In order to have a successful natural delivery, I knew there were several things I needed to do during pregnancy to help my odds. I continued to read about natural births and fill my mind with positive birth stories; I maintained a healthy lifestyle throughout pregnancy by working out at IronTribe, attending weekly prenatal yoga classes at Villager Yoga, and eating healthy; we took a 6 week natural childbirth class called Hypnobabies that teaches you deep relaxation, retrains your mind on how you view/label birth, and prepares you for an unmedicated birth; I found a doctor and hospital that agreed with, and encouraged, natural childbirth and low interventions - the hospital I chose is not the "popular" choice here in Birmingham but I was relived when I found (with only 10 weeks left in my pregnancy!) Dr. Cooper, and midwife Lynn Harrison, at Simon Williamson Clinic/Princeton Hospital; and the best decision we made while preparing for Holland's birth was hiring a doula. Having our doula, Kaleigh, with me throughout pregnancy and labor/delivery was priceless. She did an amazing job preparing us for childbirth and she was our voice of reason and calming presence during our entire experience. She was able to let us know that the symptoms I experienced were normal, she reminded me to relax and breathe, she suggested ways for Adam to help comfort me during labor/delivery, and was by our side the whole time and for several hours after the birth! I would encourage any pregnant mom to hire a doula - whether she wants to go unmedicated, have an epidural the first moment she can, or plans on having a c-section. We also hired a birth photographer, Christine at Viewtopia Pictures, and the pictures are amazing. Each picture speaks more than 1,000 words and so perfectly captured the support, intensity, love, joy, and intimacy that filled the room. I will forever cherish those pictures!
My due date was Monday, April 13 but I was convinced I was going to be at least a week late. I was feeling perfectly normal and the Saturday before my due date Adam and I literally spent the entire day running around town and going to different venues enjoying the beautiful day. I had every intention to be at work on Monday morning - but our baby had other plans :)
Around 1:30am Monday, April 13 (my due date!), I woke up to use the bathroom. This was not abnormal for me, but usually I would only wake up once each night around 3:30am to go to the bathroom. I remember thinking that I would probably wake up again in the night to go to the bathroom since I woke up so early initially. I went back to bed, and then sure enough, around 3:00am I woke up to use the bathroom again. I was pretty annoyed since I was unable to fully fall back asleep once I got back in bed and I also knew I'd be tired at work that day. An hour later I felt like I had to use the bathroom AGAIN but the pressure I was feeling, that I thought was due to a full bladder, intensified for about 15 seconds then went away. I thought that was strange and a few minutes later it happened again. I realized that they must be contractions! I had several more contractions and at 5:00am I couldn't lay in the bed any longer - they were getting pretty uncomfortable and I knew I needed to get up. I didn't wake Adam because I thought this would go on for many, many hours. After all, first time pregnancies tend to have a fairly long labor. I knew this could potentially be a long day and I wanted to allow Adam to get as much rest as he could. I went out into the living room to walk around and worked through the contractions that followed.
The contractions were definitely intensifying and around 5:30am I decided it was time to call Kaleigh, our doula, to let her know what was going on. We talked for several minutes and agreed that it would be a good idea for me to get in the tub to help me relax through the contractions, and I was to call her in a couple hours to give another update. I filled up the bathtub, put on a Hypnobabies sound track to help me relax and a few minutes later Adam came in (after waking up and realizing I was not in the bed and noticing all the lights on in the house). Adam was, of course, concerned when he came in and I was in the tub having some tough contractions. He talked me through each contraction with encouragement and our relaxation cues that we had practiced throughout pregnancy. The contractions continued to get more powerful, were lasting longer each time, and were closer together. I got out of the tub about 30 minutes later, around 6:30am, and went back into the living room. The contractions got much more intense over the next hour and Adam was in contact with Kaleigh keeping her updated. Each contraction was taking every ounce of concentration to get through. The pressure and tightness in my lower abdomen was so intense and unlike anything I could have imagined. At this point I was still thinking that I would have many more hours of these contractions - I had no clue things were progressing so fast. I tried to get as comfortable as I could for each contraction by getting on my hands and knees, leaning over the couch, sitting on the birthing ball, holding onto Adam, etc.
Around 7:30am one of the contractions was so fierce that I got sick and threw up - at this point, Adam called Kaleigh again and let her know what happened and that we thought it would be best if she came over. A few contractions later I began to feel a bit pushy and at this point I realized how far along I must be. Kaleigh got to our house around 8:00am and told Adam that she was going to watch a few contractions to get an idea of where I was. She also asked me if I thought we needed to go to the hospital or if I wanted her to check my dilation to see how far along I was. I told her I was afraid to go to the hospital because I didn't want them to tell me I wasn't far enough along and then send me back home. Again, I never imagined that I could truly be so far along after such a short amount of time. She chuckled and assured me that they wouldn't send me home. I then had a contraction and apparently she looked to Adam and told him that we needed to go to the hospital now! I remember Kaleigh asking me if that was the first contraction where I had the urge to push and I told her no - I think at this point Kaleigh and Adam were both wondering if we were even going to make it to the hospital.
