At around 11:36 p.m. on Sunday September 2, 2018 I realized that my life was about to change forever. I was feeling tired after a long 2 mile walk on Liberty University’s campus with Brendan. It was a different kind of tired — a tired that sank deep in my bones. We came back home after that and got ready to settle in for a cozy night on the couch together.
Once we were back home Brendan settled in on the couch and got the next episode of “Jack Ryan” ready on Amazon Prime. I started watching with him but I just wasn’t feeling right. I got up and went to the bathroom after awhile and was a little surprised when I sat down on the toilet and saw blood. I was pretty sure that this was the start of labor since I had never had any bleeding throughout my entire pregnancy. I took my time in the bathroom before I went back out to the living room because I needed a minute to process what was about to happen. I looked at myself in the mirror, saw my swollen belly, and knew that I was about to meet my son.
I told Brendan that I was spot bleeding and I thought that I might be in the very beginning stages of pre-labor. At this point there was no need to rush around or call our midwife, so Brendan finished watching his show while I pulled out my Hypnobirthing book and handouts my midwife had given me about the onset of labor. In that moment, I felt my mind had gone blank and I was second guessing myself on everything I had learned.
At around midnight my nesting instinct kicked in hard! I could no longer sit still and think about the fact that I was going into labor — doing that made me anxious. So I started busying around the apartment, tidying up and getting all of our birth supplies ready to go. Thankfully we had just been to Walmart earlier that day to buy more towels.
As I was bustling around the apartment and folding a load of laundry my waters started to release. I kept waiting for that big gush that everyone talks about, but it was just a slow trickle. It was 12:45 a.m. now and I knew that what I needed to do was go lie down and get some rest. But I just couldn’t settle down until I knew everything was taken care of and in place.
Brendan and I both went and took showers around 1a.m., and I even took the time to shave my legs and remove my chipped nail polish. Then around 1:20 a.m. we finally settled down and got in the bed to get some sleep. We didn’t call our midwife before going to bed even though my waters had released because I wasn’t having surges yet. Our midwife had told us that if my waters released in the middle of the night that we should go back to bed and get some rest and call in the morning. So we put on the Hypnobirthing rainbow relaxation script from our class and went to sleep.
About two hours later, at 3:28 a.m., I woke straight up to my first surge. It was intense and I had to wake Brendan up so he could help me sit up and get out of the bed and into a comfortable position. Once the surge had passed I went to the bathroom, collected myself and then went back to bed and dozed off. But it wasn’t long before I woke up again to another intense surge around 3:50 a.m..
And from then on things start to get a little blurry for me. I’ve asked Brendan to help me with my timeline and sequence of events because I just can’t piece everything together now.
By 4 a.m. my surges started to come in waves and I was doing my best to ride out those waves. I stayed in the bed for awhile on my knees leaning over some pillows because that’s what felt best to me at the moment. Eventually, Brendan and I went out into the living room where I continued to breathe through each surge. Brendan had downloaded an app to his phone where he could keep track of and time each of my surges. They were very sporadic at this point and there was no set pattern to them.
I was still concerned that we hadn’t been out to get groceries and we didn’t have snacks and drinks for our birth team. So Brendan offered to run to the grocery store to pick up some food. We live in walking distance of the grocery store and it takes about 2 minutes to get there. Looking back now it seems crazy that I sent Brendan out when labor was starting to pick up and become more active. It was about 5:15 a.m. when Brendan went out and he didn’t get back until around 5:45 a.m.
When Brendan left to go to the grocery store, I retreated to the bedroom where I continued to ride out my surges and use my phone to track them. The calm atmosphere of our bedroom brought me comfort and peace. I wanted to create a very calm birthing atmosphere, so the only light on in the room was the soft glow from my pink Himalayan salt lamp and my diffuser. I had my birth affirmation cards set up on my nightstand and my book shelf where I could read them and I also had a couple of visual birth affirmations from Hypnobirthing class hung next to my bed.
Originally, I had imagined I would labor out in the living room area of our apartment because there was so much open space, but the bedroom felt so much more safe and intimate. Which is exactly how I wanted my birthing sanctuary to be.
I remember feeling glad that I had a few minutes to labor alone in the bedroom while Brendan was gone, but at the same time I was a little scared to be all by myself. My cat Cheetah came into the bedroom at one point, resting on the foot of the bed while watching over me as if to make sure I was alright.
There was one point during an intense surge that I remember feeling a bit anxious and wondered how long my labor would last and if I could make it through. Then a birth affirmation that I had read popped into my mind that said “Women all over the world are doing this with me”, and I thought to myself ‘if other women are doing this with me, and if my mom did this 5 times, then so can I’. And that gave me courage.
Another thought popped into my mind, this time it was something I had heard on a TV show. There are a lot of things in life that seem impossible to accomplish — but if we focus on doing that impossible task in 10 second increments it suddenly becomes doable. So I told myself that if other women were doing this with me, and if I just focused on getting through each surge just 10 seconds at a time, then I most certainly could get through this labor and birth.
