That’s the way I’ve been categorizing my third birth.
To understand why Harper’s arrival was so mental, you need to know a detail that I’ve not shared publicly to this point. I’ve been in regular therapy since January treating an anxiety disorder. I imagine that in the months to come I’ll share more from this season, but what you need to know for her birth story to make sense is that I’ve gone through a profound transformation. Lots of work has been done to retrain my brain and work through lingering anxiety and depression that presented after I became a mom. I’m thankful to God for all the ways He’s provided to make me whole.
AND SO, Harper’s birth was the ‘mental’ one.
Per the usual with my pregnancies I have very noticeable Braxton Hicks, growing in intensity, for at least a solid month before my due date. Though it is very tough to not get too excited prematurely, it is nice to have a generous amount of time to get into the labor headspace. Especially in the last two weeks when the Braxton Hicks don’t feel like ‘practice’ anymore, it’s a good chance to start utilizing comfort measures. One thing I enjoyed doing throughout pregnancy was listening to my birth playlist. Harper also really enjoyed the music, judging by her highly active movements in utero. Listening to her songs was a nice bonding time between us.
The tough part about having strong and noticeable not-actual-labor-yet contractions is that it feels like I’m literally sitting on the verge of labor for a month. It plays with you. I tried very hard to not get my hopes up, or get discouraged when the contractions would stop after a few hours. I’m thankful that these sensations were not as intense or draining as I’ve heard prodromal labor to be. The discomfort was manageable and usually subsided with hydration and rest. This time around I used the final weeks of pregnancy to do more labor prep, which really helped me feel like I was accomplishing something with all the toning contractions. I made a batch of Mommypotamus’ Labor Aid and protein energy balls, as well as some frozen meals.
At my 37 week appointment I decided to get a cervical exam, knowing that dilation is just a number and no indicator of when labor will start or how long it will go. I mainly was just curious to see if these contractions had done any work. Sure enough, I was 3cm – but not very thinned. (Though after this appointment I had TERRIBLE cramps and super regretted my decision to go for the exam. It was my only one, for sure!)
I also had been losing little bits of mucus plug during these Will She / Won’t She weeks. But the morning of my 39 week appointment, a Tuesday, I lost what looked like the majority of my plug and had a sense that it would be my last week pregnant. Both Ben and I didn’t think I would pass my due date this pregnancy, and my other two births happened at 39 weeks 6 days and 40 weeks 0 days.
The next day I had a sense that labor would start soon. Since that day was a Wednesday, Ben taught our teen group at church that evening. He joked that Harper could come after he was done delivering the lesson. Sure enough, once he got out of the house a set of contractions started. I got Carson and Nora into bed and planned to do my usual rest & hydrate routine…and the contractions continued to come!
When Ben got home I told him I felt different and that wouldn’t be surprised if this turned into labor. He didn’t say anything, but smiled at me. (When I had these pre-labor contraction patterns startup, I would ask him if I looked to be in labor. One day he discouragingly told me, “No, I don’t think so. You look miserable.” I got pretty miffed at him! But he followed up saying, “In labor you don’t look miserable, you look determined.” Which, of course, was the sweetest thing he could have said. But since that day, I asked Ben not to tell me his labor predictions because I was really trying to focus on my body cues and not be so in my head.)
This night, as the contractions continued every eight minutes or so, I remember feeling very open and vulnerable. I felt a shift in my mood, like I was preparing to welcome my baby into the world. Around 10pm I knew I needed to get some rest and tried to lay in bed, but the cramping and contractions continued and I couldn’t really settle. I ended up propping my CUB on the edge of my bed and leaned over with pillows. This allowed me to rock my hips when a contraction would come, but rest my head in between. I actually used the CUB quite a lot during the last month of pregnancy and in early labor which was lovely, though as you’re about to read things picked up really quickly once we arrived at the hospital and I didn’t get to use it at all in active labor.
Around 11:30pm I started wondering if we should call Ben’s mom to come to our house and be with the big girls. I was worried about waiting too deep into the night to call her. The strange part is I knew for I wasn’t in active labor yet, but I had a strong sense that this labor would go quickly and we didn’t need to wait. Thankfully after one contraction I noticed that my water was leaking and took that as a good indicator that it would be okay to head on to the hospital.
We decided to birth at a new facility this time, and part of my antsiness to get on the road was also knowing that I would need to settle and learn to labor in a new place. Another benefit of leaving before things really picked up is that we had to drive more backroads and – MAN – I cannot imagine all those twists and turns in full-blown labor! Thankfully we purchased a minivan to prepare for Baby #3 and I straddled the middle captain chair the entire way. We left our house about midnight and arrived at the hospital around 1:00am on Thursday morning.
