Danny Lesslie of Dadswagger wrote this story about his second-born daughter, Ace. Dadswagger empowers fathers to be present with their families. His Instagram account features images of dads being dads in their everyday lives, and illustrates the power of a present father. Hear more on Danny’s birth and fatherhood perspective here.
Birth Story of Ace
Birth—what a crazy experience! It really is hard to put into words and feel like I have even scratched the surface or the emotion/experience of it all. The first birth was a true rite of passage for us. I have never been a part of something so visceral, and wildly joyful at the same time. There were moments of sheer terror, and moments of unequaled gratitude. My wife, a warrior and a champion of humanity, took no drugs, and fought tooth and nail for hours for us to meet our first daughter. I watched and was by her side as it all went down, with the few bouts of nausea, and 2-3 near blackouts. Not to downplay the pregnancy, because that was no easy task. I just got to go along for the ride and see what strength really is.
After all was said and done with our first, it turned out that we were still discussing the birth all the time. My wife was, and still is dealing with the psychological and physical implications of creating, and birthing a human. This is quite a journey and everyone has some serious adjusting and healing to do. If I had it all to do again, I would do exactly what I did. I believe my wife would say the same. We would change nothing. Our daughters are beautiful and bring us more joy than I can explain. But birth is traumatic, it is not a pleasant experience. Each birth is in the wild success column, and each birth was completely different, and equally as traumatic.
For the birth of our second daughter, my wife was 7 cm dilated when we got to the birth center. If you don’t know this is well on your way, 10 cm is the number to start pushing and baby is coming soon. We got to the birth center about 6 a.m., and she had our daughter by 8:45 a.m. This birth was way faster than our first. My wife was also present the entire time. In the first birth, it was almost like she left her body, and her body did the work. I distinctly remember the moment she left, and the exact moment she returned. This is part of the mysteriousness of the whole experience. In the second birth, she was lucid and battling demons and pain the entire time. It was truly an amazing thing to be a part of. Let no one ever tell you birth is easy, or downplay the strength of a mother. I am about to reinforce this with our birth story. The pushing, the screaming, the vicious reality, the hope and excitement when you see your child’s head. I can’t help but get teary eyed talking about it.
Then came the moment, my wife pushed one final time and our baby’s head came out, then quickly came the rest of her beautiful little body. The first time you lay your eyes on someone you created is a moment I wish for all of you. You can’t help but lose your breath and just feel humility for the blessing. The sense of warmth in my heart and soul radiated through my whole body. We still didn’t know what we had. Boy or girl. Our trusted midwife Robyn immediately laid the baby on mama. So then we looked, we had a girl. YES! We couldn’t be more proud, and grateful. I cannot explain to you the sense of relief when your child is out safely on mama’s belly. Everyone was finally calm. The crazy confusing hurricane of birth was past us. While you are anxiously awaiting the birth, contraction to contraction is like a roller coaster if you were blindfolded, you are on the verge of sick the entire time, sweating, and your heartbeat is through the roof. This can go on for hours, with no end in sight. And finally it comes to an end, and all your anxiety melts into pure joy, relief.
Our midwife then began to do the post-birth activities, one of which is clamping the umbilical cord. She grabbed onto it, as mama and I were fawning and feasting our eyes on or new baby girl. When suddenly we realized something was awry. The umbilical cord just pulled right out. It was attached to nothing. This is a big “no bueno.” If you have never been a part of a birth, the baby is the first thing to come out of mama. Then must come the placenta. This is attached to the umbilical cord. Typically, you grab ahold of the cord and apply traction. While doing this mama, has a few more contractions that help push her placenta out. This is not a pleasant or comfortable thing for mama, either. The placenta is not meant to stay inside the mama. When it does, it is called a retained placenta. Although somewhat rare, this definitely does happen. Our well-earned relief quickly took a very sharp and treacherous turn. As if birth was not enough of a traumatic experience, we then learned that our midwife was going to have to go on a recon mission for the placenta.
You can use your imagination as to what has to go on here, but this bad boy has to come out. Our midwife calmly went through the options with us about how to frame this and move forward. After a painful and exhausting 30 min. or so of failed attempts at getting the placenta to come out, we as a team—midwife, mama, and papa—decided it was time to go in. By going in, I mean going in to the hospital, which means drugs, and a whole host of things we specifically chose to avoid. Herein lies a risk in out-of-hospital births. There are some things that are just not possible. We were willing to accept these risks. We were all heartbroken. Such a moment of joy, and still mama was not in the clear. She was far from it. In these moments where she should be basking in the warmth of her new baby on her chest, she was quivering with exhaustion, and facing the reality that she still had work to do.
We made the choice to send our older daughter home with grandma, I would stay at the birth center with the new baby, and our midwife and my wife would go to the hospital. I almost threw up even playing this out in my head. Fuck no! I won’t let my wife go alone, without me. But we were not taking our just-born daughter into a hospital waiting room. Not a chance. So I was stuck. Then my mind began to race. In this moment that is supposed to be so perfect, I am horrified as I hold my brand new daughter. What a weird moment in time. My heart didn’t know whether to be completely broken, or to be exploding with joy. I now have two baby girls, and I am shuttering at the thought of my wife not being OK. What if by some crazy circumstance my wife doesn’t come back? What if something goes wrong and I am not there? How is this now a life and death thing? Is this a possibility? My heart was hurting, I wanted to burst into tears as I watched my wife endure this. But we were going forward. It was the only way.
My wife stood up off the bed, quivering. We all felt so defeated. We began to wipe her off, and wrap a towel around her to get ready for the trip to the hospital. I had a thought, and asked her to squat down and see if that might help the placenta move along. As she squatted down, all that once was hope, like a small candle in the distance began to grow. She peered down between her legs, and there it was. She said she could see the placenta. So Robyn encouraged her to try to grab it. I was fully goose-bumped and almost shivering as this went down. It was like God put a handle on that weird looking squishy thing. My wife grabbed onto her placenta and pulled it out. WHAT?! Let me say that again: MY WIFE GRABBED ONTO HER PLACENTA AND PULLED IT OUT! Now THAT is some POWER OF A WOMAN WARRIOR SHIT! What was a terribly dismal and heartbroken scene, exploded into pure awestruck jubilation. I swear my heart skipped 20 beats. We were all in tears, we were all just giddy. My wife was OK. I cannot relay the sense of calm in my heart at this moment. It almost seemed like we just played out some sort of unrealistic fantasy together. Reality was bent. I still have to pinch myself to know it’s really true. No matter what happens, you better read the last page of that book. Holy moly, is there some serious truth to that statement?!
Then our midwife helped my wife to the shower where she helped her to shower off, and we were good to go. With a little bit of relaxing we were in the car headed home. We joked about going to get waffles for lunch. This was crazy, this whole thing still has me speechless. It still seems fake.
I was seriously taken aback at the thought of possibly losing my wife while sitting there holding our daughter. For some reason, when you think of having a baby, you don’t think about loss, or problems, or that everything and everyone might not be OK. These moments are burned into our story, and they are forever etched into the story of my wife’s strength as a human and as a mother. I am in awe! I am so blessed to have such a wife, and two powerful and beautiful baby girls.
My wife and I always spoke about having many kids. I was the one who wanted to push four to the craziness of six. After this birth, my wife said that might be the last baby she has. I couldn’t be more in agreement. I harbor no ill will to this perspective after watching her give birth to our two daughters, and watching the recoveries from both. Each birth had its own drama, and its own trauma. Don’t let anyone tell you birth is not beautiful, but there is also a dark side. It forever leaves scars, it forever leaves emotional and psychological hurdles to be dealt with.
I can tell you this: I don’t want to be back in the shoes of being in a life and death situation again. Making those choices haunts a person. We were crazy fortunate to have made out like birth bandits on this day. We have two beautiful girls, I have my warrior of a wife, and I have to tell you there is nothing more I/we need.
Each day, I see my three beautiful girls, and they all remind me of the strength of the others. I will never forget the experiences of seeing them both come into this world. I look at them and I see the strength of my wife, I look at my wife and am eternally thankful for the two amazing gifts she has given me. This is all positive. Granted, birth is like going through the ringer and then being run over by a truck, and I am the dad. I don’t know how my wife does it. Let me tell you, watching someone go through and experience what I have described is an amazing thing. Talk about falling hopelessly in love. This is my life.
On Wed., Sept. 6, I went to prenatal yoga. I had been waiting months for it to be my turn for the class to chant to me. The class will chant to any mama who is close to her due date to help get things going. It rarely ever works, but I had been chanting to women for almost nine months, and I was so excited—it was finally my turn. While everyone chanted to my cervix and yelled for Wyatt to come out, I tried to relax everything and visualize everything opening. There was a another gal who we chanted to who was past her due date and I was hoping I wouldn’t be like her and need another round of chanting—but I was pretty convinced our baby was coming early.
