*All photos by Meredith Westin Photography
August 2017 5 weeks pregnant
Early in our pregnancy my husband and I traveled to Colorado and climbed to the top of Aspen Mountain. The concierge at our hotel said it was 2-3 hours long. I was confident I could do it and that it wouldn't be "that hard". After an hour and a half we reached a beautiful scenic overlook, took in the view, and started out on what we thought must be the final summit of our climb. Quickly I realized we still had a LOT to climb; more than half; and each part steeper than the previous. I told myself one breath at a time. One step at a time. You got this. You are doing this. These are all things I've learned help mamas in their journey from my career as a doula. As my mindset wavered and doubt crept in, my cheerful husband was 3 steps ahead of me telling me how great I was doing. Even though I wanted to roll my eyes (ok I did roll my eyes a couple times) and negative thoughts filled my head (like: what were you thinking, you are so out of shape) I leaned into his cheerful positive attitude, took a deep breath, and willed myself to know I could reach the summit. The view from the top was more beautiful than I could have imagined. I couldn’t have been more happy to have accomplished the trek.
I actually wanted to be “overdue”. Who says that? I do. I guess I was just savoring my pregnancy and trying to get all the things done. I tend to be a procrastinate, so I am glad my baby got the drift that she shouldn’t be too prompt with her entrance. As a childbirth educator I knew my body was right in line with the statistics. Studies show that on average, first time mothers deliver 3-5 days past their guess date.
I remember receiving a text from a mama friend on my due date saying, “Is today your guess date? Thinking of you, mama. Way to grow that baby well. Xoxo” I had never thought of it that way before. How thoughtful. Yes, my body was freaking amazing for carrying another human being inside for that long! I was able to finish my Spinning Babies Educator Training amidst the worst snowstorm in April history on my “guess date” weekend. Gail Tully and her team along with Phyllis Klaus touched my belly and gave me all the good birth juju I could ever desire.
40 weeks 5+ days
After making an admittedly poor choice to drive 30 minutes to sell old workout clothes to make some extra cash, I swore off ever driving more than 2 minutes for the rest of my pregnancy. My baby was squished so high inside and when I was driving, it felt as though her knees were in my throat. Either that or the onset of early labor was causing nausea. I had finally decided I was ready for this baby to come. That night in the bathtub I told my baby it was ok if she came now. I was ready for her.
Later that night,around 11 PM, I started having mild cramping. I was up intermittently throughout the night, but was still able to sleep. In the morning I told my husband to go to work and I would let him know if anything changed.
40 weeks 6 days
With fervor and mild urgency I dusted, vacuumed, did the dishes, and set up my birth altar. Nesting is REAL, people. The dustmites had no chance of surviving. I had intentions to meet a friend for coffee but I canceled. In my work as a doula I always suggest to my clients and students to “carry on” with their regular daily life in early labor, but I absolutely could not imagine being in a coffee shop with these cramps. Around 9 AM I texted my Doula to let her know something might be happening. She called me right away to let me know she was headed to another birth. I wasn’t worried. Nothing major was happening. After speaking with me for several minutes she sensed I may be further along than I thought. She got extra bonus points for calling my husband herself and telling him to come home from work. Shortly after he arrived home with several bags of groceries in a super excited mood - Because, “Hey! he was going to have a baby soon!” - I resorted to the bathtub.
I texted my sister. She has four kids, but if the stars miraculously aligned, we were hoping she could be there for the birth.
I was in denial that labor was starting and before I knew it there was no room to “think”. As the contraction waves became regular and strong I was soon in labor land.
My Doula arrived fresh off another birth. At this point every contraction required my full attention and was matched with a calm and steady, low, deep moan. Hands and knees became my savior. I was climbing the mountain. I called Kate, my midwife to let her know things had started and she asked me to start timing contractions. They were coming about every five minutes. She said she would finish up what she was doing and head over. She arrived just before 4 PM and sneakily checked baby’s heart rate and my vitals during and after contractions. Side Note - We hired Kate without even interviewing other homebirth midwives. She was confident, caring, gentle, smart, and intuitive. She made our decision to have a homebirth feel easy and safe.
All of a sudden I felt a big bulge in my underwear. My water had broken. Viola! The magic compression of those strong contractions was moving baby down and out. There was a little bit of meconium in the water so my midwife kept a close eye on our vitals.
