Mason James was born April 9, 2018, at 2:53 a.m. This is the story of his birth.
I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but it all started the evening of April 7. It was a Saturday, and my husband Chad and I went to dinner at our favorite spot in Denver. His food was garnished with jalapeños, and I picked them off and ate them, jokingly saying that maybe they’d put me into labor. We finished our meal and walked over to REI nearby. No agenda, I was just big and uncomfortable. I wanted to move and I wanted a distraction. We poked around awhile and looked at all of the cute outdoorsy kids gear. I told him a few times that I felt weird. Something was up. We joked about the jalapeños and then headed home to watch a movie.
Of course 5 minutes into the movie I had to pee. Because that’s what happens when you’re 39 weeks pregnant. But when I went to the bathroom I lost the mucus plug. I tried to not overthink it, since I’d heard it can still be awhile until you go into labor after that happens. So (with many more bathroom breaks) we finished the movie and went to bed.
I woke up at 3 a.m. with contractions. At the time, I wasn’t sure that’s what they were. They just felt like cramps. I started timing them. They were pretty irregular, anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes apart, and pretty mild, so I was able to sleep on and off until about 5:30 a.m. By then I knew this was it. I looked over at Chad and wanted so badly to tell him that our baby was on his way. But I knew it could be a long day ahead and I’d be leaning on him when things got really real, so I decided to keep my mouth shut and let him sleep.
I woke Chad at 7:30 a.m. and told him it was showtime. I felt good. I had breakfast, and was handling early labor just fine. It was my goal to stay at home where I was most comfortable as long as possible, so I texted my doula, Julie, to let her know, and then started to get things in order and find other ways to distract myself a bit.
Around noon, things started to get more intense. I wasn’t able to move through contractions as much. I spent a lot of time on my yoga ball watching labor visualizations and listening to meditations. Mindfulness was KEY to my labor. I started meditating during my pregnancy and prepared for my labor by building an arsenal of tools (visualization videos, guided meditations, breathing exercises, etc.) that would help me stay present through the pain.
The afternoon was tough. I had to work really hard to stay calm and focused. When a contraction would hit, I closed my eyes, started counting, and visualized a flower bud opening. I tried to keep drinking water and taking small bites of food. I barely made it through a shower. As the evening approached, I had to stand for every contraction and eventually had to recruit Chad for hip squeezes. The contractions were HARD, but they were still 5 minutes apart. Because of their spacing, I didn’t think I was very far along.
After periods of being hot and cold through the afternoon, I started having pretty significant chills and texted Julie at 5:55 p.m. letting her know. “Normally that’s a sign of very active labor, you may want to think about heading to the hospital soon,” she said.
Chad and I were still stuck on the timing of contractions, and my focus on mindfulness actually had me really calm despite the intensity of contractions, so we questioned whether it was necessary to go yet. Because I am who I am, I waddled into the kitchen between a contraction and started making Chad dinner while he called Julie. After a quick chat and hearing me through a contraction, they insisted we head out.
The car ride was the worst. Sitting upright was so uncomfortable. I burst out of the car at the hospital and argued against sitting in a wheelchair. They made me. I was pissed. The minute I got up the elevator to the fourth floor I got out of that thing. I leaned over the registration desk for a contraction. When it was over, I looked up and they asked if I was Hillary. Yep.
I got into a triage room. They took some vitals for me and the baby and confirmed that my water had broken. A nurse came into the room. It was Trish, the same nurse who gave me a tour of the hospital a month earlier. I was jazzed. I liked her. She asked if I wanted to know how dilated I was. I said no. I knew it would throw me off if I found out I was barely dilated and had a long way to go, and wanted to keep my head in the game. Trish just smiled and said “OK” as she left the room. Almost immediately after she left I had a weird feeling of pressure. Sort of like I had to go to the bathroom. I told Chad to get Trish. I told her how I was feeling and she insisted on measuring me: 9 centimeters.
Holy shit. Nine centimeters. I couldn’t believe it. I was almost there. I had this weird mix of emotions. I was happy, shocked, proud, excited, and a little scared for the grand finale. Julie hadn’t even arrived yet. And I hadn’t spent any time in the tub yet. Dammit, I was looking forward to that tub.
Trish broke my little daydream by shuttling me right into my room. “We’re not going to have a baby in the hallway!” she said. The room was set up just as I had written in my birth plan. Lights low, lavender oil diffusing, calming playlist on. Man, they pulled that off quickly.
Minutes later, around 7:30 p.m., Julie arrived and Trish measured me again: 10 centimeters.
You know what Chad said? “I’m going to run to the car and get our stuff.” Great idea, Chad. Now’s a good time to leave. Between the words and glaring looks of me, Julie, and Trish, he was snapped back into the moment.
I was 10 centimeters, but I didn’t have the urge yet to push, so I labored for another hour or so. I was ALL over the room in pretty much every position I learned in my labor class. Clothes off, wet towel on my neck, swishing ice water in my mouth and spitting it out. It was INTENSE. Chad held up his phone to my ear. It was a voicemail from my sister telling me how strong and awesome I was. It gave me the little confidence boost I needed to say, “I got this.”
I finally felt like I wanted to try to push. The contractions were still about 3 minutes apart, which was a blessing and a curse. Having a couple minutes between contractions allowed me to rest so that I had the energy to keep going (I was about 18 hours into labor by that point), but they also prevented me from making much progress. I’d get Mason moved down a bit while pushing, and then while waiting for the next contraction, he’d slide back up.
We tried it all. Birth chair, birth ball. On my back, on all fours. They tried putting a mirror up. That just pissed me off, because I could see his tiny head, and it wouldn’t fucking move. Around 9:30 or 10 p.m., I remember asking if his birthday would be April 8 or April 9. April 8 was the resounding answer. Everyone was sure he’d be born before midnight. Spoiler alert: he was not. Turns out Chad could have gone to the car after all.
Honestly, I questioned if he’d ever come out. Maybe it was the delirium of 24 hours of labor, but for a minute I legitimately wondered if anyone ever had a baby just stuck in there. I was wildly calm about it all, and looking back, I wonder why I wasn’t more concerned. I was just so damn focused. I was tired, but I still felt confident and strong in body and in mind. The mind is a powerful thing.
I was also comforted by the fact that Mason’s vitals were solid. My little team of Chad, Trish, Julie, and the 2 physicians (a resident and attending) was SO supportive. They were patient with my slow labor and with my stubborn attitude. The resident even ordered me a meal for when it was all over. “Trust me,” she said, “you’re going to be hungry.”
It was a quiet night in labor and delivery, so the physicians were in and out of the room quite a bit. But I knew things were getting serious when the whole crowd came in. More nurses, both physicians, a table with a whole lot of unpleasant looking tools.
I don’t know what else to call it other than instinct, but it just felt like I knew what to do. The resident asked if I wanted to help deliver him. Hell yes I did. One more push and I leaned forward and felt his head. I grabbed onto his tiny little body and pulled him the rest of the way out, straight onto my chest. I’ll never forget that feeling. The sticky warmth of his body. That sweet but manic cry. Chad kept repeating, “You did it!”
It was hard. Really fucking hard. But never in my life have I been so intensely present, so focused, and so proud.
Mason James, you are my greatest accomplishment.
Written by Hillary Bennetts