At 4 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 7, I woke up for my millionth time to pee and there was a little bit of blood. I was so excited because I knew that, unlike losing your mucus plug, this meant things would be happening within the next few days at most. As soon as I saw the blood, I started experiencing real contractions. They were very mild, but definitely not Braxton Hicks anymore. They felt like sustained period cramps in my lower abdomen. I didn’t want to wake Joe because I knew he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep and he would need his rest if this was going to happen soon. I told him I couldn’t sleep and was going to read in the other room. I anxiously awaited his 6:15 a.m. alarm so I could tell him the exciting news. I tried to sleep but couldn’t, I was just too excited. I waited for Joe to get up and make his coffee and then I asked, “Are you ready to meet your son this weekend?” He was definitely taken by surprise. I told him he should still go to work as we were probably still a ways out from anything happening, but he didn’t want to be away so he worked from home.
The rest of the day I just relaxed, finalized my birth bag, updated my family and my doula. I spent time on the birth ball doing a lot of circles to open up my pelvis. We went for a short walk in the neighborhood, but throughout the day my contractions were really far apart and not really gaining in intensity. I decided to try and lay down for a nap in case things picked up in the night. I slept in the nursery in the guest bed since it’s darker in there. Joe turned on the two-way monitor so I could call for him if I needed anything. I was laying on my side, trying to calm my thoughts so I could finally get some sleep when I felt a gush! I called out to Joe so he would hear me on the monitor. It felt like he took forever to respond. He came upstairs with a towel—I didn’t want to have to change the sheets and I could tell it hadn’t hit the bed yet. I rolled out of bed and was shocked that the water just kept coming! It was a lot, but then stopped as I went to the toilet. I was concerned because my doula had told my husband (who mentioned to me but wasn’t supposed to) that it can be more painful to labor naturally if your water breaks so early in the process.
I sat on the toilet while my husband called the doula. She said to call Kaiser and see what they say to do since my contractions were still sporadic and not intensifying. Kaiser has you come in even if you sneeze funny, so of course, they wanted me to come in. By now, my contractions were getting uncomfortable and it was better to breathe through them, but I didn’t HAVE to. I had made a day-of packing list and taped it to the front door, so while Joe loaded the car I paced outside. I was nervous to go to the hospital so early in labor, I knew we weren’t close, but I wanted to make sure our little man was OK.
Just before leaving, we folded a large beach towel so it was 3 in. thick for me to sit on as I was still leaking water. Once we were in the car, I kept getting more gushes of water. I’m talking gallons. I quickly soaked through the towel, onto the car seats and was puddling on the floor. I was sitting in a puddle of water. No one ever said the gushes keep coming! I kept asking Joe to look to see if the fluid was clear—didn’t occur to me that he should focus on driving. He stayed so calm and I was convinced there was an odor (which is a very bad sign) but Joe kept reassuring me. He later said he too was freaking out because it was so much!
We made it to the hospital around 6 p.m. and I put on my hypnobirthing script as we walked in to stay calm and focused. I started crying when I saw that Nurse Kathy was on duty. We had seen her the last two times we had to go in for having too many Braxton Hicks contractions. She switched with another nurse to be assigned to our room, which was awesome. I got hooked up and the midwife confirmed that I was having good regular contractions but she didn’t want to check me and risk infection since my water broke. Wyatt was handling the contractions well and she said she wanted to admit me. I told her I wanted to leave because my plan was to labor at home until I couldn’t talk between contractions (I wanted to do as much at home as I could). She said they would leave me alone to labor as long as I wanted if I stayed and I was torn. We called our doula and she said that if the midwife wasn’t trying very hard to convince me to stay, I should leave. We decided to leave, and the midwife was really great about letting us go, we just had to sign an AMA form. Kathy and her both said they would see me later. They also told me which midwives were on duty and even though mine wasn’t, the next shift was being covered by a midwife I had seen a few times and I really liked her.
I was nervous to drive the 25 minutes home, because I didn’t want to deal with the drive back when I was further along, so at 7 p.m. we went to my sister-in-law’s house to labor there as she is 10 minutes away. By now my contractions were more regular and definitely much more intense. I told Joe to stop the car at a right-hand yield turn because I could feel a strong contraction coming on. He wouldn’t stop because there were cars behind us, and I remember being so mad in the moment. After that, he drove so well! When we got to Meghan’s (my sister-in-law), she had the downstairs dark and quiet, with the best pillow nest I’ve ever been in set up on the couch. I was so worried about leaking water on her brand new couch, but she kept assuring me she had covered everything. Our doula met us there and I was finally able to relax and rest in the pillow nest and we settled into a rhythm with the contractions. I started toning—making a low tone—throughout each contraction. I told Joe I needed him to make the sound with me, and from that moment on, he moaned through EVERY contraction with me for the remaining 18 hours of labor!
I tried to rest in the pillow nest, and then we went for a walk in the neighborhood. The doula had me walk with one foot on the sidewalk and one in the gutter to open my pelvis, which was more awkward than uncomfortable. We labored on the birth ball, on the toilet, and tried all fours for a bit on the yoga mat but that wasn’t very comfortable. For some reason, I would burp at the end of every contraction. I couldn’t control it, and my poor husband had to deal with me burping in face as we breathed together. The contractions were stronger, but still not very close together and I was still able to talk in between them. I decided around 11 p.m. that I wanted to get to the hospital so we could get in a groove there. I was nervous that the car ride would be too uncomfortable if I got much further along and I knew it would break my focus. I just wanted to get to the hospital ASAP so we could regain our groove. I was also afraid I was going to throw up, so I clung to a bowl the whole drive back to the hospital.
When we checked in to triage, I begged them not to make me pee in a cup and do the whole check-in routine again since I was there four hours earlier. The clerk said I had to, but Nurse Kathy came to the rescue again and just took me straight back to a triage room. I got hooked up and my contractions were showing stronger and I was ready to be admitted. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to walk to the labor room, so they were nice enough to wheel me in the bed to our labor room. All throughout the pregnancy I had visualized the labor room as having the window on the left side of the bed (I think that is what I saw in the tour) and when we got in, Room 209 had a window on the left and I thought, “I can do this, the window is on the left.” It was surprisingly comforting. Our nurse introduced herself to us but said she was going on break for a bit and introduced our temporary nurse. She let that nurse know that I had refused to get the IV saline lock (I just didn’t want that to distract me, and my team had been keeping me hydrated). The temporary nurse didn’t like that and then took one look at my contraction tape and started spouting off about how worried she was and how awful the baby was doing. Keep in mind, everything looked fine in triage and we had just transitioned to a new room and bed. She ran off dramatically to find the midwife. I told our actual nurse that we were planning to have a calm birth environment and that I didn’t like that nurse’s tone. I told her we needed to find someone else, and thankfully, we never saw that lady again. I changed my position and the baby responded better to the contractions. After that, we hunkered in and got back in our rhythm of breathing and changing positions every so often.
We tried all kinds of positions—all fours in bed, hanging over the back of the bed, standing, yoga ball, toilet. I had no idea that the first contraction in a new position was alway more intense, so it took some convincing from the doula for me to change positions. I kept my positive birth affirmations playing on a loop and would tune in to certain phrases throughout labor. We held off on getting checked because I didn’t want to get too hung up on the number. Eventually, I was concerned that I could still talk in between my contractions, which I was afraid meant I wasn’t very far along. I told myself that if I wasn’t a 7, I would get the epidural. The midwife checked me and said I was a 6 but she could stretch me to a 7. I was so disappointed because I was so close to my target number. My doula was great about keeping me distracted and said we would call it a 7 and just kept me moving along through positions.
At some point, the baby just wasn’t recovering fast enough after my contractions and the midwife said the best way to support him was IV fluids and oxygen. At this point, I didn’t want to risk stressing him out further and needing serious interventions, so I got all hooked up and he responded well to this.
We kept on laboring and I still could talk in between contractions, which kept freaking me out. I thought I had so much longer to go because everyone said they knew they were in active labor when they couldn’t talk in between.
At one point, I actually nodded off in between contractions and I remember dreaming about the Mindy Project—which I had been binge watching while on leave. I remember waking up and thinking how strange it was to be thinking of that at a time like this.
I told everyone to chant the number 8 through the next several contractions and everyone did! I asked to be checked and if I wasn’t an 8 I was going for the epidural—the process was just feeling endless. I was a 9.5! I was so excited that I was in the home stretch … or so I thought! I wasn’t fully effaced, and the doctor said there was still a “lip” of my cervix that was in the way of his head. She said she needed to manually flip the edge of my cervix out of the way. The kicker was, she said she had to do this DURING my contractions and that it would take several tries! This sounded like the worst idea ever, but I was ready to be done, so the next contraction she got to work. I don’t remember it being that bad, and eventually she got it cleared and it was time to start pushing—around 9 a.m.