Kate asked if I would like to be checked cervically. I was open to the check, but didn’t want to know the number. Thank goodness I asked not to know. Later, I would find out I was only two centimeters. I think I would’ve lost it after having had these hard contractions for nearly 5 hours.
Around this time my sister arrived and brought her goddess mama energy with her. She called in the troops to help watch her children and made it happen to be present for me. She has a calm presence and I was so glad she was there (she’s the one holding me up in the pushing pictures).
The next several hours were kind of a blur. All I remember is breathing, having my support team right next to me, and thinking "holy crap I never thought it would feel like this". I told myself, one contraction wave at a time. There were thoughts of doubt in my mind but I reminded myself I can do it - I can climb this mountain. And sometimes I even repeated that out loud. “I can do it. I can do it. I can climb this mountain”. We all giggled at the fact that I naturally started rehearsing the word “ouchie” during contractions. It was my ritual and it seemed to help. I stared at my affirmation cards hanging on the wall and stared at spots on the floor just to focus my attention. I labored in the shower, on the floor, in the bed, and eventually my midwife said it was OK for me to labor in the birth tub (Sometimes women relax when they get into the birth tub so they don’t want you to get in there too soon in case it slows labor).
Holy Jesus that tub felt amazing. I remember saying how good it felt, and in my head I thought “I’m never getting out of here”.
Around 8PM my midwife checked my cervix for the second time, and I wanted to know my dilation. I don’t remember exactly but I think I was a six-ish on one side and then eight-ish on the other. She thought my baby’s head was coming down at a little bit of an angle creating the uneven dilation on each side.
Kate suggested a seemingly horrific series of different movements to help baby’s head realign. I rolled my eyes at this suggestion. In her sweet voice I remember her saying, “I know you are in labor. Sweet Amy would never have rolled her eyes at me otherwise.” As a Doula I know certain positions make the contractions more intense, but in the long run it’s worth it as it makes labor shorter. I would do anything to make this shorter so I obliged. I had to do each movement for three contractions. Three contractions on my back in the water. Three contractions leaning on the left side. Three contractions leaning on the right side. And three contractions on my hands and knees. Eye roll ensued. I felt so proud when I had actually finished what they suggested.
Meanwhile, I caught glimpses of my support team sneaking sleep; making smoothies, and seamlessly moving in support of my baby’s arrival. I was comforted to know they were taking care of themselves.
The pain in my hips was intense. The hip squeeze did me no good, but I did find a little reprieve as my doula Alicia shook the hell out of my poor hips with the rebozo. I thought my hips were going to split apart at one point. But alas, I am here to tell my story. My hips did not split apart. My pelvis is intact. It boggled my mind to think my sister went through this 4 times and even birthed one baby that was over 10 lbs! Thinking of that helped me stay present. I can do this. I got this. I am going to make it to the top of the mountain. I thought of all my strong clients who pushed their babies out. I thought of all my amazing friends who surrounded me at my blessingway with their words of wisdom. I started to trust myself. My body started to open. Around 11pm I unintentionally and unavoidably started to grunt at the end of every contraction. I knew this was a great sign- my body was starting to push!
I knew pushing could take hours so I tried to not look at the clock and not think about time. I gave every contraction my full attention. I grunted and when it felt there was room for more, I started pushing. The pushing lasted for a little less than 2 hours. I remember asking my birth team, “Can you just pull her out?”, clearly, I had to finish the task. We tried several positions. Ultimately, my doula grabbed her rebozo and used it as a support/pushing tool. That seemed to do the trick. More and more of my sweet baby's head became visible with each push, and soon enough her whole head was out. For an entire minute her head was out. Then one final push. My husband caught her body and handed her right to me. She was plump, with a head full of hair, long fingernails, tons of vernix, and the sweetest most alert eyes. She came out making eye contact with all of us around her. Her (dog) sister, Harriet, peeped her head up onto the birth tub just as Louise was born. I truly can’t imagine birthing anywhere else or with anyone else.
If I could choose three words to describe my birth it would be empowering, supported, and intense! Labor and birth is surely physical and extremely mental - Kind of like climbing a mountain. If you can let go of the doubts, breathe into your strength, and acknowledge your progress one contraction at a time, the whole timeline of everything might not seem so daunting. Having a hardcore team of cheerleaders alongside you makes all the difference. I could not have done it without my husband, our midwife, birth assistant, photographer, doula, sister, and my doggie doula. I am forever grateful.