Video of Adiya’s birth (scroll down for written birth story):
On Monday afternoon, December 22, I left work and met my husband Robert for my 40 week prenatal appointment at South Coast Midwifery (SCM). Instead of seeing one of the standing midwives, we were seen by a part-time midwife whom we hadn’t met before. After she greeted us and asked how I had been doing over the last week, she asked me if I wanted her to sweep my membranes to try to gently encourage labor. I had originally been opposed to the procedure unless I got to 41+ weeks (since at 42 weeks I would have risked out of care provided by the midwifery practice and would have to be transferred to an OB and forgo my plans for a home birth). But after reconsidering the pros and cons, I asked the midwife to go ahead and perform the procedure.
The midwife did a cervical exam and found my cervix to be “long” (not very effaced), at least 1 centimeter dilated (about the same), soft (no change) and posterior (no change to those
either), and baby was at a 0 station (meaning her head was fully engaged in my pelvis, where it had been for weeks). The news about the effacement (or lack thereof) was disappointing since at my prior week’s appointment I had been told that I was 60-70% effaced, and the week before that 75%. Was I regressing? I knew that all these measurements weren’t strong indicators of when labor would begin anyway (which didn’t prevent me from spending hours scouring the Internet for rhyme or reason), but it was hard to not be discouraged.
The midwife said she couldn’t reach my cervix well enough to do the membrane sweep. That was disheartening and made me wish the option had never been presented to me in the first place. I began to wonder – will this baby EVER come out?
That evening, on Monday December 22, I began having my first true early labor contractions. At 11 PM I asked Robert to start keeping track of them since they were coming regularly, though still spaced 10-15 minutes apart. Robert suggested we go on a walk since that was supposed to help keep labor on course. While we were out, he asked me if I wanted to go to the gym in our apartment complex and suggested I use the elliptical machine to mimic stair climbing which was also supposed to help labor progress. I told him yes, that was a good idea, but that I would use the treadmill instead and walk uphill. (I had been doing run/walks on the treadmill throughout pregnancy, especially during the third trimester since cycling was no longer comfortable and swimming became less appealing as the days got shorter and the temperature got cooler.)
I got on the treadmill, cranked up the speed and turned up the incline up to a 15% grade. After about a minute of walking I got bored and decided running would be more fun. I ran for about a minute and started having some strong abdominal cramping, much like I had had during all my third-trimester runs. Robert cautioned that the cramping might send my body into fight or flight mode, and suggested we head back home, which we did.
Trip to the gym in early labor
Back at home, Robert cracked open the bottle of wine we had gotten from Trader Joe’s for this purpose a couple weeks prior – to help me get a good night’s sleep while in early labor. He poured me a small glass and sliced up some cheese for me, and we went to bed. I felt very content, and the wine and cheese helped me drift off peacefully to sleep.
Wine and cheese to induce sleep in early labor
I woke up at 4:30 AM on Tuesday morning, December 23, to use the restroom (something I was used to doing a lot in late pregnancy since baby was sitting low in my pelvis from the start of the third trimester). I looked down and saw that I had passed my mucous plug, and then alas, my bloody show. I almost couldn’t believe it and I yelled for Robert, who jumped up from his slumber. Apparently I had scared him with my screams. I knew the bloody show was a sign that labor was likely to be very imminent. I had thought that day would never come.
We both knew more sleep wasn’t in the cards for either of us (mostly because I was too excited, and Robert knew that the only one who would stand a chance at more shuteye was the cat) so we got busy checking off the outstanding items on the birth preparation list. Robert transformed the living room into the serene space I had wanted for the birth – clutter free with candles, birth pool, etc. We had collected all the items we were supposed to have ready in two large totes for the birth team to rummage through when they arrived (filled with receiving blankets, chux pads, flashlight, heating pad, cookie sheet, fishing net, etc…don’t ask unless you really want to know).
