- Samantha McClellan
The Birth of Leah- Raleigh Birth Doula
Updated: Sep 20, 2019
Many birth stories aim to walk through the physical details of the day a child was born, what happened and when. While I do want to remember every detail of the birth of my first child, focusing on these physical details is not fully indicative of my labor and birth experience. As a birth doula myself, I have seen many births, I am not afraid of birth, I understood the physiology of childbirth long before I ever became pregnant myself. I knew that I wanted an un-medicated water birth, who I wanted as my doula, and the type of provider I wanted the minute the test came back positive. My labor preparation was not found in childbirth books or classes. For me, preparing for labor was a mental and spiritual journey.
My pregnancy was filled with a lot of stressful events, unrelated to actually being pregnant. I lost two family members unexpectedly in my first trimester, my husband had to travel for much of my second trimester and at the start of my third trimester I found out that I was being laid off from my job following my maternity leave. All of these things kept me from feeling very in tune with being pregnant. I was just desperately trying to get things in order, assuming that I would just focus on the baby when it arrived. All of that changed at 37 weeks when I started having almost non-stop prodromal labor. Suddenly, it was impossible to ignore the fact that I was about to become a mother. I had to finish working early because the contractions were made worse by being on my feet all day and by being tired, so at 38 weeks I left my job early and finally switched my focus to gestating. I started taking daily short walks, during which I listened to birth and pregnancy podcasts and meditated to my birth playlist. One day someone on one of the podcasts mentioned that they had challenged themselves to pick three words to describe their ideal birth, words that were unrelated to the actual environment or method of delivery. I liked the sound of that, so I gave it some thought. The words that came to mind were worshipful, peaceful, and confident.
I wanted this birth to be a spiritual experience. I felt like so many popular natural birth affirmations functioned to convince the mother that SHE could give birth through her own physical power and while I know that that resonates with a lot of people I didn’t want to conquer birth, I didn’t want to rely on my physical strength, I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove. Instead, I decided that my focus would be on using this experience for God’s glory and relying on His power to guide me through the process. I wanted the environment to be peaceful at the time of birth, I didn’t want things to feel rushed or chaotic and regardless of what happened or how I gave birth I wanted to feel confident in the decisions that needed to be made so that I didn’t come out of the experience with regrets. I didn’t share these convictions with anyone, I just meditated on them every day in preparation for delivery.
My estimated due date was Nov. 25th, the day after Thanksgiving. When my prodromal labor started so early I thought for sure that this baby would arrive ahead of schedule and that I would be spending my Thanksgiving getting baby cuddles on the couch. Thanksgiving came and went. My whole family traveled down from 2 and half hours away to spend the holiday with us and I hoped and prayed the baby would arrive before they left so that I wouldn’t have to call them to come back again. However on the 26th everyone packed up and drove home and I was left grumpy and convinced I would be pregnant forever. In fact, my husband found me in my PJs, in bed, with the lights off watching TV, in full hibernation mode by 4 o’clock that afternoon. I was mentally done and ready for this baby to make an entrance. At midnight on the 27th I woke up to some strange “cramps”. I tried to ignore them and go back to sleep, but that quickly became impossible. I got up to go to the bathroom and low and behold… bloody show! The contractions were coming about every 6 minutes and were strong enough that it was uncomfortable to stay still through them. They quickly progressed to being every 4 and a half minutes apart so we alerted my doula and my mother and they both prepared to come to our house. My plan was to wait and go to the hospital when I was in transition because we only lived a few miles away and I wanted to spend most of my time at home. Over the course of the next nine hours I spent time watching TV with my husband while he rubbed my back, I visited with my mom and my doula in the stillness of the early morning, the sun came up and my team took turns eating breakfast and drinking coffee as I labored in the living room by the Christmas tree, leaning forward with each contraction, swaying back and forth as someone rubbed my back. We bundled up and took a walk around the neighborhood, joking that it was probably against HOA guidelines to have a baby in the parking lot. Finally, around 11 AM I began to get shaky and feel some pressure so we decided to go to the hospital. We packed everything up and caravanned to the hospital. I was very nervous about dealing with the drive, check in and triage process and I could feel my focus and faith slipping as soon as we made the call to go to the hospital. The triage process was long and irritating and when the midwife finally came in I could tell instantly that she and I were not going to click. She gave me an uncomfortable cervical check, the first cervical check of my pregnancy, and announced that I was only 3cm. I could stay and be monitored for an hour or I could go home. While I was obviously somewhat frustrated by this news, I was also relieved. Now I could go back home to where I was comfortable and get my focus back to where it needed to be. Looking back, I am actually really thankful for this “practice” trip to the hospital because it gave me a chance to walk through the part of labor I was most fearful of, the transition from home to hospital, so that when it came time to do it again I was prepared.
