Ben and I welcomed the arrival of our baby boy, Thomas Adriaan, on Friday August 9th at 10:49pm, one day past his estimated due date! He is named in honor of Ben’s late father Tom, and my dad and brother’s middle name.
A bundle of squishy perfection, I never knew I could be so obsessed with anything. My love for this little human is so intense that it’s been hard for me to process and handle it.
I love hearing birth stories even more now that I’ve lived through my own, and have been wanting to share mine for the last 6 weeks, but of course in true Anna fashion I didn’t want to leave anything out, and new baby survival vortex + perfectionism procrastination is not the most effective combo.
But here we are!
Also in true Anna fashion, I am going to keep it real. I didn’t experience any major trauma and had an overall positive experience so I don’t think I need to add a trigger warning to this post, but if you are currently pregnant and prefer your birth stories filtered with magical golden rainbow light of baby wonder and joy so you can remain in denial of the realities to come (which is TOTALLY UNDERSTANDABLE!) — you might want to pass on this one for now.
The “Birth Plan”
I didn’t have much of a birth plan because luckily most of my preferences were standard procedure with our hospital’s policies and the certified nurse midwives group I worked with. Things like delayed cord clamping, intermittent fetal monitoring, being able to move around the room in labor, etc. I also loved that the c-section rate of the midwives was 9% (vs 20-30% of typical hospitals in the US) and that our hospital allows you to eat and drink anything you want and also is the first in Chicago to offer nitrous oxide as a pain management option. I don’t have anything against drugs, but knew I didn’t want an epidural unless my labor stopped progressing and I needed to rest. I’ll share more on my epidural stance at the end!
Since we live five minutes from the hospital, I also wanted to labor at home as long as possible, which I discovered is one of those “be careful what you wish for” things.
(my very last bump pictures, on our EDD 8/8)
How it all started
I felt absolutely fantastic until I hit 39 weeks. That Friday (August 2nd) I started to feel a shift in my energy and some light menstrual-like cramping, which I experienced off and on the final week as well as tons of Braxton Hicks and a little more low pelvic pressure as baby dropped. If you’ve ever noticed that dreamy-like zone you feel right before your period starts, it was kind of like that only more intense to the point that I decided to stop driving, stopped walking, basically went into hermit mode. It’s like I was in a constant state of deep meditation and calm.
Physically, I think I’ve blocked that last week out of my memory because all I remember was feeling really uncomfortable and anxious to not be pregnant anymore!
As any 38+ week pregnant woman will tell you, you hit a point where all your fear of labor goes *poof* and you find yourself googling all the things you can do to inspire baby to GET THE HECK OUT ASAP! Not much is scientifically proven to naturally induce labor, but it felt good to at least feel as proactive as possible even though it’s impossible to tell what “did the trick” since the baby will come out eventually.
Here is what I tried to prep for and naturally induce labor:
-I ate 5-6 dates every day from about 36 weeks on, which is clinically shown to help cervical effacement (it worked! This is the #1 thing I would recommend to all pregnant women in the last month. Plus I have lots of delicious recipes here.)
-I had also been doing “Labor Prep” workouts from the Bloom Method to strengthen my core and pelvic floor connection. This worked too, at least when it came to pushing! Click here for my affiliate link to try a month of their pre/postnatal workouts.
-I drank 16 oz of raspberry leaf tea every day the last few weeks, which is anecdotally supposed to stimulate contractions, and drank this noxious extra strong brew at 40 weeks (to be honest I will NOT be doing that again because my contractions were extremely intense and I can’t tell if this played a role. Plus it was absolutely vile.)
-Walked with one foot off the curb to rock my pelvis and attempt to move baby into optimal position (he was always in a great position the last couple months so not sure if this did anything, but it was a fantastic booty workout!)
-Membrane sweep (THIS ultimately did it! More below…)
Our estimated due date was Thursday August 8th, and Ben’s mom had to fly home the following Monday so obviously we all wanted him to be born before then, although I was trying not to put any unnecessary pressure on myself.
I had a feeling that he would be born the week of his due date, and I swear I had an even stronger and faster intuitive connection to my baby and could transmit messages from him. Yes this sounds nuts, but it was the coolest thing ever. So I asked him if he would come before Pat (my mother in law) flew home and instantaneously heard him said yes, he wanted to meet her.
But as the days ticked by I started to get more impatient and doubt my intuition.
At my 40 week appointment on Thursday (my estimated due date), I opted for my first cervical check and was dilated 1 cm so I decided to get a membrane sweep. This means the midwife/OB sticks a finger inside your cervix and manually detaches your amniotic sac from your uterus, which can stimulate labor but isn’t guaranteed. Yeah it’s uncomfortable, but at that point I was so uncomfy in general I didn’t mind at all and figured we might as well give it a shot. I had more cramping and spotting the rest of the day but I wasn’t sure if it was actual pre-labor or just side effects from the sweep.