We made a trip to the Ralph’s, Walgreens and Panera Bread across the street to pick up ice, food and a couple other odds and ends for us and the birth team during labor. We got some good luck wishes from incredulous employees who had asked how our day was going and I mentioned that I thought I was in early labor.
Robert paged the midwife on call while we were out and we got a call back from Pam Rossio (who would ultimately attend my birth). Robert asked her about the somewhat irregular pattern of my contractions and what to expect. (At that point they were coming between 5 and 10 minutes apart, some even a little closer.) The progression wasn’t linear either in the progression of time elapsed from the start of one contraction to the next, or in the length of each contraction. Pam said one of two things could happen – labor could continue to progress or the contractions could fizzle out, and the latter was not unlikely since this would be my first time giving birth. I was really hoping for progression, and was even half tempted to pick up a bottle of castor oil at Walgreens, but refrained. I also asked Pam whether to call at the 3-1-1 mark (contractions coming 3 minutes apart for 1 minute, lasting for 1 hour) if the discomfort level continued to be manageable. She said I should call, but if they really weren’t painful and I wanted to wait, there would be no harm in that. (But she said they usually become painful by the time 3-1-1 is reached.)
My contractions stayed under 10 minutes all day and grew slowly more uncomfortable, but not particularly painful. I held my hand on the right side of my belly where the baby’s foot had been rolling around, knowing that soon the movements would no longer be inside of me (a bittersweet thought).
Our cousin Sarah Gillogly came to visit sometime around late afternoon and took a walk with me (and some pictures of me running up and down the stairs in the various buildings in our apartment complex). She suggested I go for a swim and I got geared up for it, but the pool was closed, so we kept walking and talking, right through my contractions. The day wore on with no remarkable progression in my labor. Sarah asked if any of the contractions were bad enough to bring me to my knees, and I responded sadly that no, they weren’t.
Cousin Sarah came to visit in early labor
I felt a strong sense of calm that day, as though my body knew what to do and everything was in place for me to have a good labor experience. I also knew that no matter what, I would have Robert by my side all the whole way through.
Taking a cat nap in early labor
After lighting the candles of the Menorah for the 8th day of Channukah, at around 10:30 PM Robert suggested I try to get some sleep, and he told me he was going to take a “combat nap” because it was likely to be the last good sleep either of us would get in a while. (And he was right!)
Lighting candles on the 8th night of Channukah
Active Labor & Transition
I woke up about an hour later, at around 11:30 PM, in a lot of pain, and decided I would try to let Robert sleep as long as I could. Any remaining doubts I had about whether this was truly labor went out the window (though I had a couple more fleeting moments of denial during active labor and transition). I went to the bathroom and had another couple back-to-back contractions before I realized there was no way I was going to be quiet enough to let Robert sleep anymore, so I woke him up.
At that point, my contractions were coming hard and fast, at 3 minutes or less and lasting about a minute each. Robert began making phone calls to the midwife, my doula and my friend Barbie and told them it was now or never. I told Robert I felt like I was leaking and couldn’t control the flow. My waters likely broke shortly after I woke up.
An hour later, at 12:30 AM, everyone showed up – Pam Russio, my midwife (CNM), her assistant Janeen Pearman (RN), Brenda Sarinana, my doula (who is completing her intern program to become a DONA certified doula) and Barbie Lucas-Behring, my dear friend who I wanted at my side through this experience. The atmosphere changed quickly from calm, peaceful early labor and drifting off to sleep to frenzied activity with lots of people, and painful contractions I couldn’t talk through, as I swayed back and forth draped over my birth ball with a heated rice pack on my back.
Birth team arrives
Pam checked my cervix and confirmed my waters were going, and asked if I wanted the good news. I was terrified she would tell me I was only 2 or 3 centimeters dilated. In fact I was 6-7cm, on the verge of transition, which was great news. I asked if I should put back on my bikini bottoms and Brenda, my doula, asked why I would. I had thought I would be more self-conscious, but I truly didn’t care at that point. (There is truth to what the Bradley Method teaches on progressive loss of modesty in labor!)