We chose to birth at a smaller hospital known for supporting natural birth this time around. The hardest part, though, is that errrybody in town was birthing babies that day! Nurses and providers mentioned to use many times how they were much busier than usual and apologized for the inconveniences that the overload caused. One such hiccup is that we didn’t get to go immediately to a LDR room in The Birthing Spa, but a general room. (And about 12 hours after delivery, we had to move back again to the general floor.)
I was 4cm when we checked in, which did bum me out. This was my first birth after having attended several other labors as a certified birth doula. What I knew about birth and what I knew about the sensations in my body seemed to contradict themselves. The contractions were starting to get more intense, though they never got longer. My contractions only ever lasted about thirty seconds and I kept waiting for them to go on for a minute or two. It also was strange that I only ever felt the contractions in my core. Normally I’ll have lots of hip and back pressure, but not this time. It was getting exhausting to feel such growing intensity in ONLY one spot. I was desperate to get to a delivery room to enjoy the labor tub and shower, but we ended up staying in that general room for some time.
Speaking of being a doula, we did hire one for this birth. (Everyone needs a doula!) But due to several circumstances she was not able to attend and sent her backup. I was grateful to know and trust both of these women, but it was a weird experience to not have ‘our’ doula present. Especially since my doula and I had a really strong connection. This entire labor and birth felt a bit disorienting; so many pieces of what I expected were out of place, which added to the mental struggle of it all.
Not only was the hospital busy and our primary doula unable to attend our birth, but our provider was on vacation! We jokingly have called Harper’s birth the backup plan birth.
Our backup doula did an amazing job, though! She swooped in, as fresh as ever, and started helping me work through the contractions. Finally we were able to move to a LDR room and as soon as I signed all the papers I needed, I stripped down and jumped in the tub that our doula prepared.
For some reason the tub was not as relaxing and relieving as it had been in my prior two labors. Being in the water was certainly better than not, but I didn’t get that instant relief of ‘the midwife’s epidural’ that I had hoped for. Again, I think this was largely because I only felt contractions in my core and nothing seemed to give me the relief I wanted.
Our doula did give me a rocking back massage in the tub with some oil and that was heavenly! It really helped me relax and center on the task at hand. Words of encouragement are a love language of mine and our doula was wonderful to remind me that today was my baby’s birthday, and that I was doing a good job.
Within less than an hour of being in the tub, I started grunting to get through the contractions. This is where it all started to get mental. I was thinking to myself, “I can’t be pushing already. I was only 4cm. This is still early labor, right? I’m overreacting. I’m taking this too seriously too early.” But when the grunting continued, a nurse encouraged me to get out of the tub to get checked, it was probably time to push! (Normally you wouldn’t get out of the tub if you feel pushy, but no hospital in Kentucky supports waterbirth…which is another conversation.)
I managed to get back to the bed and agreed to be monitored one last time and for my IV hep lock to be placed. Placing IV entry is standard care which is perfectly fine to refuse. But knowing that I have low blood platelets which can make it hard for my blood to clot, I was happy to comply with the hep lock in case quick action was needed.
The nurse had a quizzical look when she examined me. “I think that’s the baby’s head…but, let me double check.” The baby cart got wheeled in, and another nurse came to confirm the finding. Except, that’s not what happened. The second nurse got inside my cervix and said, “Oh, honey. That’s not a head. You’re only 5cm.”
Aaaaand that’s when I lost it.
“WHAAAAT!?” I shouted to the team. “Are you kidding me!? I can’t do this much longer!”
I jumped off the bed to work through a contraction and just started crying. Ben and our doula encouraged me to get back in the tub, my happy place. But even the bliss of the tub didn’t seem as comforting anymore as it had once been. I don’t remember ever feeling so helpless, confused, or defeated in my life. My mind took over, “See? You were totally overreacting. You can’t handle this labor. You’re only 5cm and you’re losing it.” I was very hard on myself, which added to my distress.
Ben and our doula doubled their comfort measure efforts and really tried to get me to keep my moans low and breathing deep. In some contractions I was able to rally myself and keep it controlled, but in other ones I never found that centered place. I was trying so hard to not push, though that is EXACTLY the sensation I was feeling. I started calling their names to get through the contractions.
“Oh, Jesus, help me!”
This labor really was a head spinner. How could I be feeling such intensity but not be that far dilated?
Friends, birth is wild.