I had heard that pushing without an epidural could take up to 2 hours, but I was determined to get him out and be done with this process. My doula said that the first push will push him forward, but then he will retract a bit. The second push is where you make progress, and if you can get a good third push in, you will hold our progress. I felt like I could only get two good pushes per contraction and I was just faking the third. We tried pushing in several positions: squat, on the toilet, on my back and side. We got out the squat bar, but it was too intimidating so I didn’t use it. The new midwife checked me after pushing for a while and said that Wyatt was getting stuck on my pelvis and in order to clear that part I needed to push flat on my back. We pushed for a while here but eventually I just needed to change positions. We think I eventually cleared the pelvis while pushing on the toilet.
I pushed for a long time on my side, but would get a horrendous cramp in my hip the minute the contraction was over. There was a peanut-shaped exercise ball they put between my knees after each contraction, but I felt like they could never put it in place fast enough and I would scream for the peanut ball until they got it in place and I could rest.
At one point, a nurse wheeled in a tray that was covered and I thought for sure this meant I was close to delivery. But, they kept it in the back of the room FOREVER and I kept wondering when it would be time. The midwife kept checking in on me and every time she came in I would ask, “Are you going to stay until the end?” I thought each time she entered, “This will be it.” But then she would have to leave and I knew I wasn’t close.
Eventually, Nurse Cynthia said it was time to massage me and get me ready for delivery. I’ve come to learn that no part of any “massage” in the hospital is fun. While she massaged the birth canal, she’s chatting with me in between pushes and asks if I do CrossFit! She said my glutes were in the way and that I have a really strong pelvic floor. Not the conversation I expected.
When the midwife came in next, I had been pushing for 4 hours and she was concerned that, because my contractions were still 5 minutes apart, this was just taking too long. I was getting tired, and so was Wyatt. She suggested giving me pitocin to speed up contractions. I was worried because I thought this would make things more painful, but the contractions actually didn’t hurt much at this point and she said it shouldn’t cause more discomfort—just less rest in between. I asked if we could try a few more positions and we did for 30 more minutes, but not much progress came so we started the pitocin. I don’t recall things picking up. But apparently my contractions got to 2 minutes apart. The midwife asked if I wanted to watch in a mirror and I said yes, even though I was unsure. At first, I could not see his head at all—everything looked the same down there and nothing like my vagina. But eventually I saw him and it was so motivating and incredible to see him pushing through. Because he went slightly back in after each push, I was determined not to let him go too far back so watching really helped me focus. I touched his head, but I felt like it broke my focus, so I kept my hand behind my legs to push.
Seeing him come into this world was the most incredible thing I have ever seen. They put him right onto my belly as soon as he came out. I went to pull him to my chest, but the midwife said to wait. Apparently the umbilical cord was pretty short, so he couldn’t reach my chest until the placenta came out. I rubbed him and talked to him, it was such an incredible moment. A few minutes later I did a short push and the placenta came out and I was able to pull him to my chest. The way he looked up at me melted my heart—it was the greatest feeling ever. He wasn’t interested in eating just yet so I just held him and talked to him and we just stared at him in awe that he was finally here.
Oh boy, where do I even begin this story? I guess at the beginning … or maybe even a little before Mr. Dreyer was in the making. Early in 2016, Darson and I had determined we were ready to take on the next chapter of our lives: parenthood. We began actively trying to get pregnant in May 2016. Fast Forward nine months and that dreaded little pee stick finally had two lines … PREGNANT!
Those nine months were exciting at first, thinking about making a baby, having fun with that week window, and dreaming of how we’d announce our pregnancy to everyone. But then as any couple who has had trouble getting pregnant knows, with every negative pregnancy test comes the letdown, the fear, the sadness. I know our story ended with a happy, healthy little boy and not everyone’s does. To those of you whose story hasn’t ended in such a way, my heart goes out to you, and I can’t begin to try to understand how you feel.
As we neared the nine-month mark of no pregnancy, we began the steps of infertility testing. Me, always the worry wart, feared the worst. Darson, always the positive one, wasn’t worried. We had Darson checked out … swimmers are good to go, wahoo!
I had a hysterosalpingogram, a test for blocked fallopian tubes, which by the way is super painful. They tell you it’s going to feel like period cramping … ugh no … it’s like a knife in your gut! Anyway, thankfully everything was normal so we didn’t pursue any further testing or interventions at this time. We were told that the hysterosalpingogram sometimes increased the chance of pregnancy because it opens up and clears out your tubes.
During that next cycle, I was trying to be patient and wait to pee on a stick until I had more of a likelihood for it to show positive, but if you’ve been in my shoes you know it’s so hard to wait. So one day, even though it was early in the process, I had this feeling like maybe I should take a test today. It wasn’t even early morning or my first pee of the day. I decided what the heck and took the test. My heart skipped a beat as I saw that first positive. The second line was so faint I almost didn’t believe it. I snapped a picture of it and sent it to my friend, Ashley. She agreed with me that there was a second line! I can’t even explain to you how excited I was, but also very nervous and trying not to get my hopes up, which was next to impossible. Ashley offered to bring me another test after she got off work. I think I ended up taking three tests that day.
Finally pregnant … now what? I wanted to wait to tell my husband for his birthday. I spent the day looking up fun ideas on Pinterest of how to tell him. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t wait. I ended up running to the store before he got home to get a baby photo frame, wrote a note on it: “Baby Grantham Coming Fall 2017,” and put it on the table with another note that said, “Happy early birthday, Daddy.” When he got home that night, I videotaped him coming into the house. I had little notes with silly hints posted as he came in the door. Seeing his face and the tears of joy in his eyes as he realized what it was all about made me so incredibly happy! One of the many precious moments to come.
Ohhhhh pregnancy … I have a love/hate relationship with you. It was the most incredible, worst, hardest, most amazing thing I have experienced in life. I was super sick for the first four months and had to take medication until 18 weeks just so I wouldn’t throw up all day. One of my many memorable vomit experiences was while driving down I-80. I had just dropped a friend off and was headed home when I started to get that feeling … you know the one … I tried to pull off the interstate, but I didn’t make it off the off-ramp before … yep, there it came in all its glory as I’m pulling up the off-ramp to a stop light. Thank goodness I had a large cup in the cup holder, that caught most of it, and my lap the rest. Ugh!
People kept telling me, “Oh, you forget the sickness. You won’t even remember how bad it was.” Wrong people, wrong. I remember all too well! Those days I didn’t feel like I could go on, laying on the floor telling Hayden, my one-year-old niece whom I babysat daily, I was so sorry I couldn’t play with her because I couldn’t lift my head up. Don’t get me wrong it’s SO worth it, but I haven’t forgotten how hard it was.
Pregnancy is also the most amazing thing I’ve ever done and experienced. There is nothing in the world like hearing that heartbeat for the first time. I remember being so nervous as we went in for our nine-week appointment. I was a wreck until I heard that heartbeat come up. It was funny because I automatically let out a sigh and the ultrasound tech heard me and said, “Ah, we can all relax now.” She read my mind. And then when you start to feel those little baby movements, hiccups, kicks and rolls inside your belly. There are literally no words I can use to explain the crazy, weird, awesomeness. I know it’s cliche, but pregnancy truly is a miracle.
I knew early on in this pregnancy that I wanted to do things, as we do most things in our lives, a little outside the norm. I knew there would be some controversy if we chose to do what I call “hippie things” such as having a home birth, using a midwife, encapsulating my placenta, choosing not to circumcise, and not vaccinating, but what I didn’t realize is that I would receive such aggressive personal attacks.
Sidenote: I refer to myself and these things as “hippie” because to me, that word signifies living outside the box and not allowing society to dictate life decisions without being fully educated.
This controversy and the personal attacks fueled my passion to learn as much as I could about all of these things, educating myself on the pros and cons of both sides of all these topics, and being vocal about our decisions in an effort to educate others and bring light to all of the choices women have that most don’t even realize.
I could talk all day about the things I learned and why I’m so passionate about the holistic, natural-care route that we chose, but that’s for another day. What I will say is that I am so grateful that we found our midwife, Dana Ericson, doula, Virginia Traxler, and the close-knit community here in Des Moines that focuses on holistic care. There have been so many awesome resources sent our way from connecting with this community from our birth class instructor, Amy Brooks-Murphy, to our lactation consultant who saved us on Dreyer’s Day 2, Angela Swieter. It has been an incredibly supportive community and we feel so lucky to have found it.
Now to the good stuff: the birth! I thought pregnancy was the most incredible, worst, hardest, most amazing thing I had experienced in life, but then came giving birth!
Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, 40 Weeks pregnant. The planning was done, the prepping was complete, but no sign of baby. I had the list of supplies tucked neatly away in a laundry basket in Dreyer’s room. We had gotten all of our midwife’s medical supplies and tucked them away in our bedroom corner. Everyone knew our plan and was ready for our all-natural home birth.
As we patiently (most of the time) awaited our little one’s arrival any day now, this mama tried every wives’ tale and trick in the book to try and get things moving. I ate an irrational amount of dates and pineapple, had awkward sex (I mean, come on, if you’ve had sex at 40 weeks pregnant, there is just no other way to describe it), went for long walks, ate spicy foods and jalapeños, rested, chiropractic, acupuncture, you name it and I probably did it. My decision is that these are exactly like they are named: tales. Like fairy tales. They’re just not true and they don’t work!
Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, I had another uneventful day of relaxing, baking cookies, and waiting for the babe. I was 40+4 weeks gestation, and in all honesty, I still felt great. I decided to go to the chiropractor in the afternoon and then I went for a walk around a nearby lake. I walked the entire way, just over 2 miles, in hopes that it would put me into labor. Well, it did … sort of. I began having some mild contractions during my walk. I assumed they would stop after I had rested for a time as they had in the past so I didn’t get too excited. I sent my husband off alone to teach our Financial Peace University class that evening and I rested on the couch.
The contractions continued through the evening, and by the time my husband got home, I was certain that this was the beginning of early labor! I sent off a message to my midwife, doula, and photographer updating them so that they would have a heads up if things progressed in the night.
My midwife instructed me to go to bed, get some rest, and call if I was in active labor. I went to bed for a bit, but soon after, I got up and went to the couch so that I didn’t keep Darson awake with my contractions, which had increased in frequency to around every 3-10 minutes varying in time. Contractions every 10 minutes or less … you know what that meant for mama: no sleep. But I was OK with it as I was excited that things had finally started!
By Tuesday morning I was exhausted. Contractions started to space out a little to maybe every 15-30 minutes. This allowed me to get some rest. My midwife came over that morning to check on me. She listened to baby who sounded perfect, checked my blood pressure, and looked me over. All checked out so she said to keep resting and we would wait for things to progress.
I had Darson stay home from work that day thinking, this is it! He later reminded me that when he asked me if he should stay home from work, I said, “You better if you want to see your child born.” Ha, little did I know I was getting my panties in a bunch. He could have worked until Thursday morning!
As you can imagine, by Tuesday evening I was not a happy camper when nothing seemed to be progressing, but the contractions continued on. I remember thinking as the sun was setting, “I can’t do this again,” referring to going all night with contractions and no sleep, but that’s exactly what happened.
As soon as the sun set, my contractions picked back up. This night they were only around 3-8 minutes apart ALL NIGHT! I couldn’t bear this alone again all night so I stayed in the bedroom and Darson woke with me during the contractions. As each contraction passed, he reminded me to close my eyes and try to rest between. For those of you who know what contractions feel like, even early ones, you know how hard it is to sleep through them. At least it was for me. I would start to doze off and be rudely awakened with the feeling of my insides forcefully tightening up and being twisted (that’s the best way I can describe it).
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or if the contractions really did get stronger through the night, but I was so exhausted that every contraction felt more unbearable than the last. I got in the bathtub a couple of times, which seemed to help with the pain, but I nodded off and almost fell asleep in the bath water. Then came the lovely contraction to wake me up and I had to pull myself up to a sitting position to bear it. Oh yes, and this was the night I lost my mucus plug. To this day, I will tell you that this was the grossest thing out of the whole birthing process. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Eek. Losing my mucus plug brought me more hope, though—it meant that we were getting closer and things were finally progressing!
After a VERY long night, we had made it to Wednesday morning and it felt like an eternity had passed. Again the contractions spaced out. I think they were more like every 10 minutes again at this point. My midwife came over again to check on me. This time she checked my cervix: 1- 1 ½ centimeter dilated and 75 percent effaced. All I could think was, “Seriously? Two flipping nights of contractions and I’m only at 1 centimeter?!
However, my midwife said something that sounded like music to my ears after she checked me: “Let’s have this baby today.” I was like, “YES, LET US.” We decided to bring out the big guns at this point and call on the dreaded castor oil. I took the first dose mixed with some OJ and ice—not so bad. About 30 minutes later, I threw it all up … gross. We waited awhile, took a walk, and then took another dose. This time was just plain yuck! OK, here we go, this has got to do something.
Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, noon, I feel a gush. Yep, my water broke! My heart leaps! Here we go, FINALLY! I run (OK, waddle) to the bathroom to make sure it is my water. My heart sinks—I see green fluid in my pad. For those of you who don’t know, that means there was meconium (baby’s first poop) in my water bag. I automatically knew what this meant. We would have to transfer to the hospital due to the concern of respiratory complications for the baby. There goes my plan, there goes my home birth. I was crushed. Mind you, I was going on 48 hours of no sleep so I was exhausted and very emotional.
As I walked out to the living room to tell my husband, I remember tears just welling up in my eyes, the same as what’s happening this moment as I’m reliving it while I write this. I took a deep breath and sent a picture to my midwife. She confirmed that it was meconium and said she would call me shortly. Those moments as we awaited her call I was a mess. My husband was so sweet, talking me through it and being so supportive. I knew we needed to go to the hospital for the safety of the baby, which was the most important thing to me, but I also could not help feeling all the emotions going through me and all I could think at that moment was, “I wanted this so badly. What about all those people who didn’t believe I could do it? What about our plans? What about the birth banner and Christmas lights I hung up? This was supposed to be perfect.” With the support of my husband, I began to come to terms with what was happening. Above all, I knew it was for the best and I knew that this had been a possibility all along.
My midwife called us and we discussed options for transfer. We decided to transfer to Broadlawns Medical Center to the care of another midwife, Rebecca Schleuger-Valadao, who had recently started practice there. We feel so blessed to have been able to transfer into her. She was amazing and the staff at Broadlawns were wonderful. I felt good knowing that I was going into the care of a midwife whose background was home births. I knew she would understand and respect my wishes for a natural birth. So we quickly loaded up and headed there. On the way, I let my doula and photographer know the plans.
When we arrived at the hospital around 1:30 p.m., my contractions were getting much stronger and I could barely walk. I remember the 10-minute wait in the registration area seemed like forever. I hated being out in the waiting area where everyone was walking by. There was no privacy as I was wriggling around in pain trying not to make any sounds that would draw more attention to myself. Once we got to our room, I began to feel more comfortable—not as in having less pain, that continued to increase. But I was at ease with the transition.
The transfer into the hospital was fairly smooth. The staff came in and introduced themselves, the nurses, the midwife, the pediatrician, the residents, etc., which was great and they were all very nice, but it was so distracting to me. I was trying to zone out and concentrate on making it through each contraction and in the middle of one, someone would walk in and tell me who they were and explain that they would be there for the birth and why. Honestly, at this point I didn’t care who was in the room during the birth, I just wanted them to get the heck out of my room so I could get through my contraction. It was so frustrating at that moment. I was trying to be patient with them, though, because I’m a nurse so I know that they are just doing what they are supposed to.
Rebecca was wonderful. She gave me a warm welcome and talked me through my options, giving me the rundown on how things would progress, but I have to tell you, I about lost it again when I heard those dreaded words: “We will get the Pitocin started.” I mean, I knew that I didn’t have a choice at this point but to be induced due to my bags of water being ruptured and meconium in the fluid. I knew I was now on the clock, but to hear it out loud and know that it was real, I had to take another deep breath and come to terms with the fact that this was all in my baby’s and my best interest, and even though I had my heart set on an all-natural birth, this was best.
We started Pitocin around 2:30 p.m. and I continued to labor. My husband, midwife, and doula were all with me helping me through each contraction. I had to be moving to make it through them, sitting on the birthing ball, moving my hips in a circle, or dancing with someone. I just had to move and breathe through them. They became so strong that it took all my energy to get through them. I was going on three days with no sleep and constant contractions. It’s an understatement to say that I was exhausted.
My team of support kept me going. They were incredible! I honestly don’t know how I could have done it without them. Baby’s heart rate stayed perfect—he’s a champ! So we continued on. My midwife and doula were huge advocates for me. They got the staff to bring in the water tub. I got in that for a while and continued to labor there as long as I could.
Around 7:30 p.m., I was having very strong contractions and my bloody show. We decided to have the nurse check me again thinking I would be around complete. My heart dropped when the nurse said I was only at 6 centimeters dilated.
I thought, “OH MY GOSH, how the hell am I going to do this any longer?” I was so exhausted and the contractions were so strong. If you don’t know anything about Pitocin, it can make the contractions bigger and stronger than normal contractions. I don’t know for certain, but I truly think that is why my contractions were so strong and almost unbearable … well that, and simply because my body was SO tired.
After I had been checked, and it was determined I was only 6 centimeters dilated, my midwife questioned an epidural. Up until this point we had not even talked about an epidural because everyone knew that it was not what I wanted. My midwife, being so incredibly wise as she is, knew that I was exhausted and needed rest in order to gather the strength to push this baby out. We all discussed it. No one pushed it on me, we simply talked about the pros and cons. At one point, I even turned to Darson and asked him if I should do it. His reply was, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but if you do it, you’ll be so mad at yourself.” His reply wasn’t wrong at the time. After talking it through with everyone, I decided I needed to have an epidural. I think I had the sarcastic thought at one point, “Might as well, everything else has gone the opposite that I planned.” I knew that my midwife was right, though, and I’m so grateful for her knowledge. I needed to get some rest while I continued to dilate in order to muster up some energy to push.
