Birth Stories

Birth Story of Barrett Amelia Walker

After the birth of my son in December of 2014, I told Alex, my husband, that I didn’t want to talk about having another baby for about three (3) years. Low and behold, 3 years and 2 months later, on Feb. 7, 2018, I sat on the grass in my front yard, enjoying the sunshine and my pre-delivery maternity leave. I’d had contractions throughout the previous night, strong enough to wonder whether it was the real deal but also infrequent enough to dissuade me from that notion. That morning I’d spotted a little, but contractions were only every 45 minutes or so, so I continued relaxing, eating, practicing hypnobirthing meditations, and took a seat on my front lawn in a tank top and sweats to enjoy the sun and warm, crisp February air.

While sitting on the lawn (OK, it’s improperly installed turf, but I love it), I felt a contraction coming on. I started to maneuver my top-heavy, bulbous self onto my hands and knees to achieve a more comfortable position. While in the process of this hoist, I heard a pop and then felt liquid … all over my lap. Because the wetness was body temperature, it took a second for me to register what this sensation meant—that my water had broken, a lot of it, all over me and my turf. In addition to the excitement I felt in that moment to experience such an integral part of birth (which I did not get during the birth of my son), I laughed at my good luck to have been wearing black pants (no stains) and sitting on my lawn (no clean-up) at that time. It was 1 p.m., it was on.

I started making phone calls from my puddle. First, I called Alex who shortly thereafter began to make his way home to La Selva Beach from Davenport where he works. Then I called my doula, Stephanie, who happened to be nearby and would come check on me. Then I called my midwife, Kelly, who was also nearby and would come over to do a vitals check on me and the baby.

After these phone calls, I went inside to change my clothes and to make sure that what had poured out of me was indeed my waters and not blood or something alarming (it wasn’t). At this point, I got excited and settled deeper into our decision to do a home birth and was ready to practice the hypnobirthing teachings I’d imbibed and marinated in over the past few weeks.

After about 15 minutes, Kelly and Stephanie arrived. At the time, my contractions were about 10-15 minutes apart but mild enough that I could talk during them (although I probably sounded like I was being crushed). My vitals were great. Baby was great. We all talked excitedly about various pregnancy related goos and fluids before Alex arrived. After staying about 45 minutes, Stephanie and Kelly left, leaving me and Alex at our home with the instructions of “try to take a walk,” “eat some food,” “go to bed as soon as possible and try to get some rest,” “it’s possible that you won’t go into active labor for 24-48 hours.” Just before Kelly and Stephanie left around 3 p.m., I had another solid contraction. Forty-five minutes later, Alex called them and told them to come back (during rush hour I might add)—my contractions were much closer together and were getting quite intense. Things were progressing quickly.

In the short time between Kelly and Stephanie’s departure and Alex’s follow-up phone call, Alex had a ton of work to do. Embarking on the journey of a home birth is preceded by enormous preparation. The weeks and weeks of preparation aside, Alex was immediately tasked with unpacking and organizing various kits and packs for the birth itself, and most importantly, trying to get me to eat. I recall very clearly sitting on our kitchen couch, breathing and visualizing “opening” as my hypnobirthing lessons had taught me to, while Alex tried to make me a smoothie that I could drink between contractions. A smoothie is not normally complicated or time consuming to make—but when you have to drop what you’re doing every 45 seconds to run to your wife and apply pressure to her hips (assuming the contraction subsided at all since the last), it takes a long time. The final product did turn out delicious.

Stephanie arrived back at my house shortly before 5 p.m. At that point, I had moved into my cave-like bedroom and was on my hands, knees and chest, laboring on my bed. As I would learn later, Alex had been in communication with Kelly who told him to fill the enormous inflatable birth tub in our bedroom, although based on information provided to her, we probably wouldn’t need it by the time it was filled.

My best friend, Becca, had made me a thoughtful labor package of candles, essential oil sprays and Himalayan salt lamps, and I remember the evening, starting around that time, being lit with the calming orange glow of those lamps. It still relaxes me to think about it.

Alex and Katy

Around 5 p.m. Kelly arrived. She advised me that I needed to switch positions to keep things moving, so she told me to sit on the toilet and labor there for a while. Let me say that up until this point in our 10-year relationship, Alex and I were the type of couple that kept our bathroom experiences VERY private from the other—we gave each other a lot of space and privacy in that regard. I’d always dubbed it, “Keeping the mystery alive.” That notion and era was shattered around 5 p.m. on Feb. 7. Alex held me, lovingly and without judgement or disgust as I labored through frequent and excruciating contractions, nearly naked on the toilet. The mystery died that day. RIP.

