and cried like a little goat.
My midwife said he was telling his story. He had a long, hard journey too. We laid there and I just kept saying “Hi baby” over and over, my head in Andrew’s lap and our baby at my side, on my chest. He was staring at me and crying in his little goat cry. I said “You look like your dad!”. Eventually Andrew took his shirt off and the baby was given to him for skin to skin time while we got my placenta out (um, birthing the placenta felt like such a relief…) and I was checked out.
And then the three of us got in bed. The post-partum part was truly horrible, but that doesn’t need to be included in my birth story. So my birth wasn’t exactly what I wanted - but my baby was safe and healthy the entire time and so was I, even if it was long and grueling. We had a natural birth, just as I had hoped and my body was able to do this miraculous and hard thing. I pushed for 7 hours, when most women push for one or two. I was a rock star. I was super woman. I still would have been, even if I had a c-section or epidural. We are all amazingly, strong.
This is my birth story. This was my journey to bring my son to the world. I did it, I had my baby without a drop of medication and it took 25.5 hours and I gave birth standing up over a toilet in a birthing center. I had a natural birth, not my ideal birth, but I did it. Look what I did! I am slowly learning to be proud of myself and not upset or have a sense of post traumatic stress about it. One day I will fully love myself for having this birth… until then I am slowly accepting it and learning that it’s okay, that it went this way… because look at the gift I got in the end. And I did it… I brought him here.
Huck James Havens was born at 6:42am on Saturday, March 17th, 2012. Our St. Patrick’s baby weighed 7lb 12oz (a healthy gluten free-vegan baby!) and was 20 inches long. He was, and is, perfect and loved. He was made from the love in Andrew’s and my heart, by the grace of God. And as he was born, so was I, as a mother.
A brand new Huck James Havens. Our “Huck o’ the Irish” baby.