Beginning transition phase of labor
After checking my vitals and the baby’s heartbeat with a fetal doppler, Pam gave me the green light to get into the birthing pool. Getting in was a process since the contractions were hitting like tidal waves. Changing positions during a contraction was intolerable, and uncomfortable in between. The pool did bring some comfort as water always has, and also delineated my own personal space in the room, but the strength of the contractions were unworldly. I moved frantically from one position to the next trying to find something that brought some relief, but I soon discovered that no such position existed. There wasn’t any way to escape the mad force that was opening my cervix, the gateway to the birth canal, paving the way for baby to make her entrance into the world.
Getting through labor one contraction at a time
I kept hearing that I was “getting close,” but that meant little to me since no one in the room would go on to quantify how “close” I really was in hours and minutes. The anticipation of getting to meet and hold my daughter was overshadowed by the task at hand and the focus it took to endure it. While I was certain an unmedicated birth was what I wanted, I did entertain the idea of pain medication for a few fleeting moments during labor. I even calculated the theoretical logistics of getting some sweet relief and realized that even if I would have left for the hospital immediately, there was no way I could get an epidural in time anyway. (The midwives are not equipped to dole out the goods.) That thought brought me some clarity, knowing that persisting was the only way to move forward – not as if I had a choice in the matter at that point. (It did cross my mind a few times that why in the heck anyone would be so stupid and choose to give birth this way and not with drugs.)
They call it “labor” for a reason!
Everyone in the room played a part in bringing me comfort by holding my hands, caressing my hair, telling me I was doing great and so on. There were times I didn’t want to be touched, and everything around me felt bothersome. I had joked with Robert during our Bradley birth classes that birth would be my longest massage ever, so he had best get prepared by practicing rubbing my shoulders during class. I wanted nothing to do with massage during labor.
All hands on deck
The things I thought would be important to me for ambiance and relaxation during labor weren’t anything I gave a hoot about. At one point Robert asked me if I wanted him to turn on my “birth playlist” which I had spent hours assembling. Apparently I yelled “No!” rather crossly, much to the amusement of Robert and Barbie. I didn’t find ANY of Robert’s jokes funny during labor, which he found to be comical funny since I ALWAYS laugh at his jokes. Robert and Barbie both said they saw me make faces during contractions that they had never seen before. Robert said to me jokingly, mid-contraction something that I’ve heard him say while crewing for endurance cyclists at their final check point on a long ride, “It’s all rollers from here.” I definitely did NOT think that was funny! Barbie waited for another contraction to ask how many kids I wanted, “Six?” I held up my index finger and balled the rest of my hand into a tight fist. “One!” (I half meant it.)
Pam kept a watchful eye on me and made sure I went to the bathroom at least every hour. Janeen listened to the baby’s heartbeat for a full minute every half hour and set everything up for delivery while taking notes on my labor’s progression. (The doppler pressed against my belly at various times between and during contractions was unpleasant, but Janeen backed off when I asked her to wait and tried again when I told her I was ready.)
Janeen checking baby’s heartbeat using a fetal doppler
Robert spent part of the time sitting next to me in the birthing tub and offering me encouragement and kisses, as well as walking me to the bathroom each time I was directed to go. (Those trips took upwards of 20 minutes each since the contractions came back-to-back on the way to and from the bathroom, and while I was in there.) He also managed to coordinate all pieces of the project and make sure everyone in the apartment had what they needed. Barbie was also a great source of emotional support throughout the whole thing, and she probably carried 100 pots full of hot water from the kitchen to the birthing pool. Brenda tirelessly brought me lavender-scented washcloths and draped them on my upper and lower back, massaged my lower back, put inward pressure on both my hips, offered me water and coconut water every few minutes, helped support Robert who was supporting me as I tried squatting outside the birth pool and gave me lots of reassurance. I only know some of the things each person was doing from watching footage from the video cameras we had mounted from the ceiling, and I’m sure there was a lot more going on.