At 5:15 p.m., my midwife’s assistant, Flaura, arrived. Flaura was our doula for the birth of our son a little over 3 years earlier. If there was any panic or uncertainty in my mind about this birth or birthing at home, it fell away when Flaura arrived. My trust in her and her comforting and knowledgeable spirit put me at ease. That being said, I was still on the toilet, which I didn’t much enjoy because it made the contractions extraordinarily painful.

Around 6:10 I was back on my bed and lying on my side. To my shock and absolute glee, my midwife said my dilation was nearly complete at that point, with only a cervical lip (9+ cm), only about 5 hours after my water broke. I was so proud of myself in that moment for helping my body prepare and allow itself to dilate so quickly, especially given that labor with my son lasted nearly 38 hours and I didn’t fully dilate until about hour 37.

Kelly told me to give a couple of good pushes while lying on my side to see if she could hold the lip back while I pushed baby past it, so I could move on. It was time to push! I couldn’t believe it! Already?!? Game ON!

Now I consider myself a pretty strong woman, physically at least. I’d CrossFitted throughout my pregnancy and was bolstered by this fact, confident that I could labor and deliver efficiently, and that it wouldn’t be any more difficult than doing some of the CrossFit workouts I’d done recently with a watermelon on my frontside. However, when I attempted to push at that time (around 6:30 p.m.), I felt like I had no power, like I was pushing down on the gas pedal but a line had been cut somewhere in the engine that was draining my acceleration. Kelly told me to stop pushing, not only because it wasn’t doing anything, but because the cervical lip wasn’t moving.

A cervical lip, as I learned, is basically the equivalent of having a fat lip, but on your cervix. It can swell and possibly tear if you push or deliver while the lip is present. We would have to wait a little while and let the lip subside.

Then I started to feel “pushy.” Great timing.

In my opinion, what is commonly referred to as the “urge to push” is a bullshit misnomer. The “urge” I felt was similar to the “urge” you feel to throw up when you’re dry-heaving. Your body is in control when it’s “pushy:” It’s contracting, spasming, it’s straight up pushing. It is literally a force of nature, and it’s the boss. That being the case, I was confused and a little exasperated to learn that I needed to breathe through the “urge” so that my body wouldn’t push on its own. I needed to utterly relax my body—the involuntary spasm pushes were making my cervix swell, and I couldn’t deliver baby girl until the swelling subsided. It was 7 p.m.

To achieve this kind of muscle relaxation, I needed to blow raspberries with my mouth whenever a contraction came, the idea being that I would focus the tension on my lips so that my uterine muscles wouldn’t engage. At that point we also decided to try all the relaxation tools that we had available. First, I got in the shower with a large yoga ball. I leaned over the ball and let the water run down my back. This helped with the pain of the contractions quite a bit, and by blowing through the contractions I was able to avoid some of the pushing spasms that my body was trying hard to complete. I remember being in such a daze while I was in the shower. It was dark outside, and the bathroom was magically lit with candles and salt lamps. It was like a cave, a sanctuary. I think I drifted in and out when the contractions ebbed, coming to from time to time when I needed to bypass my body’s vice-like pushing, endure a contraction, or when someone put a washcloth under my knees or put a straw to my mouth so I could drink cold water.

I got out of the shower at about 8:35 and moved to the bed. Kelly checked me, and my cervix was still swollen, lip still present. Keep in mind that since about 6 p.m. I had been nearly fully dilated, and had now spent a few hours in an extended period of transition. {Midwife’s note: This is one of the most challenging situations in an otherwise normal labor: not pushing when your body so desperately wants to. But the risk of tearing the cervix in a situation like this could become an emergency situation or cause permanent damage. In this instance, the baby’s head was facing Katy’s hip, and position changes to help baby rotate weren’t working, so we needed the “tincture of time.”} When lying on the bed on my side, contractions would last anywhere from 1 minute, to 20 minutes, ebbing and flowing but not subsiding entirely. Being on the bed in any position was so painful and uncomfortable. I remember during those 5+ minute contractions just screaming, growing louder and softer with the rhythm of the pain—kind of like an ambulance siren. I asked for help. I asked nicely. “Please, please somebody help me.” I realized later that we should have let more of our neighbors know that we would be doing a home birth—I’m surprised no one called the police on account of my anguished cries. Despite the crying and the yelling, I was truly working my ass off to relax through the contractions, blow raspberries through the pushing, to be mindful, to feel Alex’s hands in mine, to feel his support, to know that I was safe, I was OK.

Eventually around 10:15 p.m., after trying a few more positions on the bed  I moved to the gigantic neon green birth tub that fit neatly between our bed and the closet doors. Being in the birth tub, submerged to my collar in warm water, reduced the pain about 75 percent. The pushing still continued, but it became more of a practice in relaxing through the pushes rather than surviving the painful contractions. Kelly told me that birth tubs are often referred to colloquially as “the midwife’s epidural.” I couldn’t agree more. While in the tub, sitting on my knees and resting my arms and face on the side of the tub, I dozed in between contractions/pushes. Once another one began, I would work through it, supported by Alex or Stephanie, either of which would give me sips of water or spoonfuls of yogurt with honey at the end of each contraction. I was well taken care of. I actually fell in love with Stephanie at one point when we had a particularly intense moment of eye contact after a contraction and she read my mind and responded with, “Yeah, this really fucking sucks.” She and Alex let me squeeze their hands during each contraction—there were bruises.

