As first-time pregnant mamas, we spend hours reading books and articles, researching, and attending birth classes. We talk with our midwives and doctors, and listen to our friends’ birth stories, trying to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically for our baby’s birth day.
The reality, however, is that nothing can fully prepare you for what lies ahead. Anyone who has had a baby can tell you that! Birth is an experience like no other. It’s different for every woman, and no one can quite prepare you for it.
I started writing Jack’s birth story a week after he was born. Today, I was finally able to finish it after getting my birth notes back from my midwife! Be warned, this is a birth story, and there are birth details, so read at your own risk. ;)
Jack’s Birth Story
December 18, 2016
at 2:53 pm
Exactly one week ago today, I was in hard labor with our sweet little Jack. I might have been telling Catherine, our midwife, “I can’t do it anymore,” or, “I need a break!”
She would have responded with, “Yes, you can. You’ll get a break when you get this baby out.”
I no longer had any concept of time. I was fully lost in “labor land”, as some call it. Any sense of time had vanished, and it felt like I would be stuck in that swirling cycle of intense pain and brief relief forever. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
On December 10th, I woke up in the 5 o’clock hour with painful contractions fairly close together. We were only two days after Jack’s due date. I knew that I was already 3 centimeters dilated and 80-90% effaced, so I also knew that labor could start at any time. I laid in bed for a while, trying to time them because of how close they felt. After a little while, I learned that they were about 5 minutes apart. I got excited and wondered if today would be Jack’s birth day. I’d been waking up with contractions almost every night that week, but they hadn’t turned into active labor. These, however, felt much stronger and more uncomfortable, so I eventually decided to wake Benj up with, “They’re painful now!”
Benj and I timed them all morning long, but the frequency slowed down to between 6 and 15 minutes apart. I had a chiropractic appointment scheduled for that morning, and we couldn’t decide whether or not to make the trip down to Portland. There was ice everywhere! It was all over walkways, houses, power lines, and foliage. Plus, it was difficult to tell whether or not my contractions would pick up again.
Braving the Ice
Eventually, we decided that they were infrequent enough for us to brave the trip. In hindsight, it was a great thing that we ended up going. It took my mind off my prodromal labor and relieved some of the back and hip pain that was almost constant during my last few weeks of pregnancy.
We also stopped at Target to make a return and wander around for a little while. I was still having some pretty uncomfortable contractions in the store, which made for an interesting visit. Eventually, we decided to go home and rest in case active labor kicked in soon. That was also a wise decision in hindsight.
The rest of the afternoon, my contractions remained the same: uncomfortable and irregular. That evening, we ate dinner and watched the final episode of Emma. I took a bath with lavender oil and Epsom salts. At that point, I was convinced I would be going into active labor very soon and wanted to get as much sleep as possible beforehand. We were in bed around 10 o’clock and asleep shortly after.
About 3 hours later, around 1:15am on December 11th, I woke up in the middle of a strong contraction. Then I had a few more. These felt more intense than the ones I’d had the day before, so I woke Benj up and told him I thought we’d be having a baby before too long! He offered to time the contractions for me so I could rest a little more, which was pretty hard to do at this point. The contractions turned out to be less than 5 minutes apart with no sign of slowing down.
One thing was very clear to me at that point- I wouldn’t be laboring in bed if I could help it. The side-lying position was incredibly uncomfortable for me, so I was eager to get up and start moving around. As soon as I sat up in bed around 2:00am, I felt my water break!
Somehow, I managed to hop out of bed without getting the sheets wet and inched my way to the bathroom, legs squished together. Benj grabbed something to clean up the bathroom floor, where I stood in a puddle, excited and relieved that we were going to meet our little Jack before long. I had been worried about having a lot more prodromal labor without much sleep, but it seemed like this had finally turned into active labor, and I was feeling incredibly grateful for that.
Call the Midwife
Right after my water broke the contractions sped up to 3.5 minutes apart, lasting about 1 minute. They stayed that way for about an hour and a half, so we decided to go ahead and call Catherine to let her know. She asked me a few questions about how things were going to ascertain how I was progressing, and asked if I’d feel better if she was there. I told her that I would, so she said that she would start making her way in our direction, but that she wouldn’t hurry.
