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Unbridled joy: The birth of Isla

When I was first assigned a due date, April 13, I thought two things:

  1. Perfect. I’ll be able to complete the big work task scheduled for April 12 before going into labor.
  2. Thank goodness only 5 percent of babies are born on their due dates. Nobody wants the 13th for a birthday!

As I prepared to leave the office on April 12, having checked that last big to-do off my list, I told my colleagues that with any luck I’d go home, contractions would start up and I’d have this baby—but that more than likely, I’d see them in the morning.

I’ve got a feeling
That evening, I did start feeling a weird “something” low in my pelvis. It wasn’t painful and only happened every so often, and it didn’t feel like what I imagined contractions would feel like. My husband, Ross, and I went about our night and braced ourselves to not be disappointed if our due date came and went with nary a Braxton Hicks to report.

The next morning, we attended our previously scheduled appointment with our midwife, and I told her about the “something” deep in my pelvis that I’d been experiencing. She suggested it was my cervix preparing for delivery but advised me to go ahead and schedule an appointment for the following week, explaining it could still be a while before anything significant started happening. (I tried to hide my disappointment as I added an appointment to my calendar for a week after my due date.)

I dropped Ross off at his office and decided to head home for a nap before going into work as I had planned. I’d wrapped up all my projects anyway, and I figured the fact that it was my due date gave me license to play hooky for at least an hour or two.

I snacked on nearly everything in the kitchen when I got home—bowl of cereal, cheese quesadilla, ice cream—and then laid down for a nap. The weird “somethings” would wake me up from time to time but lazing about in my sun-drenched bed felt restful and indulgent.

Around noon, I decided making the 20-minute drive to the office felt like too much of an ordeal. I’d have to change out of my sweatpants, put on a bra … things that at exactly 40 weeks pregnant were too much to ask. Plus, I didn’t want my co-workers witnessing any of my discomfort. So, I let them know I wouldn’t be in and would be working from home that afternoon.

Around 3 o’clock, I was responding to some emails when I realized I was having to pause during the “somethings” to get up and walk around. Maybe these “somethings” really were something (ahem, like contractions), after all.

Ross headed home from work around 5 o’clock, and although we had originally discussed going out to dinner, I was unsure I’d be able to comfortably sit through an entire meal if a contraction—I decided I could probably call them that—struck. Instead, he picked up pizza (which I didn’t end up touching).

We started tracking contractions in an app, and I paced around our apartment when they hit. We touched base with our doula, who happened to have another client already in labor, and got set up with a backup doula, who we began giving hourly reports.

Our plan was to labor at home as long as possible before heading to the hospital. We figured we’d be most comfortable in our own space, and because I was hoping to avoid using any pain medications, I wanted to minimize my access to them. I regularly joke that Ross is the kind of guy who likes to get to the airport 6 hours ahead of time for a domestic flight, so I worried he’d be an eager beaver when it was go time and insist we get to the hospital much too soon. But, he was incredibly patient as I navigated the contractions in the comfort of our own space and seemed to know exactly how I needed him to support me.

Between contractions, we chatted and put the finishing touches on our hospital bags. Ross thoughtfully tidied up a bit, knowing I’d want it to be in order when we brought our baby home.

Around 7 o’clock, we decided to call our midwife practice, just to give the on-call midwife a heads up we’d likely require her services at some point in the relatively near future. (We lived only 15 minutes from the hospital, but in case the midwife lived a bit farther away, we wanted to be sure she had plenty of time to prepare and get there.) The on-call midwife, Janet, spoke with Ross first and then asked to speak to me. She stayed on the line until I’d gone through a contraction, so she could get a sense of where I was in labor. Of course, I happened to have a fairly mild contraction right then and was able to talk to her through most of it. She said it sounded like I was probably in the early stages of things and recommended hanging out at home for at least another hour or two.

The time is now
Shortly after our call, things started to pick up a bit, and the contractions required my full attention. I was less chatty in between and switched from walking around during them to swaying as I leaned over the island in the kitchen. I honed in on my breathing and acknowledged the work my body was doing to move my baby down and out of my body.

Ross and I made a deal to try to make it to 10 o’clock before heading to the hospital. But when a contraction around 9:35 p.m. ended in me throwing up in the bathroom sink, I told Ross I was ready to go.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wait for one or two more contractions?” he asked sweetly, not wanting me to feel rushed. I assured him that I was ready, and it was time.

He grabbed our bags, and we made our way down the hall toward the elevator, pausing on the way for me to breathe through a contraction. I had another contraction once we got off the elevator as we were walking to the parking garage. Ross loaded our bags into the trunk, and I loaded myself into the back seat, where there was more space than the passenger seat.

We hit what felt like every traffic light on the way to the hospital, and I started vocalizing more than I had at home—in part because I was no longer concerned about disrupting neighbors and in part because these were the first contractions I’d tackled sitting down and buckled in, which made them considerably more unpleasant.

Ross offered to drop me at the hospital entrance when we arrived, but I didn’t want to separate from him, so I insisted we park and walk in together. Despite having read about others doing this, we went to the main entrance—even though it was nearly 10 o’clock and after hours—and had to walk around the building to enter through the emergency room. Rookie mistake!

Ross had to get some sort of badge to stay with me, and I had another contraction at the emergency room check-in while I waited for him. Then, a gentleman with a wheelchair arrived to escort us up to labor and delivery. I sat in the wheelchair until we got off the elevator on the L&D floor and then asked to walk the rest of the way. Standing was undoubtedly preferable.

