I have always enjoyed reading other women’s birth stories or looking at birth photos that capture an incredibly important, even defining moment in time. I took an even greater interest during both of my pregnancies; but, I don’t see my curiosity and admiration for the realness of women’s experiences going away anytime soon. I appreciate the camaraderie and sisterhood in shared birth experience and feel that women should have an opportunity to share their story. All births are special. All births are different. All births are worth hearing about.
Whether you were on a bed, in a tub, standing, or on an operating table, every birth is part of life’s cycle and is powerful. All women should feel empowered after bringing life into the world. There’s nothing quite like it.
I’ve delivered two babies—each time unique and distinct and very different. I plan to share my second birth story because it’s fresh in my mind. It’s also the first time I’ll include my second son in my writing after a hiatus with him and my other little man. Arlo’s birth also represents growth that happened from one birth to the next—in a hospital and a birth center respectively. I had a new sense of confidence this time around and wanted to share that perspective. I sincerely encourage women who read this to share your own memories. I would love to include other birth experiences here for anyone willing or wanting to tell their story.
So, here it goes…
Monday morning was fairly bright with lots of sun like usual. We headed to the Baby & Company Birth Center to have our second non-stress test to make sure that our baby was still okay and not overcooked at eight days past our “due date.” I felt fairly certain that the baby would be coming soon, especially after a membrane sweep—the midwives natural way to nudge the baby to make his or her presence known. We dropped our older son, Walden, off at my friend’s house and headed to the birth center that we’d been going to since my first trimester. It wouldn’t be the last time we made the trip that day. We just didn’t know it yet.
After a successful non-stress test that showed a happy baby and a quick, slightly painful, sweep of the membrane, my husband, Tyler, headed home to work from his home office. I went back to my good friend’s home to have lunch around 12 p.m. I had started feeling cramps shortly after leaving the birth center, but it picked up at my friend’s home. I was one hundred percent certain that I was simply feeling heightened Braxton Hicks contractions brought on by the membrane sweep. Nothing felt altered or pressing at this time, and I can even remember my friend referencing the idea of scrubbing the floors to get labor going.
I almost paused for cramps when we got ready to leave. I told Walden that I needed to get home and take a rest because I wasn’t feeling very well. I remember how he didn’t protest leaving, which doesn’t always happen when he leaves his best friend’s home.
I didn’t consider this labor at all, but in retrospect, early labor started as soon as we left the birth center. When I was pregnant, I frequently commented that I really just wanted to ignore early labor. I ended up making this a reality without quite realizing it. I called Tyler from the car and told him that there was a slight chance that something might be happening. Tyler sounded worried and excited on the phone. I felt anticipation and curiosity yet still in complete denial. I honestly thought that I just needed a nap and some water.
I decided to lie down while Tyler put Walden down for a nap around 2:45 p.m., and I was able to rest for a few moments but quickly knew that I would not be able to actually sleep. The pain intensified slightly, and this was when I really started to question if it would actually stop—like Braxton Hicks and cramping normally does…
By the time Tyler came to our bedroom to check in around 3:30 p.m., he said “We’re having a baby tonight,” and I remarkably still didn’t feel that was a fact.
The pain had started increasing, and I began sitting on the birthing ball and the rocking glider chair we had placed in our bedroom for the baby’s arrival. Within an hour or two I had trouble talking while contractions came on. I started accepting that I was in labor. The skies were starting to darken outside, and I heard raindrops. I smiled at what I believed to be the perfect weather for childbirth and labor. I stayed on the exercise ball for quite some time and had some food on the glider.
We called the midwives before anyone else and said we were having contractions every two or two and a half minutes that lasted forty to fifty seconds. The reasoning for my denial of early labor flashed in my head. I was literally terrified of going to the birth center too early. We had arrived at the hospital at three centimeters or so dilation with Walden’s labor, when I thought we were further along. I hoped for more time at home to work through the beginning of this labor—before finding our landing spot for active labor, transition, and finally, birth.
My midwife, Erin, said we could wait another hour before coming in, so we did. Tyler may have been reluctant, but I felt peaceful at home. We spoke to our friend who had planned to take Walden while I labored. She came to pick him up, gave me a firm hug and told me that I could do it—right after I shed some tears upon hugging Walden goodbye. He might not remember leaving me that day, but I’ll always have the mental image. I felt safe leaving Walden at her house.
I asked Tyler how long it had been, and when he said about an hour, I decided it was time to head to our final spot, the birth center. I had eaten, stayed hydrated and felt the contractions picking up in intensity—and still coming every two minutes.
