I have always loved reading and listening to birth stories. Long before I was pregnant, or even met Michael, I would read birth stories online and in books, listen on podcasts, and soak up the stories of anyone I knew wanting to share. Through all of these very real depictions that I devoured over the years, I feel like I gained a positive yet realistic outlook on what birth can be, helping me to envision and prepare for my own birth one day. I am sharing my birth story hoping that it will serve as an honest and uplifting account for anyone else who loves these stories as much as I do!
(Warning: there is a lot of preamble 😛 I think it helps set the context of the unique circumstances surrounding the birth, but feel free to skip ahead a few paragraphs to the actual birth story.)
First, a little back story. Elliott was due on July 7th, meaning that at around six months pregnant, we were launched into the uncertainty of expecting a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many things changed–our prenatal classes were moved online, we were not guaranteed to have the presence of our doula at our birth, nor that of our families after the baby was born, the hospital we would give birth at (a fantastic new hospital just 5 minutes from our home) closed their labour and delivery unit to prepare for an increase in hospitalizations due to COVID, and new restrictions surrounding the birth seemed to appear everyday. One thing did not change, however, and that was the genuine and thorough care of our midwife. She assured us that regardless of the situation, she would be by our (or my) side however our birth happened. Given all of this, we decided to plan for both a home and hospital birth, knowing that things could change at any point along the next few months.
After weeks of uncertainty and mentally adjusting to the idea that birth could look a lot different than the hopes and dreams I had for it, I began to lean into the gratitude I had for what we did know: a healthy pregnancy, a baby coming one way or another! Oh, and so much more time spent together since we were working at home (I, in-part, attribute the slower days, time spent as a couple, more time for walks, low work stress, and sleep, that this time allowed, to the ease of our birth). Weeks before the birth, we started to receive glimmers of hope. A month before my due date, the hospital re-opened its L&D unit, and we got word that our doula would be able to join us. We just had to ensure neither Michael nor myself came down with any respiratory symptoms or that could significantly impact the experience. We continued to plan for both home and hospital, and purchased the necessary home birth supplies, including a birth tub.
In the final weeks of pregnancy, things continued to go well. We did find out that the baby was OP (occiput posterior, or, sunny side up), which is not at all uncommon at that point. It could make labour longer and delivery more difficult if he remained in that position, but I knew that he could turn right up until the last minute, and had heard many positive stories of this being so. I trusted my body and Michael helped me with exercises everyday that can assist the baby with turning. I wasn’t extremely worried about this, but I did mentally prepare for the possibility of a longer labour, a hospital transfer, and back labour (spoiler: the baby did remain OP right up until labour started, and I did find out, after the birth, that it was him rotating into position that likely caused my water to break before contractions began). Overall, the last few weeks of pregnancy were met with peace and trust that we had done everything we could, and the birth would now take the direction it needed. I was at peace with a hospital or homebirth, with however our baby needed to make his entrance.
At 9 days before my due date, we were having dinner on a Friday night, talking about what we might like to do that evening. The cleaners had just been in that day (something I reallyy wanted to have happen before baby arrived) AND it was the last day of (virtual) school – talk about good timing – and about a perfect move for the baby of two teachers!! (This baby is already a good planner like his Mom and Dad 😉 The funny thing is that our typical Friday night plans (in the time of COVID) included ordering take out, getting ice cream and going for a walk, but the night prior I had felt too lazy to cook and we were craving ice cream, so we had already done that the night before! Of course we didn’t know at the time, but it was for good reason, because little did we know that Friday night would not look typical at all! It would instead be the night our lives changed, all at once, and forever.
So yes, we were eating dinner, discussing what we wanted to do that night, when I felt a bit of a sensation. It didn’t feel like the usual movements from the baby, but rather a lower down rubbing/friction sensation. I thought for a second that it could mean something, but didn’t give it too much emphasis because I didn’t want to overreact to every little thing that may be to come over the last weeks of pregnancy. So, I didn’t say anything to Michael right away, but, minutes later, I felt a huge gush and there was absolutely no mistaking that my water had broke! Likely (our midwife later told us), the baby rotated into position causing the friction sensation and then the rupture of the amniotic sac. I told Michael right away and we let it sink in for a minute, completely ecstatic and in awe! It actually reminded me of the moment we found out I was pregnant, where we also stood and paced the kitchen just in disbelief for a few minutes.