About an hour after getting in the birth tub my mouth was starting to swell from the hours of raspberry blowing. Kelly instructed me to get out so she could check me again, although getting out was less romantic and beautiful than me simply climbing, glistening, out of tub and onto the bed, and more like a crane hoisting a wrecked car out of a lake. Once out of the tub it was discovered that my cervical lip was still present, but the swelling was way down and the lip was soft rather than rigid and impassable. Kelly told me to give a few good pushes during contractions while she held the lip out of the way. Again, lying on my side on the bed left me feeling like I had no power to push, no intensity. Moreover, Kelly was trying to hold the small lip out of the way during these pushes, which somehow peaked the pain I was feeling into an unmanageable crescendo. So I got back into the birth tub with the hopes of reducing the lip even further, blowing through contractions.

At about 11:30 p.m., 10 hours after my water broke and five hours after reaching nearly full dilation, I got out of the birth tub and moved to the bed once again for pushing. It was clear at this point that the lip was gone, my cervix was not swollen (although my mouth was), I was well hydrated, fueled by honey and yogurt, and ready to move to the next phase. I was physically exhausted after the hours of trying to trick my body out of its natural inclination to push. I would learn later that Kelly was only going to wait another 20 minutes or so before transferring me to the hospital, concerned that my anterior lip would be too much of an issue, or that my cervix would be damaged or seriously torn during birth. However, despite my physical exhaustion, I was ready and looking forward to pushing. Probably because of my years of CrossFit, especially during my pregnancy, I knew how to lean into the difficult task ahead, go to the “pain cave,” and appreciate that what I needed to do would end relatively soon. Again I tried pushing in various positions on the bed, but did not feel like I was capable of engaging the different parts of my body I needed to accomplish the task.

Alex, Katy, and Barrett

At that point someone suggested I switch to the birth stool, which is basically a wooden toilet on short legs that opens in the front (basically a horseshoe) so the midwife can really get in there. After moving what can only be described as a medical tarp to the foot of my bed, I got on the stool and was given instructions. It was midnight. I was on the stool and began to feel my power click on. I felt muscles engage, I felt adrenaline and excitement, I felt Alex’s hand in mine, his supportive body behind me and various voices coaching and encouraging me. I felt the contractions and felt finally free to utilize my body’s natural pushing mechanisms, I engaged with my body’s natural pushes and added my own reserves of strength to them. At 12:30 a.m. I felt a very distinct, sharp pain. I remember saying, “Wow, that really hurts!” and Kelly replying, “Well yeah, that’s why it’s called the ring of fire. She’s crowning.” A minute later Barrett was out and was immediately lifted up, plopped on my chest and started nursing, cord dangling between my legs. The three of us, Alex, Barrett and I, held each other then for a few minutes. Alex and I looking down upon her. Barrett looking back up at us, content and calm. I felt then that our family was complete and wished our son could have been part of that moment with us.

Shortly thereafter, after some quick preparation/protection of the bed, Alex lifted me up by curling his arms under my armpits while I was still holding on to Barrett, still attached to her by our cord and by cosmic mother/child connection, and pulled us back onto the bed. What happened thereafter was a bit of haze of emotion and activity, but I know I felt no pain. Stephanie asked me if I wanted anything to eat, and I replied quickly and surely, “Pizza!” which she promptly grabbed out of the freezer, cooked in the toaster oven and brought to me (which to me seemed like only seconds).

At a little past 12:30 a.m. on Feb. 8, 2018, I held my daughter in my arms, her gooey body pressed against me. After the birth of both of my kids, my immediate feeling was never what most moms describe as overwhelming love. That feeling, or at least my ability to recognize that feeling, didn’t happen for a few days. In the moments after her birth, I felt protective, connected to her, inseparable from her as if she were still living inside me, just simply transitioned to the outside where I could touch her face, her feet, her large baby belly. I smiled at Alex, so grateful for his support, energy and unwavering love, so grateful for his multitudinous contributions to this moment, for being my partner in everything. As Kelly, Flaura, Stephanie and Alex continued their various post-delivery jobs, I sat there naked with my daughter, eating pizza in my bed, relieved, relaxed, happy, complete.

Written by Katy Walker

Birth Stories

Birth Story of Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan

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.

Hugh Archer Whipple Callahan

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?

Meredith and Hugh

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.

Liz and Hugh

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.

Written by Meredith Whipple Callahan