It had been a few hours. They weren’t going away and only getting stronger. I really believed now and began preparing myself to handle the insane push and pull that contractions have on the abdomen. I kept waiting to feel sharp pain in my back for confirmation of labor, and when I did, it gave me even more validation.
We arrived at the birth center around 7 p.m., and one of our midwives, Ellen, checked my dilation. I was nervous, but it ended up being a powerful moment in our birth that defined my strength as a woman and mother in many ways.
Tyler placed a wild amount of flameless candles around the room and immediately started thinking about essential oils. I remember Ellen telling him that we needed some space for other things, but he set it up just like I had hoped. She said I was around three or four centimeters dilated and fifty percent effaced, maybe more effaced. She also said “things felt soft,” and I had heard that same comment from our other midwife Gaither at our first membrane sweep the week prior. I was blank. I didn’t get upset or cry, but I dug into myself silently.
She had mentioned that we could go home if we wished to.
I couldn’t imagine going home, even though she offered it as a choice. I stared blankly at Tyler and said we’re staying, let’s do this thing. Deep down I knew I was in active labor, and I felt like things were moving faster than my first labor. But I did need the reminder, and Tyler and our doula Kyla—after she arrived later—both gave it to me. Tyler and I both got on birthing balls when Kyla arrived around 7:30 p.m.
We started walking to get labor moving, which felt strangely reminiscent to Walden’s birth. I pondered just how long this would take and if I messed up and came to the center too soon. But as soon as we took our first walk, I felt like things progressed even more; my confidence boosted. I seriously went inside myself as I walked the birth center halls in my labor gown. I soaked in the validation from Kyla and Tyler that this was active labor, but they were just saying out loud what I already knew.
I said I wanted to keep moving and got back on the ball, but as I sat there and felt what my body was doing, I felt ready to move to the birthing tub and voiced my desire. I honestly thought, if anything, I could use a restful period.
I’ll never forget stepping into the water when I labored with Walden. They call it the midwife’s epidural for a reason. Tyler started the water when Kyla suggested that we take a final walk.
We moved past the kitchen and looked outside at the dark rain through the door of the birth center. I loved this weather. We rarely see it in our sunny, dry state, and I appreciate it much more than in my youth in Pennsylvania. I always felt like he or she would come when the rainy weather pattern and winds arrived. I tried to push myself and remain present, aware, and positive.
As we walked back to the elephant room, I walked right through a contraction and felt really happy about that. Tyler later commented that I was more focused and calm in this labor. I give my environment credit for a portion of this and, of course, experience.
I was in the birthing tub at 8:20 p.m. and felt relieved to be moving forward.
I said that if labor stalled, which is known to happen, that I would get out of the tub. The exact opposite took place. I was right. I knew where things had been heading. I was confident. I listened to my body. I took time to think and feel. The tub was exactly what I needed in that moment…
Our second midwife, Erin, came in and sat with us through some contractions. Tyler rubbed my shoulders for a long time. With our first labor, I only wanted him and Kyla to squeeze my hips. We barely encountered that feeling in this labor. I didn’t feel like physical pressure helped me in contractions this time. I mainly liked gentle touch and voices. I felt the quietness of the room at times but mostly remained in my own head.
Tyler endured me making him change the playlist songs frequently. He made a thoughtful playlist, but it was long—like, really, really long. So I missed most of the selections and wasn’t feeling it. I don’t even really remember what was playing. I just remember asking him to change it more than once until finally he put on The Beatles and Pink Floyd—definitely my calm place.
The room was fairly dark. I could see the baby elephant picture on the wall, and I felt good about my surroundings and where we were headed—even when Ellen started discussing checking my progress, which maybe affected me for a single second. But I was in the zone. Nothing could stop me.
As the contractions picked up, I said my stomach felt upset and seconds later, I furiously vomited. Right before this, Tyler had started to braid my hair out of my face. So, he held my hair while I threw up, a lot, and entered the transitional stage of labor. We laughed quite a bit about this later.
That was perhaps the most difficult moment of the entire labor. I had two very hard contractions while vomiting. It scared me and it hurt in more ways and places than I thought humanly possible. I felt him move way down—like a lightning bolt jolted him within me. I also saw blood passing out of me, and Erin had said she saw more “bloody show.”
Maybe my water broke? We don’t really know because I was never checked again after we came in, which was perfect for me. The midwives were completely unobtrusive and supportive the entire time. I did what I needed to do while they quietly checked the baby’s heartbeat right in the water, which fascinated me then and still does now. Tyler and I use the word organic frequently to describe our second birth experience.