Making a trip to the bathroom
Although I had a wonderful team surrounding me, I was in my own little world during active labor. The contractions required my full concentration, and in the time between contractions I relaxed completely, letting my body go limp and often times closing my eyes. I believe that in some respects, labor is something a woman has to face in solitude, regardless of the number of people who accompany her during the process. She must reach deep within and find strength to cope with the intensity. Similarly the baby enters into the world alone from the cozy confines of its mother’s womb.
Pushing & Delivery
Sometime around 4:30 AM I asked Pam to check my cervix again to see how many centimeters I had picked up. It didn’t seem like there could possibly be any more. Pam announced happily, “Your cervix is gone. If you feel like you want to try pushing, you can.” That was exciting news. Now I really was very close to meeting my little girl.
I never really did feel an urge to push as many women describe, and nor did pushing feel like any sort of noteworthy relief. But as I experimented with it, I discovered that as painful as the pushing was, it was slightly less painful than NOT pushing.
As I was pushing in the labor pool during a contraction, Pam asked me if I wanted to feel my baby’s head. I reached down and could feel a hard spot with my fingers. I cannot describe the joy and excitement I felt in that moment. My baby was descending through the birth canal. I kept pushing for another hour or so in the pool and asked if it was ok if I felt for her head again. Pam said yes, of course. The second time I was met with disappointment as it didn’t feel like the head had moved down at all despite all the effort it seemed I had put in and wanting so much to be done hurting.
Feeling the baby’s head
Pam must have sensed my frustration, and she and Robert noticed that my contractions slowed down every time I got back into the pool, so Pam asked me if I wanted to try changing positions and pushing in bed where she could help guide me on where to push. I agreed to try and we headed to my bedroom where two chux pads had been placed in criss cross fashion in preparation for the delivery of the placenta. Sitting at the junction of the two pads was none other than our cat Cuddles (also affectionately referred to as “The Chucklebutt”) poised regally on his haunches.
Cuddles made himself comfortable on the chux pads laid out for third stage labor
Once in bed (with a new set of chux pads), Pam put two fingers up the birth canal, against baby’s head and directed me on where and how hard to push, which gave me the reassurance I needed to give it my all with each push. Without that, every push felt like I just might unleash the gates of hell if I pushed past a certain point. (And while extremely painful, the level of unthinkable level pain I feared never became a reality.)
After an hour or less of pushing, Robert says he saw a tuft of hair sticking out and then shortly after that the baby’s head crowned. The excitement in the room was palpable. With the end in sight I pushed as hard as I possibly could (and thought to myself that as soon as this was over all the pain and unpleasantries of pregnancy and labor would go away).
Pushing in side-lying position
With baby’s head partially out (which I could see in a handheld mirror someone was holding for me) and Robert standing there ready to catch the baby (since I had no desire to move an inch much less reach all the way down to pull my baby out as I thought I would want to do), I gathered all the courage I could muster and bore down hard and, and Robert described it, the baby “erupted like a greased pig” into his arms (or really PAST his arms and into Pam’s). He noticed that her legs crossed immediately after birth – she must have preferred that position in utero.
Baby was born at 5:22 AM. I reached down and pulled her up to my chest and looked at her for the first time, all wet and helpless with white vernix still covering part of her face and her head elongated and cone shaped. I felt like I was meeting a stranger for the first time, but one whom I had known for quite some time. I asked out loud if it was in fact a girl and someone in the room said yes. I said her name out loud. “Adiya.”
Meeting our daughter Adiya
Unfortunately in my excitement to hold Adiya close, I pulled her up a bit too quickly and forcefully, and lacerated her cord. Pam immediately jumped in and held her hand on the tear to stop the bleed, and had Robert cut the cord quickly to avoid any loss of blood for Adiya or me. It all happened so fast that I missed what had transpired, and when I heard Pam tell Robert to cut the cord, I asked Robert to please wait until the cord had finished pulsating so Adiya could get all of her blood volume from the placenta. Robert said he had to cut in then and would explain to me later on what had happened. I trusted that Robert was handling the situation as best he could.
