At Seven Starling, we think a great way to prepare mentally and emotionally for birth is by reading and listening to birth stories. Each birth is a unique, vivid, and defining experience, and by hearing other’s stories we can begin to place ourselves in the shoes of those who have gone before us. We can learn about what helped others cope with the intense sensations of labor and how their support system worked with them to welcome a new life earth-side.
Callai is a certified Doula, Childbirth Educator, and Member Advocate with us, and she would like to share the natural birth story of her firstborn to provide insight and inspiration for others hoping to have a natural birth experience.
Callai labored at home with the help of her husband, mom, and doula. After a long and gentle early labor, active labor came on fast and furious, and by the time they arrived at the hospital she was fully dilated and starting to feel the urge to push!
- Early Labor - Getting Started Naturally
- Inching Toward Active Labor - Slow and Steady
- Active Labor - Seriously Working
- Heading to the Hospital
- Transition in the Car
- Arriving Ready to Push
- Pushing in Triage (Or Trying Not To)
- Green Light for Delivery
- In My Arms
- My Natural Birth Mantra
Callai’s Birth Story
Early Labor - Getting Started
On Wednesday, May 18th (our due date), I had an appointment with my midwife. She stripped my membranes and told me that my body was absolutely ready to go. After the appointment I spent the rest of the day pacing around our apartment and bouncing on my exercise ball, hoping the movement would bring on contractions. I did have a few contractions throughout the day, but nothing much to speak of.
I woke up around midnight early Thursday morning with steady, mild contractions that ranged from 10 minutes to 6 minutes apart. I contracted all day, but it was easy to deal with. I was never in much pain and felt completely normal. My husband stayed home from work with me and we walked and bounced and spent the entire day trying to get the contractions closer together, but to no avail. By the evening they had completely stopped.
I was so sure when I woke up that morning that I would have our baby by the evening, and when the contractions ceased I cried long and hard in frustration. Holding my daughter in my arms was my heart’s only desire. Giving in to the realization that she would not be joining us that day was very difficult.
My husband, Andrew, did a wonderful job of calming me down. He had me take a long hot shower, then he put on several episodes of 30 Rock and we laid in our bed and cuddled and told each other bad jokes. It was our last night as just a couple, and it couldn’t have been more perfect.
We went to bed early in case labor picked back up during the night. We wanted to be well rested for whatever Friday would hold. I woke up several times during the night to use the bathroom and was dejected each time when I realized the contractions were still gone. I spent a while laying there awake and tearful, wishing I could will my body into labor.
Inching Toward Active Labor - Slow and Steady
I woke up again around 5am to renewed contractions, which gave me a bit more hope. They were coming about 4 minutes apart, and I started to get excited. I called my mom around 6am and she left for the airport. She lived one state away and was hoping to be with me when labor picked up. I also let our doula know that things finally seemed to be progressing. I was maybe a bit premature in making those calls.
By the time my mom arrived at around noon contractions were down to every 7 minutes. At this point I was still feeling completely fine, aside from my frustration. I had gotten a good night’s sleep and life was continuing like normal with the occasional spasm of slight pain.
We decided to walk down to our favorite taquerias, since walking encouraged my contractions and being out and about provided a good distraction. I ate about half of a taco salad between the rhythmic tightenings of my belly. I’m not sure how close together the contractions were at this point, but they were painful enough that I would have to stand up out of my chair when I felt one coming on, but not close enough to constitute active labor. My behavior got us a few odd looks from fellow diners, including a table of 4 cops who looked very concerned. Would they have to help deliver a baby in a taqueria on their lunch break?
After the taqueria we decided to continue our walk, since I enjoyed being active and found movement soothing. As we walked along I told my mom how completely normal I felt between contractions. It was just like any other day.
While we were walking the contractions were still mild (or at least what I considered to be mild). I could talk and walk through them, although I preferred to go a bit slower. Toward the end of my walk labor might have been picking up. I didn’t feel like the contractions hurt any worse or were any closer together, although honestly I wasn’t paying that much attention to the timing, but I suddenly felt a very strong urge to go home.