When Brendan got home from the grocery store my surges were more intense and frequent. Brendan was in the kitchen putting the groceries away when I started feeling nauseous. One intense surge later and I was on my hands and knees in the bathroom getting sick. I had read that vomiting during labor can be a good thing because it’s the body’s way of ridding itself of toxins. I had also read that vomiting can be a sign that you are entering transition, which means baby is coming soon.
Brendan was right there by my side helping me up and cleaning up after me. After that we decided that it was time to call our midwife and text our doula.
Our midwife suggested that I try eating something to help with the nausea and to make sure I was drinking plenty of fluids. Brendan updated her on how far along my surges were and she advised that we keep doing what we were doing and report back to her in about 20-30 minutes.
After I got cleaned up I moved out into the living room and headed for the couch where I continued to ride the waves of my surges. Brendan fixed me a labor aid slushy and spoon fed it to me in between surges. I remember not wanting to eat it, but knowing that it was good for me and would keep me moving forward. It was actually quite cold and refreshing and just what I needed. Brendan also brought me some saltine crackers to nibble on.
The next thing I remember is being back in the bed, lying on my left side with pillows in between my legs to keep my pelvis open. I had my eyes closed, listening to the rainbow relaxation while I was riding the waves. I vaguely remember hearing Brendan bustling around in the kitchen getting the birthing tub ready. Then our doula came in and I heard her getting her stuff set up out in the kitchen area near the tub.
At this point I was in my zone and I didn’t feel like seeing anyone or talking to them. So I kept my eyes closed and continued to put all of my focus and energy on the rainbow relaxation. I eventually opened my eyes and greeted my doula.
It was around 7:45a.m. when my doula arrived. Our midwife lives an hour away, so she didn’t arrive until about 8:40 a.m. A little later our midwife’s assistant and another a girl that was shadowing our doula arrived at our apartment.
From the time my birth team arrived things just seemed to move so quickly.
The memories that I have from the time I was in active labor come back to me in vivid fragments. I recall lying out on the bed and having my doula on one side of me and Brendan on the other side massaging my legs with essential oils (I think it was Clary Sage). The oils smelled lovely and were very calming. Next, I remember my doula helping me up off the bed and having me change positions. She moved me to stand over the edge of the bed and had me lean on a peanut ball. I had no concept of time and really had no idea how far along I was at that point.
I’m not quite sure when it was, but I remember I was back in the bed lying on my side and my midwife came over and asked if she could check my blood pressure and my temperature —that was the first time I had opened my eyes to see and greet her. I remember her voice being very calm and gentle and it made me feel safe.
I don’t remember hearing the midwife’s assistant or the shadowing doula come in at all, one moment I opened my eyes and there they were. My birth team was amazing! Everyone respected the calm atmosphere we wanted to have and talked in hushed voices. The lights were low and there was no frantic shouting. Everyone just got right to work! There was always somebody by my side to give me a sip of water or labor aid, to place a cool or warm wash cloth on my head, and to offer me words of love and encouragement.
I honestly would have been lost without Brendan and my doula by my side. When my surges got really intense, Brendan was right there to hold my hand and whisper words of encouragement into my ear. When I would tense up and forget to do my surge breathing, Brendan and my doula would remind me to relax my forehead. And one thing that really helped me through the most rigorous part of my labor was my doula telling me to go to my favorite spot in nature (part of our Hypnobirthing exercises we learned in class) —every time she said that to me I immediately went to that spot and felt safe.
Since my midwife respected my wishes and didn’t check me to see how dilated I was, I didn’t know just how far along I was. But it was somewhere between 9:30-10 a.m. that active labor started. My surges felt intense from the start, but things really started to pick up around then.
At about 10 a.m. my midwife told me that my bladder was very full and it was keeping labor from progressing more quickly. She told me that I needed to try going to the bathroom to urinate or else she would have to catheterize me. I understood, so with the help of Brendan and my doula I waddled to the bathroom. They had me sit backwards on the toilet, used peppermint essential oils, and tried to help me to relax so I could pee. My doula was so sweet and encouraging and I tried so hard, but there was so much pressure from the baby’s head and I just couldn’t go.
As I was walking back to the bed I had the most powerful surge and could actually feel the baby moving down! I also felt the intense pressure of his head and in that moment I realized I was further along than I thought. I was expecting hours of labor ahead of me, but I was wrong!
As I got back in the bed my doula told me to let my body do the pushing and for me to just focus on my breathing. Up until this point, I had been doing the surge breathing we learned in Hypnobirthing, but my doula told me I could start the “J breath”, or “birth breathing”. I hadn’t felt any pain during labor, just a lot of pressure. During my next surge I did the J breath and I was amazed at the immense relief I felt! I had held off on the pushing and just focused on breathing the baby down through the birth canal and letting my body’s Natural Expulsive Reflex (NER) take over.
I was a bit upset that I had to be catheterized, but I tried not to let that get in the way of the work I had ahead of me. While it was uncomfortable, the catheter wasn’t really painful like I thought it would be. As I mentioned earlier, I really didn’t know how far along I was, so I was shocked when I heard someone comment on seeing the baby’s head and his head full of hair. The baby was crowning and I couldn’t believe I was that far along! But I tried not to dwell on that thought because I knew very well that I could still have quite a ways to go.