Pam kept a watchful eye on the clock and as it approached 30 minutes after delivery, she started to be concerned that I had not delivered the placenta yet. She told me to push hard and I did, but nothing came out. She asked Jeanine to prepare a dose of Pitocin for me to cause contractions which would release the placenta and help prevent hemorrhaging. I was not eager to have Pitocin, and when Pam decided to let me have one more go at it, I pushed with everything I had left and the placenta came out. I felt relieved momentarily until Pam noticed some large blood clots coming out and instructed Janeen to go ahead with the Pitocin via injection into my thigh. (A few minutes later I told Robert the needle was hurting. I was certain it was still in my thigh, and was surprised when Robert said it had been out for a while.) I asked Pam if I had had any tears. She checked and said I had two minor tears not even worth stitching. (I’ve had no pain from them.)
I pointed out that I hadn’t heard a big cry from Adiya (though the birth video would indicate otherwise) and was assured she was fine, however Pam noticed she was grunting a little bit and flaring out her nostrils with each breath. She decided to air on the side of caution and call 9-1-1. In the meantime Pam and Janeen worked on getting Adiya some supplementary oxygen through a resuscitation mask and then with a blow by oxygen tube. It was hard to watch my brand new baby go through all of that, but Pam reassured me it was very unlikely there was anything wrong with her.
Adiya receiving oxygen through a blow by tube
By the time the paramedics showed up, the grunting had stopped and nobody was very concerned, but everyone was in agreement that a trip to the ER to get Adiya checked out would be best. I signed an AMA for myself to avoid being taken by ambulance with Adiya and getting admitted to the hospital along with her. I tearfully asked Robert to watch over our little girl in the hospital and never let them take her out of his site.
Janeen helped me get showered as she ran through some pointers on baby care and recovery. (It dawned on me in the shower that I had just gone through labor naturally from beginning to end, all 10 centimeters plus pushing.) After the shower, Janeen helped me get dressed and ready to head out the door. She and Brenda stayed at the apartment and got everything from the birth all cleaned up and put away.
Saying goodbye to Janeen and Barbie on my way to the NICU with Barbie
At 7:45 AM Barbie drove to me to the NICU at Saddleback Women’s Hospital where Adiya had been transferred to be monitored. I rang the bell outside the NICU and said, “I’m here to see my daughter, Adiya Steed.” It felt wonderful to say that. Barbie and I washed our hands and headed to the room toward the back of the NICU where Adiya was. On the way I looked over at the tiny babies in incubators born prematurely and felt sad for them and their families who have to wait and worry for their little ones.
I stopped at the nurses’ station to ask where Adiya was and one of the nurses pointed me to a room in the back of the unit. One of nurses asked with surprise “You’re her mother?! When did you give birth?” I said it had been about 5 hours and they all have me a round of applause because I was walking around, and with a leap in my step no less as one of then described. Of course that made me feel good. (Drug-free labor has its perks!)
Barbie and I entered the room where Adiya was being monitored. I looked into the incubator and saw my little girl and broke down. Robert assured me that the doctor said her respiratory rate and whatever else they were watching looked perfectly normal.
Adiya at the Saddleback Hospital NICU
I had asked Robert to ask that no formula be given to Adiya if not necessary since I wanted to establish a good breastfeeding relationship with her from the start. (Pam had told me not to breastfeed her at birth in case she had fluid in her lungs, a possibly indication of the grunting.) I nursed Adiya for the first time in the NICU with Barbie at my side giving me some pointers. (“You’ll know you have a good latch when it hurts!”)
Within a couple hours of Adiya’s arrival at the hospital, we were discharged and free to take our baby home with one minor complication. The car seat was in my car back at home. So Barbie drove Robert home at around 10 AM and Robert came back with car seat in hand. That was the first time I was alone with Adiya, and I showered her with kisses and thanked God for delivering her to us safely. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as I studied her fine features and noticed some cute features like a small pinch in the top part of her ears like my grandpa and brother have and distinct waves in her light brown hair.