After my water broke around 6:30pm, we called both of our parents, my sister and my brother in law, our doula and midwife. Knowing the baby had been OP, we were expecting a long night ahead with little progress, and this was consistent with what our midwife explained we may expect during our call with her. So, we decided to make a list of the last minute things to do and then get to bed ASAP. First up, was to make the birth bed like a sandwich (clean sheets on first, then plastic, then old sheets on top). Before we got started on this, we asked Michael’s parents to drop off some groceries, expecting a couple days ahead where we would need some easy labour snacks.
Up until my water broke at 6:30pm, I had had no symptoms and not a single sign of a contraction. Less than an hour later however, I was having contractions strong enough that I had to lean against the wall and wait them out. Within two hours, there was nearly no break between contractions, and I was surprised at how intense this was feeling for what I thought was early labour. It was at that time, around 8:30pm, that we asked our doula to come by to help us get set up with the TENS machine, so we could get some sleep. I don’t know how I thought I could sleep through that, but I just kept thinking it was very early labour and that I would have to try! I remember wondering how I would potentially go through another 12+ hours of “early” labour like that, not knowing that I was actually nearing transition. So, by 11pm, our doula was here to stay, and no one was going to sleep.
Michael worked on filling the birth tub while our doula helped me change positions and walk the stairs. Things were progressing very quickly. It was around this time that I felt what seemed like a slight urge to push during contractions. I didn’t mention it to anybody because it still seemed way too early to me – I had only been in labour for a few hours. Still, I wondered if it was maybe time to call the midwife. We decided we would try and time contractions to see where things were at. I don’t even remember what the timing came out to be (I think about every 2-3 minutes, lasting about 60-90 seconds), but just that it seemed to signal that we should be calling pretty soon, even if it felt early to all of us (relative to the beginning of labour for a first time mom). So that’s what we did!
The midwife arrived somewhere around midnight, began to set up, and then was ready to check me. This was the part I was most apprehensive about because, knowing I had only been in labour for about 4 hours, I was afraid to find out I was barely dilated despite the intensity, and that I had hours (or days!) to go on. It was complete relief to find out that I was 8cm dilated and nearing transition! Though I had suspicions that things were progressing fast, this was the moment where I really felt like I could do this, knowing it wouldn’t be too much longer. Being this far along also meant that I could get in the tub for some relief – yay!
Over the course of the next little while, there were a few other signs that we would be meeting our baby very soon, and I looked for, and held on to, those things (since my lovely midwife refused to give me an exact end time despite how much I pleaded for it ;). Aside from being 8cm dilated and feeling like pushing, our midwife called the backup midwife very soon after arriving. Another thing was hearing the sweet sound of the dryer turning on – ah, blissful! They warmed up towels, receiving blankets and hats as delivery neared, so I knew they must have thought we were getting close. Despite this, I still kept asking “how much longer” like a little kid nearing the end of a long road trip. “Maybe 1 more hour? Maybe 2 more hours?” I kept asking, trying to gauge where we were at.
The warm water of the birth tub helped slow things down just a touch so I could find some relief by getting a bit of a break between contractions. The slower pace was welcomed at this point, knowing it wouldn’t affect my labour progress. I wasn’t in the tub for long when I was able to start pushing. It must have been around 2:30am at this point. I pushed in the tub for a little while without much progress, so we moved to the bathroom, and eventually, the bed. Michael was my hand to squeeze and didn’t leave my side; my biggest fan and cheerleader. I know he was proud of me, and I knew he knew I could do it, and that gave me strength. Our doula knew exactly what to do and say to keep me as physically comfortable as possible and in the right headspace. The midwives were exceptionally calm and reassured me that the baby was doing so well every time they checked him with the Doppler. Everyone kept telling me I could do it, and I would repeat back, “I can do it”. At this point, I knew I could.