Active Labor - Seriously Working
We headed back home at about 4pm. I had a snack and then went to take a shower. After being in the shower for only about 10 minutes, I told Andrew he should call our doula to have her join us.
I was starting to feel very, very different. I still didn’t feel like the contractions were very hard, but they were now closer together. The real indicator that active labor had truly begun to me, however, was my emotional state. I went from feeling totally normal to very serious and tired. I just knew something had changed.
We talked to the doula and all agreed that since things had gone so slowly before, we still had plenty of time. I was doing fine with the contractions, so we decided to keep laboring without the help of the doula for a bit longer. She had just attended a 48 hour birth that ended earlier that morning, so we wanted to let her get as much rest as possible. Little did we know that the baby would be born about three hours later.
After I got out of the shower the contractions started coming one on top of the other. Timing them went right out the window. I was laying on the couch when all of a sudden at the peak of one of the contractions I felt a really intense, sharp pain and then an odd pop. It was bad enough that I shot my mom a concerned look and said “Ow! Something’s wrong!” I stood up and realized my water had broken.
Heading to the Hospital
I next spent some time laboring in the bathroom. I was swaying through a contraction, leaning on my bathroom sink, when I happened to look at myself in the mirror. My cheeks were really flushed and I realized things were getting very serious. I told my mom that I thought we should go to the hospital.
The doula hadn’t made it over yet, and the most important part of our birth plan was to labor with her assistance at home for as long as possible, but I realized at that point that even if I had several hours of contractions ahead of me, I was uncomfortable enough that it wouldn’t matter if they were going on in my own bathroom or at the hospital.
Andrew called the doula and told her our change of plans, and then he and my mom ran around getting our last minute hospital stuff together. I stayed in the hallway and would call out to one of them when I felt a contraction coming on. I would put my arms around their necks, and they would sway and breathe with me. My mood switched again, and I went from being very serious to very loving. After each contraction I would hug whoever had helped me through it, and tell them I loved them.
I think this was my favorite aspect of my labor. At the most intense part instead of feeling angry or yelling or acting crazy, I turned into a sappy cuddle bug who couldn’t stop letting everyone know how much I loved them and how grateful I was for their help.
Transition in the Car
As I was entering the lovey-dovey phase (which was probably transition), I remember thinking to myself, “Okay, I see why someone would ask for an epidural,” but I was still doing totally fine and would have refused one if it was offered to me. I kept saying to my mom, “I’m going good, aren’t I?” She assured me that I was, but reminded me that since this was my first baby, I might still have a long road ahead of me. She said not to feel discouraged if we arrived at the hospital and I was only dilated to 5cm or so. I prepared myself mentally for that possibility.
The one thing that surprised me about labor was how clear headed I remained. Very intense things were going on with my body, but my conscious mind was still totally myself. It’s a difficult thing to describe, but it was almost like an out of body experience. All of the physical intensity never affected my inner thoughts.
We threw our stuff in the car and headed to the hospital. As we walked out the door I glanced back at our apartment, thinking about how different things would be when I finally came home again.
The car ride was absolute hell. I needed to stand to get through my contractions, and it is impossible to stand in the backseat of a compact car. When I felt a contraction coming on I would throw myself into different positions - on my knees on the floor, reclining as far back as I could on the seat, pulling up and lifting my bottom off of the seat using the handle above the door - but nothing helped.
Its mentioned many times that when a pregnant woman starts to say “I can’t do this anymore,” that is when the end is near. I never said “I can’t do this anymore” or felt like the contractions were unbearable, but I did say “I can’t do this in the car.” I wanted my mom to pull over for each contraction so that I could get through them standing on the side of the road, but I knew that was impossible.
It was only a 15 minute drive, and I just needed to find a way to deal with it. I rolled down the window and tried to focus on the air hitting my face instead of the contractions. I imagined I was riding a powerful horse, letting my body move with the contractions just like it moved with the rocking motion of a gentle loping gait. I looked around at where we were between contractions to remind myself that every second brought us closer to the end of the journey. I would say things like, “Look, we are passing Such-And-Such Street, that means we’re halfway there” or “We’re only a mile away now. Maybe I won’t have any more car contractions.”