I cannot even explain the relief I felt when that epidural took hold. I hadn’t realized how tense my whole body was until I felt the release when that medicine kicked in. I think that is why I wasn’t progressing. It was around 9 p.m. by this time. Everyone except my husband went home, and we settled in to get some rest. It may not have been the best sleep I have ever gotten, but it sure felt like it to me.
By 3 a.m., I was complete (my cervix was fully dilated)! YES! From then until 8 a.m., I labored down (meaning we let my contractions do the work of bringing the baby down further before doing active pushing). I continued to rest feeling only some pressure during contractions.
At 8 a.m., everyone had returned to the hospital and it was time to push. We decided to turn my epidural down so that I could feel the contractions and have more effective pushes. When the medication started to wear off and I began to feel the contractions and pressure again, I thought to myself, “Why the hell did I do that? I was so relaxed before.” I am so glad that I did, though, because I felt everything as I birthed my child. I felt so strong and powerful as I felt his head crowning. I don’t know how to explain the pain and experience in any other way than an out-of-mind experience. It was more pain, stronger pressure, and different than anything else I had ever known, yet my body knew exactly what to do and it took over. I knew I couldn’t stop the pain and I knew I had to get through it. One of the most vivid and memorable moments to me was feeling my baby move through my birth canal and into this world. They say you forget the pain, but I don’t think I will ever forget that feeling. It was incredible.
Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, at 9:39 a.m., Dreyer Lee Grantham was born! In the midst of all the unexpected and all the unplanned is where all the beauty of it is. Dreyer did not have any respiratory trouble from the meconium. He was a perfect little baby. I only had a second-degree tear, was healthy through the incredibly long week of prodromal labor, and with the rest from the epidural, I was able to push Dreyer out in just an hour and a half.
Everything was perfect in all the imperfections. We couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a perfect story!
I have been thinking about featuring birth stories written by dads for a while now. My goal with The BIRTH Project is to empower women but I don’t think that should exclude dads. One of the most empowering things during my birth experiences was hearing afterward how my husband viewed me during labor. It was incredible to hear that he was in awe of my strength while enduring contractions and delivery.
Below is the first birth story I have published written by a dad. Danny Lesslie of Dadswagger wrote this story about his first-born daughter, Rue. Dadswagger empowers fathers to be present with their families. His Instagram account features images of dads being dads in their everyday lives, and illustrates the power of a present father.
Birth Story of Rue
As I lay here with my 5-day-old daughter on my chest sound asleep, and her beautiful mother by my side, which by the way is the definition of magical, I am thinking back to the moment she came into this world.
I have been thinking about a way to describe what went on Saturday night for days now. I had no idea what we were in for on the way in on Saturday. We took birthing classes and talked to people and thought we were super informed, but there is definitely a reason that people talk about a “Rite of Passage.” You just don’t know until you experience it.
I want to make an attempt at describing to you the power and the beauty of this night. I have always respected women since I was young (kudos to my mother and father on this one). I have a whole new respect and wonder for women after this past weekend, however.
The contractions just kept getting stronger and stronger as the day went on. I have never seen such effort, such struggle, such calm, and such chaos all in the same moment. Each contraction was like a whole roller coaster, and there were a lot of them. The intensity and anticipation in the room built for hours. I was getting tired. I can not even believe what my wife was enduring. Then came the point of doubt, when she was beginning to falter in her struggle. You could see the battle in her eyes, and the exhaustion in her body. She pushed through.
Then, things got real. It was “go time.” All of what had been endured was just getting her and us ready for what was to come. With every push I think all of our hearts stopped. The intensity in these moments towered over all that we had seen. Then, the baby’s head started to show! If you can imagine all of the instruments in an orchestra playing as loudly as possible with all the stage lights flashing, followed immediately by cold silence. This was each moment.
I am not sure how many contractions there were, but it had to be more than 20. With each one, the excitement would build and build, and then drop. It was like a drumroll getting faster and faster each time, and then just going away. Then with exhaustion thick as a deep fog, I want you to close your eyes and imagine sitting in a dark cold cave with no light, cold enough to see your breath. When you realize you’re really alone and you shiver and begin to doubt your safety. Then, I want you to imagine a lion roaring right behind you, the depth of that sound, the primal rawness to that sound, the majesty in that sound. It is unmistakeable. It engulfs you. It can only be seen and experienced in the wild. All of the hairs stand up on your body, you can’t move, you are in it, and your heart is beating out of your chest.
This is the moment.
When my wife screamed on the last contraction, this was the sound, this is what I felt. This was the surge of warmth, and vibrance. This was the most powerful, beautiful, raw, and joyful moment of my life. This is when we met our baby girl. I am forever indebted to my wife for this moment and this gift. All changed on this day!
To all those moms out there. This one goes out to you. What you do … well, there are no words that can do it justice!
Meredith and Liz Callahan recently welcomed their second baby into the world. As a lesbian couple, they have come to expect the questions they get asked about conception: “How did you do it?” “Am I even allowed to ask?”
Their first baby was conceived through reciprocal IVF, in which the eggs are retrieved from one partner (Liz), inseminated with donor sperm, and then placed into the birth mother (Meredith). With their second baby, Hugh, they chose to utilize traditional in-vitro fertilization, in which they used donor sperm and Meredith’s egg.
To read more about the options for same-sex couples who are trying to conceive, check out Meredith’s blog here.
Our little man was originally due on Sept. 6, 2018, smack in between our wedding anniversary and my birthday. Considering the advice that second children often come sooner than first and knowing my history of a late first arrival, my wife, Liz, and I prepared ourselves to have a due-date baby. Yes, he could be early or late, but the smart money (i.e., our midwife, our doula, our OB/GYN friends) put their bets on the ‘on-time’ category. And so, we were ready. Not that there was much to prepare this time around; we knew how little he would need in the first few weeks, and we already had all the baby gear anyway.
His due date came and went. And, day after day we waited. Evenings brought increased fetal movement and thrills of excitement. Was tonight the night that I’d wake everyone up at 2 a.m. with labor pains? No. Morning after morning, I got up to report that I slept shockingly well; there was no baby. To encourage the little man along, I tried evening primrose oil, pineapple, bumpy car rides, pumping, eggplant Parmesan, acupressure, and red raspberry leaf tea—all to no avail.
And so, at 41 weeks and three days, I headed to the hospital for an induction. It was strange to arrive to the hospital in such a state of preparedness. Here we were, hospital bag in hand, no contractions yet, bellies full of breakfast, childcare in place, everyone calm. Based on my first child’s birth, I had come to see childbirth as a crazy ride of “expecting the unexpected.” Curiously, the planful approach of an induction was so very expected that it felt even more unexpected to me.
I started on an IV drip of pitocin and waited. At the time, it felt a bit annoying; after days of anticipation, the hours remaining grew even more difficult. But, in retrospect, Sunday morning was a beautiful time to build relationships with the people who would attend my son’s birth later that day. Looking back, I can see how, person by person, my crew slowly assembled. I started this whole adventure with Liz at my side. My sister-in-law and mother both showed up in advance to take care of our toddler daughter; they gave me the opportunity to yield last obligations and focus entirely on this birth. Then, upon arrival to the hospital, we added the labor and delivery nurse who started my IV and would finish the day coaching me through pushing. Soon my doula joined; she intuitively knew what I needed and was on my spiritual wavelength. Finally, the midwife with decades of experience and lots of pragmatic love arrived.
By the early afternoon contractions began, gently at first and then increasingly. Liz and I walked the halls haltingly, stopping every minute or so for a contraction. Each time a contraction came, I grasped my IV stand, picked a point on the wall for visual focus, and breathed through it. Reflecting upon my first birth experience, I remember the contractions only as pain to be endured; this time, I felt them more as energy moving through me. It was almost as if spirit was pouring energy right into the top of my head, through my body, and out my vagina for the purpose of bringing this baby out with it. If I hesitated or resisted, that flowing energy would get stuck. If I let it simply course through me, it felt painful but also useful.
As I rode contraction after contraction and came to see that pain differently, I knew: This is what I had hoped for in childbirth. I had hoped to learn things about myself, about pain, about presence, about motherhood, and about life through labor. This was a fundamental human experience, consistent over the ages. I wanted to experience every aspect of it. I wanted to receive the wisdom of generations of women participating in this process. I wanted to see what I would learn from it and how I might evolve. My underlying assumption was that I would learn the most by having a natural birth; drugs would disrupt and obscure what I was meant to experience.
Yet as the birth progressed, my fears crept in. My biggest fear was not the pain of the current contraction; I had found my way to be present to that. Instead, my biggest fear was the expectation of where those contractions might go. How much longer would this take? How much more intense would it be? Would I be able to stand the sensations? How much did I believe in myself? Aspirationally, I wanted to do all of it without drugs; I wanted to trust in nature and to believe in myself that much.