I pushed for a total of two hours which didn’t feel long to me in the moment, given how fast labour had gone overall. And then, at 4:35am, as the morning summer sun was just about to break through the horizon, our sweet boy joined our family. Having him with us and safe and here (!!!) was met with so many emotions. I could tell Michael was absolutely in adoration of him. I felt so much love and relief and gratitude for how the birth had gone. He cried just a little and then relaxed on to me and we snuggled skin to skin. During this time, I delivered the placenta and our amazing midwife stitched a second degree tear. Once all of this was over, I felt true relief and felt like I could really start to soak in our sweet boy. We announced his name to everyone—Elliott Charles Smith. We had chosen the name Elliott for a future son years ago, after just a few months of dating, and it suited him perfectly. The meaning I had come across was “with strength and right” and I loved that. Charles is the middle name of Michael’s dad and brother.
Being at home during this time felt so peaceful. No one was in a hurry. The midwives cleaned everything up. Michael held him to skin to skin after I did. And our doula fed me a Nutrigrain bar that tasted like a meal at a 5 start restaurant! Everyone laughed when I announced how positively delicious it was. Which is so funny, because I’m not even a big fan of Nutrigrain bars – but that is what labour does to you! We were left to get some sleep and soak up our first hours as a family of three. We called our families and then dozed off to sleep for a few hours. When we woke up, we snuggled with our baby boy and Michael heated up a frozen lasagna that we ate in bed! Pure bliss.
I don’t think you can talk about pregnancy and birth without talking about postpartum. It is called the fourth trimester for a reason! The weeks and months that follow birth are as instrumental to setting up a healthy foundation for the whole family as is the pregnancy and delivery itself. We were expecting to spend the first weeks bonding in bed as much as possible, with help to take care of the rest, and in many ways, that is the experience we had.
We were immensely lucky to have my parents stay with us for almost three weeks after Elliott was born. They took care of the house, the laundry, the food prep, taking the baby when we needed to nap, basically everything outside of feeding and bonding with Elliott. Michael’s parents brought over meals and made some deliveries like picking up the breast pump and dropping it off to us.
Michael’s support was unwavering as he assisted me in and out of bed for the first few days while I recovered from the tear, and from birth in general. All while also taking care of Elliott, himself, bringing me what I needed, doing some work, and enjoying his sweet boy.
We also had the amazing support of our midwife and doula who came back almost daily for the first five days after the birth, to check on Elliott, us, and help with breastfeeding. I attribute our breastfeeding success almost entirely to their support and knowledge in that area. I cannot express how above and beyond the call of duty they went for us, and for that, I am immensely grateful.
Still, the challenges with recovery and feeding made this time very draining and physically exhausting. Elliott had a tongue tie and difficulties latching, so every single feeding was a combination of breastfeeding, pumping, tongue exercises, and bottle feeding. I would try to latch him and have him feed as best as possible. Then, I would pump while Michael gave him a bottle. This whole process often took over an hour, and we had to do it every three hours from the start of each feed, so essentially, we had 1.5-2 hours in between these feeds, around the clock. That meant sleeping in only hour and a half chunks for the first few weeks.
While I felt bonded to Elliott right away, I felt that it was hard to truly just enjoy him with almost the entirety of my time with him revolving around feeding (with many difficulties), and with worry about his weight gain and jaundice due to the tongue tie. I knew I was the only one able to provide nourishment for him, and that weighed very heavy on me for a few weeks.
At three weeks old, the lactation consultant told us that Elliott was gaining weight wonderfully, and that the tongue tie (that had previously been clipped twice), was completely resolved. I felt like I could exhale a bit, and feeding went from a very long and arduous process to enjoyable bonding time with my baby and relaxation time for me!
Elliott, your entrance into the world was the most beautiful experience of our lives. Truly. In the quiet of an early Saturday morning at the end of June, not only was a baby born, but also a mother and father. A family of three. We are grateful, blessed and so eager to experience life with you in it.