Arriving Ready to Push
We pulled up to the main hospital entrance just as a big contraction was hitting. I threw myself out of the car and put my hands on the trunk and moaned until it ended. There were several people gathered outside and I remember them staring at me.
Andrew and I hurried past the onlookers and proceeded to the elevator. It was a very short distance, but I had another contraction before we got on it. I held on to Andrew, swayed, and in the middle of it said, “This is so much easier to do out of the car. I feel better now.” We got on the elevator and I had another contraction. Then we walked up to the nurse’s station and I had yet another.
Andrew was pretty frazzled and was having trouble answering their questions, but I was still clear headed enough to help him out. I could remember what time my water broke, what the fluid was like, my due date, social security number, and all of those other small details you might think would fly right out the window in the face of serious contractions.
They led us over to triage, which was a big large room with beds divided by curtains. All of the curtains were drawn. It was full. They had us wait at the entrance as they checked the beds. There was one last one open in the far back corner.
As a nurse walked us back to it she remarked that I looked very uncomfortable, and I said “Yeah.” Of course in triage no one actually believes you are in labor. It’s amazing they trust you enough to accept the fact that you are pregnant. I think I must have been pretty obviously in hard labor, but they treated me as if nothing at all was going on. They kept asking if this was my first baby and when I would answer yes I could see the dismissiveness in their eyes. They probably thought I was totally overreacting and being a big wimp.
The nurse asked me to lay down to wait to be monitored, and as a contraction began I leaned over the bed and squeaked out that I would prefer to stand. She said that was okay, and let us know that they were busy so it might be a few minutes before someone came back to check on us.
By this point I was feeling more gushing of fluid and I decided to go to the bathroom. We left our curtain area, I asked a nurse where the bathroom was, and Andrew went in with me. There was a lot of blood on the pad I was wearing. I remembered from our birthing class that this late bloody show was a sign that dilation is complete or nearly complete. I looked up at Andrew and said, “I think this baby is coming now.” He ran to get a nurse. She asked to see the amount of blood, asked if it was my first baby, and reassured me that it was totally normal and that I could wait a few minutes longer to be checked. I figured she was right and felt a bit foolish for being so dramatic.
Pushing in Triage (Or Trying Not To)
We went back to our bed in the corner to wait. Triage was so quiet. I knew that behind the rows and rows of curtains were other laboring women, but none of them were making a sound. None except for me, of course. I couldn’t help but moan loudly through the contractions that were hitting me one on top of the other.
I remember at one point as I vocalized through a contraction, looking up at a sign on the wall that explained that triage was a shared space, and asked laboring women and their partners to please keep their voices down. I felt really self-conscious and guilty about not being able to obey that “Please Be Quiet” sign.
And then it happened. A contraction came, but it was unlike anything else I had experienced. It felt like my uterus was clamping down like a vise, and I realized I was bearing down, and bearing down hard. I screamed out, “I’m PUSHING!”
That got the nurses’ attention. Two of them ran over to me immediately. They helped me onto the bed. One of them checked me and yelled out, “She’s complete! Bypass triage!” They unlocked the wheels of my bed and literally ran me down the hall.
They were in such a rush that they kept banging the bed into things. Only Andrew was allowed to accompany me to triage, and my mom had texted him to let us know that security was holding her on the ground floor until we got a room. As soon as I knew I was going to a room, I started begging for my mom. I mean full blown “I want my mommy!” begging. As they wheeled me down the hall I kept saying over and over again, “I want my mom, someone get my mom!” What can I say, I needed the comforting presence of my own mom in order to become a mother myself.
When we got into room #4, one of the nurses said to another one, “Find this girl’s mom!” They put my triage bed next to the delivery bed and asked me if I could climb on to it, or if I needed to be lifted. I told them I would prefer to stand rather than get in the other bed, if that was okay. I stood through a few more pushing contractions. Of course the nurses were telling me not to push, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I kept yelling out, “I’m pushing! I can’t stop!"