My mom, my husband and I headed home and my doula headed back to her house to check on her family. My husband laid down to rest, my mom sat with me as I took a bath and tried to eat and then I took some Tylenol PM, at the advice of the midwife, and tried to rest myself. The contractions were still coming every 4 and half minutes and I still couldn’t stay still through them so I was only able to groggily drift off in between contractions before rolling onto my hands and knees through each one. This went on for about two hours when I decided to get up and try to get things moving. I pulled out all the stops, doing abdominal lifts, positioning exercises, walking the stairs, squatting, and moving my hips like my life depended on it. By 7:30 that night we called my doula back and we once again transitioned from day to night with everyone taking turns eating dinner and rubbing my back. I decided to go get back in the shower, since that was where I could relax the most, but I told my husband I needed him to stay with me. He tried helping me through contractions from outside the shower but that wasn’t really working so he changed into some shorts and got in with me. This was honestly my favorite part of my labor because I was so focused, my husband was doing a fantastic job of supporting me and it was private, just the two of us. The water was so relaxing and in that moment, I was sure I was never leaving that shower and that the baby would just have to be born right there. Unfortunately, we ran out of hot water… I stayed in the bathroom with my husband for a while longer but I think my team could sense a shift in my mood and started talking to me about going back to the hospital. The tiniest bit of fear started creeping in again and at first I said no, but then my wonderful doula reminded me to trust in my team and that fear was not a good reason to stay home. So, at 9:45 PM – almost 22 hours into my labor we headed back to the hospital. I began to cry a little as we pulled away from our house because I knew that when we came back we would have a baby and that still seemed so surreal.
This time, I was not afraid of the drive or the triage process I was just determined to get through it without losing my focus. The contractions in the car were very very hard but I only had two before we arrived. I stayed focus through check in and was brought into triage, I got right up onto the bed in hands and knees and strapped the monitors to myself so that they would stay on and I answered all of their questions without losing my focus. The nurse offered to check me so that we wouldn’t have to wait for the midwife, a different midwife from earlier in the day, and I agreed. Her check was much more gentle than the previous one and I was thankful for that. She asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was and I said not if I was far enough along to be admitted. She said that I was, so they sent my doula up to our room to begin setting up the birth pool. I told them I would be wearing my own clothes, rather than a hospital gown and I walked myself to our labor and delivery room, albeit very slowly. I had to do another 20 minutes of continuous monitoring before I would be allowed off the monitors to get in the pool, so again I climbed up into bed on hands and knees, closed my eyes and focused. The only negative to this time was that I overheard the nurses talking to each other, saying that I was still only dilated to a 5. At that point I knew that I needed to shift my efforts to conserving the energy I would need for transition and pushing so I told my doula to go ahead and fill up the pool even though everyone wanted me to walk around to try and get things progressing. I had been on my feet almost non-stop for almost 24 hours and I could feel my legs starting to get weak. I finished the monitoring and got in the pool and it was a definite relief. The water took the pressure off my legs and made it much easier to move from a resting position to my hands and knees for contractions. I would lay on my side to rest in between while my mom poured water over my belly to help my muscles relax, when a contraction came I would get on my knees and lay my upper body over the side of the pool while my husband applied counter pressure to my back. This routine went on for probably two hours before the midwife came in to check me again. It was now around 1 am the next day, November 28th. She told me that I was still dilated to about 5cm and that my bag of water was bulging, causing the pressure I had been feeling for much of the day.
