When I first heard just a whisper of this birth story, I didn't know that I knew the mom. Her doula only shared that she had just attended a birth at a local hospital... in the dark. Only a little light shown from the open bathroom door and when asked if lights should be turned up the OB replied "I do my best work in the dark." Weeks passed and I didn't know who that mom was, but thought she must have an incredible birth story.
Then in late August a friend sent me a facebook message with her birth story. As I read, hanging on every word as I usually do when reading a new birth story... I realized my friend's birth was THAT incredible birth. I would have never suspected it, not because she wasn't incredible (she super is) but because she was supposed to birth in a different hospital! OMG what happened??? I'll let this mom tell you that, and how she never gave up on her birth...
The birth of our lovely Stella Alba was thoughtfully planned. I researched and found a physician who would support my decision to experience pregnancy, labor and delivery as naturally as possible. Although the hospital we planned to use, Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, has a reputation locally for policies that make natural birth difficult, I felt confident we could, with the support of our provider, navigate their policies in a way that respected my wishes and kept both our baby and me safe.
A few days into my 39th week of pregnancy, our physician left town on Friday on an unexpected trip. That evening, I thought that I might have a “high tear” in my bag of waters that was causing a very small trickle of amniotic fluid. On Saturday afternoon, my water definitely broke. We stayed calm, asked a friend to get our daughter, Aria, and did what we knew to try to get labor started.
Saying goodbye to Aria was surprisingly difficult for me and caused quite a bit of distress on my part. I wasn’t quite ready to transition from a family of 3 to 4. Since labor was not moving along, we brought Aria home for dinner and put her to bed, fully expecting to go into labor during the night. The next morning, when nothing had happened, we decided it was time for some help. We contacted a local acupuncturist who generously met us at her office on a Sunday morning for a long, relaxing treatment. During it, she also gave me a massage and encouraged me to sing along with some “birth music”. I’ll confess that the singing felt silly and uncomfortable for me, but I obliged.
After the acupuncture and consulting with some local doulas, we called the hospital to request to come in to check the baby. Contractions were beginning, but were not very intense yet. Knowing that my water had been broken for almost 24 hours made me want to check on the baby, but I really did not want to be admitted. The nurse manager that I spoke with on the phone had a hard time really hearing what I was asking. She followed hospital policy by asking me to come in, but did not understand that I had choices and I was not willing to submit to her inflexible perspective.
Travis and I regrouped, and contacted a local midwife, Caroline Cusenza, who lived close by and she graciously welcomed us into her home and listened to the baby with a Doppler. The baby sounded great and she let us borrow the device for the weekend. Probably the best advice we received throughout the entire process was from her – RELAX and go eat lunch. So, we drove to a new organic restaurant in Monterey and had a relaxing lunch. We paid the bill early because contractions were getting uncomfortable.
On the way home, we decided to call our County hospital, Natividad Medical Center, to speak with the attending OB. The physician listened to our situation calmly and expressed comfort in working with me despite the fact that my water had been broken more than 24 hours. I was able to have prenatal health records faxed to them immediately, and then I settled into the idea of delivering the baby at an unknown facility with an unknown doctor.
When we arrived home, my mom had arrived from Florida to be with Aria, so we visited with her, went for walks, took a nap, and put Aria to bed again. Birthing textbook-style, I insisted on making a batch of granola. In between contractions I measured, stirred, and baked. When granola was done, labor kicked into high gear and by 9:30 p.m. we checked into the hospital with our doula. While laboring at home and in the car, I tried to visualize riding a wave. This worked for a bit, but I shared with Travis while in the car that the wave visualization was useful for reminding me to relax (come down off the wave) during contractions, but was getting challenging because the wave seemed to get impossibly high in my mind. He encouraged me to re-frame the visualization to instead be a wave coming in to shore with him, our doula, and our community there to greet me and support me each time. This slight change made a tremendous difference.
At the hospital we met our nurse and doctor. They reviewed our birth plan and declared it all “no problem”. They did a few quick tests, got a 20 minute “strip” to check the baby and my contractions and checked me (only 3-4 cm—disappointing!), then left the room and said they’d come back only when we asked.
Our doula helped us turn off the lights, turn up the heat, and cover the existing neon lights that don’t turn off. I labored some in bed on my side and sometimes standing up with Travis providing counter pressure on my hips/back during contractions. I found myself going back to the singing I’d done 12 hours before with the acupuncturist and I began quietly chanting during contractions – “open …baby …. Open … baby ….” It helped me tell my body what I needed it to do and to remind me that the work of labor was all for the baby. (During labor with Aria, I lost sight of the fact that there was a baby at the end of the hard work!)
After awhile I got into the shower and Travis stayed with me. Our doula heard my vocalizations deepen, and she gently asked if I wanted the nurse to check me. Fairly sure that I was in transition but afraid that maybe I wasn’t, I had a hard time deciding. I must’ve said yes, because the next thing I remember is being on the bed with lots of warm blankets and feeling a need to push. There wasn’t a chance to check me because I was ready to deliver.
The doctor was called and after 20 minutes of pushing in the dark, our perfect Stella Alba came into the world. She was much more vocal than Aria and screamed for quite awhile, but was healthy and lovely. Inspired by a desire to soothe her, Travis asked our doula to help sing the “welcome song”. Around 1:30 a.m. in a County hospital, the three of us sang to the perfect and brand new Stella:
We all came to welcome you, we all came to your birth
We all came to welcome you, to welcome you to earth
And I was there to love you
I was there to love you
I was there to love you
and give my body for
Your quick and easy entrance here
from heaven’s open door
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Natural Birth Series
Sept 28 – Nov 15
Infant Sleep for Expecting & New Parents
6:30pm - 9:00pm
Gentle Cesarean: Planning & Recovery
Toro Park, 3-6:30pm
Natural Birth Refresher
Salinas, 1– 4pm
Preconception & Early Pregnancy Class
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Nov 7 – Dec 12
Natural Birth Series
Nov 29th – Jan 17th