But I didn’t. Eventually, my question turned from whether I would be able to be with the pain to why I was choosing to experience it in the first place. While laboring on all fours on the bed, I uttered out loud, “Why am I doing this?!” for all to hear. I asked: Why am I bearing such pain when there are options for relief? Is it better for me? Better for the baby? Was there really some great spiritual insight to uncover?
And so, around six or seven centimeters, I got an epidural. Part of me is still tempted to judge myself for doing so; I feel that if only I had been stronger, braver, more spiritually centered, I would have had the capacity to be with the experience. And yet, I have to let that go. As in all life experiences, my learnings came not from running some externalized gauntlet—in this case, giving birth naturally. Instead, learnings came from more deeply being with the experience that was right in front of me and the struggle that it prompted inside of me. My real insights came from seeing how an expected plan can still feel unexpected, from challenging my views of necessary and unnecessary suffering, from reconciling the coexistence of spiritual fullness and modern medicine in my mind, and from examining my assumptions of where and how spiritual growth occurs. Ultimately, it was not about some womanly secret revealed only if I endured; it was about me in the here and now.
Labor progressed swiftly from that point; and by early evening, I was ready to push. At that point, a fair amount of assistance was required to ultimately deliver the little man into the world, but this was less of concern to me. By that time, I wasn’t focused on my learning anymore. I was focused on having a healthy baby—and it was time for the little man to come out.
And so, my son joined us at 7:05 p.m. as healthy as could be. He had none of the complications that my first child experienced (meconium in the amniotic fluid, jaundice shortly after birth). And in the month since his birth, he’s proven even stronger. He’s made breastfeeding easy, he’s gained at a remarkable rate, and he’s even giving us some reasonable opportunities to sleep.
So welcome to the world, my little Hawk (a nickname derived from his initials—HAWC). In giving birth to you, I learned new lessons beyond those I learned giving birth to your sister. The experiences may be similar, but the edges of learning are all new and unique. I know that I’ll continue to learn new and different things from parenting you as you grow; I’m excited for this journey together with our whole family.
It was March 5, 2018—my due date. I’m pretty sure I had been complaining for most of the day that our baby boy hadn’t come out yet. Somehow I got it in my head that he was going to be early. I even ended up at our local birth center at the 36-week mark thinking my water had broken. Turns out, it was actually urine and I had peed my pants a little bit and not realized it. So that was a fun visit.
Truth be told, I was MISERABLE for the last few weeks of my second pregnancy. Around 35 weeks, I came down with what can only be described as the plague, and subsequently popped a rib out from coughing so hard. So even though I wanted so badly to be done with the pregnancy, I was also dreading labor with a bad rib. Luckily, Ellis decided to stay put for another few weeks, which gave me time to heal.
The evening I went into labor, my husband, Chad, and I were reading our daughter, Isla, a story before bed around 7:30. It was the last special memory we would make as a family of three. All of a sudden, I felt an indescribable pain shoot around my midsection. I let Chad know that we should call my mom since she was going to come stay with Isla while we went to the hospital if this was, in fact, really “it.”
I waddled down the stairs to get my phone and all at once felt my water break and my mucus plug come out. I went to the bathroom just to be sure—definitely not urine this time.
My mom was on her way, but I felt we needed to get to the hospital ASAP so we called a neighbor who came to stay with Isla until my mom arrived, and off we went to deliver the newest Peyton.
I had a couple incredibly painful contractions during the car ride, and by the time we arrived at the birthing center, they had me skip triage and go straight to a labor room. “You’re definitely in labor,” one of the nurses had said, “no doubt about that.”
I gave birth to our daughter at the same birthing center and I remember moving around a lot. I went from the bed to the bath and back again several times. This time was different. I gripped the bedrail and thought, “I’m just going to hang on and endure this until he comes out!”
I had tested positive for Group B Strep when I was around 37 weeks pregnant and was told I’d need antibiotics during labor. My initial thought was that I would refuse the antibiotics as I’m not a fan of using them unless they are absolutely necessary. And the last thing I wanted was to mess with the gut health of our brand new baby since the antibiotics would reach him as well.
I did some research on Group B Strep and the articles I read were nothing less than terrifying. The concern of infection was less for me and more for our new baby. If he was to contract an infection, some of the possible complications could be pneumonia, meningitis or sepsis (a blood infection). Though rare, these complications could be very serious, even fatal. I was horrified at the thought that this bacteria—one that is naturally found in the digestive and lower reproductive tracts of men and women—was harmless to me but could hurt our baby so badly. I knew I had to get the antibiotics. I hated the decision. I didn’t want an IV during labor. I didn’t want antibiotics in me or our baby.
My doctor told me that in an ideal world, there would be time for two doses of antibiotics, which, I was told, would mean I’d need to be in labor for at least 4-6 hours. As soon as we arrived at the birthing center, I went from hating the idea of an IV to telling whoever was in front of me that I was Group B Strep positive and needed an IV stat in hopes that I would get those two doses. Well, that didn’t end up happening. There was only time for one dose, but thankfully, nothing was passed on, and our baby is healthy.
The really interesting thing about Group B Strep is that it can be found intermittently in the same person. For example, I tested negative when I was pregnant with my daughter. I may have even tested negative if they had done the test on a different day during my pregnancy with my son. It’s that unreliable and unpredictable. In hindsight, I’m happy with my decision to get the antibiotics, but boy did it mess with my head. The articles and forums I perused terrified me, the doctors didn’t say much in the way of comforting my fears, and in an instant, my hope for an intervention-free birth was gone. Still, I’m grateful this was the only intervention I would endure.
The nurses are amazing at our local birthing center, Sutter Maternity—one of whom was my mother-in-law, which maybe not everyone would love, but it was truly a comfort to have a familiar face as a nurse. Our main nurse was a sweet, lovely woman who goes to our gym, so we were lucky to be surrounded by two familiar faces and lots of friendly ones.
I moved around from one side to another, laid on my back, tried all fours. Nothing felt good except holding onto that bedrail. I felt much more in control of my body the second time around. I took a huge breath with every contraction—and I swear this decreased the pain by about 40 percent. It felt like it was taking so much energy to take that breath every time, but the pain relief was worth it.
After a couple hours of contractions, I felt the urge to push. I never felt that urge with my daughter and I welcomed it with open arms this time. “Yay, it’s almost over!” I thought. Our nurse called the doctor in to check my cervix, and when she did she said, “Hm, you’re not quite ready.” As soon as she left, I told our nurse I was going to push and she said, “You do what you gotta do.” So I did.
With the first big push, I literally felt my baby moving downward in my body. It was the weirdest sensation. Before I knew it, he was crowning and I was about to meet him!
I felt his head start to emerge but with one big inhale I breathed him back in. I was so scared to tear while I was pushing him out. This went on for a few more minutes: he’d come out a little, and I’d breathe him back in a little. My voice was shaky with each inhale. Finally, I gave one final push and he came flying out. No joke, it was fast. It was 10:22 p.m. Labor lasted just under three hours. It was incredibly intense and superbly painful, but oh so worth it. The feeling I had when they put him on my chest is absolutely indescribable. I was altogether happy, relieved, excited, exhausted, scared, and euphoric.
The hours that followed were peaceful and serene. I looked forward to my daughter visiting the next day, and the rest of my family meeting Ellis Grey Peyton.
I am beyond grateful for the rock-star birth-support team I had with me. Chad knew exactly what I needed when I needed it, whether it was counterpressure on my hips, a sip of water, or just to be left alone. The nurses encouraged me to listen to my body even when conventional medical advice was to the contrary, and my friends and family were waiting in the wings with congratulatory messages and so much love.
After my second—and hopefully last—time giving birth, my respect for the birth process grew exponentially. Even now, nine months removed, I am in awe of what my body did when I look at our kids everyday. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to carry and give life, and also for all of you who continue to share your birth experiences with me. It is a circle of life and love that I intend to keep growing.
For most of my pregnancy with my first child, I was planning a natural hospital birth with midwives present. At about 24 weeks, when I was supposed to take the gestational diabetes test, I started to have second thoughts. I had done a lot of research and took all my at-home blood sugar monitor numbers to my midwife (all of which were totally normal), and just because I refused the test, they marked me as having a high-risk pregnancy and tried to guilt me into taking the test anyway. I didn’t feel respected or supported, and I didn’t want to have to feel that during my birth, or have to advocate for myself that strongly. When my husband and I met my home-birth midwife, Sarah, the first time, it just felt right. She had the right mix of an evidence-based scientific approach, and an ease about her that made me feel comfortable. We talked through all the scenarios that might cause me to have to go to the hospital, and what it would likely look like if I did.
I called into work on a Monday morning, two days before my due date, and said I wanted to take a half sick day from home. I wrapped some things up, and started to get some light contractions by lunch time. I tried to take it easy during the day, but it was in the middle of a weird late-September heat wave in Chicago with record high temperatures and I hadn’t slept in four nights. After I went to bed, I was getting contractions about every eight minutes. I knew I should try to sleep, but I was on my phone tracking contractions, and jumping up when I had them, and leaning against the wall because I had a sharp feeling in my tail bone. I was up every eight minutes all night, while my husband remained asleep next to me. I woke him up at about 4:30 a.m. as I was about at the point in which I needed labor support to get into different positions. We waited until about 6 a.m. to call my doula and my midwife, when my contractions were about five minutes apart. Then we went downstairs, and I threw up.