That afternoon my friend Amanda came over, I chilled on the couch chugging my swamp water aka labor day tea and binge watching Say Yes to the Dress to get the oxytocin flowing.
(Amanda will want to interject that her presence is what triggered labor, since we tend to be together during all times our uteruses spazz out, anything from miscarriage to IUD clots.)
That night around 9:30pm as we went to bed I noticed the cramping was starting to align with my BH, and the cramps woke up at 3:30am, when I went to the bathroom and passed a bloody chunk of mucus, which was really exciting to me because it was a sign that things were happening!
Side note: during and after labor your body will eject every imaginable kind of discharge: mysterious liquid, blood, clots, slime, poop, urine, so be prepared for it and just surrender to losing all control of your bodily functions. Laugh about it if you can. If I didn’t know about the mucus plug, I think I would have freaked out.
I tried to go back to sleep but that was obviously impossible. Every book that tells you to relax and sleep through early labor has obviously never gone into labor.
A little after 5am I felt my first “real” contraction, which was significantly different than the general menstrual-like achiness. I can’t describe lt except by saying that it felt like a brick wall hitting my entire uterus, it was unmistakeable and I instinctively recognized what was happening.
Everyone says that during labor the front part of your normal rational “thinking” brain gradually shuts off as your primal animal brain takes over, and that is 100% accurate.
My next instinct was to hop in the shower to wash my hair and put on make up so I felt somewhat normal and not a complete hot mess and could maybe get some semi-cute post delivery pictures. HAHAHAHAHA. I do recommend showering because it feels good, and washing your hair because it might be the last time that happens for the foreseeable future, but if you are planning for a first time unmedicated birth just prepare yourself as if you’re about to run an Ironman triathlon because that’s how you will probably look and feel afterward (if anything, waterproof mascara!)
Around 7 am I woke Ben up with the classic “I think I’m in labor!” moment, and he sprang out of bed and proceeded to panic clean the entire apartment while I continued to lay on the couch watching “Say Yes to the Dress” to distract and get the oxytocin flowing. I also remember finishing packing my hospital bag with random shit I wouldn’t end up touching, and remember Ben telling me I looked really good. So I guess the make up was worth it for that moment.
Laboring at home
I was prepared for the sensations of early labor, mainly irregular contractions many minutes apart, with periods of rest in between. For some reason which will eventually be revealed, my early labor felt like the description of active labor which was extremely confusing.
My contractions were intense enough by mid morning that I couldn’t talk through them, lasted 45-60 seconds, and my uterus never released in between so I had a hard time knowing when one contraction began and ended but they seemed to be hitting 2-4 minutes apart. I wasn’t able to rest and relax in between so it was hard to distract myself.
My favorite position was bouncing on the ball, or laying on my side in bed with my top leg drawn up to my chest with a pillow under it. I tried to remember the whole point of labor is to be as uncomfortable as possible because that means the baby is descending and things are happening. This is tough mentally when all you want to do is find relief from the discomfort!
This continued allllll day. I knew I should eat as much as possible but felt like I was in the middle of a race, my appetite was gone and all I could tolerate was juice and smoothies.
Our doula Celia came over around noon and tried to mentally prepare me that this “early labor” could last a while, potentially days, and I didn’t know how I would make it!!
She had me try a walk with Ben to keep things progressing and we made it one block and 2-3 contractions before I could barely move anymore.
I was so in the moment that time actually passed much faster than I anticipated, and I remember looking at the clock at 5pm and being relieved and excited I’d made it 12 hours at home. For some reason that felt like a milestone, and I knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer.
Since things seemed to be progressing really fast, we called Celia again and she came over and had me run a bath. Before I stepped into the tub I sat on the toilet to pee and with an immediate GUSH my water broke! Ben was relieved he didn’t have to clean it off the floor. I was proud of myself for having such great timing and aim. #winninglabor
I immediately knew I didn’t want to sit in the tub because I couldn’t move, so I got out after a couple more contractions and more of my mucus plug dropped out like a jellyfish onto the bath mat. Good times.
Contractions started coming fast and furious after this and I was experiencing more and more pressure as baby’s head dropped into my pelvis, so I knew I NEEDED to head to the hospital and things started to feel extremely urgent. Celia told Kate (the other doula we worked with who took the evening shift) to meet us there. The car ride was rough but not unbearable, thanks to our proximity.
It was around 6:30pm at this time.
Check in and triage was rough, as I was having nonstop extremely intense contractions. Apparently it was a busy night for babies and they had to wheel me to 3 rooms to find an empty triage room to take my vitals and check on baby. Apparently during this time Ben drove the car back to our street so he didn’t have to pay $4 for hospital parking, and then sprinted back to the hospital — he has no idea why he thought this was important when his child was about to be born, but it’s kind of funny.