Meanwhile, Benj and I had a good rhythm going. When a contraction would start, I’d let him know and wrap my arms around his neck. We would stand there with my face buried in his shoulder. He’d put his arms around me, massaging my lower back or putting pressure on it until the contraction subsided.
The still of the night seemed to help me relax during that first stage. I chose to labor in the family room near our Christmas tree. There’s just something about Christmas trees and twinkle lights that make me feel calm and expectant. In between contractions, Benj blew up the birth pool near the tree. Meanwhile, I lit the orange scented soy candle I’d bought for my labor and started the diffuser with essential oils like clary sage, frankincense, and peppermint. I also ate a couple of apple slices because I felt hungry. The hunger pangs quickly subsided, though, and I didn’t feel like eating anymore.
The Birth Team Arrives
Catherine arrived with her assistant, Brittany, around 4:30. According to her notes I was “laboring well” at the time. She checked me shortly after arriving and found that I was 5-6 cm. dilated and 80% effaced. Jack was at -1 station.
Afterward, Benj and I continued laboring together as we had before. In between contractions, he and Brittany started filling the pool. We have a very small hot water heater in our apartment unit, so boiling lots of kettles and pots of water were necessary to get the temperature warm enough.
I decided to get into the pool once it was ready, and my labor immediately slowed way down. The warm water helped with the pain immensely, but in hindsight, I would have waited longer before getting in. Up until that point, the contractions had been painful, but I had been managing them just fine. I had hoped to have Jack in the water, but the Lord had other plans for his birth.
Shortly after I got into the pool, I also stopped timing my contractions. Even though I had no real need to time them that far along, I later realized that timing them had really helped me to get through to the other side! I could prepare for when a contraction would be starting again and know when it would peak.
It helped me to remember that the pain wouldn’t last forever and would be over soon. I’m not sure I would want to do it through my entire labor, but I think it would have helped me to cope even better if I had timed my contractions longer.
My sense of time completely disappeared after I stopped timing them, and I drifted in and out of labor land in the water. Benj was with me the entire time, supporting me through each contraction. He brought me a mango popsicle at one point, and I tried a few little bites, but it started bothering my stomach so I let him finish it. Brittany and Benj put cold washcloths on my forehead to help me cool off when I got too warm. I tried a few different positions to help with the pain as my contractions continued getting more and more intense.
By 11:30am, I had progressed to 9 cm. in the birth pool. Catherine suggested I get out to help speed things up. While I didn’t want to get out of the water, I also didn’t want labor to drag on longer than it needed to. Getting out of the water immediately made my contractions far more painful. They also felt more intense because they started coming closer and closer together. I ended up staying around 9 cm. until I was complete (with a lip) around 12:45, laboring in a side-lying position on the bed. That position seemed to intensify the pain, but I was so tired by that point that I really felt like I needed to lie down.
Time to Push
Then came the fun part (and by fun, I mean seemingly impossible at the time! ;) I was finally able to start pushing around 12:45pm. In her notes, Catherine wrote, “Lauren had a longer pushing stage as she struggled with the pain, her fatigue, and finding a position that was effective. Her husband was her main coach and support. He was awesome for the entire birth.” All of that was certainly true. Those were the hardest few hours of my life, hands down, and I couldn’t have made it through them without Benj.
Because my contractions were so intense and close together for such a long time, I started feeling like Jack was never going to come out! It felt like I wasn’t making any progress, even though the entire birth team was cheering me on, encouraging me and telling me I was doing great. In the haziness, I kept telling Catherine I needed a break and that I couldn’t do it anymore. I was in the most pain of my life and I felt lost in it; I felt as stuck as Jack seemed to be.
Time seemed to drag on. Eventually, we could see a nickel sized patch of Jack’s head. Progress! The sight of his curly dark hair in the mirror helped me to keep pushing. Surely he’d be out soon! But, no- I still had a long while to go.
At 2:50pm, Catherine suggested IV hydration to help replace some electrolytes and increase my energy. I was hesitant to have a needle stuck in my arm while I was laboring, but went with her suggestion anyway. The needle didn’t work in my left wrist (hello, giant bruise!), so they tried my right wrist and got it in successfully.
Up until this point, Catherine had been holding my legs in a squat position while I laid on the bed and pushed during contractions. We also tried some squatting on the side of the bed. Benj sat in a chair and I would drop into a squat, partially supporting myself with my forearms against his legs, as the contraction came on. This was definitely the most effective position, and yielded the most progress, but wasn’t sustainable because of how tired I was. So back onto the bed I went to labor and push for a while longer.