Having attended a fair amount of births I was not terribly surprised by this news and I knew in my heart that it was time to help things along. The midwife offered to break my water and I agreed but I asked for ten minutes to talk with my team and to get myself prepared. After 25 hours of labor there was a definite part of me that was nervous about feeling things change and intensify. I had my doula say the risks of an artificial rupture of membranes out loud so that my mom and my husband would understand them and we all agreed that it was the best call. I got out of the tub and made my way to the bed as the midwife came back into the room. She was very gentle during the procedure and I hardly felt a thing. When they said the water was clear I started to cry out of relief. My contractions intensified immediately. I agreed to get in the shower for a while to help keep pressure on my cervix so my husband and I got in the shower and while I never felt scared or out of control I did cry and say a few curse words when it was just the two of us because the intensity of the contractions was a lot to get used to. After a little while I got back into the tub and I went into that full “labor land” hormonal state that people talk about. It was incredibly surreal, I felt as though I was drifting in and out of sleep and I just kept saying “Ok, Ok, Ok” after each contraction because in my mind I just kept reassuring myself that I was ok and that things were going well. Around this time the nurse and the midwife asked to check me again and without even really thinking about it I just said “No” very firmly. They hung around for a while and each time they would ask to check me I would just close my eyes and shake my head. I just knew that I could not handle anything breaking my focus and I knew that this baby was going to come out whether they checked my cervix or not. Finally, they left the room and I decided to try and see what it would feel like to bear down a little bit during the next contraction. I hesitantly tired it and it felt Ok so I tried it again on the next contraction without saying anything to anyone. All of the sudden on the next contraction my body took over and “trying to bear down a little” became involuntary pushing. My sounds and body language must have changed because my doula very calmly came over and asked “was that you pushing on that last contraction or was it your uterus?” I barely got the word uterus out before my body started pushing again. My doula chuckled and said, “it looks like you have a butt full of baby!” Apparently at that point she went out in the hall and told the nurse and the midwife that they should probably come back in, the nurse replied “well she is going to have to let us check her” my doula just laughed and said “I don’t think you’re going to have to, the head is coming out.”
The nurse and the midwife came back in and got everything ready. I don’t think I really realized how close I was to having this baby because I remember someone saying that they were setting up for delivery and thinking, “yeah right, that doesn’t mean anything I could still have hours left.” Then they moved the mirror to the side of the pool so that I could see myself pushing and there on the next contraction I saw the head starting to crown. One of my favorite songs on my birth playlist came on, “Holy Spirit” by Francesca Battistelli, this is one of my favorite worship songs and is all about creating a sacred and worshipful space. At this point my body was pushing so hard and uncontrollably I honestly felt like I couldn’t breath and in just two or three more contractions our little baby arrived! I reached down and pulled our little one up and out of the water. It was 3:30 AM just two hours and twenty minutes after my water had been broken. My doula was standing on a table taking pictures and both she and my mom were singing along with the song in a moment of total praise and worship. The baby’s cord was tangled at first so I could only get her to my belly. It took me a minute to snap out of labor land and realize that it was over and we had a baby! They untangled the cord and I pulled the baby up to my chest. I kissed that wet little head, covered in hair, and said “Oh baby, you did such a good job!” We heard that perfect little cry and I just stared in total awe. It was actually a few minutes before we realized we still didn’t know if we had a girl or a boy. I had my husband look and he announced to the room that we had a baby girl! I announced her name, rubbed her vernix into her skin, and my husband cut her cord. She went with him for some skin to skin time while I got out of the pool to deliver the placenta. The only downside to the whole experience was that her quick decent and my strong pushing caused some tearing that took a while to get repaired so I wasn’t able to feed her and hold her for another hour and half, but she was in the room with her daddy where I could still see her and hear her. After she ate and we moved to our postpartum room, she was weighed and measured. She was 6 lbs 14oz and 19 inches long.
Honestly, I would not change anything about my experience. I felt calm and confident throughout the entire 27 hours of labor. My team did an amazing job of supporting me. Even the slight hiccups, like the first trip to the hospital and having to have my water broken helped me reach my goals in the long run. The length of my labor kept me fully relying on my faith in God and her moment of birth was honestly one of the greatest moments of pure worship I have ever been a part of. I am still in awe of the experience and I am so thankful that it brought us our beautiful baby girl.