During all of this, my midwife had been checking the baby’s heart rate on and off with the doppler. As labor intensified, the baby’s heart rate was dropping and my midwife decided that he needed to make his appearance sooner than later. I was still tight and had some softening to do, but we would have been playing a dangerous game waiting around while baby’s heart rate was bouncing up and down.
And then I heard my midwife say what I didn’t want to hear, “Episiotomy”. For a brief moment I felt a bit defeated. I so badly wanted to give my body time to open and soften naturally, to get in the tub and let the warm water swirl around my body until it was time to blossom. I wanted to be up, not lying down while I gave birth. I knew that everyone on my birth team had faith in me and knew that my body could do that. But, I heard the urgency in my midwife’s voice, and I knew what needed to be done. So I let all thoughts of failure leave me, collected myself, and re-focused on my body and my baby.
My sweet midwife could not have been more amazing. She looked me in the eyes, told me what needed to be done, and asked for my permission to perform the episiotomy. In that vulnerable moment, I felt so loved and respected. And I trusted her judgement and knew that she wouldn’t do an episiotomy unless it was absolutely necessary.
So I held Brendan’s hand and took a deep breath while she cut me. That was the only moment I recall feeling pain during labor. But the pain was no where near what I imagined it would be like. Everyone in the room told me what a beautiful job I was doing and how well I was handling everything.
Looking back, it seemed like a lot of time passed between the episiotomy and meeting my baby. I felt as if I was just floating along, not having any expectations on how long I may have to go.
I’ll never forget the moment my midwife looked me in the eyes and said, “We need to get this baby out. Now.”. I heard the seriousness in her voice, and I knew what needed to be done. But in that moment I didn’t know if I could do it. I didn’t think I was far enough along to breathe my baby down and out the rest of the way just yet.
That was the only time I felt scared. I lost focus and let the doubt and negativity seep in. I’ve heard that when you get to the point where you think you can’t do it, when you think you can’t go on any longer, that’s when you are about to meet your baby.
Thank goodness for Brendan and my birth team! They all encouraged me and told me I could do it. Hearing the confidence in my midwife’s voice was just what I needed to push through.
My doula fed me two honey sticks for a quick burst of natural energy. Brendan was on my left side, and my doula was on my right side helping to prop me up and hold my legs up. Having them so close to me made me feel loved, protected, and safe.
On the next surge, my midwife told me to push. And I breathed and pushed with every ounce of energy I had. And I felt the power of my baby boy bursting into this world. That feeling will be etched into my body, mind, and heart forever.
My midwife brought him up to my belly and I remember feeling how warm and slippery he felt. So foreign, yet familiar at the same time. I heard Brendan’s voice saying “He’s here! He’s here! You did it!”. I started to tear up and cry a little bit. They weren’t tears of love at that point, they were tears of disbelief and relief. I couldn’t believe that it was over, that I did it, that my son was here!
He came so quickly, so intensely! And I did it. I gave birth, at home, with absolutely no medication. I felt so empowered.
It took me a few minutes to collect myself and look into my son’s eyes. Early Sunday morning, the day before I gave birth, I had dreamt that I gave birth and looked over at my son and saw these big, dark eyes staring at me. And when my son looked at me for the first time, it was with those same big eyes I had seen in my dream.
He was born at 11:10 a.m. on September 3, 2018. Labor Day, the perfect day for a beautiful labor and birth. Once he was here with us, there was no question as to what his name would be. Ellis Everett Smith. Ellis was the only name I had ever really liked for a boy, and Brendan liked it too. Even though we wanted to see him first before sticking with the name, deep down I knew, he had always been Ellis.
I delivered my placenta a little less than half an hour after Ellis was born, and he stayed attached to the cord for about an hour and a half.
Seeing Brendan cut the umbilical cord and hold Ellis for the first time was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I cried as I watched him cradling our tiny son in his big, strong arms. Everyone stopped for a moment, and a hush came over the room. I felt so much love.
Our birth team was so amazing, I just can’t say it enough. My doula and her friend got right to work after the birth and fixed us lunch, did laundry, and took the trash out for us. By the time they left later that afternoon our apartment was much cleaner than it had been before.
I find myself at a loss for words to describe just how incredible Brendan was during the entire labor and birth. He held me, massaged me, spoke words of love and encouragement over me, and watched the whole time. He was my rock, and I’m so blessed to call him my birth partner, my husband, and the father of my son.
Almost 6 months later I’m finally finishing writing Ellis’ birth story. As I wrote, I tried to let the words flow from my heart. I tried not to compare my birth story with others I had read. At one point I worried it was too long, but these are the words and the depth at which I felt led to share. The day Ellis was born still plays over and over again in my mind, and I’m so overjoyed, so empowered, and so filled with love every time I think back on it. That day wasn’t just the day my son was born, it was the day the mother within me was born.