At this point, I took a moment to kind of come down from the vomiting. Shortly after this, and it felt like right away—even though I knew some time passed—contractions weren’t quite stopping. When I felt two right after another, I knew that he or she would arrive soon.
I was in transition. My Bradley classes from Walden’s birth flashed in my mind. I knew active labor “transitioned” to pushing.
Erin checked his heartbeat right when we were in transition. I told Kyla that I can’t really seem to “come out of it,” and that they’re close together. She reminded me that this was the work of labor and completely normal.
I had a moment of fear as I clenched my shoulders and lowered my head, because it was the first time I didn’t get a short break between contractions. I instinctively hurried from having my head on the back of the tub in a lying down position, to holding the back of the tub pretty tightly in a forward position.
Everyone reminded me to keep my vocals at a low tone to aid the rhythm of pushing my baby down and lower. There came a fairly loud point when I said “I can’t…the baby’s coming!” My midwife later reminded me of this moment, and we had a laugh at my ferocious sense of urgency.
As I shifted in position, I looked into Tyler’s eyes for the first time since I had entered the tub, and he voiced, “You’re doing it.” I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. Right then Arlo moved down further, and I felt the hardest contraction yet as my body began pushing— without me intervening to stop it. It reminded me of Walden’s powerful entrance, only this time, I was allowed to embrace it. I felt the same involuntary force when I labored with Walden but was urged not to push.
Arlo confirmed a question that I’ve had since Walden’s birth—my body pushes when the baby is ready or at least almost ready to arrive.
Both of the midwives moved into action behind me, and I saw a little light being placed below me. I heard them questioning me on the sensation just as I felt the baby shift down within me. I was very loudly vocalizing and knew he was in the birth canal.
I was told to slow down a bit when they saw his head crowning after my body had pushed once. I was slightly in shock because it felt very fast but also organic and real.
I didn’t know how long I would be in this moment or how long I’d have to push, but I felt a great deal of pressure and the true “ring of fire.” I was scared and felt the need to end the burning and the pressure. I breathed into it, closed my eyes, and gently pushed Arlo out—almost immediately after my body urged me to—with the second push at 9:36 p.m., around two hours after we arrived at the birth center.
Erin told me to lie back, and she placed my baby on my chest. I didn’t know if it was a boy or a girl until we lifted him up, and he peed on me! I remember feeling content and calm that we had another boy and voiced that “I am a mother of boys.” Tyler later said that he didn’t even understand why they were having me lie back. He thought we would be pushing for much longer.
I remember the tension being lifted as I finally leaned all the way back on the tub, which I was unable to fully do while in labor. I was SO ready and relieved. Tears welled up as I held him for the first time. The calmness reminded me of a storm ending, and it’s unbelievable how normalness simply returns to the body and life moves on.
We headed to the bed and nursing commenced pretty quickly. He didn’t want to latch right away but once he did, he never got off for much of the time we were at the birthing center. My placenta did not come out after fifteen minutes, so we had a shot of pitocin and moved to the birthing stool to assist in the process.
I really tried to center my mind and think about opening up and releasing this placenta. I had a retained placenta with Walden, so this moment was unusually tense for me personally.
The air thickened; things were not looking good. I requested more music as I sat in silence while everyone nervously attended to me as much as possible. Just as we started talking about a hospital transfer, I bore down with Erin’s instruction and pushed out the placenta at 10:07 p.m. —described as “not a moment too late.” I felt a rush and a gush. We had waited around thirty two minutes for it to pass, and I was elated—almost as much as when Arlo came out. Thirty minutes is the typical cut off time for after birth exit, before intervention is necessary. You do the math.
We rested in bed with Kyla on a nearby chair. Arlo continued to nurse and learn about this new place he’d been delivered to. Tyler got some skin to skin time. Arlo and I were lucky enough to take an amazing herbal bath before the newborn examination.
We left shortly after this and headed home around four and half hours after he was born. We peacefully slept and side-lie nursed on night one, which is something I treasure. I woke up quickly though and couldn’t sleep anymore and watched him sleep beside his dad.
The intense, surging pain turned complete bliss felt absolutely surreal that night.
Arlo’s birth was perhaps the best moment of my life because I worked hard to get there and let nature take its course. My agonizing mental and physical preparations had finally come to fruition. Life’s actions serve a purpose even when we’re not certain of an ending.
Kyla mentioned that I deserved it—this special birth. And so did Arlo. I love him, and he made me realize just how much I also love my first son and my husband. So, thanks, Arlo. You are perfection.
Arlo Ray McCann~
7 lbs., 13.5 ounces