My doula arrived first, and was helping me manage the pain by making noise through the contractions. We had shopped the night before for labor food, and she was making me eat anything that sounded appetizing, which I think was just a smoothie and coconut water. When Sarah arrived, she talked to me and did an exam. I found out that I was only at 3 centimeters dilated. This was devastating, and I was exhausted. She told me to stop making noise and that I needed to rest. She gave me the option of either having a glass of wine or taking a Benadryl. I chose wine, and she said to drink it and get in the bath. She was doing this to slow down the labor so I could get some rest. She also told everyone to go home so that I wouldn’t feel pressured in any way. I had the wine and the bath, and pretty quickly the contractions went down to every eight-10 minutes and were less intense. I laid down in a dark room, on my side, with about three pillows under my top leg because I was still getting that sharp tail-bone pain. Shockingly, the next eight hours seemed to go by pretty quickly, just trying to rest and taking it one contraction at a time.
By 4 p.m., my mom and my mother-in-law were there, and it was time to call the doula and midwife again. Contractions were back to five minutes apart, and felt much more consistent. My doula, who arrived first, was really focused on making me drink coconut water with every contraction, I think I went through about 8 liters that day, and she helped me to breathe more deeply.
I was trying to bargain with her. This was really hard, and I said I think I could do it if it would be over in the next few hours. She replied, “You are doing it,” and assured me that the baby would come before the end of the day. Sarah was back, and this time I was at seven or eight centimeters dilated. I had some leaking fluid, but the midwife tested it and couldn’t tell if my water had broken yet or not. I was still resting on my side during contractions, but she wanted to play with different positions to intensify the labor. I had to be ready to work now, resting was over.
I turned to the other side, and she had me put the other leg up and push against her during a contraction. She asked how it felt, and I said much worse, to which she replied, “Let’s do that for the next three contractions.” Then she suggested I get in my bath. I was worried that it would slow down the labor again, but she said that at this point, there was no going backward. It was really intense in the bath tub, and she was making me lean over the edge so that I was above my baby during contractions, and then lay down to rest in between them. Everyone was really cheering me on. At one point my sister came in and heard a contraction and started saying, “Aww, poor thing,” and I said I didn’t want that kind of energy. It needed to stay positive.
I got out and I asked to be checked again. I was almost there, 10 centimeters with a little flap still in the way. She said to wait to push until it felt like I couldn’t not push, like my body was just bearing down. I pretty much did feel like that. We tried a few different positions for pushing, but what felt the most comfortable was sitting down on the toilet with my legs on the squatty potty. I had visions of squatting my baby out, but not exactly like this.
My master bathroom is large and from the 70s, and all the walls are mirrors. We had a soft red light in there, and I had nine people in there. I was pushing, and I could feel the head moving down. Pushing on the toilet, I felt like I could be done in a couple more contractions. Sarah asked me to move to my bed to push for a bit. I laid down on my back and pushed, but I didn’t feel nearly as much movement from the baby as when I was on the toilet. I felt like I was wasting my time there. The assistants were bringing in hot towels and putting them on my perineum (which now I am so thankful for because I didn’t tear at all).
Soon we got to move back to the toilet, and everyone was gathered around. Then my water broke, and splashed into the toilet. It startled me and actually splashed a few people. And within a few more pushes, my baby’s head was out. Sarah gently held his head in me while I got off the toilet and got on all fours on my bathroom floor. I actually asked if I could have a few minutes before I could push the rest of the baby out. I looked at Sarah and she was kind of laughing and saying “no.” Oh, just a few more pushes, but I was exhausted. He came out with his hands up by his neck, and he was handed to me and I leaned back to hold him. I walked to my bed with the cord still attached, and tried to latch him. He was very alert and he started to breastfeed.
While breastfeeding was supposed to help bring on the contractions for the placenta, that didn’t really happen. I just said that I didn’t feel anything. I got a shot of pitocin about 20 minutes after Connor was born to help stimulate the placenta. Still nothing. I got another shot about 40 minutes later. Still nothing. I wanted it to be over, I just wanted to be with my baby.
Everyone was cleaning up around me and eventually they weighed and measured the baby. Sarah got everyone out of the room and had my husband hold the baby next to me so I could focus. I wanted to talk about what had just happened and how amazing my baby was. I never really felt contractions for the placenta, but at one point, over 90 minutes after the birth, I said I felt some pressure and they had me push. The placenta came out, thank goodness, because apparently I was really close to having to go to the hospital for that after my natural home birth.
I had a lot of support at home. My mom stayed over for a couple nights to help out, and both my doula and midwife came back over for the next few days to check on things. I felt really supported, and it was a great way to welcome my baby to the world.
I want to start by saying I had grand romanticized notions of childbirth, and this overachieving idea that I would write my birth story while in labor and keep a journal for my son to read one day as a way to give him insight into his arrival and birth into existence. I would journal the days leading up to his birth and during the time spent waiting in the hospital for his emergence, chronicling his first few hours of breathing in his own oxygen, as if I was some kind of Nat Geo journalist. Well, it turns out I was a bit more preoccupied than I had anticipated.
There’s a lot they don’t tell you about giving birth … a lot. We are now approaching three months postpartum, or as the mama boards say, 12 weeks, and I have barley scratched the surface of my Nat Geo journalism experience. I will say, however, after my flower rupturing experience, I think they should start sex ed at two days postpartum and go backward.
My life partner and I are both in the horse world and have participated in more than a few horse births, so this being our first child, our experience with giving birth to a human was native at best. Lets put it this way, when horses give birth, there’s not a whole lot of screaming, cursing, or threats of physical harm.
I use the term “life partner” rather than “husband,” “partner,” “baby daddy,” or “sperm donor,” because after the last 14 months, you better believe, for better or worse, he’s in this for 18 to life.
Throughout my pregnancy, I was under a great deal of stress. I am a self-proclaimed workaholic, go-big-or-go-home kind of person. Yes I was pregnant, yes I was growing a life, but I also had deadlines. I waddled from business meeting to business meeting, took care of horses, lifted bails of hay six days a week, and became frustrated with the increase in my yoga pants size. (Side note: I don’t do yoga. I just like being able to go through my day knowing if I choose the big mac and milkshake for lunch, my yoga pants will accept me and adjust instead of constricting with judgement like my jeans.)
I went through my pregnancy not giving much thought to the big day. I mean women have been doing this for quite a long time, since the beginning of time in fact. I had this idea that I would be in and out. Baby knocks, door opens, baby comes out. We all celebrate, back to work.
This … was .. not … what … happened.
Callahan Alexander’s eviction notice was sent on July 1, 2018, two weeks earlier then our 40-week due date. (By the way, 40 weeks is much, much longer then nine months.) It took him almost 52 hours to concede to the demands. It was much like a hostage negotiation.
On the morning of July 1, I wasn’t feeling myself. I had experienced high blood pressure since the 20th week, and was being closely monitored by my doctors. I had my OBGYN, and two specialists on our team, all three of whom warned us to be prepared for a preterm delivery, and advised us to get a blood-pressure machine and test at home on top of the four times a week they had us in the office for testing. We got the BP machine, but did we pack our hospital bag? Nope. Denial is a powerful thing.
On July 1, I went through my workday but came home early and decided to check my blood pressure: 190/87. Well, that could not be right, I mean anything over 150 was not good, there must have been a glitch, so I took it again: 192/97. Hmm, OK, well the anxiety of the first read must have made it go up. Wait, that means the first read was accurate, I thought. I called my LP (life partner) into the living room and showed him the reading. I’ve never seen his face go so white. We began the mad dash of waddling to the car and off to the hospital we went.
I was admitted into the ER and my BP was taken again: 187/92. Oh good! Improvement! I wish I could have freeze framed the look on that ER nurse’s face. An EKG was ordered and the staff started moving very quickly around me. The decision was made to move me out of the ER and up into labor and delivery. I wasn’t having contractions, our baby’s tests had always come back normal, including the ones they just took, so I figured it was just going to be another baby welfare check and we would be good to go home in an hour or so.
Spoiler alert: This is not what happened.
It turns out my BP levels were that of someone likely to have a stroke or heart attack in the near future, and my body’s decision to totally overreact like a Kardashian who lost a shoe, was endangering my life and thus our unborn baby. The only way to eliminate that threat and get my BP under control, was to change my baby’s title from unborn to born. The attending OB on the floor that night looked at my chart and introduced himself. Our exchange went as follows:
Doctor: “Hello, Mrs. Michelle We’re going to have a baby!
Me: Hello! You are not my doctor.
Doctor: I am tonight
Touché, doc … touché.