About 30 mins of being back in the tub again and really struggling to keep it together, the need to push returned with a fury. In my mind I thought, “Well, since I was only 5cm maybe I really do just need to poop.” I told my team I needed to use the bathroom, hopped out of the tub, and got on the toilet. And I started what I thought was going to be pooping, but it wasn’t. There was a short shower stool in front of the toilet that I was gripping onto and I’m sure I sounded very loud and very pushy.
My doula wisely got the nurse back in the room. Mind you, this was just about 30 mins since my last check and I was found to be 5cm. Somehow I was convinced to get back onto the bed again for another check. Y’all, I was just dreading to hear the news that I would still have hours to go in this labor! But, you guessed it. This time I was 10cm and Harper’s head was well into my pelvis.
THEN THE NURSE SAID, “Okay honey. Your baby is right there. The doctor lives 10 minutes away. Try to hold off pushing if you can. But if you can’t, we’ve got this.”
I curled around the back of the bed and continued my grunting through contractions, though I was purposely trying to hold back some of the force. I’m grateful that my care team had the confidence to handle a birth before the provider arrived! But also, holding back pushing wasn’t impossible for me because, all three times now, pushing is the WORST. I hate pushing! I was happy to try to delay it.
I remember a nurse telling me as soon as I saw the doctor’s face I could really go for it. I heard him come in about 10 mins later, his hair was dripping wet from the spring thunderstorm that popped up outside. Upon hearing his voice I turned around in the bed and asked for a squat bar. I was ready to get it over!
I didn’t get a squat bar, but the nurses did quickly make the bed into a throne and supported my legs. A big goal of mine was to catch Harper at this birth. I’m really grateful everyone reminded me of that goal because I’m pretty sure I told the doctor, “No, it’s okay. Just get her out of me!”
Fast labors are intense.
Ben told me within three, good pushes Harper was born into my hands. Though in the moment I was not the calm, controlled, zen birthing goddess of my dreams, I was totally present. I loved being able to feel my baby birthed into my hands and pull her up onto my body. And I loved that this wild roller coaster of a labor was over!
After arrival at the hospital at 1:00am, Harper Joy was born into her mother’s hands at 4:40am. Ben and I were still in a bit of disbelief at how quickly everything progressed. (My prior active labors had been 20 hours and 12 hours, respectively.) We couldn’t believe that after such a long pregnancy full of changes and hopeful anticipation our girl was here!
I also looked at our doula and asked her, “Why do we help people do this!?” Such a different reaction to the empowerment I felt after my first two births. Once Harper was born I just felt relieved, I felt like I wanted to collapse at the finish line with gratefulness.
A big concern of mine throughout this pregnancy was having repeat immediate postpartum complications. In my first birth I had a retained placenta that required the midwife to manually extract. (Just as excruciating as it sounds.) And in my second birth I required another manual extraction to retrieve part of the membrane that stayed behind; in that second birth I also experienced a postpartum hemorrhage (losing 1000mLs of blood) that was always attributed to my low blood platelets condition. In this pregnancy my platelets did drop well below normal, but they were not as low as they had been prior. Still, the concern lingered.
Thankfully, I had a complication-free immediate postpartum! I also had the experience of actually birthing my placenta, which indicated to me that my first experiences truly had been more managed. I was glad to give my body a chance to see what it could do. Though I did start to lose a bit more blood than what was comfortable, quick acting medications stopped the flow from being excessive.
The only minor issue we experienced is that Harper aspirated meconium and had to be deep suctioned. But that procedure happened right next to my bed and she was immediately returned to me. We got to linger for about two hours together, nursing and bonding and resting from this wild birth together. She only got weighted and checked when I was ready to get cleaned up myself.
Big sisters Carson and Nora fell INSTANTLY in love and have been on a baby high ever since Harper’s birth. We are so thankful the girls love their sister.
I wasn’t quite itching to write this birth story. Honestly, I’m still trying to make peace with a lot of it. Harper’s birth was not traumatic, by any stretch. But it wasn’t so much the birth I pictured or would have preferred. That said, I am incredibly thankful to be writing this story while holding and nursing a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I’m thankful to be a healthy mother. Though her birth was my hardest and, so, the hardest to make peace with I did want to get these thoughts down while the details are fresh.
I didn’t even go into all the nuances and threads throughout this pregnancy, but suffice it to say that much was fought on the battlefield of my mind. And – praise be to God! – much has been won. Though, I still feel a bit bruised.
As a doula and self-professed birth junkie it was good for me to have a tougher labor. I won’t have such rose-colored glasses because I know first hand what it’s like to experience a challenging birth.
In writing this story I came across a quote that went something like:
It’s okay to be scared because it means you’re about to do something brave.
That’s a great summary of Harper’s birth.
Welcome to the world, sweet girl. We love you!