I met the midwife on call, Kim, who told me I was 4cm dilated but 100% effaced — YAY DATES! I wasn’t discouraged that I was “only” 4cm because I think I knew things would move fast from here. How could they not??
Our doula Kate had me walk to the delivery room to encourage the baby to keep moving down, which felt like the worst idea ever and I was that stereotypical pregnant woman moaning in agony, doubled over every few steps as another contraction ripped through my body. Did you ever notice there are railings on the halls of the hospital? NOW I KNOW WHY! After walking what felt like miles, we made it to the delivery room and I felt a bit of emotional relief, like yay this is finally happening.
Kate encouraged me to try different positions with Ben and her for support, which all felt like torture and the worst idea ever but I went along with it and my fave was sitting on the bouncy ball leaning over one of them sitting on the bed.
Before labor (“BL”) I assumed I’d like to lean up against the bed or be on my hands and knees, but by this time I was much too exhausted and shaky to do any position with my legs supporting me. I even ended up getting an IV since I felt so depleted and lightheaded. So it turns out I didn’t need or even want to move freely around the room at all (my “birth plan”) since I labored so long at home.
All I cared about was wanting to know that I was progressing, and I remember I kept begging Kim to check me every time she came in the room. I think I was checked at 6 cm not long after?? Before too long I started getting an all-consuming urge to push, and Kim came in and said contractions seemed to be extra intense, I think she told me to do 3 more of those “push” contractions before checking again.
By then I was at 7cm, and baby’s head was just really really low. I was using the nitrous to try and get some pain relief, but not sure if it helped at all?
Kim told me we needed to wait until I was fully dilated at 10cm before I could start pushing, so my cervix didn’t get injured. It felt completely unbearable to go through the most intense transition contractions while resisting my body which was going into “MUST PUSH NOW” overdrive.
This is when I hit the wall of self doubt, and didn’t know how I would make it.
Kate tried to remind me to focus on one contraction at a time, instead of freaking out about how many hours were left, but it was impossible not to panic and feel trapped in the unsustainable all-encompassing pain.
I mean, I had no illusions about childbirth going in but nothing can really prepare you for it. My entire body was wracked with the intense pressure, and still I felt like I could never get a second of relief in between contractions.
My mind gave up and I decided to toss my idealistic “natural” birth plan out the window and ask for the epidural. In the back of my mind I remembered learning in birth class that you shouldn’t ask for pain meds at the peak of a contraction, so like a good student I waited until one ended and made what I considered a really well thought out case for myself, LOL.
I remember cry/yelling “THIS IS AN EMPOWERED CHOICE!” to Kate and Ben.
So the nurse took my bloodwork and started the process, but Kim was great at encouraging me to stick with my natural birth plan and try different positions etc, reminding me I’d only been admitted like 3 hours earlier (obviously the last things I thought I wanted to hear). I knew I didn’t want to get back in the tub, I just didn’t wanna move, everything was excruciating.
Looking back, I appreciate having the support of Kate and Kim so much. Kate and Ben played the role of support, “do what you need to do,” while Kim played devils’ advocate while still honoring my decisions.
Since it was such a busy night in L&D I’d have to wait at least an hour for the anesthesiologist, and when they told me I’d need to hold still for 10 mins for the insertion I knew I wouldn’t be able to since contractions were wracking my entire body almost constantly. (Kim knew we wouldn’t have time before I was ready to actually push).
I distinctly remember bouncing on the ball with my head in our doulas lap, deciding to ditch the epidural, “OK let’s do this!!!”
This was my most empowering moment, and when my own energy and adrenaline started to shift.
So I got back the bed with a peanut ball between my legs and continued to suffer (doula reminded me birth is supposed to be survival mode) through a few more contractions while resisting the urge to push. I can’t even describe how intense this was, and it’s hard for me to type it out in words. Still couldn’t find any relief or rest between before the next wave hit. Had to scream through the peak, then breath nitrous, then horse lips to blow out urge to push, but I also knew by now that the end was in sight and I had a goal to work towards.
Basically this was the “gone primal” moment, and my voice was hoarse for two days haha.
While in my dying animal zone I kind of registered a rush of activity as more nurses came in and the incubator was turned on and I knew we had to be close which gave me another surge of confidence and motivation.
Then Kim told me I was at 9.5cm and just had a small cervical lip getting in the way of the baby’s head. She offered to try manually pushing the lip to the side while I tried a push and that sounded like salvation and ended up being my favorite contraction. IT FELT SO GOOD. Like, you know when you have to poop sooooo bad but it’s really huge and so the gas/size of the poop painfully stretches your rectum but also is the best relief? Imagine that x100. Like your poop log is 6 inches wide. And coming out of your vajay, not your butt.