Eventually, we realized I wasn’t making nearly as much progress laying down, and since it seemed to be the only way Jack would move down, we switched back to supported squats. After each contraction, I took a sip of water someone offered me and wondered how I would make it through the next one.
A Little Scare
Up until this point (around 3:50pm), Catherine, Brittany, and the nurse (who had arrived late morning and whose name escapes me) had regularly been monitoring Jack’s heart rate, which had stayed in a good range all day. Then, it dropped below what was considered safe.
As out of it as I felt, I immediately picked up on the fact that something was wrong. They quickly began pulling out the oxygen, and Catherine looked at me and said, “We need to get this baby out now.” She also told me that she might have to do an episiotomy. A sense of urgency hit home and I redoubled my efforts, pushing as hard as I could. Thankfully, Jack responded well to the oxygen and his heart rate went back up to where it needed to be. I was definitely relieved, but also more determined than ever to get him out.
Toward the end, pushing just kept getting harder and harder, but I could see more of Jack’s head, little by little. Seeing my progress in the mirror helped immensely. I was giving each contraction everything I had, watching as Jack came closer and closer. (And lest you think I was quiet, I’ll tell you that I was completely hoarse by the end of pushing! ;) Benj kept telling me, “You can do it! You’re almost there!” over and over, and everyone else kept saying, “You’re so close! Keep going, keep going!”
Jack is Born
I pushed for another 30 minutes after they began administering oxygen. Then, as Catherine wrote in her notes, “Lauren delivered in a squatting position, supported and cheered on by her husband.” It was 4:21pm. Once Jack’s head was out, the rest of him just shot out (big head, skinny body ;), and I experienced the greatest feeling of relief I’ve ever known. Catherine caught Jack and immediately handed him up to me.
I was awestruck and amazed- and almost in disbelief that labor was finally over. The three of us were huddled together, sweaty, sticky, and teary. It was an incredibly special moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
Jack was a bit floppy and purple, but started breathing and coughing right away. He also started “talking” shortly thereafter, and hasn’t stopped since! ;) I laid down on the bed and Catherine laid Jack on my chest while we waited for the cord to stop pulsating. It only took a short time, and Benj cut the cord that had nourished and tied Jack to me for all those months.
Catherine getting ready to clamp the cord and proud Daddy holding his long-limbed little guy! Jack’s big head (37cm!) was pretty oblong from how much time he spent in the birth canal. I was surprised at how quickly it shrunk back to normal.
So fresh and new, wet with vernix and taking it all in.
I took a shower while they measured Jack and took his footprints…
…but they waited for me to finish before they weighed him.
Jack Everett Berkompas
born at home on December 11, 2016 at 4:21pm
weighing 7 lb. 2 oz and measuring 21.5″long
Eventually, the birth team left, but only after they’d broken down the birth pool, cleaned everything up, done the dishes, and washed the laundry. Then, it was just the three of us like it had been before- except with Jack on this side of the world!
Those first few hours were magical. We loved looking at his sweet little face, hearing his cute voice, circling my nose all over his sweet cheeks, smelling his brand new baby smell… Benj and I could hardly believe he was ours.
Thoughts on Birth
For the record, I would do it all over again epidural-free and at home. Yes, it was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most amazing. To realize that I was strong enough to go through all of that- to give birth to my son without the use of drugs- blew me away. And that’s certainly not to knock any woman who opts for something to help with the pain (because… ouch). If an epidural’s your thing, all the more power to you! ;) You’re just as amazing for having given birth at all!
For me, though, after having struggled for 2.5 years with chronic health issues, natural childbirth helped me realize how strong I truly am- how strong God has made me. It’s been both eye-opening and empowering. Birth has helped me to continue healing and has given me courage for the harder days. I am just in awe of the way God designed our bodies to grow, birth, and nourish our little ones!
It is now 7 weeks later, and Benj and I continue to fall more and more in love with our little Jack. Becoming parents has been challenging and rewarding on so many levels! We love watching Jack’s personality develop as we watch him grow. He’s quite unique in his own, cute little way. We know the details of how he ended up in our arms, but it all still seems like such a mystery.
Miracles really do happen every day.