The discharge nurse brought me a wheelchair and told me to take it easy and not to lift anything heavy for a while. At first I laughed to myself at the thought of being pushed out in a wheelchair when I had walked into the hospital only a couple hours earlier, but I decided not to protest and to just enjoy the ride.
Leaving Saddleback Hospital NICU
We drove home, proud new parents with our tiny bundle of a million joys to come sitting peacefully in her car seat. Robert and I realized we hadn’t had anything proper to eat in many hours (though thankfully Brenda had packed me some crackers, cheese and fruit to tide me over). We stopped at The Counter (custom built burger joint) across the street from our apartment and carried Adiya inside. The waitress asked how old the baby was and I said about 7 hours. She gawked and announced to the bartender that there was a (crazy) woman in with a very fresh newborn. He told me I deserved a drink!
Labor and birthing my daughter was absolutely the most difficult and excruciating experience I have ever had. (Afterward I told Robert that labor was not the most painful thing I could ever imagine. It was the most painful thing I could NEVER imagine!) In the days following Adiya’s birth I kept thinking that I would NEVER forget that incredible pain I felt in labor. (And each mini contraction I got in the proceeding days as my uterus contracted back to its normal size was a chilling reminder of the onset of a labor contraction, at a fraction of the intensity.) But in fact, now a month later, I cannot truly fathom the quality of it. I only know how I felt about it as it happened and how I described it during and after the fact. (The smell of lavender gave me the willies too those first couple days after labor.)
Despite all the pain I suffered in labor, I am confident that the birth experience I had was perfect for me and for Adiya, free from unnecessary interventions and commotion, surrounded by a very capable and loving group of people and with all the emotion and intensity that would lay the groundwork for a rock-solid bond between me and my daughter (and between Robert and Adiya as well). And I’m delighted that it took place in our home where Adiya will feel loved the most.
My experience of birthing Adiya leaves me feeling complete and fulfilled. My care providers were patient, compassionate and respectful of my wishes, and at the same time very knowledgeable and proactive when issues arose.
Not everything went exactly as I had laid out in my birth plan, but I wasn’t expecting perfection. In fact I had spent a fair amount of time thinking through plan B scenarios (such as what a transfer of care plan during pregnancy and/ or labor would entail if I were to risk out of the care provided by South Coast Midwifery for any reason), and I came to terms with the possibility that I could wind up with a medicated hospital birth, Pitocin to induce labor, a C-section and any number of other interventions if my baby’s health or my own were in jeopardy.
Although I have no regrets for this birth, if Robert and I am blessed with another child, there are a few things I would like to have done differently. I would undoubtedly choose a home birth again under the care of the midwives at South Coast Midwifery, but I would like to actually give birth in the birthing pool instead of in bed. I would like have delayed cord clamping and to breastfeed immediately after the baby is born. I would like to have a professional photographer documenting the birth. (Avoiding another trip to the NICU would be nice too!)
I strongly believe that each woman’s birthing choice is valid, and what’s right for me would not necessary be right for the next woman. But I do feel that the experience of giving birth vaginally without anything hindering those unbelievable waves of energy pulsating through my body has deepened the love I feel for my daughter, and has made me feel fiercely protective of her, in a way I would not have imagined during pregnancy.
I am so deeply grateful to my husband Robert and the incredible women who helped out more than I could have asked for as Adiya made her way out of me and into the world. Thank you Pam, Jeanine, Brenda and Barbie, and the midwives and staff of South Coast Midwifery. A big thanks also to Melissa Giles who taught the Bradley Method of Childbirth class I attended with Robert and helped us prepare in every way possible for Adiya’s arrival. And finally, I am very grateful to my mother who inspired me to choose a path of natural childbirth since she gave birth to me (and my two brothers) at a birth center in Los Angeles long before natural childbirth became trendy.