And it worked! And then it was push time!
I was so relieved to finally be able to let my body follow its instincts I’d been overriding. I didn’t fully realize the double pain of this phase since you push during the most intense kind of contraction plus feel your baby’s head stretching you beyond all limits, but I welcomed the burn as a familiar kind of pain I felt I could actually handle.
BL I had assumed I would want to push on my hands and knees or an “alternative” hippy position but by that time I was so beyond exhausted I don’t know how I could have even moved, so it actually felt best to push on my back. I assume the bed was tilted up a bit for gravity to assist?
Ben and Kate grabbed my legs (so Ben’s plan to stay by my head kind of got trashed too), I grabbed the railings and pushed with literally my entire body. I was so ready to get this baby out I would have pushed nonstop for as long as it took, but Kim reminded me to take a break between contractions to let my body stretch and I appreciated her coaching because I had no idea what was going on down there.
Around this time it occurred to me that the love of my life and father of my child was also in the room, and had a distant thought “I should look up at Ben to share the moment” (like you see in the movies??) so I did for like one second, then went back into my zone. Hilarious.
What does it feel like to push? First it felt really weird to feel the bulk of my baby’s body moving through my pelvis, and also felt like my rectum was literally turning inside out. I definitely pooped on the table, and think I said “I’m pooping!” and Ben and everyone reassured me it was no big deal assuming I was embarrassed, but how could I be embarrassed after everything that had already happened? HA! Mostly I just felt concerned about laying in my own shit. Somewhere deep inside under all the intensity and adrenaline and pain I wanted to laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.
At each contraction I just desperately wanted it to be the last. It felt like I pushed for hours and just wanted to hear the cliche “there’s the head!!!” but all I heard was Kim say “oh, it’s a hand” and then all of a sudden I saw my baby being pulled out of me, screaming and covered with blood and dropping his load of meconiun (tar like newborn poop) all over me as they placed him on my chest.
Apparently I pushed for 15 minutes and the baby was born with his hand next to his face!
Thomas Adriaan, born 10:49pm the day after his due date, weighing 7 lb 8 oz and around 19 inches long with curly hair.
We had two hours in the delivery room to deliver the placenta, do skin to skin while I got stitched up (getting shots of lidocaine in your inner lady parts that had just been ripped apart was unpleasant but after going through labor I didn’t even care), attempt breastfeeding, allow the nurses to run Thomas through the battery of newborn pricks and prods, and help me hobble to the bathroom to pee (they like you to prove your bladder still works) and teach me how to assemble my mega pad/ice pack creation.
By the time they wheeled us over to the postpartum recovery room it was about 2 am and I was still pretty much delirious. I remember sitting in the wheelchair and looking over at the bassinet holding my baby being wheeled next to me.
The most surreal experience of my life!
We ended up spending only about 36 hours in the hospital, and I barely slept an hour for about 4 days straight. I remember almost panicking because I didn’t know it was humanly possible to go that long without sleep and not die, but the adrenaline and mother instincts are fierce. The hospital stay is a complete blur to me, I remember the gush of blood and fluids every time I stood up to go to the bathroom (and the subsequent murder scene when trying to pee), feeling insanely weak and dizzy (I barely had the energy to pee and re-assemble my pad, much less pose for those awesome “look at my postpartum bod in my awesome mesh undies!” selfies you see on Instagram), and asking for endless cups of ice water. Out of all the things I meticulously researched to pack in my hospital bag, I ended up using only the juice boxes and snacks, make-up, toothbrush, and body wipes to feel somewhat human, annnnd that is literally all. I couldn’t even fathom taking a shower until the day after we got home (no energy), and since I was still leaking so many fluids didn’t really want to change out of my hospital gown.
And Thomas’ grandma Pat was able to come visit us at the hospital and again at home before she had to fly back, yay!
Things that surprised me the most about labor/delivery:
-Your contractions//early vs active labor might not feel like the textbook descriptions you learn about. This shouldn’t be surprising but it was.
-ALL THE BODILY FLUIDS. Mucus plug, blood, amniotic fluid that would gush at each contraction, urine, poop. So messy. But you won’t even care.
-I spent so much time figuring out the perfect items to pack in my hospital bag and literally touched NONE OF IT except a couple toiletries. You are going to be discharging so much bodily fluid and doing skin to skin/non stop breastfeeding, you don’t even need clothes just wear the hospital gown and rock the topless look, tres Euro chic.
I have so much more to share!
But I’ll save it for future posts since this is already a novel.
I thought I’d miss being pregnant, but although I cherish the memories it’s a huge relief to have my body back, and to have my baby here! What a wild rush.