The very next contraction my water broke and it was the weirdest, strangest, grossest, feeling! Luckily I was over the hardwood floors in the living room, but I apologized for making such a mess! Adam grabbed some towels to quickly soak it up as I made my way out of the house. My contractions were so close that it seemed to take forever for me to make my way to the truck. Every couple seconds I was having to stop and work through the powerful contractions. Finally In between the powerful Kaleigh and Adam got me into the front seat of the truck, but there was no way that sitting in the front seat sounded comfortable to me. I turned around backwards and put my knees in the front seat and leaned over the head rest - I didn't even think twice about it, I just got into the most comfortable position I could. Kaleigh asked us if we wanted her to ride with us and we both exclaimed YES! We hurriedly pulled out of the driveway (and later found out we had left the garage door open and all the doors to the house unlocked! Oops!) and Kaleigh contacted Dr. Cooper and our photographer to let them know we were on the way. I am so thankful that Kaleigh rode with us as she was able to help me work through each contraction while Adam concentrated on navigating Monday morning rush hour traffic as we headed towards downtown. I held onto Kaleigh's hand through the tough parts and remember looking into her eyes, silently wondering if I could do this. She must have read my mind because she began filling my ears with encouragement and praise.
We arrived to the hospital around 9:00am where Dr. Cooper and a nurse met Kaleigh and I at the entrance to the ER while Adam parked the truck. I climbed onto the wheelchair exactly like I was in the truck, with my knees in the seat, facing backwards with my arms propped on the back of the chair. They quickly wheeled me through the hospital to Labor & Delivery. I can only imagine that we were a sight to see as I was making loud, low, guttural sounds with each contraction!! Once we got into the room Dr. Cooper let me know that she would check my dilation to see how far along I was, whenever I was comfortable. I assumed any position I could to help manage my contractions - I squatted on the ground, got on my hands and knees, used a birthing bar to bear down on, held onto Adam, sat on a birthing stool, etc - and I believe I was either squatting or on my hands and knees when Dr. Cooper checked me. I vividly remember her telling me that I was 10 centimeters dilated (!!!!) and whenever I had the urge to push I could. I could not believe that I was fully dilated! It was such a relief to know that all the hard work at my house got me to where I was and that we would be meeting our baby soon! In between each contraction I rested as best I could (sometimes just for a couple seconds before the next contraction started!) and we actually had some light-hearted moments in the room during those times.
A funny side note: when Adam came up to Labor & Delivery after parking the truck, he hurriedly went to the front desk and ask which room Leesa Jernigan was in! They said they didn't have a Jernigan and Adam said my name again - only then realizing that he said my maiden name!! I guess he was a bit flustered trying to make it to the room in time!
At this point I was really tired from standing/squatting all morning long so I decided I wanted to get in the bed for some contractions and to push. I laid on my side and pushed in this position for some time, but I didn't feel like I was making much progress. I could feel Baby moving down and start crowning, but after many pushes like this, I could tell that our baby wasn't going to be born in this position. I told everyone that I wasn't feeling much progress, even though Dr. Cooper said she could see some of baby's hair (!!!!), and Kaleigh suggested that I sit on the birthing stool in the bed. They got me up on the stool and Adam sat on it behind me. I loved having Adam right behind me; feeling the warmth of his body against mine and being able to hold onto his hands gave me a renewed energy. The very next time I pushed I could tell I had made much more progress than I had on my side. It only took a few more pushes and our baby was born, wide eyed, at 10:16am!
We did not know the gender and in my birth plan I specified that I didn't want the staff to announce the gender - I wanted Adam and I to look for ourselves. They placed the baby immediately on my chest and Adam and I stared and cried as we admired our child. That was the most incredible feeling in the world - having this precious new life in our hands. A few minutes passed and I ask
ed Adam if he was ready to see if our baby was a boy or girl. He said yes and we lifted the baby off my chest and saw that we had a little girl!
For a while we just soaked in every minute we could with our new girl. We talked about what an amazing experience my labor and delivery was and we were in total awe of everything that transpired that day. Adam then cut the umbilical cord, I continued to lay skin-to-skin with our girl, and she was able to latch onto my breast easily. I loved that the staff allowed me to have a couple hours of bonding time before taking any measurements! When they did weigh and measure her she was 6 lbs 12 oz and 19 inches long.
In my weakest moments, I remember reminding myself that each contraction, or each push, was only bringing our baby closer to us. Throughout the morning I did my best to embrace each contraction. I knew that they were my body's way of bringing our baby earth side and the best thing that I could do was to relax and allow my body to have the contraction and to not resist it. It wasn't easy for me, but Kaleigh did such a wonderful job reminding me of this throughout the entire morning.
Adam was such a tremendous birth partner too! He was literally by my side the entire time. He was involved in every contraction and I couldn't (and wouldn't wanted to) have made it through the day without him. He also helped me focus and redirect my attention to the end result and not allow the extreme pressure consume me. We were only able to do this because we practiced this during our Hypnobabies childbirth classes with Kaleigh and our practice sessions at home. I can't express how beneficial our childbirth classes were. I also can't thank Dr. Cooper, and the staff at Princeton, enough for allowing me to lead my labor and delivery. I was never once told when or how to push. Dr. Cooper allowed me to listen to my body and push when, and for as long, as my body required. I am convinced that is why I had no tearing and did not require any stitches. I was able to feel everything and therefore could listen to my body. Also, I was never required to be in a certain position in order for them to check dilation, baby's heartbeat, or even what position to be in when delivering. The atmosphere in that delivery room was so calm the entire time and Dr. Cooper was very patient with me - offering me encouraging words throughout and she even put counter pressure on my back during some contractions (I don't know of any other doctors that would do that - most just run in to catch the baby and then they leave!)!!
Adam and I are still in awe of Holland's birth and could not have asked for a better birth team to help guide us through the process. Thank you to everyone who played a part in giving us the birth experience we hoped for, prepared for, and prayed for!