Our midwife, Janet, was waiting for us at the nurses’ station, and she took me to a triage room while Ross handled the requisite paperwork. The room was spacious and didn’t have much inside other than a bed. Janet dimmed the lights and hooked me up to an external fetal monitor (EFM), which I’d need to have on for 20 minutes, she explained. Then, she checked me.

“Good news,” she said. “You’re at 7 centimeters.”

Seven was the number I needed to hear, and I was so relieved when she said it. Seven was substantial—it was closer to the finish line than the starting line, not to mention it wasn’t “two,” which is what I was afraid she would say. Seven validated the intensity of what I was feeling and gave me a boost of confidence that an epidural-free delivery could be attainable. (Now, if she’d said I was at 9 centimeters, I’d have been even more thrilled, but I’d happily take what I could get.)

I had to be hooked up to the EFM awhile longer, so Janet said she’d be back in a bit. I was left alone in the dark room, standing pantsless next to the bed, leashed by the cords of the monitor, moaning through contractions. They felt more intense than before, and I wondered what could be taking Ross so long.

A few contractions later, he found me, and shortly after, our backup doula, Melissa, arrived. It was my first time meeting her, but formalities were out of the question—I was in the thick of things, so much so that I was hardly phased to be sporting only a tank top in the midst of meeting a stranger.

Janet returned when my 20 minutes—which felt like a lifetime—on the monitors were up, and she helped me into a gown before we walked down the hall to our delivery room (coincidentally passing by the room where our original doula was with her laboring client).

We settled into the room about 10:45 p.m., and Melissa offered her birthing ball, noting some women liked to sit on it while leaning over the bed. Although I hadn’t found my birthing ball to be comfortable at home, I decided to give it a try. It was a nice change of pace, especially with Melissa standing behind me squeezing my hips during contractions.

I remember reading a birth story while I was pregnant of a woman whose mantra during labor was “I am thankful for the rest,” referring to the time between contractions. It had really resonated with me, and as it came to mind again at the end of a contraction, I said aloud, “This is such a nice break.” Everyone gave me a bit of a funny look. I wasn’t talking much at that point, and I think my comment might have taken them by surprise.

A student-midwife, Lindsey, who was working with Janet that night came in and introduced herself. Lindsey was hanging out making small talk when Melissa observed, “She’s bearing down during contractions.” It wasn’t a voluntary action; my body had begun pushing all on its own.

Because it had been only 20 minutes or so since I was at 7 centimeters, it seemed too soon for me to begin pushing. But Lindsey checked me again and found I had progressed to 9 centimeters. They called Janet from down the hall and began filling the birth tub.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get enough water in the tub before the baby comes,” someone said. I was just relieved to see everyone spring into action—it surely meant we were getting close.

Water works
I got into the tub when there were just a few inches of water covering the bottom. They continued to fill it as I labored on my knees, leaning over the side of the tub and holding tight to Ross’s hands as he kneeled on the other side. I had transitioned to quite a primal state at that point, and the details are a bit of a blur—like a dream where you recall bits and pieces but aren’t sure how they fit together or if they even make sense—but here’s what I remember …

I remember someone kept pushing my bottom down, so it was in the shallow water. I remember the water being very warm, which felt good but made me hot, so Melissa put a cool washcloth on my neck. I remember there was a child-size paper cup filled with water and a bendy straw that fit right into the cup holder of the tub, so I could sip from it without effort. I remember grabbing Ross’s hands in a very specific way during each contraction, not allowing him to switch positions. And I remember looking at him but not having the energy to make meaningful eye contact. It was more important to feel him than see him.

We had decided not to find out our baby’s sex ahead of time, and during my pregnancy, whenever anyone asked if I had a gut feeling about it, I responded, “no”—because I didn’t. But during one particular contraction I had a fleeting, almost subconscious thought: It’s a girl. Perhaps my maternal instincts had kicked in at the last minute.

Although contractions were intense, they weren’t painful in the way someone sawing off a limb would be. The pressure was immense and real, but it was manageable. I never got to a point where I wanted or asked for an epidural. After one particularly powerful contraction, I remarked under my breath, “Holy shit,”; otherwise, vocalizing was most effective for me. I concentrated on keeping my moans low, instead of high-pitched, as we had learned in our birth class and doing so gave me just enough to think about to get through each wave.

With every contraction, I was pushing—though again, involuntarily—but I really had no sense of how close or far I was from delivery. My body was boss, and it took all of my focus and energy to keep up.

After about 20 minutes in the tub, a contraction ended, and when I opened my eyes I saw someone pulling out of the water a baby—my baby. “Oh my god, you’re here!” I exclaimed as my firstborn was handed to me. Our baby had been born!

I held the slippery body tightly as I was overcome with relief, awe and unbridled joy. A few minutes must have passed before Janet gently spread our baby’s legs, cueing Ross to announce the sex. “Girl!” he said. I may have been a late bloomer, but my maternal instincts had been correct.

Isla James Andre weighed 6 pounds, 8 ounces, measured 20 inches and arrived at 11:34 p.m. on her due date. We had no idea how much we’d love her.

Click here to read dad’s perspective on Isla’s birth day!

Send us your birth story! Whether you had a home birth, hospital birth, 37-hour labor or emergency C-section, we’d love to read the tale of your little one’s grand entrance. Write up your birth story (click here for tips on getting started) and email it, along with a few photos, to birthstory@pnmag.com. We’ll share it on our Birth Day blog and may even print it in an upcoming issue!

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