I was then hooked up to all kinds of monitors. I was given medication to lower my BP out of the red zone, and medication that notified my son of his impending eviction. I was put on bed rest and my LP was told it was safe to go home and pack the hospital bag we should have packed weeks ago. I imagine the scene at our house was much like the scene in the movie Blow with Johnny Depp, as he frantically packed his wife’s hospital bag—only without the drugs. We were not ready mentally or physically. We had both been living in this world of denial and now that D day had arrived, we were both terrified and feeling very unprepared. We kept saying “we’re not ready” to anyone within ear shot—nurses, cafe delivery employees, people who mistook our room for a loved one’s—pretty much anyone we came into contact with. Their hellos were greeted with “we’re not ready.” I was in the midst of a huge negotiation with millions of dollars on the line. I needed to close this deal before I locked myself away with my new baby. I definitely wasn’t ready!
I called my best friend, took a deep breath, and started in on my laptop. I had some pressing business emails that needed to be sent, and then, all of a sudden, I too received the eviction notice. That hurt!
Three hours later, my laptop had been closed and flung across the room, I had sent numerous texts to my sister demanding she put her Starbucks down and get to the hospital, and more than a couple threatening texts to my LP.
One of our nurses came in to check my cervix. My LP reached our room just in time to see the look on my face when my dilation was checked. Ummm. WOW. I was not expecting that. It turned out that after three hours of minute-long contractions, one minute apart, I was barley 2 centimeters dilated. This is right about when the realization and gravity of our situation started to sink in. This was going to take more than just a knock on the door—more like a sledgehammer. We were going to be here for a while, and my schedule no longer mattered.
Thirty-six hours in with no sleep, and still 2 centimeters dilated, they upped my pitocin … again. This time, however, I insisted the nurse who had the smallest hands check my dilation. No joke, I made my attending nurses line up and show me their hand sizes. I wasn’t messing around with that again.
My water broke around the 28th hour, but still lots of contractions and not a lot of progress. I asked Nurse Thorn (yes, her name was Nurse Thorn) why I wasn’t progressing? Apparently the drugs they had me on to keep me from stroking out, counteracted the induction drugs I was on. They were slowly increasing the induction drugs hoping they would overpower the drugs working to keep my BP regulated. With 20 being the highest level they could go, we were at level 18 of pitocin.
On the morning of July 4, 38 hours in, I had had enough. One way or another, this baby was coming out today! After threatening to find a scalpel to cut him out myself (that seemed to get the nurse’s attention), Nurse Thorn came into our room and announced she had given away her patients for the day. She then told me to get up because we were going to have a baby today! Damn right! It’s the Fourth of July, I’m not missing out on giving my son free birthday fireworks for life! Besides no one wants to party on the fifth.
She gave my LP and I the opportunity to take a warm shower together … it was the best shower. Ever. As I was getting dried off, I realized my water had broke again, this time for really reals. Apparently, it can kinda break and then REALLY break. Another one of the many things they do not tell you.
Things began to happen very quickly after that. I was put into another room with a fake blue sky on the ceiling. By the way, the fake blue sky doesn’t help, not one bit. I was feeling OK, and then they put my pitocin up to 20. Everything seemed OK until it was NOT. All of a sudden, I had a contraction come through that made me freeze. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t breathe. After it passed, I look at my sister and said, “What in the hell was that?!” It was such an intense pain, something I had never felt before in my life. And I’ve been thrown off a lot of horses! As the next one rolled in and the one after that, and the one after that, I remember asking the nurses, “Is this what dying is like?”
Having an epidural was always in our birth plan. My feeling is to each their own, but if you slice your arm open let’s say as big as 10 centimeters, for me, I’m not going to look at the ER doc and say, “Nah, no numbing drugs, just go ahead and stitch it up like they did in the Civil War days.” Nope, not me. Give me the drugs! Then I got hit with the big kahuna contraction. My sister looked at me and said, “Do you want me to ask them to call for the epidural?” I said, “No, let’s see how the next one goes.” My sister, who has four kids, looked at me and said, “You know they are not going to be getting any better, right?” The next one hit 68 seconds later. As I watched the monitor climb to the highest level, that was it. In between the swearing, I started screaming for the drugs! The anesthesiologist came pretty quickly and during his list of possible side effects, when he mentioned paralysis, I screamed, “I hope so!”
In a matter of four hours we had gone from 4 centimeters to 8 centimeters, to “Dear, God, where are the drugs?!” During transition, as the tears streamed down my face and the nausea that I hadn’t experienced since my sophomore year in college kicked in, the epidural started to waiver a bit, and I started to feel the “feels.” Every time a contraction would build, I felt like I was having PTSD symptoms. At one point, one of the nurses started to roll out a mirror. I quickly told her to, “Put that away! The only one of us who needed to see that is the guy who caused it!”
My LP was given the opportunity to catch our son and hand him to me. I hadn’t slept in three days and all I could think was, “Dear, Lord, please don’t let me drop my child.”
On July 4, at 4:44 p.m., after 10 pushes, Callahan Alexander Bruner took his first breath. The doctor commented that I only had a minor tear and that I only required three stitches. Ummm … her idea of a “minor tear” was MUCH different than mine. After the nurses weighed Cal and handed him back to me, I looked at my son for the first time, really looked at him, and said out loud, “Oh thank God we didn’t have an ugly baby.” The nursing staff once again held back there laughter from my ridiculousness. At 7 lb., 13 oz., Callahan Alexander had sky blue eyes, wisps of platinum blonde hair and lungs like his mama.
Cheers to the nurses at Twin Cities Hospital. You put up with me for over a week. Without their help, expertise, and sense of humor, my birth story would have been much different, with potentially a much unhappier ending.
Callahan is now a happy bouncing blue-eyed baby boy who loves ceiling fans, his daddy and early morning snuggles with mommy and daddy. And dear, God, this kid can eat! I am extremely grateful I get to forever be his mommy. He is our whole world and the only deadline now is story time.
P.S. No, he is not sleeping through the night. I’m going to get a T-shirt that says that so the next person who feels the need to ask me won’t.
It’s Sept. 28, 2010, and it’s a perfect 91 degrees F in Athens, Greece, a great beach day. I mean, why not? So what if I’m 85 lb. over my normal weight and have high blood pressure and I’m 9 months pregnant—a beach day is a beach day.
I arrange to pick up my sister and head for the beach, which is a 20-minute drive. I go by her house, go upstairs, and all of a sudden I start seeing the little sparks that my doctor had warned me about. I, of course, ignored them because it was a beach day.
The sparks went on so I decided to call my doctor and, of course, he panics and yells at me, shouting the name of a pill that I have to take as soon as possible—that, of course, I do not have—and he says to get to the hospital.
I told my sister that I had to go to the pharmacy but she went to the beach instead. So there I am, in a tiny car (not because I’m big, it actually was tiny) sweating, fat, seeing stars, and I start driving on a crazy-busy road looking for a pharmacy. I found one and ran in—no luck, they did not have the pill. Back in the car again. Well, four pharmacies later, I found it.
Then, it’s off to my house, I get the pill, sit on the balcony with my husband, chat a bit, and decide to go have this baby. I called my mom and told her that I was going to have the baby and I will see her later. Of course, she yelled at me and requested to come with us.
Finally we got to the hospital. I was about to get the epidural but had to have an emergency C-section because of the high blood pressure.
My biggest concern was my husband who was stressed out, in a hospital waiting with hundreds of people, and a person announcing the births over a mic in heavy Greek. Lucky for him, around 20 family and friends—who are drunk and smoking—are with him. My doctor was asking if we were gypsies.
For me, it was simple. I got my epidural, went into the operating room with my doctor and another doctor, no nurse, (no one else was allowed in) and listened to Enola Gay and U2 while they cut me open. All of a sudden, I had a perfect baby boy laying on me. The way I had been and who I was changed forever in a second, but once that baby left my arms to get cleaned up, I thought, “Shit, my husband?!”
I told the staff I needed to see my husband NOW. After trying for a good amount of time to put some decompression socks on my spaghetti legs, they put me in a room next door to see my Nate.
All of a sudden, the door opened and 20 drunk people came in (Nate wasn’t drunk, he looked frozen), and they were all taking pictures and saying congrats. This all happened at 7 p.m. I sent Nate home to rest and sent my mom home, too, because she was too drunk and being rude, and could not stop commenting on the decor of the room.
It took 48 hours to walk again, a big fight to keep my catheter in (yes, I wanted it in), and a lot of phone calls from my doctor telling me to behave well.
My friends and family saw me suffer but I was truly having the time of my life with my new friend, William Alexandros Tuddenham, even if I missed the beach day.
I’m so excited to share this podcast I recorded with my amazing friend Laura Bruner of Radical Roots and the Modern Mamas Podcast. In the episode, Laura and I delve into my “why” behind The BIRTH Project, and we chat about parenting, birth, fitness and more. You’ll learn a bit more about me, my background and why I’ve become passionate about the birth community.
Give it a listen and let me know your thoughts! Download on iTunes HERE and on Stitcher HERE!