Luckily my mom and our doula, Caitlin, arrived soon. I looked at Caitlin and I hugged her and said, "Oh, I am so glad you are here.” I really needed all of the support I could get, and I was still telling everyone how much I loved them over and over again. Caitlin and my mom started asking me if I needed anything. I was sweating something awful and asked for water, chapstick, and a hair tie. Caitlin pulled my hair into a ponytail, Andrew applied my chapstick, and my mom held a straw from a cup of water up to my lips.
The pushing contractions kept coming, but they wouldn’t allow me to bear down with them until they finished the paperwork to admit me. I stood and rocked with my hands around Andrew’s shoulders. Caitlin instructed me to breathe out with “horsey lips” to help keep from pushing. They all stood around me and helped me breathe. I felt so loved and supported.
But trying not to push was the worst thing ever. I kept yelling out during the contractions, “I can’t stop! I can’t stop!” and I could hear myself making these awful grunting noises as I strained. All the while I was answering questions about my medical history. They strapped some monitors to my belly as I stood and suddenly the room was filled with the sound of Eleanor’s heartbeat. I waited for a contraction to end and asked a nurse how she was doing. They assured me she was tolerating everything really well.
At some point it crossed my mind that we hadn’t given out our birth plan, but I also realized that it no longer mattered. Things had already gone completely according to the plan, regardless of the fact that the dozen copies we had printed out never left their manilla envelope. I wanted to labor at home for as long as possible, I wanted to wear my own clothes during delivery, I didn’t want an IV, I didn’t want an epidural, I wanted the freedom to move and find the best positions for dealing with contractions, all of which I achieved.
Green Light for Delivery
When the paperwork was finally done the midwife came in to check me again. I had a slight lip on my cervix, but the midwife was able to easily move it out of the way, and I was given the green light to push. I was so excited!
Most people love the pushing phase. They feel like they are able to finally do something proactive and that bearing down alleviates the pain of the contractions. I’ll be honest, I hated pushing. I found it absolutely terrifying. The power of the pushing contractions scared me. They were so strong and overwhelming. My body was totally out of my control. This was the only point in labor where I started to dread the next upcoming contraction, but the rest between them was pure bliss. I was able to relax completely, and I even remarked at one point how good I felt when I wasn’t contracting.
I had hoped to try squatting to push, and at one point asked for a squatting bar. It was brought in, but I found that I really didn’t care what position I was pushing in. I laid in the traditional semi-reclining position. It felt like the only position I could have assumed anyway. I was too exhausted between the pushing contractions to stand or squat. When my body wasn’t working to move the baby out, it laid there on the bed, sweaty, limp, and thankful for the support of a firm bed. My mom and Andrew stood at the bed to my right and Caitlin to the left. They all told me how great I was doing and reassured me when I confessed that I was scared.
I was so grateful for our doula. She gave me great advice that really helped me get the hang of pushing, like where to hold my legs, how to curl up and around my belly, and to keep my vocalizations low.
My vocalizations were something else. I could hear myself screaming during a pushing contraction and I would think to myself, “Why are you making such an awful noise? Get it together! You sound like one of those stereotypes of a laboring woman from the movies. Stop screaming so loudly, you’re probably bothering all of the people in the adjoining rooms!” I was unduly embarrassed and I kept apologizing to everyone for making so much noise. Of course I couldn’t help it though.
I did try to make low moans as Caitlin suggested, but it didn’t always work out. Sometimes toward the end of a contraction I would give a long, low moan. Sometimes during the peak I would scream, like a full on roller coaster scream. Sometimes throughout the entire contraction I would let out a long, high pitched, drawn out siren-like screech. Sometimes I would hold my breath throughout a contraction and then groan loudly when it was over. They weren’t pretty noises.
Then with some of the stronger contractions I started vomiting, which made it difficult to breathe. Luckily I only threw up a few times, and it was all the water that I was constantly sucking down between contractions, but the vomiting was by far the worst part of all of this.
My mom was holding up my right leg and Caitlin was holding up my left. Andrew was by my head, wiping me down with cold washcloths and giving me water. All of my labor support team did such a good job of taking care of me. They were constantly telling me how great I was doing and how strong I was. In moments of high clarity I kept trying to take in what was happening. I kept thinking to myself, "This is it. You are having your baby right now. This is what you have been waiting for."